Actions

Work Header

Girl from the Stars

Chapter Text

Josuke Higashikata knew he was in trouble from the first moment he laid eyes on you.

Seriously. He was already a lost cause. He couldn't put his finger on exactly what it was about you that made you so special. Maybe it was the sound of your laughter, the way your smile could light up a whole room, or the genuine kindness reflected in your beautiful eyes. He wasn't the type to wax poetic, or at least he hadn't been before meeting you. But who was he kidding? Just a glance from you was enough to dissolve all of his plans to strike up a smooth conversation and render him tongue-tied. Again.

You reduced his heart to a fluttering, aching mess in a way he’d never felt before, and it only grew monumentally worse once you obtained your Stand.

The Arrow struck you one fateful evening after you closed up shop for the night, a few weeks after the two of you first met. All of that time had been filled with increasingly regular visits from the dark-haired young man, who found any excuse to fit your quaint little bakery into his busy schedule even though he had yet to muster the courage to exchange more than basic pleasantries with you.

You couldn't be any sweeter, of course. A lot like those perfect custard buns you baked in the heart of Morioh. You were always polite, but as time went on you smiled at him with such a sincere warmth in your eyes that it made him feel weak at the knees. A part of him dared to hope that you looked forward to your little encounters as much as he did.

But imagine his panic when tonight he stumbled across your collapsed form not two blocks away from your shop, a bleeding, twitching mess with a gaping wound in your forehead. You’d been shot, an obvious victim of the Arrow. It was just like what had happened to Koichi. You were going into shock from blood loss even as he bent over you, frantically summoning Crazy Diamond to stitch you back together before it was too late.

The time between when you fell unconscious and awoke again felt like an eternity. Josuke ended up carrying you to Okuyasu’s apartment nearby, where the two men situated you on the couch and began the interminable waiting game. Josuke paced back and forth to the point where Okuyasu complained he might burn a hole in the floor.

When your eyes wavered open, it felt like pulling yourself above water after being forcefully dragged beneath the surface and robbed of all air. You gasped for breath, only to focus upon two familiar faces hunched over you. All three of you stared at each other for several moments much like deer caught in headlights, at least until you finally found your voice.

“J-Josuke?” The recognition was faint, but it was there. Okuyasu was an occasional customer at the bakery as well, though you weren't yet on a first-name basis. You were still confused, your mind a blank as you struggled to recall what had happened.

Then it all came flooding back at once.

Your hand immediately flew up to your forehead, groping around in alarm to gauge just how bad the damage was, but to your surprise the skin felt perfectly smooth. But…how? What was going on?

“Hey, don’t move just yet.” Josuke kept his voice carefully soft, offering you a comforting smile. His stomach did the usual series of flip-flops when you turned your gaze to him. “You've been healed, so you should make a full recovery. But give it a few minutes first before you try to get up.”

“Yeah! From what I hear, you weren't lookin’ too good when Josuke found you.” Okuyasu made a face. “Take it easy, got it?”

“Okay, but…do you mind telling me what’s going on? Everything’s so foggy…” You winced as you settled back down into the couch.

“Yeah, I’ll bet it is.” Josuke’s smile faded into a frown. “After what happened to you, I’m surprised you’re already back in action, even with Crazy Diamond’s help.”

“Um…” You decided not to question what on earth he was talking about, not when you were still regaining your bearings. Maybe you weren't hearing him correctly. “I was shot in the head, wasn't I? How is it possible I’m still alive?”

“That’s a pretty long story. D’you think it might just be easier to show her?” Okuyasu asked dubiously. Josuke shook his head.

“Not yet. We've gotta ease her into it first. This is a lot to take in for any new Stand user, especially one created by the Arrow.”

You were more lost than ever, of course. The others proceeded into a jumbled, awkward explanation, Okuyasu often interjecting with his own exclamations before Josuke could finish speaking. Once they were done, you let the astonishing revelation sink in for a few minutes. Then with some effort, you pushed yourself up into a sitting position using your arms, all the while ignoring their protests.

“Does this mean I have a Stand, too? Can you show me yours?”

“Hell yeah! Here’s mine, the coolest one of all,” Okuyasu bragged, his smirk stretching from ear to ear as a tall figure materialized behind him. You jumped a little in disbelief. “This is The Hand!” The humanoid apparition sported blue and white armor with gold decorations in the form of dollar and yen signs. Its headlight-shaped eyes were partially obscured by blinders on either side of its head, and spikes jutted from its broad shoulder pads. It was gaudy and ridiculous on every possible level. It was also incredible.

“Wow,” you breathed with almost childlike wonder, “What can he do?”

“Heheheh.” Okuyasu seemed pleased by the fact that you were so clearly impressed by his Stand. “The Hand’s a real badass, just you wait! He can scoop away space, and—”

Annnnd here’s Crazy Diamond,” Josuke interrupted before his best friend could get too carried away, much to Okuyasu’s chagrin. Behind Josuke rose a very tall humanoid figure, clearly powerful in stature with the most commanding stare you had ever seen. Tall silver headgear and part of a mask obscured the upper portion of his face, though not his stunning blue eyes which rivaled those of Josuke himself. Steel armor-like plates covered most of his body with a belt secured at his waist, with an impressive six-pack exposed in the dark pink flesh just above.

“Wow,” you repeated, absolutely blown away by everything you’d seen, “…He doesn’t look like the kind of Stand who’s skilled at healing, though. He looks like he’s better suited to beating the ugly out of some thugs.”

Josuke cracked a grin, unable to help the chuckle that fell past his lips. “Hey, you’re not too far off. He’s good at that, too! But I promise you that he’s the reason you’re back in one piece.”

“Then I owe him my gratitude. Thank you, Crazy Diamond. You too, Josuke.” You bowed your head to each of them before turning to Okuyasu. “And of course, you as well, Okuyasu! It sounds like all of you saved my life.”

“Awww, jeez…” Okuyasu looked deeply embarrassed by the sudden praise, turning a little red, “Don’t mention it. Would’ve done anything to help a pretty face like yours.”

“Reel it in, Oku.” Josuke elbowed his friend in the ribs with a hint of irritation. The other boy yelped in pain before sullenly rubbing his side. “You’re welcome. So now that you’ve seen our Stands, how about we try to summon yours?”

You had no idea what to picture in your head as you attempted to focus upon calling an unknown, faceless Stand. You felt like a fool when you scrunched your eyes shut and clenched your fists, as if enough physical strain would somehow make it appear. You hadn’t even realized that you’d been holding your breath until a series of sudden gasps erupted around you.

Your eyes flew open. Standing right before you was, to put it simply, the most gorgeous figure you’d ever seen. Humanoid and shapely, you would even go so far as to say your Stand was feminine, although the strangest thing of all was that her outline seemed to be ever-changing. It was never fully definitive as the delineations of her form were constantly shifting, however subtly.

What was truly fascinating about her appearance was that her very skin itself appeared to be a backdrop of a galaxy. It ranged from the deep, dark obsidian blue of the heavenly night skies to the pure jet black of space. The gradient of her skin was dotted with countless radiant stars, streaks, and constellations, all of which glittered every time she moved. A platinum sheet of hair fell down her back that seemed to twinkle even more than the rest of her, while her only facial feature was her eyes, perhaps the most magnificent of all. They were a brilliant, spectacular shade of silver, much like a reflection of the moon.

You were more than a little shocked. This was your Stand?

Josuke seemed rather starstruck himself, no pun intended. He was visibly dazed as he admired the beautiful apparition, and you couldn't blame him even though it was technically an extension of yourself. You felt equally stupefied by its otherworldly splendor. Okuyasu, of course, had no qualms about voicing his own opinion.

“No way!” His jaw had dropped to the ground. “I've never seen one like this before! Damn, I can’t wait to see what it can do!” He whistled in approval.

She was called Avantasia. You had absolutely know idea how it came to you, but the knowledge was instinctive. And from that life-changing evening onward, you considered yourself to be official friends with Josuke Higashikata and Okuyasu Nijimura. The latter often accompanied Josuke on future visits to the shop, and sometimes they were even joined by another friend of theirs named Koichi Hirose. Stand users were always drawn to other Stand users, after all, although you had a particular magnetism about you that was inexplicable.

You welcomed all of them into your life with that congenial smile and open laughter without hesitation. It was simply who you were. It was impossible not to like you, and in Josuke’s case, impossible not to fall for you. Much like Avantasia, you were exceptional in a way that was out of this world. You always had been even before awakening your Stand. His pulse accelerated every time he stepped through the door to your bakery, the little bell jingling overhead to signal his entrance, only to be met with a cheerful greeting from the woman who was quickly carving out a not-insignificant place in his heart.

The problem was, he couldn't begin to figure out how he was going to tell you.

Despite the fact that he’d saved your life and you now shared many of the same friends, he had yet to so much as ask you to grab a coffee with him outside of work. This was more than a little embarrassing, but he couldn’t let things stand as they were. Anything was better than continuing to pretend that everything between you was strictly platonic, not when you were consuming his thoughts to the point that even his boss was starting to suspect something was wrong. He just needed to bite the bullet and tell you.

How hard could it be?

Chapter Text

Today was the day.

He was definitely going to do it. No problem. Hell, back in school, girls had assumed he was asking them out if he so much as offered them a drink simply because he thought they looked thirsty.

Little did he realize, they were thirsty all right. Just not in the way he assumed.

As it turned out, Josuke was painfully oblivious to his own popularity with women. He had only consented to a limited number of relationships in his life because he firmly believed it was only worth his time if the feelings were real. He was a love kind of guy, after all. This fact paired with his good looks had earned him a considerable female following in Morioh, much to Okuyasu’s envious despair.

What didn’t help things was that after graduation, Josuke had followed in his late grandfather’s footsteps and enrolled in the police academy. Now he was a full-fledged officer of the law doing his family’s reputation proud, but more importantly (at least in the eyes of the local women), he wore a uniform. It was sinful how good he looked in it, even if at times it felt a bit restrictive and didn’t quite adhere to his personal sense of style.

It had taken some time before you agreed to stop calling him “Officer” no matter how much he insisted otherwise. Thankfully you were now long past that, but for the first few weeks he had known you, you refused to address him with any less respect than his full title as a member of law enforcement. Even if he was off-duty and purposefully came in wearing his civilian clothes instead. Okay, so maybe he’d enjoyed it a little (in ways he would never admit even under pain of death), but when push came to shove, all he wanted was for you to comfortable enough around him to dispense of the formalities.

Nowadays, the way his name rolled off your lips in such an easy, familiar fashion made it all worth it. Today when he strolled into the bakery near the end of your shift, you were wiping down the counter and waiting for the final batch of cherry tarts to cool down. Josuke’s familiar tall form always caught your attention, perhaps because he was so unlike the typical customer that visited your humble little establishment.

He possessed unorthodox good looks with piercing blue eyes, a set of full brows, an arguably perfect jawline with sharp cheekbones, and a plush pair of lips. His dark hair was styled in an unusual fashion, an outdated pompadour that used to be popular among Japanese delinquents yet somehow suited him perfectly. You mused that he must be off for the day, noticing the complete lack of police regalia.

He donned a simple pair of black pants and a comfortable dark blue dress shirt that nonetheless seemed to strain slightly against his broad shoulders and the firm build of his arms. He wore a set of very expensive-looking shoes to complete the ensemble, ostensibly more pricey than the rest of the outfit put together. He always looked far too attractive for his own good, although he was fully unaware of the giggles and whispers coming from a cluster of high school girls seated near the window.

Instead he made a beeline straight for you and leaned on the counter, a bashful smile making its way across his face. You set down the hand towel that you’d been using and greeted him with your own brightest smile.

His eyes widened a little, just as they always did whenever you beamed at him with such open affection. He always cursed himself and inwardly prayed that he hadn’t given himself away, though if you noticed you never said a word about it.

“Hi, Josuke! What’ll it be today? The usual?” You winked before reaching beneath the counter and into the display case to retrieve his favorite, a freshly-baked custard bun. His teeth sank into his lower lip ever so slightly, a giveaway that he was nervous about something.

“Actually…” he mumbled, rubbing the back of his head before shooting you another small grin, “I wanted to ask you something.”

You straightened up and sent him a questioning look. This only seemed to fluster him further, but he seemed determined to see this through.

“I’m always coming here to see you, but we never really spend any time together outside of work. You know?” He cringed as the awkward words hung in the air, but he couldn’t back down now. “I was thinking that maybe…only if you’re free, of course…we could…”

Coffee. Coffee. Coffee!! C’mon, Josuke! Spit it out! This was awful. He felt like a shy adolescent boy struggling to ask out his first crush. All he needed to do was finish his sentence and ask you to grab some coffee with him down the street! You tilted your head, fighting back a private smile at his adorable stumbling and patiently waiting for him to continue.

Unfortunately, it appeared that fate wasn’t going to smile upon him this afternoon. Before he could finish humiliating himself his sentence, a shrill scream split the air just outside the shop. Both of you jumped a mile and Josuke’s reflexes were instantaneous, his whole body tensing in preparation. While the average taxpayer couldn’t see it, Crazy Diamond had also materialized behind him in the space of a heartbeat. The Stand was just as intimidating in its sheer size and strength as you remembered.

The source of the problem, a distraught middle-aged woman, stood in front of the bakery. Tears rolled down her face as some petty delinquent with a hoodie stretched over his head sprinted down the sidewalk with her purse in tow.

“THIEF! He’s getting away with my bag!” she shrieked. Startled pedestrians scattered to make room for the unexpected intrusion, only to realize too late that maybe someone should have tried to stop him first.

“(Name), hold that thought! I’m so sorry, but I have to take care of this!” Josuke only paused long enough to shoot you a deeply apologetic look. He was obviously crushed, but crime rarely took a break and you knew he took his job seriously. You could always hang out some other time, right? So you quickly waved him off, pointing in the direction of the fleeing mugger.

“Don’t worry about it! Hurry, don’t let him get away!”

He sent you one last glance filled with regret before he booked it out the door with Crazy Diamond hot on his heels. He already had his badge out and within seconds was pounding the pavement, shouting after the criminal in dogged pursuit. In the meantime, you ushered the poor woman inside and made her a hot cup of tea on the house. You encouraged her to relax and reminded her that the police were already handling the situation, so there was nothing to worry about.

“I’m positive he’ll retrieve your purse for you and ensure that creep sees some jail time!” you assured her. The residual buzz of excitement had started to dissipate among your other patrons, and the victim finally began to calm down as well. She gave you a grateful nod.

“Does he come here often, dear? I’ll have to be sure to thank that young man for his assistance.”

“He sure does.” You smiled as you resumed cleaning up the counter and then began arranging the day’s final batch of treats in the display case. A knowing gleam alighted in the woman’s eyes.

“Boyfriend? Or is it just your delicious baked goods that keep bringing him here?”

Your face erupted with heat at the implication.

“N-no! Of course not! That would be incredibly inappropriate, he’s just one of my customers!” Okay, and technically a boy who was your friend as well, not that she needed to know that.

“My apologies! I shouldn’t have assumed.” But she was smiling as she sipped at her tea, and you set about to scrubbing the already-polished countertop with a little more vigor than was necessary.

~*~

By the time Josuke had caught up to the thief, formally arrested him, hauled his ass down to the station, and filed all of the necessary paperwork, it was several hours later and long past closing time for your cute little bakery. All off the clock, too. The woman’s purse was being hand-delivered to her place of residence by another officer who took pity on him considering it was supposed to be Josuke’s night off.

Now he stood in front of the darkened, empty shop with a sharp twinge of frustration churning in his stomach. He’d been so close to enjoying an evening with you, only to be spoiled by some paltry criminal at the last second. But he wasn’t about to give up. Surely there had to be some way he could get you alone and tell you how he really felt.

Maybe he ought to ask for a little help, although a niggling part of him knew he’d probably regret this.

Chapter Text

Well, this was certainly one way to spend your Friday night.

You stepped through the doorway and slipped off your shoes, only to find yourself inside a bachelor pad in the worst sense of the term. The last time you’d been here, you were recovering from a near-death experience on the couch and hadn’t bothered to closely examine your surroundings.

Now that you were taking a better look, however, it was about what you’d expected. The apartment was a complete and utter disaster, with empty grease-stained pizza boxes and crumpled up paper bags all over the floor, dirty clothes and videogame controllers littering any space that happened to be free, and of course an unmade bed with the comforter sprawling off the unkempt mess of sheets. Nearby a lewd calendar filled with scantily-clad women hung precariously from the wall.

“Nice place, Okuyasu.” You had to strain not to laugh.

“Thanks!” he answered with a grin, your sarcasm sailing right over his head. Josuke dragged his hand down his face in exasperation and shot Okuyasu a quick glare as soon as your back was turned.

Dude, I told you to clean the place up a bit first!”

“Hey, hey! I’m the one doing you a favor, bro! You don’t like it, you should’ve invited her to your apartment instead!”

