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No One's Here to Sleep

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No One’s Here to Sleep

 

Wh-what…? Jojo’s lips burned where Dio’s were crushed against them, the back of his head stinging where Dio’s hand was fisted in his hair, and his eyes were wide, Dio’s orange eyes blurring in his vision.

And then he was shoved roughly back, stumbling, tripping, falling, splashing into a puddle of muddy water, but he hardly felt the cold. His lips felt burnt. Hot, stinging, numb.

And there was Dio, standing above him with those orange eyes and that intense stare. Jojo had never seen any other human being with a stare like that. He’d only ever seen such a stare in photos of exotic jungle cats in the encyclopedias in the mansion’s library.

“The leopard may only be the world’s third largest wildcat, but in cunning and daring it has no equal…”

“How does it feel, Jojo?” Dio demanded, standing over him, and the orange-gold light from the setting sun was illuminating his blond hair, making it glow gold, and even his skin was a warm rose-gold against the deep blood-gold of the sky. His eyes were the same orange-gold as the sun and there was nothing but cruelty in his stare. “To have your first kiss stolen by a guy? And by me, Dio?”

Wh-why…? Jojo could only stare at him, his heart pounding in his chest. Tears were running down his cheeks, over his lips, tasting of salt, but they did nothing to stop the sensation of burning.

“And Erina,” Dio said, and his orange-gold eyes shifted away from Jojo, looking past him. His lips curled. “How do you like Jojo now?”

Erina. Jojo turned, looking over his shoulder at Erina, who was staring at him with her hands over her mouth, eyes wide and streaming with tears.

“Erina!” Jojo said, struggling to stand up, reaching a hand towards her. “Wait! This isn’t—”

But Erina turned and ran. Ran away down the path, over the hills bathed in orange-gold light, her shadow following after her, and Jojo’s hand fell. Splashed in the muddy puddle. He was soaked, now.

“Do you think she’ll accept you again, after this?” Dio asked, and his voice was smooth and rich like orange-gold honey, and when Jojo turned to look at him there was nothing but cruel delight in his gaze. “Now that she’s witnessed your shame.”

“And what about you?!” Jojo demanded, pushing himself to his feet, throwing out his hand. “You’re the one who—!” His lips were burning and he felt sick. “Who—!”

“Oh?” Dio said, and his eyelids lowered, his head tilting as he crossed an arm over his chest, resting his other elbow on his arm and raising his hand by his chin, fingers relaxed. “And what are you going to do about it, Jojo? Do you really think you’ll ever live this down?”

The burning wasn’t just in Jojo’s lips, now. It was in his chest, too. In his veins.

“D-Dio…!” He threw himself at him, fists flying.

Dio dodged, dancing out of his reach. “Give it up, Jojo! Erina will never want you back! And you think that fighting me now will do anything about it? How useless.”

Dio was right. Jojo couldn’t beat him, and fighting him would accomplish nothing. It wouldn’t bring Erina back. It wouldn’t change the fact that he’d been kissed by Dio.

There was nothing to fight for.

And when Jojo sank down to his knees in the muddy road, his chest tight like the air had been knocked out of him and his lips tingling like burn wounds, Dio stood there like a jungle cat in the glow of the setting sun and looked down at him.

“Hmph.” And Dio turned and walked away, his shadow running ahead of him down the path like a harbinger, and even though it was still summer all Jojo felt was burning cold.

Who could’ve known that the color of cruelty would be such a warm orange-gold.

 

When Dio had leapt out of that carriage and landed so lithely on the ground, Jojo had thought he was the coolest person he’d ever seen.

When Dio kicked Danny, Jojo had thought he was the cruelest person he’d ever met.

When Dio had excused it as a reflex, Jojo had thought he was only unintentionally cruel.

When he’d tried to help out by carrying Dio’s bags and Dio twisted his arm, elbowed him in the gut, and then grabbed him by the ear and threatened him, Jojo had realized that he was cruel entirely by intention.

And then Dio had proceeded to tear apart Jojo’s entire life. It was like he was trying to take it over.

Turning all the other boys against him with false rumors. Turning his father against him by showcasing his impeccable manners during meals and his perfect answers during tutoring sessions.

And now even Erina—his dear, angelic Erina—had been turned against him. Jojo had thought that maybe she wouldn’t, but when he saw her in town and tried to wave to her, she turned and ran away from him.

And now he had nothing. Absolutely nothing at all.

And Dio wouldn’t even stop taunting him. Smirking at him, needling him with cruel words, cornering him in the hallway with a hand on the wall by his head to block his path, leaning close enough that Jojo could feel his breath on his face.

“Oh? What’s wrong, Jojo? You don’t look so well. Are you afraid I’ll kiss you again, and you won’t be able to do anything about it? Or perhaps you actually liked it, and you’re hoping that I’ll do it again? Well? You’re shivering, Jojo. Perhaps you need to put on a scarf and cover that exposed skin of your neck, hm?”

Why? Jojo thought, hiding under the covers in his bed, face stuffed into his pillow. Why is Dio doing this?

Dio had everything. He was good-looking. He was smart. He was strong. He was fast. He was talented. Everybody loved him.

Dio had everything—so why did he have to take all that Jojo had, too?

Why?

And Jojo curled up in a ball and pulled the covers tighter over his head. Why is Dio doing this to me?

Jojo didn’t understand. He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t understand Dio at all.

But he had to do something. He couldn’t live like this. At this rate, he’d be reduced to a life cowering in Dio’s shadow, whittled down to nothing and unable to do anything. He couldn’t live like that.

He wouldn’t live like that. To live such a life was more frightening than anything. More frightening than pain or even death. And Dio had already taken everything from him—Jojo had nothing left that he could lose.

So Jojo threw the covers off his head climbed out of the bed that had been feeling like a grave dug six-feet down. He stood up and squared his shoulders.

He would confront Dio. And it wasn’t even for better or for worse, because he was sure that this was the lowest things could go.

Things could only get better from here.

And it would start with overcoming his own fear and uncertainty by confronting Dio.

 

He found Dio reading in the foyer, dressed all in yellow-gold.

“Dio,” Jojo said.

Dio looked like he belonged there, lounging in the bronze and emerald chair against the elaborate brass-brown wallpaper and the gilded brass frame, and when he closed his book and looked up at Jojo his hair glowed in the strange overcast light and his eyes were a luminous amber.

“I wouldn’t use my name lightly, if I were you,” Dio said, laying his book down on the bronze coffee table and standing, the dark blue tie hanging from his neck like a first-place ribbon.

You’re the one who kissed me, Jojo didn’t say. What he said was a simple: “Why are you doing this?”

Dio’s eyelids lowered, his eyelashes casting shadows that deepened the amber of his irises. “Oh?”

“Why are you going to so much trouble to ruin my life?” Jojo asked, and there was a lurching in his chest, a lump in his throat that made it hard to swallow. “Why do you hate me so much? What have I ever done to you to deserve this? What is destroying my life doing for you? What are you getting out of this?”

And Dio’s face twisted in rage. “You think I need a reason to prove I’m better than you?!”

“Is that what you’re doing?” Jojo asked, feeling hollow all the way through his chest. “Trying to prove you’re better than me? But you don’t have to destroy my life in order to do that. You’re already better than me at everything. Why are you trying to take away everything I have as well?”

Dio’s fists were clenched and his amber eyes were aglow. “It’s not enough that I should succeed. You should also fail!”

“Why?” Jojo asked, and there was a burning heat behind his eyes, hot and stinging. “Why do you feel that way? Why do you hate me so much? What have I ever done to make you hate me?”

“What have you done?!” Dio threw out his arm, his amber eyes ablaze. “You exist! You exist, Jojo! That’s enough!”

What’s wrong with my existence? he thought, but the words didn’t make it out of his mouth.

“That isn’t my fault,” Jojo found himself saying instead, and the burning in his eyes was making it hard to see, the lump in his throat making it hard to speak. “I didn’t chose to be born who I am any more than you chose to be born who you are.”

And Dio trembled. His fists were clenched so hard his knuckles were bone-white beneath his skin. His blazing amber eyes were blown wide.

He looked like he was about to come at Jojo with his fists flying for Jojo’s face. Jojo braced himself. This was going to hurt, but that hardly mattered at this point.

But Dio did not come swinging at him. Instead he abruptly turned away, hissing. “Useless,” he muttered under his breath, and he put a hand on the book he’d set on the coffee table, as if he were about to swipe it to the floor, before he wrenched his hand away and stalked out of the room.

And Jojo could only stare after him blankly.

What… was that? he wondered.

He realized that he really didn’t know anything about Dio Brando at all. There was something more to him, something dark and painful that he was trying to keep under wraps, and Jojo—

Jojo felt that it was imperative that he should know.

 

“Father,” Jojo said over his dinner, setting his fork down on the side of his plate. He ate more carefully, now. “I have something I want to ask you.”

“What is it, Jojo?” his father said, smiling at him.

Jojo smiled back. “I want to see the city of London,” he said. “Do you think we could go sometime?”

Dio had lived in London. If there were any clues to Dio’s past, Jojo would find them there.

“That’s a wonderful idea!” his father beamed. “It’ll be a good experience for you to see the city! I have business there this Saturday, and you can come with me then. You as well, Dio, if you’d like.”

Dio sipped at his wine. “If it’s all the same to you, I’d prefer to opt out of this venture. Having lived in London for years I’m afraid I’ve grown quite bored of it. And I’m in the middle of reading Charles Darwin’s fascinating book On the Origin of Species, and I’d been hoping to finish it today.”

So you really don’t like London then, Dio, Jojo thought. I know that before coming here you were living in poverty, but…

“Of course it is acceptable for you to decline the invitation,” his father said. He smiled at Dio. “It was merely an offer. On the Origin of Species is a fascinating book. Once you’ve finished it, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.”

“Of course.” Dio held the glass of wine delicately in his fingers. It was the same shade of red as his tie, a red that looked almost purple next to the deep first-place ribbon blue of his suit. The light from the gas lamps leached his skin to the silver birch, desaturated his hair to a pale grass-gold, dulled his eyes to a dark burnt orange. “The pleasure will be all mine.”

Jojo sipped his own wine. He hadn’t spilled it since the first time his father had ordered his dinner taken away.

“Your manners are much better now, Jojo,” his father remarked. “Dio’s a good influence on you, I see!”

Jojo laughed, scratching at the back of his head. “Haha yeah. If only his studying habits were as easy to pick up on.”

And his father laughed with him, and Dio just smirked into his wine.

“You flatter me,” he said lightly, his chuckle bashful. “It’s really not that hard. It just takes a little bit of self-application, is all.” But when he looked at Jojo over his glass his burnt orange eyes were dark and ruthless.

He’s the same age as me, Jojo thought, and yet it doesn’t really feel that way. He’s not like me or any of the other boys at all.

Jojo smiled sheepishly. “I guess I’ll have to work harder at applying myself, then.”

I’m not going to live my life cowering in your shadow.

Dio took another sip of his wine, staying silent, while Jojo’s father beamed. “I’m very glad to hear that, Jojo!”

But Jojo was only thinking about one thing.

This Saturday. This Saturday I’ll uncover your hidden past and figure out why you hate me so much, Dio.

And once I do that…

He just wanted to figure out a way to make it so Dio wouldn’t hate him and would stop destroying his life.

 

The city was like nothing Jojo had ever experienced.

Loud, crowded, teeming with people. The streets rumbled with horse-drawn carriages. There were more people than Jojo had ever seen in his life. They were everywhere.

People walking, people chatting, people selling, people buying, people working, people standing or sitting against the building walls along the street asking for money.

“London is capital of the British Empire and the largest and most important city in the world,” Jojo’s father told him. “It’s the political, financial, and trading capital of the century. Never before in history has there been such a great city or such a time of prosperity as this, not since the Roman Empire.”

There was the Gothic Palace of Westminster where the Parliament gathered, the huge Clock Tower with its resonating bell, the Italianate Royal Albert Hall in which grand concerts were held.

“But it’s not just a time of prosperity,” his father told him, dropping a few coins in the hat of a man who stood on the side of the street dressed all in rags, his face unshaven and unwashed. “Not everyone is as fortunate as we are, Jojo. There are a great many people, especially here in London, who are living in squalor and poverty.”

From inside a carriage they passed the edge of one of the overcrowded and unsanitary slums, and the smell made Jojo want to gag while the people along the street made Jojo want to cry.

“So Dio came from a place like this?” Jojo asked.

“Yes,” his father said. “Dio is quite a remarkable boy. Even though he grew up in a slum with a father who was very likely a drunkard, his refinement and intelligence are astounding.”

And Jojo looked out the window of the carriage at the slum and thought: How do people live like that?

“Many people in slums turn to crime to get by,” his father said. “I know that Dio’s father did. Dio probably had to, as well.” He looked at Jojo, smiling slightly. “It pleases me greatly that you and he are able to get along. I hope you won’t hold his past against him.”

And something in Jojos chest lurched.

“Of course not, Father,” he smiled. “I’ve admired Dio since he came to live with us, and knowing more about his background just makes him even more inspiring.”

His father smiled at him in happiness and relief. “I’m very happy to hear that, Jojo. I hope that you and he will remain good friends for life.”

“I hope so, too.” And Jojo looked out the window at the slum as it passed by. “You said Dio’s father was a drunkard?”

“I’m afraid so,” he father said sadly. “I tried to help him, hoping he would lift himself and his family out of poverty, but… well, habits aren’t that easy to change. Especially when you’ve gone your whole life living a certain away.”

“And Dio?” Jojo asked.

“Dio’s still young, and he really is a remarkable boy.” There was a smile in his father’s voice. “I have every confidence that Dio will make great things of himself. And you as well, Jojo.”

Jojo looked from the window to smile at him. “Thank you, Father.” But his gaze was quickly pulled back to the slum outside.

“I’m glad Dio is living with us, now,” Jojo decided.

Living in such inadequate conditions, having a drunkard for a father, needing to turn to crime to get by, every day a struggle for survival. It was no wonder Dio hated him and was trying to dismantle Jojo’s life. Dio probably resented him for having grown up with all the things he’d never had himself, and he’d probably never had any friends before and so was only able to think of Jojo as an enemy.

That just meant that Jojo would have to show Dio that his desire to be friends was genuine and without ulterior motive. That he really simply wanted to be friends.

And if Dio didn’t understand what genuine friendship was, then Jojo would just have to show him that, too.

 

“Welcome back,” Dio said when they entered. He was reading in the foyer, and the only color on him was gold. It lined the edges of his white dress shirt and the seams of his black trousers, glowed in his hair and reflected in the candlelight off the cornea of his eyes. “I hope you enjoyed your trip to London. However, you are a few minutes too early.”

He held up the thick book in his hand, all emerald-green with gold lettering, and when he turned in his chair to face them and the candles no longer faced themselves in his stare his eyes were revealed to be orange. “I’m still ten pages away from finishing the book.”

And Jojo’s father laughed, and Dio laughed, and Jojo laughed, too.

“Then by all means don’t let us hinder you,” his father said, smiling. “I wouldn’t dream of grilling you on your thoughts until you’ve had at least one night to ponder the information over. As it is, traveling to London is always somewhat exhausting, and I’ll be glad to go early to bed tonight.”

“Then by all means don’t let me hinder you,” Dio said, and Jojo’s father laughed again, and Dio smiled, and Jojo smiled, too.

But as soon as his father left, their facades dropped, and Dio looked at him like he was dirt on the bottom of his shoe and Jojo looked back at him and thought: Dio, how do I get through to you?

Dio turned away from and leaned back in the chair, bringing the book in front of him, recrossing one leg over the other. But he said: “So, how did you enjoy London, Jojo? I imagine it was quite overwhelming for you.” There was nothing but callousness in his voice.

“Yes,” Jojo admitted. “I think I’m quite glad I live in the country.”

And Dio snorted condescendingly. “Well, I’m sure you’re quite exhausted from your day. Go along to bed like a good boy. I don’t want to be disturbed.”

And Jojo looked at him and thought: What can I say? What can I do?

But he needed more time to figure that out, and so he turned away and left the room without another word.

 

That night Jojo lay awake for hours in the dark, thinking about Dio. Eventually he fell asleep.

But in the morning, he still didn’t know what to do.

 

He found Dio in the library late that afternoon, reading a relatively small, old-looking brown book with its edges traced in gold. It brought out the gold of his hair, bright against the burgundy of his suit and the black of his tie.

Dio barely spared him a disparaging glance with those eyes that against his burgundy suit and lit by the the heady afternoon light shone like blood amber. He turned another page of the book and kept reading.

“Do you mind if I join you?” Jojo asked, and smiled.

“Yes, I do mind,” Dio said, and those blood-amber eyes fixed Jojo to the wall. Dio lifted the book pointedly. “I’m clearly reading, and I do not take lightly to being disturbed. Especially not by the likes of you.”

And Jojo just smiled, laughing slightly. “Well, I’d would’ve tried to join the other boys or met with Erina instead, but you’ve successfully made it so that none of them are willing to see me. Which means that you’re now the only one who so much as tolerates my company.”

Those blood-amber eyes narrowed, dangerous, but Jojo just laughed lightly, feeling empty and aching. He’d already lost everything he had, and Dio had never had anything of his own that he hadn’t had to steal from somebody else.

Dio closed his book, setting it down on the table. He didn’t look at Jojo. “And you think I tolerate your company, do you?” There was nothing but cruelty in his voice, nothing but menace in his movements.

Jojo just looked at him. “You’re the only one who doesn’t run away at the sight of me.”

“Hah!” And when Dio rose from his chair and turned to look at him, there was nothing but contempt in his blood-amber gaze. “I, Dio, do not run from anybody or anything. I’m Number One!” Those eyes widened in vehemence and Dio loosened the black tie around his neck. His voice was all threat. “If anyone’s going to be running, it’s going to be you.”

And Jojo just looked at him. “I’m not running.”

Dio’s eyes were bright, his smile sharp. “So you want to fight, then?” He cracked the knuckles of his hands, slowly, one at a time. “You really think you have a chance?”

Jojo just looked at him. “I’m not fighting, either.”

Dio’s eyes narrowed. And his hair might’ve been gold, but his eyebrows were dark bronze and the lashes that lined his eyes were black as ink. “Oh?”

“I just want to be friends,” Jojo said.

Dio barked a laugh. It was wolfish. “Fool!” he said, and his smile and stare were a predator’s. In a moment he’d crossed the distance between them, grabbed Jojo’s arm and twisted it behind him, shoved Jojo down so his face was pressed against the seat of the chair he’d been standing next to. “You think I’d be friends with the likes of you?!”

Dio twisted his arm harder, and Jojo grit his teeth at the flare of pain, refusing to cry out.

He’s the same age as me, Jojo thought distantly. How did he get like this?

Is this what that place does to people?

Is this the kind of world he lived in? A world where people treat each other like this?

No wonder he’s determined to destroy me.

“I-I don’t know,” Jojo said, in answer to Dio’s question. His voice was muffled against the cushion and he couldn’t see Dio. All he could see was emerald-green and the corner of the table where Dio’s book lay. “I think you’ve never had a friend before.”

“What?!” Dio demanded, twisting Jojo’s arm further, making the pain in his shoulder flare, white flashing in front of his eyes. The taste of velvet was in his mouth. “What did you say?!”

Jojo grit his teeth. I need to do something, he thought. At this rate he’s going to dislocate my shoulder.

The backwards kick was awkward and didn’t connect well, but it was just enough to get Dio to loosen his grip enough for Jojo to extricate himself from the hold.

“I don’t think you’ve ever had a friend before, Dio,” he said, standing there and rolling his aching shoulder, massaging it with his other hand. He held Dio’s gaze. “Not a real one.”

Dio had leapt back quickly after Jojo’s kick and he was now a safe distance across the room, just out of Jojo’s reach, standing there light on his feet with his arms raised readily in front of him and glaring furiously. Fire in those orange-gold eyes.

“I don’t want to live like this,” Jojo told him, lowering his hand to his side. “And I don’t want you to live like this, either.” Dio was staring at him in wide-eyed fury, and Jojo looked back at him calmly. “I like you, Dio.”

Dio’s outrage flared like a wildfire, exploding like flurries of flame. “What?!”

He’d moved into Jojo’s space before Jojo had even realized it, but then time seemed to slow, and Jojo could track the path of the fist that was flying towards his face.

He dodged it, ducked under Dio’s arm, stepped solidly, was bringing up his own fist to connect it with Dio’s cheek or preferably his nose.

Up close Dio’s irises were a deep blood-orange around his pupils and a luminous gold-orange at the outer edges, bright like sunlight shining through autumn leaves.

And instead of punching him Jojo stepped in and kissed him.

It was a spur of the moment decision. He hadn’t really thought about it. Not anything beyond: If I fight him here, nothing is going to change.

He would’ve been playing by Dio’s rules, and even if he’d somehow miraculously managed to win the fight he’d still have lost.

This was Dio’s game, and Jojo was tired of it. Tired of the abuse, of giving in to it, of getting caught up in it. Of letting Dio destroy his life.

He was tired of it.

Dio’s lips were warm against his own, but they didn’t burn like they had the first time.

It only lasted a moment. Dio had gone absolutely rigid and frozen at the touch, but then he wrenched himself back and pushed Jojo away, and his face was filled with alarm and fear that quickly morphed into rage.

“Y-you—!” And Jojo hardly saw what happened before Dio’s knee connected hard with his cheek, stunning him and knocking him back.

No, Jojo thought, putting his foot down and stepping forward to grab Dio by the head and shoulder. I’m not letting this happen.

“Dio, stop!” he said. “I mean it!”

Dio’s orange eyes were wide, his teeth gritted, and his hands were on Jojo’s arms trying to push him away, and now one of his hands was clenching in a fist. Dio was about to punch him.

No, Jojo thought. I’m tired of this.

He headbutted Dio. Dio stumbled back, stunned. His eyes were wide. Blood was starting to run from his nose, and he brought up a sleeve to wipe it away, the bright red disappearing into the darker burgundy of his suit. His eyes were blood-amber.

“You… you…” Glistening lines were dripping from Dio’s eyes down his cheeks and his expression was utter desolation, like nothing Jojo had ever seen. “You’ve got a lot of nerve, don’t you?!”

He’s crying… Jojo thought.

Dio looked so much younger. So much more vulnerable. He wasn’t a cunning predator any longer; just a young boy Jojo’s age who was struggling to make it by in a world that was so much bigger and crueler than he was.

“I don’t want to fight you, Dio,” Jojo said. He felt so lost. “You’re the only one who still talks to me.” He brought his fists up in front of him and shifted his stance, even as the tears that were brimming hot in his own eyes started trickling down his cheeks. “But I’ll fight if you force me to. You’ve already taken everything from me.”

Jojo’s ached all inside of his chest and he couldn’t have stopped crying if he’d tried. “I don’t have anything left to lose, and I refuse to live my life cowering in fear of you.” He wanted so much more from his life than that. Such a life was no kind of life at all.

Before his eyes Dio’s desolate expression shifted into one of furious determination. “You filthy cur!” Dio snarled, and from behind his back he pulled out a knife from—Jojo didn’t know. Somewhere on his person where a knife could be concealed and was easily accessible. Jojo couldn’t even think of where that would be or how someone would do that.

He carries a knife on him at all times?

Is that the kind of world he was living in?

Dio’s stance had shifted, the knife held adeptly in one hand and his other hand in front of him ready to grab or to block, and Jojo readied his own fighting stance.

He wanted Dio have a life that was more than one he’d stolen from him.

Such a life was no kind of life at all.

“I’m not afraid to die, Dio,” Jojo said. He held Dio’s malevolent blood-amber gaze, feeling surreally calm. “But what will killing me do for you? Do you really think my father would let you stay here if you killed me?”

And Dio stared at him furiously, teeth baring, but after a moment he turned to the side, and the knife disappeared somewhere inside his burgundy coat. “Tch. I’m done here.”

And then Dio walked past Jojo over to the table, picked up the book he’d been reading when Jojo had come in, turned and then walked back past Jojo out of the library, the doors swinging carelessly shut behind him.

And Jojo just stared after him, blinking. “He left…”

Jojo finally dropped his fighting stance. “But I guess he was telling the truth,” he noted, still staring at the doors Dio had left through. “He didn’t run.”

This was all so surreal. He wasn’t entirely sure he understood what had just happened.

What now?

Jojo shook his head to try to clear it. He didn’t know. All he knew was that something had been pushed into motion.

And no matter where it rolled, it had to be better than if it had just sat still.

Chapter Text

Wh-what?! Dio’s lips burned where Jojo’s were pressed against them, the back of his head stinging where Jojo’s fingers had threaded themselves in his hair, and his eyes were wide while Jojo’s were closed. What is this damn cumberground doing?!

Dio pushed him roughly away. “Y-you—!” There was an overwhelming darkness expanding in his chest. How dare you humiliate me like that?! How DARE you?!

Things weren’t supposed to be like this. Jojo wasn’t supposed to kiss him. Jojo wasn’t supposed to be able to do anything against him.

Dio had done everything right.

Before arriving at the Joestar mansion he’d studied the manners and customs of the higher class so that he’d be able to perfectly assimilate himself without a single hitch, so that no one would ever look at him and be reminded of his lowly birth.

He’d established his superiority over Jojo from the beginning, making sure Jojo would be under no illusions about who had the power between them.

He’d established himself in the esteem and good graces of the other boys by showcasing his strength to impress and awe them and then generously teaching them the trick so that they’d feel favored by and indebted to him. And he’d accomplished that while simultaneously humiliating Jojo, destroying his self-confidence and whatever favorable reputation he’d had among his peers, and by telling everyone that Jojo was a snitch he’d insured both that the other boys wouldn’t associate with him and that Jojo wouldn’t be able to tell his father or anyone else about it without proving the rumor right and losing all hope of ever establishing himself with his peers again.

When Jojo had been happy where he should have been miserable, having found love in that country girl Erina, Dio had destroyed that relationship completely. And he hadn’t made the mistake of acting directly against Erina and giving Jojo a reason to utterly loathe him for hurting what was his, and therefore a reason to fight Dio under the foolish sentiment of defending Erina’s honor. By kissing Jojo in front of Erina, he’d effectively shamed and effeminated Jojo in such a way that the timid Erina would never be willing to associate with him again, and Jojo would have nothing to fight for, his loathing not being so much for Dio as it would be for himself, and instead of rising in righteous anger he’d simply fall further into despair while being even more frightened of Dio and bow deeper beneath Dio’s superiority.

Dio had done everything right. He hadn’t made a single wrong move. Anyone else would have been reduced to an empty, helpless husk.

And yet Jojo had not just stood up against him and fought back, he’d even had the nerve to kiss Dio. To humiliate and effeminate him, to make him subordinate.

And Dio could not let such a blasphemous transgression go unpunished. He was Number One.

Distantly in the back of his mind Dio was aware that he was letting his temper take control of him, but it didn’t matter. It wouldn’t inhibit his practiced movements any as he leaned his body swiftly to the side, shifting his center of balance away from Jojo’s direct line of reach as he brought his leg up and around with all his speed and strength, smashing his knee into Jojo’s face.

That’s it! That felt good! I’ll pulverize you into the ground, Jojo!

Anyone else would’ve been out for the count with a kick like that.

But Jojo. Jojo somehow steadied himself, stepping forward with grim determination in his gaze as he grabbed Dio by the head and shoulder, saying, “Dio, stop! I mean it!”

Stop?! No, not until I’ve beaten you into ground in such a way that you’ll know you can never beat me! Not in a fight, and not in life!

But before he could get a punch in, Jojo headbutted him.

Pain in Dio’s face as he stumbled back. Blood running from his nose. He wiped it away with a sleeve. The jacket could be washed, or tossed—he hated the taste of his own blood.

How could rubbish like him beat me?!

Winning at the game of chess only to get his face shoved down into his plate of food. All his cleverness and ability coming to naught against sheer brute strength. The shame and humiliation of not being able to do anything. Of being weak, helpless, trapped.

He’d promised himself that he’d never let anything like that happen again.

And yet this pampered brat had kissed him and beaten him, and he hadn’t been able to do anything.

“You…” The darkness was yawning open inside his chest, overtaking him, cold and depthless. “You…” He felt simultaneously out of control and perfectly lucid as he met Jojo’s eyes with the tears he’d brought to his own. “You’ve got a lot of nerve, don’t you?!”

Jojo looked stunned.

Tears never failed to throw off an enemy, and Dio would use any means necessary.

“I don’t want to fight you, Dio,” Jojo said, and he started crying, too. And unlike Dio he probably wasn’t faking. “You’re the only one who still talks to me.” Even though he was crying he still shifted into a fighting stance. “But I’ll fight if you force me to. You’ve already taken everything from me.”

Except your life.

In the back of the waist of Dio’s dress pants was an clandestine pocket he’d cut and sewn there, a pocket he’d added to all his trousers just large enough for his switch-knife and located at the small of his back where it wouldn’t be noticeable and wouldn’t inhibit movement.

He slipped the knife out now, flipping it open behind his back, waiting.

Jojo was crying even harder, now, but he was staring at Dio with determination through his tears. “I don’t have anything left to lose, and I refuse to live my life cowering in fear of you.”

The darkness inside Dio surged.

“You filthy cur!” he spat, and he pulled out the knife, his body switching easily and automatically into a street-fighting stance. A knife fight was nothing like boxing; Jojo wouldn’t stand a chance.

Anyone else would’ve been alarmed and frightened at the appearance of the knife, but Jojo’s only reaction was a slight widening of his eyes, and then he simply balanced his weight more evenly between his feet, his hands still raised in front of him ready to strike or block. His tears were slowing as he met Dio’s gaze, and there was not a trace of fear there.

“I’m not afraid to die, Dio,” Jojo said, and Dio had never seen anyone say that phrase and look so much like they actually meant it. “But what will killing me do for you? Do you really think my father would let you stay here if you killed me?”

No. There would be no way to get out of that.

He’s right. If I kill him here, or even just severely injure him, there will be no hiding it and I’ll lose everything. I have nothing to gain from this and everything to lose.

In that moment he wanted to kill Jojo more than anything. It was an overwhelming urge. A desperate need, like a fire consuming him. It was always like that, when he got angry. The darkness inside him trying to swallow him. Consume him.

I need to control my temper. He pushed the darkness back down, tearing his gaze away from Jojo and flipping the knife closed, tucking it back into its concealed pocket. I will not be a slave to my pathetic human instincts. I am the one in control.

“Tch.” He needed to leave. “I’m done here.”

But he would not leave with his tail tucked between his legs. Loss was a mindset, and he refused to lose.

And he wanted to finish that book he’d been reading when Jojo had come in and so rudely interrupted him and ruined his perfectly good day. And Jojo’s presence was not going to prevent him from taking the book with him.

He walked past Jojo to the table, grabbed his book, turned and walked back past Jojo and out the door of the library. He did not slam the library doors. He would not give in to his anger, nor would he acknowledge his loss and let Jojo have the satisfaction of having won.

He may have lost this battle, but he had not lost the war.

He looked down at the book in his hands. The Prince, by Nicolas Machiavelli. It wasn’t long and he was already about halfway through. It was a truly fascinating text. How to successfully hold power over others.

As far as he could tell, he’d done everything correctly to gain power over Jojo. And yet it hadn’t worked. He needed to figure out what he’d done wrong so that he could figure out what to do next.

And it was likely that Machiavelli’s The Prince would help him find the answer.

His lips curled slightly as he tucked the book under his arm and headed towards his room, the darkness inside him subsiding further with each determined step.

 

The Prince, of course, was only obliquely applicable, concerning primarily as it did princes and principalities, but much of it was nonetheless applicable to gaining and holding power over others in general, and all of it was a fascinating observation and analysis of the human condition.

Combined with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, it was easy to see why humans were such detestable creatures, evolving as they had to exhibit those qualities and instincts that best insured their own survival.

So not only did Dio have the blood of that vile man who’d sired him in his veins, but he was a member of a species that had evolved to be that vile, and in which such loathsomeness was therefore an inherent quality.

He hated it. He hated that he was related to that man. He hated that he was human. That he was the same species as all the detestable people around him. That he was inhibited by the same pathetic limitations of the body and mind.

(He should be something more. Something better.)

But at least this inherent wretchedness of humanity made them predictable and easy to control and manipulate when one knew what they were doing, knew how to use the faults of humanity to their own advantage.

And according to The Prince, Dio, just as he’d thought, had done everything right.

Which meant that the problem wasn’t him.

The problem was Jojo.

There was a passage of Chapter 17, “Concerning Cruelty and Kindness, and Whether it is Better to be Loved than Feared” that caught Dio’s eye.

“Men are less worried about offending one who is loved than one who is feared. Love is preserved by the link of gratefulness which, owing to the weak nature of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a fear of punishment which never fails.”

But fear of punishment, it appeared, did not work against Jojo.

When Dio had arrived at the Joestar mansion, he’d thought that Jojo was just a pampered brat; weak, naive, cowardly. The same kind of human as all the upper-middle class boys who attached themselves to Dio so readily, he being far stronger, smarter, and braver than they.

Dio had done everything right—his tactics would have worked perfectly against anyone else.

It was just that Jojo was different. An anomaly. Something that Dio could never have predicted when he’d arrived at the Joestar mansion.

He’d thought Jojo was weak, but it seemed that Jojo was a rare individual who did not possess the same weak nature as most humans.

“I’m not afraid to die, Dio.” And it hadn’t been a bluff. He’d had no fear at all.

“I just want be friends. I don’t want to live like this. And I don’t want you to live like this either. I like you, Dio.” Even after all Dio had done to him.

And instead of being forever deeply ashamed by being forcefully kissed by Dio, like he should have been, like any other boy would have been, Jojo had kissed him. Instead of punching Dio, he’d kissed him.

And now that he’d calmed down, Dio could tell that there hadn’t been any malice in that kiss at all.

No, that wasn’t quite right—of course he’d known as soon as Jojo had kissed him. That it had been, if anything, a desiring kiss. That was part of what had frightened Dio. That he’d miscalculated to such a degree. That he may have fed this perverse desire in Jojo. That this may foil his plans.

But no, it had simply opened up another opportunity.

(His face may have been shoved into his plate of food, but the fork was right there in his vision, next to his hand, and he only had to take it and stab it into the man’s arm, and when the man screamed and stumbled back, shouting profanities at him and the rest of the bar turned to see what was going on, Dio only had to wipe his face and then the bloody fork on a napkin, swipe the money he was owed off the table, and say loudly, “You really think anyone here will play against you if they know that you won’t pay up when you lose?” And nobody in that bar would ever try to cheat him out of the money he’d won again.)

One of the passages in Chapter 25 of The Prince, “What Role Fortune Plays in Human Affairs and How to Resist Her,” had also caught his eye:

“If someone governs himself with caution and patience, and times and affairs come together in the right way, then his administration is successful and his fortune is made. But if times and affairs change, he is ruined if he does not change his course of action. But a man is not often found sufficiently clever to know how to accommodate himself to the change. This is because he cannot deviate from what nature inclines him to do, and also because, having always been successful by acting in one way, he cannot be persuaded that is well to leave it. Therefore, the cautious man, when it is time to turn adventurous, does not know how do it, hence he is ruined. If he had changed his conduct with the times, fortune would not have changed.”

Dio was not like most humans. He was capable of changing. Of evolving himself and his strategies. In order to best succeed he would do whatever needed to be done, would become whatever he needed to become.

And since he clearly could not rule Jojo through fear, he would rule Jojo through love.

There were countless reasons to do so and no reasons not to. The only reason to avoid such a strategy would be the danger to himself if anyone else, whether Jojo’s father or the other boys, found out about such a relationship, the very nature of such a relationship between two males being taboo and something that would immediately and irreparably lose him all the advantage and power he’d gained. But no effective strategies could be carried out that did not involve some risk, and the larger the risk usually meant the larger the reward.

And he was sure he wouldn’t have to worry about Jojo blabbing, since such a fallout would affect Jojo just the same, Dio did not have to fear that Jojo would let willingly let such information get out. Especially if Jojo’s feelings were truly as genuine as they’d seemed, which Dio put at a 95 percent probability.

So there would be no fear of Jojo telling anyone. They would only have to keep it entirely a secret, and to be especially careful of the mansion staff finding out. But Jojo was not the kind of person who would willingly put someone else in danger, especially if he genuinely cared about them, so Dio doubted that entering into a relationship with him would involve an undue risk of exposure.

And if Jojo didn’t genuinely love him yet, then he would by the time Dio was done with him.

Dio simply had to find an explanation that would understandably excuse all his previous cruelties such that Jojo would understand and forgive him, and find a way to reinstate Jojo’s reputation among their peers so that Jojo would harbor no lingering resentment, and then Dio would make himself into the ideal friend and lover. He would make Jojo so infatuated with him that Jojo would do anything for him, would be wrapped around his little finger. Jojo would be his, body, mind, and soul.

And it would be no problem for others to perceive them as close friends, as long as they didn’t expect that there was anything more than that. And such a perception may in fact be inestimably advantageous.

Once he was old enough to inherit the estate and had poisoned George Joestar so that he died a seemingly normal cases of illness, just as Dario Brando had, Dio could then simply kill Jojo without anyone suspecting him for the murderer; they’d have seemed to be such good friends and he’d seem so devastated over the death.

And then the Joestar fortune would be his, and he would start his expansion of power from there with the good name and reputation of the Joestars along with everyone’s sympathy for the tragic losses of George and Jojo. And then he’d maneuver himself through law, politics and economics until he became the richest and most influential individual in all of England, and then beyond that, to all of Europe.

It would all be his.

And it would start with Jojo.

Dio closed his book with a soft thwap, lay it down on the desk beside him, leaned back in his armchair with his cheek resting against the palm of a hand and smirked.

Chapter Text

Jojo was woken up in the middle of the night by a knocking at his door.

“Jojo,” came Dio’s voice through the wood, raising him further into wakefulness. It was a tone Jojo had never heard from Dio before. It sounded urgent and unsteady. “I want to talk to you.”

And when Jojo opened the door Dio was standing in front of him in the dark hallway, leached all to silver by the night. His shirt and his skin and his hair and his eyes and the tears that were glimmering on his cheeks. He wasn’t wearing his dress coat and he looked smaller somehow, hugging his arms around him and the dark straps of the suspenders over his shoulders that were holding up his pants and pressing his shirt tight to his chest.

It struck Jojo suddenly that Dio was a few centimeters shorter than him. He hadn’t noticed before. Dio had always seemed larger than life.

“Dio?” he asked. Dio was all silver and this was all so surreal. What do you want, Dio?

And Dio was shivering slightly, tears trickling down his cheeks, but he held Jojo’s gaze with a desperate determination. “C-can I come in?” he asked, his voice quiet. “I-I want to talk to you… but not in the corridor… please…”

And Jojo stood aside and let him in, closing the door behind him.

“Are you okay, Dio?” Jojo asked, watching him silently shiver and cry in the darkness lit only by silver shafts of moonlight, hugging himself with one arm and with his other hand rubbing furiously at his eyes.

“I feel terrible!” Dio cried, meeting Jojo’s gaze with his silver eyes wide. “I regret all my actions until now!”

And Jojo’s breath caught.

Dio’s expression was all anguish and his hand was clenched torturously in the collar of shirt, his knuckles bone-white. The tears were streaming in fast glistening streams down his cheeks. “Growing up in the slum made me cruel and untrusting! What I’ve done to you is wrong! You’ve been nothing but kind to me, and I’ve repaid that kindness by trying to ruin your life!”

Dio held his gaze desperately, the welling tears making his silver eyes seem to tremble. “I came to apologize.” Dio’s fingers were twisted so agonizedly in his shirt that the fabric looked like it might tear. “I want to make it up to you!”

And Jojo thought, This is surreal. Like in a dream. And yet his chest had never ached so acutely. “Dio…” He didn’t even know what to say. Dio’s actually apologizing.

“I was a coward!” Dio cried, and his desperate, agonized eyes never left Jojo’s own. “Coming from the slums to live here, in an entirely different environment from what I grew up in and with a rich family I’d never met, I was afraid I’d be degraded for my lowly birth, and I wanted to hurt you before you had any chance to hurt me.” Dio shook. “I was afraid that I wouldn’t be accepted and I thought my only option was to take your life from you and reinstate myself in your place. But you didn’t break like I’d thought you would, and I started to admire you… how strong you are… how resolutely kind… I always thought kindness was a weakness, until I met you… your kindness isn’t weak, you turn it into a strength…”

Dio closed his eyes briefly, looking like he was trying to gather himself, and Jojo hardly dared to breathe. His chest hurt so much.

He hadn’t even thought about just how difficult this all must have been for Dio.

And then Dio’s eyes suddenly flew open, meeting and holding Jojo’s gaze with more agony and desperation than ever. “And then, with Erina—I was jealous, Jojo!” he cried. “I was jealous of her! I found myself attracted to you, something that’s completely taboo, and I was afraid of my growing feelings for you and frustrated that I couldn’t have you and it drove me mad to see you happy with her! I kissed you because I wanted to ruin that, and because—”

And Dio suddenly clenched his eyes shut, rubbing furiously at them with the back of a hand like he was trying desperately to stop the tears that were still running down his cheeks, trying to collect himself.

“B-because I wanted to,” he choked out, “and I wanted you to feel the same shame that I felt in finding myself attracted to you despite everything. Despite knowing it’s wrong, and despite trying my hardest to hate you. And I wanted you to hate me. I thought if you hated me, then I could hate you, and these feelings would go away…”

So that’s why.

Jojo didn’t realize he was also crying until he tasted the salt on his lips.

“But then, instead of running away in shame or hating me, you kept trying to befriend me, even when I was trying my hardest to make you hate me,” Dio continued, and now his face was hidden behind his hands, his voice muffled, choked, and quiet. “And—and you could’ve punched me, from that close you could’ve knocked me out for the count, but instead y-you k-kissed m-me, and you—you w-weren’t ashamed about it at a-all…”

Dio’s hands slipped down his face, falling down to hover in front of him, wet from his tears and holding handfuls of nothingness as he stared down at them, his hair falling silvery into his face and obscuring his eyes. He shook. “You’ve shown me time and time again what bravery is, Jojo, and I’ve been such a pathetic coward! I-I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t stand it, it’s eating at me, I feel horrible…”

Jojo’s chest ached. “Dio…”

He didn’t know what he could say.

And Dio looked up at him with wide silver eyes, dark eyelashes sticking together with drying tears. He seemed to have cried himself dry, and even though the pain hadn’t lessened there were simply no more tears left to fall. He’d used them all up.

“Don’t you hate me, Jojo?!” he cried. “You should hate me! I hate myself!” He placed a hand over his chest, clenching it in the fabric of his shirt. “I’ve ruined your life, and I’m a coward and a… a f-freak! What I did was wrong, and th-these feelings, they’re wr-wrong…” He was shaking.

And Jojo finally found his voice.

“I don’t hate you, Dio,” he said honestly. His chest ached. “I can’t even imagine what it was like to live in that part of the city, nor can I imagine what it would be like going to live with strangers in a completely new place so different from what I’m used to. So I can understand how different and frightening this must all have been for you, and why with no other outlet you’d take it out on me.”

He met Dio’s gaze, smiling. It wasn’t a large smile, his chest ached too much for that, but it was a genuine one.

This was so much more than he’d dared to hope for.

“I’m really glad that you don’t hate me, Dio,” he said, “and that you don’t want to destroy my life anymore. And I think it’s really remarkable that you’ve had the bravery to apologize for your actions. You’re not a coward at all. Truth be told, I really admire you.”

Dio’s face had shifted, and he was now staring at Jojo with an utter lack of any expression at all.

I guess he’s having a hard time believing that, Jojo thought.

“I also find myself attracted to you, Dio,” Jojo admitted, and he smiled reassuringly. “But it doesn’t bother me. I truly believe that a feeling like love could never be wrong. And love is nothing to be scared of. It’s what makes life worth living.” It was the honest truth.

And Dio’s blank mask cracked. His face twisted, his eyes teared up again, his lips trembled.

“I-I want to make amends!” he said, looking at Jojo with desperation all over his face, bright in his dilated silver eyes. “I-I’ll take back what I said about you being a snitch, so the other boys will hang out with you again…! And I-I’ll help you with your studies, if you want…!”

Jojo felt warm. “Thank you, Dio,” he smiled genuinely.

This was so much more than he could have hoped for.

“But I…” Dio trembled, his silver eyes wide and wild. He looked like he was on the verge of crying again. “I don’t think I could stand seeing you with Erina! I don’t think I could stand it!”

And Jojo’s smile saddened. “I… I don’t think she’d ever be willing to see me again, honestly…” he admitted.

He didn’t really know how he felt about it. His feelings were a mess.

But he could try to straighten them out later.

Right now Dio was in front of him, all in shades of silver and looking uncharacteristically small and frightened. He looked breakable.

And Jojo didn’t want him to break. He didn’t want to end up accidentally burning this bridge that was building between them. He’d probably never have another chance.

He needed to take this one.

And Dio was standing there with one arm wrapped around his waist digging his fingers between his ribs and the other wrapped over his chest with fingers curling over his shoulder, and he was cast all in dark shadows and pale moonlight, wavering like a fragment of a dream.

And Jojo stepped closer, reaching out a hand, gently resting it against Dio’s cheek. Dio’s skin was so cold. It was no wonder he was shivering. He should’ve brought a jacket.

“Dio,” Jojo said.

Dio met his gaze with glimmering silver eyes. A tear beaded up in his eye that was illuminated all in moonlight, trickling glittering down his cheek. Jojo brushed it away with his thumb. It was warm.

“Wh-what?” Dio asked, quiet and tremulous.

It was so unlike the Dio Jojo had known. It made Jojo’s chest ache, hollow and painful.

Jojo leaned in, closing his eyes and kissing him.

And for a moment Dio was frozen, still and cold like a statue, but then tilted his head into the kiss and wrapped his arms around Jojo’s neck, pulling him closer, pressing their lips harder together.

They pulled away panting, having forgotten to breathe.

“I care about you, Dio,” Jojo told him, meeting Dio’s silver gaze, Dio’s bangs casting dark shadows over his ghostly pale face.

“Then we…” And Dio looked down, hands slipping down from Jojo’s shoulders, clenching slightly in the lapels of Jojo’s nightshirt. “We’d have to hide this from everyone. You understand that, right? If anyone finds out…”

“It’s fine,” Jojo said, putting a hand reassuringly on Dio’s shoulder. “This will be fine.” He smiled genuinely. There was a warmth spreading in his chest, replacing the cold emptiness that had been residing there. “I’m really happy that we can get along now, Dio.”

“Y-you…” And Dio trembled, his fists clenching tighter in Jojo’s nightshirt. Abruptly he jerked his head up, meeting Jojo’s gaze with wide, wild eyes. “I still can’t believe you! I can’t believe you at all! Even after everything, y-you…! How are you so…?!”

And Jojo smiled, feeling simultaneously ecstatically happy about the development this night had brought and achingly sad that Dio was so unused to receiving genuine kindness.

And Jojo thought: I want to show him. I want to show him what it’s like to love and be loved in return. Genuine love. Love without cruelty. I want to show him.

And when Dio wrapped his arms around Jojo’s neck and kissed him again, desperately, Jojo wrapped his arms around Dio’s waist and kissed him back, gently.

They pulled back panting again. Jojo felt slightly dizzy, but he was smiling. He was happy.

This entire thing had seemed almost surreal, like a dream, but Dio was solid in his arms, and the determined look in Dio’s eyes told Jojo that he wouldn’t be running away. That this wasn’t a dream that would vanish in the daylight. That this was the beginning of something that was here to stay.

Jojo felt like he was soaring.

Dio’s hands lowered from around his neck, trailing slightly down his chest before Dio stepped back, meeting his gaze. “I should go,” he said.

“Okay,” Jojo said.

Dio paused at the door, turning to look at Jojo, his lips curving slightly. “I’ll see you in the morning,” he said, and there was firm assurance in his voice.

And Jojo smiled. “Yeah,” he said.

And Dio left, closing the door softly behind him, and his footsteps were so quiet in the hallway that Jojo couldn’t hear him leaving. He’d noticed that about Dio; he moved with such a skilled grace and silence. He guessed that that was something that Dio had learned growing up in the danger-filled slums, too.

And Jojo looked out the window at the moonlit courtyard, feeling too happy to try to fall back asleep. Everything was silver, and it was like a dark box he’d been locked inside for the last few months had been opened up, and now light was streaming in, illuminating everything, and he could see the rope that would let him climb out and the bright future that was awaiting him outside.

He had the feeling that this night had been the beginning of something wonderful.

 

And Dio closed Jojo’s door carefully, turned and clamped a hand over his mouth to keep himself from laughing out loud.

Jojo had fallen for it. Jojo had fallen for it completely. He’d practically fallen to his knees and lapped the lies eagerly from Dio’s palm, licking up every last crumb like a starving dog.

And as soon as Dio had control of himself his hand lowered from his face and he smirked into the darkness.

It had worked perfectly. He could make himself cry on command, but he’d also gone to the trouble of splashing cold water on his face and rubbing vigorously at his eyes before leaving his room to make sure that they would look watery and red like he’d already been crying. And he’d taken off his jacket and spent half an hour sitting in the open window until he was shivering naturally, because shivering was hard to fake.

And then he’d just had to deliver his lies with a convincing amount of fake anguish. (Digging his fingers and nails painfully into his skin under the pretense of hugging himself had helped with that. He’d do whatever he needed to.)

And yet his performance hadn’t been perfect.

He’d almost lost it, a couple times.

When Jojo had claimed that he understood ‘how difficult it must have been’ for Dio, it had taken all of Dio’s self-control not to punch him in the face.

You think you know what it was like living in that shithole?! And you honestly think I’d be afraid of a couple rich pansies?!

But, as aggravating as it was, fishing for that ‘pity’ was part of Dio’s plan and only worked to his benefit in this instance, and so he’d held back. But it had been a close call.

I need to get better at cooling my temper.

And then when Jojo had obviously been trying his hardest to ‘comfort’ and ‘reassure’ Dio, talking about how happy he was they could finally ‘get along,’ it had taken all Dio’s self-control to keep from bursting out laughing.

What a fool.

He hadn’t been able to stomp down the laughter completely, but luckily he’d been able to present its throes as pained and insecure disbelief, and Jojo had completely bought it.

But still, it had been too close.

I must get better at controlling myself.

Damn his stupid humanity. He could never do things exactly how he wanted. It drove him mad.

I should be better than this.

I need to be better than this.

But at least it hadn’t mattered, this time. Jojo had still fallen for it.

Jojo was now officially Dio’s marionette, to be danced with a calculated wave of his fingers.

And it had felt so, so good to have Jojo bend so willingly to his touch, giving in to Dio in a way he’d never given in to fear.

To think this ‘love’ would be so much more effective at controlling him.

With a few carefully-selected sentences he’d gotten Jojo to effectively promise to keep this thing between them a secret, and with a little probing he’d determined that Jojo wasn’t likely to go chasing after that country girl. So all Dio had to worry about was keeping Jojo infatuated with him and making sure he never suspected that Dio was faking or discovered Dio’s ulterior motives.

He was in this for the long-run, and the game had only just begun.

I’m going to win this, Jojo!

And as Dio moved silently through the dark corridors, his smirk stretched into a devilish grin.

 

“I’ll know if you try to trick me,” Dio had told the Chinese medicine man, “and I’ll make sure that you pay for it.”

And the Chinese medicine man had said, “I wouldn’t dare try to trick you. That face, and the three moles on your ear…. You were born with the Devil’s own luck. It would end badly for me indeed.”

And the twelve-year-old Dio had smiled without a single trace of humanity. “I’m glad we understand each other.”

And he’d taken the oriental poison and all alone had walked out of Ogre Street just as unscathed as he’d walked in, a rare feat even for the strongest of grown men.

There wasn't anyone who could stop him from accomplishing his goals.

Chapter Text

It was so easy. Manipulating the other boys into hating Jojo, and then manipulating them into accepting him again.

Humans were such weak, stupid, mutable creatures.

“Dio!” They cried when he walked up with Jojo at his side. “Why is he with you?”

The boys backed up and wrinkled up their faces in ugly expressions of shallow disgust and fearful revulsion, as if they’d just found themselves confronted with a large sewer rat that was chewing on a rotting pigeon carcass and completely dismissing their presence, not scared of them at all.

Tch. They couldn’t even tell that Jojo was far superior to them. Hypocritical wretches.

It was all Dio could do not to sneer.

He smiled. Embarrassed. “I’m afraid I made a great mistake,” he said. “You see, I thought that Jojo had snitched on me, but it turned out that it had been one of the servants. Jojo actually tried to cover for me, and ended up accepting the punishment in my stead. I owe him my sincerest apologies and respect.” He put a hand on Jojo’s shoulder, looked the other boys in the eyes, meeting their gazes one by one. “Trust me when I tell you that he’s no snitch. You can trust him.”

And that was it. The repulsion disappeared from their faces, and they smiled, clapping Jojo on the shoulder and punching him sportively in the arm as Dio took a step back, letting them.

“Wow, you’re a great guy, Jojo!” they said. “Sorry about how we treated you!” “Yeah, we had no idea!” “Servants are the worst, right? Eyes and ears everywhere, and they’re always out to try to snitch on you to your parents, thinking they’ll get some kind of reward or something.” “Hey Jojo, you want to come play football with us today?”

Malleable morons. With only a couple sentences Dio could make them hate Jojo again. And then he could get Jojo back into their good graces with a couple more.

He didn’t, of course. That would just be counter-productive. But he could have, if he’d wanted to.

“Dio…” Jojo said later that evening, as they were walking back to the mansion after an afternoon of playing ruby. Their knees and shirts were stained with grass. What had started out as a game of English football had turned into a game of rugby when someone had decided that tackling was a perfectly acceptable way of obtaining the ball.

The idiots couldn’t even play a damn game correctly.

Not that it mattered. He could play dirty with the best of them. It was just aggravating that they couldn’t even remember a few damn rules. And he hated being tackled. Especially when he hadn’t been expecting it and so hadn’t been able to dodge.

“What?” Dio said. It was all he could do not to snap irritably.

Jojo was looking at him and Dio smiled.

“You’re good at that,” Jojo said.

“At what?” Dio asked. Smiling.

“At lying,” Jojo said.

And for a moment Dio panicked.

But no, Jojo wasn’t calling him out in that moment. He was simply referring to earlier, to Dio’s lie that had gotten the boys to accept Jojo again.

And Dio figured that the best way to avoid any further suspicion from Jojo would be to make light of it, and so he placed a gracefully over his chest and bowed, saying, “Why thank you.”

And Jojo laughed and made to shove him sportively in the shoulder, but Dio, fully expecting it, dodged easily and ducked in to kiss Jojo on the cheek.

And Jojo laughed again, the sound happy and light as his cheeks warmed visibly, and when he reached out to take Dio’s hand, bringing it up to his lips and kissing Dio’s knuckles Dio let him.

“Thank you, Dio,” Jojo said.

And it was all Dio could do not to sneer.

He smiled. “No, thank you, Jojo.” He threaded his fingers with Jojo’s own. “And I mean that. This is all thanks to you.”

And Dio may still have had difficulty controlling his knee-jerk emotional reactions (stupid, useless, so wretchedly human and he hated it—), but manipulating people itself was so damn easy.

And to hide his vicious smirk he pressed his lips against the knuckles of Jojo’s fingers.

And Jojo smiled at him, falling for it completely.

 

Dio had a way of making all the colors around him more vivid.

Jojo didn’t know he did it. But it was like Dio was so confidently Dio, so assuredly separate from everyone and everything around him, that everyone and everything else, instead of blending together and blurring, were forced to become more of what they were, too. And the effect seemed to increase with both closeness and length of exposure to Dio.

And that morning as they trekked to the boxing ring, the sun was brighter, the green grass was greener, the blue sky was bluer and the wisps of white clouds were whiter, but Dio’s blue pants and socks were still bluer and his white shirt was even whiter, and the black of his shoes and suspenders had no competition in sight save his dark eyelashes, and the gold of his hair and the amber of his eyes were on a level all their own.

And Jojo felt—he didn’t really know how to explain it, but he felt more Jojo.

“See that bird of prey up there?” Dio said as they were walking, nudging him in the shoulder and pointing up into the blue sky at the dark silhouette of a large bird circling high above them, its wings in a shallow V. “It’s a golden eagle.”

And Jojo looked up, watching the soaring eagle in awe. He probably wouldn’t have noticed it if Dio hadn’t pointed it out.

Dio lowered his hand. “Due to its hunting prowess it’s one of the most highly regarded birds used in falconry, and in many ancient cultures it was regarded with mystic reverence. It’s thought to be one of the fastest birds. Supposedly it’s also been used in some regions to hunt wolves, due to its size and strength.”

Jojo looked up at the distant figure of the golden eagle gliding high above them, its distant but intense and graceful presence seeming to draw more color and depth out of the sky, and he thought that Dio was kind of like a golden eagle.

There was no one else at the boxing ring when they arrived, but when Dio vaulted the fence and landed nimbly inside, it didn’t seem deserted at all.

“Alright,” Dio said as Jojo vaulted the fence to join him, throwing Jojo’s red boxing gloves at him. “I’m going to help you with your boxing, because if you lose a fight with anyone but me I’m going to be embarrassed to associate with you.”

Jojo laughed. “Of course,” he agreed, smiling. He started putting on his red boxing gloves. “But I won’t use any tricks.”

