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Here But Now They're Gone

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“We don’t have time for goodbyes,” this is Jotaro, who refuses to wait now that he’s so close to stopping the person who’s hurting his mother. Joseph recognizes the impatience in Jotaro’s every movement. It’s the most of himself he’s seen in his grandson, and he hates it.

He hates that Jotaro is every bit as impulsive as he is. He hates that Jotaro met Kakyoin now, that his grandson fell in love on the brink of the end of the world. It’s not what he wanted for him – it’s part of the reason he was so relieved when Holly moved to Japan with her husband. Jotaro would be raised away from him, kept away from the pain that came with the Joestar family name.

As much as he’s enjoyed getting to actually spend time with Jotaro, he prays to a god he never believed in that he’ll find a way to get Jotaro away from this. He knows he won’t, he knows that Star Platinum is more powerful than Hermit Purple could ever hope to be, he knows that Jotaro is a powerful ally and that they need him. But that doesn’t stop him from praying.

And it doesn’t stop him from grabbing his grandson by his ridiculously oversized jacket collar, pulling him in until they’re pressed hat brim to hat brim. “Make time.”

He walks away with that, finding Avdol to tell him how much he values his friendship and the sacrifices he’s made to help his daughter. He tells Polnareff the same thing, ignoring it when Polnareff calls him a senile old man. Iggy gets another stick of gum. Joseph doesn’t say anything, but he guesses he’s done what he can.

Kakyoin and Jotaro have separated when he comes back to them, but Kakyoin’s cheeks are flushed, and Jotaro’s lips are suspiciously swollen. “You’re a good kid, Kakyoin.” Joseph claps him on the shoulder, giving him a ridiculously large smile. “I’m glad I met you.”

Kakyoin is touched, Joseph knows he is, but he tries not to show it. “You make it sound like goodbye, Mr. Joestar.”

There are a lot of things Joseph could say – a lot of things he wants to say – but he doesn’t. Instead he squeezes Kakyoin’s shoulder, offering him another, wider smile. He thinks about leaving it at that – he almost does – but he can’t. Before he steps away, he wraps his arms around Kakyoin, pulling him into a bone crushing hug.

He does the same thing to Jotaro, whispering a soft, “I love you,” into his grandson’s ear before he steps back.

It’s all he can do to step away from them, pulling his careless demeanor back into place. It’s his fault they’re all with him. It’s his fault that Holly is in danger. It’s his fault that Caesar is – no. He won’t think about that now.

********

Everything hurts.

Kakyoin blinks, once, and he’s surprised to see a sterile white light. It’s almost like he’s back in the hospital, which sends a fresh wave of relief coursing through his body. If he’s in the hospital, he made it out alive.

He doesn’t remember much about the fight with Dio. He remembers surrounding him with Heirophant, and he remembers putting everything he had into one last Emerald Splash. He thinks he remembers Dio redirecting part of it towards him, and thinking that he was done for. But if he’s here, in a hospital, things couldn’t have gone too badly.

When he manages to open his eyes all the way, he realizes that there’s someone sitting beside him. The stranger is muscular, much like everyone else who comes into contact with Kakyoin is, with friendly blue eyes. His outfit is mostly zigzags and contrasting color patterns, and Kakyoin can’t help but think that it’s a little bit horrific.

“Are you a nurse?” Kakyoin’s surprised by how much his voice echoes in the room they’re sitting in. He’s also aware enough to recognize that he’s not sitting in a hospital bed.

“I’m afraid not.” The man’s voice is friendly, but now there’s something almost sad in his eyes. The man’s legs are crossed, and he’s got one elbow pressed against his thigh, his chin cradled in his hand. He’s looking at Kakyoin expectantly, like he’s waiting on him to realize something.

Kakyoin’s hand reaches down, until it’s pressed against a rather large wound in his stomach. The wound is starting to heal, a lot faster than it should, and Kakyoin thinks he can remember the rest of what happened to him.

He’s beginning to think he can remember dying.

“Oh,” he breathes this, and he can feel tears starting to form. It’s not very collected of him, but he thinks he’s allowed this. “Forgive me,” he tries to wipe his tears away, but they’re falling much faster than he can wipe them away. “I thought – ”

“You thought you had more time,” the man beside him supplies. He’s leaning closer to Kakyoin, almost like he wants to physically comfort him, but he’s not sure that he’s allowed to.

Kakyoin would gladly welcome the touch, but the man seems intent on respecting his boundaries. Now that he’s closer, Kakyoin can see the marking on his cheeks, two pink stripes that chase the curve of his cheekbone. It’s striking, and Kakyoin can’t help but think that the man is oddly beautiful.

He’s not thinking at all when he blurts out, “Are you god?”

The man looks surprised by the question. Then he shakes his head, letting out a soft laugh. “No, no I’m not.” He must sense Kakyoin’s next question, because he adds, “I’m a lot like you, actually.”

“What are you talking about?”

