I don’t get many things right the first time.
In fact, I am told that a lot.
Now I know all the wrong turns, the stumbles and falls brought me here.
Once upon a time, there was a Witch who kidnapped a Prince.
The Witch was a vain, wicked woman, who thought only of herself and how she might live a life of eternal youth and pleasure. The blood of royalty was an ingredient known to have powerful properties of restoration and life, so as soon as she had heard that a prince had been born in a neighboring kingdom, she swiftly made a plan to take the child for herself.
In secret, she stole into the Prince’s nursery and had carried him far away before anyone even noticed he was gone.
For years, she had her beastly husband cut and bleed the Prince every morning, so she could use the blood in her potions and tinctures. When he was not being used like this, the Prince was kept locked away in a room as bare as a prison cell, with nothing but dry crusts of bread to eat and rusty water to drink.
The Prince, as he grew up, tried to find happiness where he could. The only comfort he could return to, time and time again, was the fast-held belief that he had a real family out there, somewhere, and that this family missed him and wanted to see him returned home. He had never known anything but the Witch and the confines of her house, but something, deep in his heart, told him that this was the truth.
But years passed, and his family never came.
Eventually, the Prince fell into despair, losing all hope that his family would find him - if they were even looking for him in the first place.
With the light of hope in his heart extinguished, the Prince’s blood lost its power. Once the Witch noticed what had happened, she regarded him as a useless burden, but kept him around as a servant instead of letting him starve to death.
The Prince, himself, carried on numbly, resigned to his fate.
Even outside of fairy tales, fates can change.
“Dio? Do you have a second?”
Holy’s voice was light and quick in the kitchen, suggesting nothing more than a small favor or a needed errand.
Dio, naturally, thought nothing of it. “Sure, what do you need?”
“Come with me to the guest room, I need help with something.”
When they got to the guest room, however, Holy shut the door behind her.
Dio, still, thought little of it. “So, what do you need?”
“There’s been… something on my mind, lately,” said Holy. “A connection I’ve been feeling that’s got me worried.”
“What sort of connection?” said Dio. “A Stand?”
“No, it’s…” She closed her eyes, exhaled. “Are you… aware of the fact that you’re Giorno’s biological father?”
Dio’s face went slack, his breaths shallow in his chest.
(He hadn’t allowed the idea to be fully-formed in his mind, much less be spoken aloud.)
A blizzard of hard, cold thoughts whirled in his mind, words and phrases passing by so quickly that he couldn’t decide which one to choose in response.
Somehow, enough words clustered together to form what he really wanted to say: “...I had some idea, but I hadn’t bothered to… confirm anything.”
“I see…” said Holy.
“Why… ask me this now?” said Dio. “And now long have you known?”
“Only a few months,” Holy replied. “I only really noticed that the connection between you two was both biological and familial when my Stand found Josuke. He was connected by blood, to me and my father, but not by family. I’d never noticed the difference before that.”
“And… it was Josuke that’s got me asking you now,” Holy continued. “I heard him talking to Giorno, the other day, about how much you looked like each other, and Giorno’s response was… It almost seemed to make him happy.”
(No, Dio hadn’t heard them, but Holy had.)
“It… did, did it?” said Dio.
(Seven years since he’d told Giorno he had permission to claim him as his father.)
(Seven years since Giorno had wished for something that was already true.)
“Yes, absolutely,” said Holy.
Dio lowered his eyes, a faint smile on his face. “Not sure how I should feel about that,” he said. “Honored, possibly, but…”
“Are you… going to tell him, you think?” said Holy.
Dio’s smile faded. He allowed himself to breathe for a good few moments.
“I don’t know,” he finally said, after an agonizing silence. “I don’t know how he’d take it, to be honest. If it would do more harm than good.”
“...well, actually…” There was a guilty smirk of sorts on Holy’s face. “I had an… opportunity to broach the subject with him. In a manner of speaking.”
A sudden jolt of panic sent Dio’s heartbeat into his ears. “How do you mean?”
