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In the days and weeks following Yoshikage Kira’s death, the post office was still closed on Sundays.

There was no fanfare, no story in the papers, barely a hint that the greatest evil Morioh had ever known had finally been laid to rest. Two families filed missing persons reports, and as usual, no closure was ever reached. No one seemed to notice that, after that day, the disappearances that had plagued the town for decades suddenly came to an end. No one seemed to notice anything at all.

And so the days drifted lazily by, much as they had before.

September rolled around. With considerable effort, Josuke and his friends dragged themselves out of their summer stupor and into unfamiliar classrooms. They were in the 11th grade now, and the reality of their final two years of high school hit them almost as hard as the pile of books they were immediately required to purchase. To make matters worse, Josuke’s mom had given him a sound telling-off for last year’s grades and demanded he take the harder math courses ‘to stop all those video games from rotting his brain’. Not that Tomoko minded the games, really – she just didn’t want to see her son flunk school because of them. Still, the result was a lot more stress and homework than Josuke thought necessary for a strapping young lad such as himself. Plus, Okuyasu wasn’t taking those classes, so they sucked even more.

What Okuyasu had started taking was Home Economics. This got a lot of the girls talking (“That big lump of a delinquent? Taking cooking classes?”), but after seeing him at work in the kitchen they quickly changed their tune. While his presentation and manners needed some work, and his blatant disregard for “correct proportions” occasionally became disruptive, the food he whipped up was enough to bring tears to their eyes. The kid was clearly a natural. It was like he’d been cooking his whole life – which, of course, he had been, albeit only for himself and his dysfunctional family. Unbeknownst to him, Okuyasu was beginning to gain some favour among his female classmates.

Koichi, meanwhile, had been spending more and more time with the young mangaka sensation, Kishibe Rohan. The sales figures for Pink-Dark Boy had seen a spike ever since Rohan took Koichi on as his muse, and the pile of unopened fan mail in Rohan’s study grew taller every day (“The point is that the letters exist”, he told Koichi, “I don’t need to actually read them.”). Suspiciously, despite all the time he spent at Rohan’s house, Koichi’s grades had remained constant. Both Josuke and Okuyasu had a feeling that Heaven’s Door was involved somehow.

It was nice, Josuke kept telling himself. It was nice to take a break from all the fighting and danger and mystery, and just live like a regular, totally ordinary teenager. Except it wasn’t nice. It was fucking boring.

The only thing that kept him from going completely braindead was Okuyasu. Unlike Josuke, Okuyasu seemed to be adapting to ‘life after Kira’ fairly well, probably because his situation had improved so much since the two of them first met. He still shed tears for Keicho, of course, and his father was still dependent on his care, but now he had a strong network of friends to support him through the hard times. This alone was enough to keep a smile on his face.

To Josuke, it seemed like a downright miracle that Okuyasu could have gone through all that and still come out fighting on the other side. He always felt a little bad saying goodnight to Okuyasu, watching him clamber into that rotten, boarded-up old house he called home, back to that once-abusive-and-now-literally-a-monster father. But no matter how much he offered a space on the couch, Okuyasu insisted he was fine by himself. He had responsibilities, after all. In times like that, Josuke got the sense that his friend was probably going to be the better ‘adult’ of the two of them.

But they weren’t quite there yet. In the meantime, the two boys busied themselves with video games and afterschool snacks.

“I’m just saying though, dude…” Okuyasu said with a familiar glimmer in his eye, “Like, imagine if you had a stand that could make you real good at games! I mean…I don’t really need it, I do okay, y’know, but I’m more talkin’ about, uhh…” He let the end of his statement hang, and Josuke raised an eyebrow at him.

“I fuckin’ dare you to finish that sentence, bro. I could beat your ass at Tekken literally any day of the week.”

“Pfft!” Okuyasu scoffed. “Yeah, any day except Monday through Sunday, eh Josuke?” He punctuated his laughter with several solid slaps to Josuke’s back (which actually kinda hurt, but Josuke tried not to show it).

“Whatever!! You just wait, I’ll sneak in practise while you’re stuck doing chores for your old man, then we’ll see who’s the best,” Josuke sulked.

“Shit man, that’s cold…” Okuyasu sniffed. “Anyway, I’m serious! What if you had a video game stand? You’d win all the tourneys and nobody’d ever know your secret! Unless somebody else in the tournament had a stand, too…that’d be pretty crazy…”

Josuke jumped on the topic with enthusiasm. “Dude, I just thought of something. What if Jotaro was secretly a pro gamer? And Star Platinum could stop time so he’d pull off all the crazy combos! That’d be fuckin’ SICK!”

“Yeah yeah yeah! Or what if your stand could actually go INTO the game, for real? And fight next ta your guy? I want a stand that can fwoosh into the TV and beat up Tyson in Punch-Out!”

Josuke scrunched up his nose. “Punch-Out? Are you serious? Who the fuck plays Punch-Out anymore, that shit is seriously old-school…games can do 3D now bro, have you heard?”

“Pshh…just ‘cause your mom buys you all the fancy new games…ain’t nothin’ wrong with the classics. Anyway, sure Punch-Out’s old, but it’s actually pretty hard! Old games are way more ruthless…”

“Sure, man,” Josuke said, stretching, “but wouldn’t you rather punch out Mike Tyson for real? I reckon you and I could take him if we teamed up.”

Okuyasu considered this for a moment. “I dunno…he doesn’t have a stand, though. I’d feel like a bit of a dick lettin’ loose on a guy like that just for the cool points…although…it would be pretty cool…”

“How do you know he doesn’t? Maybe all the top athletes have stands. Like a secret society or something.” Josuke leaned into the couch and lazily flicked through the channels. “How can there be nothing on TV, we have like 50 channels…I’m gonna go get an ice cream from the freezer, you want one? I’ve got double caramel crunch, choco-strawberry—”

“—Aw man! You don’t even need to ask, you know I’m all about that choco-strawberry! It’s the perfect flavour combination for a summer day!” Okuyasu’s mouth was already watering at the thought, and Josuke smiled to himself as he stood up and walked towards the kitchen. It was always nice to see Okuyasu in such a good mood.

Before Josuke could grab the last of the ice cream, his train of thought was abruptly derailed by a large, broad chest blocking his path. It took him a second to work out that he’d basically just smacked headlong into Jotaro, who’d been rounding the corner at the same time. Jotaro looked down at him, unreadable as ever, Star Platinum briefly manifesting to stop his fresh cup of tea from crashing to the ground.

