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ah sacré papa, dis-moi où es-tu caché?

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I.

 

dites-moi d’où il vient

enfin je saurais où je vais

 

Jotaro Kujo was no stranger to being too late.

He had thought of this as his daughter snarled at him from across the table; how he had been too late to be her father, or really, to be a part of her at all. There isn’t a speck of you in my heart anymore, Jolyne spat.

That was a good thing. Probably. At the very least, it made sense. First person to be smart about that shit in a long time. She was taking care of herself. She would survive.

At least, she would have, if he hadn’t gone and let her get shot.

Too late, he thought in a daze during the too-long instant it took for time to grind to a halt, his eyes on the thick stream of blood flying from the hole in Jolyne’s chest. His heart plummeted like a chunk of ice.

Such a lazy excuse, to say things happened too fast, particularly given his circumstances. If he hadn’t been distracted—

Because of love?

—if he had been focused.

She hung in midair, one arm thrown forward in surprise, the other behind her to break a fall caught in place. Her face barely registered surprise. She hadn’t had time to be surprised. It was his responsibility to catch threats in time. How could she have known?

Unless…

Jotaro narrowed his eyes. There wasn’t nearly enough blood. Not for a direct hit to the chest.  He moved closer, fists still clenched at his sides, until he could see that it hadn’t been a direct hit at all.

Seeing the impossible up close like that was almost enough to convince him he really was dreaming.

The time stop gave him only seconds, but despite his best efforts Jotaro remained himself, and Star remained a force of nature, beyond fast enough to catch all the details, even those he might have preferred to remain ignorant of. He stared at the hand-shaped barrier that had caught the bullet before it could pierce Jolyne’s chest, and he knew that he had seen it before.

“It can’t be,” he breathed.

Thirty years. Nearly thirty years since the web of shimmering green strands had snapped, gleaming against the darkness, defiant to the last. He had only seen Hierophant’s barrier once.

This time the unbroken web held the bullet still. It appeared to be made of some sort of string, a different material and a different color, but the familiar pattern held steady.

Jolyne’s Stand stood at her side, arm thrown out in front of her where its hand had stopped the shot from landing. Frozen completely but still it seemed to stare straight at him, its face tilted in his direction with what almost looked like a smile. The Stand was blue and far more humanoid than Hierophant had been, and fiercer, tougher, from the look of it. But there was something about the planes of the face, the eyes behind the green—sunglasses?

He would almost have laughed, had he had the time.

“You made a net out of the strings,” Jotaro murmured. “And dispersed the power of the bullet. Just like a bulletproof vest…all in an instant.”

Star flicked the bullet away as time snatched itself away from him. It clattered to the floor forlornly, and Jolyne was thrown backwards by the force of a shot that had never landed, coughing and enormously confused. He had been right. She hadn’t had time to protect herself consciously at all. That was what Stands were for.

Jotaro stared at it, already beginning to dissipate.

It’s you.

It inclined its head slightly, a motion reminiscent of old mockeries.

Of course it’s me.

 

Kakyoin had used Hierophant to protect him, on one of the rare occasions on which Jotaro allowed himself to be caught off guard. The memory had proven stronger than others somehow, Kakyoin calm and vindictive, the way he had held himself with his arm thrown out in front of Jotaro to say let me handle it for once.

He had always been like that when he stood between the others and danger, his expression reading you don’t know what you’re in for but I’m about to show you, fierce and satisfied and so much more sure of himself when he was fighting for others rather than watching his own back. Jotaro had hated it, hated what Kakyoin was willing to step so casually into in his name. He had feared what might happen the day it finally proved too much for him.

 

II.

 

où est ton papa?

dis-moi où est ton papa?

 

Seems like you may be a little closer than you were a moment ago.

Amazing how much lighter he felt, he thought dazedly. Wasn’t this exactly what he had wanted, once? To be free of that impossibly heavy star?

That why I can see you now?

Unfortunately.

Inconveniently, however, whatever had been done to remove this particular Star did appear to also be killing him.

Jotaro tugged his coat closed in a useless attempt to hide his bloodied chest from Jolyne as her expression shifted from confusion to shock to horror. He glanced at the face that flickered into view at her side, the face that was and wasn’t Stone Free.

It doesn’t matter, he wanted to say. I was never going to make it out of here. It doesn’t matter.

She saw straight through him. His bluffs, lethal against so many, somehow had never had much effect when it came to Jolyne. She knew he would look her straight in the eyes and tell her exactly what he imagined she needed to hear. I’ll be home in a few weeks. I’ll catch up soon.

“You’re lying,” she kept repeating. “You’re lying.”

Get her out of here, he thought wildly, watching the young man who now appeared to him, half-corporeal and superimposed over the Stand that hovered beside his daughter. Isn’t that what you do? Protect her?

He had, for an instant, appeared to twitch in Jotaro’s direction at the moment the bullets were fired. They had met each others’ eyes for a split second, no stopped time to give them the moment they needed, but he shook his head as he was struck regardless, his eyes flashing bright with don’t you dare. He almost looked alive again.

It was possible that he was still protecting Jotaro as he had always tried to do, every time he stood between Jolyne and danger. It was possible that was what he had meant to do all along.

He leaned back against the cold stone in an attempt to catch the breath that still pulled shallow. She was in shock. She needed to move. It was only twenty meters. Why wouldn’t she move?

Would you?

Jotaro gazed blankly at Stone Free as Jolyne stared at the pendant he had pressed into her hand.

Would you leave a fight unfinished with a dying man as your rear guard? Let alone family.

He closed his eyes. This isn’t about me.

Isn’t it?

“But…I just…” Don’t cry, don’t cry. “You can’t.”

Last chance.

“I always…” Jotaro swallowed painfully. “I always cared about you.”