“When we… discovered Josuke, he was… unusually concerned with my father’s own responsibility toward him,” said Holy. “He was actually pretty angry until I told him that there was a very good chance my father never even knew Josuke existed. That any sort of ‘neglect’ at play, here, was more or less due to ignorance rather than malice. I don’t know how much that eased his conscience, but… it at least planted the seed in his mind.”
“Is that so…” said Dio.
“Mm. And, Dio… I won’t - it’s none of my business, anyway - I won’t ask you anything about your relationship with Giorno’s mother,” Holly continued, all stops and starts. “That’s your business. And however much you want to disclose with Giorno, well…”
“I…” Dio’s throat felt thick, almost clotted with words. “Thank you, Holy. I’ll… I’ll have to think on this, now that I know.”
(He had known for years.)
“Dio… please let me know what I can do to help,” Holy said, with such a terribly earnest look on her face. “I’ve practically raised this boy with you, it’s the least I can do.”
(Fucking coward, he had truly known for years.)
“Thank you, Holy, but I think…”
(Coward. Fucking coward.)
“I think I’ll have to sleep on this.”
“I understand, I understand,” Holy replied, with an all-too-unworried wave of the hand. “I know that it’s your son we’re talking about, but… just know that I’m here. All right?”
“Thank you, Holy. I really do appreciate it,” Dio managed, in reply.
Holy’s words and all their implications were enough to occupy Dio’s mind for hours, long after everyone else had gone to sleep.
There were no good options. Truly, no good options here.
He could be frank with Giorno, lay bare everything between them - his ignorance, his regret - and face the fallout that would inevitably result.
He could lie, tell Giorno that he truly had no idea that they were related, knowing full-well that the truth still existed and was capable of coming back to life and causing chaos.
He could avoid the issue altogether, and remain a coward with a perpetually-weakened heart, with the truth gnawing even more strongly at him than ever.
He wanted, so badly, to be able to choose the first option, but, time and time again, his thoughts strayed to that hateful third.
All of this was entirely deserved, of course. The price he had to pay for avoiding the issue for so long, for hoping that it would never be an issue, for pretending that it didn’t exist. This paralysis and pain was a long-owed debt.
And he still had no idea what to do.
How fitting was it, that fate forced him to make a decision that night?
Giorno was standing in the hallway just outside the living room, his hair loose and bed-tangled, and his eyes narrowed with sleep.
He had to make a choice.
“Giorno… what are you doing up?”
“Couldn’t sleep,” said Giorno. He rubbed one of his eyes and joined Dio on the couch.
“Oh?” said Dio. “Why’s that?”
“Something… on my mind, I guess.”
(It couldn’t be.)
(It had to be.)
“You… need to talk about it?” said Dio.
Giorno shrugged and leaned forward, propping himself up with his arms against his knees, his eyes to the floor. “I dunno, it’s… kinda silly. I thought I’d get some tea or something to see if it would help me get sleepy, but…”
Dio inhaled, exhaled. “You know you can talk to me about… anything, Giorno,” he said.
A little storm of conflicting emotions rolled over Giorno’s face. “I mean… it’s really stupid…”
“I don’t mind,” said Dio.
Giorno inhaled, exhaled. “Is there… any possibility - like, any at all - that you’re my biological dad?”
Dio opened his mouth to speak.
“I mean, it’s - it’s a stupid thing to think,” Giorno continued, very, very quickly, “and, I mean, the odds of that sort of thing being true are… I mean, it’s just something Josuke said that got me thinking, and-”
Giorno stopped. He looked up. He didn’t say anything.
“Yes, Giorno. I am your biological father.”
Giorno’s breathing grew shaky. “You’re… you’re honestly…?”
A wavering expression, almost fearful, appeared on his face. “This… this isn’t a joke, right?”
“Absolutely not. I would never… lie about something like this.”
(Not any more.)
“Have - have you… known from the start, that I was your…”
(He wasn’t going to lie any more.)
“From the moment I first saw you, Giorno, I knew you were my son,” said Dio. “And… seeing who your mother was, that was… the undeniable proof of who you were, to me.”
“My mom…” The fear and disbelief on Giorno’s face shifted swiftly into anger. “...when you did you… leave her? Because you… obviously weren’t there when I was born… Were you even in a relationship with each other in the first place?” Giorno added, with a gentle roar of outrage.
