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Jotaro hit the mattress on his back with a soft thump , watching the ceiling fan spin lazily overhead. December in Singapore seemed a far cry from what he knew to expect from winter back at home. Hot enough to justify running ceiling fans in hotel rooms, or to justify being annoyed by the lack of air conditioning in the first place.

He considered taking off his coat, weighing the cost of sitting up versus the cost of continuing to feel like crawling out of his overheated skin. It took him another five minutes to decide it was worth it. When he finally did push himself up, not quite slowly enough to avoid making his headache throb in protest, he found Kakyoin watching him half-surreptitiously from his perch on the corner of the opposite bed. He looked away quickly when their eyes met.

Still tense. Kakyoin seemed to get like that sometimes. Nervous around other people when he forgot to pretend he was in control. Though it was almost comforting, to see that it wasn’t only Jotaro who he shut down on. At least this wasn’t personal. And even if it had been, Jotaro figured they were getting along remarkably well considering it had only been a little over a week since Kakyoin had tried to kill him and he had returned the favor. Nine days out of fifty, which sounded better in his head than one-fifth, or more precisely eighteen percent of his mother’s remaining life expectancy. 

Thinking about it made him feel like a cinderblock had been hung from his heart. He tried not to think about it too much.

“You good?” he said at last.

Kakyoin glanced back at him and shrugged. “Haven’t really…” He paused, considering. “I’ve…traveled a fair amount, but…never quite like…that.”

Jotaro snorted. “Probably just gonna get worse.”

“I’m aware.” He shuddered. “As long as I don’t have to see another tongue get…”

“You know they used to watch surgery,” Jotaro told him as he pulled his coat off. “Operating theaters. For entertainment and all that shit.”

Kakyoin chuckled awkwardly. “Wasn’t exactly going to compare what that thing was doing to rich fucks watching people get their organs cut open for fun.”

“You didn’t seem too freaked at the time.”

“Being scared wasn’t gonna do anything but get in the way.”

Was it that he hadn’t been afraid, or he hadn’t seen the point in acting on it? He remembered Kakyoin’s expression being one of grim satisfaction as he watched Hierophant shred the other Stand as though it were made of paper, a strange brilliance behind his eyes. He hadn’t flinched when the user staggered into the cockpit, choking out empty threats around a torn tongue. He had barely even blinked while they watched the man die.

If Kakyoin had been at all afraid then he was a very talented liar.

Jotaro closed his eyes, waiting for the dizzy spell to pass. Various statistics about the likelihood of catching a virus on a plane floated unhelpfully through his head.

“Your hand’s messed up,” he muttered. 

“Not badly.” Kakyoin tugged his sleeve down over the wound, a short but deep gash on the side of his palm. It wasn’t bleeding, though the skin around the cut was red and irritated.

“How’d it happen?”

“The, uh.” He gestured vaguely at nothing in particular, looking uncomfortable. “The—Tennille. I mean, I know it wasn’t really Tennille, but…you know, when he had you underwater.”

Jotaro raised his eyebrows.

“I tried to get Hierophant in there,” Kakyoin said, a little reluctantly. “I got cut. That’s all.”

“Should’ve told me.”

He rolled his eyes. “It really isn’t—”

“You don’t want,” Jotaro interrupted, rifling through his bag, “an infected hand, not right now. Long way to go until Egypt. Looks like it’s halfway there already but—here.”

Kakyoin caught the bottle of rubbing alcohol in both hands, looking back up at Jotaro with mild surprise.

“You just keep this with you?”

Jotaro made a noncommittal noise in the back of his throat. Kakyoin’s eyes flicked down to his scarred hands and he nodded slowly.

“I had noticed it getting worse,” he admitted. “Thanks.”

Jotaro inclined his head. “Don’t put your ass on the line on my account,” he said. “Can take care of myself.”

Kakyoin squinted at him. He looked as though he wanted to argue, but he dropped his head, studying the bottle of alcohol with more attention to detail than it warranted.

The package of painkillers had been three-quarters full when they left Japan and felt significantly lighter now in his hands. Jotaro stared blankly at the label and its unfulfilled promises. Pain reliever. Fever reducer. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for him to need at least twice the recommended dose, but he had never known them to do nothing before. He checked the expiration date. Not for another year.

Well, misprints happened all the time.

“Jotaro.”

He glanced up at Kakyoin, who was still looking intently down at his hands. 

“Yeah?”

“Was that your first one too?”

Jotaro blinked. “First what?”

“I mean, I know you get in a lot of—I can see that, but you’ve never—you hadn’t killed anyone before that, had you?”

“Huh.” He thought about it. He had certainly come close before. But…

“Guess you’re right,” he said. “Hadn’t really thought about it.”

They hadn’t seen the guy die. And he had barely derived any satisfaction from winning, either, though it did occur to Jotaro now that the odds of the Moon’s user surviving falling to the ocean floor after receiving blunt force damage to the skull were slim, no matter how long he could hold his breath for.

Jotaro didn’t feel like telling him how close Kakyoin had come to being the true first kill.

“Guy on the plane was yours.”

It wasn’t a question. Kakyoin nodded.

“It’s funny,” he murmured. “I met you because I was trying to kill you and I ended up killing for you instead.”

Jotaro considered warning him not to think of it that way and decided it wasn’t worth the effort the extra words would require. “You bothered by that?”

“No,” Kakyoin replied, shaking his head. “That’s the thing, you know? It doesn’t bother me at all.”

There was an old clock on the low table between the two beds that let out a soft, obnoxious beep once every fifteen minutes. Jotaro wondered how much trouble he would be in with the hotel if he just crushed it. He wondered if Kakyoin would react were he to get up and smash it right then. Something told Jotaro he wouldn’t be fazed by it.

“Yeah,” he said after a long moment. “I know what you mean.”

Kakyoin watched critically as Jotaro stood and started for the bathroom, swaying slightly. Still he appeared vaguely unsettled, but he seemed to have nothing more to say on the subject of homicide.

“Are you all right?” He shifted his grip on the rubbing alcohol. “You look a little…”

Jotaro smirked. “I look like shit?”

“I wasn’t going to say that,” Kakyoin said primly.

“Just tired.”

He hadn’t been sick in over a year. Not since that awful cold that took him out of school for a week and left him unable to smell anything for a month. Holly had worried herself half to death, which Jotaro had found massively irritating at the time.

She could worry all she wanted when this was over. Somehow he didn’t imagine he would feel like complaining all that much.

Jotaro stared at the travel-size toiletries carefully positioned on the bathroom counter, boasting of what he could only assume were various complicated scents in a language he couldn’t read. One had a label in English. Hydrangea. They kept those in the house, sometimes, when they were in season.

He rubbed at his eyes, annoyed with himself. Stop. Thinking of home like that wasn’t going to get him anywhere. It was like Kakyoin said. Being scared wouldn’t do anything for him beyond getting in the way.

Splashing his face with cold water quelled the uncomfortable heat long enough to give him a moment of clarity and he looked up from the sink into the mirror, trying not to notice the unnatural glow coming off his irises. It was all wrong.

It doesn’t bother me at all

It shouldn’t. 

It didn’t .

 

oh, the king

gone mad within his suffering

 

Why would it bother him?

How could it, when it felt this good ?

As Jotaro drove purple fists into the man’s skull, over and over and over again, he realized that he had not asked for a name. He hadn’t asked because he hadn’t cared. He hadn’t cared because it didn’t matter. Useless, to put a name to a face he was about to beat to a pulp. 

The guy had given up all the information Jotaro needed, or at least, all the information he had the patience to get. Hanged man. Two right hands. Polnareff. Fragments that shattered along with the broken bones. He would pick them up later. Violence came naturally, always did, but something light about it this time, something bright and almost euphoric clutching at his lungs, at his heart. 

He was happy . He was home. He was…

Jotaro —!”

…covered in blood.

Jotaro released the man’s hair, letting him fall back into crimson-stained water. His body count had just doubled, he realized, dazed. Had he meant to do that? He must have. He took a step back, away from the body and towards the voice calling for him, falling heavily back into himself.

Avdol. It was Avdol standing on the low stone wall, watching him climb up with a look of mixed shock and concern. His eyes flicked from Jotaro to the water and back again.

“What happened?” he demanded. “Anne said—”

Anne. Poor kid had seen him punch half of Kakyoin’s face off. It wasn’t really Kakyoin, of course, but still. “She okay?”

“Unsettled, but she’s all right.” Avdol paused. “This was a Stand user?”

“Nah, just some guy who looked at me wrong.”

It wasn’t entirely dishonest. The man had looked at him wrong, and Jotaro had always had a gift for wiping smug looks off annoying faces. Or, barring that, wiping the floor with the face in question.

Avdol glared at him, unamused.

“Temperance,” Jotaro said. “Yellow Temperance. That’s what he called it.”

“The Stand?”

“Yeah.”

“Some kind of mimic, I assume.”

“Sort of.” He shrugged. “I took care of it.”

“I can see that.” Avdol crossed his arms, looking back up towards the trolley cars. “Caused quite a commotion. You’re not hurt?”

“Nah.” Jotaro shook his head. “Could tell it wasn’t really Kakyoin as soon as he got taller than me.”

“Kakyoin taller than you?” He snorted. “I’d like to see that.”

“Have some stuff to tell Polnareff.” Jotaro wiped his hands on his coat, preemptively irritated by the impending necessity of having it cleaned. “You too. About who’s gonna come after us.”

“He’s back at the hotel with Anne and the others.” Avdol narrowed his eyes, noting the blood on Jotaro’s clothes, the raw patches on his hands where the slime-like Stand had attached itself to his skin. “Are certain you’re all right?”

He had been. He had been more than all right. And he hadn’t intended to kill anyone, either. He didn’t want to turn around and look towards the water to see if what remained was moving or not.

But he felt better than he had in days; the ever-present headache had finally lifted. The fever, too, though the sudden alertness could easily have been nothing more than a side effect of adrenaline. Maybe he just wasn’t meant to go that long without beating the shit out of someone now that he had a bloodthirsty spirit possessing him.

“Fine,” Jotaro said. “I’m fine.”

 

He wasn’t fine.

Jotaro stared down at the thermometer reading, wondering if it might be somehow broken, wondering how much longer he could stay there gripping the sides of the sink nearly hard enough to crack it before the others realized something was wrong. 102? He couldn’t remember how high it had to go before your brain started boiling. Avdol would know. He wanted to ask Avdol. He couldn’t ask Avdol. 

Sick joke, the thought of being taken out by some foreign virus before even setting foot in Egypt, but it seemed more and more likely as time went on. His headache had resurfaced just as they arrived in Myanmar, followed closely by the fever and an uncomfortable pressure that almost felt like he was being squeezed around the middle. He had managed to make the appropriate excuses necessary to get himself alone long enough to buy the thermometer and a new package of painkillers, ineffective though they seemed to be. Placebo effect had to be worth something, he figured. 

If only Kakyoin wasn’t so damn observant . Avdol he could hide from well enough, but he kept catching Kakyoin watching him out of the corner of his eye when he shivered in the high heat or stumbled slightly after standing up too fast. Whether out of respect or because he had correctly assumed Jotaro would deny the existence of a problem, he had refrained from commenting, but they slept in the same room, and he saw the painkillers, and he wasn’t stupid. Far from it, unfortunately. 

But he could ride it out. No one expected him to say much in any case. It was easy to disguise his silences as taciturn rather than exhausted. It didn’t matter. As long as Jotaro could still fight, it didn’t matter. Assuming he didn’t drop dead in an alley somewhere.

“Jotaro. We’re leaving.”

He flinched. “Sorry. Coming.”

Avdol folded his arms and leaned against the doorframe, blocking Jotaro’s exit route. “Been in here a while.”

Jotaro cursed himself silently. “There a problem?”

“You tell me.”

“Avdol—”

“You look pale,” Avdol said. “Are you well?”

Maybe he hadn’t been hiding from Avdol as well as he’d thought.

“I’m…just worried about Mom.”

It slipped out without him really intending to say it. He knew it was the trump card, and he knew it was not a lie, but it was the first time he had said it out loud. His face burned and he clenched his teeth, looking away.

Avdol blinked at him, caught off guard. The lines of his face softened slightly, though the calculating look didn’t quite leave his eyes.

“I see,” he murmured. “That’s…understandable.”

He gripped Jotaro’s shoulder once, tightly, on his way out, and Jotaro had to stop himself from cringing, because the gesture came at the expense of the truth, and that made it feel like a lie, made it feel undeserved. He recognized it as genuine, and that made it infinitely worse.

Kakyoin and Polnareff waited for them just outside the restaurant. Jotaro walked quickly, outstripping them easily, and Polnareff jogged forward to catch up with him, clapping him on the back and chattering about something Kakyoin couldn’t quite make out. Jotaro’s shoulders were tensed, as though he were bracing for an attack. 

“Keep an eye on him.”

He turned in surprise towards Avdol, who continued to watch them. “On Polnareff?”

Avdol shook his head. “On Jotaro.”

“Jotaro?” 

He nodded. “You haven’t noticed anything?”

Kakyoin looked over at the tall figure still moving away down the street.

“He’s…” He hesitated. “He’s under a lot of pressure.”

“He told me he’s worried about Holly.”

Kakyoin snorted. “You’re kidding.”

“I’m not.”

“He wouldn’t admit to that.”

“I know,” Avdol said quietly. “Not unless he had something more important than his emotions to hide.”

Polnareff and Jotaro stopped at the corner to wait for the other two. Jotaro’s gait had become uneven, as though he were fighting off something intent on dragging him back.

 

called out for relief

someone cure him of his grief

 

“Last time I did this I was tying the guy to a cactus, you believe that?”

Jotaro chuckled. “No shit.”

“None at all.” Joseph stood back, considering his handiwork. “So that wheel of fortune might be spinning in your favor after all, huh? No cactuses around here!”

“Cacti,” Kakyoin mumbled under his breath, too low for the old man to hear. Jotaro’s smirk deepened. 

“You know, both are technically right,” he said, leaning down to address Kakyoin alone. “They’re both in the English dictionaries.”

“Just because something’s in a dictionary doesn’t mean it can’t sound stupid.” Kakyoin wrinkled his nose. “And just because you speak better English—”

“‘Better’ implies you speak it at all.”

Jotaro dodged the open palm aimed for his shoulder only to get smacked on the other by one of Hierophant’s tentacles. Kakyoin glared up at him.

“I’ll kick your ass, Kujo,” he threatened, but he was unable to hide his smile.

“If you can reach it.”

“Oh, that is not fair—”

Jotaro laughed at him in earnest and Kakyoin rolled his eyes. 

“That’s what I fucking get for hanging around with a bunch of giant freaks,” he muttered, turning back towards Joseph and his victim. “You really think that’ll hold?”

Joseph waved a hand dismissively. “It only needs to hold until we cross over into Pakistan. Besides, we’re taking his car, yeah?”

“What’s left of it,” Jotaro said.

They examined the strange small man and his enormous arms, chained upside down to a large rock with a sign that read I AM TRAINING. PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB ME. Jotaro shook his head and glanced back at the car, which took the brunt of the damage. If it weren’t for the vehicle he doubted there would have been enough left of the Wheel’s user to make immobilizing him worth the trouble.

Merde .” Polnareff whistled. “You really did a number on this thing, huh?”

Jotaro shrugged. “Didn’t see any better ideas coming from you.”

“Well, sure, but…” He scratched the back of his head, kicking at a stray scrap of mangled metal. “Damn.”

“This guy doesn’t know anything,” Joseph announced, turning his back on the chained user. “Enough of a coward to have spilled by now if he did. If what’s left of that car’ll still run then we should get going.”

“It’ll run,” Jotaro told him.

He hadn’t been aware the car itself wasn’t the Stand. Really he’d had no way of knowing whether or not beating the crap out of that car would end up killing the user. If the Wheel’s user hadn’t jumped ship he felt he might have just crushed the car with him inside, Stand or not. Not that it had mattered too much in the end.

Jotaro rolled his neck. His head was clear again, no trace of a headache, no trace of a fever. Despite the heavy stench of gasoline that still clung to their skin and clothing, he felt much, much better.

“Are you sure you’re not hurt?”

He blinked down at Kakyoin. “Not any worse than the rest of you.”

Joseph yelped and jumped back as the engine he was attempting to coax to life coughed out a cloud of steam. Jotaro smiled, shaking his head. 

Kakyoin looked away. “Don’t…do that again.”

“Do what?”

“You freaked us out for a second there.”

Kakyoin shuddered, remembering the howl of pain a little too convincing to be entirely fabricated, flames consuming the collapsing silhouette that was, by now, all too familiar.

“Aw.” Jotaro shoved him away, still grinning. “You worried about me, Kakyoin?”

He ducked away from another attempted smack. 

“Jackass,” Kakyoin muttered. 