Dio had sat down and had already gotten one of his boxing gloves on—they were a deeper blue than the sky—and he let go of the tie he’d taken between his teeth. “In a street fight tricks are what will save your life,” he said, slipping on his other boxing glove. “But fine. You’re not likely be getting into any street fights anyway.”

Dio took the tie between his teeth as he fastened his other glove, mumbling around the string: “We’ll keep it to honest boxing as closely supervised by a very strict referee who will pull you from the ring for the slightest foul while the crowd boos and throws rotten tomatoes at you.”

Jojo laughed again, accidentally dropping the tie he’d taken between his own teeth to fasten his own gloves. “That’s a very elaborate metaphor, Dio.”

Dio was always using very elaborate and amusing metaphors. Jojo guessed he’d gotten the habit from always reading so many books.

“And we need to work on making your footwork at least that elaborate,” Dio said, standing up with his boxing gloves fully fastened, “because while your punching is admirably adept, your footwork is shoddy in comparison, and a faster and more agile opponent is always going to be able to get the upper hand on you.”

Jojo finally managed to get his boxing gloves tied, stretching and curling his fingers experimentally to make sure he’d tied them adequately.

“Now, come!” Dio said, shifting into his boxing stance and beckoning with a gloved hand. He smirked, mischievous. “Let me demonstrate!”

And Jojo smiled, walking over and taking his own boxing stance, meeting Dio’s intense amber eyes. They were the same intensity as they’d always been, but unlike before they were now bright with good humor instead of anger and contempt, and they made Jojo feel warm all over instead of frigid cold.

He knew that Dio was going to beat him, but he didn’t mind; Dio was a better boxer than him, but now he was helping Jojo to become better instead of just trying to defeat him as absolutely and humiliatingly as possible, and eventual success could only be achieved through what was learned and gained in previous defeats.

“I-I can’t… I can’t move my feet that fast…” Jojo panted on the ground, an hour later after Dio had repeatedly corrected and made him rehearse his footwork, and then still proceeded to beat him effortlessly when they sparred. “I don’t think anyone but you can move their feet like that, Dio…”

It wasn’t really fair; the grace of Dio’s nimble agility kept taking Jojo’s breath away even before Dio’s punches to his diaphragm did.

Dio stood over him, looking down at him thoughtfully. The sun was behind him, casting his face in dark shadow and making his golden hair glow like sunlight itself. He was stunning.

“Hm,” Dio said, a gloved hand against his chin as he tilted his head, his amber eyes and thoughtful expression becoming visible.” Well, if you plan on staying nearly still when you fight then I guess you’re just going to have to get better at both blocking and taking punches, and let your opponent wear themselves down on you till you have the opportunity to overpower them and land a finishing blow,” he said, lowering his hand from his face, spreading his hands in a shrugging gesture. “Which means you need to get used to taking punches until they no longer faze you.”

Jojo snorted slightly, pushing himself up to a sitting position. His arms were trembling from exertion. “I think you just want an excuse to punch me…” he said, grinning wryly as he rubbed his face. He’d probably have bruises later, but he could tell that Dio had been holding back, not punching him as hard as he could have.

And Dio grinned down at him, offering a hand to pull him up. “A kiss with a fist is better than none.”

Jojo made a face. “I prefer the other kind of kisses…” he said, but he took Dio’s hand, letting him pull him to his feet, Dio’s grip strong and steady.

And now the sun was shining full on Dio’s features, making his amber eyes deep and luminous.

Dio smiled, winking at him. “If you impress me then maybe I’ll kiss you for real later,” he teased, shifting back into his fighting stance, bringing his blue-gloved hands up in front of him. “Now, come! Do you want to get stronger or not?”

And Jojo did.

 

It seemed that Jojo’s skill and determination in such activities as boxing and rugby did not at all extend to his studies.

“I don’t understand!” Jojo wailed, hands tugging at his hair as he shook his head vehemently, clenching his eyes shut and not even looking at the mathematics problem on the paper in front of him, like a terrified child who thought his antagonists would go away if he closed his eyes and couldn’t see them. “It doesn’t make any sense!”

And it was all Dio could do not to snarl.

Stop acting like a stupid gnashgab, Jojo! If you wanted to give up on something, you should’ve given up when I was doing everything I could to make you miserable! But now you want to give up against a damn mathematics problem?!

He knew that Jojo was nowhere near as intelligent as he was, but this was ridiculous. It was a waste of his precious time.

Damn it. He wanted to get a start on reading the French translation of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. And after that he had his eye on the six volumes of Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

And Jojo was sitting there with his hands fisted in his hair and his clenched shut, refusing to even look at the mathematics problem.

It took all Dio’s self-control to keep from slapping Jojo across the face.

He smiled. “Okay,” he said, leaning closer and nudging Jojo gently in the shoulder, “one more time. I’ll walk through it with you.”

And Jojo opened his eyes, smiling at him, embarrassed and grateful.

Dio breathed, calming himself. This was fine. It let him bask in his obvious superiority, and anything that made Jojo love and trust him more could never be a waste of time. It was all moving him closer towards his goal.

He could always stay up late reading the book, after all. Though not too late or he’d be too tired to think properly and there would be dark bags under his eyes, which was not acceptable.

Damn it. Life would be so much easier if he didn’t need to waste time sleeping. He’d be able to get so much more done.

Whatever. There was time. He still had to wait several years before he could kill George and Jojo and take the Joestar fortune for himself. He needed to be patient. He had time.

And so he smiled, leaning an unnecessary amount into Jojo’s space till they were pressed close together, snaking his left arm around Jojo’s shoulders, placing his right hand over Jojo’s that was holding the pencil.

“You can do this, Jojo,” he said, low and warm, watching in satisfaction as Jojo’s cheeks heated.

Good; if a flicker of annoyance happened to pass across his face, Jojo would be too distracted to notice.

He kissed Jojo on the cheek to make him even more flustered. “I believe in you,” he said, and determination sparked in Jojo’s eyes. “Just make sure you pay attention this time, okay? Don’t get frightened by a few numbers, now.”

And Jojo laughed. “You’re right, Dio. I’m sure it’s not actually that hard.” His eyes were resolute. “I’ll get it this time for sure.”

“Good,” Dio said, and with his hand over Jojo’s he guided him through the problem.

Jojo responded so much more readily to words and actions of love and encouragement than to those of threat. His feelings of affection fueled his fierce inner strength and gave him an explosive power to overcome obstacles. It was almost fascinating. It was something that was so different from other humans, for whom ‘love’ was just a puffed-up lie that their selfishness and shallowness hid behind and that crumpled at the slightest danger to their selves, revealing the rotten cowardice and wretchedness underneath.

But Jojo, in his stupid and naive and yet unfalteringly absolute belief in this ‘love,’ managed to turn one of the largest and flimsiest fabrications of humanity into an iron strength. It was almost admirable.

And yet it was utterly useless. Because that strength would be what led him to his downfall.

And as Jojo leaned into his touch, watching Dio work through the mathematics problem and listening to his explanations with the utmost determined concentration on his face, it was all Dio could do not to smirk.

He smiled. “Do you understand now, Jojo?”

Jojo was going to be completely, irrevocably his.

 

They’d walked back to the mansion from the schoolhouse, and they were just entering the courtyard when there was an excited barking and Jojo saw Danny running towards them, his tongue lolling out of his mouth and tail wagging.

“Danny!” Jojo cried, kneeling down and spreading his arms, grinning. “Did you miss me because I’ve been gone at school all day?”

And Danny was already almost at him by the time Jojo remembered that Dio was right next to him.

Jojo’s eyes widened, his heart beating faster. Dio didn’t like dogs. He’d kick Danny again, and then—

Jojo was rising to his feet, making to step in front of Dio and get between him and Danny, but Dio stepped around him and stood directly in Danny’s path as Danny barreled towards him—

“Dio don’t!” Jojo cried, reaching out to pull Dio back as Dio raised a hand and—

“Sit,” Dio commanded. And Jojo froze, his eyes wide, as Danny pulled to a stop in front of him, looking up at Dio’s closed fist and sitting down.

Dio looked down at him, eyes narrowed slightly. Then he nodded to himself. “Good dog,” he said, lowering his hand, opening his fist and reaching out to pet Danny on the head.

And Jojo just stared.

Danny’s tail wagged against the ground and he moved his head under Dio’s hand, craning his neck to lick Dio’s fingers and palm.

Dio pulled his hand back swiftly and took a step backwards, looking absolutely scandalized. “Wh-wha—who said you could lick me?!”

Jojo couldn’t help but laugh, walking over and crouching down to wrap his arms around Danny, scratching him behind the ears as Danny barked and nuzzled his wet nose against Jojo’s neck, tickling and making him grin.

“He thought you were holding a treat for him,” Jojo explained. Danny barked again and licked his face. Jojo laughed. “And also when he licks you it means he likes you.”

“Tch,” Dio said, his gold-orange eyes narrowing, but he didn’t move away. He actually took a step forward, reaching out—

And wiped his hand on Jojo’s coat.

Jojo snorted and Danny barked.

Dio looked down at them, his expression blank and unreadable like it tended to get whenever he was considering something. It looked like the kind of face people wore when playing poker. Jojo wondered if that was something Dio had learned in the slum, too.

After a moment Dio crouched down next to Jojo.

“Lie down,” he said, pointing at the ground in front of Danny, and Danny obediently lay down, looking up at him and wagging his tail.

“Don’t lick me,” Dio ordered, and reached out pet Danny’s head, Danny’s tail wagging harder and his tongue lolling out of his mouth.

“Good dog,” Dio said, and Jojo couldn’t stop laughing.

Dio looked at him with narrowed orange-gold eyes. “What’s so funny?”

“You’re really good with dogs,” Jojo grinned. “You could be a dog trainer.”

“No,” Dio said flatly. But he was still petting Danny’s head, and he pursed his lips. “But in regards to dog training. How many tricks have you taught him, Jojo?”

And Jojo smiled as he stood up. “Let me show you!”

Dio was opening up more and more to him each day and it made Jojo’s heart soar. (He wondered if this was what it felt like to be a golden eagle.)

And as he showed Dio all of Danny’s tricks and then Dio tried them with Danny himself, looking more and more comfortable with Danny all the time, eventually becoming so comfortable that he taught Danny a completely new trick (“Get him!” Dio cried, beckoning to Danny and running at Jojo, the two of them together tackling Jojo to the ground, Danny licking his face while Dio smirked and poked him in his sides until he was crying from laughter), Jojo couldn’t help but think that Dio entering into his life was the best thing that had ever happened to him.

 

They were walking back on the country road from a morning in town when they encountered Erina Pendleton walking the opposite direction. She was looking down and didn’t see them until Jojo called, “Erina!” sounding happy and excited to see her.

And Erina looked up to see them walking towards her, side by side, and her eyes widened in alarm and fear and she stopped walking, standing there frozen.

Perfect, Dio thought, and it was all he could do not to laugh. I’ve been waiting for something like this to happen.

Jojo’s face had fallen, and he was looking at Erina like it pained him. “Erina?”

“Come now,” Dio said, snaking an arm around Jojo’s shoulders, leaning into him and tilting his head to look down at Erina. She looked like she might cry or faint in fear. How utterly pathetic. “There’s no need to be afraid, Erina.” He allowed himself to smile complacently, watching the way her eyes widened further in fear.

“It’s okay, Erina,” Jojo was trying to reassure her. “Dio’s changed! He’s different now! He’s actually really nice, and funny, and—”

“Are you going to tell on us?” Dio asked, and he snaked his other hand over Jojo’s collarbone, closing his fingers lightly over his other forearm so that his arms were wrapped around Jojo’s neck, his body turned slightly to press against him. He kept his gaze on Erina, eyelids lowering. “You know what would happen if you told anyone about us, right? Not just to me, but to Jojo, too.”

Jojo had turned his head, looking at him in alarm, and Erina stared at him with wide eyes, trembling in fear like a young fawn about to be eaten by an opportunistic fox.

“Dio—” Jojo started, looking at him distressedly, but Dio pressed a finger over Jojo’s lips.

“You know I’m right,” he said. “If she tells anyone, it would be the end of everything for us. Our happiness, our reputations, our futures. It would all be destroyed.”

And Jojo looked at him with tears in his eyes, before turning his head to look at Erina, and he opened his mouth to say something, but Erina finally unfrozen and ran past them, running away down the road.

Jojo turned to stare after her as Dio stepped away from him, and the tears were falling from Jojo’s eyes.

“That was mean, Dio,” he said.

Does he still care that much for Erina?

“It was the truth,” Dio answered, straightening his tie. “And more often than not the truth hurts. But what were you expecting? You can’t have both of us, you know.”

This isn’t acceptable. I can’t allow Jojo’s feelings to be split between me and that girl. He needs to give himself entirely to me.

And Dio stepped forward, grabbing Jojo by the lapels of his jacket and forcing him to look at him, Jojo’s eyes wet and brimming with tears. How utterly pathetic.

“You’re mine now, you hear me?” Dio said, and he let himself be angry, eyes widening in ardour and voice raising. Jojo would interpret it as the result of fear and desperation. He clenched his fingers in the fabric of Jojo’s coat and made tears start brimming in his eyes. “I won’t lose you! I won’t allow it!”

The tears were trickling down his cheeks. They made his skin itch. And his face was going to be all weird and sticky and stiff after this. He hated having to cry. But he’d do whatever he needed to.

His face itched with the tears, and it was awful. But at least the maddening itching helped him shudder, and if he couldn’t scratch or wipe them away then at least he could bury his face in Jojo’s chest, which he did, clenching his fingers still tighter Jojo’s coat. “I won’t!” he repeated, and he made himself start sobbing.

Sobbing was a lot like laughter, both in sound and in movement. Often the two were indistinguishable. And if you faked either for long enough, your body would fall into the motions and your instincts would kick in, the fake sobs or laughter becoming genuine bodily actions even if the sentiments behind them were completely missing. Your body didn’t care—it was simply reacting to stimulus—and your audience couldn’t tell, because bodily actions were the only way that emotions were read, anyway.

Whatever they perceived was the truth. And as long as Dio had complete control of his body—which was the case except for when he was overwhelmed by his stupid damn temper—he had complete control over what people perceived of him, and therefore he had control of their truths and subsequently control over them.

And now Jojo, perceiving that he was distraught with the fear of losing him, reacted by trying his best to comfort him, wrapping his arms around Dio and pulling him close.

“You’re not going to lose me, Dio,” he murmured, hugging him tighter. “I promise.”

And Dio buried his face in Jojo’s chest to hide his smirk and shook with laughter that he knew came off as sobs.

In his war for success, Jojo was going to be his willing, unwitting tool.

 

Dio sobbed against him, trembling violently, and Jojo pulled him closer, letting him. He could feel his shirt getting soaked with Dio’s tears, and he didn’t mind that his shirt was getting wet, but it hurt to see Dio crying like this, so afraid of what could happen in the future and apparently furious that he didn’t have control over it.

“You’re not going to lose me, Dio,” he said, and he meant it. “I promise.”

Dio sobbed harder, and Jojo held him close, feeling like his heart was tearing. There were so many conflicting feelings and thoughts in Jojo’s head.

He felt terrible about hurting Erina. She was an angel, and he’d loved her. He felt like he still did. He hadn’t stopped caring for her.

But he loved Dio, too. He couldn’t abandon him. Not after all the terrible struggles they’d overcome to get to where they were now.

And it wasn’t fair to compare Erina and Dio. They were two entirely different people.

Erina was an angel. She was sweet and innocent. She didn’t deserve to be hurt. But she had a family that loved her. She had friends to look out for her. She didn’t really need Jojo. Losing him might cause her pain, but it wouldn’t damage her. She’d left him of her own choice and free will, after all.

Dio, on the other hand—needed him. Dio had grown up without love or care, having to fight for survival, learning cruelty just to get by. Jojo was all he had. And Jojo felt certain that, if he abandoned Dio, Dio would fall back into cruelty worse than ever before. It would be the destruction and desolation of them both.

And there was that fact, too; if he abandoned Dio, Dio had the power to make him miserable and destroy him completely. In a way Jojo didn’t have a choice but to devote himself to Dio.

And yet, this wasn’t coercion. He wasn’t being coerced into this in any way. This was his choice.

This had been his choice from the beginning, when he’d kissed Dio instead of punching him. When he’d gone to so much effort to get Dio to open up to him and trust him.

It would be the lowest thing imaginable, to abandon Dio now. The basest of cruelties.

And it was the last thing that Jojo wanted. He didn’t want to lose Dio.

That golden-haired boy who’d leapt so nimbly and confidently from the carriage; Jojo had been awed by him, then, and he was still in awe of him now. Everything about him was stunning. From his looks to his physical prowess and his fierce intelligence. And then there was this new thoughtful kindness and wry sense of humor, this sweet side of him that made Jojo’s stomach flutter.

Jojo felt that, with Dio by his side, he could accomplish anything.

But Dio had been right: they had to keep this a secret, this thing between them. (As strange as that was, that something so wonderful as love needed to be hidden, but people wouldn’t understand. Just how deep and pure this connection was, how much it was improving both their lives and subsequently the lives of those around them. It was truly wondrous.)

And as Jojo held Dio close, Dio’s shaking finally starting to subside, Jojo thought to himself: No matter what happens, I’m not leaving you, Dio.

I promise you that.

On the soul of my mother I promise you that.

Chapter Text

7 years later, in the year 1888…

 

In Italy…

A certain Will A. Zeppeli was moving deeper into the dark cavern he’d uncovered beneath the Colosseum.

Having moved through several large chambers and entering yet another, he lifted lamp higher to see ahead of himself into the darkness, and suddenly he sucked in a breath, his eyes widening.

“To think that I traveled all throughout Central and South America looking for them, and they were here in Italy the entire time,” he murmured, holding his lamp still higher, the light falling over the three astonishingly muscular figures that seemed to be submerged in the stone wall between two elaborate pillars. Right there in front of him.

He’d spent half his life hunting down the stone mask and its origins. It was on this quest that he’d encountered Hamon, studied it under the tutelage of Hamon Master Tonpetty, and started researching the immortal beings that had been the Hamon tribe’s foes for generations before their mysterious disappearance two thousand years previous.

And once he’d completed his years-long Hamon training, Will A. Zeppeli had spent years traveling the world, searching for the mask and for the whereabouts of these mysterious immortal beings, whether they be living or dead.

He never did find the mask. But finally, finally he’d found them.

He moved closer carefully, heart hammering and breath coming in quick, shallow gasps. Were these beings submerged in the stone alive, immortal as they supposedly were, and this was simply some kind of hibernation? Or were they dead, their bodies cast in stone like the victims of the city of Pompeii, the city that had been uncovered by Spanish engineer Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre 140 years ago in 1748, the bodies that had been excavated by Italian archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli starting 25 years ago in 1863?

He moved closer, his gaze sweeping over the wall. There was one man in the middle, right arm curled over his head and left arm across his chest, facing straight out with closed eyes. A man on the left, curled on his side, a glittering jewel in each hand. And on the right—

Will A. Zeppeli gasped.

There, in the stone above the third man’s right shoulder, was another stone mask.

He had no idea if the beings in the stone were alive or dead, but that mask—

That mask was dangerous. He couldn’t allow another one of those evil creations to get out into the world.

He had his bag of archaeology tools with him. His heart pounding in his chest, he wasted no time in taking out his large mattock, hefting it over his shoulder and moving closer towards the stone, setting down the lamp a couple feet away from the wall and then stepping forward, taking the mattock and swinging it as hard as he could at the stone mask.

It cracked. Just slightly.

And Will A. Zeppeli swung again and again and again—remembering the horrible face of his father-turned-monster and he corpses of their archaeology team littering the deck all the while—until the mask had been crumbled to dust, and a fair amount of the stone wall with it.

And Will A. Zeppeli stepped back, panting, removing his hat to wipe a hand across his sweaty forehead, regarding the wall in satisfaction.

The stone mask would never unleash its evil on the world.

But as he swept his gaze over the wall, Will A. Zeppeli noticed something that he hadn’t noticed before. Or rather, that he was sure hadn’t been there before. In the center of the middle man’s forehead was a large black circle.

He stepped closer, furrowing his brow.

“What it that?” he wondered aloud, peering at it. “There’s a shadow, so I can’t tell.” He peered closer still. And was it just him, or was there a sound coming from it, like the whir of rushing air?

And that was the last thought Will A. Zeppeli ever had, because suddenly a long horn shot out of the hole that had opened up in the figure’s forehead, spearing Will A. Zeppeli through the brain and lifting him up into the air,

The stony appearance receded from the figure’s face and his eyes opened. The horn retreated into his head and the human’s corpse fell to the floor. The stony appearance faded from his body and closing his eyes he wrenched himself powerfully, gracefully out of the stone, suspended in the air for a moment, metal-tipped chords from his headpiece streaming behind him, before landing solidly on one foot, then placing down the other, right arm stretched in front of him and left arm crossed over his chest.

He opened his eyes again, tilted his neck to the right, then to the left, stared at the dead human and the bag of tools on the floor, the lamp that was lighting up a small section of the large, dark cavern.

“The world has changed while I slept,” he observed. “I can see how in these paltry inventions.”

He shifted his gaze around the chamber, but there did not seem to be any other humans about.

He turned, looked back at the wall, ready to wake up his companions, when he stopped.

The mask. It was gone. There was a large chunk carved out of the wall where it had been.

He looked down at the pile of dust and bits of stone on the floor below it, then at the dead human.

“The human destroyed the mask?” he said, and frowned. Why would that human have done that?

(So that was the disturbance that had awoken him.)

“Well, Kars made other masks,” he said, and turned so that his back was to the wall, lifting his arms into the air with the pointer finger of each hand raised.

“Wamuu!” he said, pronouncing his name and touching a finger to the cheek of each companion. “Awaken, my masters!”

And the two other immortal beings burst out of the stone.

Wamuu knelt down before them.

Kars tilted his head. “It is night outside, Wamuu,” he determined.

Wamuu remained kneeling. “Yes, Lord Kars. What is your plan?”

“Searching for the whereabouts of the Red Stone of Aja, of course,” said Esidisi. “All we need is the Stone and the Mask will be complete!”

“But Master Esidisi,” said Wamuu, his head lowered, “the human you see dead before you appears to have destroyed the mask.

“Then we must find out where one of the other Masks is,” said Kars, “along with where the Stone has gone.”

Wamuu kept his head down. “The human world has changed much over the years. Long ago, the Emperor of Rome had the Stone. But that age has ended, I am sure. However, they say the Emperor cherished the Stone. I am sure humans still tell stories of it. I shall find the Stone. As for the Mask…”

“We can track one down,” Kars said, and the light of the lamp behind him cast his and Esidisi’s faces all in shadow. “We have time.”

 

In England…

It was their last rugby game before they graduated university.

“This is our last game, so let’s make sure we win this, Jojo!” Dio had said in the locker room before the game started.

“Agreed!” Jojo had grinned, and with a quick glance to make sure no one else was around Dio had stepped close and gave him a quick kiss.

“Do your best out there, Jojo!” Dio said, smiling and patting him on the shoulder before jogging out of the room to start warming up on the field.

“You too, Dio!” Jojo called, following after him more slowly.

And Dio waved back at him. “Naturally!”

Damn, but how he hated rugby. It was a game that relied almost solely on physical prowess and next to no strategy or cunning—a game perfectly designed for idiots—and all the tackling was loathsome. (Letting all those stupid commoners touch him—him, Dio!—with their disgusting fingers.)

But it was the game best suited to his and Jojo’s tall and muscular physiques. Especially Jojo—195 cm and 105 kg of pure muscle, he couldn’t very well have played any other sport, and Dio wasn’t going to let him take all the glory for their school for himself. So when Jojo joined the rugby team, Dio joined as well, and made sure that no game was won by their university without he himself having played an integral role in the achieving of that victory.

And while the game of rugby itself was something he couldn’t have cared less about, it was nonetheless something that he was determined never, never to lose.

He would always be Number One, in whatever he did.

And this was their last game, so it was more imperative than ever that they should win this one.

After all, they were graduating soon. And as soon as he’d graduated, he would have no more use for George Joestar. He was old enough to inherit the Joestar fortune, now.

He’d already started the process of poisoning George. Slowly, so it looked like an illness, and he would appear to die naturally and no one would be the wiser.

And then he’d just have to kill Jojo in a way in which no one would suspect he was the murderer, and the Joestar fortune would be his, and with his summa cum laude law degree he would begin his upwards climb to the very top of society.

And winning this rugby game would be the perfect way to begin his series of remarkable successes. A celebration of his graduation and future that the entire school would celebrate with him, trumpeting a fanfare in his honor.

And Jojo would be his stepping-stone to glory.

Because there was Jojo with the rugby ball under his arm, three opponents from the other team clinging to him while he determinedly and stubbornly dragged them along on his charge towards the goal.

(And that was just so typically Jojo, stubbornly and naively powering his way through everything, somehow succeeding even when he shouldn’t.)

The fourth tackle finally wavered him, bringing him down to a knee, but Dio was ready and waiting, and when Jojo threw the ball Dio caught it effortlessly and sprinted towards the goal.

Two opponents tried to tackle him from behind, but he effortlessly dodged and kept running.

Tch, like I’d let scum like you touch me!

There was also the fact that he couldn’t do what Jojo could; if he were tackled, he wouldn’t be able to drag his opponents along.

But he could do what Jojo couldn’t do, and that was to keep from being tackled by anyone altogether.

It had irked Dio at first, when they first started working out in the fitness studio, that Jojo was effortlessly stronger than him. That no matter how hard Dio pushed himself, he would never be able to become as strong as Jojo. It was physically impossible, a matter of the composition of their human bodies, their different heritages and inherited traits.

(Stupid, stupid human limitations—!)

But Dio was effortlessly faster and more agile than Jojo, and so, since he couldn’t be the strongest, he worked on developing his speed and agility until he was a head and shoulders above the rest. No one could touch him.

And true battle prowess wasn’t in coming out victorious in conflicts; it was avoiding them altogether. Getting entangled in conflicts was a waste of time and effort. It was inestimably more effective to outthink and outmaneuver your opponents from the very beginning, before the conflict had even begun, to always be two steps to the side and three steps ahead.

And as another opponent from the opposite team came at him from the front, Dio simply put a hand on his head, pushing the player down and vaulting over him. The next opponent leapt at him, but Dio ducked under his leap and kept running.

And then he was free, no more opponents ahead of him and no one behind him who could even dream of catching up to him. He was known for his speed, for being the fastest player on any team.

And Dio leapt, touching the ball against the ground with his body still in motion, flipping over the ball, tucking his head and touching the ground first with his upper back and rolling through to his lower back, his legs bending with the motion so that at the end his feet planted on the ground and he stood gracefully to his feet, ball still in hand as he raised his arms in a victorious V above him, grinning as team rushed him, lifting him up, cheering and exalting him.

The ending of the game was the most important part, the part that left lasting images in people’s minds. Which was why games must be ended as gracefully and gloriously as possible, and why he made sure he was usually the one to score the finishing goal, Jojo as the support who took the tackles and enabled him to take the final glory.

(The rest of their team was only mediocre; it was Jojo and Dio who had brought the time to victory time and time again. After he and Jojo graduated Dio didn’t expect to be hearing about their university’s rugby team in the news very often.)

And now Jojo was pushing through the crowd, grinning broadly, and Dio was lowered down, stepping forward to grip Jojo’s hand.

“We did it, Jojo!” Dio smiled.

Jojo smiled back at him, and his eyes were bright with reverent awe and adoring wonder. “Dio, that was some fine running!” The fool was so hopelessly in love with him. Dio could’ve smirked.

He smiled. “Thank you, but it was all thanks to you, Jojo,” he said.

Jojo looked like he wanted to kiss him, but that wouldn’t do. They were out in public, after all. But maybe Dio would reward him later. It was always satisfying to have Jojo writhing so willingly beneath him, completely undone and begging for more while Dio put a hand over Jojo’s mouth and softly ordered him to hush so the servants wouldn’t hear them even as he inflicted Jojo with another rush of pleasure that forced Jojo to have to try his very hardest not to cry out. (Dio’s power over Jojo was absolute.)

But that would need to come much later, deep in the middle of the night when even the servants were asleep.

Dio let go of Jojo’s hand and stepped back. “Jojo, let’s go tell Father about this right away!” he smiled, and he hardly had to fake his eagerness, turning and jogging off to the locker room to get changed so they could head back as soon as possible.

He wanted to see how the progress of the poison’s effects were coming along. It was probably nearing time to give him another dose.

 

Even after all these years, Dio never failed to take Jojo’s breath away.

His intelligence, his skill and talent, the planes of that hard lean body and the glow of those lurid eyes—Dio was all stunning intensity.

He reminded Jojo of majestic golden eagles and cunning red foxes, of strong and graceful jungle cats.

And whenever he snatched the ball out of the air and sprinted towards the goal, he was all cheetah; an acceleration and speed no one could keep up with, and impossible agility that allowed him to dodge every tackle, making it all look utterly natural and effortless.

It made Jojo’s breath catch, his heart race, his mouth go dry.

“We did it, Jojo!” Dio said when Jojo crossed over and their teammates lowered Dio back down to the ground and he clasped Jojo’s hand.

“Dio, that was some fine running!” Jojo told him; his heart was still fluttering. He wanted to kiss Dio, to rub his hands reverently over the planes of that lean, muscular body, to—

But that wouldn’t be possible till much later, so Jojo quickly banished those thoughts from his mind.

Right now it was enough to admire Dio standing here in front of him looking stunning.

“Thank you,” Dio was saying, “but it was all thanks to you, Jojo.” And Dio was smiling, his orange-gold eyes bright, pleased and satisfied. It made him glow.

Dio only looked that pleased and satisfied after a victory.

Dio’s intensely competitive nature was something Jojo had noticed over their years together. Dio seemed to regard almost everything as a competition, and his expectations of himself were utterly inhuman; it was like he genuinely believed that it was imperative that he not just succeed at everything, but that he succeed leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else; winning by a hair’s breadth was no victory at all.

And whenever Dio lost at something or made a mistake, it was like the world had stuttered to a stop for him. As if every mistake were potentially fatal.

And it made Jojo’s heart ache painfully, because he couldn’t help but suspect that, in the slums where Dio had grown up, that really was the case.

His suspicion was corroborated by the fact that after a loss or mistake Dio for a time reverted back to being temperamental and violent, even occasionally somewhat cruel, almost like he’d been when he’d first arrived to live with them. Although it was obvious that during these times he tried as hard as he could to reign in his temper and not let it get the best of him, it was clear that he struggled to control his violent impulses, and the fact that he struggled to control himself just seemed to make it even worse, because he perceived that as a failure, too.

“Everyone makes mistakes, Dio,” Jojo had tried to comfort him once. “It’s not a big deal. It means you’re human.”

And Dio had whirled around, punching the wall next to Jojo’s face, his blood-amber eyes wild. “And that’s supposed to comfort me?!” he’d hissed. “Why the hell would I want to be human?! Human like that damn—!” And he’d abruptly broken himself off, jerking his hand from the wall and whirling around, stalking away, a hand brushing back through his gold hair, clenching. “Damn it!”

And it made Jojo’s heart ache, to think what kind of horrible things Dio must have lived through to make him feel that way. And he wished he could do something to help, but he’d learned that the only thing he could really do during times like that was to leave Dio alone until he calmed down and had control of himself again. Trying to interact with Dio when he didn’t have complete control of himself just made everything worse.

Dio expected absolute perfection from himself.

So when Dio grinned, “Jojo, let’s go tell Father about this right away!” and jogged off in a hurry, it didn’t surprise Jojo at all that Dio would be so happy about their victory. It being their last game before graduating, it was an especially important victory for Dio. Even the fact that he was going to be graduating with a law degree with the highest distinction wouldn’t have been able to keep a loss of the rugby game from getting him down.

Knowing that he needed to win this game for Dio had been part of what kept Jojo charging towards the goal even with three of the opponent players hanging off him.

He wasn’t about to let them ruin Dio’s and his graduation.

And when he saw how happy Dio was over their victory, so happy that he couldn’t wait to get back home and inform their father, Jojo knew that that bit of extra effort he’d put into the game that day had been more than worth it.

 

On the way to the lockers Dio was stopped by a couple reporters. Which was annoying, but also something he couldn’t afford to skip out on; anything that helped establish his good reputation among the English elite was something that would assist his success in the long run.

“Dio,” said one reporter, holding a pen in his hand, prepared to record Dio’s answer, “can you tell us about your friendship with Jojo?”

“That’s an embarrassing subject.” Dio said, keeping his demeanor genial, slightly bashful. The question was hardly a surprise. They were well known as the power duo of the rugby team as well as being god-brothers and best friends.

Dio had the entire world completely fooled.

“C’mon,” urged one of the other reporters. “We want to hear!”

Dio turned slightly, folding his left arm across his chest and lifting his right hand to frame his chin with his thumb and forefinger. “Well…” he said.

Something that will satisfy their curiosity but won’t pose any danger to me.

And Dio smiled. “You’ve seen how well we get along now, but did you know that in the beginning we couldn’t stand each other?” He lowered his hand from his chin, made a graceful shrugging gesture, gave an embarrassed laugh. “It even came to physical blows a few times.”

No harm in mentioning that. It’s different enough from how our relationship appears now to interest them, but boys not getting along and fighting each other is commonplace enough that it’ll seem completely normal, nothing odd about it at all.

“Really?” the reporter asked, and his expression was all eagerness. “What changed?”

Dio splayed his hands, shaking his head, but he made sure his smile was fond. “I didn’t want anything to do with Jojo, but Jojo was dead-set on befriending me. And you saw today how in the game how stubborn he can be.” Dio laughed, and the reporters laughed as well.

There were four reporters total, grinning their idiot grins, and he had their attention completely, all of them hanging off his every word.

What a bunch of stupid gobermouches.

Crossing his left arm over his chest and resting his right elbow on his left forearm, he curved his right hand in a ‘What can you do?’ gesture and shook his head again slightly, still smiling, making sure to appear amused, cheeks lifted so there were crinkles at the corners of his eyes, his tone bright and lilting. “When he sets his mind to something, no one and nothing can stop him. Eventually I had to give in.”

He lowered his right arm over his left so they were both crossed self-consciously over his chest, and he sobered his tone and expression from amusement to deep regard, his smile softening and his eyes meeting the reporter’s gazes to show he was now being utterly serious, the tone of his voice lowering and evening out. “His iron resolve impressed me and earned him my respect.”

The reporters had been laughing at his commentary on Jojo’s stubbornness, but now they sobered slightly as well, looking fascinated by the information. “Why was Jojo so determined to befriend you if you didn’t want anything to do with him, Dio?” asked the one with the pen, looking up from his mad scribbling.

Dio was getting tired of this. These reporters were annoying and seemed intent on wasting his time and forcing him to put up with their idiocy.

Out of the corner of his eye he could see the unmistakable figure of Jojo coming towards them.

And Dio smiled. “I’ve never understood it myself,” he said. He gestured behind him, where Jojo was coming up to them. “But here comes Jojo; you can ask him yourself.”

Let Jojo carry some of the burden of humoring these fools.

“Wow,” whispered one of the reporters to another, “he knew Jojo was coming over and he didn’t even look!”

It was all Dio could do not to roll his eyes.

He smiled.

 

Jojo was heading back to the lockers to get changed when he saw Dio talking to a group of reporters.

Jojo smiled, walking over to join him.

“Jojo!” one of the reporters greeted him, the man waving his pen and grinning. “Dio just told us that when you two first met you didn’t get along and even came to blows, but that you were determined to become friends anyway. Can you tell us why you were so determined to befriend Dio when he apparently wanted nothing to do with you?”

Jojo blinked, looking from the reporter to Dio, surprised that Dio would’ve mentioned that.

Dio looking at him and smiling in that way he did whenever he told an inside joke that was meant just for the two of them, an amused smile and fond orange-gold eyes that included Jojo as his secret accomplice in his competitions against the world.

And it made Jojo feel warm all over to know that Dio trusted him this much, that Dio was competing alongside him rather than against him. (There were still times when Jojo wasn’t sure, when it felt like Dio was still trying to compete against him even though that wasn’t what Jojo was doing at all; but when Dio smiled at him like that Jojo knew that in that moment they were definitely working together on the same team.)

And Jojo smiled. “I liked Dio,” he said. “I just wanted to be friends with him.” It was the truth, after all.

The reporter laughed. “Simple as that?” he asked.

“Simple as that,” Jojo smiled. “Fighting each other was just making both of us miserable, so I thought it would be better if we were friends.”

“What did I tell you?” Dio said to the reporters, slinging an arm around Jojo’s shoulders and gesturing airily with his other hand. “He’s got a one-track mind.” Dio shook his head, grinning amusedly. “There’s just no arguing with him.”

Dio only ribbed him like that when he was in a good mood, and Jojo smiled, feeling happy and content as he ribbed Dio back: “It’s not my fault you always make things needlessly complicated, Dio.” He shrugged beneath Dio’s warm arm, and he couldn’t help from grinning amusedly. “You think about things too much.”

And Dio snorted, amber-gold eyes bright and amused as he reached over with his other hand, flicking Jojo lightly in the forehead. “Maybe if you thought about things more you would’ve gotten better grades,” he chided ribbingly.

Jojo pursed his lips, reaching up to rub at his forehead even though it hadn’t hurt. “My grades are fine,” he pointed out.

And Dio grinned, stepping away from Jojo and gesturing grandly, placing his hand over his chest. “Not as good as mine.” And Jojo didn’t think there existed a color that didn’t look good on Dio—the green and white of his rugby uniform brought out the rose-gold tone of his skin, making it compete with the luster of his tawny-gold hair and orange-gold eyes.

“Nobody’s grades are as good as yours, Dio,” one of the reporters laughed. “You’re going to be graduating summa cum laude!

Dio grinned and struck a stately pose, fingers of his right hand splayed over his chest and left hand on his hip. “Exactly,” he said, grinning and winking at them, and Jojo laughed.

Dio was always so incredibly hard on himself; it made Jojo feel happy to see Dio so pleased about his accomplishments that he could joke about them in such a casual and carefree manner.

“And that difference between you is probably what makes you two such a great team,” one of the reporters smiled, and Jojo smiled back at him.

“I think so, too,” he said.

“But Jojo, you’ve also written a really fine thesis on archaeology,” said the reporter with the pen, who’d just finished quickly jotting down something and had looked up again, smiling hopefully. “Could you tell us a little more about that?”

Jojo smiled. “Of course! You see—”

“I’m sorry, if you could save that question for another time,” Dio interrupted, putting a hand on Jojo’s shoulder and smiling at the reporters apologetically, but Jojo could see the impatience beneath his polite demeanor. “We’re in a hurry to get home and inform our father of our victory today as soon as possible, before anyone else tells him first.” Dio laughed, a hand at the back of his neck. “He has too many old college friends who life to tell him everything, it’s really quite bothersome. We always have to rush our fastest if we want to be the first ones to tell him anything.”

“Of course,” the reporter with the pen said, laughing. “That sounds bothersome indeed. Thank you for letting us take your time, and all the best to you! We have high hopes for your futures!”

“Thanks!” Jojo told him, even as Dio took his arm and started trying to drag him towards the lockers, saying, “Come on, Jojo! Someone is probably already trying to ruin our surprise and tell him before we get there! We need to hurry if we want to get there first!”

And he looked so simultaneously eager and annoyed that Jojo couldn’t help but chuckle, and when Dio impatiently let go of his arm and turned to jog to the lockers in order to get their faster Jojo jogged after him, catching up to him and jogging beside him.

Dio looked over at him and grinned. “Race you to the lockers?”

“You’ll win,” Jojo pointed out, but he was smiling. It didn’t bother him.

He wouldn’t be able to watch Dio from ahead of him, after all.

And Dio just grinned wider and then burst into a sprint. “Last one there is a mask fanatic!” he called.

And Jojo snorted, launching into a sprint and running after him, shouting, “That’s not fair, Dio!” It was all he could do not to stumble from laughing.

But Dio’s figure pulling farther and farther ahead of him, threatening to leave him completely behind, kept Jojo running.

 

“Why are you so interested in that stone mask anyway, Jojo?” Dio had asked, coming upon Jojo late one night in the library, the stone mask and several open books on the table in front of him.

Technically they should both probably have been sleeping. Neither of them were.

And Jojo had looked down at the mask with its empty eyes and fanged teeth, wondering if it would sound crazy that it comforted him rather than unnerved him.

“It was my mother’s, so it reminds me of her,” he’d explained. “I feel like if I discover what secrets it holds, then maybe…”

He didn’t really know.

 

Mr. Joestar tried to greet them as they entered the room, crossing to stand next to his bed, but he could hardly speak for coughing.

(“Dio! Come here! Dio! Are you deaf, boy?!”)

Dio hated the sound. It grated on his nerves.

But the worsening of Joestar’s cough meant that the effects of the poison were progressing. Joestar would soon be dead.

In that way, his coughing was a fanfare to Dio’s victory.

But Dio was all caring, dedicated son as he asked concernedly: “How are you feeling, Father?”

“Better, except for this cough,” Joestar said, obviously trying to reassure them. But as if it weren’t obvious enough just from looking at him that his state had worsened, he proceeded to follow-up that statement with: “The doctors want me in the hospital.”

Even if Joestar was staying optimistic, clearly the doctors knew his state was worsening.

Having Joestar in the hospital, where Dio wouldn’t be able to administer the doses of poison, simply wouldn’t do.

“The hospital?” Dio said, and he made sure his face was all concern, gesturing with his his hands like that was an absurd suggestion. “You should stay away from the hospital.”

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Jojo look at him in surprise.

But Dio had his explanation ready.

He hovered his right hand hovering over his chest, his expression all worry as he met Joestar’s gaze. “Hospitals don’t cure anyone,” he said urgently. “They’re only out for profits.”

“Mm,” Joestar said, holding his gaze trustingly. “I won’t go. I feel better at home.” He then tried to further reassure them, insisting: “My chest pains are better, and the swelling has gone down.” He coughed. “I’m getting better.”

Dio knew he wasn’t. It was simply the next stage in the poison’s effects.

He couldn’t help but wonder if Joestar truly believed he was getting better or if he was lying to try not to worry them, but ultimately it didn’t matter. Either way he was going to die.

When Joestar finished coughing he looked up, smiling at them. “Oh, and Dio, Jojo—congratulations on your victory today.”

Dio hardly had to exaggerate his expression of surprise. Those old college friends of Joestar’s really worked fast. He wondered how they managed it.

He heard Jojo utter an exclamation of surprise next to him. “You already heard?”

George smiled his idiot grin and winked at them. “And old college friend informed me.”

Dio was practiced at playing the caring and good-natured son; practiced at playing the one who always lightened the mood with a bit of humor.

“Some friend!” he cried as he clenched his right hand in a loose fist in front of him, expression indignant but voice light and lilting, making it clear his umbrage wasn’t in earnest. “We ran home to be the first to tell you!”

He laughed, and just as intended Jojo laughed with him, and Joestar chuckled.

“I’m very pleased,” Joestar said, smiling at them. “I’m proud to have such excellent sons.”

What a sentimental fool.

Joestar looked at him fondly. “You’ve come especially far, Dio,” he said. “Follow your dreams after graduation. I’ll support you in every way. You’re family.”

(“You’re a smart boy. Go out there and become the world’s richest man!”)

It was all Dio could do not to sneer.

You say you want to support my success? Then hurry up and die already.

Alive you’re just in my way.

But he was a caring, dutiful adopted son who owed Joestar for all his good fortune and who felt the weight of that debt on his shoulders like a king saddled with his heavy mantel of responsibility to serve the people who had raised him to that high position.

“I’m grateful that you have lifted me out of poverty,” he said, straightening and squaring his shoulders, staring straight ahead, solemn and dutiful. “I’ll keep striving to improve.”

But the truth about sovereign rulers was that they didn’t owe anybody anything. Nobody raised them to their lofty positions; they used others to raise to themselves to those heights. It was entirely by their own ruthless cunning.

You want me to follow my dreams after graduation?

Don’t worry. I will.

And I’ll be using any means necessary.

 

Jojo was looking down at that stone mask, his demeanor embarrassed and uncertain, and Dio had determined that it was a situation where Jojo was craving reassurance.

And Dio would give Jojo everything he wanted, just so that when he killed Jojo and took it all away he’d have the satisfaction of seeing in Jojo’s eyes the way his world crumbled down around him.

“Well, I suppose I somewhat understand why you’re so interested in that mask,” Dio said. “My mother was the one who taught me to read, after all. In both English and in French. And as I’m sure you’ve noticed, reading is still my hobby.”

And the information was all true, but the sentiment itself was a lie.

He read books because he liked to. His mother had nothing to do with it.

 

Jojo couldn’t shake the feeling of uneasiness that was overtaking him.

His father said he was getting better, but he looked and sounded worse, his skin pale and perspiring, his expression strained, like he was in more pain than he was trying to let on.

It was only a cold. Why has it gotten this bad?

He would’ve felt better if his father were in the hospital. But Dio said that hospitals were only out for profits, and Dio was always right about such things. (Jojo wondered if he knew it from his law classes or from his experiences on the streets.)

Dio had been right about their Father hearing about their victory from an old college friend before they had the chance to tell him, too. And even though Dio turned the fact that they’d rushed home to be the first to tell him into a joke, acting like it didn’t bother him, and even though Jojo laughed along, there was a tightness in his chest; he knew how important the victory had been for Dio and how much Dio had wanted to be the one to tell their Father about it.

Dio had an aptitude for acting like he didn’t care about things, for acting like nothing bothered him, like nothing could ruffle him. Like he was untouchable. He was always trying to cover up the slightest trace of what he perceived to be weakness.

Jojo suspected it was another product of Dio having grown up in the slums, where any sign of weakness was like blood in the water and a demeanor of callousness was both sword and shield.

It made his heart ache.

 

“Your mother… you loved her very much, didn’t you, Dio?” Jojo had asked, softly. It had just been a hunch, but Dio’s demeanor was vicious whenever he mentioned anything else about his past, while whenever he mentioned his mother something about him seemed to soften.

And Dio hadn’t met his gaze, staying silent for several long moments. “It was a long time ago, and to be honest I don’t have many memories of her,” he’d said finally, quietly. “I was quite young when she died.”

And Dio had gone silent again for a long moment, turning away from Jojo, and his bangs had fallen over eyes.

When he’d spoken again his voice had barely been a murmur. “But she didn’t beat me like my dad did, and she would try to protect me from him, so I certainly wasn’t happy when he drove her to death.”

 

And George said: “I’m very pleased. I’m proud to have such excellent sons.” And then he looked specifically at Dio. “You’ve come especially far, Dio. Follow your dreams after graduation. I’ll support you in every way. You’re family.”

It was a statement of love and assurance, but Jojo’s gut twisted painfully, because Dio reacted to the words like their Father was threatening to take it all away from him if he didn’t live up to certain expectations.

Dio straightened, squaring his shoulders, staring straight ahead, his tone deepening and flattening, and it was odd because Jojo knew that Dio had never had any military training, and yet he looked and sounded exactly like a soldier.

“I’m grateful that you have lifted me out of poverty. I’ll keep striving to improve.” It was like he was acknowledging a command.

And Jojo looked at him, thought about Dio’s expressed hatred of being human, was reminded of the stone mask he was studying and its mysterious spines that struck the brain in such specific locations, and he felt a vague but overpowering sense of fear.

He still hadn’t told Dio about the mask’s secret or his suspicions regarding its purpose.

He didn’t think he should.

 

Dio had only mentioned his father’s beatings and his mother trying to prevent them because he knew it would increase Jojo’s pity for him.

The more Jojo pitied him the more he seemed to fall in love with him. For whatever absurd reason.

Jojo was a fool.

“Dio…” Jojo said, and there were tears in his eyes, brimming and starting to trail down his cheeks. “I didn’t know… I’m so sorry…”

Dio had only come to the library to get another book. He didn’t want to deal with Jojo’s crying. He didn’t want to actually have to deal with Jojo’s asinine, self-righteous pity.

“Leave it,” he said, waving a hand dismissively, knowing he could be as dismissive and callous as he pleased because Jojo would believe he was just acting in order to try to cover up his emotional pain or some stupid sentiment like that. “They’re both dead, so it doesn’t matter anymore.”

Jojo was still staring at him with soggy eyes and crying silently, and Dio left him like that, turning and leaving the room. “Good luck with that mask.”

Not that he’d ever get a chance to finish his work on it. He’d be dead long before that.

 

Their father needed his rest in order to recover and so they’d left, Dio retiring to his room with a book—a different one than the one he’d been reading the day before, which he must’ve finished already—while Jojo went to their extensive, multi-level library to do more research on his mother’s stone mask.

And the mask may have made him think about his mother, but the library always made him think about Dio. Dio read so voraciously, Jojo figured it couldn’t be more than a few more years before he’d read every book they owned, though they must’ve had tens of thousands. But there were times he’d seen Dio read through three books in a day.

Jojo had no idea how Dio managed to read so much. Especially while still maintaining the best grades at their university, and training enough to excel at sports on top of all that.

Dio was truly on a level all his own. Jojo was unendingly amazed by him.

Jojo himself felt like he could hardly find the time to research his mother’s mask. He had no choice but to work late hours into the night, cutting into the time he should’ve been sleeping, and his grades these past couple years since he’d started working on the mask on the side had fallen slightly because of it.

He knew that Dio often skipped out on sleep as well—Jojo suspected that often times Dio got even less sleep than he did—but it never seemed to affect Dio any. It was like Dio was utterly determined to surpass his humanity.

But soon they’d both be graduated, and maybe Dio would be able to go easier on himself when he didn’t have classes and grades to worry about. And Jojo would have more time to work on figuring out the mask’s secrets.

He was getting close. He could feel it.

He took a knife, made a small cut on the forefinger of his right hand, let a drop of blood fall onto the stone mask. The dark red drop landed on the mask’s right cheek, splattered slightly, dripped over the light gray stone in a dark red line that threatened to reach the table.

But it never did, because the mask trembled and then jumped up as curved spikes sprung out of its sides.

Even after how many times he’d triggered the mask it still made Jojo pull away slightly, his heart beating faster.

What purpose could the mask have been created for?

He never even had to clean up the blood. The stone absorbed it, somehow.

Jojo put down his knife, looking over at a framed photo of his mother on the table next to him. Where had she acquired this mask, and why? Had she known about the mysterious way it reacted to blood?

If she had, she hadn’t told his father about it. If his father had known he would probably have warned Jojo, but he hadn’t, and when Jojo had questioned him about the circumstances by which his mother had acquired the mask his father hadn’t been able to tell him much. She’d bought it up at an auction in London, but she hadn’t given an explanation beyond the fact that it would look delightful the wall of their foyer.

According to his father she hadn’t been particularly interested in archaeology, and from everything his he’d told Jojo about her, his mother she sounded like the kind of person who would never own a mask that had the capability to hurt anyone.

Jojo was sure that he was the only one who knew about it. He’d discovered the mask’s reaction to blood entirely by chance not long after he started trying to research it. He used to pick at his hangnails when he was anxious or thinking and wasn’t paying attention, and he’d peeled one so much it started bleeding and he hadn’t noticed until he’d accidentally smeared some on the mask.

As he’d reached alarmed for a handkerchief to wipe off the blood the mask had started trembling in his hand, and luckily Jojo had dropped it in surprise, because otherwise it would probably impaled him through the palm.

He’d very consciously stopped picking at his hangnails after that. It wouldn’t do to trigger the mask on accident.

His research on the mask intensified, what had been a simple curiosity about the mask’s creation and origins becoming a burning desire to figure out its secrets.

He hoped that one day he’d bee able to solve the mask’s riddle and stir up a sensation.

But he hadn’t told anyone about the way the mask reacted to blood yet. Not his father, and not even Dio. At first because he thought his father would force him to stop and that Dio would think he was crazy, but now, as his suspicions about the purpose of the mask grew, it seemed more imperative than ever that he not tell anyone, not until he was absolutely sure. If he told his father when he didn’t have proof, his father would probably think he was crazy; and if he told Dio…

Dio got so desperate and frustrated, sometimes. He pushed himself so hard—achieved so much and yet still seemed to feel so worthless, like it was never and could never be enough. If he knew there might actually be a way to alter his mind beyond what was human…

The locations of the brain that the mask’s spines hit were so specific, it couldn’t be an accident. If the mask were just a device for killing, the spines could stab anywhere, it wouldn’t matter. But the spines were targeted—the frontal lobe, Broca’s area, the motor strip, the sensory strip, the temporal lobe, Wernicke’s area, the parietal lobe, the occipital lobe, the thalamus and the hypothalamus…

It couldn’t be an accident. When Jojo used the mask on differently sized and shaped dummy heads (he’d bought them from a hat shop), the spines actually adjusted themselves so that they always hit the same spots.

But what result the mask might have, if it were used on an actual person… in order to not kill them… there was something, he was sure, something with the brain and blood, the brain and bloodflow, the functions of the brain and human evolution…

Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. It was still the talk of the science world, and he knew that they owned it, because he remembered that Dio had been reading it seven years ago, when he’d still been trying to tear apart and take over Jojo’s life.

The library, despite being so huge, was pretty well organized. There were shelves dedicated to certain subjects, and each shelve or section of shelves were organized alphabetically by author, and he knew that Dio was very careful about maintaining that order, always putting books back exactly where they belonged and even going out of his way to reshelve books when he found them placed in the wrong locations, cursing under his breath as he did.

(The only part of the library that wasn’t well-organized was the fiction section. The fiction shelves were a mess. Which Jojo suspected was because Dio never went in that section. He’d only ever seen Dio reading books on science, mathematics, history, philosophy, or law. It made Jojo suspect that Dio didn’t really read for fun—that he read rather as part of his constant endeavor to improve himself.)

Jojo wound his way through the maze of shelves to the natural sciences section, bringing the wheeled half-flight of stairs with him. Darwin began with a D, after all, so it would probably be on one of the higher shelves.

He set the stairs what he figured was the approximate spot, climbing up and scanning the spines, finally spotting the book a ways to his left. He’d been off about the spot slightly, but it looked like he’d still be able to reach it without climbing down and rolling the stairs over.

But when he pulled out the book he accidentally knocked over a small box that had been on the other side of it that he hadn’t seen. “Oops!” he said, staring down after it.

It was rather odd that there should be a box on the bookshelf.

When he climbed down he found that the box had been knocked open, its contents spilling over the ground. As he picked them up to put them back one of the items caught his eye.

It was a letter from Dario Brando. Dio’s father.

I probably shouldn’t read it… Jojo thought, looking down at the old letter in his hand, brown and stained, delicate with age.

But he was so curious what was written there. What Dio’s father had written to his father before Dio had come to live with them.

It couldn’t hurt…

 

Dio walked up the stairs, looking down at the tray with the medicine and a half-filled glass of water balanced on the palm of his left hand.

He took the poison out of his pocket, placed it on the tray; took the medicine from the tray, placed it in his pocket; looked up and smirked.

This was the last dose of the slow-working poison, the one that would seal Joestar’s fate. He’d live just long enough to see them graduate.

Then he’d die and be out of Dio’s way, and Dio would be on his way to the top of society.

He was almost to the top of the stairs when he heard Jojo exclaim: “Dio!”

It was abrupt and alarmed, and Dio looked over in surprise even as he kept walking up the steps, not so much as a hitch in his movements.

Jojo was standing in the path, looking at Dio with wide, alarmed eyes, his voice filled with fear and dread. “What are you doing with that medicine?”

This was interesting. It seemed Jojo had somehow had the thought that he was poisoning his father. There was no other explanation for why Jojo would ask that question and be looking at him like that.

Dio got to the top of the steps, stood there casually. “What do you mean?” he asked, keeping his voice and demeanor utterly pleasant, if slightly confused.

It should be obvious that he was bringing their father his medicine, after all.

“Have you always brought Father his medicine?” Jojo asked.

Dio spreads his hands, careful with the tray. “Yes,” he answered easily. To deny it would be suspicious. He was innocent; he had utterly no idea that Jojo was going to be accusing him of something so absurd as poisoning their father. “Why?”

Jojo held up an old piece of paper that had obviously been folded in an envelope. “I came across an old letter written by your real father,” Jojo said. He looked at the letter. “It says here, ‘I’m terribly sick. I know it will be the end of me.’”

Dio rested his right elbow on the banister at the top of the steps, tray still held in his left hand. His eyes had narrowed at the appearance of a letter from that repulsive wretch but his posture was utterly relaxed.

Jojo kept reading: “‘My chest hurts, my fingers are swollen and my cough won’t stop.’”

Why, oh why, would that drunkard see fit to list all his symptoms in the letter he’d written to Joestar?

Dio removed his elbow from the banister and turned slightly, setting the tray down on the table next to the steps. He needed to keep control of himself. It wouldn’t do for Jojo to notice him shaking with rage.

That driveling cad of a man—

Jojo had finished reading. “Those are the same symptoms as Father’s!” he cried, his voice raising. “What’s going on here, Dio?!”

So Jojo was indeed under the impression that Dio was poisoning Joestar.

Dio turned to face him, closed his eyes for a moment, opened them again.

Honestly, Jojo’s accusation was full of holes. To jump to the conclusion that Dio was poisoning Joestar simply because he had the same symptoms as that louse reported having didn’t mean anything. There were many diseases that could have such symptoms, and there was nothing at all strange about two people having the same disease. That was a defining quality of what a disease was in the first place, after all.

Jojo had no proof whatsoever. All he had was an utterly absurd suspicion.

Which was interesting in itself—Dio had thought that he’d been convincing enough in these last seven years that Jojo would never suspect something so horrible of him. So either he hadn’t been as convincing as he’d thought, or Jojo wasn’t as forgiving as he’d thought and still clearly remembered Dio’s early cruelties.

