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A Thousand Answers

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- June, 1880 -

 

DIO!

The voice that rang out through the Joestar manor was colored by righteous fury. Jonathan had been through many ups and downs--more downs than anything, lately--since the unprecedented arrival of Dio Brando. He would have taken all of the hardships in relative silence too if Dio hadn't gone out of his way to involve someone else, and reap the benefits from it.

That he could not abide.

Especially when that someone was Erina. Not only was she a cherished friend, but she held a very special place in his heart. Perhaps he was a little in love, as much as it was difficult to admit. Those were the very feelings however, which made Dio’s cruel and public mistreatment of her even worse. It was his fault she was forcibly dragged into this mess and as a gentleman he could not sit idly by while Dio insulted her honor.

Dio didn’t seem at all surprised by his brutish entrance, instead closing his book and rising to his feet as Jonathan barged the room. “Hush, boy” he tutted. “You won’t speak my name in vain again if you know what’s good for you.”

The air of superiority he addressed him with seemed to only incense Jonathan further. He brandished his fists, rage overtaking him completely.

“We end this now!” Jonathan shouted, fists tightly clenched. “I won’t let you sully an innocent maiden’s honor! Your fight is with me, damn it!”

The tone painting Dio’s expression morphed into what could only be defined as smug, possibly the smuggest Jonathan has seen him to date. “Upset about Erina? That she shared her favors with me? And now you intend to give me a proper thrashing for my impudence” he crooned in a mocking tone. What rousted Jonathan even more was that he had the gall to speak her name in such a way.

Who did he think he was? Her favor was not given to him, it was taken.

“This time, Dio, you have gone too far!”

He wasn’t wrong, Jonathan was intent on giving Dio a thrashing the likes of which he had never seen. As if to punctuate that declaration, he jumped at Dio with all the ferocity of a savage beast. However, his first attempted strike was easily deflected.

“You may be right, but you’re the one who’ll pay!” Dio said through gritted teeth. In response to Jonathan’s sloppy maneuver he brought his elbow up and watched in sheer satisfaction as it made direct impact with his attacker’s nose. While Jonathan struggled to recover, Dio took no time to grind the joint against the now bloody flesh and cartilage.

“Looking to repeat your performance from our boxing match? Be my guest.” Jonathan’s blood began soaking through his suit sleeve and after what felt like an eternity, Dio finally shoved him away, fixing his tie with a small ‘hmph’ as if this all was beneath him. Jonathan staggered back against the wall trying to think of anything that would will him back into the fight.

He thought of being trapped in Dio’s shadow forever, of having to undergo all of this torment for the rest of his days. He also recalled Erina, her stricken face when they last crossed paths. He had to do this. He had to do this for himself and for her, the girl who just by association was dragged into this mess. This was his fault and she didn’t deserve this.

He had to make this right. One way or another.

In a swift flourish Dio threw his jacket aside, more than ready for retaliation. He raised his fists and shouted his challenge to Jonathan who was all too ready to oblige. Jonathan screamed and charged at him, throwing yet another easily blocked punch. In turn, almost effortlessly, Dio struck his knee against Jonathan’s face, knocking him off to the side. It hurt and threw him off balance but not nearly as much as Dio seemed to think, judging by the victorious glint in his eye.

Jonathan recovered quickly, reaching out to grab hold of Dio’s head. It was Dio’s turn to struggle in his grasp, looking for a means of escape from Jonathan’s surprisingly steel grip. Despite all that, Dio still took time out to demean him.

“How are you able to grab me after such a blow to the head!? Perhaps I was too gentle with you!”

Jonathan didn’t give him enough time to back that statement up before he reared back and slammed his forehead into Dio’s face. The resulting pain was unbearable of course, but he could only imagine what his adopted brother must’ve felt. He couldn’t stop himself from feeling supremely self satisfied as he felt his hair mat with the blood spilt from Dio’s nose.

That shut him up good.

Jonathan took the opportunity this afforded him and threw punch after punch at Dio. An elbow here, a fist there, he wasn’t even sure where he was hitting with at some point. He was running on pure adrenaline and rage, pushed solely by the desire to rectify these injustices. A righteous cry of Dio’s name escaped him as his fists slammed hard into the other boy’s face.

“I’m going to beat you ‘til you cry like a baby, Dio!” This wasn’t an empty statement either, he wanted nothing more than to see tears spill from Dio’s eyes as they had his these past weeks and no doubt Erina’s after such a traumatic incident.

Finally, Jonathan ended his barrage of punches with a clean uppercut to Dio’s jaw. This caused the boy to fly back, leaving quite the impressive distance between them as he hit the foyer wall and crumpled to the floor. The resulting impact caused his mother’s treasured memento, the stone mask, to jostle from it’s place on the wall and land unceremoniously on Dio’s face.

This would not do. After all, Jonathan was nowhere near done with him yet.

He followed right after him, grabbing Dio by the front of his shirt. His hands were bloodied, from Dio’s inflicted injuries or his own torn knuckles he wasn’t sure, but there was some pride found as he realized he was staining Dio’s freshly laundered shirt in the process of hauling him up.

“I’m not finished with you yet, Dio.” He warned, grabbing at the mask to pull it off of Dio’s face. Jonathan needed his target back, wanted Dio to look him in the eye as he brought him to justice for going to such lengths to tarnish Erina’s honor. There was no reason for him to bring ruin to one of the few cherished reminders of Mary Joestar’s memory as well.

However, as his bloodstained hand left a bright red smear along the ancient stone, something happened. Before he could remove the mask, needles sprung out suddenly and lodged themselves right into Dio’s head. There was a flash of near blinding light and then… nothing. An unsheathed pocket knife slipped from Dio’s hand and clattered onto the floor. As for Dio?

His body had gone limp in Jonathan’s grasp.

Was he… dead? Jonathan immediately dropped him and rose to his feet looking horrified. He didn’t know that would happen! Fear seized him as he looked down at the lifeless body of Dio Brando. He’d wanted to pummel him, sure but… kill him? That was never his intention!

Ice entered his veins.

What was he to do now? Thinking about how he was to explain this to father made it hard for him to breathe. He started pacing, chewing nervously at his bottom lip as he tried to figure out something. Anything. There was no explanation for this! He did a terrible thing even if he didn’t realize it. In the end, he had gone too far. The sheer guilt of it all felt as if it was going to swallow him whole. He was going to deserve whatever punishment his father saw fit for his crimes--

Jonathan’s panicked thoughts were interrupted by the sound of stone meeting tile. Whipping his head around towards Dio’s fallen form, he saw that what he thought was a lifeless corpse was now sitting back up. This was impossible, wasn’t it? He… he saw those stone protrusions pierce Dio in the head himself. Witnessed it with his own two eyes. No one could have survived that.

Jojooo,” Dio growled with a voice that hardly sounded human, and a glare that chilled Jonathan to the bone. Dio’s eyes, once amber, now seemed to be blood red in color. He wasn’t sure what was going on or how it happened but Jonathan knew he didn’t like it.

“D-Dio?” He responded in kind, inching back slowly, trying to put distance between them. But in a flash Dio was on his feet and charging at him. The fight response that had been triggered when Jonathan entered the manor had undoubtedly shifted elsewhere. His urge to beat Dio was gone and instead he broke into a sprint. As fast as his legs could carry him, he ran towards the door and the bright afternoon sun. Dio was close behind, letting out a growl that should have never come from a living human as he reached out to grab onto the back of Jonathan’s jacket.

Jonathan closed his eyes and prepared for the worst. Ready to be yanked back by this new, terrifying Dio.

It never came.

Instead, Jonathan heard an almost animalistic scream behind him as Dio tumbled back onto the mansion floor, holding onto his hand. As he gauged the situation he saw that the once pale and perfect skin of Dio’s hand had blistered and turned a stark leathery white while the area around it burned an angry red.

It looked like agony.

Dio, to his credit, wasn’t hindered by the pain too long. As he saw Jonathan looking on in abject horror he tried once again to drag himself outside. However, now with a better view this time, Jonathan watched as Dio’s other unmarred hand began to smoke and sizzle after only a split second in the sunlight. Another scream followed as Dio snatched his hand back inside. How could only a mere second of exposure to sunlight cause such burns to him?

Jonathan was frankly terrified. Something had completely changed in Dio after wearing the mask and it was all his fault. As if on cue, to punctuate his guilt, his father came running from the upstairs hall.

“What on earth is happening down there!? Dio? Are you hurt?”

Dio looked up at George Joestar on the landing of the stairs, tears spilling from the corners of his eyes as he brought his now blistered hands close to his chest. Jonathan was paralyzed with fear. What would happen to his father if Dio was this out of control?

“M-my apologies for the noise... Jojo and I were rough housing in good fun and I injured myself,” Dio replied as easily as he could through gritted teeth. “I’ll take care of it, no need to worry.”

Jonathan was surprised to say the least. Not only was Dio in some semblance of control over himself now but he lied so easily without demonizing Jonathan for something he had rightly done. That mere action had thrown him so off kilter he didn’t know what to say.

“No need to worry… are you certain?” George had obviously heard his cry of pain and that did not make it sound like a simple injury. He was rightly concerned.

Just as Dio was to open his mouth and brush off his protests Jonathan was quick to reply. “It’s as Dio said, father. I will take care of his injuries myself, I promise.” At that suggestion George wore a small smile, pleased that his son and his ward were getting on with each other finally. Although, in reality, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

“Alright Jojo, take good care of him and if you need help do not hesitate to ask for it.” George spoke softly, turning on his heel on the landing to return back to his study.

Jonathan couldn’t help himself as he practically deflated in relief watching his father walk away. After a brief moment he turned his attention to Dio who was staring at his hands with a strange look on his face. Was it anger? Disbelief? Confusion? Jonathan had to wonder if it was all three.

“Dio--” he began, crossing the distance between them to place his hand on his arm and help him up. However, Dio cut him off quickly and pulled from his grasp, getting to his feet.

What have you DONE to me, Jojo!?

His voice came out as a snarl but there was a noted panic as well. Perhaps that was the unknown emotion festering in Dio’s eyes. In the short time he’d known him Jonathan had never seen Dio stricken with panic or fear, not even once. This was new. Jonathan was filled with a helplessness as he had no answer to that question. He floundered instead for a response.

“D-Dio, I’m… I am not quite sure what happened b-but… I’ll try to help you find out. I don’t know what this could possibly be, but it obviously has something to do with the mask!”

Dio barked out a laugh that was devoid of mirth and started walking through the downstairs hall, intent on tending to himself and not letting Jonathan anywhere near him. “Oh that much is obvious Jojo, but I don’t want your pity or your care. I just want to find out what’s happened to me without you getting too close to do any more damage.” Jonathan followed behind him, cringing at his harsh tone. He wasn’t wrong, there was still much he could mess up, especially now… but he had to help. That much was certain. He needed to help Dio because he had created this problem, this was his fault. They had to find out what was wrong with him.

Dio was cautious roaming through the house, practically hugging the walls and ducking to the floor if there was an especially sunny window. Jonathan made it a point to run ahead and close the curtains he could as a way to ease the blow of his mistake.

Unfortunately, it did nothing.

The two walked in a tense silence, Dio’s attention shifting between the hazards of the hall and the damage to his hands until he finally reached his bedroom. Jonathan waited at the door for him patiently while Dio stared him down, waiting for something himself.

“Well stop dawdling and go in to check if the curtains are open Jojo!” Dio snapped, breaking the silence. “What? Were you waiting for me ? So I could go in and possibly hurt myself even more?”

Jonathan jumped to attention. “N-No! Not at all! I’ll go check immediately!” he replied with a concerned look. He cautiously opened Dio’s door and peered inside. There was a small beam of light streaming in from the partially closed drapes which Jonathan rushed to fix before announcing that Dio could come inside.

Dio sniffed imperiously and stepped in, not sparing Jonathan so much as a thank you or a glance. Instead he busied himself with pulling a small box from a drawer next to his bed which contained bandages. He set to caring for himself while Jonathan stood awkwardly in his room.

He had to find some way to help though. There had to be something they could use to reverse whatever had just happened… but they didn’t really know what happened to Dio, did they? What even was it? Some sort of disease?

He froze. Perhaps he couldn’t think of what the answer was but… perhaps…

“Dio, I think I know who can help you.” 

Dio sighed and looked up at Jonathan with a mix of irritation and disinterest. “And who, pray tell, is that? Because I am not keen on just telling the whole world about this bizarre condition.” His response was clipped as his patience with Jonathan had long since worn out.

“We-- we could ask Erina! She’s the daughter of a doctor you know and maybe she knows something we don’t! A-And even if she doesn’t, there might be something her father has that could tell us” Jonathan said with conviction. This was their only option right? They couldn’t tell anyone else what had transpired but he trusted her.

The look Dio gave him in return was incredulous. “Oh yes wonderful idea, Erina Pendleton will surely jump at any opportunity to help me.” he replied with thick, mocking sarcasm. “Please Jojo, use your head. Not only is she not a doctor but I’ve given her ample reason to never want to see my face again and I’d rather not see such a disrespectful wench, myself.”

“I can talk her into it Dio, I know I can convince her,” Jonathan began, his eyes narrowing. “But if you want the help from our only option, you should endeavor to not call her such an insulting thing. If you do so in my presence I won’t hesitate to teach you manners again.”

Unfazed by such a threat Dio merely snorted in amusement and rolled his eyes, not bothering to look away from the bandages he was now securing around his blistered hands.

“If you’re truly looking for disappointment go seek her out, be my guest. I for one, am not holding my breath.” With that, Dio waved a half bandaged hand at Jonathan with a sneer as if to dismiss him.

“Fine then, I will! I will prove you wrong!” Jonathan shouted it almost as a challenge as he stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him and his steps full of purpose. He would seek Erina out and convince her to help if it was the last thing he did.

Dio flinched as the door slammed shut. Now in the peace and quiet of his room he allowed his breath to come quicker and tears to fall freely from his eyes as he privately broke down.

What had become of him?

Chapter Text

Erina had taken to spending her afternoons alone once again. Well alone unless you counted her dolls as company. Though she thought she had left those lonely, listless days behind her when she’d met Jonathan Joestar she was sorely mistaken. She was still haunted by the powerlessness she felt when Dio had grabbed her and forced her into that horrid kiss and changed everything.

He’d ruined her.

It was extremely hard to avoid Jonathan but she knew it was for the best. She hadn’t wanted to be one of those who had given him the cold shoulder but it was necessary this time. When he found out what had happened he’d no doubt hate her too. He had probably found out already, considering how the boys in town had taken to laughing about it amongst themselves.

So she had gone back to what was familiar. She took up a spot with a view of the lake by which she spent many afternoons with Jonathan and simply read through a book she had taken from her father’s medical library. It was quite a large tome about the brain which her father no doubt would have disapproved of her reading.

Her father, a gifted doctor in his own right, considered her interest in medicine to be inappropriate for a young lady. Well, he rather considered her ambitions inappropriate. She had wanted to be a doctor like him, an aspiration which he laughed at and told her to settle for nursing. He often considered his books to be much above her comprehension as well. Sometimes they were, these books were meant for adult professionals after all, or sometimes the material was so dry she found her eyes glazing over as she reread the same sentence.

Despite that, she soldiered on. Erina was aware of the fact that she wasn’t going to be able to get this information anywhere else, so she had to learn it on her own. She tried her best to remember symptoms and inspect diagrams. She practiced sutures in private on the stuffed animals that littered her bed, something she no doubt would have been scolded for had someone discovered it.

So, instead of feeling sad and sorry for herself Erina lost herself in the inner workings of the human body, something that was always interesting enough to capture her attention. She was thoroughly lost in her book until she vaguely noticed a shadow being cast across the pages. It wasn’t noteworthy or distracting enough however to pull her from her reading since it didn’t hinder her ability to read the words on the page.

“You’re reading about the brain now? That’s fascinating!” The shadow behind her spoke enthusiastically.

That, on the other hand, was most definitely enough of a distraction.

In a fit of surprise she jumped, yelping indignantly at the shock and nearly throwing her book at whoever had disturbed her. That was no shadow cast by the clouds but Jonathan Joestar himself. He wore a sunny smile although it didn’t reach his eyes. Something else was present in his gaze that she couldn’t quite put her finger on.

She was afraid to find out.

Erina closed the book with shaky hands and rose to her feet. What was he doing here? There was no way he didn’t know what had transpired with Dio by now. She had already vowed to avoid him and yet here he was with a smile plastered on his face. How could he still wear such an expression around her now?

“J-Jojo…!” she exclaimed in shock, meeting his eyes briefly before casting her own down to her feet. It was hard to meet the gaze of someone so dear after Dio had made her betray him. Guilt sat like a rock in the pit of her stomach, for everything that had transpired with Dio and for ignoring him afterward. There was a short silence between them before Erina finally got up the nerve to speak. “I-I’m sorry” she finally told him, voice quiet and her hands twisting in her skirts.

“What? You-- You have no need to be sorry!” he said with alarm coloring his voice. The feeling of two hands on her shoulders finally brought Erina’s gaze up from the ground to face Jonathan Joestar and his dismayed expression head on. “What occurred between you and Dio was all his doing, not yours! There is no reason for you to be sorry a-and in fact… I’m sorry, for the both of us. My feud with him was what brought you into this in the first place a-and… his actions in retaliation were completely unforgivable!”

His words were so earnest, so sincere that Erina knew immediately that these weren’t just sweet nothings meant to make her feel better. He legitimately blamed Dio and himself for what had happened. Jonathan didn’t do this and she knew if there were no negative feelings between the two of them then the one who deserved their ire was Dio himself.

“Jojo, you-- you don’t have to apologize for yourself and you shouldn’t apologize for him!” she said, seized by anger at Jonathan’s adopted “brother”. “You and I both know he doesn’t feel badly about what he’s done and I doubt he’ll ever regret this! You’re right in saying what he’s done was unforgivable and if I ever see him again it will be much too soon!”

The expression on Jonathan’s face shifted from dismay to something else. Guilt? Erina wasn’t sure but she had opened her mouth to continue talking when Jonathan spoke first.

“Erina… I-I have a favor to ask of you.”

She paused. Jonathan now was the one who couldn’t look her in the eyes, in fact he was fidgeting where he stood. Erina placed a hand gently on his upper arm to calm him, despite the way her face seemed to heat up from their proximity to one another.

“O-Of course, anything!” she answered easily, wanting to put him at ease.

It took a moment for Jonathan to find his words but Erina patiently waited.

“E-Erina… something happened to Dio and I need your help…”

“Absolutely not,” she replied with zero hesitation. Her voice was firm and she crossed her arms, not wanting to entertain the thought again. “Whatever happened to him he deserves.”

Jonathan looked pale and he let go of her shoulders in order to hold onto her hand. “Please Erina… I-I did something really bad, I don’t know how exactly he changed but I need you to find out if he’s sick. You’re the only one I trust to figure this out!” His voice sounded panicked and pleading. Erina was finding it harder to deny him.

“Jojo… I-I’m younger than you and I’m no doctor. You can bring him to my father--”

“NO” Jonathan shouted, cutting her off. He saw the startled look on her face and tried to collect himself. “I-I’m sorry, I’m sorry… just, this is something secret. I can’t take him to your father, I don’t know what would happen.”

She was silent. Her desire to help Jonathan was struggling against her desire to let Dio rot as she mulled this over. Jonathan, spooked by her non-existent response struggled to continue.

“Please Erina, please. This is all my fault a-and I’m worried about what happened to him, I-I thought he was dead! Of all the people we could go to you’re-- you’re the only one I trust with this. Please.”

The desperate tone in his voice worried her more than anything.

“Jojo… what did you do?”

Jonathan paled further. “That’s the scary thing, I-I’m not sure. Please, just come with me back to the manor. You’re the smartest person I know and the only one I know who will take me seriously. Maybe you can figure out what’s wrong!”

There was another brief pause before Erina sighed. “I’ll come… but you have to promise not to leave him alone with me Jojo. I’ll leave then and there if you do. Don’t make me regret this...” The desperation in Jonathan’s voice had won her over. She also couldn’t help herself, she wanted to know what had happened to Dio as well. It had to be something bad to have Jonathan reacting the way that he was.

The smile that made its way back on Jonathan’s face was small but full of relief. “O-Of course I won’t leave you alone, I promise! Just... Thank you Erina, s-so much!”

She didn’t even have time to react before Jonathan pulled at the hand he was holding and started dragging her in the direction of the manor. Normally, she would be flustered by this kind of contact. After all, Jonathan was holding her hand as they ran together but this moment was charged with something else.

Didn’t he say he thought Dio was dead for a moment?

That made her nervous to say the least, but she also knew Jojo. He wasn’t the kind of person to just do something like that. Then again, was his request for help really a request to hide his body? No… it couldn’t have been, he thought Dio was sick after all.

Finally they arrived at the imposing mansion known as the Joestar Estate. Erina had never once stepped inside let alone be this close to it. Her own home was a decently sized townhome but this house was massive on a scale she had never seen before. There was no time for her to marvel at the manor’s impressive architecture as Jonathan pushed through the large oak front doors.

He walked with purpose past the grandiose foyer and the stone statue by the stairs she wished to see more of. He led her up the stairs and down a hall on the second floor, his voice hushed as he spoke to her. “We’re going to be in Dio’s room.” She gasped at that and Jonathan looked behind his shoulder at her. “Don’t worry, I said I would be there with you and I will be. I’ll make sure nothing untoward happens, I promised didn’t I?”

“...I suppose you did.”

The thought still made her nervous but she had committed to this and she trusted Jonathan to help her if something happened. They stopped at a door towards the end of the hall and Erina took a deep breath. She was going to be strong and she wasn’t going to show Dio that he had gotten to her. Still though, she took a step behind Jonathan anyway. It never hurt to be wary.

Jonathan rapped on the door to the room and only opened it once he could hear a muffled “you may enter” from inside. “I take it you’ve come here to tell me that you’ve failed and the good doctor’s daughter will simply let me suffer?” Dio’s voice sounded confidently through the room, though from behind Jonathan she couldn’t see him.

“Actually no Dio, you were wrong” Jonathan replied with a smug tone, “She’s right here.” He stepped inside revealing her in the doorway and lighting one of the lamps in Dio’s quarters. As low light filled the room Erina finally saw him, curled in a corner furthest away from his windows, steering clear of a strip of light that hadn’t been blocked by the thick drapes that hung from the windows.

“Dio,” she greeted curtly, walking into the room with her arms crossed.

“So you did show,” Dio remarked with mild surprise. “Could it be you haven’t gotten enough yet, Erina…? If you are truly that desperate for me--”

Erina’s eyes flashed with icy irritation as she cut him off. “Don’t misunderstand my curiosity about your condition for interest in you, Dio. There is no muddy puddle here for me to drink from so I’m not sure I can adequately convey how I feel about you.” Her voice was level and disinterested although she chanced a few glances at Jonathan for strength.

Dio’s easy expression turned into one of agitation as she referenced her blatant rejection of him. It was still disturbing to him, how she publically chose to dirty her mouth with filthy swill after his kiss. The wench was lucky to have received his attentions but here she was now, looking at him with a cold disinterest. His hands balled into fists and he opened his mouth to respond before he was cut off again.

“Dio, please, she’s here to help you. Try to treat her with some respect, she’s our only hope right now!” Jonathan sounded a little desperate. He feared Dio would push her away and then they would have no other options to figure out what could possibly be happening.

The blond boy was quiet but his expression was full of frustration. He weighed his options. As much as he wanted to fire a scathing insult back, Jonathan perhaps was right though he was loath to admit it. He needed to get back to the glory of his former self, a being who didn’t blister and burn in the sun.

Erina seemed to take his silence for compliance.

“Now that that’s out of the way, um... please list your symptoms,” she said with an attempt at an air of authority. She had heard her father say something along those lines countless times but she was no doctor. It felt odd, like a child playing pretend.

Dio hesitated for a moment. “My… hands. They were burned by the sun.”

Now that wasn’t that strange and certainly not life or death. She shot Jonathan a look. “And how long were you out in the sun?”

“Mere seconds,” he replied without missing a beat.

It was impossible for someone to get a sunburn in a few seconds but Erina was curious as to what kind of burn he actually had. There must have been some sort of alternative. “Do you mind if I look at these burns myself in the light?” she asked, trying to sound somewhat professional. At first she wasn’t sure if he was going to comply but after a moment Dio rose to his feet from his compact position on the ground.

His walk to his bed was careful and he seemed to be casting paranoid glances to his windows. It took all of Erina’s patience not to snap at him to hurry. Sure, he must have been being that careful and slow for a reason but her patience with Dio had long since run its course.

Luckily, it didn’t take that long for him to reach his destination, perched on the edge of his bed. Now with the light of the nearby lamp illuminating him the first thing Erina noticed were his eyes. Gone was the amber color she had grown accustomed to. Now they shone a bright red, unlike anything she had ever seen. It gave her pause. Once she was able to tear her gaze from the shining ruby hue of his eyes she caught sight of the bandages covering his hands.

Bandages?

Perhaps Dio was just being over dramatic. That thought died rather quickly however as he exposed his blistered skin. That… wasn’t a simple sunburn.

“May I?” She asked gently, gesturing to his hands.

He sneered at her yet held his hands out to her regardless. “Just be careful.”

“Of course,” Erina replied, any edge in her voice being replaced by fascination. Gingerly she wrapped her fingers around the untouched skin of his wrist and brought one hand closer to her face in order to get a better look at it in the light. There were no two ways about it, these burns were third degree of all things and reached to about the middle of his palm where the white puckered skin stopped, the edge of which was a perfectly straight line. “This was from a few seconds of sun exposure!?”

“What? You think I would lie about such a thing!?” Dio demanded, snatching his hand away from her. She had no idea what to say to that, it was almost impossible to believe regardless. Instead of answering she looked to Jonathan who had paled considerably.

Jonathan nodded. “I-I saw it myself… He tried to chase me out of the house but the moment his hand was in the sun he screamed and fell back a-and it was nearly instantaneous…! He’s telling you the truth, Erina.”

That corroboration from Jonathan was all she needed to hear. She returned her gaze back to Dio. “I-Is that the only thing then? Or are there other symptoms!?” What possibly could have done this? Regardless of what Dio had done she couldn’t deny her own curiosity.

“Well, I’ve undergone… physical changes,” he began, “My eyes are red, as you obviously saw before. However, that is not the only change. My teeth, nails and hair have grown in length as well.” Erina nodded and glanced from his mouth, to his hands to his head, making a mental note of all the changes. “My senses are… heightened. I can hear, smell and see things keenly. I feel colder too. And…”

He trailed off, looking away and seemingly unable to go any further. This would not do. “...What else? I can’t help you if you don’t tell me” Erina urged gently, gaze fixed on Dio’s face.

Finally he sighed. “I suppose keeping it a secret is useless then, isn’t it? …I have a craving.” He lifted his eyes to glance between her and Jonathan, frowning when both seemed to be a bit lost.

“A craving?” Jonathan echoed, having previously been too engrossed in the conversation to offer any input. Erina tilted her head, just as confused as he was. “What sort of craving?”

Dio pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. Whatever it was he didn’t really want to admit to it. Unfortunately for him, he had to. He seemed to struggle to find the right words but once he had finally organized his thoughts he pinned Erina with a dangerous look. “Blood. That is what I have been desiring. To drink the blood of another living being. What sort of disease would you attribute that to, hm?”

Both Erina and Jonathan looked on in stunned silence. Jonathan seemed unsure of what to make of all this while the wheels were turning in Erina’s head. Dio’s look was almost challenging her to find a solution. His desire for blood brought a ludicrous idea to the forefront of her mind.

“Well, I don’t know of any particular disease that fits your symptoms but… well… I have an idea but it’s-- it’s ridiculous! It’s not real and could never be.” It seemed she was half-talking to Dio and half-talking to herself. “There’s no way…”

“What are you even talking about? If you’ve an idea then you may as well share it,” Dio remarked, his voice tinged with equal parts irritation and curiosity.

“Yes, Erina, our situation in general seems farfetched! There’s no reason to hide a potential conclusion now!” Jonathan urged her. He made no effort to mask his desire to hear what she had to say especially after her quick dismissal of it.

Erina worried her lip between her teeth for a moment, collecting her thoughts before she finally spoke.

“H-How familiar are you both with vampires?”

Dio and Jonathan shared a look.

“Are you referring to… the undead?” Jonathan asked. All the color had left his face, obviously affected by the guilt of his actions if Dio was something as ghastly as a vampire. Dio, to his credit, attempted to keep his composure but his body was tense and his jaw tight. “...You mean like those fictional novels? Tales of horror meant to keep the reader looking over their shoulder?” the blond supplied, as if trying to finish Jonathan’s thought in a less terrifying manner.

She nodded grimly in response.

“Are you telling me…” Dio began, his voice dangerously low, “that I’ve become some sort of blood drinking beast? Is that it? Are you attempting to make a mockery of me, Dio?” His voice became gradually louder and more accusatory as he spoke. Of course he would take offense.

Erina put her hands up in a defensive stance. Despite how much she detested him, she was being serious about this claim. “L-Listen! I am not trying to mock you, Dio! Truly! I’m just trying to say that this ...thirst for blood, this inability to be in sunlight, these are all hallmarks of vampires! I snuck a penny dreadful from my father just last year and it’s the only thing that comes to mind!” Finally realizing how ridiculous this sounded she stopped herself from continuing. She realized now how foolish it was to bring something like this up. He couldn’t be an actual vampire, vampires didn’t exist and now she was just making them nervous.

“...But… this can’t possibly be real. Vampires don’t exist, they can’t exist. And it’s not like you were bitten,” she said, resignation coloring her voice. “Actually… how did this even come about? There had to be some sort of cause! Maybe that can help us figure this out.”

Dio turned a curled lip Jonathan’s way. “Ask him why don’t you?”

Erina turned her attention who Jonathan who just looked down as he scuffed his feet against the floor. “The mask down in my foyer… we were fighting a-and it fell on his face. I touched it and spikes pushed out of the side of it into his head.” Jonathan faltered and met Erina’s eyes with solemn expression. “I thought-- I thought he died. I’m glad he didn’t, I mean I only wanted to give him a thrashing for-- for-- well I wanted to hurt him, I just wasn’t anticipating all of this! It was never supposed to end like this...”

Erina was quiet for a moment. While Jonathan seemed to just shuffle around uncomfortably in the silence, her brain was focused instead on what caused this change while Dio watched the two of them intently. The mask certainly ruled out the vampire thing but then it had to be something else didn’t it? It wasn’t a disease either. They had to keep researching.

“Jojo…” she started and Jonathan seemed to snap to attention. “Whatever happened, I wouldn’t say it was completely your fault...”

“Excuse me!? Of course it’s his fault! I understand you’re both mooning over each other but he is not completely blameless!” Dio started angrily but Erina cut him off with the raise of her hand and a cold look he’d only seen her give him once before, on her knees in a puddle.

“If you would let me finish, Dio… yes, Jonathan did indeed cause your changes, but he had no way of knowing that the mask would do any of this. Would you have known Dio? This could have easily happened at your own hand! Now instead of trying to pick another fight with him, why don’t you just accept his help!?” Her voice was level until the very last question where her anger got the better of her.

Dio crossed his arms. “How dare you suggest I, Dio, would ever have such an accident happen to me!” The two met each other’s eyes for a brief tense moment before Dio finally spoke again. “Though I suppose… I can give Jojo a chance to atone for what he’s done.”

Jonathan’s face seemed to light up at that and he responded with renewed vigor. “I-I won’t waste it Dio, I promise you that!” Dio sneered in response but Erina couldn’t help the smile on her face as Jojo seemed to return to his former attitude.

“Well,” Erina started, “with that settled, I’m going to ask father about your symptoms.” Jonathan and Dio both shouted ‘NO!’ in response, loud enough for Erina to cringe. “I will not be staked to death by your father or any others, Pendleton,” Dio hissed quietly. Jonathan nodded. “I cannot help but agree, it’s too much of a risk.

Erina lifted her hands in an attempt to placate them. “What kind of person do you take me for, Dio!? I may not get on with you but I don’t wish death upon you,” she snapped, unable to hide her annoyance. “If father knew I was here in the first place the only person getting staked would be me!”

Jonathan and Dio both looked at her questioningly as she finished her sentence. They still wore skeptical expressions. Nevertheless Erina pressed onward. “I’ll not be using any names, I’m only going to ask about a hypothetical patient with hypothetical symptoms. I promise.”

“Can we trust her?” Dio asked, levelling Jonathan with a serious look. The look that spread across the young Joestar’s face was scandalized. “What kind of question is that!? Of course, we can trust her. Why do you think I brought her here?!”

Dio shrugged as if he wasn’t exactly sold, “If you’re sure then…” Jonathan was about to open his mouth but Erina turned an irritated eye to him. “Hold out your arms.”

“What? I’ll do no such thing.”

“Hold them out, Dio, and let me bandage them. Your last attempt was shoddy.”

Dio’s face contorted in irritation. “Excuse me? I did a wonderful job, you just need your eyes checked. I don’t need you to redo my bandages.”

Her hands firmly stayed on her hips while she fixed him with narrowed eyes. “Dio, your hands are injured. I can at least put them on properly, be sensible. I’ll be quick about it too. Consider it an olive branch of sorts, alright? So that we can work together.”

He sniffed imperiously at her answer. “I… suppose I can accept that.” That sort of answer garnered some irritated mumbles from Erina, things about how he should’ve been the one to extend an olive branch after what he did but she wanted to see this situation through. Dio could hear all of it and the corners of his mouth turned up into a devious smile at hearing her frustration. The smile grew even bigger as he presented his hands to her and it garnered another round of mumbling.

Both Jonathan and Dio, though one would never admit it, watched intently and with awe as Erina made quick work of the bandages. She deftly wound the fabric around his thin fingers with practiced ease, only asking occasionally if Dio was in pain which only earned her shrugs. In moments like these, she was every bit a doctor’s daughter.

“There,” she said finally. She leaned back to check her work proudly and both Jonathan and Dio marvelled at it themselves.

“Perhaps it is for the best that you did that…” Dio murmured, no sense of malice in his voice. He truly couldn’t have done better and he was self-aware enough to know it. Though the smug look on Erina’s face made him wish he hadn’t said anything at all. Was it too late to take back such a comment?

But Erina didn’t boast, despite the insufferable look. “I should make my way back home now… Father might get nervous” she told them. “I’ll be back tomorrow hopefully with some answers.”

Jonathan immediately reached forward to take her hand. “I-I’ll walk you home then!” Dio rolled his eyes at the other boy’s flushed cheeks. Honestly? Just from that? But he let it slide for now. Erina herself wore a matching expression, flustered yet a little enchanted.

“O-Oh, alright then Jojo, thank you! Um…” she paused, trying to gather her thoughts. “I think tonight, maybe you should try to catch a small animal, Jojo. And if you’re willing Dio, you can see if that staves off any cravings you might desire without harming anyone. I believe I can provide you with something that could help with sun exposure too actually. Not that I enjoy the idea of lending you my belongings but you won’t be any help confined to your bed.”

“What belongings might you have that would be of necessity to me?” Dio asked with a raised brow, irritation creeping into his voice. This girl spoke far too much for her own good.

As if proving his point Erina was quick with an answer. “That’s for me to know and you to discover when I bring it tomorrow. I owe you no explanations.”

Dio shrugged nonchalantly, like he was already bored of this conversation and waved them off. “As long as Jojo doesn’t bring back something disgusting and beneath me like a frog and you refrain from giving me something hideous then I wouldn’t mind putting you both to the test.”

“Alright then Dio, I’ll do my best!” Jonathan declared, ready to throw himself into the task. Erina couldn’t help the fond snicker that escaped her and Jonathan’s face took on a pink tinge once again. “But I’ll take you home first, don’t worry about it.”

She flashed a bashful grin in his direction. “Don’t fret Jojo, I’m not worried at all,” she replied easily and made for the door. Pausing in the doorway she turned to look over her shoulder and hesitated.

“Goodnight to you, Dio.” She finally said after a moment before walking out with Jojo. Dio wasn’t sure how her presence could make him both reassured and tense at the same, but at least she had some idea of what she was doing. It was a small comfort but a comfort nonetheless and a surprising one as well.

Erina Pendleton? A comfort to him? How ridiculous. That would be like calling Jojo a comfort.

Chapter Text

...What on earth is this?” Dio asked incredulously, looking at the girl before him like she was mad.

“A parasol Dio, are you blind? I’m sure you’re aware of what this is.”

“I mean, of course I know, I just can’t seem to fathom why you’re offering such a thing to me.”

Erina felt her patience growing thin. She was trying to do a nice thing after all and he had to make everything so difficult, didn’t he?

“It’s to help with your sun problem,” she said with an irritated sigh. “I never really use this one. I was hit with inspiration last night and dug this up after speaking with father. If you don’t want it though I suppose I can just return it home…”

Dio’s hand shot out quickly and snatched the proffered umbrella. He looked it over carefully, leaning against the stonework in the hall of the Joestar mansion. The object in question was made of fine cream cloth and overlaid with black lace.

“Well…” he started, not meeting her eyes and instead continuing to marvel at the object in his hands. Erina steeled herself for a nasty comment. “I have to say, I’m surprised. You have quite impeccable taste.”

For a moment she hardly believed what she was hearing and the look of shock on her face reflected it.

“Careful Pendleton, if you keep your mouth open like that there’s no knowing what might fly in. Honestly, is hearing a mild compliment that jarring for you?” Dio teased. She managed to recover her senses enough to wear an indignant expression at his words but it was no doubt undermined by the burning embarrassment on her face.

“Only when it’s coming from you,” she bit out. Her arms crossed in frustration. After everything that had transpired the last thing she wanted was for Dio to amuse himself by laughing at her now.

The smug, teasing glint of delight in his eyes dimmed after a moment and his gaze returned to the parasol in his hand. “Thank you though. I suppose I owe you that much. Just don’t expect this to be returned quickly.”

If Erina had thought his compliment was a shock it was nothing compared to how surprised she was that he even so much as thanked her. She tried not to look so satisfied at his thank you, after all it did nothing to excuse his attitude but she felt a smile threatening on her lips regardless. “You’re welcome then. This is yours for however long you need it. When the idea came to me I remembered that the black lace helped blot out the sun a bit more… I figured that would be useful” she replied.

Whatever else either of them had to say was cut short when Jonathan bounded from another room, gesturing for them to follow. “I told the maid we’d take tea in the library, it’s always kind of quiet in there so it’s a good place for us to sort this out!” The two blondes looked to him and nodded, shuffling after him.

The Joestar’s library was large and multi-leveled, each wall holding large shelves, littered with what seemed like hundreds of tomes. Different couches and seats were gathered together like little islands in a sea of books. Erina felt like she could faint right there and then. How could someone read all of those books in their lifetime? How could anyone find the time to even sort or organize them?

She had to collect herself. Now was not the time for silly questions, it was time for the three of them to work. The unlikely allies sat at a collection of chairs in the corner, Dio of course doing so with an obnoxious flourish. The seats themselves were tucked behind a rather massive bookcase. It was far removed from the large, curtained windows that dotted the far wall. The heavy drapery was pulled closed, obviously for Dio’s peace of mind. A maid followed the group to their resting spot, setting a tea set and plate of biscuits on a table in front of them before quickly scurrying off. The three kept a steady gaze on the outsider in an effort to make sure she was well and truly out of the room before they started their discussion.

“Well I spoke to my father…” Erina began. The attention of both boys snapped to her. “I asked him about your symptoms without using your name, obviously. He um, scolded me for reading books about vampires but I lied and said I had heard some other girls talking of them. From what he said though, all of these symptoms aren’t something shared by a known disease… he laughed and told me it was all fiction and not to be filling my head with scary ideas.”

Jonathan, despite his furrowed brow, attempted to look for the positive. “So… that was a bust. On the bright side, Dio ate the bird I caught for him this morning! That helped right?”

“I suppose it did indeed take the edge off of my craving but I swear Jojo, must you play with the dead thing’s carcass? That was sickening, even to me, and I’m the one who killed it,” Dio replied with a sneer.

Jonathan’s frowned. “It wasn’t sickening, it was fascinating! It was all flat and empty of blood, I’d never seen anything like it!” Disgust was etched further on to Dio’s face with every word.

“I’m going to try to forget I heard that. In any case, yes, your revolting little experiment worked and I can drink the blood of animals to curb my hunger. That being said, that is just a short term solution. If there is no medical reason for this condition how are we going to get rid of it? There has to be a way to reverse the effects, no?” The lack of answers was obviously leaving Dio tense.

“Well, maybe we can start at the mask!” Jonathan volunteered. He rose to his feet and returned enthusiastically with a short stack of books. “I asked father about it last night and he told me of the mask’s origins! My mother bought it back around the time I was born and he keeps the artifact on display as a means of honoring her memory.”

Dio scowled, pinning a deadly glare on Jojo. “You spoke to father about this? Are you a fool!? If it’s not the good doctor driving a stake through my heart now, then it will surely be him taking the reins instead!” His voice, as full of anger as it was, still seemed to hold a sense of real alarm.

To his credit, Jonathan looked dismayed. “N-No! I said nothing about that. I merely asked where it came from! Apparently it hails from an ancient society originating in the Mexican territory and so I decided to take a look through our library. We don’t have a lot of books about the subject here, but I found a few that we can look into.”

Wonderful. Dusty old books from dusty old scholars, sounds like the perfect solution,” Dio drawled dismissively. Erina immediately jumped to Jonathan’s defense.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea actually! The mask is what turned you, it will likely be the key to turning you back don’t you think? I’m sure any information we find out relating to it will be a help.” She leveled a glare at Dio for good measure and she watched with satisfaction as he rolled his eyes. “While we’re working on this though… I think something important needs to be done,” Erina continued, her expression turning into a more sober one. “Your father, you’re going to have to tell him something.”

They both leaned forward as if to protest but Erina held up her hand. “Listen, I’m aware that you cannot tell him everything but it’s imperative he at least know about the issue with the sun. If not, the situation can potentially get dangerous!”

Dio narrowed his eyes but didn’t even attempt to refute her claims. She was right, he just hated that she was. Jonathan on the other hand spoke up. “What on earth are we supposed to say then!? H-He can’t know the full details of what has transpired. Plus, he won’t believe us if we tell him the truth!”

“You tell a half-truth,” she stated, as if it were the most obvious answer. Dio seemed mildly surprised by the ease of such an answer. However, when Jonathan still looked a little lost and very alarmed she continued with an explanation. “You tell him that the mask did fall on Dio after roughhousing and that he seems to have contracted some sort of disease from the mask itself. You talk about the issue with sunlight and the obvious physical changes, maybe say something about a smaller appetite and leave it at that.”

Jonathan blinked for a moment, processing all the information she had just told him before nodding. “So… I tell him he’s contracted an unknown illness at the hands of the mask? An ancient disease from the earliest civilizations!” He seemed a little more excited about that last part than he should have.

“...You don’t have to go quite that far Jojo,” Erina remarked with a slight teasing tone.

His expression turned sheepish. “I’ll admit, it sounds like a good idea even though I’m not thrilled at the prospect of telling father. Are you sure it will work?”

“Well, I can’t be sure of anything Jojo but I’m confident in it.”

Jonathan turned his attention to Dio who shrugged. “As long as this guarantees I don’t die from your idiotic father demanding the curtains be opened in my presence, then you can tell the man whatever you want.”

“That’s settled then I suppose…” Jonathan responded weakly, obviously unsure of how smoothly this was going to go. “I’ll talk to him tonight after dinner.”

Despite the strong faith from Erina and the aloof indifference of Dio, Jonathan still felt dread at the idea of speaking to his father.


 

To Jonathan’s utter surprise the admission went better than expected. He approached his father after dinner just as he had planned and had to swallow the urge to run off. He refused to be a coward about this, after all, Dio’s plight was his fault. So instead he squared his shoulders and faced George Joestar like a man.

Or at least like a very nervous twelve year old boy.

“Father, there’s something I must speak with you about,” he announced, a hint of a nervous tremor in his voice. The seriousness of his tone must have clued George in and he turned to face his son with concern.

“Is everything quite alright, Jojo?” The look in his eyes gave Jonathan pause. He didn’t exactly enjoy lying to his father and he knew it would be worse if he was caught in the lie but he couldn’t back down now. Jonathan shook his head in response and instead launched into the version of the story Erina had mapped out for them earlier. When he’d finished recounting the modified tale George stood in silence for a moment.

Jonathan was sweating. Could his father tell he had left some parts out?

“We must call the family doctor at once,” George declared. This was not the response Jonathan was expecting and not a potential outcome he had considered. Though, in hindsight, he really should have. In response his hands rose almost in defense.

“Father, no!” Jonathan’s words were desperate. The urgency with which his son spoke gave George pause but Jonathan allowed him no time to speak. “My friend from town, Erina Pendleton, her father is a doctor and he can’t seem to figure out any sort of disease that matches the symptoms.”

George looked unconvinced. “Yes, but he is a country doctor, Jojo… one we have no prior engagements with. Our physician has a long history of experience with our family.”

There was no helping the pleading tone Jonathan’s voice took on. “But father, there is no known solution. You would only be wasting your time and subjecting Dio to unnecessary examinations that would just do more harm than good.” Dio would no doubt be enraged with him if he had to undergo a physical examination. However, George’s expression remained unchanged. In a last ditch effort to hopefully sway his father, Jonathan tried to provide an alternative course of action. “Whatever this disease is, it no doubt comes from the area in Mexico where the mask was found! Maybe with more information we can figure something out…”

There was another stretch of silence from George that left Jonathan incredibly tense.

“I suppose you are right,” he finally spoke, breaking the silence. It took everything Jonathan had not to punch the air in triumph. “We shouldn’t put Dio through something like that, especially if his disease is debilitating. He would no doubt be embarrassed about such attention. Instead, I will simply acquire answers from our family physician about these symptoms and later look into the origins of the mask. We will do our part to help Dio, I promise you Jojo.”

With a reassuring squeeze to his shoulder, his father then excused himself to retire to his study.

Jonathan promptly sagged against the wall in relief. He had done it, somehow.

The week after George had learned of Dio’s “symptoms” was a serious adjustment period. They all had to get used to constantly closed curtains in the middle of the day and Dio walking around in multiple layers of clothes in the summer heat. Long sleeves, high collars and leather gloves were to be the staples of his wardrobe now. It was better to be safe than sorry.

After so long being cooped up Dio was getting restless. He needed to walk around, to do something other than hide in the miserable cave he called a room. Dressed for winter on this June day and armed with the gifted parasol from Erina he finally took his first steps out during the day since his change.

It was terrifying to say the least. Knowing that mere layers of fabric shielded his body from critical injury or worse was a heavy weight on his mind as he trudged up the country streets toward town. His main course of action was to simply spend the day perusing a bookstore and return home with something new to read. Hopefully avoiding anything with a subject matter involving the supernatural.

Any plans of an uneventful town trip however, were dashed in his mind the moment he noticed his “friends” parading among themselves up the road. The lackeys he had recruited to make Jonathan’s life a living hell were crude but necessary in his previous plans. Now, however, the thought of even talking to them made him feel tired. It had only been a week since he’d last seen them but so much had changed in such a short amount of time and Jojo had not brought him a meal in a few days. He had no patience to deal with them, or anyone for that matter.

He had hoped to walk by unnoticed by the small group, praying the parasol above his head would cover his face enough that they would not recognize him. Unfortunately, the umbrella was instead like a beacon of attention and the boys realized who it was immediately.

“Oi, Dio!” One goon with curly hair shouted, leading the pack over to him. Another with a rather large nose looked him up and down. Dio bristled.

“The hell’s with your eyes? And all them clothes for that matter--it's June, innit? Ain’t that a girly parasol?”

Dio turned his gaze to the one with prying questions with all the dignity of a King. After all, among this group he was King holding court with the witless village nobodies he never bothered learning the names of. “I’ve been ill,” he spoke evenly, trying his best to keep agitation from seeping into his voice. “...and this was a gift.”

“A gift? Who from? Why’re ya holding it?”

He was about to remind the curious crowd that it was none of their damn business until another piped up, leaning forward to inspect the parasol. Dio leaned back with a clear look of displeasure on his face. “Hey, this is Erina’s isn’t it? I’ve seen her walking around with it before!”

“Perhaps you’re right,” Dio answered coolly finding no reason to tell them otherwise. The group seemed to murmur amongst themselves before the loud curly haired one spoke once more.

“Well then! Guess you ended up really charming her in the end if she’s givin’ you a token, eh Dio? Showing her affections to both you and Jojo? Well, she’s more like her dear old mother than we thought, ain’t that right boys?”

There was a story there between the lines. He paid no attention to whatever congratulations they were trying to throw his way for whatever reason. It was ridiculous anyway. Instead his eyes snapped once again to curly hair. “Now whatever do you mean by that? Like her mother?” While he could care less about Erina as a person and whatever these idiots thought their relationship happened to be, knowledge was power. Knowing even these secondhand rumors would only serve him well in his future dealings with her.

His pet neanderthals did not disappoint.

“Oh right, you weren’t around when she first showed up so you never heard!” One started. Dio looked to him expectantly to continue. “Y’see, that quack of a father of hers, when they moved here he had apparently just been divorced! Rumor has it that the old lady was cheating on him with a bunch of patients.”

“I heard she was with other doctors! That she slept her way through the hospital!”

“Really? I heard it was both… and she was with ‘em right in his office!”

“Hm, I see,” Dio answered, letting that information sink in. Obviously there wasn’t a single person in the group who had a full story he could trust, but this was interesting on its own. For some reason he had always assumed Erina was like him or Jojo. That her mother had passed away. To know otherwise, well he was sure it was to be valuable as information she didn’t yet know he possessed.

When Dio deigned to listen again to the conversation he found it harder to keep his composure. His patience was already wearing thinner and thinner but the things these simpletons were saying were just disgusting.

“Oi, Dio, when can we have a turn with her?”

“You are plannin’ to share aren’t ya?”

“If she’s anything like her old lady then I’m sure she’ll be more than willin’.”

Dio grit his teeth to avoid lashing out. He held no affection or care for Pendleton but the complete lack of manners being displayed was abhorrent. What? Was he back on Ogre Street in London?

“I, Dio, never share. Do not forget that,” he said matter-of-factly and left that as their answer. He had no reason to say anymore or correct them, let them think what they wanted if it kept them in his thrall with minimal effort.

“Not even her stupid favors?” The one with the large hooked nose jeered, reaching out and pulling at the parasol in his grip. Dio’s reaction was immediate. His hand closed in a fist and struck the other boy hard right in the throat before the parasol could be ripped from his hands. The rest of the group watched in abject horror and mild fear as their companion crumpled to his knees. Dio’s eyes on the other hand were cold as he watched the buffoon writhe on the ground gasping in pain.

It served him right. If that parasol had been taken from him he could have burned to death in the sun. Dio sniffed in disinterest and turned on his heel with a flourish. “Do not cross me or attempt to touch my things. Let this be a lesson to all of you,” he stated with an edge of irritation before walking back towards the Joestar manor.

With every step he took he felt his anger grow. His legs shook from the fear of almost dying at the hands of someone so idiotic and the fact that those blithering fools made him not even want to walk to town. The idea of going back to that prison of a mansion now was depressing but what was he to do? His grip on the parasol tightened.

So this is what his life was going to be now? Perpetually on guard for the next cretin to ruin his day and kill him accidentally? Perhaps he’d go and drain the blood from that oaf in his sleep for attempting to cross him--

“Dio! H-Hey!”

His head snapped in the direction of the voice, the expression on his face dark and in no mood for games, only to find Jonathan waving at him from Erina’s side. The two had made themselves comfortable in the shade of their waterside tree while they had been reading, judging from the collection of books at either side of them. Jonathan recoiled immediately from Dio’s withering look and tried poorly to hide the fact that his head had been resting in Erina’s lap.  

“Returning back home already?” Jonathan asked, his voice already weak and uncertain just from a look.

That thought made Dio want to smile at least. “What does it matter to you, Jojo?” He asked, not wanting to disclose what really happened to anyone, let alone to them of all people.

Jonathan seemed conflicted for a moment, running his hand through his hair before he looked back over at Dio. “Well, you have been cooped up in the mansion for so long, you should join us here. We’re doing some research together and enjoying the day so you should too… if you’re not busy. We are a team after all.”

“Calling us a team is far too generous, Jojo get that right. We are more like unwilling co-conspirators. But, if you’re so desperate for my company perhaps I can join you. After all, you’re working hard to rectify the wrongs you’ve committed against me,” Dio drawled, making his way over to the two. His eyes glanced over and saw the idiotic heart that Jonathan had carved into the tree only days before and elected to ignore it.

The way Erina rolled her eyes, still nose deep in her book, didn’t escape his notice. In an effort to irritate the both of them he muscled his way between the two, leaning back against the trunk of the large tree with parasol in hand. He stretched out like he had not a care in the world and the look on both Jojo and Erina’s faces screamed irritation.

He loved it.

There was a silence that stretched between them that seemed awkward due to his inclusion. If Dio was ruining their little casual date he really didn’t care one bit. Instead he was enjoying the fresh air, free from the confines of his luxury prison. He hardly paid attention as Erina and Jonathan finally broke the silence and began trading facts about Aztec civilizations and human sacrifices. All very morbid topics for people their age but he supposed that was the situation they found themselves in now.

Either way, he was apathetic. If it was not directly about him he found their banter to be irrelevant.

“You know,” Dio spoke up finally, after about fifteen minutes of useless chatter. “I haven’t eaten in three days Jojo and I’m feeling peckish.” Jonathan knew exactly what he meant about eating, it had been difficult for him to find small animals for him to drink from for the past few days after all. Jonathan let out a soft ‘oh!’ and rose to his feet. “...Actually, I have an idea Dio, don’t you worry!” he responded, with almost too much cheer. He really just wanted to see Jonathan do some menial task for him for a while, he didn’t expect that he’d have some sort of plan.

“Are you going to offer up that mutt of yours for my evening meal then?” he remarked with a nasty glint in his eye. The mangy thing was still an annoyance though it had learned to fear Dio. Better for the both of them if you asked him.

Jonathan fixed him with quite a look for a moment. Dio was almost impressed. “Don’t joke about Danny like that,” Jonathan said with an undercurrent of fire in his tone. The blond rolled his eyes but said nothing. Taking his silence for acquiescence, Jonathan continued on with his initial objective.

Dio’s eyes followed him with suspicion as he walked towards the water’s edge. He gave in far too easily to his demand. In his peripheral vision he saw Erina visibly tense, he supposed at being left alone with him.The gesture almost made him want to laugh.

“Relax, I’ve already stolen your first kiss, I’ve no need for a second,” he explained dismissively. He couldn’t help the small chuckle that escaped him when her grip tightened against the pages of her book. Perhaps it was mean-spirited after she had extended an olive branch but he was in much too foul a mood to care.

“Y-You--!” Erina started before the sound of splashing water cut them both off. Their attention snapped to Jonathan who was now sporting a soaked sleeve but holding a rather large green frog in his grasp. Both Dio and Erina seemed to shrink back in disgust as he advanced on them with the amphibious creature.

When Jonathan reached the two he stopped in front of Dio and offered up the slimy little beast. “I know I’ve been coming up short the past few days when it comes to finding things for you to eat, so… here! I thought this would be perfect,” he explained, gesturing for Dio to take the frog.

“First... f-first of all, are you insane Jojo!? That thing is disgusting and I REFUSE to touch it! Secondly, I recall they're cold-blooded, correct? I shouldn't be able to consume anything like that, so t-this is merely fruitless effort on your part!” The thought of having to put his lips on such a creature was repugnant. He was desperate but not that desperate.

Jonathan seemed to deflate a little at the idea that the frog was inedible but Erina spoke up. “Cold-blooded? That just means that it can’t handle living in colder climates, it’s perfectly fine to eat, Dio.” Between the saccharine sweet tone of her voice and the smug look on her face he knew she was doing this just to spite him. Jonathan turned to her and in turn swung the disgusting creature near her face. Dio couldn’t help the laugh that escaped him as she jumped back with an unladylike yelp.

“D-DON’T BRING THAT THING NEAR ME… but, but you should give it to Dio!” she yelled in a panic, trying her best to distance herself from the frog. Once again Jonathan turned back to Dio who had paled considerably. “You know,” Jonathan told him, “if you don’t want it you can just wait until tomorrow to eat something else.”

“I haven’t eaten in days, Jojo.”

Jonathan grinned and waved the thing in his face. “Then enjoy your meal, Dio.”

“You.. you insufferable…!--Fine. Fine. I’ll eat it. ” Dio hissed out through gritted teeth, only accepting the offer out of desperation for food. “I cannot believe I’m actually doing this.” Jonathan dropped down on the grass, sitting cross legged in front of him. He took the frog from the other’s grasp with a shiver of revulsion and held it as far away from his face as possible.

The look of excitement in Jojo’s eyes was completely off-putting. Erina had turned to look at him too, eyes wide with morbid curiosity. “...You’re a disgusting boy, did you know that?” Dio said meeting Jonathan’s eyes for a moment.

“I’m not the one here eating a frog,” he fired back with unabashed excitement.

“For survival. You’re the one observing like a curious little goblin,” Dio responded. There was nothing more to say though and as the seconds stretched on he regretted this more and more. With a deep breath Dio brought the frog close to his mouth and with a loud ‘UGH’ sank his teeth into the creature. Despite the awful feeling of the slimy thing against his lips and his captive audience, the warm blood that flooded his mouth was worth it in the end. He felt himself rejuvenated with every sip he took and left not a drop in it’s body.

When he was finished the frog was little more than a shriveled up corpse which he tossed at Jojo’s feet, who of course didn’t hesitate to pick it up and marvel at the body. “This is so fascinating! Erina look at this!” he exclaimed, holding it out to her.

Erina flinched, her back hitting the trunk of the tree. “Jojo! I-If I didn’t want to see it up close when it was living what makes you think I want to see it up close now!?” she cried, hoping that would be the end of Jonathan’s attempts.

He was quiet for a moment, mulling over an answer to that. “Well, won’t you want to see what effect having its blood drained completely has on it’s organs?” The silence from Erina and the furtive looks she cast at the frog’s corpse made it obvious that Jonathan had presented a compelling argument.

“You are both revolting, I hope you know that.”

“We’re not the ones who ate it.”

“Once again, it was for survival.”

Despite the traumatic ordeal of having to eat a frog and the irritation of having to socialize with the two of them, Dio found it more entertaining to spend an afternoon with Jonathan and Erina than any one of his previous companions. Those two knew of his condition and not only were actively working to find answers but were overall in possession of better manners, as much as he hated to admit it.

Soon enough, he was poring through books with them as well… or distracting them. More often it was the latter. Weeks were spent at the waterside talking, arguing and sharing. There were lazy days and productive days and surprisingly enough he didn’t hate it.

...But he certainly didn’t like it either.

Chapter Text

The days blended into weeks and the weeks into a solid month as the trio spent most of their free time at the riverside. Each afternoon they spent together served to broaden their knowledge of the stone mask, as well as reduce the amount of animosity between them. To the surprise of everyone, once the boys from town rolled around to see if Dio wanted to join them on whatever adventure they had planned that day, Dio coldly declined.

While they appeared irritated by his icy rebuff, and his choice to spend time with Jojo and Erina of all people, they dared not say anything in Dio’s presence. They had witnessed first hand what he could do to those who crossed him. The only thing Dio truly appreciated about these interactions now was the spark of fear that seemed to pop up in their eyes the moment he fixed them with a questioning gaze. Anyone who dared disparaged his name would face his wrath.

On a particularly hot day both boys showed up at their usual meeting spot with unusual news. Jonathan climbed into the waiting branches of their tree, George’s pipe in hand as he awaited Erina’s arrival. Dio by comparison leaned against the trunk, parasol safely covering his head from the stray sunbeams that filtered in through the leaves.

“Oh it’s so hard to wait, I wonder what’s taking her so long!?”

“Patience Jojo, she’s merely a few minutes late. I’m sure she’ll arrive at any moment. Just puff on Lord Joestar’s pipe and stop bothering me,” Dio muttered in annoyance, shutting his eyes.

However, a few minutes turned into something much longer. That is until forty minutes later when Erina trudged over to their meeting spot, looking paler than her usual.

“Oh! You’re here!”

“It’s about damn time…”

Both boys made their declarations simultaneously as Erina took her spot under the tree. She took a breath and finally summoned a smile which didn’t quite reach her eyes. “I-I’m sorry, my father had something to discuss with me before I left this afternoon. It seems you two have something exciting to tell me about though, judging by the look on Jojo’s face.” She managed a laugh afterward, watching Jonathan swing his legs back and forth from his perch.

Jonathan to his credit looked a little worried at Erina’s state but decided to pry possibly later when they were alone. For now he wanted to wow her with the news.

“Right you are!” he informed her with a grin and flourish that almost knocked him from the tree. Jonathan’s arms windmilled a few times before he regained his balance and a new look of embarrassment. Dio couldn’t help but let out a low laugh at the spectacle. “A-Anyway… my father approached us about a trip! One to find the root of Dio’s illness and possibly treat it in Mexico!”

“A trip to Mexico?” Erina echoed, not expecting something like that to be his answer. “Your father actually suggested that?”

Jonathan nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, he did! He had noticed how hard we were researching--”

“And then he had the nerve to call the bloody family doctor like we had expressly told him not to,” Dio cut in, irritation present in his voice. Jonathan rolled his eyes, letting the blond finish his tirade before continuing on. “Anyway,” he started with a little impatience, “He noticed our research and consulted our family doctor, thinking that maybe finding the source of the mask we might perhaps find the source of the illness! It was rather ingenious! We leave in a week.”

Dio sniffed. “Please, the last thing we need is for that busybody doctor to be inquiring about my symptoms because your father was loose lipped… but I suppose the journey is welcome.”

A thoughtful look crossed Erina’s face as she glanced between them. “You do realize your father is going to be looking for a cure for a disease that really does not exist, right? You need to look for something more supernatural in nature rather than scientific.” She hoped they had a plan at their disposal.

Luckily both boys didn’t seem quite fazed by what she had said. In fact, Jonathan actually puffed out his chest in pride when she brought that up. “You see Erina, I have spoken to father about the route we might take and convinced him to follow my idea! On our way down through Mexico we should hug the Rio Dada. The mask was found in a temple toward the south of the river, so who knows what sort of other landmarks we might find along the northern banks!”

Dio rolled his eyes at Jonathan’s obvious delight in twisting George Joestar’s arm to do what he wanted. The man bent so easily it wasn’t as big of a feat as Jojo made it out to be.

“We hope to be able to write you... as we take on this journey. We know you wouldn't be allowed to come along, as much as we'd appreciate that…” Jonathan murmured. He leaned back against the branches of his tree and tried to hide his face somewhat. Had it gotten warmer outside?

“Trust me, this is not a ‘we’ thing, Jojo just wants to curry favor with you. However, I suppose you’re entitled to a few updates every now and then so I’m not quite opposed to it…” Dio remarked, picking at his nails as if he was hardly interested in his two companions.

Erina couldn’t help the way her face twisted up in despair at their words. The bleak mood that seemed to be restrained when she approached their normal spot came back ten fold. She didn’t make eye contact with either of them as she sat at the base of the tree. “I’m afraid...” she started, her voice trembling with sadness, “that you won’t be able to reach me.”

“W-What?! Why not!?” Jonathan asked incredulously, nearly pitching forward out of the branches. Even Dio raised his head in mild shock. “Where on earth would you go where we would not be able to reach you?” the blond asked testily.

“India… My father’s been tasked with a position as a physician in the colony. We are to pick up and leave within the month. From what you’ve said, I won’t have an address or anything to provide you with before we go…”

When her father Graham had broken the news to her that afternoon Erina ran to her room in tears. Finally, this sleepy countryside town, much like the one she’d been born in, had finally felt like home. She had finally found a confidant, a friend and a gentleman in Jonathan and she’d found… something in Dio. As much as she hated what he had done to her and as much as he irritated her they at least reached something of an understanding.

Now however, she’d have to leave behind the one place she’d been happy since her life had turned upside down two years ago. The thought was crushing.

Finally, the branch beneath Jonathan gave way as he leaned forward in shock. Before he actually hit the ground he managed to catch himself on a low-hanging branch, making his descent less painful but no less embarrassing. When he finally let go and landed with a soft thud in the grass he sat carefully next to Erina. The last time he had seen Erina this upset the encounter with Dio was fresh in her mind. He never wanted to see her look like this again.

“I-India!? How could he? You haven’t even been living here that long, right?” The words fell from Jonathan’s lips in a panic. She shook her head in response, looking most defeated. “Apparently it’s a wonderful opportunity for father and for the people of India,” she remarked softly, “it isn’t as if he ever stops working so I suppose he would see it that way... but I doubt he’s truly the gift to the Indian subcontinent that he seems to think he is.”

Jonathan cast a look in Dio’s direction, half expecting the blond to be wearing a grin of victory. Instead he looked neutral. Perhaps too neutral, considering the way his clenched fists seemed to betray this facade. It almost seemed as if he was as irritated with this news as Jonathan was. When Dio’s eyes drifted from Erina to Jonathan, they only narrowed further. “A disappointment to the end then…” Dio ground his teeth together, gaze pulling away from his dismayed companions and fixing them to the lake instead.

Eventually the three of them looked on at the water in silence. Dio still attempting to appear unfazed, Jonathan looking perturbed and upset and Erina between them with her knees drawn to her chest, hiding the devastated and withdrawn expression on her face.

“I wish you could come with us to Mexico…” Jonathan finally remarked, breaking the heavy silence between them. “You shouldn’t be alone in India or-- or even alone here. You should be with us!” Dio glanced at him from the corner of his eye with a scoff. “Could you not be so loud with your wishful thinking, Jojo? What is she to do? Stowaway on a steamer like something out of a wish-fulfilling novel? Don’t be ridiculous.”

Suddenly a gasp rose from between the two. Erina’s posture immediately shot up revealing her red, streaked face despite how much she had tried to hide her crying. Gone was the sadness that had gripped her earlier, instead she was struck with a manic look of inspiration.

She looked from side to side at the boys, quickly appraising each of them before turning back to Dio once more. “Dio, I need a favor!”

“I’m not in the business of doing favors,” he drawled with an air of smug superiority. There was a gleam in his eye though, one that suggested he was at least... somewhat interested in what she was planning. The dismayed shout of “A favor!?” from Jonathan behind her only made the smirk grow on Dio’s face.

“Don’t play coy with me,” Erina huffed. “Listen, I let you use my parasol, right? Consider that the equivalent exchange then.”

“Oh, is that it? What is it that you want then, Erina darling?”

Her nose wrinkled at the endearment spilling from his lips. She opted to ignore it and continued. “I want a pair of your trousers.” She declared after a moment and watched as Dio’s face morphed from incredulous to blatant intrigue. “ Oh really?” he purred, in a fruitless effort to embarrass her. Jonathan seemed to be making choking noises beside them.

“I don’t mean those trousers specifically, please don’t be so lecherous,” she remarked coolly, brushing him off. “I just mean a pair you have--your plainest ones--that you don’t enjoy wearing.” Neither boy seemed to be satisfied with that explanation.

Jonathan’s confusion was palpable. “Why would you need a pair of his pants? Why do you need them at all?” He didn’t understand why she had asked for them in the first place, let alone ones from Dio and not him.

She sighed and directed a sweet smile in his direction that made him melt. “Jojo, I believe yours would be too big for what I need. Dio is more slender. If yours fit what I had planned I no doubt would have asked you first.” That was enough to satisfy him, as noted by the smile gracing Jonathan's lips, content in the fact that Erina would have consulted him.

“Well then, what are they for?” Dio asked, leaning in for an answer.

“None of your business. Will you give them to me or not?”

Dio looked pensive for a minute as if thoroughly mulling it over. It was all for show. From the very moment she asked that question he knew he would provide what she needed. Not only did he owe her for the parasol but he was eager to see what she would do with them. He had a bit of an idea, but was convinced the young Miss Pendleton hadn’t the spine to follow through with his suggestion and actually stow away. Or did she?

After two painful drawn out minutes he relented. “I suppose I can lend you a pair or two of my more... unfortunate breeches.”

The grin that spread across Erina’s face was so different from the sad, withdrawn expression from before he could only wonder what she had cooked up in that strange brain of hers. He rose to his feet, looking down at his two companions.

“Well, hurry it up then. We’re running out of daylight and you need to return home at a reasonable hour, don’t you? I have things to pick out for you.”

He didn’t wait for them as he turned and walked back to the Joestar Manor, he simply just expected them to follow behind him. They did not disappoint.

It did not take long for the trio to slip into Dio’s room undiscovered. Dio rooted through the elegant dark wooden bureau on one side of his bedroom, looking for the worst of his trousers and even throwing in a few discolored, moth eaten shirts. In the end, the garments neatly piled on his arm consisted of four pairs of pants and three shirts. As he turned to address them he found only Erina, sitting patiently on the end of his four poster bed.

“...And where has Jojo run off to?”

“Oh, he ran out not too long after you started looking. I am not quite sure what he’s planning but he looked awfully proud of himself,” Erina responded with a fond smile along her lips. Dio couldn’t help but roll his eyes. “Speak of the devil…” He murmured as the door opened once more and Jonathan made his way inside.

“Um… while I don’t know what you could have possibly wanted with Dio’s trousers, if you want to wear them properly you’re going to need these!” he declared, foisting a few pairs of intricately patterned knee socks and a set of suspenders in her direction. What a love-struck fool.

It seemed that the doctor’s daughter however, did not share that sentiment as her earlier adoration blossomed into a full blown grin. “Jojo… you didn’t have to--” Erina began but Jonathan cut her off. “I-I wanted to, though! If Dio is willing to provide you with something I want to do the same… I-I want you to be able to count on me, Erina!”

As both their faces flushed, Dio was convinced he was going to be sick right there in his room if they didn’t stop this instant.

“Ah, what a quaint little moment. You might want to make haste instead of gazing into each other’s eyes though, yes? The sun is beginning to set and Doctor Pendleton would no doubt be cross to discover his dear, well-mannered daughter returning home not only late, but with an armful of boys clothing. Do you not agree?” Dio asked in a teasing tone.

Both Erina and Jonathan snapped to attention. “A-Ah, right,” Jonathan agreed, holding out his arm for her. “Allow me to walk you home then.” Erina nodded and gently laid her hand over his offered elbow. Before they strolled out into the early evening, she turned with a small smile and gentle voice.

“Thank you for your help, Dio.”

He simply waved them off and went to retrieve a book from his nightstand.

Chapter Text

- First Week of July, 1880 -

The end of the week had finally arrived and while Mexico seemed to be the only thing the boys could talk about, it was the only thing Erina could think about. It had been a snap decision to ask for Dio’s clothes and an even bigger one to actually follow through with what she had planned, but she couldn’t deny how badly she wanted to go with them.

Jonathan spent most of their recent afternoons together gushing about the route they intended to take once they reached Mexican territory, between catching frogs for Dio’s unfortunate dinners. He also spoke in depth about the Italian archaeological team that had originally excavated the mask, led by an older gentleman with an odd sounding Z name, and a tragic accident at sea that left no survivors. Because of the constant chatter between them, it only took a brief exchange for Erina to find out which ship the Joestars would be riding to the States, the RMS Pantera. They were set to arrive at the loading docks promptly around twelve noon.

At the morning of the boys’ departure, Erina woke from a restless slumber as the door to her home shut loudly. Her father had no doubt just left for work. According to her bedside clock it was six o’clock on the dot, and in one hour the Pendleton family’s lone maid Nellie would shuffle upstairs to wake her to start the day. That meant Erina had a little under an hour to gather what she needed, nerve included, and do exactly what she set out to do.

In record time, Erina rolled out from under her comforter. At the foot of her bed sat a cedar chest, and promptly she began removing all of the blankets and shawls neatly folded inside to locate the large carpet bag hidden underneath. She had safely stored it away from prying eyes, and now that the time had come to set everything in motion? Erina Pendleton, eleven years old, got to work. Like the cedar chest she rifled through her wardrobe, throwing aside everyday dresses and sleepers until she came across the clothing Dio and Jonathan had given her, hung with two of her plainest dresses. While she knew there was no time to dawdle, Erina could not fight the urge to give herself a triumphant pat on the back, having managed to get this far on her own. See? You’re doing good, she reassured herself, but we aren’t out of the woods yet.

With that affirmation, she hastily changed out of her nightgown, and into the clothes she had gotten from the boys.

The process of dressing was relatively fast although she fiddled with the suspenders quite a bit. Once she was done, she threw her two dresses into the bag and packed a few necessities lying idly around her room. For the final touch, she tucked her hair up under a cap she had taken two days prior. Erina was more than certain the boy who worked in their garden wouldn’t mind it going missing and would better appreciate the money she had left in its place.

Adjusting the cap one last time, she took this opportunity to stand at her doorway, taking stock of the room that had been hers for the last two years. It was quite a mess now that she had run through it like a tornado, clothes and objects strewn about. Her light blue and cream comforter crumpled in a heap and the drawers of her dresser and vanity tossed open. Erina wondered briefly if she would be gone from this room for long, or would fate have other things in store for her once her father caught wind of what she was planning. She glanced at the nearby clock.

Six-thirty.

There was no time to waste. This was now a test of her stealth as she tiptoed through the hallway to her father’s study in an attempt not to distract Nellie milling about downstairs. After holding her breath longer than she ever had to, Erina finally made it inside. Within Graham Pendleton’s study there were two things she was looking to procure: the medical encyclopedia kept untouched on a stacked bookshelf, and a few bottles of medicines and anesthetics stashed about. The encyclopedia was easy enough to snatch up, as it was a favorite of hers to peek through and her father hardly noticed when it was gone.

The medicine bottles on the shelf were a risk, as they could break in transport if she wasn’t careful, but retrieving them was worth it. She wrapped the bottles in some of the clothes from her bag and placed them on top of the encyclopedia, hoping that would cushion any potential tumbles. Now that she was well stocked and about as ready as she could be, Erina checked the time once more.

Six-forty four.

It was now or never and so she hurried back to her bedroom, some weight in her footsteps that she prayed Nellie wouldn’t overhear. Erina paused at the door, taking a moment to listen and see if she had been caught but was met with the usual morning silence. Thank goodness.

As quietly as she could, the young girl padded through her room and pushed open the window.

This was it.

Hauling her bag higher up on her shoulder she began the climb down the creeping ivy from her window. It was nerve-wracking and her shoulder screamed in pain from the weight pressing down into her joint, but in a few minutes she was down on the ground.

From there her plan was straightforward, as all she needed was to make her way to the docks. However, what would have been twenty minutes worth of travel by carriage wound up being a rather grueling walk. Despite the early hour, July was not kind to travelers and the heat bore down on Erina and her aching shoulders. She wondered if her disguise was working as well as she had hoped. Every time someone passed her on the cobblestone streets she couldn’t help but flinch. Was this actually working? She had no idea but she had to fake it until she made it.

When the docks were finally in her sights however, Erina Pendleton realized two things that caused her heart to sink into the pit of her stomach. The first was that she left no note for her father, who no doubt would be wondering where she had gone once Nellie discovered her missing--how could she have been so careless?! The second, and most important, was that she had no idea how she was going to get passage into the steamer in the first place.

All of that planning… all of her hard work… completely moot.

She stood there on the docks, gaping like a fish out of water at the RMS Pantera, wondering exactly how she was going to make it inside. The ship itself was imposing and bigger than any building she had ever seen, save for the Joestar Manor. It had a grandeur to it despite the industrial look and smokestacks. At this time, the Pantera was being loaded up with food and other supplies by a ragtag crew. While she gawked she unintentionally stepped too close to the workers as a burly man knocked her to the side with a gruff yell to ‘Get out the fuckin’ way.

As she stumbled back, Erina felt herself hitting another person who actually caught her.

“Oi lad, you might wanna watch where you’re goin’ and let the professionals do their job, alright then?”

Erina spun to face the man she had bumped into, an apology hastily falling from her lips.

“Oh, no need for apologies mate, I’m fine ‘n so are you, seems there was no harm done.”

Man was a generous description for the person in front of her, who seemed to be no older than seventeen. He stood tall enough that she had to look up at him but his bright brown eyes, despite their deep bags, and his large smile brought with them a sense of youthfulness not present elsewhere in the sorry collection that was to crew the steamer. His hair was bright blond and much longer than Erina had ever seen a man wear it before, with a bowler hat perched almost artfully on the top of his head.

However, his most distinctive feature was the large jagged scar that stretched from under his left eye down to his jaw. Something like that should have made him seem terrifying. To be fair, the man was imposing but something about his nature immediately set her slightly more at ease.

“The name’s Speedwagon. Robert E.O. Speedwagon,” he said, jutting his hand out for her to shake. Erina nearly jumped when he did so. He was loud and all of his movements seemed a little sudden but she calmed enough to shake it, trying (and failing) to match his firm grip.

“I-I’m…” Erina began, suddenly realizing she also hadn’t come up with a fake name either. For someone who had planned this for a week, she was doing a terrible job of ironing out the details. “I-I’m Erin!” she said suddenly.

Erin? Of all possible names? How original. This would never work. She just wished the ground to open up and swallow her whole right at that moment and save her from the inevitable--

“Oh, so you’re Irish then!” Or maybe it would. She could work with this.

Erina nodded, striving to bring her voice to a slightly lower octave. “On my mother’s side.” She wasn’t sure if that was true but she’d take it. Robert just smiled even wider at her. 

“Well then Erin, what brings you over to these here docks? Is it a job you’re looking for?”

She wasn’t sure what had brought Robert E.O. Speedwagon to her, whether it had been an act of God or sheer dumb luck, but she was thankful for him. He had just provided her with the solution she was looking for! “Um, yes actually! I was hoping the RMS Pantera would take me on. I’ll take anything wage wise, as long as I get some work! I’ll do anything!” Erina tried to keep her cool, but her voice inevitably got higher as her words became more desperate. She had to secure passage on that ship.

“You’re in luck Erin. I happen to be a crewmember on that there steamer, and admittedly, I know exactly how to grease the wheels and get you in.” Erina’s face lit up at his words. “But!” And then it immediately fell. “I’ve gotta see if you can handle this kinda work. Hm...” Robert brought his hand to his chin and looked at her with a stern, appraising glare. “Well… you’re a little scrawny I dunno if you could lift very much...” Erina tried very hard not to take offense to that but it still stung. “But maybe we could put you on kitchen duty and have you run errands for the staff.”

Erina’s eyes shone in the early morning light. “Ple... please sir! Anything!”

The hard look in his eyes melted into an indulgent smile. “Anything then…? Alright, if you help me get this crate onto the ship you’ve got my word that I’ll talk the higher ups into takin’ you on. Sound like we’ve got a deal?” He asked gesturing to a large crate, filled no doubt with food, to their right.

Erina nodded eagerly. “M-most definitely, sir!”

“No need for all that sir talk. Do I look like some Lord to you?” He asked with a snort. “It’s Robert or it’s Speedwagon. I’m no sir, that’s for damn sure.”

“Robert then,” she replied with a smile as she followed him to the crate setting her hands underneath it on one side, poised to lift it.

“There we go, much better!”


 

Erina and Robert spent much of the morning hauling supplies and luggage from the dock to the ship. Though hours passed it felt much quicker as Robert seemed to fill up the hours with animated chatting. In that time he explained things like how the ship was run and who to avoid.

After taking in a particularly heavy trunk the two opted to recuperate in the shade for a moment, taking the time to people watch instead. Many of the passengers had arrived on the dock for their imminent voyage.

A low whistle escaped Robert. “Would ya take a look at that beauty,” he whispered almost reverently, directing her attention to the right. There before them was a man of seemingly indeterminate age, his face was as smooth and youthful as someone in their twenties but his overall bearings and his thin mustache suggested an older age. He stood tall and wide, with a muscular build that filled out his pristine white suit.

“A beauty? That man?” Erina asked with disbelief. Everyone had their preferences but she failed to see the appeal.

“No, no. Not the man,” Robert shook his head with an incredulous laugh. “Look at that marvelous specimen on top of his head! A right exquisite example of haberdashery if I do say so myself…”

Her eyes drifted up to gaze upon what he was actually speaking about. The man sported a tall, checkered top hat that practically had Robert drooling. “Are you really such a slave to fashion?” She teased, sending an amused smile his way.

“Well a man’s gotta have his vices don’t ya think?” He grinned before he lowered his voice to a whisper. “I’m sure the poor bloke won’t miss it much if he happens to just… misplace it. Wouldn't you agree, Erin?” The inflection in his voice was completely suspicious and the big mischievous grin he pinned her with was even worse.

“...Don’t tell me you mean to steal it…”

“Fine, then I won’t tell ya.” The smile on his face seemed to only widen at Erina’s more serious look.

She struggled to speak in the face of Robert’s flippant attitude. He only seemed more and more amused at her dismay. “B-But--you-- you can’t just steal someone’s hat, Robert! They’ll figure it out!”

“Oh, but I can and I have,” he replied, sounding extremely pleased with himself. “I’ve taken shoes too but it’s the hats I keep a collection of. If there’s one thing you gotta know about lords and ladies Erin, it’s that they’ll whine about something missing for a day or two but soon enough some other shit’ll distract ‘em. They’ll forget because they’ll have a million other things to distract themselves with. Just gotta make it seem like they misplaced it.” Robert tapped his nose and winked like he had just told Erina extremely valuable life advice to emphasize his point. Perhaps he had, if Erina was the stealing type. She wasn’t of course… or at least not in most cases.

She shook her head, a little smile tugging at the corners of her mouth despite herself. “Well, I’ll admit… I really want to see that hat collection.” The very suggestion caused Robert’s face to light up in excitement. “Well then,” he replied with boastfully, “I suppose I can let ya have a peek next time you’re about Ogre Street.”

The two lapsed into a comfortable silence until something caught Erina’s eye... or rather someone. The stocky boy with the familiar mop of dark hair rushing towards the giant ship could only be Jonathan. The appearance of George Joestar behind him and an exasperated Dio, clutching at her parasol as his life depended on it, merely confirmed it for her.

As they approached the ship, a coachman behind them hauled large heavy steamer trunks from the carriage and deposited them behind George and his sons. Seeing this as an opportunity, Erina nudged Robert and gestured towards the trunks. Knowing that his break was over Robert followed her lead. He offered a ‘good afternoon’ to George and then the two situated themselves on either side of the luggage to haul it away.

This was her chance. “Jonathan.” she whispered, hoping he would hear. He did indeed, whipping his head around in confusion. “Jonathan!” she whispered insistently. Unfortunately Jonathan continued to look around, unsure of where his name seemed to be coming from. Her arms ached as she picked up the heavy trunk and began walking it towards the ship with Robert.

“Jojo!” she hissed under the weight of the trunk. That one seemed to get the attention of both Jonathan and Dio, whose heads both snapped in her direction. Luckily, George seemed none the wiser. At first, they looked at her with confusion as if trying to place her obviously familiar face. So she offered them a smile and a shrug as her and Robert walked past them towards the ship.

The two boys she left behind blinked in shock and confusion at the diminutive retreating figure. It was Jonathan who broke the silence, whispering so as not to attract the attention of his father. “Dio, w-wouldn’t you agree that boy resembled Erina in a way?” It was hard for him to wrap his head around. That Erina would here on the docks, disguised as a boy… but she had asked for clothes.

Dio, on the other hand, was nearly rooted to the spot in shock. He knew exactly who that was and she actually… went through with it. “Well, I’ll be damned,” he remarked, sincerely impressed. Of all the things Erina Pendleton was, of all the qualities he had seen her display, he never really expected her to do something as risky as this. He rather admired it.

It was near impossible for Jonathan to contain himself, not without confirmation of this boy’s identity. He started off towards the ship and the “boy” with purposeful step. Or at least that is what he intended to do until someone tugged at the back of his collar, making him stumble backwards to his initial spot with a distressed sound.

“Please do not wander off Jojo,” his father admonished, “I would prefer not to lose you in such a crowd. We will be allowed to board after I finish ironing out some details. I know you wish to go on your way and explore but I promise, it will be worth the wait.”

When George’s back turned Jonathan couldn’t help the undignified whine that escaped him. He wanted to go up there to see if that boy was Erina not to explore the ship… although that sounded like fun, he would most certainly be doing that later. Dio rolled his eyes so thoroughly at Jonathan’s whine he nearly gave himself a headache.

“Do conduct yourself with decorum Jojo, we may be young but we are certainly not infants.”

Dio’s words were ignored, he didn’t have it in him to even argue back. Instead his eyes were on the pair hauling their trunk on board the ship’s deck. His heart began to race minutes later when the trunk seemed safely delivered and they turned back for the next one. His face twisted into an expression of focus and concentration.

As the two came into view Jonathan nearly jumped. He knew those large doe eyes and that particular shade of blue. The short, soft waves that slipped from underneath the cap on her head… but the biggest tell happened to be the socks that the young dock worker wore. After all, he had provided Erina with them himself.

He leaned far too close to Dio’s ear and whispered far too loud and with far too much excitement, “I-It is her! It has to be! I gave her those!” He pointed at the patterned socks pulled up over her calves with delight. “Must you be so loud?! I am right next to you, you needn't screech every word!” Dio hissed, shoving Jonathan away.

“Excuse me!” George called as the two of them approached. The blond man with Erina stepped forward with a slightly stiff smile. “Yes sir,” he answered politely, “what can I help you with?” George took the man off to the side to discuss something or other about their cabin, both Jonathan and Dio weren’t really listening nor did they care. The focus of their attention was instead tucking stray hair beneath the brim of her cap and walking to them.

“Eri--!?” was all Jonathan managed to bite out before the girl in question cut him off, hissing at him to quiet down. She looked around, particularly at the blond speaking with his father before looking back at them both. “I’m not Erina,” she finally whispered, “I’m Erin now and you two happen to be talking to a cabin boy!”

Dio snorted in amusement. “Oh pray tell, how could we remember such a pseudonym? After all, it’s so far from your given name, Erin darling.” The look that Erina sent his way was so cold it could have made Hell freeze over.

“Enough of that. I just wanted you two to know that if you need me at some point, I will be in the worker’s cabins below deck. In two days I will come find you and from there we can plan a proper meeting. I just want to learn my way around beforehand.” Her tone was all business although both could see a flicker of fear in her eyes, apprehension for such a big move.

“B-But--” Jonathan cut in, serious concern bleeding into his voice. “Will you truly be okay there? What if the other, older workers try to bully you o-or worse!?”

His heart sped up slightly as a smile tugged at her lips. “Don’t you fret about that Jojo. See that man there? Talking to your father? His name is Robert and he happened to get me this job on the ship. I know he looks a bit scary, but he’s been looking after me already.”

“You truly trust him, then?” Dio asked seriously, his eyes narrowing at this Robert character. He had spent enough time in London to know not to trust no one, much less some person he had only known for two hours. But he did trust Erina’s judgement in terms of a person’s character. After all, she was one of the few people who knew he was bad news from the beginning.

A rather astute observation, if you asked him.

Without hesitation, Erina nodded. “I know this seems a little… hasty,” she explained, “but I’m going into this alone and he has already helped guide me through the way things work around here. I can at least say I trust him more than I do the rest of the crew.”

Jonathan, to his credit wasn’t completely sold but he nodded. “I-I do trust your judgement Erina. Just promise me you will be careful, yes? And that you’ll tell us if something happens?”

“If you do find yourself in danger I expect--no, demand you seek us out. I’ll be sure to make a meal of whoever disturbed you,” Dio added. The look of surprise on their faces at his admission made him scoff, only partially in embarrassment. “I am looking for an excuse to taste human blood after all.”

Erina and Jonathan turned to look at each other, unsure of how serious he was. The nervous exchange entertained Dio so much he decided he would let them stew in uncertainty for a while.

“W-Well, I promise to find you if something happens. It’s nice to know that I have people looking out for me regardless--” Erina started, looking down at her shoes as she spoke. If she had more to say whatever she had planned was cut off by the loud voice of Robert calling out “Oi, Erin!”

She immediately straightened up and fixed her cap. “I’ve got to go, if you need me you know where to find me!” she whispered, giving a smile and wave before running off to Robert’s side.

Erina’s presence was replaced with George’s rather quickly. “Well now, it seems we may board as the crew loads up our luggage. Everything should be in our cabin soon enough. This is only just the beginning of our adventure!” He announced proudly, gesturing to the ship. “Come along boys!”

If Dio kept rolling his eyes at every ridiculous thing a Joestar did he was half-convinced his eyes would just roll right into the back of his head, but they certainly made it difficult to refrain. Between George calling this dire trip an adventure of all things and Jonathan running ahead of him in excitement at the thought of exploring the ship, they were quite the frustrating pair. As he followed them onto the gangplank however, he paused.

A chill had run down his spine. It felt as if someone’s eyes were boring into the back of his skull. He snapped his attention behind him to the crowds milling on the dock only to catch something at the corner of his eye. A quick flash of pristine white coattails.

Dio sighed, massaging his temples in an attempt to chase away the paranoia gnawing at him. He needed to stop jumping to conclusions, only Jojo and Erina knew his true nature after all. If he kept acting up like this however, more people would surely catch on.

“Get a damn grip.” he muttered to himself in frustration before crossing the gangplank, following the Joestars up and onto the ship.

- End of Act I -

Chapter Text

Dio was beginning to feel boxed in.

For quite some time the Joestar manor was his luxury prison but his room back home was not quite as small as his stateroom on the steamship. He also did not share his bedroom with both Joestars but after four days into this journey with limited space, this ship was beginning to feel less like a ship and more like a coffin. He despised this.

Dinner happened to be one of his least favorite occupations while on the steamer. He had no need for the three square meals that a human would normally ingest. His meal times were now often spent eating a little for show and pushing the rest of his meal around on his plate, praying that tomorrow the cook would prepare the entree of beef rare enough to take the edge off of his growing thirst.