Jolyne stared at him as though he had slapped her.

“You’re lying,” she repeated hoarsely. “You covered me just now, and—and the other enemy stole something from you. That’s why you couldn’t…”

Her eyes, round and unblinking as a child’s, were focused on his chest.

“…dodge the…bullet.”

Shit.

Jotaro blinked rapidly, fighting the fuzziness that threatened the edges of his vision. It had been a long time since he had seen this much of his own blood, on his shoes, his coat, dripping to the floor, smeared on the wall. He noted distantly that the bullet appeared to have made a clean exit, wondering whether it would matter that it would likely be left embedded in the wall behind him. Unlikely that their attacker would care enough to track it down—he already had what he wanted. The bullet would stay behind, a monument either to sacrifice or to failure, depending on whether or not Jolyne would just move already—

“I’m…just bleeding a little,” he said softly. “I’ll catch up in…a b—”

“Your chest,” she hissed, ignoring him. “You—”

Stone Free shifted, glancing towards the end of the hallway. Strings unspooled from the tips of its fingers and the ghost’s face closed in on itself in a familiar look of concentration.

“Go—Jolyne—!”

“No. No, no, no, no, no.” Jolyne pointed at him shakily. “You…it can’t—be…”

JOLYNE!

Two voices shouted for her, but Jolyne seemed to hear neither as she froze in place. Her expression emptied out and the bullets’ trajectories twisted away, sending them flying harmlessly into the far wall.

Something hard and cold had replaced the devastation in her eyes. The bullets slid inches from her face and she stood unflinching, waiting for them to pass. The gunman stared at the strings hanging from his barrel, unable to comprehend the nature of the sabotage.

I do have one question.

What’s that?

For how long did you intend to keep underestimating her?

I’m sorry?

She’s your daughter. Did you think she was so unlike you?

More string wound towards his ankles as he angrily shook the first round from his gun, brushing it aside like a mess of cobwebs. Jolyne had hardly moved, still staring at her father.

I wanted to believe she could be.

“Shut up,” she said flatly. She almost looked bored.

Distractions that passed for defense or offense on their own merit had always been the most effective. Whether a fly with a taste for human tongues or a sniper, once they took the bait long enough to get pinned, they had already lost. The fly had torn apart like tissue paper, he remembered. For a moment he expected the strings to shoot straight through the man’s body and rip him into pieces.

“Right now,” Jolyne continued, “we’re going to escape out that window. And go to the beach.”

Jotaro couldn’t find the breath to argue. He hoped she would at least have the sense to drop him once his heart gave out. There was no possible benefit to dragging around a corpse that might slow down pursuers in any case, if she was smart enough about where she left it. Sentimentality had cost her enough time.

“Stay out of our way, alright?”

An hour ago he would have thought to warn her about Manhattan Transfer and the obvious lie of the man’s promise to drop his weapon. It no longer felt necessary.

Jolyne broke eye contact with her father to look at the skull she had just bashed in with vague disdain. “I didn’t say a single word about dropping it,” she said sharply. “Was just looking to see what the best angle for pounding you would be.”

She had, it appeared, inherited Jotaro’s preference for finishing the job with his fists.

“I think my favorite was when your chin was aiming a little more to the right.”

Kakyoin hadn’t been much given to that sort of thing. It was strange to see, and stranger to hear.

Using my line?

Not yours. Not mine, either.

His fingertips had gone cold, but watching Jolyne rip into the assassin with natural ferocity left him smiling slightly.

It’s hers.

Their rage was synchronized and deadly, the sound of cracking bones familiar as ever, and the way she moved as though she had never known any other way to be both broke his heart and filled him with impossible hope.

If Jolyne’s mind is this strong…then I’m sure she’ll survive.

 

III.

 

sans même devoir lui parler

il sait ce qui ne va pas

 

“Think I probably fucked up.”

Jolyne leaned back against the damp stone, trying to ignore the feeling that the cell’s walls were seeping into her skin. She barely knew why it was she was trying to talk to the thing. It had never talked back before. Why would it think to answer now, when she needed it so desperately?

When had anything ever been that easy?

They stared at one another silently. That was the threat inherent in solitary confinement, as it turned out. Not just being alone, but being alone with yourself in a way that only unconditional silence could guarantee. She doubted the gnawing feeling in her chest would have been half as strong had she been able to at least hear evidence of other prisoners. Footsteps, or sobbing, or a sneeze once every couple of hours. Even snoring would have been okay, she thought; annoyance was better than nothing. But nothing was what Jolyne had.

Stone Free gazed at her still, impassive behind the strange glasses she had never seen it without. Maybe there was nothing underneath them at all. She imagined reaching for them and taking them off, only to find blank smooth space where eyes should have been.

It probably wouldn’t stop her. Then again, she wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

Jolyne hugged her knees to her chest. A memory flashed, unwelcome, to the front of her mind: her father, half curled up in his office chair, one long leg folded against his chest, the other underneath him. It was strange, she had thought, to see someone so large trying to make himself so small. Stranger still that he so easily fell asleep in front of a glowing screen like that, though it wasn’t exactly uncommon for him.

She had been young, seven or eight, but she still knew drying tears when she saw them, and how to recognize when she had been part of a moment that was meant to leave no witnesses. It was possible that he figured out who threw the blanket clumsily over his shoulders when his cramped legs finally woke him sometime before dawn, but if Jotaro knew, he had kept as quiet about it as she had.

“Something happened.”

She swallowed. Was she really talking to her own Stand? Was she talking to herself? Her father? Who was it she hoped was listening? Did she want anyone to hear her at all?

“Something happened,” Jolyne repeated softly. “It’s—something’s gone wrong, you know, and I think it’s—I think it’s my fault, that it’s all wrong. And, and I don’t know, I don’t know if I can do it. This. And I don’t know what’ll…I don’t know what happens if I can’t.”