Either way, for Jojo to doubt him like this was utterly unacceptable.

Dio felt the darkness well up within him. The burning desire to destroy.

He could’ve smirked.

He was going to make Jojo feel so utterly wretched for having ever had such a blasphemous thought that Jojo would never, ever be able to forgive himself.

(And he wouldn’t be suspecting Dio of anything like this ever again.)

 

Jojo wasn’t sure what he was expecting when he read Dario Brando’s letter, but it wasn’t—

Well, he’d just been looking for answers. He wanted to see if he could learn a little more about what kind of person Dario had been, the key to the discrepancy between his father’s regard for Dario as a hero whom he owed his life and all his respect and gratitude and then Dio’s clear loathing for the man he seemed to consider to be the lowest and most horrid example of humanity.

He didn’t get very far through the letter, though, before what was written there struck him with horror as he had a terrifying thought.

There’d been something so strange and unnatural about his father’s illness, it had worsened so suddenly and without apparent cause, and to read the same symptoms described by Dario, Dio’s father, whom he knew Dio had hated with a burning passion—

From the way Dio had always talked about his real father, the way he’d always looked so incredibly murderous, Jojo had long suspected that Dio may have killed his father by poisoning him.

So when he read that Dario had had the same symptoms as his father, he had the absolutely terrifying thought that Dio was poisoning him, too. It was a fear and panic that seized Jojo, that his heart stop and a chill travel all the way down to his bones.

Dio had changed so much since he’d first come to live with them—he was kind, he was funny, he was sweet, he was caring, he was loving—and yet there were still moments, still moments where was a ferocious glint in in Dio’s eyes, a cruel twist to his lips, a burning ambition simmering beneath his words, and Jojo couldn’t help but remember Dio so effortlessly tearing a gaping hole into his life and then stepping into it, twisting it around him till it fit him like a glove.

But no, Jojo thought, surely Dio wouldn’t—?

But then, as he’d been walking down the hall with letter in hand, still reeling from his thoughts and feeling cold to the bone, he’d seen Dio walking up the stairs with his father’s medicine on a tray.

And it was like a bolt of frigid-cold lightning had struck through him, all his fears confirmed.

Dio is… Dio is…!

“Dio!” he cried, and Dio looked over at him in surprise. “What are you doing with that medicine?”

And Dio got to the top of the stairs and stepped onto the second floor, turning to face him, tray balanced gracefully on a hand, his posture relaxed and his demeanor mild. “What do you mean?”

Like usual, Dio looked like he could’ve been the subject of a grand painting—dark gray pants that casually hugged the muscles of his quads and calves, a dark blue vest that brought out the yellow-gold of his hair and matching cravat and made his skin look almost as pale as the white long-sleeve button-down shirt that casually emphasized the muscles of his forearms, biceps, and shoulders, shirt and vest tucked into his pants, a belt pulling his clothes close and emphasizing his lean waist.

His easy and graceful stance could’ve been the pose of a dancer before the beginning of a dance, and the dark rosewood mahoganies, Tyrian purples, and Aruba green-blues of the wall behind him made his figure glow in the unnatural white light of the arc lamps.

He was stunning, and it made Jojo feel all the more pained and cold. Had he been so blinded by Dio’s charm that he hadn’t noticed that he was… that he was…

The red tones of the Tyrian purple wall behind him made his gold-orange eyes look almost scarlet.

“Have you always brought Father his medicine?” Jojo’s voice shook slightly.

Dio spreads his arms, a smooth motion that barely made the water in the glass on the tray shake. “Yes. Why?” He was smiling, looking mild and slightly confused. But if he was really poisoning Jojo’s father—it was so weird not to think of him as their father—then he was a better actor than Jojo would’ve given him credit for—

Jojo held up Dario’s letter, and it was all he could do to keep his hand from shaking. “I came across an old letter written by your real father. It says here,” and he turned to look at the page, reading aloud: “‘I’m terribly sick. I know it will be the end of me. My chest hurts, my fingers are swollen and my cough won’t stop.’”

He looked away from the letter back to Dio, who’d set the tray down on the table beside him.

“Those are the same symptoms as Father’s!” Jojo said. “What’s going on here, Dio?!” His heart was pounding in his chest.

And Dio turned from the table to look at him expressionlessly, closed his eyes like he trying to gather himself, opened them again and he’d lost his composure. His scarlet-looking eyes glimmered, bright with the water from gathering tears.

“I… I didn’t want to tell you…” Dio said shakily, and his left hand lifted up by his face and then hovered there, like he wanted to hide behind it but had stopped himself. “Of course I noticed that the symptoms were the same… and whatever this disease is, my real father died from it…”

And Dio lost all the composure he’d managed to maintain, throwing out his arms and looking at Jojo with wide, wild eyes, his voice raising and cracking. “That’s why I’ve been so worried!” he cried. “That’s why I’ve been bringing Father his medicine! I wanted to make sure he took it, because I don’t…”

And Dio shook, raising his hands up to his face, looking with wild eyes through his fingers, not looking at Jojo but some indistinct point beyond him. “I don’t want Mr. Joestar to die…” Dio said, voice choking. “He’s been such a caring father to me, so much more of a father than mine ever was…”

Dio’s hands fell from his face and he looked down at them, laughing slightly, but there was no humor in the sound. “It’s ironic, isn’t it?” he asked, voice quiet and splintering at the edges. “When my real father got sick, I spent the entire time hoping beyond hope that the disease would kill him, and I was so happy when it did… and now I’ve been spending this entire time hoping beyond hope that this disease won’t kill Mr. Joestar.”

Dio looked up at him, face twisting in fear, sadness, concern, regret. “But I didn’t want to tell you because I didn’t want to worry you…” he said. “I… I didn’t want to acknowledge my fears… I’ve just been hoping our father will get better, that it won’t… that it won’t come to him… to him…” And Dio buried his face in his hands, fingers clenching in his hair, unable to even get out the word ‘dying.’

And Jojo could hardly breath, an entirely different kind of horror taking over him. “Dio, you…” his lips were dry and didn’t seem to be working correctly, and he licked them so he could continue, managing to get out: “you didn’t kill your real father?”

“I—” And Dio lifted his face from his hands and looked him—his cheeks were tear-streaked, his hands wet—and his scarlet-orange eyes were wide and utterly dumbfounded. “What?”

“I…” Jojo swallowed. “From what you’ve said in the past, I was always under the impression that you had…”

“That I’d killed him?” Dio asked, and then he laughed, the sound utterly mirthless. “Hah! You have no idea how many times I fantasized about doing just that! I wish I’d had the courage to kill him!” Dio’s grin was wide and empty, his eyes bright and full of self-loathing. “But no, I just waited like a coward for that illness to kill him for me…”

Jojo felt like something was constricting him. “Dio…”

“Jojo…” Dio said, and his laughter had stopped, his empty grin fallen away. He was looking down at the ground, bangs fallen into his face, hiding his eyes. His tone was low and even.“Were you implying that you thought I poisoned my father, and that I’ve been poisoning Mr. Joestar?”

And Jojo felt dread pool heavily in his stomach. “I…”

“You…” And Dio shook slightly, reaching up a hand, clenching it in his bangs, his voice lowering even further, his other arm wrapping around his waist. “You really think so low of me, that you think I would poison the man who raised me like a real father, who saved me from poverty and has been nothing but kind to me?” he asked, and his voice cracked painfully. He began shaking even harder, like an autumn leaf in the wind just barely clinging to its limb.

Dio’s voice was breaking. “E-even though he has to know how h-horrible my real father was—that he w-was trying to rob Mr. Joestar that night of the accident that killed your mother—that it was n-never his i-intention to save Mr. Joestar…”

Dio’s left hand clenched in the fabric of his shirt, his right hand clenching in his bangs, his knuckles pale as bone, and he looked up just slightly, wide, deep-orange eyes just visible around his hand, staring blankly. “Mr. J-Joestar has to know that, and yet he st-still took me in, treating me like I were his own s-son…”

And Dio’s eyes focused wildly on Jojo’s face and he threw out his arms. “Why would I kill him?!” he cried, and the tears were glimmering at the corners of his gold-orange eyes, threatening to spill over. “What possible reason could I have for wanting to do that?! How could you think that I would…?” His expression twisted in agony and he hid his face behind his hands.

Jojo felt horrible. He felt so unbelievably horrible. He was a horrible person. How could he have possibly thought something so horrible about Dio? How could he even have had that thought? Yes, Dio had been cruel when he’d first arrived and he’d tried to destroy Jojo’s life, but he’d been cruel by circumstances, molded into that by the world he’d grown up in, and after Jojo had refused to fight him and kissed him and Dio had started realizing that there were alternatives and that it was okay to care for others and be cared for he’d changed, he’d changed so much, it was so obvious that he was a completely different person now, so clear that he cared for their father—their father—so clear that he loved Jojo, and Jojo loved him, Jojo loved him so much, so how could he have possibly thought something so horrible of him as to poison their father? Dio was right, he had absolutely no reason to, and even if stressful circumstances sometimes caused him to revert to tendencies from the slums it was clear that whenever that happened Dio did all he could to control himself, that he was trying, trying to be better—

Dio was always trying to be better, always trying to improve himself, he tried harder than anyone Jojo had ever known, cared more than anyone Jojo had ever known, and Jojo had

Jojo had promised himself and Dio that he would be the one who would believe in Dio and be there for him no matter what.

Only horrible people were capable of having horrible thoughts.

Jojo was no gentleman at all.

“Dio, I’m sorry,” he choked out, and his heart was shredded and bleeding in his chest. He was horrible. He was so unbelievably horrible. “I… the symptoms were the same, and that surprised me, I wasn’t thinking—”

Dio laughed without mirth, dropping his hands from his face, staring at Jojo with that utterly empty grin. “And it really seemed more likely to you that I would be trying to poison our Father than that he and my real father happened to contract the same disease?” he asked, and it was obvious that he was trying to act like this didn’t hurt him, but he couldn’t hide the way his gold-orange eyes were bright with agony. “My father was old when he died, and Mr. Joestar is also getting on in years… when you’re old even a cold can turn into something far more dangerous…”

Dio shook, empty smile faltering, his desperate facade threatening to shatter into pieces. “And yet it still seemed to you that it was more likely that I would…?”

Jojo’s chest had been gouged clean open. “Dio, I’m so sorry,” he choked out, “I honestly didn’t—”

Dio had turned away from him. “Is it because of my lowly birth?” Dio asked. His voice was flat and dead. “Is that why you think I’d do something so base and criminal? Or is it because of what I did to you seven years ago?”

And Dio laughed, the sound empty and self-loathing. “Even after all these years, have I not been able to live that down?” he asked. His sneered, eyes blazing as he slammed his fist into the pillar at the top of the staircase beside him. “Damn it, my thirteen-year-old self was so stupid! I hate him! I hate that I’m the same person as him! I hate that—” And Dio trembled, staring with wide, unseeing eyes, teeth gritted, utterly overcome with fury. “I hate that that disgusting, cruel man’s blood flows in my veins! I can’t stand it! That I was sired from such a vile human—!”

And Dio backed up unsteadily, staring down at his hands, shaking uncontrollably. “How could I be anything but vile myself?!”

His every word was another whiplash flaying the skin from Jojo’s chest.

“Dio, no!” he cried, stepping forward, desperate and utterly horrified. “That’s not true! That’s—!”

“You thought I would poison Mr. Joestar!” Dio cried, whirling on him. His eyes were pits of torturing hellfire. “You wouldn’t think that if I weren’t vile in some way!”

“No!” Jojo cried. The ground was crumbling beneath him. “Dio, I swear! I’ve never thought that! I simply got scared, I wasn’t thinking—!”

“But you doubted me,” Dio said, staring into his eyes. “You doubted me, Jojo. You can’t deny that.”

Jojo’s heart had fallen out of his body. “I…”

And Dio turned abruptly, snatched something off the tray, stepping in front of Jojo and holding out his hand, flame-colored eyes hard and determined.

“Take it!” he said.

And Jojo blinked, thrown. “What?”

“The medicine,” Dio said, turning his hand over so the back of his hand was towards the ground, opening his fingers to show the small white packet. “Take it. Have it analyzed to see if it’s poison.”

“What?” Jojo said, his eyes wide as he met Dio’s gaze, shaking his head. “No, I can’t—!”

Dio’s eyes blazed in fury. “If Mr. Joestar dies after I’ve been bringing him his medicine, and you never analyzed it, you’ll always have the doubt, Jojo! You’ll always be wondering if I poisoned him! I refuse to accept that possibility! I can’t—” And Dio choked on his words, tears gathering again in his eyes, making them glitter like liquid amber. “I wouldn’t be able to stand it if you had even the slightest doubt that I could have possibly been…”

“No, Dio,” Jojo said, taking a step back, “I really don’t—!”

“Jojo!” Dio snapped at him, eyes hardening, a sneer curling his lips. “Don’t give me that! You’re the one who doubted me! The least you could do is see your accusation through to the end!” And Dio stepped forward, grabbing Jojo’s hand and forcing him to take the packet of medicine, looking up and holding Jojo’s gaze. “Affirm once and for all whether I poisoned him or not!”

Jojo’s heart hurt. It hurt. It hurt more than he could ever remember anything hurting in his entire life. “Dio…” He could barely speak. He could barely breath.

“I won’t bring Mr. Joestar his medicine again,” Dio said, stepping back, away from him. “The butler can do it, or you can do it yourself, Jojo. I won’t…” And Dio looked away, hands clenching at his sides. “I won’t even go near him… I can’t…”

“Dio, don’t be absurd!” Jojo cried, and it was like someone had taken the knife that was stabbed into his heart and twisted it. “That isn’t—!” And he reached out for Dio, either to put a hand on his shoulder or to hug him, he wasn’t even sure, he just needed to do something.

But Dio slapped his arm away, blood-amber eyes blazing. “Don’t touch me!” he cried. His gaze was furious and disgusted, and Jojo pulled back, sure that that was directed at him.

And he deserved it. He’d utterly let Dio down. What kind of a friend and lover would doubt their best friend and loved one like he had? He was horrible. He was so unbelievably horrible.

But as Dio stumbled back away from him, his eyes wide and wild as he looked down at his hands, fingers tensed and bent, it became clear that his fury and disgust was all directed at himself.

And that hurt Jojo so much worse than if Dio had been furious at him.

Dio should be furious with him.

But instead, Dio was choking on self-loathing.

“That—that repulsive lowlife’s blood flows in my veins, I can’t…” Dio trembled violently. “I wish I’d killed him.” His hands were so tense it looked like his tendons were going to pull out of his skin, his teeth gritted and lips pulled in a terrible sneer, his eyes lurid and unseeing. “I wish I’d killed him.”

Dio stared down at his hands in utter loathing, as if they were the hands of a monster, tears falling from his wide orange-gold eyes and splashing glistening into his palms. “Maybe that would’ve washed away this bloody taint I just can’t seem to get rid of…”

It was like someone had reached into Jojo’s ribcage and ripped his heart right out of his chest. “Dio…” There was the taste of salt in his mouth. He couldn’t speak. He felt like he was dying.

Dio closed his eyes, forcibly relaxing his hands, slowly lowering his arms to his side. “Do whatever you want with that medicine, Jojo,” he said, dully, quietly. “You shouldn’t take suggestions from the suspect anyway.” He opened his eyes. They were empty and dead.

“I’m going to my room,” he said. “If you need to have me arrested for attempted murder, that’s where you’ll find me.”

He walked towards Jojo, not looking at him. Jojo was frozen. He couldn’t move.

Dio walked past him.

Jojo’s eyes were wide, staring down at the floor. The packet of medicine burned in the palm of his hand.

I messed up, was all he could think. I really, really messed up.

 

Dio was barely able to make it back to his room before he collapsed against the door, stifling a laugh behind his head.

Damn, Jojo’s face—he’d looked as if everything he loved and cared about were being destroyed in front of him. And oh, how utterly satisfying.

To think that Dio could accomplish with a fake few tears and an improvised sob-story what he couldn’t accomplish seven years previous with all his careful planning and calculated attacks on Jojo’s confidence and reputation.

Jojo’s profound capacity for caring for others was truly both an astonishing strength and a crippling weakness.

And Dio let himself laugh, though he kept a hand over his mouth to muffle the sound. It was unlikely that anyone would hear him, but if they did it should sound like sobs.

That had been perfect. Probably the best performance of his life, and Jojo had fallen for it completely. Jojo would never, ever forget that encounter, would never forgive himself for it. It would be even easier to manipulate Jojo henceforth; the slightest reminder of this conversation and Jojo would be overwhelmed by guilt and getting down on his knees before Dio, ready to do absolutely anything to make it up to him.

It really had been to Dio’s good fortune that Jojo had stumbled across that letter, and that he’d had the suspicion that Dio was poisoning his father before he stumbled across any actual proof.

And now Jojo would take the substance packet to the university, and he’d be faced with the hard fact that it was indeed the correct medicine, and any doubt he could possibly have still harbored even after Dio’s emotional performance would be completely and irrevocably dispelled.

Dio’s laughter finally subsided, and he leaned back against his door, pulling the packet of poison out of his pocket; when he’d snatched the packet off the tray to give to Jojo, he’d switched it with the medicine that he’d placed in his pocket, an easy bit of sleight-of-hand.

He hadn’t grown up in that squalid shithole for nothing—he could pick-pocket with the best of them. And he knew exactly where he could get such poison and how to successfully acquire it without getting himself killed.

His lips thinned as he regarded the packet of Chinese poison. It was safe out of Jojo’s hands, at least, but now there was the problem of how to successfully administer it to Joestar. He couldn’t very well switch it with the medicine as he’d been doing, at least not while bringing Joestar the tray.

It was possible he could switch it with the medicine before someone else brought the tray to Joestar. If he could figure out where that butler kept Joestar’s medicine and then switch it out there… but there was likely a large supply of medicine, and he only had the one packet left…

Honestly, the fact that this had to happen at all, even if it did bring Jojo further under his thumb, was still aggravating. This was the last packet of poison that Joestar needed to ingest in order to ensure his timely death. Dio had been so close.

And yet there was no use bemoaning it. He’d figure out a solution. But at any rate, there wasn’t anything he could do about it at that very moment. He’d have to wait at least until Jojo came back with the results after vising the university. Which at the earliest would be midday of the morrow, if Jojo went out as early as possible the next morning.

Well, Dio had time. He could afford to be patient. It wasn’t imperative that Joestar should die as early as conceivably possible. It was possible that Joestar was sick enough that he may die anyway, even without the last dose of poison.

Dio would simply prefer if he were able to administer the last dose to him in a timely fashion so that he could be one-hundred percent certain.

But in the meantime, he wanted to get a start on reading the two volumes of John Lloyd Stephens’ Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land.

By the time Jojo knocked on his door the following day, Dio had finished the 232 pages of the first volume and started in on the slightly longer second volume. He was at the top of page 19, on which Stephens was describing being solicited by the Arabs to cure such irremediable maladies as blindness and deafness, simply because he was a stranger and the ignorant Arabs believed every stranger to be a hakim, a physician that used traditional remedies, and Jojo’s knock interrupted him in the middle of a sentence, sending a spike of annoyance through him.

“Dio,” came Jojo’s voice through the door. “It’s me.”

He glanced at the sun out the window. Jojo was back earlier than he had expected.

Jojo must have left when it was still dark out, in order to get to the university lab as soon as it opened. Dio suspected that Jojo must’ve felt so horrible he hadn’t been able to sleep at all.

Dio could’ve smirked.

Swiftly and silently, he slipped Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land under his pillow, taking a book he’d left on the bedside table for exactly this purpose and lying down on his back on the bed, opening the book to somewhere around the middle and placing it over his eyes, folding his hands over his ribcage.

“I—I had the university analyze the medicine,” Jojo ventured, when Dio didn’t answer. “They confirmed that it was medicine and not poison.” Jojo paused, waiting. Dio remained silent.

“Dio,” came Jojo’s voice, soft and uncertain. “Can—can I come in?”

“The door’s unlocked,” Dio said, and he kept his voice flat and inflectionless.

There was the sound of the door opening. “Dio, I—” Jojo started, before he stopped. “Uh,” he said eloquently. There was the sound of the door closing, of the soles of Jojo’s boots scuffing the floor as he turned. “What are you doing?” he asked, timid and worried. “Are you okay?”

He was no doubt referring to the fact that Dio was lying on his bed with a book over his face.

Dio reached up slowly, removing the book from his face, slowly sitting up. “I was reading,” he said, carefully setting the book on the bedside table that was closer to Jojo. “Then I got tired of it.”

Jojo tilted his head slightly, eyes glancing at the cover, his brow furrowing. “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?” he asked, a clear note of confusion in his voice. His eyes moved to Dio’s face, his expression searching. “Isn’t that a work of fiction? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you read a work of fiction…”

“I don’t usually read fiction, you’re right,” Dio said. Reading fiction was a waste of precious time; there was absolutely no benefit to it at all.

But he kept the disgust from his face, reaching over and ghosting a hand over the cover of the book, as if it were something that actually mattered to him.

“But this was my mother’s favorite book,” he said, and he softened his voice, making sure to pull his lips in melancholy smile, blinking his eyes as if they were stinging with the beginnings of tears. “I like to reread it from time to time. It reminds me of her.”

He did remember his mother reading the book to him when he was young. He had no idea if it was actually her favorite, though. It didn’t matter.

“I…” Jojo sounded choked. What an emotional sap. “I understand.”

Good. The more Jojo thought that he understood Dio, the more he deeply he cared about him. Especially with things like this, which Jojo related to himself and his own experiences, resulting in him feeling closer to Dio.

And Jojo’s mother was a soft spot for him, as evidenced by the fact that he was researching that dull stone mask simply because it had belonged to her, so Dio pulled his lips into a wry, melancholy smile, saying: “And the book is almost as strange as that stone mask. So I can’t really judge you for your fascination with it.”

Something else for Jojo to believe they shared. And demonstrating a little understanding of Jojo’s feelings regarding something that was so important to him would drive the knife of guilt deeper into his chest, reminding him of how horribly he’d misjudged Dio.

“Dio, I… how can I make it up to you?” Jojo asked, and yes, his voice was trembling and catching like he might start crying. “Having doubted you like that…”

But Dio wasn’t done twisting that knife in and driving it in deeper.

“It doesn’t matter,” he exhaled, low and resigned. He waved a hand demonstratively, keeping the movement fluid, languid, disconsolate. “When I first came here I tried to ruin your life, after all. It makes sense that even now you wouldn’t be able to trust me completely—not after all the horrible things I did.” He lowered his hand, slow and controlled, lay it lightly on the bed beside him, curled his fingers, scrunching the sheets in his grip.

He curved his lips slightly, curling the left side of the smile slightly higher than the right so it would come off as wry, and he kept his stare dull and unfocused, eyelids lowered slightly as if he were depressed, exhausted, self-loathing. “Stuff like that doesn’t just go away.”

“That’s no excuse!” Jojo exclaimed predictably, everything about him distressed, indignant, pained, from the scrunching of his face to the cracking of his voice as his tone raised. “Stop trying to excuse my behavior, Dio! It was horrible of me!”

And Dio kept his resigned and self-loathing expression in place, shrugging his shoulders tiredly. “It’s human,” he said, repeating the line that Jojo had so often tried to comfort him with.

As if that made anything better.

(Being human was the problem.)

Satisfyingly, Jojo couldn’t think of anything to say, looking down at Dio with widened eyes, looking slightly shocked, as if he’d just been slapped.

And Dio let his smug satisfaction curl the left corner of his lip higher, but he kept his eyelids lowered tiredly as he met Jojo’s gaze, knowing the expression would come off as wry. “Being human is horrible, is it not?”

And Jojo stared at him. Opened his mouth, closed it again. “I-I don’t…” His face was pulled in distress and confusion and he was clearly struggling. “I don’t think that’s…”

It was all Dio could do to keep from laughing at him.

Dio let the vindictive amusement out as a low sigh, letting himself fall back so he was lying down on the bed again, throwing an arm over his face to hide the curl of his lips. He took a moment to gather himself, making sure his voice would be perfectly under his control.

“Seriously, though,” he said, voice perfectly dull, and he kept his left arm flung over his face, lifting his right from the bed beside him to wave it dismissively. “Don’t worry about it. Like I said, I did horrible things to you when we were younger.” He let his right hand fall back to the bed, and he lowered his voice even further, making sure to sound utterly exhausted. “So let’s just call it even now, shall we? I did horrible things to you that were wrong of me to do, and you thought horrible things about me that were wrong of you to think.” Another dismissive wave of his right hand. “We’re even.”

He kept his right hand hanging limply in the air for a moment before lowering it, removing his left from his face and folding both his arms behind his head, staring dully up at the ceiling. He didn’t look at Jojo.

“I… I guess…” Jojo said, shifting slightly in Dio’s peripheral vision, clearly wanting to say something but not knowing how to proceed.

Dio would stay silent and let him struggle.

“Is…” Jojo started. He paused. “Is it a good book?” he asked finally. “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?”

Jojo trying to switch to a topic that he thought was of emotional value to Dio, trying to connect with him and reestablish a semblance of care and understanding between them as a way to show that he still loved Dio despite having suspected him of something so terrible.

Oh, but it was satisfying to make Jojo suffer like this.

He wasn’t about to make this any easier for Jojo.

And so he answered honestly: “No. It’s not.” He pulled his left hand out from behind his head, waved it in the air above him. “Lewis Caroll was doing drugs or something when he was writing it.” He let a slight amount of annoyance and contempt enter into his voice. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Jojo was silent for a moment. “I-I see…” he said finally, sounding crushed.

It was all Dio could do not to sigh.

Perhaps he’d pushed a little too far. He didn’t want to make Jojo think this was over between them.

He should probably throw Jojo a bone to hang on to.

He curved his lips in an even, gentle smile, turning his head to look at Jojo finally, and he made sure to raise his eyelids slightly and let a soft fondness mitigate his stare and warm his voice. “Like I said, it’s as strange as that stone mask you’re so obsessed with.”

And Jojo brightened considerably, perking up and brightening like a damn dog that had just gotten a pet on the head and was now wagging its tail happily and grinning with its stupid slobbering tongue hanging out of its mouth.

“Speaking of that mask,” Jojo said, meeting Dio’s gaze with the utmost earnestness and eagerness. “There’s something I want to show you, Dio. I…”

And Dio watched curiously as Jojo pursed his lips, looking away and shifting uncomfortably, his voice becoming slightly nervous. “I-I haven’t told anyone else about this yet. I didn’t want to tell anyone until I’d completed by research, but…” And he looked back at Dio again, eyes hardening slightly in determination, voice strengthening. “But I want to tell you,” he said confidently. “To…” He looked down, nervous again. “To make up for doubting you.” He looked back up at Dio again, adding in what seemed to be full honesty: “And also because I really do just want to share it with you.”

“Oh?” Dio said. His curiosity was piqued. And it was strategically the best course of action to take the olive branch Jojo was offering.

Dio sat up, then rose to his feet, rolling his shoulders, putting a hand on his neck and tilting his head first one way and then the other, obviously readjusting his posture after having been lying down on the bed so long. He looked at Jojo and gave a small but gentle smile. “Well, I have no interest in archaeology so I can’t promise that I’ll be able to properly appreciate whatever it is you want to show me,” he dropped his arm from his neck, spreading his hands, brightening his smile slightly, “but if it’s that important to you, then let’s see it.”

And Jojo smiled at him in obvious happiness and relief. “Thank you, Dio” he said, and he looked like he might actually cry from gratitude, his eyes becoming slightly watery.

Dio was caught between wanting to smirk and wanting to scoff.

He smiled. “Naturally,” he said. It was probably a good time to start actively repairing their good standing from his end.

Jojo opened the door for him, and as Dio stepped out he paused to place a hand lightly on Jojo’s cheek, brushing his thumb beneath Jojo’s left eye, smiling gently, forgivingly. “And you shouldn’t look so down, Jojo,” he said. “It doesn’t suit you.” He tapped a finger against Jojo’s lips and smiled wider. “Where’s that idiot grin I’ve grown so fond of, huh?”

And Jojo smiled at him, the tears of happiness and relief starting to spill from his eyes down his cheeks.

There was no one in the hallway but them and Dio circled his fingers around to bring them lightly beneath Jojo’s chin against his throat, stepping close and tilting his head up to kiss Jojo briefly, tenderly on the lips.

He stepped back, regarding Jojo as Jojo started crying in earnest, sniffling and rubbing at his eyes with his knuckles even as he smiled, happy but fragile.

There was the taste of salt in Dio’s mouth from Jojo’s tears.

“Eh,” he said, smiling as he reached out and brushed a thumb across the corner of Jojo’s smile, “keep working on it.”

And when Jojo suddenly stepped forward and embraced him, burying his head in Dio’s shoulder and sobbing: “I’m sorry, Dio, I’m so sorry,” Dio let him, reaching up and wrapping his own arms around Jojo’s hard, muscular body, rubbing comforting circles into his back.

“It’s okay, Jojo,” he murmured, ever so gentle. “I forgive you. It’s okay.”

And Jojo shook harder against him, clutching him tighter, utterly oblivious to the fact that Dio’s eyes were lurid with delighted bloodlust and his lips had pulled away from his teeth in a cruel, victorious smirk.

 

Dio had walked away, silent and woebegone as a ghost, and he’d left Jojo paralyzed in the hallway with lungs made of stone and a heart like a skeleton leaf.

He couldn’t sleep that night.

He curled up on his bed, but he couldn’t even muster up the energy to change out out his clothes or get under the duvet. He didn’t turn on a single lamp or light a single candle. He simply lay there in the dark, watching Dio cry and disintegrate in front of his eyes, again and again and again.

He’d always been clumsy, breaking things on accident, doing stupid things without thinking them through.

He remembered a vase shattered on the floor.

“C-can’t it be fixed?” he’d asked his father through his tears of horror and shame.

“It can,” his father had said. “But it will never be the same. When something breaks it can be repaired, but it can never go back to being unbroken.”

The packet of medicine he’d placed on his desk, glowing ghostly pale in the dark, and he could still feel where it had burned his hand when Dio had desperately pressed it there.

Jojo gave up on trying to sleep. He got up, got ready to leave. He left as soon as he was able.

The time slunk by like a stray cat through shadowed alleyways.

He remembered one of the times he and Dio had gone to London. They’d hit their growth-spurts, and they were there to get new suits tailored.

They’d been taking some of the side streets when a stray cat had dashed out of the shadows in front of them with something large in his mouth.

“That cat is eating a puppy!” Jojo had cried, dismayed and utterly, completely horrified.

And Dio had just looked at him blankly, face pulling slightly in confusion. “So?” As if it had been a totally normal occurrence.

Maybe it had been.

Jojo should’ve never gotten Dio confused with the dark parts of the city he’d grown up in.

When the university confirmed that the substance in the packet was indeed medicine with no traces of poison of any kind, it neither surprised nor relieved Jojo. He’d known that it wasn’t poison. He should’ve always known that.

Time leapt like a cat straight up to the top of a wall, disappearing over the other side.

The door to Dio’s room had seemed to loom in front of him.

The skeleton leaf of his heart threatened to tear into pieces in the violent wind of his pulse.

Dio lying there glowing pale against the the Aruba green-blues, the Tyrian purples and rosewood mahoganies of the bed, the Tyrian purples of the wall, haunting like a painting. Breathtakingly beautiful, and yet utterly dead eyes.

The children’s book he’d lifted like a bandage from his face and placed on the table, the cover illustrated with a young blond girl in a blue dress looking up at a large grinning cat perched in a tree.

“It reminds me of my mother,” Dio had said. “It’s not a good book.”

Jojo was a horrible person.

And still Dio smiled at him. Still Dio kissed him, reassured him, comforted him, even though Dio was the one who’d been broken, and it was all Jojo’s fault.

He’d always been clumsy, breaking things on accident, doing stupid things without thinking them through.

He remembered the unnatural bend of his arm, the horror and the pain.

“C-can it be fixed?” he’d asked his father through his sobs of terror and agony.

“It can,” his father had said. “It will take some time, but it will heal.”

It hurt like nothing Jojo had ever felt before and he couldn’t stop crying. “But it will never go back to being unbroken, right?”

“Humans aren’t like vases, Jojo,” his father had said. “When your arm finally heals, it will be stronger than ever before.”

He could feel the bone of Dio’s clavicle against his brow.

Maybe they could become stronger.

No—they would become stronger. Jojo would make sure of it. It had to start with him, after all; Dio always thought the worst of himself.

So Jojo would think the best of him, no matter what happened—no matter what Dio might say or what horrible suspicions might present themselves.

Jojo would believe the best of Dio until Dio was able to believe in himself, too.

And if Dio was never able to overcome his conviction that he was vile—well, then Jojo would just have to believe in him enough for the both of them.

And Jojo would start by trusting Dio with his research on the stone mask.

 

The stone mask rattled as it fell back to the table, long curved spines sticking out of it.

Dio had jumped back at the sudden movement, and his gold-orange eyes were wide as he stared at the stone mask, only then noting that the mask had sharp fangs like a vampire.

The blood that that Jojo had dropped onto it was gone.

After another few moments the mask trembled again, and then the spines retracted, the mask falling back to the desk.

Jojo was watching Dio, waiting. Apprehensive.

Dio’s eyes relaxed. He looked at Jojo, raising an eyebrow. “So it’s a toy for torturers, basically,” he said. He was almost impressed; he wouldn’t have thought that Jojo would be interested in something so morbid.

Jojo’s brow furrowed slightly. “I…” He suddenly found that his hypothesis about the purpose of the stone mask was a lot harder to voice and put into words than he’d thought. “I think it might be more than that…”

Dio spread his hands, pointed out: “What more than that could it be? Once those spikes impale your brain, you can’t be anything other than dead.”

“Yeah,” Jojo said, and he flipped open his notebook, laying it down on the table in front of Dio, pointing to the diagram he’d drawn of the human brain and the areas that would be stabbed by the masks’s spines, “but the placement of the spikes, hitting such specific parts of the brain…” Finding his confidence, he said: “It’s as if it were designed to augment the brain’s capabilities and potential.”

Dio just looked at him. That was not the kind of idea he would have ever expected to hear from Jojo. Was this some kind of a test? It was probably best to play it safe.

Drolly, he said: “I was under the impression that no matter where you get stabbed in the brain you’re going to die.”

“Well, yes…” Jojo agreed, brow furrowing deeper. His hypothesis made sense in his head, but when he had to voice it aloud, suddenly it sounded slightly foolish… and Dio’s unexpected reaction was throwing him off… he would’ve thought Dio would’ve been more interested in something that potentially had the capability of making one more than human.

Dio snorted disparagingly, spreading his hands in an elegant, dismissive gesture. There was no way he would fall for something as idiotic as this. “The ancient civilization that created that mask sure must’ve been stupid, then. It’s no wonder they died out, if they tried to evolve themselves by stabbing themselves in the brain.”

Jojo pursed his lips. “I can’t shake the feeling that there may be something to it…” How could he explain it? There was something there, he was sure of it, but…

Dio looked at him. Huh. It seemed like Jojo was saying all this in earnest, not as a test of some kind. If this really was what Jojo was spending so much of his time researching, Dio shouldn’t be too disparaging of it. It was still too dangerous to say anything that might sound like support for such a crazy idea, but he should at least be able to back out of this discussion gracefully.

And if he played his cards right he could increase Jojo’s trust in his character—which, considering Jojo’s suspicion the previous day, clearly wasn’t as solid as Dio had believed.

“Well, you’re the archaeologist, not me,” he said, and he shrugged, indicating that he really had no opinions on and no interest in any of this.

He narrowed his eyes slightly at Jojo, said pointedly: “But please don’t try it out on yourself.”

Jojo looked at him in horror. Did Dio really think he would do something like that? “Of course I wouldn’t!”

“Or on anyone else, for that matter,” Dio added. “Committing murder would be as bad as killing yourself.”

Which wasn’t strictly true; getting caught—or even simply being suspected of—committing a murder was as bad as killing yourself.

If you were going to kill someone, you had to make sure you could get away with it.

Jojo was absolutely horrified by the suggestion. “I’d never do such a thing!” he cried.

“Good,” Dio said, crossing his arms over his chest. Although how Jojo could expect to argue, much less prove, such a theory without performing any kind of live-body experiment was beyond him.

But this was Jojo’s olive branch, so Dio figured he should humor him.

“But, ah. Thank you for showing me this, Jojo,” he said, and he smiled. “I’m honored that you trust me enough to share this information with me before you’ve completely your research.”

Jojo smiled back at him, relieved. “Of course, Dio,” he said. “There’s no one else I’d share this with.” And it was true.

Dio figured it was a time for a change.

He’d utterly gutted Jojo, after all; had pulled Jojo’s heart out of his chest and torn it apart with his teeth, till Jojo could hardly see through the pain; but if he wanted Jojo to remain the marionette dancing from his finger then it wouldn’t do for Jojo to be uncertain of his affections and afraid of losing him; that fear would make Jojo unpredictable and uncontrollable, wary of the slightest change in Dio’s demeanor.

Dio needed him to be absolutely blinded by his love and desire.

He needed to make sure that Jojo didn’t have the slightest doubt of what he was to Dio.

And the best way to do that would be to bring this back to the bedroom, let Jojo apologize by bestowing all his bleeding-heart love on Dio’s body with his hands and mouth, and then flip things around and pleasure Jojo until Jojo thought he would lose his mind, unable to think of anything else aside from Dio above him, Dio moving inside him.

“There’s no one else I’d share this with,” Jojo had said.

And so Dio smiled his softest and most seductive smile. “I must really be special, then.”

Jojo looked at him. “You are,” he said. And it was true. It couldn’t have been more true.

And Dio lifted his chin and tilted his head, exposing his neck and regarding Jojo with lowered eyelids, dark lashes and eyes of rich honey-amber-gold. “Oh?” he said, and those lips curved in a smile, a pale hand gesturing gracefully in the air. “Then why don’t you come show me just how much you worship me, Jojo.”

And when he stood from where he’d been leaning back against the table, moving towards the door of the library, Jojo followed after him, taking his hand and turning him slightly to kiss him passionately.

“Gladly,” Jojo said, meeting his gaze with the heated desire and heartfelt earnestness, hands warm against Dio’s waist.

And since he knew that Jojo would interpret it as a pleased and alluring smile, Dio let himself give a satisfied smirk.

 

And when Dio smiled at him, warm and pleased and desiring, Jojo felt his heart beat even faster.

Dio was beautiful, glowing in the dim library, eyes of illuminated blood amber and gold hair falling messily, effortlessly alluring in his face, the light and shadows catching on those chiseled, graceful features, the cut of his jaw and neck, the line between his pectoral muscles that traced from his collarbones down his chest, past the unfastened buttons at the top of his shirt, disappearing beneath the collar of his dark blue vest, and the way the white shirt emphasized the broadness of his shoulders and the dark trousers the leanness of his waist; he was all lean, sculpted muscle.

He was the most beautiful person Jojo had ever seen. The most talented person Jojo had ever met, capable of absolutely anything with his iron determination and fiercely intelligent mind. The only person who could fill a room with his presence just by walking into it, who could make Jojo laugh with a word, could make his heart melt with a smile.

The only person who made Jojo feel like he could go crazy, and that if he did he wouldn’t even mind.

And yet, Dio was still flawed and human—something Jojo knew that he hated with an overwhelming passion. But even with his human frailties—his bone-deep insecurity, his occasional lapses into cruelty, his frustrated rants against humanity—Jojo couldn’t help but think that Dio was still perfect. (Or at least, as close to perfect as any human could be.)

And as Dio led him to his room, hand warm in his own, Jojo couldn’t help but wonder, achingly: What did I ever do to deserve you, Dio?

It hurt even more when he realized that Dio, hating himself as much as he did, no doubt often wondered the same thing about him.

And Jojo almost laughed slightly as he thought, In that case, maybe we really do both deserve each other.

Dio’s hand gripped his tightly and Jojo let him pull him along, smiling softly.

 

It was rather ironic, Dio thought, even as he moved in and out of Jojo’s body, maddeningly slowly, making Jojo gasp beneath him and quietly, desperately beg him for more; even as he pressed his chest against Jojo’s and lightly clenched his teeth over that absurd star-shaped birthmark on Jojo’s left shoulder, making Jojo quietly, devoutly gasp his name.

Jojo, in his effort to repair things between himself and Dio by showing him the gruesome secret of the stone mask, had just decided the method of his death.

And even as Dio brought them both to orgasm and then washed up and redressed before heading back to his own room, leaving Jojo pleasured and sated and on the verge of falling asleep, Dio was already planning his murder.

It really was ironic. He’d been stuck on how he was going to kill Jojo after Joestar finally died—this was Jojo, after all; murdering him had to be the perfect crime—and Jojo had just handed him the perfect murder weapon and even demonstrated for him how it worked.

It was like Jojo was practically asking to be killed by him.

Dio stepped into his room, closing the door behind him, leaning back against it, his lips quirking.

Maybe it was fate.

Murdering Jojo with the stone mask would truly be the perfect crime; not only would it be satisfyingly ironic, but since Jojo had been researching the mask and there were detailed studies of the spines in his notebook along with his scribbles about that brain-augmentation bullshit, his death would simply look like a research accident, like he’d decided to try the mask on himself. There wouldn’t even be a murder investigation, and so Dio would have absolutely nothing to worry about.

It really would be perfect.

Jojo’s curiosity would be the death of him, and there would be no one left between Dio and the Joestar name and fortune, and he could begin making his way up until he was at the top of society.

He’d been waiting over seven years for this.

And with Jojo’s death, Dio’s life would finally, finally truly begin.

 

“I have to go,” Dio had said, leaning over and placing a kiss on Jojo’s cheek before slipping from the bed, and Jojo hadn’t tried to keep him there.

He’d simply rolled sleepily onto his side so he could watch Dio walk naked and beautiful across the room, crossing over to Jojo’s bathroom, disappearing inside. The sound of the shower started, and Jojo was almost asleep by the time Dio stepped out, wreathed in steam and with a towel wrapped around his waste.

And Dio gathered his clothes from the floor, did his best to shake them out and brush away the wrinkles, letting the towel fall to the floor as he pulled on his clothes, stepping in front of Jojo’s mirror and adjusting the clothing until he felt that he looked presentable enough to step outside, borrowing Jojo’s comb to style his still-damp hair.

And Jojo closed his eyes so he wouldn’t have to watch him go.

But he heard Dio cross back over, felt him carefully sit on the edge of the bed, felt the brief kiss that was placed on his forehead and the fingers that brushed a few strands of loose hair behind his ear.

“I’ll see you later, Jojo, okay?” he said softly.

And then his weight shifted from the bed, and after a few moments there was the click of Jojo’s door opening, a careful pause as Dio checked on the hallway to see if anyone was there, and then the click of the door closing once Dio stepped outside; Dio’s footsteps were still as silent as ever, when he wanted them to be.

And even though Jojo still felt blissful and satisfied from their sexual activities, he couldn’t help the feeling of melancholy that swept over him afterwards, as it always did.

More than anything, he wanted to be able to fall asleep with Dio in his arms. For Dio to still be there when he woke up.

He wanted to be able to have sex without having to try his hardest to be silent. He wanted to be able to live with Dio for the rest of his life, without having to worry about being pressured to marry a wife and produce an heir. He wanted to be able to kiss Dio in the hallways and outside without having to worry about if anyone else saw them. He wanted to be able to hold his hand in public. He didn’t want to have to keep their relationship a secret.

He wanted impossible things; he knew that. He couldn’t change the world, and so Dio couldn’t stay. No matter how much Jojo would have liked him to.

At the very least, Jojo wanted a life with Dio by his side. Preferably a long life.

Between the demands and responsibilities of being a male Joestar heir and the expectations of society, and between his archaeology and Dio’s law, Jojo wondered if that would be possible.

Jojo sat up and then swung his legs off the bed, standing up. He should take a shower and get ready as well. It wouldn’t do him any good to dwell on such worries, after all. He couldn’t predict what the future would bring.

If anything came up that their threatened to destroy their life together, he’d simply have to fight for it with all he had.

 

In Italy...

Against the darkly illuminated resplendence of Italy’s night sky, deep blood-dark indigo with a silver gauze of moonlight and distant dustings of a billion burning stars, the silhouetted ruins of the once-great Roman Colosseum rose from the earth like the scorched-black remains of some huge and terrible beast long extinct.

But not everything ancient was dead.

They were convened in the heart of the skeletal Colosseum, the three figures. And if anyone had seen them there—in the center of that place of ancient glory, cast all in the dream-uncertain light of the moon—they would have thought them chiseled statues of Roman gods, cut of smooth, flawless stone, examples of the male figure at the peak of conceivable athleticism: muscle-bound and gracefully proportioned.

But any such viewer, more than simply filled with awe, would have been also chilled to the bone; the figures were steeped in aura, like remnants of a long-buried past given flesh. Around them the air seemed to reverberate with the long-faded cheers of 65,000 spectators; beneath their feet it was as if all the blood that had centuries ago spilled over that ground was seeping back out of the earth.

One of the figures moved, turning slow to cast its gaze about the ruins, the dark crumbling stone and the arches through which the night sky bled, and were someone to have been watching they would have been struck frozen and numb.

Tall and powerfully built, veins visible bulging beneath the skin of his arms and legs, a dark top that stretched over his chest and seemed to be held in place with two short swords pierced through the flesh of his prominent pectorals, and yet he moved and his muscles rippled and still he did not bleed.

But there were no spectators; the stands were empty of everything but shadows and memory.

“Many a great warrior lost their life here.” When the figure spoke, it had a voice that resonated, deep and rumbling, like great movements of the earth. “It is disheartening to see this place fallen into such a state.”

“But it is still here. As are we.” The voice was dark and satin as the night, and the figure that it belonged to seemed made of moonlight and shadow, dark cloth wrapped around the pale skin of his muscular shoulders, his neck, his throat, his head, close along his chin and jaw, over his ears and across his brow, a tuft of dark hair sticking out over one eye like a soft feather, fluttering lightly in the warm gusts of wind that ghosted through the ruins around them.

“And we will rise again,” said the figure, eyes of dark red sweeping along the uneven horizon carved into the sky by the Colosseum, gaze moving from the west across the north and then alighting in the east. “More powerful than ever before.”

A tall headpiece, out from under which pale hair seemed to be trying to escape like puffs of smoke, seemed to stir the air like a portent when the third figure moved, turning from what had been a contemplation of the empty stands.

The figure spoke: “I found the last reported location of the Stone Mask.” It was a voice that hissed and crackled like fire; a voice that burned, danced, devoured. “It had fallen into the hands of the Aztecs, a civilization of humans that flourished across the seas some six- to four-hundred years ago. It was then buried in the ruins of this civilization until an Italian archaeology team uncovered it some twenty years ago. The Mask was put up for sale at an auction, and purchased by a rich English family by the name of the Joestars.”

A tattoo of large X becoming visible on his features as he turned his head and his face that had been obscured in dark shadow was suddenly illuminated in moonlight. A gold ring glinted in his nose, two large hoops swinging from his ears and flashing. His eyes were blue as the hearts of flame. “Given what is apparently a hobby of rich humans to collect such items, it is likely that the Mask is still with the Joestars.”

He gestured, and the movement pulled at the patches of thick leather that were stitched skin, as if they were trying to restrain something hot and violent within the confines of his body. “I have tracked down the location of their address in England.”

He was gazed at for a moment by the figure wrapped in shades of night, before that gaze, red like the moon in full lunar eclipse, turned on their companion. “Wamuu?” It was a voice made all of umbra.

The figure spoken to bowed his head, the thin braided cords fringing the gold circlet around his brow falling into his face, and he crossed an arm over his chest and one of the swords impaled through his skin. “I have not been able to find any records of the movement of the Stone. It is therefore likely that it is still somewhere in Rome, but I am yet unsure as to where.”

The figure who had asked nodded, the nod of the affirmation of a decision. “Then we shall start by collecting the Mask from these Joestars.” He turned, moved through patches of moonlight and shadow like a panther; movements smooth and fluid, muscles rippling, the hem of his long black cloth hanging from his trailing behind him.

To his side moved the other two figures, the three of them crossing over the ground like the imposing harbinger clouds of a storm, dark and vibrating the air around them with latent power.

And the figure who’d wrapped darkness around himself glanced out of the corner of his eyes to the moon glowing high and pale above them, before his gazed moved to stare into the darkness ahead.

A soft curl to his lips, a tone seeped centuries in blood: “We will definitely conquer the sun.”

The deep chuckles that resonated from within the three figures made all the shadows about them dance.

Chapter Text

It had been dark for several hours, but Dio was still reading in the foyer. The lighting in the foyer was better than in his room, being one of the only rooms in which arc lamps had been installed (their lighting was much brighter than that of the kerosene lamps, but the buzzing sound and the flickering was annoying; he would have preferred to read in the library with the kerosene lamps’ warmer and softer light, but that wasn’t an option with Jojo working on that mask and making a ruckus).

Leaning back in the chair, feet propped up on the stool in front of him, one leg crossed over the other, Dio glanced at his watch; half past two.

He looked back at the original German copy of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Zur Genealogie der Moral: Eine Streitschrift in his hands, glanced at Horace B. Samuel‘s English Translation of the book on the table, the German-English dictionary alongside it. He tsked and looked back at the page of German in front of him.

G.W.F. Hegel, Carl von Clausewitz, Arthur Schopenhauer, Karl Marx. Friedrich Nietzsche—all the most interesting works of science, theory, and philosophy in the 19th century had been and were being written in German. It really was a pain.

He’d studied some German at the university, and done a fair amount of studying on his own, and he could read through Nietzsche’s writing, but it was slow-going. He could simply read the English or French translations, of course, but from his experience with English and French texts he knew that translators often made mistakes or changed the meaning of the author. It was not acceptable that he should read an inferior version. He had to read the original texts. The translations were only good for critically analyzing his own understanding of the German with the translator’s interpretation.

He forced his way through another page. German was a maddeningly challenging language; Dio was determined to conquer it. It burned deep in his gut—how much he was struggling with the text. It was humiliating. Pathetic. He should be better than this.

He needed to be better than this.

Damn my humanity.

He closed his eyes, took a deep breath in through his nose, let it out of his mouth, tilted his head up and rolled his shoulders back, forcing them to relax, leaning back in the chair.

It was fine. He was fine. He wasn‘t going to let this get to him. He was steadily improving. Soon he‘d be able to read German without any trouble except a few vocabulary words here and there. He was improving at a much faster rate than anyone else would be. His fellow classmates had been leagues behind him, unable to get the grammar structures through their thick skulls. Jojo didn’t understand German at all.

Dio opened his eyes, looked back at the page.

When he could relax, he knew that it was all worth it, even if he was stuggling with some of the sentences. Nietzsche’s ideas were truly fascinating.

He was simply restless and impatient, waiting for George Joestar to die; it was taking longer than he would have liked, as he hadn‘t been able to find a way to administer the last dose of poison. The possibility that Joestar might recover was eating at him and driving him mad.

But no, certainly there was no way—the doctors had no idea he had been poisoned, and he had not received any antidote. He would die. Not as soon as Dio would have liked, but he would most definitely die from this.

Dio continued reading, let his lip curl. Nietzsche’s ideas were only affirming what he already knew from growing up in that hellhole of London; there was no Good and Evil. There was only the Strong and the Weak. The concepts of “Good” and “Evil” were merely historical fabrications the weak had created to condemn the strong and attempt to raise themselves to positions of superiority through that fabricated system of morals, which did not even make the Weak into the Strong; it simply brought down the Strong to the same low level as the Weak. Crippling everyone for the sake of “Equality” and “Humanity.”

But humans were not all born equal. Some were wretched, and ugly, stupid and vile. And some were—

“That face, and the three moles on your ear…. You were born with the devil’s own luck.”

—some were strong.

“Dio, you…”

“I’m…?”

“You’re stunning.”

If Jojo knew what Dio was doing, he would certainly call him Evil. It made Dio want to laugh. “Good” and “Evil”—he was beyond such petty delusions. Jojo, with all his high-minded notions of love and honor, was truly a fool.

(So why was it that Jojo was so strong—?)

Jojo, always with that stupid grin on his face. Just wait till I murder you with your own archaeology project, Jojo—we’ll see who’ s the one grinning, then!

Dio had reread the same sentence three times and still not understood any of it, even though he should have. He grit his teeth, lip curling in a sneer. He was getting distracted. He needed to focus.

He clenched his left hand over the armrest of the chair. Clicked his tongue in frustration.

He needed to be patient.

He’d spent seven years patiently waiting; he could wait a few more days for Joestar to die, a few more weeks before he killed Jojo. He had time. He knew he had time.

But the damn itch under his skin, the irrational anxiety that somehow time was running out, that he needed to get the two Joestars out of his way as soon as possible—

There was the quiet sound from the front door of the handles were tried from the outside, and Dio froze, turning his head to look at the door.

He ran a quick calculation in his head; the last he’d seen of Jojo he was in the library, working on that ancient stone mask; Joestar was bedridden with illness, barely even able to sit up; Dio had been in the foyer for hours, and none of the servants had gone out. No robber would be fool enough to try the front door.

Was I hallucinating? His eyes narrowed. Perhaps he was more tired than he’d realized.

And then suddenly the doors blew open with a thundering crash, and Dio had jumped out of his chair and crouched behind it before his mind even registered what was happening.

Damn it, Dio! was his first thought, his teeth gritted and eyes wide, shock and adrenaline quickly turning to a fury blazing in his chest. Even after all these years, you still startle like a damn stray cat…!

Clenching a fist, he looked up over the arm of the chair.

One of the front doors had fallen off, and the other was hanging precariously from its hinges. And the three figures that were standing there in the doorway—

Dio desperately wanted more control over his body so he could keep his damn heart from pounding.

 

Jojo’s heart was racing.

The mask clattered on the table, curved spines extended, blood soaking into the stone. The dark, empty eyes seemed to be narrowed in hatred; the stone lips with their sharp fangs seemed to be on the verge of smiling.

Beside the mask, Jojo’s book of notes lay open on the table; sketches of the human brain, the placement of the spines, the damaged areas and the functions they controlled.

The brain… blood-flow… human limitations… the capabilities of the human brain are limited… but if you break those limiters…

The conclusion he’d just come to, underlined in pen.

Unknown abilities… unknown strength…

You wouldn’t be human anymore.

And for the first time since starting to research the mask and its mysterious reaction to blood, Jojo felt truly afraid.

“Why would I want to be human?!” Dio’s dark, empty eyes that were narrowed in hatred. “Human like that damn—?!”

Dio’s lips that had seemed to be on the verge of smiling. “It’s human, Jojo.”

And Jojo shuddered, cold tingles running from his neck all the way down his arms to his fingers, down his spine to his toes, frigid like the bite of winter in his bones and twisting his stomach in nausea as it froze.

If I solve this riddle…

A tool for making people inhuman.

The sensation that would cause…

Nothing good could come of it.

And Jojo clenched his eyes shut, shaking his head, as if he could shake the thoughts from his mind like water from his hair.

I don’t want to be known as the person who discovered a way to make people inhuman!

I don’t want—

Dio’s dark, empty eyes, his double-edged almost-smile.

And Jojo clenched his eyes tighter, pressed the heels of his hands into his eyesockets until the shifting lights in the darkness behind his lids shifted from green to red to yellow-gold and then broke out in shifting bright violet spots. He heard the mask clatter back to the table. His eyes were starting to throb, the vivid violet blemishes breaking out and fading away among all the fluctuating dust of gold.

He was going to get a headache.

When he removed his hands, for a moment bright streaks of lightning exploded in his vision along the veins and arteries of his eyelids.

Vision blurry and throbbing, he looked down at the mask, the notes he now couldn’t read. The proof of hours upon hours of time he’d spent researching this… this thing…

What am I doing? Jojo wondered. His vision was finally starting to clear, his notes coming back into focus.

Unknown abilities… unknown strength…

You wouldn’t be human anymore.

“Why would I want to be human?!”

Dio with tears glittering in his eyes, streaming in rivulets down his face, expression twisted in so much pain and despair.

“It’s part of being human.”

“Human like that—?!”

And Jojo looked back at his sketches, the targeted areas of the brain. The altered blood-flow.

What is humanity without limits?

He was suddenly overcome with the urge to burn all his notes. His heart beat faster. He glanced at the crackling fireplace, felt the sweat break out on his skin.

If I—

From the front of the mansion there was the sound of a loud, violent bang, a sound like wood splintering.

Jojo’s heart skipped a beat, turning his head to look at the library door, heartbeat recovering from its stumble to race even harder than before.

Dio? was his only thought. He frowned. He knew Dio liked to read in the foyer, and that he often did so late into the night. Had he knocked something over?

Jojo stood, thinking he should go see what had happened. He was halfway to the door when he suddenly paused, glanced back at his book of notes, glanced at the fire, frowned, glanced back at the library door. Was Dio okay? Was the urge to burn his notes just a moment of uncertainty? Was it dangerous to leave it there on the table? Could he wait till later? Hadn’t that bang a moment ago sounded too loud to have been caused by simply knocking something over? Should the mask also be destroyed? What had caused that bang? Was Dio okay? Did he do something, or did something happen to him? Was it okay to go look and just leave the mask and his notes there, for anyone to find? Was it—

And there was another bang, this time accompanied by an agonized yell that was unmistakably Dio, and Jojo’s heart dropped like the stone mask clattering to the table.

He was running before he even realized it.

