Josuke and Okuyasu reached their usual spot by the seashore during that mysterious in-between time when the afternoon light was beginning to fade but the sunset had not yet started to paint the clouds. They were the first ones to arrive at the designated meeting place, which was handy because they still had a little bit of setting up to do before everything was all ready to go. Okuyasu, of course, had provided some snacks, while Josuke provided the funky-fresh mood with a little boombox and a few good mixtapes.
“Damn, I coulda slept for about a million years,” Josuke yawned, stretching his arms above his head. “I never knew how bad you could feel from just not sleeping enough. I kinda feel bad for my mom now, she says after I was born she didn’t get a single good night’s sleep until I was old enough to walk.”
“Don’t all moms say that though?” Okuyasu mused, arranging a fruit platter.
“Well if they all say it, then it’s even more likely to be true, right?” Josuke paused. “Hey, wait, did you just call my mom a liar?”
“Naw. I was only teasin’.”
Okuyasu caught the briny smell of the sea in his nose and held it there. Maybe it was just because he’d grown up on an island, but there was something about the smell of the ocean which always made him feel a little calmer, like he was home. Incidentally, it also made him consider whipping up some salted caramel tarts later in the week. He grinned into the horizon.
Once they were satisfied that the preparations were complete, the two boys flopped down on the blanket with their backs to the sea and looked back towards the town, eagerly awaiting their guests.
“Hey Josuke,” Okuyasu whispered conspiratorially, “wanna bet on who’ll show up first?”
Josuke smirked back. “You’re on, dude. Loser has to buy the other one an ice cream.”
“Deal. I reckon it’ll be Jotaro.” Okuyasu said with a wise nod.
“Pfft. Sure, except he’s been with Rohan all afternoon, so he’ll probably have to wait for that asshole to find the right Gucci nipple pasties or whatever.” Josuke snorted.
Okuyasu scrunched up his nose in mock-disgust. “Man, I do not need to think about Rohan’s nipples...”
Josuke laughed. “I’m gonna go with...Koichi. Good ol’ reliable Koichi,” he said decisively.
They shook hands on it, although their attempt at hand-shaking quickly morphed into regular old hand-holding. Josuke rested his head on Okuyasu’s shoulder.
“I’m still sleepy...” he mumbled into the other boy’s collar, obviously trying on a cute act. Okuyasu smiled to himself. Just a few weeks ago this kind of thing would have got him all riled up and red in the face, but somehow it was already beginning to feel normal. Not in a boring way, not at all, just in a kind of...nice, quiet, happy way. Like this was how things were supposed to feel. Maybe that was a sign they were meant to be together all along? He wasn’t sure if he believed in soulmates or whatever, but if they were a real thing, he figured Josuke probably had a good shot at being his. They’d been through a lot together, after all. He wrapped an arm around his waist and snuggled him up a little closer.
“Aw, you can snooze. Ain’t nobody else here yet anyway.” The smell of freshly laundered clothes lingered on Josuke, and it made Okuyasu smile.
“Thanks, babe. I’ll just nap for like five minutes, I swear...” Josuke relaxed heavily into his boyfriend’s arms, his head falling against Okuyasu’s chest. “One thing, though.”
“...Can I get a smooch?” Josuke asked cheekily, eyes still closed.
Okuyasu didn’t bother responding. With a grin of his own, he leaned down and pressed their lips together sweetly. “Get some rest, bro.”
“You’re the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in my life, Oku,” Josuke mumbled as he drifted off to sleep. Okay, maybe that was enough to make Okuyasu blush a little. What a smooth fucker.
When Mami, Shouko, and Kumiko arrived fifteen minutes later, Josuke was still fast asleep, sprawled-out across Okuyasu’s lap. Okuyasu raised a finger to his lips when he saw them.
“Let ‘im sleep a bit longer. Lookit his lil face.” He made a really dorky grin as he looked down at the sleeping boy, who was totally drooling.
“Gross,” Mami teased, “careful, somebody might think you two are dating or somethin’.”
Shouko held up a plastic bag filled with various treats, many of which looked home-made. Nothing less from the cooking class crew. “We brought snacks! But it looks like you guys did, too...”