“I can’t do that!” Josuke was horrified by the very notion. “Inviting her to come back to my place alone? She’d think I’m some kind of creep!”

Their short-lived argument was hissed under their breath, and mercifully you overheard none of it (although you did send them a funny look). Okuyasu brushed some crumbs off the couch and gestured for you to sit down. Josuke sank into the seat beside you, careful to maintain a few inches of space between you like the gentleman that he was.

“Man, I’m starved! I’m gonna order the pizza now. I’ve already got plenty of soda loaded up in the kitchen, so go nuts!” Okuyasu pulled out his cell while his stomach released a particularly audible growl. Josuke, whose nerves had seemed oddly on edge ever since he picked you up from work, jumped back to his feet with almost too much enthusiasm.

“Make yourself comfortable, okay? I’ll go grab us some drinks.” He shared one of his shy smiles before disappearing into the kitchen, leaving you to awkwardly fiddle with your hands in your lap. In the next room, Okuyasu was ordering what was probably the most over-the-top pizza you’d ever heard of. You listened to him fire off a lengthy list of toppings to some poor sap at the local pizza joint who had to find a way to keep track of the massive order.

Josuke returned a few minutes later with a stack of red plastic cups and a tall carton of fizzy soda. He twisted off the cap and poured some for each of you, and you playfully clinked cups before taking a delicious sip. Okuyasu chose that moment to re-enter the room while rubbing his hands together, eager for the grease trap of a meal to arrive.

You had to stifle another snort of laughter when you suddenly noticed what he was wearing. He looked like he’d come straight from the gym, but only after consulting workout fashion advice from Papyrus the skeleton. He was decked out in a gaudy pair of bright orange shorts and a navy blue tank top with the words “COOL STORY BRO” printed on it in English, cartoony and a garish shade of yellow.

It turned out that he was a gym trainer and an overzealous one at that. He flexed his biceps for you with pride as he explained that he had an impressive clientele, all of whom relied upon him to keep them healthy and in good shape. You had to admit, his physique was impressive, but his dietary choices for the evening…not so much. You decided it was just best not to comment on it.

The better part of the next hour saw the three of you exchanging rowdy insults as you went all-out in Mario Kart, a videogame also known as Ye Olde Friendship Wrecker. At least Josuke seemed to have calmed down and was much more at ease now, his prior anxiety long forgotten amidst the shouts and laughter among good friends. Discarded paper plates were all that remained of everyone’s extremely unhealthy dinner; it turned out it was too much even for Okuyasu to finish off, and now the remaining pizza grew cold on the table behind the couch.

But after one too many blue shells threatened to permanently tear a rift between the boys, you suggested that you take a break and try watching a movie instead. Okuyasu’s eyes immediately went wide with the air of someone who had completely forgotten something.

“Oh, yeah! Let’s do that! Any movie you want, go for it!” He shoved the remote into your hands and signed you into his Netflix account. His voice was almost too loud, suspiciously so. “Don’t mind me, I’m going to go make some popcorn…for an hour.” While you were skimming through the most recent titles uploaded to the online streaming service, Okuyasu caught Josuke’s eye and nodded before mouthing the words, “Got your back, bro!” Complete with wiggling eyebrows. Then he made himself scarce, and it took you a few seconds for his words to sink in. You set down the remote in confusion.

“Uh…did he just say that he’s going to take an hour to make popcorn?” You raised an eyebrow, and Josuke looked torn between feeling mortified and wanting to chuck his game controller at Okuyasu’s stupid retreating head.

“Don’t mind him. I’m sure he’ll be back soon.” Josuke rolled his eyes a little at his best friend’s utter lack of tact. “I’ve been meaning to ask you, what kind of movies do you like, (Name)?”

Your eyes lit up as you gushed to him about some of your favorite films and TV shows, not noticing the soft look that entered his expression as you did so. He grinned at you while leaning against the couch, as both of you had rearranged yourselves to face each other with your legs tucked beneath you rather than pay any attention to the TV screen. He’d never heard you open up this much to him before, and hell if it didn’t make his heart somersault in his chest like the protagonist of one of those silly romantic comedies you were so fond of.

“Oh, right. We’re supposed to be picking a movie.” You blushed when you realized how carried away you’d gotten. “Okuyasu still isn’t back. Should we go check on him?”

“No!” Josuke quickly interjected, shaking his head and grabbing your arm to stop you when you were halfway up from the couch, “I-I mean, don’t worry about it. Sometimes he goes to the toilet and doesn’t come out for ages. Trust me, you don’t want to go there.”

“Oh. I thought he was supposed to be making popcorn.” You settled back down all the same and shrugged it off. Once the two of you had selected a film, you made yourselves more comfortable against the ratty old couch, which wasn’t too bad all things considered. You failed to notice that Josuke had closed the distance between the two of you this time, just enough so that a few scant centimeters separated you.

He swallowed heavily, stealing a glance at you out of his peripherals as your gaze was fixed upon the screen. He felt nervous sweat bead upon the back of his neck. He’d never done anything like this before and now his earlier nerves—which had mysteriously vanished while the two of you conversed—were returning in full force. But Okuyasu was going out of his way to try to give him this opportunity, so he couldn’t squander it.

He knew just how cliché this was and already wanted to smack himself for it. All the same, while your attention remained diverted elsewhere, he pretended to stretch his arms over his head before very slowly lowering one around the back of the couch. He wondered if you would mind if he rubbed his thumb along your shoulder. Wait, no. Definitely not! What was he thinking?! He couldn’t do that, this wasn’t a date and that would be way over the top and you’d think he was some sort of lech—

He lost his nerve and jerked his arm back a little. In the process, his elbow knocked into something atop the table behind the couch. It wobbled precariously before tumbling forward and surging all over the couch. And his hair.

And you.

His heart stopped. Neither of you reacted at first to the fact that a remarkable quantity of warm Dr. Pepper was now dripping down your faces and transforming your clothes into a sticky mess. The couch itself was already badly stained with god knows what, but the soda certainly wasn’t helping. A few strands fell loose from Josuke’s beloved pompadour, coaxed free by the sugary drink, and wide blue eyes met shocked (color) ones as his arm remained frozen in place.

It was a fitting testament to his utter failure of an attempt to be smooth. Right now would be the absolute perfect time for the floor to open up and swallow him whole.

“Uh…” His mouth couldn’t seem to form the right words. Somehow, “sorry” didn’t seem to quite cut it. “My bad. Forgot that it was back there.” He spoke weakly, still unable to fully process the fact that he’d botched this so badly.

But to his amazement, you began to giggle. Even though your cute sweater was ruined and that skirt would likely never see the light of day again, you were giggling.

“I forgot all about it being back there, too! Don’t worry, I’m sure one of us was bound to knock it over at some point. Accidents happen.”

He stared at you. Were you serious? Here he was, suffering through possibly the most humiliating screw-up he’d ever managed in front of a girl he liked, and you were actually laughing about it. You were trying to make him feel better about it, when he should be offering to help replace your wardrobe. Were you truly that unfazed? Even his own mother would have been shrieking like a banshee by now in your shoes. He was stunned.

You reached out to poke at his gradually-flopping pompadour, drawing his attention back to the fact that he’d managed to dowse himself, too. He finally tried to join you in giggling, a feeble attempt to laugh off the whole situation as if it weren’t a big deal and the shame wasn’t going to keep him up at 3 a.m. on random nights in the future. He really did. But he still just wanted to die a little on the inside behind each chuckle, only made that much worse when Okuyasu poked his head in the doorway.

“Hey, just checkin’ in on y—WHAT.” His jaw dropped. Within seconds the gym trainer had crossed the room and thrust an accusatory finger into Josuke’s chest. “What the hell, man? I leave you guys alone for five seconds and you trash my couch? What gives?!”

“Hey, where’s that popcorn, Okuyasu?” Your innocuous question threw him for a loop before he could get himself too worked up. You let him stammer through an incoherent response for a few seconds before shaking your head and concealing a grin. “I’m kidding! It was just an accident, though. I’m sure we can get all this cleaned up.”

“Not like you keep this place hygienic anyway,” Josuke added under his breath. It was a valid point, but one both of you wisely decided not to raise. When he spoke again, his voice was back at normal volume. “Sorry, Oku. Next time I’ll be more careful about making sure the cap’s screwed back on. I’ll help you take care of it, okay?”

They clapped each other on the shoulder as a mutual understanding passed between them, and then both turned to you.

“Hey, I’ve got some spare t-shirts and sweatpants in the other room if you wanna change,” Okuyasu offered (perhaps a bit too hopefully). But you shook your head.

“Don’t worry about it. I didn’t even realize how late it was getting anyway. I think I’ll head home and pop into the shower. I still had a really great time, you guys! Thanks for having me over!”

You rose to your feet and pulled each of them into a quick hug. To his credit, Okuyasu didn’t flinch even though you were saturated with soda, and at least with Josuke it wasn’t like it could get any worse. The blue-eyed Stand user hesitated for a fraction of a second before accepting you into his arms. His hands skimmed around your midriff before coming to rest upon your upper back, the most he dared after tonight’s fiasco. The side of his face pressed into your damp hair, and he murmured a quick apology into your ear before letting you go far sooner than he would have liked.

He tried not to let the heavy disappointment show as the two of them followed you to the door, especially when you politely rebuffed his offer to walk you home. It went against all of his protective instincts as a police officer too, but maybe it was just as well. The last thing he needed was to find some other way to embarrass himself in front of you before the night was over.

“I’m sure I’ll see you guys again soon. Good night!” You waved cheerily before stepping off into the streets of Morioh, your sodden garments attracting the occasional odd stare along the way, but you didn’t seem to mind. Once Okuyasu closed the door, Josuke blew out a sigh he didn’t even know he was holding.

“Sooo? Any developments?” Okuyasu prodded. “You better not have ruined my couch for nothing, Josuke!”

“Nope. Nothing.” The other man was deadpan. “I totally screwed it up. I let her think that I was just reaching out for a drink, and like an asshole I ended up knocking it all over her.”

“Maybe you need to be more direct, bro.” Okuyasu squinted at him with his arms doubled over his chest. “I don’t think she’s got any clue you’re into her.”

“That makes two of us.” Josuke groaned. Okay, so maybe he was batting zero so far, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t give it another shot. Okuyasu was probably right. He needed to change gears. Tonight had failed because he’d asked you to join what essentially amounted to a gathering of friends. No amount of Okuyasu making himself scarce in another room would have changed that. The more he thought about it, the more tonight was destined to be a bust regardless.

“Man,” Okuyasu complained a few minutes later as the two of them got to work blotting down the couch with paper towels, “You ever wonder how Koichi has it so easy? Yukako came to him.”

“Yeah, well, Yukako’s also a bit too extreme for the average guy.”

The thought was a little bittersweet, though. Josuke had to wonder, was he just wasting his time here? Or could you ever feel the same way about him? Well, there was only one way to find out.

Chapter Text

Josuke double and then triple-checked his reflection in a nearby shop window, even though he already knew exactly what he’d see. It still made him feel better to confirm that he was looking his best. He’d pulled out all the stops to impress you. He didn’t just wash up; he made sure that he was completely stubble-free, all of his clothes were freshly laundered, nary a hair was out of place, and his freshly-scrubbed smile was minty and blinding. Maybe it was overkill, but he wasn’t taking any chances.

…The spritz of cologne probably was overkill, but he hoped you wouldn’t mind.

He had to meter his breathing to keep himself steady. He found himself regularly checking his phone just to have something to focus upon, even though he knew you weren’t due to arrive for another ten minutes. Even now he still couldn’t believe that this was happening.

He’d done it. He’d really done it. Despite his heart thundering behind his ribcage far too much for a fully-grown man approaching a woman, he managed to ask you to meet up with him at Morioh’s largest strip mall. Just the two of you, spending the whole afternoon together. And you’d agreed! Hell, you even seemed happy about it.

He felt his chest swell with his own burst of happiness at the memory. It seemed like the tide was finally changing in his favor. He’d been granted an entire afternoon alone with you and he was determined to do things right. He’d gladly treat you to whatever you were craving for lunch, and wouldn’t complain if you dragged him into several stores, either. He doubted he would mind doing just about anything, so long as you were enjoying yourself and he had the privilege of spending the day by your side.

God, he knew he sounded like such a sap, but when it came to you he couldn’t help it. He really was in way over his head, wasn’t he?

“Josuke!”

When a high-pitched voice called his name, he jolted to attention. He quickly tried to resume a more nonchalant appearance, however, to not make it obvious just how excited he was about today’s not-date. Meetup. Whatever he was supposed to call it. Whatever it was, he couldn’t wait. Despite his attempts to play it cool, the corners of his mouth tugged into an involuntary smile as he spun around to face—

Oh. Never mind, it wasn’t you. A young woman was jogging up to him with her auburn hair pulled back into a high ponytail. He studied her features, recalling that she’d called out his name so they must know each other, but her face wasn’t ringing any bells.

“Hey there. How’s it going?” He tried being polite. Maybe she’d introduce herself to remind him.

“Wow, I never thought I’d catch you in a place like this! What are you doing here all by yourself?” She was out of breath from sprinting several yards over to him in a pair of ungainly heels, but her eyes sparkled with a clear sign of infatuation. This would have been a red flag to any man less dense than Josuke Higashikata, who had spent much of high school unknowingly breaking girls’ hearts because he was too clueless to recognize when a girl was practically throwing herself at him with her best wiles.

“I’m waiting for someone. What brings you here?” He shifted from foot to foot, feeling slightly impatient for her to get lost considering it was very nearly time for him to meet up with you.

“Oh, you know! Just running a few errands!” she tittered, glossing over the fact that he mentioned he wasn’t alone, “You’ve changed since we last saw each other. I heard you became a police officer after high school! Wow, I’d sure like to see that!” She clapped both hands to her cheeks and made some sort of demented, tinny squealing noise that had Josuke wincing. Oh boy. How could he delicately remove himself from this situation?

“Well, if you’re meeting me as a cop, that either means you’re in danger or you’re a criminal. Either way, it’s bad news.” He offered her a half-hearted smile. “Anyway, nice to see you again! You’re looking good. Take care of yourself, all right?” Even if he didn’t remember who the hell she was.

“Really? You think so?” She smoothed down her hair with acrylic nails that had been filed down to such a sharp point that Josuke was amazed they weren’t classified as lethal weapons. “It means so much to hear that from you, Josuke! I’ve been popping into the gym whenever I get a chance, of course, but I have to work in enough time to stop by the salon too! These locks don’t come cheap!”

Was she trying to tell him that her haircuts were vastly overpriced or that she was wearing a wig? He honestly didn’t know, nor did he care. He just wanted her to take the hint and back off already.

“I’m glad it’s working out for you. Listen, like I said, I’m waiting for someone and she’s supposed to be here any second, so I—”

“Wait a minute!” Now the vapid woman planted her hands upon both hips, judging him with a critical eye that made him feel as though he’d done something wrong, “What are you saying? You’re waiting for a girl? Josuke, do you have a girlfriend?!”

He felt his face heat up at the mere notion. Working on it, he desperately wanted to say, but of course he didn’t voice that. It wasn’t any of this girl’s business, anyway.

But before he could respond, she charged forward and seized the lapels of his expensive jacket, dragging him down closer to her height. His eyes went wide with shock and he immediately placed his hands on her shoulders to push her away. Instead she held fast like some sort of leech and hooked her arms around his neck.

“Uh, I don’t think—"

Tears now dashed her eyes, much to his alarm. Wait, what was going on? He never meant to make her cry! As far as he was concerned, they were practically strangers. How had he even gotten himself into this mess?

“You never looked at me during high school! No matter what I did, you never looked my way! Even when I made you chocolates on Valentine’s Day, you never did anything on White Day!”

Uh oh. He did recall receiving obscene quantities of chocolate during high school, to the point that he couldn’t keep track of who gave him what, and ended up sharing most of it with Okuyasu. He never thought it would come back to bite him like this, though.

“Um…did I come at a bad time?”

No. This couldn’t be happening.

But there was no mistaking the familiar sound of that voice. With some difficulty Josuke managed to crane his head around and his heart sank into the deepest pit of his stomach. You stood several paces behind him with something tucked into the crook of your elbow—dammit it was the DVD that you’d promised to lend him like the sweetheart you were—and a very confused expression on your face.

“Yeah! This is between me and him! Get out of here, ugly!” Regina George Josuke’s former classmate was practically spitting venom at you. Not good, not good, not good! Josuke panicked.

“Wait! It’s not what it looks like!” Oh, he knew exactly what it looked like. His back was turned to you, hands placed upon another woman’s shoulders while she wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him close—DAMN. IT.

“I…um…” You hesitantly tucked a strand of hair behind your ear, your voice faltering as you went quiet. Something unreadable flickered in your eyes for just a moment, though Josuke couldn’t discern what, given his extremely ill-timed position. “…I guess I’ll leave you guys to it, then. Talk to you later, Josuke.”