 

The three figures were as tall as, if not taller than, Jojo—just as muscular, if not more so.

They walked into the room like the gang leaders strode the dark streets of London; confident that they owned everything, that everyone was under their thumb. It made the darkness in Dio’s chest writhe.

He stood up, stepping around the chair. “That was rude,” he said, and his voice was dangerously cool. He had that feeling like when he was about to snap. “Haven’t you ever heard of knocking?”

The figures came to a stop, looking at him like he was scum on the bottom of their boots—it made the darkness in Dio’s chest flare like flames, threatening to fill his vision with smoke.

They were uncanny. Dressed like they were attending a formal English dinner, but they clearly weren’t English, or any other nationality Dio recognized. The one in the dark overcoat had his head wrapped up in dark, tight cloth beneath his gambler’s hat, make-up around his eyes like a woman’s. The other two figures had bold tattoos on their faces, large golden-hoop earrings. The one in the tail coat and top hat had an additional ring glinting in his lip, the one in bowler’s hat and brocade vest an additional ring looped through the flesh of his nose.

They’d broken open the front doors like they’d been nothing.

Dio’s heart was pounding. It made him even more furious.

His copy of Zur Genealogie der Moral: Eine Streitschrift had dropped to the floor when he was startled out of the chair, and he bent down, picking it up, lip curling when he saw that some of the pages had gotten folded and bent. “Tch.” He pressed a hand over the bent pages, carefully straightening them. “And I just got this book, too.”

The darkness in his chest was roaring. He had the feeling he wasn’t thinking completely straight; it only served to anger him further.

“You,” said the figure in the tailcoat, though Dio could tell at a glance that he was just a henchman; the figure in the dark overcoat and gambler’s hat with his eyes made up like a woman’s was clearly the one in charge. It was in his stance, the way he held back while the other two had stepped slightly before him, the thugs ready to do the dirty work. The one in the gambler’s hat might’ve been shorter than the other two and of a slightly slimmer build, his facial features almost feminine, but Dio knew instinctively that he was the most dangerous.

Since it was the one in the tail coat doing the talking, he was probably the lowest in status. He was also the tallest and most muscular of the three; clearly the thug of the group. Good at fighting, but not much else.

The one in the vest and bowler’s hat had the look of a right-hand man, smirking smugly, body tilted slightly towards his leader, who was looking on with cool, analyzing eyes. The right-hand men were always the most smug, feeling so proud that they’d been chosen by their leaders. They were more unpredictable than the thugs; the thugs did their jobs, loyally, blindly, absolutely; but the right-hand men felt both a debt to their leader and an incurable fear that their position of privilege in the hierarchy could be revoked at any time. They were willing to go above and beyond to try to prove themselves worthy, ready to lower themselves to any level for the sake of results they believe would satisfy their leader.

The thug, despite having at least a couple centimeters of height and ten kilograms of muscle over Jojo, would be the least dangerous. The thugs believed only in strength, and if anyone had codes of honor, it was them. Back in the dark alleys of London, their had been plenty of thugs Dio had been able to get one over simply because he’d been a child and the thugs had either hesitated or gone easy on him, underestimating him.

But the leaders and the right hand men? Honor meant nothing to them. They would never have been able to climb the ladder of power and influence if it had. They would do whatever it took. The main difference between the leaders and their right-hand men was forethought and self-control; the leaders carefully analyzed every situation, were cautious, planned far into the future, carefully evaluating every advantage and disadvantage, willing to back off when they deemed something either too dangerous or a waste of time; the right-hand men threw caution to the wind, able to think only about how best to try to please their leaders, often acting of their own accord and making moves that were dangerously unpredictable simply because they were so desperate and irrational.

Dio was confident that if it came to a one-on-one fight, he could take down the thug and the right-hand man. He could still win against Jojo when they boxed, even with Jojo’s significant height and strength advantage over him—and that was even without the street-fighting tricks he’d learned on the streets and in the booth-boxing matches.

But that was only if the fights were one-on-one, and they didn’t both attack him together. And even then, there would still be the leader, and whether he’d retreat at the defeat of his underlings or push forward depended on what they were here for and how much they wanted whatever it was they were there for.

Dio didn’t have much hope that the leader would retreat. Given the fact that the three of them had been willing to break the doors and waltz right in, it was unlikely that were they’d be willing to leave without obtaining or accomplishing whatever they’d come here for. There would be no choice but to either run or to defeat them.

And Dio didn’t run.

Still, his heart was pounding; even he, with all his skills and experience, wouldn’t be able to defeat these three colossal men in front of him. Not alone. Not as he was.

Maybe if Jojo were there. Together, the two of them might have a chance.

“Human,” said the thug, and the word struck through Dio’s mind like lightning. Painful and chilling.

‘Human’? Then they’re not—?

And the thug looked at him like he was some pathetic wretch. “Where is the Mask?”

Dio thought of the stone mask that Jojo was researching. Thought of Jojo’s words, the expression on his face, the way his lips had thinned and his brow had furrowed like something was eating at him. “I think it might be more than that… the placement of the spikes, hitting such specific parts of the brain… it’s as if it were designed to augment the brain’s capabilities and potential.”

Was that was this was about?

But Dio kept his face utterly blank and cool, knew not even a flicker of recognition showed in his narrowed eyes. “A mask? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Behind his back he’d pulled the switch-knife out of the waistband of his pants, flipped it open.

(It had almost been awkward, the first time Jojo had been kissing him and rubbing his hands over Dio’s back, sliding his hand down to the waist of Dio’s pants, stilling when he’d felt the knife there.)

(“What’s that?” Jojo had asked, pulling back, eyes wide, and Dio had reached back, pulling out the knife to show him, Jojo’s face twisting painfully. “You always carry that with you?”)

(“I don’t go anywhere without it.” Dio had slipped the knife back into its hidden pocket. “It would make me feel naked and exposed. Like walking outside without your shoes.” And Jojo had still looked disturbed, so Dio had added, “Where I grew up, if you went anywhere without a weapon there was a high chance you’d end up dead. And I know it’s different here, Jojo, but even now, the idea of not having a knife with me…”)

(And Jojo had smiled at him sadly. “I understand, Dio. And I mean, as long as you don’t use it or threaten anyone with it, there’s no reason why it’s wrong to carry a knife around with you…”)

(Dio had almost scoffed—there was no point in having a knife if you weren’t going to use it—but he’d hidden his contempt in a fierce kiss, distracting Jojo from the matter, and Jojo had never commented about the knife again no matter how many times he came across it with his hands.)

A slight tightening of the skin around the thug’s eyes was all the warning Dio had before the man lunged at him.

Dio was barely able to bring up the knife directly in the path of the thug’s hand, and the thug—

He should’ve stopped, but his hand drove forward, the knife slicing through his hand, up his muscular arm—and even with his hand sliced down the middle the thug grabbed Dio by the neck and lifted him from the floor, squeezing his neck with the single sliced hand, Dio struggling against the grip.

H-he won’t let go! He didn’t stop. Does he not feel pain? He shouldn’t be able to grab me and lift me like this with his hand and arm sliced open. And he’s not bleeding. Is he really not human, then?

Before Dio’s widened eyes, the thug’s arm healed in front of him.

Dio’s heart hammered. He couldn’t breathe.

Wh-what is he?!

“Hm,” the man said, looking at him; thick light purple tattoo in the outline of an equilateral square, gold ring in his lip, gold hoops hanging from his ears. His top hat had fallen off, revealing short, standing light hair and a head ornament similar to some kind of crown.

“You have good reflexes, for a human,” the man said, still holding Dio off the ground. He had seven or eight centimeters of height on Dio and at least twenty-five kilograms of muscle. “Tell us where the Mask is and I won’t have to kill you.”

Dio grit his teeth. “I… don’t know… what you’re talking… about…” he managed, despite the grip on his throat, his eyes blazing. Like hell was he going to give in to anyone!

“Hm,” the thug said, and slammed him against the wall.

Dio felt his ribs crack, his eyes blowing wide, a pained yell wrenched from him.

“It’s a stone mask,” the thug said, close up in his face. He smelled of some kind of strange, exotic spices. “Try to remember where it is, or what happened to it. I don’t recommend lying to me.”

Pain. Dio hated it. His ribs were going to take months to heal. If he even survived this.

Damn my humanity! Damn this body, and this—! Struggling was useless.

He needed at the very least to have his feet on the ground. Preferably with that man’s hand no longer around his neck.

But this was the thug.

Dio brought tears to his eyes, let them start spilling down his cheeks, saw the shift in expression that indicated that the thug was taken aback. Perfect.

“Okay… okay, I’ll tell you…” Dio gasped out through the hand around his throat and the tears. “But please… I can’t… can’t breathe…”

And the man looked at him for a moment and then lowered him to the ground. “A wise choice,” he said.

As soon as Dio’s feet touched the floor he shifted all his weight onto one foot and swung his other up as hard as he could, nailing the man in the face with the top of his booted foot.

It hurt his ribs like hell, and it didn’t even seem to faze the thug, who hardly blinked at the kick, simply looking annoyed, slamming an arm into him, sending him flying across the room to crash into the opposite wall. Dio felt his shoulder shatter at the impact.

He fell to the floor. More of his ribs cracked. Blood coughed from his mouth. More of his ribs broke. Agony lancing through his body, bright in front of his eyes. He was pretty sure he cried out.

And all he could think was a panicked: No! No no no no no! I don’t want to die like this!

The thug walked over, looking down at him. Like he was lower than dirt.

“You… insect…” Dio grit out through the blinding pain, glaring up at him with all his fury, struggling to keep the fear and panic from overwhelming him.

I don’t want to die like this!

But even if he didn’t, even if he somehow survived, just how long would his ribs and shoulder take to heal? Just how long would he have to be bed-ridden, barely able to move? A useless, pathetic, crippled bag of bones and flesh—

Just like that wretched—

Agony lancing through his body in waves and he felt like he could vomit, whether from the pain and the shock, or the horror and the fear, or from disgust and repulsion.

He was sick. He was so sick. Being human was the same as being ravaged by a fatal disease; it crippled him, exhausted him, agonized him, limited him both in ability and in time. It would eventually kill him.

There was so much in his mind. So much. He had so much potential, he knew he did, he knew that there was so much that he could accomplish—

So much he could accomplish if only he were stronger, were faster—if only a little cut didn’t take weeks to heal, broken bones months—if only his death weren’t constantly hovering over him, not even just a threat but a promise

If only he had more time

There was still so much that he wanted—

“I admire your bravery and determination,” the thug said. Still looking down at him. “However, I recommend you give up. Your shoulder is shattered and your ribs are broken and have punctured your organs. You can’t fight anymore. It is useless.”

Useless.

Dio wanted to cry.

He wanted to laugh.

Useless. That was what everyone had always told him. Everything he wanted to accomplish—that he shouldn’t even try, that it was all useless—

“You really think reading all those books will change anything?! That they’ll help you make something of yourself?!” His father hitting him across the face, knocking his small, weak body to the floor. Shattered alcohol bottles cutting into his skin. “Hah! It’s useless! Do you hear me?! You can read all the books you want, boy, but it’s useless!”

His face smashed into the plate of food he’d had to scrape up the money to buy. “You think you’re so smart just because you can play a little chess?! You think that brain of yours will get you anywhere?! Don’t kid yourself, kid! All that matters in this world is strength! All your smarts are useless! They won’t ever get you anywhere!”

Knocked to the ground, bleeding from the nose, the mouth, unable to see out of one eye, trying to push himself back to his feet. “Don’t even try to get up!” Getting knocked back to the ground, a kick to his stomach, to his arms when he tried to protect his face. “It’s useless! You can’t fight back! Just look at yourself! You’re so pathetic and weak!”

Trying to push himself back to his feet. Getting kicked back to the ground. “Hah! How useless!”

The voices in his head when he reached for another book—It’s useless; will this actually do anything for you?—When he moved his next chess piece—This is useless; what will this do for you?—When he stabbed his fork into the man’s arm—Still useless; do you think this will make anything better?—When he pushed himself bleeding and trembling back to his feet—It’s useless; you know that, right? You can’t do anything; you literally physically cannot do anything—When he pocketed the poison that would finally take that horrible man out of his life—Useless; do you really think this will change anything for you?—Spitting on his father’s grave—How utterly useless; you weren’t even brave enough to do that to his face—The letter to the Joestars in his hands—Do you really think this will amount to anything? That they’d do anything for a wretch like you?—

Jojo’s grip on his shoulder, in his hair, holding his gaze and telling him to stop—It’s useless, you can’t fight him; you’re too weak. You’re far, far too weak—

Late at night, his plans churning in his mind, desperate desires and panic-inducing fears—It’s useless! Useless useless useless useless useless!

You’re not good enough—

You’re not strong enough—

You’re not smart enough—

You don’t have enough time—

You’re only human—

“You don’t even appear to have any hamon,” the thug said, looking down at him, looking down at him like he was nothing; pathetic, contemptible, wretched. “Tell us where the Mask is, or I will be forced to kill you.”

It’s useless, said the voices in his head. Useless useless useless useless—

And Dio pushed himself into a sitting position with his good arm—waves of pain, waves, crashing over him, threatening to drag him under, but no—blood in his mouth, and he spat it out onto the floor, looked up at the thug with eyes that felt burning with the darkness inside him.

Useless, said the voices in his head.

They’d always said that.

Everyone had always said that.

“I don’t know anything about any mask,” he grit out, wishing absurdly that looks could kill, because if they could this thug would be dead, dead dead dead—

Joestar would dead, Jojo would dead, everyone who had ever been in his way would be dead—

And the thug just looked down at him, the thought ‘Useless’ written all over his face, and he pressed a booted foot against Dio’s chest, exerting his weight, and Dio yelled because the pain—

“This is your last chance,” the thug said, and Dio was panting, his heart pounding, pain everywhere, and the voices in his head were screaming that it was useless—

It was all useless and he was going to die—he’d never accomplish any of the things he’d wanted to—everything he’d ever done will have been for nothing, will have been completely useless—

But damn it if Dio was ever going to willingly give in to anybody—

Not to his father—

Not to those who’d always kicked him down—

Not to those who were stronger than him—

Not to Jojo—

Not to this thug—

Not to the voices inside his mind.

Useless! screamed the voices as Dio raised his head, meeting the thug’s eyes, utterly unflinching.

“You can ask all you want,” his voice dripped with fury and loathing—the mass of darkness that had been festering inside him for his entire life, “but it’s useless.”

The thug stared down at him.

And Dio held his gaze, burning with darkness; it almost drowned out the pain.

He was going to die here. But he wasn’t going to close his eyes; he wasn’t even going to blink.

Useless, said the voices in his head, and Dio wanted to laugh.

(There had never been any good reason for doing anything he’d ever done—it had all, all been utterly useless, and he’d known that, he’d known that—but he’d never let that stop him. And he’d shown them, he’d shown them, he was going to show them all that they’d been wrong—)

Dio held the thug’s gaze with dark bloodlust creeping vine-like and unfurling like roses in his chest even as the thug leaned down and wrapped a muscle-bound hand around his throat, lifting him from the ground.

Lifting him like he weighed nothing at all. Strangling him with one hand like it was as easy as crushing a fly between two fingers.

No! Dio thought desperately. I’ve come way too far for things to end like this—!

He struggled against the grip, gripping the thug’s wrist with his good hand, gritting his teeth. If I just had my knife, then—

Useless! whispered the voices in his mind. Useless useless useless!

And it hurt. Worse than his shattered shoulder, his broken ribs, the hand around his throat.

This wasn’t what my life was supposed to be.

(It hurt that everyone who had always kicked him down and told him he was less than dirt had been right—)

He couldn’t breathe and darkness was unfurling in his vision like roses.

 

Dio’s first pained yell sent Jojo into a dead sprint, racing through the maze of halls, pushing himself off walls because he couldn’t turn fast enough.

Dio’s second agonized shout was almost a scream, and it made Jojo launch himself forward so hard that the carpet slid out from under him and he fell.

He caught himself on his hands in something of a lunge and was back on his feet and running before even he could register he’d fallen.

He’d never before really realized just how large the mansion really was, how winding the halls, how deeply buried the library was, how far it was from the from the entrance to the mansion—

The absurd thought, Why was Dio reading in the foyer?! flashed through his mind, but he knew it was because he’d been working on the mask in the library and Dio had wanted to read somewhere where there was light and he wouldn’t be disturbed. If Dio had been attacked by someone who had broken in then it was entirely Jojo’s fault.

And then finally, finally Jojo broke out onto the hall that overlooked the foyer, and he didn’t even think before reaching the railing and vaulting straight over it, dropping down to the floor below.

In that brief moment of freefall, he was struck by the colors. It was like time had slowed and every color had intensified.

The gold of Dio’s hair and the white of his shirt, the blue of his vest and the black of his pants and shoes as he hung in the air from the hand of a large man in cut black tail coat with a golden circlet around his light hair, golden hoops hanging from his ears and glinting in the bright arc lights. The flaming amber of Dio’s eyes and the vivid sanguine dripping from his mouth.

The dark mahogany of the front door’s wood, splintered on the ground. The darkness of the night outside.

The swirling dark bronzes and red-coppers of the paisley vest worn by another man, the brown of his bowler’s hat and the white of his hair protruding in a bouffant tuft beneath, the orange X that spanned his face and the contrasting blue of his eyes, the contrasting black of his pants and shoes with the white of his shirt and the glinting gold of his cuff-links and the large loops through his ears. The dark swath of black that was the overcoat and gambler’s hat of a third man, the purple of his eyeshadow around around eyes redder than Dio’s had ever been even at their bloodiest.

The deep purples, turquoises, and bronzes of the walls, the burgundy of the curtains, the emerald greens and dark mahoganies of the furniture, the swirling dark blues of the floor, the dark steel of the armored suits that stood before the smooth marble pillars, the golds of the candle-holders and the yellow-cream wax of the candles, light turquoises and creams of the vases and the lined on the mantel along the far wall and shattered in pieces on the floor.

The reddening of Dio’s face as he was choked.

And then Jojo landed on the ground, knees bending and muscles tensing to absorb the force of the fall, a reverberation through his bones.

He was already moving again. He wasn’t thinking, not really. He didn’t wonder who the strange men were, or why they’d broken open the doors or how, or what they wanted. His only thought was for Dio. To get that man away from him.

The man was just turning his head to look at him—a purple outline of a geometric shape on his face, gem green eyes, a gold loop through his lip—when Jojo slammed into him with all his weight. A full rugby tackle.

The man was forced to let go of Dio and he and Jojo went flying across the floor, landing with Jojo on top of him only for the man to roll immediately and kick him off.

Jojo staggered back to his feet, panting, backing up to stand between the strange men and where Dio was now kneeling on the floor and gasping.

Dio.

Jojo’s heart was pounding and his fists clenched. “I don’t know who you are, but don’t you dare touch him!”

He should’ve been there earlier. He should’ve prevented them from ever hurting Dio in the first place.

He’d failed Dio yet again.

The man in the tail coat with the purple square facial tattoo and the ring through his lip whom Jojo had just tackled stood up as well, looking at him. He was even taller than Jojo was, even more muscular, the tailored tail coat accentuating his athletic figure.

And Jojo looked back at him, feeling smaller than he had in years.

(Is this how people feel when they stand next to me? he couldn’t help but wonder.)

He looked to the man in the brocade vest of brown and bronze and red paisley with the orange X facial tattoo and a ring through his nose, who looked to be about the same size he was, and he looked at the third man in the long black overcoat and gambler’s hat who looked to be only slightly shorter and slimmer, his head wrapped in dark purple cloth and purple eyeshadow around his eyes that were a startlingly ruby shade of red.

There was something about them that ran tingles down his spine. They were dressed in the modern English clothing of gentlemen, yet with tattoos and piercings on their faces and a way they held themselves that suggested something completely foreign, even tribal and ancient.

Jojo found himself uncannily reminded of the stone mask. Something about their faces, those decorations adorning their skin. Their expressions as they regarded him.

It filled him with an unexplainable fear.

“Jojo, you idiot!” hissed Dio from behind him, voice raw, angry and desperate. “You can’t win against them! They aren’t human!”

Not human?

Jojo thought of the mask. His notes.

The brain… blood-flow… human limitations… the capabilities of the human brain are limited… but if you break those limiters…

You wouldn’t be human anymore.

“The man who was choking me, I sliced through his hand and arm earlier,” Dio said, “and he just kept coming, like he didn’t feel pain! Look at his right sleeve—see how it’s torn, but his arm is fine?! I cut all the way through his flesh but it healed in seconds!”

Unknown strength… unknown abilities…

Jojo looked at the man’s left arm. Dio was right; the sleeve was torn both top and bottom like it had been sliced through vertically with a knife, but the man’s arm wasn’t so much as scratched.

“They’ll pulverize you, Jojo!” Dio cried, voice thick and wet, and he sounded desperate and frustrated. There was the sound of him spitting the blood from his mouth. “There’s nothing you can do against them! It’s—” a hitch, and then: “it’s useless, Jojo!” Dio’s voice broke. “You need to get out of here while you still can!”

And Jojo remembered Dio with his hair shining gold in the midday light and clutching him tightly, trembling against him, tears soaking into his shirt as they stood in the middle of the dirt path with mud on their boots and the taste of barley sugars and Pontefract cakes from town still on their teeth.

“I don’t want to lose you, Jojo!” Dio had cried then, fisting his hands Jojo’s shirt and sobbing against him like at any moment someone was going to come and wrench Jojo away from him.

Jojo remembered wrapping his arms around the smaller boy, holding him close.

No matter what happens, I’m not leaving you, Dio, he’d promised. On the soul of my mother, I promise you that.

“I’m not leaving you, Dio.” Jojo braced his stance, raising his hands in front of him and holding the gazes of the strange men with their impossibly muscular builds and their strange adornments; the ink in their skin and the rings through their flesh; the eyeshadow around uncanny, inhuman eyes.

His mind kept whispering: The Mask… Unknown abilities… Unknown strength…

Honestly, he was afraid. His palms were sweaty and his heart was pounding in his chest.

But Jojo set his jaw and stared them down. “I don’t care what they are,” he said.

There had been blood dripping from Dio’s mouth.

He wasn’t going to fail Dio again.

 

Dark vines of roses had been closing over him, filling his vision, twining tighter and tighter around his neck, wrapping around his chest, digging their roots deep into his lungs, his suffocating him, he couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t breathe, he was going to die there, he was going to die

And then roses were ripped away from him, light breaking through and air, and the vines that had let him go had dropped him hard to the ground but he could breathe, pulling cool air into his desperate, burning lungs even though every flex of his broken ribs was another flare of pain.

A shadow eased the glare of the sudden light, and when he looked up it was the figure of Jojo standing before him.

But of course it was.

Jojo was standing protectively in front of him, separating him from the three—what were they? Not humans but monsters—

“I don’t know who you are, but don’t you dare touch him!” And Jojo was standing in front of him, sounding more livid than Dio had ever heard, and his stance was braced for a fight to the death that he had absolutely no intention of losing, and Dio would’ve smirked if he hadn’t simultaneously felt so much like sneering.

(Oh, how Dio wanted to be a monster.)

He had Jojo so completely and unwittingly under his thumb that Jojo was more than willing to die to protect him—all Jojo’s tremendous, wrought-iron love was his—but it would be useless.

(Useless, useless, useless, useless—)

Not even Jojo stood a chance against these monsters. And Dio wasn’t about to let the Queen piece of his chess game get taken out now—not if it didn’t bring him closer to winning the game.

If Jojo tried to fight them he’d die within minutes, without having damaged them at all, and it would be utterly useless. A complete waste.

“Jojo, you idiot!” he hissed, and he didn’t even have to try hard to get the correct distraught emotions into his voice. “You can’t win against them! They aren’t human!”

He saw the way Jojo froze, knew the exact look of shock that he would’ve seen in Jojo’s eyes had he been facing him.

“The man who was choking me, I sliced through his hand and arm earlier and he just kept coming, like he didn’t feel pain!” Dio continued, because he needed Jojo to understand exactly what this situation was. To not just jump straight into a fight he thought he could force his way through with brute strength and determination like he usually did, but to actually use that brain of his and think.

This all had to do with that stone mask, after all, and Jojo had been researching it, and he’d sounded like he’d discovered something about the way that it apparently enhanced the brain and human abilities. Which Dio had thought was poppycock, but now—

“Look at his right sleeve—see how it’s torn, but his arm is fine?! I cut all the way through his flesh but it healed in seconds!”

He saw the way Jojo turned his head slightly, looking to the thug’s arm, saw the minute increase in the tenseness of Jojo’s shoulders that indicated he’d just had a disturbing realization. That was good—that meant that Jojo had probably figured out that this had to do with the stone mask.

Jojo got more determined the more you scared him, stronger the more you hurt him. He was scared the most when people he loved were threatened. He was hurt the most when the people he loved were hurt.

“They’ll pulverize you, Jojo!” Dio cried, because he was the perfect lover, more concerned about Jojo than himself. “There’s nothing you can do against them! It’s—” damn him, he choked on the word, could barely force it out of his mouth—“it’s useless, Jojo!”

Desperate—he needed to sound desperate that Jojo should leave and save himself, should forget about him— “You need to get out of here while you still can!” Desperate. Desperate and stupid.

(Anyone who knew Jojo would know that he’d never leave and abandon anyone he cared about. It would have been a stupid, absolutely useless thing to try to convince him to do. But still, it was the correct thing to say; anyone who really loved Jojo would have said that. Because in their love they’d be stupid.)

And just as expected, his words strengthened Jojo’s determination.

Jojo braced his stance, and he’d been shaking slightly but now the shaking stopped. His voice was wrought iron. “I’m not leaving you, Dio. I don’t care what they are.”

It was so typically Jojo, and Dio could almost have smirked.

He grit his teeth.

The three human beings were watching them like they were mildly amusing, mildly annoying young dogs playing tug-of-war with a rope. It made the darkness in Dio’s chest surge and writhe. To be so obviously dismissed as not being a threat, as being weak—and knowing that that assessment was correct.

Dio’s shattered shoulder still hurt like hell, his ribs still flared in pain with every breath, his mouth was still filled with the taste of his own blood. And even if he wasn’t in that injured state, it wouldn’t have made any difference. He was so pathetically human.

But if anyone had any idea of how to these monsters could be defeated, whatever they were, it would be Jojo. Hopefully he’d actually been able to figure something out about that stone mask.

He figured Jojo had probably figured out that this had to do with the mask, by now, but it couldn’t hurt to confirm that suspicion. It would be suspicious of he didn’t, especially since he’d told those monsters that he didn’t know anything about it. Which he also needed to make Jojo aware of so he didn’t say something that indicated Dio had been lying to them and might then ignite their wrath.

So he said: “They’re after some mask of some kind.” The darkness in his chest was writhing, and he didn’t bother to keep it out of his voice. “But I don’t know what the devil they’re talking about.”

Jojo would catch on; it wasn’t like he didn’t know that Dio lied to protect himself. Jojo had seen first-hand how he’d lied to the other boys when they were younger, both to start the rumor about Jojo being a snitch and then later to undo it, and whenever the two of them had been caught by others in somewhat compromising situations it had always been Dio who had lied to smooth things over. Jojo wasn’t particularly good at lying himself, but he always stood by Dio’s. Dio had just gone out of his way to make sure that even though Jojo knew he lied and that he was good at it, that Jojo believed that he would never lie to him.

“Hm.” The thug stepped forward, and his gaze was on Jojo, appraising. There was dust on his black tail coat from Jojo tackling him to the ground. “You’re strong,” the thug said, eyes sweeping Jojo’s muscular body that almost rivaled his own. “For a human.” He met Jojo’s gaze evenly. “But your friend is right: you can’t win. Tell us where the Mask is, and I won’t have to kill you.”

Jojo maintained his stance, chin lowering slightly, but before he could say anything another voice called out across the room: “What’s going on here?”

Dio looked; Joestar was standing at the top of the stairs, gripping the trembling butler’s arm for support, looking down at the scene in the foyer with wide eyes.

Tch. Dio had been so distracted that he hadn’t heard him arrive.

“Father!” Jojo cried, sounding alarmed and distressed.

It was hardly unexpected that Joestar would show up even despite his illness, given all the ruckus. But it was still going to complicate things.

Dio grit his teeth and looked back at Jojo, the three monsters across from him. Three of them, two people Jojo cared deeply about, and only one Jojo. So Jojo, what are you going to do now?

Dio’s heart was pounding in his chest and he couldn’t make it stop.

He couldn’t think of a way out of this. He couldn’t think of anything. Every scenario he ran through in his head just led to death.

Damn it!

He was so weak; so pathetic; so completely and utterly inadequate; so—

(disgustingly—)

(horrifically—)

(mortally—)

—human.

And there was nothing he could do.

(Useless, whispered the voices in his head. Useless, useless, useless, useless—)

He suspected that if anyone would be able to figure out a way to defeat these monsters—or whatever the hell they were—it would be Jojo.

But human was all Jojo was, too.

 

Jojo heard Dio’s hiss of breath behind him.

“They’re after some mask of some kind,” Dio said, and he practically spat out the words. “But I don’t know what the devil they’re talking about.”

So this has to do with the stone mask, after all, Jojo thought, his body going cold. (And that lie is very like you, Dio.)

Lying was Dio’s way of protecting himself; of protecting those he cared about. The number of times Dio had lied to save them both were countless.

(‘I lied, but it didn’t work this time,’ was laced like elaborate embroidery in the bitterness of Dio’s tone, made heavy by the taste and stench of blood, and Jojo’s heart twisted.)

(He should’ve been there sooner.)

The man in the tail coat and gold circlet stepped forward, the one who’d been strangling Dio and whom Jojo had tackled to the ground, and Jojo braced his stance, tense and ready, his mind whirring.

The mask unlocks the brain’s hidden potential. So if they got their powers from the mask, that means that the way to beat them—

The man—or was he a monster?—wasn’t attacking just yet. He was just regarding him. “You’re strong,” he told Jojo. “For a human.” He met Jojo’s gaze, and his eyes were a deep, lucid sage green that almost took Jojo aback; those weren’t the eyes of a monster. They were the eyes of a man with honor. “But your friend is right. You can’t win.”

Jojo had been in countless hopeless fights when he was younger; he knew what it like to go up against unbeatable odds, knowing he had absolutely no chance of winning.

This did not feel like one of those times.

—The way to beat them is to destroy the brain.

Jojo’s gaze shifted from the man in front of him to the two figures behind him, the one in the black overcoat with the lurid red eyes of a monster and the other in the bronze and burgundy vest with the eyes of a jackal, only an uncanny blue.

The only question is whether I’d be able to take on all of them.

“Tell me where the Mask is,” the man with the sagacious green eyes told him, “and I won’t have to kill you.”

And Jojo looked back at him.

What do they want the mask for? What will happen if I give it to them?

Can I really defeat all three of them, if it comes to that?

His priority was making sure Dio got out of this alive.

What should I do?

And then an all too recognizable voice called out: “What’s going on here?” and Jojo turned with wide eyes to look up, seeing his father standing on the top of the steps, leaning heavily on the arm of their butler so he didn’t collapse. He shouldn’t be out of bed, not with how ill he was.

“Father!” The cry slipped out of Jojo’s mouth and he hardly heard it over the frantic drumbeat of his heart. He stared up at his father who was making his way slowly but determinedly down the stairs, and he glanced at the men who weren’t human, and he thought of Dio injured behind him, and he thought: If it comes to a fight, I won’t be able to protect both of them.

His heart was pounding. If this comes to a fight, at least one of them is going to die.

The mask and what it can do are terrifying, but I don’t know what they plan on doing with it. I don’t know that they’ll do something bad. Is there really any reason to fight to keep the mask from them? They aren’t here to kill us. They just want the mask. What happens if I just give it to them?

Dio lied about not knowing about the mask, but that doesn’t mean that I have to lie about it. And just because I know about it doesn’t mean that Dio is obviously a liar for saying he didn’t know about it. I’m the one who’s been researching the mask, after all, and it’s an heirloom of the Joestar family, not the Brando family.

He looked at the three men in front of him. He didn’t trust the man in the brocade vest with his jackal eyes who was leering or the man in the dark overcoat with his eyes of a monster who was watching without any trace of emotion, but he felt like he could at least trust the word of the man with the green eyes who was staring back at him soberly.

Still, he needed to make sure.

He squared his shoulders, holding the gaze of the green-eyed man. “What do you plan on doing with the mask, if I give it to you?” he asked.

The man’s green eyes narrowed slightly; Jojo had, after all, just suggested that he knew about the mask, even though Dio had insisted that he hadn’t.

They soon wouldn’t be able to doubt him, though.

He continued: “What is that thing? Those spikes that come out when it makes contact with blood, the way it stabs the brain in such particular locations…” Jojo saw the surprise and affirmation in the man’s green gaze.

And he needed—he wanted to know. “What’s its purpose? Where did it come from?”

The man in the brocade vest with the jackal eyes grinned, and it wasn’t a nice grin. “This one knows quite a lot, it seems.”

“I don’t actually know that much,” Jojo said honestly. “That’s why I’m asking. I want to know more. I want to understand.” He held the gaze of the man with the green eyes. “Or is there a reason you can’t tell me?”

The man stared back at him, expression unreadable, and Jojo could feel the other two staring at him as well.

Jojo was afraid, but he pushed the feeling down. “All I want is answers and for you to let my family live,” he said, with the utmost earnestness. “If you answer my questions about the mask and promise not to kill anyone, I will gladly give it to you.”

It didn’t make any sense to fight them to try to keep the mask from them, when he didn’t know what it was or what they wanted it for. And not when it would endanger Dio and his father. And besides, if it was originally theirs, what right did he have to keep it?

The mask had been bothering him for years, and he wanted to know. And getting answers straight from someone who knew about the mask was, in a way, the best opportunity he could have hoped for.

And if he gave them the mask, they shouldn’t have any reason not to answer his questions, right? It seemed like a fair trade to him.

The only question was if they’d see it that way, too.

The man with the green eyes broke his gaze and turned his head, glancing back at the man with the red eyes. “My Lord…”

Apparently he was the one in charge.

The red-eyed man tilted his head down slightly so his gambler’s hat covered his gaze, and his lips twitched slightly, the first sign of emotion he’d shown. “Very well,” he said, and raised his chin again, meeting Jojo’s gaze.

Jojo had thought he would never meet anyone with eyes as intense or exotic as Dio’s, but staring into that deep, blood-red gemstone gaze he thought he might’ve been wrong.

“It’s rare to meet a human who, when backed into a corner, makes reasonable requests instead of fighting like a cornered animal.” The man in the dark overcoat smiled, and it wasn’t a cruel smile, but somehow it still gave Jojo shivers. “For the sake of the novelty of the situation, I will indulge you.”

The man smiled wider. “One learns to appreciate the novel when one has lived for thousands of years.”

Thousands of years.

Jojo’s heart was racing.

Finally, I’ll be getting the answers I’ve been seeking!

He wasn’t sure whether to feel excited or afraid.

And on top of that, they won’t be killing anyone.

In regards to that, at least, Jojo knew that there was no reason why he shouldn’t feel happy.

Maybe, Jojo thought, this will all be okay.

 

Jojo was an idiot.

“If you answer my questions about the mask and promise not to kill anyone, I will gladly give it to you”? Dio grit his teeth.

There was no way those monsters would be leaving them alive. Jojo was an idiot.

But he might have just given them a chance.

“For the sake of the novelty of the situation, I will indulge you.” The arrogance of it made Dio want to sneer.

He kept his face blank. Information was a tool. Information could give them a handhold, a way to pull themselves up and out of the pit they now found themselves in. Information was—

(Useless, supplied the voices in his mind, just like every time he opened a new book, trying to pull himself up out of the dark hand by hand by hand—)

Information was not power. Information was a weapon. Weapons could do nothing by themselves.

But weapons could kill, when wielded correctly. Power was the ability to adeptly wield those weapons.

Jojo had found a way to arm them against the monsters. Not that Jojo thought of it that way. For Jojo it was just a trade; information for the mask. A weapon for a weapon. Idiot that he was, he probably thought that negated the danger and neutralized the situation. It was the same childish logic Dio remembered from tutoring Jojo in their younger days, when he’d been trying to explain the concept of negative numbers and Jojo had looked with a furrowed brow and said, “So, a positive apple plus a negative apple would equal zero apples?”

“Yes, exactly,” Dio had said, because in theory that worked, and if that was what would help Jojo get his mathematics problems done, then let Jojo use that logic.

But in reality, there was no such thing as a negative apple.

And there was no such thing as a negative weapon.

But when you were completely secure in the belief of your victory, in your conviction that nothing and no one had a chance against you, you didn’t mind throwing the enemy a knife when they had none at all. It would make things slightly more entertaining.

“One learns to appreciate the novel when one has lived for thousands of years.”

Thousands of years.

(If I could live for that long—)

Back in the slums, even just a year of ruling the underworld was enough to make the gang leaders arrogant and utterly assured in their victories. This arrogance created a blindspot that easily led to downfall—which meant that when someone had managed to rule arrogantly for an extended period of time, their arrogance was not without good reason. If one could be arrogant and still rule, that meant that they were truly powerful indeed.

And if it took only a few years for one to become arrogant, and with each year that arrogance increased exponentially, how arrogant must these monsters be after thousands of years? How deserved must that arrogance be?

Thousands of years without being dethroned.

The thought made it even more difficult for Dio to draw breath into his rib-pierced lungs. Blood bubbling up in his mouth; the taste of fear.

The power these monsters must have…

 

The words of the man with the red gaze whirled in Jojo’s mind, made his eyes go wide, pieces clattering, clicking into place.

An ancient race…

Feared as gods and demons…

The stone mask…

Living underground…

Disintegrating in the sun…

The stone mask…

Consuming other creatures…

Blood…

The stone mask…

He’s the one who made the mask…

Unlocking undying power…

Immortality…

Slaughtering his brethren…

Wanting to conquer the sun…

The stone mask…

Able to pierce a human’s brain, but not their immortal ones…

More power…

The Red Stone of Aja…

The Stone Mask…

More power…

The man with the monstrous red eyes was smiling at him.

“I can live like the birds, dwell with the fish, breathe like the trees, and move like the water. But I can not face the sun. So I created a stone mask. It granted me undying power. But it was not enough. I still cannot befriend the sun.”

Jojo swallowed. His heart was pounding.

“Which is why I need the mask, as well as the Red Stone of Aja that once belonged to the Emperor of Rome. This stone will give the mask enough power to pierce our brains. With the mask and that stone we will conquer the sun, and become the final, perfect step in evolution.”

“And once you have this power and can go out into the sun…” He met the man’s crimson gaze. “What will you do then?”

The man—the monster—remained smiling. “Why, then we’ll rule over all. The world will be ours.”

Jojo’s heart was in his throat. He closed his eyes.

If he gave them the mask, they would gain unbelievable power and conquer the world.

If he refused to give them the mask, they would simply kill him, and everyone he cared about, and then take the mask, gain unbelievable power and conquer the world.

He couldn’t stop them.

The most he could do was to try to save those who were most important to him.

“I see,” he said. He opened his eyes, met the man’s red gaze. “Thank you for your explanation. I will go get the mask.” He glanced to the man with the blue jackal eyes, the man with the sage green eyes. “But you have to promise me that you won’t hurt anyone,” he said. “Not Dio or my father or any of our servants.” His clenched his fists, feeling his muscles tense, all up his forearms, his triceps, his shoulders and upper back.

“If you so much as touch them,” he said, and he met the monsters’ gazes unflinchingly, “I will not hesitate to destroy the mask.”

The man with the green eyes crossed an arm over his chest. “You have my word,” he stated, and Jojo could tell from his stolid gaze that he meant it.

Jojo looked to the other two. The man with the blue jackal eyes made a shrugging gesture. “Yeah yeah, just hurry up, will you? If you try our patience it’s on you if your brethren die.”

The man with the ruby eyes smiled. “What kind of dishonorable monsters do you take us for?”

Jojo didn’t trust either of them, but another glance at the green-eyed man assured him that he would make sure the other two kept the promise as well.

And so Jojo turned, met the gaze of the man he loved—orange-gold eyes, carefully self-controlled and utterly unreadable, the way he always looked when he was trying to control his temper or trying not to cry, and he was sitting on the floor leaning back against the legs of a chair, one leg straight and the other bent, gripping his left shoulder, sleeve smeared in blood from wiping his mouth—, met the gaze of his father—blue eyes, concerned but trusting, face pale from illness and hands shaking slightly, but he wasn’t trembling as much as their butler who, unfortunate soul, looked like he might pass out from terror—, and Jojo set his jaw and walked past them, beginning to climb the stairs, heading for the library to retrieve the mask.

He didn’t need it any more; he now had all the answers he’d been searching for.

And he would do whatever he needed to in order to protect the people he loved.

 

Dio was frightened. Dio was truly, honestly frightened.

Everything the leader had so gleefully, maliciously explained to them—the ability to live like the birds, dwell with the fish, breathe like the trees, move like the water, suck the life from other living creatures, the enhanced strength and speed and intelligence, their immortality—Dio would never have imagined that such things were possible.

The possibilities of such near-limitless power were beyond frightening. They were mind-numbingly terrifying.

But Jojo, in getting the leader to tell them that information, had armed them against the monsters—but Dio knew that it would be up to him to turn that information into power.

And these monsters, even as ancient and powerful as they were—what could they do to him aside from kill him? That wasn’t anything special.

A drunken wretch with a cheap knife could kill someone. A horse-drawn carriage could kill someone. A disease could kill someone. A loose stone in a path could kill someone.

He could be killed by any number of things just as easily as he could be killed by these monsters.

Their overwhelming power, therefore, did not mean that he should be overwhelmingly afraid of them. In the fact that they could potentially kill him, they were no different from anyone else.

Power wasn’t the ability to kill; power was the ability to stay alive despite everything that could potentially kill you.

The problem, then, wasn’t how easily they could kill him, but how to stay alive despite their attempts to kill him, and how difficult it would be to kill them before they could.

Which meant that he needed to strengthen his ability to stay alive.

And they were all of them—Jojo and these monsters—handing him that power like servants carrying in a special delicacy on a silver platter.

Dio raised his good hand and wiped his mouth with his sleeve to hide the way he licked the blood from his smirking lips.

The expression was gone by the time he lowered his hand.

“And once you have the power to face the sun,” Jojo said, looking at the monsters, “what will you do then?” His expression suggested that he wasn’t completely stupid; that, despite asking such a foolish question, he already suspected the answer. Why he was even bothering to ask in the first place, Dio had no idea. The answer certainly wouldn’t change what Jojo was about to do.

The leader’s smile was all derisive arrogance. “Why, then we’ll rule over all,” he said. “The world will be ours.” And the fact that he freely declared his intention proved exactly how arrogant and assured he was.

The world will never be yours, Dio thought, and it was all he could do to keep his lips from curling. Because the one who rules over this world will be me, Dio!

He kept his expression carefully blank.

Jojo collected himself. “I see,” he said, and then, like the perfect gentleman he’d always striven so hard to be: “Thank you for your explanation. I will go get the mask.”

Jojo’s posture shifted, then, his voice heating with that incredible passion of his: “But you have to promise me that you won’t hurt anyone. Not Dio or my father or any of our servants.” Dio didn’t think he’d ever heard Jojo sound so threatening. “If you so much as touch them, I will not hesitate to destroy the mask.”

It was an admirable sentiment, Dio supposed. Not that it meant anything. The monsters would simply wait till they had the mask before proceeding to kill everyone.

“You have my word,” swore the thug solemnly, even going so far as to cross an arm over his chest and bow his head slightly. And he probably meant it, simple-minded as he was. Not that that meant anything. He wasn’t the one in charge.

The right-hand man shrugged, and he didn’t even bother to remove the arrogant smirk from his features. “Yeah yeah, just hurry up, will you? If you try our patience it’s on you if your brethren die.”

The leader’s smile was perfectly mild. “What kind of dishonorable monsters do you take us for?” he asked, and it was so obviously mocking that Dio wanted to spit.

Only an idiot would believe they were actually telling the truth.

Fortunately for them, Jojo was an idiot.

Jojo turned, meeting his gaze and then sweeping his gaze over him, and Dio saw the way Jojo’s eyes widened slightly at seeing the weak and pathetic state he was in, sitting there crippled and half curled up on himself on the floor, leaning against a chair just to stay upright.

It burned, to have Jojo seeing him like this—to have anyone seeing him like this. But Dio knew that in this case it was for the best; the monsters would completely disregard him as utterly helpless and unable to do anything or fight back, and Jojo, passionate fool that he was, would become more determined than ever to protect him. Dio knew that he had Jojo so hopelessly, passionately in love with him that Jojo would do anything, withstand anything for his sake.

And Jojo’s strength really was impressive; the monsters would never expect how tough he was, would never expect that the harder they beat him the stronger and more determined he’d become. So it was likely that Jojo, despite being a weak human in comparison to them, would still be able to hold his own just enough to throw them off and to buy Dio the time and distraction he would need to obtain the mask.

Dio kept his face carefully blank, making sure not even a hint of emotion touched his lips or showed in his eyes (and not only that, but that not even a trace of the excruciating pain from his shattered shoulder or broken ribs managed to twist his features, because even if it would be advantageous to play up his suffering it was already clear that he was terribly injured and damn it, he refused to throw away all his pride, surely he couldn’t be expected to let them watch him suffer like some wounded stray dog—)

He didn’t need to; it was already enough, with him injured and Jojo’s sick father there as well, Jojo’s eyes hardened with wrought-iron determination as he walked past them, heading for the stairs without a hint of hesitation.

He would without a doubt return with the mask. And the monsters would without a doubt move to kill them as soon as they had their hands on it.

When should he make his move to grab the mask? It wouldn’t do to try to obtain it from Jojo before he handed it over; there would be too much attention on the mask at that time, the monsters would see what he was trying to do he would be dead before he knew it. He’d have to wait for the monsters to move against them and for Jojo to start fighting them. Which meant that there wasn’t anything he could plan; there was no way of predicting how that would go. He would just have to keep his eyes open for his opportunity.

He watched Jojo climb the stairs, reach the top, walk along the second-floor hallway balcony, making his way towards the library, so assured that by retrieving the mask he’d be saving them.

Hah. Jojo was truly a fool.

But this was perfect—Dio would get the mask, would finally, finally be able to rid himself of his wretched humanity—and on top of that, Jojo and his father would both likely die this night, and then they’d no longer be in his way. The power to rule the world, the Joestar fortune—it would all of it, all of it be his. His!

Jojo turned a corner and disappeared from view, and Dio moved his eyes to regard the monsters, dressed so absurdly in formal English evening dress that was so at odds with their tattoos, their piercings, the women’s make-up around the leader’s eyes. Immortal, ancient beings.

He’d still have to deal with them, of course. But he’d find some way to defeat them. No matter how difficult it was.

(Useless, whispered the voices in his head. It won’t work. You can’t do it. It’s useless. And Dio wanted to laugh.)

(If he didn’t do anything, it was assured that he was going to die. But if he could get ahold of the mask then he’d at least have a chance—)

Ultimately, Dio didn’t have a choice.

(He never did.)

The voices could whisper all they wanted and then join the monsters in hell.

 

Jojo walked to the library, steps even and unhesitating, and his thoughts were oddly calm and silent.

He found the stone mask exactly where he’d left it on the desk. He took only a moment to stare at it before picking it up, turning, heading back out of the library, back to the foyer. He didn’t look down at the mask again.

His thoughts as he walked were as even and resolute as his steps. He felt no remorse, no regret, no guilt over what he was about to do.

Jojo been intrigued by the mask for years, had spent hours upon hours researching it, long days and long nights, trying to unravel its secrets. None of that mattered now; he had the answers he’d been seeking.

It was still strange, to think that that man with the red eyes had been the one who’d created the mask all those thousands of years ago. Jojo had been able to determine that the mask was at least as old as the ruins of Rome; but to think that these monsters existed even before that. That they were immortal. That he had been right about the purpose of the mask’s spines.

There was no reason to hold on to the mask, now. It may have been his mother’s, but it had belonged to these beings long before.

(To think that something that for years had made him think of his mother was a tool for creating monsters.)

And now these beings claimed that they were going to use the mask to gain even more power, power that would let them stand in the sunlight and rule the world. He could understand why they would want to be able to withstand sunlight. It must be horrible, not to be able to see the sun, and even worse to be killed by it.

He didn’t understand, though, why they would want to rule the world. Why did anyone want to rule the world? Jojo didn’t understand what about having that much power over other people was supposed to make anyone happy. Ruling people meant governing them, leading them, organizing them; it was a lot of responsibility, and good rulers could accomplish great things. And terrible rulers could do terrible things. They could abuse their power, make people do their bidding, kill people on a whim—but why?

What was so attractive about having that much power?

Why were people cruel to others? What did they get out of it?

He knew that for Dio, cruelty had been—and sometimes still was—a way of protecting himself against a cruel world. But why was it that the world was so cruel?

Jojo could understand why someone would use cruelty as a form of defense, but he didn’t think that cruelty ever made anyone happy. He didn’t think that kind of power—the power to hurt others and to have them do whatever yous say—could ever actually make anyone happy. That couldn’t be real happiness.

Why did anyone want to rule the world?

Jojo didn’t know. And he wasn’t even sure it was possible. How could one expect to rule over that many people for any extended period of time? Even the Roman Empire had crumbled, and it had never governed the entire world. Why did people even say they wanted to ‘rule the world’? What did that even mean?

Jojo’s thoughts may have been wandering, but his steps remained even and undeviating. He felt no guilt for what he was about to do. He did not have the luxury to be concerned about what the monsters would do with the stone mask or what they might do after that. He couldn’t afford to; they were immortal beings who had lived for thousands of years, and would no doubt live for thousands more, while he was only human. The people he cared about were human.

To be honest with himself, as much as it pained him, he knew his father probably didn’t have much time left as it was. And Dio…

Jojo hoped Dio would live a long life. Beside him, ideally. But if he had to die to keep Dio alive he would do it gladly.

The words of the red-eyed man kept echoing in his mind. “Why, then we’ll rule over all. The world will be ours.” But what did that even mean? What interest could beings from thousands of years ago have in ruling the modern day? It must be so different from the world they knew.

What would it be like to sleep for a thousand years and then wake up in a completely different time, a completely different world? The idea made Jojo’s chest wrench. It seemed like it would be a terrible thing to experience.

And who woke up in a foreign world and thought, ‘Yes, I shall conquer all of this!’? It didn’t even make sense. How did they even expect to do that? How did one conquer an entire world? Surely that statement had to be an exaggeration. It didn’t seem possible. And could that really be what they wanted? Say they did conquer the world. Such a task would no doubt take years, maybe even a few human lifetimes, if it were even possible. Well, he supposed they had that kind of time, immortal as they were. Such immortal beings ruling over humans—wouldn’t they then be like gods?

Who would want to be a god? It didn’t seem like gods could be happy.

Say these beings did somehow conquer the world—what then? Is that really what they wanted that power for? Could they even hold power over a world and a people that were so foreign to them? And even if they did, Jojo was sure that he would be long dead by then.

Could he really be expected to care about some distant, uncertain future, when people he cared about were in danger right here, right now?

Somehow he doubted that these beings actually wanted to rule the world. It had sounded far more honest to him when the red-eyed man had said that he wanted to stand in the sun. There had been an unmistakably strong yearning there, a frustration that reminded him of Dio; the way Dio always seemed to believe that he should be more, should be better.

Dio. His face in the foyer as he leaned against the chair and gripped his shoulder had been so forcibly blank; Jojo could only imagine the pain he must be in, the suffering he was trying not to let anyone see. Dio had so much pride.

Jojo’s chest ached at the thought that Dio would probably be beating himself up for his perceived weakness this night for weeks, if not years to come. Even now there were times when Jojo saw Dio’s lip curl and his gold-amber eyes flash, and knew that Dio was thinking about something from his time living in the slums and hating himself for it.

And there had been the pain and fear in his father’s eyes in the foyer as he’d looked at him and at Dio, worrying for his sons even though it was all he could do to stay standing, his breathing labored and gripping the poor trembling butler’s arm. He hoped his father at least sat down in a chair. He didn’t want his father to die this night; his father deserved to die peacefully in bed, surrounded by his loving family, a smile on his face.

Jojo quickened his pace slightly, the jackal-eyed man’s words ringing through his mind: “Yeah yeah, just hurry up, will you? If you try our patience it’s on you if your brethren die.”

How desperate were they to get their hands on the mask, if they were willing to kill someone who was already injured and couldn’t fight back, and an old man who was so clearly ill?

Thousands of years without being able to stand in the sunlight.

“What kind of dishonorable monsters do you take us for?”

Maybe they didn’t really want to rule the world. Maybe, after using the mask to obtain the ability to stand in the sun, they’d go live somewhere quietly.

Or maybe they really would try to conquer the world. And maybe they’d succeed—or maybe they’d fail.

Jojo had no way of knowing what they’d actually do or what the consequences would be. He couldn’t control that, so it didn’t make any sense to worry about it. What mattered was the here and now. That was all he do something about.

He would give the monsters the mask, and he would get his father and Dio out of this alive.

When he came out onto the second-floor balcony overlooking the foyer, the immortal beings were still standing together on one side of the room, Dio was still leaning back against the chair holding his shoulder, and their father was now sitting in a chair next to Dio, tenderly brushing a hand through Dio’s hair as Dio held his right hand over his left shoulder and looked down at the ground, dark bruising already visible around the collar of his white shirt.

And, heart aching at the sight, Jojo descended the steps, mask in his hand.

 

Joestar came over, sitting down carefully in the chair next to him. Dio kept his gaze on the floor and watched him only out of the corner of his eye.

“Dio,” Joestar said, reaching out a trembling hand, brushing his knuckles gently over Dio’s cheek in what was surely a loving, comforting gesture. “Son.” The old man’s voice was quiet and concerned. “How are you?”

“Father,” Dio said, and he lifted his head to look at him, gave him a small, weak, on-the-verge-of-tears smile; he was a perfect son. “How do you honestly expect me to answer that?”

The old man’s eyes softened sadly. “That’s true,” he murmured, and he placed his hand more fully against Dio’s face, brushing his thumb over Dio’s cheek. “Hold in there,” he said softly, smiling in a way that was probably reassuring. “Jojo will be back.”

Dio made a weak attempt at a smile and blinked back the tears in his eyes before they could fall; he was a perfect son, a perfect brother, but he could already feel the blood crusting disgustingly around his lips. He didn’t want his face to become sticky with tears now, too. “I know he will.”

Joestar smiled sadly at him, brushed his thumb over Dio’s cheek. “You’re very brave, Dio,” he said. The look in his eyes was tender, aching, fatherly love. “I’m proud of you.”

Dio wished the old man would keep his hands to himself, but he made no move to pull away; he was a perfect son. He laughed weakly. “I don’t feel brave.”

Joestar’s thumb brushed below his eye, brushing away the single tear Dio had allowed to fall. “But you are, son.”

Dio would rather have pulled away—this was sickening, why couldn’t the old man have just died already—but he leaned into Joestar’s touch and smiled sadly, gratefully, achingly; he was a perfect son. “Thank you, Father.”

Joestar smiled at him (reassuringly, proudly, sadly) and moved his hand to brush his fingers gently through Dio’s hair, in a way that was surely comforting.

Dio let him; he was, after all, a perfect son.

What a stupid farce.

At least it couldn’t be much longer now before Joestar finally, finally died.

 

Jojo gave them the mask. (Please leave now.)

He handed it to the man with the green eyes. The man took it (it was strange to stand next to someone taller and large than he; he hadn’t had such a feeling in years). The man nodded at him slightly. Jojo thought that it was over.

The next thing he knew there a pained cry, and he turned in alarm to see that the man with the jackal eyes had crossed the room and now had the butler by the neck.

Jojo’s heart was hammering. “Let him go!” he cried, and his fists were clenched, tautness wound through his body. “You promised you wouldn’t hurt anyone!”

His heart was hammering, hammering, hammering.

“No,” the jackal-eyed monster laughed, and he somehow slid his fingers into the butler’s neck, and in moments it was like he’d sucked all the blood out of the poor man’s body, the butler nothing but an empty husk of a corpse.

Jojo’s eyes were wide in horror; he’d never seen anything like it.

Wh-what… what was that?

His heart was hammering, hammering, hammering.

“Wamuu promised,” the monster said. He pulled his fingers out of the butler’s neck and dropped the old man’s corpse to the ground, grinning like a hyena. “I did nothing of the sort.” His laugh was a hyena’s laugh. “You didn’t really think we’d let you live, did you?”

His father and Dio were right there, his father risen to his feet out of his chair, eyes wide and expression one of alarm; Dio had not moved, not so much as a subtle flinch in his expressionless face. He looked utterly blank, like someone who had already accepted death.

No, Jojo thought, his eyes wide and burning. No. This can’t be happening.

His heart was hammering, hammering, hammering.

I will not let this happen.

This man was a monster. Jojo probably didn’t stand a chance.

It didn’t matter. He wasn’t going to let his father and Dio die. No matter what.

He was standing next to one of their suits of armor; he took its spear, turned it on the monster.

“This is your last chance,” he said. “Leave now. Or else I’m going to have to kill you.”

Jojo’s heart was hammering and he was terrified, but he felt simultaneously solid and calm; he knew what he had to do.

The monster laughed his hyena laugh, smiled his leering hyena grin. “Ha! You really think you can threaten us?! You don’t even have Hamon! You’re just a weak, pathetic human! Nothing more than in insect!”