“Can’t have too many snacks!” Okuyasu said delightedly as his friend unpacked the tasty offerings. He cast a glance at Kumiko, who was trailing behind the other two a little awkwardly, her eyes resting on Josuke’s sleeping figure in a painfully obvious way. “It’s okay,” he said, catching her off-guard, “he’s sleepin’ like a baby now.”
“Yeah...looks like it,” she said tentatively, taking a seat on the blanket next to her friends.
Josuke started to stir shortly after the girls arrived and settled down, a little embarrassed to have been caught napping (and drooling) in public. The next to arrive were Koichi, Yukako, and Mikitaka, the latter of whom was sporting a very eye-catching pleated miniskirt. Okuyasu thought it was pretty eye-catching, anyway.
“Yooo!” he applauded, “Mikitaka, you look fuckin’ rad in that, dude!”
“Why thank you, Okuyasu,” Mikitaka said, giving them a little twirl, his soft lavender hair floating in the wind. “I received so many kind remarks about the sailor uniform which Yukako so graciously gifted to me that I thought I might begin to incorporate similar designs into my everyday attire!” He shimmied down onto the blanket next to Koichi and Yukako. “Hello, everyone!”
Mami leaned into Okuyasu’s ear. “This is the guy who says he’s an alien, right?” she whispered, “...I can dig it.”
“So, you’re okay now, right Josuke?” Koichi said excitedly, hands balled into fists in front of him. “That’s so great! What a huge relief!”
Josuke nodded. “Uh huh! No more fucked-up glowing cannibal spider dreams for me! Although I’ll probably still have nightmares about that stand of yours, Kumiko, like whoa.”
Kumiko’s posture shrunk a little. “I’m really sorry. I don’t know why it looks like that. It freaks me out too.”
Josuke clapped Kumiko roughly on the back, making Shouko laugh a little. “Naww, it’s okay, stands are just fuckin’ weird like that, don’t sweat it!” He was clearly in a much better mood after having caught some decent shut-eye.
Yukako craned her neck at Kumiko curiously. “Can I see it? Your stand.”
“HMM I don’t think we need to do that! Ha ha!” Josuke laughed wildly, wide-eyed and waving his arms. “Like, it ain’t anyone’s fault or anything, but just trust me when I say it’s baaasically the scariest looking stand I’ve ever seen.” Kumiko gave him a Look.
“You’re making her uncomfortable, Josuke!” Yukako scolded. She shuffled next to Kumiko. “Listen, honey, I know what it’s like to have a stand that people think is ‘weird’ or ‘creepy’. You wouldn’t believe the amount of people who say to me, ‘oh, Yukako, you’re so weird, you scare me’...it’s so rude, honestly. Those slimy little pricks have no sense of decorum what-so-ever!” she cooed in a decidedly off-putting way. “At the end of the day, though, it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks. Your stand is part of who you are, and if it scares people, just embrace that! Who cares what they say! It’s their problem anyway!”
“Hey,” Shouko said, “weren’t you the girl who set somebody’s head on fire?”
Yukako smiled sweetly, unfazed. “I did it for love. What better reason could there possibly be?” The rest of the group fidgeted a little nervously, especially Koichi.
Mami tapped her fingers on a packet of cookies impatiently. “Right. You guys keep talkin’ about these ‘stands’...planning on tellin’ us what they are anytime soon? That is why we’re here, after all.”
“We’re still waiting on two more people,” Josuke said, “I don’t wanna start until everybody’s here.”
Thankfully, they didn’t have to wait too much longer, as within a few minutes the silhouettes of their final guests could be seen approaching from a parked car in the distance.
“Speak o’ the devils!” Okuyasu shouted. “Yooo!! Over here, guys!”
“You don’t have to shout, Nijimura,” huffed Kishibe Rohan, strutting over the hill towards them, “believe it or not, I am capable of spotting eight teenagers all sitting in a circle under a massive tree.” Behind him, Jotaro appeared to be carrying an entire easel and a number of drawing supplies.
Koichi beamed. “Rohan-sensei! Jotaro-san! Glad you could make it!”
