“Good morning, Morioh! And what a beautiful morning it is, too...the perfect day to spend some quality time outside with your friends and family. We have our first song of the day coming up in just a few moments, now…”
Josuke stifled a yawn with one hand from the back of the car, tucking his knees up to his chest and staring blankly out the window as the side of the highway slowly but surely started to blur into his familiar hometown. He was annoyed with himself at how tired he felt; coming back home from college for the first summer, it should’ve been something real exciting, energizing him. He could feel that urge pricking at him, looking at the scenery go by, the want to have feelings about it with no ability to follow through. The most he could muster was a vague nausea. He first blamed it on the jet lag, following the horrible red-eye his mom had booked him on to get him back as soon as possible, but he knew it wasn’t just that. It’d be stupid to think otherwise...that the reason he was back wasn’t fucking with his head a little.
It didn’t help that no one was talking. It made sense for Jotaro, he supposed, who was stony-faced as ever as he focused on the road ahead of them, but not even his mom had anything to say. Yeah, that was fucking with his head a little, too; they’d exchanged emails and talked on the phone at holidays and stuff, obviously, but this was the first time he’d seen her in person since he moved into his dorm, and she was all business. Every so often she’d lean back from the passenger’s seat to look at him, this sad worried-stressed expression on her face, and try a little smile before returning to her own brooding. The only sound in the car was the radio, playing uncommented upon, and it almost seemed like an intrusion.
As they passed the radio tower, she turned back again, same expression, only this time she spoke, voice strained with lack of use. “Josuke,” she started, coughing a little before continuing. “When we get to the hospital...I want you to call him Dad, okay? Can you do that? For me?”
It’s not like they weren’t expecting something like this to happen, sometime. Mr. Joestar—Joseph—Josuke’s dad—whoever—was old as hell, after all, and, you know, these things become a real possibility, not just some freaky what-if that keeps your mom up at night. That didn’t make it any less scary or shocking, though, when (according to the frantic phone call Josuke had received), Mr. Joestar suddenly keeled over while watering the garden and keeping an eye on baby Shizuka. It was a god-send Jotaro had been out there with them, moving fast enough to stop Shizuka from falling on her head as Mr. Joestar lost his grip on her, fast enough to call 911. Seriously. If he’d been anywhere else—even just upstairs inside the house—Josuke bit his lip, frowning as the unpleasant thought came to mind.
Josuke didn’t know exactly still if it had been a stroke or a heart attack or what; he’d gotten the phone call real late at night, and his mom had been practically incomprehensible, wheezing with what was clearly the remaining racks of half-suppressed sobs. Maybe it was better not to know, then. What he did know, and what was actually important, was that Mr. Joestar's condition was currently stable—shitty, yeah, but stable. But. You never really know. And if his mom’s reaction was anything to go off of, this was still definitely one of those get every family member you can into town ASAP hospitalizations.
He’d had the whole car ride—and the whole flight—to sort out how he felt about this whole thing, but he hadn’t gotten around to doing it yet, so his stomach felt like it was in a fist fight with itself as the three of them pulled into the parking lot, as they silently piled into S City General Hospital, as a tired sounding nurse checked them in and gave them the room number. He tried to come up with some logline for how he felt about the old geezer, some tidy soundbite he could hold onto...something he could say for a eulogy, at a funeral. But it wasn’t that easy. Like, that was his dad—sort of. Josuke hadn’t even known Mr. Joestar existed until two years ago (and vice versa), which he was pretty sure slides any dad firmly into deadbeat territory. That pissed him off a little, knowing how hard his mom had to work to keep the two of them steady, especially when he was a little kid, so maybe he was mad, and that was it. But it felt really fucked up to be mad at some eighty year old full of tubes in a hospital bed, even if he was your bastard dad.