She laughed angrily. “Like, this isn’t just, I don’t know, ‘oh, I’m so worried, I don’t know what happens next’ and then I’m about to get up and, and go save the day after I have my shitty little moment. I really feel like I might be fucked and if I’m fucked they’re fucked and he’s fucked and—and…”

I just got you back. You can’t leave now.

The sickly yellow light flickered overhead, threatening to fail altogether. Jolyne glanced up at it fearfully. Stone Free continued to stare at her until the moment passed, the glow reflecting green where it struck the pale blue surface.

“And I wish my dad were here,” Jolyne blurted. She made a convulsive motion as if to cover her mouth.

Not like there’s anyone here to hide it from. Her hands fell limply to her lap and she stared down at them in defeat. “I hate that I wish he were here. I hate it because I…God, I miss hating him, you know? I miss it when I hated him almost as much as I lo—as much as I cared about him. And I, I miss when I couldn’t even tell the two apart because I never needed to.” She shook her head. “I miss not needing to know the difference.”

It made her a little bit ill, to think of her father needing her. To think that Jotaro was even capable of something so soft as needing anyone at all. She preferred to think of him watching her, alert and strong as ever, from somewhere far away. It would almost be easier to think of this all as a cruel sort of test; it would have been easier to accept his nature being a callous one, rather than come to terms with the impossible presence of the warmth she had always craved, knowing it might now be lost to her.

Stone Free sat, cross-legged, still watching her closely, still silent.

“Right. You probably can’t even hear me. You never say anything.”

Jolyne paused.

“You remind me of him.”

She wondered if her father had ever wished his stand would just hit him for once. Fighting it would be easier than sitting here with it just looking at her and looking at her and saying fuck all.

“Just that stupid fucking ora ora shit,” she mumbled, wiping at her eyes. “That’s all you know how to do, isn’t it?”

If she was going to cry, she had to do it quietly. There was a reason for the oppressive silence of the solitary ward, and it didn’t just have to do with punishment by isolation. If any of the surrounding cells’ occupants heard her, even the faintest sob through the thick stone that separated them—I’m dead.

Dead faster than she already expected to be, in any case.

Jolyne buried her face in her arms, trying to crush the tears back down. Just like Hermes had said, right? I don’t think I have time to cry right now.

  She wished Hermes were here. Hermes would get her sorry ass off the ground. Or Foo Fighters. Or her father, hell, even her mother, even her shitty ex-boyfriend might be able to piss her off badly enough to push her out of inaction—but Jolyne knew she was alone, more ultimately and completely than she had ever felt herself to be.

At first she barely noticed the hand on her shoulder. Only once the remarkable heat of its touch grew to be too much to ignore did she raise her head and look up at it with blurry eyes.

Stone Free gripped her arm. It peered down at her, and its expression, fixed as it was, seemed to soften.

The second presence, however, was harder to pin down. She didn’t quite see it so much as feel that there was someone else in that cell with her; the face seemed to flicker half into view only when she looked away, fading when she tried to focus on the features as though she were trying to catch the details of a sunspot. A face vaguely remembered from the faded photograph Jotaro used to keep on his desk, or a relic of childhood dreams she never seemed to remember in the morning.

Who are you?

Stone leaned forward, almost hesitantly, and touched its forehead to hers.

If an ordinary guard had passed by then, they would have seen only Jolyne, leaning into what appeared to be empty space with her eyes closed. If they were the right sort of person, or if they hadn’t slept for a day or so, or even if they simply turned away fast enough, they might have seen a young man with pale red hair and cherry-shaped earrings, holding her steady.

 

IV.

 

ah sacré papa

dis-moi où es-tu caché?

 

You should have dragged her out of there.

Kakyoin was silent as he watched Jotaro’s body disappear into the UUV. It was all too familiar, he thought.

I know you hear me. He knew the nature of bullets that refused to land far too well.

Isn’t it your job to protect—isn’t that what Stands do? Protect the user even when they damn well didn’t ask?

It’s my will that’s bound to her. Kakyoin shook his head slightly. It’s not my soul. Her Stand, her spirit.

She should have left me.

Kakyoin shook himself slightly, Stone Free dematerializing as Jolyne raised her hands above her head with a grim expression. Strange, the mannerisms that carried over in the absence of a body. Even Kakyoin, who had been without his now for longer than he’d been alive with it in the first place.

She should have left me, Jotaro repeated. I was already gone.

Kakyoin looked at him sharply. You’re not dead yet.

No? Then what do you call this?

There’s more to do. You’re the only one who can.

Well. He watched the shrinking horizon bitterly. Isn’t that how it always goes?

Whatever happens, happens. Kakyoin laid a hand on his shoulder. You won’t be going on alone.

A feeling he knew, although not one he had needed to remember in a long time. Lying on the gravel in Cairo, staring up at the stars, knowing the heaviness pinning his soul to his stopped heart belonged to someone else, someone whose own crushed body hadn’t yet gone cold on the rooftops above. It hadn’t been fair then and it wasn’t fair now.

Jotaro glanced at him. You always did know how to hold me down.

There is a limit to what I can do for you, I’m sure. But I will fight until the day I reach it. For both of you, Kakyoin added, looking towards Green Dolphin, dwindling rapidly now as the UUV sped away from it.

Why did she stay? Why wouldn’t she just go?

As I said. You completely underestimated her.

You don’t—

You underestimated how far she is willing to go for you. You underestimated how much like you she is and you underestimated how badly she needed what you couldn’t give to her until the very end.

She could have left me.

She was never going to do that.

Dusk turned to night turned to dawn around them. The sense of his body, somewhere far below.