“I was… with your mother for the better part of a year,” Dio said. “We separated before I could have possibly known she was pregnant with you.”
“And - why? Why didn’t you stay with her…?”
(Dio could see the shame and disgust on Giorno’s face. He chose to believe it was directed towards himself and not Giorno’s mother.)
“Your mother… we weren’t very good for each other,” Dio said. “And, eventually, she betrayed my trust in a way that I couldn’t forgive. So I asked that we separate, and she never contacted me again.”
Giorno scoffed. “What did she do that was so bad?”
“She took my pendant. The one that allows me to go out during the day.”
(Giorno knew that his guardian - his father - was immortal, as did all the other living Joestars. It was just an accepted fact of the family’s bizarre legacy, much like their Stands.)
Giorno’s face loosened and lost some of its flush of anger. “Oh…”
“Yes. Obviously, I got it back, but I just couldn’t… trust her after that,” Dio continued.
Giorno lowered his eyes. “That… I can’t blame you for that,” he said. “But… if you had… stayed with her, would you…”
Dio closed his eyes, his brow furrowed with frustration at himself. “I don’t… know how I would have acted, back then,” he said. “I’d like… to tell myself that I would have done the brave thing and helped raise you, but… I don’t know how I would have reacted. What I would have done.”
(Would he have just run away again, confronted with this tether to another mortal life?)
(Would he have been so willing to care for another human so deeply before he met Diavolo?)
“I wasn’t as strong then as I am now.”
There was a dry, cold silence.
“...but you took me in, anyway,” said Giorno, quietly. “When you found me.”
“Of course I did. I had to,” Dio said, shaking his head, his eyes still closed. “As soon as I knew you existed, that you were living in such… horrible conditions, I knew that I couldn’t stand by. That I had to take care of you. I couldn’t… live with myself if I didn’t.”
Giorno’s eyes were still downcast. “You didn’t have to do that. You could have… let me live with Uncle Diavolo, or someone else.”
“No. I wanted… to be a part of your life. To ensure - truly ensure - that you got the childhood you deserved,” Dio said. “It was the very least I owed to you. It’s my fault you had such a… terrible start. Entirely my fault. And I’m still truly sorry about that.”
“You… wanted to be in my life?” said Giorno.
“Even though… you don’t think you would have stuck around, if you’d stayed with my mom?”
Dio took a deep breath in. His eyes were still closed. “I really don’t know how to answer that question, Giorno. I’m sorry.”
Another dry silence, though this one was warmer.
“...y’know, when I was a kid… I used to play pretend that, one day, my real dad would come back for me, and take me away from my mom,” Giorno said. His voice was soft. “I’d make up stories about him - you. What kind of a man you were, what you did for work…” He sighed. “But it was always just pretend. My real dad left me before I was even born, after all.”
(Each word was like a knife to his heart. And Dio allowed them to sink as deeply as they could.)
“But then… you actually showed up.”
Dio opened his eyes. Giorno was still leaning against his knees, an ambiguous expression on his lips.
“That sort of thing… just doesn’t happen in real life,” Giorno continued. “Especially not to kids like me. But… somehow, you found me, and you took me away from that place. You gave me a home. And you stayed.”
Giorno looked up.
“Did you know, even after you took me in, I still used to have that… stupid daydream?” he said. “That my life was some sort of fairy tale, and I’d been rescued by my real father? That I was… way more special than I actually was? I don’t know why. Maybe I was just… waiting for some other shoe to drop. For me to wake up from this… dream I was having, where someone… actually wanted me around, and…” His voice caught on the beginnings of tears, and he inhaled, exhaled, quickly. “This sort of thing just doesn’t happen, you know? I’m not supposed to be here. I’m not supposed to have this. I've done nothing to deserve this, and…!”
Giorno buried his head in his hands, and tears devoured the rest of his words.
Dio put his hand on his son’s back.
“You deserve this,” he said. “You've always deserved to have me here. And, now that I'm here... I’m not going anywhere. I will always be here for you.”
(There was no pain.)
“You're my son, Giorno. And I love you.”