“Wait! (Name), don’t go! Please wait!” Josuke was usually far above employing any modicum of violence against a lady, but given that this particular girl’s behavior was less than ladylike, he didn’t feel as badly about it as he might have otherwise. He gave her the gentlest shove he could manage to break free of her vice grip, only for her to start screeching again and attract the attention of other mall-going patrons.

Including a couple of mall cops who were now warily approaching the scene.

This was not his day. Josuke groaned, casting desperate looks between your retreating back and the escalating situation in front of him. All the while, the girl continued to blabber on about how he never gave her a chance even though “everyone” thought they would have been the perfect couple back in high school. He could already feel a pounding migraine forming behind his eyes.

“Sir? Is everything all right here…?” The first mall cop had his hand on top of his baton in a show of caution. Everything had gone so comically wrong in such a short period of time that Josuke was tempted to burst out laughing. Or shed a manly tear. Or maybe both.

“Yes, everything’s fine.” He quickly defused the situation, aided by the fact that he was as calm as could be (at least on the surface—he wasn’t going to mention the internal screaming) while the unnamed woman stamped her feet beside him in a tantrum. It certainly didn’t hurt when he was able to produce his badge. But by now mascara was streaking down the woman’s face and the impending headache had grown that much worse.

One of the mall cops ushered her aside and led her to a nearby bench to help her settle down. Josuke hurried away, hoping against all hope that he’d be able to catch you before you rode the bus back home, but there was no sign of you at the bus stop. He whipped out his cell phone and dialed you without even thinking about what he was going to say first.

“Hello?”

“(Name), please listen to me! That wasn’t what you thought! Can you come back? That was the worst possible timing, and I—”

“Josuke! Calm down!” Your tone was placating when you interrupted his scarcely-coherent stream of words. “It’s okay. I didn’t want to intrude, that’s all. It looked like you must have run into someone, erm, important.”

“(Name). I have no idea who that girl was.” You’d never heard him sound more serious as he pleaded with you to trust him. “I mean, I guess we must have attended the same high school, but—ugh, never mind! That’s not important right now. Where are you? Will you please come back? I…had a lot of great plans for today. I was really looking forward to this.”

He was unable to hide his disappointment. You could practically imagine his deflated expression on the other line and you softened.

“I’m sorry. I was, too, but I’m already on my way back and paid for my ticket. Do you want to just reschedule and do this another time?” Your voice was apologetic.

“…Sure,” he said quietly after a long pause, “Another time, then. Text me when you get home safely, okay?”

“Yes, Officer Higashikata.” He knew you were only teasing him, but all the same his heart skipped a couple of beats. “Sorry about the misunderstanding! Talk to you soon.”

“Yeah…take care.” He hung up. All prior panic had evaporated, only to be replaced with a dreadful empty feeling that weighed down upon his chest. He leaned with his back against the side of the bus stop, slowly sliding down until he reached the ground with a dull thump. He rested his aching head in one of his hands and ignored a few concerned looks from passerby.

This was getting out of hand. He didn’t want to come across as too heavy-handed, but short of outright confessing to you how he felt, he was starting to run out of options. He’d wanted to do this right; he didn’t want to just blurt it out to you without taking the proper time to romance you first and set the mood! But he’d never before found it so difficult to capture a girl’s attention, and he was stymied.

He thought that asking you out to the strip mall would suffice, but apparently not. Screw it, he was going to return to the classics. The two of you and a romantic candlelit dinner sounded perfect, albeit cheesy. Hell, he’d even pay off the proprietor to net you two some much-needed privacy if it came down to it, given his terrible luck as of late. He nodded to himself as this new plan formed in his mind, feeling confident that there was no way to he’d manage to bungle something as straightforward as that.

What he wasn’t counting on was someone else asking you first.

Chapter Text

Your unconventional relationship with Morioh’s resident mangaka began as a result of a misinterpretation on your part, something that seemed to be oddly par for the course lately.

It was only a couple of weeks after you had first awakened your Stand. You were simply minding your own business, opting to walk home after closing shop considering how temperate the evening’s weather was. A few baked goods hadn’t sold but you doubted they would keep well until the next morning, so you stuffed them into a paper bag to enjoy on your stroll back.

Along the way, you passed a strange man with a very brooding, troubled expression and dark green hair. He wasn’t looking at you, though he was resting against the trunk of a sizable tree while pondering something that irked him. Every now and then he would shoot a dark glare at the passerby, as if his predicament was somehow their fault.

“Hello!” You popped up in front of him with your hand outstretched. The man visibly recoiled as if disgusted by your mere presence.

“What do you want? Can’t you see I’m busy?” he snapped. Not one to be deterred, you smiled at him.

“Well, yeah. But I thought you could use some cheering up anyway. Here you go.” He glanced at the contents of your extended palm with enough fury to incinerate a ten-story building. However, after a few moments passed, his foul mood seemed to relent just long enough to be replaced with a begrudging curiosity.

“…What’s that?” He was deeply suspicious.

“It’s an ichigo daifuku. I made it myself just a few hours ago, so it’s still fresh.”

“You…!” His eyes now narrowed with such distrust that you began to wonder if this wasn’t a good idea after all. “How did you know that’s my favorite dessert?! Are you an enemy Stand user? Heaven’s Door!”

“Wha—?” You didn’t even have time to blink. A nearly all-white Stand with golden outlines and shocking green eyes materialized in front of you. You only had a second to admire the snappy suit and opaque boater hat before your body seized up and your flesh began to peel away before your eyes like pages of a book. No, like manga panels!

Well, that sure escalated quickly. What kind of a power was this? You felt a mixture of horror and fascination as the strange man stepped forward with grim determination written across his features. He began to flip through the pages that comprised your arm, and his eyes flicked back and forth at astonishing speeds as he absorbed whatever was written upon them. With immense effort you managed to summon Avantasia behind you, although you had a nasty feeling it was too little, too late.

“Hah! That won’t work on me!” He whipped out a pen and began to inscribe something directly into your face. “I…will not…do anything…to…harm…Rohan Kishibe. There!” He was triumphant as he pulled back, seemingly gratified now that his Stand’s effect had taken place. You felt your skin settle and smooth out again, regaining its normal appearance as the “pages” faded away.

“Wh-what did you just do to me?” you demanded, poking at yourself in disbelief.

“I was right!” This seemed to give the man, “Rohan”, immense satisfaction. He pointed at you. “Just as I thought, you’re a Stand user! You thought such a callow ploy would enable you to catch me off-guard? Think again!”

“What are you talking about? I was just offering you a treat because it looked like you were having a bad day!” You shot him an incredulous look. “Have you lost your mind?”

“Clearly you would only know about my love for ichigo daifuku if you…wait…” He finally stopped, now taking a better look at you and peering closely. “I’ve kept that top-secret for years, even from my fans. There’s absolutely no way you could have known. Do you mean to say that this was merely a…coincidence?”

He was almost more shocked than you’d been when he abruptly summoned his Stand. Talk about paranoid. All this over a stupid dessert? You shook your head while taking a cautious step back, and Avantasia glittered behind you in preparation for any additional assaults that might come your way. Her surreal beauty seemed to finally catch Rohan’s attention, and within seconds he seemed to have forgotten all about your rocky first encounter.

“Incredible!” he murmured, speaking under his breath to himself rather than you, “This is truly a Stand? I’ve never seen the likes of this! Such captivating luminosity, such radiant color, like a perfect reflection of the night sky!”

Now he was prowling around you in circles like some creepy vulture and snatched a small notebook out of his pocket. He was scribbling upon it so quickly that trying to follow the movements with your eyes made you feel dizzy. All the while he continued to nod to himself and gape at your Stand with open glee.

“Um…I hate to ask, but what are you doing?” He was making you feel nervous, and now more than ever you regretted stopping to speak to him. He scoffed.

“Taking inspiration, of course! Your Stand will serve as the muse for a new character in the next chapter of Pink Dark Boy!”

“Huh?” You had no clue what he was talking about. He rolled his eyes with an almost theatrical flourish as he threw his hands into the air.

“Rohan Kishibe! I moved to Morioh to net myself some privacy, but before long half the blasted town figured out that a celebrity lives here anyway! You’re no different. That’s why you approached me, isn’t it?” His stare was accusatory when directed toward you, but almost giddy when he trained his attention back upon Avantasia. Was he mental?

“I’m sorry, but I really have no idea who you are,” you confessed warily, “I already told you, I only came up to you because you looked like you needed some cheering up. That’s all.”

“What? Truly? Though I suppose I didn’t conduct a comprehensive enough check on you using Heaven’s Door…” Now he was muttering to himself again and he began pacing back and forth in front of you. Then he came to a sudden stop and locked eyes with you. “Let me try again so I can ascertain the truth!”

“No! Stay away from me!” This time when he tried to activate his Stand’s ability, you were much quicker to react and Avantasia’s eyes glowed a blinding shade of silver. You only felt a slight prickle upon your skin as Heaven’s Door’s attack was reduced to nearly nothing, much to Rohan’s amazement.

“What kind of ability is that?!” he breathed, “I want to know more!”

“Leave me alone!” The ensuing chase was almost comical, if not slightly alarming to any onlookers who might have witnessed it. It was confined to the relatively small space of the sidewalk as you repeatedly dodged the man’s literal attempts to read you like a book, darting back and forth until you exclaimed in frustration. “Wait, why am I putting up with this? I’m going to call Josuke!”

“What did you say?” This took Rohan by surprise, and both of you skidded to a halt while panting and eyeing each other. “You know that bastard, Josuke Higashikata?!”

“Yes, I—wait, how do you know him?” Now it was your turn to feel suspicious. Josuke hadn’t mentioned this guy to you before, and you had a feeling that someone like Rohan Kishibe would have been memorable. Then again, if they despised each other, you doubted that either of them made it a priority to “hang out.”

After a flustered call to Josuke (who grew uncharacteristically furious when he learned that Rohan had attacked you) and several cobbled explanations of how they met, you came to understand that technically Rohan wasn’t an enemy, despite the rather unpleasant first impression. You walked away that evening after shoving the rest of your daifuku into his arms, reminding him that all you ever wanted in the first place was to brighten up his day.

He stared after you thoughtfully, his full attention leveled upon you for the first time instead of your Stand. It appeared that you were telling the truth. Your intentions were, well, honorable. It was inconceivable that someone could be so blisteringly naïve so as to walk up to a stranger—him, of all people!—while oblivious as to who he was, all with that aggravatingly sweet smile on your face, but here you were.

It was also the first time he’d ever accepted homemade sweets from anyone, and while he would never admit it, they were delectable. Not to mention your Stand was mesmerizing. Nothing you did made any logical sense to him, tonight or any night that followed. You were an anomaly that had barreled through his life. You were even friends with Josuke, that asshole. You vexed Rohan in every possible way.

He couldn’t decide if he loathed you or wanted to learn everything about you. But as the weeks went on and he gradually began to get to know you better, he concluded that it was the latter.

Rohan Kishibe does not develop a fascination lightly. When he commits to something or someone, it’s all-consuming. In the weeks that followed you brought him many more of your baked goods for him to sample, always accompanied by that same benevolent smile that never seemed to tire of him. Avantasia’s likeness was also a massive hit in Pink Dark Boy as a mystifying antagonist, propelling the manga to higher popularity than ever before.

But even a map of the stars could no longer surpass your allure, and Rohan abhorred that realization. Yet he couldn’t stay away from you either way, considering you commanded so many of his thoughts and nearly all of his precious focus. So after a few agonizing months had passed, he decided there was nothing for it.

He had to ask you out on a date.

He’d have to look into it soon, too, if Josuke’s recent behavior toward you was any indication. The man was practically lovesick in your presence, although you seemed to be unaware of it (much to Rohan’s relief). The two had butted heads since the start, and the mangaka would always hold a grudge toward Josuke for inadvertently burning half of his house down several years back. So it was quite satisfying for Rohan to note that not only was he about to ask you out, but he was going to blindside Josuke while he was at it.

He smirked at his reflection in the mirror, straightening out the crop top that showed off the usual generous section of his toned stomach. Josuke had always had a few choice words for the artist’s attire over the years, only to be met with harsh quips about his hair, leading to Koichi having to break up potentially violent fights on multiple occasions.

But distaste toward Josuke aside, Rohan had to admit that he was enthralled by you and he couldn’t fathom you saying no. It wasn’t that you couldn’t say no, but he was ill-prepared to even imagine the possibility of that outcome. He had convinced himself you would agree, and everything would fall into place from there. It had to.

So he marched into your shop that afternoon with a swagger in his step, but he forgot one very important thing: Socially Awkward Rohan was in full swing, and as soon as he was met with your familiar smiling face, it stripped away all of his plans to ask you out with glib, irresistible eloquence that Josuke could never dream of rivaling. 

“Hey!” Instead he slammed both of his palms down upon the counter while making eye contact with you. You were too startled to immediately respond. He was vaguely aware that he was shouting and had caught the attention of the entire shop, but he ignored everyone else. You were all that mattered, anyway. “We’re getting coffee tomorrow afternoon at St. Marc Café down the street. 3 p.m. Got it? Don’t be late!”

Rohan didn’t bother to wait for your answer. Instead he nodded to himself before running his hand through his hair and striding out of the bakery, leaving everyone gaping after him in silence. Yes, that should do it. There was no way you could mistake his intentions, right?

~*~

The next day, you found yourself sprinting halfway to the agreed-upon meeting place. You had to brush a few sweaty tendrils of hair out of your eyes and your complexion was flushed, not to mention that your flats probably weren’t ideal for running, but you didn’t want to keep Rohan waiting long.

Speaking of, he was already waiting for you with a table reserved outside next to the window. His forest green hair glinted in the afternoon sunlight, and he immediately pulled out your chair for you when you approached. You thanked him before dropping into your seat, offering him an encouraging smile as you fought to catch your breath.

“So what did you want to talk about? I rushed here as soon as I could after closing early!”

“Eh?” Rohan lifted his gaze to you in mild confusion, arm frozen halfway up from the ground. He’d reached down to retrieve the large rose he purchased just before arriving and kept hidden beneath the table as a surprise. You tilted your head back at him with worry reflecting in your eyes, not noticing the flower.

“You seemed so upset yesterday when you asked us to meet up! You know that you can talk to me about anything that might be on your mind, right?”

“Uhhhh…” Rohan’s train of thought stopped running and crashed as he processed this. Wait a minute. It couldn’t be. He’d specifically asked you out here, hadn’t he? Did you seriously think that it was just a request to confide in you about some inane problem of his? This was a DATE! He’d even gone out of his way to dress more formally than usual (to the point that he felt overdressed in this modest café, but who was counting).

“Rohan? Are you all right?” you tried when he continued to gape at you without answering, “You’re my friend. I’m here to listen to anything that you need to get off your chest. No judgment, I promise!”

Friend. FRIEND. FRIEND. The word hammered down his pride and now he was frozen in place as he realized that the worst case scenario had, in fact, come to pass. The rose slipped from his stunned fingers.

You had no clue this was a date. How could you possibly be so dense? Had he not been obvious enough around you? Didn’t you know that the great Rohan Kishibe never spent this much time actively seeking out the company of anyone, let alone a woman?!

Your kindness and generosity were infallible, that much was certain. It was a big part of what made you so compelling to others. But what would it take to get through to you?

“I’m fine,” he said through gritted teeth, “You decide what to talk about.”

You didn’t seem to notice that anything was amiss, probably because Rohan spent half of the time coming across as exceedingly grouchy anyway, so this wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. You both proceeded to order coffee and a pair of chocolate croissants, which Rohan couldn’t help but notice weren’t half as delicious as the ones you whipped up at your bakery.

The small talk was like pulling teeth for him now that he knew you’d completely misunderstood his intentions. But you seemed happy enough chatting to him about your day and an entertaining customer who’d walked in, and he couldn’t bring himself to wipe that smile from your face.

At length Rohan relaxed a little. This was okay. It was fine. You were so oblivious that even if Josuke did try to one-up him, the chances were astronomical that you’d have no idea it was romantic anyway. Rohan had time to figure out a new plan of attack, so to speak.

He wasn’t about to lose you to anyone, much less to Higashikata.

~*~

Okuyasu jogged a few paces ahead, practically bouncing on the balls of his feet with anticipation. His stomach was rumbling with such gusto that he couldn’t be bothered to wait for his best friend.

Josuke trailed several feet back, exhausted and scrolling through an email on his phone that the Chief of Police had just sent out. He was still in uniform, having only just finished walking the beat for today, though the Chief’s message had taken him by surprise. While they were unlikely to encounter any foe nearly as dangerous as Kira ever again, there was still a recent rash of assaults on the outskirts of Morioh that were troubling. He’d have to keep a close eye on that part of town and make sure they weren’t dealing with anything too sinister.