Jotaro sighed. “I’m fine. Look. No burns. See?”

He held out his arms. Kakyoin glanced down at them and clicked his tongue in frustration.

“Those are welts,” he said. “Those are burns. Are you stupid?”

“If they won’t scar then they don’t count.”

“Well, that answers that question.”

“I’m fine .”

Kakyoin let the air hiss out between his teeth. “Just don’t go charging in like that next time. Be more careful.”

Jotaro grunted. “What’s it to you?”

“Consider it a personal favor.”

He turned away before Jotaro could respond. He watched Kakyoin go, clenching and unclenching one fist, less a sign of distress than an attempt to convince his pounding heart that the conflict was over. It had not slowed since the attack began.

There had always been a rush to combat, a fierce joy he knew how to find in the beats of absolute silence between impact and understanding. He found it familiar, found it almost peaceful, at times. At minimum fighting was something he had always understood. It wasn’t that he had lost his understanding of the thing; almost the opposite. 

But in this new heightened state to which he seemed now inextricably linked, he could find nothing like peace.

It doesn’t bother me at all, Kakyoin had said, eyes wide and full of a question he could not bear to ask himself. Jotaro couldn’t say he felt differently, not really, though he sometimes wondered if he should wish that he could. It was true that he wasn’t particularly unnerved by what had likely happened to the impostor Tennille, or Yellow Temperance’s smug-faced user, or what might have happened to the small oddly-shaped man behind the wheel had the car been his Stand after all. What he was unnerved by wasn’t something he could express to any of them, least of all Kakyoin. There was no good way to explain that he had no idea how he had managed to stop himself from killing Kakyoin in the first place, because as soon as he had started hitting he had been overcome by that feral delight that left him completely unwilling to stop, and it hadn’t been the morbid satisfaction he usually derived from finishing fights. It had been something else entirely.

It felt really, really good.

Only after the fact, looking down at the bloodied teenager at his feet, had Jotaro realized what it was he had nearly done. His stomach had still turned a little when he caught sight of the fading bruises, though most were gone by now. It had been nearly three weeks, after all. Eighteen out of fifty. Thirty-six percent.

Stop thinking about it like that. Stop thinking.

It would have been one thing had he evaluated whether or not the violence was deserved and acted accordingly. It was another entirely to recognize that he had killed—or, at the very least, come close—because he had wanted to. Because it had felt good, and he had seen no reason to stop. Whatever it was that had begun taking him over left nothing behind but his racing heart and the taste of blood, and the ravenous, delirious hunger for more.

He imagined picking up a phone at the next hotel and dialing the hospital in Calcutta where Avdol was recovering. He imagined asking him if the bloodlust was normal, if the fever was normal, if the connection between the two was just part of adjusting to the manifestation of a Stand. It was much easier for Jotaro to imagine asking Avdol when he wasn’t standing there with the others, seeing too much and saying so little. It had helped to know there was at least one member of the group who might know what was happening to him, if it got bad enough.

As things stood, there was only one way to confirm whether or not he was right about the fever. He would have to wait for the next opportunity. Hopefully it wouldn’t be as long a lull as the last one. He’d felt like his brain really was boiling towards the end.

“Old man,” Jotaro said, turning back towards the car and eyeing the rear door with some apprehension. Pain in the ass to fold himself into such a small space. “Gonna need to stop at a tailor next time we’re in town.”

Joseph rolled his eyes. “Of course.”

Kakyoin watched him lower himself into the backseat. Jotaro looked strange without his coat. Not small, exactly, but decreased somehow, exposed in a way that went past skin. He closed his eyes.

None of you be heroes , Avdol had told them as they left the hospital. Surviving is enough.

He looked straight at Kakyoin as he said it, and Kakyoin couldn’t help but think there had been some secondary message intended for him alone, one that had gone over his head entirely. Besides, he was already in the process of keeping his promise. He was keeping an eye on Jotaro. 

It wasn’t his fault Jotaro was so resistant to being seen.

 

his only son

cut down but the battle won

 

“You’re going to have to come out of there eventually.”

Jotaro took a deep breath, tasting the damp, musty air of a jail cell.

“No,” he said. “I’m staying here.”

His mother stared down at him through the heavy iron bars, her arms folded as though he had returned from breaking curfew without calling home.

“You’ll come out,” Holly told him. “You had better hurry up and do it on your own terms. Pretty soon you won’t have a choice.”

What if you were dead in a ditch somewhere? she had snapped during a rare moment of anger. What if I’d already seen you alive for the last time and I’d just have to live with not knowing what happened to you?

She hated not knowing where he was.

“Won’t. I can’t.”

Holly blinked at him slowly, like a cat.

“I’m not coming out,” he mumbled. “You don’t know what’ll happen if I do.”

“I know exactly what will happen.”

Jotaro looked up, hands pressed flat against the cold granite floor. He pushed himself to his feet and faced his mother, folding his arms in a gesture mirroring hers. 

“I know what will happen,” Holly repeated. “I’ll always know you. I’ll always know my son.”

Her eyes shone like lanterns in the dim light of the cell block, dangerously bright. He knew that light. He knew it from somewhere. A sound in the distance interrupted his train of thought, muffled by the stone walls. Running water? That couldn’t be right. 

There was a reason she was so pale. He knew the reason but could not remember it.

“Mom,” he said, hesitantly. “Are you okay?”

She continued staring up at him, her eyes filling with tears.

“What’s—is something—Mom?”

When the vines uncurled from her shoulders they moved almost like tentacles, like extra limbs, with none of the desperate twitching he remembered—he remembered?—lined with berries the color of blood and thorns sharp enough to draw it. She pointed at Jotaro and her Stand followed, reaching for him with controlled grace.

“It was for you,” she whispered. “I did this for you.”

Her face twisted with fury so hot he recognized it. He had believed himself to be alone with that anger. He had not believed anyone else to be capable of mirroring it.

“I—I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Jotaro took a careful step back, away from her. “I never asked any of—I never asked anyone to do anything for me.”

The first vine caught his wrist, the second tangled around his ankles, so that he had no choice but to stumble forward. He resisted, pulling away from the vines that tugged him towards Holly, unsure what he was afraid of, certain he did not want to find out. The cell door was open, though it had not been opened, and her Stand wrapped around him like an embrace, gentle despite the embers in her eyes.

“It’s all for you.”

He heard the metallic click of the revolver being cocked before the cold metal pressed against his temple. Jotaro's hands had trembled when he held a gun to his own head, but this time it was Star Platinum behind the trigger, and Star Platinum was steady as ever. Reliable as ever. It wasn’t what he wanted. It wasn’t even close to what he wanted.

What is it that you want?

All traces of rage were replaced by deafening grief that opened an ocean in Holly’s eyes, deep enough to drown in, and he knew it would be easier to fall forward than to keep pulling back. He imagined that was why Star had appeared. To protect him from inevitably wanting to be saved.

Jotaro reached for his mother and she reached back, though he could not force himself to take a step towards the open door, and something was wrong, Star Platinum’s arms were the wrong color, he had seen that color before, if he could just remember where he had seen that gold before—

Oh, Jotaro.

Their fingertips brushed together just as the gunshot slapped him awake.

At first there was only the cold sweat and the ringing in his ears, the frantic half-knowledge that his head was still in one piece combined with the certainty that the gun had been fired. When he became lucid enough to realize where he was, he found that he was jerked half into a sitting position, breathing heavily enough to see spots. Slowly he uncurled his fists, releasing handfuls of stiff sheets.

It took longer than it should have to recognize the darkness of the hotel room was not absolute.

The yellow glow coming off the light above Kakyoin’s bed was weak, casting his face into gentle shadow, his expression impossible to make out. Silently he looked up from his book and met Jotaro’s eyes, briefly, not bothering with sympathy.

His hand trembled as he lifted the glass of water carefully placed on his side of the end table. Impossible to tell whether the shaking belonged to fever chills or to the nightmare. Crushing the old woman’s Stand had proved his theory correct, but it seemed the fever could only be quelled for so long. It had barely been forty-eight hours.

Jotaro tried not to think of his mother. He tried not to think of the freezing heat creeping beneath his skin, or how badly he missed the taste of blood. He tried to think of nothing at all.

He glanced down at the glass, now empty, and it occurred to him that he had not been the one to put it there, having passed out almost fully clothed minutes after falling into bed. Caught by surprise, he raised his head, but Kakyoin’s eyes stayed on the page, Kakyoin said nothing, and Jotaro found he was grateful for that too.

 

oh, what is it worth

when all that’s left is hurt?

 

Kakyoin hadn’t planned on spending the afternoon finding out the limits of his range the hard way, but he also hadn’t planned on cheerfully following his own assassination target straight into hell. Whatever compulsion kept him in Jotaro’s orbit, it was both incomprehensible and inconvenient.

“You’re fine,” he said, less a question and more a statement left open-ended for either Polnareff or Joseph to dispute. “I have to go to—I’ve got to go back.”

Joseph nodded, still dazed. “Make sure he’s okay.”

He isn’t .

“I will.”

The speed with which the Lovers shot back towards its user suggested the user wasn’t through fighting just yet. He had looped Hierophant around its leg, keeping the tension low so as not to alert it, but it was a fast little bitch of a Stand and it ended up being all he could do to run after it quickly enough to keep the limb from snapping. He pushed through the crowd of civilians who’d had so much misplaced sympathy for Joseph a few minutes earlier. Some of them recognized him, turning to watch as he sprinted away, following the Lovers, following his own trail back towards Jotaro.

Two hundred meters. He had never even thought to try stretching for two hundred meters before. Apparently he was capable of it. Kakyoin was finding himself capable of a lot of impossible things, these days.

Once it stopped moving he closed the distance rapidly. It was easy, then, to wrap the rest of the tentacle around the other Stand, immobilizing it and, presumably, the user as well. Through the extension of himself he sensed Star Platinum, searing the edges of his consciousness like a compact sun.

And then, just as suddenly, he felt the tension disappear. The enemy Stand had dematerialized. He slowed, hands on his knees, attempting to catch his breath. If the Lovers were gone then Jotaro had won. If Jotaro had won then Star should be dissipating.

Star wasn’t dissipating. Star was only getting hotter, burning brighter. Something had gone wrong, something must have gone wrong, and as he ran all Kakyoin could see was Jotaro’s face, destroyed by the flesh bud as Enyaba’s had been, destroyed because he had made a mistake, a miscalculation, of course someone else would be the one paying for it—

He rounded the corner and caught sight of a familiar shape. Jotaro’s face had been splattered with so much blood for a second Kakyoin thought he really had slipped and allowed the worst to happen, until it became apparent that the blood was not his own. He was staring down at something that might once have been a man lying at his feet, Star Platinum’s flurry of fists still pounding into the body. Jotaro didn’t look up, he didn’t respond, as though he hadn’t heard Kakyoin shouting his name at all.

“Jotaro—?”

It took almost everything Kakyoin had to hold him back earlier. He was exhausted now. He didn’t think he could do it again. He wasn’t even sure he would be able to get an angle on Star Platinum sufficient for latching on to him without being hit himself. Was it even necessary? Clearly Jotaro was no longer in danger.

As Kakyoin looked more closely at the expression twisting his friend’s face, he wondered if that were really true.

“Jotaro,” he said loudly. “That’s enough.”

Jotaro did not respond.

“I said that’s enough !”

At last he blinked and took a step back, the tempo of his fists slowing, then stopping entirely. He looked down at his hands, back up at Kakyoin, and for a second it was as though Jotaro didn’t recognize him at all.

“Is…”

He shook his head hard.

“Are you—is everyone okay?”

Kakyoin watched him warily. “Your grandfather’s fine.”

“And Polnareff?”

“Got a little banged up in there, but he’ll live.”

“And you?”

“I—shouldn’t you be worried about yourself?” He eyed the cut on Jotaro’s forehead that seemed to only very recently have stopped bleeding. “Looks like you took a couple of hits.”

Jotaro shrugged. “Got payback. ’S not that bad.”

“Right,” Kakyoin muttered, looking down at what remained of the user. “Sorry I took so long.”

“You did good, Noriaki.”

He froze, eyes on the ground. Of course Jotaro would choose now, of all times, to finally use his first name.

“We should get back to the others,” he said, and he forced his voice to stay level. 

“…Yeah.”

Kakyoin watched him start back down the street. Every bruise was a consequence of taking too long. Every moment Jotaro had been alone with that man, unable to retaliate…he could take responsibility for it, if he thought of it that way. He could make it his fault. If it was his fault then it was something he could prevent from happening again.

Strange enough to see that despite Jotaro’s injuries, preventable or not, the pallor that had been hanging over him for the past few days was gone.

He turned back, having finally noticed that Kakyoin was not behind him. Kakyoin searched his face, found it calm and tired, tried to forget the horrible look of elation that had illuminated it a moment before. He wanted to find the steadiness there. He wanted to feel stupid, for being so afraid.

For as long as he could remember, Kakyoin’s mother had warned him about poison.

In the winter, the low shrubs surrounding the house in which he was raised bore fruit. To a child, the brightly colored berries seemed nothing more than a tantalizing peace offering from plants that did nothing but get in the way for the rest of the year. He and his older sister used to wrap the berries they picked in strands of their hair, entranced by how closely the pale red colors matched.

Not all trees of genus Coraria are toxic; Coraria japonica is one of several species that can be lethal, in the right dose. To her credit, their mother never tried to steer her children clear entirely, perceptive enough to anticipate that this would only make the berries all the more attractive, but she had been uncharacteristically serious when she reminded them that the poison would remain a danger no matter how familiar the color. 

When Kakyoin was eight years old, the family cat escaped from the house long enough to gulp down a handful of the forbidden fruit, and he had felt a strange sort of jealousy at first, envious of the luxury that was simply not knowing enough to be afraid. It faded quickly into worry when the cat fell gravely ill, just as they had feared and known he would; it was the first time Kakyoin, being so young at the time, had come into proximity with death.

His sister found him in the living room one night, half-asleep with his head resting against the thick white fur. He had snuck out of his room after his parents went to bed, and he explained to her that he  had done this because he didn’t want the cat to die alone.

Her reassurance was simple: cats can sense when they are about to die, she said, and they hide. So as long as he isn’t hiding from you, he’s hanging in there, you know? 

The cat survived his brush with kidney failure. Kakyoin brought him into his room and stood sentry every night until it was clear his pet would pull through, feeling somehow that death would only come if he wasn’t looking it in the eyes. He felt similarly, sometimes, sitting awake in unfamiliar cities, in the temporary sanctuary of a hotel room, watching Jotaro’s chest rise and fall in the dead of night. He felt like a child again, trying to stare death down, believing that he could, if it came down to that. 

His cat had lived, he reminded himself. Small sample size, but that allowed him to have a one hundred percent success rate when it came to cheating the inevitable.

Years later he had learned that cats hide when near death because of some buried animal instinct that tells them they are too vulnerable to be out in the open. They hide such as not to be torn to pieces by a predator in their weakened state, and Kakyoin felt oddly sympathetic towards it, the apparent desire to die on one’s own terms. Even if that meant dying alone.

He couldn’t have said how he knew Jotaro was dying, only that he recognized the feeling of loss in slow motion, the way he hid the shake in his hands like a cat hiding its illness in solitude. It was clear that he was trying to die alone; it was equally clear that Kakyoin was not going to allow him to do so.

Kakyoin, of course, never had anything to say when Jotaro jerked awake in the night, rarely even looked at him. Something inside him ached with a horrible dread every time he saw Jotaro afraid and it felt indecent, to see him like that, an intimacy gained only through proximity and not yet earned. The problem was that Jotaro remained stubborn in his constancy, even and perhaps particularly when he was in pain, and though Kakyoin sometimes felt like shaking him by the shoulders and demanding that he admit to whatever was killing him, he understood at the same time that being immutable in the eyes of the others was the only thing keeping Jotaro sane. If that was what he needed Kakyoin figured he could pretend to fall for it, even if neither was fooled by the other’s charade. 

Because I have you I will lose you.  

There was no way to say something like that out loud. Neither of them knew how to make space for it. They were too young, too new to one another, despite the understanding between them.

It had been almost exactly twenty-five days since they left Japan. He glanced sideways, watching Jotaro press his forehead against the cool glass of the car window. He had started curling into himself when left alone in a way that reminded Kakyoin unpleasantly of a dying fox he had once seen on the side of the road. He would have preferred not to have any reason to compare Jotaro to roadkill.

It was the middle of December; the red berries would be out by now. He stared through the window, wondering whether his sister still thought about wrapping her hair around them when she looked for too long, wondering if she resented him for leaving without saying goodbye.

 

Still, not even Jotaro could keep the other shoe from dropping forever.

There was a crash from the bathroom, as though something very heavy had fallen suddenly to the floor. Kakyoin leaped up, disoriented, his Stand half out, before he processed the significance of the empty bed beside him. For a terrifying, absurd instant, he was convinced he would open the door to find a corpse, cosmic retaliation for his lapse in focus; he’d had the nerve to fall asleep.