(Dio hadn't taken off his makeup yet, that day. It was going to be ruined. He didn't care.)
In between the hiccups and sobs, Giorno was laughing.
“I know,” he said. “I love you too, Dad.”
(And the word finally felt deserving of the weight.)
Once upon a time, there was a Witch who kidnapped a Prince.
After years of using the Prince for the power of his blood, the boy had grown weak, and his blood had lost its royal luster, so the Witch made him into her serving-boy, and had him attend to her every whim.
One day, a traveling Merchant came by the Witch’s house, and he captivated her eye with many beautiful combs and mirrors for sale. As she looked over his wares, the Prince meekly approached her to ask her a question about what to prepare for supper that evening.
“Idiot brat! Do not interrupt me!” cried the Witch, pushing him away. “I apologize for my servant, kind merchant. I know not why I keep him around…”
“If I may, lady, I have been in search of an apprentice to carry on my business,” said the merchant. “Perhaps I might take him off your hands?”
“You need not ask me twice!” the Witch replied.
The Merchant took the Prince into his caravan and dressed him in proper clothes, and fed him a proper meal.
“I shall be looking after you, from now on,” the Merchant told the boy.
Once they had made it into town, they stopped at an inn, where the Merchant bathed the Prince and saw to the wounds and scars of the Witch’s harsh treatment. To the Prince’s surprise, he found that his hair was not black, but brilliant gold; it had been dyed with ink, by the Witch, and caked with soot besides.
The Prince, who had never known a moment’s kindness in his young life, received this care with confusion. What made him worthy of such treatment? However, given his fear of retaliation for questioning even the slightest thing of the Witch or her husband, he did not say a word.
In the years that followed, the Merchant cared for the Prince with warmth and patience, teaching the boy everything about his trade and wares. Over time, the Prince began to regard the Merchant as something like a father, and the light of hope in his heart was slowly rekindled.
One day, however, as he was searching through the Merchant’s caravan for something or another, the Prince came across a most curious object: a golden crown, set with diamonds and emeralds. He had never seen anything so fine nor so precious in his life, and he asked the Merchant about it that evening as they ate supper.
Strangely, the Merchant responded with a reluctant sort of melancholy on his face as he went to retrieve the crown and set it on the table between them. “That is my crown. I am, in truth, the king of this land.”
“The king!” the Prince gasped. “But why do you travel the world as a merchant?”
“Many, many years ago, my son, the Prince, was taken from me,” the King replied. “I swore that I would not rest until I found him. I disguised myself to travel inconspicuously, so that whomever had taken my son would not suspect me, should I come across them.”
“That is terrible, Your Majesty!” said the Prince. “Please, if there is anything I can do to help you learn where your son has gone, tell me. That is the least I can do in exchange for your kindness towards me.”
The King smiled a sad smile indeed. “That will not be necessary. I have already found my son.”
“Where is he? Are we going to rescue him soon?” said the Prince.
“No,” said the King. “My boy… you are my son. You are the Prince I lost so long ago.”
“How is that possible?” said the Prince, understandably shocked. “How do you know I am your son? How can you be so certain?”
“It was your golden hair,” said the King. “When the ink washed out of it, I recognized it. You always had such lovely hair, even as an infant.”
“How did you know where to find me?” said the Prince.
“I followed the trail of a rumor, a rumor of a witch that used royal blood in her potions. That is how I found you, after years of searching,” said the King. “I did not give up on you for a single day.”
“Why did you not tell me who I was, when we first met?” said the Prince.
“I could tell that your heart was broken, my son, when I found you again. That you had no reason to trust me, or believe me if I told you,” said the King. “And once your heart had healed, I was still terribly ashamed of the fact that it had taken me so long to find you. Please forgive me.”
The Prince’s eyes filled with tears. “There is nothing to forgive, Father. You searched for me, and you found me, and you raised me with kindness and love. I will be forever grateful.”
Reunited and finally aware of the truth, the father and son returned to the golden castle that was their home. The missing Prince was welcomed home by the people of his kingdom with joy and fanfare, and he took his place at his father’s side, ruling over the kingdom with grace and wisdom.
And they lived happily ever after.