“C’mon, put that thing away! We’re gonna go see your girl, remember?” Okuyasu’s voice broke into his thoughts. This did elicit a tired smile from the rookie cop despite everything. While Josuke tried not to let too many things get him down as a general rule of thumb, some days were rougher than others and he was grateful to have such a great network of friends and family when the going got tough.

“Yeah. Though she’s not my girl, Okuyasu…” It gave Josuke a pang to remind him of that, but he didn’t want to put you through any undue stress if someone were to overhear and get the wrong idea about the two of you. No matter how dearly he wanted it to be the “right” idea.

“Yeah, yeah!” Okuyasu was unconcerned and cracked his neck loudly. “Oi, wait a minute? What’s going on over there? Isn’t that Rohan-sen…sei…?”

The gym trainer trailed off into a hush that was unusual for him, leading Josuke to send him a questioning look before following his gaze. Only to confirm his worst nightmare.

Rohan was seated at that café across the street, all right, just a few stores down from your bakery, which apparently was closed right now.

And you were seated across from him. Laughing, talking openly, and completely being yourself. Granted, Rohan still looked like he had a prickly cactus shoved up his ass, but what else was new? Either way, somehow the man had gotten you to agree to leave work early just to spend time with him, and was that a rose on the ground?

It was kind of strange that it was just sitting on the concrete instead of the table, but perhaps Rohan hadn’t found an opportunity to present it to you yet. Either way, that little gesture made it abundantly clear what his intentions toward you were, and for a moment Josuke experienced a wave of nausea.

“No way!” Okuyasu’s jaw had dropped and his voice was hoarse. “Uh…think we should break it up? I know we called a truce with Kishibe and all, but I don’t mind messing with him a little if you don’t.”

As tempting as that was, Josuke had to shake his head. “We can’t bother them. She…looks like she’s having a great time.” No matter how brutally it pained him to admit it. “I’d be the asshole that Rohan thinks I am if I just barged in there and interrupted. It’s only fair that she gets to make this choice for herself.”

“Seriously?” Okuyasu looked torn between respect for Josuke’s words and frustration at the way the situation had turned out. “Well, if you say so…let’s leave ‘em alone, then. Stay strong, brother! Too bad we can’t get any of those awesome pineapple buns today, though.”

Later that evening, however, Josuke couldn’t help it. He was heartbroken. He’d showered with scorching hot water for nearly forty-five minutes as he tried to convince himself to let you go. But while he toweled out his dark hair—currently a disheveled mess that was a far cry from its usual styled perfection—he found his eyes wandering over to his phone where he’d discarded it upon his bedspread.

He had to ask. It couldn’t hurt to know for sure, right? He decided to text you.

Josuke: Hey. Happened to see that you and Rohan were out on a date today. How’d things go?

That didn’t sound too bitter, did it? Your response came a few minutes later, though the anticipation made it feel like hours.

(Name): Hmm? What do you mean? That wasn’t a date! We just met up for coffee! :)

Josuke gaped at the screen, re-reading your response several times. Wait a minute. It couldn’t be. Was Rohan currently going through the same exact dilemma he was? Trying to ask you out, only for you to seemingly have no idea how he felt about you?

Josuke: But what about the rose he bought for you?

(Name): Rose? I have no clue what you’re talking about! He didn’t give me anything like that.

Josuke: Oh

He felt like an idiot, but he had no idea what else to say to that. He felt a bit numb, some of it relief over understanding that his hopes hadn’t been dashed just yet, but some of it was also incredulity. Despite their less-than-savory history, he had to admit that he felt a bit bad for Rohan.

But if Josuke was still in the game, then all bets were off.

(Name): Oh! I just realized that I wasn’t there today if you stopped by the shop. Sorry about that! I’ll make it up to you tomorrow with a custard bun that’ll blow your mind, promise! <3

He could think of another, much better way you could “make it up to him.” His mouth went dry, but he had no choice. If he was going to take you out to that fancy, dreamy, impossible-to-mistake-for-anything-but-a-date dinner, he needed to ask you as soon as humanly possible. But he also wanted to do this in person, so it’d have to be tomorrow.

First, though, he should make a reservation. He nearly tripped over himself in his hurry to find where he’d thrown Tonio Trussardi’s business card.

 

 -----------------------------------------

(Because images and chapter notes don't like to play nice)

Reader: ohai friend! Buddy boiiiiii

Rohan: Poor Rohan

THIS CHAPTER IN A NUTSHELL

Chapter Text

For once, everything was going perfect.

Even as the sun began to sink below the horizon, the air still felt fresh and inviting and the sky was a breathtaking canvas of mauve, pink, and mandarin tones melting together. Josuke waited for you near the train station and felt his pulse quicken when he saw you approaching. You waved to him with excitement from afar as soon as your eyes met and began jogging toward him.

You couldn't have known that you sincerely took his breath away, approaching him while silhouetted in the glowing hues of sunset like that. He was all bashful smiles and awkward chuckles, not to mention more attentive than he’d ever been as he offered you his arm to guide you toward the restaurant. He still hadn’t revealed where you’d be going, but he hoped to keep that a surprise as he was fairly certain you’d never been there before.

You’d even dressed up for the occasion, which served to bolster Josuke’s hope that maybe he was finally getting through to you. Only for it to be deflated a moment later when you innocently piped up with a question that he would have thought was obvious.

“Wait, Okuyasu isn’t coming with us?” Yeeeep, there it was. Dammit.

There was even actual concern reflected in your eyes. Josuke exhaled while shaking his head ruefully. Of course you didn’t want anyone to feel left out…you were compassionate to a fault, one of the things that endeared you to him the most, but hadn’t he made it clear that this wasn’t the sort of occasion to involve a third wheel? Apparently not. It was bordering on excruciating by this point.

“Don’t worry, he already has other plans tonight.” Actually, Okuyasu had spent the day bombarding him with dumb memes and encouraging texts wishing him good luck, but he wasn’t about to tell you that. “I…was hoping it would just be you and me, anyway.”

Josuke stole a peek at you out of the corner of his eye. An uneasy grin tugged at the corner of his mouth, wondering how you would take it. By some miracle your face turned a light shade of pink at the insinuation, much to his joy. Your grip around his arm tightened and you opened your mouth to respond, only to be met with an unexpected interruption.

“Why hello there, (Name). Josuke.”

Oh, hell no. He knew that voice, especially from the condescending way they spat out his name. This couldn’t be happening. Maybe he could feign temporary deafness and usher you along, pretending he hadn’t heard anything? That would be for the best, really. But your cheerful response forced him to stop dead in his tracks, much to his sinking dismay.

“Hi Rohan! It’s so nice to see you!”

“And just where might you two be headed on a fine evening such as this?” The artist’s voice was dripping with false pleasantries. Josuke saw right through it immediately and resisted the urge to drop his head into his hands. He could already sense what was coming.

“Josuke invited me out to dinner tonight!” You beamed. Rohan’s eyes narrowed and he folded his arms across his chest.

“Did he, now?” His voice was practically a purr as he addressed you. “What’s the occasion?”

Oh, that asshole knew exactly what he was playing at. He pointedly ignored Josuke’s glower and instead kept his gaze trained upon you, his sharp jade eyes as calculating as ever as he waited.

“Nothing special!” Ouch. Josuke winced beside you, although you didn’t notice. Rohan smirked broadly. “It’s getting late, now that I think about it. Are you hungry? Would you like to join us? Oh, but only if that’s okay with you, Josuke!”

You turned to look up at him imploringly.

……

………

Shit

He couldn’t say no to you. He just couldn’t. Not even if it meant dragging along the very last person on this planet he wanted sabotaging this romantic dinner for two.

Fuck his life.

“Uh…sure,” he heard himself saying, lying through his teeth even as he died a little more on the inside.

‘ARE YOU KIDDING ME?’ Meanwhile the internal screaming was back, and now Rohan’s smirk was so smug that Josuke felt a little sick. Great. This was exactly how he’d envisioned this evening going.

The remainder of the walk to Trussardi’s was about as uncomfortable as he expected. Josuke scarcely said a word, his movements stiff and robotic, and he had to repeatedly remind himself not to plow his fist into Rohan’s obnoxious mug the whole time. What a conceited bastard! All the while the green-haired man was strutting along beside you with his hands tucked into his pockets, calmly answering your questions and dominating most of your attention to the point of making it look effortless.

How was it possible that while Josuke was actively trying to win you over, he somehow ended up managing to botch it spectularly with terrible timing or god-awful luck, every time? Was he cursed or something? Because he was starting to believe it, given how awry all of his interactions with you had gone ever since he decided to officially pursue you.

But he wasn’t going to give up. Damn it, he couldn’t give up. Not when just one smile from you was capable of making his heart flop pathetically behind his ribs. He was even willing to tolerate Rohan’s insufferable presence if it meant being by your side, though if nothing else he was determined to show you how a true gentleman treated a woman.

That would be easy with a socially-inept jerk like Rohan around, right?

Tonio Trussardi himself was waiting for the three of you outside of his restaurant, Trattoria Trussardi, wearing his perfectly-starched white chef’s uniform accompanied by a professional smile.

“Benvenuto! I see that you have brought an additional friend along for your dining experience tonight.” The statement bore the slightest rising intonation at the end, as if Trussardi was questioning whether Josuke really wanted a third wheel tagging along on what he’d requested to be the most romantic Italian dinner known to man.

But Josuke suddenly perked up at the implication. Perhaps this was the exact excuse he needed!

“Sorry about that. I know that our reservations were only meant for two.” Josuke placed particular emphasis on the last word for Rohan’s benefit. “But we can always send him on his way since you have limited space available...?” He didn’t bother to conceal the hopeful tone in his voice.

“Please do not trouble yourselves.” The corners of Trussardi’s eyes crinkled upward with a smile. “I assure you my ristorante has room enough for the three of you, should your friend choose to join us. However, if you would prefer otherwise…”

“No, I would very much like to sample the cuisine your restaurant has to offer,” Rohan interjected. That triumphant leer of his was infuriating, but Josuke couldn’t bear to see you grow upset if he forcefully turned Rohan away, so it looked like he was stuck. This just kept getting better and better, didn't it?

“Very well, then please follow me.” Trussardi led the way and your eyes sparkled when you stepped inside. It was a charming establishment, clean with well-swept floors and scarlet tablecloths. The air carried the distinct fragrance of basil and each table was handsomely set, though no one else had arrived yet for dinner. A single candle rested in the center of each table and their gentle flames cast a mellow glow throughout the room. The intensity of the chandelier overhead had even been dialed down just so, setting what Trussardi hoped would be the ideal mood for tonight.

“Wow!” You clapped your hands together in admiration. “It’s so beautiful! Can we sit anywhere we’d like?”

“Of course, Signorina.” Trussardi bowed to you before sweeping his arm out, gesturing to the entirety of the restaurant. You tapped your chin before deciding upon a table with a gorgeous view outside the window, leaving your two companions to follow suit.

“So, ‘limited space available’, huh?” Rohan shot Josuke a knowing smirk once your back was turned, and the cop had to fight down the sudden urge to clout him.

Little did you know, Josuke had gone above and beyond the night before by begging the chef to keep the restaurant exclusive for the two of you, even just for an hour or two. With the offer of a little extra cash to grease his palms and a dash of pity from the Italian man who sensed Josuke’s desperation, Trussardi had readily agreed.

But apparently Rohan was determined to throw yet another wrench into Josuke’s plans. Of all the other people who could have fallen for you, why did you have to catch the eye of such an eccentric, egotistical jerk?

“I should arrest your ass just for being a prick,” Josuke grumbled under his breath. “You know damn well what tonight meant to me.” If anything, however, this only served to amuse Rohan further.

“Come now. Can’t we all just get along?” With one last infuriating grin, Rohan began striding toward the table. Seeing that you still hadn’t settled in yet, Josuke hurried forward in an attempt to at least not let tonight be a complete disaster.

He reached for the back of your chair at the same exact time as Rohan. Their eyes locked and invisible sparks seemed to crackle in the air. Both men were fighting off a grimace as they simultaneously yanked back your seat before motioning for you to sit in it.

“Here you go, (Name)!”

“Don’t rush her, Josuke. Take your time sitting down, my dear.”

“Don’t call her that.”

“Why not? You don’t have any claim on her.”

“Neither do you!”

You slowly lowered yourself into your chair, glancing back and forth between the two bickering men with growing exasperation. Maybe this hadn’t been such a good idea after all. You might be friends with both Josuke and Rohan, but it looked like the competitiveness between them was worse than you imagined. For some reason it seemed even more intense than usual tonight, even though you’d hoped that they could set some of it aside to enjoy a pleasant dinner.

“Guys, c’mon. Sit down already. Let’s not ruin the evening by fighting the whole time, okay? Please?”

“Of course,” Josuke mumbled, taking the seat to your right. Rohan made himself comfortable on your left, and the ever-patient Trussardi took this as an invitation to approach the table.

“As at least one of you is already aware, I don’t have a menu here. I serve meals catered to the specific needs of my patrons. If you don’t mind, Signorina?” He examined the palm of your hand before doing the same for Josuke. When he went to take Rohan’s hand, the jade-eyed man shook his head.

“I’m not actually too hungry. A water’s fine for me.”

“Understood. I’ll be back with drinks and appetizers accordingly for the three of you.” Trussardi swept into another bow before disappearing into the kitchen, and Josuke took advantage of the moment to glower at Rohan in disbelief.

“You’re not even hungry?” he demanded, “Whatever happened to wanting to ‘sample his cuisine’?”

“I just wanted to spend some time with my friends. Is that so wrong?” Rohan gave a nonchalant shrug, though the gleam in his eyes said otherwise. He placed his arms upon the table and steepled his fingers together, seemingly deriving great enjoyment from the situation at hand.

Maybe the best approach was to simply ignore him. Josuke could work with that. He rested his chin upon the palm of his hand while balancing his elbow on the edge of the table, angling himself so that he was only looking at you and Rohan’s irritating face vanished somewhere in his peripherals. He refused to let tonight be a complete waste of time.

“Wait until you try the dishes here. I know it doesn’t sound impressive, but even just the water Trussardi serves will blow your mind!” He proceeded to regale you with the highly-entertaining story of his first visit here with Okuyasu, which both fascinated you and nearly brought you to tears with laughter. You hadn’t known the chef was a Stand user, but that only made the impending meal all the more exciting. Leave it to Josuke to take you somewhere so fun!

“Wow, I wonder if I’ll cry a literal river and end up feeling as refreshed as if I’d slept for an entire week!” Your eyes shone, not at all put off by the notion that Trussardi’s cooking could actually impact your health in the most unconventional way possible. You completely trusted Josuke not to take you somewhere dangerous, after all, and you’d be hard-pressed to deny how much more interesting your life had become since meeting him and the others.

Rohan on the other hand, who was notorious for not getting enough sleep every night, eyed his glass of water suspiciously when Trussardi returned a few minutes later. You and Josuke were each served spinach and parmesan crostinis, which were absolutely delicious, although for some reason you failed to notice any physical changes taking place. That being said, it wasn’t too long before your mood began to soar.

The rest of dinner passed in a similar blur, to include Josuke talking to you animatedly and pretending that Rohan didn’t exist, Rohan interjecting with snarky commentary every so often that earned him a giggle from you and an eye roll from Josuke, and Trussardi delivering plate after plate of scrumptious Italian dishes that tickled your palate yet still didn’t seem to have any effect on you health-wise.

Despite it, you felt more over-the-moon than you had in ages, and you took special pleasure in every smile or peal of laughter from Josuke (Rohan’s own mood oddly seemed to sour the more you openly enjoyed yourself with the other man).

By the time you reached dessert, homemade sfogliatella dusted with powdered sugar, your belly was full to bursting and you were practically glowing with happiness. Josuke was no better off, seeing as his face was illumined with a bright, cheery flush. No one had had any wine with dinner, which was probably for the best considering how enthralled you already felt. You were floating on cloud nine when Trussardi finally agreed to bring the bill, praising him for his mouthwatering handiwork and gushing about what a wonderful time you’d had.

Josuke handed the Italian chef his card before you could even offer to pay half, and waved off all of your feeble protests to the contrary while smiling at you with open adoration. Rohan actually looked a little disgusted by it all, his scowling face quite the contrast to your buoyant moods. But it wasn’t until Trussardi returned with the receipt that Rohan abruptly rose to his feet.

“What did you do?” he challenged, thrusting his finger toward the empty dessert plates in front of you and Josuke, “All evening long, I’ve watched these two transform into an increasingly incomprehensible pair of buffoons, practically swooning at each other with every other word they say! Have you drugged them?!”

“Oh, c’mon, Rohan! We’re perfectly lucid,” you protested, “This is probably the nicest dinner I’ve ever had! I can’t remember the last time I felt so happy.”

“That makes two of us.” Under any other circumstances, the profound look Josuke gave you in that moment would have made it overwhelmingly obvious that he was in love with you. Being in the state that you were, however, you merely interpreted it as him sharing in your euphoria.

