“Muhammad… I know you said we were going out for dinner, but this is a little…”
They were outside. And they were sort of having a late dinner. Maybe an early breakfast? More precisely, they were sitting atop the roof of the Kujo mansion eating bento boxes from a 2 am run to the nearest Family Mart, two layers of jackets over their sleeping attire and hair down in a yet-to-be-brushed mess of silver and dark, respectively.
Obviously, Avdol had plans for a proper night out, once things calmed down. But for the moment, this was the calmest they could get. Joseph was spending the night at the hospital, looking after Kakyoin while his parents were out of town. Jotaro, Holly and Iggy were having a good night of sleep, as they should (all three of them had fallen asleep in the living room leaning on each other, and Avdol found himself hoping they would still be that way in the morning, for Joseph to see when he returned. He would find it quite the sweet scene).
Avdol had woken up in the middle of the night to find Polnareff rummaging Holly’s fridge for anything that he could eat without cooking. He watched him grab the last beer can and consider it for a few seconds, before putting it back. A wise decision. Jotaro would not be pleased to find the last one gone in the morning. “Let’s go buy something to eat”, Avdol had said, startling the Frenchman.
So that’s how they had ended up here. Polnareff had stared at Avdol for thirty whole seconds, watching how he gracefully maneuvered the chopsticks and ate with an incredible ease, even with his new artificial hands. He soon decided the same wasn’t going to work for him. A couple of failed attempts later, Avdol had watched him go down from the roof and return a few minutes later with a fork and a knife.
More than two weeks had passed since they had returned from Egypt. Still, they’d all had trouble sleeping almost every night. There was a habit of being alert at all times that refused to die. Joseph never managed to fall asleep early, still used to taking first watch every night in the desert. Jotaro slept the lightest out of the group, always paying attention to his surroundings, waking to the most subtle noises or movements. Kakyoin had only been getting any rest at all because of the pain killers he was being given since he finally regained consciousness, little over a week earlier. Polnareff always woke during the night, ready for his turn to stand guard, before realizing they were not in the desert anymore. As for Avdol… he was having a lot of trouble telling his dreams from reality. Which was odd, considering his dreams were a whole lot of… well, nothing. Nothing at all. Just emptiness, and the void, and darkness everywhere. But that was exactly all he remembered, and that was the terrifying part. He still had no idea what happened during the twenty minutes he had been gone, or where exactly he had been.
From what he had been told, the stand they were fighting could “swallow” anything. All that was consumed by it would disappear, and not even its user knew where it would end up. Avdol remembered reading the writing on the wall. He remembered looking behind him, and seeing a whole lot of… nothingness. And he remembered knowing he had to get the others away from whatever it was, at any cost. After that, there was nothing clear anymore. A foggy memory of Jotaro picking him up, Polnareff’s arms around them, Joseph’s voice yelling his name…
They had all assumed him dead, he heard them say several times. Not even Iggy could pick up his sense anywhere. Iggy, who had been so close to losing his life as well. Avdol had been impressed to learn that the dog had risked himself willingly to save Polnareff. It was no easy feat and the Frenchman had shown his gratitude by carrying him carefully, as he was unconscious, until he managed to find a Speewagon Foundation doctor nearby, just before he and Jotaro chased after Dio, Joseph and Kakyoin.
Iggy still had a couple of broken ribs to deal with. He had the slowest recovery out of them all, save for Kakyoin. It also seemed he was having more trouble adapting to his new artificial limb than Avdol was having with his. Mostly because every time a doctor told Joseph or any of the others that the dog should stay quiet to speed up his recovery, it came across as a challenge of sorts. Even when injured, he would not take a human’s orders or advices, instead boisterously running all the way to Polnareff’s room to terrorize him and jump on his bed.
Five days he had stayed in the hospital. The same number as Avdol himself.
“The sky here is very different from Egypt”, Avdol mentioned, when he noticed Polnareff was looking up as well.
“Yeah. You almost can’t see any stars at all. It’s the same as in Paris.”