What he found instead was Jotaro, sitting on the white tiles where he had presumably collapsed, looking more surprised than anything else. He glanced up at Kakyoin. Tried to stand. He made it about a quarter of the way up before his legs gave out again and he fell back against the wall with another loud thud .

“Fine,” Jotaro managed. “It’s—I’m fine.”

It was such an obvious lie that Kakyoin almost laughed in his face. 

“Bullshit,” he breathed.

Surely Jotaro would be grateful were he to turn around, walk out, close the door behind him. Obvious, predictable, that he would feel safer alone. Like a dying cat.

“Sorry,” Kakyoin said, dropping to his knees at Jotaro’s side. “Game’s up.”

He smiled ruefully. “Worth a shot.”

Jotaro closed his eyes, his breathing so even he could only be concentrating on keeping it that way. Kakyoin picked up the thermometer that had likely dropped to the ground along with him and inhaled sharply when he saw the reading. The fever filled the room, rolling off his skin like heat from an electric stove.

He lifted one of Jotaro’s hands carefully, pressing two fingers against the hollow between tendon and bone. A racing pulse was better than a nonexistent one, but the astonishing speed of it still made his own heart skip a beat. 

It was worse than he had expected, and he had expected the worst.

“How long?” Kakyoin murmured.

“It’s worse at night.” He didn’t open his eyes. “It’s not always—like this.”

“That isn’t what I asked.”

“I know.”

Jotaro swallowed painfully, half relieved and half horrified to be saying it out loud.

“It, uh. It started…couple of days after my mom—after we left.”

Kakyoin exhaled. “This whole time.”

“It wasn’t that bad. At first.” He chuckled regretfully. “Thought I just had a cold from the plane or some shit.”

“Jesus, Jotaro.”

“I know. I know.”

Kakyoin’s fingers remained pressed against the pulse point, as though this too were something that would fall away as soon as he took his eyes off of it. Jotaro’s heartbeat started coming down from the fever pitch, though it happened too slowly for either of them to notice.

“It’s a miracle you’re even conscious,” he said. “One hundred and three…”

Jotaro cracked one eye to look down at the discarded thermometer. “That what it was?”

Kakyoin nodded.

“Huh.” He shrugged. “Hit hundred and four once. That’s not so bad.”

“Not so bad,” Kakyoin repeated faintly.

“It’s…hard…to explain.”

He was struck by a sense of inevitability, feeling somehow that there was nothing either of them could have done to avoid being here on the bathroom floor, facing the culmination of weeks of trying and failing and trying again to understand one another.

“Try,” he said.

“It’s because it goes away. So I don’t know.” Jotaro covered his closed eyes with his free hand. “It goes away when I. When I…fight. But I think that’s part of it too, I don’t…it doesn’t make any goddamn sense.”

Kakyoin stayed silent, waiting. 

“It stops when I use Star,” Jotaro said slowly. “For a while. But every time it…every time I do it comes back faster and it—it’s just—worse. It comes back worse.” He took a deep, shaky breath. “It’s the only way to make it stop and I think it’s making it worse.”

For a second he seemed as though he wanted to say more. His free hand was curled into a fist. When Kakyoin looked back up Jotaro had opened his eyes, was watching him with a strange expression. They were too bright, Kakyoin realized. There was light coming off the irises that should not have been there. It was hypnotizing. It scared him to death.

“You know I almost killed you,” Jotaro told him abruptly, taking the glass of water Kakyoin handed him. The shivering became much more pronounced when he tried to hold something. “When we met. I thought about doing it.”

His expression had been familiar. Kakyoin did not have the heart to tell Jotaro where it was he had seen that look before.

“I know,” Kakyoin said softly. “I was surprised to find you hadn’t.”

When the searing pain snapped him awake that day the first thing he saw was Jotaro’s face, and he remembered being amazed, despite everything, that hands so skilled in the art of drawing blood could be so steady. Jotaro had been a constant since the moment he pulled the flesh bud from Kakyoin’s brain, he had been something safe and incomprehensible and viciously, almost spitefully alive; even now he blazed, his too-bright eyes gleaming defiantly above the spots of color high on pale cheeks. It was too much life for any one person to carry. Little wonder it was killing him.

Still Kakyoin could not help but feel safe in his presence, even when it burned him. Still his strength refused to answer to anything. He had to admire Jotaro for that.

“You could stop fighting for a while,” he offered half-heartedly. “Slow it down.”

Jotaro raised his eyebrows incredulously. Kakyoin sighed.

“Sorry. Was worth a shot.”

He snorted.

“We can ask Avdol when he—”

No.

Kakyoin made a sharp noise of surprise, nearly dropping the glass he was in the process of placing back on the counter when Jotaro grabbed him by the wrist. He managed to catch it with one of Hierophant’s tentacles barely an inch from the tiles.

“You can’t,” Jotaro hissed. “You can’t tell them.”

“Jotaro—”

“No.” He shook his head violently. “No. Promise me. Promise you won’t tell them.”

Kakyoin opened his mouth, at a loss. He couldn’t help but feel as though he were being asked to sign off on an execution order.

“Kakyoin. Please .”

He could count the number of times he had heard Jotaro ask for anything on one hand. He certainly had never directed the word “please” at Kakyoin before.

Kakyoin stared down at Jotaro’s hand, white-knuckled around his own. If it was desperation that drove this he still had not earned the right to witness it. He was beginning to lose the feeling in his fingertips. He was facing the strongest man he had ever known, and that man was dying, and Kakyoin did not want him to die any more than he knew how to save him. 

“Okay,” he mumbled at last. “Okay. Don’t worry.”

Jotaro broke into a relieved smile and it was all Kakyoin could do to keep from shattering the mirror and the glass and the tiled floor, because he couldn’t force himself to break the trust he had gained in all the wrong ways. 

Because the look on Jotaro’s face made him need to break something , and once he started he didn’t know if he would be able to stop.

 

like the stars chase the sun

over the glowing hill I will conquer

 

At his grandmother’s funeral, surrounded by black umbrellas and tombstones, Kakyoin had stopped thinking about death. He glanced across the street in time to see an enormous man get bowled over by a very small dog, and laughed because he forgot that there was any reason not to. Later in life he came to hate the way people used the phrase “laughter at a funeral,” implying it involved some sort of lightheartedness surrounding the act of mourning. In his experience it had nothing to do with managing to find the humor in grief. There were simply moments, fleeting as they were, in which he forgot to feel it.

Maybe he had expected too much from the moment of reckoning. Expected to wake up the next morning to find the earth had tilted on its axis just enough to make gravity unfamiliar. The truth was something quieter than that, something far closer to what Kakyoin had come to see as normal. Careful X’s through the days leading up to the end of the world, marked down on a calendar.

The sickness did not get better or worse for his knowing about it. It was indifferent to him entirely. Nothing heavy enough to move the earth, or even stay constantly on his mind, and sometimes when Jotaro snorted to hide a laugh or caught his eye by accident, it ceased to exist to Kakyoin entirely, eclipsed by the blinding fact of him.

Of course the guilt always followed, quick on the heels of forgetting. That was the price of laughter, and he wondered if it wasn’t worth it. 

To be completely fair, he imagined he wouldn’t have found the sight of Jotaro’s grandfather being bucked off an angry camel any less absurd even had it somehow happened at a funeral. When his apparent paranoia turned out to be justified he hardly even felt vindicated, only strangely grateful to be facing a danger with a clean shape. Different day, different heat, different burn. The Sun card. Kakyoin almost wished the user had put up more of a fight. 

It was Jotaro who finished it. It always seemed to be Jotaro who finished it.

 

Jotaro, who had any number of things he wanted to say, none of which he intended to put into words. The Sun had done next to nothing as far as countering the fever, which had developed a more potent taste for blood than a single rock to the face could satisfy. It wouldn’t have bothered him nearly as much if the thirst were a separate quantity. Something happening to him rather than coming from him. 

The only thing he wanted Kakyoin to know was the last thing he wanted to tell him. That he wasn’t fighting for any of them, not his mother, not his companions, not even himself, that he was no longer in control, not when he was out for blood, because it led to a high unlike any he had ever known, one that erased everything outside of itself. The fever kept rising, Star Platinum kept getting stronger, and each time it took more effort to come back to himself, each time he forgot the sound of his own name for longer.

He didn’t want to talk about it. He wanted to warn Kakyoin to stay out of his way. He wanted to warn him to keep the others out of his way, because everyone looked the same once he had been blinded by the searing light, and Jotaro didn’t want to come back down to the wrong blood on his hands. But every time he started to try, he could think only of the horrified expression on Kakyoin’s face when he found Jotaro with the Lovers’ user. The words got lost on the way out.

 

“So what happened?”

Kakyoin glanced up at him. They had been sitting under a scratchy blanket in silence for nearly twenty minutes, Jotaro shaking off another fever dream, Kakyoin trying not to notice how irregular his breathing had become. The dying fire crackled softly; the others were asleep. Overhead, foreign stars shone down through a clear night, the desert sky remarkably free of light pollution. It was almost peaceful.

“Depends on what you mean,” he said carefully.

Jotaro grunted. “You aren’t the type.”

“The type?”

“To lose it like that.”

“To—oh.”

He scratched at his forearm. All evidence of his carved message to himself had been erased in the dream space; no scars, no pain. “Can I blame it on heatstroke?”

“Not if you want me to believe you.”

Kakyoin sighed. “I really—you might not believe me in any case.”

Jotaro folded his arms and leaned back with a mildly amused expression that meant he knew he had already won.

“Fine. The baby. It was the—it was the baby.”

“The baby,” he repeated slowly.

“I told you you wouldn’t believe it,” Kakyoin mumbled. 

“I believe you.”

“You—” He paused, eyebrows high. “Really.”

“Sure. Didn’t like the look of that baby anyway.”

Jotaro listened quietly as Kakyoin described the pastel-toned amusement park that had proved a nightmare both tactically and literally, the child’s scythe and high-pitched laughter, how he had finally managed to drag Hierophant into the dream with him purely by accident. Upon hearing about the mimicry of his own Stand he remarked only that he was glad he couldn’t remember it.

He chuckled. “Death card, huh.”

“Guess so.”

“You know it doesn’t really mean death.” He gazed at the embers, his expression growing serious. “Just change. Doesn’t even have to be bad.”

Kakyoin smirked. “You been listening to Avdol?”

“Apparently.” Jotaro looked over at him. “You should have said something.”

“I did try,” he muttered.

“Yeah. Sorry.”

“It’s—”

“You had me worried for a second,” Jotaro continued darkly. “Almost thought I was contagious or something.”

“Contagious.” Kakyoin snorted. “You were worried about me ?”

He shrugged. A gust of wind blew sand into the fire, smothering what persistent light remained. They watched Polnareff twitch, yawn, roll over, go back to sleep. Maybe he had never been awake in the first place.

“I’ve had Hierophant my whole life.” Kakyoin shook his head. “If I were going to have some sort of adverse reaction I think it already would have happened.”

“You make it sound like I’m allergic or some shit.”

“You have a better way to describe it?”

He considered it. “Not really,” he said. “Just wish you hadn’t had to do all that alone.”

Kakyoin wanted to explain that he was wrong, that he felt less alone than he had ever really imagined would be possible, felt almost regretful about it because of how much easier it was to have nothing to lose. He watched Jotaro, pale-faced in the starlight, and he wanted to ask if it helped, the absurd and almost sweet half-articulated concern in the face of everything else.

“Is it bad?”

Jotaro was quiet for a long time, long enough that Kakyoin wondered if he had somehow overstepped some invisible boundary, or if Jotaro himself simply didn’t know the answer. Or, if he did, he hadn’t yet decided whether or not he wanted to lie.

“Yeah,” he said at last. “It’s bad.”

He spoke as though he were communicating nothing more significant than the translation of an unfamiliar street sign. Kakyoin blinked, taken aback. He looked up and found Jotaro’s face half hidden in shadow, unreadable. He could see only fragments; red-rimmed eyes too glassy to explain away with exhaustion, clammy skin that burned when their shoulders brushed together under the blanket Kakyoin had silently wrapped around the two of them. His heartbeat, rapid like the beat of a hummingbird’s wings, as though his body were preparing to bolt from some unseen threat. 

Kakyoin wanted to grab that face in his hands and say you’re safe. What came out instead was: “I won’t let you die.”

Jotaro flinched as though he had been struck. “That’s not your promise to make,” he muttered, staring down at his hands.

Have you ever once felt safe?

“You gonna stop me?” Kakyoin said. 

Jotaro laughed quietly. “You…care.”

He said it delicately, as if speaking a foreign language. The careful way you would pronounce a word that could just as easily be misconstrued as a vile insult if you let one of the vowels out wrong.

“I’m trying to,” Kakyoin told him softly.

They looked at each other for a long moment.

“You.” He shook his head, a slow grin coming across his face. “You really fed a baby his own shit.”

Kakyoin shrugged, trying not to smile.

“Fucked up,” Jotaro said, sounding impressed.

“Thanks.”

 

blood is running deep

some things never sleep

 

The stalls at the Shalateen market were few in number, which Kakyoin found made the crowds, almost exclusively comprised of locals, gentle enough to be bearable. He didn’t need much knowledge of Arabic to understand that the artisans were masters of their various trades, choosing to trail after Avdol as he carefully retrieved pieces of relevant information from the shopkeepers, in small enough doses such as to leave it up in the air as to whether he was really asking about anything in particular at all. Kakyoin, of course, could see that he was searching for signs of nearby danger, enemy Stand users or otherwise. He seemed frequently distracted by his genuine interest in their wares: hot loaves of bread, camel milk, various brightly colored spices whose names Kakyoin greatly amused Avdol with by attempting to pronounce.

Crossing over into Egypt itself should have felt bigger, he thought; not that the country itself didn’t cast shadows long enough for monuments, but that the moment of arrival, so long anticipated, had been nothing more than a matter of footsteps no different from any others they had taken since the beginning of the journey. Any number of times he had imagined how the end would appear, when it was finally in sight. Now that he was nearly close enough to feel Dio’s breath on the back of his neck again, he had imagined the dread would consume him, but instead found his concerns remained steady and almost mundane. Where they could rent a car, whether the car would run, whether it had enough gas. If they had enough water, food, shade, heat. The ever-present awareness of Jotaro’s fever.

He glanced at Avdol, still engaged in discussion with a market baker. It was good to have him back, at least. Polnareff was practically giddy about it, once he was through feeling betrayed, and even Jotaro smiled a little more, relaxed the set of his shoulders just slightly when Avdol was nearby. It was hard not to feel safe around that kind of radiance and the quiet confidence that came with it. Strange, Kakyoin thought, that he could ever have enough friends to learn the art of missing people in different ways.

“Noriaki. Are you listening to me?”

He hadn’t been. “Sure. Yes. Of course.”

Avdol rolled his eyes. “Horrible liar,” he remarked. “Come on.”

He dragged Kakyoin into the nearby coffee shop, glancing around surreptitiously as though ensuring they weren’t being followed. Kakyoin felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck. Had he missed something? He should have paid closer attention—

“Have a seat.”

Avdol lowered himself into an empty chair closer to the wall, scanning the street through the window with a look that suggested it was an act driven more by second nature than interest. Kakyoin followed, still hesitant.

“Is everything…?”

“You tell me,” Avdol said.

Kakyoin blinked. “Sorry?”

“Jotaro.” He folded his hands and placed them carefully on the table. Kakyoin could tell Avdol’s eyes would be boring through him had he not been staunchly refusing to look up. 

“What about him?”

He had kept his promise, Kakyoin reminded himself. It felt like he was helping Jotaro hide his own body with a smile on his face, but he had kept the promise made on that cold bathroom floor.

Avdol’s glare faded into a warm smile as their waitress approached. He spoke in a quick, low tone; she returned his smile, nodded, and backed away.

“We have to help him,” he murmured once she was out of earshot. “We have to do something for him.”

Kakyoin studied his fingernails to continue avoiding meeting Avdol’s eyes. “What do you mean, help him?” He picked at the nearly healed scar on his palm. An infected hand would have been awful, but Jotaro had caught it in time. Kakyoin owed him for that one. “What’s wrong wi—”

“Kakyoin. Stop it.”

His fingernails bit into the scar when he clenched his fist. “Avdol—”

“Don’t be stupid with me,” Avdol said sharply. “I’ve seen how you’re watching him. You know about his illness.”

“I don’t know about any illness.”

“Your loyalty is touching,” he grunted, “but unnecessary. Game’s up.”

Kakyoin took a deep breath.

“Was I…” He swallowed. “I promised I wouldn’t—I didn’t mean to…”

Avdol watched him, exasperated but not unsympathetic.