“Of course I haven’t drugged them.” Trussardi’s smile was a titch more mysterious than usual. “You might say that in addition to its healing properties, my cooking is capable of removing inhibitions and melting away stress. As requested, tonight’s was a meal intended to provide an exhilarating experience unlike any other. No intoxicants were necessary.”

“I’m not buying that! You’ve certainly drugged them!” Rohan repeated harshly, but Trussardi’s smile remained in place and he calmly shook his head.

“No, Signore. As I know you and your friends are well-aware, I use my Stand’s abilities to enhance my cooking. Mr. Higashikata in particular was experiencing high levels of stress upon entering my ristorante tonight. I simply facilitated the enjoyable experience he asked for.”

Rohan was not even remotely convinced, but you and Josuke were all smiles as you helped him from his seat, urging him to cheer up for once. Trussardi bowed after the three of you as you exited the premises, and for a moment Rohan wondered if it would be irresponsible to leave the two of you alone in such a state. No, you weren’t drunk, and supposedly “not” drugged, but he had no doubt that you’d welcome a mugging with open arms in your current condition if it meant befriending your attacker. He couldn’t care less what happened to Josuke, obviously, but with you? He wasn’t going to take any chances.

“Let’s get going. I’ll walk you back to your place,” Rohan told you.

“Don’t worry about it, I’ll take her home!” Josuke was walking on air beside you, wrapping a cozy arm around your shoulders in a way he’d never have dared to normally. You even snuggled your face into his tricep, something that Rohan felt highly confident you never would have ventured under ordinary circumstances, either. Weren’t either of your faces starting to hurt from the constant smiles and laughter? Rohan’s scowl returned full-force.

“That’s it. I don’t trust either of you,” he groused, “Let’s go. (Name), you first because I don’t think we’ll be able to pry Higashikata away from you otherwise.”

You merely giggled in response, and the next twenty minutes were torture for Rohan as he endured the jovial conversation behind him. More and more good-natured quips were aimed at Rohan himself, imploring him to lighten up (though most of those came from Josuke). Finally the three of you arrived, and you threw your arms around both of your friends while beaming.

“Thanks for taking me out tonight, guys! I had such a lovely time! I’ll see you again soon, okay?” You placed your lips upon each of their cheeks in succession before turning into your apartment and shutting the door, humming breezily all the while.

Both men froze to the spot. A dreamy, dazed expression spread across Josuke’s face, whereas Rohan’s brain seemed to have ceased working entirely. The dark-haired man turned to the mangaka with a crooked grin.

“…She's definitely going to choose me.”

“That’s it,” Rohan scoffed, shoving him away, “You’re on your own!”

He stormed off, wondering how his plans to disrupt the date had gone so awry. He hadn’t known in advance that he’d be dealing with a Stand user, though somehow he highly doubted that Josuke had had “spike our meals and make it seem like we’re high” in mind when he requested an enjoyable evening from Trussardi, either.

Rohan would just have to check in on you tomorrow and pray that the effects had faded away.

~*~

When you awoke the next day, your phone was loaded with an impressive number of texts, many of which were your friends checking in to see how the evening had gone. Rohan had sent you a short message requesting that you contact him immediately once you were feeling normal again. But Josuke in particular had sent you some especially flowery texts last night bordering on flirtatious that made your face feel hot as you read and re-read them, suddenly wondering if there could be more to his words than you previously thought.

Then, the newest barrage of messages followed this morning.

Josuke: Oh my god

Josuke: I can’t believe I sent you all of that crap last night.

Josuke: (Name) I’m SO sorry

Josuke: Can you please just delete them? All of them?

Josuke: This would be a great time for me to literally die from embarrassment

Josuke: I swear that I had no idea his cooking was going to affect us like that

Josuke: All I ever wanted was to take you out for a nice dinner! I’m mortified.

Wow, he was straight-up panicking. It sounded like he was back to normal, too. You softened and typed out a quick response to pacify him.

(Name): Josuke, it’s okay! Calm down. Relax. I had a great time yesterday. :) Dinner was delicious and I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun! It was great hearing all those stories about your family and high school blunders, too.

His reply came within less than a minute.

Josuke: I still can’t believe I told you about some of those…

Josuke: Thanks (Name). I had a really good time with you too. :)

Josuke: Could’ve done without Rohan inviting himself along, but we can’t have everything

You laughed. Some things would never change, especially not when it came to the two of them. You decided not to press the issue and proceeded to let Rohan know that you were okay, and confirmed that yes everything was back to normal today. Whatever Tonio Trussardi’s Stand ability was, it seemed to only affect you for a set amount of time.

The results had been a blast, although now that you thought about it, you had a distant recollection of clinging to Josuke’s arm and burrowing your face into his shoulder. He hadn’t seemed to mind in the slightest. The whole walk home, in fact, the two of you had been rather touchy-feely compared to normal. Both of you.

Oh. Your face instantly flared a deep shade of scarlet. You…hadn’t meant to do that. Did he remember? You certainly weren’t about to remind him, on the off-chance that maybe he forgot, but it sounded like he was just as mortified as you were. He probably did remember, on top of all the embellished messages he sent you the night before, hence his flustered apologies. Talk about awkward for you both.

The strangest thing was though, while you didn’t know if it was just a lingering side effect of Trussardi’s cooking, the memory of Josuke holding you close still filled you with a strange, giddy sensation that spread from your scalp to the tips of your toes. The kind that you wouldn’t at all mind experiencing again, even without the influence of some Stand to help things along.

Oh.

Chapter Text

The first time Yukako Yamagishi met you, she tried to kill you.

Well, strangle you, to be more precise. With her hair. Yeah, it was pretty disturbing. She happened to witness you waving goodbye to Koichi with a bright smile on your face after he visited your bakery one afternoon. Big mistake. She waited nearby until you closed up shop with a vindictive wrath smoldering in her gut. You only made it as far as the alleyway three stores down.

Then something slithered around your neck out of the shadows and began to choke you.

Your scream of fright was immediately garbled. You clawed uselessly at your throat, feeling something soft clamping around the delicate skin with immense strength. There was no time to summon Avantasia to defend yourself.

A mysterious woman stepped into view, her long, dark tresses shifting and snaking around of their own accord in the air as if she were some modern-day Medusa. The tendrils of hair slowly hefted you up, increasing the pressure around your throat in the process, and you gasped for air while staring at your assailant with your eyes bugging out.

That was when Koichi (who still happened to be close by, bless his soul) intervened with a panicked shout and leapt into the fray to rescue you from an untimely death by curls. After a petrifying minute that involved you teetering upon the brink of unconsciousness, he was somehow able to convince her to release you. He even managed to calm her down, a miraculous feat that increased your respect for the diminutive blond.

Much to your astonishment, it turned out that Yukako was Koichi’s girlfriend…Koichi’s extremely possessive, dangerous, and possibly unhinged girlfriend, that is. Yes, seriously.

She didn’t trust you a whit, at least not at first. You soon came to learn that Yukako deemed every other woman who dared to befriend Koichi a threat to their relationship and reacted accordingly. But as time passed and nothing happened between the two of you, she eventually seemed to accept that you would never betray her trust and you harbored no such feelings toward her boyfriend whatsoever. That was a considerable relief to all parties involved, needless to say.

Then, being the jealous and domineering person she was, Yukako ultimately decided that she was fond of you after all. Well, perhaps “attached” was a better word for it. You were her friend, perhaps one of her only friends, and a fellow Stand user to boot. That meant that she had no problem whatsoever with threatening anyone who dared even look at you funny, a behavior that could only be tempered by Koichi softening her mood or you gently talking her down. That monumental task often required Avantasia’s assistance, as she could reduce Yukako’s blazing rage to nothing more than mere embers of irritation.

Otherwise, the woman was more than capable of making a fully-grown man piss himself.

To be quite honest, you were still a little terrified of her. Who could blame you? But you’d much rather have her on your side than not, any day of the week. That was what led to her accompanying you on a group outing one pleasant Saturday afternoon, several months after the two of you had first met.

“(Name), darling. Your hair’s becoming unruly in all this wind.” Without releasing her boyfriend’s hand, Yukako reached over with her free arm to smooth a few wayward strands atop your head. The action was affectionate in a way that she exclusively demonstrated to you and Koichi. Okuyasu still kept his wary distance from her even after all this time, a stark reminder of her past behavior. You were privately amazed that Koichi was dating her of his own free will after everything she did to him, but to each their own, right?

“Thanks, Yukako.” Your group was currently comprised of you, Josuke, Okuyasu, and the happy couple, and moods were running high considering that it was a beautiful day and everyone had just finished a satisfying meal together. Together you ambled along the streets of Morioh with plans to see a new film that had just come out.

You were overjoyed that Josuke had asked you to come along. Honestly, he was always inviting you to something or another, which you couldn’t be more grateful for. Ever since meeting him and his friends you’d experienced so much more of Morioh and expanded your horizons. It was far too easy to lose yourself in the day-to-day bustle of running the bakery, and as much as you loved it, Josuke and the others were there to remind you that there was more to life than the mundane routine of simply going to work and heading back home every day.  There was a lot to be said for that.

You smiled up at him—you were always smiling when he was around, you were starting to recognize more and more—and his face grew a little pink. But the warmth of his own grin rivaled yours, and you read the silent question in his eyes.

“It’s nothing. I’m just really glad that I met you, that’s all.” Unless you were imagining it, his flush had now deepened in surprise as a result of your honesty. Josuke was easily flustered, which was one of your favorite things about him. It was altogether too easy to be yourself with him, which made you like him all the more.

You told him so, and by now his complexion was reaching a saturation point. Josuke had to wonder how innocent you really were. There was no way that you were that oblivious to what you did to him, right? The longer time went on, the more his self-control began to unravel when you were near.

He was still determined to go about things the right way with you, of course. But sometimes you made it nearly impossible for him to keep holding back whenever you looked at him like this, or brushed your hand against his, or shyly embraced him in such a way that you tested every limit of his restraint.

Still, he held on. But only just barely.

By now he was convinced that the only person in all of Morioh who didn’t know that he was crazy about you was, well, you. You were impossibly dense, which was usually one of your charms, but at this point it was going to be the undoing of him if something didn’t give soon. Even if you ended up rejecting him, he needed some sort of closure on this before he lost his mind. “Hints” clearly weren’t enough anymore. He needed to drop the pretense and just flat-out come clean with you, or else you’d never understand how he really felt.

“Oof!” Josuke was jerked out of his thoughts when you suddenly stumbled forward. The man who had bumped into you caught your shoulders with apologies written all over his face. His shock of red hair was styled in an undercut beneath a baseball cap and he wore a dingy pair of jeans that had seen better days. His wife beater looked to be splattered with grease, perhaps that of a mechanic.

Something was vaguely familiar about him. Josuke couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was, but he felt certain that he’d met this guy somewhere before. But where?

“Sorry ‘bout that,” the man offered, although after a moment his eyes began to sweep up and down your form with budding interest. His gaze swiveled over to Josuke for a moment, then back to you, as if some form of realization was now dawning upon him.

“Oh, that’s all right! Happens to the best of us.” You weren’t about to let your spirits be dampened by something so inconsequential, and you merely waved it off with a magnanimous smile.

“Thanks, doll. You’re a real peach,” he drawled. You were taken aback, not sure whether you felt more disconcerted or repulsed by this complete stranger’s sudden unctuous behavior. He didn’t seem to notice the frosty reception he was receiving, however. With one last pointed glance toward Josuke, his face broke out into a crafty smirk.

Then, without giving you any chance to react, he cupped either side of your face and drew you into a deep kiss.

Well, that went from zero to one hundred real quick. You were too dumbfounded to react. Koichi audibly gasped, flushing a vibrant shade of pink on your behalf. Conversely, Yukako looked outraged and as though she’d like nothing more than to rip this prick a new one. Okuyasu’s eyes grew comically large, and he pressed his fist to his mouth with the panicked air of someone wondering if he ought to do something, stat.

Meanwhile, Josuke had turned to stone beside you. You hadn’t the slightest inkling what expression he wore, however, because you were still rooted to the spot yourself. You remained immobilized by pure shock even as the man pulled away with a very distinct hint of satisfaction a few seconds later.

“Sorry,” he apologized again, although this time with considerably less sincerity, “I just couldn’t help myself, beautiful.”

And with that he proceeded to stroll away with his hands stowed in his pockets, as casually as though there was nothing aberrant about what he’d just done. Honestly, you half-expected Yukako to stalk after him and strangle that smug smirk off his face. She probably would have, too, if Koichi hadn’t hurriedly persuaded her to let him go so that Josuke wouldn’t be forced to arrest her for inciting a public disturbance (or potential murder).

You stared after the man with your hand pressed firmly over your mouth. What the hell had just happened? Your face burned with mortification, but somehow it was more than that, and embarrassment was about to be the least of your worries. Something was wrong.

Within less than a minute, a strange adrenaline had begun pumping through your body and ripples of heat coursed through you, overtaking you in such a way that it almost felt as though several nerve endings had snapped. A trail of fire carved a path through your veins and the sudden sensation nearly brought you to your knees.

You felt dizzy.

The first rush of vertigo was overwhelming, carrying you to the brink of nausea. You blindly reached for Josuke while squeezing your eyes shut. It was a struggle not to keel over.

“(Name)! Are you all right?”

 “Shit, she’s not looking so good…”

Your friends’ anxious clamoring grated on your ears, even as you felt Josuke’s strong arms steadying you almost immediately when he snapped out of his daze.

“N-no…” you managed to choke out, “Something doesn’t feel right.”

“Did he do something to you?” Koichi’s eyes narrowed at the retreating man’s form in the distance before awkwardly adding, “B-besides the obvious, of course.”

“I don’t know,” you gasped, “I mean, I didn’t notice anything at the time.” Although to be fair, it wasn’t like you’d been paying attention to minute details when that creep decided to canoodle you out of nowhere.

“Maybe, uh, y’should go see a doctor?” Okuyasu suggested, despite sounding dubious. You shook your head.

“I…think I need to sit down. It feels like I’m overheating and it’s kind of difficult to breathe.” You sucked in a ragged gulp of air. “I’m so sorry, everyone. I’m ruining our plans.”

“Stop,” Josuke admonished, helping you over to a nearby bench and gently easing you down. His expression was tight. “No one cares about that! You think any of us can enjoy ourselves anyway while we’re worried about you?”

“That’s right. We’re not going anywhere until you start to feel better, darling.” You caught a whiff of Yukako’s honeyed perfume as she leaned forward to press the back of her hand to your forehead.

“Thank you, everyone,” you answered weakly, leaning back against the bench and trying to focus upon taking deep breaths.

“Yo, Josuke, think Crazy Diamond can help?” However, this time Okuyasu’s idea was shot down even faster.

“He can only heal physical injuries by rebuilding matter.” Josuke’s voice was heavily strained as he spoke. “So, no. I don’t think so.”

“Aw, c’mon! It can’t hurt to try, right?”

As Josuke consented and summoned his Stand, a peculiar new feeling washed over you. Against everyone’s protests, you staggered back to your feet and took several steps forward.

“Wait a sec, where are you going?” Okuyasu objected.

“Hey, you need to sit down!” Koichi was fretting with his arm outstretched after you.

Crazy Diamond’s hand gripped your shoulder as if to stop you, but your reaction was instinctive. Avantasia manifested in the blink of an eye and seized his wrist. Despite her lack of physical power and your pacifist nature, your Stand had the ability to make virtually anyone back down. As a result, Crazy Diamond’s arm fell away and surprise registered on Josuke’s face.

You didn’t recognize your own voice when you spoke next.

“If you’re going to try to stop me, don’t follow me.”

You had never addressed any of them in such a frigid tone before, much less Josuke, and for a moment none of them seemed to know what to make of it. You took advantage of their bewilderment to spin on your heel and walk away.

With each step you took, your strength seemed to return and the lightheadedness ebbed away. It was as if you no longer had full control over your own body, yet the more you surrendered to it, the better you felt. The euphoric smile that crossed your face was not your own.

You knew exactly where you had to go.

~*~

“…What the hell just happened?”

Okuyasu’s jaw dropped as he gaped after your retreating form. This didn’t make any sense. What was going on?

“I don’t like this. At all.” A dark shadow cast over Yukako’s face, one that the others recognized as a sign of imminent fury. “He’s done something to her.”

“Um, I’m sure we can figure all this out—” Koichi rushed to console her.

Who does he think he is?!” Her loud snarl drew the attention of several bystanders, not that she cared in the slightest. Her fists clenched by her sides and her hair began to twist and snake about her head. Red alert. “I’ll kill him. I’ll kill him! I’ll rip off his filthy dick with my bare hands and force-feed it to him until he chokes on his own flesh!”

She actually spat on the sidewalk following this rather violent declaration, and Okuyasu cringed before scooting away several feet to put a safer distance between them. Koichi face-palmed, knowing that even he was going to have severe difficulty pacifying her once she was like this. Yukako’s overprotective side was a force to be contended with, to say the least.