This gets him a small, sad smile. The man looks like he’s actually going to answer Kakyoin’s question, but he’s cut off by a sharp yip before he can, and Kakyoin’s attention jerks to source of the sound.

His heart drops even further when he sees a familiar black and white blur coming towards him. More tears start to form as he recognizes the man behind Iggy. Of course he recognizes the man behind Iggy – Avdol’s graceful walk is hard to miss, and part of Kakyoin is glad that he’s retained this, even in death.

Avdol bows his head in acknowledgement, and Kakyoin’s lip starts to tremble. “I had hoped that you would make it out, Kakyoin.”

“I’d hoped the same for you.”

Iggy has launched himself into Kakyoin’s lap, all four of his paws back in place as he licks the tears sliding down Kakyoin’s cheeks. The blonde man is still sitting beside Kakyoin, and he looks up at Avdol as he walks towards him. “Mr. Joestar and Jotaro are still fighting,” Avdol says, like Jotaro’s name doesn’t send a fresh wave of pain through Kakyoin’s barely healed body. “As long as they fight, there’s hope.”

“Polnareff?”

“Alive,” there’s something incredibly sad in Avdol’s smile. “But too far away to help.” Avdol’s dark eyes flick to the stranger sitting beside Kakyoin. “Who are you?”

“I’m a friend.” The man’s smile is warm, but Kakyoin can read the sadness in the lines of his face. “My name is Caesar Antonio Zeppeli.”

“Muhammad Avdol.” He cocks his head at the man – Caesar – as if trying to read his mind. “Do you know Mr. Joestar?”

That seems to strike a nerve, because Caesar almost flinches. “I knew him very well,” Caesar is still smiling, but there’s no warmth in his eyes. “I thought I’d have more time with him,” he looks at Kakyoin, something pointed in his expression. “I’m not – I’m not proud of the way things ended between us.”

“You were friends?”

Avdol’s question seems pointed, and Caesar seems to understand it perfectly. He’s looking down at his hands when he says, “We were lovers.”

The statement isn’t as shocking as it could be, considering that Kakyoin and Avdol are dead and talking to each other in the afterlife. Avdol and Kakyoin exchange a look – Joseph’s never mentioned a lover, or anything about his past except that he’s been in deep shit before – before looking back at Caesar. “You and Joseph were lovers?”

“Does that surprise you, Kakyoin?” Caesar’s response is almost amused, but Kakyoin can still see the sorrow in his eyes.

“Why did you two break up?”

Caesar’s smiling, but his smile doesn’t reach his eyes. “You mean you haven’t figured it out yet?”

Avdol, who’s been watching Caesar carefully, thinks he has. “You were killed.”

“Sí.” Caesar loses his smile. “We were – that’s not important.” He sighs, running a hand through his blonde hair. “We were young and stupid. We fought, and we split up when we should have stayed together, and I was killed. I don’t think Joseph ever forgave himself.”

“He never mentioned you.”

Caesar’s smile reappears. “Why should he? I’m dead, and he’s trying to save his daughter.” Caesar’s smile fades almost as soon as it had appeared. “He did everything he could to save you and Jotaro from the same fate. I’m sorry he failed.”

Something clicks with Kakyoin. “You’re the reason he made us say goodbye.”

“Sí,” Caesar repeats, his blue eyes oddly focused as he looks at Kakyoin. “He was scared that this would happen. He doesn’t want Jotaro to live with the same regret he has.”

“How do you know all this?”

“I know Joseph,” this answer is simple. “I know him better than anyone else could hope to.”

“Even his wife?”

Caesar smiles, but there’s no bitterness there. “Suzie Q is an incredible woman. She’s been a good friend to Joseph, and they’ve taken care of each other for a very long time. But they don’t love each other.”

Avdol looks more confused than Kakyoin. “What?”

“Their marriage is a shield. Suzie Q fell in love with a woman she could never be with, and her marriage with Joseph protected her from being found out. Joseph – ” Caesar’s voice breaks, and Kakyoin immediately wraps his arm around his shoulder. Caesar looks surprised at the touch, but he still smiles. “Joseph never moved on.”

“And you?”

“I loved Joseph in life,” this is soft, but Kakyoin can hear the strength of emotion in his voice. “Of course I’ll love him in death, as well.”

“Your devotion is admirable,” this is Avdol, who looks like he’s still trying to decide if he trusts Caesar or not. Kakyoin doesn’t, not yet. Iggy is still wiggling around in Kakyoin’s lap, and Kakyoin scratches behind his ears absentmindedly. The motion draws Avdol’s attention back to Kakyoin, and the hard lines of his face are unbearably sad. “What happened, Kakyoin?”

“I gave it everything I had,” Kakyoin looks down at Iggy, who’s made himself comfortable in his lap. “It wasn’t enough. I couldn’t help them.”

Caesar presses against him, and he’s surprised by the comfort that his touch brings. “You helped them more than you know,” his voice is soft. “Jotaro and Holly will live, because of you.”