“Whoa! Shit! Sorry, Jotaro!” Josuke jumped back, hastily re-structuring his jostled pompadour.

“Heyyy, Jotaro’s here!” Okuyasu called from the couch. “Wanna play some games with us, Jotaro?” he asked with a conspiratorial wink in Josuke’s direction.

Jotaro narrowed his eyes as he glanced back and forth between the two of them, apparently suspicious. “I’m busy,” he said finally.

“Oh yeah,” Josuke sneered, “gotta go write another report about all those cute little starfish on the beach, right? Marine Wildlife of Morioh Bay: The Life and Times of My Weeny Star Friends – by Dr. Jotaro Kujo.” He laughed a little at his own silly voice.

“No. That part of my thesis is finished.” His voice was firm, but Josuke thought he could see a slight smile playing on Jotaro’s lips. “But I was actually thinking I might start researching sea turtles. You’re welcome to join me if you want. Could always use an assistant.”

“Ugh!!” Josuke cringed. “You’re such a goddamn weirdo! Those things are gross!”

“Aw, I kinda like ‘em…” Okuyasu mumbled, and Josuke suddenly felt a little embarrassed.

“…Anyway, I’ll uh, go get that ice cream,” he said, scampering into the kitchen.

Once Josuke was out of earshot, Jotaro moved towards the couch and turned his attention to the pile of games strewn across the floor. “…Which of these games is Josuke the worst at?” he asked.

Okuyasu was surprised by his sudden interest. “Uhh…probably any of the racing games, he gets too fired up and always falls off the track. Why, you thinkin’ of playin’ us after all?”

“Not today. But I’ll hang onto that piece of information for later.” Jotaro glanced at one of the racing titles. “It’s pretty much just like driving a car, right?”

Before Okuyasu could answer that, yes, it was totally just like driving a car, if you were used to doing wicked jumps at 200 miles an hour while throwing things at other cars, Josuke returned with the ice cream. He made a face at Jotaro.

“What’re you whispering about over there? Don’t you have work to do?” He took a bite out of his ice cream, only to flinch involuntarily and spit a mouthful back out onto the cone. “Blugh!! Fuck, that’s cold!” Okuyasu laughed as Josuke looked away, a little red.

Jotaro began to make his exit, muttering a yare yare under his breath.

“Oi!” Josuke called, “you didn’t answer my question!”

Jotaro made a ‘hmph’ sound before suddenly vanishing from the room.

“JOTARO! DID YOU JUST FUCKING STAR PLAT OUTTA HERE?! You rude ocean-loving son of a bitch!! At least have the decency to say goodbye!” Josuke flopped himself heavily onto the couch next to a positively cackling Okuyasu. “Jesus! What an asshole.”

“Hahaha…no way man, that was so cool!” Okuyasu beamed. “I wish I could do awesome shit like that, but my stand isn’t good for much…probably ‘cause I ain’t too bright, ya know…”

Josuke frowned at that. While it was true that Okuyasu probably didn’t use The Hand to its fullest potential, it wasn’t because he was stupid. He’d experienced the destructive power of his friend’s stand first-hand, and it was nothing to take lightly – he got the feeling Okuyasu could probably take him down pretty quick these days, if he really wanted to. But he knew Okuyasu better than that, well enough to know that he would probably rather work as Rohan’s butler than let anyone else die. What’s more, it seemed as if Okuyasu didn’t really trust himself with his stand, so it made even more sense for him to hold back – what if he hurt someone without meaning to? He might act tough, but after all the shit they’d seen that summer, after everything they’d lost, there was no way a guy like that would just throw his power around without thinking. He was too compassionate, really, and Josuke loved that about him.

“Hey.” Josuke said after a pause. Okuyasu noticed the shift in tone and turned to him with a worried expression.

“Uh…what’s up?” he asked, slowly devouring his choco-strawberry cone.

“I just wanna say…you’re not stupid, okay? And your stand is really cool! You can teleport and delete stuff, that’s pretty awesome.” Josuke felt a little silly being so candid all of a sudden.

“Mm…thanks, Josuke,” Okuyasu said sheepishly, with a shrug of the shoulders. “I really am a bit dumb though. But thanks for sayin’ that, it’s nice of ya.”

“Hey, come on, man, I’m serious—”

“Bro, you don’t have to try an’ cheer me up, I’m fine, don’ worry about it…”

Frustrated, Josuke summoned Crazy Diamond, who grabbed Okuyasu by the collar (Josuke’s free hands, meanwhile, were concentrated on not dropping his ice cream). Okuyasu’s eyes widened, but he didn’t summon his stand.

“No, man, listen to me!” Josuke continued, feeling himself getting carried away. “You always talk shit about yourself, but you’re actually really fuckin’ great, okay? Who cares if people don’t think you’re smart or whatever, they don’t know you! The Okuyasu I know is strong and funny and really cares about his friends…that’s the good shit, man! That’s the important stuff! And you’re really good at cooking, and video games, and a whole bunch of other shit…the point is, like…what I’m trying to say is, you’re the best damn guy I know, and I just really…”

Josuke cut himself off. Where was that sentence even going?

“…I-I really, I, uh…I just don’t like hearing you put yourself down, that’s all,” he finished quietly. Feeling his face heat up with embarrassment, he released Okuyasu from Crazy Diamond’s grip and went back to eating his slowly melting ice cream cone. Nice one, Josuke, he thought to himself. Can’t even give an encouraging speech to a pal without flying off the deep end. Goddamn feelings.

He heard an alarming sniffling sound coming from Okuyasu and felt even worse. Great, he even made him cry. What a good friend.

“Josuke?” Okuyasu’s voice sounded high and wobbly, the way it often did when he was upset about something. Josuke forced himself to meet his friend’s gaze, trying to look as apologetic as possible. It was as bad as he expected – Okuyasu was staring at him with tears streaming down his face, ice-cream-covered hands shaking.

“Uh…sorry, bro…” Josuke mumbled, swallowing hard. “I didn’t mean to get so worked up about it…” Okuyasu just shook his head.

“N-no, dude, it’s…it’s f-fine, I just…it’s real nice, you know…t-to have somebody who cares about me so much…I dunno what to say…” He paused. “Hey…bring out Crazy D again?”

Josuke was taken aback. “Huh? What for?”