Dio’s blank expression shifted slightly, his jaw clenching. Jojo’s hammering heart twisted.

“You’re wrong!” he said, looking back at the monster, leveling his spear. “When we put our minds to it, we humans can accomplish anything!” His heart was hammering, hammering, hammering.

The monster leered, taking an aggressive step forward. “Oh? Is that so?”

Another step—Jojo charged. “I’ll show you just what humans can do!”

He had no idea how, but somehow he would defeat this immortal being.

Failure was simply not an option.

 

It all played out exactly as could be expected.

Jojo, the trusting fool, gave the monsters the mask, and then they betrayed him, the move of course being made by the right-hand man since the thug wouldn’t have broken his promise and the leader wouldn’t have done the dirty work.

The right-hand man appeared to suck all the blood and life out of the butler. He did it through his fingers.

So their bodies could absorb things into themselves at will, then.

What were the possibilities of that? The limitations?

(There was an itching, burning sensation in his chest, rising like a tempest, and he tried to push it down, down, down—)

(It wasn’t fair that these beings had such abilities and he didn’t—)

(He needed—)

(He needed—)

Jojo was horrified, disgusted, trembling in disbelief and anger. “You promised you wouldn’t hurt anyone!” The fool.

“Wamuu promised,” the monster said, and dropped the butler’s corpse to the ground like the useless piece of trash it was.

Wamuu. So that was the name of the thug. It was a fitting name for a thug, solid and blunt. Dio would remember it; names had power. If you called someone by name, you were already a step closer, and any hit you landed would be just that much stronger. ‘I know who you are’ wasn’t very far from ‘I know how to hurt you.’

“You didn’t really think we’d let you live, did you?” the right-hand man laughed, and the thug Wamuu was tense and frowning.

“Lord Esidisi…” the thug Wamuu said. Secure enough in his standing to make it known that he was displeased, but deferential and complaisant enough not to try to assert the opinion.

And Esidisi, then, was the name of the right-hand man. All sibilance and oscillations, a fitting name for a snake.

The right-hand man Esidisi would clearly be coming after him an Joestar next, but Jojo obviously wasn’t going to accept that. He took a spear from one of the suits of armor Joestar had stationed around the room and pointed it at the right-hand man Esidisi.

“This is your last chance. Leave now. Or else I’m going to have to kill you.” (‘I’ll let you hurt them over my dead body,’ was probably the more accurate sentiment.)

The right-hand man Esidisi laughed, clearly finding it highly amusing that Jojo even thought he stood the slightest chance against him “Ha! You really think you can threaten us?! You don’t even have hamon!”

Hamon—this was the second time the monsters had mentioned that word. What the hell was hamon? It sounded like it must be some weapon of some sort that humans thousands of years ago had managed to use against these monsters with some mild success. Likely something to do with light, given that that was the only weakness these monsters had admitted to, and the openness with which they’d given that knowledge meant they were used to it being a well-known fact.

“You’re just a weak, pathetic human! Nothing more than in insect!”

Dio grit his teeth. Damn it, I’m already aware of that! His shattered shoulder and broken ribs still flared in pain with the slightest movement, and it didn’t take a genius to tell that he was next to completely useless.

(It burned, it burned, it burned, the darkness rising, swelling, he needed to push it down, he needed to be patient—)

(Damn it, he’d been patient for years, years, he was sick and tired of being patient, sick and tired of having to wait—)

Jojo was looking at him, alarm and worry in his gaze.

Tch. I don’t need you to look at he like that, Jojo. Dio forced his jaw to relax. I’m being too obvious.

(He needed to be patient or he’d miss his chance—)

Jojo turned back to the right-hand man Esidisi, pointed the spear at him. “You’re wrong! When we put our minds to it, we humans can accomplish anything!”

That was very like Jojo; too damn obstinate to acknowledge any failure as inevitable. It was an admirable quality that served him well—because simply never gave up, he always managed to succeed eventually—but in this instance it would inevitably be useless. All it would bring him was death.

Perfect.

Make sure you put up a good fight before you go, Jojo.

“I’ll show you just what humans can do!” Jojo cried, charging the right-hand man Esidisi, but Dio was no longer paying attention. Hopefully Jojo lasted at least a couple minutes against the monster. It was likely the right-hand man Esidisi would play with him a little bit before killing him.

But where was the mask?

There—the thug Wamuu still had it. The thug Wamuu was watching Jojo and the right-hand man Esidisi, clearly still displeased, but he just closed his eyes for a moment, clenching his jaw, before opening his eyes and turning, walking over to the leader.

“Lord Kars,” he said, kneeling down on the ground and bowing his head.

Kars, Dio noted—it was a fitting name for a leader: short, simple, powerful. A name that would be forgotten by no one.

The thug Wamuu lifted the mask above him as an offering, and the leader Kars took it in a hand, raised it to the light, his expression unreadable.

“Tch,” he said, and the corner of his lip curled in a sneer as he tossed the mask aside. “It’s the first one I made. There’s no inset for the Red Stone of Aja. It’s useless.”

The mask slammed into the wall beside the gold-framed painting of the waterfall to the right of the staircase, stayed there for a moment, then fell, clattering to the ground. Dio’s breath caught; the mask now wasn’t be held by anyone, but it was on the other side of the room.

How do I get to it…?

“My Lord…” the thug Wamuu was saying, bowing his head even further, clearly humiliated. Kars cast his eyes around the room, landing on the fight between Jojo and the right-hand man Esidisi.

“Finish them,” the leader Kars said, turning and striding towards the doorway and the night outside. “We’re done here.”

“Of course,” the right-hand man Esidisi acknowledges, gaze still on Jojo, who was panting and now had half of the broken spear embedded in his shoulder. And yet there was no pain in his face, only that iron-wrought determination. He looked like he wouldn’t let the injury so much as slow him down.

(Sometimes Jojo really was almost admirable.)

The thug Wamuu cast one last displeased glance at Jojo and Esidisi facing off against each other before turning as well and obediently following his leader outside, like a well-trained dog.

The right-hand man Esidisi leered at Jojo. “Looks like your time is up.” His grin widened, and he taunted: “Or maybe I should kill your brethren over there first, huh?”

Which was of course the perfect thing to say to rile Jojo up. Jojo yelled, charging the monster, who laughed and taunted, “What do you think you can even do to me, huh?”

At the last moment Jojo wrenched the spear out of his shoulder, jabbing into the right-hand man Esidisi’s face (it looked like he was aiming for one of the monster’s eyes).

But the right-hand man Esidisi just laughed, grabbing his wrist and then twisting his arm around viciously. There was the loud and audible crack of Jojo’s arm breaking, though it elicited only a gasp and a grunt from Jojo.

“Pathetic,” the right-hand man Esidisi sneered. And he pulled back a hand. Jojo struggled, but he was unable to extricate himself, the monster’s grip too strong.

No, Dio thought, his teeth gritted, Jojo, you can’t die yet! I need you to keep being a distraction!

Dio’s eyes skipped briefly to the mask that was still too far away; once Jojo died, the monster would come after him and Joestar next, and he wouldn’t be able to get his hands on the mask.

But there—it was his knife, only a couple feet away from his left foot. It must’ve gotten kicked closer while Jojo and the monster were fighting.

The right-hand man Esidisi was still holding the struggling Jojo. “Now,” he said, looking down at Jojo and sneering, “die.”

Dio threw himself forward and grabbed the knife, flinging it at the right-hand man Esidisi with all his strength, ignoring the flares of agony in his shoulder and ribs, the blood that coughed up into his mouth.

The knife embedded itself, as intended, in the monster’s neck.

The right-hand man Esidisi’s hand stopped in its path towards Jojo’s neck. “Hm.” He looked over at Dio, utterly disparaging, the same expression as the gang members from the slums before they beat someone into the ground.

The right-hand man Esidisi let Jojo drop, reaching up and pulling the knife out of his neck, glancing down at it, the hole in his neck closing up without even bleeding. He looked from the knife to Dio, a smirk curling his lips. “If you thought that would kill me, you must really be stupid. Humans must have regressed in the past 2,000 years.”

And then the monster threw the knife back at him, just like his wretch of a father had flung his alcohol bottles; Dio could see its trajectory, knew exactly the minimum amount he’d have to move in order dodge.

Only, he never got the chance.

Everyone in the room heard the sound of the knife embedding itself into flesh.

 

The monster with the jackal eyes didn’t even try to dodge the spear.

Instead, he reached out a hand, catching the spear through his palm, fingers closing around the metal about halfway down the shaft, the tip of the spear stopped several inches from his face. The metal was slightly slickened with blood, but not as much as it should have been, considering it had pierced through his hand.

“Oh?” the monster said, leering as he easily moved the spear to the side to regard it, as if Jojo wasn’t straining his hardest to drive the spear into him. He looked at Jojo with those cold blue jackal eyes glinting. “Did you really think such a weapon could do anything to me?”

The monster gripped the spear and pressed down, and it was all Jojo could do to stay on his feet and not be forced down to the ground; the spear gave before he did, the metal snapping, and the sudden give caused Jojo to stumble forward, gritting his teeth as the pointed half of the spear buried itself painfully in his right shoulder.

“Hm.” The monster flexed his hand, the flesh healing in moments right before Jojo’s eyes. There wasn’t even a drop of blood on the monster’s white sleeve.

Those blue jackal eyes fixed back on Jojo, the orange X tattoo bold across his face, warping with his leer. “What are you going to do now, huh?”

Jojo stared at him.

He’s messing with me, Jojo thought. He could easily have killed me already, but he hasn’t. He’s underestimating me. I still have a chance!

Jojo’s eyes quickly scanned the room.

I need to find a way to destroy his brain. Or to destroy him so completely that he can’t regenerate. His eyes landed on a candlestick on the table. Perhaps fire…? But in order to have a fire hot enough I’d probably have to burn down the mansion…

The monster in the black overcoat was walking towards the busted doors and the darkness outside. “Finish them,”he said, his voice resonating in the room. “We’re done here.”

“Of course,” the jackal-eyed monster said, and Jojo looked back at him, meeting the leering gaze. “Looks like your time is up.” The monster grinned, and it wasn’t a nice grin. “Or maybe I should kill your brethren over there first, huh?”

Dio was still on the ground pressed up against the base of the chair, now with both legs bent up in front of him, teeth gritted and right hand still gripping his left shoulder, while their father stood anxiously, gripping the back of the chair for support. They were utterly defenseless.

Jojo’s heart seized painfully and he clenched his eyes shut for a moment before charging at the monster. I need to do this!

I won’t let you touch them!

(Each time he closed his eyes there was the haunting image of Dio lying dead on the ground, head fallen to the side, blood dripping slowly from his mouth and gold-amber eyes dull and empty—)

“What do you think you can even do to me, huh?” the monster was laughing, leering at him, and Jojo grit his teeth and yanked the spear out of his shoulder—there was a flare of pain, but he hardly noticed it—launching himself at the monster and stabbing the spear towards one of those cruel jackal eyes.

I don’t know if this spear can pierce through his skull but if I impale him through the eye I should definitely be able to hit his brain!

But the monster grabbed his wrist, and the next thing Jojo knew the monster was behind him and there was a flare of agony as the humerus of left arm snapped.

I need to ignore this pain.

He was forced to look down at the ground, the monster holding him in a tight grip, his arms wrenched behind him. I need to get out of this!

But he couldn’t twist or wrench himself out.

“Pathetic,” the monster said behind him, close near his ear. Jojo struggled.

But the monster’s grip around him simply tightened. “Now,” the monster said, and Jojo could hear the sneer in his voice, close by his ear. “die.”

No! Jojo’s eyes were wide and his heart was hammering. I need to find of a way out! There must be some way to—!

There was movement in his peripheral vision that he couldn’t quite make out, the sound of something sharp burying into flesh, and he felt the monster suddenly still and hummed.

And then Jojo was dropped.

He caught himself with his hands before his face could hit the ground—a flare of agony in his broken right arm (Ignore it!)—and he turned, getting up to his feet and looking—

There was a familiar switch-knife buried hilt-deep in the monster’s neck, and across the room Dio was standing with a murderous expression on his face, left arm dangling at his side but right hand raised in front of him. There was more blood dripping from the corner of his mouth and his burgundy coat was open, dark bruising visible through the thin fabric of his white dress shirt.

Dio.

He looked like he was seconds away from collapse, but his eyes were flaming, burning amber.

And then the monster pulled the knife out of his neck and looked down at it, the wound in his neck closing before their eyes, and then he looked at Dio, the orange X on his face twisting with his cruel leer. “If you thought that would kill me, you must really be stupid,” he sneered. “Humans must have regressed in the past 2,000 years.”

And then he lifted the knife and Jojo was already leaping forward, reaching out a hand, the cry of “No!”on his lips but he wasn’t fast enough, and the knife—

There was the sound of the knife embedding itself into flesh, and Jojo froze, turning in horror to see—

their father falling to his knees, the hilt of the knife sticking out of his chest.

He’d stepped in front of Dio and taken the knife for him, and Jojo’s heart clenched so painfully that for a moment he forgot how to breathe.

F-father…!

 

Dio’s eyes widened as he stared at Joestar in front of him, watched him drop to his knees, a hand hovering over the knife embedded beneath his ribs.

H-he… he just stepped in front of me and took the knife for my sake…!

Dio could feel his lips starting to tremble.

The fool!

It was all he could do not to start laughing as he dropped his his knees as well, catching Joestar with his good right arm when the old man was about to fall, lowering him gently.

“Father!” Dio cried, the word choked with strangled-back laughter, knowing it sounded like what he was trying to keep himself from doing was sob. “Y-you…!”

I was poisoning you with the intention of killing you, and then you go ahead and take a knife I would’ve dodged, finishing yourself off for me! And you thought you were saving your loving son, but you were just assisting your murderer in your accelerating the arrival of your death!

It was really delightfully ironic—Dio had to clench his eyes shut and bent his head to hide his mirth, shaking from restrained laughter. The movement jarred his shattered shoulder and broken ribs, which was agonizing, but the way it made his breath falter and hitch with pain would only add more authenticity to his act.

“Dio…” Joestar murmured, and Dio felt the old man’s hand rest against his cheek. He leaned into the gesture in lieu of opening his eyes; he didn’t trust that his mirth wouldn’t be visible there.

“F-Father…” he said shakily, and with his good right hand around the old man’s shoulder he pulled Joestar closer. Every movement was another flare of agony in his ribs and a stronger taste of blood in his mouth, but this was just all so ironic—what had started out as an absolute disaster had turned into the greatest present he could have wished for.

In one night he’d been handed the means to evolving beyond his pathetic humanity, along with Joestar and Jojo’s deaths.

Only when he was certain that his mirth wouldn’t be visible in his eyes did he open them.

Even while looking at Joestar he could watch out of the corner of his eyes as Jojo used a sword stabbed into the ground to launch himself up to the second floor, grabbing the ledge with one arm and then pulling himself up with both, even though Dio knew for a fact that the one arm had to be broken, and on top of that the other shoulder was still gushing blood being impaled by the spear.

Only Jojo would be able to accomplish such an insane feat.

And Joestar had managed to throw himself in front of him to take the knife, even despite his age and debilitating illness.

Obstinate fools, the both of them.

They didn’t even realize that he was acting. That he’d been acting all this time. That he just wanted the Joestar fortune and had never cared about them at all.

The laughter shook him and rattled his broken ribs, driving the bone shards agonizingly deeper into his lungs, blood in his mouth that he swallowed back down, and it only made him laugh harder because it didn’t matter.

The right-hand man Esidisi had followed Jojo up to the second-floor, and now there was nothing and no one between Dio and the mask.

“I would’ve dodged that knife,” he told Joestar, because he wanted to see how he’d react, knowing he’d sacrificed himself uselessly. “You didn’t have to sacrifice yourself for me.”

But Joestar just closed his eyes and shook his head, smiling.

Ah yes—Just like Jojo, Joestar would believe whatever he wanted to. Dio was probably putting far more effort into his caring-son act than he needed to.

Joestar opened his eyes, then, took his hand from Dio’s face and turned his wrist to show the ring on his finger. “Keep this,” he said, holding Dio’s gaze.

Dio looked at the ring, then at Joestar, blinking in confusion. His wedding ring? Why the hell does he want me to keep his wedding ring?

“It was Jojo’s mother’s,” Joestar said, as if that was some kind of explanation.

She wasn’t my mother, you fool!

“Why?” he asked, looking from the ring back to Joestar. He didn’t bother trying to hide his confusion. “Why would you give that to me?”

“We had matching rings made when we were married,” Joestar said, holding his gaze. “Mine was pawned by your father, Dario Brando.”

Dio stiffened, and he knew that he’d just lost control of his body, that his eyes were wider than he wanted them to be, that there was shock and hatred on his face that ideally should’ve been hidden.

D-damn it!

But if Joestar thought that was strange, he didn’t show it; he probably just rationalized the reaction to himself in some way. Still looking at Dio he continued: “When the police came to me I told them I gave it to him.”

“Wh-why…?” Dio managed to get out, and he hated how his voice was no longer in his control, the way it trembled and faltered. Why the hell would you do that?!

Why the hell are you telling me this?!

“In his place I might have done the same thing,” Joestar said. “I owed him my life, and Jojo’s as well. I told Dario to sell the ring and buy something nice for his family.”

You fool! Dio couldn’t keep himself from shaking in hatred and anger. Just hurry up and die already!

Joestar was still looking at him, and something softened in his expression, saddening. “He never did, did he?” he said quietly.

Dio froze, looking at him in shock.

Y-you…

He’d always thought that Joestar was a complete idiot who had no idea what kind of person Dario Brando had been, what kind of a world Dio had grown up in. But now—

H-how much does he actually know?!

Dio didn’t have control of himself. He needed to wipe the shock off his face, needed to say something, needed to—

“You’ve grown into an admirable young man, Dio,” Joestar said, eyes softening even further and warming, and he rested his hand back on Dio’s cheek, brushing his thumb beneath Dio’s eyes, smiling. “I’m proud to call you my son.” His eyes never left Dio’s. “I hope that I’ve managed to be a good father to you.”

Dio was filled with rage and shaking, and it hurt like hell but he couldn’t stop, the darkness inside him rising and swirling like a tempest, black tendrils snaking through his chest, around his throat, through his veins.

“You fool!” he said, and he couldn’t control his trembling, but he could at least control what he said—“How can you talk like that, when we’re all going to die?!”

Broken ribs driving deeper into his lungs and more blood welling up in his mouth, and if he didn’t use the mask he was sure that at this point he wouldn’t survive, even despite Joestar taking the knife for him and Jojo doing everything he could to keep the monsters from killing him.

Useless!

Completely, utterly useless!

All their blind, foolish, insane love, and it didn’t mean anything.

He was only going to survive this because he was willing to throw his humanity away.

It didn’t matter how injured or whole he was now. It didn’t matter at all.

Joestar, the fool, just smiled at him. “I know that you and Jojo will get out of this, Dio,” he said, and he was pale from the bloodloss, his voice starting to fade. “You’ve always worked so well together.”

Y-you…! Dio’s eyes were wide and he trembled, the darkness coursing through him, threatening to overwhelm him. “F-Father…” he choked out—and damn it, it was torture to pronounce such a hated, loathsome word.

What a farce.

And he was sure, sure that all his fury and hatred was visible all over his face, but Joestar just smiled softly at him. He probably thought that Dio was torn up about his death.

Fool!

“Dio,” Joestar said, smiling softly, “it’s not so bad… to die in the arms of your son.” His hand slipped from Dio’s face and the light faded from his eyes, his head falling to the side.

To die in the arms of your son?

The darkness inside him was an inferno as Dio grinned, let the old man’s body drop to the ground, stood up. His eyes landed on the mask on the other side of the room. Jojo and the right-hand man Esidisi were still fighting on the second-floor. How the hell Jojo was still alive was utterly beyond him. It didn’t matter.

He stepped over Joestar’s corpse and walked across the room, holding his left arm with his right hand so it wouldn’t swing limply at his side. Every step was agony. Every breath was agony. It didn’t matter.

There was nothing and no one in his way, now.

The mask was at his feet. He stared down at it.

The stone smirked up at him.

Dio bent down and picked it up.

There was a sudden crash above him, and Dio turned his head as Jojo was fell from the second-floor, landing on his back on the tile among broken pieces of the railing he’d crashed through, his eyes wide and blood coughing from his mouth.

Jojo’s eyes met his and Dio smiled down at him.

“D-Dio…” Jojo said, trying to push himself back up into a sitting position.

“Perfect timing, Jojo,” Dio said, stepping over to him, crouching down, smiling as he reached out a hand and brushed the blood from Jojo’s mouth with his thumb. “Your blood will do just fine.”

Dio stood, held the mask in his four unbloodied fingers, lifted it and pressed it over his face.

Jojo was sitting up, struggling to stand. “D-Dio? Wh-what are you—?”

“I’m throwing away my humanity, Jojo,” Dio said, and he was smiling behind the mask, feeling calmer and more sure of himself than he could ever remember feeling in his life. He brushed his bloodied thumb over the stone lips. “I’m moving beyond humanity!”

Jojo’s eyes widened in alarm and he shot to his feet, reaching out a hand, saying, “Dio! Don’t—!”

But the mask had already impaled his brain, bright stabs of pain, and the room was filling with light and Dio was laughing.

Finally, finally he would be—!

The darkness closed in close around him, and Dio had never been so willing to let himself fall into its hold.

(He fell, but he never hit the ground.)

 

Jojo’s heart clenched painfully as he watched Dio drop to his knees and take their father into his arms, looking completely shocked—horrified that their father was going to die, astounded that he would sacrifice his own life to save him.

That’s love, Dio.

Jojo closed his eyes, tightening his fists so hard his muscles trembled; it made the stab-wound in his right shoulder and his broken left arm flare with pain, but that pain was nothing compared to the pain in his heart. The beat of it was hammering in his chest, in his ears.

In front of him the monster was laughing.

“You humans are all the same!” the jackal-eyed monster laughed. He pointed a finger at them, grinning unkindly. “Always sacrificing yourselves to try to save each other, even though you’re all going to get killed anyway!” He pointed a finger at them, grinning unkindly. “You actually think you can save each other by dying, but all you’re doing is changing is the order of who dies first!”

Anger coursed through Jojo’s veins—anger like he’d never felt in his entire life. Anger like he’d only ever seen in the infernos of Dio’s blood-amber eyes, when Dio looked like he could burn down the world and then burn the ashes.

Jojo understood, in that moment, why Dio so thoughtlessly and violently lashed out at such times. When the world felt so demonically unfair, so pointlessly, purposelessly cruel; when it felt like no matter what you tried to do it would be useless, that you were powerless against the steel cables of fate that felt wound around you, dragging you down, the feeling of hopelessness—it felt like there was nothing you could do but lash out, rage against the world and drag down as much as possible with you.

Jojo understood the feeling, in that moment, in a way he never had before.

And it made him more determined than ever to win this—to show Dio that there was always a way. That things were never hopeless. That any challenge could be surmounted.

For Dio—for their father—for himself.

He’d prove it.

He turned, took the sword from the display behind him, pointed it at the jackal-eyed monster who was still chuckling.

The monster grinned at him through the orange X crossing his face, pointed a finger at him. “And now you’re going to say, ‘I won’t let my father’s sacrifice go to waste!’”

“I won’t let my father’s sacrifice go to waste!” Jojo cried, charging forward, only for the realization of what the monster had said to hit him a split-second later—Wh-what? How did he do that? What is he—but it didn’t matter. (That voice in his head was Dio’s.)

If this monster could predict his opponents’ moves all the way down to what they would say, then he would just have to do things the monster wouldn’t predict.

Which he was planning on doing anyway.

(“Your strength in boxing is overwhelming strength, Jojo. But as you can see from my victory, your strength can’t do anything if you can’t land a hit against your opponent. That means that you still have to try to take your opponents by surprise in order to create openings.”)

And Jojo stabbed the sword into the floor used the movement to vault up and jump, landing on the hilt and then using the extra height and momentum to leap up and grab the lower edge of the banister with his right arm. The stab wound in his shoulder flared with pain and started bleeding more freely and Jojo grit his teeth, pushing the pain to the back of his mind as he pulled himself up, grabbing onto the banister with his other hand (pushing aside the pain in his broken arm) and then vaulting over the banister, turning and landing exactly how he and Dio had learned in the acrobatics club.

He looked down over the railing and beckoned for the monster to follow him. “Come on up!”

If I’m right—

“Are you using yourself as bait to protect your brethren?” The monster smirked at him, and Jojo’s stomach lurched, but his stare didn’t waver; grinning, the monster jumped, landing lightly, easily on the balcony railing in a crouch. “It doesn’t matter,” he leered. “I can always kill them after I’ve finished with you.”

Jojo lowered his chin determinedly. I won’t let you have that chance!

He needed a way to destroy this being—but the only weakness he apparently had was sunlight.

Clearly it wasn’t light itself that was the problem, so it had to be something specific about sunlight. It was probably those ultraviolet rays Dio had been telling him about, then—Dio was always reading, and lately he’d taken to reading not just in English, French and Latin but also in German (Dio really was amazing), and apparently the existence of a wave of light just beyond the violet had been discovered by a German physicist at the beginning of the century, and since then more discoveries had been made.

Jojo didn’t really pay attention to that kind of thing, but he was always glad when Dio told him about what he’d been reading, and he always tried to pay attention and remember as much as he could (whenever Dio talked about what he’d read he was always so happy, a bright, excited light in his eyes, and it made Jojo feel warm all the way down to his toes).

He recalled, also, that when Dio had convinced their father to install arc lamps in some of the larger rooms, due to their being brighter and also more efficient, both cost- and energy-wise, than oil or kerosene lamps, Dio had also gone into an explanation of how they worked and mentioned ultraviolet light, most of which was apparently blocked by the glass globes they were encased in.

They’d therefore installed arc lamps in some of the largest rooms, including the dining room, the ballroom, and the foyer. All three rooms still had their chandeliers, but they were now mostly for decoration; most of the lighting came from the arc lamps. In terms of brightness the light from kerosene and oil lamps simply couldn’t compare.

The foyer was therefore currently lit by two arc lamps, both of which were located on the second floor, the closer one about ten paces to his left.

The monster stepped down from the railing, and Jojo turned and ran.

“Oh? Trying to take me even farther away from them?” The monster followed after him, laughing. “No matter how much time you try to give them, they won’t be able to escape!”

And then there was movement above him, and then the jackal-eyed monster landed in front of him, blocking his path, leering and opening his mouth to say something.

But Jojo didn’t give him the chance; instead of pulling a halt he ran even faster, charging and knocking straight into him with his shoulder.

(“I wouldn’t worry about it too much if I were you, though. Your strength and determination should be surprising enough, as your next-to-nonexistent recovery time and complete lack of hesitation will be enough to catch most of your opponents off-guard.”)

If the monster had braced his stance for a charge and caught Jojo, he probably wouldn’t have been able to budge him, but Jojo not stopping had been enough of a surprise that he was knocked back slightly.

“You—!” and the monster laughed, catching him by the neck, slipping his fingers into his skin, and Jojo could feel him beginning to suck out his blood. “Humans must really have regressed. No survival instinct; instead of running away, you came right to me.”

(“When you’re having particular difficulty with an opponent, I recommend purposefully letting them land a few hits against you so that they’ll think they’ve weakened or stunned you, and then taking them out right then and there while their guard is down.”)

Jojo met his gaze, and the monster’s blue jackal eyes widened slightly. “You’re undaunted even when I’m absorbing your blood?!”

And Jojo just planted his stance, wrapped his arms around Esidisi and lifted him up, grunting with the effort from the weight and from the pain in his shoulder and broken arm, but the pain and difficulty were nothing compared to the sweet taste of success as he slammed the monster into the lamp hard enough to shatter the glass.

(“Of course, that strategy won’t work against me, because I know exactly the amazing feats of strength you’re capable of, Jojo, and therefore I know never to underestimate you. But nobody else knows that. So it should be plenty effective against any other opponent you face.”)

“What is this?!” the monster cried, and he flung Jojo away from him, Jojo crashing painfully through the banister and falling to the floor, landing on his back, the air knocked out of him, all his injuries flaring. There was the taste of blood in his mouth.

I need to ignore this pain.

As his vision cleared he saw Dio standing there, looking down at him. Dio smiled. It was a bright, sunny smile. A smile like nothing was wrong. Like everything in the world was going right. Like their father wasn’t lying dead a few meters away. Like Dio’s left arm wasn’t dangling limp and useless at his side. Like there wasn’t blood dripping from the corner of his mouth with every breath.

(“Just don’t ever expect to win against me, Jojo.”)

“D-Dio…” Jojo said, still trying to get his breath back, and tried to push himself up, feeling the anxiety take hold him at the uncanny expression. Dio, what are you about to—?

Dio stepped over to him. “Perfect timing, Jojo.” He crouched down, still smiling that beautiful smile that took Jojo’s breath away, his golden eyes warm and shining as he reached out a hand and brushed the blood from Jojo’s mouth with his thumb. “Your blood will do just fine.”

And then that angelic, childishly happy smile twisted into a demonic, malevolently cruel smirk as Dio stood, a smirk that made Jojo’s insides churn, and when Dio pressed the stone mask over his face—Where did he get that?!—it gave Jojo shivers (the mask was wearing the exact same malicious smile).

Jojo struggled to get his feet, feeling the horror closing its fist around his heart. “D-Dio? Wh-what are you—?”

“I’m throwing away my humanity, Jojo,” Dio said, and Jojo could hear the grin in his voice as he brushed his thumb with Jojo’s blood over the mask’s stone lips. “I’m moving beyond humanity!”

Horror turned Jojo’s insides to stone. “Dio!” he forced his body to move, shooting to his feet, reach out— “Don’t—!”

But the spikes had already shot out of the mask and impaled Dio’s brain, and the eyes of the mask were shining red and rays of bright light filled the room and behind the mask Dio was laughing, exhilarated and triumphant.

(“Don’t ever expect me to lose against anybody.”)

And Jojo forgot how to breathe. He could only watch, staring in horror, feeling utterly petrified. His limbs, his lungs, his heart, his mind; nothing was working.

And Dio was laughing. Laughing like a prisoner who has just broken free of the cell they’d been locked in for so many years they’d forgotten what it was like to look up and see sky.

Dio….

You….

What have you…

done…?

And then Dio stopped laughing, going completely limp and falling—

Jojo caught him. His broken humerus flared with pain, but Jojo hardly noticed. He slowly sank down to the floor, pulling Dio’s limp body into his arms, and he was shaking uncontrollably as he removed the mask, his gaze falling over Dio’s face, closed eyes and slightly parted lips, as if he were sleeping.

But when Jojo pressed a hand over Dio’s heart, it wasn’t beating, and when he leaned down to put his ear to Dio’s mouth, he wasn’t breathing.

There was the sound of crashing and shattering from the second floor, and first one of the arc lamps went out, and then the other, and the foyer was drenched in darkness, but Jojo couldn’t have cared less.

Dio… The tears stung Jojo’s eyes and he pulled Dio closer, bending over him as if to shield him, and Jojo clenched his eyes shut and gritted his teeth against the pain that was suddenly everywhere, in his body and his mind and in his heart.

Dio, what have you done?

 

As if they were pillars in the shape of men, the two dark figures at the mouth of the road waited with the comfortable, colossal stillness of stone.

“Esidisi is taking his time.” The deep voice resonated and rumbled, as if coming from the earth itself, but it had its origin in the mountainous figure whose dark tailcoat fluttered in the summer breeze like a banner from its imposing stone tower. His light hair shone like marble in the light of the moon.

From the figure wrapped all in black, like a dark vision from the ages of the plague that had ravaged Europe so devastatingly in the past, came a voice as deep and rich as the darkness of night. “It’s been so long since he had a worthwhile foe. He must be trying to get as much out of this fight as he can, even if it’s just a simple human.”

From the mansion across the courtyard there came a brilliant flash of light, a bright white that feathered at the edges into all colors and set them dancing in the night like an aurora borealis.

The figure like a specter of the Black Death turned his head, and when the light brushed over his face his eyes were illuminated red, before the light faded and the night devoured the color and held the memory of it like a buried secret in the dark cavern of its mouth.

The monumental figure beside him regarded him with desaturated stone-gray eyes, and when he spoke his voice rolled like distant thunder. “My Lord?”

When the figure of darkness moved towards the mansion, his movements were those of a cloud being blown across the moon; smooth, inanimate, unhurried, inevitable.

As he moved he was followed by the other like lightning is followed by thunder.

A voice that seemed to rumble from the stony earth: “What was that?”

And it was as if the very night itself answered back: “The Mask.”

The buzzing electric lights that had been illuminating the front windows of the mansion like monstrous eyes dimmed and then died, and the night was silent.

A distant rumbling made the silence tremble: “The human, then?”

It was as if the night smiled; all deep purple sky, prowling shadows and evanescent glimpses of moonlight. “One of them.”

The figures were more animated statues than men as they mounted the mansion’s steps like a rising tide.

The words: “This should be interesting,” were briefly spoken—quickly hidden in the rustling of leaves as the breeze danced without emotion amid the trees—and then swallowed by the ravenous night.

Chapter Text

Jojo curled up around Dio’s warm body with stinging eyes and a heart that ached into eternity, and tried to think what this all meant.

He didn’t know. He didn’t know if Dio was truly dead or not. If Dio would become some inhuman monster or not. If this was the end or not. If he had anything left at this point.

It was dark now, but his eyes were adjusting, and he brushed a hand over Dio’s face, under a closed eye and the eyelashes that feathered dark against pale skin, over the three moles that lined his left ear and had always made Dio laugh slightly when Jojo kissed them.

The tears leaked wet and warm from Jojo’s eyes, dripping glistening onto Dio’s skin.

Someone landed in front of him, and Jojo looked up to see the jackal-eyed monster standing there, now wearing only the paisley brocade vest; his white dress shirt was gone, and in his shoulder where the 3,600°C arc had burned him was a wound that looked as if it were filled with shifting magma.

The monster looked murderous, and as he reached down Jojo pulled Dio’s body protectively closer, determined that no matter what, he wouldn’t let this monster touch him.

Just as the monster was about to close his hand around Jojo’s neck, a pale hand shot up, grabbing the monster’s wrist and then wrenching, throwing the monster all the way across the room so that he slammed straight through the far wall, with a force that shook the mansion around them and made Jojo’s eyes go wide.

Dio sat up in his arms, and the moonlight caught on his grin. On his fangs.

“Joooojo,” Dio said, nearly sing-songing the name, tone mellifluous, melodious, heady and warm and jubilant. He met Jojo’s gaze with eyes that were glowing a deep and luminous blood-amber that made Jojo’s mouth go dry.

Dio put his left hand against Jojo’s face—the same hand that he’d thrown the monster with, the same arm that had previously been rendered limp and useless from his grievous shoulder injury—and smiled at him.

It was a triumphant, delighted, childish smile, like a kid on Christmas morning who had just opened all his presents and discovered that he’d gotten everything he wanted and more.

“D-Dio?” Jojo said, and his heart was hammering in his chest, the feeling that was shredding him somewhere between joy and relief and dread.

Dio kissed him, fierce and passionate.

“You idiot,” Dio grinned when he pulled back, and the light danced in his luminescing blood-amber eyes. “Catching me with your broken arm. Are you crazy?”

Jojo smiled, his heart melting slightly. “I’ll always catch you, Dio.” Always.

Dio laughed, then, and the sound was so incredibly bright and happy that Jojo felt his heart soar.

Behind Dio the monster was rising out of the rubble. “You.” The monster’s voice was menacing and crackled like fire as he turned, glaring, jackal gaze on Dio, and the molten wound in his shoulder was already shrinking. “Vampire.”

Vampire.

That’s right. Dio was a vampire now.

The dread came rushing back in like a tidal wave.

Dio dropped his hand from Jojo’s face, carefully untangled himself from Jojo’s embrace and stood. He looked down at Jojo, his back to the monster, and Jojo’s heart was pounding heavily in his chest, loud in his ears.

“D-Dio… you’re… you’re not human anymore…” He could barely get the words out; it felt like they would choke him.

But Dio just smiled down at him, leaning down to take Jojo’s chin in his hand, brushing a thumb over Jojo’s lips. “Don’t be like that, Jojo,” he said, low and soft and loving. “Someone had to use the mask for us both to survive this.”

And as Dio straightened and turned away from him, saying, “Keep out of this from now on, Jojo. This isn’t a battle for humans,” Jojo could feel himself start crying.

 

Dio reawoke as a vampire.

It was a death, an utter destruction of who he was—

it was being reborn as a god.

It was a shedding of old, stiff skin; a peeling away of old scars, revealing fresh, new, pristine skin underneath; it was an emerging, a metamorphosis; a butterfly taking to the air on wings with scales that scintillated, leaving far behind its ripped cocoon, the ghost of the ugly, disgusting caterpillar it had once been; it was a fulfillment of fate; a bird of prey leaving far below the twig nest it had been confined to for so long, with fluffy feathers that didn’t hold together and an awkward body that stumbled more than it walked, finally launching into the sky to soar above the world on wings of glossy, closely-knit feathers, turning and circling and diving, utterly free and as easy as breathing.

His shattered shoulder healed, his broken ribs and punctured organs mended, the power and the strength flowed through him, headier and more potent than wine and yet not dizzying or muddling but clarifying. Everything was sharp and cut of diamond, sharp enough and hard enough to cut yourself on, to slice yourself into pieces—

but he was harder, sharper, and the world powdered on his fingertips and was absorbed into him like sugar on the tongue, melting and breaking down to its components to be swallowed, digested, incorporated as a part of him.

He felt Jojo’s arms around him, felt Jojo’s pulse and heard his heartbeat, his breathing, the tearing flesh of Jojo’s broken left arm whenever Jojo pulled him closer, felt the trembling weakness, the embrace he could break with a tap of his little finger. He smelled the sweet aroma of Jojo’s blood and he heard the footfalls of the right-hand man Esidisi, felt the vibrations, could pinpoint the exact location, the exact velocity.

He opened his eyes and grabbed the monster’s wrist before the monster could grab Jojo’s throat. It was easy. It was so easy. And he threw the monster across the room, the power pulsing, flowing through him, an electricity in his veins; an exhilarating, intoxicating strength, a complete and absolute power; a feeling that he could break anything around him with a single touch, render the building to dust and crush Jojo’s skull between his hands, if he so desired—and yet he had complete, absolute control; a feeling that he could brush his fingertips over Jojo’s eyelids so lightly, so softly, so smoothly, that it would feel like air; a feeling that he could drink from the most delicate glass; that he could walk over the ground without a sound; that he could defy the very laws of nature, could defy not just death but physics and gravity; he could feel every cell in his body, could feel the way it bent to his will, alter and modify himself as easily as waving a hand.

He was beyond the grasp of human understanding, human capability, human morality.

It was like chains and shackles that had been binding him for his entire life had fallen away, the heavy weight and the stink of metal and rust gone, all the human limitations that had always hindered him, strangled him, dragged him down—it was gone.

And he was as a god.

Everything in the world that had once limited him was now nothing more than fodder to be devoured. No longer was he cursed by the blood of Dario Brando that flowed in his veins—

No, no longer was he Dio Brando. That pathetic, disgusting human who’d been crawling through life sniffing out and eating crumbs like a dog beneath a table, cowering at every sound and crying when cornered, limping from the slightest bruise or gash and unable to keep from gnashing its teeth or drooling.

No, he was no longer Dio Brando.

He was simply DIO. Unadulterated, absolute superiority.

And when the right-hand man Esidisi crashed straight through the mansion wall—and Dio had barely tossed him—the scents of the night air were sweet and complex as fine wine, mingling with the savory aroma of Jojo’s blood, and Dio could have kept himself from grinning as he sat up in Jojo’s embrace, but he was no longer so weak that he had to watch what emotions he let show or fear the consequences.

He grinned, and he could feel the sharpness of his teeth, and he felt powerful and hungry and dangerous.

The room was dark, lit only by the pale light of the moon, but it was enough—it was more than enough. Dio could see the details of the room as clearly as if it were day, the dark no longer turning the world to impenetrable shifting shadows and blurry shapes as when he was human, and he could even make out color.

When Jojo looked at him his eyes were magpie-wing blue.

Jojo—the unbelievable fool—who caught him even with a broken arm, who looked at him even now that he wasn’t human with so much aching-heart love that previously it would’ve made Dio feel disgusted, nauseated, contemptuous.

But Jojo’s love no longer sickened him—Jojo should love him. It was only right that Jojo should love him—should love him passionately, undyingly, irrevocably; should love him so much that he’d give Dio everything. His blood and his life.

“Joooojo.”

Dio kissed him and left Jojo breathless.

The kiss tasted sweetly of Jojo’s blood.

This marvelous power came from the mask and from your blood, Jojo. You gave me this power!

Dio grinned at him. “You idiot. Catching me with your broken arm. Are you crazy?”

Jojo smiled softly, warmly, fondly. “I’ll always catch you, Dio.” And the best part about Jojo saying that was that he meant it. He genuinely meant it.

And Dio laughed, because Jojo was made of wrought-iron and yet Dio had him twined around his fingers like a cat’s cradle, to be manipulated into whatever figure he wished.

He could hear the right-hand man Esidisi extricating himself easily from the rubble. “You,” he sneered. “Vampire.”

Vampire.

It made Dio smile.

It was immeasurably better than Human.

The monster was rising, crossing back towards them, and Dio rose as well, disengaging himself from Jojo’s weak human embrace.

He saw the horrified realization starting to settle over Jojo’s features. “D-Dio… you’re… you’re not human anymore…”

And Dio smiled down at him, because he knew that no matter what Jojo said or thought, it wouldn’t matter; Jojo’s love for him would not diminish.

Jojo would be wholly, completely his, all the way up to the moment he took Jojo’s last dying breath.

The right-hand man Esidisi was coming up behind him; the leader Kars and the thug Wamuu were approaching the main doorway; Dio ignored all of them.

Jojo looked like he was about to start crying.

Dio leaned down, lightly taking Jojo’s chin in his fingers, brushing his thumb over Jojo’s lips; there was still blood there. “Don’t be like that, Jojo,” he murmured, smiling. We both know you love me. “Someone had to use the mask for us both to survive this.”

And then Dio rose, turning, licking Jojo’s blood from his thumb. Now cry tears of joy, Jojo!

You’ll get to die by my hand instead of by that of these monsters.

He met the right-hand man Esidisi’s furious gaze and grinned, relaxing his stance. “Keep out of this from now on, Jojo. This isn’t a battle for humans.”

It wouldn’t do for you to get yourself killed on accident before I have the chance to kill you properly myself, now would it?

Jojo’s death had to be perfect.

And as he stepped towards the right-hand man Esidisi and his oncoming blow, Dio couldn’t help but grin at the faint scent of salt from Jojo’s tears.

 

Dio stepped back, turned to face the monster approaching him. “Esidisi, was it?” He was smiling.

Jojo’s heart was aching and he felt confused and at a loss—

and Dio looked so incredibly happy.

“I have to play with you a bit to test out my new powers,” smiled Dio, and it was like he was glowing from the inside, radiating with a soft light, warm and yellow. His eyes were bright and orange-gold. “I don’t know how far they go yet.”

Dio’s teeth may have been sharp and fanged, now, but his smile was so happy and delighted that it if it were turned on Jojo, Jojo wouldn’t have been able to resist the urge to kiss him.

And yet there was something dangerous, there, and Jojo’s heart was pounding in his chest, dread bitter and acrid in his mouth, overwhelming the metallic tang of his blood that was welling up from his throat and the warm saltiness of the tears that were trickling over his lips.

Dio…

To think you’re so happy to be a monster.

It was almost as if Jojo were dreaming, as Dio rose into the air, floating upwards, turning with an uncanny grace to hang from the ceiling, as if he’d performed the action thousands of times before, dark burgundy jacket had falling open and hanging around him like a cloak.

But the pain in Jojo’s body told him that this was in no way a dream.

(And he never had dreams like these. Nightmares where Dio died, yes; nightmares where he failed Dio and Dio fell back into a cruelty he couldn’t he pulled back from, yes; even nightmares where Dio killed people. But for Dio to become such a beautiful monster?)

(This was something that he was certain could never have come from his own mind—not even from the darkest and most shameful corners where a part of him occasionally rejoiced when Dio turned that not-completely-tamed cruel streak on someone else for his, Jojo’s, sake.)

The monster was looking up at Dio and smirking, as if Dio’s hanging like a bat from the ceiling was merely amusing and not at all concerning. “Oho? Then come play as much as you want. I’ve been longing for a worthy opponent.” His smirk turned to a leer. “I will enjoy killing you.”

As if that were amusing and not at all concerning, Dio just laughed. “Killing me? You can certainly try.

Dio looked like he should’ve looked all those Christmas mornings of their youth, when he should’ve been delighted and excited to open his presents instead of mistrustful, subdued, apprehensive.

Jojo’s heart ached powerfully at the sight, and he was terribly confused; he couldn’t help but feel a warm and glowing sensation at witnessing such sheer joy from Dio, and yet there was also a heavy fear curling in his gut and around his heart.

He was afraid of Dio.

But even more so, he was afraid for Dio.

Dio left the ceiling, turned in the air and lowered, landing lighting on the ground, turning to face the monster with eyes that were gold and a smile that was all yellow.

Jojo had never encountered anyone else who looked so good in yellow.

“But we’ll see who will be killing whom,” Dio said, smiling that yellow smile. The expression didn’t flicker, not even when the monster—Esidisi, Dio had called him?—swung his leg around in a lightning-fast kick, hitting Dio in the face with what must have been an incredible amount of strength.

And yet Dio’s head was barely knocked to the side, and that yellow smile was as steady as the light of the sun as he stepped forward, attacking Esidisi with a right hook to the chin, a knee to the gut, a kick to the back of his leg that was bent at a funny angle since kicking Dio’s face.

And yet even after that attack and with what appeared to be a very broken leg, Esidisi hardly seemed fazed, easily remaining on his feet and shooting a hand forward to to grab Dio’s throat.

Dio jumped back, easily dodging, and Esidisi, in what appeared to genuine praise, said: “To have that much control over your body so quickly is impressive indeed.”

As Dio looked at the monster his smile remained yellow even obscured by the finger he held to them, and his eyes were bright orange-gold and laughing. “You also had an unfortunate run-in with a carbon arc lamp, I see. How did that feel?”

The monster Esidisi leered at him. “I’d offer to let you feel what it’s like to be burned by the sun yourself, but I’m afraid you won’t live long enough to find out. You’ll be dead long before the sun rises.”

Dio’s smile was sunny as he removed his finger from his lips. “Not if you keep standing there and not doing anything.” He made a beckoning gesture, and in the full light of Dio’s smile it was almost a wonder that Esidisi wasn’t being burned.

Esidisi’s leer made Jojo feel sickened and full of dread. “That’s some talk for a lowly vampire. Not even an hour you were pathetic and broken, crumpled on the floor and quivering in fear!”

Jojo’s dread increased tenfold.

But Dio’s smile was sunlight itself.

And yet still, Jojo couldn’t shake the fear that something was going to happen to him—

and that when it did, he would be unable to do anything to save him.

“Time to put you in your place!” Esidisi said, and he pointed at Dio leeringly. “I’ve devoured countless vampires like you!”

Jojo’s muscles were tense, his heart pounding, but Dio just smiled and swept his tongue along his teeth as if to catch the yellow light and taste it. “You seem to be under the impression that that will anger and intimidate me. However, your assumptions are erroneous.”

Dio laughed, then, and the sound made Jojo’s heart take flight, only for Dio’s words to grab it back and clench it tightly in a fist. “My prior weak and pathetic state is now of no consequence. I have surpassed myself!” Dio laughed, bright and uncanny, and Jojo’s heart was a pounding pulse.

“You think you can make me, Dio, your prey?” That smile—it was so beautiful, it took Jojo’s breath away; and yet it was so terribly, maliciously, delightedly, horrifyingly cruel. “I’d like to see you try!”

Dio… Jojo clenched his eyes shut against the pain in his chest.

Why?

Why was being human so horrible to you, that you’re so happy now to be a vampire? To have to feed on the lives of others, and to be unable to ever again see the light or the feel the warmth of the sun?

Jojo must have failed.

Was being human really so horrible to you that you’d rather live an eternity in darkness with the taste of blood forever in your mouth and the lives of thousands of innocents on your hands?

Whatever pain had been tormenting Dio for all these years—the pain Jojo had only occasionally been allowed to catch glimpses of but which he’d tried his very best to soothe—his love had never been enough to counter it.

I’m sorry, Dio.

Jojo’s heart was breaking apart inside his chest.

I’m so sorry I wasn’t better able to help you.

He had failed. He had failed the person he loved.

He thought about how he’d so wrongfully suspected Dio of trying to murder their father, and he felt the pain threatening to rend him.

Dio, having grown up in a place where everybody believed he was dirt and that he was fated for an existence as wretched as his father’s, had never really been able to believe in himself, not even after coming to live with them, had always believed that no matter how hard he tried he’d be dragged back into that hell of an existence. He’d actively improved himself till he was more refined and mannerly than any of their peers, had studied till he was the top student at their university, had trained until he was one of the university’s star athletes, had read until he was more knowledgeable than half of England’s elite put together. He’d worked until he was more deserving of the title of gentleman than anyone who’d been born into the upper class.

And yet even then, he’d felt himself an imposer and an impostor, had never been able to free himself from all the horrible expectations he’d grown up with and dragged perpetually with him like iron balls and chains fastened permanently to his ankles. Like he was running uselessly from a fate that was inevitable.

Jojo had never taken Dio for the kind of person to be superstitious, but Dio had always seemed to fear that a wretched fate was written for him in the stars.

What made it even worse, of course, was that he hadn’t been the only one. Even despite all his accomplishments, people had still talked behind his back, about how he was nothing but a low-class scumbag who’d grown up in the slums. A dirty and flea-bitten mutt trying to groom himself and pass himself off as a purebred.

And even Jojo, who’d been convinced that he didn’t believe any of that, who many times had willingly fought for Dio’s honor—even Jojo, who should’ve believed in Dio’s ability to be good more than anyone, whose job it was to believe in Dio enough that Dio would be forced to believe in himself as well—even Jojo, when push came to shove, had expected the worst of him.

Jojo would never be able to forgive himself.

And was it any wonder, then, that Dio was so happy now?

Unable to break away from the terrible expectations people had of him, he’d finally found his freedom in accepting them and going beyond them.

All his life, people had expected him to be nothing but a low-life malefactor—and he’d finally proved them wrong by becoming an immortal monster.

Even clenching his eyes tightly shut couldn’t stop the flow of Jojo’s tears.

 

A smile. Dio felt it spreading over his face like the light of a sunrise. “Esidisi, was it?”

A step. The light was breaking, bright and gold. “I have to play with you a bit to test out my new powers.”

Another step, and the light was bleeding rose. “I don’t know how far they go yet.”

He felt lighter than air. He had complete control of his body—to actually become lighter than air was an instinctual thing to accomplish, like lifting a finger.

To rise into the air, to turn and land with his feet on the ceiling, to hang there suspended—an action like walking.

It was just a matter of controlling his body. Reducing his mass by releasing it into the air around him.

“Oho?” The right-hand man Esidisi looked up at him, smirking. He crossed an arm over his chest, gestured with the other. ““Then come play as much as you want. I’ve been longing for a worthy opponent.” His smirk widened. “I will enjoy killing you.”

Foolish. “Killing me?” He laughed at the thought. “You can certainly try.” He felt his grin spreading gold, saw the reflection of the light on Jojo’s face, even in the dimness. The only other light came from the moon.

It was a simple, instinctual matter to pull mass back out of the air, dropping back to the ground, landing lightly and meeting the right-hand man Esidisi’s smirk with one of his own. “But we’ll see who will be killing whom.”

Even a three-kilogram difference in mass could make all the difference in the strength of a punch. Newton’s Second Law of physics: The net force of an object was equal to the mass of the object times the acceleration. To be lighter than air would not be optimal for battle—to deal the most damage possible, he needed as much mass as possible. All of it that belonged to him, and everything he could pull out of the air. He had the strength and durability now to wield it.

The right-hand man Esidisi’s leg came speeding at him in a roundabout kick. Dio smiled and didn’t move.

The kick caught him in the face and Dio hardly felt it. It was the right-hand man Esidisi’s bones that snapped on impact. Lips curling back away from his fangs Dio wasted not a moment, stepping forward and following up with an upper right hook, a knee to the liver, a kick to the back of Esidisi’s broken leg.

“Oho.” The monster’s hand shot for his throat and Dio jumped back, returning himself to his natural mass. To maintain a higher density would not be optimal; he needed the speed his lightness would give him, and his strength was increased as it was. It would be enough.

The right-hand man Esidisi smirked as he straightened, his broken leg already mending itself, completely healed in moments. “To have that much control over your body so quickly is impressive indeed.”

And Dio just smiled. This monster had thousands of years more experience than he, but he had spent those few years of his life reading books, on such topics as math and science—he may have only 21 years of experience living, only minutes of experience with these powers, but he had taken advantage of the thousands of years of humans who had come before him, including that time during which this monster had been sleeping. As weak and pathetic as humans were, there was power in their sheer numbers—millions of people could still experience more than any single being, even if that being lived for several thousands of years.

All that reading wasn’t useless after all, now was it?

For once the voices in his head remained silent.

Humans were pathetic creatures, but they had their uses.

All those corpses could form his pedestal. Later they’d form his throne.

Dio tilted his head, regarded the monster before him. His eyes saw clearly in the dark that the white shirt the monster had been wearing was gone, that the brocade vest had been singed; he could smell it, the scent of burned fabric, singed hair and roasted flesh; scents that lingered even after the wounds had healed.

The monster had destroyed both arc lamps. Jojo must have remembered about the ultraviolet light and used one of them against him. The burns must have been caused by the intense heat of the carbon arc.

Jojo really was far more intelligent than he looked. I should commend him.

Not only had Jojo managed to use the arc lamps against the right-hand man Esidisi, but now that they were both destroyed, they couldn’t be used against Dio now that he was a vampire.

Dio smiled, locked his eyes on the right-hand man Esidisi’s gaze. “You also had an unfortunate run-in with a carbon arc lamp, I see.” His smirk widened against the finger he placed lightly over his lips. “How did that feel?”

The right-hand man Esidisi chuckled. “I’d offer to let you feel what it’s like to be burned by the sun yourself,” he said, “but I’m afraid you won’t live long enough to find out. You’ll be dead long before the sun rises.”

Dio smiled. “Not if you keep standing there and not doing anything.” He didn’t bother to shift his relaxed stance, just beckoned with a hand.

Come at me.

The right-hand man Esidisi looked amused. “That’s some talk for a lowly vampire. Not even an hour ago you were pathetic and broken, crumpled on the floor and quivering in fear!”

Dio just grinned wider.

Now, don’t you want to see how much I’ve changed?

The right-hand man Esidisi pointed at him. “Time to put you in your place! I’ve devoured countless vampires like you!”

Let him be amused—Dio was far more so.

“Ha.” He ran his tongue over the points of his teeth, felt the world around him ready to crumple in the palm of his hand when he curled his fingers. As breakable as silence. “You seem to be under the impression that that will anger and intimidate me. However, your assumptions are erroneous.” He laughed; this feeling in his chest was freedom, birds bursting from the opened door of their wire cage. “My prior weak and pathetic state is now of no consequence. I have surpassed myself!”

He breathed in darkness, took it into himself, felt it filter like cold morning air through the membranes of his lungs; all that which had once suffocated him was now nothing but raindrops on his tongue, aromatic and effervescent as sparkling wine, translucent as the dark distance traversed by the light of stars.

So this is what it feels like to be able to live for eternity.

Dio laughed. “You think you can make me, Dio, your prey? I’d like to see you try!”

No matter what this monster tried to do, it would be useless.

Dio was a monster now, too.

He smiled, and the expression was sharper and more vicious even than his teeth. It was like the darkness in his chest had finally crawled out from under the bed and now rose to its feet, shook itself off, cracked its stiffened joints and felt them loosen, felt the obstructed blood start to flow free and hot and smooth.

If this was a contest between monsters, he’d make sure that he was the more terrible.

“Heh.” The right-hand man Esidisi crossed his arms over his chest and dug his own nails into the skin of his shoulders. He threw out his arms, droplets of blood flinging from their tips. His nails raised, and from beneath them snaked out the ends of snapped veins, as more veins erupted from the holes in his shoulders. “Then have a taste of my special technique!”

Dio lifted his eyebrows. For the monster to control his veins in such a way; that was interesting indeed. But what did he plan on doing with it?

“An animal’s temperature rises when it moves or fights disease,” the right-hand man Esidisi said, veins waving slightly in the air like snakes about to strike. “I can raise my blood to 500 degrees and then shoot it out!”

The right-hand man Esidisi’s veins shot towards Dio as he said this, spraying steaming blood. Dio hissed as it burned through the cloth of his jacket, as it splattered over the skin of his face and neck and burned.

Tch.

It didn’t burn long; he simply raised his own body temperature to match. Temperature was relative, after all—if your body was cold enough, even running your hands under cold water could feel like your skin was burning.

This monster’s blood couldn’t burn him if his own body was raised to 500 degrees as well, and his skin that had been burned was already healed.

He was still splattered with the monster’s blood, though. That was annoying. It would stain his clothes and itch as it dried on his skin.

“This is why they call me the Burning King!” the right-hand man Esidisi was crowing. Like he thought that pathetic attack was actually something to be smug about. “Tell me, how do you like having a taste of my boiling blood?!”

That was your special technique?