“Shit,” Kakyoin mumbled, lowering his head into his hands. “Shit, I promised…I really did promise I wouldn’t say anything, he’s gonna—”

“I told you stop being stupid.” Avdol waved a hand dismissively. “You didn’t betray anyone. I’ve been observing cases like this for years. I knew what was happening to him the moment he walked off that boat looking like parchment.”

“Do you…have you seen this—what’s happening to him, I mean, have you—you’ve seen it before?”

“Something close to it.” He narrowed his eyes. “I can see he’s grown worse since I left.”

Kakyoin nodded silently.

“How bad is it?”

When he had left Jotaro that morning, he was still reveling in the brief reprieve the fight with the Priestess had granted him. He had nearly forgotten what Jotaro looked like with the color back in his face. Nothing seemed to hammer the point home more than seeing him on a good day. 

“His fevers are getting dangerous,” Kakyoin said slowly. “He keeps…getting worse. He had to go almost a week, without, you know, without fighting…he clocked almost a hundred five degrees a few days ago. If we’d had to wait much longer I don’t know what we would have—”

“Fighting?”

“He says fighting is the only thing that makes it stop.”

“Does he.” Avdol nodded politely to the waitress, taking the tea she offered him. Kakyoin lifted the cup carefully, staring at the dark liquid he held in his hands. “That’s…interesting.”

“Tell me what’s happening to him,” Kakyoin demanded, the edge in his voice hinting at desperation.

“I can’t say for sure.” He tapped the table softly, deep in thought. “Some sort of adverse reaction to the way their Stands were triggered would be my best guess. Although one would expect it to be affecting Joseph as well…”

Kakyoin shook his head. “Haven’t noticed anything with him.”

“We would have seen something by now.” Avdol sighed. “I have seen rejection sicknesses driven by a Stand that wanted more control over its user than the user was willing to give. The link to Dio is…more…complicated, I’m sure.”

He looked up at Kakyoin, eyes serious. “But their Stands were drawn out in response to a threat. That much is clear.”

“Dio,” Kakyoin muttered, feeling sick. Avdol nodded.

“Dio,” he said. “Something about Dio’s parallel existence…if I had to guess, I would say their Stands are trying to turn them into something capable of surviving him.”

“And killing them in the process.”

“Correct.”

Kakyoin rubbed at his eyes. “You keep saying ‘them’.”

“Well, yes. Jotaro’s mother. Holly.”

“Shit.” He leaned back, staring at the ceiling. He had almost forgotten. “Yeah, you’re right.”

“Does he seem in control?”

“What’d you mean?”

“With Star Platinum.” Avdol glanced back through the window. “Is he in control of it?”

“He’s in control of Star,” Kakyoin said. “It’s not that.”

Avdol raised his eyebrows. 

“Sometimes he doesn’t…seem…like himself.”

Jotaro was no longer unrecognizable covered in blood. Kakyoin wished that he was.

“It makes him so… happy . I wish I thought he wasn’t in control, I just—it seems like—when he gets like that it seems like he just loves doing it, that’s why he’s doing it, because he wants to, not because he has to, but—Avdol, it—that’s not him.” He looked up fiercely, as though prepared to argue the point. “He’s—I mean, yes, I know he’s good at it and—sometimes he enjoys it, I’m sure he does, but he—he doesn’t—”

“I know,” Avdol said softly. “I know. It’s all right.”

“How does this end, then?”

The cafe was silent but for the quiet whirr of the generator, the gentle clinking of glasses being washed and wiped dry.

“One of three ways,” he replied, after a long moment had passed. “He may surrender entirely to the frenzy and sacrifice his soul for the sake of keeping his body alive. Or the fever may move more quickly, make a sacrifice of his body before the soul is destroyed. This, or we reach Dio in time, and eliminating him eliminates the Stand’s thirst for blood.”

“Which would save them.”

“Jotaro and Mrs. Kujo, yes.”

Mrs. Kujo. He imagined returning to that house with nothing but an empty coat, an armful of grief. Carrying the weight of that shame until he too was torn from the earth. It was too much to bear. It was too much for anyone to bear.

“That won’t happen to Jotaro,” Kakyoin said firmly. “I won’t let it.”

“You will have to accept that his death is a possibility.”

Kakyoin froze with a napkin crumpled in his hand. Something cold and sharp closed around his heart, as though he were watching the fox running into the street again, watching the car coming closer and closer, unable to do anything but stand rooted to the ground. 

“You can’t protect him from something you don’t believe can happen in the first place,” Avdol continued evenly. “Jotaro is dying. You can see that, yes?”

Just another prey animal blinded by the headlights.

“I can’t,” he whispered. “I can’t think about—I can’t.”

“You think you can throw yourself into the line of fire to keep him safe.” Avdol watched him over his folded hands, absently twisting a gold ring on his left index finger on and off. “You’ve accepted that you may need to sacrifice yourself, but you think…you think that’s just how the story goes, ultimate sacrifice in hand with salvation. Because it would be right, it would be fair, I know, if it worked that way. I wish I could tell you it did.” 

His eyes flashed. “Death doesn’t play with bargains. Death doesn’t care what you think your life is worth and it won’t care how much Jotaro’s life is worth to you either.”

Just beyond the open door a set of chimes tinkled weakly in the wind, which had been half-hearted and ever-present since they arrived in Egypt. Kakyoin couldn’t remember whether there had been wind when he visited with his family. They were memories of a different life.

“So who was it?” he said at last. 

Avdol blinked. “Sorry?”

“Who did you lose?”

They stared at each other in silence. Avdol took a deep breath, looking uncharacteristically taken aback.

“My mother,” he murmured. 

Kakyoin nodded. “I’m sorry.”

“I don’t want that.” Avdol met his eyes steadily. “I want you to listen.”

“I’m trying to.”

“You’re afraid.”

“Yes,” he said slowly, realizing as he spoke just how true it was.

“Then you’re halfway there.” Avdol paused. “Sacrificing yourself will only leave you dead and him alone and if he does survive, Jotaro will be the one living with what it cost. So if you’re going to do something like that…”

He shook his head.

“…you’d better have a damn good reason.”

 

suddenly I’m overcome

dissolving like the setting sun

 

“You need to fucking leave .”

Jotaro stiffened when he saw her hand on Kakyoin’s shoulder, already rising from his barstool. Kakyoin pulled away calmly, shaking his head in warning.

“The hell are you?” the woman demanded. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

He twisted back to look at her. Tall, solid in a way that suggested she might once have been very strong, with a remarkably thick knot of dark hair. One deep-set eye had been dragged shut by a deep scar that ran from her eyebrow to just below her cheekbone; the other blazed from the hollow, fever-bright. She was either very drunk, very angry, or both.

“You have the wrong men,” Avdol told her. The bartender watched them warily, wiping down a glass that had already been spotless five minutes ago.

“I know what you are,” she snarled. “Don’t play fucking dumb. I know your kind .”

Only once she removed the heavy motorcycle jacket did Kakyoin notice the rest of the scars, covering her shoulders, her upper arms, her neck. 

“Jotaro,” he said in a low voice. Jotaro nodded.

“We’ll go.” Avdol took a step back as the other two stood. “We don’t want any trouble.”

“Don’t want any trouble,” the woman repeated, her voice high and thin. “Didn’t I tell you I know what you are ?”

“We’ll go—”

The next thing Kakyoin knew her fist was flying towards his face.

Jotaro made a strangled noise of alarm and moved to get in front of him before they were both shoved out of the way by Avdol, who threw his arms up in defense rather than draw out the firebird in such a public place. What ended up striking his arm was not the woman’s fist, but a thorny-looking hand with a rippling surface not unlike mercury, gripping his forearm with surprising strength.

He yelped and jumped back, knocking over a nearby stool with a crash. Surrounding patrons had begun to move away, watching with annoyance, with curiosity, with fear. As far as they had seen, Avdol was flinching from empty air.

The woman’s Stand hovered at her side, arms folded. The humanoid body appeared to be wrapped in horns, thorns, spikes, some combination of the three. Like the user, one eye remained open, the other closed.

Avdol stared down at his arm, his shocked expression beginning to twist with pain as he clutched at it, but Kakyoin could see no blood, no bruising, no visible evidence of injury. He looked up wildly, searching for the user.

“What,” he hissed. “what did you—”

“You know,” the woman said, “I think I’m just gonna stick around and teach you fuckers a lesson, actually.”

Avdol cradled his arm, glaring at her. “Who—?”

“Sick of this shit. I’m sick of it. Shut up.” She pointed at Kakyoin, hand floating up towards his forehead. “Nice scar, huh?”

He reached for it unconsciously, the star-shaped mark Jotaro left behind the day he pulled the flesh bud free. It had seemed such a small price to pay for freedom, at the time.

She narrowed her eyes. “Bet it hurt.”

“What’s your fucking game?”

The woman laughed harshly. “No games, big guy.”

Jotaro’s fists twitched at his side. Like Avdol, he was reluctant to pull out Star Platinum in a crowded bar, but the idea of doing it the old-fashioned way grew more and more attractive.

“I don’t see any scars on your friend over there.” She nodded towards Avdol. “Wound like that would have left some. So he’s got that to look forward to.”

“The hell are you—”

“You’re boring,” she declared, and swung around to aim a kick at Kakyoin’s head. Neither Jotaro or the woman had noticed Hierophant’s tentacles sliding across the floor, however, and he caught her Stand’s legs in a pale tangle just before the kick connected, lowering the point of impact to just beneath his ribs.

The pain was instantaneous and explosive. Kakyoin gasped sharply and doubled over, taken by surprise. It felt as though a bomb had gone off inside him, as though he should have been torn in half by the force of it. He stared down at the light streaming from his stomach, ears ringing as he fell to one knee.

“Ooh,” the user breathed, leaning low to get a better look. “That doesn’t look like something you’re gonna walk away from.”

Jotaro whirled, eyes wide. “Kakyoin—?”

“Don’t worry,” she purred into Kakyoin’s ear. “You’re the only one who can see it. Well, you know, besides me. Unless you want me to tell him?”

“Don’t,” he growled, gritting his teeth.

“Thought not.” She spun to her feet, grinning up at Jotaro. “Oh, would you wipe that look off your face? They’re not actually hurt. Not yet, at least. That’s how it works.”

“What the fuck do you mean, ‘yet’?”

His voice fell, low and dangerous. The woman continued to smile.

“Omen,” she said. “That’s what Omen is. My—don’t remember what they called it. Don’t care. My ability . Every wound you’ve ever had. Every wound you’re ever gonna have. You get to feel them all at once.” She laughed again. “Just think of it as practice.”

Jotaro looked sideways at Avdol and Kakyoin, both crumpled on the floor. He couldn’t see what had incapacitated them, but the way Kakyoin clutched at his stomach suggested nothing good. They met each others’ eyes, briefly, and Kakyoin’s expression said not worth it , and Jotaro’s said don’t care .

Maybe he hit her harder than he’d meant to. Maybe he meant to hit her exactly as hard as he did. Either way he was left gazing down at her, pulse thundering in his ears as she wiped blood from her face. A bouncer was attempting to elbow his way through the crowd to get to them. Jotaro hoped, for the man’s own sake, that he didn’t make it in time.

“I can see all of it, you know.”

The user pulled herself up, leaving a bloody handprint smeared on the counter.

“I can see it,” she repeated, her voice sharpened by a note of hysteria. “They’re done. No one shines like that and lives through it. They’re gonna d—”

“Shut up,” Jotaro said hoarsely. “Shut the fuck up.”

“Kill me if you want.” She threw him another satisfied smile. “Won’t save your friends, of course, but it might make you feel better, right?”

“I said shut up —!”

He was halfway through his next swing when Omen twisted under his arm and caught him flat in the face with an open palm. Jotaro staggered back, clutching his right eye. Shock temporarily replaced anger as the slash of light seared him from forehead to jaw.

“Aww,” the woman said. “Look at that. We match.”

Jotaro’s expression relaxed. He returned her smile.

Kakyoin hardly found it surprising that the next punch was punctuated by the sound of crunching bone. Avdol rubbed his forearms as if trying to shake off a sunburn as the pain dulled.

“He’ll be gone,” he murmured. “He’s going somewhere we can’t reach.”

Kakyoin wanted to protest. He wanted to tell Avdol this was nothing compared to what he’d seen, compared to what Jotaro had done. There was hardly any blood, this time. Surely he wouldn’t kill the woman with so many people watching. Surely he wouldn’t kill her at all—he had only killed Dio’s people, and she hardly seemed like one of Dio’s people.

But his defense was based on an assumption put on shaky ground by the surfacing joy on Jotaro’s face. The white-hot pain in his stomach had faded, meaning the user was no longer in any position to control it. It should have been over. Jotaro should know it was over.

He started to pull himself up, wincing a little when the lingering soreness kicked at him resentfully.

“Kakyoin,” Avdol began.

Kakyoin shook his head. “I can stop him,” he said. “He won’t hurt me.”

“He—”

Both men cringed when Jotaro swung again, bracing for the sound of the impact.

“He will, he—this is exactly what I was talking about, you didn’t listen —”

“He won’t hurt me,” Kakyoin repeated calmly. 

And if you’re wrong?

On his feet again, he watched the last shreds of light fade away from his middle. If it was death Omen spoke of, it was a death for another day. He was barely surprised to find he wasn’t afraid at all.

There were bigger fears to be had, he thought, looking up into the white-hot stillness that filled Jotaro’s eyes. He had never before had reason to be made uneasy by calm water.

“Jotaro, stop .”

The surrounding crowd of spectators saw the red-haired teenager put himself between assailant and target. They saw the assailant grab the front of his uniform, unblinking. They saw the red-haired boy’s expression flicker very slightly, processing the probability of a miscalculation. They saw him set his jaw and close his eyes.

Most were not close enough to notice that he was holding his breath.

 

Star Platinum was at his side and he couldn’t remember when he had decided it no longer mattered that there were people watching. He couldn’t remember why he had thought that was important enough to be a problem in the first place. Only the dull roar in his ears existed, the rush of air.

Nothing had ever been important like this. Everything else was colorless in comparison, bleached out. If there was a reason for it…

A reason. Something. Someone. He was someone outside of it. He had been someone a moment ago. He couldn’t remember who. He must have been very angry, he thought. Something must have made him angry.

He saw red. That shade of red was supposed to mean something to him.

Someone was standing in front of him. He thought he had already downed them. It didn’t matter in any case. They were there, which meant there was only one thing to do.

Which was right. It had to be that way. He wanted it to be that way.

He knew that face, and it wasn’t going to stop him, but he knew the red hair, he knew the face, it wouldn’t stop him, he could almost remember the name, and he could almost remember what it was that had made him so angry, it had something to do with red, it had something to do with red…

 

One.

Two.

Three.

 

Kakyoin opened his eyes.

Star Platinum’s fist hung in the air, barely an inch from his face. It stared at him with blank confusion, the frantic light draining out of its eyes. Jotaro still clutched the front of his uniform, his mouth half-open in surprise. He swallowed hard.

“Kakyoin?” he whispered.

Kakyoin nodded slowly, heart pounding in his throat.

Jotaro released him as Star faded away, his face contorting in horror. He backed away, pressing one hand over his mouth as though he thought he might throw up.

The right thing to say had to exist. There had to be something Jotaro needed to hear, and Kakyoin wanted more than anything to be the one to say it, but he couldn’t think straight over the sound of his own racing heartbeat, couldn’t find the words they both needed so desperately. He searched Jotaro’s eyes for anything familiar, found the brightness he knew, and couldn’t decide whether that made it better or worse.

Only once he started to see spots did Kakyoin realize he was still holding his breath. He let it out with a soft hiss.

Jotaro continued backing away until he hit the gathered crowd, turning to push past the onlookers in his way. Kakyoin barely processed that he was making a break for it in time to reach for him, still a moment too late.

“Jotaro—!”

He looked down at the hand on his arm.

“Not you,” Avdol said quietly. “Let me go.”

“I—”

“Stay with her,” he continued, jerking his head towards the unconscious woman. “Make sure she wakes up all right. I’ll have a word with the bouncer.”

“Are you…” Kakyoin glanced from the woman to the bouncer to Avdol, doubtful. “Are you—sure?”

“I’m sure.” Avdol squeezed his shoulder reassuringly. “Get back to the hotel safely. I’ll see you tonight.”

Kakyoin watched him go as the crowd continued to stare, public witnesses to a personal disaster.

 

like a boat into oblivion

‘cause you’re driving me away

 

By the time Avdol found him the sun had fallen low enough to cast long shadows down the alley, painting the wet gravel the color of rust. He slouched against one muddy wall, kicking at a crushed beer can, cigarette hanging forgotten from his fingers as it slowly burned to ash.

“Get burned that way,” Avdol told him calmly, leaning back at his side.