“Just…c’mon, I’ve got an idea.”

Reluctantly, Josuke summoned Crazy Diamond to his side again. Okuyasu seemed satisfied, and suddenly The Hand materialised as well. Josuke threw both hands up by his face in a gesture of surrender.

“Whoa whoa whoa! I get that I went a bit far, but you don’t have to –”

Josuke was cut off again, but this time it was by the secondhand sensation of being enveloped in a tight hug as The Hand pulled Crazy Diamond close. It was a strange feeling, being hugged by someone who wasn’t even touching you, but he was surprised to find it a little comforting, too. He let himself settle into the hug with a relieved sigh, releasing tension he hadn’t even realised had built up.

“You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me, man,” Okuyasu said, voice still shaky with emotion. “I don’t wanna think about where I’d be without you.” Josuke’s Crazy Diamond returned the hug in response, and Okuyasu started crying again.

“S-same here…” Josuke said with a gulp, feeling a little overwhelmed himself. He was pretty sure they both looked like total idiots right now, and god forbid Jotaro come back and see their stands having a tender moment in the living room. Still, something about the whole encounter felt…necessary, and the two of them stayed in that invisible embrace for longer than they’d care to admit.

“Okuyasu…” Josuke said after the moment had passed, “Uh…”

Okuyasu went bright red as The Hand disappeared. “Um! Haha, yeah, sorry about—”

“—No, dude. Your ice cream. It’s totally melted, look.”

“What!! Shit!” Okuyasu finally looked down at his hand to see a soggy cone filled with semi-liquefied ice cream, as well as several sticky strawberry rivers travelling across his wrist. Josuke had to laugh.

“Don’t worry, I got it.” Crazy Diamond reached towards Okuyasu’s hand and, with a dramatic flourish and a hearty ‘DORA’, punched the ice cream cone back into its rightful, non-melted state.

“Whoooooa!!! That was awesome, Josuke! Here, lemme get yours!”

Before Josuke could raise his very valid concerns about that idea, The Hand went sailing past his face. He suddenly found himself about a foot closer to Okuyasu on the couch, and without any ice cream (save for the small stump of a cone left in his hand).

“What the fuck?! My ice cream!”

“That’s for gettin’ all shouty up in my face before,” Okuyasu said. “Not that I didn’t appreciate what you said an’ stuff…”

“Goddamn it, Okuyasu! That was the last caramel one!” Crazy Diamond gave The Hand a solid-but-friendly headbutt, which was returned with an equally solid-but-friendly punch to the chest.

After a bit of stand-assisted roughhousing, the two eventually settled back down and tried to choose a game to play. Josuke’s shoulder was nestled into a gap near Okuyasu’s armpit as he slouched into the couch.

“Oi, Josukeee, I can’t play when you’re lyin’ on my arm like that,” Okuyasu whined.

“Yeah, well consider it a penalty…to even the playing field, you know?” Josuke squished Okuyasu’s arm with his shoulder on purpose, and his friend flashed him a cheeky grin.

“A-ha! So you admit that I’m better than you?” Crazy Diamond gave Okuyasu a kick under the coffee table.

“Nahhh, I’m just letting you think you are, to help with your confidence! If I played at full power, it wouldn’t be fair!”

“Sure, sure…” Okuyasu kept grinning, clearly unconvinced by Josuke’s cunning ruse. “So, how about some F-Mega then?”

Josuke narrowed his eyes. “No, because that game is shit and cheap. What is it with you and these retro games? I’d watch you play Zelda though.”

“Umm…I’m up to that really hard bit though, I dunno if I wanna keep going…”

Josuke sighed dramatically.

“…But I’ll give it a try? Yeah, okay!” Okuyasu tried to lean forward to slot the game cartridge into the console, but didn’t get very far thanks to Josuke’s shoulder still pressing stubbornly into his arm. “Bro…” he sighed, quietly exasperated. Josuke used his feet to push off from the floor in an attempt to wedge himself even closer, but instead slipped clumsily down the couch and hit his cheek on one of Okuyasu’s many metal accessories.

And so the days drifted lazily by, much as they had before.

Chapter Text

Like many things in the Nijimura household, Okuyasu’s alarm clock was broken.

It still worked, technically, but the problem was he couldn’t change what time it went off. The twisty knob that controlled that mechanism had been snapped off years ago, another casualty of his brother’s foul temper. The rusty old thing had sat forgotten in his closet for years after that, and he only found it again after Keicho died. He’d been using it every morning since.

And so, every day at exactly 7:07am, Okuyasu woke up to the unholy clanging and rattling that only a clock that ancient could produce. Although it annoyed him to start each day with a headache, the familiar sound of that bell was nostalgic enough to make it worthwhile. In any case, being forced out of bed so early meant he could afford to stay in the shower till the hot water ran out, which always felt a little luxurious.

On that particular Monday, Okuyasu found himself drifting lazily back to the world after a strange and unsettling series of dreams. Something about a swimming pool inside Trussardi’s restaurant, Josuke smiling at him but not saying anything, Rohan making a weird tower of nacho chips inside a glass bubble…he was already forgetting the finer details, but the tone of it had made him feel uncomfortable. He rolled onto his side, noticing that he’d apparently kicked his blankets onto the dusty floor sometime during the night. Maybe the summer heat was getting to him. He sighed into his pillow and spent a few more moments enjoying the peace and quiet. It’d been a while since he’d been able to snooze through his morning like this.

Something about that thought set off warning bells in his head. Speaking of bells, why couldn’t he hear his alarm going off?

Okuyasu jolted upright with a sharp intake of breath, launching his sleepy body towards the place on his nightstand where his alarm clock should have been. Finding nothing, he rolled onto the floor and checked the immediate area around his bed, under the pile of twisted sheets, behind the headboard, even inside his own pockets. Finally, after a panicked minute of tearing the room apart, his eye was caught by a small piece of rusted metal lying against the far wall. Realisation dawned: he couldn’t find his clock because his clock didn’t exist anymore. He’d probably swiped it clean out of the air in his sleep.

“Fuck!!!” he shouted, tripping over his own feet as he raced toward the front entrance to check the wall clock. He’d promised to meet up with Josuke before school – what if classes had already started? The last thing he needed was to get chewed out by the vice-principal for tardiness again. He tried not to let that shit get to him, but the last time that heartless old geezer had shouted at him he’d gone straight home and bawled his eyes out anyway. He resisted the urge to slide down the banister as he ran down the stairs, trying to gauge what time it was by the colour of the light outside. It didn’t seem like lunchtime, at least, since the sky still held that bluish tinge of dawn. He could feel his heart thumping dangerously against his chest and forced himself to use some of those slow breathing techniques Tomoko had taught him. This was not an ideal way to start his day.