Since they had arrived on the ship he was coming up short on alternative sources for blood. Jonathan would urge him to relax, that he would meet with Erina and come up with something for him to sustain himself with but he was getting impatient. His throat was dry and his incisors ached almost painfully. Jojo would have to do something tonight or he might go insane before this blasted trip over the Atlantic was over.

“Are you going to eat that?” Jonathan asked breaking Dio from his dinner musings and gesturing to his nearly forgotten potatoes, his mouth half stuffed with chicken and greens. How disgusting.

Dio visibly recoiled. “No, I don't think I am. I’ve lost all sense of an appetite thanks to your repulsive eating habits.”

Jojo to his credit didn't seem to mind such a jab, heaping the rest of Dio’s potatoes onto his plate with a smile. With a roll of his eyes and an intense desire not to cast another glance in the Joestar’s direction he looked to the crowd of diners on the ship.

In this dining room everyone seemed to be of class and means, judging from the finery they wore and the manners with which they ate. Jonathan Joestar’s eating habits were no doubt more appropriate in steerage.

His eyes passed over various men, women and children absently, praying for this torturous meal to be over until his eyes stopped dead on a figure in the corner of the room.

It was a man, lounging effortlessly on a chair in the corner and nursing red wine from the ship’s crystal stemware. He was dressed impeccably in a white suit over what seemed to be broad pillowy muscles. The man appeared youthful, he sported an unlined face with high cheekbones and bright eyes. It was the pencil thin mustache above his upper lip that happened to betray an age more advanced than assumed.

This man was strange, yes, but even stranger was that despite his easy posture his eyes met Dio's roaming ones with a look of pure hatred and disgust. The cold hand of fear gripped him as the darkness in mysterious man’s expression only seemed to intensify as they held each other's glances longer.

It felt like he knew every little secret Dio had ever kept. That he killed his father, that he planned to do away with the Joestars, that now he was a monster that defied all laws of nature.

He struggled in his mind to place the man’s face. Was he from the slums? Unlikely by his dress but well, Dio was here wasn't he? Was he familiar with his piece of shit father? He was reeling inwardly and fought hard to maintain his outward composure.

“What about that chicken Dio, will you be eating that?”

Jonathan's question had startled him so bad he jolted, turning wildly to face the youngest Joestar.

In turn, Jojo held his hands up in a placating manner. “Relax Dio, I merely asked a question. What has you so worked up?”

It took one more second for his fear addled brain to catch up but once it did Dio had the sense to be indignant. “Nothing, I’ve simply had enough of watching you stuff yourself like a pig whilst I still lack something filling,” he hissed. “Take all of my food if you still have the room but I demand you search for something for me tonight. I simply cannot wait any longer.”

Luckily, it seemed Jonathan was not sharp enough to catch on and his expression melted in shame. “My... my apologies, I hadn't considered such a thing. I promise, you will not be going hungry tonight! You have my word, after all Erina has told me she’d help us this evening.” Dio scoffed in response. As if taking that as an acceptance of his apology, Jonathan pushed the other boy’s chicken onto his plate.

Slowly and with a better grip on himself this time, Dio turned his eyes back to the corner table. He was more than ready for a staring contest with that mysterious figure. However, when his eyes landed on the red velvet chairs he was gone, wine glass and all.

Was he seeing things? Was the combination of this claustrophobic ship and the lack of a decent meal finally driving him insane?

He had to relax. To breathe. Jonathan promised him something to eat tonight and he was going to hold him to it. Perhaps a little blood was exactly what he needed to solve this problem.


 

While the halls of the HMS Pantera were a bit of a winding maze Jonathan was sure that the kitchens had to be close to the dining hall. That was the only thing that seemed to make sense.

It was after a three days on board the ship spent wondering when Erina would appear that Jonathan was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of her at lunch. With her hair pulled back in a ponytail and wearing a waiter’s outfit he had nearly overlooked her but when she caught his eye from across the room, there was no mistaking those bright blue eyes and smile. There was a flutter in his abdomen as his lips curled up into a wide answering smile. Dio must have noticed as he audibly scoffed.

“Try not to be so obvious Jojo, it’s disgusting,” he hissed under his breath before shoving his elbow into Jonathan’s ribs.

“How dare-!?” Jonathan whispered angrily, wheeling to face Dio next to him with quite the red face. “I am not doing anything! A-And I’m certainly not being obvious!” Dio hardly acknowledged him, choosing to leave his nose in the air and direct his attention to the approaching wait staff.

The youngest Joestar nearly jumped out of his skin when the person placing his meal in front of him was the object of his affection. He felt his heart fall into the pit of the stomach when she seemed to lean closer too.

“Tonight, after your father is asleep meet me outside the kitchens. We can help Dio then,” she whispered, a conspiratorial smirk gracing her lips. All Jonathan could seem to do was nod dumbly as she slipped away to fetch another dinner plate.

To his left, Dio let out a derisive laugh. “Honestly, there is no way you could be any more transparent.”

And here he was now, hours later and stuffed from dinner, wandering cautiously. Luckily there was hardly anyone wandering the halls at this late hour but perhaps that was worse. The halls seemed ominous and Jonathan could hardly shake the feeling that someone was following him. It left him feeling extremely uneasy. He had to ease his fears somehow so he did what anyone else would do.

“Erina…!” He whispered, praying for some response to comfort his now pounding heart. Behind him there was a clank and he gasped loudly.

His second whisper of “Erina!” was much more urgent and was slightly louder. There was no hiding the current alarm that now ran through his voice. Suddenly behind him--and much closer than before--there was a rustle of fabric before an arm looped around his neck and a hand covered his mouth.

This was it. This was how he died.

His heart would surely stop from fear right now if this stranger didn’t snap his neck first. “Shh, Jojo it’s me! Erina! No need to be so loud, any more of that and I’m sure you’d be waking up half the staterooms!” The hissing voice in his right ear was most certainly Erina’s but it still took a minute for his body to relax and his heart to stop hammering in his chest from the surprise.

She slipped from her hiding spot to stand before him with a guilty smile. “I-I’m sorry if I scared you.” It took all of his strength to wave her off with shaky hands. “Don’t worry, I-I wasn’t afraid at all,” he lied. He tried to lean back smoothly, as if to show how unruffled and not-terrified he was, only for him to realize too late that there was no wall to lean his weight against. It left him stumbling back in a decidedly not smooth manner and caused Erina to break into a fit of giggles.

Jonathan swore he heard a phantom snort behind him as well.

He tugged on his shirt and tried to put on an easy smile. “Heh, walls you know. Never where you think they’ll be.” Oh, what a wonderful recovery Jojo. Erina bit her lip as if she was preventing more laughter from escaping before she took his hand. “C-Come on now,” she said, her voice shaky with suppressed snickers. “We shouldn’t play around so much, Dio is counting on us, isn’t he?”

As much as Jonathan wished to forget Dio and instead follow her blindly around the ship he knew she was right.

“O-Of course, have you found anything we could possibly bring him?”

Erina nodded. “Yes, I think so. Just follow me.” He was now keenly aware of her warm, slender hand in his as she tugged him forward quickly around bends in the hall and then down a flight of stairs. He wasn’t sure his poor heart could survive all this slowing down and speeding up.

It was hard to keep up and to know that she had learned the way around all of these halls in just a few days left him a little in awe of her brilliance, or at least her memory. “So... you have been alright down here?” He asked, struggling to keep pace with her and also genuinely curious. Admittedly, he had been worried about her. She was in disguise as a boy, yes, but she was a young girl alone with men of various ages. The situation itself was no doubt full of its own dangers. He often wished she could stay with him, his father and Dio in their stateroom. Yes, she would still be with boys but at least he could guarantee her safety.

To her credit, Erina smiled easily and shrugged. “Well, the accommodations aren’t exactly the most comfortable, the work isn’t easy and there are certainly some characters I steer clear of but I’m managing perfectly well. Delivering meals is most certainly not a complicated exercise although some of the patrons here are not the kindest.” Concern overtook him and he opened his mouth to speak before she beat him to it. “That being said, Robert has been looking after me as much as possible. If someone tries to intimidate me or bully me he’s always been to my rescue at a minute's notice! He’s taken to calling me ‘little brother’ too. He says we look the same.”

Erina sounded obviously pleased by this, but Jonathan couldn’t really see the resemblance.

“Well… it’s good to know that there’s someone who’s looking out for you, Erina. I know that the very idea that you might run into trouble has left me anxious,” he admitted, casting his glance to the floor.

The brisk run that Erina had lead with now slowed to an easy stop before she turned to face him. “I hope this eases your worries then. I promised that I’d tell you if something happened and I will stick to that but… nothing has really happened. I’m taking care of myself and making a go of it. When I’m in a tough spot, I’m lucky enough to have someone at my back too.” She nudged his shoulder until he finally met her eyes. “Trust me Jojo, there’s nothing to worry about.”

CLANG.

The easy smile that was just starting to spread across Jonathan’s features instantly disappeared as the loud metallic noise echoed from down the hall. Both his and Erina’s heads whipped to the side, trying to locate the source of the disturbance and they nearly jumped in tandem when their eyes landed on Erina’s scarred friend Robert as the source of the sudden noise. He had obviously knocked against the metal pipe running along the wall to get their attention and once he had it, he immediately began loping down the hall in their direction.

Perhaps there was something to worry about.

Chapter Text

“Oi, Erin, s’this one over here givin’ you any sort of problem?” Speedwagon asked with a tone full of warning. This was certain to be a lesson if he was.

Erin’s companion looked rather insulted at his insinuation but he didn’t really care. His intentions didn’t matter if that was the case anyway. The young boy straightened his shirt and looked like he had quite the speech on the tip of his tongue but Robert didn’t give him the satisfaction of getting a word in. Instead he leaned forward, the older teenager practically towered over the boy, and gave the most menacing scowl he could muster.

“You know he may be rich Erin but that doesn’t mean you have to do anything this moneybags asks of you.”

Much to Speedwagon’s surprise Erin was quick to jump to his friend’s defense. “I-I’m not sure what you’re thinking Robert, but he is most certainly not giving me a problem. He’s actually a very dear friend of mine so please leave him alone?”

After a moment of hesitation Robert finally leaned away from him with a snort of displeasure, obviously unconvinced. The rich boy at Erin’s side wore such a petulant pout it was hard for him to tamp down the bubble of laughter that welled up in the back of his throat. He wasn’t sure what exactly this kid was doing down here and why he was bothering Erin of all people, but at least the way the boy seemed so insulted was entertaining.

“Indeed, my name is Jonathan and we are good friends! We’ve known each other for quite some time and I wanted to make sure that Eri--...Erin was alright.” The boy, Jonathan, explained. For someone who had been friends with him for “quite some time”, he sure wasn’t good at remembering his name was he?

Jonathan’s little speech did absolutely nothing to allay the teenager’s suspicions. On the contrary, his scowl almost deepened as he crossed his arms over his chest. Robert was doing his best to appear intimidating, showing off his large, scarred arms and attempting to make sure this boy knew that even with all the money in the world Robert E.O. Speedwagon wasn’t one to be trifled with. That’s why, even with all of his intimidation tactics at play, Robert was surprised when Jonathan didn’t seem to shrink away from him at all.

“Well then, if you’re really such good friends ‘n all, why would you leave your friend to toil down in the ship while you’re all comfortable in first class, hm? Sounds a little too fair-weather if you’re askin’ me.”

“Fair-weather!? I think not--” Jonathan sputtered and Robert’s face split into a satisfied smirk. There was the indignant response he was looking for. The boy was funny when he huffed and puffed like that.

Erin stepped up once again to defend Jonathan much to Speedwagon’s chagrin. “Robert, I assure you it isn’t anything like that! It’s a bit of a long story but I have my own reasons for boarding the ship and attempting to keep a low profile. There is nothing untoward here and Jonathan has been trying his best to look after me!”

He had much to say to this, much to fight the two children on. No doubt Erin believed the best of his companion but he was well aware of just how fickle people’s loyalties could be when you least expected it. Nevertheless, before any rebuttal was able to fly from his lips they all jolted once more at the sound of another voice ringing through the hallway.

Jojo!” the voice called in a rather short, exasperated tone. “Honestly, how long does it take to retrieve a simple meal for me? It seems I cannot trust you with the simplest of tasks and I, Dio, must take care of everything myself.”  

This Dio seemed unsettling to Robert as he emerged from a shadowy corner at the back of the hall. It wasn’t exactly his appearance, he was just a normal blond boy albeit a little paler and with the strangest shade of red for his eyes, but rather the look in his eye. There was just something off about him that immediately put good ol’ Speedwagon on the defensive. Despite his personal gut reaction, Erin and Jonathan both seemed to sag in relief once they spotted him.

“I’m sorry! We seemed to have gotten distracted with Erin’s new friend!” Jonathan explained. “Sh- He was just taking me to get you something.”

Dio sniffed imperiously and looked over in Robert's direction, eyeing him up and down for the first time. The young man bristled under the boy’s piercing gaze, something about that kid definitely wasn’t right. Weird or not, he still deserved some respect, didn’t he?

“The name’s Robert E.O--” he began, extending his hand to Dio in an attempt to point out how incredibly rude that once over was, only to have the boy turn his head and completely ignore him.

“Well now, you’ve found something suitable then?” Dio asked, turning his scathing look toward Erin who appeared unfazed by his glare but seemed completely bothered by something else.

Erin’s face twisted up into a smile half-nervous and half-mischievous as he scuffed his worn shoe against the floor. “Well, I did… but you’re definitely going to hate it.” It was oddly satisfying to watch the smile disappear from the bratty child’s face in an instance.

Ugh… just tell me.”

“Well, uhm… it’s ship rats.” Dio’s face contorted into a look of horror while Jonathan’s lit up in complete delight.

Ship rats !?”

Ship rats ?!”

The two boys yelled in tandem, one’s voice dripping with disgust and the other with an almost morbid excitement. Erin only nodded and shrugged his shoulders. “I know it’s not ideal but it seems to be the only source of sustenance for you on this ship. Beggars can’t be choosers, you know.”

Robert, simply put, had no bleeding clue what was going on here.

“How vile, I hate that for once you’re correct. Where do I find the filthy little things anyway?” The bratty blond frowned and crossed his arms. “I’ll go and retrieve them myself, I have no use for Jojo now that I’m here.”

“That’s entirely unfair!” Jonathan protested but Dio pointedly ignored him.

In an attempt to mitigate the snipes between them Erin spoke up, pointing to a hatch down at the end of the hall. “Through there, that’s one of the sleeping quarters for the crew so be careful but it’s a surefire place to find a few. In fact, you’ll be doing everyone a favor.”

Jonathan seemed to freeze, grim realization dawning on him. “W-Wait a minute, don’t you sleep there?”

“I do,” Erin answered with slight hesitancy, voice rising once he saw the horror on Jonathan’s face. “I-It’s not… good really, but it’s not anything I can’t handle I promise!”

Though he had been caught up in the conversation between the three children Robert immediately cut off Dio’s path physically with a stern set to his jaw. “Erin, you’re really gonna let this stranger walk into our sleeping quarters? Are you right mad!? Catchin’ rats no less? What’s wrong with you?”

There was a look exchanged between Erin, Jonathan and Dio that Robert couldn’t really follow. It came across as asking for permission nervously and their eyes flit between each other before Dio sighed.

“Ugh, go ahead and tell him, he should learn to fear me after all.”

He was completely unsure of what to make of that aside from the fact that the little imp had most certainly threatened him. Robert wasn’t exactly certain how he would go about instilling fear in his heart but something about this Dio kid did really made him nervous.

“Well you see…” Erin began nervously, wringing his hands. “The thing is, we’re on this ship for a serious reason. I don’t want to lie to you because you’ve been so kind to me this entire time, Robert… but I'm worried you wouldn't believe me.”

He couldn't help but lean forward in curiosity, compelled to hear what else Erin had to say. As he shifted closer, Dio used that opportunity to slip past him and disappear into the crew’s sleeping quarters. “Oi you can't--!!” He started to yell but sighed instead once he realized it was a fruitless effort. “Erin c’mon, you can trust me...”

Erin frowned. “Okay, just… you're sure you will keep an open mind?”

Robert nodded, dying to know what exactly it was he wouldn't believe.

“Dio is… a vampire. We’re trying to find a way to turn him back,” Erin stated with the utmost seriousness.

There was an extended pause before Robert spoke again. “Alright, if you're gonna make up stories at least make ‘em plausible. Not to mention if you really thought the boy was a vampire why on earth would you let him into a room with a bunch of your sleepin’ crew mates!?”

“Listen! I'm not making this up! I wouldn't do something like that about something so serious! And I trust him enough not to kill an innocent crew member without provocation!” Erin snapped back, certainty overtaking his demeanor.

Jonathan gave him a bit of a look. “That last part is a little bit of a reach, don't you think?” Erin met his eyes and hissed under his breath in return. “Stop, I'm trying to make him feel better about Dio, not get him angry with me.”

“Now listen up you two, you'd better come clean about--”

The sound of a door closing behind him made Robert turn just to see Dio holding five struggling rodents by their tails, displeasure written all over his face. How the boy had managed to catch that many in a few minutes was beyond him.

“Are we quite done with all this exposition?” Dio sneered, holding the rats at arms length. “I’ll need you two to dispose of these for me when I finish, or is that too daunting of a request to ask?”

“We can get it done!” Jonathan declared, trying to make up for his lack of speed in acquiring Dio’s food earlier. Erin simply nodded with him.

“Wait! You three are completely derailing--” Robert began, but immediately lost his voice thereafter.

In horror, he watched as Dio sunk his teeth into the squirming body of the first rat and the small animal seemed to flatten out as if it was being drained. Even to the seventeen year old it was simultaneously disgusting and mesmerizing to watch as the creepy boy went through them systematically. He couldn't seem to get his mouth to work and produce words as Dio dropped the shriveled carcasses on the ground once he'd consumed his fill, wiping daintily at a small trickle of blood that had dripped from the corner of his mouth. Absolutely unsettling didn't even begin to cover whatever that was.

Jonathan bent to pick up one of the rat corpses before Erin stopped him with a hand on the arm. “Don’t touch that Jojo, you have no idea what kind of diseases those are carrying!” A moot point as far as Robert was concerned considering the other boy had put his mouth to it! But Jonathan had the decency to look sheepish.

“Ah, you're right,” he mumbled. His desire was not completely discouraged however as he intently nudged a flattened corpse with his shoe.

Dio turned on his heel, looking away from Jonathan with distaste. “You’re nauseating me Jojo, we should return to our stateroom at once before father discovers us gone.”

The dark haired boy let out a whine of protest. “I suppose we should get going… thank you for the help Eri-- Erin. I know we would be much worse off if we didn't have you here with us. Isn't that right, Dio?” His tone had changed from that of a petulant child to an adult trying to make his son say thank you.

Letting out a huff and resting his hands on his hips in irritation first, Dio finally managed a kind word. “Well if I must, I do thank you for directing me to some sustenance, even if it was dreadful. Now I bid you goodnight.” He took a few steps down the hall before pausing. “And do be safe, Erin darling, I wouldn't want you in danger while you're still of use to me.”

Jonathan waved goodbye to Erin and to Robert too before the two of them disappeared down the hall.

Robert remained unconvinced that the child before him was indeed a vampire. That being said, after watching Dio bite into a live rat, he had never been more terrified of anyone in his life.

Chapter Text

The eight day journey across the Atlantic on the steamer seemed to drag. Erina found herself counting the days down to when she could hang up her apron and never have to deal with serving any entitled nobility or sleep in the bowels of a ship ever again. Yet things had seemed to pick up when she finally explained to Robert all of the events that led to this point.

He had seemed… skeptical still. That was something she didn’t quite understand, after all he’d seen what happened to those rats. However, once she pressed him for a rational explanation as to how Dio could possibly do something like that he was at a loss for an a valid answer. Instead, he pleaded with her.

“Listen, I know there’s probably something odd going on here but damn it Erin, at least let me keep my peace of mind. If vampires DO exist, and I’m not saying that they do mind you, but if they did and I would happen to be on a floating coffin of a ship with them and have nowhere to run? I would be pissin’ my pants as we speak. Now do you wanna see me piss my pants?”

That was enough to have her shaking her head with a curled lip of disgust. The last thing that she wanted was to see something like that . Despite the rather eventful evening they shared, after their talk things went back to normal or rather, as normal as they could be. Robert was perhaps being a slight bit more jumpy than he had been earlier in the week.

It was strange, their journey had dragged really dragged in the beginning. But now, they were about a day and a half away from Manhattan harbor and their arrival had quite snuck up on her. She stood shoulder to shoulder with Robert on the deck of the Pantera, looking out to the murky water reflecting in the afternoon sun.

“By this time tomorrow we’ll be able to see New York herself from that direction, right over there,” Robert informed her, stretching his arm as far as it could go over the rail of the ship and pointing to the horizon.

Erina was excited and the grin on her face matched the sentiment perfectly. To think soon she would be walking the streets of New York, the very city where self-made business men dominated the streets with their wealth. She wasn’t much for the wealth aspect but to know these people had pulled themselves out of seemingly dire upbringings to engineer their own success, well that was certainly appealing. After all, she had goals she wished to pursue herself with the odds stacked against her.

The feeling of anticipation settled in her chest as she began thinking of the future adventure ahead of them. Her and Jonathan and Dio traveling through America together trying their hardest to investigate and to find a solution to Dio’s problems somewhere in Mexico. The idea was thrilling. After all, the trip with Jonathan and Dio and Lord Joestar would be--

Lord Joestar.

He didn’t know that she knew what was going on or that she was even here… Erina was just the boy who served him his lunch this week, not the Pendleton girl who always seemed to be visiting. There was no way she could travel with them like this.

What was she going to do?

Her stomach dropped right through the ship’s floor, past the metal hull and settled down into the deepest pits of the Atlantic as a cold sense of dread and panic washed over her. Once they reached land she would have no way of following the boys now, no excuse to accompany them. She hadn’t thought this far ahead.

Every bit of this plan had gone much too well that at every turn it seemed that she hadn’t accounted for this level of success. Her breathing quickened as she began to panic.

Robert rushed to her side, placing a hand on her shoulder and wearing an expression of alarm. “What’s botherin’ ya Erin? Is everything alright?” She gazed up at him with a look of complete despair as tears stung at her eyes. This reaction only served to make Robert’s large brows knit together, the impressive bags under his eyes getting ever deeper as a result. He had been so kind to her, so protective and now this journey was all for naught. All of his sweet gestures wasted.

She felt awful. Nauseous.

“I-I’ve told you, Robert, the boys… th-that the three of us were supposed to go to Mexico right?” She began asking him, her voice trembling. He nodded, urging her to go on. “Well… I-I have no way to go. Everything I’ve done, e-everything I risked, every shred of kindness you’ve shown me h-has been wasted. I-I’ll never be allowed to join up with them, I may as well be a stranger to Lord Joestar trying to follow them on a journey meant strictly for family. I-I have no business doing that a-and now I don’t really know what to do!”

Erina motored through that explanation, only occasionally taking gasping rushed breaths as more panic would set in. Robert’s hand patted her shoulder in as reassuring a manner he could muster while he just took in all her worries. Even as a non-believer per se he had known just how seriously she took this mission. Being unable to continue onward after coming all this way would devastate her and he knew it.

“Erin, y-you’ve got to relax, we’ll figure something out!” he countered, desperately trying to make her calm down just a little bit. That unfortunately had the opposite effect.

“I CAN’T RELAX ROBERT!" she snapped. It was nearly impossible to keep her cool in that moment before her tears began to fall in earnest. “I-It feels like I came all the way here just to be stopped and turned around like I’ve done absolutely nothing! I-I’m sorry, I don’t mean to shout at you but just thinking of all the work and the time and effort I put in to even get this far...” She couldn’t finish that sentence. It hurt too badly to think about.

Robert reeled back for a moment as the shrill yell hit his ears, but all of his anger was gone the moment he saw her upset face. “Listen, the person you should be yelling at isn’t me, alright? I’m trying to help you, you just have to let me. I’m gonna think of a plan… and you know I’ve told you, my buddies back on Ogre Street knew I could come up with plans with the best of ‘em.”

Erina didn’t even respond to his words, she merely stood there shaking half in a panic and crying as quietly as she could. She trembled under his hand while he stood there thinking about their next move. Eventually, her soft sobs dissipated and she was left hiccuping on the deck. That is, until Robert snapped loudly, causing her to jump out of the fog her mind had been blanketed in.

“You said Mexico, right?”

She nodded looking at him with a sideways glance. What on earth was he planning in that head of his?

“Well in that case,” he continued, “We just have to walk up to Joestar and tell ‘im he needs us to come with him!”

The younger blonde couldn’t help herself as she just stared at him in disbelief for 10, 20… 30 seconds. She was waiting for some sort of punchline. She had just explained to him how there was no way to just approach him and ask, the man was guarded and wealthy. The sheepish reaction she expected to see from him however, never materialized.

“You can’t be serious,” she replied nearly deadpan, a frown threatening at the corners of her mouth. He laughed after a moment, realizing Erina had no idea what he was talking about.

“Aha, but I am! Y’see Erin, I’ve got some history traveling and staying in Mexico from my time working the steamer circuit. Tell me, do the boys have a real navigator to get them there?”

The situation he was implying made her clasp her hands in delight, a nervous yet hopeful smile spreading across her mouth. “Y-You want to play navigator for the Joestars? But--”

Robert brought his hand to her head with a grin, pressing his knuckles against her scalp in an affectionate gesture. “You know, Robert E.O. Speedwagon never simply just guides people alone. He needs the help of his hardworking little brother, obviously!”

Her eyes widened and the smile that broke out on her face was colossal. Robert just looked right pleased with himself as she threw her arms around him,  wrapping his middle securely in a hug. “ Thankyouthankyouthankyou !” she cried, muffled by his shirt. She felt his warm hand shift from her head as he patted her back gently.

“Well uh, don’t thank me just yet. I still have to talk to Joestar to see if this will actually work…”


 

Erina whispered another invitation for the boys to meet her outside the kitchens that night over dinner so she could fill them in on the plan. Sure enough after evening fell Jonathan and Dio both appeared right outside of the now emptied kitchen. The former looked quite curious about whatever it was she had to say while the latter looked inconvenienced.

“I’ve finally figured out a solution to our problem! Or rather, Robert did!”

“Our problem? I was not aware that we had a problem to solve, but good on you for figuring that out,” Dio stated with a dismissive wave of his hand. Jonathan elbowed him and hissed ‘be nice’ in the young vampire’s direction before it was his cue to speak up. “I’m glad you figured things out!” Jonathan began, “That being said… what was the problem anyway?”

“Well,” Erina wore a sheepish expression, thinking about all the errors that lead her to this point, “I wasn’t sure how on earth I’d be able to follow you two once we reached New York. It seemed quite impossible with your father around but Robert came up with a brilliant idea!”

Jonathan hadn’t considered that possibility when he first saw her boarding the ship. But now, hearing this, he was glad to know that Erina and Robert already had a plan set and he didn’t have to think of one. Dio merely rolled his eyes.

“You truly had not thought of that beforehand?" He scoffed. "Pray tell, what this big master plan then?”

She crossed her arms with a confident smile on her face. Robert had tried to remind her that he had to convince George to let him act as a navigator first, but really she believed in him just as much as she believed in his quick thinking. “Robert thought he could act as your guide through the American mainland into Mexico! The only thing I hope you two can do for us is to act as character references. Lord Joestar needs a reason to trust us and if his only two sons do… then how could he think of saying no?”

“That’s a wonderful idea!” Jonathan exclaimed, thrilled. “As our navigators you two would have to come along with us! I think it’s extremely nice of Robert to agree to such a commitment too. It won’t be easy, I only know where we’re going as far as the River Dada is concerned. Everything else was going to be handled by someone we were going to hire stateside anyway!”

Erina practically glowed at the praise Jonathan was giving her. Their vampiric companion was less enthusiastic. “I suppose I can do as you ask. I refuse to go out of my way but well, considering Jojo’s track record throughout our voyage it seems if you don’t come with us I won’t have anyone fetching me dinner.” The indignant sound Jonathan made at that comment caused a smile to curl across Dio’s lips.

“Jojo has done much for you, don’t be ungrateful,” Erina told him matter-of-factly with a wag of her finger. Dio wondered how he was ever going to make it through this journey without rolling his eyes so hard they ended up in the back of his head. It seemed that those two liked to make a habit out of testing him. For his own sanity he ignored her.

“Are you quite done?” He drawled, already turning to make his leave. “We all have much to do tomorrow. I, for one would prefer some beauty rest before we make landfall. It’s true that I am always looking my best but New York deserves me in my prime, don’t you think?”

As much as Jonathan wanted to linger with Erina, the halls of the steamer still sent shivers down his spine. Sounds seemed to echo much more prominently in the metal hull and he never truly felt alone in the space. At least if he walked back with Dio he’d have someone to watch his back.

For a moment he reached out and held her hand in his, giving her his best smile. “Do get some rest Erina, I know docking will be harder on you than for us. I am excited to be in ‘Erin’s’ company for tomorrow and the days to come!”

Those sweet gesture of holding her hand and his subsequent words caused heat to rise up in her face. Jonathan Joestar certainly knew how to get her to blush over the silliest things but his unwavering faith in her meant more than he knew. She wasn’t sure how long they had stood there together, shyly smiling and simply looking at each other until Dio’s voice rang out from the end of the hall.

“Shall I be walking back alone, Jojo?”

“N-No! Stay there! I’m coming!” Jonathan called out over his shoulder, giving her hand one final squeeze. “See you tomorrow,” he added before turning on his heel and making his way back to Dio.

“Sweet dreams! Both of you!” she wished, waving to his retreating form and watching as the two turned down another corridor toward their staterooms. Despite being alone now in the hall she didn’t feel lonely. Jonathan was behind her, he would lobby for her and even despite everything that had transpired she felt like she could trust Dio to do the same. He was getting something out of it after all.

There was no writing her out of this story. Not yet anyway.


 

The next day Erina waited on the upper decks with bated breath. Despite the flurry of activity from both staff and passengers alike, she was still able to take in the view of New York City that awaited on the horizon. So much hinged on things going well upon their arrival. Erina had been fortunate up until this point, but she was beginning to worry again.

What if her luck was running out?

Eventually Robert roused her racing mind to focus on something else. “Oi Erin, I know this is your first time seeing New York ‘n all that but I’m afraid I’m gonna need you. We’ll be dealin’ with plenty of angry moneybags if we don’t get these trunks off the ship in a timely manner ‘n I dread havin' to spend more time around them than needed, thank you kindly.”

“My apologies!” she replied, rushing to help him with a trunk he was struggling to move on his own. Loading things off the ship was just as grueling as the first time she did it, but Erina was rather proud of her efforts. She was sure she had put on a little muscle since joining the crew of the Pantera six days ago too. Despite pulling into port however, there was no way she could even appreciate that she had come so far. There was far too much to do!

The boys meanwhile meandered down the gangplank with George. The plan was to wait on the dock for the luggage. Jonathan craned his neck, hoping Erina and her friend would find them before his father located a carriage to take them to their first destination in the city.

They lingered for what felt like hours to Jonathan although he knew rationally it wasn’t nearly that long. The wait made him nervous and as he turned his head, hoping to get a glimpse of every crew member that passed Dio struck him in the gut. “Cease that at once. You’re being much too obvious, Jojo,” he hissed.

Jonathan didn’t have enough time to voice his displeasure as one of their steamer parcels landed loudly on the wooden docks next to them. His head snapped in the direction of the sound, only to be met with the two people he had been waiting all morning to see.

“Here you are sir,” Robert announced with his best smile to George. Lord Joestar for his part smiled and nodded. “Thank you for your assistance, my good man.”

“Wait a moment. You’re Lord Joestar, aren’t ya?” Robert asked with interest. Jonathan watched as Erina fidgeted behind him and went to wave, but Dio snatched his wrist with surprising speed. Too obvious again he supposed, though that didn’t give Dio the right to manhandle him. Erina waved to him instead, causing Dio to groan in exasperation and Jonathan to wear the smuggest of smiles.

George was too distracted however, by this man’s question. “Why yes, I am. Is there something I can help you with?” he asked curiously with an edge bordering on caution. That was the first time Dio had ever heard that from the man. It was almost laughable to see him developing a clear sense of suspicion.

“Actually, I think the question you should be asking is how can I help you?” The young man bowed with a flourish. “The name’s Robert E.O. Speedwagon and this here’s my brother…” He gestured to Erina only to have her do the same. “I-I’m Erin!” There was a hesitation before she continued. “Erin A.P. Speedwagon, at your service!”

That answer coupled with the look of confusion on George’s face left both boys struggling to keep in their laughter. Erin A.P huh? Subtlety truly wasn’t Erina’s strong suit, was it? Jonathan couldn’t help the snort that escaped him and Dio had to clamp his mouth shut tighter than ever before.

The irritated look Erina shot in their direction could have frozen them to the spot if they weren’t careful.

“Well, how can you help me then, Mr. Speedwagon?”

“Please, call me Robert or simply Speedwagon, whichever you prefer.” the young man continued with a saccharine smile. “It turns out, Lord Joestar, that my brother and your sons here happened to have become quite good friends on the ship. They told me that you planned to venture down to Mexico and were in need of a navigator. You’re in luck though sir 'cause I happen to be quite good at navigatin’ and quite familiar with the Mexican terrain. Y’see I work the steamer circuit and I’ve been there more than a few times. Seein' as your boys here were so good to my brother I figured I’d do you a favor and offer up my services.”

George was quiet for a moment. That Robert fellow was certainly a motormouth. He didn’t quite have to go into all of that did he? But it was done now. Jonathan’s glanced back at Erina who seemed to be holding her breath waiting for the answer. Even Dio was tense at his side.

“Is this true, Jojo? Dio? You’ve spoken to this man about this before?”

Jonathan nodded quickly and Dio supplied a spoken answer. “Indeed father, we have. Erin has become very close to us during our voyage. His brother was already so well-versed with our destination that it seemed almost second nature to speak to him about it.”

“And you trust him?” George’s voice was sharp. How funny for him to be wary of snakes now when he had been blissfully unaware of Dio’s original intentions.

“A-absolutely father!” Jonathan replied. Despite the shakiness of his voice his tone was adamant. “Both Robert and Erin were very good to us on the ship, I surely trust him more than some stranger we may come across in the city!”

George turned his gaze back to Robert, mulling it over some more. When he turned his gaze down on Erina for a moment she froze, wondering if he saw through her disguise. After all, she had been to his home numerous times and she had taken to wearing her hair long. Robert had suggested it. After all, he wore his long too. He thought it would sell them as brothers a bit more not to mention it was practically criminal to him for Erin to keep hiding such hair.

When Lord Joestar’s voice rang out again, Erina jumped. “I suppose we will have to work out payment then,” he announced, turning a good-natured smile to Robert who looked surprised that his plan had worked as easily as it did. Instead of blurting his thoughts aloud, the older blond simply nodded.

“O-of course, sir!”

“Now then, do you have lodgings in the city?” George asked, gesturing for Robert to follow as other ship workers carried out the last two trunks the Joestars had brought with them.

“Ah, no sir. I’m afraid we were playin’ it by ear. I do have a few connections in the city who can put me up for the time being, though. No need to fret about it,” he replied, shrugging and trying to follow the older Joestar who was off to arrange for a carriage.

His answer however, caused George to pause mid-step and turn to face Robert. “Put you up? Nonsense, Mr. Speedwagon!”

“N-No need for the ‘mister’, sir--”

“Well then, nonsense, Speedwagon, you are now officially part of our little adventuring party. You and your brother shall be residing with us at our hotel. I shall cover those payments and with you so close, we can finalize other arrangements,” George Joestar replied adamantly.

Robert wanted to argue. After all, he was no charity case but it was rather hard when that nobleman had his jaw set and he was making it out to be a job perk. Any protest he had simply died on his lips before he sagged in defeat.

“Alright then sir, y-you lead the way.”

Erina shuffled over to the boys as their guardians walked off down the pier to arrange for transportation and grinned. Jonathan returned the gesture. “I knew it would work, Erin. Glad to have you on board.”

“Glad to be of service, Lord Joestar~” she replied with a snicker.

Jonathan laughed with a theatrical tone. “Please, just call me Jojo. Lord Joestar is my father you know.”

Dio scoffed. If this was what he was going to have to deal with for weeks he was surely going to go mad. He had no idea how two people could be this insufferable. Though, he supposed if he had to look on the bright side… it could be worse. Jonathan and Erina had turned out to be possibly less irritating than the other plebians in that wretched countryside town.

He’d be damned if he let them know that though.

“Must you two be so grating?” he snapped. “You’re not nearly as funny as you imagine yourselves to be. Keep this up and I’ll no doubt perish from irritation by the end of the week.”

The two shared a look before laughing again, much to Dio’s displeasure.

“Oh, but of course Dio. We certainly can’t have you dying from bad jokes now, can we?” Erina asked, voice dripping with sarcasm.

Forget that. Dio didn’t appreciate their presence, one bit.

Chapter Text

The motley band of allies made their way down to fifth avenue by carriage. The five of them were a tight fit but the luxurious nature of their transportation made it hard to notice the crowd inside, or at least it was hard for someone like Robert anyway. He wasn’t accustomed to such nice accommodations and yet, here he was.

The hotel the older Joestar had picked for their arrangements was even nicer than the carriage. Outside the hotel, the facade may have been a bit imposing but inside it was luxury upon luxury. More than Speedwagon had ever experienced throughout his short lifetime. He watched with a burst of familial affection as Erin looked around the lobby with a wide open mouth to match his own.

It wouldn’t be a tough sell at all if the boy kept being himself. Perhaps they were distantly related.

George Joestar walked up to the lavish front desk to inquire about a second room and within moments he returned with a set of keys. “For you!” George declared with a smile, extending a silver key with the the numbers 487 on an attached tag. The older man held another key labeled 489. “Our lodgings are right next door to each other for convenience's sake.”

“Oh, thank-- thank you,” Robert replied almost dumbly, still thrown by how quickly all of this seemed to happen. He was surprised by how little he’d had to finesse the old man into accepting. He seemed to be only more convinced when Robert tried to direct him to references on the ship. “You certainly didn’t have to do this…”

“Nonsense!” George responded swiftly. “You’re now part of this adventuring party. It’s important we discuss the journey together now. In fact, once you and Erin have washed up I hope you two can meet with us down in the dining hall for dinner at around six to iron out our plans.”

As if Robert could say no to such a thing. “Of course, Sir Joestar! I shan’t keep you waiting, I promise!” If there was one thing Speedwagon was good at being it was punctual. Everything else was a bit up in the air, truth be told.

The five split up, the two boys following their father and Erin following him once they arrived at their neighboring rooms. Erin left a longing little glance in the boys direction before he ran inside. It made Robert smile. At least he knew Erin was going to be happy tagging along with those two to do what he thought was right. Perhaps Erin’s motivation was a little bit more than simply trying to accompany his friends on an adventure too.

A crush maybe? How adorable.

As Robert opened the door, every musing thought in his head vanished as he stared at his opulent sleeping quarters. The bed was the biggest one he’d ever seen and covered in a heavy brocade comforter. The furniture was all made of dark, intricately carved wood that seemed to shine like the midday sun. He had never set foot in a place this nice before without getting kicked out in a manner of seconds. It was… refreshing.

He gave Erin the go ahead to wash up for dinner first and sat thinking about something to bring up about the journey. He paused, thinking of the fancy clothes the Joestars all wore. That would certainly have to be changed somewhat.

Robert spent some time pacing the room. Soon enough something else came to him. He recalled his initial meeting with Jonathan and Dio. They thought him to be a vampire, right?

Seized by a manic desire to have a question answered in that very moment, Robert gave a sharp rap at the bathroom door before kicking the heavy wood open with his foot. He heard Erin scream and a loud splash followed thereafter.

“What are you DOING Robbie!?” Erin exclaimed, looking him nervously up and down while submerged to his shoulders in water and suds.

Robert hardly noticed him.

“Oi relax, I knocked.” His younger companion seemed cross. He sighed. “M’sorry, I’m not used to having to give people much notice I s’ppose. But I did have a question for you!”

Erin just gave him an icy look of impatience. Despite the steam in the room, Robert felt an unpleasant chill run down his spine.

“Alright, alright. Y’said you and Jonathan thought Dio was a vampire, right? That must mean he can’t be in the sunlight. Right?” There was a bit of a pause that stretched between them and his companion’s face contorted into an expression of mild irritation and confusion.

“That’s what you interrupted my bath to ask me? ...Of course we do. He gets severely burned in the sun if he’s not vigilant.”

Robert nodded seriously as if this answer wasn’t the most evident thing in the world.

“Right then, that’s important to remember to bring that up with Lord Joestar later tonight. Whatever mode of transportation he picks will most certainly have to account for that and I don’t know if the poor bastard’s thought that through.”

Erin snickered quietly. “I doubt it. …Now will you please go? I would like some time to myself, thank you.”

“Alright alright,” Robert replied with a laugh. “Get back to your washin’ and don’t you dare use all the warm water before I get the chance to give it a shot.”

“Of course, of course~”

An hour later Robert slipped into a lukewarm bath and didn’t even have the heart to be angry about it. His mind was full of thoughts and ideas he had to sift through before dinner.

This was his first high class bath. Full of sweet smelling soaps and bath salts and things made especially to tend to the mop of hair on his head. He took full advantage of the array set before him as he went over what to bring up to the Lord Joestar in his mind about their journey. There were logistical things to plan and if he was going to have to play babysitter to a bunch of rich nobility on a cross-country journey, he needed to be meticulous about it. Erin was counting on him after all.

It felt like no time at all had passed when a startling knock sounded against the heavy oak door to the washroom. His yelp of surprise and the loud splash of water was no doubt audible to the young boy behind the door. Robert swore he could hear a choked laugh before Erin spoke.

“You know it’s nearly six, we’ll be late if you don’t hurry!”

Shit! ” Robert shouted. “J-Just gimme a minute Erin! I’ll be out of here in no time!” He scrambled out of the tub, nearly slipping. Dumb luck kept him from sliding backwards and cracking his head on the side of the porcelain, yet it didn’t stop him from rushing and haphazardly tugging on the clothing he’d brought in with him.

He emerged from the washroom with all the grace of a tornado.

Erin to his credit was perched on one of the settees that furnished their room fumbling in an attempt to pull his hair back. The boy wore his nicest shirt and breeches with argyle socks pulled to the knee. They seemed like they had been quite the fine things before time had taken its toll on them. The shirt no doubt had become food for moths and the frayed threads on the side of the breeches hinted at popped buttons. Perhaps these were cast offs from Erin’s companions?

Robert huffed and went to the gunny sack that contained most of his worldly when he traveled. His hat collection amongst other things resided back home at a little hole in the wall in Ogre Street where his mates looked after it while he was off making what money he could. He rummaged through the bag of threadbare clothing and stolen shoes until he found what he was looking for.

He glanced at the clock. It was around ten to six… they had a little time.

The object he retrieved was relatively small and wrapped up in ugly rags. No one usually paid any mind to something like that when it was covered in scraps. Pulling away the covering revealed an ornate silver brush with yellow boar hair bristles, scuffed from use and age. Amongst the elaborate scroll work three words were inscribed into the silver, words that no doubt formed a name though Robert only cared about the first letter of each.

S. P. W.

He ran his thumb over the inscription and smiled softly for a moment. But he only afforded himself a moment. They had a place to be after all.

“Oi,” he called to Erin, waving the object in question. “Turn around I’ll help ya.”

The younger boy stared questioningly at him for a second before turning on the settee, golden hair flowing down his back in unruly waves. Robert began working the silver brush through Erin’s hair as carefully as he could despite his naturally heavy hand. They were pressed for time as it was, he had to pick up the pace.

“You didn’t steal that thing, did you?” Erin had asked him quietly, trying to make a joke but with an edge to it that let Robert know he was indeed curious. That earned the young boy a little laugh.

“M’afraid not. It’s one of the few things that have been gifted to me in this lifetime,” he replied with a softness to his voice that belied a story Erin had not yet been told and he was in no mood to recount now. “I see,” Erin added, obviously not wanting to pry but his voice dripping with curiosity. Instead of indulging him for once Robert had nothing to say.

They sat there in silence for a moment, the only noise coming from the brush as the bristles ran through Erin’s fine hair. Feeling a bit guilty for causing such a silence Speedwagon cleared his throat to get the boy’s attention.

“It’s not often you see hair like this on boys in the street, ‘m surprised you’ve kept it,” Robert said, trying to make conversation. Long and flowing wasn’t usually the style adopted for younger boys and often it could make a nice home for lice. He always thought it was nice to see someone with his sense of style.

Despite his pleasant and airy tone, Robert felt Erin’s shoulders stiffen at the question. Had he touched on a sensitive topic with the boy already? “I-It’s not anything bad y’know! I-I like that we match! I mean it may not be normal but I-I’ve got the same thing goin’!” Speedwagon babbled, trying to backpedal already.

Erin cut him off, instantly relaxing. “My mother, she told me I had lovely hair so I never had the heart to cut it. It’s good to hear it from you…”

With a sigh of relief Robert reached for a black ribbon at Erin’s side, tying his hair together neatly. “Well ‘m glad then. It’s good you don’t cut it, we obviously look like brothers with hair like this, don’t you think?” He grinned and turned the brush on his own wild mane, dragging the bristles through wayward curls until they were somewhat contained. “Ah yes, The Brothers Speedwagon, with their beautiful hair and winning personalities,” Erin supplied, gesturing with a smile. “Also known for their lateness.”

Robert froze, his eyes travelling once again to the clock. It was five-fifty eight… that took a little longer than expected.

“Well, come on now! We’ve got no time to be lolling about!” Robert yelled. He ran to cover his brush back with the rags and stow it away before shoving the room key into his pocket and making a break for the door.

“Race ya!” he yelled to the younger boy, locking the door behind them and leaving Erin in the dust as he sprinted to the end of the hall. There was hesitation and then the sound of lighter telltale footsteps behind him, trying to catch up.

“H-Hey! No fair!” Erin called petulantly over Robert’s loud laugh. Maybe he’d let the boy win.

…Probably not though.

Chapter Text

The two arrived at the dining room in record time, both flushed from exertion and struggling to catch their breath. Erin grinned and pumped his fist in the air.

“HA! Take that, I won!”

Robert bent forward and held his knees as he tried to collect himself. “Y-You sure did there Erin…”

If he had been less winded he’s sure he would’ve made more of a stink. As it stood though Erin was faster than he expected and full of boundless energy. He was only seventeen, was he getting too old already…?

“Ahem...!” Sounded a voice to their side and the two immediately looked up to see George Joestar’s stern yet indulgent expression. “Do you two want to take a moment to straighten yourselves out before you sit down?”

“O-Oh! Of course sir!” Erin nodded, trying to smooth out his hair and his clothes. Robert just shrugged and did the same until Lord Joestar looked satisfied.

With a small laugh George beckoned them. “Follow me to our table then…”

They both did as they were told and the older man guided them to a table where Jonathan and Dio were already seated. Jonathan had already opened and buttered a warm dinner roll and eaten half of it while Dio sat next to him. An expression of disgust present on the blonde’s face.

Robert struggled for a moment to find something to say. That usually was never an issue for him, he was normally brash and loud, not caring if he stated the obvious or put his foot in his mouth. However, this was a different atmosphere altogether. One he could admit to not being exactly… proficient in. So much was riding on this for Erin and even for the other two boys that it left him uncharacteristically conscientious of his words.

Instead he let the boys take over conversation for the moment. Dio frowned and jammed Jonathan in the ribs with two fingers as the other boy polished off another dinner roll and reached once again for the basket.

“You’ve already had three. Don’t you think it’s time to cut yourself off, Jojo?”

“Ow, hey! One more won’t hurt, you know!”

“Don’t be so mean to him!” Erin chided, handing Jonathan another roll while Dio merely rolled his eyes in distaste at their insufferable display.

George’s voice boomed over all of them. “Jojo, three is far too many, you’re going to ruin your appetite. Let your friend have it instead.” Erin, to his credit, suddenly looked embarrassed for being singled out. Setting aside childish conversation for now, Robert cleared his throat and looked to George finally with a determined look in his eye. He had finally found his nerve.

“So uh, Lord Joestar, what were the transportation plans that you had in mind for our journey southwest?”

At that George seemed to smile, as if he had everything covered front and back. “Well, it would seem that the quickest means of travel would be by train. I planned for our group to board a transcontinental rail and make due of the remaining distance by carriage. It shouldn’t be too uncomfortable or long of a journey that way.”

Robert took a deep breath. “Well, y’see sir, I’d have to disagree with you there… there are, well, a handful of flaws with that plan of yours.”

Oh?”

Speedwagon could practically feel all four pairs of eyes seated about the dinner table boring into him. To speak up to the Lord George Joestar like that? As some upstart seventeen year old street rat? He held up his hands nervously to try and placate them. “I...I don’t mean any offense by it, h...honest! And I do have my reasons and a solution, i-if I may be so bold ‘n all.”

Curious to see what he had to say the oldest Joestar nodded. “Please, feel free to share, Speedwagon.” Robert nodded and took a rather large gulp of air to steady his nerves.

“Y’see earlier, my younger brother was remindin’ me of that right nasty condition of your son’s. How the sunlight isn’t good for ‘im an’ all? The thing is, taking to the rails is dangerous when it comes to that isn’t it? Your boy’d be trapped either in a sleeper compartment with all the curtains shut and hopefully no stray beam of light comes in or we’d have to find a way to guarantee there’d be no light hittin’ him right?”

“Well, what do you propose we do then?” George asked, legitimately curious as to how Speedwagon wanted to work his way around these issues. Which did seem to be actual glaring issues to the older man that he hadn’t considered.

“This might sound a little strange…” Robert hesitated but Erin nodded for him to continue, offering a small reassuring smile. He really did appreciate that little brother of his. “It was only a few decades ago that I heard people were traveling the country here in droves in big covered wagons. I know they’ve fallen out of style recently, I mean why travel by horse when y’can travel by train since it’s faster than anything else. But… with something like that we can have better control over how we get there! Upholsterin’ the inside with heavy black cloth to blot out the sun for one, and should your son encounter a problem inside just a shout can let us stop and attempt to fix it! We sacrifice travel speed and a bit of comfort for greater safety and security.”

Speedwagon’s eyes flitted between the three Joestars who seemed to still be digesting the mouthful of a suggestion he had just put forward while Erin’s expression seemed hopeful. However, the longer the silence at the table stretched the more he felt his idea was ridiculous.

It was Dio who spoke up first. “While I personally would prefer to have the most expedient and comfortable journey, I cannot say I wouldn’t appreciate the opportunity to walk around at night and stretch my legs. I would also prefer not to die from sun exposure because some buffoon playing good samaritan happened to accidentally open up the curtains in our sleeper car.”

“I happen to really like the idea too!” Jonathan exclaimed with a grin. “You said we were going to get a carriage anyway, Father. It seems like it saves an extra step to me. It might be fun to rough it for a bit, wouldn’t you agree?”

At the words ‘rough it’ Dio looked as if he was going to have a heart attack. Erin however, nodded in agreement with Jonathan. “I know it’s not quite what you’re used to Lord Joestar, but if taking the harder route is what ensures Dio’s safety it might be for the best.”

All three exchanged a look. What they couldn’t convey to George was just how they would have a steadier food supply for Dio in particular as well. The ship was already an incredibly difficult test of both his patience and his growing thirst. At least in Speedwagon’s scenario they would have access to small animals with which Dio could satiate himself for a small amount of time.

Finally George Joestar spoke. “It appears that even if I didn’t approve of this as a proper course of action I would have been outnumbered anyway…” An indulgent smile spread its way across the older man’s face, stretching beneath a scruffy broom-like mustache. With that look and the way he had so easily folded to his children’s whims before, it made Speedwagon wonder how he hadn’t been conned out of half his fortune already.

“Luckily,” George continued, “I’m inclined to agree with your points. I do recall hearing of these wagons some time ago… If you can find one to procure within the week to begin necessary preparations for Dio, we will use that method instead. I would rather us not linger in New York if we can help it though, hence we are looking at a hopeful departure from the state in two weeks time. I trust you can make it happen, Speedwagon?”

“O..of course Lord Joestar!” Robert shouted with ardor, pumping his fist in the air. Unfortunately for him, half of the dining room witnessed his boisterous display. As all the patrons turned to stare at him Robert sank in his seat, ears burning especially red. “M-my apologies sir.”

The older Joestar laughed, patting the teenager on the back good naturedly. “Not a problem, my boy. I rather appreciate the enthusiasm.” Dio scoffed at that from across the table.

“There’s… another thing I’d like to bring up with you sir, if you don’t mind,” Robert began, resisting every urge to toy with his hair from nerves despite how well his suggestion went over.

“Not at all!” George replied jovially, sending an attentive look his way.

With an exhale of breath Robert started again. “Well, y’know... you and your sons happen to come from a very high place, lotta money being shuffled around between ya. As we start on our way travelin’, it’s gonna be easier to spot us as easy targets by the clothes you’re wearin’.”

“E-Excuse me? My clothes?” George asked scandalized, looking down at his well tailored starched dinner shirt. Jonathan too looked down at his ensemble, trying to pinpoint what exactly was wrong with it. Dio on the other hand merely sipped at his tea, staring right at Robert. The young boy’s message was clear. He’d let Speedwagon die before he got him out his finery.

Erin let out a nervous laugh, attempting to ease the ever so slight shift in atmosphere. “S-Sir, I don’t believe my brother meant that in an offensive way!” The younger 'Speedwagon brother' sent a desperate and irritated look his way. An unspoken demand to fix this, jerk!

“I certainly didn’t mean any offense by it, sir!” For someone who had supposedly found his nerve earlier, Robert found himself stumbling over words every which way. “I-I only say this because such luxuries are a tell as to who has the money to afford ‘em. If some run o’ the mill bandit caught wind of us decked out in the best your wealth has to offer, he’d make the correct assumption that we have somethin’ to steal. Y’see? T-this is merely just a protective measure!”

Another long silence stretched out between the group, leaving Speedwagon a bit of a wreck. He had no idea what he could possibly say to make this better, let alone avoid further agitating the situation. After a certain point however, he simply couldn’t take it anymore. He was willing to open his mouth and just let whatever came to mind spill out before Lord Joestar chimed in first.

His tone was level but strained by slight irritation. “I will not dress my boys in rags…”

That reply earned a skittish laugh from Robert and the answering look from George did nothing to ease his growing anxiety. How lovely. “Sir, I promise that’s not what I was insinuating either. Just… there should be a tailor here in the city that can make simpler travelin’ clothes for the lot of ya. Y’can take all the fine pieces you want but it’d probably be better for our safety and honestly a little more comfortable to travel in plainer clothes... don’t you agree?”

George huffed and in that moment, Speedwagon saw the resemblance between father and son. How many times already had he seen Jojo wear that same look when Dio had said something insensitive to him? And Robert had really only known them a few days at most…

“I suppose we can see what we can get from a tailor here at a moments notice…”

Before anything else could be added to the discussion, waiters in finely pressed uniforms appeared behind them with steaming plates of elegant dinner fare. Robert’s eyes widened as the main course was set before them and George merely sighed, massaging at his temples.

“I suppose that is enough business talk for now. Eat your fill boys, we have a long week ahead of us.”

Chapter Text

They wasted no time setting out for a tailor after the initial conversation at dinner that night. Clothes would after all take some time to be made to fit them. So George fit all the boys in a carriage for one stop at the bank to line his pockets with the proper currency and the next for measurements and a fitting with a modest seamstress in the city of Manhattan.

Erina was surprised when George Joestar urged her to follow them into the carriage. Robert had already left to pursue inquiries about their mode of transportation which left her alone in the hotel.

“Come on my boy,” he announced with a sweep of his hand toward the horse drawn carriage. “Don’t you need something new as well?”

She hadn’t the faintest idea of what to say to the man. Though, the first thing that came to mind was that she was wearing his son’s hand-me-downs anyway. She saw Jonathan craning his neck to see her from his perch inside the vehicle and Dio pointedly looking out the opposite window. They wouldn’t be much help now, would they?

“Well thank you for thinking of me sir…,” she began nervously. “Though I highly appreciate your consideration in taking me, I don’t quite have the coin to get such things.” Though technically she had made some money on the ship it was a pittance and not nearly enough to purchase much of anything, let alone clothing. “Besides,” she added, not wanting to seem like a charity case, “you and your sons need such a journey much more than I. My clothes are already properly worn, you see. I don’t mind staying here.”

Lord Joestar paused for a moment as if properly trying to appraise what she said before breaking into a laugh. Erina laughed nervously along with him for reasons she couldn’t place at all. Was something she said funny? She had no idea but she didn’t want to offend him…

Finally the older man’s laughter dissipated and he fixed her with a paternal look, one that she’d seen from her own father when she did something particularly endearing. “There is no need to fret over money, I assure you. I promised I would take the boys for clothes and as far as I’m concerned that groups you in as well. I intended to take that wily brother of yours along with us but it seems he’s already out and about for the afternoon. You don’t happen to know his measurements offhand do you?”

“W-Well, no sir…” she replied, completely mystified.

“Blast, it seems he’s missed out for now. Perhaps I can get him on a later date. We’re travelling as a group are we not? It will be important for us to look cohesive! Come on then, I shan’t take no for an answer.”

Erina hardly even had the presence of mind to fight as she was shepherded inside the carriage and the door closed. Would Robert be angry with her for taking up this man’s generosity? She wasn’t quite sure.

This was a rather… bizarre situation, to say the least. Erina was astutely aware of the necessary etiquette and social graces that a young lady was to approach most situations, but from the moment she boarded that steamship as Erin, she had been pushed out of familiarity. There was no way a girl of good moral standing should have been in this predicament. None whatsoever.

Once the doors closed behind them and the four passengers settled in, conversation was slightly stitled and difficult to come by. Jonathan, Erina, and begrudgingly, Dio had been very sociable in the weeks leading up to the voyage across the Atlantic but there had also been a blatant lack of adult supervision. They could speak of Dio’s vampirism in detailed length or any other topic they so chose to. Now however, there was an invader sitting in their midst and injecting his pleasantries wherever he so chose. George Joestar.

Dio was of course, the smoothest on the uptake. When George would ask things like “How do you find your accommodations, Erin?” and she only managed an automatic response of “Lovely, thank you very much for allowing us to stay with you!” he was quick to step in.

“You know,” Dio began airily in his attempt to lead the conversation elsewhere, “The very hotel where we are staying hosted our lovely Prince Edward some twenty years prior? We are practically dining among royalty, Father.”

As if Dio knew exactly what to say, George launched into how he had met the prince himself around the time of his engagement. He was an acquaintance of his late wife, didn’t you know? It was surely an intriguing story and Erina did listen to bits and pieces but her eyes flitted between Dio and Jojo. Jonathan, to his credit was opening his mouth every so often. However, he seemed to close it before too long, unsure of what to interject. Erina often saw his eyes light up like he knew what to add but then immediately backtracked like perhaps it was too much information for his father.

Erina was content to let the older man speak, she had nothing to add in the first place. Jonathan eventually did jump in when his father started up discussion on the architecture of the hotel. “Did you notice the corinthian columns on the second floor, Father? They were truly a treat…”

George laughed. “Why yes, indeed I did. And which ancient peoples favored the corinthian order in their homes and public buildings?”

“The Romans!”

“The Romans.”

“The Romans…”

Both boys answered simultaneously with Erina answering almost unconsciously but freezing up when all three pairs of eyes turned to look at her. George was beaming, obviously expecting the correct answer from his sons but pleasantly surprised that this commoner boy was well versed enough in ancient architecture to know as well. In actuality she was simply a young girl who read much too often.

“Ah-- Robert… bought me a book once. I-It was an interesting fact I remembered…” Her anxious laugh returned full force and she wished her hair was out of its long ponytail so she could properly hide behind it. The smirk Dio wore at her blunder as he sat across from her made Erina want to reach out and wipe it from it’s annoying place across his lips. Jonathan on the other hand smiled with near amazement, like she was constantly full of pleasant surprises and he was excited to see what the next one would be. A pleasant warmth bloomed in her middle as she held his gaze for a moment.

“Well, that’s impressive nonetheless, good on you Erin! Perhaps, you can sit in on schooling with the boys during our travels! I’m sure it will be nothing but a benefit to you!”

“...Schooling?” Jonathan asked with a near whine. The poor boy’s expression had switched to dismay rather quickly upon hearing such a thing.

His father’s answering stern look spoke volumes. “Yes Jojo, did you think we would spend such a long journey in idle travel? Certainly not. You and Dio are Joestars and you will continue your lessons as such!”

“Silly boy,” Dio added with a derisive little laugh. Jonathan looked like he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do more, protest his father’s decision or yell angrily at Dio when the carriage stopped.

“Enough of that now, the bank is around two streets down this direction,” George informed them, gesturing to the north. “I’m going to trust you three to go in and get your measurements taken on your own whilst waiting patiently for my arrival. Am I wrong in my assumption that you three can handle such a task?”

The trio shook their head. They were perfectly capable.

“Alright then, do not make me regret my choice!” George told them seriously as the three exited the carriage and made their way into the small shop. They waved from the doorway as George closed the door once more and the carriage continued up the street.

Finally alone, the air seemed to ease a little bit as they could finally express themselves freely.

“My, you two are quite the conversationalists under pressure~” Dio mocked as the door shut behind them and a bell rung overhead with the movement. Erina remained guiltily quiet, after all he wasn’t wrong, while Jonathan huffed with indignation.

“I believe I did rather fine, thank you very much!”

Erina rolled her eyes but a smile tugged at her lips regardless. “We managed, didn’t we…? I’ll try harder on the way home.”

Before Dio could respond, the three overheard a woman’s faint voice requesting their patience from the back of the shop. Giving pause, they realized it to be the tailor and allowed her time to get herself together. While waiting to be measured, they decided to mill about the store instead.

Erina made her way past displays of clothing for men and found herself stopping at a dressform amongst a display for women. The dress was of simple style, made of a light green cotton and edged in creamy lace. It wasn’t supremely fancy, nothing too special, but Erina never needed anything special. She was feeling an urge to dress in her normal attire again recently, to go back to something familiar while on such an urgent mission but she knew there was no point in even dwelling on something like that. There would be scarce opportunities to slip herself back into the comfort of her frocks and walk around as Erina again.

She ran her fingers along the soft fabric and sighed lightly.

“Rather plain, don’t you think?” Dio crooned from beside her, his hand reaching to feel the hem as well. At the unexpected company Erina jolted in shock, causing Dio to smirk.

“D...don’t startle me like that!”

“Rather jumpy, aren’t we? My apologies, darling.” The way his smile stayed stretched across his face left Erina thinking he wasn’t nearly as apologetic as he said.

She huffed, letting go and placing her hands on her hips. “You know, things that are plain aren’t necessarily bad. Sometimes they suit a person much more than something opulent. You just happen to have much fancier tastes than most people.” She paused after her explanation before adding, “I know you’re not sorry either.”

Dio’s eyes flitted away from her and returned to inspecting the soft green fabric of the dress. His smile didn’t wane. “I suppose so, but that is not to say I don’t favor simple things on occasion. Sometimes they can be quite fetching~” Erina couldn’t hold back the low disbelieving laugh that bubbled up deep in her throat.

“Think of me what you will Pendleton,” he sighed airily. “Perhaps you are correct in saying I’m not sorry but I don’t think you’re quite as aware of my tastes as you think you are.”

Erina turned from him and let out a vaguely irritated sigh. “Well it doesn’t matter, does it? Whether such a thing is to your tastes or not it’s not like anyone will get to wear something like it. Why dwell on the aesthetics of something that ultimately won’t amount to anything?”

“What makes you--” the boy began before trailing off into silence. In surprise, Erina looked up, catching a glimpse of a flashy top hat and white coattails before they disappeared past the shop window. Something about the man walking away rang with dull familiarity in the back of her mind, but she couldn’t seem to place it. Had she seen him somewhere before? Her face scrunched up in confusion and she turned to look back at Dio.

“...Are you alright?” She asked tentatively, unsure of what could have possibly caused Dio to stop in the midst of some witty repartee.

His response was even more chilling once he finally turned to face her. He wore a look of shock with a blatant undercurrent that her brain immediately placed as fear. “Y..you… did you see him? Standing right there, the man wearing the absurd top hat! Did you see him or not?!” His eyes were wild, as if praying that she too witnessed what he had.

“You mean… the flashy one? With the white coat?” she spoke nervously, hoping that if it was true validation would wipe such a nervous look from Dio’s face. Instead he nodded and she watched as his expression devolved further. “...S-so, I’m not seeing things then?” he asked as a tremor visibly ran down his spine. “If you can see him then he’s-- he’s real and he’s been following us!”

“Following us? Are you sure you’re not confusing multiple people for the same man? I mean, there’s no reason for anyone to be doing something like that...” she replied with a hint of doubt seeping into her voice. Why would anyone be following their group, when only they knew the true intent behind the journey ahead of them? Surely, Dio hadn’t forgotten...

“I know what I saw, Erin.” Dio hissed in an attempt not to draw attention to them. She could see it in his face, though--in his eyes--the pure panic. “We are being followed by someone… I-I know this isn’t a mere trick of the eyes, and I...I know for certain that I am not being paranoid.” He certainly looked that way but she kept that thought to herself.

Instead Erina clasped his hand, trying to set her voice to the most soothing tone she could muster. “Dio, Dio, just take a breath.” Dio’s eyes lit up in irritation and she held up one hand to placate him. “He seems familiar to me too, perhaps someone from the ship? We could be just coincidentally running into the same man on the street too. It’s not impossible….” He didn’t seem convinced so she continued. “Well, I’m not sure why he would be following us, but if he is he’s lost the element of surprise, right? You’re aware and now I am… should we tell the others?”

“I-” Dio began, “I don’t… know.” He told her, legitimate uncertainty bleeding into his answer. This was the first time she had ever heard this sort of tone in his voice before. He sounded… small compared to the confidence he had flaunted earlier. For a boy who always seemed self-assured in the fact that he was five steps ahead of everyone else, in these passing moments he seemed awfully lost. In turn, it left Erina feeling nervous in a way she couldn’t properly explain.

Silence stretched between them until Dio spoke up once more. “Just… leave it be for now, Pendleton. It doesn’t matter.” That short reply left many words threatening to bubble up all at once. It certainly did matter if they were in potential danger!

“But--!” she attempted to argue before a voice rang out across the shop, cutting her off.

“My apologies, boys! I’m here! Please, if you will, come up here one by one so I can measure you all!”

Upon hearing the tailor’s call Dio’s head snapped up. As if realizing where he was and who he was with he snatched his hands back almost too quickly, like the sheer act of being comforted by Erina would burn him if anyone witnessed it. There was a moment of palpable relief in his expression before he fit a smug smile back on his face and he turned towards the tailor with a flourish. “No apology needed ma’am, we were hardly waiting,” he drawled as if nothing had happened to him at all only a few minutes prior. Erina admittedly was caught between being offended at his reaction and being a bit in awe at how quickly he bounced back from his panic.

As the first to react, Dio was the first to be measured. Erina continued to browse the pieces on display and got lost a bit in her thoughts. If the man in the top hat was indeed following them around then certainly it was a danger. It should be brought to someone’s attention, someone older. Dio’s silence on this matter, to her pragmatic mind, seemed like a huge risk for their entire adventuring party.

However, her principles dictated that she not tell anyone about it. After all, she had told him she would keep it to herself. This just meant she had to be doubly on guard for the group. It shouldn’t be that big of a risk, should it? This man would be going against five people. Robert had boasted quite the pugilistic skill set after growing up on Ogre Street and Dio himself possessed vampiric powers. Surely, some strange man wouldn’t be that big of a threat put up against those odds?

“E-Erina, are you alright?” Jonathan asked conspiratorially, approaching her from behind. She yelped, jumping nearly a foot in the air. She must have been lost in deep thought if she hadn’t heard those heavy footsteps approaching her.

“I-I’m sorry!” Jonathan added nervously, holding onto her arm to steady her. “I didn’t mean to catch you off guard you just looked so serious. I wanted to make sure you were feeling okay.” His concern was touching and she felt her stomach do little flips as he looked on at her with worry shining in those soft eyes of his.

She cast her eyes down after letting her gaze linger on his for a moment too long and instead took great interest in her hands. “Th-There’s nothing to be sorry for assure you. I was simply just… daydreaming. I apologize myself, if I’ve worried you! I do appreciate concern though…!” Finally she had enough courage to meet his eyes once more. “I suppose our adventure drives me to distraction… but you’re quite the gentleman to ask about me.”

When she flashed a little smile his way it was Jonathan’s turn to look away, color flooding his cheeks. “I-It was nothing. I mean-- not that it was nothing to me, i-it just didn’t take much effort-- wait that’s not what I meant either. Just it’s--” Erina laughed and patted Jonathan’s arm.

“It’s quite alright Jojo, I understand.” She watched his tense shoulders ease as she laughed out of sincere affection. In that moment, Erina realized that in her thoughts she had drifted through the shop without quite being aware of her surroundings. Now all the way on the other side of the room, she caught Dio, obviously done with his measurements, approach the green dress they had looked at prior. He spoke low instructions to the tailor and held up the fabric for her inspection. The woman for her part nodded and replied just as quietly. Her heart nearly jumped into her throat when Dio nodded in her direction and both boy and tailor seemed to glance over her way. The boy in general wearing a smirk like he’d known she was watching the entire time. She looked away as quickly as possible, cheeks darkening with the mortification of being caught.

“What?” Jonathan asked with another twinge of worry before the tailor’s voice rang out.

“Next!”

Jonathan nudged her. “Ladies first, right?”

“Are you forgetting that you’re speaking to Erin A. P. Speedwagon right now, Sir Joestar?” she replied with pursed lips. The younger Joestar merely laughed and nudged her once more. “...Humor me?” he asked with a grin.

She sighed like it was such a tall order to do what he asked. On the inside however, his gentlemanly request made her heart flutter just a little. To think, Jonathan Joestar really thought of her as a lady. “I suppose I can do as you ask.”

Erina made her way over to the tailor who seemed poised for anything. She was short and stout with friendly eyes and an extremely evident sunny disposition. Her hands were meant to work quickly in her profession but it seemed her mouth followed suit as the woman seemed to speak so fast it made Erina’s head spin.

The woman stretched the measuring tape with practiced ease stretching it along Erina’s shoulders and arms and jotting these numbers down in her notebook. “Your clothes are a little large on you dear, but we’ll fix that right up won’t we?” she asked in a bit of a sing-song voice before nudging Erina’s arm. “Arms up then? Need your chest size.”

For a moment she hesitated. By no stretch of the imagination was Erina developed. She was too young for any of that yet, instead she was all knees and elbows and her physician father had predicted it would only get worse before any of it got better. But as a girl who had been masquerading as a boy for the better part of a week and some days, she was rightfully nervous.

“Come now, I won’t bite.” The tailor urged once again. Erina knew she had to do something or she would really be found out. So with a deep breath she raised her arms. While the measuring only took a quick moment for her it felt like it stretched on forever. When she felt the tape slide down from her chest to her waist she sighed out in relief. The tailor recorded both numbers in the book and laughed. “See? No biting. Were you afraid I was going to find out how skinny you were?” Erina laughed along nervously.

“Y-Yes of course, trying to bulk up you know…?”

“Oh you can’t rush that kind of thing, dear! You know, I have this cousin who works down on a farm in Staten Island and let me tell you the wretch spends most of his pay on eggs…” the tailor prattled on as she wrapped the tape around Erina’s hips and then guided the tape further down her leg. To think having someone acquire her measurements would be so tense of an activity. She tried again to focus on the story the tailor was telling about her cousin and a ridiculous egg diet that no human being should replicate. It did indeed help calm the spike in her nerves that welled up to hear stories of someone else’s blunders.

“And you’re done!” The tailor announced after finishing her ridiculous tale and marking the final numbers in her little notebook. Erina practically sagged with relief as she was able to step away and let Jonathan take his place for his measurements as well.

Halfway through Jonathan’s turn George stepped into the shop, obviously done with his bank errand and ready to finish up the last item on his to do list. She had jumped again when the oldest Joestar strolled through the doors thinking perhaps for a second it was the illusive top hatted gentleman who Dio swore he kept seeing.

Erina wondered if the whole journey was going to be like this: full of moments of completely pointless anxiety.

Chapter Text

It was nearing the end of their first full week in Manhattan. No doubt a lively place and one that Jonathan decided he’d rather like to see again under different circumstances. It was, in fact, hard to enjoy the merrymaking that his father seemed to want them to experience while they had such an important journey ahead of them. After all, Dio’s life depended on it did it not? Erina had tossed aside her identity to travel with them.

A lot was riding on this.

He couldn’t help the relief that washed over him when Speedwagon had announced at dinner the night prior that he had found a farmer with a wagon that seemed to fit their exact specifications in New Jersey and he was to inspect it as soon as possible. Of course his father wanted to go, after all he would be paying for it and indeed it would be their home in the coming weeks. But then Dio had wanted to go and see it and of course, Jonathan had wanted to go because who wouldn’t? Of course Erina-- or rather, Erin-- couldn’t be left alone in New York so it was decided after much loud debate that they would go together to look over the purchase while Speedwagon attempted to haggle the price with this farmer.

The farm that was selling this particular wagon was large and covered in sprawling fields of growing vegetables, bright green in the light of that balmy July evening. Jonathan noticed it as they approached by carriage. The owner of said farm visibly balked when their little party disembarked from their vehicle. They were quite the collection weren’t they? His father, the picture of dignity and him the rough and tumble aristocrat. Speedwagon always made waves with his large facial scar and tough looks and Erina, with her long blonde hair, gave Dio a run for his money as the prettiest boy anyone had ever seen. Dio himself, however, was the one the farmer looked at with the most confusion. A young boy wrapped up in layers in the summer heat and holding a parasol in the evening light.

With one dark look from Robert at his blatant staring, the farmer remembered his purpose and began leading them through his lands. “Y’see, the thing is in one of my barns a little farther back on the property. We never really used the thing to go anywhere, it’s really just to take things to town.”

In addition to fields, Jonathan noticed were also large pastures dotted with cattle relaxing in the evening air. It reminded him a little of the tenant farmers back on his estate’s land but on a larger scale. It was completely fascinating. He was immediately seized with the urge to grab Erina-- Erin’s hand and run out to pasture and pet one of the cows. That being said, his father’s presence on this little trip did at least make it easier to control himself than usual and he quickly tamped the urge down. He would no doubt scold him for such ungentlemanly behavior and that would be completely embarrassing.

The one good thing about such a long walk was watching Dio beneath the parasol, sneering and cringing every time they got close to an animal. He didn’t seem to care for cows past their uses on his dinner plate-- or rather in his wine glass nowadays. He heard him grumbling about “vile, foul smelling beasts” and it was difficult to repress his laughter.

Sometimes it was nice to see Dio Brando knocked down a peg or three.

Finally, they arrived at the large wooden barn. The farmer walked ahead and pulled open the huge doors, revealing a dusty open space full of tools and other sorts of farming equipment surrounding a large covered wagon. It was scuffed with age and use but didn’t look to be in any sort of state of disrepair.

“Feel free to look her over, she’s still in good shape,” the farmer called out from the doorway as their party entered. “As long as you’ve got the money and you’re not wasting my time.” Jonathan saw his father reach for his pocket but Robert was quicker.

“Oi, do I look like the kind of gent who wastes other people’s time?” The irritated look on his face was mighty impressive and Jonathan was rather entertained to see a man of middle age shrink from a teenager’s withering look. “We will be lookin’ ‘er over too,” he added with a tone that made it sound half like a threat.

The farmer seemed rattled. “O..of course, take your time.”

The man staggered back a little as their group descended on the wagon, looking the simple thing over. There wasn’t much to the vehicle itself, the boards had seen some wear and the covering was a little threadbare. Robert’s eyebrows had knitted together while inspecting the wood and wheels. He also urged the rest of his traveling companions inside, George included.

Jonathan held back a laugh as his father sputtered. “I say, Speedwagon, do I truly need to crawl in with the children?”

“S’just a check to see how much it’ll fit sir, I promise.” Robert said as softly as he could, attempting to placate the older Joestar much in the way his younger “brother” often managed it with Jonathan and Dio. George sighed and crawled inside the back and Speedwagon took a good look at the crowd inside before joining them. He peered around and nodded to himself.

“A little tight…” he spoke loudly before quieting down. “This actually ain’t that bad, you know. Needs a little work I think, but s’not that shabby and there’s more space back here than I figured it’d be. This is mostly to keep Dio safe durin’ the day, without all of us sitting shoulder t’shoulder this should be more than enough. What do you think? But quiet… we don’t want him cheatin’ us now.”

The children all looked at George who subsequently turned his head to Dio. “Well, I believe it certainly is decent enough, but Dio is the one who will be residing here most often. His opinion matters most, do you not agree?”

Jonathan wasn’t quite sure he liked Dio being described as the one with the “most important opinion” but his father had a point. For a moment, their vampiric companion was quiet, as if mulling it over before he flippantly waved his hand.

“I suppose it isn’t too abysmal. I was aware we were traveling by modest means now... so I assume this is about as good as I’m going to get, correct?”

The older Joestar was quite ready to backpedal and see what he could do, but Robert’s sharp tongue was quicker. “M’sorry there’s no wagons made of gold, little lord. This is indeed the best shot we’ve got for now. Any problems?” George looked vaguely scandalized while Jonathan realized he was beginning to like Speedwagon more and more with every passing day. Erina even looked like she was holding back a laugh.

Dio, to his credit, didn’t argue back or yell. He scoffed but a smirk pulled at his lips. You didn’t have to be a psychic to figure out what Dio was so pleased about. Robert had reacted so quickly he was sure Dio was already taking great amusement out of bothering him and was looking forward to needling him more when they were on the road. “No, no, none at all Speedwagon. I appreciate your efforts to appease me,” he purred with unconcealed amusement.

Robert rolled his eyes and straightened his bowler hat.

“Alright then boys, the Lord Joestar and I are going out to haggle out a price for this old thing. Back in a jiff.”

“Haggle?” Jonathan’s father asked like he had no intentions of doing so in the first place.

Robert turned to him for a moment. Looking, not for the first time that week, like he was trying to maneuver through a minefield. “Well sir, I know you don’t want to spare any expense for your boy but I think it might be best to play this as economically as possible and all that. It’s good to have a little extra to play with in the event of an emergency, you know?”

The younger man nervously looked at Lord Joestar in the moments afterwards like he expected some sort of vehement disagreement but instead Jonathan’s father simply nodded. “You do have a point Speedwagon, shall I let you take the lead on this then? You’re a young buck who seems to know what he’s doing.” The good natured laugh and pat on the back that followed looked like it bolstered Robert’s confidence as he pulled his hat further down on his head and hopped out of the back of the wagon with George following.

Jonathan and Erina situated themselves right at the back of the wagon, heads poking out of the opening to watch as the haggling began. Even Dio crawled up behind them with an interest to see how the transaction would go.

The trio listened closely as Speedwagon began to make offers on the wagon, purposely lowballing the price. The farmer, obviously not enjoying having to discuss prices with a teenager wasn’t the most receptive but every time he looked to George Joestar to take over he remained silent. This was Robert’s show. They bounced back and forth driving the prices lower and higher and just when they thought they would reach an agreement Robert threw in two horses to pull the vehicle which plunged them into another round of bargaining.

“The fool, he should have simply taken the deal. We can get horses anywhere,” Dio scoffed.

“Don’t be thick-headed, perhaps they can come to more of a deal this way. Trust in Robbie, he knows what he’s doing,” Erina fired back, ever the champion for young Speedwagon.

“I agree with Erina, after all it can be a sort of bundle and in the end be more economical for us to have all our resources in one place don’t you think?” Jonathan asked.

“Pfft, we all know why you’re agreeing with her instead of being sensible.”

“J-Just what are you implying here!? I-I’m always sensible!”

“You? Sensible? Don’t make me laugh, Jojo.”

“Why I never--!”

“Shh! Quiet down!” Erina hissed, nudging both of them with an irritated expression. “I think they’re about to reach a deal!” Jonathan had gotten carried away and couldn’t help the heat that rose to his cheeks realizing just how quickly he’d dropped to Dio’s level. Dio of course was acting like nothing happened and lazily looked over their shoulders.

The trio missed hearing the price Robert had offered the farmer but when the two shook, it seemed that a deal was struck. “The wagon and two fine horses for you then, in addition to enough feed to keep them stocked for a whole month. Shall we put it in writing?”

“Yes, please.” George nodded and watched as the farmer rushed off to grab a pen and paper. The business face Robert had worn through the whole transaction melted away to a grin as he pumped his fist into the air.

“W-Well look at that! They’ll make a tradesman outta me yet, don’t you think?” The delight in his face was infectious it seemed as Jonathan’s father returned the smile just as wide. “It certainly seems so, Speedwagon. Stick with me and I’m sure there will be many more opportunities.”

Even with the large facial scar Jonathan thought for a moment that Speedwagon looked the most handsome when he was smiling like that. Full of happiness and full of pride his whole being seemed to light up from the inside out, it was rather nice. Even nicer when he waved to Erina who grinned and clapped lightly for his efforts. She was rewarded by Robert removing his hat and giving her a deep sweeping bow which left George and Jonathan laughing and even earned a snort from Dio.

As Robert straightened up the farmer had returned, pen in hand and ledger tucked into the crook of his arm. “Now then, you say you have half the pay here and you’ll return with the rest later in the week?”

George nodded and the farmer opened the ledger and made a note to himself, nodding his head when the older Joestar extended quite a few bills the man’s way. “Now, if you’d please sign your names here as a guarantee you’ll pay the rest to me our deal is set,” the farmer spoke, nudging out a crudely written contract he had tucked away between the pages of the ledger itself.

With an easy nod and smile Jonathan’s father plucked the pen from the farmer’s hand and pressed the paper against a rough-hewn workbench a few feet away. It was almost odd for Jonathan to see his father, the Lord Joestar, signing a contract in a dusty old barn next to farming tools. Yet, here they were. Speedwagon to his credit seemed to be just as mystified, watching George’s hand fly across the page with a serious expression he hadn’t quite seen before on him. With a flourish, his father finished writing and handed the pen over to Robert who looked at it like a foreign object for a moment.

“Alright then, your turn,” George called, nudging it further in his direction. Robert, seeming to realize where he was and what he was doing straightened up and took the pen and George’s position. For a moment he did nothing, trying perhaps to collect his thoughts?

But then, Jonathan balked a little as Speedwagon’s hand curled strangely around the fountain pen. His right hand curled inward and the placement of his fingers looked bizarre and uncomfortable. Robert’s hand began to tremble as it hit the paper and he struggled to scrawl out a single letter. As he started on the second, something happened. Perhaps he was shaking too much or he pressed too hard, but the tip of the pen snapped off in his hand causing black ink to pool along the letter and pour down the bench before Robert jumped away with a loud yell of “Shit!”

“What the hell are you doing with my pen a-and the--!?” The farmer asked, advancing on Speedwagon. George was quick to come to his aid.

“Sir, this seems to be his first business transaction of this nature. Perhaps return with something else for us to sign and another pen and I’m sure his nerves will be right as rain. Here, I apologize for the inconvenience.” As if to make it up to the farmer, George passed him a crisp dollar. Which… actually worked wonders. The farmer looked significantly less angry and nodded to George, slipping the money into his pants pocket and strolling out to get everything set up once more.

Jonathan, Dio and Erina all exchanged a look after Robert’s accident but said nothing. Jonathan supposed that it certainly could be true, that Robert was simply much too excited and bungled the whole thing, but something seemed off about that explanation that he couldn’t put his finger on.

After a bit of an awkward silence and a few clumsy attempts by Robert to apologize to George for such a scene, all of which were waved off, the farmer returned. This time Robert was to sign first.

“Try not to break this one,” the farmer added with irritation when Robert slipped the pen from his grasp. Robert huffed and puffed, holding it in his right hand and roughly scrawling against the paper. It seemed like everyone in the barn was cringing and holding their breath, praying that this time he would have a more successful go. After a few moments he stepped back, pleased with himself at writing what he did. All Jonathan could see from his perch in the wagon were three letters etched inelegantly into the parchment. SPW.

That was how he signed his name?

Speedwagon proffered the pen to George who once again took it and signed and it seemed their little errand was over. The farmer thanked them for their business and looked forward to seeing them at the end of the week, after all they were to be bringing the second payment then. The older Joestar thanked the farmer for his graciousness and gestured for the trio too jump out of the wagon and follow them, their business was done here.

While the whole situation with Speedwagon had been supremely odd, no one seemed to want to broach the subject on the decent walk back through the farmer’s property to the carriage. However, despite the scene that took place earlier Jonathan felt himself gripped with a sort of excitement. They were even closer now to setting off on their way and getting to Mexico as soon as possible to sort out Dio’s condition. There was finally forward motion.

As they reached the carriage Jonathan thought he had heard someone behind them sneeze. Thinking perhaps it was the farmer, he turned just in time to catch a glimpse of a man in white coattails and a bizarre looking top hat walk off behind a tree.

An odd sight for sure, perhaps a trick of the mind? Jonathan felt unsettled but kept quiet so as not to worry their group over nothing, though it weighed on him. What sort of person was that?

...Unless it was a ghost.

Perhaps Dio had seen the specter in question too. After all, Dio was much more tense on the ride back to New York than Jonathan thought was necessary which earned the boy worried glances from Erina. Perhaps it was best to keep it to himself and leave well enough alone…

Chapter Text

It had been quite a few days since that wretched visit to the farm and Dio couldn’t have been happier. When he had seen the man in the top hat out in the open behind them he had wanted to demand that Erina explain that away as a coincidence but he thought better of it. He had to maintain his composure, remain in control. Since then, however, the man in question had not shown his face. This was a great relief to Dio and now allowed him the opportunity to think that maybe Pendleton had been right.

Not that he’d ever say something like that to her face, of course, but it was a thought to entertain.

Since purchasing their wagon Robert had spent many days re-purposing the vehicle for their use. Every evening Dio would see the teenager carrying huge rolls of thick black cloth, obviously meant to keep any daylight out of Dio’s area in the back. While it seemed like that was a solution to the transportation issue that required more work Dio couldn’t help but feel oddly at ease seeing all the effort going into keeping him safe.

He wasn’t sure just how much progress had been made yet, Robert hadn’t really let anyone see the fruits of his labor. For all he knew, Speedwagon could be doing a completely slipshod job and the wagon could be nigh unusable. They simply had to keep faith.

Easier said than done for someone like him, Dio.

Instead of focusing on the unknowable at the moment he was content to bide his time and busy himself with other necessary errands. As distasteful as it was he was forced to both go out and hunt his own food whilst still relying on Jonathan and Erina to keep up a cover for him at night. He couldn't complain, that is simply how it had to be. He, of course, had the skill set and the strength to hunt under the cover of nightfall without detection. He found himself counting his blessings that their hotel had been located right around a public park which made it easier to access a source of food whenever he found himself wanting.

Oftentimes Dio would slip out of their hotel once the sun set and venture into the park. Ghosting along the path, he would find which of the sparse trees were a refuge for small rodents like squirrels and drink his fill of the vermin’s warm blood. It was not ideal but it was something. Despite using his newly acquired powers to their fullest and making sure he was never fully seen Dio felt… off. Still like something was watching him carefully in this floral sanctuary tucked between streets of concrete. His gut reaction was that it was the man in the top hat and cold tendrils of fear seized his entire body. Nevertheless, once nothing seemed to happen, Dio considered himself paranoid. If the strange man had not made a move on him now, while he was alone and “vulnerable” then well, he surely wasn’t going to make a move at all, no?

This conclusion had put Dio’s mind at ease for the most part for much of the week. In fact, their day had not been so bad. Robert had finally managed to join them after tearing himself away from wagon preparations. George had insisted on accompanying Robert to visit the tailor finally, making sure that the teenager couldn’t weasel his way out of it, whilst letting the children do what they wanted that day.

The three were content to spend the day exploring Central Park together as a park entrance was close enough for George’s comfort and they had promised to return to the shop by sundown. Dio had to roll his eyes at Erina as she carried a gunny sack weighted down by the medical text she had snatched from her father’s study and well as what looked like a few other tomes.

“Really Erina? You brought reading material?” he had to ask with a condescending roll of his eyes. She never went anywhere without it, did she? He was almost compelled to acknowledge how impressive her dedication was but the ridiculousness of such an unnecessary action made him scoff instead.

Erina was quick to cross her arms. “You make it sound like I’m being rude.” She was. After all, was the bookworm simply going to read and ignore them? But as the three of them began climbing a wall the cheeky little thing turned her head to meet his eyes head on before he could smugly respond. “You know, I took a book for you and Jojo too. I’m not quite as inconsiderate as you assume.”

Of course the littlest Joestar had to add to this, never content to leave a situation alone. “Ha! She told you, huh Dio? And it was… it was very nice of you to think of me! To think of the both of us actually.”

“It was nothing,” Erina replied. The flush that spread across both their faces made his incisors ache and also made him want to gag. Was the journey truly going to be a month of this? He practically couldn’t stand it.

Jonathan, who was leading the pack, stopped in his tracks as he finally reached the top of the hill they had been climbing. He turned to the two and grinned widely, motioning for them to follow him before he took off running. Ugh, how annoying.

“W-Wait Jojo!” Erina yelled, hiking the bag higher up on her shoulder and trying to follow but Jonathan was already quite far ahead. “Last one to the tree’s a rotten egg!” he called over his shoulder. Dio was not one to be outshone and with vampiric speed on his side, neither of them would win.

He broke into a sprint, even with his parasol poised elegantly in his grip he easily outran the struggling Erina who still fumbled with the bag of books on her way down the hill. Jonathan, ever the worthy adversary, had pulled ahead quite a bit. Nevertheless, he did not have the supernatural on his side and Dio soon found himself quite a few paces ahead. Jonathan pushed but the tree, situated comfortably by a lake in the middle of this park, was much closer to him than Jojo. Once he reached the tree and secured his victory, Dio rested his back against it and looked to his nails, examining his cuticles like they’d left him waiting for hours.