**********

“Fuck!” Joseph tried to catch himself with his hands, grunting in pain as his wrists pop. “Oh god, that hurt.” He pops his right wrist with no problem, but he’s somewhat surprised when his left wrist pops, too. He hasn’t felt that in decades.

He’s even more surprised when he looks down, and his left hand is completely intact. He wiggles his fingers, and he’s surprised to see that his fingers are once again human, and they’re moving when he wants them to. “Holy shit,” Joseph breaths, watching as all five of his fingers pop for the first time in years.

Of course, he puts the pieces together faster than Kakyoin and Avdol did. He looks down at his feet, and he’s not particularly surprised to see boots he’d lost in the forties on his feet. He is a little surprised by the sterile light that’s surrounding him, blinking as his eyes try to adjust his painfully bright surroundings.

He’s picking himself up, brushing off pants he outgrew in the fifties, when he hears the first set of footsteps. There’s something familiar but foreign about the pacing and the light footfalls, but Joseph doesn’t dwell on it. It’s not like he can get any deader. “I always thought I’d end up in hell.” This isn’t a conversation starter so much as a blunt observation, but he’s not surprised when he gets a response.

It’s the voice of the speaker that sends the shockwaves down his spine. “You did save the world, JoJo. I think that gives you a free pass.”

Joseph turns around, slowly, like moving too fast will break the illusion. He thinks his ears might be tricking him, but when he turns around, the speaker is still there. His mother is still there.

“Lisa Lisa?” He’s surprised into reverting to what he used to call her, before she moved back to the states.

She’s every bit as beautiful as he remembers her being, and she looks just as young as she had the day he met her. The silver streak in her hair that appeared when she turned seventy-five is gone, and Joseph feels like he’s looking into the past. “Hello, JoJo.”

Her face is as stern as ever, but her eyes are soft. Joseph is stepping towards her before he realizes what he’s doing. “What are you doing here?”

“I heard my son was coming,” Lisa Lisa’s mouth is curved in an almost smile, and she closes the few steps between them. Her hands are gentle, deceptively slender fingers curling around Joseph’s forearms. “It’s been so long, I couldn’t resist seeing you.”

“It’s been almost twenty years,” Joseph’s words fade in and out. He lets Lisa Lisa pull him closer, until she can wrap her arms around him. “I missed you.”

He returns her hug without thinking, squeezing her hard enough that her back pops. “I missed you too,” Lisa Lisa’s voice is muffled by Joseph’s chest, but the warmth there bleeds through.

It takes everything Joseph has to back away from his mother, his hands curling around her arms. Her eyes are still soft as she reaches up, her hand cupping around Joseph’s face. Joseph thinks that death can’t get any more emotional – he hasn’t attempted to process what he’s left behind yet – when he hears another voice from his past.

“Surely you’re not planning on keeping my grandson to yourself, are you Elizabeth?”

Another delicate hand is at his shoulder, and Joseph turns around so fast he makes himself dizzy. He’s expecting to see the woman who raised him, an elegant older woman with silver hair, old woman glasses, and soft, wrinkled skin. He’s surprised into taking a step back when he sees a beautiful woman, with thick blonde hair and soft, beautiful eyes.

She’s wearing an old fashioned dress, one with a corset and puffed out skirt, and her hair is fashioned like something from a period movie. She’s standing next to a huge man, easily the same size as Joseph, if not bigger. His hair is so black it’s almost blue, and his eyes are a brilliantly clear blue. The man is smiling, and Joseph thinks that if Labradors looked like people, this man would be the perfect embodiment of them.

“Granny Erina,” Joseph tears his eyes away from the man, reaching for his grandmother. She throws her arms around him, a soft laugh escaping as Joseph catches her, spinning her around.

Her arms tighten around Joseph, and he’s laughing in disbelief as he sets her down on her feet. “I’m so proud of you, Joseph.” Her hands are soft, careful as she cradles Joseph’s face in them. He leans down, until their faces are pressed together, and he can feel Erina’s smile against his cheek. “I love you so much.”

“I love you, too.” Joseph doesn’t want to move – he hasn’t seen his granny in years, and he’s missed her so much he can hardly stand it. Part of him recognizes that this isn’t exactly fair to Lisa Lisa, but he doesn’t focus on it.

Erina pulls back, gesturing to the man beside her. “Joseph, this is your grandfather, Jonathan.”

“No offense, Gramps,” Joseph takes the hand that Jonathan offers him, the firmness of his grip at complete odds with his soft expression. “But your body has given me a bitch of a hard time.”

Jonathan laughs, using his hold on Joseph to pull him into a hug. Joseph accepts with mild complaining – he’d try to wriggle out of his hold, but Jonathan is strong as hell, and Joseph really is tired. “I am sorry for any inconvenience my body has caused you.” His grandfather’s voice is as soft as his face, and Joseph wonders how they came from the same bloodline. “There is someone I want you to meet, Joseph.”

Joseph starts to say that he’s fucking tired of meeting people, and he wants to use his time in death to relax. But he stops, watching curiously as Jonathan gestures for someone.