Jotaro nodded silently in acknowledgement, and Rohan flashed an almost unnervingly friendly smile back at the small boy. “Koichi! Yes, I thought it would be a good opportunity to gather references for my manga – I have an upcoming scene which involves several girls talking amongst themselves, you see.”
Shouko’s eyes widened. “Wait, one of the people we were waiting for was Kishibe Rohan? As in, the super-famous mangaka Kishibe Rohan? I wanted to go to the autograph signing this morning but I had school...”
Josuke laughed awkwardly. “It’s uh, probably for the best that you couldn’t make it, don’t worry.”
“Forget him,” Mami leered, “who’s the hunk o’ burnin’ muscle he brought with him? Is he like a personal figure model or somethin’?”
“Uh-huh. Or somethin’.” Okuyasu snickered. Mami’s ears pricked up at the hint of gossip, but he would say no more.
Josuke sighed. “Yeah, that’s my nephew. He’s 28. His grandpa is my dad. It’s a long story.”
The girls tried to wrap their heads around that particularly bizarre twist in Josuke’s family tree for a moment. Meanwhile, Rohan, having set down his bag and directed Jotaro to the ideal spot to set up his easel, turned on his heel.
“Alright, let’s not mince words. Which one of you was the stand user?”
Everyone went quiet and tried not to look at Kumiko, who simply sighed and raised her hand slowly. The venom in Rohan’s eyes was apparent. He took a long, dramatic breath before continuing.
“First of all,” he began, the menacing aura around him growing with each passing second, “let it be known that I, Kishibe Rohan--”
Josuke threw a peanut at him. It bounced off his headband.
“Wha-- could you not, Higashikata?!” Rohan screeched, livid at having his (no doubt pre-rehearsed) tirade interrupted. “I have every right to be--”
Another peanut, this time from Okuyasu. Nervous laughter rippled across the group as Rohan flailed his arms around, clearly very offended. Behind him, Jotaro’s cool facade cracked and he let out an unexpectedly warm laugh. It was the first sound he’d made since arriving, and absolutely no one knew how to process it. Even The Great Kishibe Rohan looked surprised, and may perhaps have blushed a little (although it could also have been a trick of the light. Who’s to say?)
“Josuke,” Okuyasu hissed into his ear, “What the fuck was that.”
Josuke, equally stunned, whispered back. “I dunno, man. I’ve never heard him laugh like that before. Would you call that a giggle?”
“Nah,” Okuyasu shook his head, “that was a chuckle.” He stared at the flustered pair, Rohan coughing and rearranging his art supplies while Jotaro looked like he was trying to escape the earth into a wormhole hidden under the brim of his hat. “...They’re definitely bangin’. They gotta be.”
“Don’t ever say that to me ever again oh my god,” Josuke cringed.
“Okay.” Mami said once the shock of Jotaro’s laugh had subsided, punching her hand. “Let’s get down to it, I’m dying here.”
“Hang on,” Yukako sighed. “Rohan, do you really have to hang around so close? You’re making Koichi uncomfortable.”
Rohan looked up from his easel. “Yes. I’m working. And Koichi is fine.”
Koichi gave Yukako an apologetic look. “Just pretend he’s not there. You get kinda used to it after a while. I swear half the time I’m with him, I look over and he’s suddenly started drawing me. It’s just how it is. I’d be annoyed, but he’s a really good artist, so it’s okay.”
Shouko glanced excitedly at the easel. “Man, I don’t know what the problem is, I’d love to be drawn by Kishibe Rohan, how cool...”
Rohan’s mouth curled into a smug little grin. After a few impossibly quick slashes at the canvas with his pen, a portrait emerged, which he quickly signed and flung in Shouko’s direction. “Happy to oblige for a fan.”
While Shouko was admiring her (admittedly beautiful) impromptu gift, Josuke cleared his throat and readjusted his position on the blanket so that he was sitting cross-legged, facing the whole group.
“Alright. So,” he began, “about stands. They’re basically like...” he waved his hand around aimlessly, searching for a word. “...well, they’re kinda like you, in a way. Your spirit, I guess? Everybody’s stand looks different, and every stand comes with a different ability, too.”
“So, kinda like a superpower?” Shouko asked. “Do you get to pick what power you get?”