Pathetic.

Dio swiped a thumb across the blood splattered over his cheek, brought it to his mouth and licked it clean.

The salty and savory flavor made Dio’s mouth water, and he licked his lips. Never in all his life had he tasted something that filled him with so much delight.

He met the right-hand man Esidisi’s gaze and smiled. “It tastes delicious.”

The right-hand man Esidisi’s expression shifted from one of smugness to one of confusion, disbelief, anger.

Dio’s lips curled farther away from his pointed teeth.

Who thinks it works as a weapon to splatter a vampire with blood? You might as well be starting a food-fight.

Fool.

“No need to look so surprised.” His lip curled and his teeth were sharp. “If you can raise your temperature, why would I not be able to as well?” There was admittedly still the smell of burning cloth, the smoldering holes he could see expanding in his burgundy jacket.

Tch. “Though I suppose you are burning holes in my expensive clothing. No matter.” I’ll replace it later.

He pulled off the burning jacket, tossed it aside. Towards an open expanse of tile floor, where it wouldn’t catch anything else on fire. He’d rather the mansion didn’t burn down.

He looked at the right-hand man Esidisi, smirked at the monster’s infuriated expression. “The Burning King, you called yourself?” He laughed. “You’re not the king of anything!”

How truly pathetic.

“Oho,” the right-hand man Esidisi smirked, tapping a finger against his chin. “You’re a fast learner. That’s admirable.” His smirk turned into a sneer and he pointed at Dio with a hand. “But you were still sired from a pathetic human, now weren’t you?”

The image of his father’s face flashed through his mind, and even with complete control of his body it was all Dio could do not to twitch and snarl.

How dare you associate me with that piece of scum?! I’ve left humanity behind! My father no longer holds any influence over my fate!

(And yet his memory is still able to rile you, pointed out the voices, and it was all Dio could do not to twitch and snarl. Not to spit on the floor to try to get rid of the foul taste in his mouth, the air that reeked of mold and piss and alcohol, the rage-filled eyes and furious shouting, the shattering glass and the flecks of dried blood on the floor and walls, the rotted crooked teeth and hideous skin—)

“Oh?” And the right-hand man Esidisi was smirking. “Did that piss you off?” He pointed at Dio and laughed raucously. A sound even more grating than the call of a raven and sounding not even half so intelligent. “Do you really think someone who was once human could really compare with someone who comes from a far superior species?”

Dio grit his teeth. I need to calm down. I can’t let him rile me. I have—

I should have complete control of myself now, damn it!

He closed his eyes.

You’re not human anymore, Dio. You’re no longer subjected to human limitations.

This anger is just a learned habit. You need to break out of it. You can break out of it, now. Anger is just another physical response of the brain. You’re not human any more; you have control of all that now.

It should be as easy as decreasing and increasing your matter. As raising your body temperature.

You have complete control.

Dio’s tense muscles relaxed. He opened his eyes.

He was no longer angry.

He had no reason to be angry.

Now that he was a vampire and had complete control of his body, the blood of that wretched man that flowed through his veins no longer mattered.

He was no longer subjugated to the fate of heredity. He was free. Freer than any mortal being.

All that wretchedness could no longer cling like tar to his skin and drag him down. It was nothing to him, now; water rolling in beads off the glossy feathers of a swan, leaving him completely dry, completely clean, utterly perfect and pristine.

Now not even Jojo was stronger than he.

He met the right-hand man Esidisi’s gaze and smiled. “Superior, you say?” The thought was laughable, and he let himself laugh. “But you’re slow and stumbling as a sleep-walker! You couldn’t even land a hit against me!” He pointed at the monster, smirked. Let’s see how well you’re able to swallow a taste of your own medicine, shall we? And he laughed. “But perhaps you haven’t awoken fully from your thousand-year slumber? That’s an awful long time to have been sleeping, after all.”

The right-hand man Esidisi’s expression fell out of its smirk. He narrowed his eyes. “Tch.” He pointed at Dio accusingly. “You’re just trying to make me angry so I’ll lose my composure and lash out rashly.”

Dio just laughed. His fangs showed in his grin. “Then tell me, is it working?”

“Heh.” The right-hand man Esidisi smirked at him. “The next thing you’re going to say is, ‘Let me show you how we do things in the nineteenth century!’”

Dio raised an eyebrow. “Why in the world would I say that?”

The right-hand man Esidisi looked thrown aback. “Y-you—!”

“If you’re not going to be making a move, I guess it’s up to me,” Dio said. He lifted a hand, lifted his nails, snapped five of the arteries in his hand and extended them out, snaking them into the air.

The right-hand man Esidisi looked astounded, like he’d been standing on a carpet that had been ripped right out from under him, and Dio smirked.

Still, it wasn’t like splashing the monster with boiling blood was going to do anything. He’d just wanted to try manipulating his veins in such a way. He was still getting used to his new powers, after all. Stealing the right-hand man Esidisi’s apparently signature move from him and flabbergasting him was just an added bonus.

He needed to do something that would actually be effective against this monster.

And in the meantime, he needed to keep him off-balance.

With a smirk curving his lips and exposing the tips of his fangs, Dio sent his blood vessels shooting at the right-hand man Esidisi. The monster dodged, as predicted. Dio’s veins shot straight through the space the right-hand man Esidisi had been occupying to wrap around the marble pillar behind him, and Dio leapt forward as he used his veins to pull himself, increasing his momentum so that easily dodged the arm chair the right-hand man Esidisi had picked up and hurled at him.

He landed feet-first against the side of the pillar, retracting his veins and instead digging his fingers into the stone.

He took fistfuls of the marble with him when he pushed off, the heavy stone adding weight and strength to the punches he landed against the right-hand man Esidisi’s face and torso.

It was clear that the right-hand man Esidisi was a veteran fighter; Dio dodged a blow from a fist and then an elbow only to be hit in the side of the face with a high back-kick.

The force of it was enough to make his nose bleed, and he licked the blood from his lips.

He ducked beneath the next kick, stepped closer to land a knee to the right-hand man Esidisi’s gut and another punch to his jaw, found himself grabbed by the shoulder and head and thrown, managed to twist and flip in the air, land and roll away from the kick aimed at his stomach, throw his legs forward and pushed off his upper back to jump back to his feet.

The fistfuls of marble were still in his hands and he threw one of them, in a slight upwards arc, and when the right-hand man Esidisi’s eyes flicked to the stone Dio pelted the other straight at his face; a move Jojo had once used in a pillow fight. Juvenile, to be sure, but surprisingly effective.

It was enough to make the right-hand man Esidisi stumble back just slightly, and Dio took the opportunity to grab the chair next to him and swing it into the monster hard enough that the wood splintered on impact.

The right-hand man Esidisi grabbed one of the chair legs out of the air and drove it forward, stabbing it at Dio’s face; Dio dodged, but his dodge was anticipated and his legs were swept out from under him, and he found himself falling back towards the ground, the wood now on fire from the monster’s boiling blood and driving again towards his face.

Dio just barely avoided the blow by turning the fall into a back tucked flip, and the wood embedded itself instead deep in his shoulder, making him hiss and stumble back.

The right-hand man Esidisi was smirking and taunting him, but Dio couldn’t care less about the monster’s petty attempts to rile him. He pulled the large shard of wood from his shoulder with the same arm and used it to block Esidisi’s next blow; the wound in his shoulder was already healing. In a few more moments it would be good as new, and even with the injury in his shoulder he could still use the arm to block and punch and grab.

As he fought he was thinking:

How do you kill a being that can heal from almost anything?

He felt invincible and immortal, entirely without limits—but he had to face the fact that that wasn’t actually the case. There were still limits to this power.

Sunlight was one of them. But it was still at least an hour to sunrise, and the sunlight would be a risk to him as well.

There were the carbon arc lamps, but both in the foyer had been destroyed. There were a few others in the mansion, but that wasn’t useful. And even if there were a way to somehow make use of one or more of them, it would endanger him unnecessarily.

There were likely limits to their ability. They needed to consume a large amount of living beings to maintain their immortal lives; it was likely, then, that if you beat them heavily for long enough and they remained unable to obtain more sustenance, that they eventually would no longer be able to heal themselves and would die. But that would no doubt take far too long.

If there was a vital organ that, when completely destroyed, there would be no healing from, it was probably the brain. It was the enhancement of his brain and an unlocking of the brain’s potential which had given him these powers, after all. He had complete control of his body, but in order to have control he needed to be able to think; so if the brain were destroyed, there would be no control center to facilitate the healing.

However, it was likely that that required the brain to be destroyed completely, to the extent where there was no more brain function whatsoever. A wound that only damaged part of the brain but left the rest intact, such as from a bullet, was likely easily repairable.

So it seemed that the most surefire way to permanently kill the right-hand man Esidisi would be to utterly destroy his brain.

And the best way to do that…

It appeared that the right-hand man Esidisi’s strength was heat. The best way to counter heat would be with cold. It would ideal if he could find a way to freeze him.

He had complete control of his body. He could raise his body temperature by contracting muscles and increasing his metabolism, processes that bodies did naturally. He’d simply had to perform these processes at a larger scale, while simultaneously healing the damage caused by the intensification.

It was likely he could do something similar here, as well.

The way bodies cooled down was by pumping hot blood from the body’s core to toward the surface of the skin and secreting moisture in the form of sweat, which, when evaporated and turned from a liquid to a vaporous state, a process which required heat energy, pulled that energy from the surrounding atmosphere and particularly from the body, which allowed the body to cool.

Normally, a body couldn’t perform this process at a fast enough or large enough extent to cause something to freeze; however, his body now submitted to his every will. If he vaporized a large enough amount of his moisture all at once, it was likely he could cause whatever he was in contact with to freeze.

The more contact the more he could freeze.

The right-hand man Esidisi had brought out his veins again and launched them at him, this time wrapping around him like rope rather than trying to splash him with blood.

The monster was leering, tightening his veins around him. “And now you’re caught in my web! I’ll absorb you like a spider sucking out the insides of a fly!”

Dio just smirked. “You can certainly try.

In a split second he vaporized the moisture in his limbs, and all the veins that were wrapped around him froze immediately.

The right-hand man Esidisi’s eyes were wide as, laughing, Dio broke free of the frozen veins, shattering them into thousands of tiny pieces around him.

“Wh-what?!” the right-hand Esidisi said, looking at him. “What kind of technique is this?!” His bottom lip was trembling, like he might start crying at any moment.

Pathetic.

“You really thought you could defeat me, Dio?” Dio laughed, pointed a finger at him. “You’re the one who doesn’t know your place!” His grin was sharp diabolic. “It’s a place called Hell, and I’ll escort you there personally, Esidisi.

Those were indeed tears in the right-hand man Esidisi’s eyes.

And then he was falling to his knees and bawling disgustingly, crying and sobbing and whining like a child. “I can’t take it! I just can’t take it!”

Fool. Did you think that would throw me off and give you a chance to get back at me while I hesitated?

I will do no such thing.

“If you can’t take it then I’ll end it here for you!” And Dio grabbed the right-hand man Esidisi’s head, evaporated the moisture in his body to freeze the monster completely, from his head to his toes, and then Dio pulled the ice sculpture down with his hands at the same time he brought his knee swinging up to hit its face with all his strength.

The ice sculpture that had once been the right-hand man Esidisi shattered into thousands of tiny pieces, skull and brain and all. They scattered and skittered in shards all over the floor.

There was no way that even a nigh-immortal being as he’d been would be coming back from that.

Dio sneered and kicked at the ice shards at his feet. “Disappointing.” He stood back, crossing his arms, eyelids lowering. “Somehow I was expecting more.”

The tiny shards of ice were scattered everywhere, and Dio tched, lip curling.

When the pieces thawed they were going to leave a disgusting mess everywhere.

He’d have to find some way to let the sunlight in without getting hit himself, and hope that the sunlight evaporated them to dust. Maybe he’d let Jojo stay alive long enough to be the one to do it.

Jonathan was still on the floor where Dio had left him, and he was looking at Dio with wide eyes, mouth open slightly, a combination of horror and wonder on his features.

Dio let his lips curl into a smirk; he didn’t have to be careful anymore.

Jojo would love him no matter what, and even if he didn’t it didn’t matter. There was nothing he could do against Dio, now. And he’d be dead by Dio’s hand soon enough.

Far more in need of his valuable attention were the two monsters standing in the doorway who’d been watching the fight. They hadn’t tried to join; no doubt they’d believed the right-hand man Esidisi would be more than able to defeat him.

Fools.

There was no way they’d be letting this go now, though.

Dio glanced disparagingly over the thug Wamuu and locked eyes with the leader Kars.

“Now,” he said, and licked the drying blood from his fingers.

He took a step towards them. He didn’t bother trying to keep the threat out of his movement or the delight out of his grin. “Who wants the honor of being the next to die by my hand?”

 

In the darkness behind Jojo’s closed eyes was the color yellow.

“Then have a taste of my special technique!” Esidisi cried, and when Jojo opened his eyes, dispersing the golden-yellow, through the blur of water he could see what appeared to be veins coming out from beneath the monster’s fingernails, poised around him in the air. “An animal’s temperature rises when it moves or fights disease. I can raise my blood to 500 degrees and then shoot it out!”

The veins shot at Dio, spraying dark blood that steamed in the chilly night air, and Dio hissed when it came in contact with his skin.

His glare was orange, annoyed and unimpressed.

“This is why they call me the Burning King!” Esidisi leered. “Tell me, how do you like having a taste of my boiling blood?!”

Dio’s eyes were glowing embers and his smirk was lurid orange as he brushed a thumb across the blood splattered dark and steaming over his cheek, bringing to his mouth and licking it clean, his breath spilling like smoke from behind his pointed teeth.

His smile was firey orange. “It tastes delicious,” he said, and Jojo wasn’t sure whether to laugh or feel sick.

Dio.

Esidisi looked taken aback as well, shocked and alarmed that his attack didn’t seem to have worked, and the orange of Dio’s smirk smoldered.

“No need to look so surprised. If you can raise your temperature, why would I not be able to as well?” His jacket was smoking, and Dio glanced at the smoldering holes widening in the material and narrowed his ember eyes. “Though I suppose you are burning holes in my expensive clothing.”

‘Expensive’—even now, Dio was still incredibly conscious of money, even after all these years of living with them and money not being a problem. And Jojo knew that that wasn’t even one of Dio’s nicer suits. No one who’d been born to and grown up in a rich family would have called that jacket expensive.

Dio’s eyes were orange and narrowed, but he tsked and said dismissively, “No matter,” pulling off the burning jacket and tossing it carelessly aside, leaving him standing there in his dark dress pants and white dress shirt that glowed palely in the dark, the top few buttons of his collar undone and revealing the definition of his clavicle bones beneath his skin in juxtaposition of light and shadow.

Dio fixed his orange stare on the monster before him and smiled, fiery and infernal. “The Burning King, you called yourself?” He laugh was a crackling of orange flames. “You’re not the king of anything!”

The monster leered at him. “Oho. You’re a fast learner. That’s admirable.” He pointed at Dio and sneered, superior and disparaging, taunting: “But you were still sired from a pathetic human, now weren’t you?”

Dio’s eyes darkened to scarlet, and Jojo’s heart stopped.

Dio.

The beating of Jojo’s heart came pounding back with a vengeance.

Dio remained red-eyed and frozen in a stillness so absolute that it made the world around him look like it was shaking.

“Oh?” The monster Esidisi leered at him. “Did that piss you off?” He pointed at Dio and laughed disparagingly. “Do you really think someone who was once human could really compare with someone who comes from a far superior species?”

Dio’s only movement was a tensing of his jaw and the flaring of his hellfire in his gaze before he closed his eyes, shutting the flames inside.

Most people would never have guessed that the charming Dio had a violent temper; he’d always had such near-absolute control of it, a control he had only strengthened with time. It had probably been almost seven years since Jojo had felt the force of that anger in the form of fists or knees to the face. Not since their youth and the beginnings of their relationship. The few times Dio had lost control and lashed out against Jojo, he’d sulked afterwards for days, clearly hating himself for it, and it had been almost all Jojo could do to reassure him and coax him back.

Since then, Jojo had found that a simple “Dio” was usually all he had to say whenever he saw Dio struggling to hold his temper back, teeth gritted and gaze like a blazing inferno; as soon as Dio managed to close his eyes, the danger of his lashing out was over.

As always, when Dio opened his eyes again, he had his temper completely under control, not even a trace left of the raging inferno except for the ember-scarlet glow that seemed to illume from somewhere deep, deep inside, warming his movements into a fatality like oozing magma and emitting as a soft blood-amber glow from his eyes.

It took Jojo’s breath away, and he almost had to clench his own eyes shut against another onset of tears.

Dio…

Dio may have been a vampire, now—a monster—but Jojo still loved him so much it felt like his heart could burst.

You’re beautiful.

Even the exposed veins that had looked so horrifying and gruesome squirming out from beneath the monster Esidisi’s fingernails were somehow elegant when they snaked from Dio’s fingertips. When they struck out like serpents past Esidisi, wrapping around a pillar and pulling Dio through the air.

It wasn’t human, those snaking veins. It wasn’t human, the fangs in Dio’s smile and the way his fingers dug into the marble pillar as if it weren’t solid stone. It wasn’t human, the way he took fistfuls of the marble with him, leaving large chunks in the pillar that would be impossible to explain as being the result of any natural phenomenon.

It wasn’t human, but it was still Dio, and it still left Jojo’s mouth dry.

And those moves were all Dio as he fought Esidisi: those effortless dodges and snake-strike punches; those high and brutal kicks; those agile flips and nimble acrobatics; those dirty tricks and that complete lack of hesitation.

Among humans Dio had been peerless—but this Esidisi was another matter altogether, clearly well-trained and with countless years of experience. Dio was taking as much damage as he was giving, if not even more so, but he was healing from the damage just as quickly which seemed to be keeping the fight on more or less even ground. It was clear that Esidisi was physically stronger and the more practiced fighter, his movements fluid and targeted; but Dio was smaller, faster and more agile, something he was used to having over his opponents and knew well how to take advantage of, and there was the fierce rawness and artlessness of the modern-day streets in Dio’s fighting which seemed to be taking Esidisi by surprise.

By the red-eyed monster’s account earlier, it would seem that they hadn’t needed to fight very often since awakening in the nineteenth century, and it seemed most of their fighting experience was from thousands of years previous when there was quite likely a significant difference in hand-to-hand combat.

Still, fights were won by wearing down or injuring your opponent to the point where they could no longer fight back. So how could a fight be won when both opponents were healing as quickly as they were injured and seemed to have limitless amounts of energy and stamina?

It seemed that the only way for either of them to win the fight would be, as Jojo had suspected from work on the stone mask, to completely destroy the brain. But did Dio know that as well? And even if he did, how would he even be able to completely destroy the brain of that monster, when even his most brutal attacks never fazed Esidisi for more than a brief moment?

The end came so abruptly and unpredictably that Jojo hardly realized what had happened until shards of frozen flesh were raining down around him.

And Jojo could only stare, lips parted and eyes widened, forgetting for a moment to breathe.

Dio had finally seemed to be starting to slow, and Esidisi had taken advantage of this and wrapped Dio in his veins, declaring triumphantly, “And now you’re caught in my web! I’ll absorb you like a spider sucking out the insides of a fly!”

And Jojo had barely had time to think, Absorb him? before Dio’s deep-crimson smirk of knowing victory stole all his attention, Dio’s rich and velvety purr of: “You can certainly try.

And then suddenly, somehow, all of Esidisi’s veins that had been wrapped around Dio froze in an instant and Dio broke himself free in a shattering of ice.

And then Esidisi had started bawling like a child, and where anyone else would have been taken aback by the uncanny action of the large, muscular man, Dio had simply stepped forward and grabbed his head, freezing it and Esidisi’s entire body on contact.

A blur of movement and Dio’s knee slammed into the frozen Esidisi’s head, the blow shattering him entirely into thousands of tiny ice shards.

And now those shards were raining down all around them, glinting blue-silver in the shafts of moonlight and scattering like glittering diamonds all over the floor.

And Dio stood in the middle of it all, looking disgusted and bored, eyes seeming to glow a dim scarlet in the blue-white light of the moon that cast him in sharp relief, granting a shadow to every white-gold strand of hair and illuminating even the three moles along the lobe of his left ear.

And Jojo had never witnessed anything so simultaneously beautiful and horrifying.

“Disappointing,” Dio intoned, kicking at the ice shards, sending them skittering scintillatingly across the large floral-patterned tiles. “Somehow I was expecting more.”

Dio’s blood-amber eyes cast over the room, then met Jojo’s gaze. Dio’s smile was like red wine and Jojo swallowed thickly.

Dio… What…

Jojo’s mind felt empty as the night, his thoughts dispersed like high shreds of clouds.

What actually are you?

 

In the doorway the two monsters stood still, the silver moon behind them casting their dark shadows ahead of them along the floor.

But there were three monsters in that moonlit room, and he himself was one of them.

The monsters in the doorway regarded him, expressions shadowed and eyes narrowed, as if he were a figure who had suddenly materialized out of the darkness without warning.

Dio smiled. Kicked at the icy shards of the right-hand man Esidisi’s body at his feet. They skittered along the floor towards the two ancient beings.

It was hardly a surprise that they were speechless; Esidisi had been their companion for thousands of years, and they’d believed him and themselves to be invincible and immortal. And now he, Dio—a ‘lowly vampire’ who had only just been reborn from his state of weak and pathetic humanity—had just reintroduced them to the possibility of the oblivion of death.

Could he really be anything less than terrifying?

Dio lowered his eyelids, ran his tongue over the points of his teeth, lowered his voice to a deep purr in his throat. “Well? I may have all the time in the world, now, but I don’t like to be kept waiting.” His lips curled. He pointed finger at them, wrist relaxed. “It’s rude, you know.”

Their gazes lifted from the shards of ice to fix on him once again. The leader Kars looked at him unimpassionedly; the thug Wamuu tightened his jaw, fingers curling into fists at his sides.

“Lord Kars,” he said, keeping his gaze on Dio, “please allow me to take care of this vampire. He has proved himself a threat, and I wish to take revenge for Lord Esidisi.”

“By all means,” intoned the leader Kars.

The thug Wamuu stepped forward, levelling his gaze at Dio. “The great Wamuu shall be your next opponent, vampire!” He shrugged off his tailcoat and tossed it aside, untied his bow-tie and unbuttoned his dress shirt, discarding those items as well. “I hope you’re prepared for this.”

Dio kept his finger pointing at him. “Don’t you think you’re the one who needs to be prepared? You saw how easily I, Dio, defeated your lord Esidisi, after all!” He smiled, salivating at the taste of blood still in his mouth. “I can’t wait to destroy you, as well.”

He rolled up the sleeves of his shirt to just above his elbows, and the thug Wamuu waited until he was done before attacking him.

He really was the honorable type, after all.

The thug Wamuu’s fist connected with Dio’s face, freezing on contact with his skin as he evaporated the moisture in his body.

The thug Wamuu pulled back, regarded his frozen hand with narrowing eyes. “So you can freeze someone merely by touching them?” His eyes moved back to Dio’s face. “Interesting.”

Dio smiled.

“You were born with the Devil’s own luck,” the Chinese medicine man had told him, all those years ago as he was purchasing the poison to carry out his first murder (the first time he’d taken action to change his own fate, with what weak and limited power he’d had).

It was not something he thought often about. But there were times when, inexplicably, those words would reenter his mind.

Now was one of those times.

“You were born with the Devil’s own luck”—it had been a strange phrase, coming from the Chinese medicine man; there was no Devil in the Chinese folk religion. The Devil was a figure of Christianity, a personification of the Catholic idea of Evil as an opposing and opposite force to Good. A duality which did not exist in polytheistic religions, in which gods and demons were personifications of forces of human or earthly nature, rather than of abstract and absolute ideals, and were often not so different from each other.

For the Chinese medicine man to utter such a phrase either meant he was actually a Christian, he’d simply picked up the idiom at some point during his time in England, or he was confusing his English and didn’t understand what it was he was saying.

The monsters across the room from him had existed long before the invention of Christianity and such concepts as the Devil.

“Humans revered us as gods or demons,” the leader Kars had said. It was hardly surprising.

Humans, with their pathetic limitations, could only do so much to direct the course of their futures. It was only natural that they should feel themselves in their uselessness as victims of some larger fate, that they would regard beings with the power to alter course of events as they willed as deities.

What was a god or demon, but a being that did not die and that could pull the strings of fate?

To be immortal was to have control of death, and to have control of death was to have control of life itself.

“You were born with the Devil’s own luck”—it would be more accurate now to say that Dio was the Devil himself, damnation embodified, the orchestrator of condemnation in the eternal nonexistence of consciousness and possibility that was death.

But the opponent he faced was no mortal to be cast about as Dio pleased; this Wamuu was just as much of a deity, just as able to bend the iron bars of nature and step between them, to shake off the weight of circumstance like a swan flicking the water dry from its wings and taking to the sky, the world spread as endless and limitless possibility below.

This was no desperate, useless streetfight, no repetitious grapple against the ever-groping hands of death; this was a clash of Titans, a war of Gods.

This was no mere fight for their lives but a battle for right to sole control of the World.

Wamuu’s hand was already thawing and he flexed his fingers, holding Dio’s gaze. “Your fighting prowess and the speed with which you’ve mastered your new abilities are admirable.”

And Dio ran his tongue over the points of his teeth and smiled.

This may be a battle between demons, but it will be I, Dio, who shall emerge victorious!

In a battle where both opponents had the same power, the winner would be the one with the greater will; the greater readiness to sacrifice anything, the greater ability to withstand any amount of trial or pain, the greater determination to succeed no matter what it might take. The one who refused to accept or even acknowledge failure, no matter how certain it might seem.

Jojo, you were the one who taught me that.

Wamuu had braced his stance, and now he held his arms straight in front of him, his hands in fists. It was an absurd pose. “However! You are yet but a stripling! You lack in experience, and your arrogance obscures your sight. I do not need to touch you to defeat you!”

Dio just smiled wider, lips curling away from his teeth.

No matter what this Wamuu tried to do against him, it would be useless.

His will could never match Dio’s own.

 

Dio had turned those blood-amber eyes towards the mansion door, and they glowed like embers as he raised a hand with curled fingers, licking at the dark flakes of drying blood. “Now. Who wants the honor of being the next to die by my hand?”

Who…?

Finally wrenching his gaze from Dio, Jojo started when he saw the figures of the two other monsters standing in the doorway, the huge man with the light hair and sage green eyes and the other man with the red eyes who was wrapped head-to-toe in black, rimmed hat still pulled low over his face.

H-how long have they been there?!

Dio did not seem surprised by their presence at all. It seemed like he’d known they were there. “Well?” he said, and his voice was deep purr. “I may have all the time in the world, now, but I don’t like to be kept waiting.” He pointed at them flippantly. “It’s rude, you know.” There was a mocking smile in his voice.

The large man with the green eyes clenched his fists at his sides as looked at Dio, muscles taught with fury. “Lord Kars,” he said, his voice a deep rumble, “please allow me to take care of this vampire. He has proved himself a threat, and I wish to take revenge for Lord Esidisi.”

“By all means,” answered the red-eyed man, who was apparently known as Kars.

Jojo swallowed, his mouth dry. Dio…

Of course they would be furious, now that Dio had killed their companion.

But they were the ones who attacked us! Jojo thought, clenching his own fist as he looked over at his father’s dead body on the other side of the room. They killed Father! They’re the ones who started this!

None of this wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t attacked us!

The large green-eyed man stepped menacingly towards Dio. “The great Wamuu shall be your next opponent, vampire!”

Jojo bit his lip, feeling indignant. He only became a vampire because you attacked us and are trying to kill us!

Wamuu, as he apparently called himself, took off his tailcoat, bow-tie, and dress shirt, tossing the articles of clothing aside, now bare-chested, defined muscles rippling in the moonlight with every movement. “I hope you’re prepared for this.”

Dio didn’t seem intimidated in the least. “Don’t you think you’re the one who needs to be prepared?” he said, and his voice was warm with self-satisfaction. “You saw how easily I, Dio, defeated your lord Esidisi, after all! I can’t wait to destroy you, as well.”

Dio… you…

Dio was grinning and his amber eyes were bright as he rolled his sleeves up above his leanly muscular forearms, his white shirt glowing silver in the moonlight against the only slightly dimmer silver of his skin and white-gold of his hair, and Jojo couldn’t look away from him.

How can you be so happy about all this, Dio?

Our father died in your arms—died to save you—and they killed our butler… and they’re still trying to destroy us, and all for no reason…

And Dio, you…

Even with your temper, you don’t seem angry about any of it.

Was that an effect of the mask as well? Did the mask, when it enhanced the brain, also change the way one felt emotions? Or had being human really been so terrible for Dio that the freedom he felt now at being a vampire overwhelmed everything else by such a great degree?

“Don’t be like that, Jojo. Someone had to use the mask for us both to survive this.”

Jojo clenched his fist, closing his eyes and gritting his teeth. Stop it, Jojo! What are you thinking?! How can you doubt Dio like this?!

He became a monster so he could fight to save you! And here you are, sitting here uselessly on the sidelines while he fights for you both, and you're doubting him!

If he’s this delighted with being a vampire, it’s because you’ve never been able to believe in him enough!

Jojo opened his eyes and saw Dio finishing rolling up his sleeves, and as soon as he did Wamuu was there in front of him, fist connecting with Dio’s face in what should have been a solid blow, if not for the fact that his hand froze on contact with Dio’s skin, and Wamuu immediately pulled the punch and leapt back.

“So you can freeze someone merely by touching them?” Wamuu said, looking form his frozen hand to Dio. “Interesting.” He shook out his hand, which was already thawing. “Your fighting prowess and the speed with which you’ve mastered your new abilities are admirable. However!” He braced his stance and held his arms in front of him. “You are yet but a stripling! You lack in experience, and your arrogance obscures your sight. I do not need to touch you to defeat you!”

And then Wamuu began spinning his left arm clockwise, his right arm counter-clockwise, the impossible movements reaching an impossible speed in hardly a moment. “Here is my technique: The Divine Sandstorm!” His fists seem to grow, and the space between them became a destructive vacuum of wind.

Dio’s eyes had widened and he’d leapt to the side, managing to avoid the center of the vortex, though even being caught by peripheral shredded his flesh. He dodged behind a pillar, but the vortex of wind tore through the marble like ripping paper, the gust throwing Dio aside, across the floor, his blood smearing dark over the tile.

Dio!

The vortex stopped, and Wamuu straightened, his arms resetting themselves. “That was my Divine Sandstorm.” He walked over to where Dio was on the ground, shakily trying to push himself up. “You did quite well to dodge the brunt of it.”

Dio’s eyes were blazing scarlet as he pushed himself up, injuries already healing and disappearing.

Wamuu slammed a foot down on Dio’s ribcage, smashing him back into the ground. Wamuu leaned down over him.“However, while you are using your moisture to help heal yourself, you cannot vaporize it and freeze yourself or anything around you.”

Sneering, Dio grabbed Wamuu’s foot, wrenching it and tossing Wamuu as he sat up forcefully.

Wamuu, however, turned in the air and landed with his hands on the ground, legs lashing out behind him and kicking Dio in the face, knocking him back. And then Wamuu was back on his feet, kicking Dio again before picking him up and bodily throwing him across the room, slamming him hard into the wall, Dio coughing up blood as he fell from the wall to the ground. “As long as you need to keep regenerating, you cannot use your vaporizing freeze technique.”

Dio! Jojo felt terrified and sick as he got to his feet, putting his good hand against the wall to steady himself. I need to help him!

But what can I do?

He was only human, one of his arms was broken, and he was slightly light-headed from blood loss from his shoulder wound.

But Dio wasn’t down for the count. He was healing as he pushed himself up to his hands and knees.

Dio’s a vampire, now, Jojo thought as he watched, eyes wide. He’s immortal and can heal.

I need to believe in him.

Dio’s lips curled into a sneer and his gaze was furious, his eyes as bright and flaming as the fire blazing in the fireplace next to him. His stare was so malevolent that Jojo got chills, even though that infernal stare wasn’t directed at him.

“Oh?” Dio intoned. He raised a hand to wipe the blood from his mouth, lowered the hand, looked down at the blood smeared over the back of it. “That ‘Divine Sandstorm’ was an interesting technique indeed.” Smirking, he licked the blood from his hand, looking up at Wamuu as the monster approached him. “But it’s just a matter of manipulating your body, isn’t it?”

And then Dio had shot a hand into the fire, as if the flames weren’t burning his skin, grabbed a handful of red-hot coals and pitchted them straight at Wamuu.

Wamuu was only about half a meter away from Dio, and Dio moved so fast and threw the coals so powerfully that there shouldn’t have been any way for Wamuu to dodge; but he did, and without moving from where he was, his body distorting itself into odd and impossible shapes to avoid the coals, spine seeming to have broken to move his torso away from his hips and to tilt his head till it almost touched his shoulder, the flesh in his arms ripping to allow the coals to pass through.

“Throwing embers, now?” Wamuu rumbled, his body reshaping itself, cracking and snapping back into place. He looked down at Dio with narrowed, disapproving eyes. “Something so useless and petty? Do not dishonor our battle, Dio.”

Dio smiled, and his teeth were sharp and bloodied in his mouth; a lion’s smile in a beautiful face. There was nothing but hunger in the light of his blood-amber eyes. “Yes, show me more of what you can do,” he purred, low and sultry, rising to his feet, languid and powerful like a jungle cat. “Every technique you use only better informs me of this body’s new abilities.”

When Wamuu struck at him, Dio dodged by distorting his body—just as Wamuu had done moments before.

H-how…?

How is Dio picking up these things so quickly?

(It was the exact same thing Jojo had often wondered when they were being tutored in their youth, in mathematics, history, Latin, philosophy—Dio seemed to only ever need to see things once to grasp them, while Jojo had to repeat them over and over again before they stuck.)

The glint of Dio’s bared fangs caught the moonlight and his blood-amber eyes flashed. “Utterly pathetic!”

And then Dio was stepping forward, fast as lightning, his knee rising and then leg extending, flexed foot making an arc for Wamuu’s neck—a vicious kick that Jojo recognized as one of Dio’s knockout moves in outside-the-ring scuffles—and Wamuu was dodging, leaning back, but in such a way that he was going to straighten afterwards; it looked more like he was throwing himself in a back handspring.

There was no way that Dio’s foot should have been able to connect with him, but Dio’s blood-amber eyes flashed, and then his leg was spinning at his hip, making several rotations to gain momentum before slamming into Wamuu’s face as Wamuu was in the middle of his backwards arc and could not dodge the blow.

Wamuu was smashed to the ground, making a pained grunt as blood spurted from his mouth and nose, his neck making a loud cracking sound and snapping to the side, and Dio’s leg stopped spinning, the sound of his own joints cracking as his leg returned to its normal positioning.

Wh-what?

Jojo’s eyes were wide

(Dio had always amazed him.)

Dio lifted his chin and looked down at Wamuu, lips curling away from his pointed teeth and ember eyes flashing. “You thought you stood a chance?! Fool! Your techniques aren’t that special!”

There was movement in Jojo’s peripheral vision, and he turned his head to see the dark rimmed hat that the other monster, Kars, had been wearing, falling through the air, drifting down to the floor.

Jojo felt a bolt of alarm through his chest. Wh-where did he…?

His eyes scanned over the room; Kars wasn’t anywhere.

Wamuu was sitting up slowly, eyes distant and unblinking, head still in an unnatural position on his broken neck. His voice rumbled lowly: “You are the first person to scar my face…”

Dio sneered. “Weak, weak!” In a fraction of a second he’d stepped forward, leg driving towards Wamuu’s head. “And now I’ll freeze you and shatter you into pieces, fool!”

And then suddenly Dio was coughing blood from his mouth, his eyes wide and shocked as he looked down at the curved blade that was sticking out of his chest, Kars shimmering into existence behind them, the blade appearing to be attached to his arm.

“Enough,” Kars said, and he flung Dio aside, Dio flying from Kars’ blade and arcing in a shower of blood through the air, crashing into the large fireplace with a scream of rage and pain.

And Jojo felt a cry tear itself from his own throat.

“DIO!”

 

Wamuu was lying broken and dazed at his feet. “You are the first person to scar my face…”

That was the expression of someone who’d just had their confidence and self-assurance completely, utterly crushed. Someone tasting the overwhelming acridity of defeat for the very first time.

Pathetic.

To have never lost was a weakness, Dio realized now; those who had never before tasted failure, who had never had to stare uselessness in the face and keep walking despite it, could not deal with even the slightest loss. It utterly destroyed them.

“Weak, weak!” Dio sneered, and drove his leg forward, preparing to vaporize the moisture in his body and freeze and then shatter the monster on impact, scattering his corpse in thousands of pieces over the floor along with those of his master Esidisi. “And now I’ll freeze you and shatter you to pieces, fool!”

The thug was already shattered mentally; there wasn’t anything he could—

Suddenly there was an explosion of pain in Dio’s chest, blood erupting in his mouth.

Wh-what—?!

I-I was stabbed…?!

Dio looked down, saw the pale, curved blade sticking through his chest, made of what appeared to be bone.

Th-the leader, Kars…! Dio realized, his eyes widening. He grit his teeth. Dio, you idiot! You forgot to pay attention to him!

“Enough,” Kars intoned, and Dio was lifted by the blade stabbed through his chest and then flung from it, the bone sickle cutting deeper into his flesh with the movement, his blood spraying aromatically in the air and he was hurled across the room into—

heat, and flames, and pain, and a cry was wrenched from Dio’s throat as the fire roared around him, burning his flesh.

But he was healing even as the flames devoured him, burns healing on his skin before his very eyes, and the pain was nothing to the sense of elation at his immortality.

The purpose of pain was to let you know that the body was sustaining damage that could potentially kill you; it was a defense mechanism of the body to help keep you alive.

But if he could not die, the pain didn’t mean anything at all. It was nothing but a nuisance.

There was no reason why he should need to feel it.

The perception of pain was just another response of the brain, just another chemical reaction; now that he had complete control of his body, all he needed to do was switch off that process.

The flames around him became a simple sensation of heat, nothing more.

Fools! Dio thought, as he emerged from the fire, ripping off his flaming shirt and casting it aside, his lips curling away from his teeth. You think something like this could defeat me?! You think I haven’t lived through more complete and humiliating failures than this?!

Utterly useless!

Beat me all you like—it will only make me stronger!

When Esidisi had tried to scald Dio with his boiling blood, all he’d done was to teach Dio that he could manipulate his own body temperature. Something Dio had then used against him.

When Wamuu had shredded his body with the ‘Divine Sandstorm,’ all it had done to Dio was teach him that he could dislocate and spin his limbs. Something Dio had then used against him.

When Wamuu had dodged the embers he’d thrown by distorting his body, all he’d succeeded at was teaching Dio that he could break and mend himself as he pleased. Something Dio had then used against him.

And now Kars stabbing that blade through his chest, then tossing him into the fire—all he’d just accomplished was to show Dio that he could create a blade made of bone, and that he could heal faster than the flames could burn him and therefore had no need to feel pain.

It was glorious.

Dio emerged from the flames grinning, a hand over the hole in his chest that he could no longer feel, and his eyes lit on the figures of in front of him. Kars stood there with arm and forearm-blade extended, regarding him with narrowed eyes and an intrigued smile slowly curling his lips, while behind him Wamuu kept his gaze on the floor as he pushed himself shakily to his feet, before turning his gaze back on Dio, stoic and unreadable.

Dio grinned wider, and he could feel the darkness behind his teeth.

He would show these demons what it was like to despair in the terrible inevitability of a mortal fate.

 

Dio was thrown into the fire with a scream of rage and pain, and Jojo didn’t think about what he was doing, he only knew the he needed to do something.

He was on his feet and launching himself at Kars with a sword in his hand, and Kars was turning, his hate-filled ruby eyes locking on Jojo’s as he brought up his arm, the blade sticking out of it blocking Jojo’s sword, and then he kicked Jojo in the chest, knocking him across the room so that he slammed into the wall, his ribs shattering at impact and blood spurting from his mouth.

“Stay out of this, human.

N-No… Jojo thought, sliding down the wall to the floor, staring ahead with wide, stinging eyes. D-Dio…!

I need to…!

But then Dio emerged from the flames, and he was grinning, tearing away the flaming fabric of his shirt like it was spiderwebs, his skin dark gray and burnt and his eyes blazing like there was fire inside them.

Those fiery eyes swept over the room, landing on Jojo.

“D-Dio…” Jojo said, and he smiled. You’re okay.

“Jojo,” Dio drawled out, tilting his head slightly and looking at him with lowered eyelids, gaze flat, unimpressed, exasperated, the same way he’d looked at Jojo when he was helping Jojo with his mathematics homework and Jojo kept getting the answers wrong. “I thought I told you to stay out of this.”

Dio flexed his fingers, glaring at Jojo with those flaming blood-amber eyes, and his fangs glowed bright white against his burnt skin as his lip curled away from his teeth in a snarl. “Are you trying to render all my actions useless by getting yourself killed?!”

Jojo swallowed, his eyes wide and stinging. “D-Dio…”

I-I didn’t mean…

Jojo clenched his eyes shut, clenching a fist, a sob hitching in his chest. Dio’s doing all this to save me—he became a vampire, and now he’s fighting these monsters and he keeps getting injured—and I can’t do anything!

He hadn’t felt this helpless since he was a child, a group of bullies pounding him into the dirt, he not even having been able to land a single punch against one of them.

‘One day I’ll be strong enough to fight back!’

He’d started boxing and working out, and later he’d joined sports teams like rugby and men’s acrobatics; he’d worked his body and trained his mind until he could stand up against anyone. Until he had the strength to defend what he believed in, no matter what or who he found himself faced up against.

He’d always known that in order to live the life of a true gentleman, he had to be strong enough to embody and uphold the strength of his beliefs. All the words in the world meant nothing without action to back them up. You had to be able to show people that you truly meant what you said, or you were nothing but a hypocrite.

So what could he possibly say to Dio now?

I just wanted to protect you. I love you. I don’t want you to die for me. I want you to live.

All I want is to live a long life beside you.

But what did those words mean if his strength wasn’t enough to uphold any of it?

“You’re walking right into the jaws of death, vampire!”

Kars was walking towards Dio now, bladed arm held out to his side like a dancer, and with the other hand he unwound the dark wrappings around his head and tossed the cloth aside, shaking out a mane of indigo hair.

(While it seemed like such long hair should be effeminating, especially with the fine features of Kars’ face and the eyeshadow accentuating his eyes, on Kars’ powerfully masculine figure such long and flowing hair somehow managed to look powerful and intimidating. Like the mane of a lion. And it was probably meant to serve the same purpose; to make him seem larger than life and consequently even more terrifying.)

Kars then arced his bladed arm around in front of him and slashed and intricate and careful pattern, his dark overcoat and the dress shirt beneath falling away from his body in pieces, not a scratch on his skin. There remained only a dark, thin scarf of some sort wrapped around his neck and shoulders, which didn’t do any more to cover him than the shadows defining the hard curves of his chiseled musculature.

Another slash and his dress pants were cut away as well, falling away to reveal muscular legs that were almost fully bare, the only skin hidden being that covered by a dark loincloth and the straps of his knee-high, sandal-like boots.

For a few moments Jojo was surprised and confused.

But no, it made sense that beneath the English clothes they’d donned to blend in that these beings would be wearing garments that they were used to, and that they’d prefer to fight in such garments. And it made sense that these garments would be as sparse as possible, considering what Kars had explained about them living underground away from the sun; and Jojo knew from studying archaeology that the deeper you went into the earth the warmer it was.

With the lack of clothes it was even easier to see just how much Kars and Wamuu dwarfed Dio in terms of musculature, Dio, also now without his shirt which had been burned away, being both a few centimeters shorter and of a significantly slimmer and leaner build.

Jojo knew, though, that that wasn’t necessarily a disadvantage; Dio’s unparalleled skill in fighting had always been due to his superior speed and agility, as well as his calculating cunning. Even though Jojo had been stronger than Dio for years, Dio had still been able to beat him more often than not whenever they sparred.

What was more worrying was that Dio was clearly burnt from the fire, and the stab wound through his chest didn’t seem to be healing. The blood dripped dark and sluggish over Dio’s flame-darkened skin, over the chiseled muscles of his abs.

And yet there was nothing but confidence and glee in Dio’s expression, in the glow of his blood-amber eyes and the fierce curve of his grin. “You think you can make Dio your prey?” he asked, and he laughed, as if the thought of losing were completely absurd and unimaginable. “I’d like to see you try!”

“Then bear witness!” And Kars leapt forward, swinging his blade down, only for Dio to raise an arm and, grinning, catch Kars’ blade on a curved blade of bone that erupted from the flesh of his own forearm.

The block was strong, though the flesh the blade had erupted from did not seem to be healing, leaving an open, bloody gash in Dio’s own arm.

Kars’ red eyes widened slightly, but then he laughed, mirthful and derisive. “This is the end of you, vampire! You’re no longer healing. Your body has been too greatly taxed. You did admirably well to create your own blade of bone, but in doing so you used up the last of your body's stored energy!”

And then there was a whirring sound and Kars’ bone blade began to glow inexplicably with a rainbow of light, and Jojo saw Dio’s eyes widen with shock before Kars’ bone blade tore straight through his own.

Dio managed to leap back enough that the shining bone blade didn’t also take off his entire arm, but it managed to slice deep into the flesh.

Kars was grinning triumphantly as he stepped forward, slashing repeatedly across Dio’s chest with such speed and force that Dio was thrown back across the room in a spray blood. “Say goodbye to your immortality!”

“Dio!” The cry was wrenched from Jojo’s throat, tears burning in his eyes, but he himself was frozen; frigid, icy cold, unable to move. Unable to do anything.

“Are you trying to render all my actions useless by getting yourself killed?!”

Dio was gasping blood on the ground, pushing himself trembling to his hands and knees. Dark slashes all over pale skin and he was dripping with it.

Jojo had never before in his life felt so overwhelmingly weak and helpless.

Dio is risking his life for me, and I can’t do anything.

The heavy scent of blood was choking him along with his silent, earthquake sobs.

I can’t do anything.

Kars was walking towards Dio’s broken form, blade shining brightly, a stunning array of color. “You are as good as dead, vampire.”

Dio was dripping with darkness and when he looked up his eyes in the shadow were burning holes of fire. “No,” he said, and his voice was low and dark and sultry even as his fangs seemed to illume in his grin, “I wanted you to throw me in this direction.”

And then Dio rose to his feet, lifting a dark mass from the ground, and he was grinning as he stepped back into a beam of moonlight, holding up their father’s corpse.

Jojo’s breathing stopped.

Wh-what—?

Dio, what are you—?

Even as he watched, their father’s body was shriveling, drying out, Dio’s fingers in his throat.

Kars had stopped and Dio was laughing, grinning. “Oh, this body is truly perfect!

“Dio!” Jojo’s voice cracked. His eyes were wide. It was so hard to breathe. “What are you doing?!”

Dio tilted his head, looked at him, smiled slow. “He gave his life to save his son,” he said, voice like velvet. “Don’t you think it’s only fitting he give his blood as well?”

Jojo felt sick with horror. He could only look at him. Their father’s course shriveled, and the wounds in Dio’s body healing, like dark roses folding back into buds and then disappearing completely, leaving flesh whole and pale as the full moon but without any of its blemishes.

With Dio healed now, Jojo realized even through the waves of pain and nausea, he actually stands a chance against Kars.

With the hand not in their father’s neck Dio reached out, taking something from one of their father’s limp, shriveled hands, tossing the small object at Jojo.

Jojo reached up, catching it on reflex. He rotated his hand, opened his fingers, looked down at his father’s wedding ring.

Dio’s voice was tender in Jojo’s ears. “He wanted you to have that.” Jojo, eyes burning with tears that would no longer fall, looked up. “It belonged to your mother,” Dio said, and lay their father’s shriveled corpse down in a chair.

“D-Dio…” Jojo said, and closed his fingers around the ring, bringing it to his chest. He had no more tears left and his eyes burned.

It’s horrible, what you’ve done to our father’s corpse, but you’re right—he would have wanted you to use his blood.

And how can I blame you for doing that, Jojo thought, when I can’t do anything at all?

Kars was chuckling. “You impress me, vampire,” he said, and lifted his arm, licking his blade. His ruby eyes on Dio were bright and hungry. “This will be more fun than I thought.”

Dio smirked back at him, raised his arm with his own bone blade, balancing his weight evenly between his feet. He didn’t say anything, simply curled his lip further from his sharp teeth and beckoned with a hand in that way that said: Have at me, then.

Many times Jojo had seen Dio make that gesture before pounding his opponent into the ground.

Wamuu had risen to his feet, and now he dropped to one knee behind and slightly to the side of Kars, bowing his head.

“Lord Kars, I am sorry!” he rumbled. “I underestimated him! If you hadn’t saved me, I would be dead right now. Please, allow me to fight by your side once more!”

“Mm,” Kars said, glancing over at him for a moment with those ruby red eyes before shifting his gaze back to Dio. “I’ll be relying on that fighting spirit of yours, Wamuu.”

“Of course,” Wamuu said, rising to his feet and turning to face Dio as well. He was already bare-chested but now he ripped away his pants as well, revealing himself to also be wearing a loincloth garment and boots with thin straps that wrapped around his calves all the way up to his knee, similar to that which Kars was wearing but of slightly different design and a lighter color which looked gray in shadow and shone silvery in the light of the moon.

Dio laughed, dark and delighted. “Two against one, is it? You really are terrified of me. As you rightly should be!”

Kars’ inexplicably rainbow blade cut through the air. “To fight alone is foolish,” he said, tone even and unbothered. “All that matters is winning.”

“Because you know that if you fought me one-on-one you would lose,” Dio said, lips curling away from his teeth, blood-amber eyes glowing.“That must wound your pride indeed.”

A low, dark chuckle emanated from within Dio. “I really must thank you, though,” he crooned, and his expression was a vicious, gleefully malevolent leer. “It’s because of you that I now have these marvelous powers. If you hadn’t created that mask, and if you hadn’t attacked here tonight, I would still be only a weak human.” And Dio laughed, that slightly wild, unhinged-sounding laugh that he gave only when he found something incredibly ironic. “You came here expecting to obtain a mask that would allow you to transcend yourselves, but instead you created the being who will be your end!”

Jojo wasn’t sure what to make of it; this delightedly cruel and malicious side of Dio that he hadn’t seen in years, that he’d almost come to believe had been buried.

Wamuu was trembling with anger, gritting out: “You…”

But his anger at Dio couldn’t possibly compare to the anger Jojo felt—his anger at them for killing his father, for forcing Dio to use the mask, for unearthing this part of Dio that Jojo had tried so hard to make sure remained laid to rest.

Kars, on the other hand, simply seemed amused. “You’re a clever one, Vampire,” he said, and there was a smirk on his lips. “I should commend you.”

Dio grinned, cruel and delighted. “Then let your screams serve as a fanfare in my honor!”

Kars leered at him. “We’ll see whose screams color the air this night!”

And then Kars was rushing at Dio, swinging his blade, and Wamuu followed him, grabbing the solid mahogany coffee table as easily as if it were a baseball bat and swinging it, and Dio leapt at them with a bone blade tearing through the flesh of his other arm and a cry of “Uuurrryyy! Now it’s your turn to become the prey!”

And Jojo couldn’t do anything but watch as they fought. As these three immortal, inhuman beings fought in front of him, one of them fighting for both his own and Jojo’s life.

Dio…

Jojo had never before in his life felt so overwhelmingly weak and helpless.

 

Dio had never before in his life felt so powerful and confident.

Even scorched as he was, with the hole still gaping through his chest, healing too slowly now that most of his energy had been used to keep himself from being burned alive, he knew would be able to spring back from this.

He knew how to spring back from what would have been certain failure, even stronger than before.

These monsters had never been cornered, had never needed to rally themselves against the forces of the entire world trying to push them into the ground, the voices eating them alive from both outside and inside their minds.

Dio could barely contain his grin of anticipation, as his eyes scanned the room, looking for—

Oh.

Dio fought the urge to groan. Jojo was no longer on his knees by the landscape painting in its gold frame, but now crumpled against the far wall near the windows, the hand of his unbroken right arm placed over what were no doubt broken ribs, blood dripping thick from his mouth and eyes wide and almost blank with desperation.

Jojo, you didn’t—

It seemed that when Dio had been stabbed and then thrown into the fire, Jojo had lost it, like the idiot he was, and must have charged at Kars, who’d tossed him across the room into the wall as easily as swatting aside a large, stupid fly.

—but you did.

But of course you did. You’re hopelessly, head-over-heels in love with me, after all. Of course you’d throw your useless broken body at Kars if you thought there was even the slimmest chance doing so would help save my life.

It was all Dio could do not to sneer.

Damn it, Jojo. Sometimes your foolish love really is a pain.

If you really love me then why can’t you do as you’re told?!

When he spoke, he made sure that his voice was forceful and resonating but at the same time smooth and carefully controlled. “Jojo. I thought I told you to stay out of this.”

Even across the room Dio could see that defiant, determined, indomitable light in Jojo’s eyes. It was a light that under other circumstances might have delighted Dio, a light that said, For you, Dio, I would do anything—but right now it was only exasperating.

Damn it, and when I’m going to all this extra effort to keep you alive, you ingrate! “Are you trying to render all my actions useless by getting yourself killed?!”

Couldn’t the idiot use his brain and realize when it was useless to even try to fight? That doing so would accomplish absolutely nothing but his death?

At least Dio’s outburst seemed to have brought him to his senses, because Jojo remained where he was and looked like he was about to start crying again. “D-Dio…”

Good, Dio thought, turning his attention to Kars who was approaching him. Now stay there, Jojo.

“You’re walking right into the jaws of death, vampire!” Kars declared, using his blade of bone to strip himself of inhibiting English clothes, leaving himself wearing next to nothing; some tribal-looking loincloth and boots and a thin, purposeless strap around his neck and shoulders. Clearly this was the kind of garments these beings usually wore.

Kars was getting serious, then. Clothing was inhibiting, and the less one was wearing the more freely one could move. For humans, there was always a trade-off between maneuverability and protection, but when one was immortal and healed from injuries in moments there was no trade-off at all; such a being had no use whatsoever for armor.

Kars also removed the wrapping around his head, revealing long, thick curling hair that tumbled far past his shoulders, longer even than most women’s. That, far more than the lack of clothing, was what made Dio raise his eyebrows slightly; having that much hair could only be a disadvantage in battle.

Well, if he wanted to disadvantage himself, let him.

Dio was, admittedly, far more at a disadvantage, due to his injuries. Even though they no longer pained him, they would still reduce his ability to fight properly, and given how slowly they were healing it was clear that his body was taxed. If he was going to win, he’d have to replenish himself.

Fortunately for him there was already a corpse he could feed on. All he had to do was absorb the dead Joestar’s blood and life energy, the same way Esidisi had done earlier with the butler.

It was useful to know that he could absorb the blood through his fingers, rather than needing to bite someone, as was believed of the vampires of lore and would be both distasteful and highly inconvenient (it was easy to see why, if myths about vampires had indeed their origin in the beings created by these stone masks, how the idea that vampires sucked blood with their mouths would come to exist, given the fangs he now had—clearly, though, the fangs must serve some other purpose).

The only problem was that Kars was now between him and Joestar’s corpse, but that could be easily remedied, and without anyone suspecting what he was going to do until it was far too late to stop him. All he had to do was manipulate Kars into kicking or throwing him over to where Joestar’s corpse was.

Doing so should be easy enough. It was unlikely that Kars would expect his plan, after all, given Kars’ clear experience with humans; it would no doubt fail to occur to him that Dio would be willing to desecrate the body of someone whom he’d called by the name of Father.

And then of course, there was the fact that absorbing Joestar’s blood would horrify Jojo, but a sentence or two should be adequate for convincing Jojo that it was necessary. Jojo had accepted his reasoning for why he’d used the stone mask, after all; Jojo was not so foolishly stuck up on morals that he couldn’t understand actions made by necessity.

And even if it turned out that Jojo, by some chance, couldn’t be convinced, it wasn’t like what Jojo thought or felt about any of this mattered anyway. Not now that Dio had the power he’d always dreamed of, and so much more besides.

Jojo wasn’t the one who mattered here; it was manipulating Kars that was important. (And he needed to keep an eye on Wamuu, just in case he tried anything, but for the moment the thug was still kneeling on the ground where Dio had been about to kill him, still looking utterly defeated. Pathetic cur.)

Kars was approaching him with a killer’s intent, and Dio smirked, egging him on: “You think you can make Dio your prey? I’d like to see you try!”

Kars’ expression twitched; he was not someone who was used to being taunted or talked back to. “Then bear witness!” It was almost an indignant snarl the way he said it, and Dio took great delight in infuriating him further by using the last of his stored energy not to heal himself but to create his own bone blade, blocking Kars’ downward strike.

Dio’s arm wasn’t healing from the bone blade breaking through his flesh, but that didn’t matter.

The fury in Kars’ eyes at having his weapon copied was satisfying indeed.

The way these monsters each seemed to limit themselves to their own ‘special technique’—when, with a bit of mental effort, they were capable of so much more—was truly worthy of ridicule.

But then Kars’ eyes flashed and his mouth pulled into a smirk. “This is the end of you, vampire!” he sneered. “You’re no longer healing. Your body has been too greatly taxed. You did admirably well to create your own blade of bone, but in doing so you used up the last of your bodies stored energy!”

You don’t think I know that?

