Doppio opened his eyes and was immediately blinded. It was so bright, especially after the darkness of the coliseum at night. Right... The...coliseum? His heart began to sink and deep fear formed in the pit of his stomach, inappropriate to his surroundings, which he was beginning to see were objectively pleasant. The bright light was just the sun, shining over a seemingly infinite expanse of sand as calm waves gently lapped at the shore. This was a beach. He hadn't been to one since...had he ever been to one? He had no memories like that. And yet, this environment felt familiar.
But that didn't matter! Why was he here? Hadn't he just died? He couldn't have. The afterlife waiting for him wouldn't be anything like this. He'd always known he'd end up in–
Wait. Since when had he known anything about the afterlife? He didn't believe in that stuff...did he? His head hurt as he stared up at the sky. He hoped the boss was doing okay without him.
Suddenly, he felt someone's arms around him. He shrieked and jumped backwards, falling over onto the sand. It wasn't hard to escape, because the person, he now saw, was a petite woman. How had she gotten so close without him noticing? Was she a stand user? Or...maybe he just hadn't been paying attention.
She laughed. "You really are him! You were always so jumpy. Sorry for startling you." She knelt down and extended a hand.
Doppio recoiled from it before realizing that she was trying to help him up. Still, he didn't take it. He scrambled to his feet on his own. "What are you talking about?" he asked.
"I'm talking about you, Solido! What else?"
"Sol...?" Halfway through echoing it, Doppio realized that it rang a bell. It wasn't common, and he'd only heard it in one place. That was...one of the boss's fake names, right? He'd never trusted even Doppio with his real name, but he knew the rest.
But the familiarity went deeper still. He was sure he'd heard the name in this woman's voice. It was definitely that voice! But how? Where had he met her before?
"What I don't understand," she was saying, "is how you look exactly the same! It's been fifteen years. I expected you to age well, but this..."
"Fifteen years?" Doppio echoed her again. Was she saying he hadn't changed since he was four years old? That was kind of insulting. If he'd been that young, that would at least explain why he didn't remember her clearly. He couldn't really remember anything that had happened when he was four. Or five, for that matter. Or six. Or seven. His childhood had been a gaping void in his memory for quite some time, and he always tried not to think about it.
"Solido..." Her face lost the cheery expression. "You don't recognize me, do you."
"Uh, you just have the wrong person, I think!" Doppio backed away a little further. The look in her eyes made him feel panicky. "My name is Vinegar Doppio."
"Don't be silly, of course it's you!" She said this with such inexplicable confidence. "I've thought about our time together every day, and every part of you is exactly the same as it was then! Something happened to your memory, I guess. Don't worry. I'm sure it will come back soon."
Doppio's headache was significantly worse now. It felt like he was on the brink of something, but there was nothing there. He was just...on the brink. It was an unsettling feeling.
"Just look at me. I know you'll remember."
He looked at her. She was very pretty, was the first thought he had. She seemed to be in her 30s and had curly brown hair. She was wearing a simple, minimal dress, and her body was...a nice shape.
"My eyes are up here, Solido." She sounded amused.
"S-Sorry," Doppio muttered, feeling his face grow hot.
That was when he realized that he hadn't looked at her eyes yet. He'd been avoiding them this whole time. The prospect scared him, but he exerted all his effort to force his eyes to meet hers. They were a very bright blue, and there was something about them that–
It came crashing back all at once. Doppio remembered–
That was a fake name too, wasn't it?
Diavolo remembered everything.
His life replayed at lighting speed. The priest, who was kind yet distant. The small town that both feared and derided him. Reading the Bible, again and again. Hearing the story of his birth, again and again. The slow realization that his name was all too accurate. The fear that grew until the knowledge that he had a blood relative out in the world became unbearable, and the decision to take care of her–his mother.
Then the woman in front of him, and the only times he'd ever been happy. Diavolo clung to those warm, soft memories, but time moved inexorably forward.
Coming home one day to find his peaceful life over. The blinding panic. The fire. Then, Egypt. So hot and dry. It was a merciless heat, nothing like Donatella's. The arrows, the old woman, then–
Then nothing. Everything after that was darkness punctuated by the brief, confusing bursts of light. As soon as that arrow pierced him, he'd split off, becoming only a fragment of the past. They'd been the same up to that point, but then they weren't, and it was this Diavolo's fate to be the half that never got to grow up.
She was still looking at him with those eyes. He knew them now.
"Donatella," he said, and her face lit up.
"Yes! I knew you'd remember!" Her body tensed. She seemed to be resisting the urge to come closer.
Diavolo shuffled around awkwardly. It had been too long. What was he supposed to do here again? What did he want to do? He didn't know. It wasn't as if it had gone away, after all. The fear. He had already exhausted his ability to look her in the eye.
"I'm jealous," she said suddenly, breaking the prolonged silence. "How come you get to be young again? I'm stuck like this." She gestured at her face, which already had a couple wrinkles.
"You– You–" You're still beautiful, Diavolo tried to say, but it wouldn't come out. The words were intensely mortifying, and he gave up on them. "It's...complicated. I don't really get it either. I am sure that I..." He paused again. This was vital information as to his current state, and he was giving it away? What if she used it against him? He couldn't think of a how or why, but what if she did? He took a deep breath. "I don't remember anything past...the way I look. The last I remember, I was still nineteen."
"Wait..." Her mouth, the only part of her face he was looking at, frowned. "Did you...die then? Time is strange here. You could have only arrived now."
"I died in 2001," he said with confidence. The boss–no, himself–had always kept him aware of the date, if nothing else. "I think I was nineteen for fifteen years."
"That doesn't make any sense," she observed. "Are you feeling all right?"
No, he wasn't, but that was irrelevant. "I...um...hibernated. Is that what you'd call it? In the back of my brain while the other me took over. He's the one who got older."
"You have two personalities?" It was the kind of sentence that should have been accompanied by backing away, but she wasn't backing away.
"...I guess so."
"The other Solido... Is he dead too?"
"I don't know," Diavolo admitted. He was suddenly struck by an urge to correct her on his name. But was he brave enough? No. Not yet.
Yet. There was time, stretching out before him. Time with her. Time where...nothing bad was going to happen? Was that really true? He couldn't believe it. It was imperative that he stay on edge. Still... It wasn't as dangerous as the life he'd lived. He was certain that this was the safest place he'd ever been, however much or however little that meant.
Suddenly, she was holding his hand. He tensed but didn't resist. "Come with me," she said.
Trembling slightly, he let himself be led in whatever direction she wanted to go. He was so scared. Terrified, even, and yet he allowed it to happen. He still couldn't look her in the eyes. Instead, Diavolo looked up at the sky, and he wondered if he was okay.