To his immense relief, the time on the downstairs clock showed that it was only 7:21am, meaning he’d only overslept by about ten or fifteen minutes. Still wearing nothing but his blue gingham pajama bottoms (the ones Josuke called his ‘dishcloth pants’), Okuyasu slid down the wall and landed in a sweaty heap on the hallway floor. Once he’d calmed down a bit, he pulled himself back to his feet and made his way into the kitchen. He filled up the kettle and put it on the stove, letting its shriek act as a timer for his quick morning shower. No need for a long one this morning, since Josuke had let him use his shower the day before (and oh man was the water pressure at the Higashikata’s place something else). Besides, he was already cooking up a better way to bring his spirits up.

--

“Oiiiii!! Josukeeee!!”

As usual, it was Tomoko who answered the door, mouth full of toothpaste and hair still wet from the shower.

“He shud be hr shoon”, she bubbled, “I swear he’sh bnn doin hish hair frr like n hour now.” She cast a curious glance at the steaming paper bag in Okuyasu’s hands. “wssat?”

“Oh, uh…I got up early an’ decided to make us some breakfast. Figured he’d probably be runnin’ late again, so...”

Tomoko beamed and spat her toothpaste into the yard. “Oh my god, Okuyasu, what did my boy ever do to deserve you? What is it, can I see?”

Okuyasu held the bag open, face glowing bright red at Tomoko’s earnest compliment. “You can have some if ya like, I made plenty…”

“Don’t mind if I do! Might wait for this toothpaste taste to wear off, though.” She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and scooped up some of the food. “Mmm, this smells gooood.”

“Don’ forget the sauce!” He pulled a plastic squeezy bottle filled with a reddish-brown liquid from his backpack. “I know it ain’t pretty, but this combination is a straight-up Nijimura Okuyasu classic!”

“Mom?” Josuke’s head suddenly popped into view as he stumbled into the doorway. “What’re you standing around foOH MY GOD are those PANCAKES?!”

“Uh huh!” Okuyasu said proudly as he drizzled Tomoko’s pancake in his home-made choco-strawberry sauce. “Turned out pretty good, too! I already ate mine, so these ones are all yours!”

“Oh maaaaan, I could eat these pancakes every day!” Josuke reached into the bag and dragged out a messy handful. “Gimme some o’ that chocolate stuff, bro!”

“You guys should get going,” Tomoko warned, “it’s almost 8:30 already.”

“Is not, you’re rounding up! We’ve still got like 10 minutes!” Josuke whined back. “What does it matter if we’re a little late, anyway? Pancakes are more important than school.”

Tomoko stomped her foot. “Josuke, you get your butt to school right now, alright? Just eat your pancakes while you’re walking! Or running, at this rate…”

Josuke didn’t look like he was listening, instead choosing to stuff his face with sugar and chocolate. He stared up at the sky with his mouth obnoxiously full, expression almost romantic in his blissful pancake-fuelled rapture. “Okuyasuuuuuuuu…I think I just fuckin died…this is the good shit, man…you’re the best…”

Okuyasu shrugged off the comment with a chuckle, but it took a long time for him to wipe the smile off his face.

--

Part of the reason Okuyasu had decided on pancakes that morning was because he wanted to see what his cooking teacher thought of his signature sauce. It wasn’t made from flashy ingredients or anything, just regular supermarket stuff, but Okuyasu had a good feeling about the flavours and proportions in this batch. The main issue was the consistency. If he made it too thick, it ended up tasting like weird but kinda delicious jam; if he made it too thin, it tasted like weird chocolatey fruit juice. Neither of those outcomes were bad, exactly, but they weren’t quite choco-strawberry pancake sauce. To his relief, his teacher liked it a lot, even suggesting that he should submit the recipe as part of an assessment later in the term.

Arranging his cooking utensils as usual, Okuyasu felt a little proud of himself for having settled into the new environment so quickly – especially since all the other students at his particular work station were girls. It had been awkward at first, but after a few weeks of kitchen disasters and culinary epiphanies, the four of them had somehow started getting along. He knew that rough-and-tumble Mami hated sweet things, but Kumiko (whose dad worked at a company that made super spicy hot sauce) was a softie and loved desserts. All three of them had tried to offer advice when pretty Shouko’s long-time boyfriend recently dumped her for somebody else. He and Shouko actually got along pretty well these days, and he’d considered asking Josuke if she could come hang out with them afterschool sometime.

Shouko and Mami arrived just as the bell rang, laughing breathlessly as they dove into their seats. Apparently Kumiko was still at home with a fever, which was a shame because she would probably have appreciated Okuyasu’s pancake sauce the most. The three of them set to work measuring out ingredients and debating over correct kitchen procedures, making quick work of the day’s first tasks despite being down one group member. Being a good student was a novel experience for Okuyasu too – he was getting grades in this class he’d never seen on a report card before.

At one point early in the class, Shouko nudged Okuyasu with her elbow while he was focused on carefully stirring a big bowl of ingredients together. He jumped and made a short yelping sound at the unexpected contact, almost dropping the spatula.

“Whoa! Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you.” Shouko said, the goofy grin on her face contradicting her apology somewhat. “You seem kinda quiet today, is something up?”

Okuyasu frowned, surprised that Shouko could tell. Even Josuke and Tomoko hadn’t noticed anything.

“Ehh…it’s nothin’, just had a rough start this morning.” Shouko raised an eyebrow and twisted her long ponytail in her hands, clearly unsatisfied with his explanation. He continued. “I broke my big bro’s alarm clock…it was kinda…an heirloom, I guess?”

“Ohhh, that sucks, was he really mad?” Shouko asked, clearly fishing for a story. Mami suddenly started coughing loudly.  

“No, he’s…um…” Okuyasu felt things getting awkward. Thankfully he didn’t have to explain himself, since Mami had already pulled Shouko aside and was fiercely whispering in her ear. Okuyasu busied himself with cooking prep, not really wanting to see the look on her face when she realised her mistake. She spoke up again a few moments later.