She doesn’t want to lose you before she had the chance to have you in her life knowing that you care. So I don’t know what happens next. You have a lot of lost time to make up for.

I know. Jotaro looked at him, his shape still recognizable despite being so far away from anything it had been to him in life. I miss you.

I’m sorry for how things turned out, but you can’t stop yet. You owe Jolyne more than that.

 

V.

 

un jour ou l’autre on sera tous papa

et d’un jour à l’autre on aura disparu

 

Two steps.

His eyes in pieces, the world gone white-hot and dark.

You were late by two steps.

Had to be a mistake. They had done everything right.

Too late.

Jolyne had been brave—he had been proud—pulled him free from death, it couldn’t come again now—not yet—

Jotaro Kujo…

She understood. She had understood him. He had seen it in her eyes. There hadn’t been enough time. He needed to tell her—to tell her…

…your daughter is your weakness.

Had it all led to this? A weakness to be exploited?

All he had done could fall to nothing, and he accepted that, it was a risk he knew he took every time he stepped between bullet and target, but Jolyne was different. Her hope still blazed, searing, far more than enough to blind any of them. There was no justice in that strong heart suffering such a hopeless fate.

Jolyne.

The last of Dio’s cruelty hadn’t been dodged at all. It had only been flung through time. A strike meant for him thirty years ago, finally landed in the way of a nightmare; the knife was lodged in Jolyne’s side. She still had yet to see him fall.

You’re what matters.

As Jotaro’s vision darkened for the last time, his daughter remained until the end, bright as a dying star.

You always will be.

 

VI.

 

serons-nous détestables?

 

He could not remember landing, only falling, plummeting through an impossibly dark sky towards an ocean with no horizon. He touched down clumsily, the hand that caught him by the arm mid-stumble all that kept him from falling through the water.

“Jolyne—?”

Not Jolyne. Kakyoin blinked up at him with unfocused eyes.

“Your face,” he breathed, reaching for the thick line of light that stretched from forehead to jaw. He pulled his hand back as though he expected Jotaro’s wound to burn him.

“You’re still—?”

He shook his head. “I can’t—I don’t—”

Some distance away, Hermés and Anasui slowly got to their feet, feeling for the bright patches through which death had reached them moments earlier. Hermés paused, her arms folded, before looking up sharply to see a tall young woman with light hair racing towards her. When the woman flung her arms around her, she held her fiercely, cheeks glittering with tears.

Kakyoin staggered back with a gasp, his distant expression collapsing in horror. His form flickered once, then held strong.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I—I’m sorry, I couldn’t—she’s—”

“Hey. Hey.”

He looked down at Jotaro’s hands on his shoulders, unable to meet his eyes.

“I couldn’t save her,” Kakyoin murmured. “I failed y—”

“Don’t you ever fucking say that.”

Jotaro gripped him tighter until he glanced up reluctantly.

“Don’t ever,” he hissed, “say that to me.”

Unfamiliar lights twisted into place overhead, something close to stars but not quite in line with any memories of life. Kakyoin narrowed his eyes.

“Is it usually like that?”

He shook his head slowly. “I’ve never—”

She slammed into her landing too quickly for any attempt to catch her, throwing up curtains of black water that left no stain, rolling back onto her heels with the force of it as though she still expected to run from some unseen danger.

Emporio—!”

Jolyne leaped to her feet, looking around wildly. Her eyes settled first on Hermés, in the distance, and finally, on her father. Her hand rested unconsciously on the patch of light shining from her side, marking the place where the knife had struck her. A single butterfly that had arrived with her fluttered away, drifting towards Hermés and her sister.

“Dad,” she whispered. “Dad…?”

He had her in his arms before he realized he had moved towards her at all, and she stiffened for only an instant before collapsing back into him. She shook with what felt like a sob, but when he looked down at her face, her eyes were open and dry, almost angry.

“Jolyne,” Jotaro mumbled. “Oh, Jolyne.”

“I’m s…I tried to—I think I—something’s going to…”

She stared up at the sky, at the lights that had appeared with her.

“Emporio,” she said softly. “I gave him…I did everything I—”

“You did beautifully.”

Jolyne flinched, looking back at him with wide eyes.

“I am so proud.” He shook his head with a smile she had never seen before. “I am so proud of you.”

“Oh, shut up,” Jolyne croaked. “Don’t make me—you’re such an asshole.”

She wiped her eyes on his coat and froze when she heard Kakyoin’s muffled giggle. He watched the two of them carefully, still keeping his distance, whether out of respect or hesitancy it remained unclear.

When she met his eyes, she could think only of the old framed photograph from her childhood that had rested on Jotaro’s desk like a tombstone. Jolyne had resented the picture for a long time, the way it took her father away from her. He would pause, put down what he was reading or look away from the screen, easily distracted from his work in a way he never seemed to be when it was Jolyne who wanted his attention. Jotaro went somewhere distant when he looked at that picture. He would still answer, when she called for him, but his eyes were glazed over, far away.

Still she had always wanted to be as close to him as possible, and she had spent enough time in that office to have the faces memorized, enough to recognize the young man standing before her. And yet she felt that she knew him in a closer sense; she not only recognized him, but remembered him.

“I know you, don’t I.”

Jolyne felt like a child again, peering over her father’s arm at that stranger who wasn’t a stranger at all. He blinked at her slowly, almost catlike, and his was a familiar silence.

Gently she pulled herself away from Jotaro, who was clinging to her uncharacteristically tightly, as though he feared she might dissipate if he let go. She squeezed his arm, a reassurance foreign to give, even more foreign to receive.

Facing him she imagined she saw two faces at once, her Stand flickering in and out much the way his face had seemed to that day when their places were reversed. It would have been surprising had she not turned to him already knowing the answer to the question she had barely needed to ask, though she had no words to give either of them that would explain why it was she knew it was true.