“About time,” he drawled lazily, looking up at Jonathan with a triumphant sparkle in his eye. Jojo was bent at the knees catching his breath, face flushed bright red from the strain of running. Dio’s stomach twisted at the sight. Perhaps he would need to feed again soon.

“Th-That was… that was amazing!” Jonathan exclaimed between panting breaths. “Unfair, but still! Quite impressive.”

“But of course it was. After all, I possess many skills,” Dio replied, preening just a little.

Not but a second later a head of blonde crashed into Jonathan, both bodies landing on the ground with a hard thud. Erina was just as red faced and just as out of breath. Dio’s stomach twisted further. He’d certainly need to feed tonight.

Erina wore quite the pout and shoved Jonathan’s shoulder not-so-gently. “H-How rude! I-I’m carrying all these books and yet you do such a thing!?” Jonathan, who had laughed once they hit the ground, froze.

“I-I hadn’t-- I’m sorry!”

“You’d better be Jojo.” From the tone of Erina’s voice and the way she crossed her arms he was already forgiven. Pushover.

“I am,” Jonathan assured her. “Not to mention, I wanted to run over here because… look. Doesn’t it remind you of home?” With a big sweeping motion Jonathan gestured to the lake and the tree. Dio’s eyes gazed at the scene before him, mulling that over.

He supposed it was quite like the lake back home. Albeit… greener. The water had more of a darker shade, murky and glinting in the sun. It looked more like an over-sized pond if you asked him. He wasn’t much of a swimmer in the first place but you would be hard pressed to get him anywhere near that cloudy, green pool. He’d much rather be in English waters if he had to choose, thank you very much.

“I suppose this pond is vaguely similar,” he replied with an imperious sniff.

“It is rather like home! I just… don’t quite like the look of that water,” Erina was much nicer about it but she seemed to be echoing his sentiments regardless. Dio chuckled to himself as she looked at the water dubiously. Jonathan, ever the optimist, grinned anyway. “Well it’s good thing we didn’t take our bathers then. It’s not like we had plans to go swimming.”

As insufferable as the boy was, he had a point. Not wanting to focus more on the lake, the three situated themselves under the tree. Dio felt at ease under the heavy shade provided by the branches as well as his parasol. Despite how much he didn’t want to admit it, he rather enjoyed the familiarity that afternoon provided. Their departure from England felt like it had happened months prior, not weeks and as much as he hated saying it… the lazy afternoons he’d spent bothering Jonathan and Erina or even reading had become comfortable routine.

How dare they! He never intended to allow them to become a fixture in his day… and yet, here they were. It was beyond irritating.

Yet, he said nothing.

After all, spoiling this afternoon would be spoiling his own day. That wasn’t what he wanted, was it? Instead they spent the sunlight hours shoulder to shoulder with each other, reading and lightly chatting back and forth. Jojo even dozed, his book open in his lap and his obnoxiously heavy head resting on Dio’s shoulder. He wanted to move him from his personal space. Hell, he almost did but in the end let him be. Moving him would be merely be a nuisance after all.

Eventually, the light faded and the trio had to get themselves back to the tailor’s shop. Jonathan, quite disoriented from his nap, had to rely on Erina find the correct winding path back to the street. She was of course, much more prepared than he was and lead them quickly back.

It didn’t take long for them to reunite with George and Robert. The latter of which looked particularly antsy to get back and return to his work on the wagon and planning for the rest of their expedition. “It’s about time you three got back. Where’d you all go? Bloody Egypt?”

Dio didn’t even look in Robert’s direction, opting to instead climb into the idling carriage waiting for them to board. “The more you whine the longer it will take to return to our hotel. Hop to it, Robert.” Dio responded flatly. Speedwagon looked like he had a million and one angry things to spout back to him but the young vampire couldn’t help the snake like smile that spread across his features as George ushered Robert forward.

“Come now, surely you don’t want to be kept waiting,” Lord Joestar added. Whatever barbs Robert had lined up tuned into irritated mumbles as he climbed into the carriage, followed by George, Jonathan and Erina. The latter two obviously tried very hard to hide smiles and stifle giggles. Judging by the way Robert’s hand clenched into a fist however, Dio was pleased to find that they were doing a piss poor job of it.

The carriage meandered it’s way down the grid streets of Manhattan to their hotel and much to Dio’s relief it seemed the sun had officially hidden itself behind the horizon, now allowing the moon to reign supreme and himself to walk unrestrained by things like his gifted parasol. Due to a bit of traffic on the cobblestone streets by their hotel the driver offered instead to drop them off right outside of Madison Square Park. George was quick to accept and smile to the other passengers that a jaunt through the park amongst the gas streetlights seemed rather pleasant.

Normally such an assumption would have vexed Dio but he yearned to walk freely as he had in the sun before. He found night walks to be rather pleasant and though he didn’t appreciate the extra company he valued walking unhindered even more. Their modest party disembarked the carriage and strolled through the gates into the essentially empty park with the soft glow of the lamps and the bright rays of a crescent moon illuminating their path. Soon the moon would be full and Dio welcomed it.

Conversation was short as it tended to be when George joined the group but remained comfortable now that the group seemed somewhat adjusted to each other. Dio however, paid them no mind, opting instead to savor the feeling of the cool night air against his face and the liberation that night provided him.

He was so caught up in his own mind and in enjoying himself he didn’t realize it until it was far too late. That feeling of being watched had reared its ugly head once again and he felt it more keenly than before. He had lagged to the back of the group and turned his head wildly to see if they had been followed.

Sure enough, under the hazy flicker of a street lamp he saw that figure. The coattails, the top hat, and the mustache. That man, the one he had seen so many times on this journey was there and this time staring at him with a gaze so intense he was practically boring holes into his skull.

Dio panicked.

He turned back and tried to walk faster, tried to run ahead of the group to the perceived safety of the hotel. Normally he would be quick to strike down anyone in his path, he had had enough cowering before monsters in his childhood and told himself he would never be reduced to that again. Yet, this man, he didn’t seem normal. He was no Dario Brando, no imposing figure who could be toppled with the right leverage. Instead, this man seemed otherworldly, a bit like a ghost. Dio hadn’t yet had enough experience with vampirism to fight the likes of a ghost.

The entire group looked confused as Dio rushed ahead. “Are you alright, my boy?” George asked in blatant alarm. “Never better,” he replied with anxiety bleeding into the tone of his voice, leaving no one convinced. He turned to catch Erina’s gaze which was colored with worry. He hoped she could read his expression, could understand the message he was trying to send. The man with the top hat was here, they needed to get out as quickly as possible.

“...We should probably… pick up the pace,” Erina spoke slowly.

It should have been a relief, to know that Pendleton was clever enough to pick up on his signals, but there was hardly any comfort. There wouldn’t be until they returned safely to the hotel. The tentative agreement from the rest of the group didn’t do much to help, either.

Oddly enough, from behind them a loud whoosh echoed soundly. It was like nothing Dio had ever heard before, it almost made him want to turn around and see what it was. To his horror… there was no need to look back as the man in the top hat descended slowly from the sky, legs casually crossed as if he was waiting for afternoon tea. Such an action defied all logic and stopped the group in its tracks as they watched him land and block the path before them.

Dio felt his blood turn to ice as this frightening character levelled that piercing gaze in his direction once more. He vaguely registered Erina and Jonathan both looking from the man in front of them back to him, but it was getting harder to focus on anything else around them.

Che bambino,” the man called out, his tenor voice clear and cutting through the night air like a knife. It was a surprising timbre, usually the man who haunted his irrational fears had possessed a deep baritone but… perhaps this was more appropriate judging by the dandy attire he wore.

“The hell is this…?” Robert asked with hostility dripping into his tone. The man completely ignored him, keeping his even gaze pinned right to Dio. Despite being frozen, Dio had the presence of mind to slip a hand in his pocket, to grab hold of the knife weighing it down. Perhaps it wouldn’t normally be of any use on this man and his bizarre floating powers, but maybe when paired alongside his newfound strength and reflexes he could do some heavy damage, pop the tosser like a balloon.

The man in the top hat moved to speak again. “I can see it in your eyes, you know exactly why I’m here.” No, he didn’t. He wanted to snidely remark that this… nobody greatly overestimated his importance but his voice died in the back of his throat. “I take no pride in something like this. You’re but a child, thrust into this situation far too young to comprehend everything. However, I have one mission, one true purpose in life and that is to eliminate the slaves of the mask. You know what that means.”

A knowing horror washed over Dio. In a moment, he at least knew why this man seemed to be aware of him. The mask. He knew just what Dio had become, a caricature of humanity walking amongst them, shielded from the sun. But he hadn’t… done anything. He noticed the looks on Jonathan and Erina’s faces, how their eyes had widened and recognition flashed across them.

George was quick to walk forward, a grave look on his face. “Excuse me sir, who are you and what right have you to be making thinly veiled threats to my son?” It was stupid, the whole action was completely absurd and yet George Joestar did it anyway, like a man with no concern for his own safety. Dio supposed his guardian had no idea what dangers he was playing with in the first place.

To everyone’s surprise, the man turned to look at and acknowledge George. “My name is Baron William Anthonio Zeppeli and I urge you now to turn and leave. You know not the forces you’ve welcomed into your home, Lord Joestar.” George staggered back for a moment, blatant surprise coloring his expression at the fact that this man knew his name and his title when he was certain they had never crossed paths before this very day.

“D-Do I know you?” George asked, unable to keep an even tone in the face of such an odd situation.

“You do not,” the man, Zeppeli, replied. “Nevertheless, it is my duty to watch you, or rather that ward of yours. The disease which you think eats away at him, which you believe can be cured south of the American border is nothing like that at all. It is a curse, a blight on humanity.” Zeppeli’s eyes scanned the group and sighed as he beheld their defenses raising. “Your son and his boy companion… they know. They know what sort of monster he’s become. I’m not sure myself if they’re servants to this slave themselves, the way they’ve scurried about catching things for him to sustain himself.”

Jonathan spoke up now, yelling impassionedly, “W-We’re not servants! Who do you think you even are?!”

George Joestar looked beyond befuddled. First at the man's words, obviously not sure how his foster son was some sort of monster and again at his son's vehement defense of him. Dio could see the questions poised at the tip of his tongue. Unfortunately for him, now was not the time to address such a thing.

Baron Zeppeli tutted and shifted his gaze to Dio. “You simply won their trust then? How lucky it is that you’ve enlisted some humans to do your dirty work for you. Do you think that drinking the blood of animals is all that there is? Do you think you won’t want a taste of human blood? I can tell you’ve already thought of such a thing, can see it in your eyes.” He paused and the air around them seemed frozen.

“You need to know, there is no cure and there never will be.”

The gravitas and finality of his tone cut Dio to the quick.

Was that it, then? Is this all he would ever be? Never again to walk in the sunlight without fear of pain or death? The mere notion filled him with a despair the likes of which he hadn’t seen in years. One unknown to him before the untimely passing of his mother.

“Oi! Now listen here, how are you any sort of authority on this damn situation!?” Robert started, the harsh tones of his accent betraying his origin on the London streets even more so than ever before. This time Zeppeli actually acknowledged him though not bothering to look his way at all.

“I have the power to destroy all dangers the mask creates. Once again, I find no pleasure or thrill from something like this. The idea of dealing with a child is not an easy burden for me to bear. Even so, I am aware of the death and destruction that follows in the wake of those influenced by the mask’s power.” As if to show them what he meant, Zeppeli held out his hand. From his fingertips sprang bright lights accompanied by an otherworldly hum, bolts of lightning that danced out of his skin and encircled his hand in a wild display of power. It was both entrancing and terrifying to watch as he took in massive even breaths, adding another dismaying sound to the whole scene.

Zeppeli’s tone softened as he looked at Dio with compassion in his eyes that made him sick. “I doubt that you want to hurt anyone here, so I won’t hurt you. It will be painless. You have my word.”

Dio wanted to laugh. As if this stranger knew anything about him. Speaking to him as if he was nothing more than a simple child when he had no idea of the things he’d done, of the intricate plots and plans he had laid out the moment he arrived at the Joestar Manor. This man was a fool. A powerful, terrifying fool. Dio planted his feet firmly into the ground, he wouldn’t go down without a fight, no matter how adamant this jester was about killing him.

To everyone’s shock, before Zeppeli could even take a step forward, Jonathan rushed at him. His fists were raised in a fighting stance, befitting the boxing rings in the countryside but Dio realized it would be no match for this opponent. With a huff and a shake of his head, Zeppeli hardly moved. Jonathan’s fists met the man’s torso not once but twice, with a surprising amount of force behind them. Dio was aware of just how much of a bruiser Jojo was and just how strong he could be when defending someone he thought deserved such a defense.

It was obvious now that he put his all into these punches, but the Baron didn’t even flinch.

It was an indulgence, a pity. To think a child could do anything to this man was almost a funny thought if it wasn’t so terrifying. Baron Zeppeli knocked Jonathan away with a kick. Though the action seemed halfhearted and without any sort of force behind it, Jonathan was sent careening back a few yards in distance. “Why did you have to do that, boy?” Zeppeli asked exasperated. “I don’t want to hurt you either.”

From that moment onward the scene erupted into sheer chaos.

Once Jonathan landed, slumped over and holding his middle George ran to his son’s side with a shout of “Jojo!”. In the boy’s place, Robert stepped up. A large tree branch laid just off their path and he didn’t hesitate to pick it up as a weapon.

“Y’know, it’s in bad taste to be hittin’ kids and threatenin’ them, Baron. I’m afraid you’re gonna have to apologize,” Robert said. His attitude was cocky but a little put on. Years of street fights no doubt had hardened him if that scar on his face had anything to say, but he was obviously out of his element here.

Zeppeli rolled his eyes. “You should know better than to stick your head in places it doesn’t belong.” He didn’t appear threatened in the slightest, but instead annoyed. For some reason it seemed Speedwagon got under his skin more than anyone else did. Not Jonathan or George had dredged up that kind of irritation in the man’s overall demeanor.

“...And y’should know, I’m not lookin’ to listen to this horseshit you’re spewin’!” Robert shouted, brandishing the sturdy branch and rushing at the Baron. He was quite fast and when he arrived within striking distance, he didn’t bother to miss his opportunity. For Dio it was almost in slow motion. The way Zeppeli’s arm rose to block and the way Speedwagon hit his arm so hard the branch split upon impact. Yet once the wood splintered, Zeppeli’s arm reared back and in an instant shoved Robert back with a strength he chose not to use on Jonathan.

As time started to melt back into its proper pace for Dio, he watched as Speedwagon flew backwards and crashed into the large, rough trunk of an oak tree. His body slid down the bark and he crumpled as he reached the ground. Zeppeli shook his head. “Why must you all make this so difficult?”

“ROBBIE!” Erina screamed, rushing to his side in immediate panic, bag of books bouncing on her shoulder as she broke into a run. Dio’s eyes followed her as she appeared at his side, checking to see if anything had broken and if he could move. He felt oddly detached from the situation and unsure of what to do, if anything. Everyone was taking their turns, stepping up to see if they could best this oddly powerful gentleman and everyone was failing.

“JOJO, NO!” George’s booming voice tore through the empty park and drew Dio out of his numb distraction. His head turned only to catch Jonathan, ever the stubborn brute, running back for round two. He held the side that Zeppeli had struck, but his eyes burned with the fire of someone who had no intention of giving into his pain as long as an attacker still stood. He charged forward with no heed for his father’s demand. “HOW DARE YOU HURT MY FRIENDS!” Jonathan screamed, throat raw as his fists reared back for another barrage of punches.

This time Zeppeli was not as generous. The older man’s hand balled into a fist with only his pinky extended and with little hesitation but once again little force, punched Jonathan right in the gut. The boy staggered back, losing his balance as he struggled for for breath.

George was at a wheezing Jonathan’s side in an instant. “Y-You monster,” the older man hissed through gritted teeth. The Baron sighed regretfully. “I’ve only winded the boy, you can relax.”

In what could only be considered off-hand reassurance to a rightfully concerned father, Zeppeli settled a hardened gaze back onto his initial target. “Now then, we can continue.”

The finality in his tone left Dio feeling like his stomach was being weighed down with rocks. His brow had begun to sweat and his palms followed suit, but he hadn’t yet succumbed to his fear. He would not cower and he would not plead. If this William Anthonio Zeppeli wanted to kill him, Dio Brando had no intention of making it an easy task to accomplish. He gasped for air, it felt like despite his deep breaths not enough oxygen could possibly fill his lungs in these moments when he needed it most. His chest was so empty yet so full, like it was poised to burst.

He withdrew his pocketknife and flicked it open, adopting a defensive stance. “C-come any closer and I’ll gut ya, scrub. It’d be a shame t’stain such a fine white suit.” He hardly realized that the cultured, sophisticated tone he had cultivated for so long simply vanished in the face of cold fear. He sounded more like Robert than he did Jonathan, harsh syllables and shortened phrasing coloring his vocabulary.

“Don’t make this any harder than it has to be,” Zeppeli replied, his words as hard and heavy as stones. He was advancing on Dio now, fist crackling with strange power that made Dio’s mouth dry. “Slaves of the mask, for the sake of mankind, must be eliminated. Compared to an adult children are twice the liability. For now you have a hold on your inclinations, but for how long…?” The bastard was talking to him and yet he seemed to be talking to himself as well, as if trying to convince himself that this was indeed the correct recourse of action. Dio merely hissed in response and crouched lower, trying to ignore how his legs felt like lead weights.

“So this is how you wish to approach this? Tsk... bambino viziato.”

Dio knew enough Italian to want to fire back and address the insult. He was no child, no baby. He had survived, he had killed. He wasn’t even sure who this man was, so what right did he have to swoop in and preach about a life--his life--he knew nothing about?

Zeppeli’s hand pulled back, the hum of the crackling light emanating from his skin reaching a fever pitch as he flattened it into an open palm. It looked like the sun itself gathered at his fingertips as he drew in deep breaths. If that hand touched him he knew his life would end in an instant. Hopes, dreams and plans melting away into nothing. He thought of ways to dodge, to jump, to roll. But the hand came rushing, faster than he expected. Basic instinct screamed at him to move. To do something. My God, anything.

However, instead of moving both Dio and Zeppeli vaguely registered a presence coming between them. Once tanned fingertips hit flesh, releasing all the fury of the sun into the body directly in front of them, boy and man both realized too late that he had not hit Dio at all.

George Joestar’s eyes widened for a split second as immeasurable power washed over him and he collapsed. The sound of his body hitting the ground with a thud echoed in Dio’s ears.

For a moment not a sound resonated through the park turned battleground. As everyone stared at George Joestar’s prone form, the victim of this strange man’s horrible power, they seemed to be processing the events that had just transpired. Even Zeppeli himself looked from his open palm to the man sprawled out before him on the ground with a grave expression. “He wasn’t supposed to-- when did he--...!?” He murmured to himself, shock evident in his voice.

“F-Father!” Jonathan cried out with as much force he could muster while still awfully winded from Baron Zeppeli’s attack.

Dio’s keen ears vaguely registered footsteps on the soft grass and the gentle sound of something being laid against the lawn, but it wasn’t enough to drag his gaze from the fallen form of his guardian. He owed the very man his life, especially now. It made him nauseous.

“I--” the Baron began but he was quickly cut off by a loud thwack. Now Dio’s eyes finally tore away from the man on the ground to the man before him just in time to see him fall face first to the ground. Behind him stood Erina. Her chest heaving, eyes wild and that damned brick of a medical text grasped between white knuckled fingers. She looked almost shocked with herself, the slight tremble in her knees betrayed such a thing.

There was another pause as Jonathan, Dio and Robert simply stared at her.

“W-What are you three doing!? O-One of you, restrain him!” Erina shouted. With the way Robert hopped to his feet, despite being slightly bent and holding his middle, you would think her a staunch army general and not an eleven year old slip of a girl. “Y-Yes sir!” Robert appeared confused for a moment before unbuckling his belt and sliding the shoddy leather thing off, using that as a sort of restraint for the unconscious Zeppeli.

Once Robert had been mobilized Erina made a swift beeline to George, pressing her fingers to his pulse point. “He’s alive,” she was quick to inform them, looking up at Jonathan with a grave expression. “His heartbeat however is slow… h-he’s going to need medical attention immediately, Jojo.”

“O-Of course!” Jonathan replied. He staggered to his feet and approached his father’s body.

Again Erina’s head snapped over to Speedwagon, her tone clipped and her overall demeanor more serious than Dio had ever seen it. “Robert. I need you to get Jonathan and Lord Joestar into the nearest carriage and off to the hospital and then get Baron Zeppeli here into the hotel.”

“The carriage I can do no problem, b-but carting this madman to the hotel!?”

“What? Taking him to the authorities or letting him go is completely out of the question, he’s too much of a risk with whatever… powers he possesses. This means we have to keep an eye on him ourselves. Are you incapable of sneaking him in, or?”

“What!? Of course I can sneak the bastard in,” Robert replied, reeling from her implication. “Just, how am I to watch and make sure there’s no escape or god forbid another fuckin’ attack!?”

“Simple.” Erina stated. Her voice was arguably the most calm and even, it seemed even now she knew how to handle the situation. “In my bag back in our room there’s a bottle of chloroform.”

Ch-Chloroform!? The hell d’you have that for!?”

“Hush. I stole it from a doctor amongst other things for the journey. It’s an anesthetic for things like surgery and birth. I’m going to need you to drop just a bit on a piece of cloth and let him inhale it. Just be careful, not too much. It must be used sparingly or you might kill him, and we wouldn’t want that.” Erina told him matter-of-factly.

“Well, how much do I put on then?!” Robert asked a little hysterically.

Erina pinched the bridge of her nose. “I don’t know, I’m not a doctor. Just a bit. I trust you.”

Speedwagon looked like he wanted to scream. Fear and irritation both shone bright in his eyes. But Erina’s face was stone and her eyes glinted like ice in the street lamps. “This is what we have to do, Robert. Can you get it done?”

There was a pregnant pause. A moment later Speedwagon sighed, obviously defeated. “I can get it done, Erin. You know I can.”

“Good.” Her voice was clear and confident. Jonathan was struggling to carry his father and Robert quickly rushed to help him support the weight. “Let’s get you two off to a hospital,” the teenager muttered.

Dio’s breathing hadn’t eased at all as these events unfolded. Instead it almost seemed to quicken even more. No matter what air left his lungs before he could fill them at all and his face felt wet. It’s not like there was any rain. He couldn’t believe how close to death he had been, how a hand shrouded in the sun’s light nearly spelled the end for them. They weren’t in the clear now either. The man lay unconscious at Erina’s feet instead.

He wanted to tell her to kill him. That every moment he spent lying on the ground was a liability. They were all in danger in his presence but all he could manage was a hysterical gasp. His inability to talk shot fear into his heart and worsened his breathing. He wasn’t sure what on earth was happening to him but his head hurt and his eyes were starting to swim.

Suddenly a warm hand was on his. Gentle and unobtrusive. Through the panic he heard someone speaking. Erina…? Her voice was calm and low and soft.

“He’s been taken care of Dio, for now we’re safe, okay? Try to focus on breathing,” she informed him in that soft voice. In his panicked state he went to grip her hand, his chest still heaving with short breaths.

W-we are not SAFE!” he barked out, managing words between short gasps. “C-Can’t breathe.”

To her credit, Erina did not flinch and did not try to pull away. Instead he felt the warm fingers of Erina’s free hand brushing up against the back of the one that clutched her palm.

“Yes you can, come on. We can breathe together, yes?” Her tone was surprisingly soothing. “In… and out.” Her voice lilted up and down slowly, like the waves in the ocean and provided him some sort of rhythm. He wanted to scream and lash out but as she lead him in this, repeating the mantra of ‘in and out’, he found that following her allowed for him to take progressively deeper breaths. His fright remained but ebbed in its intensity. He felt sick.

Erina smiled when he was able to breathe somewhat normally. “See? I told you you could breathe,” she told him, all of that cheeky attitude from before in a serene tone that hardly matched her words. She led him to a stone bench situated just a few feet away so he could rest. His legs felt like jelly and yet he pushed forward, not wanting to show any further vulnerability.

She still held steady to his hand, an anchor he was simultaneously grateful for and resentful of. How dare she think he need help? Yet, if she let go in that moment he would be even more furious. He looked to the unconscious form of his would-be assailant and frowned.

Dio Brando owed George Joestar a life debt on this night. It wasn’t just him either. Jonathan, Robert and even Erina had all stepped up and put their lives on the line to save his. Two schools of thought warred in his brain. The first being that yes, he completely deserved to be saved, he was a survivor after all. The second and louder of the two, asked him how he could live with himself knowing that his pride was so wounded from this. To know that the Joestars and Pendleton and Speedwagon were all people who jumped to save him when he was in danger.

He should have acted quicker. He should have never put himself in such a position to begin with. Perhaps if he had attacked first he would have caught him off guard and won immediately. Zeppeli had already outed Dio’s bestial nature to George, would it have been so bad to have displayed his skills first hand instead? There would certainly be fewer questions, that is for sure.

After a moment Erina squeezed his hand, looking over at him with unbridled concern. “How are you feeling? Are you alright?” He didn’t like that worry in her voice, didn’t like how she felt like such a tone was necessary.

He pursed his lips. “Never better.” His voice was hoarse enough that she didn’t seem swayed but he refused to meet her gaze. Let Pendleton worry, he didn’t give a rats ass what she thought.

Dio as always was content to stew in his bad feelings, to be angry about this until the day he died. Then he was brought back to reality by the sensation of a warm thumb ghosting over his knuckles, obviously in an attempt at comfort. Just like in the tailor’s shop she was holding his hand again and just as he had before he snatched his hand away from her like the appendage had been burning in the sun. Who did she think she was? To touch him, Dio, in any capacity.

He practically hissed at her when he saw her dismayed expression. “Don’t. Touch me.”

“O-Of course, I apologize,” she quickly replied, looking down at her lap with a slight flush of shame tingeing her cheeks. Erina even scooted away just a little bit in an attempt to give him space.

Still, even as he pulled his hands to his chest and curled in on himself almost defensively, he nevertheless couldn’t ignore her presence. How obnoxious. Even when removed from his personal space he practically felt her coddling him. Was it pity? Perhaps she felt a sense of victory for seeing her previous tormentor in such a state. He felt rage burning in his core at just the thought. Yet she said nothing and so neither did he.

As angry as he was too much had happened and he had neither the time nor the energy to pick a fight. He was drained, he was nauseous and there was a pounding behind his eyes the likes of which he had never felt before. Questions flitted through his mind. He wondered where they could possibly go from here that guaranteed his survival. He had no answers for it.

Dio felt a sting at the corners of his eyes and gritted his teeth. Giving in was not an option, he would much rather ignore whatever this was.

He would not cry tonight.

He simply refused.

Chapter Text

Jonathan was anxious and frankly useless the entire night of the incident with Baron Zeppeli into the morning. Robert had shouldered most of his father’s weight when they brought him to the carriage and as the hospital staff milled about his father trying to gauge what was wrong he knew he could offer no explanations as to what happened.

When Robert came to collect him sometime later and check on the condition of Lord Joestar the doctors had claimed a weakness of the heart. Not exactly a heart attack but it seemed the organ had simply been overwhelmed and nearly gave out. Robert nodded and thanked the doctor, informing him that they would return the next day and walked Jonathan out.

He knew that his father’s heart wasn’t weak. It almost felt like an insult to the man who lay in the hospital bed now. No, he had been hit in the chest with pure… power. Whatever Zeppeli had been wielding was so strong it almost cost him his only remaining parent.

Jonathan had to blink back tears just thinking about it.

Since the night he had taken his father to the hospital he hadn’t been able to really speak to him. George slept mostly, the doctors said he was regaining his strength after his system had been so weakened. Jonathan had waited patiently and gone to see him every day.

Around four days after the incident Jonathan was accompanied by Dio to the hospital to see him. When Jonathan asked him why, the blond simply shot a scathing glare in his direction and said nothing. After such a look he decided it wasn’t worth pursuing. Perhaps Dio simply cared about George’s well being? After all he’d saved his life…

Jonathan shook his head. There was no way Dio simply cared. While he had taken to believing the best of Dio he wasn’t going to pretend he was ignorant of the way the blond thought. He’d spent plenty of time with him to know that care was far too generous of a word.

The carriage ride to the hospital was spent in silence and for once Jonathan thought he rather preferred it. He opted instead to watch the buildings of Manhattan fly past the window as the carriage rode through the streets.

When they arrived at the brick building both boys exited the vehicle quickly. Before Dio could take a step forward Jonathan finally spoke.

“He hasn’t really been awake when I’ve visited. Don’t expect too much, just in case.”

Dio crossed his arms and sighed. “Noted.” was his clipped response before both boys started for the door. The air inside the hospital smelled of strong antiseptic and Jonathan noted that his companion only flinched slightly at the sound of loud coughing and vague moaning from areas where patients were being treated in emergency situations.

The nurse at the desk knew him by now and smiled warmly at his arrival. “Why hello there Jonathan, lovely to see you again. Who’s this with you?”

“I am his adopted brother, Dio,” the boy replied without missing a beat. He was oozing that false charm that seemed to always win everyone over. The nurse nodded her head, her smile only widening. Of course his charm worked again.

“Nice to meet you, Dio. I’m Nurse Fray.” She was a pleasant sort and had reached out to comfort Jonathan when he’d first arrived with his unconscious father. He was truly thankful that she was there that troubled evening. “Actually! You’ll be happy to know your father, though still weak has been awake all day. You’ll have the chance to speak to him, I think. You remember where his room is, yes?”

Jonathan nodded almost dumbly. “O-Of course! Thank you so much! Come now, Dio, let's go see him!” A smile had stretched its way across Jonathan’s face as he thanked the nurse and proceeded to drag Dio through the halls to his father’s assigned hospital room. In the midst of their trek, he could not help but wonder if perhaps they hadn’t been quick enough when choosing to visit, and his father would be sleeping again once they arrived at his room.

However, when Jonathan opened the door he felt relief wash over him. There was his father, sitting up in bed and examining the post. His skin was a little paler than normal and his face was dominated by deep lines and dark circles beneath his eyes, but when it came to the bigger picture, that was inconsequential. His father truly was awake! That was what mattered!

“Father!” Jonathan called rushing into the room and to his bedside. “Be careful,” Dio hissed after him but Jonathan didn’t heed his call at all.

“My boys!” George replied, his voice thick with emotion. His eyes were glittering with unshed tears while Jonathan freely began to cry. He didn’t care, he’d missed his father. “I’m so happy the both of you are alright.”

“I’m more happy you’re alright!” Jonathan practically shouted through tears. “I thought the worst for a moment and I didn’t know w-what I’d do.” Suddenly a warm weight was on his head and he realized just what had happened. His father was gently patting his head and trying to reassure him. It took everything Jonathan had not to start blubbering incoherently. That was the last thing he wanted to do in front of Dio.

Speaking of, Jonathan glanced up and saw his father’s hand outstretched to the blond. He looked at it with a hesitancy he wasn’t certain he’d ever seen before. After a moment however, Dio reluctantly took George’s hand. Once both boys were at his side his father visibly relaxed. All the lines on his worn face that Jonathan had seen before he entered the room softened.

While they all lapsed into a silence, broken only by the sound of Jonathan’s little crying hiccups, it was not an uncomfortable one but there was undeniable tension flooding the air. Things that were unsaid but still needed to be broached.

“Has that man, the Baron, been… dealt with?” George asked finally, after the loaded atmosphere started to become a little overwhelming.

The phrasing of that question gave Jonathan pause. It almost sounded like he asked if Baron Zeppeli had been killed or something. “Dealt with?” he echoed, hoping his father would clarify. Was he hoping for that? He would surely be disappointed.

Before George could even respond Dio spoke up. “In a way… yes. Speedwagon smuggled him inside the hotel and has been keeping him prisoner in their closet. Erin seems to think this is the best way to go about things. We can’t let him go because he’ll simply keep up with the chase for whatever reason, and of course they all seem to think simply removing the threat while we have the opportunity isn’t a viable course of action.” Dio’s voice took on an irritated tone with his last remark. He remembered that when figuring out what to do he had glared at Erina when she said they couldn’t kill him. Obviously that bothered him.

“We’re not those kind of people Dio, we’re better than that. We’ll not lower ourselves to his level and resort to such… violent means,” Jonathan asserted. He watched as Dio’s lips curled back in disdain.

“You have no idea the kind of person I am, Jojo,” Dio said with a dark voice. After a moment, as if remembering that George was in the room and looking at him peculiarly, he shook his head and brought his voice to it’s normal exasperated tone. “Either way, I don’t trust the man. He seems far too at ease in his confinement. I’m worried he’s aware of something we’re not and is merely biding his time.”

There was a flash of panic in Dio’s eyes that Jonathan didn’t miss. He had seen it every time since the attack when they spoke of Zeppeli, as if in his mind he was still reliving that night every time. “Dio… that air of tranquility could certainly be a trick of his own. He could be trying to scare us into thinking he has the upper hand.”

“But he does! He has those strange powers and-- and he knows of my true nature!” Dio argued. He looked as if he wanted to reach over George’s hospital bed and shake Jonathan by the shoulders to get him to understand that this wasn’t a game they were playing, lives were on the line-- his life to be exact, but Jonathan stayed defiant. Dio made sensible points but nothing had happened yet to their group. Surely by now, if Baron Zeppeli was comfortable enough, he would have carried out his intended task.

Both boys turned to George when they noticed him move. He sat up further in bed and speared both of them with serious looks. “Your ‘true nature’? Now boys, I know you’ve been keeping secrets from me and… from what I’ve gathered it has something to do with your illness Dio. Am I correct?”

There was a hesitation and then Dio nodded.

With his affirmation George continued. “Then I would like you to start from the beginning and tell me all that you can. Please. I need to know all of this so I can attempt to understand all of what is going on. All I want to do is help you, you know that.”

There was another beat before Jonathan finally spoke up. He proceeded to tell his father everything, going through the events that led up to their plans for Mexico. How could he not when his poor father was struggling with his health that stemmed from his own actions? It was his fault the mask changed Dio in the first place. He watched George’s face go from irritation at hearing that the boys had fought to horror at what had happened when the mask came into contact with blood and when he found out what Dio had craved now.

Jonathan could not be completely truthful, of course. He knew Erina’s very spot on their trip depended on secrecy. Instead of an out and out lie he chose to simply omit any mention of her past the steamship and begin speaking of Erin.

While everything he said came out in an excessive rush Dio remained quiet. Jojo was surprised that he was content to let him control the narrative as opposed to jumping in every five minutes but perhaps he didn’t want to expend the energy. Instead, Dio looked to be lost in his own thoughts.

“Whatever you think now father, I implore you to please realize that whatever happened is my fault. He never intended for this sort of change a-and now I’m attempting to help make up for my own gross error.” Jonathan finished his long speech with that.

There was another moment as George let everything sink in. Jonathan began to fidget, only worked up further by his father’s silence and Dio looked to be on guard. Like at any moment George Joestar would turn on him and demand his head on a pike. Instead, his father’s expression softened.

“Poor lad, changing so much so quickly.”

Dio rankled at his words replying petulantly. “I don’t need your pity, father. I am quite capable of handling myself.” Jonathan couldn’t help but feel guilt gnawing at his insides.

“I am not pitying you Dio, but rather admiring your strength. You shouldn’t have to deal with such stressors and yet you do so with considerable fortitude,” he answered gently. This seemed to soothe Dio’s nerves a bit. He turned to look at Jonathan then and his son almost shrank away. “My boy… my Jojo. You made a mistake, triggered an accident that no one would have ever been aware of. Your loyalty to Dio and your determination to see this through should outshine any error on your part.”

Dio grumbled something about Jonathan making it up to him but his father’s words made Jojo smile. “While the circumstances are regrettable and I wish you two need not be exposed to them I see you two already growing into fine young men before my eyes.” George’s voice was strained with emotion then but he continued. “Admittedly I worried, particularly about how you two would fare when you were older. Jojo, I’m afraid I rather spoiled you growing up and when Dio arrived I saw just how much I had done you a disservice by doing such a thing. Dio, you reminded me very much of myself, a penniless child with a chip on his shoulder, yet you had so much intelligence. I wanted to foster the best qualities in the both of you and I feared I may have promoted a rivalry.”

George Joestar smiled softly then. “I’m glad to see that even if I had, you two are capable of working together to this extent.”

It was Dio then who spoke up. His face was scrunched in confusion and the tone of his voice matched. “...A penniless child with a chip on his shoulder? I can’t say I understand...”

His father laughed, lightly shrugging his shoulders. “I understand you a bit better than you may have thought prior. The noble title my name bears is not mine by birthright, but my late wife’s. Hers was a long and storied family while I instead was born into poverty. I worked and worked, eventually creating and developing my own trading company and by extension my own fortune. The only reason I was allowed my Mary’s hand, being of such lowly birth status, was because her father had gambled and speculated their illustrious fortune away and the estate desperately needed the revenue I could provide.”

Jonathan knew all of this, of course. He had been told of his father’s humble beginnings before. Judging from Dio’s surprise, this was all new to him. When George had turned on him following Dio’s arrival, Jonathan hadn’t realized what his father had been thinking. It made him feel a bit better to understand the mindset behind all of that. To know that his father had not harbored any ill will towards him as a son, but instead a desire to see him improve himself. Though, he still wasn’t exactly fond of his methods. Bed without supper felt a little extreme to Jonathan.

George’s eyes remained on his ward with a softness that Jonathan did not often see. “That is the reason why I showed your father such patience and tried to help him the best that I could. I know what it is like to be in that position. When he was on his deathbed and sent word of your situation I knew I needed to act. You deserved this opportunity.” At the mention of his father a shadow passed over Dio’s eyes and he felt his body tense, but he kept his expression even.

“I do deserve it. Unless you’ve given up on me,” Dio stood firmly, emanating an air of pride that spoke volumes. He believed exactly what he said. Jonathan wished he had such confidence in himself, even as the Joestar heir he found it difficult to be so sure. Dio’s conviction made George smile wider.

“I have done no such thing. Your journey for a cure for this… condition will continue. However, it must do so without me,” George said with a tone of finality that upset Jonathan deeply.

“B-but how will we continue on without you!? We need you!” Jonathan panicked, distress coloring his voice. “Your health will bounce back a-and then we can get on our way! Together!” His father was sure in his decisions and controlled their purse strings. How on earth would they be able to push onward to Mexico without his guidance?

His father rested his hand on his shoulder in a comforting motion, turning his soft gaze to his son. “Jojo, waiting for me will take too much time. We should not keep Dio waiting in the quest to regain his humanity… instead, I will entrust your care to Speedwagon. Rough around the edges, yes, but a fine young man nonetheless. He’ll take care of you.”

“You’re entrusting our safety and well being to Speedwagon !?” Dio asked as if George had suggested something distasteful. His guardian nodded. “Yes, would you rather wait months or even a year instead…?” George replied, knowing full well what his answer would be.

“Most certainly not.”

“Then it seems you must deal with Speedwagon.”

Jonathan looked down at his hands when he said that. The idea of leaving behind his only parent made his chest ache already. “I’m not quite sure what I’ll do without you,” he said then. His voice was small, sounding more like a child than he had in recent months. His father made a choked noise and when Jojo turned his head he watched a tear slip from his father’s eyes.

“Oh Jojo, you won’t be alone. You will have Dio and Speedwagon,” George told him, his voice tinged with sadness despite his reassuring tone. “You will also have Speedwagon’s younger brother-- which happens to bring me to my next question…” His father paused and Jonathan’s eyes flitted to Dio’s frantically. The moment that passed was full of apprehension.

“Erin is that Pendleton girl, isn’t he?” George asked finally. Dio’s face was schooled into an impassive mask but Jonathan knew his own expression had twisted in a panic. “Whatever do you mean, father?” Dio asked evenly. His serene attitude was broken by Jonathan’s addition. “Haha, what? Erina? Why would she-- w-what would she-- h-how would SHE even be Erin?”

Jonathan it seemed, was terrible at directly lying under pressure and especially to his father. Dio looked at him with an expression that promised imminent murder.

“Boys, I said no lying. I may have been born at night but I’m afraid it wasn’t last night. Erin A.P. Speedwagon is Erina Pendleton, yes?”

The boys groaned in unison and merely nodded in defeat. He was already onto them, there was no point in keeping up their farce. “I blame her for this, it was that terrible alias of hers,” Dio muttered under his breath. “Are you going… to do something to her? Send her back?” Jonathan asked nervously. He wanted Erina here with them and his father could return her on a steamer if he so desired.

George sighed. “I am afraid it wasn’t quite the name that tipped me off. Did you really think I would not recognize either of your hand-me-downs? In any case… if she was wily enough to stow away on a ship and masquerade as a boy I doubt she would follow my orders to return home. Not without attempting something else clever like that. I suppose she’s a member of your party whether I would prefer it or not. Her father must be worried sick, though… please try to get her to send word to him. Whatever her reputation may be, I am sure her father would be more than happy to receive news that she is alive and well.”

Jonathan nodded once again, just happy to know his father wouldn’t send her away. “O-Of course, I’ll tell her that immediately!” he replied. George laughed and gave what seemed to be a knowing smile. Jonathan wasn’t sure what he knew but he did know that he didn’t want to talk about it at that moment.

Suddenly he gave a big yawn and sank down into the pillows. “Could you ask Speedwagon to visit me as well tomorrow afternoon? There are things I need to discuss with him about your trip… Please do not tell him directly of our conversation, I would prefer bringing this up myself.”

“But of course,” Dio replied smoothly. “If you would rather tell Speedwagon of your plans then mum’s the word, I assure you.”

“Indeed father, we will do as you ask!” Jonathan added.

As George became more comfortable it was obvious he was exhausted, sleep was going to take him. “Thank you, boys. I feel truly blessed to be given the privilege to look after you both…”

His eyes, finally heavy with sleep, closed and George was claimed by the realm of dreams for a few more hours. Even knowing that he would be sleeping deeply for quite some time, Jonathan couldn’t bring himself to walk away just yet. Instead he stood vigilantly, holding his father’s hand and wondering if he truly would be able to make this journey without him as expected.

He hardly registered Dio’s huff and footsteps as he walked to the doorway.

“You have ten minutes. Nothing more, nothing less. If you’re not outside by then, I intend to take the carriage and leave you here to walk.” Then he disappeared down the hall.

Despite his harsh words Jonathan realized what Dio was doing.

He was affording him a few minutes alone. How unusually kind of him.

Sitting at his father’s bedside with uncertainty and guilt weighing on his shoulders, Jonathan Joestar began to cry. This time unimpeded by the desire to keep up appearances in front of onlookers. He would miss his father terribly.

Chapter Text

Robert had no idea why George Joestar had asked for him specifically. When Jonathan and Dio had returned from the hospital the previous day and asked him to go speak to the man in question he was on guard. He certainly hoped that Lord Joestar didn’t think he hadn’t done enough to protect the boys or himself that day. After all, he was still hurting from being thrown against a damn tree, thank you very much.

Erin had told him that according to his book nothing was broken and he’d simply be sore for a few days. Granted, he normally wouldn’t take the medical advice of a kid but he never trusted hospitals either. When he was coming up on Ogre Street usually if you went into a hospital you came out either worse than before or you didn’t come out at all. He wasn’t about to tell the Joestar boys any of that though.

Despite such a sentiment he found himself staring down the wooden door of George Joestar’s private hospital room. It took a moment to summon his courage, wondering what awaited him on the other side. He thought he’d done a decent job of keeping the kids protected so far and working on the things they needed for their journey. Maybe he should’ve let him see more progress on the wagon. Maybe he was doubting him.

Robert shook his head attempting to rid his mind of such thoughts. He was Robert E.O. Speedwagon, god damn it. He was feared back home. The streets parted for the likes of him, people asked him for help and for years there wasn’t anyone in all of London’s underground who could best him. Now he was getting worried over some moneybags’ opinion of him? Please. Let the man rant and rave all he wanted, he didn’t know who he was talking to.

His cocky Ogre Street attitude firmly in place, Robert opened the door and sauntered in, hands pushed deep into the pockets of his trousers. Upon hearing his entrance George turned to face him and, to Robert’s surprise, smiled pleasantly. It was odd after seeing him at home in the luxurious interiors of their hotel that Lord Joestar would look just as happy in the sparse utilitarian hospital room he found himself in.

“Robert, I’m glad to see you,” he greeted warmly. “I hope everything is going well back at home base.”

Speedwagon felt off kilter. To expect anger and instead be greeted by concern was not something he was used to. All his anger seemed to ebb away as he wiped his nose on the back of his hand and sat down unceremoniously in a plain wooden chair at George’s bedside. “Ah… it’s goin’ alright, I s’ppose. Your boys’ve been well behaved. Not to mention we’ve been keepin’ that magic man locked up ‘n all so he hasn’t been a threat. I’m starting to wonder if he’s actually human or not considering how well he’s taken to his new conditions.”

“Normally I would hope you were treating him well but after what he’s tried to do to Dio and Jonathan and even yourself, I’m certainly not thinking such a thing now,” George said with a frown. Robert looked at this man strangely, he hadn’t even brought up himself, had he? George Joestar had sustained the worst of the damage and prioritized his sons and some nobody teenager before himself. That man was most certainly a mystery.

“Well now sir, seems like you’re forgetting yourself ‘ere. You took quite a hit didn’t ya?” Robert reminded him. “Actually, I was hopin’ to ask a nurse or something to see when you’d be alright to ship off with us. The wagon looks to be in good shape and sure enough we’re almost done procurin’ supplies and the like. All that’s missing is you, it seems.”

George gave him a somber smile that made Robert freeze in his spot. He did not like this look one bit, it’s the kind of look someone gave you before breaking some sort of news. “Speedwagon, it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to join you on such a journey…” George finally answered.

For a moment the room was deathly quiet.

“S-So you’e... dyin’?” Robert finally asked. The inflection in his voice almost resembled that of a nervous child. Orphaned for as long as he can remember and surprisingly successful at seventeen, Robert E.O. Speedwagon prided himself on being completely self-sufficient. Now however, thinking of this man permanently leaving this world and leaving him responsible for a grieving child and the welfare of two others while they toted around a madman on a hemp leash, it left him feeling nervous and lost. Not mention, while the man was ridiculous and folded like a house of cards to his sons whims well… he wasn’t bad for a money bags. He definitely didn’t want to see him die.

While Robert was lost in his thoughts and concern George’s brow furrowed. “What? No-- no! Please don’t get the wrong idea Robert. I am not dying from my injuries but… I have sustained much damage.” Speedwagon rubbed at his eyes and fought back a smile. So the old codger would live? That was nice to hear. “I cannot make the trip. Not for many, many months. That being said, we are here and a plan is already set in motion. Dio’s very life depends on this journey as you can tell from the encounter in the park.”

Robert nodded. The appearance of Baron Zeppeli had certainly raised the stakes beyond anything they had anticipated. Even Dio had seemed withdrawn lately, though for good reason he was sure. He’d tried to talk to the boy but was brushed off at every turn. Maybe next time…

George continued. “Someone will need to take care of the boys and guide them forward… even in spite of the bizarre consequences. I want that someone to be you, Speedwagon.”

There was another pause as the weight of Lord Joestar’s words finally settled on his shoulders. He wanted him--of all people--to be in charge? To lead this ridiculous, most likely dangerous quest if the Baron was any indication? “Excuse me, what?” Robert asked, honestly bewildered.

“I know this is much to ask of you,” George replied. He was trying his hardest to sound reasonable in asking such a thing of him. “And I know you yourself are still very much a child.”

“‘M no child! I’m seventeen, sir... that’s plenty of years t’know how to take care of myself!”

“To a man of my age, people in their twenties even are still babes themselves. I trust your word, I mean this in no offensive way... I am simply acknowledging that this is quite the tall order to ask of you, Speedwagon. The truth of the matter is, I have no other option.” George looked at Robert beseechingly. “Please. I need you to look after them. At the moment, you are the only person I can willingly trust with something as precious as looking out for my boys.”

Leave it to Ol’ Moneybags to guilt him into doing this job. Using his genuine concern for his sons’ well-beings and all sorts of other sentimental bullshit to get him to bend over backwards. To actually agree to the absurdity of it all. The sick thing, though... is that it was completely working. Hook, line, and sinker. In the few weeks since he came across those buggers snooping around the steamer, they’d been nothing but trouble. The sort only a bonafide dumbass would bother sticking close to. Erin, on the other hand? He was fine, him and his “little brother” had managed to develop quite a bond. Those Joestar boys, though? It would seem they packed much more baggage on the docks that day than he ever imagined.

He was in the thick of it now though, wasn’t he? There was no way he could turn away from this. Not now. Plus, Erin had left his home just to tag along with them. He made his brother a promise and he didn’t have any intentions of breaking it. But, just how was some nobody like him supposed to accomplish something bigger than any of them combined?

“I haven’t got any money though, sir. Not enough to finance an expedition like this anyway.” Robert answered lamely. While it wasn’t a formal response, George Joestar’s eyes seemed to light up at his lack of a refusal. In moments like this, he looked quite like his son.

“Did you really believe I would make you pay for such a venture when I had already been funding it in the first place?” George asked, a smirk playing along his lips. “There is a suitable amount squared away in a bag back at our hotel. Jonathan and Dio know of its location, I have no doubt they can easily direct you to such a thing.”

Speedwagon frowned. “Are you sure about this, sir? Puttin’ your sons in my care of all things?”

“What? Are you not up to the task?”

“Huh!? O-Of course ‘m up to it! Robert E.O. Speedwagon can do anything he sets his damn mind to! It’s just… they’re your family, y’know? They’ve clearly gotta be somethin’ precious to you.” He sighed, lifting his bowler hat and running a hand through his long hair.

“Like I said earlier, I trust you Speedwagon,” George answered evenly. “I trust you to protect my boys and your brother as well. So, I need to know now… can you do this?”

Robert sighed and scratched behind his ear. “You have my word. I’ll do my best to look after ‘em and get ‘em where they need to go. I’ll protect them with my life if I have to.”

George’s face looked stricken at the comment and seriousness of the teenager’s words. It was such a grave statement and the bags under Robert’s eyes seemed even more pronounced. With the added feature of his impressive facial scar he looked years older than he actually was. “You have no idea how much I appreciate such a sentiment. Nevertheless… please, take care of yourself just as much as you care for them.” The softness in his voice made Robert almost nervous. He’d never had someone like a father in his life to look after him, but he was pretty sure this is what they were supposed to sound like. He wasn’t sure if he liked it or not.

“I’ll do what I damn well please,” he bit out. He wanted the strange paternal look in George’s eyes to just go away so lashing out seemed proper. Instead the man laughed a little and shook his head. It was like he saw right through him. “I s’ppose though… if something happens to me I wouldn’t be around to help ‘em. I’ll just-- I’ll get us through in one piece, alright? I promise you.”

The smile George Joestar wore was serene. Like a lead weight was just lifted off his shoulders. He sagged back against his pillows in obvious relief now that this matter was settled. “Thank you, Robert. Truly. Without you I’m not quite sure where we would be…”

Unused to such praise, especially not from some nobleman like George Joestar, Robert looked away. He refused to believe he was was actually embarrassed by the man’s gratitude, so he opted not to think about it at all. Or at least, tried his best not to. “It’s fine. I was comin’ on this crazy journey with you all anyway. I may as well lead it if you can’t.” He shrugged his shoulders awkwardly. When he glanced back at the older Joestar, he had to suppress a sigh.

He looked extremely tired. It was as if staying up and carrying on a conversation made everything in his body work twice as hard to keep him awake. So instead of keeping him from resting, Robert stood.

“How about you rest now, sir? I’ll see to it that the uh… proper plans are made n’ such and I’ll give ya progress reports as we go. Does that sound agreeable?”

“Why yes, that sounds like a wonderful plan. Thank you so much for your help, Speedwagon. I don’t think you realize just how much I appreciate this.” George spoke, his eyes looking heavy. Robert scuffed his shoe against the floor. “Aw like I said, s’nothing. I’ll be going now.”

Unsure of what to do for a moment, Robert awkwardly patted George’s shoulder before turning and shuffling towards the door. “Speedwagon?” The older man called to him. He paused in the doorway, turning to glance over his shoulder.

Already half asleep, George smiled. “Could you please tell the boys… that I simply cannot wait to see them tomorrow?”

“I’ll tell them,” Robert replied with a soft voice. “Don’t you worry about it.”

With that, he slipped out of the hospital room. While normally preferring to avoid the fees incurred by riding in Hansom cabs everywhere, he wasn’t sure he trusted himself to return to the hotel by foot with all of these thoughts running through his head. So instead he tossed the driver some change and hopped in the back. New York City’s stone streets rushed past him as he became lost in his own head.

It was one thing when he was just some navigator on a trip to Mexico. What George had asked of him? That was a whole different beast entirely, involving life or death situations past your normal travel hazards. Not to mention, this confirmed quite a bit of what he was hoping to ignore and remain ignorant about for the remainder of this journey. He shuddered, not wanting to really think that Dio could truly suck their blood and kill them all in a night if he felt like it.

This was his own fault he supposed. He signed up to be a babysitter the moment he took Erin on the steamship. He was never the kind of guy to leave a younger kid alone if he was asking for help and now was no exception. Robert had just never expected that looking after Erin would turn into such a  production. Well… hopefully this would make him happy.

Robert had no idea how long the ride had taken, but once the cabbie pulled up to the hotel he gave quiet thanks to the driver and climbed out. He’d have to figure out what was next on their itinerary, consider a new game plan. Now that George was out of the picture for whatever might be waiting for them around the corner, things would still remain the same but there were various details to iron out regarding his extended stay in New York before they could leave.

First things first. How much money did he have to play with?

He climbed the stairs to the floor housing their rooms and knocked lightly on the door that Jonathan and Dio called their own with George. Just as Robert had hoped, it was Jonathan who answered the door and not Dio. He didn’t really want to deal with that brat at the moment, let alone think about his potential power to brutally murder at a moment’s notice.

Jonathan smiled when he saw him in the doorway. “Speedwagon! You’re back! Come in, come in. Was father alright? Did he speak to you?” Robert’s eyes narrowed at his questions. Judging by what he was asking, the boy no doubt knew in advanced what was going to be asked. The bugger couldn’t have given him a little warning, could he?

He nodded though and stepped into the room, noticing Dio on the bed reading. He wasn’t going to bother with saying hello if Dio wasn’t going to extend the same courtesy. “Yeah, your old man was alright. A little tired, but he was thinkin’ of ya. Says he can’t wait to see ya tomorrow.” That little line had Jonathan practically glowing with delight, happy that his father wanted to see him.

“But did he speak to you?” Dio finally spoke up, not bothering to tear his eyes away from his novel. Speedwagon rolled his eyes.

“We spoke, yeah. I take it you two knew he wanted to spring it on me that I was supposed to be taking ya down to Mexico? Would’ve been nice to have a little heads up, don’t you think?” He asked, irritation permeating his tone and mostly aimed at Dio. Maybe the kid would turn and finally look at him.

He didn’t.

Instead, it was Jonathan who had the presence of mind to look a little guilty. “I’m very sorry, Robert. You see, he asked us if he could broach the subject with you himself. We didn’t want to go against his wishes.” With all the guilt in Jojo’s tone, Robert had forgiven him for it already. He wasn’t the kind of kid you could stay mad at for too long.

“Well, you see, unlike Jojo I simply just didn’t care,” Dio drawled, turning the page of his book. That? That was the kind of kid you most certainly could stay mad at.

Robert turned away from Dio before he got too cross and decided he would simply have this conversation with Jonathan alone. “Jojo, your father mentioned somethin’ about having the money for the remaining trip stashed away in here. D’you mind if I look and see what we’re working with? Maybe I can figure out a budget to show him before we leave. That way I don’t look like an idiot that’s completely unprepared.”

“Oh! Of course!” Jonathan said. He gave Speedwagon a nod and smile before running to one of the beds and pulling a leather satchel out from beneath it. “You know, I’m quite looking forward to this. I’m glad you’ve agreed to take over for father and we don’t have to wait much longer to be on our way!”

Speedwagon shrugged. “I told your father this and I’m tellin’ you. I assure you it’s not that big of a favor. I was coming anyway… I’ve just got a few more responsibilities on board. ‘M capable of handling it.” He could hear Dio snort from across the room like he didn’t believe it. He was truly trying to be grating, wasn’t he?

“Either way, we’re all grateful. Aren’t we, Dio?”

“Yes, of course. I owe you my life and all of that.” Dio replied in a deadpan voice.

There was no point to this. Robert sighed irritably and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Well, I’m glad to be of service. May I see the funds now, Jojo?”

Jonathan jumped and handed the bag over to Robert. “My apologies! Here, look for yourself.” Speedwagon grabbed the leather strap and made an inelegant noise of surprise as the bag fell a little in his grasp. It was a bit heavier than he’d anticipated. With curiosity burning at the back of his mind, he opened the satchel and looked inside.

Robert E.O. Speedwagon had never seen that much money in his entire life. Bills were neatly folded together in little wads and carefully laid along the bottom of the bag. There was also a container that held an assortment of coins judging by the sound made when he jostled it. At first glance alone, there had to be a few hundred dollars in this satchel. That was more than enough money to live on comfortably for quite a while, and this was merely the Joestar’s holiday fund ?

Looking at the bag of riches never before beheld by eyes such as his, Robert’s mind was overcome with one thought and one thought alone.

I could take this all right now. I could walk out, head on the next steamer home a rich man and they’d be none the wiser. Who would stop me? I’d be gone before they could even--…

He stopped himself there. He was not that kind of man. He had made a promise. One to Erin and one to George and one unspoken to Jonathan and Dio just moments ago. He now had a commitment to these kids, and he had a commitment to Lord Joestar to see this journey through and protect them. Now wasn’t the time to fall back on old habits. It was tempting, to not let this money go to waste on something like this… but, was it a waste if it was saving a life?

Speedwagon turned his head slightly to see Dio’s eyes so intense, like two red beacons boring holes into his skull just from his gaze alone. He could tell in his expression that Dio knew exactly what he had thought in that moment. The boy searched his eyes for only another second and content in the knowledge that Robert wouldn’t doublecross them, turned back to his novel. It was terrifying to say the least. To be read so easily by a child like he was that transparent. He must not have been because Jonathan was simply smiling away.

No, he’d help them alright. Even without the odd intimidation from Dio. Robert fancied himself more of the Robin Hood type anyway, and at the moment… the Joestars seemed to need him now more than ever.

Chapter Text

- August, 1880 -

It had taken quite a bit of time for the necessary preparations to be made for George Joestar’s hospital stay to be fully arranged and for him to be afforded every luxury possible. He was put into contact with his solicitors and proper bankers by letter who would come and visit him within the month. Robert had busied himself with making sure all the work on the wagon was done without a hitch and that their their prisoner, tied up in his closet, was fairing well.

It was disturbing, to say the least. The man had finished the food and water they’d brought for him, not without a cheeky remark about preferring wine. However, both to Speedwagon’s relief and subsequent horror-- he apparently had not relieved himself at all in the time he’s been held up in there. Robert had tossed him a can for such compulsions, but not once had he needed to clean anything. It didn’t help that the Baron always seemed to look clean and fresh every day.

Truth be told, he found it a little terrifying and often came up with ridiculous theories regarding how he managed it. This ranged from “I swear he’s a ghost, Erin!” to “Maybe he’s the undead one, Jojo!” and most recently “Do you even really think… he’s from this planet, Dio?” That latest suggestion had led to the younger boy scoffing and turning away like he was ridiculous.

Ghosts? Beings from another planet? Preposterous. Undead? More likely than they perhaps thought months ago, but considering his desire to kill Dio? Doubtful.

Despite the ridiculousness of the situation, eventually in the early humid weeks of August they were finally prepared to ship out. Jonathan and Dio had their own private goodbyes with George and later Speedwagon and Erina had shared their own before making way to the chariot that awaited them.

The group returned to the farm where they’d purchased the wagon, now able to behold their mode of transportation fully equipped for the first time. Compared to the first time they had all beheld the vehicle, this new one was now covered at both ends with what seemed to be doors. The back entrance of the wagon now held an added hatch to pull up securing the inside from any stray rays of sunlight, not to mention the thick black wool that appeared to be upholstered all over the inside. The area where the driver would sit now had a raised wooden back, perfect for keeping the sunlight from spilling behind them and also for keeping up one’s posture.

All together it looked… a bit odd. A mishmash of various woods and fabrics on an outdated vehicle that had no business travelling on the road like this. Yet, to see all the hard work and modifications made to it, Dio certainly felt safer than in anything else as of late. The amount of control he had to blot out the sun was invigorating, even with Baron Zeppeli next to him.

“Well, let’s load it up!” Robert declared as Erina and Jonathan rushed to his side, pushing trunks and bags and crates of supplies up onto the back.

Dio glanced at the man in ropes standing beside him. He held firmly to his tether while the mustachioed fellow frowned at them. “All this trouble and all of this money wasted… and for what?” Zeppeli murmured to himself. No doubt he was well aware of the fact that Dio could hear him clear as day. This was most likely an attempt to ruffle his feathers and though Dio’s grip on the rope tightened, he pretended to ignore him.

Instead, he watched the remaining three hauling their belongings up onto the back of the wagon which did not take as long as they anticipated. With a grin, Robert clapped his hands together and turned to Dio. “Oi, lemme take that rope. You head on in! See if it’s cozy enough for ya!”

“Well let’s see if this contraption is up to snuff, shall we?” Dio spoke primly. The boy approached the wagon and to his surprise, he felt a warm hand curl around his own before inching up to the cool wood of the umbrella handle to hold it in place above his head. He turned to see Jonathan grinning. “It’s the gentlemanly thing to do, no?” he asked with an almost cheeky grin.

Dio huffed but a slight smile tugged at his lips. “I suppose so, Jojo. It seems you actually are learning manners after all,” he drawled, but pressed on and climbed into the back. It was dark with all of that wool covering not only sewn into the tarp overhead, but also nailed down over the wooden planks that made up the bottom. In the August heat this would no doubt be stifling in the worst way, but that wouldn’t be much of an issue for someone of his condition. It would be miserable for the remaining party, but well... this trip wasn’t about them, was it?

He sniffed imperiously. “Well... it’s not completely unfortunate. It will do.”

The irritated look that danced across Robert’s face was definitely worth antagonizing him. The teenager in question turned to Erina with his arms crossed and frowned. “Y’know what? You can give it to him, Erin! I want no part in givin’ him any sort of present. Especially when he sure as hell doesn’t deserve anything from me after all my hard work!” While Speedwagon’s irked attitude was positively delightful, the idea of a receiving a present piqued his attention.

“A gift for me…? Why I never~”

“It was supposed to be from all of us,” Erina spoke up, looking between Robert and Jonathan. “I suppose if Robbie doesn’t want to be part of the gift, then it will just be from Jojo and I!”

Dio leaned forward in the shadows yet a smirk obviously played on his lips.

“It’s to your left,” Jonathan volunteered. “On top of the crate, wrapped in ribbon!”

With a flourish, he followed Jojo’s instructions only to find a large swath of material folded and tied together in red ribbon. The fabric was soft but thick, not quite the itchy utilitarian wool Speedwagon had used to upholster the inside, yet it was black as night all the same.

“It’s not much. Just a blanket really, but it’s something you can use in the coming weeks as an extra layer of protection. The sun can’t make its way through that. We’ve tested it! It’s really, really big so you might be able to use it as a cloak of sorts in an emergency too!” Erina piped up, managing to sound self-deprecating and proud in equal measures.

“We hope you like it!” Jonathan added with a nervous smile. “Like he said it isn’t much, but it should be useful to you!”

Dio eyed the blanket for a moment, lips pursed. He let them steep in their nervousness for a moment, just for the fun of it before slipping the thing over his head and shoulders. “It’s not quite the fashion statement but... I must say I can appreciate the thought put into it. I, Dio, accept your gift. Might I make a suggestion for next time, though? A little embroidery wouldn’t hurt, darlings~ It would merely add an edge of panache to such a statement piece.”

Speedwagon rolled his eyes. “See? That’s why he’s never getting anything from me ever again.”

“Oh believe you me, if these are the sorts of gifts you see fit to give one is plenty,” Dio replied easily, wrapping his shoulders in his new blanket. Instead of malice or spite in the words however, he allowed a playfulness to seep into his tone amidst pompous superiority. For once letting himself sound as if he were teasing. It nearly made Speedwagon double take.

The older boy looked like he wasn’t sure if he could trust it and eyed Dio suspiciously. The way Speedwagon’s eyes narrowed accentuated the deep bags beneath his eyes and made him look ten years older. It was hard for Dio not to laugh.

As if noticing that Robert scoffed and reached into the wagon. He yanked the blanket from around Dio's shoulders over his head. He had the urge to rub his knuckles over the boy's head too but figured that was a bit too much. “Whatever kid, go get ready. We’re leavin’ now, got it?” he ordered with a laugh as Dio knocked his arm away with a surprising amount of force.

That felt like it’d bruise up for sure come morning. Definitely worth it, though.

“Well I never…” Dio mumbled, adjusting his hair with a pout. “C’mon you two. We don’t have all day,” Robert called to the other two before shoving Zeppeli in the back rather unceremoniously. The man looked beyond perturbed by being handled such a way and made the indignity known on his face, displeasure permeating his expression.

“My, you are irritating.” Zeppeli hissed at him when he’d finally righted himself, sending Robert a look that could peel paint.

“I didn’t try to kill a kid, mate.” Speedwagon shrugged before handing the rope to Jonathan.

Robert adjusted the hat on his head, the black and white checkered top hat that Zeppeli had shown up in in the park and that he had eyed on the steamer what felt like ages before, and watched Jonathan and Erin climb into the back. “Alright you two, for now you’re his keepers,” he murmured, gesturing to the rope in Jonathan’s grip. “If anything happens you yell for me, got it? I’ll stop the whole damn thing and we’ll take care of the situation. Think you’re up for the task?”

“O-Of course!”

“Absolutely!”

Both nodded enthusiastically, giving their most determined looks. Robert couldn’t help the indulgent smile that tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Good, get going then,” he replied before locking the hatch in the back and meandering around to the horses.

In the back of the wagon Dio somehow wound up in the middle, pressed snug between Jonathan and Erina who seemed to want to give that dangerous magician as much space as they could afford. Though he didn’t exactly look happy about it, Jonathan was surprised that Dio felt no need to complain. After a moment of awkward silence, unsure of what to say with the presence of this menacing figure seated in the back with them, Jonathan turned around and poked his face over the hatch and through the fabric covers into the light.

Before him, he could see the barest hints of New York City in the distance and with it his father. The desire to see this through, to make his father happy, to do right by Dio after he had wronged him, welled up deep in his chest. He found himself speaking up.

“We’ll go and we will do exactly as we set out to do. Dio will get his life back and father, I will do my best to make you proud every step of the way, I promise you that!” he declared, voice thick with emotion. “Together we will do all that we can. Once we have we will all get back to you safely, I guarantee. You can count on it, father.”

There was a fire in him then, one he hadn’t felt before. His voice never wavered and instead he felt more sure with every word. If he had to will his words into existence then he was up to the task. He looked over at Dio and Erina who were both looking right at him and extended his hands.

Erina immediately reached out and slipped hers into his grip. Her warm fingers wove between his and squeezed, a message that he was certainly not alone. “Together,” she promised, grinning at him. She left no room for doubt.

Dio didn’t reach for him at all but Jonathan had expected that instead he let it rest by Dio, content in the fact that he hadn’t pushed it away. It was a start, wasn’t it? He nearly startled when Dio did end up speaking. “Together, I suppose,” he repeated. While his tone implied that he would rather be on this journey with anyone else it still made Jonathan smile. Erina too for that matter. He would have said nothing at all if he was truly opposed.

That little gesture had cemented it. It truly was the three of them against the world, wasn’t it?

There was a creak and a thud as Speedwagon got himself situated in the driver’s seat at the front of the wagon. “AND WE’RE OFF!” he cried after a moment, sounding a little manic. There was the sound of reins snapping and suddenly the wagon jolted with movement. Everyone pitched forward and to Jonathan’s surprise he felt a cool presence against the skin of his hand.

No doubt the wagon’s movement caused Dio’s hand to slip right up against his fingers, but there was a little surprise when Dio made no move to pull away. Instead, he sat and seemed fascinated by one of the seams on his new blanket. Jonathan couldn’t be sure of anything, that this was anything beyond an accident but when Dio stayed where he was Jonathan counted it as a win.

When Jonathan finally turned his head he saw the Baron regarding the three of them. It wasn’t anything like before, not full of anger or intent to do harm. Instead the man’s head was cocked to the side and he seemed to look at them with eyes full of equal parts fascination and amusement, like he was figuring out a puzzle. It didn’t make Jonathan afraid but it did leave him a bit uncomfortable so he turned back to his friends, hoping to dispel the notion that they were being watched.

“S-So… how long do you think it is until dinner?”

“My god, you have quite one-track mind don’t you?”

“Oh leave him alone, Dio!”

- End of Act II -

Chapter Text

The party set off for Mexico with excitement, not including their unwilling guest, but after about two hours all sense of excitement had worn off. That was unfortunately the nature of these long trips and Jonathan spent quite a good amount of time trying to sneak a peek at the landscape outside of the wagon as they traveled.

With Baron Zeppeli with them in the back conversation wasn’t as free as usual. Dio often paused mid-sentence of whatever reply he was giving in their discussion to stare at him. It was as if he expected that at any moment the man would burst free from his ropes and finish his assassination attempt. It was doubly unnerving as every time he glanced up to see where the Baron would be, his red gaze always met green. It seemed Baron Zeppeli was just as vigilant about keeping an eye on him as well.

Fortunately, he could be brought back to himself by a warm hand on his shoulder. Erina and Jonathan both had made it a point to try and distract him when he got too concerned with seeing what sort of move the old codger would make now that they were in a dark, confined space.

Luckily for them all Robert stopped occasionally, allowing the kids the opportunity to stretch their legs just a bit and relax. Jonathan looked delighted every time the wagon wheels stopped during their few days on the road, so that he might see what the New Jersey landscape had to offer in the midst of these balmy, hot summer weather conditions. Erina often looked just as excited and ran after him to explore and get a good understanding of their current surroundings. Such genuine curiosity made for excellent adventurers in the making, no?

At first the two had asked Dio if he wished to accompany them to which the blonde scoffed. “Do I look like the type to frolic in fields like the two of you?” Jonathan had pouted at that. “We do not frolic! In fact I had planned to try and climb one of the trees or I don’t know… roll around.”

“Roll around? Do I look like a dog, Jojo.”

Jonathan seemed to get even more perturbed at his answers. “Fine then!” he huffed, turning around on his hill. Erina looked between the two boys and sighed, running a hand through her hair. “Is this entire trip going to be like this?” She asked herself with a sigh before pinning Dio with an irritated, icy expression. “You could’ve just said no.”

“And where’s the fun in that, Erin~?”

The shit-eating smirk gracing his lips only widened as he called her Erin. Not wanting to dignify that with a response or indulge him any further, she simply turned and walked away. Dio’s dark eyes followed her retreating form as it joined Jonathan in the distance. Jojo was attempting to climb a tree surrounded by a large patch of dry, dead grass and flowers. The summer sun was unforgiving and had not allowed such things to grow in the hot temperatures.

There was a little sound of shifting and Dio turned, remembering he was not alone in the back of their wagon. Instead, he was alone with Baron Zeppeli. Once more red clashed with green and he felt a chill run down his spine. With a frustrated sigh, he reached for his parasol, opening it and slipping out into the sunlight. As juvenile as Jojo’s idea of fun was, joining them was much better than being forced to spend another moment alone with such an unsettling man. If this is what the journey was to be, Dio was not certain his sanity could stand another moment of it.

“Robert,” he called to the older teenager, holding out the end of the Baron’s bindings. “Here, I’ll be taking a stroll. The warmer weather does not quite faze me after all.”

Speedwagon snorted and took the rope with a roll of his eyes. “Oi, don’t think I missed the stink you made in there. I’m sure those two’ll be happy to have you join them for a romp.”

“Those two? Surely, I do not know what you’re getting on about. I merely wanted to go for a stroll as I said before.”

“Right and I’m the bloody Queen of England,” Robert replied with a cheeky grin before looking down at the map in his lap. The older boy had told them they were going to stick to back routes and small towns, avoiding big cities in an endeavor to attract less attention as he was still plotting their course. Dio sniffed imperiously and left him to it. There was no need for him to linger here.

He wasn’t going to seek out Jonathan and Erina on purpose, certainly not. However, if fate simply led him to them on his walk well he certainly wasn’t in control of that now was he?

As luck would have it sure enough he found the two of them on a hill a ways away from the tree Jonathan had planned to climb earlier. Jojo had his hands firmly wrapped around Erina’s who was looking intently at him.

“We’re doing this then? You’re going to give it your all, Erina?”

“But of course, Jojo-- oh no…” Erina’s reply was cut short when she spotted Dio cresting the hill behind Jonathan. Her eye roll and accompanying snort were so blatant Dio could spot it from nearly ten feet away. He was slowly learning subtlety was not Pendleton’s strong suit.

Jonathan spun like a top trying to follow her eyes and crossed his arms when his bright green eyes landed on Dio. He looked smugly victorious, something that didn’t suit his boyish face whatsoever. “You’ve come crawling back to us then? Wishing to play? I suppose I’ll allow it.” He attempted to make his tone airy as if he simply didn’t care--like a certain someone he knew--but instead it came off as completely theatrical, shattering any attempt at ease he was going for.

“Oh don’t misunderstand me, Jojo,” Dio began, his voice like silk. “I did not come here to play, you both are merely in my way.”

Erina laughed a little causing Dio to frown. “The state of New Jersey is rather big Dio, I’m sure you had no choice but to climb up the very hill we’re about to roll down.” The sarcastic tone made Dio’s nose rankle even further. How dare she imply that he, Dio, was attempting to even be in the same vicinity as them? As if he ever wanted to do any such thing.

He scoffed. “Hmph, do you believe in gravity, Pendleton?”

“I might, wanna test that hypothesis?” Jonathan asked. Dio had quite the speech amassed about how he most certainly did not want to try, and if Jojo wished to behave like the flea-bitten mutt he kept at home then he was welcome to do it with Erina only. That is, until Jonathan didn’t even give him the opportunity. Instead the dark haired boy just took Dio’s hand in his other free one and shouted “GO!” at the top of his lungs. In an instant, he fell to the ground taking Dio and Erina with him and the three tumbled in a heap down the grassy hill.

The string of expletives spilling out of Dio’s mouth would have made a sailor blush… or at least Speedwagon, while Jonathan laughed and Erina yelped and shrieked in joy. After a painful thirty second tumble, they landed in a tangle of limbs beneath the large tree. If any dead grass managed to ruin a single, perfect strand of hair on Dio’s head he would murder Jonathan himself.

The boy in question was laid out on his stomach, hands splayed against the dry ground and laughing. Erina was on her back over his, hair in her face and tears threatening at the corners of her eyes from her own giggles. And there he was, the poor sap pinned between them, decidedly not laughing. “Tch, I demand you unhand me this instant!” he yelled before pushing the both of them away, rising to his feet to retrieve his fallen parasol. Dio took this moment to inspect the damage to his appearance. The verdict? Salvageable. They would live another day… Barely.

It took a moment for Erina to catch her breath, wiping a tear from her cheek. “Oh come now, it was harmless.”

Dio was reeling. “Harmless?! You both are acting like complete animals I will have you know! I only have it in me to deal with civilized human beings!”

“Said the one who ate rats,” she murmured under her breath. It was Jonathan’s turn to snort as Dio turned a bright crimson. How dare this wench bring up his moment of weakness against him?! He was going to fight and rage but they both rolled over and rose to their feet.

“Don’t act so cavalier! Were we not under the cover of trees you could have killed me!” He hissed in return.

Jonathan sighed and tried to act serious, although laughter still bubbled up in the back of his throat. “Come on, this isn’t the time to fight. We never would have pulled you down to do that if we thought it was going to kill you. Have a little faith in us why don’t you?” Jonathan’s tone eventually sobered quite a bit. “We can climb or do something else now, alright? I’m sorry if that scared you, Erina and I won’t do anything like that again.”

Erina nodded as he spoke. “I’m sorry if we made you nervous too, we were trying to have fun and wouldn’t intentionally hurt you. We’ll figure out something else to do!”

“Are you implying that I, Dio, experienced a moment of fear just now? Because allow me to enlighten you both, you are mistaken. It was not out of fear but anger that I chose to reprimand you. Now you’ll just have to find a means of appeasing me to make up for your transgressions.” Erina rolled her eyes again. “I caught that!”

She sighed heavily before bowing, Jonathan following her lead. “What shall you have us do, oh cold one?” Jonathan asked in a dramatic booming voice causing Erina to snicker next to him. “Cold one?” she whispered with equal parts mirth and confusion. “I thought it was a appropriate,” he replied back with a shrug of his shoulders. “Y’know… cause his skin is chilly?”

“Silence!” Dio called, falling rather quickly into his role as The Cold One. “I demand the two of you climb that tree. Whoever can summon a squirrel from it’s home for my afternoon libations may earn my forgiveness. Whoever cannot will suffer my wrath through the end of the day. Are we understood?”

“That’s hardly fair! Only one of us can win?” Jonathan asked petulantly.

“That sounds like a personal problem,” Dio replied casually, sitting snugly in the safe shade of his parasol. “3, 2, 1… Go.” He urged them on with a dismissive little wave and laughed when the pair scrambled to climb the tree.

He wasn’t sure how much time had elapsed but it was greatly entertaining watching those two shake branches, trying to disturb whatever small animals had taken up residence within the trunk of that tree. They made all sorts of noise and knocked on the bark. It felt like an eternity later but Erina called to Jojo and leaned over to whisper in his ear which had Dio on alert.

He had learned not to trust any plan that minx was attempting. She was already far too clever.

Jonathan grinned and they both made their way over to the left side of the tree. Much to Dio’s surprise, he watched as the two of them put their faces to an obviously burrowed hole in the bark and screamed . They were lucky enough to dodge out of the way in time as a furry creature flew out of it’s humble abode and barely missed scratching their eyes out. Erina herself nearly fell from the tree trying to avoid being hit, Jonathan’s arm being the only thing to steady her.

The squirrel ran at top speed in Dio’s direction, chittering angrily until the young vampire’s quick reflexes kicked in and snatched the small animal off the ground. He snapped its neck in one fell swoop before partaking in its warm blood as Jonathan and Erina made their way down from the tree’s branches.

“Guess you have to forgive both of us,” Jonathan announced proudly, brushing leaves off of his trousers. “That was a joint operation you see.” Erina nodded behind him. “He couldn’t have done it without me and I couldn’t have done it without him!”

Dio narrowed his eyes at them both, pulling his teeth out of the flattened carcass in his hands. He would never admit when he was bested but well perhaps he would throw them a bone just this once. “I suppose you two can share the victory.”

The two grinned at each other and Dio wondered if such sunny expressions would irritate his skin. Their leisure time was seemingly cut short as Robert meandered over, map rolled up in his palm. “Hey, time to get back now. We’re done with the afternoon rest for the day, we’ll stop again when we make camp alright?”

Their navigator paused, looking over their shoulders with a grin. “Well would ya look at that, I’ve never seen wildflowers bloomin’ like that in all my days alive!” Robert spoke with the authority of someone who’d lived eighty years and not seventeen, but as Dio and the others followed his line of sight they saw just what he was referring to. Wildflowers of all kinds were blossoming as if the first weeks of Spring had returned in the spot they had landed on the hill.

He was perplexed. Hadn’t there been nothing but dead plants around them earlier?

Perhaps he had seen wrong as Jonathan looked delighted and ran over to pick a few. Meant for Erina no doubt. Dio however, met Erina’s eyes for a moment and saw the confusion reflecting back in her deep blue gaze. Interesting, maybe he wasn’t as confused as he thought…

He was surprised once more when Jojo pushed a red bloom into his hands and a light blue one in Erina’s. One purple flower stayed clasped in his own as he grinned. “I thought they matched us all quite nicely!”

Erina’s cheeks flushed. “Th-Thank you Jojo! I’ll treasure it!” The smile she wore at least conveyed her sincerity, he had no doubt she’d press it between the pages of her medical tome once they were back in the safety of the wagon. Dio just huffed.

“Well, I must admit it’s not bad to look at. It doesn’t smell awful either. I have no choice but to keep it.” He didn’t offer a thank you, but the goofy smile on Jonathan’s face widened anyway. Jojo offered an orange colored blossom to Robert as well, who graciously tipped his hat, the ostentatious top hat he had stolen from Baron Zeppeli, in return and tucked it snugly behind his ear. “Why thank you, Jojo! Now run along and get settled on in. We’ll be shovin’ off in five minutes!”

As the wagon prepared to start on its way, Dio demanded the use of Erina’s book to press his flower. While he was adamant that there was no reason for him to ask such a thing, he felt compelled to safely secure it. A peculiar feeling, to say the least. Barely a week into their travels and America was already having the worst kind of effect on him. This trip couldn’t end soon enough... Dio thought to himself, but before this internalized lament could follow up with his disdain toward the foreign nation, he noticed that Baron Zeppeli was looking at him.

Or rather, looking through him to where Jonathan and Erina sat huddled together. They spoke in soft voices and hushed giggles, with Dio managing to catch the tail end of Jojo questioning whether or not it’d be wrong of him to offer the Baron some wildflowers as well.

Was that why their mustachioed prisoner was focusing elsewhere for once? Wildflowers?

How odd.

Chapter Text

SHIT HE GOT OUT! ” 

Robert’s voice rang out in the early morning disturbing the quiet sounds of the clearing around them. They had camped a little ways away from a river for the night once the moon was high in the sky, and Robert had every intention of leaving at first light. It seemed he didn’t want to waste any time and it wasn’t as if anyone else had been complaining. However, his sudden exclamation left everyone sitting up in a somewhat confused daze, looking around in the blue pre-dawn glow of the morning.

Jonathan had shot up at the yell and sure enough Dio and Erina followed suit, looking around wildly and half-asleep. “Bastard,” Jonathan heard Dio grumble under his breath as his head turned from left to right.

Nothing seemed amiss. Everything was in its place and Dio and Erina hadn’t left either. It would seem that Robert was getting upset over--

Baron Zeppeli was missing.

The he that Robert was shouting about should have been tied up and resting in his own corner on the other side of the wagon while Jonathan and Erina slept closely on either side of Dio as a sort of last line of defense. Instead, there was only empty space where the Baron previously sat.

Erina and Dio had noticed at the same time Jojo did and they exchanged tense looks. If he really was gone, there was no way of them knowing where he could be or what sort of tricks he might have up his sleeve. This was by no means good.

Jonathan gulped and then took a deep calming breath. “You two stay here. Stick together, okay? I’m going to go find Robert and try to see if we can gather some clues to where Baron Zeppeli has run off to. It’ll definitely be better for us to be in pairs.”

In a moment, irritation and nervousness swept over Dio and Erina’s faces respectively but Jonathan’s own was full of resolve. He wouldn’t be backing out of this. “Keep each other safe,” he spoke with an air of finality before climbing out of the back of the wagon. “You stay safe too!” Erina called after him. “The both of you!”

“Don’t get yourself killed,” Dio scoffed. Jonathan laughed a little nervously and shrugged, though he felt better the moment he noticed Dio inch closer to Erina. They could watch each other’s backs and that was the most important to him in that moment. Now was the time for him to focus and look for Robert.

He turned his head, scanning the horizon for any sign of his long haired friend and caught the sight of a figure quite a ways away close to the waterside. Did Speedwagon think he’d jumped into the river in desperation or something to that effect? Jonathan himself didn’t think that was quite a feasible idea, but perhaps there was evidence to the contrary. After all, Baron Zeppeli had committed some gravity defying feats on his own, hadn’t he?

As Jonathan approached the figure, he realized that it was not Speedwagon but the Baron himself looking out at the water, a sandwich and pepper shaker gripped in each of his hands.

It took the young boy a second to register the fact that while their fugitive was loose, he chose to stop quite close to their wagon and appeared completely unfazed… as if waiting to be found. He watched as the older man sprinkled some pepper on his sandwich and barely restrained a sneeze before taking a hearty bite.

“H-Halt! Stop what you’re doing! Put away your um… your sandwich. Where did you even get such a thing?” Jonathan commanded or at least attempted to. Frightened twelve year olds aren’t exactly known for striking fear and intimidation in the hearts of others unfortunately, but he certainly had given it the college try.

A smirk pulled at Baron Zeppeli’s lips as he cocked his head in the boy’s direction. Morning light danced playfully in the dangerous man’s eyes and further set Jonathan on edge. “Why they’re your supplies, Jojo. Weren’t they meant for every member on your journey? I was feeling a bit peckish so I decided to treat myself to some food and take a bit of a stroll.”

“A-A stroll?! But-- you were tied up! How did you get out of your bindings? Who released you?!” Jonathan managed a bit more of an edge to his voice despite how his knees trembled.

A sincere belly laugh burst forth from the Baron and he nearly doubled over, almost dropping his pepper shaker in the process. After a moment he looked up, wiping a tear from his eye as he caught his breath. The whole display was unnerving to Jojo. His question wasn’t funny! It was serious!

“You actually thought something like a mere rope could hold me in place? I am quite sorry to disappoint you but I can, and have left your bindings as the mood has struck me. Surely you and your friends didn't think I'd lower myself to being a prisoner who is stuck in a closet without a bath and relieves himself in tin cans. You all were out long enough every day that I was given ample opportunity to stretch my legs,” Jonathan stood stock still in near disbelief as Zeppeli’s words. “I suppose perhaps it is time for me to be forthcoming with you. The nature of my powers… It seems it is something you need to hear.”

“That’s--- that’s impossible! We had you securely bound! There was no getting out of those knots! Not to mention you would have had ample opportunity to do the harm you aspired to earlier so don’t-- don’t lie to me!” Jonathan was desperate to hear a different answer than the one he was given, but instead the odd man simply sighed and shook his head.

He turned to face Jojo now, his expression much more severe than the laugh he previously exhibited. “You have seen the things I can do first hand, haven’t you? You know I am more than capable of something as simple as escaping from my bindings. The sole reason I have not made another attempt to remove the danger in your midst is because I opted to observe instead. I was too hasty earlier and now the situation has changed.”

“Changed? I-- what on earth are you referring to? Nothing has changed!”

“Ah wrong again, boy,” he replied with a tone that was almost indulgent. “There has indeed been a change and I’m not sure you’ve noticed. Have you not wondered about the ability I possess?”

“I mean of course, but-- why would you tell me anything about that?!”

“Well indulge me for a moment, Jonathan. My power is that of the sun, the complete antithesis of the curse which runs through your friend’s veins. Through careful breathing one can harness the sun’s power to combat things vampiric in nature, bent on the consumption of humanity. I have studied this technique, called hamon, for decades and it would seem… since the blow to your diaphragm during our confrontation, you have exhibited similar skills. ”

Jonathan looked confused for a moment. That was a lot to take in at once and the addition a few terms that were foreign to him added to his befuddlement. “Huh…?”

“You are capable of the same sort of power that I possess. With training you could be quite the powerful warrior… I normally wouldn’t extend such an offer to someone at your age, but due to extenuating circumstances…” Zeppeli’s voice trailed off and Jonathan watched his eyes land on the wagon in the distance.

“A warrior? Why would I-- Baron, sir--”

“With this you too would be capable of protecting humanity from the wrath of your friend.”

“You see, I can’t do that! I’m trying to rectify this, after all his change was my fault--”

“There is no telling when his restraint will not be enough and he destroys you and your friends in a frenzied quest to feed. He is a danger.”

“But Baron-- this is my fault! I simply can’t let this happen, after all he--

“Those who are slaves to the stone mask face the inevitable unquenchable thirst for human life and dominion above others.”

“But it’s not his--”

“You see Jojo, when I was merely a teenager--”

“WHY MUST YOU TALK OVER ME?!” Jonathan finally shouted, stamping his foot down on the ground. It was immature and his actions resembled that of a temper tantrum from toddlerhood, but after being spoken over after trying to conduct himself like a gentleman he reached the end of his rope. The Baron would hear him and he would make sure of it. Zeppeli stood quietly in surprise for a moment and Jojo balled his hands into fists, not intending to let this moment pass. “I WAS THE REASON DIO TURNED INTO WHAT HE IS NOW! WE FOUGHT AND THE MASK TRANSFORMED HIM BECAUSE OF MY MISTAKES! YOU MUST CUT HIM SOME SLACK! I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR POWERS OR YOUR REASONS, I WILL NOT ALLOW YOU TO HURT HIM BECAUSE OF SOMETHING OUT OF HIS CONTROL! NONE OF US WILL!”

He paused, chest heaving and took Zeppeli’s silence as a reason to continue before he was cut off again, this time with a little more grace. “Th-This isn’t his fault, you see? Dio shouldn’t be punished for something that was out of his control, especially in the awful way you wish to see things through, Baron...”

As Jonathan trailed off he noticed the Baron’s eyes drifting from him down to the ground around them, and as Jonathan followed his gaze he noticed just what had caught Zeppeli’s attention. The sparse grass close to the water had exploded in a colorful array of wildflowers in all shapes and sizes. Both of them merely stared at such a change in the area around them.

He... had he done that...?

Zeppeli chuckled low and extended his arm in a grand gesture to the growth before him. The pepper shaker held firmly in his hand spilled a little of its contents down onto the plant life. “This is the power of hamon, Jonathan. Where the tips of your toes met your shoes the power rippled through and down into the ground. This is only the beginning of your new capabilities…”

The older man’s green eyes shone in the light and Jonathan shifted a little. This truly was magnificent. “You want to ...what? Teach me how to use this then?”

“Of course, to have another person capable of wielding this impressive power in the world? Humanity will be better off for it,” Zeppeli said with confidence.