The man that walks out is familiar, in the sense that Joseph has seen pictures of him before. His smile is soft, and a little shy. “Hello, Joseph.”

Joseph’s heard that voice in his dreams, long-forgotten and faded, like the sepia photograph he’d found of Straizo and Lisa Lisa. That photograph is hidden in his study, along with the pictures of his father and Lisa Lisa. Joseph opens his mouth to say something, but for once in his life, he can’t think of anything.

The man doesn’t seem offended, instead offering Joseph an almost perfect replica of Jonathan’s smile. “I’m your father.”

Joseph takes a hesitant step towards the man, watching as his eyes fill with an almost guarded hope. “Dad?”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be there, JoJo.” The distance between them closes, until they’re close enough that they’re almost touching. Joseph isn’t sure which one of them closes the distance first, but before he knows it his childhood desire to just have a single hug from his father is fulfilled.

He isn’t sure how long they stand there before he hears a loud, “JoJo!” that can only be one person.

Joseph doesn’t get a chance to turn around before Speedwagon is slamming into him, and he can’t stop his elated laugh as they both tumble towards the ground. They’re both talking as soon as they fall, and Joseph honestly has no idea what Speedwagon is saying. He’d been doing okay, but seeing Speedwagon again turns out to be the straw that breaks the figurative camel’s back, and he can’t stop his elated tears.

He can’t believe that everyone he’s lost is here, that he’s getting a second chance with them. He starts to say so, when something tugs in his chest. No, this thought isn’t bitter as much as it is sad. Not everyone.

It takes a bit of struggling to get free of Speedwagon – he’d forgotten how intense his uncle’s hugs were – but he finally manages it. “If you’re here,” this is soft, but it’s barely under Joseph’s control. “If all of you are here, if all of you knew I was coming, then – then where is he?”

Erina and Lisa Lisa exchange a look, both hesitant to answer Joseph’s question. Lisa Lisa is the one who steps forward, reaching for her son’s shoulder. “It’s not that simple, JoJo.” Her expression is stoic, but her voice is still strong. “You’re not supposed to be here, not yet.”

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“It means,” a new voice cuts in, and every nerve in Joseph’s body ignites. “You just had to be a pain in my ass.”

Caesar had agreed to stay hidden, to stay with Kakyoin and Avdol, and keep them from seeing Joseph. Everyone – even Jonathan – thought that it would be better this way, that it would make it easier for Joseph to go back into the realm of the living.

He’d thought he was strong enough to handle just seeing Joseph again, but he wasn’t. He couldn’t.

Caesar has moved away from Kakyoin and Avdol, determined to keep at least part of their plan to protect Joseph intact, and he’s leaning against a wall, his arms crossed over his chest. He’s attempting to look unaffected, but that’s almost impossible when Joseph’s clear green eyes are focused on him.

Joseph, for his part, looks like he just got hit by a truck.

His eyes are too wide, and his jaw is completely slack. Caesar would make fun of him if seeing Joseph again didn’t fucking hurt. He looks eighteen again, but he’s not – Joseph is so much older now, he’s gone through so much more than Caesar had a chance to, and it fucking hurts.

“Caesar.” Joseph’s voice, which had been so strong before, is a barely over a whisper. His eyes are wide, unbelieving, and Caesar can barely find the strength to summon a smile.

“Long time no see, JoJo.”

“Caesar,” Joseph repeats. He still looks disbelieving, only now he’s walking towards Caesar. His movements are slow at first, sluggish, like he’s attempting to walk through water. He speeds up when Caesar takes a step towards him, and then a switch flips.

He and Caesar are running towards each other, drawn to each other like magnets, like opposing forces of Hamon. He’s not sure who hits who first, but then they’re slamming into each other, Joseph hitting him hard enough that they both fall.

Caesar hits the ground with a soft oomph, his hands immediately curling around Joseph’s back. Joseph’s weight against his is familiar, and Caesar’s throat closes with the strength of emotions coursing through him. His fingers start to trace familiar patterns on Joseph’s back, and he closes his eyes, burying his face in Joseph’s neck. “Joseph.” His eyes burn, but he won’t let any tears fall. Not yet.

“I should have listened to you,” Joseph’s voice is partially muffled by Caesar’s hair, but he can still make out the slight waver in it. “I should have gone with you. Caesar, I should have – ” his voice breaks, and Caesar’s hold on him tightens. “I should have gone with you.”

“You were right, JoJo.” Caesar’s fingers are digging into Joseph’s back, trying to bring him even closer than he already is. “You were right, I just didn’t want to hear it.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Joseph’s voice is harsh, and he’s pulling back, moving until his arms are bracketing Caesar’s face, and he can meet Caesar’s eyes. “It doesn’t fucking matter, who was right or who was wrong. I shouldn’t have made you fight Wamuu on your own, I never should have made you feel like going forward alone was your only option.”