Tokyo was a big city. Even during the night, many lights were on from buildings and street lamps that gave it life. The sky was certainly not clear as it was on those nights they had spent in the desert, and there was no sign of the starts they had grown so used to either.
“I miss them. I think the stars looked really pretty on those nights.”
“Well, I think your eyes are prettier than any star I’ve ever seen.” Avdol said, smiling as he turned to face Polnareff.
Or… he wished he had said. Now, Muhammad Avdol liked to think he was the cool type. Always had something clever to say, always the smooth talker, the calm one leaving others flustered. That couldn’t be further from the truth, however.
“I think you have stars… Uh, no your stars are… I mean, any eye I’ve seen is…”
Polnareff laughed, and that’s when Avdol gave up on finishing whatever he had started saying. That was not the reaction he was looking for at all, but he guessed it would do. Polnareff had a nice laugh, anyway.
“Were you trying to seduce me, Muhammad?”
“I most certainly wasn’t. I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he answered with a grin.
“You have a crush on me, that’s cute.”
“I’m a grown man, I don’t have… crushes. Neither do you.”
If someone had told Avdol just a few months earlier that he would be laying down on a rooftop past three in the morning discussing his alleged crush with the subject of said infatuation, he would have laughed. Even as a fortune teller who had seen many unusual scenarios come true, this was without a doubt the most unexpected thing to come out of their trip.
“True, I don’t. I’m more about the romance, myself. Do you love me, then?”
“Do I, I wonder. Why don’t we try to find out?”
Defeating Dio had proven to be a challenge. Upon hearing about his stand’s ability, Avdol couldn’t help feeling frustrated at himself for not understanding it earlier. It was there the whole time. The World. Full control of everything. A halt at the end of a journey before the beginning of the next. A pause. Time. Kakyoin had been the one to figure it out, though at a great cost. It had taken him a full week to regain consciousness, and even then he was still to stay in hospital for another two weeks at the very least. He had lost mobility from his waist down, and his stomach in particular had suffered a lot of damage. There were now limitations to what he could or could not eat, a lot of them actually. Joseph was the one who had to explain the whole situation to his parents, and Avdol didn’t know much of what he had told them. Though he had picked up that Joseph’s “story” was apparently about an accident of sorts while performing some dangerous sport during their vacations.
The Speedwagon Foundation surgeon who had saved Kakyoin’s life was the same one that had treated his eyes. He had commented on how lucky he was that they had gotten to him in time. Had the first surgery been performed half an hour later, and he would have not survived the whole procedure. After that, he had undergone three more operations over the following days.
Kakyoin’s resolve had probably been the strongest out of all of them once they stepped foot inside the mansion. That was also the moment Avdol knew that the boy would make it out alive. He would go through a big struggle, but he would survive. He knew this, because his fortune telling was never wrong. Except… about himself.
Since they had arrived in Cairo, Avdol had felt like he would not leave the city again. Not because he was finally back home, but because he would not live to see many more sunrises. Every step he took once inside Dio’s mansion only made him surer. Yet two weeks later and he was still around, and the menacing feeling haunting him was gone as well. That was the one time Muhammad Avdol had done a wrong reading, and also when he decided he would never again read his own fortune. For some reason, it felt like a line that should not be crossed again.
They had survived, even if they had lost a lot to make it through. After those fifty days, that was all that mattered.
“I want you to sing Careless Whisper to me, right now.”
That might just have been the oddest request Avdol had ever made to anyone. But it was a matter of life or death, it couldn’t wait. Well maybe not life or death, but it was an urgent matter, nonetheless.
“The song by the guy that was in that band Mr. Joestar hates? Why, all of a sudden?”
“You want to know if I love you, don’t you? We’ll know for sure, this way.”
It was simple. There were not many things on the planet that Muhammad Avdol hated. He could count them with the fingers of just one prosthetic hand. People who cut ahead in lines, hospital food, seeing someone cry, and Careless Whisper by George Michael. It was simply an awful song in his honest opinion; there was no deep meaning behind how he felt towards it. He solely detested it. So it was a plan with no flaws, really. If he could still look at Polnareff like he was the whole universe himself whilst he sang that despicable song, then that ought to mean Avdol truly was in love.