It took Jonathan a moment to mull it over but he couldn’t let such an opportunity pass him by. “I-I… I will let you pass on your wisdom and teach me how to use this power but I have my own conditions. Do you understand? I won’t let you do anything without listening to me first.”

“Well then, name your terms.” Zeppeli’s tone was a little patronizing and it rubbed Jonathan the wrong way but he was finally being given the opportunity to speak like a gentleman ought to. He was letting him name his terms? Then he bloody well would do just that.

“My first condition is that I won’t let you teach me anything if you’re going to try to turn me and my powers against Dio. If you think I was being uncooperative before… well d-don’t doubt that it can get worse. My second is that you treat me with respect as well, I of course would treat you as a teacher but I don’t enjoy being spoken over if I’m giving you a gentleman’s regard!” He crossed his arms and looked fairly confident for a boy who had no idea what he was doing. “Those-- those are my terms. Understand?”

Zeppeli listened patiently and when Jonathan was done he nodded. “Those seem acceptable to me. However, I will say one thing…” The Baron’s tone made the young boy wince. He knew this wasn’t going to be anything he wanted to hear at all. “You will be the only other person with the potential to use this ability. If something were to happen to me and your friend Dio puts any of your companions in danger, it will be up to you to protect them. By any means necessary. Are you ready and willing to take on such a responsibility, Jonathan?”

While Jonathan was indeed right, this wasn’t something he was keen on hearing, it was something he could handle. “Yes. I don’t believe I’ll even have to raise a hand in aggression toward him. I have faith in Dio’s self restraint. I have faith in him .”

“Hmph… I certainly hope for your own sake this is true. I will tell you now there has never been any cure for the mask’s effect and one would think it’s a fool's journey to continue,” the older man remarked completely unconvinced. That was fine by him. They could show the Baron together whilst he trained him that Dio didn’t need the type of punishment he wished to dole out. That they would find out what he needed to do to reverse his vampiric nature. He didn’t believe it existed but how was he supposed to know everything?

He looked from the Baron to the wagon behind him and saw both Erina’s surprised look and Dio’s dark expression watching him. Her shock wasn’t something unexpected to him, no doubt she’d seen the flowers bloom around him. However, the look on Dio’s face was vaguely troubling. He wasn’t outwardly angry but it seemed that something unsavory played across his mind. It left Jojo vaguely worried.

A shout of “OI!” broke Jonathan’s thoughts and he tore his eyes away from Dio and Erina’s differing gazes and turned to find Robert running from the complete opposite direction. How the teenager ended up there with his face flushed from exertion, Jonathan didn’t know… and he wasn’t sure if it was proper to ask. He blinked and made no move to stop him until he was close enough to have a conversation without yelling to him. Upon stopping Robert doubled over, his hands clamped so hard over his knees that his knuckles were white and his breath more of a wheeze than anything else.

How long had he been running and why was he coming from that direction?

“I--- The--- He---” Robert gasped out, trying and failing to lift his head. The Baron snorted when he heard the ragged breaths coming from the older boy. It was easy for Jojo to tell that Zeppeli didn’t hold Speedwagon in the highest esteem, no doubt seeing the punk teenager side before anything else. Jonathan didn’t want to sit and do nothing, so the boy shuffled over to his panting friend and patted him on the back. “Relax, wait a moment and catch your breath!” he said softly.

Robert nodded and didn’t say anything for a minute, opting to listen to Jonathan’s advice. Nevertheless, once he could form words it would seem he was out of breath still from the sheer volume of information he wished to relay.

“‘M sorry for leaving you alone, Jojo! Y’see that sly bastard got away, but sure enough I caught sight of him turning tail and heading down that way!” Robert spoke quickly, gesturing off in the distance with a frown. “Had me on a fuckin’ wild goose chase he did! This way and that! Just when I thought I’d caught up with him he’d disappear and then I’d see him fuckin’ around in the distance elsewhere. I dunno what kind of magic we’re playin’ with here, but I don’t rightly like that horseshit! I’ve been runnin’ for ages y’see and--”

Robert had to take a breath, his lungs had run out of air while his lips were still moving. After taking in a nice, well deserving gasp, he motored on as if nothing at all had happened.” --well I couldn’t leave the three of ya alone, not when I made that promise to Lord Joestar and all. But just gimme a minute to collect myself Jojo, get my air all straightened out, and then I’ll be back on the chase. He’s not a native here so I doubt he’s gone far. No sir, not far at all. In just a moment I’ll catch his scent again and the chase’ll resume! You can count on me!” Speedwagon finished his monologue and looked up to give Jonathan an exhausted grin.

Zeppeli, not one to miss a theatrical moment it seemed, didn’t let the silence stretch on for long. “Hm, I suppose I’ll have to start running again then,” he said, tapping his index finger to his nose and winking in Jonathan’s direction. His eyes sparkled with mirth at his own joke.

“W-WHAT THE HELL?!” Speedwagon shouted, jumping back and falling not-so-gracefully on his rear end. This actually got a laugh out of the Baron whom Robert looked up at in equal parts severe shock and irritation. “THE HELL ARE YOU DOIN’ BACK HERE?”

Oh no. This reaction would not do them any good. Jonathan offered a hand to help Robert up. “Well you see Robert, B-Baron Zeppeli has decided to assist us along our travels! The two of us managed to reach an accord…” As his voice trailed off in nervousness, he found his offered hand hastily accepted as Robert lumbered up to his feet.

“Like hell you reached any fuckin’ accord, Jojo! This old sod’s been tryin’ to kill us since he laid eyes on us!” He replied angrily, wiping dirt from his behind. What a gentleman. Jonathan frowned and opened his mouth to speak up again, but Zeppeli beat him to it.

“I have not. That is a gross mischaracterization of me, Mr. Speedwagon.” Robert’s eyes flashed with anxiousness when he heard himself addressed by name. Why did he know his name, and how did he figure it out? “I most certainly did not try to kill you, and when I did make an attempt at eliminating the threat you foolishly keep in your presence, that was not the first time I had laid eyes on your little adventuring party.”

“‘S that supposed to make me feel better? Because I’ll be honest, it’s really doin’ the opposite.”

“Not at all. You see, it doesn’t matter if you are comfortable with this or not, young master Jonathan and I have struck a deal. One that does not, and will not, concern you. In accordance with that deal, for him to pursue his training--”

“Training? The hell are you on about, you loon?!” Robert demanded, only to be challenged by a glare from Zeppeli’s direction.

“I was not finished speaking. As I’ve said, he is to train with me. That means I must accompany him on his journey since your minds are all set to continue forward, no?” The Baron turned his gaze to Jojo who nodded. “Yes sir, we are quite serious about this,” Jonathan replied with determination permeating his tone.

The older man huffed and shook his head but said no more on the matter. “That settles it, then. I’ll be traveling with your group.”

“That didn’t answer any bloody questions! I’m not going to--!” Robert began before Baron Zeppeli walked off towards the wagon without paying him any heed, effectively cutting him off again. The older man paused mid step however and wheeled back. He plucked the checkered top hat Robert had been wearing since they had captured him and placed back on his head with a huff. “This does not belong to you,” he scolded before resuming his walk to the vehicle.

Jonathan looked between the two and couldn’t help but realize an odd sort of similarity between this exchange and the one where Dio first met Robert on the ship. He filed that away in his mind, after all it was comparison he doubted each of them would have appreciated hearing. In his anger, Speedwagon snapped his attention to Jonathan. “Y-You’re just gonna go let him get on for some free ride down to Mexico after all he’s done to us?!”

Jonathan sighed, stress gradually piling on his small shoulders. “I’ll explain everything on the way, I promise. Alright... Robbie?” He added Erina’s nickname in hopes that it would relax the tightly wound teenager. Instead, he merely received an answering frown. He supposed that move would only work for Erina then in the future.

Eventually Robert relented, carding a hand back through his long blond hair and looked a little more defeated than usual. “Fine, if that’s how you wanna play it. It’s not my damn expedition in the first place, I’m just the hired help. C’mon then, I want to leave just before dawn breaks.” With one last huff, he turned and walked toward the wagon.

If this is what traveling with the Baron and Robert butting heads was going to be like, Jonathan was almost fearful of how things were going to go with Dio added to the mix…

Chapter Text

The party had settled into an uneasy truce for the next week as they pushed through New Jersey, heading west toward Pennsylvania. After agreeing to the terms Jonathan had set out Baron Zeppeli made no endeavor to even speak to Dio, which seemed just fine to him. However, it was obvious that he was always being watched by him, like he was waiting for something to snap inside Dio and he would have to act fast. For the most part, the young vampire paid him no heed.

At least outwardly.

Jonathan could always see a little hint of a tremor in his hands whenever the Baron’s eyes were burning into the back of his skull. Erina seemed to take notice of it too by the concerned expression written across her face. So they adopted an unspoken system. When Zeppeli would show up in Dio’s presence, one or the other would take up a post by his side. They spoke of nonsensical things, things that Dio obviously didn’t care for. Yet the shaking would subside and he could act himself.

Overall? Things were going much better than Jonathan had assumed they would. No one died yet, that was a plus. A lot of the time Baron Zeppeli had spent training him was very breathing based now. “I don’t have a mask for you my boy, so I suppose we’ll just have to make do,” Zeppeli had said airily, like it didn’t leave Jonathan completely confused. A mask? He didn’t push, he didn’t have time to. Instead, the Baron had glossed over it and started to teach him deep breathing and meditation.

He had assumed this would all be fighting and strange magic but well, he rather liked this aspect instead. Attempting to clear his mind was never easy, but to calm down and just breathe? Jonathan was more of a lover than a fighter anyway.

They had stopped some weeks along on their journey by a small tributary to let the horses drink their fill of water and graze for a bit while Robert worked on lunch. Zeppeli, instead of letting Jojo get distracted by the allure of food, took him to the water’s edge and once again started up his breathing exercises. But something had been on his mind, something that caused the young pupil to flinch and fidget until the Baron had to reach out and steady him.

“Remember Jojo, you’re trying to center yourself and focus only on your breathing…”

“Baron Zeppeli, sir, I simply can’t. Do you think maybe today I may ask a few questions instead? I would rather like to broaden my understanding of what Hamon is and its… enemies.” His tone was as polite as possible, as he had long since learned that despite his relaxed disposition the Baron liked to keep a schedule.

There was a long pause before Zeppeli sighed. “This is about Dio, isn’t it?”

“W-Well, yes! It is… but that’s not what all my questions are about. Will you indulge me just this once, please?” The boy pressed his hands together in a gesture of prayer and the Baron laughed. “Alright, alright, ask away. Let’s see if I can handle such an inquisition.”

Jonathan’s face broke out into a grin at Zeppeli’s acceptance and he didn’t waste any time jumping into it, the glee previously on his face quickly melting into worry. “You see, I don’t quite know much about the mask at all and the changes it leads to. Could you perhaps… explain to me what this has done to him?”

A shadow cast across his mentor’s face but the man did not shy away from his question. “The stone mask is something that brings its wearer to the pinnacle of human perfection. Immortality and unmatched physical prowess are its boons. That said, it is greatly outweighed by it’s curse. You know of the unquenchable thirst for blood and the deadly consequence of being out in the rays of the sun. There is a give and take, Jojo. When one wears the mask they cast themselves away from humanity into an entirely different category altogether .”

“...Immortality? Does this mean Dio will live forever should he not venture out into the sun?”

Zeppeli nodded. “Well, the sun and complete decimation of his brain or a clean hit with hamon will do the trick. But aside from that he will never become sick, never worry again about a potentially fatal wound or the embrace of death at an advanced age.”

“...D-Does this mean… he’ll be eleven forever? Never able to grow? H-How will we explain that to father?!” Jonathan was already panicking and Zeppeli pat his back gently to calm him.

“Now, Jojo, it is not normal for a child to be subjected to the mask in this way and I know only of one other story. My master, Tonpetty, had told me of such a thing. From what little he revealed it seems the mask can alter one’s body to become younger at an older age. Reverse the body’s decay to that of its prime, its twenties. With a child, they have not yet grown to that level of physical strength. It is easier for one to reverse than to quicken development. From what we know, children affected by the mask grow at their normal rate and then such a process stops, leaving them forever at their peak condition.” Jonathan listened well to all of this and looked up at Zeppeli with shining, hopeful eyes.

The older man sighed but smiled ruefully. “That means no, he will not be frozen at this age. He will grow just as you and Erin do.”

The relief that flooded Jonathan after such a discovery was evident as his entire body relaxed. Zeppeli waited for a moment for more questions. When the two fell into an extended silence he opened his mouth, ready to continue their breathing exercises but was cut off by the inquisitive boy.

“Why do you hate Dio so much?”

A loaded question. This was something that brought up many feelings in William and it played across his features in a moment, leaving Jonathan looking concerned. “Y-You don’t have to answer if it’s too much--” But Zeppeli held up his hand to quiet him.

“No, no. I think this is something you should hear…” The way the Baron’s voice trailed off left Jonathan’s blood running cold, to be truthful the man before him didn’t look like he was in a much better state.

“I was born to a family of scholars. My father was a prestigious professor at a university in Rome and to me he passed down a desire for knowledge of the unknown. I wanted to read and write yes, but also to explore. We had ruins there in Rome, the proud remains of our ancient forebears and I wanted to discover more. There were others, we had entire histories written by the Greeks and Romans that proved so and I wanted to see all of it.” The Baron smiled indulgently at the memory, obviously regarding it fondly.

“My father? He was overjoyed to support such a passion. We were rich landholders… he could afford to fund my passions and if someone like the Earl of Elgin could find the marbles of the Parthenon, my father convinced the members of our crew and investors that we could find something just as influential. So we sailed from India to Egypt and so on in our pursuit of knowledge and admittedly… some adventure. Those were some of the happiest days of my life…” Jonathan watched with dismay as Zeppeli’s smile began to dissipate into a darker expression. “It was later that we found ourselves in Mexico, locating Aztec ruins by word of nearby villagers and excavating the very stone mask you have in your possession. I unearthed it myself….”

Jonathan looked incredulous at first, due to such an unexpectedly connected history with this man before him, but then… “I’ve read about you!” he replied with shock and some excitement. “The party of explorers led by A. Zeppeli…!”

The Baron nodded a little sadly but with a wan smile on his face. “Indeed, that was my father.”

The young boy was excited, he had read of this expedition. He was now face to face with someone who had been there and-- ….suddenly he remembered why he had read journals and not reports written by the intrepid explorers themselves. Their ship had been lost. He looked up to see his mentor’s expression once again conflicted, looking as if his brain was a thousand miles or rather, twenty some odd years in the past. He didn’t dare interrupt from that point on.

“With our amazing find of the Aztec mask and fine treasures, we boarded the ship to head back to Italy. We had been at sea for so long, my father and I yearned for my mother, we yearned for our home. The crew was content to fawn over the trinkets of gold and precious stones we had discovered, but I was far too curious with the mask I had found. My father was proudest of that too. I had intended to research it more when…” William had to stop for a moment, his voice straining. Yet he was able to push through the emotion that seemed to weigh on his shoulders.

“There was a sudden attack on the ship one night. Every which way there was simply… indescribable carnage. Limbs and eyes and blood and viscera, a normal person wouldn’t know what something like that looks like. One couldn’t comprehend such violence unless seeing it themselves. One of our crewmembers, one of our precious fifty eight had donned the mask and in his wake left only horror. So much so that below deck blood covered the lights and limited our vision. I tried to pull some friends off the ship and get them to safety but all I was holding were stumps.” Jonathan stood horrified at the bloody picture his mentor had painted, but he was lost to a memory then. Something that sounded so awful to Jojo must have been beyond that to experience firsthand.

“I jumped then. I knew I was the only one left alive alongside our attacker. So I surrendered myself to the waves of the Atlantic. Yet it followed me, it’s horrible cry echoing all around me. I thought I would surely die. And then… in a stroke of luck, fortuna had smiled upon me and light once again broke over the horizon, ending that bloody night. And in the light of comforting day, I saw the face of the one who had slaughtered my comrades… and my father’s body turned to dust and blew away before my very eyes…” The way Zeppeli’s voice trailed off left Jonathan trembling, tears threatening to spill at any moment. All that heartache… no wonder he had been so hostile. Use of the mask had put him through this very ordeal, had made him lose so many friends and his father. He didn’t want to entertain the thought of losing his father in such a way.

“I floated in the ocean for days, thinking perhaps this is how I would end as well until a fishing boat picked me up and brought me to safety… I had always wondered if the mask would end up in the wrong hands, the danger was always lurking behind me. I had been right to be worried.” Jonathan remained quiet and he watched as the shadow lifted from the Baron’s face and he returned to the present. His eyes met Jonathan’s once again.

“I do not hate Dio, on the contrary. I feel for him, but I am also terrified. My father, a scholar, a captain, an Italian gentleman of the highest degree became a wild, instinct driven mess with a lust for blood. How will a child keep such base desires away forever? I do not wish to see him lose himself, but I merely know of no other way and my sworn duty is to protect.”

Jonathan nodded, still overcome and with tears unshed and flooding his vision. Yet he clenched his fists at his side, certainty and determination strengthening his stance. “I believe in your goodness Baron Zeppeli. Your desire to do right a-and what you have been through? It is honorable in the face of such-- such suffering. So let me step in. History will not repeat itself, I’m certain of it. I’ll just have to believe in myself as much as I believe in Dio and his ability to change. Please… place your faith in me too!”

The look on the older man’s face was one of momentary pain. In his heart of hearts, after everything he had seen and done, he knew he couldn’t believe in Dio. He couldn’t simply believe that this peace would last, no matter how much he wished it. With glassy eyes of his own, William forced a smile and ruffled the young boy’s hair.

“Come now, little lion. Remember your proper breathing.”

Jonathan beamed proudly at him and began the breathing technique. With all that determination and all that strength within him….

Maybe-- just maybe, he could believe in Jonathan.


New Jersey felt like it had been completely slogging on. As much as Robert promised they would be in Pennsylvania soon enough, it felt like he was promising something that would never come. It had been weeks and weeks of maneuvering around rivers and other natural blockades. The days that they did spend in a town, they were small quiet places with people who looked oddly at the passersby. If Speedwagon wanted to travel covertly, taking their ridiculous caravan through small towns didn’t seem quite smart to Dio but well, this was how he wanted to do it.

On this night they hadn’t even the luxury of a threadbare cot in a cramped hotel. No, instead they were camping again . The five of them, as much as Dio wished desperately there were only four and that the Baron had fallen into the Atlantic some time ago, were settled around the fire where Robert had a cast iron pot simmering some sort of stew. It seemed to be all he knew how to make and even Erina found herself getting sick of it. He could tell in the way her lips curled back when he announced “It’s rabbit stew! I promise ‘s different!”

It wasn’t. Even Speedwagon only seemed half convinced of that.

His eyes flit around their campfire that evening and caught wind of the two conversations going back and forth. He watched as the Baron slid a slice of bread through his stew and popped it into his mouth, looking rather underwhelmed.

“There’s not even any garlic in this. What kind of cook are you, eh?”

“Oh don’t you start with me moneybags. I worked with what I had and I think it’s pretty damn good!” Robert fired back, eyes narrowed.

“Ah, I see, it’s because you’re British, isn’t it? That’s why you think this level of cuisine is palatable, right? I’ll have to teach you about seasoning your food properly.”

Dio had to stifle a laugh. Despite the fact that Zeppeli was taking pot shots at the British now and their cooking, the look on Speedwagon’s face was priceless. He had never seen anyone look so scandalized in his life. Especially not with Robert’s comically bushy brows knitting together on his forehead and deepening lines that even Zeppeli hadn’t acquired yet.

“Well I never ! I slaved over this damned meal and you wanna go and insult it! Gimme back my food then, I’ll eat your damn share! You don’t deserve it, ya fuckin’ peacock. Give it here! Y’wanna fuckin’ go?!” Robert demanded, standing up and holding up his fists. If Robert was ready for a fight Dio was sure as hell ready to watch it. He started to advance on the Baron who didn’t even acknowledge him when suddenly, the man shot up off the rock he was poised upon, still in sitting position, and landed right in Robert’s seat.

He soaked another piece of bread in the thick stew gravy and took a bite, chewing thoughtfully. “I’d rather not starve, as unappetizing as this is. Find money for seasonings in the budget and we’ll talk.” Zeppeli said this without batting an eye at the open mouthed face of shock Speedwagon seemed to be wearing. Dio wasn’t sure what was funnier, the fact that Zeppeli had played Robert for a fool so easily or the fact that Erina and Jojo paid them absolutely no mind.

Dio’s eyes drifted to them. The two sat very close, their bowls scraped clean of food and Jojo speaking loudly of the day’s events. His arms windmilled around him as he practically acted out each thing they had covered in training that day.

“--And then, you see, he punched a frog!”

Erina gasped, covering her mouth looking positively worried. “Was it hurt? Please tell me he didn’t turn an innocent thing to mush!” Dio scoffed and rolled his eyes. She was acting as if she hadn’t seen him drain a frog completely before. Crushing it? That was nothing.

But Jojo shook his head excitedly. “Not at all! The power rippled through it and instead completely halved the stone he’d rested it on! It was incredible! To think one day I’ll learn to do something amazing like that…? It’s beyond thrilling!”

His companion nodded, wearing a matching spirited grin. “That truly is amazing, I’d love to see you do some feats like that! What else did you learn today or was that it…?”

“No, no! He was beginning to teach me combat basics. How to throw a punch or kick whilst keeping my breathing steady. Once I have that down he says he’s going to teach me a zoom punch, whatever that is, it sounds fantastic! But unfortunately that’s a bit of a ways away, I’m still not quite used to keep my breathing steady in times of stress.” Jonathan sounded a little upset at the last bit. Dio could tell from the fatigue in his eyes and the way he seemed to be clutching sore arms that this training was no cakewalk. But of course, his words and his physical aches and pains didn’t keep him down for long. “I’ll keep working at it though and then I’ll show you!”

Erina nodded, stars practically in her eyes. “O-Of course, I would love to!”

Dio laughed to himself. A Casanova he was not, but Jonathan and Erina didn’t have to do much for each other to get themselves tripping all over their own feet. He supposed they were sweet in a sickening sort of way but well, puppy love didn’t quite stand the test of time. Who knew? Perhaps at the end of the trip they would simply fall apart. A little voice in his head chimed in that maybe something like this would instead strengthen their bond, but he elected to ignore it.

Hearing Dio’s chuckle the two turned to him with slightly flushed faces, a sight that only made him laugh a little harder at their dismay.

“Oh no, don’t let me interrupt, you two keep talking~”

“Don’t be rude, Dio! You shouldn’t be laughing at Jojo, he’s merely recounting his day! And it sounds like it was full of wonderful things, don’t you think so?” Erina practically scolded him, arms folded across her chest.

“You misunderstand me. I wasn’t laughing at Jojo. I was laugh at Jojo and you .” He took delight in the way her expression shifted from curiosity to insult. Now it was Jonathan’s turn to frown. “You’re being awful,” he said, as if Dio wasn’t fully aware of that fact already. “As penance, if you’re not going to eat your dinner you may as well send it over my way.”

The idea of apologizing for anything seemed revolting to Dio. He wasn’t looking for forgiveness anyway, it was merely a joke. That being said, he didn’t want to sit with this mostly full bowl of stew all night. At least he’d get Jojo off his back.

“Here, take it. Allow me to make one thing clear, this is not penance it is a pity~ I, Dio, don’t often humor beggars but when I do, my charity only comes from the goodness in my heart.” In his black, little heart Dio was laughing. Jonathan had reached over to grab the bowl but his brows furrowed and he frowned. He didn’t like to be teased when he wanted his seconds.

“Pity?!” He asked incredulously.

It was due to Dio’s amusement that he almost missed it. In that flash of irritation Jonathan had let loose his emotions. From Jonathan’s fingertips extended the lightning bolts Dio had come to associate with the power of hamon and the accompanying hum that filled his stomach with dread. In that moment, many things happened very quickly.

Dio’s hands acted before his brain could catch up. He dropped the bowl to the ground and instead gripped Jonathan’s wrist. It was a reflex to restrain and keep him from harming him with that accursed hamon touch. He felt something odd too. Something like a chilling breeze flowing from his fingertips, not against.

Then, there was the feeling of a heavy hand on his chest pushing him away from Jojo. Strong and purposeful but only meant to restrain and his eyes flit up in a flash to see that the one who was holding onto him was none other than the Baron. He looked across to Jonathan and practically gasped in surprise.

Jonathan’s whole arm was blue and the older boy clutched it to his chest with complete alarm. Dio, honestly, had no idea what he’d just done and apparently neither had Jojo. “W-Why can’t I feel anything?!” He asked in a bit of a panic as Erina ran over to inspect the nearly blue frosty skin.

“I-It’s frozen!” She answered with urgency in her voice. “W-We’re going to have to thaw it somehow before there’s any sort of damage!”

Robert was coming up on Jojo’s other side now, concern written across his face. “Frostbite is it? Y’know, in my travels I’ve learned that up in the Arctic eskimos climb inside the body of dead seals to treat frostbite, so we may as well try that method…” Robert started untucking and lifting his shirt before Zeppeli spoke up.

“Not now, Speedwagon. Whatever it is you were planning to do, you may stop. Please . In any case, I can fix that for him but this is going to be a problem.” Judging by the way he said that, Dio had no doubts that the problem was himself.

“Tch, I was just gonna use my own body heat to warm him. Right here,” Robert gestured, giving his stomach a light tap and obviously not understanding the Baron. “No need to call it a problem.”

“It’s not you that’s the issue here, although I’m sure you present plenty. No, it’s the boy. How much longer do you suppose he’ll be able to hold back his power when he’s already losing control?” The older man asked, he addressed Speedwagon but Dio could see his eyes sweep across the three in front of them. He was speaking to them all. “What’s to happen when he can no longer hold himself back, hm? This sort of thing, this freezing? It is new to me. Look at the bewilderment on this child’s face. I don’t think he’s even aware of what he’s done”

Upon hearing that Dio’s eyes narrowed. How dare that charlatan even suggest to them that he didn’t know what he was doing?! Dio started to struggle in Zeppeli’s grip but the man didn’t fight. He simply let him stumble back.

“For your own safety, I urge you to be further on your guard. I cannot guarantee that at the end of this trip a ‘cure’ will be discovered!” Jonathan’s eyes flashed with something… irritation? Determination? Dio couldn’t be sure but the Baron noticed it as well. His tone became softer. “I just want you to prepare for every eventuality. That’s all.”

But Dio knew better. He knew what this man was trying to do. Jonathan had tried relaying some sob story to him, but all Dio had heard and tried to forget was the promise of an even more monstrous change. One where he would forget himself. Baron Zeppeli had no reason to believe in his ability to keep himself under control and if this was the first step on a slippery slope…

No. He would not falter. He was Dio Brando for goodness’ sake, and any attempt to undermine him was a useless, useless, useless one.

And yet… he felt his knees tremble and his hands clenched into fists. As calmly as he could, Dio turned and walked back to the wagon, trying his damnedest to keep some air of confidence. He hardly even wanted to admit it to himself but he was terrified. The idea of becoming someone who would inevitably lose every semblance of himself? Of becoming something different entirely? Dio once believed he had a whole life ahead of him, but now…?

He couldn’t bear the thought of losing that reality. And even worse? The idea of watching Baron Zeppeli sway his only allies, the only people who had any shred of belief in his reformation, over to his side? He’s not sure he could take such a thing happening.

No one spoke a word as he climbed inside the dark wagon and tried willing away the nausea that churned within his stomach. Dio would not let them see him rattled. That would only play into the Baron’s hands, wouldn’t it?

He would not watch them abandon him.

Chapter Text

“Tch, now look at what you’ve gone and done!” Robert hissed with a frown, eyes darting to the wagon as Dio disappeared inside. Baron Zeppeli looked behind him, as if expecting to find Dio there and humming in confusion when he was gone. The older man planted his hands on his hips and turned back to Speedwagon with knitted brows.

“So the boy has gone somewhere else, I don’t quite see your point.”

Robert turned to two younger children, who had watched their friend go with concern in their eyes. Seeing him stalk off like that had left them rattled and obviously wanting to go comfort him. However, the teenager’s voice was soft when he addressed them and asked the opposite. “Can you two please uh… clean up the leftovers while I speak to the Baron over here?” He addressed the only technical adult in their party through clenched teeth which was a message enough. Give them some space and also give it to Dio for now.

Jonathan nodded. “Y-Yes um, alright! We’ll go do that right now. Right, Erin?”

“O-Of course!” The accompanying nod from his companion was so vigorous it caused golden waves to fly this way and that before the two ran off to get the pot off the fire and scrub it. Their eyes however, never left him as Robert grabbed Zeppeli by the arm and dragged him a little ways from camp, much to the older man’s indignation.

“Excuse me!” He said, snatching his arm away with irritation.

He opened his mouth to say more but Robert cut him off quickly. “I think you’ve done enough speakin’ tonight if you ask me!”

“And why on Earth would you think something like that? I haven’t spoken out of turn once, Speedwagon. I only speak of an unpleasant truth that the boys will have to face--”

Robert cut him off once again. “Y’see that’s where you’re pissin’ me off,” he told him matter-of-factly. He didn’t care that Zeppeli was an adult or a man of means or a man with the power to fill his whole body with the power of the sun and kill him. Robert E.O. Speedwagon, big shot on Ogre Street didn’t back down from anyone. “They’re boys. The lot of ‘em are kids, you know. They don’t need to be hearin’ all that depressing shit, especially not Dio! Strippin’ away all his hope for a good outcome, the fuck kind of mentor are you?”

The Baron’s lips curled in disgust at his foul language but that didn’t stop him from having something to say in return. “Boys they may be but it is an unfortunate situation they find themselves in. I don’t enjoy this, I don’t know why you seem to think I’m doing this for fun. However, I would be doing all of them a great disservice if I chose to leave them in the dark. This is a grim but necessary task. As for Dio, I happen to recall you finding him to be nothing more than a brat anyway. How are you to know this doesn’t stem for any of that?”

“Oh don’t gimme any of that bullshit,” he spat in return, scowling at the man. “Mask or not, Dio’s still a kid. I’ve been witness to plenty of kids’ misfortune either from circumstance or some sort of villain. As much as we don’t get along I don’t think you’re doin’ this purposefully, but I do think you’re a bloody fuckin’ idiot who’s never been around a damn kid in his life.”

Something in the Baron’s demeanor changed, like he’d struck some sort of nerve that Robert didn’t know existed. “You don’t know anything about me,” he hissed in return, adjusting his top hat. But that didn’t stop the teenager, not one bit.

“Maybe so, but this isn’t about if I know you or not, is it? What I do know is that you’re making that kid feel like he’s got no fuckin’ future. No hope. I know that look well, the expression on his face before he left… Where I’m from? People wear that look plenty, and if I’ve got the fuckin’ opportunity I’m not gonna let someone go around like that when I’ve got the power to change it. So, lay off! If you have something to say like that, don’t do it in front of him. Got it?”

For a moment William said nothing, as if trying to figure Speedwagon out. His eyes narrowed, a little in irritation but Robert had seen many appraising stares in his lifetime. He didn’t necessarily care if the man came to understand him or not, or even like him, but he wouldn’t budge on this matter. When Zeppeli finally spoke he almost sounded bewildered.

“You-- you truly care about all of them, don’t you? Someone like you, trying to handle this so responsibly...”

He didn’t rightly like his tone but Robert was in the business of picking his battles so he let it slide, opting instead to pull his bowler hat down further. He was lucky he’d taken a spare hat since Zeppeli had since retrieved his stolen contraband. “I know I’m not the most exemplary guardian or anything, I know how I can be. But I also know that I made a promise and I’ve lived a life that you wouldn’t understand. If I see a kid who’s sufferin’ I’m not gonna just stand by and let it happen. ‘M not that kinda man, got it? So just… listen to me on this.”

Zeppeli sighed and began to massage his temples, wearing the look of a man both tired and frustrated. Despite that, when he spoke his tone was surprisingly gentle. “I don’t know how to say no to any of you, do I? Fine. If this is how you want to play this…”

“It certainly is. Now, if you’ll excuse me Baron, I’ve got someone I need to speak to.”

Robert nodded and turned on his heel, walking off toward the wagon and letting Zeppeli stew in whatever realization he had come to. Perhaps he did understand him a little better now. That wasn’t exactly Speedwagon’s goal but well, he wasn’t going to be cross that such a thing occurred. That only helped their situation in the long run, didn’t it?

This was not the time to dwell on that though, as his real reason for all of this was sitting in the back of that wagon and no doubt drowning in his own sea of self-doubt. He caught the eye of Jonathan and Erin again, giving them a little wave before he climbed into the back of their vehicle and knocked on the wood.

“Mind if I come in?”

He saw Dio then, only his face showing beneath the dark sheet they had gifted him the day they set off. He wore a look of irritation then but Speedwagon knew better, could see in those red eyes of his that there were signs of something else flashing there. “Why ask if you’re already inside?” He hissed, his tone full of acid. “I would much prefer to be alone though. I’ve no desire to fill the evening with idle chatter for your amusement, thank you very much.”

“You speak a lot for a boy who doesn’t want to chit-chat,” Robert replied, earning him a sneer from the young boy.

“Go bother Jojo.”

“Well Jojo isn’t who I wanna speak to. I know what the Baron said… affected ya.” Robert began, trying to tread lightly. Dio, of course, was quick to respond.

“Affected me, Dio? Please. He wishes he could incite such a reaction in me. No one scares me. I am afraid of nothing. It is all of you who should be afraid of me!”

“I never said anything about being afraid,” Robert pointed out. Which earned a scowl from the boy who seemed smaller than ever curled up beneath that sheet. For someone who could fill a whole room with his hot air and bluster, he really wasn’t that big of a thing was he?

Eventually after a prolonged silence Robert heard him mumble. “...It was implied.” He stifled a snicker and instead laid back to made himself comfortable.

“Y’know, I came up on Ogre Street. I knew a lot of people like you…”

Dio scoffed. “Vampires? I’m sure there were plenty of leeches.”

“No, survivors.” That earned him silence again and the look the boy gave him was one of hidden curiosity so Robert took that as an okay to continue.

“So, Ogre Street is full of all of these stories… but I once knew this kid. A real cheeky kid, didn’t wanna depend on anyone. He came up in an orphanage, right?” Robert could see Dio rolling his eyes already.

“Was he a Dickens character then?”

“Oh you stuff it, I’m tryin’ to tell a story. Anyway, the Sisters weren’t real fond of him, he wasn’t good at book learnin’ and they tried to keep him from usin’ the devil’s hand to write with but well, that just made him less inclined to be good at anything they wanted. So here he is, can’t read, can’t write, can’t stand the place anymore. Eventually, he decides that he’s seven, he’s outgrown the place. He can make a pretty penny pinching from moneybags rather than having to be the nun’s obvious burden at the orphanage… so he bolts.”

Speedwagon paused, looking to Dio who was trying not to look like he was interested in this tale he was weaving. Nevertheless, when the silence dragged on the boy huffed. “Well…? Go on, I don’t have all night.”

This got the teenager laughing. “Alright, alright. Eager to hear more, are we?”

“Shut up, I never said that.”

“Okay, well,” he continued, like the boy never spoke. “This kid, he thinks he’s a master thief. Like someone’s gonna have to call Scotland Yard to catch ‘im. He’s pinching wallets, eating better than the sad ol’ bread the nuns would give ya in the orphanage. But one day…? He gets cocky. He sees this man wanderin’ drunk out of some business of ill repute, which could really be anywhere on Ogre Street and he sees an easy target. He’s small and spry so our boy pinches his coin purse and runs off, fast as he can. It’s a good thing too. When he stops his skitterin’ down the alleyways, he finds that the drunk old fool was carryin’ quite a bit of change too. The boy will be eatin’ for weeks. Well uh, that’s until…”

Robert hesitated. It was never easy for him to tell this story. With one glance to Dio’s openly curious expression now, he knew he had to keep going. This was something he really ought to hear now…

“The old man he stole from showed up right there at the only other entrance to the damn alleyway! He looked right pissed y’see. ‘You! You’re the one what stole me wallet!’ he yelled and the boy? Well he starts looking around, wondering if there’s any way out… but his means of escape is blocked. He thinks maybe he can climb out, so he tries to scale the gutters, get up to the roof.”

Robert felt fear, familiar and cool bubbling up in his stomach. Instead he ignored it, clenching his fists almost reflexively. “But the man?” He continued on. “He’s too fast and rushes as the kid’s tryin’ to escape and he just picks him up like he’s nothing. I mean, ‘s not like he weighs much but still scary, right? ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry!’ our boy cries, tossing the money back at him. ‘I didn’t mean it, ‘m just tryin’ to eat! Please let me go sir’ he begs and well--...well this part is gonna get mighty unpleasant, I should probably skip some of this…”

“Don’t you dare,” Dio hissed, now obviously wanting to hear this story to the end. “I am not some shrinking violet. I’m perfectly capable of handling something like that.”

“It’s gonna get violent…”

“As if that’s any sort of issue for me,” he sniffed imperiously, turning up his nose, trying to continue the ruse that he wasn’t bothered at all. “I am a vampire, my whole nature is violent, no? Continue your story and leave nothing out.”

“Alright then, you asked for it,” he replied almost ominously and Dio’s eyes widened, ready to hear more. “So… right, our boy was begging for mercy. This man though? He didn’t wanna let up. ‘I don’t show mercy to thieves!’ he says, his face all red with anger, ‘But maybe if you apologize…’ and the kid? He’s quick to do so! He’s apologizin’ ‘til he’s blue in the face, groveling in this man’s hold.” Robert ignored the little noise of distaste Dio made and continued.

“‘That’s still not enough!’ the man says after a while. ‘Y’need to be taught a more permanent lesson, somewhere where you won’t forget.’ The man shoves him up against the wall right? And the boy’s terrified now, he’s seven and he thinks he’s gonna die tonight. Especially when this guy pulls out just-- just the rustiest lookin’ pocket knife you’ve ever seen in your damn life. But he does exactly as he says. C-Carves a physical reminder in the young thief’s skin that he’ll never forget and one that everyone’ll see…”

Once again, Speedwagon trailed off, this time needing a second to collect himself before his voice begins to falter. A moment to breathe. But it didn’t take long for him to resume.

“S-So, he finishes his grim work. Giving that boy a deep uneven slice with that rusty knife and he drops him to the cold, wet ground. He had to give him a few kicks for good measure… He was never sure if he spit on him too. It began to rain anyway, so everything pretty much felt the same.” He felt himself getting a little lost then, a little too involved in his story. Dio didn’t need that detail and instead it just spilled out. Classic Speedwagon, he supposed.

Yet, that didn’t stop him. His mouth was always much faster than his brain. “But he laid there in that alley, bleedin’ out… and he thought he was gonna die. Seven years old, bleedin’ from an open wound and thinkin’ he might not even see his parents in the great beyond or wherever the nuns said they were because he got caught for stealin’. That’s a sin, his parents wouldn’t be where there were sinners and shit. He always hoped they’d be good, anyway...”

He trailed off for a moment, after all, that wasn’t where he wanted to go with this at all. When he realized, he returned to the task at hand.“W-Well our boy, he fell asleep there on the cobblestone, thinkin’ he wasn’t gonna wake up. It was a hot sleep too, uncomfortable as hell. Pun intended. He caught glimpses of older boys. They were tryin’ to say something but he couldn’t tell… That is until he actually woke up. In a bed of all things. Fancy that, maybe he did go to heaven. Sure, it was some shitty threadbare cot but compared to a grimy alley? That was divine. He was blinkin’ and lookin’ around trying to see what heaven was like until one of those older boys showed up and he laughed at him when he asked if he’d died.” There was an undeniable laugh in Speedwagon’s voice now that he’d recounted this part, smiling at the image he himself had conjured up.

“Y’see, the boy hadn’t died. Obviously. He’d been rescued. These two older kids, one with paint all over his face, he’d later get tattoos there wouldn’t ya know, and the other a fuckin’ rascal from the Orient, had saved his life. The boy hadn’t bled out too much when they’d found him but damn he had a nasty infection. They had to loot medicine for ‘im from a nearby physician and it was really luck of the draw that they’d gotten the right ones to save his life in the first place.” Speedwagon always found this part of the story to be somewhat of a miracle. How those two had even pinched the medicine in the first place was surprising… let alone having it be something that did the trick...

“...But there he was, alive, on the mend, barely escapin’ the jaws of death. And even despite that… for a while… he thought he should’ve died.”

Robert let that hang in the air for a moment. The words almost seemed too big and too loud for the quiet atmosphere of their wagon. But this part, this sadness, and what came after was what Dio was going to benefit from the most.

“This-- this friend of mine, he thought he’d become such a burden, someone who was gonna have to pay this back and run off and take care of himself,” he finally continued. “It’s not like he could trust anyone else right…? If anything, he was just gonna be too much and they were gonna abandon him anyway. He was already too much work, there was no hope for him… but what would you know? I’ve never known three people to be so loyal to each other in my entire life, to this very day even…”

There was a moment as Robert struggled to get to the point of his story. It was there, but hard to articulate without sounding like some sort of stupid preacher. “This kind of thing? This life or death shit? It makes you realize just who has your back, it makes you realize who would care if you lived or died. Right now? There are people, at your side, who believe in you and want to see this through to the end for you. You’re a survivor, right? Just know that… people get you. You don’t have to survive alone because there’ll always be times where the help makes that shit just... easier.”

There. That was perfect… or at least, the best he could do anyway.

Once Robert had finished a silence stretched on between the two, longer than most. Both seemed to be digesting all the words he’d said. Dio, hopefully getting something from that and Robert still reeling from the fact that he had actually told someone this story. It had been so long…

“So… You’re a survivor then,” Dio said, finally breaking the uncanny quiet of the wagon.

Speedwagon gaped, his expression looking no doubt like one of a fish. He was surprised a bit that Dio had caught on to that. That this wasn’t the story of someone he knew but--

“Worry not, I plan to be one too,” the boy added. His voice was quiet and full of a maturity that didn’t quite match his age. When he blustered and hissed Speedwagon couldn’t help but see him as a child sometimes but this… he looked closer in years to him now. It was strange to see such a change but nice in a way too, that he seemed to be helped just a little by this.

“Of course. When y’live on Ogre Street who isn’t?” Robert replied with shaky confidence, after all, despite sharing a story... this really wasn’t supposed to be about him. This was to help Dio. “I know plenty of survival stories. I’m sure yours’ll be the next.”

At his words, Dio began to laugh and make for the exit of the wagon. His laugh wasn’t the derisive snicker he was used to hearing or even anything that made Robert’s hackles rise. There was no mocking tone in the slightest. The boy paused at the exit to turn back to Robert, framed by the dark night sky. “I fully intend for that to come to fruition. You’ve nothing to fret over, Speedwagon.” His tone was final and there was a softness to it that almost sounded strange coming from the harsh boy’s mouth.

It made Robert grin.

“That’s exactly what I wanted to hear.”

Chapter Text

- September, 1880 -

Finally, they had reached Pennsylvania. Whilst crossing state lines had been a celebration after leaving New Jersey behind, they had greatly underestimated the tediousness of the winding paths they now had to take through the mountainous region. The weather was getting chillier, late September was never the warmest of times anyway, but now it was growing a bit more noticeable. The party would have to be prepared for the oncoming sting of Winter.

That evening however, Erina found herself enjoying a milder night by the fire. Dinner had long since been made and eaten and it was her turn to clean up the remainder. Bowls and utensils were thoroughly washed and packed away methodically. While she worked Erina thought excitedly of the sights to come, wondering how their party would fare once Winter arrived, wondering what would await them at the end of it all.

Her mind drifted as well, to a half-written letter weighing her pack down. One to her father. The words weren’t coming to the way she would’ve liked. There was no explanation she could give at the moment. She didn’t want him to know where she was, just that she was alright… perhaps down the line she would figure out the right things to say--

“Ow!”

Erina’s train of thought crashed abruptly as the utensil she was washing, a serrated knife, sliced it’s way down her palm. The offending object clattered to the ground and she held her wrist tight, hissing as blood oozed freely from the open wound. “...Ugh, I’m going to have to clean this,” she mumbled to herself as she made way to stand and retrieve her carpet bag.

Suddenly, there was a gentle hand on her shoulder pushing her back down in her seat. She glanced up, expecting to find Robert at the ready to brag about his skills with first aid, only to find Baron Zeppeli instead examining the wound. “Mm, it’s deep but not too bad, you’ll be fine in no time,” he stated obviously in his bright tenor voice.

“Um… yes I know,” she replied, looking at the man oddly. Erina couldn’t figure an exact reason to why he was checking up on her, and her confusion only furthered when he gently pressed his fingertips around the cut. He was a strange man indeed, one she hadn’t spoken to without the company of others. He was Jojo’s mentor and seemed content keeping to himself and needling Robert. That was fine with her, as he still made her somewhat nervous after everything. She’d knocked the man out for heaven’s sake… she doubted he was pleased with her.

It was because of that, that when she felt an unfamiliar warmth spreading to her open wound, she rightfully panicked. “W-What are you doing?!” she asked apprehensively. When he quietly hummed in response and nothing more, Erina tore her hand away and immediately brought her eyes down to the cut-- ...or where the cut should have been anyway. In its place, the bloody gash had morphed into a faint pink scar running across her flesh.

“If you’ll let me finish, the scar will be gone in a few moments. This is one of many gifts that come with mastering Hamon… the art of healing. Jojo will be learning techniques like this soon enough,” he informed her and held out his hand again expectantly. Almost as if in a daze, Erina placed her own face up in his and looked on as he resumed. It was near unbelievable to watch as the newly formed scar faded to a smoother texture that was only a few shades off from her usual complexion. An amazing feat to behold, indeed.

“Th-Thank you,” she replied, staring a bit in awe. The older man laughed and stood up. “You’re quite welcome, Erin. I’m glad to have helped.” Well, it was good to know that the man really was putting in an effort to try and get along with her, even after everything. On the other hand, this brought a terrible truth to the forefront of her mind as she grazed her fingertips along the scar.

If Baron Zeppeli, and one day Jonathan, could heal injuries with just the touch of a finger, who knows what else they could do…? With this power… they had officially rendered her useless.

Erina was painfully aware of her place sometimes. She was only a girl, compared to the ice producing vampire, the two wielders of sun magic and the proper street thug who accompanied her. They all had their contributions, mostly combat related but Robert also was the one who was organizing the whole operation. She had decided some time ago that well, she would act as the medic along their journey. While her knowledge was not professionally intensive, she could tend to their wounds and figure things out, she would support them in any and every way she could. That was her place… not that they needed one now.

If she wasn’t contributing, if she had nothing good to offer in the first place, wasn’t she merely a burden to the rest of them now? Dead weight along for the ride?

She watched them all. Jonathan working extremely hard at Zeppeli’s side to master the use of his newfound power. Dio slinking off to work at understanding his apparent control over ice, freezing what he could and attempting to manipulate the shape. Robert was hard at work too, planning the remainder of their course, organizing everything, bargaining with locals and employing his intimidating air to great success.

So, what? Was she going to be someone they just had to make sure wasn’t killed along the way by something stupid? Was she just another mouth to feed? A waste of space and finances?

That night, as everyone settled into their camp Erina scribbled on her letter to her father. She crossed out and rewrote at a mile a minute, to a point that even Dio seemed to avoid her in this frenzy. Instead, he merely looked down his nose at her and walked the other way. She heard him mutter something about ‘going mad’ under his breath, but she chose to ignore him.

Every time she had written not to worry, but she would not be returning she had crossed it out. When she wrote that she would be home soon because she had no place here any longer, she blotted the offending line out with ink. What was the right thing for her to say?

Watching the fire in front of her crackle and consume the logs they had used to light it, Erina knew she didn’t want to leave. She had fought so hard to accompany them and see this through that it was the last thing she wanted to do. But now… she had to earn her continued spot here with them, didn’t she?

Perhaps… there was a way that she could.


When morning broke Erina found herself sitting with Robert at the driver’s seat. Often her and Jojo would take turns sitting with him, keeping him company on the long road that stretched out ahead of them. Now that Baron Zeppeli had joined their ranks, he too joined Speedwagon at the front although those instances resulted in an argument more often than not.

This time, nevertheless, she had an ulterior motive.

For a while Erina let Robert speak. He always had stories to share, crazy things that had happened to him on Ogre Street or elsewhere. His work on steamships had taken him to far off locales where he encountered many an interesting thing. Occasionally Erina knew that he had embellished some of his tales, but for the most part she didn’t doubt them, he wasn’t the kind of man to lie about so many different things at the drop of a hat.

He had launched into a story about spending a few days in Canada one Autumn before Erina cleared her throat.

“That is… really lovely to hear but… well, Robbie, I’d like to speak to you about something that’s weighing on me. Do you mind?” Her voice was hesitant, she had no idea if he would be receptive to what she wanted but his expression of concern was a good start.

“You’ve got problems you wanna talk about? I don’t mind at all, actually I’d like to help in anyway I can Erin…” he answered. His genuine concern for her made her feel warm. It had been a long time since someone who was like her family had said something like that.

“Thank you, Robbie,” she answered quietly. It took her a moment to figure out exactly what she wanted to say but when she did she looked up from her wringing hands to look at her companion. “I know I’m useless.”

“What? What are you even--!?”

“Please let me finish. You are the one in charge of this whole trip, the Baron and Jojo have these incredible powers, Dio is a vampire. I thought I could be the person you all relied on to take care of you, the one with some sort of medical knowledge I suppose? But… well, that’s been shot out of the water because Zeppeli and Jojo can aid injuries with their powers! So I just-- I want you to teach me how to fight!” The look in her eyes was almost desperate when she finished.

Robert on the other hand held onto the horses’ reins and stared at her incredulously. Only looking away when he nearly drove them into a large pine tree to the side of the road. “S’cuse me, how the hell do you get from bein’ useless to wantin’ to fight?!”

She crossed her arms over her chest. “At least if you teach me how to fight I won’t have to rely on everyone else’s protection if it gets kind of hairy out there! I’m already invested in the trip now so maybe you can help me become… less of a burden….” As she spoke more, Erina felt foolish. Her shoulders slumped as she wondered why she’d even asked. It sounded stupid. I’m useless so teach me to fist fight so I’m not a complete waste of space? What was she even thinking?

Her companion was silent, all she heard was the sound of hooves against the dirt road ahead of them. Erina was certain the silence would make her cry until he eventually spoke up.

“Listen up, Erin. You’re in no way a damn burden and without you I’m tellin’ you now there’s no way those fuckin’ sods would’ve gotten off the ship let alone the magic man back there. If any one of ‘em is saying that I’ll knock their lights out, magic or not.” There was an edge of steel in his voice that greatly surprised Erina and she held her hands up in an attempt to calm him down. “No, no. It wasn’t any of them, I figured this out on my own,” she assured him.

There was another beat of silence, another thought and then he continued. “Well then, that’s a shitty way of thinking. You’ve contributed a lot… but, if this is what you really want? Maybe we can have our own training time. Any man worth his salt ought to know how to throw a punch. It’s practically my civic duty to teach you, ‘specially if you don’t know how.”

He shrugged his shoulders and shot her a smile and in return Erina beamed back.

She felt good about this.

Chapter Text

“Alright Erin, hit me!”

Robert had taken her off to a field on the side of the road when they set up camp that evening. The group split off as it had done for quite some time. Zeppeli and Jojo left to get in a nightly round of training, Dio went skulking off wherever he pleased, and now with everyone dispersed Robert decided this was the best time to teach his “little brother” how to scrap. Though as he poked at his rather muscular upper arm to show her target, Erina looked less than impressed.

“Excuse me?”

“Y’heard me. Hit me! Right here, c’mon gimme everything you’ve got. I wanna see what I’m workin’ with.” He tapped his upper arm once more to emphasize his point.

Erina shook her head. “What? No! What if I hurt you or something! I’m inexperienced!”

“Listen, I doubt you’re gonna find some amazing strength out of nowhere to shatter my bones. Just give it a shot!” Robert replied with a sarcastic smirk. While Erina wasn’t fond of throwing punches without regard like a certain pair of boys she knew, his choice of words and tone irked her… and so, without thinking she balled up her fist and ran at him with everything she had.

Her hand met the hard flesh of his muscle and reared back. It was a savage blow to be sure, she had to shake out her hand after the impact reverberated through her fist. He would no doubt be regretting his words now, wouldn’t he? Though when Erina looked up at Robert he was grinning. “Huh, you got sharp little bird bones in that hand of yours dontcha? You’re fast to boot, that’ll help but you don’t know how to make a fist for shit. That’s gonna be the first step!”

She balked. He didn’t really feel hurt by… any of that? Not a flinch or a groan?

“Here Erin. Lesson Number One and one of the most important ones you’ll learn. Look, top four fingers curled in, knuckles out and your thumb tucked away so that doesn’t get banged up in the process! You wound up hittin’ me more with your fingers than your knuckles and it probably hurt you more than me. In a scrap that could end up bein’ a huge handicap for ya.” He was very informative and reached over to arrange her fingers into a proper fist.

Well, at least she now knew why he didn’t feel anything when she had give him her all. She’d hurt herself more than she’d hurt him. While it was a blow to her pride, learning how to better her poorly made efforts would be worth it in the end so she listened intently.

“Now. Lesson Number Two, how to throw your fist forward. I’m no science guy, but I do know how important shit works. You’re a slip of a thing right now, but if you manage to get all your weight and power behind this fist right here… y’can do some damage!” He moved to show her how to stand, feet splayed slightly apart and both fists brought up in front of his face. Erina followed him the best she could.

Seeing her emulate his position made him grin. “Look at you, already damn attentive!” He reached over to ruffle her hair before bringing her fist back in front of his face. “Now, in scraps you won’t have time to get all up in some nice position, but we’re takin’ it a step at a time.”

“Alright! One step at a time!” Erina nodded, a spark of determination bright in her eyes.

“That’s the ticket! I like that enthusiasm!” He grinned, a similar fire burning in his own. “As I was sayin’, in a street scrap a lot’ll be goin’ on! You wanna get a hit in but you don’t wanna make it easy for them to get a hit on you. Keep slightly turned away like this…” He stood with his body slightly turned, almost as if he were shooting a bow and arrow and Erina attempted to emulate him the best she could. Robert looked to her, evaluating her stance before turning and nudging her leg with his foot. “A little closer together, keep it tight, it’ll help!”

“O-Oh alright!” She nodded and quickly righted her stance. “There we go!” He commended as she got into a more suitable position.

Learning with Robert was fun, he seemed to be quite exuberant when she got something right albeit difficult. He was already motoring through his lesson, just as he did with everything else. “Alright Erin! Here’s Lesson Number Three, actually doing the damn thing!”

Was Erina ready? She wasn’t sure. Did that matter? Not at all.

“Now you’re gonna just drive your fist forward here! Real fast with your eyes forward. Get a little weight behind it by steppin’ forward with your… main foot, I guess? Then you’re gonna wanna pull your fist back, bring your back foot up a little so you’ve got more force goin’ forward and just hit with your other hand! And make sure you’re shifting your hips, your shoulders AND your foot, got it? That’ll make the blow harder!” As Robert explained the steps he demonstrated it slowly, giving a slowed jab to the air before reeling it back and sending forward another.

Erina watched him with a scrunched up face and tried to replicate his words the best she could. There were quite a few parts that required a lot of moving around which confused and left her feeling a little clumsy, but she would try her best to get things right on her first attempt. Once she made it through the set of steps, Robert gave a reassuring nod. “Alright Erin, again! Let’s keep on doin’ that ‘til you’ve got it down and can do it quicker!”

They spent some time going through the motions, it felt a bit like forever but eventually she found the rhythm of the whole thing. It was a bit like a dance step. Step forward, punch, use the momentum to carry her weight forward and send another as fast as she could. It was no secret when she got the correct movements as Speedwagon practically hooted.

“Alright! Looks like you’ve got it! Now, I want ya to try and hit me again! Lesson Number Four, and personally to me the most important, just scream!”

Erina blinked for a moment, trying to process his words. The most important rule was… to scream while she punched? He seemed to notice her hesitation and urged her on again.

“C’mon, just scream something. Okay, I got it! Just scream ‘fuck’ as loud as you can!”

A few things ran through her mind in that moment but all of her thoughts reached the same conclusion. “Absolutely not! I can’t say something like that!” There was no way she could shout something like that... she was a lady, one that had been taught that no such foul language could pass her lips lest she desired reprimanding! That’s awful! What would her father say!?

Speedwagon snorted. “What? Don’t be so yellow, s’not like your parents are listenin’ right?”

“W-well, no they’re not but--” she began to protest but Robert cut her off.

“Listen, I’m basically the adult here right?” He asked her. Erina was about to open her mouth but Robert cut her off. “And don’t even bother counting Zeppeli in this! He wasn’t the one who got the honorary title of guardian from Lord Joestar! He tried some genuine shady shit and the only reason he’s still here is ‘cause Jojo’s learning from him and got him to relax. You’re not gonna be in trouble if y’say fuck around anyone with me here… and honestly, I feel like it’s my duty as your older brother to put a little street in ya. So come on, at least for this, yell it!”

Erina looked down at her closed fists and felt years of lessons in manners cling to her like shackles on her feet. She felt the heavy weight of fulfilling her duty of being a proper lady on her shoulders, and the promise of society’s judgement in front of her. “F-...Ff--” she tried to get it past her lips, to make something happen. But it was harder than it looked. It wasn’t even that she didn’t want to try saying it, she definitely did but….

What would father say? What would mother think of her? Nellie had always taught her about proper ladies and their place in the grand scheme of things. She was only eleven now but soon she would be out in society, having to think about how others perceived her!

Robert watched as she stuttered, struggling to get the word--or any other words, for that matter--out. Seeing her plight firsthand, he thought it best to relax his stance, choosing instead to stand at full attention when he turned to her. Maybe, Robert mused, he had asked too much of the kid? They were supposed to be taking it one step at a time, so perhaps… a leap like this was more than his little brother could handle? Erina Pendleton, however, thought otherwise.

Well, they aren’t here are they? What they might say doesn’t matter. I’m not Erina at the moment, I’m Erin A. P. Speedwagon… a-and its as the saying goes… when in Rome, right?

“H-Hey Erin, if it’s really a problem you don’t ha--”

FUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!

The scream rippled through the clearing as Erina launched herself forward, thrusting her fists forward in a one-two jab just as he showed her. Robert, unprepared for such a blow as her fist struck him in the chest, stumbled back as she pushed the air out of his lungs with a clean hit before landing a solid punch to his ribs with the other.

There was a moment after she took the plunge where Erina wasn’t sure what had happened, but upon realizing that the efforts of her hard work paid off, she found herself throwing her fist in the air with a triumphant grin. Yes, there was going to be a lot more in the long run when it came to learning how to fight, but she managed to accomplish something today! It might have been a small feat to some, but the success of her one-two jabs had her on cloud nine for the time being. Nothing could get her down! “HAH! I DID IT ROBBIE! I-I THREW THE PUNCH AND I SAID IT!”

In front of her, Robert let out a little wheeze that nearly gave her pause and offered the weakest thumbs up she had ever seen. “G-Great job, Erin…!” He choked out before she took notice of the state he was actually in. Immediately she ran to his side.

“O-oh gosh! I’m so sorry, Robbie! I didn’t think I was actually going to hurt you!”

“S’f-fine… j-just... next time g-give a bloke some warning, y-yeah?”

 


 

Pennsylvania came and went with weeks of training and hard work for everyone. It felt nice to Erina to have something to work on and practice as the days passed by. Her reading of course continued and the book she had brought along from home was becoming dog eared at this point. However, every evening she made certain to take time out to practice.

Robert continued with his lessons, teaching her punches and kicks, dodges and blocks until they were having mock fights themselves. Both never aiming to hurt but to try and one up the other. He had even showed her how to disarm an opponent that might be bigger than her for her own protection. Something he regretted when she moved like a bullet, trying to evade him.

She was still clumsy and he was still the expert, she hadn’t won a single spar they’d had yet but he always grinned and gushed about her improvement. It made her glow with pride every single time. As they fought, her vocabulary got a bit more colorful too. She normally wouldn’t let such words slip in front of the other members of their traveling party, but in front of Robert it felt nice.

Practically freeing in its own way. She couldn’t get enough of it!

They had been in Ohio for some days now, yet as the months grew colder with the shift in seasons, Erina was trying harder. Robert laughed boisterously as he blocked a high clumsy kick and knocked her back. “Oi, remember what I said Erin! Don’t try for the face, you’re tall but you can’t even reach it yet... you’ll just hurt yourself. The body is where it’s at!”

Erina stumbled backwards falling on the grass with a huff. “This is tough you know, it doesn’t feel like I’m doing much of anything like this.”

“C’mon, where’s all that passion from earlier? If you keep up with that maybe I’ll teach ya to shoot later this week, that’ll come in handy when this stuff won’t.”

Her eyes lit up at that suggestion. She could ride shotgun with him then and that would definitely come in handy the further west they went! Yet a rustling of the trees behind her made them both startle. Erina wheeled around just in time to find Dio jumping down from a branch.

“D-Dio?!”
“H-Hey brat! You nearly scared the damn daylights outta me!”

He landed perfectly on his feet and crossed his arms with all the feral grace of a cat, eyes narrowing in their direction. “Aim for the body he says and then distracts you with a promise of another lesson~ I believe your tutor is denying you some very basic skills, Erin.” His red gaze glimmered with amusement in the moonlight and Erina was sure she saw Robert stiffen out of the corner of her eye.

“Denying him some basic skills? The hell are you on about? This ain’t got anything to do with you. I’m teaching him everything important so piss off if you’re gonna insult me. Why were you even watchin’ like that too? That’s creepy, y’know!” Robert shouted angrily, shaking his fist in the young vampire’s direction.

“I heard the sounds of a fight and came round to watch. This most certainly concerns me if Erin is looking to learn basic defense. It becomes easier on me if such a thing is effectual. Do you understand me now?” Dio slinked towards them, a smirk on his face. “You were born on Ogre Street, yes? Yet you’ve chosen not to teach him the way people in the slums truly fight.”

Robert opened his mouth to protest, but Erina’s attention was already captured by the idea that she was lacking in knowledge. “H-How should I fight then? What am I missing?”

“You haven’t been taught to fight dirty.” He answered, looking even more pleased at Erina’s curiosity.

“Tch, Erin’s been learnin’ plenty from me, thank you very much! He doesn’t need to learn dirty fightin’ yet if he hasn’t got the basics down!”

Dio sighed and shook his head. “Yet you think it imperative to tell him to strike at the ribs or stomach when you and I both know the most effectual area. When fighting you go for the throat.” There was a look of danger in Dio’s eyes for a moment, one that almost frightened Erina, Robert noticed it as well but met his gaze head on.

“Well are you just going to point out what you don’t like or are you going to actually teach me something then, Dio?” Erina asked, breaking the silence. Both boys turned to look at her, surprised by what she had said. But while Robert groaned a smug smile tugged at Dio’s lips.

“You wish to learn then?” He practically purred, obviously doing so to rub it in Robert’s face. “Well, if your teacher is alright with a substitute…~” He looked over to the older teenager who crossed his arms and sat in the grass with an irritated huff. “If it’s what Erin wants then I’m not complaining. I could use a rest anyway…” His words trailed off in a mumble. She saw that glum look in his eye, Erina would have to make it up to him later.

“See? He’s fine with it, plus every amazing teacher needs a rest every now and then.” She sent a small smile Robert’s direction and hoped he would perk up some. He didn’t exactly but he was certainly more attentive. “Now Dio, what techniques have you to show me?”

Dio made his way closer to her, one hand on his hip. “Now look here, Robert told you not to go for the face. Normally a sentiment I would agree with. One’s face has many sharp bones that can hurt you more than rightfully injuring them.” There was a noise of agreement from Speedwagon as he walked off but Dio continued uninhibited, instead bringing his index finger up to press gently below her left eye. “However, if you find yourself going for a strike to their face... extend your thumb and attempt to blind your opponent. Should you successfully do so, they will be disabled and more concerned with their bloody eye than your follow-up maneuver.”

Erina blinked for a moment, letting the information settle in her brain before her face contorted in displeasure. “Th-That’s awful! I would never do something like that! Potentially blinding someone in their eye… how cruel!”

“Well, set aside your empathy when fighting! That is my first rule,” he snapped, eyes flashing with an emotion Erina hadn’t quite seen before. “It will make you weak and slow. Easy to pick off. It holds you back from your focus. In a fight for survival it doesn’t matter who is blind at the end of it, it matters who lives. Will you let your empathy keep you from living at all costs?”

His voice was cold with a hardened edge he had never turned on her before. He obviously spoke from grim experience, something that should have struck fear in Erina but instead left her feeling incredibly sad. Knowing he wouldn’t appreciate her feeling any shred of sympathy for him, she shoved that thought to the back of her mind for the moment and instead nodded slowly.

“I… see. Fight to live at all costs then. Will you show me the technique?” She met his ruby red gaze head on. Although it was quick, she saw the apprehension filling him at the thought of potential pity and the subsequent glimmer in his eyes at her question.

“Hmph. Watch and learn, Pendleton… and don’t forget to show Jojo that I taught you how to do this~”

Chapter Text

- November 4th, 1880 -

 

Ohio was endless back roads of cornfields and rural counties that seemed to drag on forever. Indiana was very much the same and most of their solace was found in one another. As the days passed on by, seasons changed. Jonathan, Dio and Erina watched the trees turn from a dry red and orange to bare and lifeless from the back of the wagon as Robert pushed on.

Speedwagon was true to his namesake. The roads they traveled were winding and complicated, but he kept up with their set plans. Their group avoided major cities and stayed mainly in small towns or camped out along the road. While they couldn’t say anything of note had occurred in the now months they’d found themselves travelling together, they had indeed plodded along.

Every day was mostly a blur of movement. The trio spent their free time reading by candlelight in the back, trying out different games with cards, and chatting until idle conversation turned into messy bickering. Oftentimes Erina had to mediate, but Dio knew just what to do when it came to pushing her own buttons. Yet, there was something… nice about keeping to this routine. Something nice about spending an evening at camp with people you could consider friends, even Baron Zeppeli wasn’t so much a stranger now as a tentative ally or roommate. Dio would argue that they were far from friends and Zeppeli was far from an ally of his, but every time he attempted a blatant denial Speedwagon laughed at him.

The littlest vampire after all spent most of his attempts at sleep with Jonathan and Erina curled up closely on either side of him.

Now as the ground froze over and soft snow began to fall from the sky the group had entered Illinois, specifically Kendall County. As their journey dragged on into a state of listlessness, Robert had been itching to push forward. Erina could see he was growing antsier by the day about their arrival time, more so after they stayed overnight in the small town of Shermerville. It was quiet and while the numbers varied, there was a substantial population of affluent residents as keeping close ties with the county’s seat Yorkville welcomed lavished tourism. The hotel, close to the heart of the town, was high end and offered a luxurious respite and beautiful views for anyone with the coin to stay. Speedwagon obviously wasn’t thrilled with that description. They stayed only one night and while there were all sorts of warnings regarding inevitable snowfall, Robert, running on a few hours of sleep, woke everyone early to board the wagon.

Erina knew he looked bad.

As they boarded she poked her head out of the back curtains, looking at the dark sky looming overhead. “Hey Robbie…? You’re looking like you need a little bit more sleep. I’m… worried about you.” Her eyebrows drew higher when he coughed into his fist and shrugged.

“Eh, I always look like that.”

“B-but never this--” Erina couldn’t finish her sentence before he hopped up into the driver’s seat. Baron Zeppeli, now in plainly in view after Robert had left, sighed. “I’ll speak to him,” he told her quietly before following Robert up.

While Robbie had always been a little tired looking thanks to the pronounced bags under his eyes, this was worse than what could be considered commonplace. He was pale and the dark circles below his eyes looked worse than she’d ever seen them. He was coughing now? What was next? She tried to listen, to hear as the soft voices of Zeppeli and Speedwagon lilted over the sound of harsh winds and the thud of horseshoes on the ground.

“He’s being stubborn as usual if that’s what you’re trying to hear,” Dio said, not bothering to tear his eyes away from the newspaper he had snagged that morning.

“I’m not trying to eavesdrop,” Erina huffed, crossing her arms tightly across her chest but then sagging in disappointment. “I do wish he would rest, though… he looks awful and I can hear that coughing from in here.”

“Imagine having my hearing. That man is practically screaming behind me.”

“Isn’t that just normal Speedwagon, though?” Jonathan asked with a laugh. That little quip earned him a disapproving frown from Erina. The young Joestar just shrugged. “I’m not trying to be mean or anything, you know he’s just naturally loud.”

Erina sighed, he certainly wasn’t wrong. “Those in glass houses shouldn’t cast the first stone Jojo~ Last I recall, you nearly blew my eardrums out at dinner the night before,” Dio hummed smugly, turning the page in his newspaper.

“It’s not my fault Baron Zeppeli cooked a delicious dinner last night! I was merely showing my appreciation!”

“Must you be so irritating then? The last thing that man needs is praise.”

“Well, he’s an excellent cook! I’m not going to keep my mouth shut when he deserves it!”

“Tch, what a glutton--”

Erina frowned at them then, promptly shoving herself between them. “Enough! If the entire trip is going to be like this I’ll want nothing to do with either of you! Anyway… look, it’s snowing!”

Both boys quieted down and their gazes followed as she slowly opened a little more of the back curtain. Sure enough, as the sun was missing from the sky, hidden behind a curtain of grey clouds, thick flakes of snow fluttered through the air. The ground was already coated lightly in the stuff. Jonathan grinned and launched forward. “Haha! Look at that, it’s beautiful!”

Dio just huffed, pulling his blanket tighter around his shoulders. “Lovely. Now please close the curtain. The sun might not be out, but you know it leaves me uncomfortable.” Even then it took Jonathan a few moments longer to pop his head back inside. His nose was red from the cold yet his smile never faltered. Erina felt butterflies flutter in her stomach just looking at him.

Snow meant endless possibilities for them once they finally camped. Snowpeople filled out in all shapes and sizes, snow angels on the ground, snowball fights and sledding. How exciting! She couldn’t wait to see--

A few loud thuds and an alarmed shout of “SPEEDWAGON!” stopped Erina’s thoughts dead in their tracks. In fact, all three children in the back froze in place as the wagon slowed to a stop. They heard footsteps, Zeppeli maybe? Then the familiar crunch of snow under one’s boots. Erina didn’t hesitate, she flew out of the back as fast as her legs would take her.

The cold bursts of wind stung her face and ears and snow gathered in her hair, but Erina didn’t pay that any mind. Her discomfort was all but forgotten once she saw Robert collapsed in a pile of snow, his breathing ragged and his face a flaming red. Zeppeli, who had hopped from the driver’s seat himself, picked him up with surprising ease and made his way toward her. “Erin, would you please open that up for me? I need to have a look at him.”

Erina’s eyes were wide with fear but she nodded anyway. “O-of course!” She ran ahead of him, practically ripping the back door open. Whatever complaint Dio had at the tip of his tongue fell short as Zeppeli laid Robert’s unconscious form down, not even Jonathan could find his words. It was a tight squeeze but there was enough room to accommodate the five of them. Erina, on the other hand, felt as if her heavy heart had gotten lodged in her throat as Zeppeli’s began breathing deeply, focusing all of his Hamon into his fingertips.

No one dared to move a muscle as the Baron brought his hand to Robert’s chest and after a few more seconds of stilled silence, the teenager’s breathing changed. It wasn’t nearly as labored as it had been in the snow but the telltale wheeze made everything uneasy. Zeppeli looked at the their three wan faces and his eyes settled on Jonathan.

“Jojo, I’ve showed you how to do this in practice. I believe the time is now for you to put such skills to practical use.”

Jonathan looked thrown off for a moment, as if he wasn’t expecting to be asked to use Hamon on a human being at all , let alone this soon. “R-right,” he spoke with an utter lack of confidence. Zeppeli’s gaze practically burned holes into his skin. “Yes, okay. Hand… right on his chest, fingertips pressed down by the lungs and… focus?”

The Baron nodded slowly. “Remember your breathing.” Jonathan did as he said, the breaths he took were audible and Erina and Dio watched intently as his own fingers glowed with power. Neither had ever really seen Jojo’s Hamon in action passed a few accidental uses. For him do such a thing with intention was new and intriguing for all of them.

“There can be many reasons for this episode. Obviously a disease, but what specific kind… I can’t be sure of, nor do we have the precious time to waste,” Zeppeli said finally, pinning Erina with a look that almost screamed for her to pull a diagnosis out of a hat. Erina again nodded, unsure of how to pinpoint exactly what could be ailing him. If she had more time maybe, but…

Zeppeli sighed. “Alright. Erin, I will need you up top with me to help navigate us to the closest town with a physician. Jojo, you keep up with the hamon to his lungs, keep him breathing. Dio, keep an eye out for any other potential symptoms he may be exhibiting. Are we all clear?”

Dio’s feathers were obviously ruffled at the thought that Zeppeli could ever tell him what to do. Yet, with one glance at Robert’s prone form he let out a sigh. All three let out a “yes” in unison and Erina followed Zeppeli out and to the front of the wagon. “Alright, your brother left the map… aha, here!” He exclaimed, holding up a folded, well worn piece of paper. He opened it up wide, ready to examine the course their journey would take and paused.

Erina climbed up to her new perch and frowned as Zeppeli made no attempt to move. “...Baron… Zeppeli?” She asked slowly.

The older man cleared his throat and adjusted his suit jacket before tentatively holding the map out to her. “I don’t suppose you can read this, can you Erin?”

Erina’s brows furrowed in confusion and the moment they landed on the map it was even worse. The paper was covered with ink blots and X’s in all manner of sizes scrawled across the detailed map he had been using. Big ones were scrawled in one area, small ones in another, and there were clusters in other areas.  The route he was taking was clear yet straight ahead from the town they had stayed in, nestled in northern Illinois, there were various groups of small X’s and a few large ones. Both lead in the same direction yet one could potentially be a dangerous route? Or maybe the best? She absolutely could not tell…

She met Zeppeli’s gaze with a tinge of almost hopelessness. “N-no I’m afraid not… I have no idea where we’re supposed to go from that.” Every word she uttered washed over her in a wave of shame, making her feel more useless than ever. The Baron sighed and gripped the reins.

“Then we merely backtrack. Be my eyes on the map Erin. We have been riding all morning yet the terrible weather will hinder us. Please, help me find my bearings?” Zeppeli asked with a sense of urgency.

Erina nodded, feeling the cold already seeping into her fingers as she gripped the ragged map. “O-Of course!”

“Thank you…” With a click of his tongue and a snap of the reins, Zeppeli set the horses in motion, guiding them the best he could to turn around and start back the way they had came.

Erina held the messy map in hand and looked down at the route they had come and in turn reflected on what had transpired in the past few weeks. As the days grew colder and the nights longer, Robert seemed to become… especially preoccupied with getting to Mexico as quickly as humanly possible. He became agitated with every late start and every early camp. Sometimes she wondered if he had even slept…

How long had he hid that cough as well?

Then there was the matter of the map in general. Why hadn’t he labeled anything past a grouping of X’s only apparent in meaning to him? She had a particular hunch about him for some time now and since she’d taken well to his instructions on self defense, she wondered if now was the time to bring up a new arrangement. A lesson from him for a lesson from her.

As Zeppeli led the horses further up the trail and she could see the town once again in the distance, there was once again a rattling cough from the back and a terrifying wheeze. She looked to the Baron in fear but the man’s eyes were glued to the road.

“That cough, it would be worse if Jojo were not channeling all his power at this moment... “

Perhaps his words were supposed to make her feel better. However, the gravity in the older man’s voice and his white knuckle grip on the reins failed to reassure her in any capacity. What would they do if he-- no… she wasn’t going to think like that.

The sun was high in the sky as the group returned to Shermerville but as opposed to being a mere few hours since their departure, it felt like days. Baron Zeppeli, still looking surprisingly tense, hopped off the wagon the moment he encountered another human being.

“Sir, could you please point me in the direction of your nearest doctor?” While the Baron attempted a light conversational tone, there was a manic undercurrent in his voice that left the man he had approached looking somewhat nervous.

There was a pause, as if the poor sap was trying to figure out how to even speak to the odd dandy who had approached him. Luckily he managed to find his words. “Well, I’d say your best bet here sir is heading up to the hotel. They’ve got a doctor on staff… if it’s a real emergency it’s best to go there than running around looking for the local physician like a chicken with your head cut off. Not to mention, with this snow? I hear a blizzard’s around the corner…”

Zeppeli thanked him for the information and hopped back up in a single jump, leaving the bystander staring in shock as they rode off. Surely his family would hear about such a bizarre encounter at supper, but that wasn’t the concern now. They had to get Robert to the hotel.

The wagon clambered to a stop in front of the hotel as the wind picked up around them, rushing the thick flakes of snow every which way. Erina kept watch as Baron Zeppeli alerted the staff of their arrival, he had demands for necessary lodgings but the care of Speedwagon was first and foremost. Her face was pale as the Baron returned for Robert, carrying him carefully inside. It was her job to make sure Dio was left unscathed by the sunlight and that the horses were properly stabled.

Jonathan flexed his fingers as they stood and watched as the horses were led off to the stables. He looked visibly upset. “H-His chest just kept rattling…” he mumbled to himself, looking down at his hand as if he could wish the memory of the sensation away.

Dio stood next to him under his parasol, his eyes fixed on the distance. While he was physically here, his mind appeared hundreds of miles away. His uncanny silence only made Erina want to beg him for some quip that would make them roll their eyes and laugh. It never came. Instead, as she stood between the two of them, Erina reached for their hands. She took Jonathan’s trembling, sweaty palm in her left and Dio’s icy, cold fingers in her right.

Neither bothered to pull away from her.

It felt like an eternity had passed when the Baron strode out of the hotel doors. “Come in, come in, before you three catch your deaths out here… or rather you two.” The trio followed him inside, though the moment someone looked their way Erina felt Dio’s hand leave her grasp. Jojo held on steadily as they wove their way through the elegant hotel lobby and up the staircase.

Their rooms were beautiful, in fact more akin to a suite than normal hotel lodgings. “I assume you three will be content to share? Normally I’d have acquired three rooms for us, but I would rather not leave Erin in a sick man’s quarters nor would I have young Speedwagon sit alone…” All three children nodded in agreement.

Dio opened his mouth and Erina wasn’t sure she could handle him acting like they were an inconvenience at this moment. Such words never came. “The door, someone’s approaching.” He pointed to the door and sure enough there were a few resounding knocks.

When Baron Zeppeli opened the door a finely dressed man of slight build stood in the doorway.

“Ah doctor, please come in,” William spoke, stepping aside for him. There was still a tension in his voice seemingly made worse by the man’s disposition. “I take it you have a prognosis…?”

The doctor stepped in but made no move to sit, he merely nodded. “I’m afraid,” he began, “your… son?” The squint the doctor gave Zeppeli would have made the three of them laugh in any other circumstances, yet now Erina just wanted to scream at him that it didn’t matter.

“...Something like that,” Zeppeli finally told him. “What about him?”

“Ah yes. He seems to be suffering from a very severe bout of pneumonia. It’s a miracle that he made the journey all the way here alive. Now that he’s under my care… we shall see what happens, I cannot guarantee anything at this moment.” He admitted quietly. The air in the room was so still one could hear a pin drop. No one dared move, let alone utter a single word.

Upon noticing the atmosphere the doctor tried to backtrack, to set them at ease just a bit. “He may not pull through… but I have also seen many spring back in an instant. We will see how he fares during the night. We’ll know what to expect by tomorrow morning.”

‘If he lives that long.’ While the doctor said no such thing, the words hung unspoken in the air regardless.

- End of Act III -

Chapter Text

“So... what is there to do?”

It was Jonathan who broke the silence that had settled over the room. Erina seemed lost in her own head for a moment, no doubt drowning in the fear that the quiet inspired. Dio had nothing to add, but he himself felt the dread eating at him too. The doctor at least had the decency to shuffle around awkwardly.

“Ah you’re-- you must be family then, Doctor Jethro Tull at your service,” the man declared in the most awkward of fashions. There was another pause, this time merely out of confusion. All three children as well as Zeppeli had fixed him with a perplexed look. Dio narrowed his eyes at the man. He was short and thin with an ashen complexion and a dark, full beard that just made his skin look worse . If this was the sort of man working on the rich tourists with their coin purses filled to the brim he had to wonder what the simple town physician was like.

Doctor Tull cleared his throat and shifted, obviously now realizing how off an introduction seemed and continued. “Well, ah you see for now I’ll be administering tried and true tonics to help battle infection in your… brother there?” The doctor shot Zeppeli a questioning look who just shrugged. “Should that uh not be enough well that’s when we bring out the leeches.”

Leeches?! 

Leeches!?

Both Jonathan and Erina cried out at once. Jonathan’s voice was obviously laden with curiosity while Erina’s with barely contained outrage. It was then that Doctor Tull broke into a nervous laugh, holding up his hands. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding!” He tried to smooth over the situation. Erina was fixing him with a glare and Jonathan looked a little disappointed.

“No leeches then?” The young boy asked, hoping the doctor would change his tune.

Unfortunately for him he shook his head. “Naw, that’s just a joke among our lot. We don’t have leeches, what d’you think we’re European or something? They get their leeches imported.” The doctor broke into a laugh like he’d told a quite hilarious joke. Yet in a room full of worried Europeans it didn’t land as well as he’d hoped. Jonathan gave a little laugh though. “I get it,” he told him with a reassuring smile. Dio hoped that it was purely out of pity.

The doctor took to adjusting his tie for a moment, no doubt to shake off the embarrassment, before he looked up again. “While we won’t be using leeches though it’s important to get the bad blood out of his system. We’ll be using a state of the art cupping technique here to draw the infection to the surface of the skin and then hopefully your br-- your-- the patient will be able to regain his strength once it’s gone.”

Erina looked like she had a lot of things to say and she sucked in an audible breath, prepared to go on a tirade before Zeppeli cut her off. “Thank you for letting us know, doctor. Allow me to get the children settled in here and then I will make my way over. I will keep vigil with you if I must.”

Doctor Tull nodded. “Of course, that sounds like a plan Baron Zeppeli. I-- Well-- it was uh nice to meet you kids. I wish it were under better circumstances.” The doctor waved and all but ran out of the room away from the tough crowd inside. Apparently, dealing with an odd bunch of children was not high on that man’s list of skills.

“You’re just going to-- to let him draw blood?!” Erina finally cried out to Zeppeli once the doctor had left the room. “I’ve heard my f-- a respectable doctor talk about how it’s come to light that bloodletting does nothing beneficial to the patient… i-it only makes them weaker! If Robert gets worse he might do damage to him!” While her near-slip up made Dio and Jonathan cringe, Zeppeli didn’t seem to take much notice. Perhaps chalking it up to Erina’s extreme dismay.

The Baron didn’t bat an eye, instead he crossed his arms. “Do you think I would let anyone put Speedwagon in danger? As a master of Hamon I will do everything I can to focus my power to his lungs and burn away the infection from within. His body will simply have to play catch up, I have no intentions of letting it reach such a dangerous point, Erin. You have my word.”

Dio snorted but the even, serious look Zeppeli sent Erina’s way did not waver. He wanted to say they couldn’t trust him but one glance in Erina’s direction told Dio that this was something she needed to hear anyway. Well, if it caused him less problems he supposed he could deal with it.

Jonathan squeezed her hand and nodded. “With the Baron here, at least he’s in good hands. Let’s just… keep the faith.” Erina nudged herself closer to his side in response.

Zeppeli did help them all get settled, he’d brought up the trunks from the wagon and made certain they were safe and secure inside their new quarters, he even checked to make sure the drapes were drawn. That move of course left Dio ready to strike when he even approached them and he was on guard until the old man departed for the room next door.

They tried their best to pass the time while they were so anxious. Books couldn’t seem to hold anyone’s attention, conversation was sparse and no one bothered to try with anything else. Jonathan and Erina decided to turn in early at around nine o’clock but even then they couldn’t find it in themselves to sleep. They rolled over, sighed, rolled again, stretched, anything to be rid of this restlessness. They were almost incapable of getting comfortable.

At around midnight, sick of all the tossing and turning beside him, Dio finally closed the novel he was attempting to read and turned toward them. “It doesn’t seem like you two are getting anywhere with this. You’re far too wound up.”

Erina huffed and Jonathan sat up straight. “What do you suppose we do then?” He asked with an air of curiosity. Obviously, sitting here in this room, with Robert’s life hanging in the balance only a room away was making Jojo just as restless.

“Why we never really got see the hotel last night. Perhaps… we can take an impromptu tour, hmm?” Dio asked, smirking at the idea of at least getting out of this tense little prison.

“Isn’t that… against the rules?” It was Erina who asked then, obviously baited but not yet convinced.

He could change that. “Against what rules? The Baron never said we couldn’t wander about and the hotel staff spoke nothing of the like either. Anyway… even if it is, there’s always a little fun in breaking them every now and then~”

Oh it was rather entertaining suggesting such things to these two, always trying to do right. Yet they were not as quick to adhere to rules as they might seem. He knew he got them when Jonathan’s stomach growled so loud Erina gasped.

“Do you think… they might have something to snack on if we sneak into the kitchens?”

“Hm, only one way to find out~”


 

The trio padded through the corridors with contraband items in hand. Their trip of sneaking into the kitchens had been fruitful, the area was left devoid of all staff and to their delight a basket of rolls, perhaps left from dinner was left neglected on one of the counters. They loaded it up with whatever other leftovers they could find that seemed appealing and left out as easy pickings. Two apples and half of a small, no doubt stale, sponge cake were also discovered and placed into the basket.

It was a surprise that no one found them with the way Jonathan’s loud whispers echoed through the whole damn room and the way he made Erina giggle despite herself. Yet they managed it unscathed.

There was a person or two walking the length of certain well used hallways but Dio found them easy to slip past when their backs were turned. Though it added no protection practically during their excursion, Dio insisted on sneaking around with his new blanket thrown over his shoulders. It helped his peace of mind a little. And sure enough even with an oaf like Jojo behind him and the giggly Erina holding onto his hand, they were successful in their efforts. As they slipped down a hallway they had never been through before Dio stopped, catching a sign in his peripheral vision and then urging them to follow him.

It didn’t take long for them to reach a closed set of double doors with ‘conservatory’ printed elegantly on a sign to their right. Jonathan and Erina gasped before they looked to Dio. “Do you think it’s locked?” Jonathan asked softly.

Dio merely shrugged. “Even if it is, it won’t keep us out.”

Sure enough when he tried to push it the doors wouldn’t budge. “Maybe this isn’t such a good idea, it’s not like we can break the door down…” Erina whispered nervously. Dio merely waved her off. He fell to his knees front of the door, hiking his blanket up further on his shoulders and plucked a little pin he kept hidden in his hair. He slotted the metal into the keyhole on one of the doors and felt around to move the tumblers inside the lock.

“What are you doing? Come on, your blanket is already in the way,” Erina hissed while Jonathan leaned forward and narrowed his eyes, no doubt looking to see what Dio was trying to do

“There’s no point in doing that if you don’t have a--” Jojo began before there was a resounding click and Dio nudged the door open with a satisfied smirk.

He looked over his shoulder feeling smugly victorious. Their faces were in shock and it made his head grow even larger. “Mm what was that, darlings? Please, please go ahead inside. Perhaps one day I’ll even teach you how I just did that~”

They filed in, Jonathan insisting on ladies first. Yet both extended their hands to Dio to help him up. “You really do have to teach me that one,” Jonathan told him with a grin before he paused. “...Wait, you didn’t do that back at home did you?”

Dio ignored him. “Come now, let’s get comfortable shall we?”

There was a chill in the air around the conservatory. It was like an elaborate birdcage plated with glass all around them. Normally they would have been able to see up through the roof, to an open sky but it was covered by a coating of snow. Around them, on all sides, they could see the blizzard picking up outside. It was quite the view.

Around them were tables of all sorts with chairs piled up on the tops, no doubt ready to be taken down for breakfast on a nice day. With the dark sky, the snow and cold temperatures, there was no way the hotel would be hosting breakfast here once morning rolled around.

Instead of clearing a table, they sat in front of the windowed walls in their pajamas, watching the snow blow through. Jonathan and Erina sat on either side of Dio, taking in the savage storm outside. They gravitated closer to him too and he could feel their bodies convulse with shivers. That meant they were too close for comfort. Yet it also meant they must be cold.

“You know, I’m not much warmer than this room,” Dio pointed out, amusement instead of irritation in his tone. Perhaps he was being a little softer because of Speedwagon’s predicament. If they were concerned they didn’t call him out on it.

“Well yes, but you have the blanket!” Jonathan replied, shivering as if to punctuate his statement. “Exactly” Erina added. The pout in her voice was practically audible.

Dio rolled his eyes. “Oh, now the blanket is a good idea then?”

“Yes!” They replied in unison.

He sighed. “Well… despite your earlier comments, I suppose I’m in a charitable mood tonight. Come closer children, there will be no blanket hogs but me,” Dio told them imperiously. He moved to drape the blanket over their shoulders as well, it was big enough and the two scooted until they sat snug at his sides.

They both thanked him with a smile but he held up a finger to silence them. “Mm no, no. That won’t do. You should say: ‘A thousand thank yous, Oh Cold One, we are forever grateful for not letting us freeze.’”

“...You can’t be serious.”

“Oh, but I am… and I can pull this back at any time that I so choose. So, shall we hear it then?” He spoke with a polite smile on his face that promised he would deliver on his threat of leaving them out to fend for themselves.

Jonathan and Erina exchanged a look before they both groaned and he was delighted to hear them both drone his words back to him. Obviously it was a painful affair for them which was exactly what he wanted. He clapped his hands together lightly. “You know… while I do believe it certainly could have used more enthusiasm and you really should do that again... I’ll merely attribute that to the late hour,” he purred. Dio nearly laughed as their faces scrunched up in irritation at the thought of repeating his demands again.