Caesar blinks up at Joseph, his mouth opening slightly. It’s his Joseph looking down at him, the eighteen-year-old careless idiot that he’d fallen in love with. But it’s a different Joseph speaking now, a Joseph wizened by age and experience. It hurts, to think that Joseph grew this much without him there. It hurts worse when he realizes Joseph grew up this much because of him.

Joseph looks down at him, his entire expression softening as Caesar tries to control his breathing. “I lost the ring.” This is a lot softer than what Joseph had started off with, his voice surprisingly tender.

Unfortunately, Caesar has no fucking idea what he’s talking about. “What?”

“The ring you gave me. I lost it.”

Caesar’s brows knit together. “JoJo,” he looks exasperated. “You said you’d never take it off.”

“I didn’t,” Joseph is smiling, and Caesar wishes he knew what the fuck was going on in his hand. “Kars did.” It takes a second for what Joseph is saying to sink in, and once it does, Caesar groans.

“Vaffanculo,” this is soft, but Joseph still catches it. He still remembers what it means, if the way his expression lights up is any indication. “Bambino.”

“God, I missed you.” Joseph’s eyes are soft, and he reaches up, until he can cradle Caesar’s face in his palm. “I missed you so much, Caesar.”

Caesar tilts his head, until he can press his lips to the rough skin of Joseph’s palm. “I missed you too, JoJo.” Caesar shifts, until he can reach up and curl his hand in Joseph’s hair.

Joseph’s eyes close at the touch, and he lets out a quiet sigh as Caesar starts to thread his fingers through his hair, a relaxation method he’d discovered when Joseph couldn’t sleep because the wedding rings of death tightened around his veins with every breath. “Hey, Caesarino?”

“Yes, JoJo?” Caesar is exasperated by the nickname, but god has he missed hearing Joseph call him that.

“The next thing you’re going to say is I love you.”

“I love you.” His eyes are soft, and he leans down, until his lips are brushing against Caesar’s. Caesar had forgotten how soft Joseph’s lips were – how could he forget?

Well, this is bitter, it’s been fifty-one years, of course he’s forgotten how Joseph felt against him, how soft his skin and lips were, just another contrasting piece of the puzzle that makes up Joseph Joestar. He’d never been able to kiss Joseph as much as he wanted, not when he was stuck in the leather training mask. It hurts, being this close to Joseph again and realizing that five decades have passed.

Joseph is smiling against his lips, and Caesar’s heart leaps into his throat when Joseph closes the scant inches between them, pressing their lips together. The kiss is soft at first, Joseph testing old boundaries and re-learning how Caesar feels against him, and Caesar sighs into it.

Then the dam breaks. Joseph’s teeth dig into Caesar’s bottom lip, and Caesar groans, arching up against him. He loses track of time, loses track of everything but the feel of Joseph’s lips against his, of Joseph’s hands on his skin.

Caesar is breathless when Joseph finally pulls back, looking down at him with dark green eyes. He could stay like this forever – a selfish part of him wants to – but he can’t. Joseph doesn’t have much time left.

And he knows he promised the others he wouldn’t say anything about Kakyoin, Avdol, and Iggy, but he can’t keep that promise. Not when Joseph’s grandson is about to be put through the same hell that Joseph went through.

Joseph can read the change in his eyes. “Caesar?”

“There’s something you should know, JoJo.” A hand on his shoulder is all it takes to push Joseph off of him. Joseph looks confused as he stands, but that doesn’t stop him from offering a hand to Caesar. Caesar takes it, threading his fingers through Joseph’s on instinct. “You’re not the only one.”

It’s not much of a statement, but Joseph knows him well enough to read between the lines. His expression morphs form confusion to panic, and his hold on Caesar’s hand tightens, so sharp and strong that all of Caesar’s knuckles pop. “Jotaro?”

“No.” Caesar knows he shouldn’t, but he stops, just long enough to press a kiss to Joseph’s shoulder. “It’s not his time.”

He knows the others are watching them – they have been since he broke his first promise – but he doesn’t care. Kakyoin and Avdol are still out of sight, Iggy still seeking the comfort that Kakyoin’s lap provides, but Caesar knows they could see what was happening.

Joseph follows Caesar without hesitation, but Caesar knows he’s terrified. He’s terrified that his grandson will die young (he will, Caesar knows he will, but it’s not his time yet), he’s terrified that they took too long, and that they were too slow to save Holly. He’s terrified something happened to Polnareff and Iggy when they separated. He’s terrified that he led an innocent seventeen-year-old to his death.

His worst fears are realized when he sees Avdol and Kakyoin. “No.” That’s a harsh gasp, something primal and wrecked, and Caesar squeezes his hand. “No, not you.” Iggy wags his tail at the sound of Joseph’s voice, but he doesn’t leave his spot in Kakyoin’s lap.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Joestar.” Avdol’s smile is apologetic, and his half-bow is gracious. His apology stirs something inside of Joseph, something so visceral and angry he can’t stop his tears. “We weren’t enough.”