“Yukako, c’mon,” he soothed, “Let’s calm down and take a deep breath, okay?”

“She’s right.” Josuke’s voice was dangerous when he interrupted. Not a trace of his usual warmth or good humor remained, and instead he sank his fist into a nearby tree with enough force to tear the skin. He slowly pulled back his hand as blood seeped through his knuckles, though he didn’t appear to notice or care. “I know I’ve seen that bastard somewhere before. He definitely recognized me, too. I don’t know why, but I think he’s done something to (Name) in order to get to me.”

A private part of him was still blazing with jealousy over the awful image that he couldn’t scrub from his head. The moment kept replaying over and over as if to taunt him. Even now it made his heart seize in his chest, more painful than he would have imagined possible.

“You mean…like a Stand user?” Koichi’s nerves were admittedly on edge now that two of his best friends were seething with rage. “If that’s true, don’t you think we should go after her? I get the feeling we probably don’t want to leave her alone right now.”

This suggestion was met with unanimous agreement from the others. But if they really were dealing with another Stand user here, it was one they’d never encountered even years after Kira’s defeat, which was unusual considering that they were always drawn to each other without fail. Had this man always been in Morioh? Or was he not actually a Stand user at all?

Whoever he was, he had just messed with the wrong girl.

~*~

Futoshi Iwamoto was feeling quite good about the whole thing. Really, it had all gone much more smoothly than he’d anticipated. He stretched his arms out in front of him and cracked his knuckles with a grunt of contentment.

The very last person he’d expected to run into only a week out of the slammer was Josuke Higashikata. Talk about lucky! To make matters even better, it didn’t take a genius to piece together that the cute chick walking beside him was someone special to him. It was as if Futoshi’s ability had been devised for this very moment. Even better, the others would be none the wiser, since only a select few individuals possessed the ability to even glimpse his power.

Of course, it was somewhat risky. He could only make use of it on the opposite gender and he was limited to one victim at a time, so if he wanted to change targets he’d have to give up on re-wiring you and kiss someone else. But he was determined that no one could force him to withdraw, especially not after that glorious display that had sapped away all of your self-will.

He knew that you couldn’t be far off. His Stand’s range was impressive, but even Evocativ could only travel so far from its user, and he knew from extensive experience that you would seek him out no matter where he went. Perhaps that was the most gratifying perk that his Stand offered. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had to actively pursue a woman, nor dress up like some chad or go through the irritating process of courting someone. Why bother when you can just as easily make them flock to you whenever you’re in the mood for a quick bone? Exactly.

Not that he would mind that with you, but most importantly he wanted to see the look on Josuke’s face the next time he laid hands on you. Futoshi’s smirk was broad to the point of threatening to overtake his entire face. Oh, this was too good. Already the cop’s reaction had been priceless, but it still wasn’t good enough. Josuke had yet to see the full extent of Evocativ’s influence, and Futoshi was determined to see his retribution through.

The man made himself comfortable against a brick wall, leaning back with his cap tipped forward and his arms folded across his chest. Now it was merely a waiting game.

It didn’t take long. He heard your footsteps within a matter of minutes, and tilted his head up to greet you with a smug grin.

“Hey. Was wondering when you’d finally get here.”

You couldn’t respond. The mere sight of him had you stricken on the spot. You nearly swayed where you stood, but Futoshi had expected as much. With a casual stroll forward, he caught you before you could fall and pulled you into his chest.

You couldn’t help but swoon.

“Atta girl,” he purred, patting the back of your head as he held you close, “Let’s wait here and give them a few minutes, shall we?”

If you had any idea what he was talking about, you gave no indication. Instead you plied your fingers in the grimy fabric of his shirt and nuzzled your head into his chest, every inch in your body electric with unfathomable joy and devotion greater than your wildest dreams. You didn’t even know his name, yet you knew without a doubt that you were wildly in love with him and wouldn’t hesitate to do anything he asked.

That concept might have seemed significantly more outlandish to you just fifteen minutes ago, but hey. A lot had changed since then.

When Josuke and the others found you pressed up against the same immoral sleazebag, they were understandably confused. Okuyasu looked as though his mind had been blown. Futoshi made it a point to lower his hands so that they were now dancing perilously upon your lower back, fingertips grazing the swell of your rear just enough to incite what he hoped would be a righteous fury.

Oh, it worked, all right. Yukako let out an actual screech of rage and her hair transformed into a veritable maelstrom while she began threatening to remove his lecherous hands from his body, and none too gently either. But it was Josuke’s face of unbridled outrage that Futoshi had hoped for the most, and the officer didn’t disappoint.

The only problem was, a split second later a muscular, intimidating figure materialized directly behind him, a vision so surreal that there could be only one possible explanation.

“Wait,” Futoshi gasped, “You have a Stand, too?”

He hadn’t counted on this. How could that be? For the first time he felt an actual tremor of fear, especially considering that the livid look in Josuke’s eyes suddenly seemed to present a very real danger. But wait, all he had to do was use you to his advantage! He still had the ultimate trick up his sleeve, and he felt confident that Josuke would never do anything to harm you.

“I know they’re your friends, sugar,” he whispered to you, “But you’d never let them hurt me, right?”

You shook your head vehemently.

“Never! Of course not, you know I’d never allow anything to happen to you!” Desperation clung to your voice with the same force you used to grip his shirt. Futoshi chuckled.

“Well, then. Don’t let me down.”

What he wasn’t expecting was another staggering surprise in the form of your own Stand, a dazzling masterpiece channeling the night sky that rose into the air above him with her arms extended in a protective gesture. Futoshi’s disbelief quickly morphed to glee, however, when he realized that the tide had turned in his favor yet again. He’d never before managed to charm another Stand user, yet now that the countless possibilities all lay before him, he realized the notion held serious potential. Perhaps once this was all over, he’d consider making this a more permanent arrangement.

But for now, he had other business to attend to.

“(Name), what are you doing?” Koichi had summoned Echoes but seemed deeply reluctant to make any moves. “You’re not…you’re not seriously trying to fight us, are you?”

“I’d prefer not to,” you answered with a tinge of regret, “Please don’t force my hand, you guys. You know what Avantasia is capable of. Anything you try will be completely futile.”

Meanwhile, Futoshi nearly pissed himself with excitement behind you. A Stand that could nullify enemy attacks? He’d be invincible! He could do anything he wanted, go anywhere, and you’d be able to bail him out of it! This was even more than he’d bargained for. He’d hit the actual jackpot, so long as you remained under Evocativ’s sway.

“But…why?” For just a moment all of Josuke’s anger had dropped away, only to be replaced with a helpless look. He sounded so lost that you glanced over at him. “Why are you defending him?”

“Because, Josuke!” Futoshi strutted forward, stopping beside you so that he could sneak his arm around your waist, explicitly just to rub more salt in the wound, “You of all people should know! It’s long past time for you to suffer, for you to feel some of the same humiliation and despair that I did! Don’t tell me that you still don’t remember who I am?”

“You…” The recollection was gradual, but it was all finally starting to come together. “I know you! You’re that criminal I arrested last year.” Realization crossed Josuke's face, mingled with shock that he hadn’t remembered sooner. But now his voice sounded hard and accusatory. “Iwamoto, apprehended for aggravated assault and resisting a police officer, disorderly conduct, public intoxication, and sexual assault. All in one nasty package. What the hell are you already doing out of prison?”

“Aw, didn’t you hear?” Futoshi simpered mockingly, “I was released early for good behavior, Officer! Can’t a man just enjoy the finer things in life, like the company of a beautiful woman and getting revenge on the asshole who cramped his style a year ago?”

“Crazy Diamond, I don’t care what it takes! Sidestep Avantasia and take him down.” Josuke was fuming. Clearly Futoshi’s Stand had some sort of hold over you, and Josuke was determined to help you break free. Plus, he certainly wouldn’t mind giving this guy a pavement facial as a reminder that his life choices would only lead down one inevitable, ugly path.

(It was okay. Even though he was a cop now, he could just heal the injuries afterward, right?)

But he hadn’t taken into account just how fast Avantasia really was. Your Stand was breathtaking as she activated her ability within the blink of an eye and each constellation glowed with a protective light. As a result, Crazy Diamond’s momentum dwindled to nothing in less than an instant. It was as though he’d never moved at all, and Futoshi stood beside you with a shit-eating, taunting grin. This wasn’t right. Seeing you manipulated into using your powers this way, forced to turn against your own friends in defense of a slimy convict, was almost too much.

“Let me give this a try. There’s no way we can be stopped if we all attack at once. Act Three!” Koichi’s Stand moved to exert as much gravity upon you as he could muster to keep Avantasia still, while the others seized the opportunity to leap at Futoshi at the same exact time. Your knees buckled and your Stand was forced to crumple to the ground, much to your alarm.

“No!” you screamed as they charged at your 'beau.' Futoshi clearly hadn’t expected this sudden turn of events, and he began to scramble backward with panic alighting in his face.

“Why won’t you summon back your Stand?” Josuke challenged as Crazy Diamond loomed over him.

“Because he’s a coward, Josuke!” Okuyasu jeered. “He’s gotta hide behind someone else and use ‘em as a human shield! Bet he’s just a weakling!” The Hand looked like it was prepared to scoop out Futoshi’s spleen, if need be.

“I will choke you out if you don’t release her this instant!” Yukako sounded every bit like she meant it, too, with rage biting at every word.

Futoshi didn’t seem to know what to do with the sudden onslaught. He cast you a desperate glance as if begging you to defend him, but you were still struggling to overcome Koichi’s insurmountable gravity seeing as how you hadn’t activated Avantasia’s ability in time. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, though. Tears streamed down your face as you struggled to free yourself with all of the ferocity of a wild animal.

Dammit, it looked like he didn’t have a choice. Not that Evocativ offered much in terms of power, but even Futoshi was starting to feel the effects of the heavy pressure as his Stand was trapped inside of you and the effect was spreading fast. He screwed his eyes up in his head, severely dreading what he was about to do, and recalled his Stand.

At once you began to cough, lurching forward and clutching at your throat. Koichi released you more out of alarm than anything else, seeing as how you were in distress, and a few seconds later you felt something small tumble past your lips.

At once it was as though a cloudy, impenetrable fog had been lifted. The fire in your veins shrank to mere embers before being extinguished completely, and it felt much easier to breathe compared to before. Most importantly, gone was your sense of uncontrollable rapture and loyalty to this utter creep.

You didn’t ordinarily think of yourself as the violent type. But now, as you slowly turned around with mounting horror and disgust as you realized what a fool he’d made of you, you felt a compelling urge to punch him in the face.

Luckily, your friends had similar ideas in mind and were already on the verge of taking care of it for you. At least, they were about to, until everyone got a better look at Futoshi’s Stand.

Evocativ was a small, humanoid creature wearing a striped pink jumpsuit with the shape of a cartoonish heart for a head. Its dark eyes were large and sparkly and its pouty lips were painted a rather fetching shade of magenta. This was the mind-altering Stand that he’d been employing on women all this time? It looked absolutely ridiculous. Like, immediate-hysterical-laughter ridiculous.

Everyone stopped. The atmosphere had completely transformed and Okuyasu was already losing it. At first he tried to hold it back, but before long he was doubled over in laughter, and within a few seconds both you and Koichi were nearly wheezing with the effort it took to contain your giggles as well. Yukako eyed it disdainfully, as if she couldn’t believe that this pitiful Stand had managed to pose such an annoyance.

As for Josuke, the big reveal was exactly the relief he hadn’t realized he needed. He was actually crying from laughing so hard, having to lean on Crazy Diamond for support. His shoulders shook with mirth as he gasped for breath and it was more than a little contagious. It only served to intensify everyone else’s laughter, and Futoshi was bewildered as everyone around him was in stitches (save for Yukako, who still appeared as though she wouldn’t mind throttling him). If you weren’t imagining things, you’d say his pride looked fairly battered as well.

“W-why are you all laughing!?” he demanded hotly, “I can take control of your woman again any time I want, Josuke!”

Screw it. You didn’t need your Stand to handle this douchebag. Before you knew what you were doing, your fist had already ploughed into his smarmy face with strength you didn’t know you possessed. Futoshi cried out before staggering backward several paces, clutching at his now-bleeding nose with none of his earlier bravado, clearly wondering how the situation had come to this.

Josuke looked deeply impressed by your right hook, albeit stunned as well considering that sort of thing was quite out of character for you. Okuyasu was already clapping and hooting, and Yukako couldn’t have looked prouder. Koichi was the only one who seemed to think that perhaps violence wasn’t the answer, but he already sensed that he was the drastic minority in that opinion when it came to this guy (and besides, he had to admit that had been a pretty solid punch, as well).

“I thought that you couldn’t possibly top your heinous list of crimes from last year,” Josuke informed Futoshi once everyone had calmed down (both Crazy Diamond and The Hand had stepped in to physically hold the man back to ensure that he didn’t try to squirm away). “But you’ve managed to do yourself one better.” He then lowered his voice before leaning in so that only the two of them could hear. “Come near her again, and we both know that I won’t hesitate to rearrange your insides.”

Before Futoshi could even begin to question what he meant, Crazy Diamond plunged his fist into his stomach in a cruel imitation of what you'd done to his face only minutes before. Evocativ practically crumpled upon Futoshi’s shoulder, and the man’s eyes actually rolled up back in his head as blood began to seep out of his mouth. His legs finally gave out beneath him and he sank to the ground while clutching at his stomach and moaning in pain.

“N-nooooo…” he whimpered. “I just…I wanted…”

“Wanted what? To assault innocent women you happen to pass on the street? To use others to help you commit petty crimes?” Josuke’s tone was pure ice. “Back behind bars, and this time I’m going to make sure you don’t weasel your way out early before serving your full sentence. By the way, stop that pathetic whining. I’ve already healed you.”

“Wait…what?” Sure enough, when Futoshi gave his stomach an experimental poke, amazement crossed his face. “I can’t believe your Stand can hit that hard and heal. Hell, I can’t believe all of you are Stand users in the first place…just my rotten luck.”

“Yep,” Josuke agreed while cuffing his arms behind his back. He’d once told you that he preferred to lug around a pair at all times for unexpected scenarios such as these, but you hadn’t actually believed him until now. Wow. Josuke caught you eyeing him and did a double-take before shooting you a reassuring grin, letting you know that everything was under control.

“Oh, shit. Look at the time,” Okuyasu suddenly realized. “Man, we wasted so much time dealing with this bozo that we’re missing our movie!”

“I-I’ll pay for all of your tickets if you just let me go!” Futoshi offered at once. It came out as more of a squeak, and he was met with incredulous looks all around.

Josuke finally just shook his head and decided not to even bother justifying that pitiable remark with a response. Unfortunately, this turn of events also meant that he’d have to bring the creep back down to the station to book him (again), resulting in yet another outing that had been disturbed by some aggravating criminal when he was just trying to find an excuse to come clean with you. Damn it all.

He’d even hoped that this time he would get to watch a movie beside you without clumsily spilling half a bottle of soda all over you. Y’know. He still kind of wanted to redeem himself for that one.

But it couldn’t be helped. Morioh would be a safer place without the likes of Futoshi Iwamoto lurking in the streets, and the sooner he got this idiot thrown back in prison, the better.

So he had to get going. Again.

But this time, he couldn’t just walk away. Not without at least doing something first. For once he didn’t even care that the others were still standing close by as potential witnesses to yet another failed attempt. He steered Futoshi’s handcuffed form ahead several paces and ordered him to stay put, under certain pain of gut-punch if he dared try to make a break for it.

You were a little confused when Josuke approached you, though you offered him such a radiant smile nonetheless that he knew you were completely back to normal. The relief he felt was almost palpable. He inhaled as he drove away the lingering thoughts of everything he’d seen Futoshi do to you, reminding himself that you hadn’t actually reciprocated or intended any of it. None of it reflected how you truly felt.

He took you into his arms and eased you flush against his chest, despite knowing that his hammering pulse would give him away in a literal heartbeat. You froze where you stood for the second time that day, not knowing what to do with your limbs at first, until common sense kicked back in and you slipped your arms around his neck. It felt oddly intimate as he’d never quite embraced you like this before, not even after the night at Trussardi’s. There was a hint of shyness to it all, with an underlying current of something else you couldn’t quite place.

“Josuke?” you ventured after a few moments had passed in a strangely tense silence. While his grip around you was loose and relaxed, permitting you to break free as soon as you felt uncomfortable, you felt his fingers begin to work their way into your hair. Just a little.

“Sorry,” he muttered into your ear, “I’m…just really glad that you’re all right. That’s all.”

Understatement. It wasn’t the first time you’d been attacked by a Stand (thanks, Rohan), but he could only imagine how frightening it must have been for you to fall under the influence of a Stand that took control of your emotions. Even worse, it had only happened in the first place because Futoshi had been trying to get back at him by targeting you, all in order to emotionally torture Josuke. Well, it had worked. What a mess this all was.