“Oh my god, Nijimura, I’m so sorry, I didn’t know…Mami said it happened pretty recently, do you wanna like…talk about it, or something?” Okuyasu briefly considered her offer, but shook his head.

“Nah…I think I’m okay. Me an’ Josuke are gonna go out for dinner after school today, that usually cheers me up a bit. Gonna have to get a new clock though,” he said, a little sadly. A few minutes passed in silence as Okuyasu put the first bowl in the fridge and started on the second, while the girls chopped up vegetables and measured things out for the next part of the recipe. Shouko didn’t push the subject, but he noticed that she took on a little more work for herself so that Okuyasu could take it easy for the rest of the lesson. He appreciated the gesture, actually.

Taking the extended silence as her cue to shift the conversation into lighter territory, Mami leaned over Okuyasu’s mixing bowl and gave him one of her sly, foxlike grins. “So…Josuke, huh?” she drawled. “And who might that be? Is he that prettyboy with the stupid hairdo you’re always walkin’ to school with?” Okuyasu laughed softly.

“Aw man, don’t let him hear ya badmouth his hair, he’ll flip out! That pomp is like his baby.”

Mami continued her questioning relentlessly. “Is that so? Where are you two dudes gonna go for dinner then? Somewhere…special?” Okuyasu could see Shouko start to giggle out of the corner of his eye, and for a moment he wondered if they were making fun of him.

“Uh…probably just Trussardi’s, I guess? We always go there…” He kept stirring.

Mami made a frustrated sound and waved her arms around as she spoke. “Ughhhh, come on! You’ve gotta know what I’m getting at here! Are you two, like…a thing, or what?”

Okuyasu stopped what he was doing and looked up at her, totally taken aback. His face went bright red despite himself and he was pretty sure he was sweating.

“Wh…what?! N-no, we just uh…we’re just real good buddies, ya know? It’s not…it ain’t like we’re a…a thing, I just…” he trailed off. He was having some serious trouble organising his thoughts. “I-I mean, he’s really great and cool an’ stuff, I’m not sayin’ he’s not, but he ain’t into guys, or I dunno maybe he is, but if he is then he ain’t into guys like me, uhhhh…”

Shouko’s eyes widened. “No way…I think I get it…”

Okuyasu shot her a panicked look. “I don’t!! Aaaargh, what is up with today…all this weird shit goin’ on in my head…”

Mami waved her hand dramatically in Shouko’s direction. “You can spell it out for him then, I’m no good at sensitive stuff like this. I told you though, I told you!!” Shouko sat down on the seat next to Okuyasu and added her freshly chopped veggies to the mixture.

“Okay…so…how do I put this…” she began. “When you hang out with your friend Josuke, do you ever just kinda look at him and feel really warm and cosy? Like just being around him can make your day way better?”

“Well…I mean…yeah, sometimes it’s like that. I guess I feel pretty relaxed around him.” Okuyasu could barely grip the spatula, his hands were so sweaty.

“…Do you ever find yourself thinking about him even when you’re not hanging out? Ever dream about him?”

Okuyasu gulped. “Uh…uh-huh. Actually, I’m pretty sure he was in my dream last night…” Mami’s grin was practically reaching her ears as she listened in. Shouko continued.

“Okay, okay, this one’s important. Do you think he’s cute? Like, attractive, I mean.” Okuyasu handed the bowl to Mami to stir, he was getting too flustered for that sort of thing.

“I…I dunno! I mean I guess…compared to the other dudes I know…he looks pretty good…nice eyelashes an’ shit…I like how he’s real good at takin’ care of his hair, and he dresses pretty cool…and the girls all seem to think he’s cute, so…y-yeah?”

Shouko smiled at him. “So, he makes you feel all warm and fuzzy when you look at him, you think about him all the time, you dream about him, and you think he’s cute? It kinda sounds to me like you’re in love, Nijimura.”

He couldn’t even prove her wrong.

--

For once, Okuyasu was actually glad that Josuke had too much homework piling up to hang out before they went to dinner. After that conversation with Mami and Shouko, he wasn’t quite sure what to expect from his own crazy emotions once the two of them actually met up. The girls had been right, of course – he almost didn’t want to admit it, but all that weird tension that had been building up between him and Josuke would make a lot more sense if he really was in love with the guy. The strange thing was, he was pretty sure he was still into girls too, but he’d deal with that confusion some other time. He’d certainly never considered falling for another dude before, but he didn’t remember ever choosing to feel this way, either. It seemed like the kind of thing that had grown slowly, over time, and then all of a sudden it just got so big he couldn’t ignore it anymore. What did he even want to do about it, anyway? What if he told Josuke and he got totally grossed out? What if he didn’t tell him, but he figured it out anyway because he was acting like a weirdo? He felt a lot more nervous about everything now that the possibility of romantic rejection was on the cards.

Mami and Shouko both thought he should confess, though. Apparently they knew some of Fungami Yuuya’s fangirls, and that crowd had managed to organise a big party in an oversized garage on the other side of town this coming weekend. They both insisted that he and Josuke come along, and wrote down the time and address on a piece of paper for him. Okuyasu got the feeling that his newfound friends were really enjoying the prospect of setting him up on a date, probably a little too much. Still, the party sounded like it might be fun, so he’d pitch the idea to Josuke tonight. In the meantime, he decided to take that extra-long shower after all, and ended up spending way more time on his hair than he would usually bother with.

By the time Okuyasu got to Trussardi’s, Josuke was already inside waiting for him.

“Dude? Where have you been, it’s like 7:30 already!” Josuke scolded as he arrived, looking thoroughly bored. “I was starting to think you’d stood me up!”

The casual use of dating terminology made Okuyasu blush, but he couldn’t tell if Josuke noticed. “Sorry bro…I uh, I was tryin’ to get my hair right. It took me ages, I think maybe I need some tips.” He pouted.

Josuke examined his friend’s carefully styled ‘do. “Hmm…I dunno about frosted tips, dude…they’re pretty trendy and all, but I don’t think you’ve got the right look for it. No offense.”

“Huh? No, man…not those kinda tips. I mean like, advice. On how to do hair. Cause you’re like a pro at it an’ stuff.” Okuyasu wished he had a pocket mirror to check how his attempt at stylishness was holding up. He probably looked like a total dork next to Josuke.