“Don’t you dare fucking apologize,” Joseph’s voice is harsh, raspy with tears he knows he’s going to shed. “I’m the one who dragged you into this, Avdol, I – ”

“I cannot stand by while evil like Dio’s spreads.” Avdol’s rebuttal is gracious, and Joseph’s heart aches for Polnareff. “I don’t regret my life.” His smile is kind, but his eyes are sad. “Nor do I regret my death.”

Joseph lets go of Caesar’s hand, grabbing Avdol and pulling him into a bone-crushing hug. Avdol suffers through it, but his expression is fond when he pulls back. He squeezes Joseph’s shoulders, before looking down at Kakyoin.

Kakyoin is looking down at his hands, and Joseph understands what Avdol isn’t saying. Joseph hasn’t regained control of his tears, and he kneels down in front of Kakyoin, one of his hands on Kakyoin’s shoulder. “Kakyoin,” this is soft, and he can feel the shudder that rolls through Kakyoin’s body at the sound of his voice.

The boy – he’s still only a kid, he’s younger than Joseph was when he fought the Pillar Men – has never lost his composure in front of Joseph. Even when Joseph found him in bed with Jotaro, Kakyoin didn’t lose his cool. He’d been calm, his eyes bright and clear as he’d looked at Joseph and said, “This isn’t what it looks like, Mr. Joestar.”

It was a lie, and all three of them knew it. Joseph had been offended that Kakyoin felt the need to lie to him, when he’d been nothing but kind to the boy. He also knew that Kakyoin was trying to protect Jotaro. Joseph had never given a fuck about sexuality, no one in his family had, but he couldn’t blame Kakyoin for being defensive.

The boy had always been an outsider, it hadn’t taken much for Joseph to figure that out, and Jotaro was probably the first actual friend he’d made. He was terrified the revelation of his sexuality (a sexuality he shares with everyone on their impromptu journey, not that he’d ever figured that out) would make him an outsider again.

Joseph could have said that he understood why Kakyoin was trying to keep this from him, and that he didn’t care. He could have yelled at Kakyoin for insulting his intelligence, and then said that he didn’t care. He could have yelled at Jotaro for leaving his bag on the floor, almost tripping him and making it a hell of a lot more awkward than it already was.

Instead, Joseph had said, “It looks like you’re happy.” He’d turned towards his grandson, who knew that Joseph didn’t give a single flying fuck if he was gay or not, and said, “Your mother’s on the phone.”

And now, Joseph’s already aching heart shatters even further when Kakyoin starts to cry. He tries to hide it, scrubbing at his face desperately, but it’s pointless. Joseph can hear his shuddery breaths, his failing attempts to hide the choked sobs, and he can’t take it.

“Kakyoin,” his voice is soft as he sits down beside him. Kakyoin doesn’t look at him, barely acknowledges his existence. Joseph doesn’t let that deter him – he wraps his arms around Kakyoin’s shoulders, pulling him into his hold. “Kakyoin, I am so sorry.”

“I’m not,” Kakyoin is struggling to regain his composure, but he can’t stop his tears. Joseph wraps his arms tighter around Kakyoin, and Kakyoin sags against him. “Please don’t mistake me, Mr. Joestar. I don’t regret my life, and I don’t regret coming with you to Egypt.”

Joseph knows Kakyoin hasn’t finished his train of thought yet, and he won’t interrupt him. When he looks up Caesar is still standing beside him, something utterly sympathetic in his green eyes. It pulls something in Joseph’s chest, to see his lover again, knowing that Jotaro has lost his.

Kakyoin is crying against his chest, and Joseph starts to thread his fingers through Kakyoin’s hair, the motion as comforting as he can make it. “I would do it all again, given the chance.” Kakyoin’s voice is barely audible, but Joseph can still hear him. “But I thought – I thought I’d have more time with him.”

Joseph knows that telling Kakyoin he knows exactly what that feels like won’t help, so he doesn’t. Instead he tightens his hold on Kakyoin, letting the teen cry until he physically can’t anymore. He’s beginning to think that death might not be so bad, that it might give him a chance to learn more about the man his grandson fell in love with.

He’s pulled out of this train of thought when Caesar clears his throat. He looks up at him, perplexed, and he doesn’t like the guilt he sees in his lover’s eyes. “I’m sorry, Joseph.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s not your time yet.” Caesar’s eyes are focused on Joseph’s shoulder, like looking there will somehow protect him from the emotional despair that he’s pushing Joseph into. “You’re going back.”

That gets Joseph to let go of Kakyoin, standing up and looking at Caesar with something like betrayal. “No.” Joseph’s voice is harsh, and Caesar sees the first bubble of panic in his eyes. “No, I can’t.”

“You have to, JoJo.”

The others have moved, so that they’re standing behind Caesar, but Joseph isn’t looking at any of them. “I’m not leaving you again.” He’s closed the small gap between them, his hands coming up to grasp at Caesar’s shoulders. “I can’t.”

“You don’t have a choice.” One of Caesar’s hands curls around Joseph’s wrist, the other coming up to curl around Joseph’s cheek. Joseph is warm beneath him, his skin smooth and unmarred by the years he’s spent without Caesar. “You have to go back.”