Dio barely had time to narrow his eyes and consider the possibility that he’d miscalculated before small blades of bone that resembled shark teeth burst out of the edges of Kars’ bone blade, beginning to speed around the blade-edge, their surfaces catching the meager moonlight and reflecting rainbows.

The moving saw-like edge was able to easily break through Dio’s bone blade, and it would have cut just as easily through his entire arm if Dio hadn’t realized what would happen and possessed the reflexes to jump back out of the way, the blade tearing through the flesh of his forearm but missing the bone.

Even though he was surprised, Dio had made sure to jump back and to the side so that his back was towards where Joestar’s corpse was lying the shadow of one of the armchairs, so that when Kars, triumphantly crying, “Say goodbye to your immortality!” slashed him quickly and repeatedly across his chest, arms, shoulders, and face, the strength of those slashes sent Dio’s weakened body flying back directly to where he wanted to be.

(Dio noted that even though Jojo yelled his name in distress, that this time Jojo remained where he was and didn’t try to attack Kars. Good boy, Jojo.)

Even as Dio was pushing himself up from the ground to his hands and knees, with one hand he was reaching over into the shadows, embedding his fingers in Joestar’s neck.

The blood entering into his body was as intoxicating as alcohol, as vitalizing as caffeine, as satisfying and fulfilling as a meal.

And Kars somehow still hadn’t noticed, walking towards him with his whirring saw-blade held like an executioner’s ax, intoning, “You are as good as dead, vampire.”

It was all Dio could do to keep from laughing “No,” he said, looking up at him and grinning, humor seeping into his tone, “I wanted you to knock me over here.”

And then he stood, lifting Joestar’s corpse from the ground and stepping back into a shaft of moonlight, watching with smug delight as Kars’ eyes widened in realization and he stopped.

Dio was still absorbing Joestar’s blood through is fingers, and the sensation of the life force flowing into him and knitting together his bones and flesh was so invigorating he couldn’t help but laugh.

All those years of being subjected to ages of physical pain and misery from something as simple as a severe bruise or a torn muscle, of having to be as careful as possible not end up with injuries that could incapacitate him for indefinite amounts of time, and now he could heal even the most terrible and lethal injuries simply by absorbing the life force of another.

It must, he thought, be the equivalent of growing wings and leaving behind the ground with all its twisting paths and insurmountable mountains and labyrinths full of dead-ends. Now he soared high above all of that.

This vampire body was truly perfect.

“Dio!” Ah. That wounded cry would be Jojo. “What are you doing?!”

You really are a fool, Jojo, if you can’t figure that out. I guess I need to spell it out for you.

Jojo looked horrified, like he couldn’t even comprehend what he was seeing, and it was all Dio could do to keep from rolling his eyes.

He smiled. “He gave his life to save his son,” he said, pitching his voice soft, smooth, reassuring, reasonable. The tone of voice one might use with a distraught child. “Don’t you think it’s only fitting he give his blood as well?”

Jojo was still looking at him with horror, but Dio saw the realization flicker to life in eyes as Dio’s injuries healed before him.

Joestar’s corpse seemed to be drained, now, and Dio looked at it, about to set it down, but seeing that sunken but still recognizable face reminded him of that last conversation and that absurd and foolish request that he keep that stupid ring that had once belonged to Jojo’s mother, Joestar’s copy of which he’d given to Dario who had sold it for booze money, the glass bottles from which had become means of beating his wife and young son. (How many more beatings had they incurred due to the money from that ring? How much quicker had that driven his mother to her death?)

It made the darkness in Dio’s chest surge with a vengeance that threatened to blind him.

And it was so obvious that Joestar had only told him to keep the damn ring because he was the one who was there; given the choice, Joestar would have given it to Jojo.

All Dio had ever been to the shriveled corpse in his hand was token prize for making the man feel better about himself.

It made Dio want to laugh.

And I fulfilled the role to the letter, did I not? The foolish man couldn’t have wished for a better son.

Dio had always been the perfect son, the perfect brother, the perfect student, the perfect lover.

It was something of a shame that he hadn’t managed to succeed in killing Joestar with the poison, but he supposed the man dying to save him and then supplying him with the blood to heal himself were ironic enough in their own right.

It didn’t stop him from wanting to crush the man’s corpse to dust.

Reaching out, Dio took the loathsome ring from the corpse, threw it to Jojo in a perfect toss that Jojo would have had to have been asleep in order to miss.

There, you take the damned thing. “He wanted you to have that. It belonged to your mother.”

Two birds with one stone: Jojo was touched enough that he no longer looked horrified by Dio’s desecrating of his father’s corpse, and with the vile ring away from him it was easier for Dio to resist the urge to desecrate the body even further.

With every ounce of his incredible self-control, Dio set the corpse gently in the armchair beside him.

He turned back to look at Kars as the monster laughed darkly, leering at him, the look in his eyes something between bloodlust and desire. “You impress me, vampire,” he said, looking at Dio with half-lidded eyes as he licked the edge of the bone-blade. “This will be more fun than I thought.”

Dio wondered idly if it was the way he’d replenished himself on the corpse of someone who was supposed to have been his father that had impressed Kars, or if Kars had been able to tell how much self-control it had taken him to treat the corpse gently.

It didn’t matter and Dio met the monster’s hungry gaze and smirked, readying his stance, weight balanced and newly repaired bone-blade raised. He beckoned with his other hand and smirked wider: Have at me, then.

There was movement from Wamuu, and Dio’s gaze flicked to him, though he didn’t take his attention away from Kars.

Between the two of them, Kars was significantly more dangerous.

The thug had dropped to one knee to face his leader, his head bowed, stare on the ground. “Lord Kars, I am sorry! I underestimated him! If you hadn’t saved me, I would be dead right now. Please, allow me to fight by your side once more!”

“Mm,” Kars deigned to acknowledge, glancing at him briefly before returning his keen gaze to Dio, now recognizing the full danger Dio posed. “I’ll be relying on that fighting spirit of yours, Wamuu.”

Wamuu bowed his head even further. “Of course.” Then he rose to his feet and faced Dio as well, showing that he was treating this battle completely seriously by stripping away the last of his English clothes so that he was wearing only his sparse tribal garments.

A leader like Kars, who cared only about outcomes without any regard for the means taken to get there, would of course have no qualms with fighting two against one in order to win; but for an honorable type like Wamuu to willingly enter a two-against-one into a battle meant that he truly believed his opponent equal to such uneven odds.

And Dio laughed, his chest a dark cavity of stars, stretching far beyond the confines of his body. “Two against one, is it?” He was aware that he’d grinned more this night than in all his years living as a human put together, and if he were mortal he was sure his cheeks would have been aching. But he was no mortal. “You really are terrified of me. As you rightly should be!”

He was, after all, as a god.

Kars sliced his bone-blade through the air, the saw-teeth whirring along the edge and reflecting the dim light in a myriad of colors. “To fight alone is foolish,” he said, just as Dio had guessed he would. “All that matters is winning.”

“Because you know that if you fought me one-on-one you would lose,” Dio said, and he could feel his smirk blossoming on his face like a rose. “That must wound your pride indeed.”

The joy was bubbling up in his chest like blood, rising warm in his throat and spilling deliciously over his tongue. “I really must thank you, though,” he said, and for the first time in his life he meant the thanks he expressed, completely and genuinely, nothing but an all-consuming delight and gratitude behind his words. “It’s because of you that I now have these marvelous powers.”

It made him tremble all over—if to live meant to have possibilities, then to live forever meant to have them endlessly. With all the time in the world he had not just the possibility to be anything he was capable of, but to be all of it.

And to think that he could have missed this. “If you hadn’t created that mask, and if you hadn’t attacked here tonight, I would still be only a weak human.” Oh, but this was all so incredibly, wonderfully ironic, now wasn’t it? He held his fellow monster’s gazes; he grinned; he bit back more laughter. “You came here expecting to obtain a mask that would allow you to transcend yourselves, but instead you created the being who will be your end!”

He was so happy he almost wouldn’t have thought he could stand it, if he didn’t know that now he could stand anything.

The thug Wamuu, it was clear, wasn’t happy about this one bit. While he was also trembling, his weren’t the minute and almost indiscernible shivers of delight but the obvious and violent quakes of anger. “You…”

The leader Kars was eyeing him with hunger in his gaze and amusement on his lips. “You’re a clever one, Vampire. I should commend you.”

Dio just grinned wider. “Then let your screams serve as a fanfare in my honor!” he said with a flourish.

In response Kars’ smirk grew more amused, his eyes hungrier. “We’ll see whose screams color the air this night!” he declared.

And then he rushed at Dio, blade singing in the air, and Wamuu followed him, picking up the solid mahogany coffee table, no doubt to use as a blunt-force weapon that would allow him to beat Dio without risking touching him and getting frozen again. It seemed they were trying to overwhelm and intimidate him, or testing him to see if he would be overwhelmed and intimidated.

Fools! Dio does not run!

He did not back up but leapt to meet them, growing a blade of bone from his other forearm as well, giving a cry of triumph as he felt the saw-tooth blades begin whirring along the edges. “Now it’s your turn to become the prey!”

He caught Kars’ blade with the blade of his left arm, cut the table Wamuu was wielding in half with the blade on his right, swept his leg to try to knock Kars’ feet out from under him, bent back to avoid one half of the table that Wamuu swung at his head, turned the movement into a flip pushing off the second half of the table that Wamuu swung at his legs, and his mind was clear and crystalline, cold and radiant as a winter morning just as the day began to open its orange-gold eye at the edge of the horizon.

(He’d realize only later when they returned with all the subtlety of an avalanche that this peace and clarity he’d experienced was because for once in his life all the voices in his head had been silent.)

Chapter Text

Dio had complete control of his body—his only limitation was the ability of his mind. His power was limitless, piano keys and violin strings at his fingertips, switch-knives and revolvers, oil paints and water colors.

In the air after flipping from the table, he reduced his density to slow his fall and throw off Kars’ next strike, caught the next one and let it throw his less massive body across the room, landing against the wall and digging in his fingers before pushing back towards them, increasing his density to drop down to the ground and slice the table halves into pieces when Wammu tried to bludgeon him with them.

Kars striking from behind him, Wamuu with a handful of table pieces attacking him from the front, an impossible dodge if he hadn’t contorted his body.

The problem with unnatural body contortions, of course, was that it was essentially breaking his own body, and then healing himself afterwards. It took energy, concentration, precious moments of time.

But dodging had always been his specialty, avoiding the blows that would have connected on anyone else, and the ground was his friend, there to fall into, to push himself off from, the air around his limbs like wind through feathers.

Ah, all this power—perhaps he was drunk on it. Too new to it, too delighted, his actions too experimental. These monsters he was fighting had been living with this power for thousands of years, knew how to work with it efficiently, accurately, had honed their abilities, narrowed the limitlessness down to only what was most useful, most advantageous, no movements that were unnecessary, no energy wasted, no movements superfluous.

Blood and red wine on his tongue, and he was dizzy with it, the galaxies and nebulae spread beneath his feet; perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise, then, when these monsters knocked him off-balance and seized him when he fell, folded time and space around him like Japanese origami, caught him like a fly in a spider’s web.

There were shards of wood impaled through his body, courtesy of the coffee table and the winds of Wamuu’s Divine Sandstorm, and Kars’ blade was whirring a hairsbreadth from the skin of Dio’s neck, warm muscular arm over his clavicle, fingers slid into the skin of his neck, threatening to suck the blood and moisture from him as soon as he tried to evaporate it and cause the monster to freeze.

“Dio, was it?” Kars’ voice was sultry, silky in his ear. “I like you, Dio. So I’ll offer you a deal.” Kars’ other hand ghosted over Dio’s bare chest, fingers circling around one of his nipples, flicking over it. “If you choose to join us, I won’t kill you. And I’ll even let you use the stone mask once we find it and the Red Stone of Aja and conquer the sun. See,” and Kars’ hand pressed against his chest, moved up his neck, thumb brushing over his lips, “you might have all these powers now, but you’re vulnerable to the sun now. Just like us. But if you join us, you can become the supreme being you were always meant to be. All you have to do is stop fighting and pledge your complete obedience to me.”

Dio hadn’t been so humiliated in his entire life—not since Jojo had kissed him that first time, in the warm light of the library when he should have been unconscious from Dio’s kick or forever subservient and humiliated from Dio’s superiority.

But Jojo had kissed him, and Kars fingers traced over his lips, dragged over them, down his chin, trailed down his throat, pressed into the gap between his clavicles, dragged down his sternum, traced lower, caught on his navel, traced the depression and pressed into it, his abs taught and clenching. “What do you say?” Kars purred, breath hot, tongue flicking over the cartilage of Dio’s ear; he had the Devil’s markings, there. Or so he’d been told. “What will your choice be?”

His mind was churning and he felt dizzy—there had to be a way to use this, as with Jojo. To be able turn this humiliation into a chance to obtain everything. To turn Kars’ desires against him.

But his teeth were grit through the muscle of his tongue and he couldn’t feel the pain but the blood welling in his mouth was mouth-watering to taste and the darkness and rage was coursing like alcohol in his veins and he couldn’t think, his body trembling uncontrollably, his mind in dark spasms and his stomach clenching and coiling like any moment he’d vomit.

Useless, chorused the voices in his mind. No matter what you might try to do, it’s useless, useless, useless, USELESS—

stupid, WEAK, pathetic, GOOD-FOR-NOTHING—

loathsome ineffectual WRETCH—

and he was deafened by the cacophony, blinded by the bright flash of light, white and fraying into a myriad of colors at the edges.

It took him a moment to realize the light hadn’t been in his mind, but in the foyer itself; didn’t realize it until he felt Kars stiffen against him, heard and felt the swish of that long curling hair as Kars turned his head, followed the direction with his eyes and saw Jojo standing there with the stone mask over his face and the spines embedded in his brain.

Jojo faltered, almost fell backwards, planted a foot and remained standing, broken ribs cracking and mending beneath the fabric of his vest and shirt, bones of his left arm jumping and setting, the gaping bleeding wound in his right shoulder closing over, and when the mask fell from Jojo’s face his eyes were hard and smoldering, iridescent violet-blue in the moonlit dark and when he opened his mouth to speak his teeth were pointed and sharp.

Jojo, Dio thought, distantly, lips curling somewhere far away on his face. So you love me enough to become a monster for me?

And even with Kars’ fingers digging deeper into his neck he almost could’ve laughed.

Jojo, you’re always surprising me.

 

Dio had always been someone from whom you couldn’t look away.

He had such an assurance, an elegance, a panache—an entitlement that should’ve belonged only to kings, a beauty that should’ve belonged only to paintings, a flair that should’ve belonged only to the stage.

Dio’s presence filled rooms when he walked in, lit them from corner to corner and ceiling to floor like sunlight, golden-yellow and a heat that permeated all the way down to the marrow; when he left he took the light and heat with him, like a cloud had passed over the sun.

Sometimes Jojo felt that he could be blinded just by looking at him, burned just by touching him—he still couldn’t look away, still couldn’t help but reach out to take his hand, twine their fingers and hold on.

And yet there had always been something raw, beneath Dio’s stunning exterior—a determination that should’ve belonged to a predator, a desperation that should’ve belonged to prey, a hopeless inevitability that should’ve belonged to a natural disaster.

He gave Jojo a sense of of the mythic—of Atlas forced to bear the weight of the sky on his shoulders; Icarus flying too close to the sun and falling to his death on melted wings; of Sisyphus condemned to an eternity of trying to push a boulder up a hill, of continually almost reaching the top only for the bolder to roll back down again.

Jojo sometimes got the sense from Dio that he’d looked up at the stars, seen his fate written there, hated what he saw, and resolved to change it—that he was constantly battling the fear that everything he did to try to avoid that loathsome fate only ended up bringing him closer to it.

He’d always been so much like a baby bird trying and trying to fly, falling back again and again to the earth only to try again, ever more desperate, and Jojo had always wanted nothing more than to cradle him gently in his hands and lift him closer to the sky.

But now—fangs in his mouth and murder in his eyes, blades of bone sticking out of the flesh of his forearms and soaring through the air like even gravity was too terrified to hold onto him, body contorting in impossible and gruesome figures—now, finally, Dio seemed to have finally taken flight.

Somehow, as a creature that could only be described as a monster, Dio was even more stunning than he’d ever been.

(There was no longer anything guarded in those orange-gold eyes; those smiles were no longer fading as soon as Jojo looked away; that laughter was no longer carefully restrained by fine silver fetters.)

Dio’s expectations of himself had always been inhuman.

And there was something so natural about his impossible movements, the monstrous powers he was using—an ease as if it came from instinct, like with animals; a foal didn’t need to be taught how to walk. It simply stood up on its long spindly legs and took its first shaky steps, like it already knew how, needing only a bit of practice to get its body under its control.

And like a foal frolicking in a field, jumping and galloping and kicking its legs, Dio seemed to be reveling in his body, testing his capabilities and limits, all joyous and gleeful energy.

And it was so obvious that in comparison Kars and Wamuu were stallions, their every movement powerful and certain. So obvious that eventually Dio would trip up, stumble, that they’d overtake him, trample him.

And when they did, that would be the end. The end of everything. Dio would be dead, and then Jojo would follow him.

And everything Dio had done—everything he’d done to try to change his fate, everything he’d done to try to keep from becoming someone he loathed, everything he’d done to try to save both their lives—all of it would be rendered useless.

And everything Jojo had done—everything he’d done to try to become the perfect gentleman, everything he’d done to try to dissipate Dio’s anger and hate and convince him he was worth it, everything he’d done to try to become someone who could stand up and fight for what he believed in—all of that would be rendered meaningless.

Jojo saw his youth, his time with Dio, flashing before his eyes: Dio standing against a fiery orange sunset, the epitome of carefully crafted cruelty; Dio pale as silver birch in the silver moonlight with tears like diamonds rolling down his cheeks; Dio in tones of saturated blue and yellow sobbing against him in the middle of the dirt road and begging him never to leave; Dio in white and green with his knees darkened by grass stains and his face lit with a victorious grin; Dio above him in bed, liquid-gold eyes framed by long dark lashes and elegant arching brows, kiss-moist lips slightly parted, hair aglow around his face like a halo in the lamplight; Dio trembling in the fragile colors of winter against the mansion’s oppressive Tyrian purples and Aruba green-blues, his polished veneer cracking through with widening fissures of agony and self-loathing; Dio awash in the warm tones of oil-light, soft marigold and pale rose as Jojo swore “I’ll never leave you,” and Dio smiled tentatively and said, “I believe you,” amber eyes turning to gaze out the window at the dark night, cloudless and resplendent with starlight: “If there is a god that controls fate, I am sure he bound ours the tightest.”

And Dio’s hand had reached out for his, then, twined their fingers together, brought their clasped hands to his lips and kissed Jojo’s knuckles, looked at him with eyes like Betelgeuse.

(When they were younger they used to sneak out their windows at night, sometimes, climb the large sessile oak at the edge of the courtyard, observe the stars with Jojo’s telescope. “The large orange-red star that marks Orion’s left shoulder,” Dio had told him one night, pointing to it, “that’s Betelgeuse. In Sir John Herschel’s Outlines of Astronomy he describes how its brightness is variable. At times it becomes a fierce competitor to Rigel, the large blue star that marks Orion’s right leg—or foot, depending on how you draw the figure of Orion—although Rigel is actually a visible double star—which is a pair of stars that appear close together in the night sky—as observed by Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve in 1822.”

(Dio’s serene expression as he looked up at the sky, so easily recounting what he’d read, able to recall the information as if he had the texts right there in front of him, as he somehow always did. “In 1839 and 1852 Betelgeuse was observed to be nearly the equal of Capella, the brightest star in the constellation of Auriga, the charioteer. According to Sir John Herschel, Betelgeuse may actually be the largest and brightest star in the northern hemisphere. When its at its brightest, at least. At other times it’s significantly duller.”

(Dio’s fingers tapping on the silver tree branch beside him, humming to himself as he did when he was recalling information he’d filed away somewhere in his fathomlessly expansive mind. “Because of its red color, Betelgeuse—like the planet Mars which derives its name from the Roman God of War—has long been associated with the war and conquest, and by extension, the motif of death and rebirth. Before the scientific revolution, of course, since before modern science astronomy was nearly inseparable from mythology. For the Egyptians, the constellation Orion was the figure of Osiris, the greatest of their gods.”

(And Jojo, looking at the star Betelgeuse with his telescope, distinctly aware of the cool night air on his skin and his heart beating in his chest, said, “The color reminds me of your eyes,” and Dio had laughed lightly. “That would make your eyes like Rigel, wouldn’t it?” and Jojo had frowned: “But I don’t want to be your rival,” and Dio had just laughed brighter, clear as the night.

(And Jojo had looked at him and thought: I want your eyes to always be at their brightest, Dio.)

(He still did.)

“If there is a god that controls fate, I am sure he bound ours the tightest.” When Dio had said it, Jojo hadn’t really understood, or maybe he’d been too distracted by Dio’s luminous orange-red eyes and Dio’s dry lips ghosting over his fingers. But he’d never understood Dio’s preoccupation with the idea of fate, the idea that everything that would happen to them and everything they’d become was somehow already determined, was somehow something they had no choice in, was inevitable.

(“Useless,” Dio had always snarled under his breath, eyes blazing and looking trapped like a caged animal. “Useless useless useless!” But Jojo had never believed that. He’d always believed that they were the ones who controlled who they were and who they’d become. That the future was indeterminate, full of endless possibilities each as feasible as the next, and that it was up to them to choose and make it happen. That their actions and decisions were paramount and completely up to them.)

Jojo thought he understood now, though, as he watched Dio fighting these immortal monsters that were slowly closing in on him, what Dio had meant about their fates being intertwined. The inevitability that Dio had always seemed to perceive.

Because even as Wamuu again used his Divine Sandstorm, destroying parts of the room and forcing Dio to dodge in such a way that allowed Kars to trip him and then catch him with his blade at his neck and his fingers sliding into his throat—even as Kars began molesting Dio right in front of him, Dio’s orange-gold eyes flickering like candle flames about to be blown out—even as Wamuu stopped his Divine Sandstorm but not before the stone mask had been sent flying with the rubble to land and skitter to a stop at Jojo’s feet—Jojo had known that he didn’t have a choice.

All he wanted was to live a long life with Dio at his side—and for every single reason, that would only now be possible as a vampire.

For the reason that Dio, even as incredible as he was, could not defeat these two immortal monsters by himself, Jojo needed the power granted by the mask. He needed the power and strength to fight back.

For the reason that, if he didn’t, neither of them would make it out of this night alive. Dio would be killed, and then Jojo would be next, if he hadn’t died already from the injuries he’d already sustained and he was starting to suspect could already be fatal.

For the reason that, if he didn’t, he could never remain by Dio’s side. As a human he would never be able to be the lover and companion that Dio needed and deserved. He’d be too short-lived, unable to live for the eternity he’d need to remain by a vampire’s side; he’d be too foreign as a creature of the day to live with a creature of the night that could never again enter the sunlight, too alien as a man obligatorily bound by human morality and law to live with a monster that existed by preying upon humans; he’d be too weak to be of any help to such a powerful being, next to useless, useful only as life to be devoured.

He had no future as a human. In the only future spread out before him, he lived it as a vampire. He lived it as a vampire with Dio.

And he would follow Dio through Hell, if it meant he could hold Dio’s hand.

It was not something he even had to question. There were no options to be evaluated. No pros and cons to be weighed. No fears to be conquered. There was no grueling decision to be made, no sacrifices.

For the first time in his life, Jojo felt the sensation of what could only be the strings of Fate.

And as he grabbed the mask and rose to his feet, as he pressed it over his face where it fit like a glove, as he dug his fingers into the wound in his shoulder and brushed the blood over the stone, he felt nothing but a fulfillment.

And as the spikes impaled themselves in his brain, not even painful past the bone, he knew that this was meant to be.

For a moment everything went black and he plunged into darkness, but it was soft and supportive around him like water, gentle and warm like the embrace of a mother he couldn’t remember, and he swam up out of the depths that helped push him skywards and when his head broke the surface and he planted his foot solidly on the ground beneath him before gravity was even able to drag his body down; and when the mask fell away from his face like night from the face of the day, the world was suddenly so much more vivid and real than ever before.

And it felt like arriving somewhere you knew instinctively to be home; felt like waking up from a muddled dream into clear reality where everything was back under your control.

And there was Kars with narrowed red eyes and fingers sliding deeper into Dio’s neck, other hand curling around the bone of Dio’s pelvis, and Dio himself looking at Jojo over Kars’ bladed arm with gold-orange eyes and laughter dancing like flame in his smile.

And if Kars didn’t let go of Dio right now then Jojo was going to destroy him—and it wasn’t even going to make him feel guilty.

 

He’d done quite well indeed, in getting Jojo to fall so hopelessly in love with him. In holding Jojo down by the neck beneath the waves of his own affection and keeping him there.

And Jojo had embraced him and gone down without a struggle, thinking they were in that sinking ship together, not realizing that he was the only one drowning.

In his head, Dio’s plans were rewriting themselves.

I guess I’ll let you live for a while yet, Jojo.

It was all Dio could do to keep from laughing as Jojo stepped forward with fists clenched to trembling at his sides, eyes sparking blue with fury in the dark. “Let Dio go!”

Wamuu stepped into his path, prepared to strike, but he was just in the way and Jojo grabbed him bodily, lifted him—“Let!”—whirled around on his heel—“Him!”—and let go of Wamuu at end of his turn, sending him thrown through the air—“Go!”

Wamuu was flying straight towards them, looking shocked.

And Dio could’ve laughed, because that was just so typically, absurdly Jojo, crashing through his opponents on sheer overwhelming strength alone.

But it wouldn’t do to let this opportunity go to waste; Dio could feel Kars tense in surprise against his back, and he wasted no time in taking advantage of the moment to extricate himself from Kars’ hold, dodging out of the way just as the airborne Wamuu crashed straight into Kars, knocking them both across the room to crash undignified against the wall.

And then Jojo was charging forward, and when Wamuu stood up to meet him Jojo simply grabbed him by the shoulder and tossed him behind him, lunging forward to concentrate his attack on Kars.

And Dio ran his own fingers up his abs where Kars had been touching him, grinned and ran his tongue along the points of his teeth. So that bothered you that much, did it, Jojo?

And Dio did laugh, then; he knew Kars had just been trying to unnerve and get a rise out of him (he hated that it had been working, hated himself for letting something like that disturb him)—but Kars couldn’t have realized that far more than unmanning Dio, he’d been infuriating Jojo.

Your mistake.

The more you beat Jojo, whether physically or psychologically, the stronger he became.

Kars would no doubt be finding that out the hard way.

Dio’s lips curled as he turned on his heel, facing Wamuu who was getting deliberately back to his feet.

Dio let new blades of bone burst out of the flesh of his forearms and grinned.

The thug stood straight, made a show of rubbing the back of his neck, glanced at where Jojo and Kars were fighting and then returned his gaze to Dio.

“That man clearly cares deeply for you,” Wamuu said, lowering his hand. “His love gives him incredible strength.”

Dio laughed, at that, lifting an arm and running his tongue along the curving blade of bone, as this thug’s lord had seemed so prone to. “And can you blame him?”

Wamuu leveled his gaze at him and Dio’s lips curled. “For loving me.” He dropped his voice to a silky purr: “Your lord over there couldn’t seem to keep his eyes or hands off me either, now could he.”

Dio had always been willing to use every tool at his disposal, whether that was the desire someone showed when they looked at him or the contempt when they noticed the desire he induced in others.

They should all follow Jojo’s example and drop to their knees.

Wamuu, the fool, did no such thing. Instead he launched himself at Dio, fists flying and a leg arcing towards his face.

“Fool! Did you forget that I can freeze you as soon as you touch me?!” All Dio needed to do was lean slightly out of the way, reach out and touch Wamuu’s arm with his fingers while vaporizing the moisture in his arm, freezing Wamuu’s own arm.

Ah, a slight miscalculation—it seemed that Wamuu had been punching him with the intention of letting the force of the air hit him rather than his fist, but no matter. Dio was still able to freeze his arm and then, with an upward sweep of one of his bone-blades, slice Wamuu’s frozen arm off just above the elbow, kick it and send it skittering across the floor.

Wamuu’s eyes hardening was the only warning Dio got before Wamuu was grabbing his arm—the same one that Dio had just vaporized the moisture from, which meant that there was no more moisture to vaporize and therefore no way of freezing Wamuu upon contact—and wrenching Dio’s arm, jerked him into the air and then threw him across the room—

straight into Jojo, who caught him.

“Dio!” Jojo said, eyes wide as he looked down at him, as if he were surprised. As if he were about to say something moronic like, “What are you doing here?” As if Dio had just somehow fallen into his arms, rather than Jojo having reached out to catch him.

Dio reached up, clenching his fingers in Jojo’s hair and kissing him.

Because Jojo was his. Belonged to him body, mind and soul, and he’d proved himself too useful of a chess piece to be killed off.

When he’d willingly become a vampire—something Dio would never have expected Jojo of being capable of—Jojo really had saved both their lives.

And a move like that shouldn’t go unrewarded.

Whenever they’d played chess, too, Jojo had only ever made powerful moves on accident. He had no head for clever tactics, but he had some kind of battle instinct that almost made up for it.

And oh, it was telling indeed, that Dio’s kiss distracted Jojo enough that Jojo didn’t notice Kars bearing down on them.

Without breaking the kiss, Dio raised one of his bone blades, blocking Kars’ strike.

That ought to infuriate him.

He heard the faint hiss of Kars’ breath and smirked into the kiss, swiping his tongue once more over Jojo’s lips before pulling back and give Jojo a shove to push him out of the way as Kars’ blade sliced the air between them.

Dio raised an eyebrow. Is Kars so infuriated that his aim has been thrown off, or was that a purposefully ill-aimed strike simply to force us apart?

No matter.

Turning, Dio blocked Kars’ next strike, but then the blade on Kars’ other arm impaled him through the ribs, the tip of the blade sticking out of his back. He heard Jojo’s sharp inhale and cry of “Dio!” only to be followed by the sound of Jojo and Wamuu coming to blows, and Dio could’ve laughed.

The blade through his chest didn’t even hurt.

Dio looked up at Kars and smiled bloodily; it was fast becoming his favorite taste. “You’re going to have to do better than that.”

 

Kars needed to let Dio go, so Jojo stepped forward to make him (he couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt so angry).

Wamuu was there, in his way, so Jojo removed him from his way and threw him (he didn’t weigh hardly anything.)

Dio got out of Kars’ hold, and fortunately he looked okay, but Kars was getting back to his feet and that certainly wasn’t okay (Jojo was going to make him pay, for everything).

Wamuu got in his way again, and once again Jojo removed him from it (Wamuu really needed to stop that, it was rude).

Kars came at him with his blade of bone, and that was annoying, so Jojo grabbed it and stopped it (it wasn’t even that much pain, it didn’t phase him at all).

Kars’ red eyes narrowed, and then suddenly the blade was shining a rainbow of colors and digging into his flesh, and Jojo realized that it had become a moving saw of small blades rotating around the edge, and that was just aggravating, so Jojo kicked him away (Jojo was angry enough already, Kars didn’t need to go and keep making it worse).

Jojo moved in and Kars kept slashing his whirring blade across his face and chest, and that was really annoying (although the blood in his mouth didn’t taste as foul as it used to, in fact it actually tasted good), so Jojo moved in closer and punched Kars repeatedly as hard as he could.

Kars staggered back, raising a hand and wiping the blood from his nose, looking down at the red smeared over his fingers (he looked like he’d never had a nosebleed before) before looking back up at Jojo.

“Are you crazy?!” he asked, though Jojo didn’t see why (Kars had attacked them first, this was all his fault, hadn’t his parents ever told him he should take responsibility for his actions).

“I won’t let you get away with what you’ve done!” Jojo said, and kept punching him (he didn’t really know how Dio had pulled all those impossible moves, but he figured he didn’t need them, because you couldn’t exactly go wrong with punching).

Kars suddenly smirked at him, raising his arms in front of him, two whirring bone blades meeting Jojo’s knuckles instead of Kars’ face, and from behind his blades Kars said, “I see. I made you jealous, didn’t I? You love Dio” (and it was kind of insulting that that hadn’t been obvious from the beginning).

Kars was shielding his face but that was it, so Jojo kicked him beneath the belt (an ungentlemanly and unsportsmanlike move, but this was outside the ring, and like Dio always said, outside the ring there were no rules to fighting).

Kars was thrown back, but he righted himself, smirking and leering, “That Dio is quite incredible, isn’t he? I must say that I understand what you see in him” (yes, Dio was incredible, and yes, everyone should be able to see that, but the way Kars was saying it was just feeding into Jojo’s fury).

Jojo wanted to punch him, but he was now too far away, so Jojo moved to close the distance between them.

Kars smirked at him and licked his blade in a way that could not at all be sanitary (Dio had been an advocate of the germ theory of disease over the miasma theory for years, and Jojo couldn’t remember the names of the men Dio always cited but he was pretty sure one was French and the other was German—but maybe immortal monsters had no need for such things).

“So tell you what,” Kars leered, “If you join us, I’ll let you share him.”

That filled Jojo with so much anger that he stopped walking. He had to take a deep breath to try to calm himself, his hands clenched so hard they were trembling, a feeling that solid stone would be crushed to dust between his fingers.

“This shames me as a gentleman,” he said, fighting to maintain control of himself (was this what Dio felt like, whenever he fought down his temper?), “but I must express my feelings. While normally I believe that sharing is a good thing—” it was unbelievably difficult to try to be a reasonable gentleman when he was this angry (suddenly Dio was even more impressive than he’d been already), “—in this case I must insist that Dio is mine, and I refuse to let you touch him!”

And then he closed the distance between them and punched Kars repeatedly, and Kars stabbed him in retaliation, but it didn’t even hurt and Jojo just kept punching him (it felt almost shamefully satisfying, to take out his anger with his fists).

Kars managed to disengage himself and leap back, and Jojo made to follow him when something skidded across the floor in front of him, and looking down at it he realized that it was Wamuu’s arm, frozen to ice and dismembered from his body.

And it was there, so Jojo kicked it into Kars’ face.

And he was about to follow up with more punching, but then Dio was being hurled through the air towards him, and Jojo dropped every other thought in favor of catching him.

“Dio!” Jojo said, looking down at him in his arms, blinking, and Dio blinked back up at him, orange-gold eyes and softly parted lips, and he was breathtaking.

And then Dio reached up, threaded his fingers in Jojo’s hair and tugged him down, kissing him passionately, and Jojo melted into the kiss, the feeling of Dio warm and solid in his arms.

It felt like everything would be okay. Like he and Dio were going to be living forever.

(They were vampires now, but there must have been mistakes in the lore because Dio was still warm and Jojo could feel his heart still beating, and their intermingling breaths were hot and steaming in the chilly night air.)

There was the loud clash of bone on bone, and Jojo cracked his eyes open to see Dio blocking Kars’ blade with his own, without so much as pausing in their kiss, his eyes opened just slightly, smug and sleepy slivers of orange-gold, and Jojo could feel Dio’s lips curving upwards against his and then the brush of Dio’s tongue, and then suddenly Dio pushed him away violently and Jojo stumbled back, Kars’ blade slicing through the air in front of his eyes.

And then Dio and Kars were clashing, and one of Kars’ blades impale Dio through the chest, and Jojo couldn’t help but the alarmed cry of Dio’s name, but even as Wamuu’s foot suddenly connected with the side of his face he didn’t miss the way Dio was smirking, utterly certain of himself.

And as Jojo turned his attention to Wamuu, he did so with the feeling that everything would be okay; that he and Dio would be surviving this night, emerging triumphant, an eternity spread out before their feet (and it wouldn’t even matter that none of it would be spent in the sunlight, not when Dio lit the world around him just as brightly).

With Dio at his side, Jojo had the feeling that he could do anything.

 

It was like everything in Dio’s life had been leading up to this point. To gaining immortality and power beyond human comprehension; to Jojo undertaking an oath of eternal loyalty to him beyond even that of a believer to their god; to fighting these ancient monsters that existed before the beginning of recorded history.

And utterly and completely destroying these beings would be the perfect inauguration to the new world he would create, the new era he would bring about.

His former ambitions—that of inheriting the Joestar fortune and becoming the most influential man in England—were absolutely nothing compared to what he would now accomplish.

The entire world was going to be his.

For these monsters to attack them this night, to go after the Stone Mask, which turned out not to even be of any use to them, and in doing so to show them the Mask’s powers and to force them into a situation where the only way out was to use the Mask to gain that power—this could only be Fate.

It was Fate that he would obtain godlike Immortality and Power. It was Fate that Jojo should follow him. It was Fate that they would be destroying these ancient beings.

It could only be Fate that he was meant to have control over the entire World.

And he could see it in every line of Kars’ body: What he’d thought would be a simple task of taking the Stone Mask from a house of weak and stupid humans had become instead the creation of two new godlike beings and the night that Kars and both his brethren would finally meet the end of their millenia-long lives.

And Dio could see clearly the fury as Kars realized this, the desperation and fear he was so valiantly trying to push down, the inevitability of his complete ruination that he was trying to convince himself he could deny.

Dio smiled at him, the smile of a god.

How useless.

And it was laughable, so incredibly laughable and pathetic as Kars threw himself at him, blades whirring, as he struck at Dio as if he thought he actually had a chance of stopping the descent of his Fate.

It’s useless.

Even when Kars used the reflecting light from his blades to create a kind of invisibility (as if Dio couldn’t figure out what he was doing and see through it), even when he disappeared into the floor and then burst out of the wall by moving his atoms through the spaces between the atoms in the solid materials (as if Dio didn’t have the same awareness of the components of his body to know what he was doing and be able to figure out where and how he’d try to attack him), even when Kars unsheathed bone blades from his feet and knees (as if Dio couldn’t do the same and wasn’t expecting it).

Everything you try to do is useless.

Even when Kars tried to unnerve him again, when he leered with lascivious looks and left desirous touches, Dio just laughed at him.

How useless.

“Do you like what you see?” He had complete and perfect control of his body; he could make his voice, his movements, his poses the apotheosis of appeal and desire.

He was the highest form of life, the paragon of perfection; it was only natural that Kars should desire him.

It was only natural that anyone and everyone should desire him.

Kars pulled back, eyes narrowing at him, and when he smiled the expression was clearly painful. “You really are impressive, Dio.

If Kars thought that a suggestion of personal closeness from using his name would get under his skin, he couldn’t be more wrong; names were a form of power—to use someone’s name said: “I know exactly who—and what—you are.”

But names were also a recognition, and to use someone’s name also said: “I realize—and acknowledge—exactly who—and what—you are.”

To someone who lived their life skulking and creeping in shadows, to use their name was to drag them into the light, a powerful blow of a weapon against them.

To someone who planned to live their life ruling over others, who would be known by all as the holder of absolute power, to use their name was to bow down before them.

And Dio looked down at Kars and smiled. “Did you know,” he raised his arm gracefully in front of him, blade glinting in the moonlight, and his voice was a resonant purr, “that in Italian the name ‘Dio’ means ‘God’?”

When he was a child, weak and pathetic and scurrying through the slums like a rat, dodging beer bottles and scouring for scraps, he used to wonder if his father had known. He’d entertained himself suspecting that his mother had known, that it had been his mother who had named him, that there had been some kind of hope and acknowledgment in her voice when she’d opened her arms to embrace him, murmuring, “Come here, my darling Dio.” At that point in his life he’d been stupid and desperate enough to cling to that.

Now none of that mattered.

Whether or not anyone had known, the fact that he’d been named Dio was clearly Fate.

He was now, finally, after all these years, possessing of his rightful ascendancy as a god.

(And if even Jojo—the only person whom Dio had ever admired and respected; the only person who had ever been strong enough to force him to change his plans; the only person who could possibly get in his way—acknowledged that he was worth following, then there would be no one who wouldn’t.)

 

Jojo shook off Wamuu’s kick and held up a hand. “Wait,” he said earnestly.

Wamuu stopped, leg midway in the trajectory of another kick, narrowing his green eyes at him. “What is it?”

Jojo pointed at Wamuu’s left arm, the one that Dio had frozen and sliced off and Jojo had kicked into Kars’ face, which Wamuu was now holding onto the stump of his left shoulder with his right hand while it began to thaw and started to slowly reconnect to his body.

“It would be unfair to fight you while your arm is still reattaching,” Jojo said, “and also…” he turned to arm chair beside him, unbuttoned and removed his cardigan and slipped it off, undid his tie and pulled it from around his neck, and unbuttoned and took off his dress shirt, folded the bloodied and torn garments carefully and placed them on the seat of the chair, turning back to Wamuu and smiling embarrassedly. “I was feeling kind of self-conscious being the only one still wearing a shirt.”

He rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck to the side, raising his hands in front of him as he slid his feet out into a fighting stance, meeting Wamuu’s green gaze. “It looks like your arm is healed,” he said, nodding at Wamuu’s left arm, which now looked as if it had never been separated from his body. “So we can fight now, if you want.”

Wamuu was looking at him, unmoving and stoic.

Jojo frowned. “Truth be told, I don’t particularly want to kill you,” he said, but he lowered his chin and sat deeper into his stance, eyes narrowing. “However, I can’t forgive you for almost killing Dio!”

The image of this being holding Dio in the air and strangling him was still vivid in Jojo’s mind, and it still filled him with waves of anger and fear.

If he hadn’t arrived when he had, he would’ve lost Dio, and that single thought was more painful than any of the injuries he’d sustained.

Wamuu looked at him and made no move to attack. “You are a man with honor,” he said. “And you seem to care deeply for that man.”

“I love him,” Jojo said earnestly. And it felt amazing to finally be able to say it aloud, to honestly tell someone exactly how he felt, instead of having to keep it a secret, as he and Dio had been doing out of necessity for all these years.

Maybe now that they were vampires, that was a secret they would no longer have to keep—surely a man loving another man was nothing in comparison to being an immortal monster that had to eat humans to survive, and it wasn’t like anyone would be able to do anything to them now.

Well, there were countless problems now that they were vampires, and Jojo had no idea what they would do about it—what the future looked like for them now—but he was sure they’d figure something out.

For now, they still had to make sure they won the battle against these immortal beings and survived the night. And the day, he supposed, since now the sunlight could kill them.

But one thing at a time.

Wamuu was still looking at him, and there was a slight change in his stoic expression. “He doesn’t deserve a man of your calibre. He has no honor whatsoever, and its clear that he already fancies himself a tyrant.”

Jojo hated it when people insulted Dio. And it was always so twopenny-halfpenny, the way people always pointed to his being born to a poor family and living in the slums—something that Dio was insecure enough about as it was—and trying to use that to drag Dio down simply because they were jealous that Dio was better at something than they were. It was ungentlemanly of them, and it never ceased to make Jojo angry whenever it happened.

“Dio had an unfortunate past,” he admitted, through a clenched jaw as he glared at Wamuu across from him, “and his cruelty and temper sometimes get the best of him, it’s true—but he’s good and kind deep down, and he cares more and tries harder than any three other men put together.”

Wamuu held his gaze evenly. “Your love blinds you,” he accused.

Jojo shook his head. “No,” he said, and met Wamuu’s gaze fiercely. “My love lets me see.”

He pitied anyone who wasn’t able to see that.

“Hm.” Wamuu was still just looking at him. “That conviction and dedication is admirable.” Finally his stance shifted, his eyes narrowing. “I hope you’re prepared to die for that belief.”

Jojo just looked at him. “I’m prepared to die a hundred times over and then come back through Hell,” he said, meaning every word.

That made Wamuu chuckle slightly, a deep rumble in his chest. “I shall enjoy putting that to the test,” he said, and then he charged towards him, and Jojo charged forwards to meet him, determined to destroy this being for everything he’d done to them.

Before this night, Jojo would never have thought himself capable of the desire to kill anyone, but upon realizing that he was it hadn’t even surprised him that much.

After all, he’d do whatever he needed to for those he loved and cared about.

 

Dio had been aware, of course, that Jojo and Wamuu were fighting, but he hadn’t been paying close attention; it wasn’t conceivable that Jojo could actually lose, after all.

(Jojo never lost a fight against anyone except for him—and he knew that sometimes that was only because Jojo loved him so deeply that couldn’t bear the thought of actually hurting him in any way, and therefore hesitated and balked in a way he never did when fighting anyone else, and which Dio himself was not above taking advantage of in order to win. Jojo was happy enough to lose to him, anyway).

But even if Dio hadn’t been paying attention, it wasn’t like he could have failed to notice when Wamuu used his Divine Sandstorm on Jojo. The technique was so wildly destructive—he’d destroy the entire room, if he wasn’t careful.

(It was summer and, early as it still was, the sunrise was already nearing.)

And it wouldn’t do for Jojo to get so injured that he wouldn’t be able to heal without feeding to replenish himself, either—though Jojo seemed to be fairing admirably well. He was taking the force of Wamuu’s Divine Sandstorm full frontal, and though he wasn’t able to move forward, he was also managing to somehow stand his ground, his feet digging into the floor and cracking the tile, arms raised in front his face, the severe winds ripping the flesh of his arms and bare chest, though it didn’t seem to faze him.

(And Dio had to admit to himself, having been caught in the edge of Wamuu’s Divine Sandstorm, that there was no way he would be able to do what Jojo was doing now. Jojo really was remarkably impressive—becoming a vampire had made his exceptional strength and resilience that much more phenomenal.)

Still, even though Jojo was holding up admirably, clearly something had to be done about the situation.

Fortunately for Jojo, Dio was intelligent enough to, on the spot, come up with a plan for the situation (and fortunately for him, Jojo was intelligent enough that he’d catch on and realize exactly what Dio needed from him).

And so Dio shouted, “Jojo!” and, outside of the destructive wind, dashed past the point where Jojo was stopped, sprinting and leaping straight at Wamuu through the Divine Sandstorm—

the winds of which blew him back, straight into Jojo, who caught Dio’s feet with his hands and then launched him up so that he soared above the Divine Sandstorm’s devastating wind, flipping in the air and falling, heading straight for Wamuu, bone blades bursting through the flesh of his feet through his boots.

And Wamuu, seeing that Dio would crash into him feet-first with those blades extended, moved his Divine Sandstorm to blow Dio away—

and when he did, the force of the winds was removed from Jojo, and Jojo, shredded as he was, was able to launch himself forward with stunning speed and tackle Wamuu to the ground, forcing his Divine Sandstorm to go wild for a moment before stopping completely as Wamuu, hitting the ground with Jojo on top of him, was no longer able to spin his arms.

And Dio, landing unscathed, was able to leap forward and forcefully sweep out his leg, bone blade still extended from his foot, and effectively chop Wamuu’s head from his neck where Jojo was holding his body down.

And as the force of the blow launched Wamuu’s decapitated head, still living, into the air, Dio grabbed it with fingernails grown into long, strong claws, which he promptly pierced through Wamuu’s eyes, nose, and mouth, into his brain.

And then, just as the right-hand man Esidisi had done, Dio snaked his veins out from beneath his fingernails-turned-claws—

and then he was injecting boiling blood at 500 degrees Celsius into Wamuu’s brain, and Wamuu’s head was screaming and gargling around his claws before going silent, his brain completely dissolved by Dio’s boiling blood, which, along with melted gray and white matter, was now leaking out of Wamuu’s head’s ears.

Retracting his claws from the dead head, Dio drop-kicked it into the flames of the fireplace, watching it begin to burn for a moment before turning.

Kars and Jojo were both staring at him—Kars where Dio had left him on the other side of the room, now trembling with rage, and Jojo still pinning down Wamuu’s now dead and limp decapitated body, his eyes wide and full of astonished horror.

Dio disregarded Kars to look at Jojo, tilting his head slightly.

Ah, I suppose the was slightly violent. Did I disturb him?

“D-Dio…” Jojo said, and he really did seem to be shocked, because he still wasn’t moving from Wamuu’s body, and he was stuttering and his eyes were even glimmering slightly, like he might actually start crying. “Y-you didn’t have to…”

Dio fought the urge to sigh; sometimes Jojo’s softness really was bothersome.

At least Jojo’s love was stronger than anything else.

“He was trying to kill you, Jojo,” Dio said, and he walked over, placing a hand against Jojo’s face, looking down at him, rubbing his thumb beneath one of Jojo’s wide eyes. He lowered his voice, softened it. “You can’t expect me to forgive that.”

And Jojo swallowed, placing one of his hands over Dio’s as he got up from Wamuu’s dead body, stepping closer, and Dio could feel the warmth radiating from Jojo’s bare skin. “Dio…”Jojo said, and he turned his head beneath Dio’s hand, pressing his lips against Dio’s palm.

And Dio smiled at him, keeping the expression soft.

That’s right, Jojo. As long as we have each other, nothing else matters, now does it?

He’d been watching Kars from the corner of his eye, had noted when he’d disappeared, and it didn’t surprise him in the least when Kars’ gleaming bone-blade suddenly burst out of his chest, the monster having used his light-reflecting invisibility to circle around behind him and stab him through the back straight through where his heart was.

The organ stopped beating, of course, but no matter—Dio knew that he’d still be alive even if his heart and all his other organs were ripped right out of his chest.

And it was all he could do not to laugh; as if Kars’ death hadn’t been inevitable already, by not just attacking him but stabbing him through the heart right in front of Jojo, Kars had just as good as signed and sealed his own death certificate.

And then—and in that millisecond it struck him that he really should have expected this, and the fact that he hadn’t stung more than the physical pain that he suddenly felt as his control of his pain reception was destroyed—Kars’ other blade pierced through his skull, through his brain, and everything went white.

 

Jojo was intimately familiar with Dio’s cruel streak, having once been the target of it, and having witnessed moments of it throughout their years together.

But this level of brutality felt like something else, and it took Jojo by surprise.

He and Wamuu had been pretty evenly matched, in their fight, meeting each other blow for blow and giving as good as they got, up until the point Wamuu used his Divine Sandstorm technique, and it became all Jojo could do just to hold his ground.

He didn’t know how long he would’ve been able to last under the onslaught, but luckily he never had to find out, because Dio had come to his aid, throwing himself into the Divine Sandstorm despite knowing the he wouldn’t be able to break through it and get to Wamuu.

But as the wind blew Dio back towards him, Jojo had realized what Dio must be planning and what he wanted Jojo to do—years of playing rugby on the same team had let them develop their teamwork and hone their ability to pick up on each other’s plans without speaking—and so it was easy and felt only natural for Jojo to catch Dio’s feet and then toss him upwards, above the Divine Sandstorm’s winds.

They’d done something similar countless times when practicing acrobatics, Jojo, as the stronger one between them, tossing Dio into the air to give him more height for his flips, Dio having always been the lighter and more agile (watching Dio flip gracefully in the air above him had never ceased to take Jojo’s breath away).

And when Wamuu shifted his Divine Sandstorm upwards towards Dio, away from Jojo, he wasted no time in sprinting forward and tackling Wamuu to the ground, preventing him from actually hitting Dio (it was so similar to one of their favorite moves from their boyhood pillow-fights that under less dire circumstances it would have made Jojo laugh in fond reminiscence).

And then—well, honestly Jojo hadn’t really known what he was going to do. Probably just punch Wamuu a bunch.

In any case, he didn’t have so much as a chance before there was a blur before his eyes and a gust of (in comparison to Wamuu’s Divine Sandstorm) gentle wind, and then he was looking down at a bleeding stump of neck no longer attached to a head.

And when he looked up, Dio had talon-like nails impaled in the orifices of Wamuu’s face, and for a few seconds Wamuu’s head screamed, agonized and gargling, and then he was silent and there was blood and brain matter pouring from his mouth and ears, dripping dark and wet to the floor.

Somehow the fact that the smell of it was more enticing and mouth-watering than disgusting only served to make the entire thing more disturbing; the way Dio’s face was pulled in a perfect and beautiful sneer, candle-flame-gold eyes calm and cold, only serving to make it more horrifying.

Dio drop-kicked Wamuu’s head into the fireplace the same way he’d drop-kick a rugby ball into a bin, watched the head burn with the same detachment with which one would watch a burning log, and when he turned and met Jojo’s gaze he blinked and tilted his head like a dog that thought it might have heard its name called, alert but slightly uncertain and confused.

“D-Dio…” Jojo said, and his gut was churning, eyes stinging. “Y-you didn’t have to…”

Kill him? No, Wamuu had to die—Jojo had known that. But at the same time…

You didn’t have to kill him that brutally.

Jojo was reminded again of that time they’d seen an alley cat ran by with a dead puppy in its mouth, and when Jojo had expressed horror Dio had simply blinked at him and asked: “So?” As if that were normal.

Because it—it would almost have been easier to stomach if Dio had been clearly angry, if he’d been furious and violent because of his rage. But the violence had seemed so calm, so casual, calculated and unceremonious, which somehow made it seem more monstrous. The treatment of violence and brutality as something normal being somehow distinctly inhuman and animalistic—not immoral but amoral, a simple act of survival.

And it made Jojo’s gut twist and his eyes sting: the painful reminder that, before Dio had come to live with them, he’d been subjected to a life where it was kill-or-be-killed, where his survival had been dependent on his being able to undertake such acts of brutality without doubt or hesitation.

But something seemed to soften in Dio’s eyes as he looked at him. “He was trying to kill you, Jojo,” he pointed out, crossing over and placing his hand against Jojo’s face, brushing his thumb over his cheek, golden-yellow eyes flickering and a troubled frown tightening his lips. “You can’t expect me to forgive that.”

Dio looked pained, like he couldn’t stop thinking about Jojo dying, and Jojo’s heart ached as he placed his hand over Dio’s on his cheek, letting go of Wamuu’s dead body that he only then realized he was still uselessly pinning down, and he rose to his feet, stepping closer, and he could feel the warmth radiating from Dio’s bare skin.

“Dio...” he said, and he turned his head beneath Dio’s hand, pressing his lips against Dio’s bloodied palm.

He didn’t mind the flavor, and he found that this time he didn’t mind that he didn’t mind.

They were vampires now, and there was no going back from that. He wanted to live a long life with Dio at his side—and now that life would be far longer than he ever could have hoped—but that wasn’t going to work if he kept thinking of himself as human. He had to embrace this—to embrace what he now was, what they both now were.

Which was vampires—and most importantly, alive.

And when Dio smiled at him, expression soft and loving, Jojo felt his heart coming to peace with this.

And then suddenly a gleaming blade burst out from Dio’s chest in a splatter of blood, Dio’s eyes widening slightly, Kars materializing behind him, and Jojo’s heart was pounding in his chest and his mind was racing.

H-how did I not see him?!

And then Kars’ other blade erupted from Dio’s forehead, above and between his eyes, and Jojo saw red.

 

Oh, that hurt. His head throbbing. Bright pulsations behind his eyes like fireworks and bone-rattling resonations like his skull was a gong and someone was pounding it.

And he was nauseous, too. His stomach roiling and he felt like he could puke out his guts.

Damn it.

It was like being drunk and hungover at the same time.

He found his hand—one of them, he wasn’t quite sure about the other—and lifted it to his forehead, a long hole there and when he lowered his hand before his eyes he could more or less see that his fingers were dripping in blood, though he couldn’t feel it.

Why wasn’t he healing? He should be healing. His brain wasn’t completely destroyed. It was just a stab wound. A clean one. He should be able to heal from this.

Oh, it really hurt. He’d like to turn that off and not feel it, but he couldn’t find where that was. That. Whatever he’d done. To stop feeling pain. Where was that. Damn it. It would be nice to stop feeling the nausea, too.

It would be nice to. Not be. Feeling like. This. It would be nice to be healed. Healing.

A slight sensation, like he was healing. Slowly. Far too slowly. How much had he been injured, since consuming Joestar’s blood? His body. It must be taxed. He needed to feed.

There wasn’t. Anything. Anyone to feed on. There was—

Jojo. And Kars. They were. Fighting, he could make out. Slightly. The world was wavering, shimmering and. Like. Soapy water. The skin of bubbles. Over everything. Damn it. It hurt. He needed to—needed to think. Needed to heal. His brain. He needed to—

Ah, wait. He was really stupid. Stupid pain. There was another body. That thug—Wamuu. He was—

There. He should be right there.

Damn it. Why was everything so bright. And getting brighter. Why. He should be healing. Things should be getting better, not worse.

Food. He needed to feed. Needed—

Where. Where was it. Where was that damned—

Why couldn’t he see, make out—

Damn it, it was getting too bright, still. Where—

There. He could smell it. Nose, working better than his eyes.

The world was tilting. His stomach—threatening to fall out of his mouth.

A drunkard, just like his damned. Damned father. He’d never wanted—

Never wanted to become—

Damn it.

He was better than this.

His fingers, digging into flesh. There, good—blood, life essence, he could feel himself absorbing it. He could feel flesh knitting together, and bone. He couldn’t feel anything in his brain, but it must be healing, because things were getting clearer.

Although it wasn’t getting any less bright. What was—

Oh.

Dawn.

It was dawn. The sun was rising. Sunlight, he needed to avoid—

Ah, good, things were healing more quickly now. He still felt slightly drunk, but he was definitely less hungover, and there was no longer blood dripping down his chest.

He really should have expected that Kars would stab him through the brain. Why the hell wouldn’t he? The brain was their one weakness.

Second weakness. Next to sunlight.

Speaking of—it looked like the sun had just risen slightly over the horizon, there was bright light coming in dangerous shafts through the open windows. Why the hell weren’t the curtains closed. Stupid damn servants, could never do anything right.