He smiled sadly. “Hello, Jolyne.”

Jolyne stared at him, dumbfounded, as he placed his hands on her shoulders. Standing next to her father had dwarfed him, but he was not a short man by any means, and she had to lean back in order to get a good look at his face. He was young, she thought. Too young.

He hesitated, then leaned forward and touched his forehead lightly to hers, and Jolyne knew exactly who he was.

“I wish we could have met,” Kakyoin said quietly, “under better circumstances.”

“Yeah,” she muttered. “Me too.”

“I’m sorry that I—I couldn’t—”

“Don’t.” Jolyne pushed him back slightly, and when she met his eyes this time she saw the bottomless guilt and grief that rested behind them.

“Don’t,” she repeated. “You…you did…so much. For me—us.”

“I tried to,” Kakyoin murmured. “I tried to—oh!”

He watched Jotaro stifle his smile over the top of Jolyne’s head, eyes growing round. Eternally the teenager far too surprised by affection, but he had known her well for the short time they had together, and he hugged her back after a brief pause.

“You did,” Jolyne said. “You did.”

“At first I thought it was just Jotaro.” Kakyoin glanced at him carefully. “That brought me to you. I was there, and he clearly wanted something to protect you, our wills had—we have been tied to one another for a long time. I assumed…that was all it was. Because it was what he would want.”

The newly born stars circled overhead, moving quickly enough now to leave streaks in the sky as day and night flashed into one another too rapidly to tell apart.

“You were always pretty good at taking care of yourself,” he said, addressing Jotaro directly. “But—I didn’t want you getting proved right again, about what happens to the people you love.”

“Yeah, well.” Jolyne pulled away, watching her reflection in the inky water. “That worked out, didn’t it?”

“Jolyne,” Jotaro said sharply. “That’s not funny.”

“Wasn’t meant to be.”

Kakyoin chuckled. “There’s something about you.”

“Me?”

“Yes.” He spun in place absently, watching the ripples move away, towards Jotaro and Jolyne and then beyond them, to Hermés and Anasui, Weather and F.F. Hermés watched Jolyne, conscious of the moment she needed, but her face glowed with worry, nearly as brightly as the still-fading lines of light that served to echo the wounds on her arms.

“I’m glad it was you,” he said. “I’m proud of you. Whether I—whether it’s my place to be or not…I am.”

 

VII.

 

serons-nous admirables?

 

“Did we…fail?”

The strange black sun that had appeared only moments before began to dissolve as Jotaro watched. “I’m not sure,” he said slowly.

“What was the point?” Jolyne murmured. “Dad, what was the point?”

“I…”

He wanted to give her a better answer. He wanted to tell her about a different ending, one where something underneath the myriad of ways in which he had failed her gave all of it meaning, if not an undercurrent of hope.

“I don’t know.”

Hope had never been Jotaro’s strong point.

“Look at you.” Kakyoin shook his head, almost smiling. “Look at you. Look at both of you.”

Curiously he held his hand against the light and watched as pieces of his form tore away, somehow leaving him no less complete, but not quite solid either.

“All that love. You…you really think it was all for nothing,” he said. “You can’t believe that.”

“Then what…” Jolyne hugged her father harder, her voice muffled now by nature of her face being buried in his coat. “Then—what was it?”

“He’s your father,” Kakyoin said simply. “He’ll be your father again.”

“Noriaki—”

“Next time,” he continued, ignoring Jotaro, “next time, I think, you’ll find each other faster. You may not remember what you—what you did. For one another. You won’t. It won’t be real for you there. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen at all. What you’ve…your lives, whatever they may become, they will have to be a testament to the way you fought. For each other. That’s all I can say with any certainty, but I know it. As well as I can know anything.”

“And what if he leaves again?”

Jotaro stiffened. He closed his eyes, resting his chin on the top of his daughter’s head. It won’t come to that ever again.

Times like this he wished he were a better liar. He never could bluff against Jolyne, after all.

“If I leave.”

Kakyoin watched him with a strange expression that could almost have passed for pride.

“If I leave,” he repeated slowly, “no matter how many times I leave, there will be…I want to believe there could…if there are this many answers…”

Stars tugged gently but insistently at the edges of his form, but he held tight to Jolyne. Last chance to say it, to say any of it, no matter what he allowed himself to believe.

“If there are this many futures,” Jotaro said, “I have to believe—hope…that in at least one of them I worked out how to stay.”

“Do you promise?”

“Jolyne—”

“Dad.” She twisted free from his arms and glared up at him. Jolyne hadn’t cried in front of him like this since she was a child, since she broke her arm falling out of the apricot tree, since the day he left her there in the driveway. She had clung to her mother’s skirt then, hiding her face, but this time it was her father’s sleeve she clutched at, and she looked at him, unhesitating and defiant, as though she were daring him to confront the depth of the love with which she had lived and never had anywhere to put down.

“I’m asking you—” Jolyne swallowed angrily. “You promise me. You promise you’ll catch me when I get there.”

“I can’t…” Jotaro took a deep breath, unable to meet her eyes. “I don’t know—”

“No. Not—look at me.”

Green eyes. He had never thought to remember the last person to make a habit of asking him for impossible things when he looked at her. If he allowed himself to feel his memories whenever they surfaced he would never have been able to move at all.

Kakyoin smiled to himself, unnoticed by father or daughter.

“I will come,” Jotaro said slowly. “I’ll be there.”

“Promise.”

“I…promise.”

Surprising to find it barely felt like a lie. Jolyne smiled at him, and for a moment, he saw not a young woman, but a little girl, waving at him from the far end of the beach as she shouted at him to hurry up.

I don’t want to go in the water without you.