“You love to make things difficult,” Jonathan muttered under his breath, but a smile pulled at his lips anyway as he watched the snow fall quietly outside.

They sat like that for a bit, quietly watching the snow fall. Yet Dio was hyper aware of every movement they made. Jonathan reaching out for the sponge cake, Erina unconsciously wringing her hands in her lap. He felt it all and it set him on edge so he spoke up again.

“Mm, do you think if they do end up drawing Robert’s blood I could enjoy it as a snack?”

What? ” It was Jonathan’s voice that rang out, sounding completely incredulous.

“Hm, well, it’s not like he’d be using it anymore, it’s a waste. I could drink it.” He replied primly.

Erina turned to look at him wearing an expression of disbelief. “What is wrong with you? You can’t go one second without saying something like that, can you?”

Dio snorted and shrugged. “Perhaps I can’t. But come now, we could even make it a little birthday present~” He hadn’t even realized what he said until they spoke in unison again.

“What was that? Birthday present ?”

He could practically feel them eyeing him in suspicion and curiosity and he was immediately regretting his choice of words. Good God, how careless of him. “It was nothing,” Dio answered evasively, turning his gaze straight to the glass in front of him and not bothering to look anywhere else, lest they be spurred on. But of course, those two stubbornly continued.

“It’s your birthday? Today?”

No.

“Well then, what day is your birthday then, hm?”

“I don’t believe that’s any of your business.”

There was a pause and then Erina tried again. “But when it’s your birthday is it not our sacred duty to shower you in gifts, Oh Cold One?” She was obviously trying to appeal to his ego but he wasn’t Robert and he was not so easily distracted.

Dio let out a disbelieving little laugh. “In this weather? I doubt either of you could come with a single thing worthy of impressing me when we’re basically prisoners snowed in.”

“Do you doubt our abilities then?” It was Jonathan that spoke up next, ready to tackle any challenge head on. Of course . Well, if he wanted a challenge Dio would give him one.

“Hm you want to prove your worth to me? I know a game of luck and of skill. To best anyone at this game you have to have extensive knowledge of your opponent, you must be able to practically read thoughts on a dime. Are you both prepared to face me?” He smirked and finally turned to look at them. There was a fire in Jojo’s eyes and Erina looked… skeptical.

“What game are we discussing here?” she asked with a raise of her eyebrow.

He laughed, his eyes practically glinting with his genius . “Why roshambo of course~”

Jonathan grinned and held his fist out. “I’m perfectly fine with that. I’m pretty good at this game.” Dio couldn’t help the little laugh that escaped him. “Overconfident, are we Jojo?”

Erina tentatively held out her fist. “Hm, alright but ground rules. No two-out-of-three. We beat you once and you have to share it. No going back on your word. Alright?”

Dio let out a theatrical scandalized gasp. “Me? Never… when have I ever gone back on my word, Erina?”

“Just trying to make sure it doesn’t become a new habit of yours,” she responded with a shrug. Her airy tone sounded very confident but well, he had no doubts that he could outsmart them.

The three of them extended their fists and moved them back in forth in time with a chant of roshambo. In those crucial moments Dio was already devising a plan. No doubt they assumed he would be throwing rock and in turn were prepared to throw paper. Naturally that meant he would have to throw scissors to come out of this victorious. As he extended his hand, scissors naturally in place he was horrified to see two fists on either side of him.

They both… threw rock.

“Th-This game is rigged!” He exclaimed looking between them. “You must have cheated! There’s no way I could have lost!”

“If the game was rigged don’t you think it would have been rigged against us, Oh Cold One?” Erina asked with a roll of her eyes.

Shit… she was right. He could have frozen their hands mid-throw and won. Why hadn’t he done that in the first place?! Why wasn’t he thinking clearly?! Jonathan grinned and leaned forward, interrupting his irritated internal monologue.

“Well, I guess you’ve got to come clean Dio, when is your birthday?”

Oh, Dio wanted so badly to knock that smile off of Jojo’s face. Yet he sighed, maybe there was a silver lining to this. He could make them his servants for the day. “November 12th,” he grumbled and watched as both their eyes widened.

“But that’s almost a week away!” Jonathan gasped. “You really were going to just let it pass?”

Dio shrugged, picking at the stitching on his blanket. “Perhaps I did not want to share such personal information with you, Jojo. However, now that you two know you must do something for it. This information is not unconditional~” He wasn’t going to let their victory be so sweet.

“Mm maybe we wanted to do something for your birthday, did you ever consider that?” Erina asked, sending a look his way. Dio met her with a sharp smile. “I would hope so,” he replied easily. “No doubt you’ll want to do your very best for me, darlings.” She scoffed. It was exactly the reaction he was looking for.

“Well… if we’re on the subject, you don’t have to be the only one to share. My birthday is April 4th,” Jonathan told them with an easy grin.

“Hmph, I hope you don’t expect me to give you a gift , Jojo. Who knows if I’ll remember it five months from now?”

Jonathan just shrugged. “I don’t expect anything, just sharing.”

His easy dismissal was irritating to say the least, made worse when Erina piped up. “Oh! You’re only a month before me Jojo! I’m May 10th.” She smiled at him. “Don’t worry, I’ll remember both days.”

“Ugh, spring children, no wonder you two are so insufferable,” he sneered. Birds of a feather he supposed, brought into the world while it was lush with new life while he showed up when nature was cold, harsh, and unyielding. He was pretty sure that was an apt description of them all.

There was a laugh from Jonathan at his side then. “Get ready though Dio, we’ll pull something together in a few days and it’ll knock your socks off.” Erina nodded and once again, the quiet overtook them.

Would they really celebrate his birthday? Dio wasn’t about to hold his breath. The last time anyone had even bothered… well, she had been alive then. She was the only one who really cared… who bothered remembering, and in turn taught him to do the same… so there was always something to look forward to each year. He wasn’t about to get his hopes up.

“...When do you think Robbie’s birthday is?”

Erina had broken the silence and while she wasn’t looking at either of them, Dio could see that she was obviously upset. It was something that weighed heavily on all three. Would he even make it to another birthday?

“When he wakes up we should ask him,” Jonathan answered softly, ever the optimist. He really did believe that the combined efforts of that idiot physician and Zeppeli would keep him alive. Dio wasn’t all too certain himself, but he wasn’t about to say that. He had seen what sort of hell a disease of the lungs could bring on another person… and while he didn’t think Speedwagon deserved to suffer such a fate, well… fate was fate. They couldn’t control that.

“Don’t be so dour,” he said finally. “You believe in Speedwagon, right? You’ve said that before.”

“Well… yes,” Erina started, confused and unsure but he cut her off before she could say anything else.

“Then believe in him. Are you not a woman of your word? Stand by him. I’ll not travel with anyone who doesn’t have complete faith in her companions.” He stated.

His words lingered in the air for a moment and in an uncharacteristic moment he wondered if that was the wrong thing to say. But then he heard her whisper, “Believe in Robbie.” He, Dio, had of course said the right thing. Why would he ever doubt himself?

The conversation stopped there. The late hour finally getting to them. Dio stared mesmerized at snow, hearing both Jonathan and Erina whispering their belief in Robert E.O. Speedwagon under their breath. He didn’t bother to move when their breathing evened out at his sides.

He sat like that for hours, both companions asleep soundly against his shoulder until he noticed the blue tinge of approaching dawn. He nudged them to some state of consciousness, if he could even call it that, and shepherded his half-asleep allies to their room. He herded them into bed and climbed in after, pausing only when he heard a voice clearly through the walls of the bedroom. It was almost as if they were right next to him.

“Hm, he fared the night better than I expected,” the voice of that ridiculous doctor echoed through the room.

“So, he’ll make it?” It was the Baron now. His voice sounded more exhausted and almost… desperate? Dio thought he hated Speedwagon. Maybe he was mistaken.

“I believe so. Hopefully he wakes soon and we can really know,”  the doctor replied.

That’s all Dio needed to hear. Speedwagon had survived the night. It’s not like he was worried about him per se but the fate of their journey was carried on his shoulders. Dio wanted to get to Mexico and he needed Robert to get there… And maybe he wanted to see another from the London slums claw their way out from the underground that swallowed them whole.

There was something about Speedwagon that made you want to root for him, as obnoxious and ridiculous as that might just be.

With a sigh and a slight smile along his lips, Dio curled up in bed next to Jojo. The worst seemed behind them.

He could sleep now.

Chapter Text

Jonathan and Erina were absolutely not going to let the news about Dio’s upcoming birthday go. Now that they had confirmed that Speedwagon was well on his way to recovery and just sleeping to regain his strength they could focus on something lighter. They often pretended that they had let it slip their minds, as they didn’t want him to catch wind of the surprise they were putting together. At least, that was the plan they were aiming towards...

What were they supposed to get Dio Brando in the first place? The blizzard that had been raging for the last two days made for difficult travel conditions, even to the nearest shopkeep down the road… it was beginning to abate, but would any store have their wares open?

It was Jonathan who suggested they try making something, but Erina rightly pointed out that whatever they made by hand would have to be especially good. Dio was of a certain discerning taste. They couldn’t just present him with a measly card, he’d definitely laugh at them…

“It’s not like we could bake him a cake or anything,” Jonathan said with a frown. “I mean I’ve never made one and they can’t be that hard, but that wouldn’t be to his taste.”

Erina paused, her eyes lighting up with an idea. “Wait just a moment… you might be onto something Jojo!”

“What? Really?”

She nodded rapidly, her soft waves flying around her shoulders. “He enjoys blood naturally, right? Maybe we could use that in the place of eggs as a sort of-- a sort of binding agent? We could make Dio his very own blood cake for his birthday, something he’d never expect from us! All we need is a recipe for one…”

“You really think that’ll work?” Jonathan asked, scratching at his chin. “I mean I don’t know much about baking or the properties of blood but… it does sound like a good idea to try!”

Erina grabbed his hand with a grin and Jonathan’s heart fluttered in his chest in time with the butterflies dancing down in his stomach. “Well there’s no reason we can’t try it, right?”

Jonathan felt his mouth go dry for a moment before a smile broke across his red face. “Yeah! We— we can try it out!”

“Alright, do you think you can get a recipe from Baron Zeppeli?”

“I believe that’s well within my skill set, Erin,” Jonathan replied, hooking his thumbs in his suspenders. “I’ll have what we need and from there we can try to figure out what to do!”

His companion grinned, offering him a quick hug of genuine gratitude. “I’m trusting you then, Jojo!” Her voice revealed nothing but sincerity in that statement. With those words fueling him Jonathan scurried off to procure a recipe from the Baron himself. He wasn’t sure what these children had wanted with a cake but he jot down a simplified recipe on a loose sheet of paper before holding it teasingly in front of the boy.

“You’ve been practicing your breathing?”

“Yes! Yes!”

“And you will keep on practicing in our downtime here?”

“Yes Baron! Please, this matter is especially time sensitive!” Jonathan practically whined, reaching for the recipe before the older man laughed indulgently, letting it flutter into Jonathan’s chubby hands. “Alright alright, enjoy little lion.”

“Thank you, Baron Zeppeli!” Jonathan cheered over his shoulder, already running back to the hotel kitchen to meet up with his partner-in-crime. Or rather… his partner-in-clandestine-baking. Sure enough Erina was waiting outside with a pleasant smile.

“I asked the kitchen staff if we could perhaps use some ingredients as a special surprise for a friend and they said it was more than okay!” She stood from where she was leaning against the wall and held out a sweet honey cake wrapped in a fabric napkin. “They gave me a snack as well, the piece was big so I thought we could eat it together.”

Jonathan Joestar felt his heart hammering out of his chest as Erina offered him the pastry. Perhaps he was dying. He felt a little feverish too. “O-Oh thank you!” He murmured as he reached out to take the piece from her hand. Everything was wonderful except for the fact that when his fingers brushed against her soft ones he thought his legs would give out.

No.

Now was not the time to moon over his best friend giving him a cake of all things. They had to keep their priorities straight… even if she was so cute when her cheeks turned pink like that.

Focus Jojo!

He cleared his throat. “The Baron wrote down a recipe with simple instructions, so it seems we’ve marked two things off our list already, huh?” With that he took a bite of the sweet, sticky cake before speaking up with a full mouth. “We’re right on track!”

Erina laughed lightly and nudged him with her elbow. “H-Hey, be careful. You’re going to choke if you keep talking with your mouth full like that!” Jonathan at least had the decency to look a little embarrassed, scuffing his shoe against the floor as his face heated up. The two of them lapsed into silence as he tried to chew and swallow his food proper.

Once he finally gulped down the rest, he too laughed. “Ah, I’m so excited, this is genius! H-He’s going to be so surprised and impressed with our gift! We might even succeed in putting a smile on his face! Could you imagine?!” Jonathan gushed, barely managing not to stutter over his words when Erina’s hand, sticky from the honey cake slipped into his.

“I am too! Do you really think we can do that?” Erina asked almost in awe. “...Make him smile?”

Jonathan shrugged his shoulders, tightening his grip on Erina’s hand. “Well, I think we have a really good shot at it!” She smiled at him and he felt his own widening at the sight. Though… there was something weighing on his mind since he acquired the recipe. Something he wasn’t rightly sure he himself would have a proper answer to. “Say Erina… How do you suppose we’re going to get enough blood for this? And um… where are we going to get it from exactly?”

He chuckled lightly. Erina no doubt had figured that one out already... she was the smartest person he knew after all! His laughter, however, tapered off as he watched Erina’s face twist up in blatant, miscalculated horror as her gaze dropped down to the floor.

Oh no.

“U-Um… I’m not-- I’m not exactly sure! Maybe we can um… perhaps we can see if there’s a butcher’s shop open?” She volunteered nervously, a valiant effort to try and save this no doubt.

That was what made this so hard to say. “...Ah that would be a wonderful idea but um-- isn’t-- isn’t everything still closed due to the blizzard?”

Erina faltered and turned to the window at the end of the hall. “I mean it’s not that snowy out there--” she frowned, gesturing to the snowdrift piling up at the window. “Okay. It’s snowy. Very, very snowy. What are we going to do?”

“Is there maybe… an animal here that we could… I don’t know, blood-let?”

“Jojo, I don’t think I could blood-let a horse… or any animal really,” Erina said, her nose wrinkling with distaste. “Not unless it was a life or death situation…”

“To be truthful? I don’t think I could either,” Jonathan answered with an edge of nervousness in his voice. The cycle of life and death fascinated him sure, but he wasn’t the type of person that got enjoyment from being the one that takes life from others.

A silence stretched through the hallway before Erina spoke up, sounding defeated already. “So our plan really wasn’t well thought was it? Will we even get Dio to be genuinely happy on his birthday?” Oh no. No no no. This was bad, he didn’t want Erina want to sound that way, the cake was a good idea! Just not for this weather… Not to mention he still wanted to see Dio smile just as much as she did. They had to bounce back from this.

“Well, let’s think on an alternative!” Jonathan volunteered, beginning to lead Erina down the hall back toward their room. “There’s got to be something else we can do after all… ”

As they strolled through the plush hallways of the hotel a pair of maids passed them speaking in hushed whispers. “The snow is supposed to settle soon,” one said lowly, “Not that I’m complaining but this is getting a little old, don’t you think?” The other girl sighed wistfully, “I know what you mean, I miss my own bed…”

The two had long since rounded the corner, taking a less traveled route back before Jonathan looked to Erina with hopeful eyes. “See? Maybe we can actually make it into town after all. We have a little time!”

The girl at his side nodded and a small smile graced her lips again. Success. Jonathan was pumping his fist in delight… internally anyway. “We’ll see if it’s cleared up outside and if not we can--” He paused again after a moment, realizing that as he kept walking forward Erina had stopped and when he turned to look in her direction, she finally spoke up again.

“Jojo! There’s a library here! I didn’t notice this before…!”

He hadn’t seen Erina this excited about a room full of books since he’d shown her his own back home. Her hand tightened around him as she pinned him with a beseeching look in her big blue eyes. “Do you think we could pop in and look around? Maybe we can use this as a place to think of a backup plan? Maybe I’ll get some good ideas sitting somewhere that's comforting.”

Her eyes were always so overwhelming and her idea was of course, brilliant. “O-Of course we can!” With that, the two of them made their way into the small hotel library.

This place truly had everything. Granted, the library here was perhaps half the size of the one they had back home but it was impressive nonetheless. Due to the weather and lack of patrons, there was hardly anyone in the room which made it harder to be discreet. Still, the two sat in the back corner with random books plucked from the shelves resting open in their laps.

Erina leaned over the armchair she sat in, her voice a soft whisper so as not to disturb the few other occupants and the member of hotel staff who had pinned them with a look when they walked in. “I’m glad we found this place, we couldn’t rightly speak back in the room if Dio was there…”

“Me too,” Jonathan responded in kind with a low murmur. “So… what should we think about for a backup plan?”

She paused, a little crease between her eyebrows forming while she tapped her chin in thought. “Hm… we should consider our limited resources and his tastes. If we need to go simpler we should do it on a grand scale… which brings the resource issue up again but if it’s something really simple we should be able to pull it off.”

“Simple, huh?” He pondered, trying to wrack his brain for something simple that wouldn’t come across as silly in the other boy’s eyes. Jonathan was looking forward to Dio looking sincerely pleased when he sees their gift to him, not laughing at them. Which he surely would do if it wasn't to his tastes… Suddenly he caught sound of Erina giggling from his side, almost in disbelief. When his eyes met hers she let out a soft exhale.

“When did I start caring about making Dio Brando happy, I wonder?” The incredulous look on her face must have wormed its way onto his. That was… a valid question, wasn’t it? When had everything changed between them regarding Dio? ...Well no, that was somewhat of a lie… he knew the answer to that, but when did he actively start wanting to make him happy?

“I don’t rightly know…” He let out a disbelieving laugh of his own when he thought about it. “I rather like where we are now though.”

Erina hummed and nodded. “I think I’m inclined to agree…”

A comfortable silence settled across them as the realization they just dwelled upon settled in between them too. How strange . Yet the silence didn’t last for long. The hotel staff member overseeing the library approached them, one hand on his hip and a book in the other. He wore a small smile that Jonathan swore flattered him even with his salt and pepper receding hairline.

“You know,” he began in a soft voice, “Storms like this one no doubt put a damper on everyone’s fun. If you and your friend are looking for a distraction, why not take a gander at crafting paper snowflakes together? They’re absolutely fitting for this ghastly weather, I must say.” With a nod, the staff member extended the book in his right hand.

Their eyes scanned the leather cover embossed in gold print. ‘Paper Crafts For All Ages’ was emblazoned on the front and the man gestured for them to take it. Gingerly Erina reached out and grabbed the book from him, thoroughly observing it. “You know my grandchildren tend to do a whole lot of these when they’re holed up inside. It’s enjoyable and sure enough time passes so quickly when you’re doing ‘em, you don’t even realize that it’s already time for bed.”

“Oh, um thank you!” Jonathan said and Erina followed suit. “Yes, thank you very much!” They both nodded and the man smiled a little patronizingly. “Have fun you two.” He walked off with a friendly wave and they both pursed their lips. Jonathan knew what this was.

The man was nice but if he thought providing them with a craft book was going to get them out of his hair? Think again, kind sir. Well, they’d try to be a bit more quiet about things. He was content to let Erina flip through the book while they both pored over ideas on what to get.

They passed pages about making baskets of card stock and binding books with other paper. Yet as they continued forward, Erina’s hand paused at an article on how to create delicate paper flowers. The illustration of the large paper bloom was what stayed their hands. He watched as she read over the description on the page below before his did as well, taking in the instructions.

These beautiful paper blooms will last a lifetime, never wilting with the passing days…” Erina read softly from the passage. “Kind of like him, right?” She met his gaze and he could see a bright gleam of inspiration from them. He liked where she was going with this.

“Exactly like him actually,” he confirmed with a nod.

There was another pause before they both broke into huge smiles.

“THIS IS IT!”

“IT’S PERFECT THEN!”

They both shouted in victory at once, jumping to their feet. The collective sound of everyone in the room turning to face them with irritation led them to cough and look away, however. Their faces burned red with embarrassment as they turned their attention to the now seated staff member. He looked a little exasperated but at least he was understanding.

Erina held out the book awkwardly. “Hahaaa… we’d um… we’d like-- we would like to take this book back to our room…?”

The man sighed but an indulgent smile came to rest on his face.

“Come on then, I’ll check you two out.”

Chapter Text

- November 7th, 1880 -

 

If there was one thing Dio Brando loathed more than being smothered with too much attention by those unworthy of his time, it was being ignored.

Blatantly so.

The young vampire paced the hotel room that they shared practically fuming. How dare Jonathan and Erina treat him in such a way? He could almost hardly believe their reception of him just now. He had been spending a better part of the evening sneaking about the hotel after hours looking for more doors locked to the public. He was hoping to find something that was a rare find just like the conservatory they had discovered some days ago on their first night.

Truly he had exhausted all his options but Dio was nothing if not thorough, so he prowled the corridors every night in desperate search for something fun. He also, however, knew when to concede and tonight was that night… having grown bored and instead looked for something else to do. Perhaps Jonathan and Erina could have been a better source of entertainment.

The two of them of course had been busy as well. Robert had finally woken up, but to no one's surprise it was only for a few moments to be spoon fed his medicine and then he was back to sleep. This was par for the course, he was recovering from a very serious illness after all. But it left them some time. Surely they could open up their afternoon for him?

Yet as he approached the door to their hotel room, he paused.

Through the wood he could hear giggling and then muffled speaking between the two. They were doing something in there, something that sounded like fun. Why had they not invited him, Dio, to partake in the festivities with them? As he turned the doorknob to join in and make himself known, he nearly gasped in surprise at the fact that it was locked.

“Jojo!” He had called. “Erina! What is the meaning of this?!” He twisted the handle more violently, as if that would magically wrench the door open. Well, if he broke it then perhaps…

“Coming!” He heard them yell out and then came the sounds of hurried movement behind the door. Running and the ruffling of papers and then a clatter of some sort. Just as Dio was about to get angry enough to break the door down, Jonathan had thrown it open looking flustered. Behind him, Dio could see Erina pushing something into her carpet bag as she stood up.

Within an instant, Erina joined Jonathan at his side and smiled in an almost strained way. “Ah-- um-- excuse us, Dio! We were just leaving, go enjoy the solitude in the room for once!” Jonathan laughed nervously. “Yes! I’m sure we’ve started to grate on your nerves, haven’t we?”

“Well, you two most certainly are grating but, I--” Dio began only to be cut off as Jonathan grabbed Erina’s hand and practically yanked her out of the room. “Exactly Dio, yes! We will see you later then!” He called over his shoulder as they disappeared down the corridor.

So… that left him here. Alone in the room when he had no desire to be. Spurned and neglected for whatever reason those two had cooked up. He would not allow himself to be spoken over or cut off or avoided in such a way. He was Dio Brando for God’s sake.

He would get to the bottom of this.

Well, he would in a moment. He paced the room one more time for good measure, merely to dwell on the slight they had enacted against him before he walked out into the hall. Hands on his hips he spoke low to himself.

“There is nothing you two can hide from me.”

He heard a little snort and his head whipped around. Zeppeli stood in the doorway of Robert’s room, holding a saucer as he sipped daintily from a teacup. He would have looked completely casual had his hat not been pulled down over his eyes and had he not been shaking ever so slightly from barely restrained laughter.

Dio narrowed his gaze towards the man. “You saw nothing.”

Zeppeli looked up then, lips quirking up in a knowing and obviously amused smile and shrugging his shoulders.

“Saw what?”


- November 8th, 1880 -

 

“Dio has really been just showing up everywhere , hasn’t he?”

Erina peered up from her current activity to meet Jonathan’s gaze and nodded. “Honestly, I never thought it would be this troubling to get a moment away from him! How are we to ever get this done if he doesn’t give us the time to do so?”

She looked down at the pile of paper scattered around them and had to suppress a whine. The two of them had gone on a stationery hunt around the hotel for patterned paper to make the perfect floral arrangement for Dio. Unfortunately, they had come up with very little. Not enough for the grand statement they had hoped to present him with in the coming days.

The plan was that since paper flowers were rather easy to put together, they would merely have to create them in a volume that was beyond impressive. Surely when Dio graced his eyes upon a magnificent pile of blooms he would want to do nothing more than smile. They wanted him to show off all of his pearly, sharp teeth. So, they toiled away to the best of their ability.

With the roadblock of having no beautiful patterned paper, the two had decided to sit down and make their own. There they sat now, with reams and reams of paper provided by the hotel staff and a set of pastels and charcoals Jonathan had brought with him from home.

It was Jonathan’s idea. He smiled big and asked Erina, “Wouldn’t it be more meaningful if we designed all the patterns too?” It was an incredible stroke of genius, one she supported wholeheartedly! It was just… a bit difficult to keep up with creating interesting and intricate patterns while the birthday boy himself was practically breathing down their neck.

She glanced down at her paper. It was a garish green covered in a repeating heart pattern, maybe something they could use for leaves in their arrangements. Erina hoped he would like it, she needed to draw a simple shape after hours of drawing lace designs in different colors.

“We’ll make it work!” Jonathan answered with a smile. He himself was drawing little hourglasses in an equally bright and gaudy yellow. What a pair the two of them were making. “I’m honestly surprised too, you would think he wouldn’t want to spend so much time with us while we’re stuck here. After all, he’s often saying we’re annoyances he’s forced to deal with…” He nodded and finished his line of hourglasses, beginning on another right below it.

His words made Erina laugh a little. “He says that but I don’t know if I believe him so much.” Jonathan glanced up at her for a moment with a confused expression before she shrugged. “He likes teasing you too much to not enjoy being in your presence... even if just a little. I think he rather enjoys having you around.”

“What about you?”

“Hm, maybe he likes teasing me too I suppose.”

Her eyes darted from her collection of green hearts up to Jonathan’s face. She knew that look. She knew it well. It was the look he wore before getting ready to give some sort of speech and she had to stifle a giggle. Just as he was about to open his mouth, the door swung open.

“He’s approaching!” The Baron whispered conspiratorially. Immediately, the both of them began shoving their materials back into Erina’s carpet bag before he could reach the room and shoved their pastel covered hands into their pockets.

“Thank you!” Jonathan whispered back as the two stood. They were lucky Zeppeli had agreed to play look out for them. Once he knew of their plan he was surprisingly supportive and even tried his best to distract Dio with inane chatter whenever he was close to reaching them.

Erina began walking with Jonathan to the door before speaking up softly. “We’ll talk about this later, don’t think you’re out of a lecture because trust me... if he enjoys teasing me, he must derive pure glee from teasing you.”

She couldn't help but roll her eyes as they ran out of the room together before Dio’s arrival.


- November 10th, 1880 -

 

This utter disregard for his mere presence had to end and it had to end soon. Dio wasn’t sure how much more of this he could take.

The awful snow had finally stopped, leaving the land around him a frigid, glistening white. A normal person would certainly stay indoors as huge drifts still lingered about the open area, but these days he wasn’t what one would consider ‘normal’. They towered all around him, shining in the bright moonlight on the first clear night in what felt like eternity.

Sure, this weather was still not ideal and getting around was certainly a pain but it was better than being holed up inside. For days Jonathan and Erina would hardly take notice of him and when they did it, was merely to flee whatever room he happened to walk into. It was a fun little mystery at first that he swore he’d make them pay for… but now? It has grown unbearable.

The moment he so much as crossed his toe over a threshold, they were on their feet. Jonathan could hardly look at him in the halls even and Erina always found some sort of distraction. Something that she found far more interesting than his presence .

Had he done something worth this sort of treatment he could understand. He knew that he was no innocent and that often he did say things that set them off. It was practically inevitable that he would say something intentionally offensive to their faces at some point, but he had said nothing to warrant this! In fact, since they’d arrived back at this hotel he’d been on his best behavior!

Not that he was out here sulking about it. No, no. He was stewing in his irritation.

There was a difference.

He kicked at a nearby snowdrift and watched as the pile turned to ice the moment his shoe touched the powdery mess. With a frustrated huff, he brought his foot down on the whole thing, shattering it into hundreds of tiny shards under his boot.

Normally Dio was poised and graceful but out here alone he could shove his hands in his pockets and slouch the way he wanted to. He had honestly gone through everything he’d done in the past few days to no avail.

They might not have been friends, acquaintances at best, but he knew he had done no wrong. He’s well acquainted with the kind of behavior they get up to when he’s irritated them, but this was completely abnormal for them. It had to have been worse than usual but-- but how?

He growled in frustration and looked down at the shards of ice at his feet wishing that they could see how angry he was and marvel at his power. A scowl tugged at his lips…

How could they DO this to him?! Hell, he’d even shared his blanket with them for christ’s sake!

With another snarl he kicked away at the mess he’d made rather spectacularly. The snow and ice got some height and distance with every impact of his foot to the ground. Again and again and again until only dust remained. Once that was out of his system, Dio’s jaw was set.

If this was how they wanted to play it then three could play at this game. They left him no choice. The next time he sees them? He was going to make certain their remaining time here would be nothing short of a living Hell…


- November 11th, 1880 -

“Are-- Are you sure you can do this?”

Jonathan tried to shrug though it had lost most of its nonchalance as he shivered. “W-Well… not-- not really but what do we have to lose, r-right?” He felt the sting of the frosty air against his face and one look at Erina’s bright pink cheeks showed him that she must have been feeling much the same way.

It had all started as a suggestion from Erina. “What if we made him a flower crown?” All in all, a very fantastic suggestion had it not been the middle of winter after the worst blizzard seen in the American Midwest in some time. They didn’t have enough of the proper materials to make something that they could twist into a crown of paper flowers that didn’t look absolutely terrible.

They needed living flowers and Jonathan had Hamon. He had already summoned quite a few in the time he’s had his new powers but… never on command and never out of frozen ground.

Jonathan did not want to disappoint.

So here he and Erina were, standing outside the hotel clearing away as much of the snow as they could from a small patch of land. It was not a guarantee that his power would work now that everything living underground seemed to be asleep, but well… he had a point. What would they lose by trying? Nothing at all, really…

Erina tugged her coat closer around her torso. “You have-- h-have a point… let’s just g-get this over with, o-o-okay? It’s way too c-cold out here…” She started hopping to retain warmth while Jonathan nodded.

“O-Okay let’s go…”

With a press of his fingertips to the soil beneath he breathed deeply and consistently the way Baron Zeppeli had instructed him and focused all of his energy into the ground. He barely registered Erina’s surprised gasp and instead kept funneling all of his power into awakening and nourishing what was to sleep through the season.

When he finally opened his clenched eyes, he echoed Erina’s earlier surprise. While the haul was nothing spectacular, a few scraggly flowers had burrowed their way out of the snow. They were all a little sparse and nothing as lush as what he had created months prior but it was something. The way Erina reached out for them with a grin spoke volumes.

“We can work with this!” She replied delightedly, gathering up what she could in the crook of her arm. Jonathan followed suit, his own grin set firmly on his face.

“I know it isn’t a lot--” he began before Erina cut him off with a shake of her head. “No, no, this is plenty and if we need something more we could pepper paper flowers around this! The stems can be twisted up! We’ll keep in mind to wrap them up in nice paper too, that way we know for sure touching the real ones won’t harm him!”

Jonathan had to laugh. “That’s a rather fantastic idea! I was a little worried about that risk as well but I figured we would tackle one issue at a time…” He paused for a moment before sending a cheeky smile her way. “You know, I thought you were going to lecture me about second-guessing my abilities…”

“Do you want me to do that? Because I can most certainly rant about how wonderful you are for at least an hour…”

He felt his cheeks heat up. “Th-That… that won’t be necessary.”

They lapsed into a companionable silence for a moment until Jonathan saw a figure out in the snow. The only person who could even tolerate such weather right now was the only person he didn’t want to catch sight of them.

“He’s out here,” he hissed, immediately trying to be covert. “Let’s get inside and close the curtains before he notices, okay?”

“Of course,” Erina answered just as softly. As the two turned and ran for the door, ducking into the hotel they could swear they heard a roar of frustration in the distance. For now? They didn’t want to know…


 - November 12th, 1880 -

 

“...HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” Came a shout above Dio’s head at much too early a time. Normally Dio did not wake before noon on an overcast day but in the plush bed he shared with Jonathan and Erina he found them both poised on either side of him and leaning over with big smiles.

This is what they choose to do after days and days of silence and unwarranted cruelty towards him? Merely think they can erase their transgressions with a well wish and--

Oh.

They must have been hiding from him… for his birthday. Considering the prideful smiles on their faces and the way they seemed to think nothing was amiss? They hadn’t intended things to come across the way that they did. Too bad that didn’t matter, they still chose to neglect him.

He had to pretend that the thought didn’t make him want to grin back just as hard… now that he had them in the palm of his hands. Instead of doing that, Dio pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes in the best show of irritation he could muster. It was basically second nature to him.

“Oh? So you are willing to bend to my every request, my every demand today?” The words poured out of his mouth in a nonchalant drawl as his eyes flitted from Jonathan to Erina, who both seemed to nod. “To atone for your transgressions this week, I’ll allow it.”

A grin grew wide across his lips as Erina and Jonathan exchanged confused looks. “...Our transgressions?” They asked in unison, both of his companions’ voices not even bothering to mask their joint bewilderment. Obviously they thought they’d done nothing wrong and Dio was more than ready to prove them otherwise.

“Of course, you two have been ignoring me,” he stated as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. The pair opened their mouths as if to defend themselves, but Dio didn’t bother giving them any chance to interject. “Even if it was in preparation for my birthday, you’ve upset me far too many times in the most recent days… But I suppose this is a means of apologizing proper and I accept it.” His lips curl into a smug smile as the two made eye contact again.

He half expected them to roll their eyes at his demands and the little smiles that tugged at their lips suggested that they might have been doing so internally. But there was no matter here, so long as they didn’t exhibit such disrespect to his face. They did not disappoint.

Erina shrugged. “Alright then, your illustrious birthday majesty, what is your first order of business?”

“Hmm...” He paused, stroking his chin as if he were deep in thought, and mock thinking for quite a few minutes. Enough to see irritation flash in their eyes before he snapped. “How about you treat this Birthday King to a delectable meal to soothe his palate this morning?”

“Breakfast?” Jonathan echoed with a light in his eyes followed by a very loud growl of his stomach that he wasn’t even embarrassed by. Dio scoffed. “Where are your manners, Jojo? Honestly... Yes , I am making a request for breakfast.”

Erina also paused, thinking out the situation before fixing him with a questionable frown and slight tilt of her head. “You don’t even eat, why breakfast?”

“Why, perhaps I wish to dine with you and Jojo on my special day~” Dio purred with flashing eyes and watched as her expression turned a little confused and a little nervous all at once. He laughed, taking time to dispel the slight air of anxiousness that seemed to now hover between them with a wave of his hand. “Do you think you can fulfill my birthday demands, servant ?”

Erina’s nose wrinkled in distaste at his words as did Jonathan’s. “Servants?!” He echoed in shock, as if being referred to in such a way was any sort of surprising these days, when really they should have seen this coming. Dio of course, nodded as only a regal figure would.

“Why yes, on this day you will be providing for me in any capacity possible, no?” Jonathan looked away in slight irritation and this time he very well could see Erina rolling her eyes too, albeit with a bit more of an indulgent smile on her face.

She sighed and rolled out of bed, getting to her feet. “Well, if this is as good as we’re going to get we may as well play along.”  Jonathan followed suit with a bit of a grimace and Dio swore he heard him muttering under his breath about stupid vampires wasting perfectly good food.

When they arrived to the dining hall, Dio did not hesitate to celebrate with a huge stack of pancakes prepared by one of the kitchen staff in honor of his special day. Jonathan and Erina sat together across from him and stared at the plate as he took in the visual of them practically salivating, all the while cutting dainty squares into one pancake. The vampire-turned-twelve years old toyed with them only a moment longer after that, swinging his fork around and watching their eyes pendulum along with the motion before he laughed.

“As for my next decree, you two must finish these for me,” he declared, splitting up the rest of the stack for portions for the two of them. Erina blinked, Jonathan licked his lips and then the two pinned him with such a confused look he only laughed harder.

“Why are you giving us your birthday breakfast?” Jonathan asked with a scratch of his head.

The answer rolled off of Dio’s tongue so easily. “Hmph, it is only right for the Birthday King to share with his loyal servants after all, no? Without sustenance really you're not of much use to me...” Both of his “servants” seemed to beam and snicker at his answer and he felt a bit of pride when looking at their reactions. Before he could dwell on that he was speaking up once again. “Are you both prepared to properly explain yourselves now?”

He let the question hang in the air for a moment as he took a bite of his pancake before Erina was answering. “No no, not yet, it’s somewhat of a surprise if you don’t mind,” she replied. Her mouth was obviously threatening to split into an eager grin at just the mention of a surprise which piqued his interest. “If it’s okay,” she continued, “Could you wait until this evening?”

As if remembering herself and her commitment to help keep Dio’s birthday nice, Erina reached over to pour Dio a steaming cup of freshly brewed tea. Attentive as always, eh? He raised the rose patterned cup to his lips and gave himself a few minutes of slowly considering the request asked of him. It was only a game, he knew how he would answer.

“Hmmmm, I suppose that’s only fair…”

Both Jonathan and Erina looked relieved and the bigger of the two bowed his head in thanks. “We truly appreciate your understanding, Dio.” When Jojo lifted his head, the smile on his face was so warm it nearly burned him. The birthday boy looked away, nearly feeling his skin practically heating up at the sight, and huffed. “My my, you two are easily pleased, aren’t you?”

Erina shrugged while Jonathan laughed. “Perhaps we are,” Erina responded cheekily and the older boy’s laugh only got louder.

As the three of them enjoyed their breakfast of pancakes and tea, it was Jojo who broke the silence incurred by a delicious meal. Dio couldn’t even blame himself, he didn’t often eat food nowadays but this was… frankly a rather nice taste to have in his mouth regardless.

“Hm, so you are the birthday boy--”

King, Jojo, do not forget my status.”

“Yes, sure, king…” Jonathan must have been spending too much time with Erina. Her sarcastic way of addressing him and eye-rolling had started to rub off in a most unflattering way. As if realizing, she snorted next to Jojo and he had to wonder if Jonathan’s horrible manners were now rubbing off on her too. “But anyway, have you decided how you wanted to spend today? It is your choice after all…”

Dio had pondered this very question before and he had struggled trying to figure out what he wanted to do. But then again… perhaps he did have an idea.

“I figured I might host a tour, enjoy some places I’ve discovered in this hotel with a bit of an audience,” he purred, taking another sip of tea from the cool porcelain cup.

Erina’s brows raised. “A tour…? I thought you said you had been through all the rooms here…”

The young boy merely laughed. “Of course I have. I have had ample time to explore by myself while you two slumber, that means you two have missed out. Surveying them again with some companions may prove significantly less dull, no?”

“Hm, I suppose so. I must say I’m certainly curious!”

Jonathan nodded with a mouth full of food. “Mhmm, shoundsh good!”

“How vile,” Dio scoffed, looking plenty disturbed. “Finish quickly. Your king is prepared to leave and as faithful as you might be a lazy servant has very limited uses~.”

Chapter Text

“I don’t like the look of this staircase,” Jonathan said, a tremor of nervousness evident in his voice. Dio sighed and rolled his eyes, sending a glance over his shoulder. Erina gripped Jojo’s hand tightly and also looked white as a sheet.

“Are you-- Are you sure about this?” She asked, evidently frightened as well.

Dio let out a little breathy chuckle. “Oh, about a vampire leading you two down into a dank, decrepit basement wine cellar? Where no one would hear your screams?” His tone was nonchalant compared to his dark words and it took everything he had not to break into peals of laughter at their horrified faces. “Well, I’m the vampire in this situation so I’m certainly sure about it.”

He watched as they both swallowed thickly and glanced from his devious smirk and then back to each others’ own nervous expressions before he simply could not hold back anymore. Dio practically roared with laughter as he reached the basement floor. He wiped tears away as Jonathan and Erina followed skittishly behind him down the steps.

“It is NOT funny Dio!” Jonathan admonished him, leaning ever so slightly behind Erina like she could protect him . “This could very well end up like that Edgar Allen Poe story!”

“Shall I wall you both up like poor Fortunato, then? Let’s see… have either of you wronged me recently?” He was teasing but his tone implied some sincerity. From the way they both paled and nearly took a step back, his act was rather convincing.

Erina took in an audible nervous breath. “You know… You know that we didn’t mean to upset you when we made ourselves scarce these past few days, right…?”

He left them hanging for another moment, looking almost deep in thought before he gave them a toothy smirk, fangs purposefully on display. “Hm, I suppose you two are worth more to me at my side rather than walled up in a wine cellar~” Dio absolutely could not help another amused snort the moment Jojo looked so relieved he might faint. Erina also nearly deflated in relief on the spot. How ridiculous those two were…

“Well thank you for that glowing compliment Montresor,” Erina said, her voice dripping with saccharine sweetness, obviously in an attempt to hide her further unease as the two finally stepped off the wooden stairs and their feet were planted firmly on the stone floor. Immediately their eyes were drawn to the old wooden shelves around them. Stored side by side were countless bottles of wine, some new and some older in appearance.

“You’re quite welcome, Lady Fortunato~” He replied with a purr, already pleased to see their faces as they marveled at the sheer number of wine bottles in the small space. The two drifted to the walls and gingerly pulled the bottles from their resting places to look at the names and dates on the bottles.

Jonathan was the first to tear his eyes away from the label and turn his gaze over his shoulder, watching as Dio dragged his fingertips along the necks of various glass bottles. “Hey Dio, why is this our first stop? It’s not like we can drink any of this…”

“Speak for yourself, Jojo,” Dio replied easily, not bothering to even look at Jonathan but trying his best to will away another round of laughter. He had partaken in wine before but it was never more than something indulged in when some poor sod had left his cup unattended on the table at the pub, more often than not while he decimated them at a game of chess. It was always cheap and awful, a specialty within the slums. Yet, he still couldn’t let a chance to tease Jojo pass and sure enough the older boy’s expression turned to one of scandalized alarm.

“DIO! Y-YOU-- YOU CAN’T! IF FATHER WAS HERE HE’D HAVE YOUR HIDE!” he yelled.

Dio tucked his hair behind his ear then, finally pinning Jonathan with his best unaffected look and sticking out his tongue. “He isn’t here now though, is he~?”

“That-- That can’t be healthy Dio, you can’t do that!” This time the disapproving voice came from Erina in the corner. Her hands rested firmly on her hips and her cheeks puffed out in an attempt at an authoritative frown that looked more like a pout. Such an expression would look cute if it were on anyone else… Instead, she just looked like a gangly, pouting nag.

“Oh and who’s to say I can’t partake, hm?”

“We do!” They both snapped, Jonathan alarmed and Erina attempting to admonish him.

He felt a laugh bubble up and attempted to hold on just a few moments longer. “Am I not the birthday king~?”

The way that Jonathan sputtered in irritation did the trick. Soon enough he was laughing again, bent forward and holding the shelves for support. “M-My my, you two are certainly gullible today,” he told them, wiping away yet another stray tear from his eye. “First, you think me a potential murderer and now a drunk? Goodness, what-- what opinions you have of me! I ought to be insulted!” Instead however, he seemed to find the whole thing rather hilarious.

“Well, I’m sorry that your pranks are so-- so believable!” Jonathan fired back indignantly.

Erina sighed and tried not to laugh. “That-- That does not help your case Jojo…” Her voice was fond if not a little amused. In response to her words Jojo’s face flushed in embarrassment but he was as stubborn as ever. “Doesn’t matter, I stand by that!”

“Well if we’re done assuming things about me,” Dio replied smoothly, plucking a bottle from it’s home on the shelf. “The reason I wanted to take you both here is because of how intriguing this all is. Look at the wines here… some are decades old, some as old as a century . How fascinating… To think these things were here around the time of the revolution.”

Erina looked on half in fascination and half in disgust. “That is interesting but… why keep them? Who would want to drink century old grape juice? It probably tastes like dust.” She shuddered as she tossed the idea around more in her head.

“Oh, poor naive Erina,” Dio purred with a tone of false pity. “That right there is where you’re wrong. Wine is the epitome of class and sophistication, especially older brands. They’re practically a symbol of status, far above their fellow elixirs~”

“Status symbols are ridiculous,” she grumbled in answer.

Suddenly Jonathan gasped, gingerly grasping a bottle and pulling it out to show the other two. “L-Look at this! It’s labelled 1779! That’s over one hundred years, the revolution had hardly started!” Sure enough stamped along the glass in faded ink was the year this particular wine was set to begin the aging process, and they all seemed to gravitate toward the bottle.

Erina’s mouth was hanging open in delight. “That’s amazing…” she murmured, gently running her fingers over the old glass. Even Dio himself looked surprised to see something like that. Considering where they were currently residing, either this bottle had changed hands before or it was taken by a family when they moved from the east.

“One hundred years…” Dio murmured, lost in thought for a moment. “I could never fathom being locked away somewhere that long. The mere concept of it could bring a man to madness.”

Jonathan nodded in agreement. “Honestly that seems… unbearable. Perhaps it would be better if you were not conscious of your imprisonment for all that time…?” Dio hummed, perhaps Jojo was onto something there.

It was Erina who broke into their rather strange conversation. “This is a wine bottle, not a man. I don’t know why you two are even considering this… though I would prefer not having to wait one hundred years for either of you to emerge from your wine cellar imprisonment.”

“Aw, you would wait for us, E~ri~na~?”

“How sweet of you!”

“Oh, hush you two,” Erina huffed, turning around obviously due to embarrassment from their reactions. “If it really were one hundred years I’m sure my headstone would be waiting in my stead-- this has turned very dark. Is there any other place you wished to show us?”

Dio laughed again, looking between his companions. “Worry not my servants, we have two more places to see~”


“Hm, this one will be an adventure for me too,” Dio said airily, gesturing to the dark wooden door in front of him. “I heard talk that this was a billiards room, but I was only in here for a moment before a few members of the hotel staff arrived to remove some things.”

“A billiards room? That sounds like it’d be fun!” Jonathan replied with a gleam in his eyes at the idea. Who knows what sort of shenanigans they could get up to in there!

Erina cocked her head to the side and appeared vaguely confused. “Hm, but isn’t there a billiards room already on a lower floor downstairs? I know a lot of the employees and the people who stayed during the storm spent a lot of time in there…”

“Shall we find out why that’s the case then~?” Dio purred, a glint of excitement in his eyes before he turned and began to pick the lock. There was no need for him to wait for her answer.

“I suppose so, huh?”

After a few moments of finagling, the door opened with a satisfying click. Dio’s eyesight was impeccable in the dark so the windowless room before them was the furthest from an issue for him. Yet as he glanced at Jonathan and Erina from over his shoulder, he could see the nervousness that only sheer darkness could instill in someone.

With his perfect vision, the young vampire located a candle on a table close to the door and reached for it. He held the long wax candle out to Jonathan with an expectant look on his face. “Surely those powers of yours are useful enough that they could light a candle right?”

“O-Of course!” The boy stated almost indignantly, grabbing the candle from his companion’s hand. It took him a moment of pressing his fingertip lightly to the wick while also focusing the proper channel of power and his breathing on one spot. When a jolt of magic transferred from his finger to the candle wick, he practically cheered. “Ha! See? I got it!”

Dio rolled his eyes and turned back to the room while Erina grinned and clapped. He could tell by her reaction, the way her eyes lit up and the way her smile seemed so warm, that her appreciation of his efforts was sincere. “I’m still in awe of what you can do…” she murmured. Jonathan laughed nervously behind him and scratched the back of his head.

“If you two are done now, shall we go?”

That brought them to attention and the three entered, closing the door behind them. Dio quickly located a few other candles for Jonathan to light and soon enough the room was bathed in a soft glow, enough for his “servants” to see their way around uninhibited.

Upon further inspection however, this room was… rather disappointing.

Obviously what was once here had been taken and brought down to the main billiards room, leaving this area as some sort of glorified storage. The small, windowless space was covered in dusty boxes. In the middle sat a billiards table, however as Dio slipped over to inspect it he noticed its state of disrepair. The felt had peeled from the surface, the wood scratched up, and all which remained of the game itself was a lone 7-ball, gathering cobwebs along the edge. Why that particular one was left was beyond him…

To his side, Dio spotted Jonathan also inspecting the lonely sight that this table was. Then, his eyes drifted to the ground and he picked up a splintered cue stick. Jojo looked from the cue in hand before turning to Erina with a cheeky grin and began making a show of poking a dusty taxidermied rabbit with antlers on a shelf with it. Of course he made bigger, more sweeping gestures until he accidentally knocked the rabbit creature off the shelf.

How embarrassing.

Erina laughed, trying to cover her mouth demurely… despite the rather loud snorts. Jojo looked flustered enough to drop the cue…

If that was all there was to this room well, what was the point? He didn’t want to see Jojo make a fool of himself all day. Granted, it was fun but after a while it certainly began to get old.

“Hmph, this was a failure of a trip-- oh, wait a moment ,” Dio cut himself off as he noticed an open box to his left. Inside, something was reflecting the candlelight and upon closer inspection he realized what it was. A coat, perhaps from someone who owned the building? As he pulled the fabric out to examine the shiny buttons and embroidery, it was then he realized it had to be from some sort of stage production… it was far too elaborate to be something worn every day.

Without hesitation he shook the coat out, removing all the dust he could before draping it around his shoulders in a most fashionable way. This was his property now.

“Ah, an overcoat fit for a king~ Perhaps this room was not a complete bust. Let us carry on then, servants~”

Without so much as another word, Dio clapped his hands together and turned on his heel. He walked out of the room and didn’t bother to wait for them to follow. Jonathan and Erina shared a look for a moment before they were forced to run and catch up with him.


After the semi-failure of the old billiards room, the children were surprised to find that the sky was already growing dark. It would seem they had spent more time in windowless rooms today than any of them had anticipated. Seeing as dinnertime neared, they stopped by the kitchens to retrieve some food and sweets for dessert, but before they could dig in Dio stopped them.

“Save it,” he told them mysteriously, punctuating his words with an enigmatic smile. “A meal such as this should be shared in the room that will conclude our tour. So, if you do not mind… follow me.” Jonathan and Erina exchanged surprised and slightly dubious glances before they shrugged. What else were they to do except go along with his requests?

They followed Dio into a small hallway and up a staircase they had seen before in earlier excursions, but never bothered using. Upon reaching the second level, Dio quickly disappeared down another side hallway, large overcoat fluttering behind him, and came to a stop in front of two large doors. The sign on one side read “Stardust Room” in faded script.

“What… is this?” Erina asked, eyes narrowing in curiosity. Dio tested the doorknob, checking to see if anyone had discovered his handiwork from earlier and smiled to himself when the door was just as open as he’d left it.

“See for yourself,” he replied easily, nudging the door open and shoving the two in first as he closed the door behind himself. This time, the room was pitch black and Dio moved forward to the windows. “I-I don’t know about this...” Jonathan muttered nervously beside him. But as Dio threw the curtains back and allowed moonlight to fill the room, his companions gasped in awe.

They stood side by side in a large ballroom, no doubt used for functions when the wealthiest families in Shermerville were looking to impress specific visitors and patrons. They marveled at the beautiful expanse of wooden floors and dark blue paint along the walls. Yet, as their eyes followed the royal color upward, that is when they really gasped.

Constellations were scattered in great detail across the ceiling. Those included were all twelve members of the zodiac and others like Orion and both Ursa constellations. As Jonathan and Erina’s mouths hang open, still processing the artwork above them, Dio chuckled softly instead. “Trying to catch flies, you two?” he asked with a smirk. While they kept on gaping, Dio planted himself on the floor and laid out the food prepared by the head chef.

“We’re not-- it’s-- this is so beautiful , Dio!” Erina gushed, stumbling over her words. “A-As Erina said! How-- How did you find a place like this?!” Jonathan asked in surprise and Dio just shrugged. “As we can see, it hasn’t been put to use in some time now... I merely looked for a locked door.”

Ethical dubiousness of that whole statement aside, Jonathan and Erina were rather engrossed with marvelling at the art around them until Dio gestured to the food. “Are you two not hungry? The paintings have no intention of leaving for an evening stroll, I can assure you of that.”

“Ah, right…”

The two then turned their attention to filling their stomachs, eyes still drawn to the grand ceiling on display and Dio’s gaze followed too. As Erina and Jonathan spoke amongst themselves he had quieted down, content with tracing the shapes of the constellations with his eyes. These stars… a collection of long, forgotten mythos... first shown to him on the cobblestone streets of the slums with her hand firmly on his shoulder, guiding his tiny fingers with careful ease…

“--Dio?! Are you listening?”

Dio blinked and turned to Jonathan, the young boy’s mouth half-full of food. Apparently they had spoken up to him, and his mind had drifted off… elsewhere…

“Absolutely not Jojo,” he replied, hoping to turn his thoughts back to the task at hand with petty words. It worked like a charm as Jonathan frowned in response. At that expression, Dio rolled his eyes though a little smirk tugged at his lips. “Repeat yourself so I may hear you better…~” Just this once he would be kind and throw him a bone, it was the least he could do.

Jonathan stared as if not expecting that answer before smiling. “I was saying that I realized that big star up there is supposed to represent the North Star!” He pointed it out, a large gold dot in the constellation Ursa Minor. “I’ve always associated that with my birthmark… the tried and true North Star that leads the way for those lost in their travels. Since father said every Joestar before he and I had the star as well, it feels like a bit of a guiding force itself…”

“You’re a bit of a North Star yourself, Jojo...” Erina spoke softly, her gaze gentle and fixed right on Jonathan even as he tilted his head a little in confusion. “You’re always someone that can ground people who are feeling lost, and that’s…. a very special gift to have, d-don’t you think?” A silence settled between the three of them and in that moment Jonathan’s face turned redder than any tomato Dio had ever seen. Just as Jojo started up his best impression of a beet, Erina seemed to realize what she’d said and took to panicking instead.

Honestly, these two, even when they were being disgusting with each other, still managed to entertain him one way or another. “H-haha... um-- I-I… n-nevermind that ! ...H-Hey, Dio look did you-- did you see the constellations of the zodiac on the ceiling? Isn’t that interesting? Being born today... w-wouldn’t that mean that you-- you were born beneath the stars of Scorpio?” Never in his days had he seen the girl so flustered, and his lips curled in a playful smirk.

“Indeed I was, E~ri~na,” he told her softly. “Yet even being born under the stars of the Scorpion will not stop me from remarking about how you have such a way with words, eh?” Erina’s face managed to get redder as she looked away.

“I-- I didn’t mean to-- augh, don’t tease me!”

“Teasing? Me? But, I would never!” Dio replied with such sarcasm that it left Erina scowling and Jonathan looking between the two with an embarrassed smile and a liberal dusting of pink still prominent across his cheeks. These two were especially fun today and Dio was pleased to have such ample opportunity to mess with them on this of all days… the happy atmosphere built up between them evaporated in an instant however, as Erina recoiled and Jojo’s eyes went wide.

That was when he felt it… the unpleasant tickling. The scuttling of six legs along his person. The most disgusting beetle he had ever laid his eyes on crawling down his arm.

It was vile, reminding him of the filthy vermin that scuttled about his home before the Joestars. So of course there was only one thing he could do.

Once the gigantic beetle reached the top of his hand he flicked it right into Jonathan’s face.

Erina yelped and reeled back but Jonathan acted quickly. After the initial shock and jump as the insect landed in his face he grabbed it and crushed it between his hands. Jonathan looked up sheepishly at the two of them, the broken beetle corpse spread on both of his palms.

“Th-That was terribly cruel, Dio! May-- May I have a napkin?”

Dio leaned back with a laugh. “As if I, Dio, would ever provide such a thing…” Though he paused and tossed the once beautiful jacket off his back and onto the floor, a sneer present on his face. If such creepy crawlies still resided in the sleeves, he wanted nothing to do with it. Erina, ever the sweet one however, held out a cloth napkin with two fingers as far away from her person as humanly possible, trying poorly to hide her disgust.

“H-Here Jojo, so you can clean yourself up…”

“Thank you Erina, at least someone appreciates me enough to help,” he said pointedly at Dio. Taking the cloth, Jonathan worked on rubbing the gunk from his hands and wiping whatever he might have missed on his pants. Such an action left both Erina and Dio looking on at the brunet with perturbed expressions he was too distracted to take any notice of.

He rose to his feet then, looking infinitely less green than his other two companions. In fact, he looked rather energized. “Well since we’ve finished eating... what say we finally show Dio why we’ve been so hard to pin down, eh Erina?” His grin was huge and his eyes bright. Erina nearly leapt to her feet as well with equal gleefulness. “Well, now is as good a time as any I suppose!” She declared reaching for Jonathan’s hand and then dragging her fingers up to wrap around his wrist instead, as if suddenly remembering the disgusting mess his hands just were.

“Hmph, now you two are willing to talk? I suppose now is as good a time as any~” He sighed, following suit. Jonathan shook his head excitedly. “No no, we’re to show , not tell.” Erina nodded after him. “A picture is worth a thousand words and all~”

Dio couldn’t help the small, self-satisfied smile that wormed its way onto his face as they walked through the halls of the hotel. Just a few months prior, Jonathan and Erina wanted nothing to do with him, were quicker to argue with and insult him rather than share anything. Granted, he had preferred that treatment and played instigator more often than not, he hadn’t come to the noble Joestar estate to make friends. But he supposed things were better this way, weren’t they?

He was quite the believer in realizing his own mistakes and past-Dio had greatly underestimated how these two might have been of use to him. Jonathan and Erina falling all over themselves to make his birthday special was a much more useful way to handle them now.

Perhaps, he had been too quick to make enemies, too eager to satiate his itch for a good fight… they were definitely better to him as allies. And hopefully, things would remain as such.

They stopped before the door to one of the smaller lounges in the hotel that the pair had been spending time in. Jonathan turned to him as did Erina, their hands poised on the doorknob yet refusing to open it. “We know it isn’t much…” Jonathan began and Erina’s voice popped up to finish his statement in unison. “...but, we wanted to at least try and do something special for you today…” They both nodded then and swung the door open.

Almost everywhere there were dozens upon dozens of paper flowers, littered in every nook and cranny the scheming duo could’ve displayed them. Dio blinked as the pair in question deposited a little crown of flowers, constructed of both paper and thin, real ones on his head.

“Happy Twelfth Birthday!” They cheered, arms wide open. “We had so many flowers by the end, it was tough counting them all, but… um… we made the stationary and folded every single bloom! We decided on the crown as a nice touch since you like to walk around here like a king,” Erina said with a smile, trying to fill in the silence Dio left. After another few moments, Jonathan attempted the same. “We figured something like this would be nice! After all they’re really pretty and won’t ever fade like real flowers, a gift you could keep for as long as you wanted...!”

As the minutes stretched on and Dio’s face hadn’t changed from some sort of unexplainable surprise, Jonathan and Erina’s own switched from anxious anticipation to strained smiles. The two shared nervous glances and shifted on the soles of their feet before it seemed they couldn’t handle the silence any longer. “Ah… w-well… um, we hope you like it,” Jonathan finally spoke up, shuffling to the door. “We’ve had a long day so… we should really get to bed! Don’t-- don’t stay down here too long… okay, Dio? I-it isn’t good for you,” Erina added, following him closely.

They were hiding their upset as much as they possibly could. The lack of reaction was worse than any derisive comment was. Their idea really had been that bad, huh? The best they could do was not look visibly dejected as they began to undertake the long walk back to their room.

Dio hardly noticed the door close behind them.

Chapter Text

I know it isn’t much… but I wanted to at least try and do something special for you today.

Happy sixth birthday, my sweet boy.

The sound of the old grandfather clock in the lounge brought Dio back to his senses. He counted the chimes as they resounded through the room, balking when they hit twelve. Jonathan and Erina had taken him to look at their gift well before that, perhaps at ten or eleven. The three of them had spent the entirety of the day exploring the hotel and enjoying their time together that it had been quite late when he finally got to view his gift… and now?

He had lost at least an hour of the night in his own mind.

Dio willed his feet forward mechanically, feeling his stiff legs practically groaning from movement after being held in one spot for so long. This was not the first time this had happened to him. Usually when hit with intense feelings his mind would blank without his knowledge until he snapped out of it, only to find himself missing daylight. Or in recent cases… moonlight.

As he rose to his full height the events from earlier seemed to fuse uncannily with things that transpired six years prior. Now this was new. He was not used to such moments blending so seamlessly with his own heartbreakingly pleasant memories. He couldn’t help the thoughts as they bubbled up into his mind without warning.

The last time anyone had remembered his birthday, let alone celebrated it with a handmade gift had been the last birthday his mother was alive for. Closing his eyes he could see the moment so clearly it was jarring.

His mother’s face was brought into view, pale but not overtly so. She had just acquired the cough that would later evolve and rob her of her life. Not that she had much of one to begin with. Her long, bony fingers, matching her skinny frame, presented a doll made of yarn to him. She had had to do more projects than usual that month. When his father was really caught up in his drinking, his mother would take on more commissions as a seamstress than her feeble body could usually handle so that way when her wages were skimmed for booze money, there would at least be enough to eat.

Yet still, during that difficult point in time she had taken the time to craft a small doll for him. Something to mark the passing of another year, something to put a smile on his face when he turned six. He hadn’t realized then that it would be the last physical gift he would ever receive from her. He’d played with the thing every day, even when his father growled that such toys were improper for a boy, let alone a Brando. Whatever that meant. That man had no honor and he doubted that his ancestry held anything worth respecting. If he’d have known that such a gift would be the final one… he certainly would have taken better care of it.

He, of course, was a careful child when it came to his spare belongings but as he had grown he always cursed his own negligence. The yarn had started to fray from use during the year before she died. After her quiet passing he didn’t use it too much again, not when it was his last memento of her… Something to be treasured. The last object given from the last person who would ever care about him.

Or so he thought, perhaps.

With a harsh breath, he opened his eyes and beheld the flowers resting on every open surface of the room. They had certainly overdone it… there was no way he could possibly keep that many flowers and they most certainly should have known that… yet they did so anyway. Those flowers must have taken hours and hours of their time. Working their fingers to the bone for something that in the grand scheme of things might have been utterly meaningless.

Truthfully, spending the day with him had been enough of a gift. Normally Dio was not the kind of person who considered a meager outing to be anything akin to sufficient to celebrate his greatness. Or at least, he was the sort of person who spouted that kind of self-important talk while only half believing it. But for the first celebration of his birth in such a long time? The day was surprisingly pleasant and he was content in the fact that the two had provided good company…

And this?

He didn’t need the flowers, he had no use for the gesture made of folded paper. Jojo had already given him a pressed one. And still they had made dozens… they had put so much effort into him. Objectively speaking, Dio was quite aware that he didn’t deserve such kindness. He was well aware of the kind of person he could be and the two people he had sprung from. His father was a bastard and he shouldered that family legacy like a lead weight. He lived up to that very name in the Joestar household. What could he have possibly done to change their opinion of him so drastically after all he had done? Sure he had gotten somewhat better in terms of his attitude but that was it.

...And they still chose to put all that work into celebrating him?

It didn’t add up.

The words they spoke to him brought to mind the gentle words she had said to him. The way they had beamed reminded him of the softness of her smile as she handed him the meager toy she had spent so much time creating. Perhaps he was going a little mad...

They had no idea what they were doing or what sort of memories this had stirred. There was no way they could know. Yet the two of them were like a one-two punch to his gut. The more he thought about it, the more he began to find similarities. His mother’s desire to stand by lost causes and theirs, his mother’s determination to see things through to the end, her penchant for charity. The list went on and seemed to stretch out before him alarmingly.

He had to get ahold of himself.

Jonathan Joestar and Erina Pendleton... were far too good to be concerned with the likes of him. He, Dio, who did nothing but bully and insult them. He who forced his aggressions out on Jonathan and his ill begotten affections on Erina. He had really done nothing to deserve anything but scorn. Not to mention his now monstrous nature though perhaps that was an appropriate change considering the way he had conducted himself.

Those two were people he had known for the better part of a year, the beginnings of which were fraught with violence and spite yet had settled into a tentative partnership. Perhaps even a friendship of sorts. Their treatment of him should not have been akin to the mother who bore him, who knew him from a time of innocence and loved him unconditionally. This was absurd and they were absurd. In this equation however, there was only one person more ridiculous.

He, himself, was the strange one.

If there was one thing that Dio Brando knew about himself, it’s that he was selfish. Those two, in leagues with his mother and as selfless as the only woman in his life who ever mattered, they chose to remain by his side. They chose to put in this effort. To spend their time with him, break bread with him, live side by side and help return him to his former glory. Even perhaps with the possibility that he could return to his former attitude and forsake them. And if that was the case? If they were truly ready to risk that? Then he couldn’t possibly think about letting them go.

Dangerous thoughts. He knew that.

Attachments in general were dangerous. Family? Friendship? Those were things that could break a person down the second they slipped from their fingertips, leaving them exposed in ways that warranted self-destruction. He was familiar with the feeling of losing everything important. He ran the risk of valuing them at a level that was a detriment to himself and repeating a moment in his youth he didn’t wish to go through. This was not a route Dio was willing to take openly but it seemed he was already attached, wasn’t he? The thoughts plaguing his mind were proof enough.

He was never the kind of person to “make friends” easily or at all but well... Jonathan and Erina were the closest he’d ever been to accomplishing such a feat. They were already farther up in his regard than just about anyone else he’d ever met. They seemed to encourage such a thing, to their own disadvantage he supposed. For now he hoped they were ready for him to hold on as stubbornly as he could… if not? That was their problem. They had invited the beast into their midst and decided to celebrate him, this was not his doing this time.

Without realizing it, Dio had made a circuit of the room gathering an armful of the copious amounts of flowers that they had made for him. It was a little ridiculous, to have quite the bouquet already with all these thoughts bouncing around in his brain. They were complicated, messy and unorganized. He should not have had the capacity to do such a thing as preoccupied as he was. But he was merely operating on instinct by that point, whatever he thought felt right…

 


 

Jonathan and Erina had made their way up quickly to the shared bedroom and changed separated by a screen in the corner of the room. There was no conversation, only a stilted silence between them as they seemed to stew in their miserable failure. It seemed Dio hadn’t derived any sort of joy from their gift. He didn’t thank them or even say anything about their gesture. To be truthful, at least a derisive dig was better than wondering what on earth was lacking about it.

It was a complete and total flop.

It was a little heartbreaking. After all the time and effort put into this. It made them both wonder if they were being foolish for the moment. Yes, Dio was their ally but it wasn’t like he owed them his friendship. No, on the contrary, he had spent many opportunities saying that he wasn’t their friend at all. Had they been too presumptuous? Willfully blind maybe?

Jonathan felt sadness settle in his gut, heavy and cold. It was irritating a little. This shouldn’t really have bothered him at all. Perhaps he was just overly invested. However, he didn’t even have to look at Erina to know that her own face mirrored his and her disappointment matched his own.

As the two of them slipped into bed, conflicted expressions still on their faces, Erina turned to Jonathan who had his eyes trained on the ceiling. “Do you think… we messed up?” Her voice broke through the silence that had suffocated them since they left the lounge area. Yet even then with the quiet disrupted it didn’t seem to help the mood.

Jonathan turned his head to face her, a troubled look playing across his features. “I-I don’t know…” His response was honest and a hush fell over the two of them once again. With nothing else to say, Erina sighed and merely let her eyes flutter shut and Jonathan followed suit not long after. Sleep was better than dwelling on this after all.

“Tomorrow we’ll apologize,” Jojo muttered softly.

“I suppose we’ll have to,” Erina answered, exhaustion prominent in her voice.

It felt a little silly to have to apologize for a birthday gift but the silence was so beyond what they had expected they didn’t have many options. He didn’t enjoy it, he couldn’t have… but he didn’t rage or even react. They had obviously done something wrong. Perhaps it was time to pull back before they ruined their easy dynamic any further with clumsy gifts like this.

The two of them drifted off without another word.

...Maybe they should have just sucked it up and made the cake.

 


 

When Jonathan awoke the next morning, he sat up and rubbed at his eyes. He was unaware of the time and the carefully shut curtains gave him no hint. Those were for Dio’s benefit but really sometimes he missed being able to tell the time of day by just glancing out a window…

That is when it struck him… no matter what the time, Dio should have been upstairs by now. At some point in the evening, he would always retire to sleep and yet he still had not returned? Did they really mess up that badly with their gift to him…? Truly he hoped he didn’t avoid even the most basic comforts of the hotel just because of an ill received gift.

He felt Erina shift at his side and then angle herself up to see the occupants of the bed they shared. When she noticed sleepily just who was there and who was not, she looked over at Jonathan with blatant concern. “He… didn’t come up last night?”

Jojo nodded. “I suppose we really did miss the mark on this one…” His voice sounded heavy and sad to his own ears, not exactly how he hoped to start this new day. With a gloomy sigh, the older boy kicked aside the comforter and decided to roll out of bed. Perhaps once he was changed for breakfast he would start to perk up a little.

What he hadn’t expected was to accidentally ram his foot into something cold and ceramic, sending it clunking to the carpet below. He yelped and glanced around blindly before he looked down at what he had indeed knocked over and subsequently froze.

“Jojo…?” Erina called out nervously. It took him a moment to recover but when he did, he righted the item in question. A few things had fallen out and he quickly slipped the materials safely back in before holding it up for Erina to see.

In his hand was a pale yellow vase, one that sat empty on a table in the billiards room they had visited yesterday. Inside of it resided dozens of the paper blooms they had painstakingly folded. Not all, certainly, but about as many as one could fit without flattening the paper out of shape.

He had… saved them? More shocking than that he had actually placed them in a vase like real flowers. That was honoring them in a way. Wasn’t it?

As the realization washed over both Erina and Jonathan, the two of them couldn’t help the little smiles that threatened at their mouths. Perhaps… it wasn’t what he was expecting but the way he arranged them in a vase made it clear that Dio at least was a little fond of their gift.

“Maybe he was pleased with them after all!” Erina said, tentative delight creeping into her voice.

“Well, the evidence certainly supports it, doesn’t it?” He asked, trying not to get himself excited but feeling the tell-tale warmth in the pit of his stomach anyway. After such a disheartening evening, seeing something like this? It was positively delightful!

Jonathan finished rearranging the flowers back into some semblance of order after letting Erina marvel at the object for a bit longer. Then as gently as he could, he placed them back down on the floor where Dio had positioned them, a little out of sight… a little out of mind, but forever present. He knew Erina’s gaze followed as she crawled closer to the other end of their bed, wanting to look at them sitting there and Jonathan shared the sentiment. Having proof that they actually managed to do right by Dio was something that just felt good to look at.

Yet, the sound of the door opening broke them out of their reverie and both their heads snapped to attention as the room filled with the warm light of lamps from the hallway.

“Ah, you’re awake,” Dio’s voice rang through the darkened room, “That saves me the trouble then.”

The two blinked in surprise. They wondered if Dio knew that they had found how he kept the flowers, if he would say something about the little gift he now stored at their bedside or about the two of them looking owlishly at him from the nest of sheets and comforters. Perhaps he would even smile when he did so. Dio, as usual, did not emote so easily. Instead, the vampire paid the gift no heed, opting instead to pretend as if the vase wasn’t resting against his bedside table. Whatever it was he was talking about was obviously more important than yesterday’s events.

Dio continued on lightly. “Speedwagon has finally woken up, I was tasked with bringing you to see him so--”

Before he could even finish, the pair launched out of bed. They both narrowly missed the ceramic vase on the floor and didn’t bother with their proper day clothes as they rushed to the door, excitement in their every step. Without even thinking about it, Jonathan and Erina each grabbed one of Dio’s hands and surged forward into the hall.

“Why didn’t you just start with that?!” Erina asked with delight.

“I did start with that! What? Have you developed selective hearing?!”

Chapter Text

Robert’s entire body felt like lead.

Every movement he made was heavy and slow and his head felt as if he succumbed to drowning ten times over. Every breath he took was raspy, broken, and agonizing … and if he was allowed to be painfully honest? Robert Edward O. Speedwagon felt like absolute shit upon regaining consciousness. But despite all that, his aches couldn’t stop the maddening delight creeping along his face when he woke earlier that day to see Erin, Jonathan and Dio crowding his bed. Baron Zeppeli stood at the foot of it, watching them with an indulgent smile of his own.

Jonathan leaned over and grinned with tears spilling down his cheeks and a little bubble of snot emerging from a stuffy nostril. “W-We’re so glad to see you doing a-alright, we were worried for awhile there!” The boisterous laughter Robert tried to let out in response sounded more like a shaky rattle than anything and he watched Jonathan’s eyes flash with concern.

Before he could set the boy’s mind at ease he felt Erin’s small hands grasp his own, squeezing with all his might. Unlike Jonathan, his younger brother tried much harder to mask his tears, Speedwagon could only tell by the glinting in the boy’s watery eyes. “Are you okay? How are you feeling? A-Anything bad we should know about? Are you hungry?--Goodness, y-you must be famished! Or perhaps--?!” Robert squeezed his hand back and tried his best smile.

“H-Hey... relax, relax,” he wheezed, a little pathetically he noted in his mind. “I didn’t die, right? No need to get all-- all weepy on me… I’m fairin’ well, y’see?”

That response went over about as well as a joke at a funeral. He saw their faces morph from concern to simple frowns. It was Dio who spoke next, scoffing and rolling his eyes. “Tch, stupid survivor…” Despite the irritation those words were delivered with, Robert felt a warmth in his heart at hearing them. Well Christ, he certainly hoped that was a good emotional reaction and not some weird symptom of an illness.

It was the Baron who sighed next, taking off his top hat and shaking the dark curls that adorned his head. “No need to minimize the situation now… just accept the consideration your brother and his friends are trying to show you, si ?”

Robert couldn’t help a slight roll of his eyes, really all he could do in his weakened state, but then glanced along the motley collection gathered around him. The last time he’d ever had a group like this around his bedside when he was ill… well, he wasn’t sure if something like that had ever happened before. Tattoo and K.M. had always been at his side but beyond them…?

Shit. He was getting misty eyed too.

He cleared his sore throat and tried to ignore the sensation in his cotton-dry mouth before speaking up again. “H-Hey well… what’d I miss then?”

“It’s been snowing for days now! On and off mostly, but there was an impressive storm some days back!” Jonathan piped up, brightening up at the idea of sharing their recent experiences. He gestured to the window and while suppressing a low groan, Robert turned his heavy head and creaky neck to look toward the pane. The huge drifts of white outside made him balk.

Well fuck, that was a lot of snow…

“We’re sort of holed up in here… but we’ve been making the most of it!” Erin chimed in next, obviously taking note of the look on Robert’s face. Of course, upon hearing that the crease between his thick brows only deepened. “Holed up in here…? I-In this fancy pants fuckin’ place?” He let out a rattling cough after that.

Dio scoffed at his reaction, it was becoming more of a common occurrence lately. “Ah yes, be cross about our decision to stop here when it had the only doctor we could track down and the best accommodations in a blizzard.” Speedwagon wanted to open his mouth, to tell Dio that they couldn’t spend money so frivolously. Yes, they had funds now but they were finite. He had been given a budget, he was the one who was doin’ the damn numbers... not him! But he noticed the hard look in Dio’s eyes… a sparkle of concern amongst the sharp irritation and he sighed.

“It’s no problem…” he rumbled out. “I’ll figure it out.” The clear tenor of the Baron’s voice rang out then. “Dio’s birthday passed as well…” he replied easily, not reacting at all when Dio pinned him with quite the look, like the man had spoken with his ass and not his mouth. But when the words settled into his sluggish brain, Robert turned to Dio in shock.

“It was your birthday...?”

“Tch, yes… but since I have now reached the tender age of twelve while you’ve fallen ill don’t think that leaves you exempt from acquiring a gift for me...” Dio crossed his arms and fixed Speedwagon with his sharp-eyed expression next, one that the older teenager promptly snorted at. “C’mon over here and I’ll give ya pneumonia for your birthday, how about that eh?”

“Disgusting,” Dio muttered but the telltale signs of mirth sparkled in the boy’s red eyes.

It wasn’t long after that the doctor appeared, shooing away the company that was so comforting to Robert. Well, all except Zeppeli who watched him like a hawk, making sure that the slightly bumbling and awkward Doctor Tull did everything on the up and up.

Robert’s meals were given, at breakfast, lunch and dinner, by his little brother himself. Erin was intent on seeing over some level of his care and it made him want to smile. This obviously had been weighing on him but it was a comfort to know that when in a pinch Erin would try to do everything he could to help the situation at hand. Even if it was just by a slight margin.

He had noticed his little brother stumbling over his words earlier in the day. Beginning a sentence or a question just to back off and Robert couldn’t help but wonder what he wanted to speak with him about. Whatever it was, Erin could tell him anything.

When Erin brought up his dinner on their second day of scheduled meals, he caught the young boy at war with himself again. Obviously the kid wanted to speak up about something as he placed the tray of warm soup and bread in front of him. Robert opened his mouth in an attempt to prod and try to get to the bottom of this whole thing, but Erin’s soft voice rung out instead.

“You know Robbie… you-- you’ve taught me so much…”

Well, that was a surprising thing for him to lead with. Robert nodded, eyes pinned on the younger boy as he tried to angle his tired body forward.

Erin pressed on, looking down as he wrung his hands. “I don’t mean just with learning to fight and defend myself either… this whole trip so far has been a wonderful learning experience! S-So… when you were first struck ill and I tried to looking over the map…?” His brother’s voice trailed off and Speedwagon’s eyes couldn’t help but narrow further in confusion.

He was trying to ease him into something and now he was bringing up the map of all things?

What… was he trying to get at with this?

“So, I realized then that perhaps… that meant that-- I mean-- ...since you’ve gone above and beyond for me... I could return the favor with t-teaching you how to read, Robbie…” When Erin finished his statement, trying his best not to struggle through the words he wanted desperately to get out and failing, he still looked hopeful. That smile, the offer…

Rationally that was a nice suggestion. Rationally he should go for it. Yet, without realizing, Erin had stumbled onto a minefield with his offer. Something sensitive that immediately made Robert’s defenses raise. The boy’s smile started to disappear the second Robert spoke.

“What? D’you think I’m stupid then?”

“Huh?! N-No, not at all I--”

Erin had tried to backtrack but the floodgates had opened and there was no stopping that reaction. “I’m damn smart, Erin! Maybe I can’t fuckin’ write a map or read a book or do any of that shit that you and Jonathan and Dio do, but I’ve been single-handedly leading us through this stupid fuckin’ journey without any of that nonsense! All on my own wits!”

“I-I didn’t mean--” He kept protesting, trying to speak up, but Robert steamrolled over him.

“Didn’t THINK is more like it. You’re so preoccupied with tryin’ to settle up these debts in your fuckin’ mind that you think you owe everyone, that you didn’t wonder if askin’ me that shit was APPROPRIATE.” Robert’s already raspy voice grew more hoarse with every venom-laced insult he spit at Erin’s feet, but he didn’t stop there. “Here’s a new lesson for ya, kid... how ‘bout you keep your nose stuck in your own business and maybe you’ll be less of a fuckin’ burden on me!”

A stark silence overcame the room.

Speedwagon himself froze… that wasn’t what he’d wanted to say. A wave of regret crashed over him as soon as the final words left his mouth, cold and sobering. The reality that he couldn’t read nor write was a rather sensitive topic, especially around these smart, astute children. It made him feel stupid… and so he reacted, which in turn led him to actually do something stupid. What the fuck did he just do?

Erin looked as if he had been struck and he may as well have. Those big blue eyes of his were wide, full of shock and hurt. They shone like there were tears unshed but none fell. Instead after a moment, a frosty look replaced it, something Robert had never seen directed at him before. A chill rolled down the teenager’s spine as the younger boy’s mouth turned into a tight scowl.

Fuck.

“Shit, E-Erin I didn’t--”

But his little brother didn’t waste a second. He pushed the tray laden with food toward him and turned on his heel. “Good night then,” was all he mumbled before exiting the room. The air in the room had never been colder and he’d never felt more like a piece of human garbage.

He really fucked up with this and he knew it…

Robert had to fix this immediately but being bedridden of course had its drawbacks. He would wait, let Erin sleep off the night and then when he brought his breakfast in the morning he could rectify whatever ridiculous horseshit had left his mouth. Speedwagon stared at the ceiling and frowned deeply. Erin wasn’t the kind of person to use something like his illiteracy against him. No… he had wanted to help him. But Robert of course had to say something awful.

He still felt the shame attached to Erin knowing but… he wanted to teach him, didn’t he? Granted, Robert was supposed to be the big brother, he was the one who was supposed to impart life lessons, not the other way around but…

Maybe this was worth it.

Sleep took him easily after he ate as his body was still recovering. When he woke in the morning to his door creaking open he sat up, his sluggish mind at least still remembering what he had to do. However, when his breakfast arrived the one holding the tray was not Erin but…

“Jojo?”

The young brunet walked in, a frown set on his face and his hands gripping the tray tightly. Oh boy, this wasn’t good. Robert swallowed thickly and watched as the boy’s brows furrowed even further. “Yes. Good morning,” he replied shortly, highly out of character for the exuberant Joestar.

“W-Where’s Erin at?” He asked, his voice dry and raspy. Jonathan walked forward, gently placing the tray down on his lap but oh, that crackle of light around him was unmistakable. His upset was almost palpable. “He wasn’t up to bringing you your breakfast this morning but he insisted that one of us help you…”

Ugh. The familiar feeling of guilt burrowed further into the pit of his stomach. When Robert was nervous, there was only one thing his mind knew how to do. Talk. So naturally, he opened his mouth to do so… only to be shut down by Jonathan Joestar.

“H-How dare you! A burden? You truly called him that? What-- What is wrong with you?” The boy sputtered, green eyes flashing. “You just-- he was the ONE person who has always been on your side! In your corner. Y-Yet you just hurt him when he was only trying to help you?!”

Of course Jonathan would resort to righteous anger. Hell, if someone had said that to someone he cared about, if someone said that to Erin and he was there to witness it he’d be going on the attack too. He couldn’t blame the kid… “I-I was embarrassed and I… reacted badly,” he spoke finally, the words sounding a little weak to even his own ears.

Jonathan’s arms rested at his hips disapprovingly. New small muscles, ones not present before his Hamon training, were visible beneath rolled up sleeves. He must have been pissed off, there was no reason he should look that tense…

“That is not a good excuse,” Jonathan said after a moment, his voice quiet and therefore more alarming to Speedwagon. “You… You really, really upset him. He trusts you a-and he looks up to you. So… think about what you did and fix it before you break his heart any further!”

With that, Jonathan left the tray of cooling oatmeal and made his exit. There was no need for any words after that, Jonathan had said all he wanted to. “I-I want to fix it!” Robert called after him but with the way his scratchy voice warbled in the room he wasn’t sure if he had been heard. And even if he was, would Jojo have listened? How the fuck was he going to fix this? If Erin cried…? Ugh, he didn’t even want to think about it. Maybe he’d have a chance at lunch.

Sure enough, as noon came the door opened once more.

“Tch, I hope you’re happy, ” announced a voice that was decidedly not Erin’s.

Speedwagon sighed. “Well, hello to you too Dio…”

He groaned a little. The last person Robert wanted to see right now was the very vampire bringing his lunch to his bedside. Yet, there was no avoiding this confrontation. As Dio arrived next to him, the lecture continued.

“We had just gotten over the shock your little bout of illness provided. I no longer had to deal with worried, anxious words well into the night from either Jojo or Erin. There was almost a peace that descended upon us once we were assured of your steady recovery. But now… you go and make even more work for me?” As Dio spoke, his voice took on a bit of an edge.

Speaking of edges, that tray was certainly balanced precariously in one hand. Whatever he had on that… soup maybe? Threatened at the very brink of falling onto him. He couldn’t tell either if that was a purposeful stunt or not when he looked into the boy’s sharp red eyes.

“Th-The bowl…” he began but was instantly cut off. A running trend apparently. “I have not finished speaking,” Dio hissed, chastising him as if Robert were his age.

“You see, I could understand lashing out at the Baron, the old man’s done enough and said enough to get under your skin and provoke you. Hell, I’d understand if you targeted me for a throwaway comment that incensed you,” he continued, his tone even and reasonable but still with an underlying edge. “But Erin? Your little brother ?” The evenness in his voice went right out the window as he descended into something far more mocking, imitating the endearing way Speedwagon would refer to Erin when introducing him to others.

Robert’s thick brows drew together in irritation, a scowl forming at his mouth. “Don’t mock me, ya damn brat!” He practically croaked. It sounded a little ridiculous and took some punch out of the command but Speedwagon didn’t bat an eye.

“Why shouldn’t I? When you’re adding to my  stress. I thought I was done dealing with nonsense regarding you.”

Oh this kid really knew how to get under his skin, didn’t he? “You don’t understand the situation at all, Dio,” he chided. “Don’t act like you do.”

“Please. I know more than you realize,” the vampire sneered, gaze burning. “I know you believe addressing your illiteracy is something you view as an attack on your intelligence. That being said, the only idiotic action I  see here is you denying an opportunity to better  yourself.”

Those words sat with Robert for a moment. As much as he hated listening to the kid when he was being so cutting with his remarks… that one certainly held weight. He was denying himself wasn’t he? And destroying his relationship with his little brother in the process…

Dio’s voice broke the silence once more and the tone of his voice was considerably darker. “At least we now know the extent of your usefulness. Something to keep in mind once we tire of you.” It was not only an insult, it was a threat and it settled cold and heavy in Robert’s belly.

With that said, Dio left the tray haphazardly in Robert’s lap and turned to face the door. “Do not forget that,” the boy announced before strolling out of the room as if he was in a park during springtime and not walking from the bed of the ailing man he had just threatened.

That interaction certainly had been a little too much for an afternoon, especially when he was so sick. His appetite had fled from him, no thanks to Dio, and he only had a few spoonfuls of soup before he stopped trying. No, there was no way he was going to be able to eat lunch let alone dinner with all this anxiousness twisting his guts up.

Maybe he’d at least get lucky at dinner?

Chapter Text

The universe seemed to laugh in his face when this time the one to bring in Speedwagon's dinner tray was not a child, but the Baron Zeppeli himself.

The older man entered his room with his evening meal and a resigned look on his face but no biting words the second he walked in. Robert was almost expecting a scolding at this point after the chewing out Jonathan and Dio had provided for him earlier in the day. His throat hurt when he spoke up. “So… no yellin’ at me, huh?”

It was… strange. While Speedwagon was constantly trying to get a word in edgewise he couldn’t help but feel like he certainly deserved all the harsh words. While he was all by his lonesome he himself couldn’t help but hiss about his own mistake. The two boys from earlier had really driven it home, he was an idiot. Yet the issue remained, didn’t it? Erin still wasn’t readily available while he was hiding from him and he wasn’t sure if he was even steady on his feet yet...

“Ha no… I believe the boys took care of that did they not? I was merely tasked with delivering this to you,” the Baron said as lightly as he could. That certainly broke Robert from his thoughts.

Of all the people he had been travelling with Speedwagon had especially been waiting for barbed commentary on the issue from Zeppeli. He was the most outspoken member of their party… or at least he gave Dio a run for his money in sharing his opinions, whether they be positive or negative. He had no qualms with sharing his shortcomings through the course of their journey and really took every opportunity to do so. “I believe you’re doing a rather fine job of putting yourself down as well. I doubt you need my assistance for that when you’re already plagued with guilt.”

Well… the man wasn’t wrong.

On the bright side of things this was the first Robert was being allowed the chance to speak, whether that be to defend himself or at least talk through the situation. He wasn’t about to let this opportunity go to waste, nor would he drag his ass in getting the answers he sought. “How’s… Erin doing?” He asked nervously. That, of course, had been what weighed most heavily on his mind. The longer he was kept from seeing Erin the more it made him anxious. As the minutes and hours ticked by he worried about how the boy was dealing with the situation. The kid had a will of steel and a pragmatism that surprised him as well as the balls to hop into a leadership role and take charge when the rest of their little group wasn't up to the task. But he was also… sensitive and quick to doubt his own place in their set up as evidenced by his reasoning in wanting to learn to fight.

He couldn’t help but agonize about how being called a burden was probably something that easily cut the boy to the quick. His nasty words had a habit of being efficient, that’s not something Robert was necessarily proud of...

“...Are you sure you wish to know?” Baron Zeppeli’s voice was tinged with gravity and a sensitivity he hadn’t heard from the older gent before now. The look in his eyes, on the other hand spoke volumes. He wouldn’t like what he would hear if he pressed. But… he had to know.

He needed to know.

Robert nodded. “Y-Yeah. I do….”

“Hm, well,” William began, holding his chin as he recalled the events of the day, “Your brother has been trying his best today. He made a beeline for the restroom following his return to the dining quarters for breakfast yesterday morning… and I’m afraid that no matter how much he attempted to mask the sounds of his tears with a running faucet, it didn’t work too well.”

“Fuck,” Robert muttered, sucking on his front teeth. That hit him like a punch to the gut. He had never intended for any of that. He should have expected it though, what with the way he’d made a total horse’s ass of himself.

Zeppeli pulled at the brim of his hat and nodded soberly. “Well, to the untrained ear I suppose it would have gone off without a hitch… but Dio seemed to have picked up on it during the walk back to our rooms. The boy picked up his pace and, surprisingly, within earshot of Jonathan told him what he’d heard. Of course, Jojo immediately was on edge… he went to go see if Erin was feeling alright and though he offered us loud assurances, we all knew better.”

Every word was a bit of a twist of a knife for Robert, but… he deserved it didn’t he? It was no wonder why Jonathan and even Dio went for his throat. He was an idiot. The Baron’s words only seemed to validate the idea that he should feel like an asshole and certainly he did.