“I’m the one who’s sorry. I know it was his Stand’s fault, but I still said and did some things that I…” You trailed off before shaking your head. “Never mind. I guess I’m just lucky I always have you to fall back on when the going gets tough.”

You felt his mouth twitch into a grin next to the side of your face before he drew back with the barest trace of reluctance. Then he seemed to recall exactly where he was, and his face began to burn with an unbearable heat when he felt the weight of multiple curious stares (more like smirks) from several feet away. Well, Futoshi was glowering, but who was counting?

“U-um…” Was there ever going to be a time he wasn’t going to revert into a stammering, blushing wreck around you? “I’ll call you later. I’ve got to get this moron booked down at the station.”

“Yes, of course! Get going.” You winked, trying to lighten up the peculiar tension in the air.

He reluctantly backed away and firmly clasped Futoshi’s arm to guide him, with the air of it being the very last thing he wanted to do. They only made it a few steps down the street, however, before Josuke spun on his heel and sprinted back over to you. Wide-eyed, you found yourself staring at him. His hands landed on your shoulders and a fresh spark of determination had blazed to life in his eyes.

“Come to my place next Saturday? 6 p.m. I’ll make us dinner,” he said breathlessly.

“Just you and me?” You felt your heart skip a beat as the question spilled out. Did…did he mean…?

“Just you and me,” he repeated, the picture of anxiety, yet you’d never seen him look more hopeful. You suddenly found it a little hard to breathe again, though this time for an entirely different reason.

“Yes. I’d really like that.”

His own glowing smile could have put yours to shame. Before you could blink, his lips had met your cheek, warm and soft and completely unexpected. Then he was gone before you had time to react or process what had happened, and Josuke made himself scarce while leading Futoshi away with considerably more enthusiasm compared to before.

For a solid minute or so, no one said anything as they watched him depart. The silence was almost deafening. Then full-on pandemonium broke loose behind you in the form of Okuyasu utterly losing his shit. He was whooping so loudly that he received withering stares from an elderly couple taking a walk on the opposite side of the street. Meanwhile, Koichi and Yukako were holding hands and both grinned at you so knowingly that you felt a heavy blush crawl across your face.

“It’s about damn time!” Okuyasu was howling. He and Koichi slapped high fives, though the latter looked a little uncomfortable when Oku proceeded to dance around him in elated circles while thrusting his hips in a victory dance (luckily, another well-placed snarl by Yukako immediately nipped this in the bud).

You gingerly touched your cheek where Josuke had kissed you. That amount of excessive celebration and those meaningful looks from your friends, all of Josuke’s unusual behavior over the past several months, the flirtatious texts, the devastated expression on his face when he stumbled onto the scene of you wrapped up in Futoshi’s arms…

The way he looked at you...

How had you never connected the dots before, all of this time?

Holy. Shit.

 

================

SPEAKING OF EXCESSIVE CELEBRATION

Some Hingle McCringleberry is important for daily consumption

(YEAH THE READER’S FINALLY FREAKING STARTING TO FIGURE OUT THAT JOSUKE’S BEEN SWEET ON HER ALL THIS TIME. OOF. MIRACLES DO HAPPEN, EVERYONE!)

 

Chapter Text

For the first time since meeting him, you felt incredibly nervous about seeing Josuke Higashikata.

After remaining oblivious to it for months on end, the sudden realization that you meant something more to him had utterly blown you away. You couldn’t believe it, but it was the only explanation that made sense.

You almost hadn’t known what to do with yourself in the week that followed, and it hadn’t gone unnoticed by the regular patrons of your shop. More than once you found yourself wandering around in a bit of a daze, at least until someone broke into your thoughts with a question about your baked goods or to ask if you were all right. How could you have been so blind?

Okuyasu stopped by on more than one occasion with a sweaty towel slung over his shoulders post-workout, of course. Apparently he couldn’t even wait long enough to go home and shower first before coming to tease you about your upcoming date dinner with Josuke. On the other hand, Koichi was far less insufferable as he seemed to sense that you were still numbly registering it all. You appreciated that he chose not to bring it up, although the knowing gleam in Yukako’s eye gave away how she felt about the matter without her needing to say a word.

Your friends were rejoicing and your heart wouldn’t stop fluttering. Everything had grown complicated so quickly, though you’d be lying if you said the situation was anything but exhilarating. Josuke looked at you in ways that he never looked at other women, you now realized, and there was something magnetic about him that offered an irresistible pull. You were far from the only girl to be drawn to him, yet somehow you were the only one he had eyes for.

This wonderful man was going to be the end of you.

You nearly dropped your tray of chocolate cake pops when the bell suddenly chimed overhead. In strode Josuke as abruptly as if you’d summoned him with your thoughts, looking as sinfully attractive as ever in a pair of taupe slacks and a black turtleneck sweater. He was oblivious to the usual throng of startled eyes that followed him up to the register, where he waited for you with his hands stowed in his pockets.

“Hey,” he greeted you with that charming grin you were so fond of, “You ready to go?”

It wasn’t until that moment that you realized neither of you had actually cemented a proper plan for this evening. He’d offered to pick you up for tonight’s little rendezvous, sure, but you assumed that meant he would show up at your apartment once you had a chance to clean yourself up and get ready first.

Not to mention he was early.

“Oh!” As the owner of your own bakery, your hours were as flexible as you needed them to be. But if you’d known he planned to show up thirty minutes early, you would have gone out of your way to close up shop much sooner and make yourself more presentable. Embarrassment engulfed your face when you realized that you were wearing next to no makeup and your outfit beneath the apron wasn’t exactly what you’d consider “date material”, either. Meanwhile, Josuke looked like he’d stepped straight out of a magazine intended for male models.

He didn’t seem to notice anything was amiss. His expression was quizzical as he leaned upon the counter, until he happened to glance up at the clock propped upon the wall behind you. Then his eyes widened and he looked like he wanted to smack himself.

“It’s okay!” You hurried to set down the tray, shaking your head before he could start apologizing, “Let me, uh, just wrap up here. We can give everyone a few minutes to finish up, and then I’ll close for the day.”

Excited whispers traveled around the shop when your customers seemed to piece things together. A couple of elderly women seated near the door began hiding their smiles behind their hands, though none too discreetly, and at once Josuke’s ears felt hot as he realized the entire bakery’s attention was now focused exclusively upon the two of you.

“Is there any way I can help?” he offered, trying to ignore the hushed giggles behind him.

“No worries! I’ll have it taken care of in two shakes.” You’d just come in early on Monday to make sure that the place was scrubbed clean, that’s all. You ducked into the kitchen and shrugged out of your apron in record time, taking advantage of the momentary privacy to try to finger-comb your hair. You still felt a little insecure, but it took the edge off when you stepped back into the main shop and Josuke’s entire face lit up as soon as he saw you.

You should’ve known he would find you beautiful no matter what you were wearing. The thudding of your heart was almost painful as it hit you once more just how surreal all of this really was.

Within ten minutes your customers had taken the hint and cleaned up after themselves before heading straight for the exit. You received more than a few shrewd glances from your regulars, but you pretended not to notice while waving goodbye. Then you locked up and followed Josuke out the door while hoping it wasn’t too obvious just how out of your element you currently felt.

It had been a few years since the last time you consented to spend time with a man in any way that bordered on romantic, and to be honest it was all throwing you for a loop. You were reading the situation correctly, weren’t you?

As you fell into step beside each other and began to make awkward small talk, little did you know that Josuke was undergoing the same turmoil. Yes, he’d asked you to join him tonight, and it appeared that you had understood his intentions at the time. But then again, with your track record, did you really? A tiny voice lurking in the back of his head warned him that it was possible you still thought all this was platonic, and nothing more.

But he was done with that.

"(Name)..." Josuke swallowed heavily, his pulse pounding in his ears. He had to take a chance. He wasn't sure how many more failed efforts to grow closer to you that he could endure.

"What is it?” Both of you stopped walking. You noted the dark blush on his cheeks and felt your heart begin to pick up speed. He was standing much closer to you than you thought, inadvertently giving you the opportunity to study his striking features at such a close range.

"Can you..." Josuke stopped and sighed shakily, running a hand through his hair as if he were bracing himself. Then he turned and faced you directly, his deep blue eyes reflecting both resolve and determination. "Can you hold something for me?" He sounded so very anxious.

"Of course I can." You couldn't help but be a little perplexed. "What've you got that needs holding, anyway? I was under the impression that you're quite a bit stronger than I am." You were just teasing and you were certain he knew that, but for some reason he didn't crack a smile at all—in fact, he looked more nervous than ever.

Then a jolt traveled from your fingertips through your hand and shot up your arm. It couldn't be. It must have been an accident, a mere brush of contact; he would never do something like that on purpose. Right? But then he did it again, and this time as his fingers slowly slid into the crevices between yours, he didn't pull back automatically out of a reflex.

He...was holding your hand. Holding your hand! His earlier words quickly returned to you and you flushed a brilliant shade of red, realizing just what he had meant. He was clearly just as embarrassed as you were, averting his eyes and turning away from you slightly. Yet even though he wasn't looking directly at you, you could feel him begin to massage slow circles onto your palm with his thumb.

Your face was officially on fire.

You made no attempt to pull free, even though you felt exceptionally self-conscious as the two of you resumed strolling down the street together, hands gently entwined like any other couple.

Except it wasn’t like that. He’d asked you out to dinner, yes, but he hadn’t asked you out. You and Josuke weren’t dating. Even if it was starting to feel as though you were. Your breathing grew shallow and you couldn’t meet his gaze directly, though a quick peek out of the corner of your eye revealed that he was equally flustered. If it were even possible, you could have sworn that he was even more red-faced than you, but still neither of you made a move to pull away.

Once you managed to get past the initial shock, you marveled at how natural it felt.

When you arrived at Josuke’s apartment, he unlocked the door and pushed it open with the air of someone who hoped you wouldn’t be disappointed with what awaited you inside. You scarcely set foot into the foyer before he gestured for you to stop.

“Wait, I almost forgot! Can you stay there for a sec?” He disappeared around the corner and you obediently stayed put. From where you stood, you were in the perfect position steal a peek at his living room. It was filled with modest furniture and wall-to-wall windows that ushered in a generous amount of natural light. There was a cozy feel to it all, and much to your relief, it wasn’t a fraction as grubby or cluttered as Okuyasu’s place (as much as you loved the guy).

When Josuke reappeared a minute later, you weren’t prepared for what awaited you. Your jaw dropped. He was practically eclipsed behind an enormous bouquet of flowers that he carried in front of him. It was brimming with vibrant red roses, soft pink carnations, lavender wax flowers, mauve hyacinths, and elegant white lilies, all contained in a stunning glass vase that was tied with a large cerise ribbon.

“…No way. That’s not for me.” Your voice had risen several octaves in disbelief. He chuckled, though it required some effort to poke his head out from behind the elaborate arrangement.

“Of course it is. I hope you don’t mind if I put them on the dining room table for now? I’ll help you bring them home later.”

“Josuke, you didn’t!” You were thunderstruck, still unable to believe that he’d gone out of his way to pull out such an extravagant gesture. “For me? Really?”

“Why are you so surprised?” Your amazement seemed to amuse him, but when he spoke again, his voice was soft in a way that sent a tingle down your spine. “I should have brought you something like this months ago. Consider it making up for lost time.”

Oh. How were you supposed to respond to that?

“Thank you.” Your voice was a little hoarse when you finally discovered your manners. “Josuke, they’re absolutely stunning. I can’t believe you did this.” You hated to think how much they had cost, and now you felt horrible that you hadn’t at least brought a bottle of wine with you as a gift.

“You’re welcome.” You couldn’t help but exchange a pair of warm smiles. Then Josuke’s gaze panned past you and you realized he was looking over your shoulder. At the same time you felt a little tug, and you gave a start when you realized that Crazy Diamond had manifested behind you. “Mind if he takes your jacket while I set this back down?”

You shook your head, not trusting yourself to speak just then as the tall Stand gently helped ease your jacket away from your shoulders. The chivalrous act was not lost upon you, and after he hung up the garment, you were struck once more by his powerful stare. It had been some time since you looked directly at Crazy Diamond, but in certain ways he was the spitting image of Josuke. Especially his eyes.

Most Stands rarely spoke, if ever. You had never heard Avantasia or Crazy Diamond articulate a word, even though Koichi’s Echoes had a comical habit of swearing any time he carried out an order. But now you found yourself alone with Josuke’s Stand for the first time, wishing you had some way to communicate with him. Perhaps you could try through Avantasia?

It took you a moment to realize that Josuke had returned to the hallway and was standing in the entrance to the kitchen with his shoulder braced against the doorframe for nearly a minute now. You immediately felt mortified for some reason, though Crazy Diamond’s curious stare continued to burn into your back even as you turned to face his user.

“C’mon.” An easy grin played across Josuke’s lips as he extended his arm out to you. “Let’s get you situated first, and then I’ll get started on dinner.”

He invited you to take a seat at a small table in his kitchen so that you could converse while he cooked. You had no idea what he was planning to make, but he rebuffed all of your offers to help as he began to remove an assortment of pots and pans from the mahogany cupboards. Despite the limited counter space in his apartment he seemed to know exactly what he was doing, and at one point he paused long enough to flick on the radio.

The atmosphere grew noticeably more relaxed as a few songs drifted out and helped set a comfortable mood. As you watched Josuke bend over the stove and begin stirring its contents, occasionally shooting you a nervous smile over his shoulder, you dared to think it all felt rather domestic.

You nearly buried your head in your hands. Oh, no. He was just too damn cute.

You entertained yourselves over the next forty-five minutes by telling each other about your respective days, although Josuke’s morning had been drastically more interesting than yours considering it involved two robberies and a trespassing panhandler who refused to vacate the premises of an affluent office building.

“My partner’s dealt with this guy before, so he warned me we were probably in for a good time. Turns out this same genius already had a fresh warrant out for his arrest two days ago, after he punched the pizza delivery man in the face for not giving him enough cheese.”

“You’re kidding me.” You struggled not to laugh, only to fail when a few giggles escaped anyway. “So I take it he ran for it before anyone could bring him in?”

“You’ve got it.” Josuke winked at you, openly enjoying the sound of your laughter, “Then he goes and gets the cops called on him again by harassing clientele at the wealthiest firm in Morioh. So we—” He broke off and suddenly swore when he sniffed at the air.

You smelled it at the same time. It was acrid, to say the least. Uh oh. The two of you had gotten so caught up in talking that he’d lost track of time, and now something was burning in the oven. Josuke panicked and barely remembered to grab a pair of oven mitts before diving toward the stove. Thick smoke began to waft out as soon as he’d pried the door open, and he groaned when he pulled out the large pan of homemade, badly-charred lasagna.

This couldn’t be happening.

He’d really hoped to impress you with some of his own Italian cooking, after you’d seemed to enjoy your meal at Trussardi’s so wholeheartedly last month. He even practiced it several times earlier this week (and forced the others to try it over and over again) until he got it just right. How could he have allowed himself to get so distracted and completely disregard setting a timer?!

“Hang on!” You leapt to your feet and sprinted toward the window. After fumbling with the latch, you managed to throw it open to begin airing out the kitchen before it set off the smoke detector. Meanwhile, Josuke was staring down at his ruined dish with a defeated, incredulous expression on his face.

“Josuke?” you tried delicately, “Hey, don’t look so forlorn! It’s okay. These things happen!” You hesitated for a moment before slipping your arm around his back to comfort him. “You should’ve seen my first time trying to bake rainbow cupcakes for the shop. They tasted all right, but the colors all bled together and it came out the literal color of sludge. It was so embarrassing. We’ve all been there!”

He tried to smile weakly at your attempt to cheer him up, but he couldn’t help it. He finally managed to get you alone without Rohan or Futoshi or anyone else trying to intervene, and then he goes and messes up something so basic? He was furious with himself and it showed.

“Josuke,” you repeated, gentler this time, “C’mon. Put it down. It’s not the end of the world. We can just order take-out, okay? I’m just happy to be able to spend time with you. That’s all that really matters.”

It took some courage to spit out the last part now that you recognized that things were no longer quite platonic between the two of you, but you had a feeling it was something he needed to hear. He huffed out a sigh before shooting you a grateful smile.

“…Yeah, I know. You’re right. Thanks for being so understanding, (Name).” He hung his head a little anyway as he placed the disastrous dish upon the stove range. “I’m really sorry, though. Not exactly how I pictured tonight going, y’know?”

“It’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up over this!” You reached out to give his hand a reassuring squeeze, though you hurriedly released him again before either of you turned visibly scarlet. “I’ve been having a wonderful time. How about we get Chinese instead?”