Jotaro didn’t look up. “Maybe.” He glanced down at the cigarette, now extinguished, and let it fall from his hand. “She gonna live?”

“She’ll live.”

“Should I be watching for cops?”

Avdol smirked. “No. Paid off the bouncer with your grandfather’s money."

They stood in silence, watching the rays of orange light stretch longer across their feet.

When Jotaro finally spoke, his voice was so low it was nearly swallowed by the laughter drifting through the window of a neighboring bar.

“What’s happening to me?”

Avdol hesitated. He had imagined what he would tell Jotaro any number of times, when it finally did get out in the open.

“It’s not your fault,” he said.

“It’s me,” Jotaro muttered. “Isn’t it. It’s because of—it’s just, it’s who I am. Always was. My mom just got, she just got knocked out because she couldn’t—she’d never—”

He swallowed, his eyes temporarily clear of fever but glazed over with something else entirely.

“Mom would never lose it like that.” He looked up at Avdol as though searching for confirmation. “You know? I—I think she’s the stronger one. I think I might just be fucking weak.”

The word came out with a bitter taste. He clamped his mouth shut, feeling his face go hot. He hadn’t meant to say so much so quickly.

“It’s never been about that.”

Avdol looked at Jotaro steadily, waiting until he reluctantly raised his head again.

“It isn’t about being strong,” he continued carefully. “Not rejection sickness. Your Stand is…it’s attempting to prepare for a threat, so to speak.”

“You mean Dio.”

“Yes. I mean Dio.” Avdol sighed. “Your Stands triggered as an immune response of sorts, if you want to look at it that way. It’s attempting to turn you into something that has…that could take him on. The problem is that it needs full control in order to do that. And you’re resisting.” 

He paused. “Your mother is not a weak woman. But she is not a violent woman, either. My guess is, her resistance was so total that it caused the Stand’s revolt to progress far quicker than it would have if she did have the…capacity to appease it.”

“The capacity .” Jotaro snorted darkly. “That’s a pretty way of saying I don’t have an issue with beating the shit out of people.”

“Jotaro—”

“It’s still me.” He clenched his fists to hide how badly his hands shook. “I’m the one who’s compatible with it.”

“If you were fully compatible you wouldn’t be sick.”

The laughter grew louder, punctuated by the sound of breaking glass. They ducked just as shards of it flew through the open window, only to be slapped away by a pair of quick purple hands. Star Platinum’s expression was almost apologetic as it faded from view.

“You’ve seen this before?”

Avdol had only known the young woman for a few weeks, but it was enough to recognize that no trace of her remained when he reached the destroyed warehouse interior. He had arrived too late to stop her, catching her in the aftermath of what could only be called a massacre. She stood among the mangled bodies and looked up at him with elation so complete that it turned his stomach. 

He had been younger then. Hadn’t had enough sense to know when a cause was lost, and until the end he shouted her name, searching for some scrap of her soul that might still cling to her body, found only empty spaces and the taste of metal. In the end he was forced to burn her into a ghost, joining his mother in the ranks of those he couldn’t save.

“Heard of it,” Avdol said evasively.

If Jotaro knew he was lying, it didn’t show on his face. He looked away briefly in an attempt to compose himself.

“I almost hurt Kakyoin,” he said softly. “I think…I think I would’ve killed him. If I hadn’t—I don’t even know why I stopped, I didn’t…I meant to land it, I meant to land that punch, I—”

“Star Platinum still answers to you.”

He gritted his teeth. “Doesn’t feel like it.”

“Do you want to hurt Kakyoin?”

“Of course not—”

“Did you hurt Kakyoin?”

“Came really fucking close,” he mumbled.

“But you didn’t.” Avdol shook his head. “You didn’t want to hurt him. So Star didn’t hurt him. It means you didn’t want to do it, even if you couldn’t tell at the time. Do you understand this?”

Jotaro stared at him wordlessly.

“The fact that you’re so horrified by this means something, don’t you think? Don’t you think you’re—that you would be just fine with all of this if you really were the monster you say you are?”

“I don’t know !”

He kicked a discarded bottle against the wall in frustration, flinched when it shattered against the brick.

“I don’t know,” he repeated. “I don’t…want…to hurt him. Or you, or the old man, or Polnareff, or anyone who isn’t a—a threat, but what if I do? What if one day Kakyoin gets in front of me and there’s not enough of me left to pull that punch?”

“I can’t tell you what will happen,” Avdol said gently. “But I don’t think you will. I just don’t think you will.”

Jotaro was quiet for a long time before he raised his head and spoke in a voice so uncharacteristically small that he sounded like a teenager for the first time since Avdol had known him.

“What’s gonna happen to me?”

He was only seventeen, Avdol thought. He shouldn’t have been living with death over his neck like a sword ready to fall.

“I don’t know,” he murmured. “I can’t tell you that.” 

None of it was right. None of it was fair.

“All I can tell you with certainty is that you won’t go alone.”

 

It took her about fifteen minutes to regain consciousness, another thirty before her eyes finally focused on the glass of water before her. Kakyoin watched the alarm slowly creep across her face as she recognized his. She looked up sharply and winced, pressing the heel of her hand against her forehead.

“Where,” was all she said.

“Back room,” he told her. “Same bar.”

“Didn’t get kicked out?”

“Bribed a bouncer.”

She snorted softly. They looked at one another warily, less like predator and prey than a pair of cornered rabbits who couldn’t tell whether they were meant to be fighting or running. Without her boisterous aggression, looking at her almost reminded him of looking at Jotaro without his coat.

Kakyoin glanced at the spectacular black eye blooming into place. “You gonna be okay?”

“Had worse,” she mumbled. “You always clean up after your big friend like this?”

“You always start Stand fights with strangers in public?”

“Don’t call it that.”

“That’s what it is.”

“I don’t give a shit what it is.”

The air shimmered behind her, a flicker of mercury. He would have been impressed by her tenacity if it weren’t for the throbbing headache her attack had left behind. Hierophant curled over his shoulders, wrapping its arms around him absently. A quiet threat. She curled her lip at the sight of it.

“You have a name?”

She glared at him. “Do you?”

“Kakyoin.” He hesitated, then added, “Kakyoin Noriaki.”

“Hm.” Her mouth twisted. “It’s Eshe.”

“Just Eshe?”

Eshe sighed heavily. “Nimr,” she said. “Eshe Nimr. Just…don’t try to pronounce it.”

Kakyoin chuckled quietly. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

He always found it strange, to speak to someone while operating on the assumption that you would never see them again. It gave him a strange head rush, made him feel as though he could say anything to her and never have to face the consequences.

The head rush might also have been part of his headache, but he didn’t have the energy for details.

“So what happened to you?” 

He leaned forward, resting his chin in one hand as she stared.

“Excuse me?”

“Come on,” Kakyoin said. “No one gets like that on their own.”

Eshe reached self-consciously for her jacket, pulled it more tightly around her shoulders to hide the scars. It was only then that she realized someone must have returned it while she was unconscious. She squinted at Kakyoin doubtfully. 

“Maybe I fell through a window or something.”

“I was talking about your personality.”

She blinked. “Oh.”

He figured it was a fair question to ask the woman who had attacked him unprovoked with her psychic powers in the middle of a bar. Whether she answered or not was up to her. Hanging around Jotaro had given him more than enough time to grow accustomed to people being reticent to share personal details.

“Why would I tell you that?”

Kakyoin shrugged. “We’re probably never gonna see each other again. Also, you punched me.”

“Your friend broke my nose.”

I didn’t do that,” he pointed out.

“Fuck it,” Eshe muttered, half to herself. “Fuck this shit.” She looked up at him critically, scratching at a spot of dried blood on her wrist. “You’re young.”

“Sorry?”

“You’re a kid. You and the big one. You’re just kids.”

“I’m seventeen.” 

Kakyoin winced. It came out sounding much more petulant than he intended. Eshe shook her head slowly.

He glanced up at the clock, wondering whether Avdol had tracked down Jotaro yet. He couldn’t tell whether the time there was fast, or slow, or true, but he did know he would prefer to get back to the hotel before sunset. Navigating an unfamiliar city in the dark was something he would rather avoid. Considering the day they’d had.

“My sister.”

Eshe avoided his eyes, focusing on running her fingers around the edge of the empty water glass.

“Your sister,” Kakyoin echoed. 

“She was the one who had it,” she continued, her voice dull. “The—whatever it’s called. Stand. Whatever. Hers was—made, um. Made plants grow faster. And she could make them do whatever she wanted. But she, you know, she hated using it to fight. Good at fighting. Just didn’t like it.”

She laughed angrily. “They—other people like her. Found her somehow. Don’t know how. They just kept coming . Kept saying shit about how ‘Stands attract Stands’. Malika didn’t want anything to do with that. She just wanted to grow her fucking poppies in peace, she didn’t—but they didn’t care about that. They didn’t care at all. They killed her for—for existing. That was all she was doing.”

“That’s…” Kakyoin exhaled heavily. “Evil.”

“Omen showed up right at the end,” Eshe said. “But it’s fucking…it doesn’t do …it couldn’t do anything. For her. I had to just. Watch. She had this birthmark. Right on her back, where he…”

She swallowed. 

“Eventually it got him in the face. Big bright burst. And I just kind of—knew what that, what it meant. So I smashed his face in with a rock. But it, it was too late. For my little sister.” She met his eyes and quickly looked away. “She was only a little bit older than you. Eighteen.”

He nodded slowly. “I’m…sorry.”

“Oh, don’t fucking say that,” she snapped. “I’m so fucking tired of people saying—sorry isn’t gonna bring Malika back. Sorry’s good for about sh—”

“I have a sister.”

I don’t want that, Avdol had said. I want you to listen

“I think,” Kakyoin said quietly, “that if that happened to me. I’d want to kill everything that reminded me of it too.”

A loud series of shouts reached them from the main bar, muffled by the walls and closed doors that separated them from the crowd.

“But that wouldn’t bring her back. Won’t bring yours back either.”

The look she gave him suggested that were she not already injured she might have swung at him again. Omen tensed at her side and Hierophant eyed it from across the table, unraveling from Kakyoin’s shoulders.

He remembered what she had said about her sister’s birthmark. He remembered what Avdol had told him, weeks ago, about the Stand mirroring the user, and he felt a deep sense of loss wash over him as acutely as if the grief were his own. He looked at Eshe and he wondered if this, too, was inevitable for him, if he would come to be defined by his failure to protect something precious. He wondered if his death would mangle his sister’s heart the way Eshe’s had been mangled, should the life he failed to preserve be his own.

She made a sharp noise of surprise and Kakyoin looked up to see Hierophant holding Omen’s head in its hands, staring into its eyes as directly as it could without visible pupils on either of them. Omen seemed ready to shove it away, but it was stalling, and Eshe watched with wide eyes as her Stand relaxed and touched its forehead to Hierophant’s.

Her hands were shaking badly. She folded them together to hide it, and the act reminded Kakyoin so much of Jotaro that he felt like screaming.

“Your friend.”

She turned her head to get a better look at him with her good eye.

“The big one. What’s wrong with him?”

Kakyoin paused, taken aback. “Wrong?”

“I see pain,” she said. “He glows. All over.”

He winced. “He…hasn’t been…feeling well.”

Eshe nodded as though she understood, and it was possible, he thought, that she did. He stood up carefully.

  “Sorry. About your head,” she added.

“I’ll live.” He took another look at her emerging bruises. “You really should go to a doctor, if you can. He hits pretty hard.”

She waved her hand dismissively and Kakyoin turned to leave. 

“Hey. Wait.”

He stopped with his hand on the doorknob. The metal was surprisingly cold, uneven against his palm.

“What I said. About your—when I hit you.”

Kakyoin took a sharp breath.

“It’s true that I haven’t seen anyone survive something like that,” she told him. “They’re always saying there’s a first time for everything, though, so…I hope this one is you.”

He thought of the explosion of light, the pain tearing through his stomach. He closed his eyes.

“Thank you, Eshe,” he murmured.

“Just…take care of each other.” 

She hesitated. 

“And don’t go home to your sister in a body bag.”

 

now you have me on the run

the damage is already done

 

All things considered, Jotaro expected the blood on his clothes to draw more attention. It was far easier for all six feet five inches of him to perform light breaking and entering with blood on his shirt than it should have been. It seemed as though the bar’s patrons were far more interested in their own Friday night business than whatever the large teenager in the stained black coat was doing climbing the service stairs. He supposed if he’d been at liberty to get plastered he might have felt the same way.

It was very difficult for Jotaro to successfully get drunk, considering the sheer physical volume he had to contend with. As compelling as the idea was at present, he could already feel the fever creeping back up, and he wasn’t quite close enough to the edge to risk whatever side effects would come from mixing it with alcohol.

Not yet, at least.

The door to the roof had been locked, but he had expected that. It was Kakyoin who taught him the trick after throwing his arm out in alarm at the very last second to stop Jotaro from kicking down a door. He pulled out a butter knife, which Jotaro had found incomprehensible, at the time. To his credit, it did seem to work very well as far as sliding the bolt back went. Kakyoin had explained why that was, at the time. He couldn’t remember what he’d said. The fever had been high that day.

Love to know how you think you’re gonna explain it if that thing falls out of your pocket.

Say I bring my own silverware to restaurants. Act like a germaphobe. I don’t know. I’d make something up.

You really think anyone’s gonna believe that shit?

Or they don’t and they just assume I’m some kind of freak and leave me the hell alone. Either way I win.

He hadn’t quite managed to convince Jotaro that it made sense. But as it turned out, a pocket knife worked, if the latch was shitty enough.

The roof was just as muddy as the alley below, the shouting from the first and second floors eclipsed by the hiss of an ancient ventilation unit. He didn’t care. It only mattered to him that he had somewhere to lose track of his thoughts. Proved much more difficult than he would have liked, but the machinery was almost loud enough to drown them out.

Almost.

Far easier to lose track of time, and by the time the sky began to go light in the east the early morning mist had settled on his shoulders, leaving his coat and hat covered in dew. It had happened so slowly that he hadn’t noticed.

He knew he couldn’t avoid going back forever. He didn’t want to, and that scared him more. 

“The hell you want?” he mumbled at the purple face swimming into view. “Don’t you think you did enough for one day?”

Star Platinum just stared at him, as though it wanted to speak, as though it understood that it would never know how.

 

He was closer to the hotel than he’d thought, and the sun was still below the horizon when he finally reached the room the old man had booked for the two of them. Light seeped faintly through the crack between door and hardwood, and he rested his forehead against the door for a long moment, considering just staying like that until morning reached the city in earnest.

Far too late it occurred to Jotaro that he had forgotten to bring the extra key. He closed his eyes, gritted his teeth, and knocked twice. The door swung open so quickly that he nearly lost his balance.

Kakyoin’s expression flickered from alarm to relief to concern in quick succession. He was still wearing his day clothes, and his bloodshot eyes suggested that he too had spent the night awake. Silently he stepped back to let Jotaro through.

Jotaro was certain that whatever he was about to say would be the wrong thing, and equally certain that he had to at least try . Kakyoin sank down onto his bed and glanced up at him, at a loss. He took a deep breath.

“I—”

“Are—”

They stared at each other in surprise. Kakyoin tried and failed to hold back a nervous giggle and Jotaro found himself smiling, despite everything. He pulled off his hat and shook his hair like a wet dog.

“Sorry if I scared you,” he muttered.

Kakyoin shook his head vehemently. “It wasn’t me I was scared for.”

Oh .

“Are you okay?”

He hung his coat carefully on the corner of the bed, hoping a few hours there would be enough for it to dry, and he looked down at Kakyoin for a long time.

“I don’t know,” Jotaro said at last. “I think I might not be.”

“Do you want to tell me about it?”

Jotaro didn’t respond. He crossed the room and flopped onto the bed next to Kakyoin with a noncommittal grunt, and the first thing Kakyoin noticed was the fever already coming off of him. It had barely been twelve hours since he had used Star.

Christ.

It wasn’t as though Jotaro was the touchy type, and Kakyoin had never really learned how to let people need to be near him. He couldn’t loosen the tension in his shoulders, and he spent a few minutes worried that Jotaro could feel how edgy he was before realizing his friend had already fallen asleep. 

He was heavy as all hell.

Kakyoin didn’t often have reason to be particularly concerned with his own strength. It wasn’t something he relied on, finding outmaneuvering far more satisfying than beating down. In comparison to that of the others his was hardly worth mentioning. And still he had never felt more grateful for it than he did then, if only for what it allowed him to carry.

You will have to accept that his death is a possibility.

The more he thought about it, the more he wanted to rip Dio’s pretty face off. 

I don’t care .

And wait for it to grow back. And rip it off again. And again. And again.

I’ll kill you, 

kill you, 

kill you.

He wondered, briefly, whether it was out of place for someone like him to protect someone like Jotaro. Certainly most seemed to assume it would need to be the other way around. But Kakyoin looked down at the face resting on his shoulder, and he thought there was nothing strange about it at all.