“When Erin emerged from the bathroom, I think he realized there was no point in hiding it and proceeded to explain what transpired between you two. Yet even then he urged us all not to be angry with your choice of words. He tried to say that he overstepped boundaries, that he had gotten a bit too comfortable with where he stood beside you…,” Zeppeli looked at Robert with a piercing gaze. “As you’re so fond of saying, I believe that’s a bit of ‘bullshit’, don’t you? He did no such thing, he was merely attempting damage control. We all agreed to not hold it against you but well, twelve year olds lack the maturity not to be cross at something like that.”

Robert snorted mirthlessly. “You don’t say.” To hear Zeppeli say ‘bullshit’ was definitely an oddity within itself, but Speedwagon knew that he was right at least. To know that Erin was attempting to defend him after everything he’d done left his stomach twisting tightly in knots. He didn’t really blame Jonathan and even Dio for being so angry at him for his huge blunder especially after Erin’s reaction.

He didn’t think he deserved such kindness from him at the moment. So in turn, the boys it seemed were angry on his behalf. Well, at least he could trust those two to stand up for Erin if need be...

“I understand that this is a subject that is sensitive to you--” This time it was Robert’s turn to cut someone off and he effectively shut the Baron down with his scratchy voice. “As if you’d know anything at all about something like that.”

William Anthonio Zeppeli, from what he had heard through the grapevine, was a man who never wanted for food, money or education his entire life. He came from an entirely different world than the one that breathed life into Robert E.O. Speedwagon. All he’d ever known was comfort and security before this whole mask business, not the rot, slime and muck of the slums where he’d matured. Rome was a city of glinting marble and possibility, Ogre Street was a town of musty stone and stagnation. Robert didn’t need a stone mask to show him the horrors human beings could bring on other human beings. Hell, he wasn’t even sure if Zeppeli even qualified for that considering those who used the mask ceased to be humans by nature. Nah, the Baron was some sort of warrior in a battle between primordial forces of good and evil, Speedwagon was just privy to the dog eat dog world reality of the common folk .

The Baron sighed. “That may be, I will never know what that is like. However, I am a man certainly capable of expressing empathy. I know objectively that this can’t be easy, Robert.” There was a quiet that descended between them. William waiting for Robert to say something while Robert fought with himself not to. Eventually, the older man, tired of waiting for him to own up to this, cut the tension and continued. “You’ve done a lot for Erin, correct? How about you let him return the favor for once?”

Silence stretched further just out of pure spite on Speedwagon’s end. The man was speaking sense for once and Robert kind of hated it. “This is something that can only better you along the way… in ways your past could have possibly never imagined for you. Prove the naysayers wrong, starting with yourself ,” the man insisted again as not a word was uttered by the teenager once more.

“How do I get past all of that horrible shit I said though? Why would Erin even wanna talk to me after all that? I can’t rightly fuckin’ move and say something right now…” He trailed off and looked down at his hands. “Not to mention the things I said were meant to hit where it hurt so he’d back off. I said… alotta shit I didn’t mean. He’s never been a burden on me…”

Zeppeli shook his head. “You apologize. Proper. It’s been a long day for both of you. When morning comes around, do your part to make things right.” The way Baron Zeppeli said those words so confidently, parsing out advice as if it was second nature, Robert felt the odd feeling he experienced all the way back in a New York hospital. Something about this felt paternal, but in a different way from George Joestar. Rougher around the edges, but with the best intentions. He kind of hated this too but at least he could respect the frank manner in which he was spoken to.

“Geez, what are you doin’ practicing your shitty fatherly speeches for the future?” He asked, trying to shake the feeling that genuine advice had instilled in him.

Something about that changed Zeppeli in the moment, like Speedwagon had hit on something beyond the supernatural warrior front he put up. His gaze became wistful and almost… sad? “Ha, I suppose so. I could use the practice,” he replied. After that moment, his face returned to normal and he left the tray at Robert’s side. That was… an odd thing for him to say. “Don’t forget what I said,” he reminded before slipping soundlessly out of the room, leaving Speedwagon alone with his thoughts and wondering what the fuck that was all about.


Erina still wasn’t ready to speak to Robert. She had hoped that the sting would lessen after a day, but really the feelings that plagued her mind only seemed to fester and effect her more and more with every passing day. Robbie calling her a burden had bounced and echoed in her head all morning and well into the evening… it made her want to cry. At least she had gotten better at reining it in. No use for tears now, those feelings would only validate the moniker of burden she had been bestowed.

Rationally, she knew he was right. She had relied on him since he found her clueless on the boat dock, trying to find a way to America to follow her friends. You know, like a complete idiot. Now he was tasked with teaching her things and she had to go on and bring up something so sensitive like his illiteracy? There was no doubt about it… he was finally speaking about how he really felt.

She should have anticipated these feelings coming from Robert but she had gotten swept up in the idea of a ‘brother’. As an only child who was so alone so often she sometimes craved that, a sibling who was older to guide her and help her traverse the dangerous pitfalls of life. But he wasn’t really her brother, hell he didn’t even know she was a girl. She shouldn’t have expected so much from him, nor should she have expected his continued support.

But right now? They couldn’t afford a rift between them like this. Dio and Jonathan needed Robert’s assistance with taking them to Mexico and she wasn’t about to be the reason that their trip failed. Erina may be a burden to Robert E.O. Speedwagon but she would not be one for either of the boys she now saw as… friends. She would refrain from making any other waves. Yet, when she saw Jonathan and Dio both return from giving Robert his meals she worried that they hadn’t listened to her and failed to keep their responses to him neutral. Didn’t they know by now that they needed him?

Morning had come and she woke far too early for her liking. Unable to go back to sleep, Erina instead opted to check on breakfast for her brother-- no , Speedwagon. That line of thinking was pointless now. Maybe she could bring his breakfast up and leave it for him before he woke?

It took no time to retrieve the awaiting tray, a cooling bowl of oatmeal from the kitchen, and so she tried her best to make it back so the food would remain warm and he, in turn, would still be asleep upon her arrival. As she rounded the corner to the hall where Baron Zeppeli and Robert’s room was located, she immediately stopped dead in her tracks.

“H-Hey… you’re awake already?”

Robert’s raspy voice filled the corridor as he stood hugging his middle and stooped over against the doorframe. He looked quite rough in appearance already but seeing him tremble with chill made it worse.

“O-OH DEAR! ROBERT! What are you doing?!” She cried out, rushing to his side immediately. He wobbled on his feet as he turned his pale face to her.

“E..Erin. Holy shit , I’ve had some-- some things to say but… y-ya haven’t been showing up-- n-not that I can really blame you. S-So I tried to get my ass to you...” He paused and took a wheezing breath, offering her his best serious expression. In reality, his effectiveness was for naught… he just looked bad . “But, I need to tell you I’m-- I’m a lying asshole. I… I said you were a burden but really I just wanted t’hurt you because I-- I felt real fuckin’ stupid and I didn’t wanna be the only one upset…”

As he spoke, Erina supported his weakened form the best she could, with his breakfast tray perched precariously in one hand. He was obviously unsteady on his feet from lack of proper use and it didn’t help much this his lungs were still far from being at full strength after his bout of pneumonia and the recovery thereafter. “R-ROBBIE, YOU IDIOT! C-Come on just-- you can keep talking but can we please get you under the covers? You’re shaking like a leaf, you need to stay warm!”

Robert laughed tiredly. “S-Sorry but you need to hear this…”

“Tell me under the blankets then!”

“Fine, I’m goin’, I’m goin’... don’t worry,” he replied with an easiness that shouldn’t be possessed by a man still recuperating from a near death experience, but that was Robert for you. “Let me walk and talk then, a’right? Y-You’re my little brother and I’m an asshole and… I want you to teach me. Gonna try stoppin’ my knee-jerk reaction to potential attacks on my shitty intelligence…”

“You’re not stupid at all,” Erina said softly as they shuffled carefully through his room. “You’re extremely intelligent, you have so much to share too! I figured through teaching you to read and write you could broaden your horizons. You're capable of so much Robbie...” Her earnestness was obvious as she helped him down into his sickbed. She respected him both as a mentor and her older brother.

As Robert was eased back in, Erina nearly jumped as Robert’s hands landed heavily on her shoulders and his gaze firmly set. “I’m really, really sorry.... callin’ you a burden to me or anyone else was beyond out of line and fuckin’ stupid. Without you happenin’ onto that steamer, I guarantee none of this would have ever happened. I wouldn’t be here helping out. Th-Those boys? I’m pretty sure they’d be fuckin’ dead by Hamon if you weren’t around… or at least Dio would be.”

The young girl felt tears burning at the corners of her eyes as she looked at him. Robert was pale and feeble, but his eyes were shining with equal parts remorse and admiration. He really… thought that of her? She was worthy of that kind of admiration? Erina almost couldn’t believe it. She sniffed, trying to mask her tears by hugging him quickly but she couldn’t help but linger for a minute. “I’ll forgive you if you sit and eat your breakfast and don’t strain yourself for the rest of the day.”

“Ha… well that’s a tall order but I-I think I can manage…” He gave her a weak smile before she ruffled his messy hair, knuckles digging into his scalp in the manner he often did to her. Only this time it was a little gentler. He was sick after all. “O-Oi, I’m the big brother you can’t do that!”

“But I just did… now c’mon, eat.”

A smile tugged at her lips as he grumbled and reached for a spoon, digging into the oatmeal once Erina placed it in front of him. “Y’think…” he began with a mouthful of oats, “that we can start that lesson now? No offense but this food ain’t anything to write home about...”

“That’s because it’s oatmeal, you goon,” she replied with a laugh. “You shouldn’t talk with your mouth full either!”

“Bah… right after I finish then? This isn’t great but food’s food I suppose...” He asked hopefully after swallowing a huge spoonful.

A bigger smile blossomed across Erina’s face.

“I don’t see why not.”

Chapter Text

- Early December, 1880 -

 

Winter had not been a gentle affair. From the first blizzard in November and onward, snow made it impossible to venture a great distance outside of town. Every time they thought they might be able to make haste, another gathering of clouds hung low in the skies. It was never the intensity of the first storm but these mild snows still contributed their continued stay in Shermerville.

Erina couldn’t say that this was much of an issue for her. Their time spent inside surrounded by snowfall felt rather cozy and they made for even better days for lessons. Her eyes fell on Robert as he recited the simple lines from a grammar book plucked from the hotel’s library. She would help him along if he became stuck sounding out the words in the short sentences but he was smart and a quick study. A few weeks had already made quite the difference.

His writing however… well, that was a different story altogether. She had watched before as Robert struggled to hold his pen in his right hand. He once again made an awkward claw like maneuver, something she had remembered seeing back when they were in New York, and tried to write that way. He had gone through multiple writing utensils, breaking many in his hands, until something finally clicked in her mind…

“Are you… perhaps left handed?” she had asked bewildered, startling the teenager in the process.

He provided her with an answering scowl. “What? You gonna hit me with a switch for usin’ the devil’s hand to write with or somethin’?”

Such a question delivered with blatant irritation had taken her aback. She was well aware that writing with one’s left hand was seen as less than ideal within society. Many people had even been forced to write with their right regardless of what felt comfortable to them. Erina had a hunch that something of that sort had transpired years before with Robert.

“No,” she finally replied. “You should use that hand to write with, it will be more comfortable for you, right?” She gestured to his hands and he looked at each appendage and back up to her with an expression of sincere bewilderment and almost an unspoken request.

Could he?

She answered with a nod and a nudge of his left hand just to see the fingers fall into place on the pen. His grip was awkward but natural and she smiled at him. “See? How does that feel?”

The grin he turned to her was full of heartfelt relief. “I think I can manage…”

The whole experience of helping Robert was not without its difficulties yet extremely rewarding. It pleased her to see his skills in reading and writing improve everyday and she wondered if this was how Robbie often felt to see her getting better at the various things he taught her…

“Augh, I can’t read another DAMN PAGE OR MY EYES’LL FALL OUT… OR SOMETHIN’ EVEN WORSE THAN THAT.” The dramatic declaration broke the placidity of Robert’s room and Erina tried her best to repress her snicker. The subsequent roll of her eyes wasn’t something she even attempted to hide. In that moment his dramatics rivaled that of Dio.

They had been reading since the early morning and she supposed they had logged in enough hours. Not nearly enough to warrant such a reaction but she supposed she’d let it pass just this once. It was pleasing at least to watch Robert jump up from bed. He was much more spritely now that he had been recovering exceptionally well for the past month. No doubt the Hamon he was constantly exposed to did wonders for his condition…

“Alright, alright, class dismissed,” she said indulgently.

“It’s been a while, I’m going to head off to the kitchens. Maybe I’ll be able to swipe somethin’ when no one's lookin'. What d’you think, Erin?”

He winked at her, like he’d just let her in on a little secret. He often thought that declaring even the most minor criminal act was getting her in on the action and it was both endearing and ridiculous. “You know,” she spoke, a wry tone evident in her voice. “All you have to do is ask the staff. They’re very nice and they would be absolutely happy to accommodate you.”

“Bah, I suppose. You never want to do things the fun way…”

His pout was absolutely comical. It was something more akin to Dio’s moodiness than anything Robert could usually muster. He was spending far too much time around the vampire than was probably good for him. But really… the same could be said for all of them. Instead of dwelling on that she shooed him away. “Go, go, you need to eat something anyway! Keep up your strength!” She called after him as he skipped on out of the room.

After straightening up the aftermath of their lesson, Erina decided to look around for Jonathan and Dio. No doubt the two of them would be up to something fun. While the quiet seclusion of Robert’s room had proved perfect for their studies, as the snow stopped falling in the late morning Erina felt herself growing slightly restless. Perhaps they could figure out something they could all do together?

As she suspected they were in their shared room. Dio was nose deep in a book while Jonathan busied himself putting on his outerwear. “Come on Dio, you shouldn’t be such a wet blanket!” Jonathan called out, his voice almost petulant. “You should come out and enjoy the snow with me! The clouds are so thick there’s no way a single ray of sunlight is going to emerge. Not to mention, you can take your parasol along for the ride!”

Dio’s tone was flat and disinterested. “Do I look like the type of boy who cavorts in snow? Erina, make him see sense.”

Jojo blinked in surprise at the mention of her name and waved when he saw her. “Erina! There you are! Tell him he’s wrong. He’s certainly the type to cavort in snow… you should come with me outside too, the snow seems perfect for enjoying ourselves!”

The young girl fixed her eyes on Dio and laughed lightly. “You spent far too much time out there the past few months to deny at least an affinity for walking through the snow. Why not just humor us and come out too? You might have fun…”

Dio glanced between them and sighed. He closed his book and fixed Jonathan with an irritated glare. “If I go out and then subsequently decide that the snow is distasteful, will you let me be?”

“Only if you’re out there long enough to draw an educated opinion,” Jojo replied easily. “I think that’s fair don’t you, Erina?”

“Oh absolutely,” Erina nodded. “I believe that he really has to experience the snow for quite some time before he is able to reach such a conclusion.”

“Tch, you two are insufferable and you enable each other to be that way .”

“But are you coming outside or what?”

Dio sighed, closing his book and leaving it at his side. He looked extremely inconvenienced but that look on his face was brilliant regardless. Erina shrugged on her coat and scarf as Dio did the same. He didn’t necessarily need one but he favored wearing a large, long scarf of a plush purple knit. Even with his recently acquired height the fabric fluttered behind him making quite the statement.

“One of the people on staff here was kind enough to let me use a sled they’d had lying around! It looks like it should be big enough for the three of us so I figured we’d give it a go!” Jonathan declared delightedly pulling on a pair of mittens with gusto.

Erina couldn’t help but feel herself getting excited at the very idea too. “You know, I’ve never been sledding…” she began just to be cut off by Jonathan, his eyes sparkling half in delight and half in disbelief. “Y-You truly haven’t?! Oh this will be wonderful then!”

Dio snorted. “I haven’t either Jojo, stop acting like your experiences are universal.”

Jonathan stared at them, mouth agape in shock. He hardly waited until they were done shrugging on the rest of their warm clothes before he grabbed their hands and pulled them outside. Erina’s hair flew in streams behind her from Jonathan’s momentum and the subsequent frosty winds outside, mirroring Dio’s scarf flapping in their wake. The chill of the cold temperatures stung at her nose and cheeks and she could already feel the skin there turning a bright pink.

As they stumbled together in the drifts outside the hotel, Jonathan finally retrieved a contraption of wood and metal from the side of the building grinning madly in amusement. “This… my dear friends… is a sled!” He declared, holding up the large object before setting it on the snow and grabbing a string at it’s front.

“I’m not an imbecile Jojo, I know what a sled looks like,” Dio replied acerbically, crossing his arms in front of his chest. Erina could tell that he was already dealing with ruffled feathers after being pulled by Jonathan for so long. “I happen to know what it is too,” she added, a little more gently and sympathetically. He was just enthusiastic and she wasn’t going to be angry at him for that.

To the older boy’s credit, he was hardly bothered. Instead, he waved for them to follow him. “Never you mind that then, follow me up this hill! It’ll be perfect!” He took off from there, lumbering up a large hill to the left of the hotel with a surprising amount of speed. It was difficult for Erina to keep up as the snow drifts hardly hindered Jojo and Dio himself maneuvered through them with grace and speed.

Once they reached the top, sled trailing behind Jonathan before he arrived at a full stop, there was the problem of figuring out their arrangement. “Alright! Erina’s the slightest of us so it’d be best for her to sit up front…”

She looked at Jonathan sidelong for a moment, shifting her weight from boot to boot. “Won’t that be a little… scary?” she asked finally, wringing her hands in front of her. The brunet shook his head, a wide grin present on his face. “No way, you’re going to have so much fun!”

“Dio, you’re pretty skinny so you might do better in the middle and I can bring up the back because I’m the veteran among us!” He nodded brightly.

Upon hearing his idea, Dio sneered. “Because I’m skinny ? Haven’t you noticed that I have grown in the past few months, Jojo? Right now I’m currently towering over you~”

Erina let out a choked laugh. “Towering ?”

“Hush, viper. I’m taller than the both of you.” He pinned his sharp eyes on her before continuing. “Regardless, that seems like a misstep in judgement. Do you not agree?”

“I’m the one with the most sledding experience though, aren’t I?” Jonathan asked, a lilt of smugness in his voice. “You should really listen to me.”

Dio placed his hands on his hips, no doubt itching to square up for a verbal fight. Obviously Erina had to step in. “Hm, perhaps we should listen to him just this once! He is the only one of us who has ever sledded before…”

“Tch, as always. Taking his side over mine.”

“Well, if he is wrong you can always rub his nose in it later, right? At least give him the chance to succeed or fail before you fight him on his ideas,” Erina reasoned, earning her a “Hey!” in protest from Jonathan.

Dio, on the other hand, oozed vindictive energy as he sent a toothy grin in her direction. Uh oh. He was much too happy about her choice of words… something to keep in mind for the future? “What a lovely idea, Erina~ Perhaps I’ve underestimated your wit as well as your loyalties.”

Scoffing slightly, Erina mounted the sled. “Think whatever you’d like Dio, but come on now. We have no time to waste, right?”

“Right you are!” Jonathan declared, obviously a little desperate to change the subject as he nudged Dio onto the sled. “Let’s go then!” Erina ignored the indignant protests of the blond boy behind her as she felt their weight settle down on the wood. Dio’s legs were gangly and folded on either side of her, a definite sign of his recent growth spurts. It was hard for the three of them to fit, already a tangle of limbs and extra layers, but they managed it barely.

“Alright, help me push!” Jonathan called. “On the count of 3… 2… 1!” He shouted before the three of them helped launch the sled forward and Erina felt the wind blasting against her face as they picked up momentum and speed. It was exhilarating and delightful. Her stomach practically rose into her throat… but you know, in a strangely satisfying way.

She shrieked with delight as they flew down the hill and she could faintly register Dio yelling behind her before suddenly… his legs were gone. In a moment of concern, she turned just to find Dio face down in the snow a few feet behind her, his legs sticking out of the drifts like odd stems. Further behind him she took notice Jojo at the top of the hill, covered in a thick coating of white flakes. He was waving his hands above his head in apparent alarm.

It took her a moment before she heard his voice carrying on the wind.

LOOK OUT!

When she turned back to see in front of her, Erina managed to catch sight of the huge snowbank for a split second before the sled slammed directly into it. She pitched forward over the front landing in a heap in the cold pile of snow. The landing practically knocked the wind out of her and she had rolled forward a few times before coming to a halt. Snow had collected in her hair and on all of her clothes, cocooning her in a blanket of frost. For a moment, the only thing she registered was that she was on her back and staring at the grey sky above her…

And then Jonathan arrived. His face was red from both exertion and the temperature and he held out his hands to pull her up. She blinked at him and at the snow-covered Dio who lurked behind him, obviously ready to tear into his idea of how they should ride. “O-Oh dear, Erina I’m so sorry, are-- are you alright? I--”

“That was FANTASTIC !” Erina exclaimed, cutting him off before he could ramble more apologies. “Thank you for letting me sit up front! That was absolutely amazing! Like the rolling carts we rode down the slides back home!” As Jonathan preened from her praise, murmuring that she could ride up front on the sled any time, Dio frowned. Luckily she was too thrilled to care.

“Well then, we can ride again!” He called grabbing at the string and beginning to tug the sled up once more. Dio on the other hand turned around. “If these are the childish games you will be playing,” he began, “I want no part in them.”

“Oh come now, Dio,” Erina started, trying to urge him to stay. “You can sit up front next, I promise!”

Her words did nothing to sway him as he started on his way back toward the hotel. Erina was content to let him go and keep to himself, but then she saw it. It was such a bad idea but oh, she couldn’t wait to see how it would play out. Dio didn’t seem to realize that Jonathan’s footfalls were not crunching away from him but instead closer and closer.

Dio, quite plainly, was caught off guard when Jonathan dumped an armful of snow right down his back.

The reaction was instantaneous. “WRYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY !” he shrieked in horrified shock, leaning backwards with his hands curled into claws. Erina was frozen to the spot and even Jonathan stood stock still looking wide eyed at Dio before his gaze flit nervously to her.

His expression seemed to ask “what on earth was that?” in so few words and Erina found that she had no answers for him in her returning look. When Dio turned, his shoulders still hunched and the look in his eyes murderous she knew she had to distract him. Dio was far too close to Jonathan and he would never make it.

“H-Hey Dio!” She called out, packing a hasty snowball into her fist. Without a second thought she chucked it at him. She didn’t quite possess the muscle or the supernatural strength of either of her companions and she knew once she tossed it that the snowball wouldn’t quite reach the target, but that wasn’t the purpose behind her abrupt throw. If Jojo began to run now, then it would all be worth it in the end. She would have bought him a few seconds to flee.

Yet… the snowball did no such thing. As a gust of wind blew through the snow covered landscape, it seemed to pick the snowball up another few feet. Thus, her dud of a throw didn’t end in a ridiculous, anticlimactic toss but instead it hit Dio. Square between the eyes.

Erina had no idea wind could do that nor did she realize that Dio could freeze snow into shards of ice. But there he was, doing just that as he wiped the remnants of the snowball off his face. She felt her stomach drop to the frozen ground below her. Oh, she was so dead.

“RUN ERINA!” Jonathan called and suddenly the three of them were a flurry of movement. Jonathan and Erina took off in opposite directions, scattering like winter winds. While Dio called out another battle cry of “WRYYYYYY!” accompanied by a declaration of “I’LL KILL YOU!”

That was certainly enough to get the two of them hustling. The cold air made Erina’s lungs burn and her legs screamed in protest as she tried desperately to run through the feet of snow that consistently blocked her path. She heard a strangled cry behind her and foolishly turned, only to watch as Jonathan was pelted with a barrage of snowballs. The brunet fell into the snow face first, practically buried in the frozen artillery launched his way.

Oh, she had to get out of here immediately.

Erina picked up the pace, trying her hardest and hoping that it would take Dio quite a while to clear the distance between them. She was almost lulled into a false sense of security until a hailstorm of snowballs rained down on her from behind. She pitched forward and let out a rather unladylike cry of “shit!” yet the snowballs did not stop pelting her. Not until she was just as buried as Jonathan was.

Erina’s hand emerged from the pile of snow a few minutes after the bombardment ended. “I surrender!” she called lamely before letting her arm fall limply into the snow.


William had watched as the trio of troublemakers ran out into the snow together and really, it was about damn time. The children had been cooped up indoors so long, the best course of action was to have them expel as much energy as possible. Jonathan didn’t do as well stuck inside the hotel, but he was doing his part to make the most of it. Honestly, he had never seen a child read as voraciously as he played. The young Joestar was truly someone to behold.

The young ones being away for a while presented the perfect opportunity. He could catch up on his correspondence in peace. There were a few letters from Tibet that needed immediate attention, but his eyes instead drifted off to one in particular that was sent from Rome, addressed to him in that elegant looping hand he missed so dearly.

This letter deserved a generous amount of thought and care, considering the way he had left things at home. It was important for him to get the wording just right and to properly convey his feelings to the recipient… it was the least he could do after everything. And so, he took to pacing. He always thought best while his body was just as active as his mind.

As the older gentleman walked the length of the hotel hallway however, he paused. A slight figure emerged down the carpeted corridor, soaked from head to toe yet holding themselves together as if nothing at all bothered them. Ah, of course, it was Dio. A source of many complicated feelings. Yet, something in particular stood out.

“Where are Jojo and Erin?” He inquired, adjusting the checkered hat atop his head.

The boy didn’t hesitate or pause, instead pushing past him. “Where I buried them,” he muttered sharply before disappearing into his hotel room.

That phrasing immediately raised red flags. Buried them?! Had he killed them? Normally, that line of thinking would be ridiculous for one of that age but when a child is armed to the teeth, literally, with supernatural gifts and a lust for blood? One was inclined to have their minds jump to danger.

Without a moment’s hesitation, William took off down the hall. His lips twitched anxiously beneath his mustache and he flexed his fingers nervously. Oh please, let them be alright. He couldn’t bear to see anyone else hurt…

As he turned a corner in the corridor he collided with two soaking wet individuals, watching as they staggered back only to find that the small, trembling strangers were in fact Jonathan and Erin. Very much alive. He let out a breath he had no idea he was holding and instead looked at the two of them in surprise.

“Jojo? Erin? What-- What happened to you two?!”

Jonathan sniffled, rubbing a thin trail of snot from his nose before looking right at him. “We, um m-may have picked a fight with Dio that we couldn’t win…”

“W-We got some good hits in though,” Erin supplied confidently while still managing to sound a little pathetic with the tremor in his voice. Oh. That’s what Dio was implying. One side of William felt silly, thinking that of course this child wouldn’t kill his playmates. The other side of him, the side of the Hamon warrior, reminded him that he was well founded in his worries. There was certainly a risk that Dio could lose control and do just that. For now however, this was a topic best left on the back burner and the older man pushed the children in the direction of their rooms.

“You’ve lost the battle but perhaps you can win the war~ Nevertheless, to do that you must be warm and well. Go to your room and get out of those wet things so that you may fight another day,” he urged. The boys didn’t seem to need to be told twice as they staggered back to their hotel room, the both of them hugging themselves around the middle and shivering.

Poor bambinos, they should be right as rain soon he certainly hoped.

And yet… as the day came and went, the next morning only brought illness. Ah yes, the next thing this adventuring party needed. More sick working its way through their ranks. Luckily, as the awkward Doctor Tull seemed to work out, the two appeared to be facing simple head colds and with plenty of bedrest and fluids they would be right as rain.

That is how William found himself standing in the hotel kitchens hoping that the staff could keep some servings of the soup of the day on hand for his young patients in the other room. As many of those who worked at the hotel were, the kitchen staff was incredibly kind and graciously provided him with portions for them. He left the bowls and accompanying bread on the trays to turn and give them his thanks only to return to find them gone.

How… bizarre. This had never happened before. Food thieves were not usual here and he hadn’t heard of anything about such a thing before. Despite this, even as he craned his neck, he couldn’t seem to find any evidence of a clumsy thief. He did the only thing he could do, retrieved two more servings and made his way upstairs.

He had two patients to make sure were eating first and foremost. He could dwell on the mystery later.

As William made his way through the halls, the trays of soup perched expertly on the palms of his hands, it was hardly an effort. His balance was impeccable and the only reason he didn’t bother leaping through the long rooms was due to not wanting to make anyone uneasy. He happened to have a very peculiar look to him, some would even say bizarre. He’d rather not cause any undue attention…

That being said, as he approached the children’s room he couldn’t help but pause at the door. A tall man, holding food peeking into one of the rooms? That would certainly cause a myriad of attention but he simply couldn’t keep himself from doing so.

Inside he caught Dio standing before Jonathan and Erin, arms crossed as he watched them looking over their trays of lunch with delight.

“Hmph, don’t look too pleased. I assure you, this was an absolute inconvenience for the likes of me. Yet, the Baron simply insisted I take this food up to you.” He drawled with (put on) irritation. “You’d best appreciate the blood, sweat and tears it took to deliver these items to you. Also you shouldn’t get so used to such treatment. I refuse to entertain the old man for long.”

“Well thank you, Dio. Both for the food and the blood, sweat and tears,” Erin answered wryly, even with a stuffy nose his sarcasm and delight was evident in his tone.

Jonathan nodded, his brown hair matted with sweat flopping against his forehead. “Indeed, we appreciate all your efforts. Thank you~” William could see in the boy’s profile how sunny his smile was indeed.

Dio didn’t seem to acknowledge their words of gratitude as the sound of spoons clinking against bowls filled the room. “Hm… hey Dio, what was that noise you made outside earlier?” Erin’s voice rang out after a moment, curiosity blatant in his tone.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Ah, right!” Jonathan chimed in, stuffing his face with a spoonful of soup and swallowing hard before continuing. “Yes, you said something that sounded… you know… like ‘ reeeeeeeeeeee ’ it was very strange…”

“Tch, I haven’t a clue about whatever  you’re referring to,” Dio replied with an imperious sniff and instead sat down in a chair at their bedside, effectively ending that line of questioning. “Now tell me, which book do you wish for me to read?”

The other muttered something about swearing he said such a thing before deciding to pick their battles and pursue this at a later date. As the two shifted gears they began to call out out titles, Dio picked the opposite of their choices, of course, and began to read to them in a smug tone. William couldn’t help but smile to himself as he brought the two trays of food instead to his room. Perhaps he would misplace a few more trays tomorrow. He wouldn’t point it out to the vampire, he knew that would only cease this behavior when it was quite refreshing.

“Oi, the hell is that smell?” Robert called out, shoving aside a stack of papers he was covering in repeating crude letters with his fountain pen.

William sighed and shook his head. “Lunch. Are you hungry?”

“Are you kidding me?! I’m practically a starving waif over here! Look at me! Erin’s really puttin’ my feet to the fire he is…”

“Just cease the dramatics and eat.”

Chapter Text

- Christmas Day, 1880 -

 

This was the first Christmas Morning Jonathan had spent anywhere other than the Joestar estate. It was strange not to be home, seeing the big sprawling halls of his ancestral home covered in garland of all types, for there not to be a gigantic tree in the foyer that he would help decorate with the servants. Granted, there was a tree. An impressive pine cut from the woods on the edge of Shermerville.

He had no part in decorating it but Jonathan, Erina and Dio had all spent some time in the evening gathered around the tree in the hotel’s lobby They spoke softly and enjoyed the soft glow of the lights around the big feature and Jojo didn’t feel as if he was missing out in those moments. He missed his father terribly of course, but with his friends he was… happy.

He was excited to practice another Christmas tradition as well. Jonathan had spent quite a bit of time holed up in their room attempting to wrap up the gifts he, Dio and Erina had all worked hard on for each other and for the Baron and Robert as well as the ones he had created for them.

The gift giving pool was admittedly limited. They were quite bound to this location and getting out to shop for the perfect gift was difficult with the increase in awful weather yet again. Their outing with the sled hadn’t been the only one, Dio had joined him and Erina for attempts at making snowmen and another failed go at sledding much later. However, while the two were holed up with severe head colds they were stuck inside.

For some time the two were content to listen to Dio reading to them in his lilting voice but there were only so many chances they could even bother him to do that. Eventually, Erina ended up starting a masterclass on embroidery which the boys took to with surprising ease. Jonathan’s stitches were a bit clumsy but he was very good at outlining patterns and designs once Erina showed him how to do so. He had no patience for actually stitching in the detail which was a skill Dio unsurprisingly possessed in spades.

Between the three of them two beautiful handkerchiefs, imperfect in construction but a lovely finished product, were completed as gifts for their two older party members. Zeppeli’s was edged in a rainbow of candy cane stripes, something Dio and Jonathan had alternated work on together. Erina took the liberty of stitching his name in the corner in magnificent script with a little bow tie embroidered underneath. Speedwagon’s received the same treatment except with a checkerboard design instead, and a stitched brown wagon wheel beneath his name. No doubt a tongue-in-cheek reference to their “shared” surname.

His own gifts to Erina and Dio had been a bit of a heavily guarded secret. Jonathan had made friends with one of the bellhops at the hotel, a young man who enjoyed carpentry as a hobby. After a few days of helping him carry and sort luggage to and fro, Jojo was rewarded with three small boxes made of oak planks. The bellhop had referred to them as cigar boxes but to Jonathan they would make lovely trinket boxes.

He was lucky that Zeppeli managed to acquire paints for him because he had only packed his charcoals and pastels. While never being musically inclined or particularly good with the written word, Jonathan was always very good at drawing. Often times he created diagrams and illustrations depicting different  plants or animals he might’ve come across. He also drew the stone mask from his foyer quite a few times as well before everything changed.

With his paints, Jonathan decorated the boxes with things that made him think of his two companions. Scenes of bright spring days on Erina’s, the only person he’d ever known to make him feel like it was May in the middle of winter, while Dio’s was reminiscent of the dark night and shadows which so embraced him. He was rather proud of them, his own was painted like a night sky and covered in constellations and strange bolts of lightning when he got around to it.

For an hour, he fought with brown paper trying to wrap them as expertly as possible. Admittedly he was awful at it. The final result was a little lopsided and sloppy, both tied up in a messy bow. Even with the ugly wrapping he almost couldn’t wait for the two of them to open their gifts.

As the rest of their adventuring party awoke, Robert and Zeppeli joined them in their room with only the Baron holding packages in his arms. Speedwagon trailed sleepily behind him instead with the most ridiculous bedhead Jonathan had ever seen. Instead, clutched in between his ink stained fingers were slips of paper that he couldn’t help but wonder about. Were those part of his gift?

The only one who was the least bit tired was Robert. By comparison everyone else seemed to be wide awake. Even Zeppeli, sipping at a cup of coffee perched daintily between his fingertips, seemed to be smiling conspiratorially at all three children. Dio’s lip curled in disgust the second the look was sent his way.

“Can we get on with this? I have quite the busy schedule today,” Dio announced with a flourish causing a slew of eye rolling around the room.

“Shaddup ‘n enjoy the mornin’...” Robert mumbled, rubbing at his eyes. The vampire scoffed but joined the group cross legged on the floor.

There was a bit of a quiet moment before Jonathan simply couldn’t help himself. “C-Come on now! Let’s exchange these gifts already!” He practically shouted with excitement, scaring Robert out of his exhaustion and prompting the others begin their exchange. Small packages were passed between the five of them. Most notable however, was the slip of paper shuffled to each person from Robert. Each one with ‘I.O.U.’ scrawled on it in thick black ink.

“‘M working on a gift for you but it’s takin’ me a bit longer than I’d have liked to get them in time. They’re coming though... so just you wait,” he mumbled with a nod.

Dio sneered. “Are you sure of that? Or is this just an excuse for showing off your new skillset, hm?”

“Dio!” Erina admonished, hands on her hips already. “He says he has gifts for us coming and I don’t doubt it one bit! You shouldn’t doubt him either.”

Jonathan barely heard Dio mumble something about Erina being too soft on Speedwagon, but he didn’t bother listening beyond that. Soon enough it didn’t matter as Zeppeli and Speedwagon both opened their little pouches and marveled at their new handkerchiefs. Robert let out a near pathetic sob, hugging the three of them and Baron Zeppeli actually grinned, thanking the trio for their generosity. Even Dio. He was delighted that things had gone over so well and judging by the way Erina glowed and Dio preened, the other two were just as content as him.

After that Zeppeli pushed three rectangle-shaped packages in each of their directions and as Jonathan, Erina and Dio tore into the paper, he spoke up. “I thought you three might find this useful, all things considered… this is one bizarre journey. We may as well record it, no?” Once the brown paper was torn away, the children were left holding leather bound journals. The paper inside was thin, blank and perfect to use as a travel diary.

“Th-Thank you!” Jonathan declared, launching forward to hug the Baron who laughed good naturedly and pat him on the back. “I’m glad you like it, Jojo. I hope you fill up every page with important things…”

Erina looked down at the book and then back up at the Baron as he extricated himself from Jonathan’s arms, her voice ringing out with almost disbelief. “U-Um thank you,”  she told him slowly and almost unsure of herself. “I didn’t think you would actually… get me anything.”

Zeppeli winked and tapped at the side of his nose. “You’re part of this little adventure, aren’t you? I would be remiss to forget you.” He glanced at Dio. “The same goes for you.”

There was a tense moment where Dio said nothing before sighing and pocketing the journal. “Thank you, I suppose.”

Pleased with that response, Zeppeli then shoved a box in Robert’s direction. He couldn’t help but look pleased  with himself when Speedwagon pulled a bowler hat out of the box with a gasp. The loud exclamation of “H-HOLY SHIT! THANK YOU, WOW, LOOK AT THIS FINE BEAUTY!” obviously perturbed Dio and made the rest of them flinch, but his pure happiness at receiving a new hat outweighed the annoyance directed at him.

Then it was Jonathan, Erina and Dio’s turn to exchange gifts. Jonathan parsed out his boxes and watched as Erina pushed flat little parcels in each of their directions. Dio however, only pushed an object into Jonathan’s path. His eyebrows raised but Dio merely shrugged.

He opened that first, ripping the paper off of Dio’s mysterious gift only to find his own pocket watch in his hands. “Merry Christmas Jojo,” Dio drawled playfully, “I have finally returned your lovely little timepiece. It has served me rather decently, I must say~” Jonathan gaped, torn between being very happy about this and wondering if it was appropriate to thank someone for a gift that was definitely still his own possession.

“Th-Thank you?” Jonathan asked anyway, holding the pocket watch tightly. “I’m glad it still works at least!” He flipped it open and watched the minute hand tick away. He couldn’t help but be delighted to have it back.

“Oi, what the hell Dio?! You get Jojo a present but nothin’ for Erin?” Robert’s voice piped up angrily from beside them. Erina’s hands had already gone up in an attempt to placate him. “I-I don’t need anything!” She told him seriously but Dio rolled his eyes.

“Truly Robert, you’re going to get cross with me when I’ve regifted Jojo a borrowed watch?”

“...W-Well, when you put it that way…”

“Hm, when I put it that way indeed,” Dio said finally. Though Jonathan couldn’t help but notice the look he sent Erina’s way. It was one that appeared to promise something else, that there was indeed a gift waiting for her at a later time. He had no idea why he was being so secretive about this but perhaps…they would find out when Dio was ready to share?

“Well, um-- open mine next you two!” Erina called, a nervous smile on her face as she wrung her hands in her lap. Jonathan didn’t need to be told twice as he went to rip open the pouch with enthusiasm. Dio, approached his with more grace but both were greeted to their own special handkerchiefs. “I, um thought you two might have wanted one too… and I had ideas so…!”

Unlike Robert and Zeppeli’s, the fabric of theirs was edged in dainty patterns in purple for Jonathan and deep red for Dio. Jonathan’s scrawling pattern ended in a detailed, swirling sun while Dio’s reached a conclusion as a crescent moon with clouds. Erina had made a point to sew their initials below the big emblems, really emphasizing the personal touches to their gifts.

“E..Erin, this is-- this is gorgeous!” Jonathan declared, marveling at the work she had put into this. Even Dio agreed, nodding with a thoughtful hum. “Truly lovely, it suits me that much is for certain. Passable work. I suppose this warrants a proper thank you~”

Erina’s nose wrinkled at Dio’s backhanded praise, but still she looked relieved and happy at their words. “I was running out of time there and I was pretty burned out by the end of it, I don’t know if I’ll want to sew for a while but I’m glad you two love it!”

“Love is a bit of a stretch…” Dio began but Jonathan cut him off. “O-Of course we do! Thank you so much for giving me such a beautiful gift! Please, um… open mine too!”

Jonathan couldn’t help his excitement as he watched them open his crudely wrapped gifts, even ignoring Dio’s comments about the wrapping because of his anticipation. Finally, Erina’s fingers found purchase on wood painted in soft blues while Dio’s reached dark red and he gauged their reactions... Erina’s bright smile and big tearful eyes compared to Dio’s sharp eyes but fond smirk. Complete polar opposites, but enough to leave butterflies fluttering merrily in his tummy.

“Hmph, I suppose your artistic talents suit this, Jojo. Thanks may just be in order.”

Erina took another second to speak but when she did her voice was choked up. “Th-Thank you Jojo, so much… this is lovely. Did you-- Did you paint these yourself?” She sounded as if she was in awe and disbelief… something he hoped to hear, alongside Dio’s blatant delight dripping through his nonchalance, again and again.

“I did paint them, it’s all things that remind me of the two of you,” Jonathan answered honestly, his smile bashful but glowing no doubt.

“Well, you do know what you’re doing don’t you?” Dio asked, almost a little in awe himself.

Despite their limited resources, judging by the expressions on everyone’s face it was a success. Jonathan wouldn’t have traded that moment for anything except maybe to have his father there too. His absence was something that still stung but for now he would focus on the positives.


 

The rest of Christmas Day was a whirlwind of enjoying all sorts of holiday treats and spending his time wandering the halls with Dio and Erina. They enjoyed most of the later afternoon once again in the Stardust Room picking at snacks and using Jonathan’s charcoals in the beginning pages of the journals Zeppeli had given them. Jonathan also sat down to compose a letter to his father, updating him on the various things that had gone on. He wrote of how much he missed him and prayed he was enjoying his own holiday. Erina seemed to be writing her own letter, he hoped that finally she would manage to write something instead of throwing it away for another day.

Once night fell and they returned to their room, Jonathan watched as Dio’s eyes flit up to Erina’s. Without any sort of preamble he just announced “It’s in the closet~” and disappeared behind the screen in their room to change.

For a brief moment, Erina seemed confused like she wasn’t aware of what he was hinting at but after a few steps towards the closet she discovered her own rather large parcel. Her blue eyes met Jonathan’s green with a silent question in them but all he could do was shrug. He had no idea what Dio had hidden there as a present he couldn’t give in front of others. With that knowledge, Erina turned her attention back and opened it.

From the ruins of the paper Erina pulled out a simple green dress. It seemed familiar up until Jonathan realized just where he’d seen it. It was on display in the tailor’s shop all those months ago in New York.

“D-Dio, you… you bought this for me? How did you even manage that without anyone knowing?”

Dio emerged from behind the screen in his pajamas and laughed. “Please,” he practically purred. “I can do just about anything I want to. I was not sure at all whether to give this to you, but now seemed as good a time as any, don’t you agree?”

Erina’s eyes seemed glassy with unshed tears. “I-I don’t even know what to say…”

“A ‘thank you’ would suffice~”

“W-Well, thank you then,” she said finally, her voice shaking. She held the dress to her chest and looked between the two of them. “Honestly, thank you… the both of you. I don’t think I’ve ever received such thoughtful gifts.”

“It was merely a dress but I’ll take the praise regardless~,” Dio replied in a singsong voice, but the way his voice trailed off made Jonathan suspect he hadn’t expected those emotions. Maybe Dio even appreciated them too.

He himself smiled softly at Erina and he felt his heart skip a beat and twist in his chest when his eyes met hers. They were so blue and so pretty, he could almost get lost in them. “A-Always Erina, you deserve every thoughtful gift. I can only hope I’ll make you so happy in the future…”

Her shy answering smile was worth it, even as Dio rolled his eyes and walked over to bed. Jonathan Joestar knew for sure that all he ever wanted to do was make Erina Pendleton happy.

After they all changed into their sleepwear and slipped into bed, Jonathan was content to let sleep take him. Yet, at some point in the night he woke again after feeling the mattress dip on the opposite side. While his eyes, heavy with slumber, couldn’t tell what was going on at first he couldn’t help the way his heart leapt in his throat the second he saw Erina emerge from behind the changing screen in their room.

She wore the green dress Dio had given her. By soft candlelight, she padded from the screen to the mirror and let out the braid she wore when she slept. She softly brushed it out, allowing her golden hair to hang in soft waves at her shoulders and then slipped over to sit by the window. Pushing the curtains aside and blowing out the candle, Erina went from being shadowed by a soft orange glow to being bathed in winter moonlight, staring out the frosty window instead.

Jonathan couldn’t help but watch, captivated by the way she breathed against the pane and then traced patterns along the cold glass. She would pause occasionally to take in the scenery outside and his breath caught in his throat.

If he hadn’t known any better Jonathan would have figured her a Christmas Angel. Sitting at the window in her soft dress and her hair glinting in the light of the moon, he frankly had never seen anything more beautiful. No doubt if he was capable of reading his thoughts Dio would have laughed at him. A Christmas Angel? How sappy of him… but there were truth to those words. She was almost otherworldly in those moments and Jonathan was beyond enchanted.

He really did love her.

She shifted in her seat and Jonathan turned his head slightly, hoping that he didn’t catch her attention. When his face turned to make sure the moment had not been ruined, he caught a quick glimpse of Dio’s sharp eyes also watching Erina. His expression was unreadable. There was a bit of softness in his gaze, but beyond that he gave nothing else away.

Perhaps Dio wouldn’t have found his thoughts so ridiculous after all?

Although frankly, Jonathan doubted the vampire would ever admit it aloud. All he needed to see to believe that however, was the look in Dio’s blood red eyes. Pride maybe? Happiness? Either way he liked seeing her enjoying herself.

That Christmas night as she sat at the window, Erina had no idea her two friends looked on at her after-hour dress up. Instead, she marveled at her reflection in the panes of glass and smiled softly to herself. Normally, she had always thought of herself as plain and nothing special at all to look at. It’s not like she thought of herself as ugly, but she knew she lacked in beauty. Erina Pendleton was not the kind of girl who was spoken of as lovely, instead her playmates were the ones compared to perfect porcelain dolls.

But for the first time in quite a long time, Erina watched the snow fall softly outside of her window in a small Illinois town and felt… pretty.

Chapter Text

- New Year's Eve, 1880 -

 

The weather from Christmas onward had been quite tolerable compared to the blizzards and snowstorms that had plagued them since Robert had fallen from the wagon. They were unsure how much longer they would be staying here now that they were in the thick of winter, long distance travel still seemed next to impossible. In the days that passed however, Jonathan had taken more time out to explore the town around them as the weather permitted.

In the window of a second-hand shop within Shermerville’s winding streets, the young Joestar found something he thought would be perfect for his father. In the far corner of the window display, hidden somewhat by an old tea kettle, was a tartan scarf. The garment, woven in lovely shades of blue, purple and gold, seemed like the perfect thing to send belatedly to his father as a Yuletide gift. He of course needed the funds and would have to return and ask Robert for them but upon his request the shopkeep was kind enough to put the item on hold.

To his delight, he found that Robert was willing to give him the money. “Well, your old man deserves something,” he’d grumbled pushing the money into Jonathan’s open palm. “It sounds pretty nice too… make sure you get it soon to wrap it up and send it on it’s way.” That was all the young boy needed to hear before he was making plans to rush out to retrieve the item.

The opportunity arrived for him on New Years Eve, the weather was clear and no training duties awaited him in favor of enjoying the holiday. He was thrilled that Zeppeli had afforded him rest days. Sure enough, as he pulled on his shoes he found Erina doing the same at his side.

“Um, do you mind if I accompany you? I haven’t been out to town much lately… I’d really like to see more and stretch my legs a little.” She asked him almost shyly, training her eyes to the floor as opposed to his face.

Of course Jonathan Joestar was never ever going to deny Erina what she wanted, especially if her request was to spend the day with him . “I-I’d love it if you’d come with me Erina. I would want nothing more! I’m surprised you haven’t been out as much…”

“Well you know,” she responded airily, finally meeting his gaze, “my lessons with Robert tend to get away with us. Usually when I’m done with them the weather is awful or it’s too dark to be out on my own. Unfortunately, we can’t all be Dio.”

He couldn’t help but laugh. “That’s true, we certainly can’t.”

Dio seemed to be the most mobile of the three. Always zipping around with things to do, nighttime was obviously his playground and snow hardly hindered him in navigating the landscape. He seemed to thrive in the icy cold. When Jonathan first meandered into town on Christmas Day after his afternoon meal, the brunet seemed to think he was seeing the young vampire everywhere. He could have sworn he saw him among the exiting congregation in the local church after Christmas service but when he looked away and then back at the crowd, he couldn’t find the blond head he thought he had once noticed.

That was how he found himself climbing through snow drifts with Erina Pendleton at his side. “You know, my father really fancies tartan and seeing it in purple? I couldn’t help but feel like this was a fateful encounter for the ages!” Jonathan told her excitedly, recalling the way to the shop. Honestly, he was a little flustered. He was often prone to oversharing in conversations… but something about Erina standing so close, her gloved hand brushing against his occasionally, left him struggling to talk about anything other than the scarf he sought or the jolt in his heart every time he felt the pressure of her hand against his.

The scarf was the safer topic no doubt.

When the shop lay ahead Erina sped ahead of him, crunching through snow in her boots as quickly as possible before practically pressing her nose to the window. “Is it that one… hiding behind there?” She asked, sure enough pressing her finger against the glass in front of the present in question. “It’s very pretty!”

Jonathan preened at her compliments of his taste. “I know, right? Do you think he’ll like it…?” Her answering grin spoke volumes before she even opened her mouth. “Nope,” came her cheeky reply. For a moment, the young boy felt off kilter. She didn’t think his father would like it? B-But she said it was pretty, very pretty to be exact, and-- “I think he’ll love it!”

“E-Erina! You can’t tease me like that! It’s bad enough when Dio does it!”

He wasn’t exactly proud of the slight whine his voice had taken on but it was a little worth it when Erina snickered good-naturedly in his direction. “All right, all right,” she replied in an airy placating tone. “Let’s go inside and get it then.”

That was all the encouragement he needed as Jonathan walked forward and pushed open the door. The bell above rung but as he looked up there seemed to be no one behind the counter at all. At his side, Erina gasped and looked around at crowded shelves of all sorts of objects and old furniture placed haphazardly along the wood floor. “This place is wonderful,” Erina whispered in admiration as her eyes took in all the items for sale gathered around them.

“It really is, isn’t it...?” Jonathan replied, his eyes unable to tear themselves away from the look on her face. Her legs seemed to will her forward and he merely followed, wanting to see what she was drawn to. On one of the shelves close to the counter was a box of cameo pendants missing their chains and other decorations. They were pretty but incomplete…

Her small hand pored through the box’s contents, looking for something inside as the little pendants of shell clinked loudly within. Suddenly, she pulled one out, the relief of a beautiful woman’s side profile was displayed proudly in milky white shell and surrounded by a soft pink background. Erina smiled and held it up to the hollow of her throat. “What do you think…? Something like this but with ribbon running through the top here.” She tapped the large ring connected to the cameo with her index finger, obviously where a chain would have been threaded through. “That way, it could be tied around the neck.”

“That sounds lovely…” Jonathan replied, mouth going dry.

In that moment, the secondhand shop faded away from Jonathan’s vision and instead of her hand-me-downs Erina was wearing the green dress Dio had gifted her. The necklace would suit the outfit and more importantly her… She said she’d wanted ribbon, if he had purchased that with a length of white ribbon perhaps she could have a complementary outfit from the both of them. It was pretty… she was pretty. He reached into his pockets just about ready to buy her anything and everything her heart desired when he felt the small amount of bills left to him.

Right… Speedwagon had only given him enough money to buy his father’s scarf and that was all. It was a pity… if he’d only had a little extra--

“A present for your sister, young man?”

The booming voice of the shopkeeper made both of them jump in surprise. When Erina wheeled around to face him she smiled a little nervously, pink dusting her cheeks. “Haha… I wish sir, I’m afraid I’m just browsing for now. Accompanying my friend here on another errand.” She gestured to Jonathan who in turn had the older man smiling.

“Ah, young Mr. Joestar coming to collect the scarf you’ve reserved?” He man replied animatedly, leaving his post from behind the counter to fetch the item in question.

“You remembered! Yes sir, I am. Thank you so much for keeping it for me.” He replied, taking the money from his pocket and dropping it on the counter. “I don’t ever forget a customer,” the man nodded with the utmost certainty, counting the sum as Erina wandered behind for a moment looking at a particularly worn rocking chair.

While her back was turned, Jonathan plucked the cameo from the box and slid it toward the man. “Could you perhaps keep this on hold too?” He asked in a hushed whisper. “I’m attempting to court his sister…”

The gentleman winked, dropping the pendant into his pocket. “Of course, Mr. Joestar. Good luck.”

When Erina returned behind him, blinking at the scarf laid out on the counter the shopkeeper straightened up with a smile. He made a show of wrapping the garment in red ribbon and brown paper before handing the package to Jonathan with a grin and a gentle urge to return another day. With that, the two of them were free to return to the hotel.

While they certainly could have walked straight back to the hotel, Erina paused mid-step as Jonathan grabbed her hand and turned down the sidewalk towards the heart of the town. “What are you doing?” she called confused. “The hotel is back that way…!” The young boy couldn’t help but shrug sheepishly in return.

“You said you wished to take a look around, right? Let’s see what we can find!”

Immediately Erina’s face lit up with delight and she nodded. “O-Oh! That sounds like fun, thank you!” She kept up step with him as they continued down the streets of Shermerville’s shopping district and took a gander at the various shop signs. Most were closed due to inclimate weather and holiday recesses, but certain others were open. They pressed their noses to a bakery window and Jonathan felt his stomach rumble at the pastries lined up on the counter. The scent of sweets pervaded the air and maybe if he checked his pockets he would have enough to--

Erina squeezed his hand, pulling him out of his snack induced reverie. “I have some coins on me,” she whispered conspiratorially. “Let’s look around a little bit longer and when we’re done browsing I’ll use the last of my money to buy us a treat, okay?”

If they weren’t twelve and eleven respectively in an unfamiliar American town, he would have married her right there on the spot. “Y-Yes, that sounds good!” Jonathan nodded vigorously. “We should probably eat them before we return to the hotel though…”

Erina snorted. “Right. If we bring back food for us but none for Dio he’ll make a big stink about it.”

“You know, I still don’t understand that. Why be annoyed about not getting food when you don’t have to eat anymore? It’s a waste, don’t you think?”

“I think he just wants to be included…”

Jonathan couldn’t help but let out a bit of an incredulous laugh. “You know what? I believe you just might be onto something there.” Her returning beam left Jonathan a little weak in the knees as he was led away.

The first shop they found to be open for browsing was a bookstore to their delight. The two ducked inside, scanning the small shop for anything of note in the leather bound tomes found dotting the shelves. Jonathan was busy looking for a tale of adventures he might enjoy, he had always favored action stories featuring far off exotic locales and perhaps a dash of romance between the hero and sweet heroine who aids him throughout the course of the long, ultimately fulfilling journey. He paused after glancing through the first few paragraphs, looking up at Erina.

She wasn’t looking at the book in her hand at all. Instead, her eyes were glued to the man sitting at the counter. He was older, balding with round glasses perched on his straight nose. What had gotten her attention about him? After all of these weeks traveling with colorful characters like Speedwagon and the Baron, outwardly… this man didn’t leave much of an impression.

“Do you know that man…?” Jonathan whispered softly in her ear, startling Erina who promptly tore her eyes away from the bookseller and cast them to the floor.

“Ah... no… it’s just his glasses? They um… they look a little like my father’s spectacles actually. I don’t really know why that made me think of him.” She gave a little shrug and finally met his gaze. Though she was trying to hide it, Jonathan could see the sadness and homesickness in her eyes at speaking about him. There was something about seeing her saddened that made his heart twist unpleasantly in his chest. He didn’t want Erina to look so… forlorn.

There were ways to combat that, he could relate to her plight after all. “Why not use the last of your money to try and get him something? You had said you were going to write him a letter anyway, right? You could send the gift with that…!”

A small gift would at least show Dr. Pendleton that his daughter was thinking about him just as much. Yet instead of any sort of enthusiasm Erina shook her head, her lips turned up in a way to imply that she was happy though it didn’t seem to meet her eyes. “It’s a good idea but I doubt he would use anything I purchased for him… really, getting anything seems kind of moot. It would simply gather dust in his office, forgotten over time.” Jonathan felt his stomach fall to his feet and he turned to place the book he was holding back onto the shelf. He nearly caught her murmuring something about how ‘ once he’s read what I’ve done, I doubt he’ll ever be happy with me again… ’ but he couldn’t be sure. Nor did he wish to pry if she wasn’t ready to share.

“H-Hey, well… it looks as if there isn’t anything of interest here. Why don’t we move along then, huh?” He asked nervously, already setting his sights on the door. To his relief Erina kept up with him. “That sounds good,” was her soft reply as they left the bookstore without hesitation.

A few stores down was a haberdashery, the lights inside provided a warm glow and hinted that the establishment was open for business and he didn’t hesitate to bring her inside. He was relieved to see Erina immediately relax somewhere else now, tension he hadn’t realized was building up inside of her melted away as they looked at the hats on display.

On one of the wooden display heads was a tall top hat, with a swirl of rainbow colors running up the side in long lines. It was utterly garish yet Jonathan immediately knew who would enjoy wearing something like it. Hell, he was sure the man in question had even had worn something like it in the past. He plucked the hat from it’s stand and placed it atop his head. He held two of his fingers under his nose horizontally in a poor imitation of a mustache before adopting a more flamboyant stance.

“Jojo! Don’t forget your breathing, bambino !” He said in a piss poor imitation of the Baron, holding back giggles. “If you breathe just right , then let me tell you! With that power, you can grow a hat right from your head filled with magic of the sun and use it as a weapon against the many vampires we’ll encounter that aren’t Dio! Have you seen Speedwagon? He served us a rather bland helping of food again, does that man even have a tongue to taste with? Where’s my pepper? Ah-choo!” He proceeded to jump back, poorly, trying to pretend he had jumped away like Zeppeli was prone to doing.

Erina was absolutely in tears, his accent was utterly goofy and his terrible acting and ridiculous finger mustache were too much for her. She bent forward wiping a tear from her eye. “J-Jojo that’s-- th-that’s mean!” Her protests didn’t hold much water when she was laughing like that.

“It’s all in good fun, I promise!” He replied easily, placing the hat back and locating a newsboy cap instead, placing it on his head and assuming a scowl. He had seen Dio at the manor with one of these before and this would be fun.

“Well, well, Pendleton,” he began in Dio’s posh accent making Erina giggle tenfold.

“S-Stop!” She hissed between giggles trying very hard to keep it together. That only made him want to continue on.

“Must you and Jojo be such peons around me all of the time? Honestly, why do I lower myself by spending time with either one of you? You two lack the barest miniscule crumb of class. But you aren’t allowed to do anything without me either. What? You traversed through town without asking me to come along? How DARE you!”

Erina was in stitches but she pulled the hat from his head, trying to quiet down her laughter. When it subsided for the most part she donned it herself. “W-What is wrong with you, Jojo? A frog? H-How dare you subject me to putting my lips on such a filthy thing… I should have you punished for this! Anything that isn’t covered in gold leaf is beneath me!”

Her accent was even worse than his and Jonathan couldn’t help the very ungentlemanly snort that escaped him as Erina continued. She finished with a flourish and bow that he absolutely could have seen Dio do before she placed the hat back. As if struck by a brilliant idea, she reached for a bowler hat from the collection.

He knew exactly where this was going. It was going to be good.

“Oi! You! What are ya doin’ over there? Y’wanna go? Y’wanna fight me?” Erina asked in the worst imitation of Robert’s street accent he’d ever heard. “Because I’ll fight ya, I promise that! Make ya regret the day you were ever born! I like my hair like I like me hats, right on my damn head! You wanna act big like the Baron? Well guess what! I’ll kick your ass, I’ll kick yer dog’s ass, I’ll kick my own ass! Robert E.O. Speedwagon doesn’t give a FUCK, I’ll gut ya!”

Jonathan couldn’t help the intense peals of laughter that escaped him. Her impersonation was perfect and Robert very well could have said all of those things. Erina knew him well enough now that she was particularly spot on and with that hat on she almost looked like his double. It was then that he noticed the salesman behind them, stock still and blinking in equal parts confusion and scandal. He covered his mouth, trying to stop his giggling but it didn’t do much.

Erina followed his eyes after a second and when she saw the man all she could say was “M-my apologies!” as she put the hat back and bolted out of the shop, grabbing Jonathan’s hand in the process. The poor salesman was left alone and confused as the two ran down the street snickering.

The cold air whipped at Jonathan’s face as they ran and as they came to a halt on the deserted corner so Erina could catch her breath, he noticed the copious amount of snowflakes falling from the sky around them. This wasn’t good. They needed to return before evening settled in.

“H-Hey, perhaps we should wait for a moment? See if this stops or at least let up?” He asked, gesturing to the snow. “If it doesn’t, we can just make a break for it then…”

Erina nodded. “That sounds like a good plan… oh, look! That place has an awning.” She pointed to a closed up shop across the road and he followed her to the shelter beneath it. Without the movement that walking around provided, they both felt the chill creep up as the wind blew flakes of white around them.

Yet, while Erina’s eyes were glued to the scene in front of them Jonathan couldn’t help but look at her. Her cheeks were rosy from the cold, making her blue eyes stand out even in the low light from the grey snowy day. Snowflakes settled in her long, golden hair that tumbled in waves down her neck. As she blew against her hands to keep them warm his eyes settled on her pink lips. Usually in winter his lips were chapped but hers looked so soft… he wondered…

“C-Can I kiss you?!” He practically shouted before his brain caught up with his mouth. The words hung in the air and settled over the pair. For a moment, Jonathan wondered if he'd made a terrible mistake. He wanted nothing more than to take back the question, but he couldn’t bring himself to speak up again. Erina’s head had turned to him and her wide blue eyes seemed to be searching his face for… something and goodness, had he really screwed up so easily?!

Yes.”

Her answer was quick and breathy and he had to apologize immediately and-- oh. Oh. She said-- she said yes. She had given him permission to kiss her.... just like that?

His tongue darted out to wet his lips and hope they weren’t too badly chapped. “O-Okay…” was all he could say as he took in a deep breath. He laid his hands carefully on her shoulders and as he leaned in her eyes closed, long eyelashes fluttering against her cheeks and…

He pecked her on the lips. It was quick, a blink and you’ll miss it sort of thing but he felt like he was flying. Her lips were soft and he felt the feeling of them against his long after he’d pulled away with a hammering heart. It was perfect. She was perfect.

However, when her eyes opened she looked at him with concern that made him want the ground to swallow him up. Had he done something wrong? “Did I… mess up?” He asked nervously, searching her gaze for an answer. To his relief, Erina merely shook her head.

“I-- n-no, no, that isn’t-- I just… didn’t get a chance to do anything in return…” she mumbled shyly, looking away with a face redder than before.

Oh. That’s what was bothering her? “Y-You can um-- we could do it again… if that’s what you’d like?” He asked nervously and though Erina had a hard time meeting his eyes, she still made the effort to look at him and nod. This time she took charge. Her hands reached up to hold either side of his face gently with her cold fingers. When their eyes fluttered closed, he felt her lips press to his again. This time it was longer, sure it was something more akin to five seconds instead of one, but he delighted in how soft and gentle her touches were. Yes, he was still beyond nervous but she also made him feel calm and happy and safe all at the same time.

This was strange. Is this what being in love felt like? Was this love?

He didn’t know but he didn’t want it to stop.

Erina pulled away after a time that felt extremely long and extremely short all at once and she gave him a broad, flustered smile. “S-See? That was better… right?”

Despite the temperature around them, Jonathan had never felt his face burning so intensely. Once again his mouth moved before his brain caught up, but he didn’t mind the words being said now. “I… really, really like you, Erina Pendleton.” Nothing more true had been spoken really. She was… she was absolutely incredible.

Her hands upon hearing that slipped down to hold tightly onto his as she leaned forward to kiss his cold nose. “And I really, really like you, Jonathan Joestar.” She laughed a little before looking down at the ground. “I-If you want to do that again… the-- the kissing thing I mean… you can, whenever you like and um… whenever it’s appropriate.”

He squeezed her hand in return and nodded. “O-Okay. That sounds… that sounds lovely.”

Jonathan wasn’t sure how long they stood there just looking at each other and speaking softly about anything and everything, but when he finally glanced away from her the troublesome snowfall had subsided into flurries. “We should… be getting back, it’s New Year's Eve and we wouldn’t want to miss celebrating with the others,” he said finally, albeit with some reticence. If he could stay there with her all day and enjoy her company, it wouldn’t be long enough.

She leaned over and pecked his cheek however and the burn of his skin let him forget any hesitation. “You’re right, we should get going before things get bad again,” she agreed.

The two of them walked back hand in hand and both with faces reddened beyond belief. Any stranger would believe it was the work of the cold air but they knew better. They had done this to themselves and couldn’t have been happier.


 

Dio heard them before he saw them, their laughter carried on the breeze and really he knew those voices anywhere. As their figures finally came into view, he knew immediately that something had changed. There was a shift in their demeanors. Jonathan and Erina held tightly to each other's hands, they walked closer, their laughter seemed… flustered.

He couldn’t help but sneer to himself. It was so obvious that those two had done something. Something probably cavity inducing in it’s sweetness.

He felt the cold tendrils of unease sinking into his stomach. Ugh, of course this would happen… but now it meant he would have to deal with them both. He couldn’t help but dread what on earth they would end up subjecting him to in due time. Dealing with their ridiculous mutual but nervous puppy love with feelings left unsaid was one thing. It was unpleasant but manageable. It was another thing altogether when they managed to branch those feelings out.

He just knew they were going to suffocate him with this, with their easy affections and insufferable pleasantries, yet still be none the wiser about their actions. Their crimes. It had been enough having to deal with Jonathan falling all over himself in agony over impressing Erina or Pendleton making a fool of herself every time her mouth spoke from her heart before her brain realized the blunder it had made.

Hell, that could even be funny from time to time.

But there was no humor here. This was a different story entirely, one he wasn’t fond of one bit.

He wasn’t ready to be ignored in favor of their ridiculous mooning over each other. Perhaps he would have to preemptively strike. Put distance between them once again to save himself, his sanity, before they chipped away at it.

“Dio!” he heard Erina calling then, her voice carried on the wind. Jojo waved in the distance and of course they began running for him.

Ugh, no! He wasn’t ready to deal with their overbearing feelings right now!

Much to his surprise however, the two separated from each other, opting to take each of his hands in theirs. It disarmed him enough for them to begin speaking without his prompting.

“Oh! I’m glad we caught up to you! We’ll be bringing in 1881 together at midnight, Dio! Isn’t that amazing?! Aren’t you excited?” Erina declared with delight. Dio of course had opinions of the turning of the years, none could be qualified as thinking them amazing.

“Speedwagon said we could try champagne tonight, you know! How do you think it’ll taste?” Jonathan asked the two of them, also seemingly excited for the New Years celebrations.

“Hm, I’m not sure... bubbly maybe?”

“Is ‘bubbly’ even a taste?”

“I don’t know…”

As Jonathan and Erina babbled away Dio seemed sure of two things. The first being that these two were incredibly dense, to the point of sheer ridiculousness even. The second was that… perhaps that worked in his favor. It seemed he wouldn’t be suffering in the way that he initially anticipated. No, no, it would continue to be the suffering that he was used to.

“I’ll have you know that the only thing I am excited for is the champagne,” he replied easily, like he hadn’t been apprehensive at the thought of even speaking to them. “And believe me, I doubt such a drink will suit your unrefined palettes~”

“Hey Dio!”

“Don’t be rude!”

- End of Act IV -

Chapter Text

- Middle of March, 1881 -

 

Winter had released it’s cold grip on the world at last. The air still contained a bit of a chill but as the band departed Shermerville, hopefully for the last time, the snow had generously melted away with the early beginnings of Spring. By all accounts, it was leaps and bounds ahead of the severe weather they had been forced to put up with since November and finally that meant they could find safe passage out on the road and begin traveling once again.

Dio was more than thrilled to finally be moving forward, albeit slower than he preferred. Their progress was now impeded not by weather, something no one could control, but by their funds. The group had stayed in Shermerville for five months and while they still had a nice sum in their pockets, it seemed to be far less than what Speedwagon was comfortable travelling with. Dio wasn’t aware of their budgeting situation but if Robert was concerned about making the money stretch in the long haul, he supposed those troubles were justified.

It was, however, beyond irritating to stop every so often in a small, nonsensical town so Robert or Baron Zeppeli could work an odd job or two for extra cash before they continued on. Occasionally Dio would pickpocket some poor sap unfortunate enough to cross his path and that bought him entertainment for a short while… both by giving him something to do and the funds to treat himself to something material.

Truthfully, when they crossed the state line from Illinois into Missouri Dio felt immense relief. It meant forward progress in the most direct way possible, and though he was not one for more open signs of excitement, he managed to hide his pleased little smile from everyone else. It didn’t matter if their group reached another rest stop. They were finally free of that blasted state.

While Zeppeli and Speedwagon were the ones who sought employment, they often had a bit of a “competition” to see who would be the one to obtain a job first. Since their departure from Shermerville, Dio noted the disinterest with which Zeppeli seemed to pursue the end goal. Really, was this even really a contest when the Baron wasn't exactly trying? He did pick some up and here and there but it was obvious that his main focus was teaching Jonathan more offensive skills with Hamon. He had merely only done those things to rile Robert up once more. It was quite entertaining.

“Well, guess who’s lookin’ at the newest temporary cattle handler at that farm we passed down the road?” Robert asked proudly as he strode over to their camp that evening, hooking his ink stained fingers in his suspenders and wearing an expression like a cat that got the cream. Dio smirked in amusement as Robert didn’t bother giving anyone the opportunity to reply. “You four are~!”

A chorus of congratulations rose up from around the fire as the teenager beamed. “Well thank you, thank you. I wrote my own damn signature too! Didn’t spill a lick of ink, I tell ya!”

“Hm... would you like a biscuit for a job well done, then?” Zeppeli replied nonchalantly, not drawing his gaze from the flames.

“Actually? Yeah, gimme one you bastard!”

Speedwagon made his way over to the Baron and sat down, making good on his words in an attempt to bully the older man into giving him a damn biscuit, ya goddamn dandy… he deserves it! Dio opted to let them do as they pleased. The two oldest members of their party fighting amongst themselves was amusing surely, but he preferred to focus his attention on the remaining two companions.

Both Jonathan and Erina had been rather quiet all day. Zeppeli’s training regimen and occasional absences to work in the nearby town had left Jonathan oscillating from exhausted to listless. It seemed now he was somewhere in the middle with his daily lessons completed and not much to show for it. Erina had also been looking uncomfortable and distracted for the past few days. He wondered what could be wrong with her, why she looked so bothered and why she would occasionally wander away from camp just to meander back some time later as if nothing happened. It was strange. All of this was compounded upon by the fact that their camp grounds seemed to reek of an old kill. He wasn’t sure what on earth was causing the smell, perhaps there was a dead animal nearby. It didn't matter the distance, wherever it was, it still managed to be a nuisance.

He had to do something. He couldn’t stand the spiritless expression on Jonathan’s face and the discomfort on Erina’s. He couldn’t stand continuing to subject himself to that putrid odor without distraction. So, Dio did the only thing he could. He plucked a deck of cards from Speedwagon’s coat without the older boy's notice and motioned for Jonathan and Erina to join him a little ways away from the fire.

It was far enough that Zeppeli and Robert were somewhat separated from them but close enough to the firelight that it still cast quite the comfortable glow. “Have either of you ever played Three-card Monte?” he purred, a smirk growing along his lips as the two shook their heads.

“Well, well, then that means I have a fun game you two can play with me!”

He nodded and began to break and shuffle the deck to show off. It pleased him to see the way Erina and Jonathan both balked at the ease with which he shuffled the cards in more elaborate ways, flicking them between his fingers. “It is quite the simple game, really. I’ll put down three cards and your choice will be to find the queen among them. Understand?”

Dio ceased shuffling to pluck three cards from the deck, laying them face up. “Here we have our players~” the blond announced with a flourish. “The King of Spades and the King of Clubs,” he gestured to himself and then to Jonathan with a flick of his wrist before tapping his index finger against the red card in the middle, “...and lastly our Queen of Diamonds.” He pointed to Erina after that. “Your goal is to locate our beloved queen caught up in confusion with these two kings. Will you two be able to do so successfully?”

“O-Of course I will!” Jonathan announced confidently while Erina shifted from foot to foot with a nod, pink in the face from the comparison to the queen. “I may as well try,” she finally supplied, a little too quietly for Dio’s taste. He would pull that shyness right out of her.

“Alright then, don’t think I’ll make it easy,” he crooned before turning the cards over, hiding their faces from view.

He made quick work of the cards, swapping their places expertly but also doing so slowly enough that he knew Jonathan and Erina’s eyes could catch where the queen finally rest. He fully intended to lull them into a false sense of security here. Sure enough, once he stopped and swept his arms over the cards he watched their lips twist into smiles.

“Can you find the queen?”

Both of them quickly pointed to the card on the right and in one fluid motion he flipped it over. As expected, the Queen of Diamonds looked back at them. “Ah, it seems you two have quite the eyes, you saw through my speed.”

Jonathan puffed out his chest a little and even Erina seemed to be preening like a little bird from the praise. “We absolutely did,” Jonathan proclaimed. The blonde next to him nodded. “You’re quite fast with that, where did you pick this up?”

“Oh, it’s a little something I picked up back home~” Dio replied easily, turning the queen face down. “Would you like to try again? I may make it… just a teeny bit harder.”

When the two nodded vigorously, he smiled so big his sharpened incisors were on full display.

“As you wish~”

Dio began to rearrange the cards once more. He started with slow motions easily followed by his companions and he delighted in watching their pupils bounce from left to right to middle and back to the right. But that was the sign to go farther and with ease, he began shuffling the three cards together in more confusing patterns and misdirecting them with which card he was placing down. He was delighted to see a little crease developing between Jojo’s bushy eyebrows and Erina’s tongue poking between her lips in concentration. He could certainly up the ante by bringing his vampiric speed into the equation but really, winning so thoroughly was no fun.

At least not yet.

When he was fully satisfied with himself in knowing that they wouldn’t be able to locate the queen unless by sheer luck, he stopped his shuffling and once again made an elaborate flourish over the cards. “Take your pick, darlings~” His voice was equal parts saccharine and smug as  he used the patronizing title on the both of them.

They were concentrating so hard that they hardly even noticed. Eventually both Jonathan and Erina pointed at a card, ones differing from each other and they both shared a look of disbelief when they reached different conclusions. “I guess we’ll see who’s right,” Jonathan finally replied with an easy going shrug.

As Dio flipped the cards over he was pleased to find both of the suits turn up black. “My apologies, it looks like our poor kings were discovered but not the elusive queen.” He hummed and turned over the card on the left to reveal the queen’s true location and couldn’t help how pleased he felt to see their shock and mild irritation.

“H-How did you manage to do that?! I swear I watched you closely!” Jonathan called, with the boy’s tone Dio was surprised he didn’t stomp his foot to the ground in frustration. One month away from thirteen and still the young Joestar couldn’t seem to find his maturity.

“Really though!” Erina added, finally seeming to break out of her funk. Somewhat. “I kept watch the best I could, how could you have gotten her all the way over there?!”

The young vampire tapped his chin and cocked his head to the side, making a show of thinking about something before he snapped his fingers. “Are you curious? Shall I show you? You are going to have to ask nicely~”

“Could you please show us?” Erina piped up first, eyes burning with curiosity. “Please Dio, I’d like to learn,” Jonathan entreated as well, shaking his head behind her.

“Hmph, you humble students will address me as your ‘most enlightened professor’.”

“You have got to be kidding me.”

“Well, I certainly don’t have to teach you two--”

“Alright, alright, our most enlightened professor” Erina and Jonathan both replied in a droning manner. Dio was almost gleeful in their irritation.

“Hm… I suppose that will suffice. Now, listen closely…” His lips curled into a smirk as he brought the three cards into his hands, shuffling them about absently. “You have to understand, my pupils, that this game is not at all a game of skill for the players… because you are not meant to be actual players. You are marks. This is an exercise in trickery.”

His two companions blinked in genuine confusion before Jonathan’s brows furrowed. “You only… tricked us? This wasn’t a game after all?”

“Truthfully, the game was for me and me alone. Allow me to explain.” Dio placed the cards down to shuffle them around on the table. “You see, I allow you two the chance to gain confidence through participation… win a round or two like you know exactly where I’m taking this. Even as my pace increases you’ll think that by the skill of your eyes alone you can follow me…”

He laughed then, shaking his head. “A fool’s errand, really. The key is misdirection. I know where you’re looking, I know what you’re thinking and I remain three steps ahead… I have since the beginning of the ‘game’. I lead your eyes where I want and drop the actual queen card in an area that confuses you~” He slowed down his shuffle showing how he placed the card below the top one first, a move that when performed quick enough they would not have noticed.

“So... what was the point of that then, hm?” Erina piped up a little shorter than normal which admittedly set Dio off-kilter. She was good for being the more ‘even’ one among the three of them and if she was acting like this there was really no help for him and Jojo…

“Tsk, tsk, so negative. You know even though you were guaranteed to be wrong, I decided to leave the queen in the shuffle. I normally don’t, you’re quite lucky. If by some fortuitous chance you had guessed right and picked her, I’m sure you would have been pleased. It was obvious that even picking differently had left you two questioning your decisions… I didn’t fully eliminate the chance of a win~” He merely shrugged, turning the Queen of Diamonds over on the table.

Jonathan scratched at his cheek, perplexed. “So… are you going to demonstrate how to handle the cards like that? Because I believe that will take practice…”

The mere suggestion made Dio lean back and let out a belly laugh, surprising both Jonathan and Erina. He wiped at his eye and shook his head. “Goodness no, though perhaps later I can attempt but I guarantee nothing. No, no… this is a bit of a cautionary game. Do you know how I would use my quick hands to my advantage before landing in the Joestar Manor?” His hands drifted to the deck at his side, fingers pulling at the cards until he uncovered the Queen of Hearts, waving it in front of their eyes. “I would swap the Queen of Hearts out for the Queen of Diamonds and watch with delight as my marks owed me money and I pocketed their queen. I kept a box of the wonderful ladies as trophies of successful cons for quite a long time.”

Erina crossed her arms but the look on her face was less severe than before. A win as far as Dio was concerned. “So, it wasn’t a game but a parlor trick…?”

His face changed to false offense as he rested a hand against his chest. “Oh my, well I never, this is no parlor trick… if you want to see something like that I believe you would be better suited to dice. Now that is something I know how to truly impress with~” He turned around as Jonathan scrambled away to the sound of Erina’s laughing. The distant call of “R-Robert, do we have any dice?!” echoing through their camp.


 

Dio’s dice tricks were truly impressive. He’d tried to explain and show them both how he predicted every dice roll he’d gotten. It had something to do with it’s placement in his fingers, another example of sleight of hand he had learned from his humble beginnings, but that left Erina and Jonathan at a serious disadvantage. They both had tried attempting the tricky maneuvers, but there was really no imitating the master at this.

She wondered if she’d be better at cards but when she took a shot at that thinking it might be easier, Erina realized just how clumsy her own hands were. Stitches were one thing, but keeping the cards moving was something else entirely. As if to add insult to injury she dropped the entire deck when trying to shuffle them back in, creating quite the mess and quite the opportunity for laughs from everyone privy to the situation.

While she was mortified she still found it in herself to laugh the whole thing off. Jonathan laughed but eagerly joined in to help her pick everything up. To her surprise, even Dio’s laughter didn’t come across as something particularly mocking. “You were much better at the dice” he had replied easily and Erina couldn’t help but roll her eyes.

“Being patronizing is not quite your style, Dio,” she had laughed in answer. The blond gave a shrug in response.

“Who said I was being patronizing, Pendleton?”

That was when Jonathan returned with his own share of the deck and they had counted it to guarantee the 52 cards were all tucked safely away. Not too long after that they decided to retire for the evening and that’s how she found herself here now, tucked away in the back of the wagon with Jonathan at her back snoring loudly and Dio wrapped up in his black blanket on Jonathan’s other side.

Normally sleep always came to her easily, let her drift away in peace to either sweet dreams or none at all. Tonight however, like the past four nights before it, sleep eluded her like never before. She felt terribly uncomfortable and her body was achy beyond belief. She wasn’t sure how she’d even managed to catch the few hours that she did yesterday evening.

The inside of the wagon was something Erina often found cozy. Her, Jonathan and Dio always slept side-by-side, though how they arranged themselves differed by day. At their feet, curled into a ball, was Robbie. He often slept highly compact like he was very used to sleeping in small spaces, something that often made her sad when she thought about his origins.

But now?

Erina felt cramped. There were too many people back here. It felt cold and hot and suffocating all at once. She wanted to be out immediately. Zeppeli didn’t often sleep on the wagon, instead he spent his nights outside playing ‘lookout’ with his hat pulled over his eyes. Whether he was awake or asleep she wasn’t sure, but she thought she might perhaps chance it.

She held her breath, listening carefully for the soft breathing and snores that indicated all of her companions were asleep before she felt satisfied to move. If she got caught then so be it. Jonathan was quite the heavy sleeper especially after the satisfyingly heavy dinner they enjoyed. He would be sleeping like a rock well until morning and would probably continue on until noon if Baron Zeppeli didn’t have morning training with him.

Dio was trickier, though she figured if he caught her in the act she could simply tell him she was going to relieve herself. Speedwagon hardly took up any room at that point so getting past him would be quite simple as well. So with a deep breath, she slipped out of the wagon as quickly and quietly as she could, wincing at the smallest creak in the wood.

Erina froze in place when Jonathan snorted, shifting ever so slightly in his sleep, and once she was convinced he wouldn’t wake she let out the breath she was holding. In one fluid motion, the young girl reached into her carpet bag and retrieved a few items from within the fabric before disappearing out into the cool night air.

There was a pause as she looked over at Zeppeli leaning against a tree to the left, but he didn’t budge. With relief permeating her body thinking she was not found out, Erina then made her way to the creek that ran a short distance away from their campground, hoping to breathe and ease her aches.

While Erina seemed at peace, content in the idea that she had escaped without notice... she couldn’t have been more wrong. She strolled away to the water unaware of the sharpened gaze watching her departure, confusion prominent in the observer’s blood red eyes.

Chapter Text

Dear Father,

I am sorry for disappearing so suddenly. Do not worry about my whereabouts. I am safe. There is no need for concern or any rash actions. I do not know when I will return but I will be back. Safe and sound. Like I have referenced above. I miss you very much. Hopefully we can be reunited soon. However, I cannot make guarantees.

I love you.

-Erina

Finally, she sent out the dreaded letter. It had taken hours and hours of agonizing over what to include. There was no way she could hint too much about their current actions or goals or even who she was with, lest there be punishment for any one of them. Instead, she had kept it brief.

Her father had never been one for shows of emotion anyway. Erina found herself hesitating when concluding with ‘I love you’ but… well, choosing to include it won out in the end. Despite those mixed emotions, missing him was not lost on her. Perhaps he would miss her enough to appreciate such a sentiment. If not, well, what could she do? She had attempted to reach out.

Yet, that wasn’t even the worst of her troubles at the moment.

Currently? Everything ached.

Her lower back in particular, but she couldn’t help the desire to double over in pain and clutch her midsection. Every limb felt heavy as lead and her stomach churned messily, leaving her nauseous despite hardly eating anything throughout the day.

Though Erina had found the energy to sneak off the night before and take care of herself, it was a relief to be able to be awake and alone at their campground. Jonathan and Baron Zeppeli had gone on an errand run in the nearby town and Robert set out to his employers fields shortly after morning crept over the horizon. Dio normally would have spent the afternoon with her but he had left earlier with his parasol and some half-hearted gesture that he would return by sunset.

She had never thought of herself as someone who had craved solitude. She was so often left with her own thoughts that it was quite the opposite. Erina was prone to bouts of loneliness due to being without occasional companionship… which was far more common back home than she liked to admit. She had never breathed a word of that to anyone, but now it wasn’t even needed.

All she had wanted for the past few days was peace and quiet.

Never before had it been so hard to acquire either. In England, Erina could slip outside to her garden or the land by the Joestar estate and never be bothered but now…? Jonathan and Robbie and even Dio filled her time. She hadn’t realized just how packed with company her days had become until she didn’t want to be bothered at all anymore. It was definitely strange to have her desires so flipped on their heads, but…

Just two months shy of her twelfth birthday... her bleeding had started.

Even surrounded by people, this condition had brought its own sense of loneliness. She was well aware of what was to come, her mother had mentioned it briefly once or twice and Nellie had spoken more in detail as she got older. Now, faced with these symptoms, Erina wished for her mother’s presence more than she has in a long time. She wanted her to hold her and soothe her with the experience that only a mother would have… Hell, even Nellie’s tendency to coddle would be welcome. Someone… anyone who would be willing to help her through this.

The only comfort and guidance Erina would have now however, were from the medical tome she brought along with her. It was oddly terrifying. For something she was well aware of, that she knew was on the horizon, she had no idea how hard hit she would be by this change.

Erina laid down on her back in the dirt next to their campfire and sighed, staring up at the blue sky above her. She recalled the first day she awoke to aches and ruined trousers, having to sneak out and attempt washing her clothing in the nearby creek. As she dipped the fabric into the running water and scrubbed with all her might, she couldn’t help the tears that fell freely down her cheeks. Her body was wracked with newfound pain, her luckily black pants were soiled and she had no idea how to proceed. Not at that hour. She’d felt hopeless.

When she’d gotten ahold of herself, her hiccuping sobs subsiding, she had enough presence of mind to change and run to the general store as quickly as possible in search of some cotton. It was something she could use to keep from ruining her clothes from here on out.

With that taken care of, she felt a little less… anxious and upset about the whole situation.

Travel was something completely different.

The thought of walking anywhere was a miserable one, and Erina felt herself close to tears when asked if she’d like to wander around town for a few hours. There was no balm for her pain that she could acquire without suspicion, nothing to keep the fatigue from seeping into her bones. She had fibbed to Robbie one night about dinner leaving her nauseous, and he was more than happy to let her rest that off, but how much longer could she use such an excuse?

That was the rub, wasn’t it? She couldn’t tell any of them about this.

Robert knew her as Erin… not Erina. Though, truthfully, after this had happened all she’d wanted to do was run and tell him immediately. She craved reassurance, craved understanding, but once she was able to sit and think she knew that would be an awful idea. Speedwagon knew of her one way, not another, and she wasn’t ready to tell him otherwise. Not to mention, the man had told her stories of his childhood and while he knew many women... he had never lived with one. She wasn’t sure if he would be the best to go to with a subject as… sensitive as this.

The Baron was older and it seemed he had a wife somewhere in Italy. He had brought her up once and went completely mum on the subject after that. No one had tried to pry after the fact. She was sure that if anyone had even tried regardless, he wouldn’t have dignified the question with an answer. It obviously wasn’t a topic he was ready to discuss. That aside, Erina didn’t exactly trust him nor was she anywhere near close enough to begin discussing something so personal and sensitive with him. It would almost be like going to a stranger.

They were acquaintances, he was Jonathan’s mentor in the supernatural arts and he had previously tried to kill Dio. There was no reason for her to ever speak to the man on that subject.

Jonathan could have been a potential person she confided in. In fact, he had noticed the shift in her mood and in her health almost immediately. He worried and fret over her. He hardly wanted to leave her side, coming up beside her to interlace his fingers with hers. Pressing his hand to her sweaty forehead asking if she was feeling under the weather.

It would have been extremely endearing and she looked at it that way after the fact, but in the moment Erina valued her personal space. She found herself snapping at him when he got too close, leaving the poor boy looking like a kicked puppy until she had apologized and explained that she did feel unwell and being in her space wasn’t something that made things any better.

Her words really only made the sad look on his face worse.

So, she struggled. Tried to explain that it really wasn’t anything against him and he could hug her and hold her hand and ask to do all sorts of fun things together when she felt better. She really wanted to do that too, honest! Erina had just… kept so many scattered emotions bottled up in recent days. To a point where she wasn’t certain she was capable of keeping up with Jonathan’s closeness and desire to run around and do something at all times.

Erina had briefly thought of telling him too. If she could tell anyone anything, it was Jonathan but… this was different too wasn’t it? She was well aware that for boys this matter was viewed as something… gross. For her it was even completely unpleasant. Nellie had even encouraged her to keep the reality of her inevitable situation completely hidden. No one need know save for herself and her maid. Not to mention there were the false rumors of a woman’s cycle causing metal to rust and supplies to rot.

And really… Erina liked him. She wasn’t sure if he was one to buy those rumors or if he’d find her disgusting if he knew the truth. He would certainly try to be as patient and soft with her as possible. That was simply how Jonathan was, sweet and thoughtful to the very core of his being. But, she wanted to still be the girl that he liked! That he wanted to give kisses to in the snow again. Not… the one who had given him too much information on her bodily functions.

Jonathan was well meaning but it was scary to confide in someone, to speak of something they might not understand and pray that they understood later. The only thing Erina really knew how to do was to keep her feelings inside until she could sort them out for herself… or at least until her fear and sadness were something she had learned to squash down and ignore.

With so many members of their group eliminated who else could she find solace in?

Dio ?

While their friendship had come an incredibly long way, he was absolutely not someone she would talk about this with. She trusted him enough to travel with, to want to make him happy. She had seen a sadness and fear in his eyes that she had never expected to see before. There was an understanding of how he worked now too… they’d all fallen into a dynamic very easily.

But something like this?