“That… was not what I had in mind for clearing the doubts, but I guess whatever works for you…?”
“Go ahead, Jean.”
There was a moment of silence. For a few seconds, Polnareff kept opening and closing his mouth, averting his eyes from Avdol’s, only to look back up at them again. The older man guessed he was unsure whether to take him seriously and go ahead with it or just laugh it off.
Clearing his throat a couple of times, he finally started letting some words out. And it was… quite terrible. Somehow, he managed to get the lyrics wrong, which was surprising for a song that had been everywhere for the past couple of years. His voice was ridiculously out of tune as well. If Avdol hadn’t “requested” the song himself, he probably wouldn’t even have been able to recognize it. To make matters worse, Polnareff seemed convinced that he could sing an immaculate falsetto. Needless to say, he could not.
By the third Guilty feet have got no rhythm, Avdol signaled him to stop. Oh boy. It seemed he truly was in trouble.
“H-How did I do?”
“It seems it is your lucky day, after all.”
Polnareff jumped up at this – almost slipping on the roof –, and Avdol had to hold in a smile.
“So… you’re in love with me?”
“Yes… I am…”
For a moment Avdol feared the others would wake up from how loudly the Frenchman started laughing. After a few seconds, he joined him. It had been a while since they had had a chance to laugh at the top of their lungs, after all.
“I can’t believe… you needed me to sing you a ballad… to know for sure”, Polnareff eventually struggled to say, between fits of laughter. “That was so uncool!”
Avdol simply smiled at him, before softly ruffling his hair. He really never had a doubt.
There was a lot Avdol didn’t know about stands yet. But as far as he had observed, defeating the user would guarantee the defeat of the stand as well. And maybe that was the explanation behind the fact that he was still alive and breathing.
After making sure that everyone else was being taken care of and in good hands, Jotaro had taken it upon himself to set foot inside Dio’s mansion one last time. He wanted to make sure he didn’t leave any loose ends. He’d found a journal, though Avdol hadn’t been told its contents. That, Jotaro had kept to himself. He found something else, however. In the room where Vanilla Ice’s burned remains were now scattered, a new array of rubble that was not there before was also. Large blocks of stone, as though the ceiling had fallen all of a sudden, after Polnareff had left with Iggy. Some of the blocks were perfectly shaped like a circle. And that was also where Jotaro found him. In the middle of all the chaos was Avdol. Both of his forearms missing and barely breathing, yet still holding on to the little bit of life he had left in him.
The teenage boy had carried him all the way to the Speedwagon Foundation’s tent on his back after burning down the mansion, and of that, Avdol didn’t remember much. His consciousness had been weak at the time, but he did remember how carefully Jotaro had held on to him, to not hurt his injuries any further. He also remembered the shakiness in Jotaro’s voice when he called out his best friend’s name, still a few meters from reaching the tent. Polnareff must have sensed it too, because just a split second after, Avdol had heard him yell Jotaro’s name back – along with a number of nurses begging at him to not run, as his foot was in urgent need of proper care. Anything after that was very unclear, but Avdol did remember Polnareff’s arms around both him and Jotaro. He remembered feeling Polnareff’s cheek against his own, wet from the tears that didn’t stop running down the Frenchman’s face. He remembered Joseph’s voice shouting for him, as well as someone licking his face, who he sincerely hoped was Iggy.
Avdol remembered, and this very clearly, closing his eyes before losing consciousness once again, his lips slightly curling up, feeling relief like he hadn’t in a very long time. It was over. They were safe. All of them. They had all of the time in the world to not worry anymore.
“What do you plan to do now, Jean?”
It was an honest question. Avdol wasn’t quite sure himself yet. Cairo was his home, but he didn’t want to go back just yet. It was still too fresh, he could almost smell the stench of blood just thinking about the city.
“Well… I think I want to tell a story.” Now that was an unexpected response. A curious one, too.
“Tell a story?”
“Yeah! I have… hold on, I’ll show you. Uhm… do you have a pen with you or…?”