“Not exactly. But it’s usually kinda related to who you are. Like, for example, Rohan over here,” he gestured idly in the mangaka’s direction, “his stand ability-”
“-is not something which needs to be discussed in present company, thank you very much,” Rohan sneered. “For very obvious reasons, some people prefer not to disclose their abilities so easily.”
Josuke rolled his eyes. “Alright, alright. Well at any rate, they’re usually linked to your personality or like, your ‘inner self’ somehow.”
Mami leaned in closer, eyes ablaze with curiosity. “Hang on a sec. Are me an’ Shouko the only ones here without stands?”
“Yup!” Okuyasu confirmed. “Or, uhh...Mikitaka says he doesn’t have a stand, but it kinda really seems like he’s got a stand, so...”
Shouko looked around slowly. “And we can’t see them if we’re not...’stand users’, right? So...” she lowered her voice to a hushed whisper, “are they here, right now? All hovering around us?”
Josuke laughed. “You make ‘em sound like ghosts! Nah, a stand user usually chooses when their stand comes out, it’s not just flying around all the time. Actually...” he paused, “Mikitaka and Yukako both have abilities that can be seen by non-stand-users, so they might be good to demonstrate with! Care to show off a little, guys?”
“Certainly!” Mikitaka said, and immediately transformed his entire body into an oversized purple hot wheels car. Mami spat out her cookie.
“Holy fuck?! You can turn into a car?!”
The car morphed seamlessly into a very aesthetically pleasing rosebush. “Actually,” said the rosebush, “I can transform into just about anything you’d like. What would you like to see?”
Thus ensued a few rounds of increasingly ludicrous requests for the party’s shapeshifter – a game which ended quite abruptly after one of the girls suggested Mikitaka transform into a giant set of dice and, seeing the flash of realisation in Rohan’s eyes, Josuke decided it was probably best to move on. Yukako’s hair tricks were next, followed by a few spatial mind-bends from Okuyasu and Josuke, and some sound-related tricks from Koichi. The girls were, of course, delighted, and excited questions tumbled rapidly from their mouths. Was there a way for non-stand-users to ever see a stand? Did they have a smell or texture? If your stand bumped its knee on the table, would the user get a bruise? Could two stands make out? What’s the strongest stand ever?
“That,” Koichi said, pointing over his shoulder, “would probably be Star Platinum, Jotaro-san’s stand.”
“Oooh!” Mami cooed, batting her eyelashes and pretending not to be as impressed as she clearly was, “how strong is his stand?”
Jotaro gave Josuke a Look. Josuke understood, and brought Crazy Diamond out to repair whatever the hell Jotaro was about to destroy.
A second later, somehow, the tree they had all been sitting under was about 30 feet in the air, having been entirely uprooted. Because he had carved up the ground within stopped time, there was no sound to indicate that any violence had occurred – only an enormous tree suddenly falling back down to earth at very high speed.
“JESUS CHRIST!” Josuke shrieked, catching the tree with his stand just moments before it came down on top of them all. “You don’t have to show off that much, man! You coulda crushed us!” He wiped a bead of sweat from his brow and planted the tree firmly back where it was supposed to be. Jotaro just smirked and sipped black tea from a thermos.
“I have a question for...Kumiko, was it?” Rohan inquired, leaning around his easel. The girl being addressed glanced up at him and straightened her spine defensively. “How did you manage to develop a stand? Most of the people here are either natural-born stand users, or received their stand by being pierced with the arrow that Nijimura’s brother was carrying around. Neither of those fit your situation. Is there another artefact in Morioh that we should be aware of?”
Kumiko frowned. “About a month ago, my big brother and some of his friends decided to go check out this creepy burnt-out house a few blocks away from us...I tagged along, and while I was there, I found this weird thing...” she reached into her pocket and pulled out a jagged, golden piece of metal. “I accidentally cut my hand on it when we were inside, and not too long after that I got really sick...”
“Whoa!” Okuyasu leaned in, examining the shard in Kumiko’s hand. “Yo Josuke, this is totally a piece of an arrow! How the fuck did it get there...”
“Burnt-out house...” Koichi mumbled, “maybe it was the house that got hit by all those explosions when you and Hayato were fighting Kira, Josuke?”