Erina also had memories still fresh in her mind of Dio the opportunist. Dio who grabbed her by the shoulders and forced a kiss on her to satisfy a selfish thirst for control. Their current situation had pushed that from the forefront of her mind occasionally and truly, she didn’t think he had any plans of doing something like that again… but, still. His motivations then were easy to read, get a rise out of Jojo no matter what and no matter who it would hurt at the end of the day. Their understanding and newfound friendship did not mean she was going to confide in him.

If Jonathan was out of the question, there was no way that Dio would be the person she discussed these personal problems with. For all she knew, he could take that knowledge and turn it on her in some way. Use it to get something he wanted out of her.

He was still that same boy that he was back home in England. She hadn’t seen the biggest change in him. They were simply on his side now and thus he treated them like people rather than pawns. Her practical mind, the one that outweighed the optimistic side who wanted to believe in their growth as friends, knew for a fact that should they turn their backs from him, should something happen, he probably wouldn’t hesitate to use such information against her.

Knowing this and knowing she had no one to trust left her feeling rather hopeless.

Her symptoms left her begging for solitude. It was better to curl into a ball when no one was around to wonder if she was okay. There would be no concern over her wellbeing or how pale she had gotten. Especially when she knew the only way to deal with it was to wait it out.

Yet, as her vision blurred with fresh tears again and she trembled on her back in the dirt, she wanted nothing more than to simply talk to somebody. To tell them how this change was terrifying and how the pain was the absolute worst and how all she wanted to do was sleep.

There was something about her bleeding that left her lamenting a loss of her childhood in a way. Erina knew she was still young! By no means was eleven the age of an adult and even though in early May she would be twelve, she knew that that wasn’t any sort of big difference. But irrationally, it felt as if she wouldn’t be the same person ever again.

Every month, for years and years to come she would have to keep this secret. She could forget about it until it reared its ugly head and she would once again return to this. It was a life change and one she couldn’t stop.

Once upon a time, Erina wished to grow up as quickly as possible. All she had wanted to do was be a Responsible Adult… With a shuddering sigh, she closed her eyes and felt another tear run down her cheek. Everything from her memory fell into place as she imagined her mother.

Tall, soft blonde hair and violet eyes. Though smaller and sleepier than hers, Erina’s father had said they seemed to have a similar forlorn look to their expressions. A downturn of their eyelids that made them appear melancholic first and foremost. It always bothered him…

Thinking of her mother’s face, Erina curled up next to the cold fire pit on the ground. Though she knew it was perhaps in her best interest not to, she couldn’t help herself as her eyes became heavy and she slowly drifted off to sleep.


 

 

“Erina…! Where have you run off to?”

While her mother’s voice drifted through their small home, Erina snickered. It had taken her some time but her mother’s pearls hung from her neck in beautiful, loose rungs. While on her mother they clung tight to her throat it was fine this way too, she rather liked the way they looked! A mother-of-pearl cameo also hung from a cord past the sagging pearls. It was Erina’s favorite and even if it didn’t necessarily go with it, she had wanted to wear it regardless.

Around her waist, tied with a scarf, she had wound a lace throw blanket from the sitting room and on her feet were her mother’s black boots. Looking in the mirror, six year old Erina Pendleton giggled and spun around, nearly tripping over herself before tromping out of the room.

“I have arrived!” she called as she continued her heavy walk through to the parlor. “What do you think, mama?”

She watched as her mother took in the whole ensemble and covered her mouth. She was suppressing a laugh but young Erina was just so happy to see her smile again, to see her delighted by her outfit that she held up each side of her lace skirt and gave a wobbly curtsey.

“My my, Miss Pendleton! How lovely you look! Gotten into my pearls, I see?” Though her mother's eyes narrowed, the smile on her face was good natured enough for Erina to giggle.

“It’s Doctor Pendleton, mama. They were so pretty I couldn’t help but want them for the hospital party this evening…~” The young girl had changed her tone of voice to sound more like that of her father, earning a roll from her mother’s eyes.

“The hospital party, hm?”

“Yes! I have created new treatments, you see! They’re celebrating how our patients have returned to good health!” she gave a cheeky grin and continued, “Suitors are going to want to dance with me all night. I won’t have time to sit so I needed the nice shoes too.”

With a warm chuckle, Elinor Pendleton reached down and scooped her daughter up into her arms, tucking her close to her chest and barely avoiding injury as one of her boots slipped off of Erina’s stockinged foot. Dress up time seemed to be, unfortunately, over.

“Well, Doctor. Don’t you think you should be focusing on your trade?”

“I am!” Erina’s indignant tone caused Elinor’s eyes to sparkle with mirth. “I have worked very hard to help every patient!”

“I see, I see,” her mother nodded, waves of gold falling about her face that Erina’s eyes couldn’t help but follow. “But you see, my little one, your job right now? It’s not to focus on such grown up things! Have fun with your patients and do your best to make them feel better.” She gestured to the doll with blonde ringlets laid out on the couch, when she said patients and Erina frowned.

“Father says I ought to be more mature!”

Elinor’s face darkened almost imperceptibly at the mention of her husband. “Well, he tends to say a lot of things. He isn’t always right, Erina…”

“He seems smart to me!”

“Oh, please--” She sighed and kissed Erina on the cheek before lugging her to a chair in the parlor with a gentle ‘oof’. “You are growing up. It is getting very hard for me to carry you these days… but if you’re so quick to follow along with your father’s orders, I won’t have enough time to enjoy every passing moment with my little girl as she is right now…!”

Suddenly, her mother’s fingers were digging into her sides and tickling her and Erina erupted into peals of laughter, trying her best to fight off the attack to no avail. No matter how hard she tried shooing away her hands or how tears began to stream down her rosy cheeks, the young woman didn’t stop until every inch of Erina’s forehead was covered in sweet kisses.

“M-Mama, please! I-I give!”

When Elinor was satisfied with her daughter’s tickles, she stopped and smoothed her unruly hair into something manageable. Erina couldn’t help but look up at the gentle expression of the woman holding onto her.

“You’re getting too big as it is, and I want to be there for everything. So, how about we take things slow... okay? Just try to be… Erina. Not older Doctor Pendleton. Not yet.”

“...Mm, okay… I can do that because you asked me,” she replied easily, leaning her head against her mother’s shoulder...

Erina gasped and sat up from her spot on the ground. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes wasn’t enough to stop the tears from flowing freely again. Quickly she looked around and with relief, knowing that she was still alone at their camp, she began to cry into her hands.

She wanted her mother to be there so badly, it had been ages since she felt the desire that strongly. To be able to hold her and help her, but this was not to be. Her mother had simply asked her to be Erina but she couldn’t do that. Not now when there were so many other things she had to do, impressions to make and secrets to keep. Erin was happy and was the most put together out of the three adventuring boys. He made sure Jonathan and Dio didn’t argue too badly with each other, but also tried to help in as many ways as he could…

Right now it meant keeping a secret.

Right now it meant pretending as if everything was okay.

Right now it meant being more grown up than ever she wanted to be and frankly…

She was miserable.

Chapter Text

- May 11th, 1881 -

Her twelfth birthday had come and gone and Erina could only be thankful that the day itself was over. It was thrilling to know that their little adventuring party had wanted to celebrate her birthday as much as they had enjoyed Dio’s and Jonathan’s. Yet, that morning Erina had woken to a familiar ache and the weight of nausea settling in her stomach... and all she had wished for was to curl up and sleep for days and days and days.

There was no way she could enjoy anything. For their sakes and for the sake of their own efforts though, she simply had to try her best to seem believable. And try she certainly did.

It wasn’t anything much. The Baron had prepared something delicous and hard to pronounce for dinner and Jonathan presented her with a cameo strung up on a ribbon in secret, something he must have been sitting on since their time in Illinois which had her heart skipping beats even despite her discomfort.

Speedwagon had presents as well. Not merely just for her either. He returned to camp bearing their Christmas gifts long since promised. Erina, Jonathan and Dio were all given switchblades. In his own words, Robert felt they would do well to have these on their persons. Just in case. Jonathan had looked cagey about it, obviously not used to handling such a weapon, but Dio’s eyes merely lit up. Erina had no doubt that Dio was already in possession of one, but had no qualms with starting up a potential collection.

Robert ruffled her hair when presenting the knife intended for her. The tiny hilt was milky white and around the switch was a small inlay of mother of pearl. It was quite beautiful and she did her best to school her face into something akin to a beaming smile. She hoped her attempt was successful. Her companion sighed and offered a lopsided grin of his own.

“Here Erin, y’know I made sure to hand these out on your birthday ‘cause this was an important day an’ all. I wanted it to be real special for ya… and well, you don’t have to act like everything’s okay if it’s not.” For a moment as Robert spoke, Erina felt her world slow to a sudden halt. Did he know the truth, then? Could she… be herself? Was he providing comfort? The idea caused tears to spring at the corner of her eyes. Robert draped his arm over her shoulders and sighed again. “C’mon, let it all out Erin. I know you must miss your father right terribly. Jojo told me all about it and if you’re feelin’ that homesickness creep up, you’ve got nothing to worry about…”

Despite his earnest attempts at kindness, Erina couldn’t help but walk away from the oppressive weight of his arm and wipe at her eyes. “I’m dealing with my troubles the best I can, Robbie. Please don’t think I’m unappreciative! Thank you so much for everything. This will pass… I-I know it will. No need to worry about me.” She turned then and finally mustered a smile.

To her relief, she watched the tension in Speedwagon’s shoulders relax. Good. She wouldn’t have to speak of this again. She could take care of herself.

Reflecting on it now, as she sewed new cotton to her undergarments by the moon’s light, Erina felt like she really had been ungrateful. Everyone had been so accommodating, doing their part to try and make her smile. Dio had even hung back and merely watched her. It was better than having to deal with his inconsistent attitudes. Normally she could find a way to diffuse such situations but she wasn’t sure she had it in her to put up with him.

Erina had been lucky in April. Jonathan’s thirteenth birthday had taken place just the week before and the little fireside feast they prepared for him was so much fun. Gifts were exchanged and even Dio and Baron Zeppeli managed a few kind words to each other. The evening was a delight and the conversation was pleasant. The quick kisses her and Jonathan had shared in the cover of night behind the wagon, an extra present for his birthday, were sweet and memorable and left her feeling weak in the knees for two days after.

It had been days later when her body became her enemy once again and she was grateful to have been able to properly celebrate with Jonathan at least. Perhaps she shouldn’t be so upset. Everything was already so unpredictable. She had no idea when her cycle would begin again as her body adjusted to these new changes. It wasn’t practical to tirelessly fret over something one could not control, only enjoy the days she knew she was in the clear.

Erina carefully cut the brown thread with the switchblade she had been gifted before tying off the edge and sighing to herself. She had to be stronger than this. Overthinking such trivial matters were doing more harm than good. This would happen every month for many years to come, she simply had to live with it. Crying wouldn’t solve anything, but what else was she going to do--

“Hm...”

At the sound of the voice behind her Erina yelped, dropping her blade and nearly cutting her palm open with it. Whipping around, she found herself face to face with Dio and her stomach immediately sank to her feet. Oh no… of all of people to stumble across her covert operation, why did it have to be him? She had to play this off smoothly, she couldn’t afford not to.

“Dio! W-What are you doing--!?”

“So. It was you, then?” His tone was even, almost matter-of-fact and lacking the condescension she had anticipated. However, Erina couldn’t let him get even close to finding the trail. He had uttered a question that she had no intentions of answering for fear of leading him to the truth.

Instead, she took a defensive approach. “What are you talking about?” Erina replied with a slight narrowing of her eyes as she pushed her extra trousers further behind herself. “What was me exactly?”

She hoped that he would recognize the desire to be left to her own devices. That she could handle well enough on her own and would prefer he leave her be. She had prayed he was clueless as to what was actually happening here. Erina should have known better.

“You’re bleeding aren’t you?”

The way he had asked was almost clinical, as if trying to make his words as impersonal as possible. Perhaps he had thought that she would find this to be a more palatable approach but all it did was make her bristle. To so brazenly say such a thing! Erina was certain she may have been the first person in medical history to pale and retain a blush in her cheeks all at once.

“...E-Excuse me!?” She answered in her best indignant voice. “That’s-- that is absolutely none of your business, Dio!” After so many months masquerading as Erin, sometimes her lessons in etiquette and the proper reactions for a lady would be pushed to the wayside. Not this time. She remembered quite well how to act like an incensed young maiden.

“Even so, you never answered my question proper.” Dio’s voice wavered just a bit and she could barely detect a hint of irritation in his voice. He wanted to be answered that much was obvious. Yet, as Erina finally met his eyes his gaze was steady merely searching for a straightforward reply.

An reply she wasn’t sure she’d ever be ready to give.

“I am not inclined to answer you.”

“Are you or are you not?” There was that irritation once again. A slight flash and even more insistence that Erina simply could not make heads or tails of.

Why the fuck did he want to know so badly? Something like this was her personal business and not for his ears! It did not matter how many times he insisted. She could not help but wonder if Dio wanted that confirmation for his own sick satisfaction. Would he whisper about it to Jojo and laugh at his mortification thinking it the joke of the century? Did he not understand that to have such knowledge... he needed to also possess someone’s trust?

Trusting him with her life and vice versa was one thing, but entrusting him with matters as sensitive as this? She wasn’t so sure about that.

Erina’s mouth was set in a tight thin line as she finally parsed out how she wished to answer. She had to be careful and keep control of her own words. Conversation with Dio could be like a game of chess. He used wittiness to his advantage and was not one to waver under a challenge. It was a good thing when their end goal aligned and bad when they were at odds.

“A lady… does not discuss that kind of thing with gentlemen in her company.”

She had adopted the more lofty tone that Nellie would use when speaking about propriety. Erina hoped that that would have the desired effect. Sure enough, she watched as Dio’s lips curled downward into a slight grimace. Displeasure was written clear across his face and Erina relished the idea that she may have caused the vampire to admit defeat at least once.

Just as soon as she thought he would retreat to regroup himself and try again later, he spoke up instead.

“Answer me this at the very least. Are you managing things well? A simple yes or no will suffice.”

Erina’s eyes widened momentarily at his question, almost surprised by the genuine concern that almost seemed to bleed into his voice. Did he… really care?

“You needn’t go into excruciating detail,” he added then with sarcasm dripping from his tongue. She felt her hackles raise and the reaction must have been visible as Dio’s eyes flashed with an emotion she couldn’t seem to read. She didn’t hear concern, it was merely a moment to try and mess with her and she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. Maybe if it were about anything else when she were feeling better, but right now? She didn’t have the patience to entertain him.

“Do you think I am incapable of dealing with my bodily functions on my own?!” Erina tore her gaze away from him and crossed her arms. “I’m dealing with what I need to and in the very best way that I can. The details are, once again, none of your business.”

A displeased grunt left the boy’s mouth which set her own further into a downturn. Oh? Was he agitated that she wouldn’t accept his bait? Let him die mad about it then, she was not going to let him make light of this. Not now, not ever. He turned his back to her then and as her eyes glanced back at his form, she noticed how tense the line of his shoulders were.

“Just as I had said before,” he spoke to the open air. His tone was imperious but his words held an odd sort of agitation in every syllable, “A simple yes or no would have sufficed.”

She was content to leave it at that, content to let Dio return to camp and sulk or groan or do whatever it was he did when he had been bested. Still, he had taken one step before pausing, not making any effort to turn back to her.

To her surprise, even after such a confrontation when he spoke his voice was oddly gentle. “You should head into town, Pendleton. There is a general store with a myriad of sewing supplies.” He shoved his hands into his pockets then and shrugged. “It shouldn’t be too difficult to ask Speedwagon to offer up a handful of coins for a quick errand.”

With nothing further to say Dio stalked off back to camp, leaving Erina both defensive and confused. His delivery was much sweeter than she had expected. On one hand, all she had wanted to do was to speak to someone about it and be honest... but she knew practically she had to stick to her guns for her own safety. He may have some sort of inkling as to what was happening to her but he could prove nothing and she was quite intent on keeping it that way.

Though perhaps… she would visit that general store anyway.

It would be best to keep her own collection of thread on her person. After all, it would be smart to keep from taking too much of the group’s collective property. Someone would eventually take notice that most of their thread was missing.


 

Dio had to have known. He didn’t look at her at breakfast nor did he whisper to Jojo after the fact, but she was certain that he was just as aware. It was his lack of reaction that had Erina on edge. She wondered if that was his method of action. To wait her out until she folded from nervous tension and gave up what he wanted to know?

She certainly hoped he wouldn’t resort to such tactics with her. Instead, she didn’t even want to react. All Erina wanted to do was keep quiet and forget any of this had ever happened.

The day after his confrontation, despite how disgusting she felt, Erina decided to accompany Robert to assist with the farm work he’d been doing. It wasn’t easy but moving around helped her forget some of the pain and when the farmer, Mr. O’Riley, came out to urge them to break for a meal, the lunch he provided was so delicious she couldn’t help but think it had turned out to be a pretty good idea.

All of her nervousness and anxiety had been channeled into the work and it was a sort of bliss to send all that energy in a different direction altogether. It was even more in Erina’s favor that she had worked herself so much that she merely ate dinner and passed out for the remainder of the night. Better to not even dwell on the potential dirt Dio had on her.

The day after posed more of a problem. Robert did not have anywhere to be. He always had one or two obligatory days to relax after quite a few that comprised of hard labor. No one had begrudged him this and in fact urged him to simply rest. Erina herself had thought it necessary to ensure he stay healthy. The didn’t want a repeat of what had happened months prior.

But right now? She had needed that outlet, needed something to do or she’d be fit to burst. For a moment, she almost regretted telling him to take a rest day. Though her subsequent thought was to curl back in horror at the idea. How selfish of her to even think such a thing?

Nevertheless, Robbie, the wonder that he was, seemed to pick up on her agitation. His suggestion was the next best thing.

Instruction on how to use her new blade effectively.

She had jumped at the idea and sprang to her feet to follow Robert a ways away from the wagon where no one would be in their way. As he had shown her the stance to take and a move to practice, Erina let herself just practice slashing in the air and clear her mind.

Instead, her mind was filled with thoughts of Dio. What was he planning? He had seemed so cagey when she had woke that morning. According to Jojo he had been doing something but as soon as those words left his mouth, the vampire in question was at his side and tugging at his arm. The first words he had spoken to her in over twenty-four hours were quick and to the point.

“He’s an imbecile who doesn’t know what he’s speaking of. Disregard him.”

With that, the two of them were off in another direction and Erina was left with anxiousness once again eating away at her.

What did Jonathan mean by that? Was Dio truly planning to humiliate her and have Jojo along for the ride? She was sure he had to be in the dark about all of this… if he had known this was something that would upset her, she knew for a fact he wouldn’t want any part in it. For Jojo’s sake, Erina hoped he was not being made an unwitting accomplice.

“Oi oi! Erin stop, you-- shit !”

Erina had realized just in time as she cut at the air that she’d nearly taken a stab at Robert. Quickly she dropped the blade on the ground and stepped forward, gently touching his arm to make sure he hadn’t been injured. “Oh my-- I… I am so sorry, Robbie! Y-you aren’t hurt, are you? I didn’t mean to d-do that, I wasn’t thinking...”

The teenager ruffled her hair and smiled, although he looked a little pale and nervous after that near miss. “Don’t you worry about that now. I’m just fine and dandy, not a scratch on me I promise ya that! Just-- just, uh… don’t do that again, alright? If you’re gonna practice you need t’focus, okay?”

Erina nodded solemnly, feeling beyond guilty for her actions. “I-I am truly sorry, I should have been paying more attention and--”

“Hey, hey, Erin, relax. I’m really fine. I promise… though I gotta say, if you’d cut me good I’d be proud to say I got me a scar from my little brother here!” He smiled wider and gestured to his middle in what she assumed he hoped would make her respond in kind.

It didn’t.

The idea of hurting him by accident instead only made her feel more distraught. She felt her face twist in sadness and Robert’s bushy brows rose to his hairline in concern. Regret was evident on his face.

“M-Maybe we should take a break… we’ve been at this for awhile now. C’mon…” Speedwagon gently placed his hands on her shoulders and turned her toward a rock a little ways off to sit. He deposited himself on the ground in the soft grass, his back resting against the rock next to her legs. “Nice to catch your breath after a rough time, eh?”

She hummed in agreement but didn’t do more, wringing her hands in guilt and nervousness.

“Hey… y’know if something’s wrong, you can tell me right?” That got her attention, her blue eyes snapping to meet his tired brown ones. His lips curled up in a nervous smile. “You’re really out of it and I know the whole… homesickness thing is bothering you, yeah? You miss your father?”

The fact that he didn’t get it left Erina wanting to scream to the high heavens, but to know that Robert could tell she was upset… about something caused her eyes to burn with happy tears. She didn’t know quite how to respond, but she was lucky. Robert kept on talking.

“You’ll make it back to him. This journey… I know it’s taking way longer than we all expected, but we’re making our way through it. I know most of it is my fault too, so I’m trying to get us through as quickly as we can and I-I’m really sorry if--”

“Don’t.” Erina said, cutting him off. She reached out to gently pat his rough hand. “You have nothing to apologize for. In fact I want to-- I want to show my gratitude. I’m going to feel sad, I have to get it out of my system but… knowing that you’re there for me? Trying to help me? Nothing could mean more to me, Robbie. So… thank you.”

The warm look Robert pinned her with in that moment made Erina feel supported and more at ease. It wasn’t everything she was looking for, she wasn’t as honest as she’d wished to be and there was a loneliness she wasn’t sure she would ever properly shake, but it certainly made her feel less adrift. He scratched at his head then and gave a hearty little laugh.

“You’re welcome… and listen, you’re a little fuckin’ demon with that there blade. If we keep this up, you’ll be the scourge of the damn streets in no time.”

“You promise?”

“Oh, I promise,” he assured her. “But for now? We’ve still got a five minute break.”

The two of them rested together for a bit and though it didn’t solve everything troubling her, Erina felt more solid on her feet when they got back to their training. They had practiced feinting and he had to help her redistribute her weight a few times. Still, she felt she had made some good progress and in the end, that’s what was worth it.

When the two of them returned to the wagon, the sun was setting overhead and Jonathan waved as they approached. “Dinner will be ready shortly!” he called with the delight he always had for their evening meals and Robert hooted in response.

“Good! We worked up a damn appetite!”

Erina couldn’t help her laugh. “I’ll be out in a moment, I just want to put this away before we sit down.” She held up the closed switchblade to show him just what she was referring to and Jojo’s big answering grin made her heart pound in her chest for a moment. He waved her on and she climbed in the back of the wagon.

As she reached for her carpet bag, she paused. Sitting right on top of it was a small basket made of wicker and packed to the brim with goods. Erina reached for it and removed it from its place, depositing her knife in her bag in favor of browsing the gift that seemed to be left for her.

A little card made of folded journal paper was inscribed with her name which at least indicated she was right in thinking it was hers. She knew that neat, looping penmanship as well. Dio had written this. She pulled out each item carefully inspecting what was left for her.

First were two pouches. One was full of seeds and the other seemed to contain a crushed powder. Next to that was a small tin full of what appeared to be a fragrant, spicy sort of tea. She also found a few fresh bread rolls, two mason jars of some sort of orange jam and a bottle of what was listed as ‘Blackstrap Molasses’. That last item was a bit strange, she’d never heard of the substance and the molasses smelled awfully bitter when she removed the lid.

After taking stock of the basket she opened the letter, confused by what Dio was trying to give her.

It’s contents read less like a note and more like instructions on how to use the things he had given her. For what? She wasn’t sure.

Fennel Seeds - One pouch for chewing. The powder is to be taken before bed with hot water.

Ginger Tea - Bitter but very good for you.

Molasses - Should be called black treacle. Americans have no class. Also very bitter but might serve you well in the tea. If you’re feeling daring, a single spoonful will also do the job.

Apricot Jam - Apricots by nature are good for your condition. Eat this on the bread, especially after drinking the tea. It will help ease the bitterness.

There was no other message, merely instructions and Erina knew then what this was. Black treacle? ...This was all to help manage her symptoms.

She held the paper to her chest for a moment and blinked back tears at just how this gesture had touched her. After agonizing about how Dio would do his part to make a fool of her, he instead showed sympathy and concern… in a very Dio sort of way. She would have to apologize for being so quick to judge his actions.

Erina looked back down at the instructions he left and sighed softly. The loneliness in the pit of her stomach had ebbed away… just a little bit.

Chapter Text

She was beyond insufferable.

All Dio had wanted to do was actually assist her. Granted, he would never utter these words aloud but Pendleton was a smart girl… or so he thought. Could she not see that an olive branch was being offered her way? The vampire had his reasons for wanting to help of course, he was never the type to do something out of the kindness of his heart.

Dio doubted Erina had much to manage the pain. It was evident in the way it would leave her sluggish and irritable. This would no doubt slowing her down. If she slowed, then the whole group would follow suit one way or another. It was really always something with these people, wasn’t it?

But no, that wasn’t his exact reason for pushing this matter. He knew when he was lying to himself as much as he was loathe to admit it.

Erina Pendleton was the even tempered one of the group. Surely, she had quite the issue when it came to coddling Jojo but he could look past that. She had saved his life, kept his secret and helped calm him more times than he preferred reflecting back on. Frankly? Dio was rather tired of being in the red with her in terms of ‘favors owed.’ But of course she was being about as stubborn as a mule with this, acting as if she was perfectly capable all on her own.

He knew better. He had seen the tracks her tears had left on her cheeks. Did she forget his sight was much better than hers? It was infuriating. Why wouldn’t she just let him help?!

Though perhaps… he did understand a little better once his initial irritation had subsided. He’d found her denials frustrating to say the least, but he understood not wanting to show weakness. If she wanted to save face in front of him maybe there was a way for him to accomplish his goals while still appeasing her.

He thought back to his mother and her own treatments for her ‘troubles.’ They hadn’t had much to their name, but she had always sent him to fetch things for her when work took up most of her time, or when illness left her bedridden and couldn’t retrieve them herself. He remembered her bemoaning a lack of apricots and singing the praises of treacle and fennel.

Perhaps that was it. He could help her pain management without actually making his presence known. He could do his part without directly interfering.

That night, by the bright light of the moon, Dio wrote up a list.

The knowledge of what to gather came back to him with surprising speed. He knew he should put a little more effort into the items as well. Apricots could easily be made into a jam and he could create a nice tea blend with the ginger. Perhaps this was a bit on the excessive side for someone of his caliber but once again, after holiday upon holiday where he was constantly showed up by the work Erina and Jonathan put in, he didn’t mind breaking a bit of a sweat.

He wouldn’t be showing off his handiwork, but he knew that she would be well aware of what he was trying to do. That quiet recognition was really all he was looking for.

“Here, Jojo,” he had said when morning arrived, waving the note in Jonathan’s face. “I have some things I need retrieved from town. Be a dear and get me everything on this list, okay? Okay.”

“Hm? What… issat?”

Jonathan’s reply was still laden with exhaustion, apparently not prepared to be awoken so early on a non-training day. But that was certainly too bad wasn’t it?

“A shopping list Jojo, come now. It’s not that early, surely you can pick up what I need?”

Jojo sat up and rubbed at his eyes before taking the list from Dio. His eyes scanned the items, brows scrunching up in confusion. “Black treacle…?” He asked, looking at the vampire with a little frown. “What… is that? I’ve only heard of golden…”

“It’s a bitter, dark syrup,” he answered, struggling for a better description. “You truly cannot miss it. A bit thick. Quite like yourself.”

HEY!

“Mm, it may not go by treacle here... but you’re a big boy, yes? I’m sure you’ll be able to get it for me anyway,” Dio responded, not bothering to acknowledge Jojo’s little outburst. It was beneath him at the moment and he already had so much to do.

Jonathan paused for a moment before a smug smile pulled at his lips. “You’re planning on making us a treat, aren’t you? That’s why you want the apricots, right?”

Oh, the thought made Dio want to laugh in his face, but well… allowing him to think he was right would fare far better than knowing the truth. So he hummed and crossed his arms. “Perhaps. Perhaps not. If I do any such thing, it would certainly be a surprise.”

“Ha! That’s great then,” Jonathan replied with a sunny laugh that left Dio wanting to roll his eyes at it’s sheer musicality. “Let me go ask Erina if she’d like to--”

“No!” Dio snapped quickly, though the shocked look on Jonathan’s face made him pause. He hadn’t intended to be so… forceful about it. “Would you want to ruin the surprise? Is secrecy not the most important thing for something like that?”

For a moment, Jojo said nothing and he worried that the brunet hadn’t brought his words. Was he losing his edge? Had the gambit failed? But then, a smile broke across the boy’s face that was so unbearably wholesome and bright, Dio squinted and shielded himself away on reflex. “You’re absolutely right about that, my mistake… I’ll get everything you need!”

“Good. You’ve had a dog for some time, go fetch~”

Dio had never seen grin fly from Jojo’s face quite so fast and the instant reaction only served to make him chuckle. He was surprisingly easy to irritate in the very best way.

He passed the morning by gathering the supplies they already had on hand for his project. Cookware and a basket hidden empty amongst the wooden crates in the wagon would suit him just fine. When his organizing was done and all he needed to do was wait for Jonathan to return, Dio had taken to wandering the outskirts of the farmlands by their camp.

Erina left rather quickly earlier today. When Robert rose with the sun she did the same, although she looked as if death itself hovered overhead. She must have been dealing with quite some pain judging by the look in her eyes before she realized he was watching. Her embarrassment was palpable and she practically ran out into the early morning light to get away from him.

That was certainly an overreaction. He had done nothing to warrant such worry and he would prove it to her.

“Th-There you are!” Jonathan called from the top of a rolling hill, a decent distance away. Dio watched, mildly impressed, as Jonathan sprinted from there all the way to him in a blink. It was certainly no vampiric speed but the rigorous Hamon training he was subjected to strengthened his body more and more every day. Though, no matter how much training Jojo received he still couldn’t seem to get rid of the baby fat that still lingered around his neck and face. The mere thought left Dio chuckling to himself.

“I-I was looking for you but you weren’t at camp! I’ve got everything… and ugh, I’m going to have to send that farmer quite a bit of money in the mail once we return home.”

“Oh? Why is that, Jojo?”

“It...it’s just-- there were no apricots on sale in the marketplace quite yet, but Farmer O’Riley had-- w...well his orchards had some ripened ones and I just-- ugh, it doesn’t matter!” Jonathan was tongue tied over his supposed ‘minor crime’ that he fully intended to reimburse the farmer for. Yet Dio couldn’t help the laughter that bubbled up from his throat. If that’s what left Jonathan so nervous, then he was completely out of his league around someone like Dio.

He gasped theatrically. “Jojo! Of all the things! I never expected you to commit grand theft produce!”

Jonathan immediately frowned and pushed past the vampire leading the way back to their wagon, trying to hide the embarrassed flush on his cheeks. “Whatever! Y-You know? Your list was difficult! The shop owners really had to look to see if there were any fennel seeds and no one knew what treacle was! I certainly hope you enjoy whatever Blackstrap Molasses is.”

“I must say... whining does not become you~ But ah, yes, molasses was the name that escaped me. That’s perfect. I suppose you have done well.”

Dio let out a small hum as he rummaged through the bag of items. It was pleasing to see that Jojo could actually be counted on to be a competent shopper when the need arose.

“Hm, you’re dismissed,” he murmured nonchalantly, waving Jonathan away. The young Joestar just huffed and sat a few feet away from him.

“The treats you’re making better be delicious because I certainly don’t deserve this treatment.” Jonathan muttered sulkily before pausing. “Ha… a pun.”

Finally, unable to hold himself back, Dio turned to Jonathan and made a very big show of rolling his eyes. “I hope you’re done,” he hissed before he set off to work.

Setting up the necessities were quite the chore but it was the boiling of the apricots for jam that needed to be dealt with first. Jonathan had returned with plenty so it would be easy to say his little concoction poured into scavenged jars would be for “everyone.” It was the perfect cover, truly.

He was so immersed in preparing his collection of things for Erina that he didn’t catch the Baron’s eerily soft footfalls behind him until it was too late. The man’s deep breathing tipped off his location before his words did, but Dio was unnerved nonetheless.

“What are we cooking here?” Baron Zeppeli asked, looking down his nose at Dio. His tone was friendly enough but no matter what, whenever that man chose to address him, the vampire still managed to detect an underlying threat. They were at peace for now but it would do him no good to get any sort of comfortable around the older gentleman.

“None of your business.”

“He’s making us all something sweet!” Jonathan piped up from across the fire, shooting a self-satisfied look Dio’s way.

“Hm, something sweet? Oh! You’re making preserves? That’d be rather good for breakfast than just… bread. It’s about time someone other than me and young Speedwagon had a turn at the cookfire.” Zeppeli offered an attempt at a smile. It looked more like a grimace and Dio ignored it.

He was making a point to try but that didn’t mean Dio had to return the sentiment.

“Like I said before, none of your business.” He huffed, hoping the old man would move along.

“He told me it’s a surprise!” Jonathan called again and Dio chucked a rock in his direction with the intent of shutting him up. Despite his supernatural speed, Jonathan still caught it without even thinking and balked at himself when he realized what he’d just done.

The Baron was also blinking in surprise and Dio swore he saw the man’s mustache twitch when he smiled. “Well now, Jojo! That was impressive! Let’s see if you can do that again!”

Hearing that allowed Dio to let out the breath he was holding. He didn’t want to spend all day entertaining Jojo’s antics. He had no qualms with tending to the boiling apricots, as it gave him something to do while they waited out their time here. Having to deal with Jonathan and the Baron’s lingering presence was another story altogether. The boy hardly took notice when Zeppeli walked away, but there was no way to ignore it when he stopped and turned to him.

“Good luck with the project. It is good to see you showing some affinity for your companions.”

The man smiled and walked off leaving Dio feeling more askew than before. What on earth did he mean by that? Of course he could be saying so about the fact that he was making “treats” for everyone but… that expression. It was as if he knew everything and then some.

Dio despised how that magician always looked like he was privy to his thoughts and motives.

Chapter Text

Dio had taken to early evening walks since they had been on the road again. Whether that was because of the fact that they had been so sedentary in Illinois or because he was naturally restless, Erina didn’t know. What she did know was that wandering around the nearby farmland after dinner would probably yield some results as to his whereabouts. So she did just that.

When she caught sight of the vampire in question his back was turned to her, the gifted parasol slung over his shoulder and shading him from moonbeams. It had been getting darker later and later and he took it with him now as a matter of precaution. Normally someone would have thought he hadn’t heard her but his stance proved otherwise. He tensed up slightly before she could even breathe a word.

“H-Hey can we talk?”

At her words she saw him jolt. It was the slightest movement, a barely-there flinch in the moonlight but she did indeed see it. Knowing Dio however, it was for the best to stay silent.

After a moment he finally turned. His face displayed no shock or surprise, not anything that would have been suggested by his small jump. The only change from an even mask on his face was the upturn of his eyebrows, threatening to disappear into his hairline when his eyes finally landed on her. “Is something the matter?” He asked, shifting his weight onto his other foot as if to appear more comfortable. It did him no favors. “Did Jojo go off and cause some mess with Speedwagon? If they’ve managed to lay waste to the campfire in the fifteen minutes I’ve been gone…”

Erina’s hands immediately raised in an attempt to placate him. “No no, that’s-- that’s not it… I wanted to say thank you. You leaving me the basket was… extremely generous. I also wanted to apologize for how I-- I treated you previously.”

The silence between them after she had spoken was deafening and left her feeling nervous. Robbie must have rubbed off on her as she floundered in her attempt to leave the silence. Instead she did her best to try and fill it with words. “I didn’t think you were trying to help me when I asked so I was very… negative… about the whole thing.”

“You definitely were.”

His reply was in his standard haughty tone of voice, a reminder to all he encountered that he was better than them and always would be. Yet in the intonation of his voice, she knew it was just... Dio. It was how he could communicate and compensate for whatever was going on in his head at the same time. There was no sneer and no mockery laying wait in his words. No, this was merely… Dio Brando trying to press on.

“I hope you can accept my apology… you’re the only one who knows after all.” She replied with a nervous little shrug. One question had been present in her mind from the moment she saw his handwriting on the basket’s note and she wasn’t about to let the opportunity pass her now. With a little encouraging yet still unsure smile she asked him, “How… did you know what to give me? I had heard about the helpfulness of black treacle but nothing of the others…”

Another silence stretched between the two of them. Erina didn’t have it in her to speak and interrupt whatever was going on in Dio’s mind. It must have been a lot, as she saw something flash across his eyes. An unrecognizable something. While familiar curiosity welled deep inside, she knew better than most that it must have been something… surprisingly difficult for the vampire to voice. So she remained quiet. She let him have his moment.

“A little reading here and there doesn’t hurt anyone… Don’t you know, Pendleton? Even Jojo could pick up on those remedies if he chose to apply himself.” His sudden answer nearly startled her. Once again, a haughty joke… but this time at another person’s expense.

Was this really… something that everyone knew?

He laughed at his own joke and Erina looked away. Her own nervous laughter bubbled up in her throat more because she had to just… do something instead of merely gaping like a dead fish. Luckily for her, he had turned his back to her, exposing his face to the moon. As his laughter faded it was replaced with a sigh.

Another pause.

The silences were beginning to make her fidget. After another moment she opened her mouth, hoping to steer the conversation somewhere else because this was not working, obviously. That is until Dio spoke first. “...I’m the only one who knows after all? I suppose it’s only fair I tell you then.”

She closed her mouth immediately and gave him her full attention, despite the fact that he cast his gaze to the ground. Unusual and different and something that made Erina doubly take note. “I used to fetch these items for my mother in her… times of need.”

Oh. So… that was the crux of it? No wonder he had been so cagey about the whole thing.

“You were a very good person… a good son, to help her out. I wish my mother had taught me those things,” she replied softly, trying to encourage him to at least look up. If he didn’t want to talk about it he could end it there but the boy kept talking.

“It was more of a fruitless endeavor than anything, but it was knowledge to have I suppose.” The idea of it being fruitless made Erina feel an empathetic pang, different from the pain that still coursed through her body in a dull throb. If that was all he wished to say on the matter, it was his prerogative but she knew there was… much more.

“...My mother was subjected to bed rest more often than not when… her time came about. Certain months could be tormenting in ways she hadn’t experienced before then.” His continuation surprised her. She was sure Dio would have stopped there, but no the boy kept speaking even as her features contorted in empathetic pain. He even glanced up occasionally meeting her eyes. His expression was hard and soft simultaneously and there was a message in his gaze that she couldn’t quite decipher. “There was a list of ingredients she kept close in her mind,” he continued, “I had troubles acquiring everything she asked of me, but… I did my part to memorize the list down to the detail. The ink had been written on my arm, you see.”

Erina could picture him in her mind’s eye for a moment. Dio years younger, smaller and streaked with dirt with a mop of pretty blond waves on his head and an ink list blurring on his forearm. It was… touching to think about. It was then that it hit her…

He was telling her this as an exchange. Secret knowledge for secret knowledge. The fact that it was Dio doing such a thing? The thought was a shock and a relief all at once. He would treasure her secrets because she held his vulnerable memories as collateral in the palm of her hand. Of course this would stay safe.

“So, it only seemed fitting to put my matchless abilities of memorization to good use. You’re welcome.” His attempt at sarcasm was much more raw now and she made another, better attempt at smiling.

“Well… your memory must have no match. I’m not sure I ever would have remembered such a list after a month, let alone how long we've been on the road.” She tried her own quip back. It wasn’t easy with how heavy the atmosphere had become… and how vulnerable they both seemed to be.

Erina decided that to answer his vulnerability with her own would be... a show of solidarity. So she began to speak.

“I was told… never to tell anyone about this.” She began, feeling the weight of secrecy lift off her shoulders in a way that gave her instant relief. “Especially not a man. It is ‘absolutely impolite and full of impropriety! One’s cycle is a secret to be closely guarded not spread around like gossip! Not even one’s husband should be privy to all the details!’” Erina’s voice changed as she quoted Nellie, who meant well by her words but never rightly understood the effect it had on the young girl. It was once again a terrible impression but it got the point across. “I didn’t know what to do… except suffer in silence. I think I did a pretty good job, don’t you?”

She sent a nervous smile his way and shrugged her shoulders.

“Atrocious would be a better description of your acting skills.”

Nevermind. There went her smile.

“Well, Jojo and Speedwagon bought it!”

“Jojo and Speedwagon make one whole brain, Erina.”

“Then I fooled one whole brain!”

Perhaps it was a little mean, but this quickfire banter was almost reflexive for her.

“That you did.”

“That is still a tally in my column, no matter how rude you are~” She shouldn’t have been so smug with that comment, but she couldn’t help but cross her arms and smirk. Just for good measure.

“Mm, color me impressed.”

She laughed softly and Erina even saw a small smile tugging at Dio’s lips too. The atmosphere was far more lighthearted than she anticipated, and it was… nice. To be able to joke even like this. An understanding that didn’t need to be addressed with words.

Erina wasn’t thinking when she shuffled closer to him and reached for his hand. A quiet thank you was on her lips as her warm fingers wrapped around his cold palm and gave a meaningful squeeze. It felt good, to share a moment of contact with someone who was on the same page…

But then, her mind flashed with every other time she attempted holding his hand without Jonathan as a potential buffer. In the park, in the tailor’s shop. The ring of ‘Don’t. Touch me.’ echoed in her ears and immediately she dropped his hand and pulled her own to her chest, trapped by her left to keep the traitorous thing from reaching out to him again.

It was… lovely to feel a physical comfort. A hand to hold, someone to share the burden with. It was her preferred method of feeling better, knowing someone was there with her. Was there for her. Yet, she had tried it with him twice before and both attempts were answered negatively. In every moment of vulnerability Dio expressed, she was turned away. Now, just because she was the vulnerable one... it didn’t mean that this was okay. She waited for his anger, for him to call her out on once again crossing an unseen line. But no such harsh words ever came.

She was compelled to apologize as nervousness once again took over. But, as she opened her mouth to speak up... Dio’s voice cut through the air like a knife, sharp and cold.

“You’re forbidden to do any more of that self-sacrificing nonsense regarding this matter.”

“Huh?” That certainly wasn’t what she’d expected. She honestly wasn’t sure what he was referring to. Self-sacrificing…?

“No point in choosing to distance yourself during these particular days since I’ve caught onto that facade of yours. If there’s anything you might need… there’s nothing stopping me from sending Jojo off to run an errand or two.” He replied in a huff, obviously not pleased that she didn’t understand what he was trying to say. As he kept speaking, however, his voice developed a sort of… hidden softness to it. He was offering a helping hand, even if it was being done in a roundabout way through someone else. “And before you say anything, he quite enjoys playing fetch like that hound of his back home.”

“Don’t you prefer a distance though, Dio? You’d be better off for it when I’m like… this. Also, th-that is so awful to say about him. Jojo’s a person not a dog, you know!” She didn’t… rightly understand all of that. How Dio was offering to be there. Every cell in her body screamed to go and take the comfort without question, but she couldn’t help herself. So, she fell back on the familiarity of snapping at him hollowly for putting down Jonathan.

“...I have to find my own way of thanking him for fetching these things for me… and I need to find a way to thank you too,” she frowned slightly. She owed them both for putting together that basket. For caring for her even when she’d shut everyone out and opted to suffer on her own.

She wasn’t quite sure how yet.

“Well of course he’s a person.” He answered her flippantly, waving a dismissive hand in the air like it was nothing. “However, if you choose keep up this little charade from the past two months? I’d prefer you didn’t in my presence.”

There was a stretch of quiet, she had no idea what to say to that after all, before he planted his hands firmly on his hips and gave her narrow eyed look. “What? Frightened that I’ve gone and picked up the scent of your bleeding?” He shook his head then, blond waves flouncing about like the subject wasn’t absolutely mortifying. “Ugh, don’t even worry about such things. I’ve smelled worse. That fake brother of yours reeks. On all days of the passing months. His stench certainly smothers yours, Pendleton, I assure you of that.”

“I-I wasn’t worried about that before! But frankly? Now I-I’m horrified!” She would have yelled at the slight to Robbie and his smell, but what he was getting at made her want to crawl in a hole and just scuttle out in forty years when that response had faded from memory.

“I am merely stating facts. My point stands nonetheless!”

“Dio!” She hissed in reply and elbowed him weakly, not enough to be violent in any manner but enough to make it known she didn’t want to hear anything like that again.

Listen. It will do us both better if you don’t take up acting again around me. Do what you want regarding the others, but there is next to no point with me. Especially now that you’ve chosen to grace me with gratitude. To turn away and pretend as if it never happened would be awful, as you like to preach.” Dio huffed and pinned her with a sharp glare. He wore frustration plainly on his face, like she wasn’t getting his point and it was bothering him.

Erina huffed. “What am I supposed to do then? Go to you when I feel like I need someone to be around? To complain about my pain? To inconvenience you?” She knew he often put on a show of inconvenience and really she wasn’t in the mood to deal with that. If he was going to do this and commit, she wanted to be clear. She would have zero patience for a song and dance.

“You’ve nothing better to do and neither do I the longer we stay here. Besides, I’ve seen how you tend to turn Jojo away during this time… and frankly, I cannot say I blame you. This isn’t anything you need to comply to. Nothing more than a suggestion, Pendleton. If you feel I’ve done enough, then so be it.... and that is where we’ll end it.” He sniffed imperiously as he said that but didn’t tear his eyes away from her.

He was actually being serious. Of all the people to talk about this with her… it was him? The thought made her want to laugh out loud. But knowing that she really could trust in him in this moment? It made her eyes burn with tears that quickly ran down her cheeks.

Dio looked completely thrown off at the sight of her sudden crying. The concern was apparent and never had she seen such a look of absolute dismay on his face at possibly saying the wrong thing. To calm him, she softly nudged her arm against his, a show of affection and a thank you all in one but she dared not grab his hand again, just in case.

“Thank you… Dio…” Erina told him softly, giving him a little smile.

Their conversation ended there. The two of them had been away from camp for too long and it was time for her to sleep, but as the next day arrived and the hours passed on, Erina munched on bread slathered in apricot jam and sipped intermittently at bitter cups of tea sweetened with honey. It helped her pain subside and left her feeling more cheery than before.

Her improved disposition meant she was in much better spirits when she wandered after dinner again, finding Dio poised against a budding tree with his parasol in hand.

“You know Dio… that bread was rather delicious with the jam. Which bakery did you get it from?” She questioned, sliding up next to him without a greeting or any other sort of ceremony. It was an experiment to see what he would do.

He blinked for a moment in open bewilderment as he took in her standing there beside him. Yet, that look eventually subsided and his lips quirked up in a small pleased smile. He looked very much like a self-satisfied cat. “I made Jojo steal it from an elderly woman in town.”

“W-What!?”

“Kidding, kidding~”

“...”

“...The only thing he stole were the apricots. Of his own accord , mind you.”

He did what ?!”

Chapter Text

“Are you telling me your birthday was in October?!”

Erin’s small voice had raised an octave until he sounded a bit like a girl. The indignation in the young boy’s tone made Robert laugh as he looked down at the blond. His “brother” was keeping stride with him and their two other young companions. He was harried and obviously shocked and it was just… hilarious. His little pink face pushed into a pout.

“Yep. October 16th, actually… but don’t worry ‘bout it.” He shrugged accompanied by a sheepish grin.

“W-Well, I never--!”

“Erin’s right to be shocked. You celebrated all of our birthdays this past year, so you should know that this means we’re going to have to double up the birthday festivities in October because you lied to us,” Jonathan piped up with his own satisfied smile.

Dio in turn, picked at his nails with disinterest but nevertheless managed to find words to speak. “Indeed, if we’re still on the road by then anyway. Goodness, I certainly hope not.”

“I-I didn’t lie! I’m not the damn type!”

“A lie of omission is a lie~” Erin answered sweetly and for their crimes, Robert reached forward and gathered the preteens into his chest, methodically pressing his knuckles into each kid’s head for a noogie. What he didn’t expect, however, was for Dio to slip out without warning, for Jonathan to send a mild jolt of Hamon through his arm and for Erin to elbow him hard on reflex.

The combination left Robert stumbling back, winded but impressed. “A-Alright we’ll… we’ll stop with that shit.” He let out a surprised little laugh but continued their stroll. "Well shit, you three are getting a little too good at fightin' me off."

His chuckle faded away as he had regarded the town around him. While this Ebbing place wasn’t a rough and tumble western town by any means, as they had gotten closer to town the air seemed to shift. It wasn’t as upbeat or nearly as nice as some of their other locales had been. There was a stench about the area that reminded him of home and that had set him both at ease and on edge at the same time.

Because of this, Robert didn’t want to set up camp in the outskirts and leave them vulnerable. While he was loathe to spend more money than he needed to, it was important they stay safe so he negotiated a couple of rooms at an inn. One they'd all settled he had taken the kids to walk around and explore the town with him, he knew William had stayed back to write some correspondence.

Lately, the old man was more agitated when he couldn’t get a letter out. He was so often composed that seeing him short-tempered when it came to something as simple as writing left Robert confused. God help you if you tried asking him about it out of sheer curiosity. When Robert asked to see who he was sending a note out to, Will had practically yelled at him to go.

Well fuck you too, old bastard.

Wandering around Ebbing seemed a bit… suspect , but it was good for them to get a lay of the land before calling it quits. He’d been told by a number of different townsfolk that it’d be in their best interests to get settled by sundown, and with foreboding warnings like that? Robert couldn’t be bothered not to be on edge. He’d be a damn fool to take their words with a grain of salt.

He had all intentions of catching up to Jonathan, Dio and Erin until a loud yell erupted from a building to their right. It caused him to jolt forward in surprise and the other three immediately turned with him to examine the source of the shouting. The building in question bore a sign in big letters that said ‘saloon’, something that made Robert’s bushy eyebrows raise in surprise.

There were two possible courses of action here: walk on past obviously, he was saddled with three kids aged thirteen and under and a saloon or any sort of bar wasn’t the type of place you’d willingly let children roam about with all that curiosity of theirs. Or, he could walk in with them, use the patrons as a cautionary tale and get an even better lay of the town’s seedy underbelly.

...

He tried his best, but Speedwagon was eighteen years young and not always the most responsible of their collective bunch. If Zeppeli somehow caught word that he had taken them into some random bar in some middle-of-nowhere Missouri town, he’d definitely have his ass for this, but… he was going in anyway. Learning about what was going on around the dark corners was imperative and, well… he had grown up in the gutter that bore him. This was nothin’.

“Hey, listen,” Robert beckoned the kids over. “Mind if we head in there for a second? We can scope out the local scene a bit more comfortably. For a bonus, you boys get to get a peek at an adult saloon and also y’know… what the fuck not to do. Understand?”

The trio exchanged a look before shrugging. “They won’t kick us out, will they?” Jonathan asked, a small hint of worry in his voice.

“Nah, so long as you keep your noses out of trouble.”

“Us? Trouble ?” Dio gasped, turning on the sarcastic faux dramatics which left Robert rolling his eyes. “Why, we have never caused you a shred of trouble…!”

“Yeah, yeah, shaddup. Come on let’s go.”

The four turned and made their way to the bar. Immediately, all visible eyes were on the strange teenager and three preteens that accompanied him. He fidgeted, blushing under the sudden attention and urged the kids to follow him after him. Quickly.

The “saloon” was relatively empty at the front. There was one man snoring into a glass of something brown and a plate of half-eaten food, and another who was hunched in on himself close to the counter with a drink in hand. The main crowd was instead gathered at the back. A myriad of tables had been set up for games, but the biggest amount of people were huddled around a dice table. That wouldn’t have been so odd if not for the shouting with every roll.

What… was going on over there?

Robert walked to the bar and sat, gesturing for Jonathan, Dio and Erin to do the same. To his chagrin, the three turned immediately to take a gander at the dice table, looking a bit like three wide-eyed birds on a wire. He uttered a silent prayer thanking the Lord that too many patrons were locked on the happenings of the dice game to notice their behavior.

“Well now… welcome to the Ebbing Saloon, how can I help ya?” The bartender, a portly older gentleman, announced loudly over another dismayed cry from the dice table.

“Ah… still got one of those free lunches I’ve heard about?” Robert inquired, he had heard of those from true western saloons and he wondered if this place carried it.

“We do, we do-- ah, a limey! I’m surprised, we never get your kind around these parts.”

“Ah, sir that’s-- that’s an uh, really fuckin’ rude thing to call a Brit. Also... not sure if you realized, but there’s fucking children present--” he began, trying to swallow his irritation at the surprise insult. “We are not children, we’re in our adolescence, Robbie!” Erin hissed but Robert chose to ignore his brother in favor of pressing on. “But, uhm… yeah, I’ll have the plate then and a gin. Though… aren’t you a little too far east to be owning a so-called ‘saloon’?”

A part of him hoped the comment would bother the bartending bastard, but instead the man shook his head with a knowing smile. “No, no, sir. We’re west of the Missouri river, everything on this side is fair game~” Robert wasn’t sold but saw no reason to press further. Instead, he threw his hair behind his shoulder and nodded over to the bustling card table.

“...So, what’s that all about back there?”

It was only then that he saw the first sign of negativity from the saloon owner. His eyebrows furrowed as he looked to the crowd behind him. “That man at center stage back there? Stay away from ‘im. He blew into town about a month ago and has been workin’ his way through everyone’s finances and property if he can help it. Whatever he can get his hands on.”

“S..shit, seriously ? Taking all their property in a game? Why would anyone play?!” Robert yelled over the crowd, confused. It didn’t make sense, if you witnessed a trend why keep participating?

“It’s like the man’s got magic at his disposal,” the bartender spoke solemnly, pouring Robert’s glass. “He plays that fuckin’ game Cee-lo and gets everyone that plays him feelin’ cocky, thinking that they’ll be the one to finally best him at his own game. They never do.”

The bartender shook his head once more and Robert glanced over at the crowd, scratching his chin. Suddenly, a distraught patron fell to his knees and began to cry and beg, pleading with the round’s winner not to take his house deed. He couldn’t quite make out the words of the deep, smooth voice muffled by the crowd, but the answer must have been insistent as the poor loser sobbed and slumped over in defeat. It was as if his very soul had been taken from his body.

“Yep, that’s a normal night here… just, do me a favor sir?” The bartender asked, pinning Robert with a serious look. “Don’t fuck around back there with the likes of him. Not with Howard D’arby. The man is trouble and once you meet him, it’s a name you won’t be forgettin’.”

“...Barney?” Jonathan piped up, earning a belly laugh from the bartender.

“No, no. D’arby. He said it had an apostrophe or somethin’. Keep talking like that kid and I guarantee you’ll piss him off.”

“That’s a weird name,” Robert grunted, turning once again though he paused. While Jonathan and Erin were curiously watching the game’s events unfold as meager bystanders, Dio seemed to be staring intently. Speedwagon could practically see the cogs turning in the boy’s head. That was a sure sign of trouble, too. He wasn’t about to get mixed up in unwanted bad company just because Dio was in the mood to take a swim with the goddamned sharks.

“Dio. Whatever you’re thinking? Stop right fuckin’ now.”

“Mmm? What are you talking about?” Dio asked innocently, not bothering to tear his eyes away from D’arby’s table to acknowledge him. “I'm not thinking at all.


 

Of course Robert would want to go back. After they’d returned to their humble hotel lodgings, Speedwagon easily omitted their little visit to, what Dio had considered a glorified watering hole, and reported about the shady D’arby character to the Baron. The Italian seemed to be fine with the man’s presence. “I doubt that will be an issue, Robert. The man seems to operate in that saloon and it’s not like we’ll be in there at all. We’ll be keeping our noses clear of trouble, no?”

“Haha… definitely. You’re the one with the mustache here not me,” Robert replied. At his attempt to make a joke, the older man merely rolled his eyes and pressed on and asked about the next town they would be stopping in the coming days.

After a hard day of work, after breaking his back in town, once Speedwagon had met up with Jonathan, Dio and Erina again he cocked his head toward the bar. “Oi, mind if we stop back there? I’ll get you three-- or two rather-- somethin’ to eat.”

At the mention of free food, Jojo perked up. “A-Ah okay! That sounds alright!” Erina nodded as well. “I wouldn’t mind,” she replied with an insufferable sweetness in her voice, “you deserve to relax, it’ll be fine.”

Dio simply shrugged and nodded, not bothering to say anything as Robert whooped and led the way. After seeing the atmosphere that D’arby fellow had created the day prior, Dio found himself rather… interested. This man thought he could manipulate so many people with little to no effort? He probably could but oh, he was becoming complacent. Dio felt that in the air around him. When a man grew cocky and complacent? Well, that was the perfect opportunity to strike.

He had beaten everyone, but he had never met Dio Brando before today.

He fully intended to dethrone the man at his own game. Earlier, he had pinched Robert’s collection of dice from his belongings and it would serve him well. He had a plan involving deception and skill, a gambit he’d pulled off numerous times back home. The man didn’t stand a chance.

The trio followed Robert inside, Dio closing his parasol as they reached the threshold, as Speedwagon’s presence seemed to make the obnoxious bartender light up. “Hey! Pull up a seat, same thing as yesterday?” the man called. Robert nodded, blond hair flying in every direction.

“Yes sir,” he replied and glanced over to watch Dio and his companions sit down in their own seats. Of course, as soon as they were all settled in, Speedwagon turned away to chat up the bartender… to get lost in town gossip while pushing his plate over to Jonathan and Erina.

With the three of them physically distracted, Dio slipped away from the table like a shadow. He made no sound as he held his parasol tightly in one hand and played with the dice in his pocket with the other. There was more than enough space for him to slip in between a few adults who stood mesmerized, watching the current game unfold.

Dio recognized the dice game immediately as it was something he’d seen played in the slums before. Three dice with different combinations meaning win, loss or points. 4-5-6 meant an automatic win while 1-2-3 meant an automatic loss. There were other ways to win points, rolling triples or doubles with the single number left being your point amount. Pretty straight forward.

It was hard for him to see the mastermind in question as they rolled, but it was the poor sod D’arby was up against rolling first. He was sweating profusely as the low, velvety voice of his opponent taunted him. “Aaaa, worried about your property? I promise, even after I win... I won’t make use of the land~ You can guarantee it will remain unoccupied, sir.” The man in question vibrated with rage as he tossed the trio of dice across the table and shouted in delight as he rolled a 3-3-5. Five points was impressive, D’arby would have to be quite good to beat him.

D’arby laughed low and reached for the dice left on the table and shook them softly in his hand before letting them fly. They rolled across the wood, landing rather gracefully.

4-5-6.

As one man shouted in agony and another left out of sheer frustration, Dio could finally see the table proper. He watched in morbid curiosity as the bested player shuddered uncontrollably before collapsing face first on the table, looking… close to death, if not actually deceased.

He really went barking up the wrong tree, didn’t he? What a fool.

“Curious about the game, kid?”

D’arby had noticed him, his tone of voice giving off an air of hospitality for a newcomer. It was then, after being addressed, that someone shoved him forward toward the table while another patron dragged the unfortunate, passed out loser from earlier away.The game began now.

“...Y-you mean me, sir?” Dio asked, allowing the posh accent he had cultivated over time slip away. That would do him no good here, the vampire wanted to come across as vulnerable and stupid, and his gutterspeak was far more appropriate at this time. He feigned innocence and a little fear as he glanced around the crowd, taking stock of who was watching and nearly paused when he saw Jonathan and Erina both staring at him behind a few other onlookers.

Good. They would witness his victory.

“Mmmyes, you,” the man replied easily. Someone at his side hissed “He’s just a kid, Howard…” only for the dice player to wave them off, reassuring that it was all in good fun.

Howard D’arby may as well have been the strangest man Dio had ever seen. He was tanned with wavy brown hair and couldn’t be any older than forty. He would have been handsome if it weren’t for two notable things about his appearance. The first being his impressive mustache, which was full at his upper lip and continued off to connect to his equally impressive sideburns. The second, and definitely the oddest, was strange birthmark that seemed to cover the entirety of his lower jaw beneath his mustache. The skin there was silver in color and striped, almost as if a bit of his face was made of metal. What a bizarre sight, to say the least…

As if to make matters even more ridiculous for him… D’arby sat in a three piece suit, complete with a colorful bowtie sporting his initials HD. On his shoulder, a calico kitten made herself quite comfortable, dozing peacefully while he retrieved the dice from across the table.

“So, what’ll it be? Wish to learn the trade? I’ll go a bit easy on you at first.”

Dio feigned a gulp as his brows furrowed. “Ah-- I-Isn’t this a game for adults…?”

“Worry not, any bet is good here. Hm, tell me… in your pocket, are you carrying three dice?”

He nodded and deposited them with a false tremor in his fingers. He knew exactly how to play this off. “I-Indeed, I used a bit of my pay to buy them, b-but… I haven’t really found a use yet.”

“Ooh,” Howard crooned, reaching for Speedwagon’s dice. “You know, kid, dice? They’re quite a bit like a man’s soul. When someone rolls dice they think they’re leaving things up to chance but really… if they want to win that badly, their roll will reflect that very outcome. It’s a mirror on their true intentions. Their true selves. Whether they want to win or lose… live or die.”

Even without his whole nervous schtick, Dio couldn’t help but find himself a bit on edge after hearing those words. He seemed certifiably batshit if this was the sort of thing he said to a child looking to challenge him without proper knowledge of the game, let alone to an actually skilled opponent. Who in town decided that letting this man play anything was a good idea?

“W-What?” he asked, honestly unsure of what to say.

His words made D’arby throw back his head and laugh, startling the poor calico awake. “Nothing, nothing~” he replied. “Now, listen well. I’ll teach you the basics and we can start off small.”

As the man launched into his spiel about the rules, something Dio knew well enough already, the blond chose to feign a listening ear as he took stock of the man himself. D’arby had to have been of some skill, the way he handled the dice seemed like that of an old friend. He flicked them between his fingers absently and cycled through the winning and losing combinations.

“Now with all these petty rules out of the way,” the older man announced with a voice like molasses, breaking Dio away from his thoughts. “The terms. Place your bet and I will match it. You can back out after any round is over and let another have at the big boy table. We’ll keep going until you’ve quit or you clean house~ Sound like a plan?”

Dio nodded, fishing out his betting money. He had amassed his own bit of cash from pickpocketing in between stretches of boredom, and this was the perfect way to double up on his investment. He placed the pile on the table letting his eyes flicker around in a show of faux uncertainty. They landed on D’arby’s face just in time to watch as disbelief and satisfaction flashed across his features. This man was ready to take candy from a baby.

“W-will.. Um, will this be enough, sir? Or at least… half of it, I don’t know if I wanna spend all of this… I-It’s months of wages earned, y’see…”

Howard nodded his head and snickered to himself. “You may wager half, that is… a humble amount, but I am nothing if not charitable to women and children.”

“A-Alright then! Thank you…!” Dio and Howard both parsed out their bets, half of what Dio was carrying and set about the actual game.

“You can roll first, you’re the rookie after all.”

Dio thanked him and picked up the dice stolen from Speedwagon. Now was the time for his tricks. He had no intentions of winning this round, or the next, but he didn’t want to clue D’arby into the fact that he was plotting something. It had to be an interesting roll. Something that would call attention to him, but also deter it. He threw the dice then, letting them roll across the wood before landing face up as 3-3-1. A piss poor roll, but exactly as he intended.

“Oh. O-oh, no…” Dio mumbled, looking down at the table as if dismayed, .

“Off to a bad start, but no worries… you can still come back from this~” D’arby reassured him in the most patronizing of ways, before tossing the dice himself and watching with contentment as 6-6-6 landed face up. The smug look on the older man’s face as he brought the cash to his side would’ve been insufferable if Dio wasn’t already planning a massive beating. “Ooh, I’m sorry… try again? See if you’ll get it back? You’d have to put up your other half though.”

“Do… do you really think that would get it back for me? I-If I win?”

“Why yes, but well… give it your best and we’ll see what happens.” The man gave a smarmy smile, the edges of which disappeared under his mustache. Dio caught Jonathan and Erina’s eyes again, they looked slightly nervous but more confused than anything. He hoped Pendleton would at least catch on to his plan… this would mean they wouldn’t have to worry about money for a bit which would be nice change of pace. He was getting rather sick of towns.

His eyes snapped back to D’arby as he pushed the rest of his money pile to him. “O-Okay. Let’s do it…” He gave a hesitant nod and Howard took the dice this time.

“My turn first, it’s only fair to switch back and forth,” he said, leaving Dio to stutter out an ‘alright.’ Oh, this fool was just falling further and further into his trap. D’arby didn’t hesitate to toss the dice this time and Dio offered his best look of shock when he saw 4-5-6 show up on the table.

“Ah… sorry ‘bout that, kid,” he said, without any sense of remorse.

Now was the time. “N-No... no no no no! What am I going to do?! I-I worked hard to get those funds… my f-family needs that money a-and they’re just going to--” Dio cut himself off and burst into crocodile tears. He was no stranger to false crying, actually he was quite good and smirked internally when he felt a familiar wetness running down his cheeks. “P-Please sir, please, c-can’t I try again!? F-For everything, d-double or nothing… whatever! There must be something I can wager to get them back!” He took in a deep shuddering breath. One that sounded like a choked sob but was more akin to a laugh as D’arby steepled his fingers and leaned over.

“Oh poor boy… alright, I can maybe throw you a bone for your troubles.” His eyes flickered down to Speedwagon’s dice and back up. “How about this…? Since I’m no heartless monster, we’ll do one more round. Double or nothing. If you win? You get all of your money back plus all of my bets, doubled… and if I win, I get your dice. Does that sound passable to you?”

The dice, huh? The bastard sure had a fucking unhealthy obsession. Dio stopped with his theatrics then and rubbed innocently at his eyes. “Y-You… mean it? You really will?”

“I swear on my life…” His eyes shone with complete and utter confidence as he nudged Speedwagon’s dice back to Dio. “You can even roll first.”

Dio reached for the dice, holding them tight in his grasp and let the tears and veneer melt away. His once docile gaze became hard and piercing as normal and his mouth turned up into a smirk reminiscent to the vampire’s nature. “Thank you very much for letting me win, kind sir.” He allowed his accent to return to its standard practiced posh and watched the surprise wash over Howard’s face.

He relished in the abrupt shift in D’arby’s expression as he threw the dice. Each cube of white and black rolled along the surface and landed just as he’d planned.

4-5-6.

Something strange overcame Dio in those passing seconds. It was as if something cold had hesitated at his shoulder, lingering beside him throughout the course of the game… and he had only just noticed as warmth returned to his person. The slight knot in his stomach told him he’d just narrowly survived… whatever that was. However, keeping up appearances were far more important in this moment as his smirk only became crueler. He held out his palm and laughed, directly imitating Howard’s earlier gesture. “I’ll be cashing out now~”

Howard D’arby looked beyond bewildered, trying to understand what just happened. It was almost out of his range of comprehension that some child had just bested him at his own game. That he had actually lost. But then, the crowd began to murmur among themselves before they started up a cheer. That brought the man back to his senses as he jumped to his feet, knocking his chair back. His hair was beginning to frizz and the cat on his shoulder leaped away.

“Y-YOU CHEATED, YOU LITTLE SHIT!” D’arby practically roared, pointing to the dice in accusation. “THOSE DICE MUST BE WEIGHTED! OR YOU’VE DONE SOMETHING ELSE!”

“I assure you I did no such thing~” Dio answered easily, looking smug. “Now… my money please.”

Howard pushed past the crowd and even shoved the table aside to grab at Dio, holding him up by the front of his shirt. He heard the gasps of the crowd and some yelling for Howard to give the kid his money and leave him alone, he won fair and square. He also heard a cry of “Dio!” from Jonathan and Erina who had tried to surge forward to help him. But he just smiled wider.

“What are you going to do?” Dio purred, not batting an eye. “Kill me? I’d love to see you try, Denby.”

“It’s D’arby.” He hissed, looking half crazed.

“OI! THE FUCK IS GOIN’ ON OVER HERE?!” Suddenly, Robert was shouting from his side, charging forward to break them up. “PUT THE KID DOWN, ASSHOLE.”

“And who are you?” Howard sneered, not even bothering to glace Speedwagon’s way. His grip on Dio tightened as he laughed darkly at the man’s ridiculous display. Oh, how quickly he’d fallen apart. Threats or not, night had fallen and as a vampire? He was untouchable.

Robert crossed his arms. “I’m his guardian. Hell, those are my dice.”

Howard turned then to face him, glancing from Robert to the dice and back to Dio. The young vampire didn’t even have time to make a quip before D’arby shook him violently, teeth bared.  “Y-You can’t wager dice that aren’t YOURS! That’s not how THE GAME WORKS!” The man, it seemed, had descended into madness and my, my, what an interesting look that was on him.

“They were mine,” Dio replied through gritted teeth, “F-for that moment~” Just because he was a vampire didn’t mean it was easy to speak as his brain rattled around in his skull. Howard let out a guttural cry of frustration and then grabbed him by the throat. A futile effort.

Yet, the man froze. The whole crowd froze when they all heard a loud click. Dio couldn’t help the surprise welling up in his own gut when looking at Speedwagon. Robert had pulled out a pistol, one he knew the teenager had kept quiet about but had on his person in case of dangerous situations. It was aimed point blank at D’arby’s head and the entire room went deathly still.

“Put. The boy. Down” Robert told him, his voice was even but with a serious edge. He absolutely would pull the trigger if Howard did not comply to his words. Despite the emotion of the situation, Speedwagon sounded calmer than Dio had ever heard him before. With a gun in his hands, he had expected him to be hot-headed or even wild. Not calculating and even-tempered. It was a strange, but not unpleasant change.

D’arby was quiet, taking stock of the whole situation before he lowered Dio back down into his seat. He turned to Robert then, laughing as if he’d just heard the end-all of jokes. “Alright then! Is THAT how you want to play this game!? I’m a fucking flexible man. I’ll bet on dice, cards… poker, blackjack, hell if you wanna get obscure I’ve got my own bonafide Japanese hanafuda cards. Hahaha… but with you, kid? With you, I’ll bet on guns.”

Speedwagon lowered his piece somewhat, but still kept it within shooting range. “Sir, I’m not in the mood for this shit. Just move on.”

“No. This little shit owes me for a bad faith bet. You’re his guardian, you say? Step in his fucking place, kid. Your piece against mine,” D’arby hissed. “Whoever lives gets the spoils. All my winnings. A true double or nothing.”

“Robbie, no,” Erina whispered, seeing that Robert was actually mulling it over. Dio could hear the legitimate fear in her voice and when Jonathan chimed in with a shaky “L-let’s just leave!”, Dio thought they really would be walking out. But then Robert tipped his hat.

“Challenging me to a duel, eh? Ain’t that illegal here? Also a little fuckin’ 18th century for me, but I’m up for anything.” Robert pulled his hat down a little more over his eyes. “I may be from the gutter, but I’m a decent shot when it counts. We’ll see…”

The grin of a madman spread across D’arby’s face as he approached Robert and forcefully shook his hand. “We have a bet then.”

Chapter Text

Robert really couldn’t have told you how he got here. Well no, he could, it was surprisingly fucking simple and it wasn’t even his fault. But well, sometimes loony weirdos at dice tables start shaking around the kids you’re looking after, and you just end up needing to shoot someone.

But, he hadn’t wanted some “duel”. What was this? 17-fucking-80? They weren’t in the American colonies! England had a bloody fuckin’ Queen now, for God’s sake!

Sure enough though, in a field on the outskirts of Ebbing, Robert was looking at his pistol with a cool disinterest. He wasn’t pacing and fiddling with the gun, no that was his opponent. Instead, he was pretty even about the whole thing. Speedwagon knew he was an excellent shot, that he worked incredibly well under pressure and even better when he wasn’t thinking. But, there was definitely a real threat here… if this guy got lucky…?

Well, he was raised in the slums. He didn’t have the option to let him get lucky.

He just had to do what he had to do. Win.

He glanced over to his side where the three preteens sat. Jonathan looked nervous and fidgety, letting sparks of Hamon spring from his fingers instead of looking on at anything else. Erin looked grim, which nearly compelled him to go over there and ask why his little brother didn’t seem so confident in him. Especially after Erin had come up to him and asked if they should just run. But Robert wasn’t the kind of man who ran away, and he didn’t want to inspire that kind of principle in his brother either. You know, he had to be an example or some shit…

Even if the example he was setting was a highly illegal betting match in a highly illegal set up that could no doubt result in a highly illegal act of murder.

Dio, on the other hand, was staring hard at the gathering of people around Howard D’arby and the man himself. The kid was thinking, his jaw set in a hard line and frowning deeper when D’arby waved in his direction.

He’d caught as they left that Dio was pocketing handfuls and handfuls of money in addition to his betting money, so he knew that if he lost? Howard would be returning for his cash. Not that Dio was in any danger there but well… they didn’t need that kind of threat on their ass.

Speedwagon was surprised when Dio rose to his feet and strolled over to him with all the grace of a cat. He turned him away, so that the D’arby side could not see their exchange, and his voice was soft but full of steel. “The bastard plans to cheat.”

“Cheat…?” Robert parroted, brows furrowed. “How the hell do you cheat at guns if my piece is working fine? Especially when we’re doin’ this shit by firelight.”

The young vampire groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“You will be taking paces, Robbie. He’s going to turn before ten paces and shoot you in the back like a dog. So get on the same page, okay?

“Y’know… that’s the first time you’ve ever called me Robbie,” he muttered with surprise. A response which quickly set Dio’s facial expression as something even darker. “Relax, it’s good to know he’s cheating. I mean I was gonna do that too, I just have to be quicker now.”

Dio tapped his foot in irritation and looked like he was going to say something else, but Robert cut him off. “D’you think this is the first time I’ve shot someone Dio? Cause lemme tell you, it’s not and it was much messier back then. Now I don’t wanna kill this guy, the last thing I fucking want is a murder with witnesses because getting executed on some American gallows wasn’t part of my life plan. So trust in me kid, I appreciate the worry but I am takin’ this seriously.”

Speedwagon gave what he hoped was a reassuring smile and tried to ruffle Dio’s hair. The boy caught his wrist with surprising speed and met his eyes sharply. “I never said... that I was worried about you. That’s not my job to do. Just… survive, idiot. We need our navigator. Without you who do we have? Zeppeli? Don’t make me laugh.” Dio’s grip on his wrist subsided and he allowed Robert to pat his head once before he ducked away. “Don’t disappoint me.”

Robert snorted and gave a lopsided smile. “Don’t worry, I don’t intend to.”

As Dio walked off, it was Jonathan’s turn to finally rush over. “H-He wasn’t mean to you, right?” Jonathan asked, his green eyes filled with such concern and empathy that left Speedwagon feeling the warm fuzzies for this kid. He just made you want to take care of him even if he was quite the bruiser all on his own. No wonder the Baron was indulgent as all hell with him.

“Nah, nah. He didn’t. Helped me out in his own way.” Robert shrugged with a smile.

“Good,” Jojo replied indignantly. “Now you’ll… be careful out there, right? You’ve got this?” It was almost as if Jonathan was looking for his own fears to be assuaged and was simply terrible at hiding it. Robert nodded and threw his arm around Jonathan.

“Now Jojo, I can’t guarantee a damn thing about anything that’s gonna happen. That’s just a bad thing to do. The universe likes to throw that ironic shit back at you. But what I will say is that I’m promising you that I’m going to do my damn best. Can you trust in that? In me?” He tried to give the kid a comforting smile though it was getting harder the more everyone seemed to doubt him.

Lucky for him, Jonathan seemed just a little more relaxed. He attempted his own smile and nodded. “Y-Yeah, of course I can! I trust you. Always!” Jonathan’s words brought a tear to his eye that he tried to blink away as he clapped the brunet’s shoulder.

“Th-Thanks, Jojo…”

Jonathan patted his arm and sent a little jolt of Hamon through his body. The warm power coursed through him and he felt himself immediately relax just a bit. A slight trembling he hadn’t been aware of ceased and he felt more in charge of his body than he had in quite some time.

“No problem,” Jonathan replied easily. He patted his arm once more, this time without the power and walked back. Robert had to wonder if this all was purposeful or not, he couldn’t be sure with that kid but he certainly appreciated it.

As things started to get more serious, Erin finally made his way over. The young boy’s blue eyes were surprisingly cold but he could see behind that. The fear there. “You know… instead of getting involved in a shootout, we can just leave. There’s still time.”

“I told you Erin, I can’t do that. Plus, d’you really think that guy’s gonna be satisfied with me running? He’ll probably chase us down if he feels gypped in any way. We gotta see this through,” his tone was a little pleading, he really wanted Erin in his corner after all. He felt better knowing Jonathan and Dio seemed to be supportive. It meant more to him than he was willing to let on. As obnoxiously sappy as that was, feeling their support made him feel as if he could accomplish just about anything.

Erin’s face turned to one of open concern and nervousness at his tone, like he didn’t quite know what to do. “Dio says… he’s going to cheat. If he’s faster than you…”

“Hey! D’you remember bein’ on that steamship with me?”

The young boy looked down as if he was trying to summon up the memory. He couldn’t blame him either, it had been so long since those days. Close to a year. It felt even longer than that and so much was different now..

“Yes,” he finally said, daring another glance in Robert’s direction.

“Remember how I knew exactly what I was doing? Always in-step with everyone else or two steps ahead?” Erin nodded at his words. “I’m more in my element now, here, than I have been since that steamship. I need ya to trust in that, okay?”

He had more to say, more things to bolster his argument because he knew Erin. The kid wanted to be logical about everything. But then two skinny arms wrapped around his waist, hugging him tight. “J-Just be careful, okay? You’re already shaving years off my life by making me so nervous.”

There were the misty eyes again. Jonathan had just opened up the proverbial “tear flood gates” and they were going to come easier now, weren’t they? He just returned Erin’s embrace and patted his back. “H-Hey, I promise. I’ll be careful. And listen, all things considered… if I can after this, I’ll show you how I shoot.”

“I-I don’t know if I want that skill set just yet… we’ll talk about that later,” the boy said with a watery laugh. When the two finally stepped back from each other, his little brother’s big blue eyes were so obviously on the verge of tears it made Robert’s heart freeze for a second. How could one kid always look so… sad?

He tried his best attempt at nonchalance and laughed weakly. “Yeah, we’ll talk about it later.”

With that, D’arby called and the three of them walked to each other. Face to face with that weirdo, his pistol heavy in his hand, he tried to clear his mind. The asshole in front of him looked a mess, hair every which way, his collar undone and vest opened. Yet his face seemed to be a mask of confidence. Probably the knowledge of his intent to cheat letting him rest easy.

“A duel by firelight! A challenge if I’ve ever heard one. Here’s hoping your aim is good for ten paces. The first one to land a shot is the winner, they take all the money and they get to walk away. The loser… well, he’d better hope our good doctor here is able to fish out a bullet,” D’arby gestured to a man in plain clothes at his side who held tightly to a bag full of the wagered money. The man looked beyond nervous. Robert didn’t know if the poor sod was even a fucking doctor but he sure as hell didn’t wanna find out.

“Alright then. Ten paces?” Robert asked, confirming the man’s lie.

“No more, no less,” Howard practically purred, his smooth voice almost screaming deception. But Robert had a feeling he would try to play chicken with him. He wouldn’t turn immediately, not when this bastard liked to savor a victory.

Robert gave a little laugh. “You’re on.”

They raised their guns then and turned. As the countdown began and each took a step forward. One step. He thought of the Joestars. Their care for him, the way he was quickly and admittedly a little naively accepted into their ranks. Two steps. He thought of Dio and he thought of the Baron. Two at odds with each other, diametrically opposed. They still hadn’t warmed up to each other, but there were such good things about each of them. He wanted to see them reach some sort of understanding. They were so similar that it had to happen soon…

Three steps. Erin popped up in his mind. Close to tears. Smiling as big as he could. That kid was the closest thing he’s had to family in a while. He brought him into something that was an even bigger family. He couldn’t fuck this up.

He turned then, only three paces in and didn’t think about anything as Howard turned too. A stroke of luck that he wasn’t sure he was even going to get. He watched the casual look on the man’s face turn into shock as Robert aimed and pushed down on the trigger.

The gunshot rang out, deafening to all in the area until something else replaced it.

A scream.

“M-MY HAND! MY FUCKING HAND!” D’arby screamed. His pistol had been dropped to the ground and he held up the afflicted appendage by the wrist. The bullet had struck his hand, pushing through skin and bone and nearly taking off his thumb. His marred flesh practically wept blood and he was certain he saw shattered white bone jutting from the edges of the gunshot wound. “WHAT DID YOU DO?! Y-YOU GODDAMN CHEAT…!”

There was a lot Robert could say to that, but instead he put the safety back on his gun and shoved the still hot muzzle into his pants. “Welp that was fun, guess we need to be grabbin’ our winnings!” He pushed his hat further down on his head and turned. Dio already had the bag full of money and the bewildered maybe-doctor balked behind him as he began to run.

“C’mon! Let’s hotfoot this shit out of here!” He yelled to Jonathan and Erin as he bolted into town. They had to get to hiding and then retrieve the wagon now as D’arby’s agonized cries meant without a doubt that there’d be people after him. The least he could do was get a head start. He could’ve killed him really, but he preferred disarming. Here’s hoping that bastard couldn’t ever roll a trio of dice again.

Sure enough, the preteens followed quickly as they hurried through the streets. Jonathan and Dio could surely outrun him and Erin with his long legs could keep up pretty easily, but they made a point to match his pace. He felt like a panicked mother duck with her trail of equally panicked babies behind her.

William was going to fucking kill them. Or more specifically him.

As they rounded the corner, they skidded to a halt in surprise. The wagon was out and hitched, their things loaded on and in the driver’s seat was the Baron. His brown eyes, usually glinting with some sort of mischief or power, were instead full of fire and his mustache twitched above his downturned lips.

“Get on, the four of you,” he snapped, watching the three kids pile into the back and fixing Robert with a withering look as he joined him up front.

“How’d you know?”

“You didn’t come back and then I caught word that there was some sort of illicit gambling duel taking place on the outskirts of town,” William hissed, turning the wagon onto the road and making their way toward the direction they’d planned. “I figured it was either you or Dio.”

“I take offense to that!” Dio called from the back.

Robert rolled his eyes. “You can’t take offense when you’re the reason this whole mess started in the first place! I’m just the man who finished it.”

William groaned, snapping the reins to urge the horses faster on the road. “The first comfy bed I’ve had in weeks and it’s ruined. Che palle, this is why we can never have anything nice.”

Chapter Text

Robbie’s little stunt with D’arby had basically meant they’d all been kicked out of town. That sort of gunfight wasn’t exactly welcomed in Ebbing and Howard’s anger spoke volumes. He left that duel short a couple of fingers and gained a newfound grudge against Robert and especially against Dio. Their group potentially could have returned to town and settled back at the inn, but it seemed like trouble. And after that display? The last thing they needed or wanted was trouble.

But that posed an interesting new problem.

How were they to get in town without attracting the ire of D’arby and the rest of his little gang if they were still in town? Not to mention if the other residents were irritated with them. They needed supplies if they wanted to continue forward… this little conundrum needed to be solved.

After the harrowing day he had, Robert chose to sleep in… to no one’s surprise. Zeppeli as well was sound asleep in the wagon’s front seat, and that provided Erina with an opportunity to step out. Upon waking, she reached for the green dress gifted to her at Christmas by Dio and the cameo given by Jojo on her birthday and dressed as quickly as possible.

She regarded her reflection in a small hand mirror they’d taken along and smiled. The pink of the cameo had complimented the light green of the dress. She was growing more and she knew soon she’d have to wear something to flatten herself out. In the looser clothing she wore as Erin, it was easier for her to mask the changes in herself but in that dress she couldn’t deny just how her shape was developing in her stays. For now, though? She could still get away with it.

Erina returned the mirror to the back and retrieved her list of items. Jonathan and Dio were both awake and aware that she intended to slip into town undetected to at least get a few supplies to hold them over until the next town. What they hadn’t expected, however, was her attire.

Dio said nothing, but Erina saw him eye her up and down with scrutiny. “Mm, I suppose that’ll work. You certainly look far different from the ‘Erin’ we know,” That was all he had to say on the matter as he returned to strolling around with his parasol in hand, shading him from the afternoon sun. Erina couldn’t help the short little laugh that bubbled out of her as he walked off.

Jonathan however, was immediately at her side. His hand rested gently on her elbow as they turned back to the wagon. He looked a little flustered and his eyes couldn’t seem to rest on one set area of her face which left Erina feeling self-conscious. As her hand drifted up to attempt to fix her hair, wondering what was wrong, Jonathan gently grabbed her wrist and turned to her.

“I-I want you to be safe out there, okay? After everything that happened the other day… you know, it just isn’t a great place for us to be wandering around…” He began nervously before offering her an understanding smile. “But I also know that you’ve been working just as hard as the rest of us... and I believe you can get what we need done.”

If there was one thing that could make Erina smile in that moment, it was those words. Words of faith and belief. It meant that Jonathan saw her as someone making an equal contribution to their journey and she couldn’t help but grin. “You know I won’t let you down, Jojo.”

His smile only got bigger. “You’re beautiful when you smile like that, did you know that?”

“Mhmm…” Erina mumbled with a shy laugh before wrapping her arms around him and pulling him close for a soft kiss. The more they managed to kiss each other, the easier and easier it seemed to be to just do it. It became familiar, but not in the sort of way that made her tired of it. No, it was just less embarrassing. The more she kissed Jonathan, the more she felt a delightful warmth and softness all the way down to the tips of her toes. This time was no exception either. She felt it now as his chapped lips pressed sweetly against hers.

When they pulled away from one another, Erina had a fluttering in her stomach and a weakness in her knees that she loved more than anything. “Just be careful,” Jonathan said softly, nudging his nose against hers.

“Don’t worry Jojo, I’m tougher than I look,” she replied in her own sing-song voice. She paused for a moment after, mulling over her next move before she drew him back in. Erina pressed her lips to Jonathan’s again and let the kiss linger a little longer until the two of them began to giggle against each other’s mouths. With one last peck to his cheek, she stepped away. She had to, otherwise she’d be kissing him all day instead of completing the task at hand. “Alright, I’m going now~ I will see you again when I’m finished with my errands.”

With a brilliant smile, she waved and turned away, a large wicker basket in hand and her list and switchblade tucked safely away inside.

Retrieving the items was beyond easy, but now Erina had a new predicament at hand. She was being followed. The group of boys had tried to act casual about the whole thing, but Erina knew that as she walked forward they seemed to trail after her. Their quiet conversations always lingering ten steps or so behind. Maybe they just didn’t trust a newcomer after all of the crazy events recently. The owner of Ebbing’s sole grocer and general store regarded her as a pretty farmer’s daughter they hadn’t seen before and Erina had replied that her family was simply passing through. She was quiet and polite, just as Nellie taught her to be, and was delighted when the grocer had even given her an apple to enjoy on her way out.

She felt on top of the world as she walked out with a heavy basket in her hands. The dress seemed to do the trick, as she wasn’t recognized as one of the boys with that scarred up troublemaker or the man who had taken people for all their possessions in a dice game. Maybe it was a measly little victory to most, but for her? It was a victory nonetheless. She took another bite from the red apple and savored the taste of success on her tongue.

Perhaps that is what distracted her. She didn’t realize it immediately, no, but after sometime walking through toward the edge of town... she felt eyes on her once more. She glanced behind her back to see the same group of boys who had all appeared to melt in different directions when she entered the general store. Had they been waiting for her all that time?

Erina continued to walk, hoping it was merely a coincidence. She prayed that once she hit the treeline, they would turn and walk in the other direction but that was not the case. She heard their voices behind her still. She kept her head level, knowing panic would do her no good but still gingerly reached into the basket and felt for her switchblade. It’s mere presence made her feel better as her fingers traced along the handle. She turned to take one path towards camp and paused as two of the boys seemed to be blocking it, sending her through to another that might take her deep into the woods.

Immediately, she began to sweat. Were they trying to corner her?

“Hey! Where ya goin’ with that nice basket, huh?” One called out as the others snickered behind him. Erina kept walking.

“That’s a real pretty dress you got on there!” Another called out amongst a sea of whispers. Just get back to the wagon and pay them no mind, she thought. Erina was so close to a successful run. She didn’t need this now and in turn picked up her pace.

“HEY!” Another voice called and she heard the footsteps behind her breaking into a run. One boy bolted out in front and blocked her way. He was skinny and dirty with greasy blond hair. His shirt was buttoned the wrong way and only half of it tucked into his pants. Overall, he looked a mess and felt like a threat. Erina wanted to be away from him immediately. “It’s rude to ignore people when they’re speakin’ to you! Don’t you know how manners work? You dumb or somethin’?” The boy sneered and looked down his nose at her. Erina felt her hackles raise.

The two that had called out to her were the ones who currently blocked her path. One was a wiry limbed redhead and the other was tall for his age and dressed in pants that didn’t seem to grow with him. “Y’know I think she might be dumb,” the redhead hissed, hands on his hips. The tall one nodded. “No manners.”

Erina didn’t wish to share a word with them, instead she eyed them carefully. Robbie had always told her to size up her opponent if she felt a fight brewing, and sure enough she felt that need to defend herself arise. She couldn’t think about it too hard, she just had to do it.

“Hey, what kind of shit did you get from the grocer, huh? You owe us tribute for how poorly you’ve been treatin’ us. If you’re good we’ll only take some sweets.” The blond said haughtily, pushing his greasy hair behind his ear.

“...And if I refuse?” Erina asked, pinning an icy and sharp look the boy’s way.

He looked nervous for a split second before returning back to his look of bravado. “Oh! She speaks! And a Brit too, you guys do shit differently over there, right? So lemme spell it out for you. We’ll just take it and whatever else we want,” he replied with a cocky smirk. “And there’s nothing you’re gonna be able to do about it.” With that, the boy reached forward to grab her basket and in that moment, Erina saw everything in slow motion.

Without thinking, she dropped her basket and reached forward, grabbing the boy’s arm. Robert had shown her before how to throw someone over her shoulder even if they happened to be bigger than her by redirecting their weight, but she struggled in those particular lessons. While she wasn’t great at the maneuver, and still didn’t seem to be, she managed to pull the surprised boy over her shoulder. She turned and while Speedwagon had instructed to roll her opponent off her hip, the blond tumbled off of her back and landed in a messy heap instead.