“Okay,” she said. “I’ll see you there.”

She looked over his shoulder at Kakyoin and mouthed thank you. Kakyoin winked.

“Good luck,” he called.

“Wait—” Jotaro spun towards her. “Jolyne—!”

She didn’t jump so much as fall; she didn’t fall so much as allow the light to take her. Jotaro may have had an intimate knowledge of being too late, but it was Jolyne who knew when she had locked eyes with a lost cause.

Her smile lingered after her form faded, as though he had looked for too long at a star shining far too brightly for the world in which it had been permitted to exist.

“I’ll see you there,” he whispered. “I’ll come.”

When Kakyoin wrapped his hand around Jotaro’s, he looked down to see an old school coat, his own frame somehow both lighter and heavier. It made sense that Kakyoin would remember him as a teenager, that he might be momentarily defined here by such a thing. Maybe it answered more to his own memories of what they had been to each other. Laws he had no comprehension of and would not have time to come to understand.

“Kind of thought you’d forget how to get scared after being dead this long.” He glanced at Kakyoin, who clung to him in a way that might have cut off circulation if he’d still had it. “You hang on too tight when you get like this.”

Present tense, he realized. Maybe he really had sunk into the past, here at the death of the future.

“I’m not scared to go,” Kakyoin said slowly, his eyes straight ahead. “Wherever it is we’re…wherever we’re going next. I’m not scared to go there.”

“Then what—”

“I’m afraid I won’t…know you there.”

Jotaro stared at him. “You didn’t seem too worried about that when it was Jolyne you were trying to talk down.”

“I was trying to talk you down too.” He chuckled sadly. “She’s your daughter. You’re her father. I think that’s different, I don’t…I—”

“We don’t have time for talking in circles."

The roaring in their ears grew ever louder as the storm’s eye shrank around them.

“We just as easily might have not met at all, Jotaro, you know that?” He shuddered again. “I might have just—one wrong step—or I guess, right step? Might have never, Dio might never have—at all. None of it. Would have just lived and not ever known you.”

“Most people don’t sound so bitter about the concept of not dying before they were out of their teens.”

“Most people aren’t choosing between living and knowing you.”

“I—Jesus Christ, Noriaki.” Jotaro laughed, amazed. “You can’t just say that shit.”

“You asked.”

“Guess so.”

“I…say I get a life back. Sure. Fine. I jump down there, and, and I’m me again, and I get a life back, but it’s not mine, it—it won’t be mine because I, because you won’t be in it. I’ll never even—never even know what’s missing. Just live the whole thing with a hole in my heart.”

“I’ll find you.”

He looked up at Jotaro, startled by the sudden intensity in his voice.

“I’ll find you,” he repeated. “Doesn’t matter if I don’t remember you. I’ll know you. I’ll always know you. And I swear that I’ll find you again.”

Kakyoin stood very still as their universe tore to pieces at his back, staring at Jotaro as he held tightly to his hands.

“Do you believe me?”

He paused and found himself confronted with flashes of lives both past and future, fated and impossible, infinite realities cracking open before him. There must be at least one where we were happy, he thought.

“Yeah,” he said softly. “Yeah, I’ll meet you there.”

 

VIII.

 

ca doit faire au moins mille fois que j’ai compté mes doigts

 

“Oh—I’m sorr—”

Their heads smacked together with a sharp crack. He had meant to reach for the pencils the other student had dropped when they first collided; the boy, it seemed, had had the same idea. He shook his head, trying to chase the stars from his eyes.

 

You had this look in your eyes, like you had just realized that nothing would be okay ever again. And you tried to smile, you tried to smile at me so that I wouldn’t be afraid, but you were staring at the sky and your hands were shaking and I had no idea what to say to you. I had always been the one to tell you that things would be all right. You got so angry when I tried to tell you that, but I meant it. Every time, I meant it, which was why I couldn’t say it then. No matter how badly I wanted to take your pain away, I couldn’t lie to you.

I felt like I was watching a meteor coming towards the earth, bigger and bigger until it swallowed up the sky, and there was nothing I could do about it. I wanted to tell you that I was afraid for you, and I was afraid for me. Were those things I was even allowed to feel? Am I allowed to be  afraid for myself even now? Is my life my own to fear for?

 

The boy laughed nervously. “Should’ve watched where I was…sorry.”

“Not a big deal. Been hit harder by stray footballs.”

He smiled.

 

All I ever wanted was to keep you safe.

All I ever wanted was to keep you safe.

 

“Here.” He handed over a drawing pad, careful to keep it face down. “You an artist?”

“When I want to be.” The boy took it and blew loose red hair out of his face, looking at him curiously.

“What?”

“I—well, most people try to look. At it.”

“Well.” He shrugged. “Figured that’s your business.”

 

Is it selfish of me, to be glad that it’s me who’s going first? Is it cruel to feel relief? I don’t want to leave you alone. But I don’t want to be alone, either.

We should have had more time. I should have been able to give us more time, I should have been able to give you more time. You were supposed to come home with me on that train. I wasn’t supposed to have to do this alone. Not after knowing what it’s like not to be.

 

“I don’t think I’ve seen you before,” he said.

“Probably not. I just transferred.”

“Oh.” He offered his hand. The red-haired boy hesitated, then allowed himself to be pulled to his feet. When he saw his face, it took everything he had not to recoil.

 

The light of dead stars won’t falter when their lives flicker out. As long as there’s someone to see it, that starlight will always find them, as I will always find you. When the stars reach for you from a million miles away you will remember how it felt to be home.

I never wanted to have to learn how to remember you. I always had a shit memory for faces. This isn’t right. It isn’t fair.

 

“Are you—?” The boy’s face fell, sensing his distress. “Are you okay?”