“No,” Joseph repeats, always the stubborn asshole. “Send Noriaki.” The teen looks up at the sound of his name, and it only takes him a second to realize what Joseph is willing to sacrifice. “He deserves the chance to go back, not me.”

“I agree.” Caesar has stepped closer, until he and Joseph are breathing the same air. “But it doesn’t work like that. They can’t fix Noriaki.” His eyes close as he presses his face into Joseph’s neck. “They can fix you.”

“I don’t want to be fixed.” Joseph is almost begging now, his arms wrapped around Caesar, pulling him even closer. “Caesar, I can’t lose you again.”

Caesar shifts, until his arms are wrapped around Joseph’s back, his fingers digging into well-defined muscle. “I’m not going anywhere, JoJo.” He straights up, until he can press his lips against Joseph’s.

Joseph kisses him desperately, like stealing all of Caesar’s breath will keep him from leaving. Caesar’s the one who pulls away, pressing his forehead against Joseph’s. They’re both panting, Joseph drawing in ragged breath after ragged breath. Caesar keeps his eyes closed – he doesn’t want to see the pain in Joseph’s eyes, he doesn’t want to be the cause for it anymore – but he can feel it when Joseph’s left hand phases out of existence.

His soul is being called back.

“No,” Joseph seems to realize what’s going on, his right hand curling around the back of Caesar’s neck. His grip is strong, even as his soul ages, and when Caesar looks up at him, his hair is starting to gray. “No, Caesar, I can’t.”

“You will.” Caesar cups his face in his hands, fighting back his own tears as Joseph ages in front of him, his skin stretching and wrinkling. He’s wanted to touch Joseph for the past fifty years, he’s wanted to feel the scratch of Joseph’s beard on his face and he’s wanted to see how the Joseph in his memories felt compared to the Joseph in reality.

As it turns out, they both feel perfect.

Joseph is still holding onto the back of Caesar’s neck, and he leans forward, until he can kiss Caesar again. His touch is tender, considering just how desperate he is. When he pulls back, Caesar can see the cool resolve in his eyes. He knows Joseph’s feeling more than that – Joseph’s always felt too much to ever be contained by one emotion – and he tightens his hold on Joseph’s face. “How much time do I have left?”

“Maybe a minute,” Caesar’s voice breaks for the first time, and he’s surprised by his lapse in control. “Your grandson works fast.”

Joseph’s hand moves to cradle Caesar’s cheek, his thumb brushing over the markings on his cheekbone. “I love you, Caesar.” Joseph’s voice is strong (albeit older) which is good, because Caesar’s starting to lose his composure. “I’ve loved you since I was nineteen, and I’ll love you until I die.” Joseph pauses, then offers Caesar a cocky smile. “Until I die again, I mean.”

Caesar does lose his composure at that, tears he’s been fighting for way too long starting to stream down his face as Joseph starts to fade out from in front of him. “I love you, Joseph.” His voice is wrecked, and Joseph leans forward, until he can press their lips together. Once again, Joseph’s motions are surprisingly tender, and Caesar can’t stop his quiet sob. “I’ll wait for you.”

“Take care of Noriaki for me.” Joseph’s voice is barely more than a whisper, and when Caesar opens his eyes, his lover is mostly faded. He’s old and grizzled now, but his green eyes are bright, just like they were when Caesar first met him. His eyes are the only part of his body that haven’t started to fade yet. “Avdol and Iggy, too.”

“I love you, JoJo.” This is little more than a whisper. He’s not sure if Joseph heart him or not, at first. Then he sees the way Joseph’s eyes light up, and he knows.

“Sono tuo, Caesarino.” Joseph’s voice is fading, just like his soul. In a minute, it will be like he was never even there. “Ti voglio.”

Joseph has the last word, like he always does. His eyes linger for a second, bright and warm, and then he’s gone. Caesar’s left with nothing but the memory of his touch and the soft reverberation of his words. The space in front of him is gaping and empty, now that Joseph’s not there to fill the void, and Caesar can’t stand to look at it anymore.

He turns, so fast that he loses his balance and he goes crashing to his knees. It’s not the most embarrassing thing he’s ever done (not even close) but it hurts. He knows the others, the people that Joseph loved most, are watching him. He knows he betrayed them not once, but twice.

It’s not like it affected any of them, though. Half of them never met Joseph while they were alive, and none of them knew Kakyoin or Avdol or Iggy. He was the idiot who fell for Joseph. He was the sorry bastard who’d spent every day of the last fifty-one years missing the idiot. He was the one who felt his absence the most.

Caesar’s trying to calm himself down, to pick himself up and keep walking, but he can’t. Caesar hasn’t felt a pain this strong since his death – it’s stealing his breath, tightening in his chest as it wraps around his ribs, constricting him until he can’t breathe.

It’s too much. Joseph’s absence is too much, every feeling that he’d stirred up in Caesar is too much, and he feels emotionally raw, like a livewire.