Well, that worked.

“Holy shit…” the blond groaned from the ground while the others asked in shock if he was okay.

The other two boys stood in awe for a moment before turning their attentions back to her and both looked angry. She assumed the combative stance that Robert had taught, but adrenaline coursed through her veins. Jonathan’s familiar voice echoed in her head then, from a fireside chat they shared not too long ago. “Adrenaline is good for slowing you down most of the time,” he had told her with a mouth full of stew. “But in the moment? When you know you have to act? It can be the greatest weapon at your disposal.”

Sure enough now, as the redhead charged and landed a blow against her face, she hardly felt it. In retaliation, Erina didn’t hesitate. She reared her fist back and threw a punch. Robbie had told her to go for the stomach and Dio urged for the neck. She, like an idiot, had gone for the nose simple to fight fire with fire. There was something satisfying however, about the crunch of bone under her knuckles as blood spilled from his nostril and the boy tumbled backwards with a yelp.

Erina backed up then, hoping to find a way to get out but the tallest boy had swung around behind her and she ended up backing into his chest. His long arms wrapped around her then, securing her in place and she felt herself beginning to panic at being unable to run. “Let me GO!” she yelled, struggling against her captor’s hold.

“H-Hell no! You think you’re gonna walk away after takin’ out my boys?! Th-They’re gonna make you pay for this, I swear it!” The boy stuttered, holding her tighter as she moved. “Set aside your empathy when fighting! That is my first rule. ...In a fight for survival it doesn’t matter who is blind at the end of it, it matters who lives. Will you let your empathy keep you from living at all costs?” At that moment, Erina heard Dio’s harsh but meaningful lesson resonate within her mind. She had to get out of here and there was nothing wrong with fighting dirty.

With a cry of anger, Erina elbowed the boy hard in the gut and she felt him pitch forward behind her, his dusty head settling against her shoulder for support. Operating on instinct, she bent her leg and and kicked it back like a horse, aiming between his legs and letting out little snort of laughter when he gave a sharp yelp before crumpling to the ground.

The second his arms were off of her she bolted forward, reaching into the basket. By this time, the winded blond was on his feet and rushing at her, but stopped short when she brandished the switchblade.

“DON’T YOU DARE TOUCH ME!” she shouted with an almost wild expression. The three boys seemed to exchange a look before the blond ringleader motioned for them to follow him.

“C-C’mon, this ain’t worth it! She’s fucking crazy!” he yelled before running into the woods with his lackeys scrambling behind him, sharing the sentiment tenfold.

Erina’s chest heaved from exertion as she closed the blade and wiped at the blood she felt spilling from her nose with her wrist. Well… that redhead certainly left his mark on her, but she won in the end didn’t she? They were the ones who chose to run away…

There was a rustle of leaves and thump behind her and Erina gasped, brandishing her blade once more until she realized who was standing before her. Dio was smirking almost gleefully, clapping slow as he walked forward. “Look at you, E~ri~na~... a regular brawler.”

“D-Did… did you see everything that happened?!”

“Mmm, perhaps I did.”

Erina huffed, crossing her arms over her chest with a frown. “Wow, thank you so much for the help when I got attacked on the road.” She bent over to pick up her basket and dabbed at the blood still flowing from her nose with a newly retrieved handkerchief.

“I didn’t need to intervene when you had the situation under control.” He replied with a clear roll of his eyes. “You’re learning to fight for this very reason, no?”

“One of them got a hit in,” she mumbled, rubbing a sore spot against her cheek. He must have managed to hit there pretty badly. She’d hardly felt it before but now it was starting to ache. “I wasn’t as good as I could have been and that doesn’t really scream ‘in control’, now does it?”

Dio hummed thoughtfully before giving a vague shrug. “A bruise across your cheek, a somewhat bloodied nose, and your three pursuers having run off with their tails between their legs? That is about as under control as it could be, Pendleton.”

“You and Jojo would have finished this without a scratch and you know it! ...I didn’t do as well… and I’m still jumpy after everything...”

“The adrenaline of a first fight lingers,” he replied easily, rolling his parasol in circles against his shoulder. “Jojo and I are also… veterans, so to speak. For a first attempt at combat that was rather impressive. Though, I imagine they merely underestimated you for being a girl. That’s something to think about and use in your favor in the future.”

It took her a minute to mull that over, but Dio was right. She was sure that if they hadn’t underestimated her this probably would have worked out a little differently. She was luckier than she thought. As the two of them reached the vicinity of the wagon, Dio stopped and held out a bundle of fabric he had kept tucked up to his side the entire time. Her Erin clothes.

“Here, the idiot and the magician are up and you can’t trust either one of them to stay put.”

“O-Oh, thank you! You didn’t have to do that, but I certainly appreciate it!” Erina replied, taking the clothing from him with a smile which she hoped looked as grateful as she felt. You know, despite the dried blood and the bruise painting her features.

“Mm,” was his only reply as he walked a distance away to give her space to change in a small copse of trees. She made quick work of it and tucked her dress and cameo away in the basket. With that, Erina hooked it over her arm and joined up with Dio once more. Upon making it back to their camp she blinked in surprise, taking stock of who was around and who wasn’t.

“Ah… where’s Jojo?”

Dio seemed to take a whiff of the wind and smiled darkly, exposing his long pointed incisors. “Ah, he’s dealing with some errands of his own. I’m sure he’ll return shortly~”

Erina hadn’t the opportunity to respond to his answer before a voice rang out. “OI! H-Holy shit, what happened to you?!” Speedwagon exclaimed as he stumbled to Erina’s side.

“Oh... you know,” she replied easily. “Just sort of tripped over my feet.” Erina knew Robbie would’ve been proud to know she’d won her first fight, even with her mistakes but she hadn’t wanted to broadcast it to the whole camp. Maybe later when they were doing another lesson she’d tell him about it.

“Are you alright?!”

“Yes, yes, I’m fine. I managed to snag some things in town... so let me get that stuff in the wagon and we can continue on, okay?” Speedwagon didn’t seem happy about that but he let her go, opting instead to go track down the Baron.

 


 

Jonathan and Dio had gone for a walk in Erina’s absence, but what neither of them had planned on was to find her amongst the trees about to be attacked. Jonathan’s first instinct was of course to want to jump in and save her, but Dio had reminded him of her training. She should face this on her own, he shouldn’t jump into every battle. Only when she needed it.

“If you’re so eager to dole out justice Jojo, then wait for them~ I’m sure they’ll run off in no time,” Dio had purred, disappearing from his side and jumping effortlessly and soundlessly into the branches of a nearby tree. Jonathan watched Erina’s battle on his own, just wishing to see how things would turn out and once he saw Erina draw her knife, he decided to follow Dio’s suggestion.

He strolled down the path and he smiled wide when the beaten boys staggered in front of him.

“H-Hey, man!” one of them called nervously, a bloody redhead that Jonathan had watched Erina punch in the face. “Be careful down there!”

“Y-Yeah there’s a girl with a knife!” The tall one told him.

“That bitch is crazy!” The blond ringleader finally said which made what little light was left in Jonathan’s eyes evaporate. His smile however stayed, hollow and threatening.

“...Would you care to repeat those words about my Erina?” He asked softly.

The three boys looked between each other in confusion at his words. “Your… what?”

Jonathan laughed mirthlessly and suddenly looked righteously furious. “Even if you weren’t attacking and then disparaging my sweetheart, the fact that you’re trying to intimidate and attack young girls in the middle of the road? How disgusting of you…”

“Oh shit,” the blond muttered and his sentiment was spot on. Jonathan showed them no mercy as he taught them quite the lesson about harassing women. They’d hit her! Held her down! If it wasn’t Erina, but just another girl she could have potentially been in even worse danger!

His fists flew faster than they could keep up with, perhaps not expecting the one-two punch of Erina and then his sudden follow up. But with months of consistent training, they didn’t stand a chance against him and the three of them ended up in a beaten heap on the ground before he even realized. It was a vast improvement from his situation back home.

“Let this be a lesson,” he told them solemnly. “Respect your fellow man and woman.” As Jonathan walked away he felt more chivalrous than ever.

His trek back to the wagon left him feeling quite good about himself and as he saw Dio and Erina in view outside, he cracked his knuckles and smiled. Perhaps he was a little self-satisfied about it but well… he was feeling good. “Oh, you’re back!” He cheerfully called over.

“Ah, yes I am,” Erina replied easily. “Dio said you were running errands. Did you get everything you needed…?” Her eyes flit from his smile to his empty hands, but all Jonathan did was nod.

“I very well did!”

There was a question on her lips but before she could voice it, Jonathan was striding over to her and gingerly cupping her face. In one fell swoop, he pressed a soft kiss to her bruised cheek. He couldn’t help his own bashfulness as Erina’s expression cycled through various looks before settling on “knowing”. He quickly brought his fingertips over her discolored flesh and let Hamon flow into her, expelling the bruise and leaving the skin of her cheek pink once more.

He wanted to kiss her again, but knew he was pushing it with Dio here.

“See? Good as new.”

“Hmph, so you saw my fight then. Didn’t you?” She answered quickly, narrowing her eyes at him in all but confirmed suspicion.

He shrugged his shoulders in a hammy sort of way and couldn’t meet her eyes. “Whaaaat? There was a fight?”

Without hesitation, she reached over and pinched his cheek. Jonathan let out quite the ungentlemanly yelp and Erina snorted. “Your acting is terrible, Jojo. Especially when you didn’t even bat an eye at the bruise on my face.”

“Okay, perhaps that was indeed a mistake,” he admitted, giving her a sheepish smile. “My apologies. I did see, but you seemed like you were well prepared!”

Erina paused as if debating something before patting gently at his pinched cheek. “Well… thank you for healing me, Jojo. I appreciate it. I wouldn’t say I was well prepared though…”

“What?! You were incredible!” Jonathan replied quickly. “Seriously, I wouldn’t have thought it was your first scrap! Did Robbie teach you really how to throw someone?! That was so surprising, but fantastic and then-- the way you punched that boy… he truly deserved that.”

When Erina erupted into giggles, Jonathan felt a little swell in his chest. Every time she laughed he felt like he was on cloud nine. It was so… musical and the way her smile lit up her face was one of his favorite things about seeing her so happy. She leaned over then to give him his own peck on the cheek. “I still got hit though…” she finally said as her giggles dissipated.

“But you still bested them! A-And successfully so!” Jonathan nodded eagerly, sending his brown hair flying in every direction. “I get hit in a lot of fights!”

“That he does,” Dio drawled beside Erina.

“He’s big! He can take them! Whenever I get hit, I just end up looking pathetic for picking a fight…” Erina mumbled.

“Well… do you want to know what they said as they ran?”

“As they ran…?”

Jonathan couldn’t help the grin on his face as he relayed to her the events that transpired as the boys fled the scene of their attempted crime. The things they said and the way Jojo himself had taken them out. He couldn’t deny how much he liked how her unsure expression changed to something rather victorious. He liked that she was proud of how she fended off her attackers.

But then, Erina did something surprising to him. She reached out and linked arms with Dio, practically leaning her arm against his as she laughed a little. “I didn’t realize they’d think I was a crazy bitch. That was a bit of your help, Dio. Pray tell, do you have any other tips?”

Dio didn’t pull away or frown at her. No, instead he smirked and nudged her in response. It seemed… playful in nature? “Mm perhaps, there are certainly more techniques I know that can be useful for you retaining such a worthy title~”

Jonathan kind of didn’t get this. Their easy smiles, the closeness, the laughter. Yes, they could all be that way when spending time together, but as Dio and Erina continued to talk and banter amongst themselves… his stomach twisted in a strangely unpleasant way. He wasn’t sure what this was, it was very hard to put his finger on. However, the feeling echoed inside of him just as strongly when he looked from Erina to Dio. Whatever this was, he felt it just as strongly about it when it came to the both of them… and he knew he didn’t like it.

“Well, what about you Jojo? Do you have any techniques to teach the lady?” Dio asked with a quirk of his lips and soon enough, the feeling dissipated. It was so bizarre he had no idea what to make of it. So, he tried to smile again and gave a small laugh. It was easy when Dio was looking at him with red eyes so pretty they didn’t even have to catch the light to be mesmerizing whatsoever.

“Ha… perhaps I have one or two things to teach now~”

Chapter Text

- Middle of June, 1881 -

 

William rested in the front of the wagon with a heavy bound book set firmly on his lap and a sheet of paper smoothed out on top of it. The fountain pen in his hands felt heavy. He’d finally managed more progress on that letter this evening than he had in the past few months.

The guilt of attempting so many but never completing them made his shoulders sag. Nevertheless, so much had happened in the past few months. The children all managed to be a handful and he still had to be a teacher. The ever present supernatural threat loomed behind him at every second. Not to mention, Speedwagon. Good god, that boy was quite the mess at the best of times. Robert was savagely protective of the younger ones, in the best way, but his accompanying carelessness was quite the character flaw.

For now, however? Most of the group had left. Jonathan thought he’d discovered the remains of a berry bush he’d like to try and resuscitate with his new powers. Erin and Speedwagon both tagged along. The teenager though had met his eyes. He had said there were things he’d wished to examine and canted that blond bushy head of his to man-made markings on the trees. William had noticed them too and hadn’t thought much of it. But… if Robert wanted to explore? To make sure there were no incoming threats around them?

Good for him. Let him go.

The only one who remained at their camp was Dio. The young vampire was asleep. After the whole Ebbing debacle with that ridiculous looking gentleman, he was sure Dio hadn’t slept in some days now. William had seen him stay up to chat and spend time with Jonathan and Erin while also taking time to watch over the horses at night. Vampires didn’t necessarily require a sleeping schedule of any kind… but he was growing far more certain that sleep was what helped the boy continue to assert his control over his condition.

He didn’t even want to think about Dio and his “condition” at the moment. What a nerve wracking thing to have on his mind. He turned back to his letter and frowned.

His wife deserved better than this.

Since they had left Illinois in March, he hadn’t been able to send her any correspondence. When they were in one place it was easy to exchange letters and my, oh my, had he missed so much. His collection of letters received from her in Rome practically burned a hole into his pocket. The letter that announced the birth of their son in particular felt as if it seared his flesh through the layers of clothing he wore.

That one was old, the first one he received in November, but it’s contents haunted him. He wasn’t there for the birth of his son. Tonpetty’s words echoed in his ears. A young lion released into the future and he himself dying painfully in the end. He knew… that Jonathan was his lion. The very lion who would bring about his demise, but only after he armed the boy with the proper knowledge to succeed. Jonathan Joestar was his swan song and his hand shook just a bit, splashing ink along the page.

How could he tell Carlotta he wouldn’t be returning to her and their child?

So, he didn’t. There was no possible way to detail something so… heavy and important on simple parchment. No way to do anything but upset her longer than she needed to be. Yet, the long wait between letters and the reality that he wouldn’t be returning left him sick with guilt and regret. She always steadfastly urged him to protect the weak, to fight as a hero for those who needed it. Would she have pushed him to follow along if she knew of his fate…?

He sighed and scanned his half finished sentence. At this point, he would have to suck it up. She deserved something.

William squinted as the sun had gradually set in the time since Speedwagon and the others had left. Hamon sprung to life at the fingertips of his left hand and provided him the necessary light to see to finish his words. Though the pen wiggled as the wagon jostled and the horses whinnied in greeting.

Finally they were back.

“You’re late,” he announced sharply, not looking up from his writing. “I told you three to return before sundown. Any excuse for putting yourself in danger?” He waited and when no sputtering street response to 'shove it up his ass' and no overeager apology sounded in the air, he froze.

Robert and Jojo were especially loud. Erin could be too on occasion, but the cacophony of sounds those two created was particularly distinct and unmissable. This was not them. William quickly turned to look at who was boarding their wagon, but he wasn’t quick enough. Something hard and wooden struck him directly into the back of his head, leaving him to fall forward.

As unconsciousness overtook him, there was only one thought that crossed his mind.

Dio santo, why am I the one who keeps getting knocked out?”

Then, everything went black.


 

“We better hope these berries aren’t poisonous,” Erin had said dubiously, looking down at the baskets of berries they’d picked.

Jonathan snorted. “Please, they’re fine! ...I mean… Um… Well, perhaps Dio can sample them and let us know.”

“Jojo, that’s awful.”

"W-What?! He won't die from it."

As the two went back and forth, Robert’s eyes were drawn to the markings along the trees. The painted markers would have been overlooked by ignorant travelers. The red squiggles after all looked a bit like sap from a far enough distance. But still, Robert wasn’t ignorant by any stretch of the imagination.

He wanted to confirm it and when Jojo decided to revive his little berry bush, it was the perfect opportunity to inspect the marks closer. With so many saturated through the woods he could figure out immediately what those “glyphs” as Jojo had called them, were.

Turf markers.

There was a gang lurking around these parts and the markers determined their territory. This was fucking dangerous and while he didn’t like to interrupt a good time, they had to get back to the wagon as quick as possible. Erin and Jojo didn’t need to know their predicament just yet. After all, it wasn’t an immediate threat at the moment. When they, got back he’d just tell Will what the issue was and they’d get moving as soon as humanly possible. After all that D’arby shit, the last thing they needed was a fucking run in with some lawless gang in the woods.

Jonathan and Erin had run ahead into the clearing before he overheard a nervous whinny and the two boys yelled frantically for his name. Robert broke into a sprint then, bursting past the treeline to their camp only to find the site empty and one horse galloping around nervously.

He reached out to the frightened beast nervously, hoping to soothe it. “Woah, woah… calm down Maneater. Calm down…” His voice was soft and as he stroked the horse’s flank it seemed to relax just a little, though tension remained in every muscle.

Their wagon and one of their horses were gone.

Will and Dio were nowhere to be seen.

This was… beyond bad.

“H-Hey, look!” Erin exclaimed, pointing at the ground. His basket of berries was left forgotten as he nervously gestured to tracks sunken into the mud. So, someone managed to swipe the wagon but thankfully they’d be able to follow behind and find it.

“......Ugh, fuck this,” Robert groaned, looking at the two obviously terrified preteens before him. “Let’s go…”

The group followed the tracks as quietly as possible after hitching Maneater temporarily to a nearby tree. As they continued further, he noticed more and more of those markings on the trees. They were really in the thick of this gang’s territory now, huh? That was… bad news.

He felt for the pistol at his hip, assured by its weight. But really, what good was a gun going to do if these guys had the numbers to get the drop on a man with fuckin’ SUN magic?! This was a mess… and trying to dive headfirst into it was just plain stupid. Especially with Jonathan and Erin following him around. He wasn’t about to risk their safety.

“Alright, wait. Let’s head back to Maneater. We need a plan.”

“You didn’t have a plan? Are you serious?”

“Don’t get smart with me, Erin. How did we meet again…?”

Erin became mysteriously quiet.

“Yeah, I thought so.” Robert grunted. “Think before you talk shit.”


 

William’s head pounded. This was nothing like the headache and accompanying cotton feeling of waking up after he was knocked out and drugged by Robert and Erin, but this was certainly far too close for comfort. He just wished everyone would stop going for the head.

The area about them was bustling, he heard the crackle of a campfire and the creak of wheels and multiple voices conversing between one another. As his eyes adjusted to the firelight he caught sight of where he was, sitting by a firepit with a clear view of their wagon. Some man was climbing in and taking stock of every single one of their possessions. Of course, as he attempted to move, he felt the familiar scratch of hemp rope against his arms. An easy escape, but it wouldn’t do well to show his hand yet.

As he blinked and looked around he saw quite a few young men milling about around the mouth of a cave. He counted about eight outside and there must have been few more inside. While he was certain in one-on-one fisticuffs with them all he could take them out… the guns settled on their belts were another story altogether.

Fists were one thing, but Hamon could not stop a bullet. He had to be careful.

“HEY! You guys got the kid?” One voice called over the din of activity and William’s eyes snapped back over to the wagon. Dio was now seated outside of it. He was bound as well, but gagged with a bandana. Even with the distance between them he noticed the small point of Dio’s fangs over the patterned fabric.

Judging by the look in his eye, the boy was not at all happy about the situation. Without speaking, William attempted to silently communicate. It was a desperate plea for Dio not to act out of turn, to just await an opening. It would be suicide, for him at least, to act so fast. Just when he thought the boy didn’t recognize… or care about what he was asking, he watched the blond give a subtle nod in his direction. It was then that the older man practically cringed as a gangly teenager leaned in and pulled at his cheeks, lifting them up in a smile over the bandana.

“Damn, lookit you. No need to be so upset, kid! You’re gonna be ransomed and make our gang a lotta money!” The teenager grinned, as Dio glared daggers in return. “The Sugarhill Gang’s really gonna make a name for ourselves, this is the biggest haul we’ve gotten yet!”

“Keep it the hell down, Hank! Stop gettin’ all close to the prisoners,” an older man yelled, throwing a rock at the teenager which he barely dodged.

“Hey, you can’t do that! Mike said we’re here in Apache territory and we can’t be making all that noise!” Hank fired back, throwing a retaliation rock back in the older man’s direction. The adult started laughing as he moved out of range of the projectile.

“I-It’s not Apache territory, you big fuckin’ idiot. It’s Shawnee territory. That’s not even CLOSE!” The man belly laughed at the teenager’s expense as he sputtered and protested, but was ultimately ignored.

Suddenly, another man emerged from the mouth of the cave chuckling to himself and wiping a tear from his eye. With the way everyone turned to him with almost an air of deference, it was clear to them that this was the leader of this so-called “Sugarhill Gang”. However, it was what their leader held securely in his possession that caused William’s heart to leap into his throat.

Carlotta’s letters, bundled up with twine were on full display with his own response, half-written in the man’s tight grip. He wanted to vomit and rage all at the same time. With the way the envelopes were rumpled and wrenched opened, he had obviously read his private correspondence.

“Gather ‘round boys because we have truly found ourselves a treasure trove. All that food. The extra horse, them nice belongings. But now, we got a source of entertainment here that shouldn’t be overlooked, fellas.”

Hank grinned and ran over to him. “H-Hey Mike! Share that with us!”

Mike looked over, met William’s eyes and gave the smarmiest smile. “Well… Mister Zeeplee hope you don’t mind if I share just the cuuuute shit your little wife sent ya. It’s prime comedy.”

William merely gritted his teeth. He wouldn’t dignify him with a response nor reaction… as much as he wanted to lunge and properly punish these thieves right here, right now. The man snorted and pulled out a sheet of paper that he had already taken out of it’s envelope with a flourish. His voice went up into a mocking falsetto as he began reading aloud.

Oh my dearest William,” he squeaked with a hand placed to his heart, causing all of his cronies to hoot and holler. “I know we have only parted just two weeks prior, but I already miss your presence here. But you are a hero, you are doing such good for the world. One day I’ll be selfish and try to keep you here in Rome, but... for now I will do the good thing and let you go --” Mike stopped, bursting into laughter. “Boys, boys, you’ve gotta listen to the next part.”

The hunt for the supernatural I know is a lifelong journey and I only hope you can draw strength from my steadfast support. When all the threats are managed, I will be here waiting your return with open arms. DO YOU FELLAS HEAR THIS? My god...” The young man made his way over, boots making muffled noises in the mud before stopping in front of William. “You fed your wife horseshit about hunting the supernatural and she believed it? Is that like… an Italian thing? If so, I need me a gal like that. Maybe I’ll see if I can get myself a nice dumb girl like her.”

As anger rose in his throat, William felt the hemp rope burning away where his fingertips met the material and he needed to rein things in. If he burned through and suddenly was able to attack, he may open himself to gunfire. This was not where he was meant to die.

Mike snickered when he hardly got a reaction and skimmed through, picking out another open letter. “This boys, is where I realized we were dealing with a right bastard too.” He cleared his throat and continued. “Will, our son has your eyes. When he was born, with his little fuzz of hair and those deep brown eyes, I nearly cried. All I needed to do was draw a small mustache on his lip in ink and he’d just be a tiny you. It makes me ache, thinking that Mario has not met you yet and won’t for some time. The birth has been rough on my body and this has weighed on my mind. But you say you’re hardly halfway to your goal, so I also worry about you! Please stay safe.” The leader looked down at William with a malicious grin. “Damn sir, missin’ the birth of your baby boy too? Looks like we got ourselves a DEADBEAT among our lot, fellas.”

William’s teeth pressed down on his bottom lip so hard, he could taste copper. As the blood stained his teeth, he used the tangy taste to ground himself. To remind himself of his situation.

“And you wanna know what he has to say back?” He asked, holding his arms out a bit like Dio would when holding court, and smirking awfully. “Lottie… forgive me for having not sent you a correspondence all these months. Much has happened. How is Mario? I hope every day he has grown more and more to resemble you. After all, you do have the looks between the two of us. The weather here has been rather lovely… ” The entire camp roared in laughter and William felt his fingers sparking, biting into the meat of his palm. The rope had burned away but he held tight to it, trying to keep up the illusion of his restraints. “That’s all you had to say to your wife, mister? Really ? I get she sent ya more letters but wow, I’ve never read anything more pathetic in my life. Wish I’d gotten to see everything else before you sent it out~”

William was so overcome with anger he hardly registered young Hank lighting a stick in the fire and walking over to Dio. The little declaration of “I wonder how your hair burns, blondie,” was pushed to the back of his mind as he tried to will the leader dead with a narrowed gaze alone.

What he did register, however, was the bloodcurdling scream and wet gurgle from the teenager.

When his eyes snapped over to Dio, he witnessed the boy ripping quite the impressive hole after sinking elongated teeth into Hank’s throat. As Hank gasped for breath, Dio drank from his life’s blood. William’s first reflex was to jump up and stop him. To restrain him. To end him. But then his mind recalled the fire, the direct threat to Dio’s life. The anger he felt at these people who violated their things, rifled through them and started to harvest it for their own gain.

In a moment of weakness, William allowed him one victim.

Any more and he would do as he promised almost a year prior, but for the moment other things needed to be dealt with. The camp was in chaos, gunshots going off in Dio’s direction but that gave him the perfect opportunity to strike. He leapt up in the air, still in his sitting position and sending the ropes flying in every direction. That was its own distraction as well.

Before Mike could even make an order, the toe of his shoe met the leader’s skin in a relatively hard kick. Hamon coursed through the man’s form as he collapsed and though he was loathe to admit it, there was something oddly satisfying about the way his body twitched on the ground. With a flourish, he retrieved the discarded letters and slipped them back in his coat pocket.

No one else would be touching those.

He looked over then to Dio, trying to gauge where the vampire was only to feel dread well in the pit of his stomach. The boy was gone, Hank’s neck ripped open and drained of blood… genuine fear forever painting the horror stricken face of a deceased teenager. A grisly sight indeed.

Suddenly, there was a sound behind him and William turned only to find Dio drop-kicking a gang member who intended to surprise attack him with a pickaxe of all things. The boy’s foot and leg were covered in solid ice which shattered on impact sending shards everywhere, particularly into the skin of what would have been Zeppeli’s attacker.

Impressive.

As the man fell and the small group of more fearless members took to surrounding them, Dio crossed his arms and fixed him with a smirk, blood smeared messily across his mouth and cheeks. “You’ve been distracted today, Baron Zeppeli...” the blond announced nonchalantly, as if their lives weren’t at stake. “So... are we retaliating? Or do you need a nap after all that excitement?”

“Let’s see if you can keep up with me, little bat,” he replied with a fire in his voice, spurred on by the knowledge that even the taste of human blood wasn’t enough at this juncture to break him. He was feeling very good about not having to kill him right now.

The rest of their attackers advanced and William approached every opponent like a dance. He was light on his feet, even with the heft of his muscles behind him. He breathed heavily, to keep his Hamon coursing through his veins. He crept around, jumping lightly on his toes, all the while sending kicks and powerful punches in every direction. He wished they hadn’t pulled the wine from his coat. It was better suited when using his Hamon Cutter. Attempting the same using only his saliva resulted in needles to the face rather than the usual flying blades. It’s effectiveness was still noted as those struck were made vulnerable to further Hamon attacks.

Dio seemed to be holding his own well enough beside him. He too was light on his feet but his dance was different. While every movement William made was staccato, neat separate little steps, Dio’s were more languid and lagato. His attacks lead into one another, more like a waltz and as he broke one man’s arm over his knee after freezing it over... he had to admit that the boy was quite talented in martial arts.

“Don’t kill them,” he reminded firmly though with an odd indulgent tone he hadn’t used with the young vampire before.

“They’re all still breathing, aren’t they?” Dio drawled in return, continuing to dole out punishment. When the group of fighters were all dispatched and the rest of the gang seemed to have fled from the carnage, they both stopped and took a breath. William couldn’t help himself and the newfound admiration after fighting at Dio’s side. He’d kept himself together surprisingly well.

Without even a word, Dio moved to the cave where the Sugarhill Gang had been hiding. He took that as a sign to begin loading their things back on the wagon. He pushed belongings back into Erin’s carpet bag, blatantly ignoring the green dress that had been half pulled out. It was none of his business. Jonathan’s bag was elsewhere and a few of Speedwagon’s hats had been strewn about the camp. He had to make sure he retrieved those or he’d never hear the end of it.

As he placed more of their items back onto the wagon, trying to approximate their previous location he saw Dio emerge with two new crates effortlessly balanced in his arms. For a moment, William had almost forgotten Dio’s incredible strength.

“And what is that?” He asked with a quirk of his eyebrow as Dio merely laughed.

“Reparations, Baron. An eye for an eye. They stole from us...so they pay double. They had quite the sum of cash in there as well as some supplies that may sustain us for a bit. No doubt Jojo is going to enjoy eating his weight in potatoes again,” Dio hummed with a dark smile as he pushed the crates into the back as well. “A few also left behind some nice hats. I thought Robert would enjoy them… as well as some medical supplies and a bundle of novels. Erin might especially like reading them after me… or set Speedwagon and Jojo through their educational paces.”

William smiled a little wryly. Did that vampire, that slave of the night, actually loot a gang of robbers’ hideaway… with his friends’ best interests in mind? Interesting.

Dio recognized the look and turned away, but he couldn’t miss the slight downturn of the boy’s pout. “Either way, I wanted these things so I took them. I am only telling you the benefits of everyone else’s enjoyment so you’ll leave me be.”

“Mhmm…”

“It's true.”

“I never said it wasn’t Dio,” he replied easily, walking over to their nervous looking horse. “Come on Rich Girl, let’s go,” he said softly, leading her back to the wagon to be hitched. He jumped into the driver’s seat and expected Dio to crawl into the back, but much to his surprise he joined him at the helm, wrapped as always in his black blanket.

William urged Rich Girl forward then, following the worn trail in the mud back in the direction of their initial campsite. There was a silence that fell over them as they moved forward which normally would have been fine… but after everything, he felt the urge to speak. To say something to this boy that he had… such a strong opinion about.

“I’m surprised you didn’t cut me down for killing that neanderthal,” Dio spoke up instead, breaking the quiet between them much to William’s surprise.

“Hm. He was... an aggressor. A direct threat to your life,” he replied slowly, eyes fixed on the road ahead of him. “I understand the response. I wouldn’t have personally done the same, but well… Truly though, if you had been consumed by the bloodlust, if you had murdered everyone else in cold blood, I would have had to take you down.”

“Ah,” Dio answered. “I thought you would have liked to eliminate me. It would be easy for you to dispatch the blight on this party, don’t you think? End this silly adventure.”

There was a pause as Dio’s words fell onto his already sinking shoulders and William let out a deep sigh. “I do not… hate you, as you seem to think, Dio,” he told him. There was more guilt there. He thought he had been clear with his feelings on the matter but apparently… not. Then again, he wasn’t always very good about explaining his motivations, was he? “I have never held any hatred for you as a person, ever. But I do have fear for your condition and its ramifications on others. If my own father, a grown man with years of life experience, couldn’t control himself under the mask’s influence... how could I trust a child? My duty is… damage control.”

At his words, he saw Dio take in a breath and lean forward, brows drawn. He was about to bite back and try to speak over him, defend himself to the last word. William raised up one of his hands, urging Dio to stop.

“I’m not done,” he said softly. “Your… willpower. Your means of maintaining this stable mindset for yourself even after that first taste of human blood. The fact that you didn’t succumb to instinct but instead fought side by side with me. All of these help me to believe in your control as opposed to hearing Jojo or Erin guarantee it to me. I have now seen proof with my own eyes.”

William sighed, thinking of the life he’d led before. The way his father smiled and ruffled his hair, and in that moment wished painfully for him to have had the same level of will as this child.

“You want to regain your humanity. That much is clear from all of your actions,” he continued. “You are strong in ways I have never seen in victims of the stone mask’s power. I’ll admit that I may have been too quick to judge you… there are things I believe I am still learning along the course of this journey as well.”

In all their time traveling together, William had never seen Dio so tongue-tied. The boy looked down, twisting his hands in the dark blanket obviously looking for words to say. “Well… why are you here? That idiot… he said you have a wife. A son that was born during our travels. Why not be with them?”

He had no idea how to answer that. Some days the answer seemed clear to him, other days it seemed a little murkier. He wasn’t as convinced with his own justifications for it on particularly bad days. The pragmatic Hamon Warrior inside of him knew all of duty and power… but William Anthonio Zeppeli, husband and father, felt the ache of separation every day.

“I have a duty,” he said finally, though he wasn’t convinced by his own tone of voice. “I am to make sure no others get hurt like my father, I have the means and the power to do it after all. That way I make this world safer for that family of mine. There are sacrifices a man must take for the greater good sometimes.”

Dio hummed in acknowledgement, mulling over the answer William had given him. “...You intend to return to them, yes?”

There was a moment of hesitation. Just one, but that moment made him hate himself. He knew what was coming, knew what he intended to do but it didn’t make him feel any better.

“...Yes. Of course I do.”

The answer made his skin crawl with it’s deceit. He couldn’t even lie to himself in that moment. All William wished was for Dio to drop this, to cease the questioning and to let him pretend that this wasn’t his fate that he was marching to. To his relief, Dio didn’t have another question about his return.

“WELL,” Dio announced with a loud sigh. “Let’s hope Speedwagon doesn’t keep dragging our asses then! Though, you Italians are never exactly punctual about things, are you?”

Rich Girl’s hooves seemed almost thunderous as the sound echoed through the woods. That is before William let out a booming belly laugh at Dio’s words, clutching his middle with a smile. Once he managed to set himself right, he wiped at his eyes and looked to the shocked vampire.

“Y-You Brits are so stuffy about schedules. Is it me who is late or you who is early?”

“Most definitely you,” Dio replied swiftly, pointing ahead. “There’s a bend in the road up there, turn left when I tell you.”

Without much fanfare William followed his directions, turning the wagon as his own visibility in the darkness of the woods was poor at best and non-existent at worst. It was interesting to work so closely with Dio, to be so reliant on his assistance after their rather colorful history. When the vampire wasn’t being prickly or… you know, dangerous, he was quite the capable boy. That certainly commanded his respect.

“We’re here,” Dio said finally as they approached the clearing they had settled in earlier. Robert’s voice was loud enough that he hadn’t needed his confirmation on that. It was proof they had gone in the right direction.

“ALRIGHT,” Robert’s voice boomed through the trees. “I’ll take Maneater and you two, you’ll be the di--” Rich Girl whinnied as they eased into their former camp, causing Speedwagon to let out quite the uncharacteristic shriek. William was sure that all bats and birds in a five mile radius were taking off in fear.

“Baron! Dio!” came the chorus of yells from Jonathan and Erina. “Y-You’re okay!” With that, both of them ran forward, eyes adjusted enough to the dark to jump on and embrace Dio, who had already crawled down from the wagon. He made an ungentlemanly noise of displeasure as he fell backwards into the grass but didn’t bother pushing them away from as they hugged him.

Maybe he would never get to see his son, but he had to admit… he felt a bit fatherly now, watching these three. Even occasionally with Robert. It seemed like he was experiencing his son’s obnoxious teenage years vicariously.

“Dio! There’s blood on your collar!” Jonathan called, though William had to wonder how the boy even saw the stains in such low light. The little lion had good eyes.

“I was hungry Jojo, I needed a snack after that traumatic ordeal.”

“It was a gang, right?” Robert asked, arms crossed. He didn’t even have the luxury of answering before Speedwagon continued. “Yeah, knew it was a fuckin’ gang. Glad you took care of it.”

“Snack?” Erin called then, confused.

Dio laughed low and a little dangerously, of course trying to make his companions nervous. “My attacker was absolutely delicious.”

At those words William practically felt every eye in the clearing turn on him, like they expected some sort of retribution. He was almost insulted. “I drove him back here!” He yelled in return, unreasonably affronted at their fear.

“Relax, the Baron obviously didn’t end me. My actions were done in self defense. Just look at this blemish on my cheek, absolutely tragic,” Dio gestured to a red burn along his face that he had hardly registered amidst the fight.

The reactions of the other two were hilarious. Jonathan jumping to ask if Dio was alright, if he needed anything. Erin, the more pragmatic of the two asking if he needed to hunt, like he hadn’t already drank the blood of a human being tonight.

“I’ll be fine~” Dio purred, obviously preening from the attention he was getting from the two of them. Well, if there was one thing William could be content in knowing it was that while Dio had his mind, those two would be safe from just about anything. He liked their fretting far too much.

“So, what happened anyway?” Robert asked then. It took William a moment to find him, legs dangling out of the back of the wagon as he rummaged through the new things they retrieved from the Sugarhill Gang’s stash. He looked ridiculous and he barely suppressed the urge to laugh.

“It’s a long story, I wouldn’t want to bore you with the details…”

There was the loud sound of something metal hitting wood and Robert’s legs kicked helplessly. This time he did laugh but managed to mask it as a cough.

“Oi, that’s bullshit and you know it-- Hey… is this a NEW HAT ?!”

“Yes. Yes it is.”

- End of Act V -

Chapter Text

- July, 1881 -

 

Their trek through Kansas had gone surprisingly well so far. Leaving behind Missouri was something that was a surprising relief to all of them. Too much had been happening, so many stops had been made that a quick journey of a few weeks once again had turned into something that was taking months. There was a question as to how long it would take them now.

The money from the incident with D’arby certainly helped travel run much more smoothly. Robert was back to balancing their budget but didn’t feel the urge to work again, maybe not for a few more cities just to top them off.

When they did finally make another stop in the state, a little past the rail lines, it was because of an especially interesting thing that caught their attention. As they made their way through the bustling town of Rustwater, they came across banners advertising a large fair. A produce fair to be exact, something special and different… and somewhere they could pick up more supplies. Needless to say, it didn’t take a lot of prodding for Robert to agree to stop and check it out.

Jonathan for one was more than happy to explore. They decided to split up and went looking for goodies to sample and possibly purchase. Well he certainly had money burning a hole in his pocket. Robbie had given them all a bit of spending money after all. He was certain Dio had more and was hoping to bother him for an extra sweet treat. For a bit, however, he was on his own.

He bought a few apples, green ones specifically. His favorite. Carrying them loosely in his arms, and barely avoiding dropping them as he took a huge bite out of one, Jonathan savored the crisp crunch of the skin and all. Delicious was an understatement, to say the least. There were other things too, things he wanted to check out... but wasn’t too keen on buying yet. He was looking over a display of homemade root beer when he registered a presence at his back.

“Ugh, Jojo, must you always desire such sweet drinks? The smell alone is making me nauseous,” Dio piped up from behind him.

“Well, I happen to rather like root beer, I don’t see the issue here,” Erina answered airily. At the sounds of their voices Jonathan turned, apple clamped firmly between his teeth thus making it hard to smile. But not impossible. He managed it anyway.

Dio wrinkled his nose at the sight. “Disgusting, are you looking to resemble a horse?”

Jonathan rolled his eyes and pulled the apple from his mouth with little fanfare but continued smiling. “I was looking for you two, actually. Any chance of you buying me a jug of that, Dio?”

“Please, you’re the one with the inheritance, Jojo. Are you trying to take advantage of me?”

The little inflection in his words made Jonathan’s cheeks flush slightly pink, but he managed to scoff and turn to Erina instead. Even with her blue eyes darting between them, when she managed catch his gaze she still made him melt ten times over. “He’s the one with the ill begotten winnings and I’m the one who’s taking advantage, huh? Can you believe him?”

Erina laughed and nudged at his arm. “How selfish. Don’t you worry though, if you truly want a jug I can treat you.” Jonathan looked ready to protest, a lady need not buy him sweets! But then, her lips turned up into a devious little smirk. “Only if you promise to share it with me, though!”

“Well… now, if we’re sharing it... We can share the cost then as well.”

“Deal.”

“Tch, you’re spoiling him again.” Dio looked exasperated at first glance but upon further inspection, Jonathan could see amusement and indulgence in his expression. He was just acting the way he thought he should have. It worked for them.

“Hmph, maybe I’m spoiling myself, Dio. Have you ever considered that?”

“Hah, you just happen to get something out of it. Buy your little jug and come along, there is a lot more for us to see.”

Jonathan and Erina exchanged a look as Dio turned away but quickly pooled some money and bought the jug together. Thankfully, Erina had the foresight to bring a basket along with her so she tucked it amongst some other goodies she purchased earlier and they followed behind Dio, excitement in every step while they walked between the various market stalls.

As the crowd petered out at the fringes of the festival and they were a little more isolated in the grass and surrounded by sparsely populated vendors, the young Joestar got an idea. “Hey, check this out,” Jonathan called to his companions. With ease he took the four loose apples tucked in his arm, including the half eaten one, and began to toss them into high arcs over his head. He caught them easily and quickly and began to juggle them without effort.

“See? I picked up this trick from the Baron. I’ve gotten rather good I think!”

“I thought he was supposed to be teaching you martial arts, not a circus act,” Dio replied through pursed lips although Jonathan felt vindicated as Dio’s eyes followed the arc of the apples.

“Don’t act as if you aren’t impressed~” Jonathan answered with an easy smile. The way Dio had looked away with a muttered ‘Oh, please’ made him think he’d hit the nail on the head. Erina on the other hand appeared delighted, clapping and laughing at his antics.

The look of pure joy on her face was worth it. “Be careful,” she called, though he could see her get even more pleased the higher he tossed the apples. It took a bit of his concentration, but he was pretty good at this after a few months of practice… not to toot his own horn, or anything.

Dio, as if sensing that he was having too easy of a time showing off, decided now was the perfect opportunity to speak up again. “Pray tell Jojo, you actually paid for those apples, right? We certainly do not want to repeat certain previous events.”

Jonathan was reeling. Dio bringing up his shameful behavior from their days in Missouri? Right in front of Erina ?! To make matters worse, she burst into laughter at his words, which left the vampire preening that his joke landed successfully. Which only meant one thing… E-Erina was already well aware of his earlier crimes…

With his concentration elsewhere, he lost track of the rhythm of his juggling and without warning the bitten apple fell, hitting him suddenly and painfully right on his head.

“Augh, fuck!”

The expletive was out there, ringing across the grassy lawn they stood on. It took Jonathan a moment or two to realize exactly what had just happened. It wasn’t anyone else who spoke with such profanity, and so loudly at that. Only him, and him alone. Mortified, he clamped his mouth shut with both hands and felt his cheeks burn with embarrassment.

Erina was barely containing her giggles at the look on his face, but with the way Dio smirked in return, he knew there was trouble brewing.

“Jonathan Joestar? Stealing produce and swearing like a foul-mouthed sailor? No dignity in that gentleman right there.”

As Erina doubled over with laughter, Jonathan let out a most ungentlemanly whine. What had he done to deserve such blatant teasing? Was this all because he asked Dio to buy him root beer? With that treatment, he supposed Dio just wanted him to fall in a hole and die, huh?

Whatever, he wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. Even if that was what he wanted.

Erina wiped away the tears gathering at the corners of her eyes and reached for the rest of his fallen apples, tucking them away in her basket. “D-Don’t worry Jojo, that was still impressive. Come on, l-let’s go find Robbie okay?” Her words weren’t exactly reassuring, but she made an attempt at least. With his arms crossed, both boys followed her down another row of vendors.


 

If there was one thing Robert loved more than a bargain, it was free shit.

Well, technically? This stuff wasn’t exactly free but people here sure liked to sweeten their deals with some offers you just couldn’t pass up. Two coils of hemp rope with the purchase of two full baskets of persimmons? Sold! It didn’t matter if he didn’t know what the fuck a persimmon was. They looked pretty good, so he’d be a real jackass to pass up such a mighty fine treat.

If there was something sweet, Jojo would definitely enjoy it and if it turned out to be sour? Erin would be all over it in his stead. That brother of his would never get scurvy on a ship, he liked sour lemons and oranges far too much. Robert wouldn’t be surprised to see him returning to the wagon with a basket full of citrus later on, making sure everyone knew those were his.

At the moment, he found himself looking over crates of corn. That might be a nice easy dinner, something to roast up when they were in the mood. Maybe even a snack. He had spotted William earlier with a few tomatoes in a basket and rolled his eyes. He could try to make some Italian shit on the road but good luck making a sauce when no one here had a damn stove.

“You know,” the farmer behind the booth started, “if you buy this bundle I’ll throw in this basket of red apples for free!”

Free. Ah, the word was like music to his ears as he reached out for the small basket to inspect the fruit. They were on the smaller side, a little misshapen. Bruised. He didn’t want free if what they were giving him was absolute shit. He wasn’t the kind of man people could just give garbage to.

Okay well, he definitely was that kind of person... but that didn’t mean he was going to take any old thing to feed the kids he was looking after.

“You tryin’ to pull one over on me, sir? These don’t exactly look… edible,” he answered, his bushy brows turned down in a dubious expression.

“Those’ll be great for a tasty applesauce you know,” came an accented voice from his side, “so, if you aren’t going to take them? I certainly will.”

Robert turned to see who was addressing him and felt the world slow to a stop for a moment. The man was… well, gorgeous was putting it lightly. He sported a full head of brown hair and even brighter brown eyes, while his dark complexion implied work outdoors. His jaw seemed capable of effortlessly cutting marble. The stetson hat on his head, while impressive, also gave a hint to his occupation. He must have been with the group of men who herded cattle up to the train cars they had passed on the way here. He remembered telling the others to check out the cows and also distinctly hearing Dio hiss that he wasn’t about to die for a glimpse at a steer.

For a hot second, Robert E.O. Speedwagon swallowed his tongue. That’s often what he did in the presence of beautiful men but god damn, had it been a while. He watched the stranger’s lips quirk up into a bit of a smirk before he finally remembered how to say words again and he prayed to every god that he wouldn’t fucking embarrass himself by saying too much.

“Oi, now how do I know that you’re not trying to help this guy get some rotten apples off his hands, huh?” Well... his voice didn’t tremble, that was a plus.

The handsome stranger threw his head back and let out a hearty laugh that sounded damn musical before he fixed those stupid, pretty eyes on him. “Well, you’ll just have to trust me I guess.” Was that cowboy… flirting with him? No way in hell that was actually happening, right? Robert tried to will away the heat blooming across his face, but it didn’t work. Whatever witty retort he might have had died in his throat almost immediately.

“H-Haha… well, um, I’ll take ‘em then.” He let out a nervous laugh and internally screamed at how stupid he was acting. So much for Ogre Street Style, huh…?

That smirk on the handsome stranger’s face grew into a full blown, heart stopping smile before he tipped his hat towards him. “Glad to know I’ve got your trust,” and after winking at him, the man walked away, leaving Robert to wave stupidly and nearly fall back onto the grass. That one interaction made this fucking trip, that’s for sure. England didn’t make ‘em like that.

When he had gotten himself together enough to finally pay for the produce, he arranged for a pick up when they were all set for the day. He was going to have to use a cart to take this shit back to their wagon. He paused by a stall not too far away when he saw the checkered hat of the Baron. He was swirling around a glass of wine, giving it a sniff and a taste.

What a fuckin’ toff.

“Mmm, not great… not good... but not bad either. Where did you say this brand was from?” He heard William announce, as if what he said wasn’t rude as all hell.

The vendor seemed a little thrown off by his assessment and gave and awkward shuffle behind the stall. “Well sir, the grapes were grown and the wine fermented right here in these United States. The State of California to be exact.”

William took another sip and looked thoughtful. “My, that is far west. Well, I suppose I’ll take two then.”

“Two bottles, sir?”

“No, no. Cases, my good man.”

Robert practically choked. Two cases?! At full price?

“THE HELL?!” He shouted, stomping over to him with his arms crossed firmly across his chest. “Do we look like we can afford this shit? Wine? We’re not made of damn money! We can’t be too-- too frivolous when we’ve got ourselves a BUDGET to follow!” William opened his mouth to retort, but Robert didn’t give him much of a chance. “And what if this stuff ain’t even from California and it’s just some GRAPE FLAVORED PISS, you ever think about that?!”

“I-I can assure you sir, it’s not... p-please don’t say that so loudly around my stall!”

Unlike the frazzled shopkeeper, William merely snorted. “Can piss even taste like grapes?”

“Oh cut the bullshit! You know what I’m gettin’ at, Will!”

Despite the way his mustache twitched up in amusement, instead of pissing him off William chose to raise his hands to Robert in a placating manner. “Relax, relax. I will be paying for this from my own purse. No need to worry about any budgeting.”

Robert scratched his head with a puzzled scowl. “Huh, okay I guess that’s fine.”

As the Baron turned to pay and handed the man some bills, it clicked then.

“W-WAIT, YOU HAD MONEY ALL THIS TIME?! WHAT THE FUCK?!”

Zeppeli started laughing as Robert couldn’t help himself but to continue. “HOW CAN YOU BE MOOCHIN’ OFF OF US FOR A WHOLE YEAR WHEN YOU GOT YOUR OWN DAMN COIN PURSE, HUH? WHAT THE HELL! THAT’S SO SELFISH, I CAN’T BELIEVE--”

Just over the entertained Italian’s shoulder, he spotted him again. The handsome stranger was watching them with amusement present in his expression. And just like that, Robert… clammed up. He couldn’t continue yelling. He had already made a spectacle of himself. If the earth opened up and swallowed him whole right then and there, he’d be happy about it.

Instead, that didn’t happen and at Zeppeli’s puzzled look, he shoved his hands in his pockets and turned to make a quick getaway. He had to get out of here, and fast. Mister Cowboy saw him and definitely heard his loud fucking mouth. Maybe he could drown himself now.

I wonder if Dio would do it if I asked him nicely?

He had a feeling the little shit might actually take him up on that offer.


 

As the day winded down and the group took their purchases to meet up, Erina blinked in surprise. Robbie had ordered quite a bit, there were baskets and crates piled up in a pushcart for him to bring to the wagon. She hadn’t missed it though, Robert and that man at the stall.

She sidled up to him with a mischievous smile on her face and nudged him with her elbow. “Did you buy all that ‘cause that handsome man asked you to?”

The way Robert’s head whipped around and his face turned cherry red meant she was on the right track. It was comical, the way he scowled and how his hair seemed to stick out at all ends. “I-I bought all this stuff for us! I even managed to pick up some nice soap for your hair but guess what, now I’m gonna use it all! You don’t get shit!” he hesitated and looked away for a moment before meeting her eyes again, now fully in charge of his resolve. “And! That man? I was just checkin’ out his hat is all… and that ain’t a euphemism for anything, got it?”

Erina laughed and started to walk off. “You can only use that excuse on me once before it starts to get old, Robbie~ I know the difference.”

He let out an indignant noise as she walked ahead, but she didn’t pay it any heed. As they all fell into step on the road back they broke into separate groups. Jonathan helped Robert pull the cart and chattered happily away with him about today’s adventures. Zeppeli held two crates in his arms that clinked with glass yet didn’t seem to break a sweat. His strength was impressive.

As for Dio? He kept to a comfortable pace beside her.

“You know, with the coins Robbie gave me I purchased some cinnamon tea. I’ve never tried it, but it sounds interesting, no?” She asked him brightly, watching as he spun his parasol behind him. Yet at her words, his face twisted up like he smelled something bad at her suggestion.

She couldn’t help the way irritation bubbled in her gut. In turn, her mouth matched his look with a pronounced pout. He didn’t even try to answer her.

“For your information, I was saying so because I was thinking of sharing it with you! Forget that idea, then. Why do I even bother with you most of the time?”

Dio let out a little laugh, not even looking her direction. “I wonder, Erina, do you ever try to stop pushing your kindness on people? One moment we’re stealing away to converse and the next you’re offering to share tea with me? It’s practically exhausting.” She would have been angered and maybe a little hurt by his words if she hadn’t heard the playful teasing in his voice. Very common in his spiels these days. “Honestly, you would think we were friends or someth--”

Dio’s head suddenly snapped back before he finished his sentence.

Erina could hardly process what had just happened as the blond fell backwards, hitting the ground harshly. She didn’t register the spray of blood painting her face and hair. Her mind was blank while her eyes followed his fallen form, finally taking stock of his prone body below her.

Dio Brando’s eyes were no longer open

And there, right in the center of his forehead… was a gaping, bleeding hole.

Chapter Text

Everything went to hell in a handbasket in seconds.

Though so much was immediately happening Erina felt like she was submerged in molasses. Every reaction seemed too slow for her own good. She vaguely noted the Baron leaping behind her and Robert and Jonathan mobilizing as well. But then a second shot rang out. The sound was almost dull in her ears before Zeppeli was dropping down and shoving her against the ground.

What she did immediately register was the bullet embedding itself in the ground and the burn of bullet track against her thigh. It had just grazed her but barely. She could have died…

The pain that bloomed along her leg felt like fire and summoned tears to her eyes but not as much as the realization that Dio, while on his back luckily in shade, had little sunbeams peeking from between the tree leaves burning his face. He was in trouble.

Erina could hear Zeppeli shouting orders in a muffled sort of way and Jonathan and Robert rushing to follow through with them, but one last look at her fallen friend steeled her resolve. She felt time speed up to its regular pace, heard every shout louder, felt the Baron’s hand press heavily down on her shoulder. It was then that she acted.

“Let me go!” She hissed, knocking away Zeppeli’s hand and rushing toward Dio, using her shadow to block the sun from his face. Where his skin had been exposed to the light was charred and smoking black. She hoped he wouldn’t scar…

She hoped he would wake up.

They would have to deal with the physical threats. It was above her skill set after all… but this? She was the most qualified to attempt it. She had to retrieve the bullet from his skull.


 

Jonathan faced forward in a fighting stance, breathing steady and deep as he watched the Baron launch himself forward. Some of their attackers had run back into the treeline but others had stood their ground. Each had stopped shooting and it seemed a standoff had been reached. The faces of Dio’s assailants looked familiar, but it was hard for Jonathan to place…

Not when he was burning with righteous fury.

He had seen Dio fall backwards, he saw the spray of blood on Erina’s face. He had not been quick enough to stop the bullet but he would be quick enough to seek justice for this attack. Zeppeli gave Jonathan a quick look and nodded. They were going to retrieve them. Hamon Warriors would do no harm, their intent was to protect humanity… but they were going to have to use force to restrain their attackers and leave them to the proper authorities.

“Speedwagon. Stay back! It’s too dangerous!” Baron Zeppeli finally announced, lunging forward at the men left in the trees as Jonathan followed after. “Alright, Jojo! Zoom punch!”

At his urging, Jonathan did as his mentor commanded. He took a deep breath and let his punch fly, allowing his arm to extend and Hamon jut out through his fingertips. He couldn’t help the rush of adrenaline that coursed through his veins as he successfully struck an armed man who had merely stared in shock as his limb stretched past its normal limits. Both his and Zeppeli’s had met their marks and they watched as two would-be assassins went flying back.

“Good work!” Zeppeli called but as another readied a round of shots in their direction, he yelled for them to scatter and they ran separate directions. Jonathan caught his mentor pulling a bottle of wine from his jacket and poking a hole in the glass bottom with his pinky. It was messy but once the Baron poured the wine into his mouth, he knew where this was going. The Hamon Cutter was something he hadn’t yet learned, but it was nevertheless impressive to see wine spat from Zeppeli’s teeth turn to blades, spinning and slicing at those who would do them harm.

An unoccupied attacker took this opportunity to run from a hidden pocket in the trees and Jonathan caught him attempting to take aim at Zeppeli. With a shout of anger, the boy slammed his foot on the ground focusing his Hamon down from his toes into the soil, letting it radiate around and hoping his focused power hit it’s desired mark. “Verdant Emerald Overdrive!” He screamed, running forward and merely punching the distracted man with the gun, Hamon knocking him back and forcing him against the tree his stomp had summoned.

Wow. His attack actually managed to work. It was a shot in the dark and really, the only thing he’d planned ahead of time was the name… but he wasn’t complaining.

“Are you two fucking idiots?!” Came a shout from behind them. Robert was rushing forward with a scowl present on his face. “I’m the one with the actual fuckin’ weapon on hand, but no it’s just the old bastard and the kid goin’ for blows?! Gimme some credit!”

Robert gave a primal yell as he tossed the hat from his head at the group of goons arriving to provide back up. The brim spun in an elegant arc but while everyone’s eyes seemed to be on the flying haberdashery, Speedwagon drew his gun and shot right through the top, taking out at least one of the distracted lot. He couldn’t quite help the satisfaction he felt watching that newcomer crumple to his knees in agony. Sure, that was less of a ‘shoot-to-kill’ maneuver on his part given the hat trick at play, but he managed the leave the bastard breathless. A win’s a win.

Upon the Baron’s scowl in his direction, Robert promptly flipped him off. “I’m shooting to make sure you two don’t die. Thank me later, properly!”

With the surprising success of “Verdant Emerald Overdrive”, Jonathan was seized with inspiration and tugged at Robert’s arm. “Cover me, Speedwagon!” he asked the blond and didn’t wait for an answer as the two of them rushed forward, Robert shooting at their drawn weapons and protecting Jonathan as best he could with what ammo he had at his disposal.

Jonathan stopped and took the deepest breath he could muster and the sharpest concentration at this dire time, as he forced his foot down once again. The boy leaned into a crouch this time, sending ripples of power through his fingertips into the dirt, giving it his all. He felt it more than saw it as foliage and vines blossomed from the ground in massive droves, winding the bodies of their enemies in branches and keeping them bound together within the greenery. Surprisingly effective… well, more so than he had anticipated and when he finally stood, it was to wipe his dirty hands on his pants and admire his work.

“Well, shit…” Robert mumbled, looking at all the strung up assassins.

Zeppeli was also taken aback, opting to join Jonathan as Speedwagon walked forward collecting the captured men’s weapons with a nod of the head and a saccharine thank you. 

“That was… quick thinking, my boy.”

Jonathan beamed with pride as his chest heaved in an attempt to catch his breath. “W-Well, thank you Baron… I--”

“Well now... this has become a right fucking circus,” drawled a familiar voice from the treeline. Of all the people who could have possibly staged this attack, Jonathan had least expected the likes of Howard D’arby to emerge from the cover of the brush. His mustache twitched in irritation as one hand settled on his hip, fingers wrapped around the handle of his six shooter. The other, his previously wounded hand, now sported an obvious wooden prosthetic. It seemed there was really no reattaching the fingers Robert had shot off.

Where he and the Baron were silent, Robert was not. Instead, the teenager narrowed his eyes and trained his gun on him. “So, you came back here for me to take care of the rest of your fingers, huh?”

For a moment, the man’s eyes turned dark with fury before he reined himself in. It seemed he didn’t wish to lose his composure as he did in their previous encounters.

“Listen… I’m a simple man. I follow the dice and what they wish to grant me. But what I don’t like? It’s slights to my pride. So, seeing as I’ve taken care of one problem child and you’ve taken out some of my men... perhaps you’d like to hear my terms.” D’arby sauntered closer and while they all took a more defensive stance, Robert looked ready to say something.

Speedwagon,” Zeppeli hissed. His tone was tense and admonishing. This wasn’t a time to mess around, this man was dangerous and no doubt he would go for the one who had shot off his hand first. The last thing he needed to do was antagonize him.

“There’s no reason to keep on with this whole… cat and mouse thing, you know? I tailed your little band of misfits aaaaall the way from Ebbing just to rectify my reputation. I don’t mean all of you harm if I don’t have to. The kid’s already dead so really all I want is pretty clear. My money needs to be returned to me, seeing as that kid cheated for it. I want blondie over here to pay for what he’s done to me and I need his dice. It was agreed upon.” Howard’s eyes narrowed then, pointing the barrel of his gun in Robert’s direction. “Think we can manage that?”

“Go ahead and try to kill me, cocksucker,” Robert spat out defiantly, practically opening his arms in the most idiotic display Jonathan had probably ever seen. But this was Ogre Street coming out to play, the back alleys where Speedwagon spent most of his youth. For a nervous moment, he feared that their older companion was welcoming a shot. When D’arby smirked triumphantly, displaying a gold tooth he hadn’t seen before, something else became very apparent.

“My, my. Harsh words… but really, you don’t know how to play the game, do ya kid?”

Howard wasn’t going to make the killing blow. No, no... there were more assassins waiting in the wings. Jonathan caught them to the right, behind Robert and behind Erina and Dio on the opposite side of the path. The bullet was going to go through Erina and then Robert…

There was no thinking in that moment, only action. Once again Jonathan turned to the soil, turned to make things grow, but instead of snaring trees with one resounding stomp of his foot, roots and bark shot up from the ground like a subterranean cannon. As a shot rang out in the clearing, it grew up and around Erina and Dio at a breakneck speed covering them within a dome of wood, moss and climbing flowers. Jonathan’s heart hammered in his chest as he watched the bullet barely bounce off the barrier, narrowly saving both Erina and Robert’s lives.

Jonathan’s breathing was ragged from the effort, his power almost sapped from his overexerted body at such a quick move... but he had saved them. It was the most important thing he’d ever done and he’d visit the ramifications of if the move had failed later. For now, however, he turned to D’arby with a dark scowl.

The man in question was staring at the dome of brush that he had created solely with the force of his foot. His mouth hung open and his eyes wide. “A-Are you… like me?” Howard finally spoke up, the look of surprise not once vanishing from his face.

Jonathan spat at his feet and felt his voice well up from a place of righteous fury burning hot in his chest. “I am nothing like you.”

Perhaps that was too ungentlemanly, perhaps he shouldn’t have done that. Whatever the case, Jonathan was too caught up in his own anger and his own sense of justice to notice Zeppeli call out his name. Not until it was too late. An arm looped around him from behind and at his neck, he felt the press of cold steel. He glanced down to see the shine of a blade against his skin before his captor tugged his head back by his hair.

“A-Any more moves and the kid here gets it!”

“Fuck,” Robert grunted and Jonathan couldn’t help but internally echo the sentiment.


 

So much had happened outside that Erina felt completely isolated inside the organic barrier Jonathan had made around her and Dio. The sounds of the ongoing altercation were now muffled and quiet by thick layers of earth and most of the light had been shielded away. It left only her and Dio’s fallen body in a small bubble with just barely enough light to see.

Being cut off from the action nevertheless meant that Erina now had the opportunity to focus her attention on the important matter at hand. Dio was the pressing issue and instead of protecting him, huddling over him to keep out of the way of stray bullets, she could now work to see what could be done about the problem of the bullet lodged in his brain.

There was no way of knowing if Dio was actually dead. This was the drawback of technically being an undead vampire. Zeppeli had told them that the sun and extreme trauma to the brain could both mark the end of one exposed to the stone mask, not including Hamon, of course. Was this considered enough trauma? Would it make things worse if she tried to retrieve the bullet? She didn’t have any forceps or tweezers, she would have to use her fingers….

But… what if he couldn’t wake up with the obstruction still in his brain?

She couldn’t sit here and do nothing, she had to act. So she made a judgement call. Erina Pendleton took a deep breath to steady her nerves and carefully pushed one of her fingers into the hole in his head. She grimaced as her fingertip pushed past jagged bone and dipped into blood and the edges of soft brain matter… certain that the rest of it was drying on her face.

After a moment of this agonizing intrusion, however, she felt her skin brush against cool metal.

There it is. The young girl tried to hook her finger just a little bit, to pull it out... but it wasn’t budging as she wanted it to. Tears began to well up in her eyes at the thought of failure and the reality of the situation she was in. The bullet was pushing against the pliant edges of his brain and Erina worried that though her finger was long and thin, it was still too much. This was stupid, this must be making things worse. But she had to get it out… maybe she’d need to give him enough blood to help his flesh knit back together. Keeping this metal in wasn’t helpful.

Erina knew she couldn’t panic now, she had to keep going. For Dio’s sake. The circumstances behind this were like nothing anyone could have prepared her for in a medical textbook. But, she had to trust her gut, even if that meant being finger-deep in her friend’s brain. She pushed further to get a feel of the bullet’s front tip and hooked her finger once more, gasping in delight as she managed to fish the offending item up closer to Dio’s skull.

It was a start. A good start. She wasn’t about to be patting herself on the back, though. Not when she saw the slick red of blood and flecks of gore coating most of her index finger. She swallowed back bile and tried to will away the accompanying nausea as she prepared to reach for the bullet. She could faintly register shouting and thuds from outside the dome, but it wasn’t anything she could control. Not now. Focus, Erina ... Focus-- .

Suddenly, there was a crushing weight on her wrist. Something heavy and tight, nearly snapping her bone in two. She let out a yelp of pain as she tore her eyes away from the open wound to what was nearly breaking her wrist.

It was Dio. Wide awake and holding onto the offending hand that had decided to explore the depths of his brain. She would have been relieved if she wasn’t terrified that he was going to fracture her hand. His eyes were open and his pupils blown wide. Finally his eyes settled on her face and though he still looked bewildered, upon recognizing her he released his grip.

She removed it immediately, holding her wrist gently and wondering if it would bruise. But Dio… he was awake. Responsive. Alive . Erina felt his name rising to her lips in pure, shaky relief and confusion but he didn’t even allow her the opportunity to say it. Not before he was jamming his own fingers into the hole in his head anyway. She cringed as he violently pulled the bullet from his skull, sharpened nails caked in his spilt blood.

He said nothing as he rose to his feet and Erina felt a chill around her, only noticing then that ice was extending out from the middle of the dome. Icy tendrils traveled along the ground and shifted to large crystals where it met root and plant. The wood around them began to rumble and shake before shards of ice shot through the barrier, tearing the dome asunder and allowing the two a chance to see what the current situation was outside of their safe little bubble.

Dio stayed safely under the half of the dome that was left, kept away from sun exposure and regarding the group outside who were now looking at him. Erina could see their faces now were as white as sheets. He certainly painted quite the picture. Wet blood and brain matter spattering his visage, pronounced dark circles under a hollowed gaze, multiple burns mapping small portions of his skin. At this time, he looked more ghoul than ever… and not quite vampire.

A pin could have dropped out in the open and she was sure everyone present would hear it.

Dio reached for his fallen parasol then, humming in thanks when Erina scrambled to retrieve it for him. Upon opening it, he frowned at the sight of an obvious tear in the fabric, one he carefully turned away from anything important as he slung the umbrella over his shoulder. Without so much as batting an eye, Dio held the bullet from his head up in front of his eye. To her surprise Erina noticed that it had iced over, glittering pink between his thumb and middle finger.

Erina jumped when he flicked it away like nothing. It was such a sudden gesture, one moment there and with a snap of his fingers, it was gone… only to be embedded into the forehead of a man who had been holding a knife to Jojo’s throat. She felt a gasp of breath leave her, one she had no idea she’d been holding before he walked forward. His gait was slow and almost passive. Approaching the group of horrified men and worried companions.

Not only had he not died from a shot to the head, but he’d just felled one of their men with the very bullet meant to kill him. Lodged in his forehead only minutes prior. That must have been far more than any of them bargained for. They all recoiled, even D’arby as Dio walked over to his fallen victim. Even Jonathan stood stock still, wondering what he would do next.

With a loud rip, the vampire tore a piece of cloth from the dead man’s shirt. Dio examined the fabric, glanced up at his parasol and then once again looked at the tattered shirt in hand. He didn’t deign to share a look with their aggressors, instead merely speaking.

“This should suffice for the damage you’ve done to my parasol.”

Howard made a bit of a choked noise and that was more than enough to get Dio’s eyes glancing over at them. Erina could see his irises glinting dark and ruby red, obviously in no mood for any of this. His run in with the Sugarhill Gang had obviously been more than enough for him.

“Listen well... end this charade and I’ll allow you to keep breathing. All of you. If you know what’s good for you, you will accept my charity,” Dio hissed low, finally advancing on Howard D’arby. “A bullet couldn’t strike me down, what makes you think another attempt will get the job done, hm?”

In defense of D’arby, Erina saw that the man was frozen where he stood in abject horror. Not only was his target walking around, still very much alive and breathing, but Dio then walked towards him chatting away as if nothing had really happened. There was that edge of course, that promise of vengeance and violence if his demands were not met… but the fact that he was speaking must have been terrifying to the older man in general.

But that paralysis? That immobility? That wasn’t what Dio had demanded and if possible, his expression turned even darker.

Leave D’arby. I shan’t repeat myself.”

The first one to speak up wasn’t the man of the hour, no no. Another gunman, someone of insignificant name and background instead pointed at Dio, his hand trembling in fear. “TH-THAT’S NO CHILD!” The man shouted, backing away. “TH-THAT’S A DEMON! A-AN ABOMINATION! I DON’T… I DON’T WANT TO DIE!” With no more hesitation he dropped his pistol and bolted, disappearing into the trees hopefully never to be seen again.

Dio’s unimpressed gaze turned from the retreating figure of D’arby’s lackey back to the man himself. “Tick tock,” he teased. With that, Howard stumbled backward and screamed when his back hit a warm chest. Baron Zeppeli stood behind him, face drawn into a dark unreadable expression.

Buona notte,” the Baron finally said, slamming his fingertips violently into D’arby’s neck and catching the man as he fell unconscious in his arms. For good measure, Zeppeli focused a shot of Hamon through the wood of his prosthetic, splintering it beyond repair. The sigh he let out was heavy as Erina emerged from under the crumbling dome of ice and roots to survey the carnage. There were a few bodies prone on the ground, some unconscious and at least one or two succumbing to death at the hands of her allies. Her stomach twisted as the nausea from earlier rose up in the back of her throat once more.

The group hardly spoke as they dragged D’arby back to the outskirts of Rustwater, belongings forgotten for now. The hemp rope Robert had gotten was put to good use as they tied him up and left a little sign next to his body.

PLEAS E TAKE ME TO THE NEARIST SHERRIF. I TRIED TO KILL 3 KIDS TODAE.

Robert stood back proudly, admiring his handiwork. “Hey! See? I’m gettin’ better at this don’t you think?” He asked, turning his smiling face to Erina. She shuffled a little, not exactly ready to feel… happy or anything similar after everything that had happened. When she closed her eyes, she could still feel Dio’s brain against her fingertips. But for him? She forced a grin.

“Well, your penmanship has certainly gotten better! I think we need to work on your spelling a little bit more, but it will certainly suffice~” Her words were enough as Robert practically preened under her praise.

“Eh, spelling? Who needs it when your letters look this good.”

With Robert sufficiently distracted, Erina turned to regard Dio. After everything that transpired, he was the one most greatly affected. He still looked terrible. His pallor hadn’t changed and in fact, the dark circles under his eyes only seemed to worsen. He no longer kept his back straight, instead his posture was sloppy… hunched over. She could see a sway in his step as well.

It was even more concerning when he lost his balance. Jonathan was at his side immediately, slipping an arm under Dio’s to keep him on his feet. The vampire in question didn’t have enough energy to recoil or even talk down to him, quietly accepting the support back to the wagon.

How not… like himself...

There must be a solution for this. To regain his strength, Dio must need blood… something substantial to help him recuperate from the damage of the gunshot wound. For his sake… human blood would probably be the best source as well. Animal blood might not be enough.

An idea popped into Erina’s head then.

While she had been useless back there, pawing helplessly at his wound, perhaps there was something she could do for him… a much better way to be of service.

Chapter Text

Getting shot in the head was absolutely fucking abysmal.

Granted, Dio had never heard of anyone saying it was something to write home about… but then again, usually those that met a similar fate died before they could give feedback on their own experiences. No, no, he had to be one of a select few to survive a bullet to the head. It was well within his brand, he was a survivor after all… but this was beyond awful.

He had lost far too much blood and the nausea that accompanied knowing what his brain felt like left him swaying. The second he was ferried into the back of the wagon, he was in and out.

His eyes closed momentarily and when he opened them again, the light outside was an comforting orange hue. How many hours had he lost? Was it the same day?

He fucking hoped it was.

Outside, Dio could hear Jonathan and Erina speaking quietly between themselves.

“Are you sure you don’t need help wrapping up that wound of yours?”

“I’m absolutely fine, Jojo. Besides we have a job to do! Though really… I know Robbie and Baron Zeppeli took the bodies… somewhere, and I really don’t want to dwell on that, but… how are we really supposed to clean up bloodstains in the dirt?” That was the soft musical voice of Erina carried on the breeze, Dio could tell. “How are you even managing it?”

“Ha, well… I decided to kick more dirt over the bloodier dirt. There isn’t a way to actually clean up anything, so cloaking it seems reasonable… I’m getting nowhere fast here.” There was Jonathan’s voice, a brilliant bright tenor that was still full of life despite their monitored volume.

Erina laughed then and Dio could practically hear the fond smile on her face.

“Well, I think you’ve got the right idea. Really, if they want it done any other way then they can do it themselves~”

Jonathan’s accompanying snickers were what followed as Dio felt his consciousness slip away from him again. One blink and his eyes fell heavy. At least he was delighted in knowing that he wasn’t missing out on anything important…

When Dio’s eyes next opened, it was from the wagon moving from side to side. He could hear the creak of wood boards and feel the vague shift and lean to one side as someone new boarded. They were all slight things, but nonetheless things he took notice of far too often now as a vampire. The orange light from before had faded to darkness  but instead of taking note of Erina illuminated by moonbeams at the opening of the wagon... he was too busy being distracted by a rather delicious smell permeating the air about them.

The scent in itself made his throat burn and his incisors ache. It was overwhelming… Dio hadn’t been so aware of his thirst until this exact moment. He had no idea what it could be, there was a familiarity to it, but his senses were being assaulted tenfold and in ways he couldn’t understand. As Erina got closer, the smell only blossomed further until his mouth was watering in time with Erina’s gentle urging to wake up. Dio would have vaguely registered the rough feeling of fabric against his shoulder where her hand would be, but he was dealing with too much to dwell on it.

Far too overstimulated for his liking, but… there wasn’t much to do about that, was there?

“Here, drink this,” Erina instructed him, offering him a cup that he could hardly see her holding when she climbed aboard. Was that the source of the delicious smell? He could indeed detect an undercurrent of some sort of spice on the air. Perhaps... that was the tasty thing he was smelling. “It should help you…”

It would have been embarrassing if he had a better handle on himself in these passing minutes. But now, as his once unfocused gaze settled on the steaming teacup before him? He didn’t rightly care about keeping up distinguished airs. Dio reached for the cup and drank what he could as fast as he could. He felt a dribble of tea down his chin and licked at it, perhaps a bit more like a starved animal than human. What sort of tea was this, and how could it hit the spot so perfectly? It was the perfect combination of appetizing and satisfying all at once. He was too involved to notice Erina had brought in the whole teapot until she was offering him a refill.

After two more oh, so heavenly cups of tea, he found his mind returning to him somewhat. It was still a bit cloudy, his body still felt like a lead weight… but it had helped. He could even feel her hand gently patting his back while he caught his breath after downing that third cup.

He placed the teacup down against the wooden floor of the wagon and took a deep breath… and it was then that he saw it. As Erina withdrew her hand, he spotted bandages wrapped around her left palm. He noted with disgust the black and blue imprints of fingers around her right wrist as well. Dio repressed the urge to look down at his own traitorous hand with equal ire.

The young vampire reached out then, taking the bandaged hand in his more gently, eyeing the faint stains of red along the fabric. “...What happened?” he finally bit out, hoping that he was wrong, that she wasn’t doing anything so… reckless.

“Well, you needed blood. After the injuries you sustained earlier? Human blood would probably aid in the healing process far more exponentially than animal blood ever could. So… I used the tea I purchased in town and created something that hopefully helps you get back on your feet.”

The way Erina said that, with absolutely no hesitation left Dio reeling in ways he hadn’t anticipated. She just blatantly admitted to bloodletting herself. Bloodletting for his sake of all things.

Why? ” The words left his mouth before he could stop them, but he genuinely wanted to know. That was beyond the pale, not the normal acts of kindness he was used to from her.

She didn’t even look bothered by his confusion. “You were in desperate need of it, we had to act fast and if I ha--”

“No, no, no. ” he cut her off. “Why would you help me to this extent?” Erina grew quiet at his question and Dio pressed on. “You could have provided me with animals... it isn’t as if they are scarce around these parts. Why go to such lengths after everything I’ve done to you?!”

Something had changed when that question was out in the open. The air around them shifted and Erina suddenly looked uncomfortable, as if she was experiencing the unfortunate events of more than a year prior once again. Despite how she looked away from him he continued, he wasn’t choosing to bring this up just because. Those days were… surprisingly long past him.

“...Not even just from back then, either… the most recent of incidents-- this.” To emphasize his point, he reached out with his free hand and grazed his fingers along her bruises, trying to ignore how the marks aligned. Like puzzle pieces fitting together to tell a story.

That, at least, spurred Erina to action. “This? It was an accident, you weren’t exactly thinking clearly then. You know, that’s a bit hard to attempt after being shot in the head.” He almost hated how confident in this she sounded. “Considering the circumstances it’s most certainly something I can forgive. It’s not like you’ve attempted anything like this before either. We’ve been working together long enough now… I can tell when you’re doing an action with intent, Dio.”

“Being able to read me better doesn’t excuse anything from before,” he answered quickly. “It is not that easy.” He could hardly fathom any of this. Of all the people they were traveling with, the person who least deserved any shred of compassion from her was him. He knew, deep within himself, that he didn’t deserve kindness from anyone here. A year’s worth of travel couldn’t change that. No matter how much they wanted to make such a reality seem possible. It wasn’t.

Hell, the moment he set foot in the Joestar Manor he had done everything in his power to spit in the face of the kindness offered to him. Something about this, though? It didn’t feel… proper. For a moment he couldn’t help but wonder if it was her self-sacrificing nature or her pragmatism to see the situation through. But no, she actually felt in her heart of hearts that he was worthy enough to be given her blood to recover.

Something he never deserved.

Yes, Dio had his first taste of human blood back in Missouri, but that was nothing more than a fluke. He was in a position of ‘kill or be killed’ then, and he chose to kill his aggressor. This was a completely different monster. Erina Pendleton willingly shared her blood with him. She could have easily slit the throats of a few animals and called it a day. But he knew he wasn’t worth any of this.

“Maybe it isn’t that easy... but I’ve seen intent on you before, I know far too well what you look like when you’re trying to hurt people. That wasn’t it.” She said finally, a fire evident in her voice as she met his gaze head on with a surprisingly appropriate, yet contrary look of ice in her big blue eyes. “You needed human blood. Animal blood wouldn’t have helped you all that much or you’d need more in volume at the very least. My feelings in regards to you can sometimes be… complicated, but-- but… so much has happened in the past year, we’re friends now. Aren’t we?”

Dio didn’t have it in him to say anything. It wasn’t often that he looked back on his past actions with regret. Life was too short for him to be apologetic to anyone, let alone himself … but this? The edge in her voice brought him back to that moment and he felt another wave of nausea nearly overcome him. God, who was he? That was the kind of thing his father would do…

He didn’t want to think he had turned into that monster. Draining out half of his blood, the half that Dario Brando had contributed in his conception, wouldn’t be enough after that.

His tired eyes were trained on his lap, fingers playing with the edge of the teacup. He took note of the leaves clustered at the bottom and little red specks dotting along the porcelain inside. Evidence of her sacrifice to him. He had to swallow hard to hold back his instincts, the little voice in the back of his head that whispered for him to lick the cup clean. To accept her tribute.

“I--...I’m sorry.”

The words left him before he could register them, before his conscious brain could flounder about it and worry about an apology. He just spoke them and let them linger in the air as despair sank into every pore on his skin.

When he found his courage, beneath layers of emotions within him he didn’t dare dwell on, Dio Brando glanced up at her. Erina Pendleton’s face was unreadable… equal parts hard and soft, but her gaze didn’t waver. While he was full of conflicting feelings and turmoil and questions and inadequacy for years to come, she looked steadier than ever.

“What… exactly are you apologizing for?”

A shaky, somewhat nervous sigh escaped him. This was not a dismissal, it was a probing question. It was clear what she wanted. For him to explicitly state what he thought he’d done to wrong her, to address the things he needed to apologize for. He wasn’t sure if he had ever been presented with someone who wanted to hold him accountable that way.

It was beyond difficult.

“I… I am… sorry for hurting you. For leaving you with bruises along your wrist from my own lack of self control or rational thinking. I am sorry for rounding up bullies to further torment you and Jojo. For mocking and teasing you when you were uncertain around me for good reason. For… for undermining your intelligence and your bravery in our travels. But most of all… I am… sorry for forcing my attentions on you. For making light of it. For the way I hurt you physically after.”

Every word out of his mouth was genuine, but also difficult to say. It was easy enough to live with every negative he’d ever done and never give any voice to it. But to put it out there…?

He took another deep breath to steady himself before he continued. “I am not asking for forgiveness, I… I don’t anticipate it, I never have. But. I-- I want you to know.” Dio paused again, glancing up nervously at her once he managed to find his nerve. “...And. Thank you. You… you had many other options at hand… and yet, you-- you chose to offer your blood to me.”

Even after all of that, after those admissions Erina reached out for him. First to his hand before hesitating, and then placing her own hands gently on his shoulder. Despite the tenderness in her actions, her expression was a little more serious.

“For things like the kiss? I don’t know if forgiveness will ever come for that…” Her voice trailed off and he could see the anguish written across her face and felt loathing crawl across his skin. “--But not now. What you did? Nothing you can do now can hurt me worse than that. I haven’t forgiven or forgotten… perhaps in the future I will, but as of right now? It’s… far too fresh.”

“I didn’t ask--” Dio began, but Erina lifted her hand to quiet him. She still had more to say.

“I know,” she replied softly. “You aren’t asking forgiveness. It’s something I just… had to say.” Erina took a visible deep breath and he could see the struggle to keep her composure on her face before she continued. “I do believe, however, that the Dio from that time? He is different in some ways than the one sitting in front of me right now. In ways that count.”

Erina’s grip on his shoulder tightened a little as she spoke. “I trust in you. I trust that what you’ve done will never ever be repeated. I trust in you because while I may not be able to forgive, I don’t want my life to be defined by that moment. Because I have seen changes in you. Because I have been able to rely on you in moments since that day.”

She paused for a moment as if looking for the proper words before breaking the silence once more. “You’re welcome by the way… I would do it again because well maybe I’m foolish but… I’d like to think that now, today, in the same circumstances you would do the same for me. We have to look out for each other… if we don’t then, well-- who will?”

“No one…” he answered quietly, with a weight on his shoulders produced by years of only having to look out for himself. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that. How he felt about all of this.

She squeezed his shoulder then before letting go and allowed her hand to fall into her lap. “I care about you, Dio Brando,” she said with a confidence he thought she had no business having in him. “You’ve apologized for the ways you have wronged me and I don’t dispute you on them. I will say though, after all of this travel? I do truly see you as my friend. Living in close quarters has changed my opinion of you slowly, but surely… and you-- you helped me in one of my most vulnerable moments. I-I don’t know if you understand just how much that meant to me and still means to me… I believe… that if you continue to do good, to be there for people… after a while, time starts to balance things out…”

He listened to her optimistic choice of words, her belief in him and felt his gut twist… The uncertainty of if that was even possible weighed on his mind. “Does it really?” he asked in a low voice, hoping for some sort of outlet for his apprehension.

“To me? Yes.”

Erina answered with the utmost confidence it nearly made Dio balk. He had no idea how she could be so certain, but that was Erina for you. She had made up her mind and that was that. A truly bullheaded individual when she felt like it. He wasn’t sure if that was a good or a bad thing.

The words and feelings settled around them in a tense and oppressive atmosphere. Everything had gotten rather heavy, hadn’t it? Dio was rather content to drown in it for a short while.

“So, how did you like the tea? I didn’t get a chance to try out it myself so I don’t have an opinion yet…” Erina spoke up, trying to break the weight that sat stagnant in the air around them. While he could hear the nervousness in her voice, Dio knew a hand ready to pull him from under of the suffocating crush of his inner feelings when he saw one. He wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass by.

“Well, why don’t you try it for yourself, hm? There’s still some left~” His voice still showed signs of heavy exhaustion but his attempt at a playful tone thankfully seemed to shine through.

Erina’s brows furrowed in a way that looked alarmingly more and more like Speedwagon every day.

“You do realize I bled directly into that teapot, right?”

“Are you telling me you draw the line at drinking your own blood? Would you rather this go to waste~?”

She sputtered, looking at him suspiciously. “Is this-- Is this a test?”

“Ha, no but it certainly shows what you’re capable of…”

“....Can I add honey?”

Dio paused before letting out a laugh, a little at her expense. “A-And waste a perfectly good pot of tea? No, no, it’s fine. I was… I was merely messing with you.” He let his laughter subside as he reached for the teapot and lifted the lid. There was no point in using a cup as he held tightly with both hands on either side and tipped the pot back into his open mouth, letting the blood-tea mixture pour in.

When the flood of liquid became but a mere trickle, he licked at the edge of the pot before setting it back down and wiping the side of his face primly with his hand. Erina was staring on wide eyed before snorting rather loudly. “Wow,” she said, obviously holding back a smile.

What?

“Oh nothing, I’m just impressed by those gentlemanly manners of yours. Jojo could definitely learn a thing or two from you.” She replied, sarcasm dripping from every syllable.

Dio stared at her for a minute. “Oh, fuck off with that.”

“OH! My goodness, what foul language!” Erina gasped in a look of mock horror. Emphasis on mock. “Such rudeness... in front of a lady no less!

“Ah yes, Lady Erin A. P. Speedwagon. My apologies.”

“Hey, I never said I was a refined lady. Just a lady~” She shot back, unable to stop her giggles.

Before Dio could even say anything in return, Jojo decided then to poke his head into the wagon with a loud whoop of “HEY!-- Oh! You’re awake!”

He felt his old walls slowly return into place as Jonathan boarded the back and Dio rolled his eyes. “Oh please, Jojo... I’m more than sure you’ve awoken everyone within a mile radius of our wagon with that voice of yours.” Even though the remnants of their tense conversation still lingered it felt nice to have a light atmosphere once more, a reason to smile... even if it was because Jonathan was acting especially ridiculous.

“Well! Either way,” he replied with an unflappable smile. “You look much better than earlier, Dio… and I’m very grateful for that.” Dio could practically feel the sunlight radiating off of him with his comment and that went in tandem with the genuine sentiment behind his compliment. He tried to ignore it, he’d already gotten far too in-touch with his emotions for one evening. Luckily for him, Jonathan took notice of the teapot. “Ooooh, can I try some?”

“Excuse you. That was for me, you glutton,” Dio replied easily, running a hand through his own golden locks.

“Oh! Um, I can... make another batch for the two of us if you’d like,” Erina cut in, leaning forward with an eager smile on her face.

Jonathan turned that sunny look to her and he could see the color rise in her cheeks almost immediately. At least he took solace in the fact that Erina hadn’t bled herself too badly. “I’ll help you with that!” Jojo beamed, an eager hop in his step. “Want me to start boiling the water?”

Erina nodded his way. “Yes, I’ll go and grab the box of tea! Just… make sure to rinse that out before you boil anything in it.” She slipped out after that, no doubt to fetch their tea and Dio readied himself to lie back down again. Yet before he could wrap himself back up in his black blanket, Jonathan’s arms were around his midsection. It was quick, a momentary embrace, and too fast for Dio to even react before it was over. Not that he was sure how to react in the first place. The look of relief in Jonathan’s eyes was palpable.

“I’m so happy you’re okay... “ Jonathan said, voice full of genuine gratitude. As far as days have gone, this one was turning out to be giving him far too much emotional whiplash.

“That reminds me!” Jojo continued without missing a beat. “Baron Zeppeli wants to speak with you tomorrow! Both of us, actually!” The smile on his face was rather suspect, a little too excited to be clueless but before he could fish for something more... Erina called out, wondering where he was. “Well… the lady calls~ Rest up well, Dio! I’ll see you on the morrow!” the brunet said, giving him an easy smile and salute before slipping out the back.

“...Pardon?” Dio asked the vacuum of the empty wagon. Why the hell did the Baron want to speak to the both of them? The mere thought left him feeling… tired.

He’d just been shot for heaven’s sake. Did no one care about his well-being?

Chapter Text

The morning dew seemed to seep into Dio’s bones as he followed Jonathan a ways away from their wagon. His parasol twirled behind him, now patched up thanks to Erina’s efforts while he slept the night before. It wasn’t slipshod work by any means, her stitching was neat and tidy but the white of the stolen shirt fabric from his would-be assassin was not even a close match for the cream of the umbrella. The black lace over it had similarly been damaged.

It was enough to irritate, when this parasol had once been so beautiful.

While his heart ached for this crime against fashion, he still had other things on his mind. The Baron of all people wished to speak to him. Yes, the two of them had reached some sort of understanding following their fateful run in with those Sugarhill Idiots, but that didn’t translate to being on some sort of… friendly student-mentor speaking terms.

He wasn’t Jojo, for God’s sake.

His curiosity however, was piqued and he saw no reason to deny the old man his presence. Jonathan was doing better at this ungodly hour. Though Dio was a vampire with no need for sleep, the morning still sat heavy on his brow regardless of his sleeping habits. Being a creature of the night already had made him less of a morning person.

When they finally arrived, Zeppeli stood in an open field a ways away with crates full of their wagon supplies at either side of him. What was that madman planning?

“Ah, wonderful. Buon giorno, boys! I’m glad to see you’ve tagged along today, Dio,” the Ba