Thinking about it more, he wasn’t really his dad, not in any way that mattered. Right, Higashikata Josuke had no dad; he learned that early, listening to school parents whispering worriedly, seeing other kids being confused. That fact didn’t change because the guy decided to show up eighteen years late. Josuke’s portrait of Mr. Joestar was much more flattering when he wasn’t his dad—some funny old man who had wandered into his life, who his mom cared a lot about, who looked after Shizuka like a granddaughter and told weird rambling stories about his long life. Thinking about it like that, the word of the day was scared; scared of everything, but not enough to define any one fear that could then be managed. He was anxious over weird things, like how he couldn’t remember exactly the last time they’d spoken, the memory tucked away somewhere in those innumerable hours of babysitting and storytelling. Maybe this visit would be good for him, then, but the idea of that last memory being here actually made him feel worse about it.
Wriggling in that scared-mad, Josuke nearly had a heart attack himself when they opened the door to the hospital room. Mr. Joestar’s eyes were shut, and he was silent, completely silent but for the beeping of everything they’d plugged into him. Josuke wanted to shout that they were too late, that he had died and no one had noticed yet, and he really believed that in his heart for a second, stupid as it was. But then a nurse spoke from behind him in a sickly sweet voice, making him jump:
“Alright, Joseph, some people are here to visit. Your whole family’s here! Your son even flew all the way from K Prefecture to come see you!”
And the old man opened his eyes, slowly, and Josuke realized he was still standing in the doorway like an idiot while everyone else had sat down. They were all staring at him expectantly, like they were all waiting to hear what was going to come out of his mouth.
Josuke gulped, and, for the first time in two years, said “Hi, Dad,” in English to be sure Mr. Joestar understood despite how thick and awkward it felt in his mouth. It seemed to take a second to get through, but then he smiled, so maybe Josuke’s mom had been right and that was the right thing to do after all.
They stayed for the full duration of visiting hours, just sitting and talking to him (though maybe talking at him was more accurate a description). Josuke’s mom made him recite his whole class schedule, from both semesters, and describe exactly how each class had gone, what the professors were like, how hard the finals were—something he had a feeling he would be doing a lot in the next few days as various relatives trickled into Morioh. He didn’t know exactly how long they were there for, but eventually the nurse came in and gave Jotaro this pitying but expectant look, as in don’t make me say it but you all have to get out of here now. They all stood, lingering more than a little awkwardly, and said their goodbyes one by one; Josuke tried to wire as much of his brain power into remembering his, you know, just in case.
With that, he guessed his first summer break of college had finally started, weird as everything was. He tried to keep it out of his mind as much as he could. After all, he had way more important stuff to think about, now that he was back in Morioh—
Josuke was nearly knocked backwards by the force with which Okuyasu ran and hugged him, laughing. He felt exactly the same, though his behavior was much more reserved than Okuyasu’s; they emailed and called each other on the phone practically every day, but that was nothing compared to the two of them together, physically in real space and time.
“I missed you so much, man—”
“Yeah, yeah, I missed you too.”
“I’m serious…! It’s so cool seeing you…”
“Yeah—are you crying?”
“No!” Okuyasu retorted, but he turned his head away from Josuke and swiped at his eyes with one hand as he said it, so Josuke started laughing.
“You’re totally crying!”
“I told you, I’m not!”
“You so are!”
“No!!!” He sniffled indignantly, his faux anger starting to fade as he couldn’t keep a giggle out of his voice.
“Okay, maybe a little.”
Then they were both laughing, really laughing, on and off in violent peals until one would stop, look over at the other, and be unable to keep from starting again.
The plan had been to go to Rengatei for coffee and catch up there, but they never made it that far, instead just wandering aimlessly around Morioh and talking. They could go for hours like this, never landing anywhere, caught up entirely in conversation and fully trapped in each other’s words and ideas. For Josuke, it was one of the things that made him feel like he was home: this time that didn’t even really feel like time, spent talking about everything and nothing.