 

“Something is bothering you.”

Avdol glanced at him, taking the paper cup of hotel coffee Polnareff offered before settling back into his chair. He had given up on sleep around four, relocating to the balcony and resigning himself to waiting for sunrise. In every silent moment he heard Jotaro’s voice, almost plaintive, trusting him to have answers he would never be able to give.

What’s gonna happen to me?

“Yes,” he said quietly.

Polnareff nodded, still watching him. “How can I help?”

“Just…” Avdol hesitated. Considered just telling him that he needed to be alone. “Just—fill the silence. Please. If you could do that for me.”

He nodded again. Tapped the side of his face, considering, before he began to speak.

“Demain, dès l’aube, à l’heure où blanchit la campagne, je partirai. Vois-tu, je sais que tu m’attends. J’irai par la forêt, j’irai par la montagne. Je ne puis demeurer loin de toi plus longtemps.” 

Avdol smiled to himself. “Tomorrow, at dawn, at the hour when the countryside whitens, I will depart. You see, I know you wait for me. I will go through the forest and over the mountains. I cannot stay far from you any longer.” 

Polnareff grinned. “You know it?”

“Victor Hugo.” Avdol looked up. “Why do you have that memorized?”

He winked obnoxiously. “Impresses the ladies.”

“Oh, please .”

“It’s true! Is it working?”

“I’m no lady.”

“But it’s impressing you, no?”

Avdol shook his head. He smirked. “Would need to hear more to decide.”

“Of course.” Polnareff beamed back at him.

“Do you…” He hesitated. “Do you know anything that isn’t about visiting cemeteries?”

“Well, you know how morbid the French are.”

“Are you—you aren’t referring to yourself, surely.”

“I—” Polnareff huffed, theatrically offended. “I can be very grave when I want to be, thank you.”

“Oh, of course.” Avdol laughed. “Of course. My apologies.”

He shook his head. “You’re in luck. I do know a Rimbaud.”

“By all means, then.”

Âme sentinelle, 

murmurons l’aveu 

de la nuit si nulle 

et du jour en feu

Avdol drank his awful hotel coffee, and he listened to Polnareff recite in French, and he watched dawn stain the sky various shades of peach and gold. Miraculously, he stopped thinking about much of anything at all.

Sentinel soul, 

we whisper confession

of the empty night 

and the fiery day.

Everything that had happened to them fell away, leaving behind only the bitter-tasting rose gold of the present. It lasted only for a moment, but in the right light a moment can stretch the span of a lifetime, despite fear, despite inevitability, despite the knowledge that tomorrow a moment could be all the life either of them had left. 

come on, is this what you want?

‘cause you’re driving me away

 

The next in what was becoming a long series of breaking points came just before they reached Abu Simbel. In retrospect Kakyoin imagined he should have expected it, should have known the calm after Eshe had lasted too long to be anything but the precursor to another storm. They were all on edge, expecting the worst and secretly ashamed of their silent hopes, the subsurface desire to believe that some cosmic sense of justice had come out of hiding and determined that they had suffered enough for the time being.

Of course it was never so easy. Of course it was never so fair.

The two of them were nearly at the train station when Jotaro’s hand closed like a vise around Kakyoin’s upper arm. He had stopped moving, staring straight ahead at a crack in the sidewalk.

“Jotaro…?”

He looked up, eyes huge with surprise, and Kakyoin’s heart sank. Jotaro took a single unsteady step away, still staring back at him, and fell heavily against the brick.

“Fuck,” he hissed. “Fuck, fuck—”

Kakyoin sucked in air through his teeth. “Is it that bad? The fever?”

Jotaro shook his head, coughing into his hands.

“Then what’s…”

Together they gazed at the blood that came away on his palm.

“…wrong,” Kakyoin breathed, seeing it at last.

The arms wrapped around him flickered in and out of view, and for a second Kakyoin wondered wildly if it was another attack, because they clearly belonged to a Stand, but the street was deserted. If someone was on the offensive, their range was too wide for him to reach them in time to make a difference. But he knew, somehow, that these too belonged to the sickness; maybe it was the heat coming off the surface, the way they clutched at Jotaro as though they knew him, as though they had some sort of right to him.

He looked down at the gold, the huge armored hands, and could not shake the feeling that he had seen them before. Jotaro coughed again, harder this time, and wiped the blood from his mouth with a look of resignation that put a pit in Kakyoin’s stomach.

“Oh no,” he growled. “Oh, you bastard, you are not dying on me.”

“Kakyoin.”

Kakyoin ignored him, sending the unraveled Hierophant down the street towards the station, praying to the nearest listening god that he would find Avdol there.

“Noriaki—”

Not like this. Not here.

“Shut up,” Kakyoin said sharply, grabbing him by the shoulders. “Shut up. I need to—I have to think.”

A flash of red and green caught Kakyoin’s eye as it recoiled from the increasing pressure. He squinted. He froze with two of Hierophant’s limbs still trying without success to slide under the pair of arms, slashing at them uselessly. 

The heavy vines winding around Jotaro’s body were pine green, lined with bright red berries and veins of light. They undulated slowly, pulsing with life, but he could see them sagging like plants kept too long from the sun, strength beginning to fail as they were crushed along with him. Still they pushed against the gold, digging curved thorns into the palms and undersides of the forearms, punching through the armored surface with ease. It didn’t bleed, of course. Nothing so human as that.

Last time he saw her they had been creeping over her shoulders, twitching erratically, but they had never quite seemed to answer to her before. Kakyoin reached for them, unthinking, and when he brushed against the vines he could see her both there and not there, standing at Jotaro’s side and unconscious a continent away. She smiled gently.

Kakyoin, wasn’t it?

Her voice formed somewhere at the back of his skull, a whisper no one else could hear. He blinked. Holly Kujo.

Holly nodded.

Can you…see me?

In a sense, yes.

Kakyoin exhaled slowly. I understand. 

It made sense. Jotaro had been sick for weeks, and it was still the first time he had seen anything like this. Something had been keeping the brunt of it off of him. Something had been getting in the way.

You’ve been protecting him.

I’ve been doing what I can. Her smile faded. It was difficult at first. Luckily I’ve always been a quick learner.

The air shivered. Kakyoin imagined he could feel the space between them as a physical thing that she had snapped into pieces, could see the path the vines traveled to reach him, stretching the impossible distance from Holly to her son. What is this?

Oh, it’s my Stand. She held out one hand and they watched a tiny cluster of berries unfold in the center of her palm. Queen of Peace. Not much of a fighter, I’m afraid, but the range is amazing, don’t you think?

Holly hesitated. 

I wanted it to be me, she said. It’s my responsibility to keep him safe. In the midst of all this. But I…it seems both of our conditions have progressed far enough to make it impossible for me to continue alone. I need—I should be with him, but because I can’t…

Her eyes flashed with the same red light that shone from the berries lining her vines. Please. Help me save my son.

Kakyoin’s fists rested heavy on the concrete. He felt like smashing the sidewalk to pieces, because he couldn’t get Hierophant between those arms on his own, and if he couldn’t save Jotaro, the only thing left to do was destroy everything else. He looked up at the mirage.

How?

She held her hand out again, gesturing for Kakyoin to take it. He flinched when the static electricity raced out of her fingertips and up his forearm, but he held on, though it felt more like reaching into a tangle of roots than taking a human hand. Something locked into place with a series of soft clicks. Holly smiled.

Thank you , she said, and she let him go.

When she faded from view his hand remained outstretched, and he found himself staring down at an emerald lattice that served as a brace for the struggling vines. They wound through the green, reminding Kakyoin of a garden trellis he often passed on his way to school. He had never done anything like that before. He had never been able to handle that kind of minute detail, not with the emeralds. His fingers still crackled with dim green light. 

Holly’s vines curled up around the lattice and with his support they held firm, pushed the bulky gold away. Kakyoin half expected the emeralds to disappear, but he found it took very little effort to maintain the shape. Just a trickle of energy. He hardly noticed it. And the now hovering pair of arms couldn’t get a grip on Jotaro without being stabbed by her thorns. They would come back, he knew, but Holly would be waiting when they did.

“What the hell was that?”

Kakyoin closed his eyes. He had forgotten about the messenger limb he sent to find Avdol. It seemed, unfortunately, that his prayers had been answered threefold.

“What happened to him?” Joseph demanded. “Why didn’t you—what the hell is this?”

Avdol winced, looking down at him apologetically. Polnareff glanced from Avdol to Jotaro to Kakyoin and back again, uncharacteristically subdued.

“Was that—was that Holly ?”

“Her Stand,” Kakyoin muttered, addressing Jotaro rather than his grandfather. “It was—it’s Mrs. Kujo’s Stand.”

Jotaro stared at him with an expression resting halfway between annoyance and astonishment.

“I’m sorry,” he continued feverishly. “I didn’t mean to—I know you didn’t want to—”

“Was getting to be a pain in the ass hiding it,” Jotaro mumbled. “Not stupid. Knew this was gonna happen.”

“I should have—”

“You were trying to save my skin.” His voice was hoarse, but his eyes were mercifully clear. “Thanks, Kakyoin.”

Kakyoin nodded reluctantly. “Are you gonna be okay?”

He let out a tired laugh. 

“Who fucking knows, man.” 

Polnareff and Avdol pulled them to their feet as Joseph fired off an uninterrupted stream of questions, fielded by Avdol, who understood without asking why Jotaro didn’t particularly feel like explaining himself. They had missed the train as of five minutes ago.

“Hey.”

Kakyoin glanced up.

“My mom.” Jotaro hesitated. “It’s—you’re sure?”

If she had appeared only to Kakyoin she must have had a reason, but he was sick to death of lying, sick to death of secrets that only burned his throat to keep.

“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, it’s her.”

 

oh, the queen of peace

always does her best to please

 

It would have been merciful to have his eyes covered if it weren’t for the overpowering smell of antiseptic that ended up being as bad as, if not worse than, the unsettling sterility of a hospital room. They always used the same color on the walls, always explained it away citing some principle of feng shui or scientific study that said muted blue was most likely to siphon stress, decrease heart rates. Made Kakyoin feel like a piece of data, an equation some faceless stranger was trying to solve.

“They’re letting you out.”

“Yes,” Avdol told him. “I’ll be leaving with the others.”

“Glad you’re okay,” he said, trying not to sound bitter.

“Mm.” 

It bothered him that he couldn’t see Avdol’s eyes. Tone of voice wasn’t much to go on.

“Are you all right?”

They’d had to cover his eyes because he kept trying to open them, despite repeated insistences from the doctors that doing so was likely to slow if not halt the return of his vision. The wounds weren’t deep—he almost felt like thanking N’doul, for that. He only vaguely remembered the man from a few passing encounters during those first few weeks under Dio in Egypt, but Kakyoin had found his quiet ruthlessness hypnotizing. He had been sorry but unsurprised to hear of his death, and he somehow imagined that he wouldn’t have survived the encounter if N’doul had really been committed to tearing his eyes out.

“You have to watch him,” Kakyoin said, ignoring the question. “Don’t let him—because he’s gonna try.”

Avdol didn’t respond. Kakyoin felt him shift slightly on the plastic mattress cover.

“Gonna try what?”

He turned towards Jotaro’s voice, wincing.

“You know damn well,” he muttered.

Avdol looked between the two of them and stood to leave. He met Jotaro’s eyes as he passed through the doorway. He chose not to mention the black eye, the cut on his cheek. Whoever he had picked a fight with, however it had turned out for the other party…Kakyoin didn’t need to know, and Avdol didn’t want anything to do with it.

“Would you cut it out?” Jotaro snapped as soon as Avdol was out of earshot, closing the door behind him. “It isn’t—I’m not some kid you have to find a babysitter for.”

“You sound like shit,” Kakyoin told him flatly. 

“Stop.”

“I’m just—”

“It pisses me off when you get all fussy like this.”

“That’s tough.”

“It’s not your—”

“You just come in here to tell me what to do, or did you have something else to say?”

Jotaro exhaled slowly. “I don’t want you worrying about me while you’re in the fucking hospital.”

It was only with great effort that Kakyoin resisted the urge to rip off the bandages around his eyes and to hell with the consequences, because if he had the chance to choose the last thing he would ever see, it might as well be Jotaro, and it might as well be now.

“It’s too late for that,” he said.

Jotaro was quiet for so long that Kakyoin half wondered whether he might have simply walked out.

“So what?”

A linen cart rattled past the closed door, a small cacophony painfully audible in the dead silence.

“So what,” Jotaro repeated, his voice colorless. “What’s it mean if I die? What’s that to you?”

Kakyoin heard only the sound of his own heartbeat, could feel only the uncomfortable stiffness of the over-starched hospital sheets. The answer was somewhere at the base of his throat, somewhere buried in the memory of being torn in two by a wound he hadn’t earned yet. He knew what it meant the same way he knew how it would feel to drown despite having never been held underwater, and he opened his mouth to tell Jotaro that, but nothing came out.

“You can go home,” Jotaro said. “You could just go home and you could stay there and you—you could pretend none of this ever happened. You could do that now. You could go.”

He wanted to rip the desperate edge out of that tone, because it almost sounded like he was begging, like he was on the verge of saying please for the second time, and it made Kakyoin furious, the sheer self-centeredness of it, because Jotaro couldn’t tell, Jotaro didn’t know, Jotaro didn’t imagine for a second that the impossibility to it lay in the fact that he was right. Kakyoin could go home and pretend it never happened, same as a man could go home blind after looking straight at a solar eclipse and pretend he had never been able to see in the first place.

He could go home, and his sister would ask him why he had suddenly become so interested in reading the obituaries, and he would never be able to tell her.

“Leave,” Kakyoin croaked. “Go.”

The door sounded like a single bolt when Jotaro opened it. It would be an easy one to break into and Kakyoin half hoped someone would try. Jotaro had been taking most of the kills lately and he had never felt more like snapping someone’s neck. 

Jotaro paused in the doorway.

“No one asked you to do this,” he said harshly. “Especially not me.”

Kakyoin turned away, grateful, for the first and only time, that no one could see his eyes.

 

Something about having a sword in the stomach wasn’t very conducive to critical thinking.

Stupid, stupid, and it wouldn’t have happened at all if he could stop being so sentimental about the state of Polnareff’s skull. The blade hadn’t gone far enough to kill yet, but on the other end was someone who knew his way around a sword, apparently possessed by a sword that knew its way around itself.

Jotaro was going to be very, very pissed off if this was how he ended up going out. 

Polnareff was shouting something about strewing his guts across the road. Or, rather, the Anubis Stand was using Polnareff to scream about disemboweling him. Jotaro focused on the edges of his vision, slowly going red.

Gonna kill him , a voice in the back of his head warned him. Gonna kill him if you go there.

Maybe he shouldn’t have gone and grabbed that sword if he didn’t wanna die.

Polnareff was in the way. Easy equation. Polnareff alive was going to mean Jotaro dead in about thirty seconds. Something easy to do. It had been so long since he smashed someone’s head in, anyway. What did it really matter, whose it was? 

He flashed Anubis a bloody smile. He knew exactly what he wanted and he knew how to get it. It always made things so simple whenever he thought clearly enough to see it, reach for the soaring feeling, the old familiar taste of someone else’s blood.

“Let’s see what’s inside the great Jotaro!”

Let’s not .

Star Platinum’s fist cracked the sword easily. Jotaro couldn’t have said when he decided to shatter the blade instead of Polnareff’s face. He couldn’t have said with certainty that he was in a position to be consciously deciding much of anything at all. But busting up metal wasn’t the same. He felt like a kid kicking rocks after walking away from a fight. It just didn’t feel right when the target couldn’t bleed.

Jotaro laughed. “What were you saying about slicing me open?”

The street shimmered, oversaturated, as shards of metal clattered to the ground. He moved unimaginably fast and impossibly slow all at once, licking blood off the back of his hand absently as Polnareff staggered back. Anubis was losing control.

The trouble was that everyone else was so slow . They made it too easy. He could tear into anyone he wanted. He could do it anytime. He did want to, caught himself staring at strangers, caught himself staring at the others, sometimes, wondering what the fastest way to kill them would be, wondering how it would feel—

wait

—and Polnareff was right there, so close, so slow, what else was there to do, really—

wait wait wait wait wait wait

He slowed his fist at the very last second. Still hit Polnareff hard enough to send him flying, but didn’t feel a crunch. Didn’t feel death. Jotaro took a step back. He looked down at his hands. He fell to one knee.

He was exhausted. He had lost a lot of blood. He couldn’t stop thinking about the feeling of breaking bones. Polnareff stirred, groaning.

“Did I…?”

His eyes went wide with horror.

“Did the—the sword, did it get me?”

Clearly Polnareff didn’t remember being punched. Didn’t know to be afraid, and for a second Jotaro thought he might leap at him again. If he hadn’t been an inch away from unconsciousness, he might have.