“Ohhh, right!” Josuke clapped his hands together. “It’s pretty much just practise though. But product matters! You gotta use the best product in your hair, always! The cheap shit is cheap for a reason. I can lend you some of the fancy stuff I use, I swear it’ll honestly change your life.” He tapped on the end of his pompadour. “This baby’s rock solid, I could fight 10 stand users in a row and it still wouldn’t fall out of place. Fucking miracle gel. Go ahead dude, touch it!”

Okuyasu must have looked scared at the idea, because Josuke laughed at him.

“I’m not gonna freak out, just don’t mess it up! I trust ya.” He leaned forward over the table, bringing his face several inches closer to Okuyasu, who raised a tentative hand and gave the perfect pompadour a few short pats.

“Y-yeah…that’s s-some good shit, alright…” Okuyasu stammered, earning him a weird look.

“Anyway, I’ve already ordered. Figured you’d just have your usual, right?” Josuke leaned back in his chair and stretched loudly. “Fuuuuuuck, this advanced math class is some bullshit though. I mean seriously…how is anybody meant to enjoy life with that much homework hanging over them every day? At this point I don’t even know how much I’ll be able to hang out once study season rolls around. I wish you were in that class with me, then maybe I could actually have some damn fun.” He snorted. “Hey, we should play a prank with our stands when we’ve got class together tomorrow. Make the teacher’s pen fly out of her hand and float around or something.”

“Oh, that reminds me, Josuke,” Okuyasu said, pulling a piece of crumpled paper out of his pocket. “Some of the girls from my cooking class invited us to a party that Yuuya an’ his buddies are throwin’ this weekend, lotsa secret booze an’ dancin’. Wanna go?”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Josuke said, holding his hands up in front of him. “Hold up. You got personally invited to a cool party? By a bunch of girls? Holy shit dude, are you like Chef Casanova or something? God damn, I’m actually kinda jealous. Fuck yeah we’re going though, that sounds awesome.” He spotted Trussardi arriving with their entrees, and after chatting with him briefly the two boys got started on the meal, just like they always did.

--

Okuyasu returned home that evening thoroughly stuffed and completely exhausted. To his great relief, the atmosphere hadn’t been too weird in the end, pretty much just a normal evening. Although maybe he’d spent a little more time looking at Josuke’s face than he usually did, making note of the little facial expressions he made when he let his guard down. Did anyone else get to see Josuke so relaxed, he wondered? Even with Koichi and the others, he seemed like he was trying to put up a ‘cool guy’ face most of the time. Okuyasu felt kind of special for being the type of guy Josuke could just be himself around. He’d been sympathetic to Okuyasu’s story about the alarm clock too, and they’d stopped by Josuke’s on the way home so he could lend him one of his old ones to use for the morning. It was a pretty silly-looking plastic clock shaped like Doraemon, obviously from when Josuke was a little kid, but it felt nice to be entrusted with a relic from his friend’s past. He’d been warned the alarm was ‘the worst sound in the world’, but he figured it couldn’t be any worse than what he was used to.

After saying goodnight to his dad (and giving him some of his extra food from dinner), Okuyasu slipped back into his PJs and threw a lighter sheet over his bed this time in an attempt to ward off the weird heat dreams. He went to set the new alarm to 7:15 and jumped when the damn thing started screaming in a garbled demon version of Doraemon’s voice through a half-busted speaker system. So that’s what Josuke had meant. Apparently he hadn’t deemed this particular item worth fixing? It sounded kind of evil, but in an endearing way, and Okuyasu was going to enjoy teasing him about it tomorrow.

He drifted off to sleep, dreaming of delicious food and a warm smile.

Chapter Text

“…Psst. Hey. Dude?”

Josuke rolled onto his side and grunted into the pillow. God damn it, why couldn’t he ever just be left to sleep in peace? It was a Saturday, for fuck’s sake, and he was having a nice dream.

A few seconds passed. “…Josuke, you awake? It’s past lunchtime.”

“Nnngooo awaaaaaaayhh,” he whined, voice muffled by the plush fabric of his pillowcase. “M’tryin’ to talk to Oku…he’s gotta big cake…gonna jump in the cake…mmm…” A highly undignified puddle of drool could be seen creeping out from under his face. Josuke was not a morning person.

There was some snickering from the doorway and a broad shadow moved across the opposite wall. “Sorry bro, no giant cake around here.” More laughter.

Josuke finally realised what was going on and forced his eyes open. “Nghh…shit…dammit Oku, I thought you were my mom…” He pulled himself clumsily into a sitting position, eyes tired and bloodshot with his hair hanging over his face in a wilted, sticky mess. He felt a twinge of self-consciousness when he realised that Okuyasu had never seen him without his glorious pomp before, but there wasn’t much he could do about that now. He definitely smelt bad, though. He saw Okuyasu reach for the lightswitch. “Don’t turn the light on, dude, I look like shit in the mornings. Did mom let you in?”

“Nah, Jotaro was doing somethin’ in the yard, front door was open.” Okuyasu paused. “Should I, uh, let you get dressed an’ stuff? I can go play games for a bit.”

Josuke nodded, wasting no time as he pulled his singlet up over his head with a slow yawn. “Man, I just had the weirdest dream…you made a cake that was like, bigger than this house, but it turned out the cake was a stand or something, and if you jumped into it, it’d grant you three wishes…” He plodded over to his closet and pulled out a towel, planning on making a beeline for the shower, but he was blocked by Okuyasu still hovering in the doorway. “Seriously man, don’t look at me, I’m gross and I need a shower.”

“Y’look fine to me…didn’t think your hair was so long…” Okuyasu said, avoiding his eyes. “It looks cool all messed up like that.”

Josuke tilted his head back with an indignant sneer. “Hang on a sec, are you saying my normal hairstyle isn’t cool?! Move it, I gotta wash my damn self!”

Okuyasu stepped aside, knowing better than to push the subject. Locking the bathroom door behind him, Josuke stared at his reflection in the mirror for a while. Okuyasu was clearly full of shit, he thought – his floppy, stringy hair made him look like Rohan after an extended stay on a desert island, his eyes were red like he’d just ripped a massive bong, and he’d lost so much bulk since school started that his collarbone was starting to poke out a little. How the hell did Okuyasu stay so buff? All the two of them ever did was play video games and eat ice cream! He sighed and ran the water. Maybe Jotaro could give him some workout tips.