“So I’m taking some classes at the community college in S City...I dunno. I still have no idea what I even want to do...but I’m learning some real interesting stuff. Like, I have to take this bio class for a requirement, right? And it’s all about diseases and stuff, and how they work and what they do to your body. When someone gets sick and dies or whatever, I’d always thought about it like it was the virus that killed them, but that’s not super true because a virus doesn’t have a brain to even want to kill. It’s more like your body tries so hard to protect you, that it keeps ramping up your immune system, which works most of the time to get rid of any viruses, but if the virus is too strong or something eventually your body keeps trying and trying so hard that it accidentally kills you instead. So, I dunno. That really stuck with me, I guess. It’s freaky.”
Before they knew it the sun had started was starting to go down, and their legs were starting to get sore, so it was probably time to stop. They still had to walk home, but there was a brief moment of pause in which they perched on the curb outside of the now-closed Rengatei with their knees up to their chests (the irony of where they ended up not lost on Josuke).
“It was nice hanging out with you, dude,” Okuyasu eventually said, cutting the silence of them individually catching their breaths.
“It was nice hanging out with you too.”
“I’m so glad you’re back...I mean, it sucks what happened with the old man and everything but—I really did miss you.”
“I was gonna come back either way, man. I missed you too.”
“It’s nice talking to Koichi and Yukako and everyone still—obviously they’re my friends too, but—” Okuyasu continued, his brow furrowed slightly as though he were deep in thought about something. “I don’t know. Talking to you it’s like...different, somehow? Like, there’s this feeling in my chest that’s real nice and I feel like I can say whatever, and you won’t make fun of me or call me an idiot or anything. And even if you do it’ll be a joke, and I’ll know, and you won’t actually really think that. Is that weird?”
“No,” Josuke replied quickly without thinking, and took a minute to actually process what Okuyasu had said before elaborating. “I think I know what you mean. I guess I kinda feel like that too. I mean, you’re my best friend, man. So it’s not weird.”
A grin spread over Okuyasu’s face, slowly, and Josuke couldn’t help but smile a little too, watching the emotion work its way through the other boy’s expression.
“Yeah. Yeah, you’re my best friend, too.” Okuyasu was quiet for a moment, before looking up at the sky and standing, stretching with an audible crack of his back. “We should probably start walking back, huh?”
“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.”
The rest of their conversation as they walked was lighter in tone, or at least felt that way; Josuke didn’t know exactly what to make of whatever it was Okuyasu had told him, and especially didn’t know why he was even still thinking about it. That warm feeling Okuyasu had mentioned, Josuke felt it now, felt it thinking about him saying that. It had almost been like a confession of something, but not really, because nothing weird or dramatic happened. It was just because they were best friends, he eventually decided, and was satisfied with his own conclusion.
He was so wrapped up in that odd thought, he hardly noticed Okuyasu tugging at his sleeve, stopping in the middle of the sidewalk and calling Josuke’s name to get his attention.
“Oi, Josuke, look over there. Come on. I think there’s something in the field—-”
“I saw something, like, glittering. In the field.” He hooked a thumb behind him in the direction of the field in question, where sure enough something seemed to be catching the light of the setting sun. Josuke’s eyes went wide, and he turned to Okuyasu with a grin.
“What, do you think it’s like, a ring or something?”
“Maybe, maybe. Wanna check it out?”
“Totally.” Josuke started walking in the object’s direction, quickly looking back at Okuyasu, who returned his grin with a thumbs up. Josuke kept walking, a fair distance into the field, looking along the ground in search of anything that might have reflected the light like they’d seen. So far, he wasn’t finding anything, just dirt and rocks and grass...but then he did find something, and he felt his heart sink violently as he caught sight of it.
There was no way this could be real. No fucking way. He blinked hard, squeezing his eyes tight on the off chance that maybe this was some weird combination of dirt/rocks/grass that his tired head was making look like that, and that it would be gone once he opened his eyes again. But it still sat plainly in the grass in front of him, real and there and real.
“Holy shit,” he said under his breath, and from behind him Okuyasu called out, not realizing yet.
“Did you find it yet?”
Josuke turned to face him, and he guessed he wasn’t able to keep his shocked expression off his face, because Okuyasu too seemed to grow worried, even though he had no idea.
“Dude it’s a hand.”