Josuke smacked himself in the forehead. “Shit! You’re probably right! How the fuck would that even get there though, I don’t remember the arrow being around during that fight...”
Koichi shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. But I don’t see anywhere else it could have come from...”
Jotaro stood up and walked over to Kumiko’s side of the blanket, his imposing height even more pronounced from up close. Mami swooned. “I should hold onto this.” He reached out his hand, and Kumiko reluctantly relinquished the strange relic.
Shouko scratched her head. “Come to think of it, Kumiko, I do remember you being off school for a while because of a fever or something...”
Kumiko nodded. “That’s when things all started to go wrong. I’ve never been that sick in my whole life...I was half-awake and half-dreaming, I could barely think straight or even eat...I tried to reach out to my brother for help, but instead something...else...happened.” She clenched her fists. “I could tell it was me doing it, somehow. All his nightmares. I could see all the awful dreams he was having, but I couldn’t do anything to stop them...eventually he got so spooked he moved out of town. Thought he’d disturbed some evil spirits in that old house and got a curse on him or something.” She paused. “I really miss him...”
Okuyasu felt a lump in his throat, which only grew when Josuke gave his shoulder a knowing, supportive squeeze. “Is he...okay now?” he asked tentatively.
“Yeah...I’m not sure why, but once he moved away from me, he stopped having nightmares.” Kumiko said, a little sadly.
“It’s your stand’s range,” Rohan explained, “my investigation this morning suggested that the range of your nightmare ability is about 15 km. As for the range of the physical stand itself, that’s anybody’s guess.”
Kumiko fidgeted in her lap, looking everywhere except for at Rohan. “I’m sorry you were so hurt. I don’t know how you got such a strong hit of that power, it doesn’t make sense to me at all. Usually it only seems to happen when I reach out to people in my dreams, but I’ve never even met you before today...”
Rohan sniffed. “It’s not as if your apology can reverse the damage that’s already been done. I’m running days behind schedule on my latest chapter. As for how it happened, though...that’s related to my own stand ability, and that’s all you need to know.” He paused. “Still...this is the first time I’ve met someone whose powers are so chaotic and undeveloped. It’s as if your own confusion and self-doubt have tainted your ability to the point where it’s become something malevolent...my guess is that you probably only barely survived the process of gaining a stand...” He was on a roll now, staring straight into Kumiko’s soul and sketching her expressions as he delved deeper. “When you see the dreams of your victims, do you feel their pain, too? Is there a part of you that gets some satisfaction from having such power over other people? Perhaps that’s why your stand manifests the way it does. Or is it the opposite? Do you lie awake in bed, wracked with guilt at the trail of misery you leave in your wake, too frightened by yourself to know how to control the terrible power you wield?”
“Rohan, for fuck’s sake!” Josuke shouted, interrupting his rather insensitive rant. “Can you not just chill for like two seconds?” He looked over at Kumiko, expecting to see tears in her eyes, but was surprised to see her staring coldly back at the older man.
“I don’t know,” Kumiko spat, her voice low, “why were all your nightmares just about you having to face yourself?” To Josuke and Okuyasu’s alarm, she was beginning to glow.
The moment was saved by Koichi, who scooped up a piece of one of the cakes that was yet uneaten and said loudly, “WOW! WHO MADE THIS? THIS LOOKS GREAT!”
“I did.” Kumiko stated bluntly, still glaring at Rohan (who was blubbering some flustered excuse or another, clearly unused to having someone else inside his head for once). “That’s buttermilk icing.”
“YUM, YUM,” Mikitaka shouted, mimicking Koichi’s tone of voice as he shoved a slice into his mouth. “IT TASTES DELICIOUS. I ENJOY THE SWEETS ON THIS PLANET VERY MUCH. YOU HAVE A REAL TALENT FOR BAKING.”
Their outbursts had the intended effect, and the group all shared a laugh, a welcome relief after the tense atmosphere which had been building up. Rohan, too busy sulking, did not press his interrogation, and soon the conversation moved on to lighter topics.
“Okay, one last question about stands,” Mami said to Okuyasu, “You said they all look different, right? Well what’s yours like? Do they usually look like people?”