Avdol shook his head, as he watched Polnareff frantically searching the pockets of his jacket.
“Oh, I found one! I need somewhere to write down too, but… Okay, this will do.”
The Egyptian man watched Polnareff in awe, sketching down a face on the bandages around his foot.
“This guy right here… is the protagonist. He doesn’t have a name yet. I want to tell a story about a journey, you see. He’s gonna go through that journey. See a lot of places, learn a lot of things. Fight a lot of enemies too. In the end, he’ll be a better man than he was at the start.”
Avdol nodded. “This protagonist… am I right to assume he has a little bit of you?”
“Not really, no!” Polnareff laughed.
“I don’t really want to be a protagonist. You see, with good stories, it’s like this: the protagonist always has to go through loss, you know? He has to go through a lot of hardships, lose a lot of important things to him. He’s gonna be down quite a bit, this guy. I think I’ve had enough of that myself for a lifetime.”
“Jean…” Avdol squeezed his hand, and he swore to himself he could never get used to not feeling Polnareff’s cold fingers between the warmth of his own anymore. He wondered if he could still feel them through Magician’s Red, and made a mental note to try it on another occasion.
The younger man smiled softly at him.
“It’s not all bad. He’s going to learn a lot with what he loses. It’s all part of the journey. He was someone who had everything and lost it all. Now he’s just trying to win some of it back. He’ll have a little help from someone too.”
“Does the handsome Muhammad Avdol have a part in this story of yours?”
“Oh,” Polnareff smirked, “He might just get a cameo appearance. Comes riding in like a shiny knight on a white horse. Except… You’ll be riding a camel instead. And it’ll be a very brief appearance, I don’t want my readers to like you a little too much.”
“You do realize I know how to ride a horse as well, do you not? It doesn’t have to be a camel.”
“Yeah but, well… I’m not very good at drawing horses yet. And I’ll already have to draw enough of those.”
“Are you good at drawing camels then?”
“….Not really, no. It’s fine, it’s fine! I’ll learn!”
After a short moment of silence, Polnareff looked back up to the sky, not letting go of Avdol’s hand.
“And what about you? Do you have plans?”
“For now, not really. I’ll stay in Japan for as long as Kakyoin is in the hospital, at least”, Avdol started. “I’m not sure what I’ll do after that. But… I look forward to witnessing you tell your story.”
Before even finishing his sentence, Avdol noticed Polnareff’s expression growing stiffer, as he sat a little straighter and turned to face him.
“You know, Muhammad, you could always…” he paused for a second before gracing him with a kind smile. “Never mind. I’ll bring it up again another time.”
Avdol simply nodded. He already knew what Polnareff was going to say. And he already knew what his response would be. But it could wait. After all, they had all of the time in the world to not worry anymore.
The Speedwagon Foundation had gotten them all individual rooms at the hospital in Tokyo in an attempt to make them feel more comfortable. They all appreciated the effort, but none had it in them to say that might have not been the best course of action. Instead, they all just grouped together in someone’s room whenever there was the chance – mostly Kakyoin’s, when his parents weren’t around or when it wasn’t full of doctors from all over the globe checking up on his status. At least they were all in the same hall. Due to the unusual circumstances, even Iggy was in the same hospital as them, sharing a room with Joseph. Kakyoin’s room was the one at the end of the hall, in front of theirs. Next to it was Polnareff’s, and a couple of empty rooms away were both Jotaro’s and Avdol’s.
Jotaro had the shortest stay out of them all, and after there was no need for him to stay he spent half of his day home with Holly, helping her in her own recovery. The other half consisted of the visiting hours at the hospital, where he would lurk around the unconscious Kakyoin’s room until his parents left, and then just sit down on the chair next to his bed in silence for minutes, even hours. Avdol could tell he felt responsible for what had happened to his younger friend, and didn’t have it in him to face his parents. However, there were moments when the heavy weight seemed to lift off of Jotaro’s shoulders. Those were mostly whenever he stopped by Polnareff’s room. The Frenchmann was having a quick recovery himself, save for his foot, to which the damage had been too severe. He still had a lot of trouble walking without help, but he was getting there. As for Joseph, it seemed like his age was finally catching up on him. While his injuries weren’t the most severe, he was probably the one in the most weakened state, and the doctors wanted to keep an eye on him for a little longer instead of sending him home the same day as Jotaro.