“Yeah,” he said. “But it’s over.”

Jotaro looked down at the flickering lattice still wrapped around his body, at the thorny vines that had stabbed into him in that final moment, dragging him back down into himself, whether he wanted to be there or not.

Sorry, Mom.

 

“You mean that you fought Polnareff,” Avdol said incredulously.

“Yeah.”

You fought Polnareff and he’s still in one piece.”

Polnareff glared back at him. “What’s that mean?”

Avdol waved him off, rolling his eyes. “Didn’t you say you had a headache?”

“I do ,” he muttered. He pressed the bag of ice in his lap back against the side of his head, wincing a little at the cold. Jotaro avoided looking at the forming bruise.

“Sorry,” he told Polnareff, who shrugged.

“Hey, it’s like he’s saying. Got off better than most people on the wrong end of Star, right?”

Jean ,” Avdol hissed.

Polnareff blinked. “What?”

Avdol groaned. “You’re so—”

“Nah,” Jotaro interrupted. “He’s right.”

“See? I’m—” He paused as the pieces slid into place. “Wait, I am?”

“Kind of just chance,” Jotaro continued lightly. “That I didn’t. You know. Or my mom, I guess. Could give her the credit if you want.”

Avdol watched him shrewdly. The shake in Jotaro’s voice had not escaped him, despite the doggedly casual tone.

“Really just chance that I haven’t taken out anyone who didn’t deserve it yet,” he added, smiling widely. “Can’t stop it. Don’t want to. So who knows what happens next time, right?”

Polnareff stared at him. Avdol sighed, putting down the box of bandages he had been turning over and over in his hands. If Jotaro bled through another layer, he would know, in any case. The crazed glint in his eye suggested he might be on the verge of doing the exact sort of stupid thing Kakyoin had warned him about, and though Avdol still didn’t think it was his place to be giving either of them orders, he didn’t particularly feel like letting Jotaro rip his stitches.

“Well,” Avdol said. “I’m glad to hear that. Your fever has been down, then?”

Jotaro glared at him. Avdol raised his eyebrows in mock surprise.

“You mean to say it’s not ?” 

“Make your point,” he growled.

“Your illness is a direct consequence of your refusal to relinquish control.” Avdol shook his head. “Which I’ve told you any number of times. If you really didn’t want to stop it then we wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place. Understand?”

Jotaro set his jaw, still refusing to look him in the eyes.

“Your psychological state was never going to be exempt,” he added. “Even out of combat. That’s why rejection sickness has such a—why it’s so…severe.”

“Well, it feels like shit.”

Avdol let out a low chuckle. “I imagine it does.”

“Well,” Polnareff said carefully, still glancing between the two of them with a faint look of alarm. “Glad you didn’t kill me.”

Jotaro glanced at him. “Yeah,” he mumbled. “Me too.”

He reached for the nearest glass of water with a resigned grunt. Across the street, Joseph appeared to be in some sort of altercation with the woman he was trying to buy a map from. They watched him gesticulate for a few minutes without much interest as Iggy began to snore lightly, kicking at the cigarette tray in his sleep.

“You’ve…been a little out of it,” Polnareff ventured at last. “Since Aswan.”

Jotaro flicked a piece of ash into a dried-up flowerpot. “I’ve had a hundred and two degree fever for three days, Polnareff.”

“Well, no, I—I know that,” he said. “It’s not—ow!—it’s not just that.” 

He rubbed his leg under the table where Avdol had kicked it, looking up resentfully, but pressed on. “Look, did—did something happen with Kakyoin?”

Avdol lowered his head into his hands in defeat as Jotaro stared at Polnareff with an expression that looked like it could break glass, unlit cigarette still hanging from his fingers.

“This wasn’t what I had in mind,” Avdol hissed, “when I said I thought we ought to bring it up.”

“You didn’t have anything in mind.”

“That doesn’t mean—”

“I don’t know.”

They both looked up at Jotaro in surprise. He avoided their eyes, studiously tapping the tobacco out of the end of his cigarette.

“Seeing him like that,” he said slowly. “It was…bad."

He finished pouring out the cigarette’s contents and began to unroll the paper, tearing the coiled strips apart one at a time.

“He’s got no reason to—I mean, even you,” he gestured to Polnareff, “your sister, right? You had that, you were here because of that. Kakyoin’s just—I don’t know. Here for the ride, I guess. Got hurt for no good reason.”

Polnareff and Avdol exchanged a look. Avdol sighed.

“Well,” Avdol said. “Jotaro, it’s. I imagined it would be obvious.”

“Imagined what would be obvious?”

Polnareff leaned forward. “I mean, in theory, if the sickness was out of the question, you could just go home too. Right?”

“No, I—” Jotaro recoiled. “Are you fucking crazy? I do that and my mom’s d—”

He fell silent mid-sentence, eyes wide. Avdol pressed his lips together and nodded.

“You fight for your mother.” He scratched at the soft spot between Iggy’s ears and the dog twitched happily. “I think, at this point, it’s safe to say that Kakyoin is fighting for you.”

“It’s not the same,” Jotaro protested hotly. “Killing Dio saves me too, right? It’s not like I could just—just go home and ride it out like I had the flu or something.”

“Sure, but saving your own life is an afterthought for you.” Polnareff dropped what was now a bag of melted water onto the table. “Not how it is for Kakyoin. And he’s tough,” he added. “Don’t think you could stop him even if you really did try. And besides, by now we’re pretty much here to save your ass too.” 

Jotaro thought of how small Kakyoin had looked in that hospital bed, how time had slowed as his blood dripped onto the sand. He thought of Avdol lying on the street in Calcutta with a bullet wound on his forehead and a knife wound in his back. How much more horror there was to all of it, if they really were doing this for him .

“I don’t want that,” he said. “I never asked anyone to do anything for me.”

“Of course you didn’t.” Avdol smiled, waving back at Joseph, who had finally finished arguing with the vendor across the street. “Did you really think that was ever going to make a difference?”

 

is it any use?

somebody’s gotta lose

 

“You gambled our souls with these ?”

Avdol picked up the ten of hearts gingerly, as if he expected it to strike at him like a snake. He stared down at the other four with dawning incredulity.

“These cards are worthless.”

Eight of diamonds, six of spades, ace of hearts, jack of clubs. Jotaro shook his head, watching Polnareff and the old man beginning to stir.

“I told you,” he said. “If I’d known I would’ve freaked. If I’d freaked I would have lost.”

“You really had no idea.”

The cheap wooden chair creaked when Jotaro sank back down. “None.”

He pressed the back of his hand against his forehead. A bloodless kill. Jotaro couldn’t tell whether that was a mercy or a catastrophe, though the insistent heat building behind his eyes led him to believe the latter. He felt like he had tried to take a deep breath and found he couldn’t get air to the bottom of his lungs.

Avdol watched as Polnareff lurched into a sitting position with a loud groan. He glanced at the gambler, still sputtering incoherently on the tile.

“Well…thank you. I certainly wouldn’t have been capable of that.”

Jotaro shrugged. “Glad it worked out. Living in a coin forever seems like a load of shit.”

Slowly the civilians that had been milling around began to disperse as soon as it became apparent nothing more interesting would be happening at this particular bar. The kid D’Arby paid off seemed significantly shaken, so Jotaro went through the man’s wallet and handed him all the cash he could find. Wasn’t like the gambler was going to be using it anytime soon, and the boy perked up quick after that.

“You bet their souls.”

He looked up suspiciously. “Sorry?”

“Kakyoin’s. And your mother’s.”

“Oh. Yeah.”

Avdol folded his arms. “So you changed your mind.”

“Not really,” Jotaro said. “But it’s what they would have done if they were here, so.”

He pinched the bridge of his nose. The headache was coming on fast. There had to be someone to beat down around here, and he was too tired to remember he didn’t like thinking like that.

“Kakyoin’d kill me if he found out I could’ve bet his soul in a poker game and held off,” he mumbled. “And Mom wouldn’t be happy about it either.”

Avdol had his mouth half open like he wanted to say something, but he thought better of it, and smiled gently down at Jotaro with something like pride.

 

For a while it almost seemed as though the whole argument would end up being moot. If he didn’t make it back by the time they found Dio then the question of Kakyoin’s involvement would stay in the hypothetical, which was where Jotaro would have preferred to leave it. Too complicated for either of them to decide what was right or wrong, what was earned and what was deserved. Far better to have it dictated by circumstance.

In a way he still felt relieved, seeing Kakyoin emerge at the end of the street. Relieved knowing it was out of his hands, terrified knowing what that might mean for them, and a warm feeling wrapping around his chest that had nothing to do with illness or Stands. 

Which wasn’t to say that he had lost all awareness of the fever, or the ghostly set of arms that still tried their best to crush him to death at regular intervals. He wished his mother’s Stand could ward off the headaches the way it fought back the latter. Though Jotaro was grateful to her, and to the emerald supports that held the vines in place.

It would have been one thing if he had expected the lattice to dissipate and found that it held. It was another entirely to realize he hadn’t believed for a second that Kakyoin’s barrier would fall away.

Jotaro hung back as the others crowded around him, asking about his eyes, about how he had managed to find Iggy, how he had managed to find them. He hesitated, not sure whether to bolt or apologize. Kakyoin’s eyebrows knit briefly when they shook hands, taking in his visibly worsening state.

Iggy startled all of them when he leaped out of Joseph’s arms, landed in the dust with a hard thump. He staggered away resolutely, growling high and thin. Kakyoin exchanged a look with Avdol.

“I imagine for him it’s now a matter of revenge,” he murmured.

The dog looked back over his shoulder impatiently. Polnareff shrugged and set off after him, followed closely by the other two. Kakyoin remained where he was, staring straight ahead with a strange expression coming across his face.

I didn’t mean it.

“Hey…”

I meant it but I shouldn’t have said it.

Kakyoin yanked him down to eye level by the chain on his coat before he’d had time to decide whether to say something or keep his mouth shut. They stared at each other, half glaring, half afraid. Close enough to see the still-red skin around the edges of his scars, close enough to see the way his eyes watered more than they should have in the light. He hadn’t healed, not entirely. 

And he had come back. Still, he had come back.

When Kakyoin kissed him it was more an act of defiance than one of tenderness, a gesture intended to prove a point the same way landing a punch might have during a different conversation, and all Jotaro could think in his shock was how his skin was cool enough to take the edge off the fever that had been burning him up for days. Something furious surfaced behind Kakyoin’s eyes when he pulled away, as though the heat had simply changed hands. 

“If you aren’t worth dying to protect then what the hell is,” he hissed. “What the hell is any of this worth? What was the point ?”

Jotaro couldn’t have responded even if he had been able to think of something to say. As far as he was concerned, Kakyoin might as well have punched him. 

He rolled his eyes and pushed Jotaro back. “ That’s why I didn’t go home,” he said, and he turned on his heel and walked away. Jotaro watched him catch up with the others, too dazed to even notice that they had stopped at the end of the street. Polnareff threw an arm around Kakyoin’s shoulders, and for once Kakyoin didn’t slap him away. For a single blinding instant Jotaro forgot all of it, forgot his body was falling apart, forgot his mother was dying, forgot where he was and who he was and what he had to do.

It had something to do with red.  

It had everything to do with red, but even more so with lavender, the color of wounded eyes that saw the life in him no matter how hard he tried to hide it. And he half wanted to scream, he half wanted to tear up the concrete, because hope was bloody and hope had teeth and hope was never going to leave him in peace.

Jotaro nearly jumped out of his skin when his grandfather slapped him on the shoulder. He looked up and Joseph was watching him with sympathy that would have made him feel like a tiger on a leash in any moment other than the present one.

“Time to go,” he said.

At the end of the street, Avdol told Kakyoin something in a hushed tone that made him laugh out loud. Polnareff recoiled, offended, and that made him laugh even harder. Joseph saw Jotaro watching and shook his head with a rueful grin.

“Scares the shit out of you, doesn’t it.”

He nodded numbly. 

“Yeah.” Joseph shrugged. “Wish I had advice for you, but that’s sort of just how it is.”

When he finally made it back to the others, Polnareff winked hugely at him and it was only with great effort that Jotaro kept Star Platinum from kicking him in the knees. Kakyoin glanced sideways and smiled slightly, the glint of the hunt still bright in his eyes. The lattice wrapped around him thrummed gently and Jotaro rested a hand on it, feeling the tiny electric shocks cut themselves off as they met his skin.

Safe, he realized. That was the warm feeling that took up the other half of it, the part of him that didn’t feel like screaming. It was so unfamiliar that he hadn’t recognized it at first. He had never been closer to death and, in a stroke of absurdity so profound he almost wanted to laugh at it, he felt safe. Maybe the delirium finally had reached his brain as Avdol had warned it would.

There would be injustice to finding it here, of all places, now, of all times, but it seemed that there was no place more fitting to realize what it was that you wanted than at the edge of the earth, on the cusp of having it torn away, staring down the shape of the empty spaces it would leave behind.

 

like a long scream

out there always echoing

 

Kakyoin laughed.

“Oh,” he breathed. “Oh, of course .”

Dio glowered at him with bloodshot eyes, clinging to a spire across the road. Clinging might have been the wrong word for it. Leaning. Collapsing onto. The hollow look of his cheeks, the greenish cast to his perfect skin, the faint sheen of sweat that covered his face. Kakyoin thought it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, and he laughed as though he were facing a firing squad.

“You know you’re fucked, right? You’re fucked !”

Hierophant zipped back and forth between the buildings, lacing the air with streams of emerald. It would be unwound entirely soon, and two things would happen: the trap would be set, and he would be wide open. Kakyoin knew exactly what was going to happen once he was wide open. He laughed harder.

Because Dio was sick

The whole time he had been sitting awake at night wishing for a way to make Dio hurt, make him suffer like Jotaro was suffering, and he had been. All that time, he had been. It was too good to be true. 

“Bet it hurts,” he shouted. “Oh, why don’t you just come over here and tell me how much it hurts already?”

Dio’s lip curled back with derision.

“A scared little boy,” he purred. “Screaming alone at the dark. You are what you’ve always been.”

Kakyoin raised his hand and pointed, still giggling high and quick. “You’re worse than he is.”

The arms embedded in Dio’s body were familiar. He could see them, the purple surface, the studded black gloves, wrapped around him so tightly they sank into his skin. One fist had pushed all the way through. Kakyoin knew that strength as intimately as his own. He knew how much hurt it was capable of causing.

He smiled widely. 

“It couldn’t.”

Dio folded his arms and leaned back against the spire, unflinching. “Couldn’t?”

“Couldn’t get you ready in time." 

He glanced sideways at Hierophant. The web was nearly finished.

“Look what he’s done to you,” he said. 

“And so the World is reduced to crushing cockroaches.” Dio looked down at his fingernails, though Kakyoin could feel through the barriers near him that his hands began to tremble. Not with the concentrated force of fear or anger, but the erratic shake of illness. The half-life must be incredibly short, what with how much Dio had killed, he realized. 

Hierophant’s web was complete. Kakyoin looked towards the street, where he could feel Polnareff and Jotaro moving quickly towards them. You’ll have to finish it, he thought. I’ll get you as close as I can, but it has to be you.

The arms of armored gold. Beautiful, really, when he could see them properly. Finally something to blame. Finally something he could scratch and claw and mock until it fought back, something he could hurt .

Dio took a step forward and stumbled into the web, taking dozens of sharpened emeralds to the shoulder, to the face. Kakyoin watched him tear them from his temporarily ruined eyes and he began to laugh again. It was worth it, all of it, just for the joy of watching Dio bleed silhouetted against the city lights.

“You couldn’t even get close !” Kakyoin screamed as he sent chunks of green and gold flying towards their target. “You could never get close to him, to any of th—”

 

 

Why he let the child whine for so unbearably long, he couldn’t have said. 

Maybe it was boredom. Maybe the boy’s crazed laughter provoked fond memories. Maybe he just liked watching people realize they were about to die before he killed them. Either way, he was dead now. Would be dead soon. Whichever it was. Didn’t matter.

Dio looked back over his shoulder at the water tower Kakyoin’s body smashed into. It irritated him, uncertainty. It had no place in his life, no use. Certainly not tonight.

Couldn’t get close . He smiled. Kakyoin was right. He would have to lower himself so very far to get close to any of them, and he didn’t have the time or patience for it. A long chapter, the Joestars, but one he would be satisfied to close at last.

Still, the boy was a companion to this new descendant. And he had tried so hard to mock. Dio imagined he might as well return the favor. The others were taking so long to reach him. It was all so easy, when everyone around him was always so slow .

Somehow he was unsurprised to find Kakyoin still breathing, even with a hole in his stomach. He was a stubborn sort of coward, the kind that refused to admit they were afraid. Little wonder he would cling to his final moments.