Josuke emerged from the bathroom surprisingly quickly. Usually he’d be up there preening for at least half an hour, but today he felt like messing up his routine a little. Okuyasu was on the couch downstairs playing F-Zero on the SNES, tongue sticking out in deep concentration as the game threw an endless array of complications his way. Sometimes Josuke couldn’t tell if Okuyasu was exceptionally good at video games, or if he himself just sucked so bad that everybody else looked like a pro in comparison. Jotaro drifted past with an orange in his hand, stopping to watch the game for a while before going back to…whatever it was he was doing.

Josuke sat down next to Okuyasu, feeling much more comfortable now that he’d showered and put on some clean clothes (there really was nothing like that nice fresh feeling). Okuyasu didn’t look up at him until he’d finished the track, but when he did, he gave a little start.

“W-whoa!! Your hair!” Okuyasu fumbled with the controller in his hand as he stared at the long, straight locks framing Josuke’s face. Now that he’d washed all the product out of it, his hair had gone back to being sleek and shiny, skimming his shoulders and flicking out lightly at the ends (this wasn’t natural – Josuke had sneakily given his hair a quick styling with the blowdryer to achieve maximum effect). Seeing Okuyasu’s reaction was totally worth it, even though it meant re-styling it for the party was going to be a pain.

He gave his hair a dramatic little toss over his shoulder. “You look surprised,” he teased, “what did you think my hair would look like when I let it down?” Okuyasu’s face was bright red, and Josuke felt a weird sense of accomplishment.

“I guess I never thought about it?” Okuyasu said, transfixed. “You look like a movie star, or a lady in a shampoo commercial or somethin’. Are you gonna go to the party like that? You’d get a date for sure…”

Josuke rubbed the back of his head sheepishly, not having expected such blatant flattery. “Nah…I think I’ll keep this look for special occasions, ya know…”

Okuyasu gave him a wide-eyed look he couldn’t decipher, then cleared his throat.

“Uhh, actually, Josuke…I was wonderin’ if I could borrow some of your clothes for tonight…I don’t really have anythin’ cool to wear to a party, all my shit’s a little old…”

“Huh?” Josuke was a bit surprised by the request. “I mean, sure, but I dunno if my stuff will fit you…you’re broader across the shoulders than me, but I’m taller, so…”

There was a quiet ‘pop’, and then Jotaro was suddenly standing behind them both, leaning over the couch.

“They won’t fit. Go look through my old shirts instead.”

Josuke jumped about a foot into the air. “JESUS CHRIST, JOTARO! I swear to god you do this shit just to mess with me!”

“Oh, Josuke, it’s you. I thought you were your mother,” Jotaro deadpanned, gesturing to his long hair.

“Bullshit, you heard me talking, don’t you fuckin’ sass me!”

Jotaro shrugged wordlessly and turned to Okuyasu. “I’ll put some stuff in a basket for you to look through. Just make sure you bring back whatever you take.” He paused. “If you two are out late, give me a call and I can pick you up.”

“W-we’re not gonna be drinking, Jotaro, we’re underage!” Josuke said defensively, waving his hand between them. Jotaro called his bluff instantly, as expected.

“I won’t tell your mother. Just don’t do anything stupid and make sure you call me, otherwise she’ll worry all night and neither of us will hear the end of it.”

Okuyasu leaned into the conversation, curiosity getting the better of him. “Did you drink when you were in high school, Jotaro?”

The older man pulled the brim of his hat over his face, the way he often did when he was trying to look cool and nonchalant. “Yeah. I snuck some beer into prison, once.”

The boys’ jaws dropped. “Prison?!” Okuyasu shouted, “No shit, what’d they get ya for?”

Jotaro turned his back to them and shot a glance over his shoulder. “Let’s just say I was…a pretty wild guy.”

Josuke didn’t know whether to be impressed or mortified.

--

They arrived at the party about an hour late, as per Shouko’s instructions. Okuyasu wasn’t sure what being ‘fashionably late’ was all about, but he trusted that the girls probably had a good reason for suggesting it. Josuke had painstakingly re-styled his hair into a pompadour while Okuyasu went through the pile of Jotaro’s old clothes, which was actually a bit of a shame, although he probably wouldn’t get the image of that long, pretty hair out of his head anytime soon. To make matters worse, Josuke had settled on wearing his grey shirt that was practically made of mesh and holes, and hadn’t bothered to wear anything underneath it either. Good for the party, bad for Okuyasu’s sanity.

He, meanwhile, was sporting a simple purple t-shirt and dark pants, courtesy of Jotaro’s teenage self. He wasn’t used to wearing clothes that fit so tightly (the fashion in the 80s must have been a little more revealing, he figured), but he had to admit it suited him – plus he’d maybe, just maybe, caught Josuke looking at him, but it was hard to tell if he’d just been comparing their muscles or what. They both looked dressed for a night out, which was the important part, and they hadn’t come empty-handed. As it turned out, The Hand and Crazy Diamond made a pretty good team when you wanted to steal some booze from the liquor store without entering the building.

Shouko and Mami met them at the door and gave them the OK to enter – the party was invite-only, so Yuuya’s crew were keeping a close eye on who they let into the garage. Even though it was barely nine o’clock, the party was already moving at a pretty good speed. The inside of the garage was surprisingly roomy, and they’d somehow managed to make it mostly soundproof, which was a good thing because the music inside was pumping. Okuyasu figured there were probably about 50 people there already, with more likely to filter through over the course of the evening. He didn’t know that many of them, but that was alright because he was mostly just here to dance, get drunk, and possibly maybe somehow blurt out a confession. His palms were sweaty just thinking about it, but he caught Shouko’s eye across the room and she gave him a sneaky thumbs-up for encouragement, silently mouthing ‘good luck!’ in his direction.

“Man,” Josuke said, having to shout over the music, “were those girls on the door the ones from your cooking class? They’re cute as hell.”

“Y-yeah, that’s them. The one with the ponytail is Shouko, the other one’s Mami. Kumiko’ll be here later too, she’s short an’ kinda shy.” Okuyasu reached into his bag. “Wanna beer?”

“You know it!” Josuke grabbed the bottle out of his hand and started chugging it down. Okuyasu laughed.

“Take it easy bro, we don’t have heaps. I can probably wheedle some more outta Yuuya though.” He gulped. “Wanna dance?”

“Nah man, ain’t drunk enough for that shit yet.” Josuke surveyed the party with a regal expression. “Ask me again in like an hour or two.”

Okuyasu’s heart shot into his throat. Was that a yes? A delayed yes? Either way, it was a good sign.