Okuyasu hummed to himself. “Uhhh, well mine's sorta like a...big guy with a tin can on his head? And kinda spiky bits...uhh...he's got some dollar signs on him...”
“Oi,” Rohan interjected, “just bring it out. I’ll draw it.”
Okuyasu obliged, and Rohan made quick work of sketching The Hand for all to see.
“Yeah!! Yeah, that’s him!” Okuyasu said, pointing to the paper.
“Whoa, awesome!” Mami said with a toothy grin, “Looks like some kinda robot superhero!”
Okuyasu blushed a little and scratched his face. “Heh heh...aw, shucks...”
“Can we see the others, too?” Shouko asked.
Rohan, still grouchy, whipped up a large page of stand drawings without a word, which was then passed around the group for their perusal, yielding comments such as oh my god, that one’s adorable! and damn, check out the ass on this one! Eventually, as the sun began to set against the waves, the teens splintered off into smaller conversations – Yukako, for instance, persisted in trying to win Kumiko over, and Mami spent a solid twenty minutes trying desperately to strike up conversation with the handsome and enigmatic Jotaro. After a while, Okuyasu felt a tug on his sleeve, which was followed by a sly tilt of Josuke’s head.
“Hey babe. Wanna go watch the sunset?” Josuke asked in his best Super Suave Guy voice.
“Hell yeah I do!” Okuyasu replied, somewhat less suavely.
Josuke grinned and slid a hand around his waist, leading him to the edge of the grassy hill which overlooked the beach. There were surprisingly few people around for such a clear evening, which was maybe for the best considering Jotaro and Mikitaka had been using their stands in such flashy ways.
“Psst,” Josuke hissed quietly, beckoning Okuyasu a little closer.
“What’s up, bro?” Okuyasu asked, leaning towards the other boy.
Josuke grinned widely, eyes sparkling. “I love you, that’s what.” Okuyasu flushed bright red.
“O-oh! ...I love you too, dude.”
Josuke jostled Okuyasu and planted a big kiss on his cheek. “This didn’t turn out so bad in the end, huh?”
Okuyasu tried very hard not to kiss Josuke’s face off. “Yeah. Shit’s good,” he said. “Which is a relief, ‘cause this whole situation was a real nightmare before.” He winked, the cherry on top of that fantastic punchline. Josuke spat.
“Pfffft- oh my god--”
“--a nightmare,” Okuyasu repeated, waggling his eyebrows.
Josuke laughed mirthfully, clutching his sides. “Okay okay, I got the joke, Oku, you’re gonna make me bust a lung, oh my fucking god...”
“Oi, you two!” Rohan shouted from his easel, “if you’re going to be all sentimental, could you at least do it from a more interesting angle?”
Josuke raised his eyebrows. “Interesting angle, huh?”
“How ‘bout this?” Okuyasu grinned. He wrapped a hand around Josuke’s waist to stabilise him and, in one romantic swoop, dipped him low, their faces nearly touching, just like in the movies. Josuke looked up at him, startled, a blush rising to his face.
“Oku...” he breathed, wrapping an affectionate arm around his boyfriend’s shoulder to keep from falling.
“I got somethin’ to say to ya, Josuke,” Okuyasu gulped. He could see the glitter of the ocean reflected in Josuke’s eyes.
“Y...yeah?” Josuke replied, heart pounding.
Okuyasu took a deep breath. He’d been thinking about how to say this all afternoon, and it was now or never. “If you told me I’d be here with you a few months ago,” he began, “I’d have said you were fuckin’ crazy. But I am here now – we’re here, an’ I don’t never want that to be any different. You’re my whole world, bro...I ain’t never loved anythin’ as much as I love you.”
Josuke blinked back tears, a little overwhelmed by Okuyasu’s earnest declaration. “...Not even ice cream?”
Okuyasu smiled. “Naw, bro. Not even ice cream.”
And with that, Okuyasu leaned down and kissed Josuke deeply against the pink glow of the sunset, and for maybe the first time in their young lives, they both felt like there was nowhere on earth they would rather call home than where they were right then, in that moment, safely cradled in the warm embrace of the boy they loved, not a care in the world.