What could he say? I think I’ve dreamed about you? That he knew his face from nightmares? That he had seen him with his guts punched out, seen him smiling and laughing and dying, with clarity that belonged more to a memory than a dream?

He looked down at their hands, still wound together.

 

It was never going to be fair.

You lying bastard. You promised.

 

“Yeah,” he said, forcing a smile until it felt real. “Sorry. Tired. I’m Jotaro. Kujo.”

The boy smiled back with a familiar gentleness.

“My name’s Noriaki,” he said. “Noriaki Kakyoin.”

It was not recognition, when they looked at one another, but the feeling of an echo, the answer to a promise made in another lifetime. They stared at each other curiously, each struck by the sense that this, the first time, was not the first time at all; that this moment had come a million times before and would come a million times again.

 

You will never be alone. You will never be alone. You will never be alone.

 

They knew exactly what to expect, and at the same time, knew nothing at all.

 

 

IX.

 

où t’es papa où t’es?

où t’es où t’es où papa, où t’es?

 

Irene stared at the ceiling and waited for her heartbeat to slow. A cool breeze reached her through the open window, and she shivered a little when the goosebumps rose on her shoulders, unwilling to pull the sheets she had kicked off in her sleep back up lest she disturb the notoriously light sleeper at her side. Irene had asked her to close the windows before bed, but she found it difficult to be irritated in any sort of meaningful way.

“Mmmmh.”

“Sorry,” Irene said. “Tried t—”

“Not your fault,” Hermés mumbled, rolling over. She looked blearily up at Irene. “Had the dream again?”

“You can tell.”

“Pulse’s going nuts.”

“So?”

“So it—you know, that’s what woke me up.” She leaned back on her elbows and rolled her neck. “You okay?”

“Sure. Fine.”

“Don’t be a dumbass—hey!”

Irene giggled as Hermés tried and failed to block the pillow with her wrist mid-swing. She wasn’t above banking on things such as morning slowness.

“You’re annoying,” Hermés declared, sinking back down to pull the blankets over her head.

“You love it.”

“I tolerate it.”

“Yeah.” Irene stretched, wincing when her shoulders popped. “Are you gonna want coffee?”

“That shit makes me crazy.”

“You—like, you do understand, you say that every morning and then come over and drink mine anyway.”

The blankets muffled her snort. “What was that you just said about loving it?”

“Oh, fuck yourself.”

“Isn’t that your j—don’t hit me with that thing again!”

Irene laughed and dropped her pillow. “You’re the worst.”

“Yep,” Hermés said proudly. “Don’t ever forget it.”

“Like I—like you’d let me.” The hardwood floor was cold against her feet, still bare despite her father’s repeated stating that if it bothered her so much she should be wearing slippers. On paper Irene was holding out for carpet. If she was honest with herself she knew he was right about cold floors helping her wake up faster, but she certainly wouldn’t have dreamed of saying that to his face.

She leaned over her discarded pillow to kiss Hermés on the cheek.

“Love you,” mumbled Hermés. “Whatever.”

Her smile lingered as she stepped into the quiet hallway, careful to avoid the creaky floorboards just outside her door that had betrayed her so often as a teenager before she learned to sneak back in through the window if she wanted to avoid both her fathers and the consequences of being caught. These days she avoided them out of habit as much as consideration for the others.

She ran her hand absently over the photographs that lined the wall as she passed, stopping to straighten the frames she found crooked. Hermés had made it up there a little over a month ago, represented by a half-stained Polaroid that was treated with the same reverence as the wedding photos that hung above it. She grinned out at Irene, her arms around a disgruntled and very sandy Emporio, though he had only allowed the corner of his face into the picture.

Emporio and F.F. weren’t much for photos, but at least they didn’t make an effort to duck out of frame like Weather did. It certainly wasn’t enough to dissuade her stepfather in any case.

Why’re you so into pictures? she had asked him once, waving a developing photograph gently in front of her face.

He shrugged, smiling. I like to make copies of my memories. You never know how much time you’ve got.

Kinda grim.

I don’t think of it that way. I think we should be proud of living so much that’s worth remembering.

“You’re up early.”

She glanced at the kitchen clock, still persistently running six minutes too fast. Jesus. “Didn’t realize.” Silently she thanked Hermés for not being more ornery about the six a.m. wake up call. “Where’s Noriaki?”

“Still asleep.” Jotaro glanced up from his book. “Water’s already warm.”

“You’re great,” she mumbled. “He got back okay?”

“Mm. Just a little later than he expected.”

“How’re they?”

He paused. “Apparently they might actually…get married. Legally, I mean.”

Irene nearly dropped the mug she was holding. “Are you fucking with me?”

Jotaro chuckled at her expression and shook his head.

“No,” he said. “Mohammed said they’ve been talking, but. Likely means it’ll be years before they’re ready to make a decision, you know—forget acting on it.”

“Christ,” she muttered. “I’m gonna lose the bet.”

“The…?” He laughed again. “You made a bet?”

“I thought—well, I thought it wouldn’t happen at all. I mean, we were all, it was crazy enough when they admitted they were together.”

“I remember.”

“They were living together for, like, how long? Before that?”

“Five years. Give or take.”

“You see—!”

Jotaro closed his book carefully. “You don’t have to explain yourself to me,” he said. “Just remember what I told you about making bets. Never—”

“Never bet something you aren’t ready to lose.” Irene rolled her eyes. “Pretty standard advice, you know.”

“For good reason.”

The smell of cut grass wafted through the open window, accompanied by the early morning chill. It wouldn’t be burned away by the sun for another few hours at the very least. Irene moved to close it, but the salty ocean air stopped her, coaxing her into accepting a little cold in order to let it through.

“You’re still tired,” Jotaro said, watching her out of the corner of his eye.