“I wanted to thank you, Kakyoin.”

He smiled, sharp and sincere.

“I’m feeling much better now.”

The low gurgle would have seemed more like a death rattle than a chuckle if he hadn’t been able to see the blood-filled grin on Kakyoin’s face.

“Oh,” he croaked. “No one came…to save you.”

Dio raised his eyebrows, incredulous.

“To save me,” he echoed. “Seems to me that you’re describing your own—”

“Dug up…all that love,” Kakyoin continued as though he hadn’t spoken. “Dug it out of everyone you could. They loved…you. So much they died. Empty. None of it…was enough.”

He laughed again, wet and rasping. When he looked up, his eyes were wild, bright with the same fervor that had led Dio to believe he would be a worthwhile recruit. He had seen that Kakyoin was the sort of person who was sharpened by fear, rather than dulled by it, a trait that made him valuable.

Or so he had believed.

“You wanted it, didn’t you?” 

In the distance, Dio heard screaming in a voice he almost recognized. Joseph swung from building to building, shouting for him, shouting for Kakyoin. The unwelcome crackle of that ever-present light followed him, making the air smell of burned metal.

Oh, it had all happened before. It would all happen again.

“You wanted…someone…to get in the way,” he whispered, barely audible. “But no one ever came.”

Enough.

He swung close and lifted Kakyoin’s head by a handful of matted red curls. The boy almost looked smug, though his eyes shone with pain.

“I’ll have you eat those words,” Dio murmured, “if you live long enough to swallow them.”

Kakyoin bared his teeth in something closer to a grimace than a smile.

“Get out,” he snarled, “of my way.”

Dio barely had time to process the sudden strength in his voice before Kakyoin spat a mouthful of blood into his eyes.

By the time he wiped his vision clear the clock face was destroyed, the ground littered with shattered emeralds. He rolled his shoulder, watching it knit back together after being shredded by the burst. A weak attack. He hadn’t even needed to stop time to avoid the brunt of it.

“That’s all?” 

He smirked, turned towards the water tower, but Kakyoin had gone limp at last. 

“Too bad.” Dio sighed regretfully. “I was looking forward to seeing you watch Jotaro die.”

Already the fever reared hot in the back of his throat, the indignity of being forced, once again, to make one of them his center of gravity. Enyaba warned that it was Jotaro behind the illness, Jotaro who had enough nerve to be a threat to him. He would die for it. Jotaro would die, for making him once more subservient to what came before.

oh, what is it worth

all that’s left is hurt

 

The green came down in pieces.

At first Jotaro thought it was rain, brushing against his shoulders and back as they ran. Then he saw the color, saw how the shreds of it vanished before they could hit the ground. The pieces fell gently, slowly, not heavy enough to drop the way water would.

He looked up. The web of light broke apart above him, falling in shards to the street, invisible to the sidewalk crowds, as it had always been. The cars swerving around Jotaro and Polnareff went unseen, the indignant honks unheard. They saw only green, heard only the continuous soft shattering like that of thin glass. An emerald fell from the sky when the clock face burst and Jotaro lurched to catch it in both hands, staring down at the cracked stone as if he expected it to speak as it faded to shimmering dust.

The lattice fell last, as though Kakyoin had fought to keep it stable until the last possible instant. He watched it flicker like a weakening lightbulb, once, then twice, before it collapsed entirely. Holly’s vines twitched in a valiant attempt to tighten around him and make up the difference, but they had needed support for a reason, and shortly after the collapse they too fell away.

Jotaro glanced down. He’d mitigated his symptoms three hours ago by punching D’Arby’s skull in. Given the way things had been speeding up recently, he guessed he had about an hour before there was a pair of arms trying to crush his now unguarded body to death.

He kept looking back at the same crack in the sidewalk. Either the crack was deep or the cement was shallow, because it had reached dirt. A sparse clump of grass curled over the lip, punctuated by a tiny, lone red flower. It was the wrong shade of red. His fingernails were biting into his palms, so that they ran with his own blood, and that was the wrong shade of red, too. The street was too bright, the colors burning and oversaturated. 

Something should have been there. He reached for it, searching for something, devastation, grief, fear, shock, anger, anything, anything, found a hollow so deep it threatened to swallow him whole, and for a moment he thought he might let it. Hope was a thing with teeth and it had torn his heart out with them, left him seared vacant. 

It happened. Of course it happened. Of course it was always going to happen.

Polnareff rounded on him when he started to laugh, his eyes wide and fearful. Jotaro met his eyes, and whatever Polnareff saw there made him take an unconscious step back, obeying some animal instinct that told him to put distance between himself and predators.

“Get out of here,” Jotaro told him. “Get as far away as you can.”

Polnareff ran. 

Jotaro couldn’t tell whether he was laughing or screaming, and it didn’t matter, because it was just how he expected it to be, and he had been stupid, so stupid, for daring to think it could end differently, even for an instant. There was only one thing left and it was landing at the end of the street, it was chasing another familiar face, it was driving a knife into his grandfather’s throat, because of course it did, of course he would just keep losing and losing until there was nothing left to lose and only then, only then would the blood start to run.

When he finally saw Dio’s face, it was beautiful, golden, hollowed out and glazed over, eyes bloodshot, skin gray. When he recognized the purple arms buried in Dio’s body, clutching him so tight Jotaro could almost hear the bones cracking, he threw his head back and laughed even harder.

“You’re like me,” he whispered. “Oh, of course you’re like me.”

Dio stared across at him, and in his hungry eyes Jotaro found a mirror.

“Jotaro.”

He smiled. There was blood on his teeth. Jotaro felt a pang of jealousy.

“You really do look like him.” 

Civilians cleared away from them, unable to see what was happening, but sensing, as Polnareff had, that they had fallen into a colosseum without a gladiator, standing between the lion and the bull.

“It’s you or me,” Dio said calmly. “You’ve worked that out by now, I presume.”

“What,” Jotaro sneered. “Not feeling well?”

The World emerged from behind him, gleaming and gold, and Jotaro could find no way to be surprised when he saw its arms. He had known, he thought, for longer than he cared to admit.

“I’m your sickness,” Dio continued. “And you’re mine.”

“I’m going to fucking kill you.”

He said it casually, almost cheerfully. Dio hardly even blinked.

“Kakyoin’s dead, by the way,” he added, like an afterthought.

Jotaro was still laughing when Dio hit him.

 

If he had surrendered to it at last or the rage was his own, he had no way of knowing. All he knew  was that he wanted to taste Dio’s death, wanted to flood the city with it. All he knew was there was one thing left to kill, one thing left to tear into, and he wanted so badly to feel that stolen body come apart.

The trouble was, even after forcing himself to follow Dio into that empty silenced time, Jotaro was losing.

Three knives in his arms, one in his leg, and he didn’t go down, he wouldn’t go down, but it burned. Dio’s skull crushed, brains on the pavement, for an instant it felt good, it felt right, he should have gone down, he wouldn’t stay down, and it all hurt , it hurt , it hurt .

IS THIS ALL YOUR ANGER IS WORTH?

The voice seemed to come from inside his head, high and mocking.

IS THIS ALL YOUR ANGER IS WORTH?

One fist to the shoulder, one to the collarbone, one to the right side of his ribs, he felt them crack, felt it searing through his body, and he knew he was dead. Dio threw him back towards the street like a ragdoll. He couldn’t remember if he had started hearing the voice before or after Dio screamed the words.

Jotaro hit the street hard, back scraped where Star had slid along the gravel in order to cushion his fall but none of the fatal injuries a drop like that would have meant without it. Flat on the ground, he stared up at the faint stars, and he wondered why it didn’t hurt more.

Why didn’t it hurt more?

Dio was strong enough to drive a punch clean through his body. He knew that. He had broken bones, but was still technically in one piece. So why…?

He pressed gingerly against his side, felt a familiar static electricity crackle up the back of his hand. Jotaro froze.

The green web must have locked into place at the last possible second. It crackled and sparked like a fuse on the verge of shorting out, but it had absorbed the brunt of the impact. His fingers brushed against the tendrils and they responded, weakly, with a barely visible pulse of light.

A pulse.

He lurched up onto his elbows, looked towards the city, but he couldn’t see the rooftops, couldn’t see the water tower where a teenage boy with curly red hair had tilted his face towards the sky. The red-berried vines began to curl back up, looping around the lattice and strengthening the weakened patches, and Jotaro looked up, and he thought he saw his mother standing there, facing the stars, her hands balled up into fists.

Holly Kujo was not a violent woman. This was due to no weakness of character; she simply found no satisfaction in it, saw no benefit to it, no need for it, let alone that the thought of committing it often made her feel nauseous. She had once read a story in the newspaper about a mother lifting a flipped car at the scene of an accident to save her child from being crushed. She had thought, at the time, that the idea was fairly outlandish.

It didn’t seem at all outlandish to her now.

I know it hurts, baby, but you have to get up now.

Jotaro stared up at her. He could see her, hear her, and she wasn’t there, but she was with him, and she had that same furious glint in her eyes, the same he had seen in the dream, the same as his own. She turned to face the enormous dark shape dropping out of the sky, and the vines didn’t stop at the lattice, they wound up around his shoulders and his arms and his hands, bracing the broken shoulder and collarbone, and when he clenched his fist he felt the thorns pierce his palm. 

But Dio had found him, Dio had stopped time, the enormous vehicle hovered overhead, ready to fall, and he still couldn’t move, he was frozen in place, why couldn’t he move

YOU CAN’T HAVE HIM.

The emerald lattice unwound from his body along with the vines, flying towards the wheels in a wide net of green. They slammed against the bottom of the car with a deafening crack, and it was enough to slow it down, but the two of them were weak, couldn't stop it entirely.

Something cold twisted free between Jotaro’s lungs when he watched the emeralds shatter under that car, watched the vines strain under the weight. He took a deep breath, he closed his eyes, and he stopped resisting.

By the time he opened them, the equation had rebalanced to include two Stands.

The sickness, initially, had resulted from Jotaro’s refusal to relinquish control to Star Platinum, or rather to this new part of him that had been formed from the conflict between his existence and Dio’s (in Holly’s case, her rejection of the concept of using her Stand for violence, hence the birth of Queen of Peace). The Stand had been intent on seizing control due to an instinct, buried somewhere purposefully forgotten, that knew surrendering to bloodlust would release any remaining latches on his capacity for brutality, therefore making him more likely to survive the encounter.

But the original condition had not accounted for the augmentation of Star’s power with the Queen’s. The rage of two Joestars, two Kujos, was more than any dazed euphoria could hope to outshine, burned wilder, seared hotter. He had crossed the threshold; in that moment Jotaro’s capacity for violence because of who he was outweighed anything he might have been capable of despite it.

Lying there on the broken concrete, watching Kakyoin’s lattice shatter for the second time with his mother’s vines coiling around his hands like a boxer’s wraps, the full tactical capacity of that Stand became available to him, and he recognized—it was so easy —all he had to do win against Dio was be him.

Jotaro started to laugh again.

He had already done it. He had already won.

Time stopped for him, and it felt as inevitable as anything else had. He pulled himself out from underneath the truck and stared at Dio, still shaking with that high, coarse laughter. 

“I told you,” he gasped, “I told you I was gonna fucking kill you, didn’t I?”

Dio could only stare at him, drowning in the silence only Jotaro had the space to break. He smiled and spit a clot of blood at his feet. It was nice to finally see some panic in those eyes.

“I don’t break promises,” Jotaro said softly, and he drove Star’s thorn-wrapped fist clean through Dio’s stomach. The body skidded back across the pavement, and he was pleased to see it was still moving. He stalked over to Dio, placed one foot on his wrecked chest. 

“That was for Kakyoin.”

He leaned down.

“Remember me when you’re rotting in hell,” Jotaro whispered.

When he brought their fist down again the impact traveled down the entire body, bisecting it with a fissure of light that smashed the two halves apart with a wet crunch. 

There was no question as to whether or not Jotaro needed to keep hitting, once he had turned the head into a dark smear that stretched across two lanes of the four-lane street. He could have just waited for the sun to finish the job but he kept hitting, he kept hitting, even after the vines folded back into themselves, even once there was no bone or muscle left to destroy and he was driving bloody fists straight into the concrete, even once the body being ruined was his own, because there was only one thing left to destroy and he had destroyed it and he felt nothing, nothing, nothing, and there was blood everywhere, everywhere he looked there was—

something to do with

—red. Red like blood. Red like berries. Red like—

—he hit the ground again and felt the bones of his hands splinter, he had almost come to like the feeling—

Kakyoin.

Jotaro pulled back, hands limp at his sides. He barely saw the mess of a street in front of him, barely heard the approaching sirens. He heard only the sound of shattering glass as he got to his feet and bolted for the city.

 

oh, what is it worth?

all that’s left is hurt

 

Star Platinum pulled him over the rooftops, dragging him towards the water tower. He was practically blacking out with the effort of it, driving his nails back into his palm every time he seemed likely to finish doing so, thinking not yet. 

Not yet .

The roof was streaked with watery blood that dripped down the edges of the drain pipes in thin pink rivulets. Jotaro stepped over a pool of it, lungs full of ice, and looked up at the crumpled figure lying underneath the mangled steel.

Leave me in another lifetime if that’s how it has to be but not this one,

He scrambled towards Kakyoin’s body, nearly on his knees with exhaustion.

let me be selfish just this one time let me keep this,

His eyes were half-open, red hair matted with blood, skin paper-white. A corpse.

there is something I want and this time I’m asking for it so please just come home.

Hope was a thing with teeth, and it spat Jotaro’s heart back into his chest with a shudder and a sigh when the corpse opened his eyes.

Kakyoin blinked up at him, trying to focus on the face. He saw teal and smiled faintly. 

“You made it,” he said hoarsely, his voice barely more than a breath.

Jotaro laughed in disbelief, leaning forward to rest his forehead against Kakyoin’s chest. “Oh. Oh, I thought you—oh, God.”

He pulled back and clutched one freezing hand in both of his own. “It’s over,” Jotaro said. “We can go home. It’s over now.”

“Might…have to go…without me.”

Jotaro looked down at him, at the broken body and gleaming eyes and impossible heartbeat. He shook his head.

“Like hell I am,” he muttered, and together he and Star lifted Kakyoin from the ground and carried him back towards the waiting ambulances. 

Kakyoin was cold, colder than he had ever been, but when Jotaro held him all he could feel was a frantic warmth, like the heat of a fever, like the core of a star.

 

and my love is no good

against the fortress that it made of you

 

Holly answered the phone on the first ring. 

“Jotaro? Is that—Jotaro?”

He closed his eyes. “Yeah, Mom.”

“Oh,” she gasped. He heard the familiar scrape of a kitchen chair sliding across tile and he smiled. She was already on her feet, if she needed to pull over a chair to sit down.

“Jotaro, I—I thought, I didn’t—”

“Mom—”

“I thought I lost you,” she breathed. “I thought you were gone. I thought you were gone.”

“I—” 

Jotaro considered lying, the way he would have before, so that he wouldn’t worry her. But she had been there. Whether she remembered it or not, she had been there. 

“Almost did,” he said carefully. “But I’m here.”

“God, I—are you sure you’re—are you okay? Are you hurt?”

Again, he hesitated, and again, he pushed past it. She’d see the cast when he got home anyway. No point putting off the inevitable.

“Got some broken bones. Nothing permanent. I’ll be fine.”

“Thought so,” she muttered. “I couldn’t tell exactly, but I thought.”

Before Jotaro had time to process the implications, she had already blown past it.

“I—I need you to come home soon, I need—I mean, obviously, after the hospital, only once it’s safe, but—”

“Mom.”

“—but I thought you were dead , I thought I was never going to—”

Mom .”

She took a deep breath. “Yes?”

“Thanks,” he whispered, afraid of his voice breaking if he spoke any louder. “Thank you.”

“You shouldn’t have risked your life to save mine,” she said sharply. 

“I mean, by the end it was kind of my own on the line too.”

“I know, but…”

Holly paused.

“Thank you, Jotaro.” He could hear the sound of her wiping her nose, trying to be discreet about it, and he smiled again. “I don’t know how to say it, really, but thank you.”

“Yeah.”

“How’s Papa? How are the others? Are they—?”

Jotaro glanced towards the end of the hall, where Joseph was sleeping on a plastic bench with a magazine lying on his face.

“Old man’s fine,” he said. “Polnareff too. Avdol’s gonna need prosthetics, they said, but he’s alive.”

“Your friend—Kakyoin?”

Jotaro looked at the door across the hall and remained silent.

“Would you…tell him thank you? For me?”

Though it was closed, he could still hear the slow, steady cadence of the heartbeat monitor. He shifted the phone to his other hand and looked down at the worn Polaroid he’d had in his pocket that had somehow survived, despite everything.

“You can tell him yourself,” Jotaro said. “We’re coming home.”