He can hear someone moving towards him, and he tries to ignore whoever it is. This is his pain, and he’ll bear it on his own. Fuck knows he’s been doing it long enough to practically be an expert at it.

That plan fails when someone comes crashing down beside him, and Caesar can see green sleeves through his tears. Deceptively slender arms wrap around him, and Caesar knows that Kakyoin is the one who’s trying to comfort him.

No, that’s not true. He can hear the teen’s sobs over his own, and he realizes that Kakyoin is hurting every bit as much as he is. At least he got the chance to say goodbye to Joseph.

He’s curling his hands around Kakyoin’s arms before the teen can protest, and they collapse into each other, both having given up on trying to act like everything’s okay. “It stops hurting, right?” Kakyoin’s voice is raw, and he’s almost desperate as he buries his face in Caesar’s shoulder. “It has to – it stops, doesn’t it?”

They both know the answer. Caesar’s been dead for over five decades, and he’s crying every bit as hard, as Kakyoin, who hasn’t even been dead twelve hours. That doesn’t make it any easier for Caesar to say, “No. No, it doesn’t.”

*********

Polnareff is still unconscious, but he’s alive.

Jotaro had refused treatment until he was completely sure that Polnareff and Joseph were going to pull through, and even then he barely sat still long enough for the doctors to set his broken bones. They’ve been given the room adjacent to Polnareff’s, and Jotaro hasn’t moved from his spot in the chair by the window.

He hasn’t moved in at least two hours, the brim of his hat pulled down so low that Joseph can’t see his eyes. Not that he needs to. He knows what Jotaro is feeling, because he’s felt it too.

He knows Jotaro is replaying everything in his head, trying to think of a way that he could have saved them all. It’s easy to pick apart their decisions now, now that Dio’s a pile of ash in the desert, but deep down they both know they did what they had to.

At least Jotaro has the comfort of knowing that he and Kakyoin departed on good terms, and that his lover didn’t die because of him.

When Jotaro doesn’t move for another hour, Joseph clears his throat. “Jotaro.” His grandson doesn’t look up, and Joseph can feel bile in his throat. He remembers what happened when he died – he remembers telling Jotaro not to get angry as he faded from existence, and he remembers seeing Caesar and Kakyoin – and if Jotaro asked, he would tell him.

But he won’t, so Joseph will keep Caesar to himself for yet another day. “Jotaro, it’s okay to be upset.” That gets him a derisive huff, and as much as it grates on Joseph’s nerves, at least it’s a reaction. “You cared about them. About him. It’s not – ”

“How would you know what it’s like, old man?” Jotaro’s speaking not out of anger, but out of pain. That’s the only reason Joseph doesn’t throw something at him.

“It’s okay to be upset,” Joseph repeats. “You loved him.”

Star Platinum is out before Joseph can continue, his eyes cruel as he looks at Joseph. Jotaro hasn’t turned around, refusing to acknowledge his grandfather’s existence except through his stand.

“I’m not going to fight you, Jotaro.” Joseph could use Hermit Purple, but he’s fucking tired. He’s tired, and he’s worn down, and he wishes with a fervor that surprises him that Kakyoin had returned instead of him. Besides, they both know that Hermit Purple is no match for Star, especially when he’s furious.

Joseph’s arm are lax by his side as Star advances towards him. He’s walking, rather than floating like he usually does, and it serves to make him more intimidating. He doesn’t stop until he’s less than a foot away from Joseph, Jotaro still refusing to turn around and look at him.

He’s fully prepared to feel the full wrath of Star Platinum. Jotaro’s hurting more than he ever has, and if this is what he turns to in order to try and feel human again, Joseph won’t deny him.

This is the closest Joseph can remember being to Jotaro’s stand. Star Platinum is terrifying up close, but Joseph isn’t afraid. Not when he can see part of his grandson in Star’s face. “Go ahead,” Joseph’s voice is soft, and Star Platinum’s intense eyes zero in on him. “I’m not going to fight you.”

Star Platinum looks at him for a split second longer, his face unreadable. Joseph is bracing himself for the first punch when one of Star Platinum’s oversized hands clutches at his own chest, almost like he’s in agonizing pain. Joseph barely has time to try and figure out what that’s supposed to mean when Star tilts his head back, his long black hair flowing over his shoulders as he lets out the most heartbroken scream that Joseph’s ever heard.

Joseph is frozen in place as Star Platinum screams again, tears forming in his usually clear eyes. “Oh.” This is soft, and Joseph takes an almost hesitant step towards Star. When the Stand doesn’t back down, Joseph reaches out, his fingers gentle as he slides them up Star’s arm.

That breaks a dam in the Stand, and Joseph barely has time to draw in a breath before Star Platinum is crushing him in his hold, sobbing against him like a child. Jotaro hasn’t moved, but Joseph can see his reflection in the window, just over his Stand’s shoulder. His cheeks are wet with tears, and Joseph realizes that he’s using his Stand to do what he can’t.

For tonight, Joseph will let him.