Kakyoin finally regained consciousness the day before Polnareff was discharged from the hospital. By then, both Jotaro and Joseph had already been given the green light, though they still spent a lot of time there with the rest of them. Joseph had been the only one in Kakyoin’s room at the time, but his voice soon had caught the attention of the “neighbors” next door.
Polnareff’s excited yelling when he realized what was happening could be heard all over the floor, Avdol guessed. He had needed to lend the Frenchman his shoulder for support when he rushed to the next room, before he could run off on his own and hurt himself. Jotaro followed behind, patiently waiting for Iggy who insisted on walking there without help.
Only momentarily, it completely slipped Avdol’s mind that Kakyoin was not aware of his survival yet. But the boy’s smile turned to a confused expression when he turned away from Joseph to stare at Polnareff who had just walked inside the room with Avdol by his side. And only when Kakyoin’s tears were followed by hiccups as he gasped for air, did Avdol realize that he too had tears streaming from his eyes. Before he could make his way to the teenager’s bed however, Jotaro’s voice called his friend’s first name from behind him.
And for the first time since they had entered Dio’s mansion days before, the six Stardust Crusaders were finally all together in the same room, awake, exchanging smiles and tears, and hugs and squeezes, just feeling each other’s warmth as a sign that they were indeed very much alive, all of them.
“Ah, call back Magician’s Red now!”
Tokyo was a cold city in February, especially when sitting on top of a roof outside, the clock nearing five in the morning. So Avdol was having his stand keep them warm, more than their thick jackets and leaning close to each other could.
“Are you sure? It’s gotta be less than -4ºC right now.”
“But Muhammad, look! It’s starting to snow! Your flames will melt it all.”
It had been a couple of years since Avdol had seen snow. The same wasn’t true for Polnareff, but he was visibly excited nonetheless. Avdol watched the Frenchman try catching some of the snow in his hands, but by the time he opened them most of it had melted.
“Man, it’s cold…!” he complained, rubbing his hands against each other.
Taking his hands out of his jacket pockets, Avdol caught some of it himself, before turning to Polnareff with a faint smile.
“I don’t feel it.”
It wasn’t really that he couldn’t feel it at all. If he looked at the snow in his hands, he could feel something, though he was aware it was just a memory of a feeling. He could see the snow and he remembered how cold it was supposed to feel like. But if he closed his eyes… it was like it wasn’t there anymore.
His line of thought was interrupted by the touch of cold hands against his warm cheeks, and Avdol opened up his eyes to find Polnareff’s face just a couple of inches away from his.
“Okay, well… this is what it feels like.”
Not having the words to answer him, Avdol’s lips found their way to Polnareff’s – and even the Frenchman’s lips were cold, how could he ever forget what that felt like – a smile settling on them, and he could feel the same happen to Polnareff.
The snow kept falling, and more heavily as time went on. The sun was starting to rise far in the east, but it did nothing to warm the cold air.
“Maybe we should go back inside,” Avdol suggested after a while.
Polnareff nodded in agreement as he clumsily got up on his feet, shaking away the snow that had settled in his lap.
“We could make breakfast for Jotaro and Miss Holly before they wake up,” he suggested, grabbing the helping hand Avdol extended to him as they made their way down from the roof.
“That sounds like a good idea. Mr. Joestar should be coming back soon as well.”
Walking through the front door, they found Jotaro already awake (barely). He was immediately greeted with a slap to the back from his best friend.
Avdol watched with a smile as the teenager tried to form a coherent enough English sentence that early in the morning. Making his way to the kitchen to get started on breakfast as promised, the Egyptian man gave one last glance towards Polnareff, who grinned in return. Maybe there was something good to be found in waking up at such ridiculous hours during the night.