“Fine. It’s on me, though. I promised you I’d be the one treating you to dinner tonight.” Before you could pull your arm away from his back, he returned the gesture by wrapping his own around your shoulders. You stiffened at first out of sheer surprise, but remained in place while he pulled out his phone and dialed the most popular local Chinese restaurant.

As the phone rang, Josuke seemed to sense the tension in the air and shifted his hand to your head. His fingers threaded through your hair and gently urged you closer in a silent command to relax. The spicy yet clean scent of his natural musk flooded your senses, and after some hesitation you rested your head against his chest. You contented yourself to listen to his heartbeat, which was admittedly thumping a little faster than usual.

“Hello? Yes, I’d like to place an order for delivery.” At least his voice didn’t betray whatever he was feeling right then. You stayed where you were just a little longer, and he certainly made no move to push you away.

You still weren’t dating, right?

But once the order had been completed and was en route, you broke apart before returning to going back and forth between catching each other’s eyes and avoiding meeting the other’s gaze. Again. It felt like you were both back in high school and impossibly shy around each other half the time, yet you were both mustering more and more nerve as time went on.

That was when the perfect idea struck, and while you were waiting for dinner to arrive, you decided to busy yourself with investigating the contents of Josuke’s pantry. What did we have here? Flour, granulated sugar, salt, vanilla extract…he was better-stocked than you expected for a bachelor living on his own. With rising excitement, you crossed the kitchen to the fridge and peered inside. All the while Josuke observed you with growing curiosity, only to be joined by confusion when you began collecting ingredients and lining them up on the counter.

“What’s all this about?” The rising intonation in his voice brought a smile to your face.

“You’ll see.” You straightened up and began exploring his cabinets next. Much to your delight, you discovered a hand mixer (not exactly a Kitchen Aid, but it was better than nothing) as well as some measuring cups and large bowls. The sink was already half-full of dishes used to prepare the lasagna, but you estimated you still had everything you’d need. The only improvising required would involve the flat cookie sheet, but you owned your own bakery. You could make it work!

If Josuke was bothered by all your rummaging, he didn’t show it. Then you happened to spot something that had been balled up and shoved into the bottom of one of the drawers. You pulled it out, only to realize it was a Batman apron that you strongly suspected had been a gift. Oh, this was too good. You rose to your feet from your crouched position and held it out to Josuke.

“Well?” you teased, “If I’m going to teach you how to bake something, Mr. Higashikata, you’ll be needing this. You’re in my kitchen now, and we wouldn’t want to get that nice sweater covered in flour.”

It hit him like a ton of bricks what you had in mind, and at once he looked torn between eagerness and apprehension.

“To be honest, I’m not the best at baking…” You cut off his feeble protest by shaking your head.

“That’s what you have me for, remember? Your very own personal pastry shop owner, here to give you a private lesson!”

His face flared bright pink again at the implication behind those words, but you were too enthusiastic to notice. He accepted the apron from you with a hint of reluctance, recalling that Okuyasu had given it to him a few years back as a gag gift. He’d never used it before as it had gone straight into the drawer, condemned never to see the light of day again. In fact, he’d forgotten all about it until tonight.

"Uh..." He began to say, grinning at you with growing unease, but your eyes were already sparkling.

"C’mon! There’s no escaping this. I'll help you, if you don’t mind leaning down?" You had to stand on your tiptoes to lift it over his head as he obediently bent forward so that the Batman logo tumbled down over his broad chest. Then you then moved your arms behind him to tie the strings behind his shoulders. This required more than just a slight invasion of personal space, and Josuke exhaled slowly to keep himself still as your hands fumbled across the apex of his spine while you secured the knot.

Really, even your slightest touch had his fragile self-control threatening to fly into a million pieces at any moment, propriety be damned. That was nothing new, though he still had yet to grow accustomed to it. The soft warmth diffusing from your skin, the occasional upward flick of your pupils when you stole a quick, shy glance into his eyes…all of it threatened his strength of will.

Then you pulled back with a bright smile, and tried not to burst out laughing when you saw the six-foot police officer standing in front of you while awkwardly wearing an ill-fitting Batman apron. He smiled weakly as he glanced down at himself, and finally he chuckled. He supposed he could tolerate it if it was for your sake. And as long as Okuyasu never heard about this.

"I guess I'm all ready, then?"

"Yep! Now we can get started!" You turned up the radio so that you had some music floating in the background as you worked, and spent the better part of the next twenty minutes combining ingredients and preparing multiple batches for the pan. You were explaining to Josuke how to bake his very own donuts, the healthier equivalent of the fried variety, which was admittedly made more difficult by the fact that he didn’t own a donut pan. That was okay, though. You purposefully mixed a thicker batter that would result in denser pastries, but it would also make it much easier to mold them by hand.

You were having a blast teaching him how to bake, one of your life’s greatest passions, and it was an uplifting feeling. Although more than once you had to stop him before he added an excess amount of flour or sugar.

"Ah! No, Josuke! We only need half a teaspoon!" You snorted with laughter as you leaped in front of him and intercepted his attempt to pour nearly all of the vanilla extract into the bowl. How on earth could he be so infallible when it came to tracking down criminals and a genius at strategizing with his Stand, yet hopeless when it came to creating sugary treats? He looked mildly abashed, as he was making several mistakes and he knew it, but you were still enjoying yourselves all the same.

Finally it was time to load the pan with batter-turned-dough, and you allowed Josuke to shape several donuts after you'd demonstrated how to do it. The oven had already finished preheating, and finally it was time to get the first batch going. You swung it shut and wiped the back of your hand across your forehead, and Josuke imitated the action, though inadvertently spread some flour across his face in the process. You tried to hold in your snickers, but failed miserably when he looked over at you in bewilderment.

"Pffft...here, bend down for a second. Let me get that for you." He obediently did so, and you rubbed your thumb against his temple until you'd successfully removed all traces of the stray flour. You tried not to take notice of his eyes glancing curiously down into yours as you worked, an unconscious mirroring of your earlier actions. Then he straightened up again just as the radio changed to a familiar upbeat song, and you gasped.

“I love this song!” It was a fairly recent track by a famous artist that was incredibly catchy and made just about everybody want to rock out every time they heard it, and right then you were feeling like no exception. Josuke watched for a moment while leaning against one arm propped up onto the counter as you began swaying around it, unable to help yourself as you began to sing along and wave your hips. He couldn’t help but break out into a wide smile, unable to disguise his adoration.

Then all you heard was a deep chuckle before he grabbed a hold of your arm and spun you around to face him, and much to your astonishment, he began to lead you in a spontaneous dance around the kitchen. You quickly overcame your disbelief and joined him in tapping your foot in time with the beat, and while it was obvious that neither of you really knew what you were doing, Josuke was actually a very quick and intuitive learner (at least when it didn't involve baking). It turned out that he was an unexpected natural, and before long you were having trouble keeping up with his confident pace.

What a gift it was to see this side of him where he left himself fully vulnerable and loose, so comfortable in a way that you doubted very many had had a chance to behold.

He was happy. So inordinately happy that it flooded through the two of you like a pleasant blanket of electric warmth that tingled all the way down to the tips of your toes. It was so pure, so vibrant, so inherently authentic, and you both could feel it, only serving to further heighten your thrill.

You found yourself laughing straight out loud with delight as he whirled you around in front of him and easily caught you just before you crashed into his chest, and he was grinning more widely than you'd ever seen him. You were exhilarated that he had a side to him that allowed him to let loose like this.

You hummed out the final lyrics while winking at him, and when the song finally drew to a close, you stopped to catch your breath and smile at each other.

"That was fun," you panted. He nodded his agreement, also slightly winded.

"Definitely."

You then rested against the counter together, leaving only a scant space between you, as if the excitement had alleviated any lingering discomfort. You entertained yourselves by making small talk and continuing to listen to the radio for the next ten minutes or so, until the first batch of donuts was finally ready. Much to your relief, they'd turned out beautifully, and you were about to prepare the next batch when the doorbell rang.

Both of you jumped, startled, before recalling that the delivery man must be here. Josuke trawled for his wallet before pushing himself away from the counter.

“Be right back.” He didn’t seem to notice that he was off to answer the door while wearing a Batman apron dusted in flour. You snickered quietly under your breath and waited for him to return.

The next half hour saw the two of you putting off dinner just long enough to wrap up with baking, and then you’d allow the donuts to cool while you settled down to partake in your glamorous meal of lo mein, fried rice, and General Tso’s chicken. Good plan.

As you bent down to remove the final pan from the oven, you let out a sudden hiss of pain. The inner flesh of your arm had grazed the searing metal rack, an amateurish mistake that had you swearing under your breath. By some miracle you managed to avoid fumbling the entire tray of freshly-baked donuts, though now an angry red welt was rising on your skin.

Your first instinct was to summon Avantasia to see if she could mitigate the effects of the burn (with the added bonus of dulling the pain). Steel-clad fingers closed around your arm before you could do anything else, however. You swung your head up to meet Crazy Diamond’s penetrating stare, and winced out of sheer instinct due to the pressure being exerted upon your injury.

After a moment, though, you realized that you felt nothing aside from the stark contrast of cool metal and placid warmth seeping from the Stand’s fingers. How odd. You’d never imagined that a Stand would exhibit temperature in the same way its user might. When Crazy Diamond slowly pulled his hand away, the skin underneath was smooth and unblemished, just as it had been before the accident.

“Wow,” you breathed. You knew about Josuke’s ability to heal others, of course, but it was another thing entirely to experience it first-hand for yourself. It wasn’t like you had any recollection of the time he’d first saved your life, considering you were out cold. Avantasia hovered behind you with bright silver eyes trained upon the same spot, seeming to reflect your own wonder. “Thank you. I can’t believe it, it’s fully healed!”

“You’re welcome. Let me take that, though, before you manage to hurt yourself again.” Josuke shot you a mischievous grin before plucking one of your oven mitts straight off your hand and lifting the tray out of your grasp. Your objections fell on deaf ears, of course. But there was something tender in his eyes when he turned back to you and invited you to join him over at the dining room table, and you squirmed a little beneath his gaze.

You almost couldn’t see each other across the table thanks to the substantial bouquet of flowers. After some budging around and laughter, you decided it was best if things were a little more informal and ended up seated adjacent to each other. Really, neither of you minded. It wasn’t like this was some fancy affair, anyway (nor would it be, with plastic-wrapped fortune cookies scattered upon the table).

Fortunately the food was delicious, and even though it wasn’t the mind-blowing lasagna that Josuke had hoped for, he felt some of the tension recede from his shoulders. This wasn’t so bad. He thought he’d managed to botch everything yet again, but at long last he was starting to understand that when it came to the two of you, perhaps not everything needed to go exactly according to plan.

Neither of you had bothered to dismiss your Stands, a fact that escaped your notice until you were scraping the last bits of lo mein off your plate. Standing a few feet away from the table, Crazy Diamond loomed over Avantasia with an almost burning curiosity. When he began to feather his hand down her arm as if mapping out the planes of her celestial skin, you actually felt it like a flutter down your spine and jolted. Your head swiveled toward Josuke, who had frozen in place with his fork in mid-air. He was stunned. It became apparent that he wasn’t commanding Crazy Diamond to do anything, at least not consciously, and hadn’t expected it any more than you had.

Your Stands were exploring each other. On their own. What the heck?

Avantasia returned the favor by leaning up a few inches, her bare toes scarcely brushing the ground as she drifted into the air with practiced ease, and she ran her nose along the length of the other Stand’s jaw. It was much like a nuzzle, and in the exact instant that Crazy Diamond tensed up, Josuke visibly shuddered beside you. Blushing furiously, he redoubled his focus upon his plate as if there were nothing more fascinating on this green earth, and you realized he must have experienced the same peculiar thrill that you had when your Stand touched his.

Neither of you had known that an interaction could be so gentle, yet simultaneously so powerful and full of meaning. You were speechless, as was Josuke. The revelation had taken you both by tremendous surprise and as a result, the meal wrapped up on a somewhat strained note.

You had no idea what Josuke was telling himself over and over throughout the next fifteen minutes. Your appetites had vanished, oddly enough, leaving no room for dessert even though you had been looking forward to sampling the finished donuts. Josuke helped you into your jacket, his movements careful and measured in a way that made you wonder what he was thinking.

As promised, he hefted your vase of flowers up into his arm, though he was careful to keep the other one free. Just in case. As the two of you began to head back to your apartment together, the silence was almost deafening. But his burgeoning anxiety was relieved somewhat when you timidly bumped your hand against his in an imitation of what he’d done earlier and lightly interlaced his fingers with yours.

It was looser than before, and far more distracted as well considering you both had a great deal on your minds. Little did you know that Josuke was mentally trying to coach himself with every step that brought him closer to your apartment, searching for a way to summon the courage he so desperately needed.

Once you were on your front step just outside your door, he shifted the flowers away and you reluctantly retracted your hand. Saying goodbye was equally difficult, when all you wanted was to continue spending the night by his side. But this had been nice and you had a feeling it wasn’t going to be the last time.

“Thank you, Josuke. I had an incredible time. I mean it.” Your voice was quiet, but your eyes shone when you looked up at him.

He didn’t respond, although his pulse pounded so wildly that it was a wonder you couldn’t hear it. With a shaking arm, he reached up to cup the side of your face with lidded blue eyes flickering down to your mouth. Your heart actually stopped as you read the intent in his expression and forgot how to breathe when he leaned toward you.

…And caught the corner of your lips instead, after a subtle movement of his head at the very last possible second that had him inwardly cursing himself. Why couldn’t he just bring himself to do it? Why couldn’t he ask you the question that was burning on his tongue? You were literally millimeters away and he could feel your warm breath ghosting his face. You had made a staggering amount of progress in one night, and surely a woman who wasn’t interested in him would never have been receptive to holding his hand the way you were. There couldn’t have been a more perfect moment.

Yet he’d chickened out. He lost his nerve. Again. He couldn’t bring himself to spit out the words or to try telling you in another way. If he wasn’t imagining things, a spark of disappointment was flickering in your eyes. You stepped away before he could do anything else, however, and he felt a bit numb as you accepted the flowers from him and pushed open the door to your apartment.

“I’ll see you again soon.” There was a hopeful edge to your voice, almost as if it were a question, and he bobbed his head in assent. Josuke was livid with himself, but tried to mask it with a weak smile as you raised your hands in goodbye.

Then your door shut softly in his face and he wondered if he hadn’t reneged on his vow to come clean, would you have invited him inside?

Both of you resembled a pair of tomatoes. You stood on opposite sides of the same door with your hearts hammering and feeling completely enthralled with each other. You stood only a few feet apart, yet it was as though something vaster now separated you. You set down the flowers on the small table in the entrance of your apartment with trembling hands.

Then, with your back braced against the door, you slowly slid down until you reached the ground and dropped your head into your knees. Little did you know, Josuke was emulating your actions on the other side of the door, only angling his head back with his eyes clenched shut in frustration.

This had to come to a head before either of you lost your minds.

~*~

“I’m sorry, but it’s true.” Koichi looked rather nervous, very much as though he didn’t want to be the one to deliver this bad news. But as Rohan seemed to be entirely oblivious and possessed full confidence in his ability to win you over, Koichi figured someone had to break it to him before things grew any more convoluted.

“Hah.” Rohan scoffed. “That’s a wretched joke you've concocted, Koichi. If you’re looking for derisive laughter, then that’s all you’re going to find here!”

“Erm, it’s not a joke.” The blond felt a drop of sweat form on the back of his neck as he shot a quick glance toward the nearest exit. “You weren’t there, but it really did happen. And she agreed. I saw them myself tonight. They were holding hands and everything.”

The amused smirk faded from Rohan’s face. He turned away from his desk toward his visitor, and now something dark seemed to be simmering in his expression.

What.” He crushed the pen in his hand, and Koichi knew that at least he’d finally gotten through to him. “Do you mean to say that Higashikata found a way to ask—and she gets it? Not only that, but she consented to it?’

Koichi meekly nodded, not daring to vocalize anything else. He began taking surreptitious steps backward toward the door, not wanting to stick around while Rohan’s sour mood took hold.

“This is unacceptable!” Rohan seethed, looking very much as though he could start breathing fire at any second. Koichi took the opportunity to excuse himself, mumbling something about needing to go meet up with Yukako before hurrying out the front door and escaping to safety.

Could it be possible? Had Josuke really managed to snag your heart right beneath Rohan’s nose? His lip curled in a snarl at the mere thought, though after a moment he felt his temper begin to bottom out. As much as he hated to admit it, deep down he’d always known that there was a part of you that was drawn to Josuke above all of the rest. Everyone had seen it, even Rohan himself, though he’d been loathe to concede it for some time now.

For just a moment, he felt lost. It didn't even feel real. But then he slowly huffed out a sigh. If this was what you truly wanted…he would give you that much. That was what it meant to care for someone in earnest, after all.

But if Josuke ever did anything to hurt you, nothing was going to stop Rohan from “slipping” and making the police officer’s life hell.  

A wry smirk crossed his face. He could live with that.