Wamuu’s body was a shriveled corpse, now, sucked completely dry, and Dio could feel the life energy flowing through his veins, his body continuing to heal with ever-increasing speed.

He lifted his hands in front of him, curling and uncurling his fingers; he could feel the touches again, and his coordination seemed alright. The world was still a little unsteady, but it was just like being tipsy, and he knew from experience that he could still win fights while tipsy. Not when he was drunk, admittedly—there was that one time that he probably would have ended up hospitalized, had Jojo not shown up, and that incident still caused him endless shame.

But no, he wasn’t human anymore—he was a vampire, his slate had been wiped clean, as he’d been reborn.

But speaking of fights, Jojo and Kars were still—

Dio turned, and his eyes widened as he saw Jojo charge forward, towards Kars and the shaft of sunlight shining through the broken doors behind him.

Jojo, you idiot!

The world finally ceased its jelly-like unsteadiness and transparency as Jojo crashed into Kars and knocked him into the shaft of sunlight, and Dio crossed the room just in time to grab Jojo by the neck, hauling him back away from the sun with only Jojo’s right shoulder sizzling and smoking.

And Kars was already half in the sunlight, already disintegrating and screaming as he tried to grab onto Jojo and either pull himself out of the sunlight or pull Jojo with him into, but Dio kicked him in the shins so that he couldn’t keep his balance and fell backwards into it, completely disintegrating before their eyes in moments.

Damn, the danger of sunlight could not be overstated. They would have to be very careful in the future.

“Dio,” Jojo said, his hand on Dio’s face as Dio turned to look at him, and Jojo was smiling, eyes bright.

And then Jojo was kissing him.

And Dio let him, wrapping his arms around the bare skin of Jojo’s muscular shoulders, snaring his fingers in Jojo’s dark hair and kissing him back, smirking against Jojo’s lips.

This was, after all, just the beginning.

 

Kars’ bone blades were pierced through Dio’s chest and his head, Dio’s eyes wide, blank and unseeing, lips parted slightly, and Jojo was burning alive with love and fury.

He wrapped his arms around Dio’s body and hugged him to him, effectively pulling him off Kars’ blades, and Dio sagged limp against him, his blood all over Jojo’s neck, shoulder, arms, chest.

Carefully, gently, Jojo set him down on the floor against the wall, standing and shooting up his hand to grab Kars’ wrist when the monsters blade swung at his neck.

Still holding on to Kars’ wrist he turned, jerking Kars towards him while taking a step forward at the same time, connecting his other fist to Kars’ face.

Kars’ knee came up, a blade plunging into Jojo’s gut.

Jojo grabbed him around the waist and lifted him, up and over his head as he turned, holding Kars by the legs and letting him drop slightly so face would have hit the floor if Kars hadn’t put out his hands, and then Jojo took a step back and sat down on Kars’ back while pulling Kars’ legs over his shoulders and closing a hand in Kars’ hair and pulling back his head, trapping him in a wrestling hold.

If Kars were human the fight would have been over, Kars having passed out or Jojo having broken his neck, but Kars was not human and he contorted his body impossibly and threw Jojo off with inhuman strength, slashing him with his bone-blades, and if Jojo were human he would have been as good as dead with his carotid and femoral arteries cut, but Jojo was not human and the injuries healed before they could bleed much at all.

(He was no longer covered in Dio’s blood—it seemed that his body had simply absorbed it into himself subconsciously, and when he noticed for a brief moment he found it slightly unsettling, but then Kars was attacking him again and Jojo had other things to think about.)

It was soon clear, of course, that the fight was getting nowhere—that they could very well fight forever, both healing from mortally lethal wounds, and Jojo knew that he could not do what Dio had done to Wamuu or Esidisi. At worst he’d have to try to bash Kars’ head in.

But it was quickly getting lighter, dawn about to break, and using the sun seemed a far more certain solution.

Kars was talking at him, mentioning the Mask and the Red Stone of Aja again, but Jojo wasn’t really listening, couldn’t really hear over the roaring of his anger in his ears, and when a shaft of bright morning sunlight shone through the doors and Jojo saw an opening, Jojo didn’t hesitate to knock into him with his shoulder and push him into it.

And he probably would have fallen into the sunlight and disintegrated as well, if Dio hadn’t caught him and pulled him back, but it had never really occurred to him that Dio wouldn’t be there to catch him.

And there to catch him Dio was, all lean sculpted muscle and elegant features and glowing tones of gold, and even as Kars burned away to dust in the sunlight with a scream it was Dio who commanded Jojo’s eyes.

And Dio turned to look at him, meeting his gaze, looking annoyed and unimpressed, like he was about to berate Jojo for his carelessness in almost falling into the sunlight himself, Jojo had the overwhelming urge to kiss him.

And so he did.

His lips tingled where Dio’s were pressed against them, the back of his head tickling where Dio’s fingers were threaded in his hair, and when he opened his eyes slightly, slivers of Dio’s smiling sunlight-gold eyes shone in his vision.

It felt like a sampling of eternity, that kiss; an hors d'oeuvres of everything that would come, of everything that could and would be theirs, whatever that would be.

And as the rush of the fight wore away Jojo was overcome with a myriad of feelings, but not one of them was fear—because despite all the pain, all the anger and the sadness and the bitterness and the overwhelming loss, that Fate-tasting kiss was so, so sweet.

Chapter Text

7 years later, in the year 1894…

 

A fateful meeting back in the winter of 1889 had completely changed the course of Robert E. O. Speedwagon’s life.

That fateful meeting being with one Sir Jonathan—well, he’d once been Jonathan Joestar, he would tell Speedwagon much later, but now he was just Jonathan. Or ‘The Sane Boss,’ as the members of the gang/organization would often refer to him amongst themselves (as opposed to ‘The Crazy Boss,’ which would become the common nomenclature for one certain Dio no-longer-Brando).

It had happened late one night on Ogre Street, that he and his two friends had seen Jonathan frowning at the wall of a dead-end alley, looking at it as if he were wondering if he should just scale it (which Speedwagon had thought was stupid at the time, given the wall’s height and lack of handholds, but later after discovering what Jonathan was he would realize that scaling such a wall was more than within his capabilities).

He’d looked rich, naive and spoiled (he’d learn later that the second was true, but charmingly so, the first was no longer as true as it had been, and the third had probably never factored into Jonathan’s personality in the man’s entire life), so they thought they’d rob him—not a wise decision on their parts, though it wasn’t like they could have known who, or what, Jonathan was (though he supposed they should have been at least slightly tipped off by the ease and assurance of Jonathan’s demeanor, for surely no normal gentleman would ever be assured and at ease in Ogre Street).

Needless to say, trying to rob Jonathan had not worked in the slightest, and he could so easily have killed them but he hadn’t, taking care to not even severely injure them.

“Why?” Speedwagon had asked him, pushing himself up out of the snow; his nose wasn’t even bleeding. “A leg like yours should’ve been able to completely destroy my face.” (He hadn’t yet learned that Jonathan was a vampire.)

And Jonathan had held his muscular arm gracefully before his chest, hand curved elegantly, and pronounced: “I have a dream. My lover and I are creating an organization—a gang, I guess you’d call it—to organize, run, and regulate the London underworld.” And it was such a ridiculous proclamation—this naive young gentleman, rule the underworld? But he’d said with such earnestness and determination, looked at them with such unremitting resolve in his gaze. “I would be very happy if you would all join me.”

With those bright, lucid blue eyes, that handsome, earnest face, that figure that even through his winter clothing was clearly uncannily like that of a Greek-statute, that strength and will he’d already demonstrated, an innocent kind of beauty like he didn’t even realize how almost inhumanly attractive he was—well, it was like looking at the incarnation of an angel.

And you didn’t just say No to someone like that—Speedwagon meant, well, you at least gave the man a chance. And hey, maybe he’d been worried about Jonathan, okay? Someone so naive and pure, apparently determined to rule the underworld—surely anyone would be a little concerned for his safety (if not his sanity).

Speedwagon maybe should’ve paid a little more attention to that ‘lover’ bit. He hadn’t really been sure what he was expecting—well, a woman, certainly. He hadn’t really put too much thought into it, but he supposed he’d assumed that an angelic, princely man like his would have a lover like in some kind of fairytale, some blond-haired, blue-eyed, princess-worthy beauty. Well, at least originally.

He might have been a little distracted by just what a pure soul Jonathan was—chatting to them brightly, asking them about their families (of which Speedwagon had none to speak of, but his friend Tattoo had younger siblings he had to take care of, and when he mentioned that two of them were currently sick Jonathan was concerned and wanted to make sure that he had all the medicine and supplies that he needed), telling them about his and his lover’s plans to unite all London’s small gangs into a large organization, to rid the streets of murderers and rapists, to use money made from protection fees and an organized and expanded Black Market to invest in infrastructure and raise the living standards of the poor parts of the cities, to help create jobs and help every child be able to attend a school.

It all sounded incredibly idealistic and too good to be true, but there was such conviction and soberness in Jonathan as he spoke, a certain weight to his words when he spoke about improving the slums and supporting families, that made it seem as if he’d experienced it himself, despite giving off the sense of someone who’d grown up as a sheltered rich kid.

And then there was the fact that, despite his idealism, he seemed to have no doubt that there were individuals in the city who needed to be killed, and he seemed to have no qualms about being the one to kill them himself, if need be. Of being both judge and executioner.

Which would have seemed tyrannical, like he fancied himself some god or supreme being who was above the laws of humans (which he’d find out later, of course, was actually kind of true), but he gave off the sense that he had both the compassion and sensibility to be a fair judge and the strength and unwavering determination to be an executioner.

(It turned out that at that time Jonathan had already been working on that for a few months, and though Speedwagon had around that time noticed a slight decrease in the level of violent crime, he’d attributed it to the severe winter and all the snow and they’d been getting.)

Jonathan was larger than life, in so many ways; Speedwagon had almost thought he was dreaming. That a man like this couldn’t possibly actually exist.

And things had only gotten more bizarre from there.

When they’d followed Jonathan, he’d lead them to, of all things, a Gothic church—as if he hadn’t already had that uncanny feeling that Jonathan could actually be a real-life angel.

And then when they’d entered, well, it was pretty obvious that the church wasn’t currently being used as a church, by the musky scent of stale air and the layer of dust that was covering everything.

“A recent acquisition,” Jojo had explained, somewhat bashfully. “And uh, using a church wasn’t my idea, but…”

And then a voice had resonated throughout the hall: “I see you’ve found us more underlings, Jojo.” And just the voice alone, deep and smooth and full of latent menace, had raised all of Speedwagon’s hackles.

And then a figure had risen from where he’d apparently been lying down along one of the front rows of pews, deliberately closing a leather-bound book, and slowly turned its head to look at him.

And alarm bells were suddenly going off in his head, every fiber of his body screaming at him to run, because this—

if Jonathan was an angel, then this man was the devil incarnate.

His was a devastating and sinful beauty, somehow both powerfully masculine and alluringly feminine, a beauty that made your mouth go dry and yet filled you with terror; his every movement was such perfect, relaxed, calculated grace that underneath was taught with a profound capacity for violence and a insatiable killing intent; orange-red eyes that glowed like the fires of Hell, filled you with both wonder and with dread; a knowing gaze that said that he knew that with a single look he could make you feel either like you were worse than worthless and completely powerless or like you were the most precious and desirable thing in the world.

He was the very picture of the Tempter, the Master of Chaos, the Agent of Darkness, and Speedwagon was filled with a horror and terror that, if this evil creature was indeed working with Jonathan, he would corrupt and destroy Jonathan and his noble soul.

“Dio—” Jonathan started, stepping towards the devil of a man, and he was smiling at him as if he were completely blind to what he was.

And—well, it still embarrassed him to think about, but could you blame him for not knowing and for trying to look out for a man who had impressed him with his noble spirit?

And so, at the time he’d said: “Careful, Jonathan. Don’t trust a word that snake says.”

And Jojo had stopped, looking back at him in surprise and confusion, while Dio had turned the full force of those hellhound eyes on him, expression aloof, cold, and cruel, only cementing Speedwagon’s certainty about him and his conviction to continue.

To Dio (and he would never admit how much bravery it had taken to talk to him in such a way, how terrified of him he’d been), he’d said: “Who am I, you ask? Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Robert E. O. Speedwagon, the meddler. I was worried about Jonathan, so I came back with him.”

Turning back to Jonathan, he’d said: “Since I like you, Jonathan, let me tell you something. I was raised in squalor, and I’ve seen a lot of lowlifes.” He’d walked past Jonathan, circling half around Dio. “My nose knows the difference between good and bad. And this guy,” he’d jerked his thumb at Dio pointedly, “stinks worse than a pile of puke!” Thinking back on the incident, he was always glad that the church pews had been so completely bare, because if there had been any object that he could have kicked, he would have kicked it directly at Dio’s head—not that he could possibly have hit him, he knew now, but it would certainly have ended up making his embarrassment and shame even worse.

Because after that, he’d gone on to add: “I’ve never met a man as wicked as him! Wicked because of circumstance? No!” And he’d pointed at Dio accusingly. “This man was born bad!”

Dio had just smiled at him, looking infinitely amused and smug, and his teeth had actually looked sharp. “You heard him, Jojo,” he’d said, moving his gaze from Speedwagon to Jonathan, and he’d basically been on the verge of laughing. Almost saucily, he’d smirked and intoned: “I’m as wicked as they come.”

And Jonathan had actually groaned, raising a hand to his face, absolutely nothing but exasperated. “You know that’s not true, Dio,” he’d said to him, before turning to Speedwagon, removing his hand from his face and sighing.

And he’d just looked so incredibly disappointed, and even though Speedwagon had still believed what he said—and he still did even now, really—he’d felt horrible, like he’d kicked a puppy.

“Don’t encourage him, Speedwagon,” Jonathan had told him. “He already plays up the act enough as it is. He’s actually very kind and caring.” And Jonathan’s expression was the most earnest thing Speedwagon had ever seen, and at the time it had made him want to scream.

And Dio had filled him with sickened horror as Dio had sauntered over to Jonathan, snaking an arm around his shoulders, leaning close, too close, and purring: “Only to you, Jojo. You’re the only person worthy enough of my respect.” Still leaning into Jojo, he’d moved his diabolic red gaze to Speedwagon, expression cooling so that despite the flame-color of those eyes his stare had been cold as ice. “I don’t see any reason why I should show any consideration towards such pathetic insects.”

“Dio,” Jojo had sighed, and Speedwagon had been horrified to see Jojo wrap an arm around Dio’s waist, turning his head slightly and leaning it against Dio’s, his thumb rubbing over Dio’s shoulder. “Please stop intimidating the new members. It’s not exactly helping our cause any, now is it?”

“Hm,” Dio had said, still watching Speedwagon—and his look had said that he could read every thought that was going through Speedwagon’s mind, and that he found it pathetic and contemptible.

And then he’d pushed away from Jojo and shifted his gaze to him, his expression becoming something like an easy, teasing amusement, as he’d made a graceful shrugging gesture and said lightly: “I just take the gangs by conquest; it’s your job to deal with incorporating all the new human underlings afterwards.”

Dio’s use of the term ‘human underlings’ had seemed unreasonable and imperious, and it had pissed him off even more (and admittedly fed that doubt that he couldn’t get rid of that Dio really wasn’t human, but his suspicion had been the he really was the Devil; that Dio—and Jonathan—were both vampires, had certainly not occurred to him).

In any case, Dio’s demeanor had just made Jonathan sigh, like he was used to it, and wasn’t sure whether he found it exasperating or somehow endearing. “Dio…”

And Dio had just looked back at him easily. “Jojo.”

Sighing and running a hand back through his hair, Jonathan had looked at Dio, smiling at him in a way that had looked rather apologetic. “I drew up some new plans and left them on the desk by the atlas. Would you mind looking over them for me?”

And Dio had looked at him like he could clearly see that Jojo was trying to nicely get him to leave, but he’d surprised Speedwagon at the time by acquiescing to the tacit request, bowing out with supercilious grace as he’d said, “Sounds more interesting than dealing with these insects,” and then left the room, waving a dismissive hand.

After he’d left, Speedwagon had continued with the line that would cause him endless embarrassment later, stammering out something like: “Jonathan, that man’s a monster, how can you work with him?”

Jonathan had looked at him, frowning. “Dio isn’t a monster,” he’d said firmly. And then there’d been a flicker of some strange expression that Speedwagon hadn’t understood at the time, and he’d added: “Not any more so than I am, anyway.”

Yeah, since Speedwagon hadn’t known they were vampires at the time, he thought Jonathan was just insinuating that both he and Dio had killed people before.

Well, Speedwagon had also killed a couple people in his time—it was kind of a given, when you lived in those dark parts of the city—and that hadn’t been what he’d been trying to get at.

“B-but he’s…” he’d tried to protest, trying to figure out how to explain just how inherently evil Dio clearly was, rotten all the way down to his core.

But he hadn’t been able to figure out how to say that (which was something he’d be rather grateful for later) before Jonathan had cut him off, saying: “He’s really not always like that. He just likes messing with people.”

Which just—Speedwagon could not even. Fathom. How Jonathan could. Say that. Believe that. He just—how. Because Jonathan did not seem like an idiot, and yet. When it came to Dio, it seemed that he somehow willfully, completely blind. And Speedwagon could not understand. How that was even. Possible.

How anyone could miss the sheer malice that emanated from that man.

He couldn’t understand, and all he’d managed to stammer out was: “I… I don’t think…”

And then Jonathan had looked at him, angelic blue eyes darkening in anger, and he’d said, tone low and heavy with warning: “Mr. Speedwagon. I’d appreciate it if you’d please stop insulting my lover.”

And if Speedwagon had been having difficulties before, that statement completely. Broke. His brain. Some important mental machinery was very, very broken, because that was so. Utterly. Inconceivable. For so many reasons. That shouldn’t even. Shouldn’t. That. That was. Not. What. What was. Jonathan saying. Had he heard that correctly, because. That couldn’t possibly. Actually be possible. Surely not.

He hadn’t been able to wrap his mind around it. “Th-that’s your lover?” was probably what he’d oh-so-eloquently stammered out. “Th-that…?”

And Jonathan, pure soul that he was, had just looked at him and asked simply: “Are you surprised that I love a man?”

And: “Well, yes, there’s that,” Speedwagon had admitted. Because even in the underground gay bars the men wouldn’t have ever been caught saying that a man was their lover. But frequenting that scene relatively often, being rather attracted to men himself, that hadn’t been what had broken Speedwagon’s brain. “But he’s—he’s the devil himself!”

Yes, he’d actually told Jonathan that. To his face. Honestly, he was lucky that Jonathan didn’t smash his face in, much less refuse to accept Speedwagon into his organization.

Angel that he was, Jonathan had simply clenched his fists and his eyes, took a deep breath, opened his eyes and unclenched his fists, and then told Speedwagon, in eloquent but no uncertain terms, that he, Speedwagon, should not make such hasty and shallow judgments of people, and that he, Jonathan, would not tolerate any insult to Dio, who was his childhood friend and love of his life.

And, well, what could Speedwagon do after that but pledge his loyalty to such a noble angel of a man?

But it was still insane, his thing with Dio.

That fact that Jonathan, this angel, loved this man Dio, who was a devil. Who was probably quite literally the Devil. Because honestly, the more he had thought about it, the more convinced Speedwagon had become that the Dio could very well be the Devil and that Jonathan may very well be a real-life Angel.

There was, after all, the fact that they’d located the base of their organization in a Gothic church. Even if Jojo said it hadn’t been his idea, in which case it must have been Dio’s, and Dio was so obviously conscious of the fact that he was a devil that there was absolutely no way that he’d suggested a church by coincidence.

Jonathan being an Angel and Dio being the Devil was simply the only conceivable explanation for everything.

Honestly, the only thing that would make it more obvious was if the colors of their hair were switched—if Dio had Jonathan’s dark hair to frame and enhance the evil red glow of his eyes, and if Jonathan had Dio’s luminous gold mane that shone like a halo in the light.

But then again, perhaps it actually made sense, that Dio would have such golden-blond hair—after all, the Devil had once been an Angel, too.

They might as well just admit that their real names were Gabriel and Lucifer and be done with it.

And this theory had also explained why Jonathan loved Dio. Because Lucifer was the Fallen Angel, and had once lived in Heaven, which fit with Jojo’s explanation about Dio being his childhood friend and them growing up together. And Speedwagon had never been the a particularly religious man—he’d never made a point of studying the Bible or memorizing scripture or anything—but he was pretty sure he remembered that all the Angels were male. So of course Jonathan, loving another Angel (or well, a being that had once been an Angel), would be loving a man, and would be more than willing to admit it, as if there weren’t anything abnormal about it.

And well, he was also pretty certain that Angels were supposed to be celibate and not love anyone or something like that, but the Devil was a Fallen Angel and it didn’t seem like the Devil would have any qualms about that—and maybe the fact that he’d fallen in love had been why Jonathan had been cast out of Heaven.

Because honestly, Speedwagon’s conviction in regards to this theory had been pretty much cemented by the moment when he looked at Jojo and saw that the injuries he’d sustained earlier from Tattoo’s knife and from the blade in his hat, when they’d attacked him back in the alley, were completely healed. Because that was absolutely not human.

And what else could Jonathan have conceivably been other than an Angel? Nothing about him was like vampires of lore.

Well, except for the fact that his teeth were pointed, of course—but somehow even though Jonathan was full of smiles, you almost never noticed that his teeth were a little too sharp. Indeed, Speedwagon had never noticed until after he saw Jojo suck the blood out of a man with his fingers, and it wasn’t until Jojo had actually told him that what he was was actually a vampire that Speedwagon finally noticed his teeth and realized that he’d only ever seen Jonathan outside at night.

Of course, he’d noticed Dio’s teeth—you couldn’t not notice them, the way Dio showed them off and purposefully drew attention to them—but sharp teeth had seem like a perfectly devilish thing to have and had only corroborated his Angel-Devil theory, and since most of his interactions had been with Jonathan rather than Dio he certainly had never made the connection about never seeing Dio in the sunlight.

And Dio clearly did everything to encourage suspicions about him being the Devil, short of actually coming out and saying it, and Speedwagon was pretty sure that the only reason Dio never actually verbally claimed to be the Devil was because he knew the slight doubt and uncertainty about what he was just made him even more terrifying.

And well, Jonathan also seemed to play perfectly into his role as an Angel, but it never seemed that he consciously tried to affirm any such theories—he just seemed to be naturally angelic and do that without even trying, and then the few things that did seem intentional had more to do with the organization as a whole, and Speedwagon was pretty sure were all Dio’s ideas.

For example, not only was their base a church, but it turned out that they were calling their organization Eyes of Heaven, something which certainly insinuated very, very strongly that they, as the bosses of the organization, were Heavenly Beings, descended to Earth but still possessing almighty powers.

Which definitely seemed like something that Dio, who was obviously very consciously sewing the seeds of these theories, would have come up with; and something that Jonathan would agree to, liking the symbolism of it and the way it could be construed of as embodying their goals.

Because it was a fact that the goals they were striving for seemed impossible—and yet, impossibly, they were clearly achieving them, which seemed nothing short of a miracle.

After the shock of discovering that they were actually vampires had worn off, Speedwagon couldn’t help but start admiring Dio a little bit. Because it clear, from the events that Jonathan had recounted, that even if Dio was mostly actually a truly terrible person, he did, at the very least, care deeply for Jonathan.

Because not only had Dio apparently saved Jonathan’s life multiple times that fateful night, when there had been countless instances he could have simply let him die, afterwards he’d gone to all this incredible effort to create a life that would allow them both to thrive in their new existences—because it was clear, too, that the idea to create Eyes of Heaven must have been Dio’s, and that he’d clearly had Jonathan in mind.

In a way Eyes of Heaven really was Dio’s organization, in that most of the plans were his, and he was the one who (apparently almost single-handedly) was tearing apart all their competition, destroying powerful gangs that would be in their way.

(It was also Dio who was the one who kept any possible traitors in the organization too scared to attempt to raise a rebellion and try to take over the organization for themselves—not that Jonathan couldn’t have handled such attacks, because he clearly could, but it was Dio who clearly kept them from happening in the first place, because there was nobody in the organization who didn’t know that if you pissed Dio off, you would be dying a violent and agonizing death).

But Eyes of Heaven itself, for the most part, was clearly Jonathan’s—it was Jonathan who was doing the organizing and running of everything, the one who was inspiring loyalty in the organization’s members, the one who was carrying out all the reforms and using Eyes of Heaven’s power and influence to change society for the better—things which Dio clearly had no interest in.

It was clear that Dio simply gloried in his power, that all he really cared about was being able to destroy whoever he willed and to use the fear he evoked in people to manipulate them and dance them about like puppets on strings—but he directed all that maliciousness and violence in such a way that it was all for the benefit of Jonathan and his goals.

And the way Dio was so carefully doing everything in his power to feed everyone’s belief that they were Heavenly Beings—that he was the Devil and Jonathan was an Angel. That was also clearly for the benefit of Jonathan and Eyes of Heaven.

Dio, going around causing chaos and taking lives by himself simply for his own personal pleasure, would not have been at any disadvantage from people seeing that he was a vampire. It wouldn’t have mattered. But it would not have been possible to build such expansive and powerful organization as Eyes of Heaven if everyone knew that the bosses were vampires. Most people would not be willing to follow creatures they thought were simply base, barbaric monsters.

To create and maintain such an organization, you need to be able to inspire hope and faith in your followers. And the belief that they were being lead by a divine Angel, and that traitors meet the wrath of the Devil—there was incredible power in that. And Speedwagon knew that it was entirely because of everything Dio did to engender this belief that Eyes of Heaven was able to become what it was.

He and Jonathan could not have hidden the fact that they weren’t human if they’d tried—and Dio had saved them both from lives of being persecuted as monsters, creating instead lives for them in which they were revered as heavenly beings.

And all, it seemed, for Jonathan’s sake.

As terrible as Dio clearly was, Speedwagon nevertheless had to admire him for that.

Though he still didn’t like Dio, he certainly didn’t hate him.

And Speedwagon had been with working with them for a little over six years now, and he’d now seen countless interactions between them—certainly far more than anyone else, having been Jonathan’s right-hand man for years, one of the very few people who was privy to their true natures, and now also the face of the public face of the organization, the part which operated in the public eye, investing in such things as the oil industry and medical research, and which was now known as the Speedwagon Foundation (the name had actually been Dio’s idea, which had been surprising at first, but then actually wasn’t, because having Speedwagon so conspicuously known as the organization’s head was a perfect cover for everything Jonathan and Dio did in Eyes of Heaven)—and he’d be lying to himself if he didn’t admit that, whatever it was, the relationship between Jonathan and Dio worked.

It was disorienting, and baffling, and kind of unsettling—but it worked.

And sometimes it was almost endearing.

One of the scenes that had always stuck out in his mind was one hat occurred soon after he’d learned that they were vampires, when he’d finally mustered up the courage to ask: “Do you miss being human?”

He’d been in Jonathan’s office, going over their finances with him, while Dio had been lounging in Jonathan’s lap like a large cat and idly spinning the globe that sat on the desk (the expression on Dio’s face had been harmless and bored but the intensity of his eyes on the model of the world had been giving Speedwagon shivers, and he’d been calculating figures while Jonathan was carefully flipping through papers, and the room had lapsed into a silence he wasn’t altogether comfortable with).

Jonathan, looking up at Speedwagon’s question, had said earnestly: “I miss not having to eat people.”

That had made Dio give an amused exhale through his nose—which somehow managed to be elegant (too elegant to even mentally describe as a ‘snort,’ which it most certainly would have been on any other being)—but he hadn’t taken his intense stare from the globe, and he hadn’t deigned to provide his own answer.

So Speedwagon had assumed that for Dio the answer was a straight ‘No.’

To Jonathan, who was looking at him with a kind of mysterious, mild half-smile (almost ethereal, transcendent of the reach of both human emotion and human comprehension), Speedwagon had said uncertainly: “And that’s… that’s it? You don’t miss, for example, the sunlight? Or…” and he’d trailed off, suddenly no longer certain why he’d even bothered to ask.

Aside from the sunlight—or, as Jonathan had so angelically pointed out, not having to eat people—what was there for an immortal and superhumanly powerful being to miss about being a far weaker and mortal human?

Even Jonathan was laughing at him, though the laugh, like everything Jonathan did or said, was so inherently sweet and kind, that though Speedwagon felt slightly embarrassed, it hadn’t hurt or angered him at all.

And Jonathan had been smiling so brightly, deep blue eyes resplendent like sapphires or some other intense blue stone that Speedwagon wasn’t particularly familiar with.

An expression like that, you couldn’t help but admire it, even if the wearer of the expression was laughing at you.

“The sunlight?” Jonathan had smiled, the light in his eyes dancing like on faceted gemstones, and he’d set down the papers he’d been flipping through to wrap both his arms around the lean man in his lap and leaning back against his chest like Jonathan himself was his throne.

Jonathan’s arms wrapping around him and hugging him slightly had made Dio lift his burning red gaze from the globe, looking up with an utterly flat and resignedly longsuffering expression, eyes straight ahead and not seeming to focus on anything.

And Jonathan, as if he either didn’t notice or didn’t care about Dio’s lack of reciprocity to his affections (as usual), had nestled his face in Dio’s gold hair and, with such cherubic earnestness that you could practically hear the harps playing in the background, had said simply: “How could I miss the sunlight when I have my own sunlight right here?”

And that had actually gotten a reaction out of the nonresponsive Dio, making him blink, brows drawing together slightly and lips pulling into something that was far too elegant to be referred to as a frown, and he’d turned his head so he could nuzzle his cheek against Jonathan’s. His velvety murmur of “Jojo” had sounded almost like it could have been incredulous.

And Jonathan had nuzzled his nose against Dio’s, as if they were both puppies, and then pulled back slightly to smile at him. “You’re the one who fills my life with light and warmth, Dio,” he’d said, innocent and earnest like only children should be allowed to be, reaching up with a hand to brush a lock of gold hair out of Dio’s demonic red eyes, behind his ear, Jonathan’s thumb brushing against the three dark moles on Dio’s ear without looking, in a soft, assured way that seemed to suggest that he’d long memorized every square centimeter of Dio’s body. “You’re exactly like sunlight.”

And the smile Jonathan was bestowing on Dio, the sheer depth and tenderness of feeling in it—it was the kind of smile that, turned on anyone, should have completely taken their breath away (possibly even permanently—that smile wasn’t even turned in Speedwagon’s direction and he still found it hard to breathe, his heart racing in his chest).

But Dio didn’t look like like his breathing had so much as hitched or his heartbeat had so much as raised, his expression seeming to be one of simply bafflement (though, oddly similar to Jonathan’s expression, it looked like it should only have been able to belong to the face of a child).

And it was such a strange feeling, gazing at them, Jojo smiling like a child watching bubbles drift in the air while Dio looked like a child whose mother and father had just had a conversation that had gone completely over his head.

And then Dio lifted a hand and poked Jonathan. In the cheek. With one of his strange dark nails. And he’d said clemently: “Except that you’re a vampire and I haven’t killed you.” And then there was something in his eyes, something in the elegant curve of his lips, that was somehow teasing and light yet at the same time seemed dark and wry. “Not yet, at least.”

And then Jonathan had placed his hand over Dio’s so that the other man’s palm was cradling his cheek and he’d looked at him solemnly, said simply: “I’d let you.”

And that—

that was—

Speedwagon was crying, wiping at his eyes, but Dio had just laughed.

And it hadn’t been a cruel laugh, or mocking in any way, if anything it had just been genuinely amused, possibly even fond, but it had still seemed so jarringly out of place to treat such earnest and devoted love with mirth.

“Nobody doubts that, Jojo,” Dio had said, and he was smiling as he brushed his thumb beneath Jonathan’s eye. “But I’d rather not.” And Dio was looking at Jonathan, easily holding his gaze, and Dio just looked… content, really. “You’re the only person I’ve ever respected and admired, you know. And for the record,” and here Dio turned to look at Speedwagon, making him start, and Dio had just kind of relaxed into Jonathan, ducking beneath Jonathan’s chin to rest his head against Jonathan’s neck and collarbones, arms snaking around Jonathan’s shoulders, “I don’t miss anything about being human.”

And then it was apparently Jonathan’s turn to laugh at something that didn’t really seem like it should be laughed at, smiling with a content kind of happiness as he wrapped his arms around Dio’s back and hugged him to his him, saying fondly: “Nobody doubts that, Dio.”

And it just seemed so odd, for Jonathan to respond that way, when what Dio had said was basically just an alternative phrasing for the sentiment, ‘I like being a monster’—and yet Jonathan had reacted to it as if Dio had something childishly cute and endearing, something like ‘Jojo is my favorite person in the whole world.’

Which, well, okay, nobody was doubting that that actually was true for Dio; as he’d said, and as anyone with eyes could see, Jonathan was literally the only person—or even thing, really—that Dio seemed to give a damn about.

When he thought back on it, he sometimes thought that maybe their odd reactions to each other’s bizarre statements had actually made sense, in a way, and weren’t actually so strange after all, at least not if you thought about what they’d each said as their own personal versions of ‘I love you more than anything,’ and if you thought of their laughter as, ‘I know, and I love you for it.’

They were, the both of them, larger than life, really—and the way they’d seemed to have decided to make a permanent lifestyle out of resembling Heavenly Beings as closely as possible, in a way it only made sense that Jonathan’s ‘I love you’ was basically ‘I’d sacrifice myself as an offering at your altar’ while Dio’s was ‘I’d screw over the whole fucking world for you.’

Again, their relationship was disorienting, and baffling, and kind of unsettling—and yet somehow it worked.

And Dio, still cradled against Jonathan’s chest, head reached out a hand to the desk, flicked the globe to set it spinning, and then stopped it with a finger right on the country of Italy.

“I think we should go straight after Italy’s Mafia, next,” he’d said, simple and casual as that. As if, ‘Oh yeah, and by the way, let’s take over one of the world’s largest and most dangerous crime syndicates’ was on par with something as normal as, ‘It’s a nice night out, let’s take a walk.’

And Jonathan had just crinkled his brow slightly and asked rather casually: “Are you sure? That will be difficult, won’t it?”

And Dio had shifted in his lap, sitting up and moving so that he was straddling Jonathan’s waist, taking Jonathan’s face in both hands and asking: “Do you doubt me, Jojo?”

And Jonathan had smiled and kissed Dio’s collar bone and said: “Never.”

And Dio had grinned down at him, pronounced: “Then Italy’s Mafia it is,” and leaned down, kissing the corner of Jonathan’s mouth, pulling back and brushing his thumb over Jonathan’s lips, still grinning, almost wolfish. “Give me a few months, certainly no more than a year.” Jonathan had tilted his face up to look at him, and Dio had just kind of laid a palm over Jonathan’s face, chuckling darkly. “I’ll have the entire country’s mafia in the palm of my hand.”

And Jonathan had lightly caught Dio’s wrist, pulling his hand from his face, smiled at him and kissed the black, claw-like nails on the ends of Dio’s fingers, saying warmly: “I believe you.”

And Dio had shifted their hands slightly so he could interlace their fingers together, smiling back at him. “I know you do.”

And a few days after that Dio had left, to go conquer the Italian mafia.

And then six months later he’d returned, with a sleek Italian briefcase and perfect Italian accent (and yeah, okay, Speedwagon would believe that the Devil had been Italian, like in Dante’s Inferno).

“Happy Birthday, Jojo,” Dio had said, materializing like a shadow in the doorway of Jonathan’s office shortly after midnight, early morning on the fourth of April, leaning against the doorframe and smirking. “Congratulations on your aging: you’ve now completed a full twenty-eight years of life, but you don’t look a day past twenty-one. “

And Jonathan had blinked at him, glanced at the calendar, and lit up so suddenly and completely it was like someone had just flicked on the room’s light switch. “Oh, you’re right! It is my birthday! I’d completely forgotten, what with everything that’s been going on.” And he’d turned to look at Dio with that soft, loving smile that hadn’t graced his features for six months. “But you remembered, Dio.”

“Yes, because we both know that my memory is impeccable,” Dio had said perfunctorily, pushing himself with liquid grace from the doorframe and walking over, clicking open the suitcase and dropping it on the desk, the mass of papers inside fluttering. And Dio was still smirking. “And I even remembered to bring a present for you: all the underworld of Italy, completely at your disposal.”

Jojo picked up one of the documents, looking at it with wide eyes. “D-Dio…” he said, utterly breathless, blue eyes beginning to glimmer wetly—and perhaps it should have been comical, that reaction from a pile of papers, except that it wasn’t.

Because if your lover had conquered the underworld of an entire country for you, who wouldn’t be moved to tears?

And Dio was still smirking at Jonathan, knowing it. “You better kiss me, Jojo.”

And Jonathan had moved so fast that Speedwagon hadn’t even seen it, and then Jonathan had Dio in his arms, kissing him deeply. “I’ll do more than that, Dio,” he smiled, when they finally pulled apart (sometimes Speedwagon wondered if they actually needed to breathe—they’d been kissing so long that Speedwagon had been able to gather up all the blueprints that he and Jonathan had been going over, roll them up and tuck them away inside his briefcase).

“I’ll just be going, then,” he’d said, picking up his briefcase and heading for the door. “Happy Birthday, Jonathan.”

“Thanks, Speedwagon!” Jonathan had called, even as Speedwagon had closed the door and started taken a step down the hallway. “I hope you have a good day too!”

And as he walked away, barely audible he’d heard Dio’s purred, “Ah, but it’s not going to be as good as yours, Jojo,” and then the bright sound of Jonathan’s joyous laughing, and Speedwagon had just reached up and pulled the rim of his hat slightly lower over his eyes, shaking his head.

(Damn, they were making him feel old—in the six years he’d known them, they hadn’t aged a day, still just as young and foolish as ever.)

Honestly, though, it was kind of insane, how gentle and almost domestic they were with each other—the perfect lovers—when everywhere else Dio was a roiling mass of darkness and hatred and blood-lust (something Jonathan seemed to just regard with a kind of longsuffering exasperation, never so much as even cringing with horror).

Whenever Speedwagon encountered Dio outside of Jonathan’s rooms, or when Jonathan wasn’t around, Dio was usually either threatening violence and terrifying someone, or else ripping someone apart and licking the blood from his fingers (but sometimes blood would dry there, caking the edges of those dark nails, and later when Jonathan saw he’d just sigh and take Dio’s hand, licking them clean for him).

Jonathan and Dio, the two of them—in all the time he’d known them, Speedwagon had never quite been able to decide whether the love they had for each other was the most inspiring thing he’d ever seen, or the most disturbing.

But after knowing them for these past six years, he no longer wondered at how it was possible that they could love each other so deeply when Jonathan was effortlessly and inherently angelic all the way to the core and Dio was nothing but rot beneath his beautiful veneer and ninety percent of the time was gleefully indulging in his self-embraced role as the Devil incarnate.

They were almost complete opposites—kindness and cruelty, sincerity and deceit—but it was exactly that duality that made them inseparable. In a way they were one and the same, like two sides of the same coin.

And whatever it was, it worked—Eyes of Heaven and the Speedwagon Foundation (he hoped that after his inevitable eventual death they’d keep the name, as something to remember him by later in their immortal lives) were making clear and obvious improvements in the world, and despite the incredible weight of what they were trying to accomplish and the tireless effort they were putting into achieving those goals, despite the violence and the darkness of the lifestyle they were living and all the countless people who were now looking to them for direction, despite the tragedies of their youth and the overwhelming stretch of eternity ahead of them, they were probably the two happiest and most content individuals he had ever met.

And as he walked down the church corridor, Speedwagon could only laugh slightly and shake his head, thinking to himself that perhaps individuals as inconceivable as Jonathan and Dio had never really been meant to be human in the first place.

Chapter Text

7 years previous, in the year 1888…

 

There in the half-destroyed foyer with the sunlight’s lethal rays slowly receding farther and farther away from their feet as the sun rose higher in the sky, they’d finally broken apart, panting for breath that they no longer actually needed.

(Dio supposed that they could kiss until their lungs ran out of oxygen and their hearts stopped—kiss their bodies dead and yet keep living. As soon as they deigned to break apart and breath again, their bodies would heal from that death-like condition faster than a human healed from a papercut.)

He’d looked at Jojo, noted with satisfaction the way looked completely undone from his kiss.

Oh, but Jojo really was hopeless.

Looking up to meet his gaze, Jojo had reached up a hand, placing it against Dio’s cheek, and Dio had obligingly leaned into the gesture, smiling contentedly.

Yes, this undying love of Jojo’s was only his due.

“What now, Dio?” Jojo had murmured, brushing his thumb soft as a butterfly over the Dio’s cheek, despite the fact that neither of them had any need of softness, now. “Father is dead, the foyer is in ruins, and we’re vampires. There’s no way we can live our lives like normal humans. The futures we had planned…”

Oh, but Jojo would be completely lost now without him.

“We’ll have to give those up, Jojo,” he had said, gently, because the softest touch from him moved Jojo more than all the strength and power in the world ever could.

“But for what?” Jojo had asked, quietly, looking at him with searching, waiting eyes, but there was no fear or worry there, only a tranquil, assured expectancy.

Jojo would never be here, if not for him—would never have found his way here on his own.

It had been Dio who had carved this path, and Jojo had followed him. Had followed him willingly and without hesitation.

“Do you want me to kill you, Jojo?” Dio had asked, and his eyes had lowered from Jojo’s own, coming to rest at his neck. How easy it would be kill him, this man who trusted him completely and loved him with every fiber of his being. “If you can’t conceive of living with me like this…”

“No,” Jojo had said immediately, not so much as a fraction of a second of hesitation, hand trailing down over his cheek, his jaw, lifting his chin so he was prompted to meet Jojo’s eyes. The dark blue of the iridescence of magpie wings, and utterly earnest. Eyes that could not lie, even if they’d wanted to. “I don’t want to die, Dio. I want to live as a vampire, with you.”

Jojo’s idea of what a gentleman should be had always been focused on loyalty rather than morality. Jojo had never been a philosopher—he had little care for abstract, impractical ideals, believed that what mattered most was that which could be shown and proved with practicable action.

It had always been one of the things Dio had respected and admired in him—Jojo did exactly what he said, and he said only what he could actually do. (And with Jojo’s remarkable strength, there had never been much that he couldn’t do.)

And Dio had smiled, wry and ironic—it was satisfying, indeed, to have this man cast aside human morality and society entirely for his sake. “You’re going to have to eat humans, Jojo.”

And Jojo, without so much as blinking or flinching, had replied simply: “I know. But thinking about it…” He’d frowned slightly, then, a determined frown as he mad a decision in his head. After a moment he’d shrugged, decision made: “Well, there are a lot of not so good people that the world would probably be better off without. If we only ate those people, I think it would be okay.”

And Dio had smiled genuinely, then: How perfectly Jojo fit his soul into the palm of Dio’s hand.

“What do you say we start by taking over the London underworld?” he’d suggested, in the tone of voice he’d always reserved for inside jokes and secrets, for Jojo’s ears only. “Existing in the dark depths of society seems like the perfect existence for creatures of the night, don’t you think?”

(He’d start with London, and then from there he’d expand his reign to all of Britain and the British Empire, and then he’d extend it through all of Europe and every European empire, and then from there to the rest of the world, until his power far exceeded that of any example of history.)

And Jojo, simple and earnest man that he was, had looked at him with an eager kind of thoughtfulness. “Take over the London underworld…” he’d mused, and something had sparked in his eyes, a kind of realization, a decision. “You mean, rule it and reform it?”

And Dio wouldn’t have put it into exactly those words, but he indeed meant to rule it, and to rule it better than anyone else ever could.

Jojo was free to conceive of it in whatever phrasing he wanted.

Dio had smiled, expression impish and conspiratorial. “What do you think?”

And Jojo had smiled back at him, eyes bright. “I think we could do it,” he’d said, saturated in so much earnestness it would have been comical, except that it was true. “And I’d like…” Jojo had chewed on his lip, as he always did when he was was debating whether or not to say something, trying to decide whether it would be favorably or negatively received—and Dio had almost laughed when Jojo accidentally sliced open his lip with his newly acquired fangs, eyes widening slightly in surprise when he did.

Smirking slightly, teasingly, Dio had closed the distance between them, licking the blood from Jojo’s lip, delighting in the way the action made Jojo’s breath hitch, ghosting hot over Dio’s face and smelling tantalizingly of blood.

And Dio had leaned back slightly, but he’d let his hand remain on the back of Jojo’s neck. “What would you like?” he’d prompted, gently.

Jojo had met his gaze, visibly solidifying his determination, and said: “I’d like to make sure that no one has to grow up in as horrible conditions as you did.”

That had made Dio’s temper flare despite himself, and he’d pulled back, hand slipping from Jojo’s neck, but he’d forced it to stop partway down Jojo’s chest, fingertips resting carefully feather-light over Jojo’s left pectoralis major and serratus anterior. “Jojo…” he’d said, carefully keeping his temper under control, “you’re not pitying me, are you?”

Back when he’d been human, he’d found it useful to invoke feelings of pity in Jojo—now that he was a vampire, it was only insulting and aggravating to have that now-irrelevant pathetic past of his still associated with him.

But Jojo had shaken his head, stroking the backs of his large knuckles along Dio’s cheek, expression soft. “It’s not pity, Dio,” he’d said, with all the earnestness with which he said everything. “I love you, and it hurts me to see the scars that your past has left on you. I don’t like seeing you hurting. I just…”

And Jojo had looked at him with watery eyes that looked ready to overflow. “I just want you to be happy,” he’d said. Earnest in a way only Jojo could be; as earnest as rain was wet, or as snow was cold. “I want you to be happy with me.”

“Jojo…” Nobody else had ever been able to leave him at a loss for words. Jojo was such a complete and earnest fool—to be able to say something as foolish as that, and yet to mean it with every fiber of his being, to be willing to die or do anything to prove it.

It was utterly absurd, just how much Jojo cared for someone who’d spent over seven years fantasizing about killing him, someone who now was only letting him live because now that he was a vampire he was more useful alive than dead.

And all Dio could do was laugh and shake his head. “Sometimes I find it hard to believe that you’re real.”

“I’m real,” Jojo said, his hand against Dio’s cheek as he held his gaze with that absurd earnestness. “I’m very real.” And Jojo had smiled, his expression soft and so, so loving. “You’re the one who’s always been unbelievable, Dio.”

And it was utterly risible, because Dio had purposefully gone out of his way to inspire and cultivate those feelings in Jojo, but they’d grown so far beyond his control, and he knew that now he could try to kill Jojo, that he could tell Jojo that he’d only ever wanted to kill him, could tell Jojo that he hated him, could pull the most atrocious acts of cruelty, and none of it would do anything to make Jojo stop loving him.

Ever since that incident with Joestar’s medicine when Jojo had vowed never to doubt him again, it seemed that Jojo would always be believing only the best of him.

And so Dio had laughed, had smiled sharp and wry and said: “Careful, Jojo. I could eat you.” Because Jojo was insane, and he could say anything.

And Jojo had just looked at him and said with the utmost sincerity: “I’d let you.”

And Dio had laughed, utterly incredulous, throwing back his head, and when Jojo had simply smiled at him, clearly ecstatic that he’d made him laugh, Dio’s laughter had intensified and he’d laughed so hard he’d doubled over, his head resting against Jojo’s bare chest and Jojo’s arms circling around his shaking shoulders, holding him up when his laughter almost brought him to his knees.

“I don’t really understand what was so funny—I really meant it,” Jojo had said, rubbing circles into his back. “But I’m really happy that I’ve made you laugh, Dio.” And there’d been a clear smile in Jojo’s voice as he’d said it. “You don’t laugh enough. At least not genuinely.”

Dio had always thought he’d had Jojo completely fooled, but then there were times like this that made him wonder.

If Jojo had seen through that much of his act over the years, then it was even more absurd just how much he loved him.

Well, if Jojo was going to be undyingly loyal to him, Dio figured he could at least reward him for that devotion.

And he’d be lying to himself if he didn’t admit that it was thrilling, having Jojo, strong and powerful as he was, writhing willingly and burning with desire beneath him, completely undone and utterly at his mercy.

“If I recall correctly, your bedroom has dark curtains, does it not?” he’d said, straightening, dragging a hand back through his hair, brushing it out of his eyes that he knew Jojo to be so fascinated by.

“As if your recollection has ever been anything less than perfect,” Jojo had laughed, meaning it in complete earnestness, nothing but happy; somehow Jojo had always been able to praise him and mean it, without his admiration being tainted by jealousy or bitterness. “You know that it does.”

“Then I think I know something we can do until the sun goes down,” Dio had said, purring at him, and it was the first time he’d pulled such an act without thinking: Just wait until I kill you, Jojo—you’ll be crying my name for a whole different reason, then.

And Jojo, either completely unaware or else completely uncaring of Dio’s manipulations, had reached out and taken his hand, smiling at him with all of his foolish and yet admirable love and sincerity.

And Dio, grinning back at him and interlocking their fingers—as tightly as the strings of Fate that bound them together—had proceeded to pull Jojo deeper into the mansion, away from the sunlight and into the dark.

(It seemed that Jojo, just like the power and immortality granted to Dio by the Stone Mask, was now a prize that would belong to him for the rest of eternity.)

 

For the first time, Jojo had been able to fall asleep with Dio in his arms, to wake up and find him still there, tucked against him, his forehead resting against Jojos collar bones, their bare legs entangled beneath the silk sheets.

For the first time, Jojo was able to relax with his lover in his arms, to brush his fingers over smooth, muscular back and shoulders, to feel their hearts beating as one.

For the first time he was able to awaken Dio with soft kisses to his hair, his eyelids, his brow, his cheeks, his jaw, the corners of his mouth, the lobes of his ears, the junction where his neck connected to his skull.

For the first time he was able to feel Dio stir to wakefulness in his arms, to watch him open those amber-gold eyes, blinking at him sleepily, yawning and then nuzzling closer against him, a sleepy hum vibrating in his chest, more tangible than audible.

It had always been so difficult for Dio to let himself relax, anywhere and with anyone, and to have Dio now so relaxed in his arms filled Jojo’s heart with a joy and contentment that seemed too large, too real, too free to remain within his body, as if his heart were soaring somewhere in the sky far above him like the golden eagles that so reminded him of Dio.

Jojo didn’t know that he’d ever felt so content. So freely and overwhelmingly happy. So unworried about the future.

He supposed it might be horrible of him. There were still things that he wasn’t sure how to think about.

By human standards and all manners of human comprehension, he and his lover were monsters. They hadn’t even been monsters for twenty-four hours, and they’d already done so many monstrous things; killed the three immortal beings who’d attacked them, in violent and brutal ways; killed and devoured the servants who had served the Joestar household faithfully for years.

He’d cried, when they’d done the latter. But Dio had been right—they hadn’t had a choice. Not if they wanted to successfully start their lives anew. They needed first to completely disappear, for everyone to believe them dead, leaving no one who could possibly know that Jonathan Joestar and Dio Brando had become vampires. And it had certainly been clear by the servants’ reactions when they’d entered the house and seen the foyer, seen him and Dio with their sharp teeth, that there was no option but to kill them in order to keep the truth from getting out.

And Dio had been right about them needing the sustenance—they’d both been weak from all the injuries they’d sustained fighting, and as they were beginning their new lives as vampires and were going to be first starting to begin taking over the London underworld, it was imperative that they have their strength.

And Dio had been right, too, about the difference between vampires and humans—about what it meant, now that they were immortal. That it simply was not possible to adhere to the same morals, to have the same values, when their lives were so much longer, when they had to feed on humans to survive, when their endgame was so much larger than anything that could be accomplished in a single human lifespan.

It hurt Jojo to accept, but he had made this choice—this choice to become a vampire, to live an immortal life with Dio. He’d made this choice, and he would bear the responsibility and the consequences.

It was almost uncanny, though, how easily and naturally this all seemed to come to Dio. Living as an immortal monster, rather than as a human. Jojo didn’t know if it was because Dio’s life in the slums had better prepared him to adopt this kind of pragmatic mindset, or if it had to do with the fact that Dio had never really been comfortable as a human; that he’d always seemed to have the sense that he was meant to be something else, something more, that human limitations should never have applied to him to begin with.

And there was something about the way he carried himself, now, the confidence in his body, the way his newly obtained vampire qualities seemed to enhance everything that had always made him so stunning; his speed and agility, the sharp elegance of his features, the uncanny coloring of golden hair and eyes with his pale skin (Dio had never tanned well, not like Jojo had, had always burned when he’d spent too long in the sun).

Somehow it seemed only natural, when Dio smiled now and revealed a mouth full of sharp teeth—so easy to get used to, to already begin to forget that Dio hadn’t always looked this way, so easy to run his tongue over when they kissed, so easy to admire the same way Jojo had always admired Dio’s almost inhuman orange-gold eyes, while Jojo couldn’t help but start every time he caught a glimpse of his own teeth in the mirror or felt the points in his own mouth.

“I’m not sure I can pull off the fanged look,” Jojo had admitted, pulling his lips away from his teeth as he’d looked at his expression in the mirror, and Dio had laughed at him kindly.

“Jojo, you’ve been wearing outfits that you’ve never been able to pull off since I’ve known you,” Dio had ribbed him, elbowing him in the ribs with a grin. “This certainly can’t be any worse than that.”

Jojo had pursed his lips indignantly—Dio had indeed been poking fun at his outfits for years, though Jojo had never seen anything wrong with what he wore—and it didn’t seem like Dio should be able to talk when sometimes wore suits that were bright yellow, although nobody would have been able to say that they didn’t somehow look good on him, though it didn’t seem like they should look good on anyone—and Dio had swept in and kissed him, running his tongue over Jojo’s teeth.

“I like your fangs,” he’d said when he’d pulled back, smiling. He’d then prodded Jojo in the chest with a finger, adding, “I also like you better shirtless than in any of that those dreadful shirts, cardigans, and suit jackets you wear.”

“I can’t walk around everywhere shirtless, Dio,” Jojo had pointed out, though it had made him laugh.

Somehow it was so easy, quipping back and forth with Dio, even after everything that they’d been through that night. So easy to fall into a sense of normalcy, a sense of home and the meant-to-be, of Fate and inevitability.

What other explanation could there be for all this, after all?

And as Jojo looked at Dio in his arms, felt the way he fit against him so perfectly, admired the way the moonlight that managed to filter around the dark curtains made Dio’s pale skin glow, Jojo thought that it must be okay to feel happy. To be happy with this, to let himself make the best of it.

He could try to hang on to his human ideals, perceptions, and morality, could try to feel guilty about this, but there was no going back, and it seemed like that would just be unproductive and, ultimately, useless. It didn’t make sense to remain hung up on a past so different from the present that it couldn’t even be considered relevant (was this how Dio felt whenever people brought up that his childhood in the slums, tried to attribute those qualities to what his life was now? No wonder it always made Dio so angry).

And it didn’t make sense that he should have to feel depressed or guilty, when he had the love of his life beside him, breath-taking and happy. This stunning, brilliant man who had always expected and demanded so much more out of life than it had what it had been willing to give him; who had always done everything in his power to become better than he’d been; who had always been so willing to reevaluate himself and what was important to him, who’d so readily gone from hating Jojo to loving him, from hurting him to helping him; who’d so unhesitatingly become a monster to protect him, who was now already making plans for how they could live their lives now that they were vampires; how they could not just survive in a world that would fear and loathe them but thrive; how they could best use their new power to influence the world for the better.

Because yes, they had to eat people, now, but by eating people who were a menace to society and by using their power to take over the underworld and begin improving the lives of the majority from the ground up, doing what the government and law enforcement didn’t have the power to do, they could make their lives as vampires one that was actually a force of good.

No matter who might try to call them inhuman monsters, they had the power and ability to improve human society in a way that humans didn’t—and there were so many humans out there who were so much more monstrous than they were. So it didn’t make sense not to embrace being vampires.

And they both, Jojo thought, deserved to be happy.

It was breathtaking, how genuinely Dio had been smiling, how bright his eyes had been shining, how much he’d been laughing, the way they’d made love as if they were young gods and this was their Heaven.

And it was breathtaking now, the way Dio was stretching in his arms, the way he half-raised his sculpturesque body from the bed, reaching out to tug open the curtains, the way the silver light of the waxing gibbous moon poured through the window and illuminated him, and Jojo’s new vampire eyes could still discern the way his hair and eyes shone gold.

Dio looked at him, expression restful and assured. “We should get ready. The summer nights are short enough as it is, and we want as many hours of darkness for travel as possible.”

“Yeah,” Jojo agreed, but what he was thinking was I love you.

And maybe Dio saw it in his expression, because he smiled, leaned in and kissed his lips softly.

And then they were both rising from the bed, donning dark, indiscriminate clothes, tucking away all the available cash on their persons, gathering up all the oil lamps they could find and carry, lighting them and dropping them as they went, tossing them over stairwells and kicking them against walls, so that as they finally exited the busted front doors the mansion was already in blazes behind them.

It would be in the papers a couple days, that the Joestar mansion had burned down in the night and there had been no survivors, Sir Joestar, his two sons, and all their servants consumed by the fire.

For a few minutes they stood there watching the house of their youth burn black against the vivid orange flames.

It was a strange thought, watching the fire and thinking about how Jonathan Joestar and Dio Brando were dead.

Now they were just Jojo and Dio, he supposed.

And as they turned and walked down the road side by side, their movements as perfectly in stride as if they were one person instead of two, Jojo never felt the need to look back.

(For the first time, there was nothing to stop him from reaching out to take Dio’s hand and from holding onto it for eternity.)

 

end.