Irene shrugged. “Fucked up dreams.”

He nodded. “Remember any of them?”

“Not really,” she lied, shaking out the coffee grinder with more than necessary force. “Just didn’t sleep great.”

“Hermés still here?”

“It’s just for another night,” she said quickly. She shifted uncomfortably. “She had, like…she didn’t really tell me. I think probably some, a fight with her sister or—”

“Irene.” Jotaro shook his head, smiling. “She can stay as long as she needs. Just wanted to know.”

“Right. Yeah.”

She glanced at the long, thin birthmark that stretched from her father’s forehead to his chin.

“You ever heard of that shit that’s like—you know, that’s like your birthmarks are how you died in the, in a past life?”

He rested his chin on one hand, eyes on her back. “I’ve heard of it.”

“Kind of fucked up, right?”

“I guess the….”

Irene turned to face him.

“…it would depend on the birthmark,” Jotaro said, scratching unconsciously at his forehead. “You’d have something serious to account for, I think.”

She snorted. “And you wouldn’t?”

“I don’t exactly…put stock in it, I suppose. In things like that.”

“Not enough cited sources, huh?”

“Something like that.” His smirk faded. “I think—well, I…it’s not important.”

“I’ve been having dreams about it,” Irene said quickly, before she could lose her nerve. “Like, seeing shit happen to all of us. With the birthmarks.”

She gestured vaguely in his direction. “Your face. Getting. I…yeah.”

Jotaro narrowed his eyes. “Nightmares?”

“I guess.”

Childish to say that they felt more like memories than dreams, or that she often woke up feeling cold and sad, dissatisfied in a way she couldn’t quite explain. Staring at her side in the mirror, at the patchy blotch of a birthmark she’d had since childhood, trying to shake off the phantom feeling of a knife. Recently, but less frequently, she had found herself watching her father more closely than usual just to be sure that his face was still in one piece.

The chair creaked when she dropped heavily into it and she froze for a moment, waiting for the telltale sounds of feet on the hardwood.

“You know,” Jotaro said slowly. “I used to have those.”

Irene blinked. “You mean nightmares?”

“Yeah.” He nodded. “Was about your age. A little younger, I guess.”

“They’re a pain in the ass,” she muttered.

“Used to dream I was seeing Noriaki get punched clean through.”

She paused, hand frozen mid-nervous tap on the table. “…Really.”

“Mhm.”

The star-shaped discoloration that took up the better part of Kakyoin’s torso that had fascinated Irene ever since she was a child. She held on to old memories of Jotaro half-heartedly telling her not to stare and Kakyoin laughing brightly when she poked at his stomach.

“Did you ever…tell him?”

“Not at the time.” He shook his head. “We had just met. Would have been a little strange to tell my new friend ‘hey, I’ve been dreaming about your disembowelment’.”

Irene laughed. “If there’s anyone who would take that in stride—”

“—it would be him, I know. Which is—I did tell him. Much later.”

“Tell him what?”

“Dreams.” Jotaro allowed Kakyoin to lean on his shoulders, wincing slightly when elbows dug into his back. “I told you not to sneak up on me.”

“Not my fault you don’t hear me coming,” Kakyoin said. “We aren’t all huge and loud.”

“I’m not loud.”

Kakyoin raised his eyebrows at Irene over the top of her father’s head. She looked away to hide her smile.

“I thought you didn’t buy into that dream reading stuff.” He squinted at the mug in his hands, unable to make out the text. Irritating to need glasses for that sort of thing, but he often expressed that he knew things could be worse. “Jotaro, which one is this?”

“Aquarium. And I don’t,” he added. “Doesn’t mean I can’t talk about it.”

“Sounded like you were talking about your old ones.”

Irene glanced at him and Jotaro shrugged.

“They were…well, you know.”

Kakyoin nodded and yawned. A bird wailed outside, song too shrill to make out a melody.

“You ever think about birthmark reincarnations, Noriaki?”

He blinked. “The—the what?”

“Birthmarks are how you died in a past life.” Irene took a sip of coffee and grimaced. She had been too distracted to remember sugar. “That’s what I’ve heard, I mean.”

“Oh, God, no.” He shuddered. “I mean—I hope not. Look at your dad’s face.”

Me?” Jotaro stared at him. “What about you?”

“Well…I guess.”

Kakyoin fell silent, watching cream spread like a cloud through the dark liquid. It drove Jotaro crazy, usually, that he rarely bothered with stirring it at all.

“I just don’t like,” he said slowly, “the idea of it all having happened before.”

“I don’t really mind it,” Kakyoin mused. “Second chances are nice.”

Jotaro smiled, shaking his head. “You would look at it like that.”

“And what—what does that mean?”

“Nothing bad—Noriaki!

Kakyoin grinned and ducked out of the way, winking at Irene. Little surprise that she had developed a fondness for throwing pillows at Hermés, after learning how to be in love by growing up with the two of them.

Jotaro shook his ruffled hair like a large and disgruntled dog.

“I’ll be outside,” Kakyoin told them, pulling his coat from a crowded rack near the door.

“Aren’t you—” Jotaro glanced at the glittering frost only just beginning to melt away from the windowsill. “Isn’t it cold?”

“Well, of course.” He stopped, hand on the doorframe. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“‘There’ll be time to be comfortable when I’m dead’,” Irene said.

“That was…” Jotaro groaned, getting to his feet. “That was about something different.”

He did take up an amazing amount of space, Irene thought. She had always found it comforting.

“Dad,” she said. “Thank you.”

Jotaro set his half-empty mug on the counter. “For?”

“Just—I don’t know. Thank you.”

He paused, turning to watch her with a strange expression that slowly became a smile.

“You’re what matters,” Jotaro said. “You always will be.”