“Sure, man…will do…” he said, almost to himself.

--

An hour later, Josuke had lost track of Okuyasu.

Thankfully, this party was sick as hell, and he was still having an awesome time. He’d downed a couple bottles of beer since arriving, and already he was starting to get that nice warm floaty feeling in his limbs that told him he was on his way to tipsy. He’d talked to a ton of people too, which was great because now that he’d made some acquaintances in this crowd he’d probably get more invites to parties like this in the future. The garage was packed and sweaty and full of a thick mixture of deodorant, cologne, perfume, hairspray, and alcohol. It was overwhelming in the best way.

Still, where the hell was Okuyasu? He sent out Crazy Diamond to hover above the crowd as a beacon, its pink-and-blue hands pointing downward to Josuke’s location on the dancefloor. Sure enough, within a minute or two he could see Okuyasu stumbling towards him through the crowd, drink held high above his head and eyes wide.

“Josuke!! Holy shit dude, you gotta come see this!” He turned on his heel again, and Josuke took this as his cue to follow. He took another swig of beer, coughing a little as some nearby dancers bumped his arm mid-gulp. As the two of them made their way into one of the far corners of the room, Josuke noticed a bit of a congregation forming.

“What is it? Is it a fight?” he asked Okuyasu, who was busy muscling his way through the pack for a decent view.

“Not yet they ain’t! Seriously bro, take a look at this, you’ll never guess who I found!” Josuke felt himself being firmly shoved to the front row, probably by The Hand, and his own hand shot over his mouth when he realised what he was looking at.

There, sitting at a small table opposite Fungami Yuuya, was none other than Kishibe Rohan. There were a few playing cards and empty cups scattered between them, as well as one very large goblet halfway full of something disgusting sitting in the middle of the table. Josuke knew this drinking game pretty well, and certainly well enough to know that Rohan was losing. Badly. The mangaka’s face was twisted in spite and red with drunkenness, and he spat a little when he spoke.

“Well? Not so tough anymore, are you, you little punk? Serves you right for challenging me, the famous Kishibe Rohan, to a petty drinking game!” He slammed his drink onto the table a little too forcefully, causing the plastic cup to crumple and spill. He leaned back in his chair, apparently trying to look impressive. “Go ahead. Draw a card. Everyone’s waiting to see you lose.

Yuuya, meanwhile, seemed quite composed, even a little amused. He leaned forward and drew his card, displaying it proudly to the audience. There were oohs and ahhs, and his many fans cheered for him – he was safe yet again. Rohan looked about ready to burst a blood vessel. Josuke couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the sight of it all, and the mangaka spun around to face him.

“Ugh!! What are you doing here?!”

Josuke sipped at his drink casually, barely containing a smirk. “Just enjoying the show, man.” Rohan snorted unattractively.

“Oh, I get it. I’m just free entertainment to you, right? You’re here to see me make a fool of myself, right?! You’re such a child, Higashikata! You should know by now that I, Kishibe Rohan –”

“—Rohan.” Yuuya interrupted. “It’s your move. Pick a card, my man.”

“Excuse me?! I’m not your man!” Rohan shrieked, violently snapping up a card at random. He stared at it in silence for a moment, the colour draining from his face. He took a deep breath.

“…HEAVEN’S D—”

Josuke made a move to restrain the belligerent Rohan from cheating his way out of defeat with his stand, but Okuyasu moved faster. In a flash, one of Rohan’s chair legs disappeared into nothing, and the mangaka came crashing down ass-first onto the hard concrete floor. The crowd roared with laughter as his unlucky card fluttered down onto his face. Josuke and Okuyasu exchanged a gleeful high-five.

“Well, well, well…I think that means it’s time for you to drink up,” Yuuya snickered. He placed the goblet on the floor next to an aggressively sulking Rohan. Just then a small blonde figure popped out of the mass of onlookers, rushing to Rohan’s side.

“Uh, sorry guys,” Koichi began, “I think Mr. Rohan has probably had enough to drink already, can’t we call it a night?” He fluttered his eyelashes imploringly at Yuuya and his fangirls. “Please?”

Yuuya was unmoved. “No can do, buddy, this jerk lost fair and square. He knew the price for losing, and now he’s gotta pay up!” He clenched his fists and made his best tough-guy face. The girls swooned. Josuke scoffed and downed the rest of his beer.

Rohan’s face cycled through several emotions, eventually settling on ‘steely resolve’. He found his feet again and was surprisingly stable as he motioned for Koichi to hand him the goblet. Koichi was clearly apprehensive, but there was to be no arguing with the surly artist. With a sigh of resignation, he passed Rohan the repulsive brew, concocted from a mixture of Rohan’s gin and tonic and Yuuya’s rum and grape juice. Its colour was a watery purple-brown, and there were little chunks of lemon floating in it. Rohan downed the entire thing without so much as a grimace and threw the empty goblet to the floor.

With the drinking game over, the crowd began to disperse back onto the dancefloor. Yuuya loudly declared himself “Liquor King” and set about trying to hunt down a makeshift crown and sceptre for his victory parade. Koichi had dragged Rohan to a nearby sofa and appeared to be giving him a friendly but exasperated scolding for his antics. Josuke had to marvel at that – only Koichi could give Rohan a telling-off like that and still be allowed back into his house in the morning. He idly wondered if their friendship was anything like his and Okuyasu’s.

As the thought crossed his mind, he felt a warm and sturdy arm flop over his shoulders. “Oi Josuke, scored us some more beer off Yuuya an’ his buddies.” He offered a can of some off-brand booze to Josuke with a small smile. “Ain’t nothin’ flashy, just good an’ trashy.”

Josuke snorted. “I want that on a t-shirt, bro.” He opened the beer and took a long sip. It really was pretty trashy, but he kinda liked that rough-around-the-edges quality. It tasted like the kind of beer you’d get from some shady punks hanging out in a park in exchange for free cigarettes. “Mmm, yeah, this is the good shit, Oku. Let’s get this more often.” Okuyasu’s eyes had a charming twinkle in them, which took Josuke a little off-guard.

“Yeah?? I secretly love this brand, y’know.” He grabbed Josuke’s can instead of opening his own, hesitating a little before taking a thoughtful swig. “Sometimes the things you like don’ have to make sense, I guess.” He passed the beer back. “Sorry if I got my spit on it.”

“Don’t mind,” Josuke shrugged. He was feeling more than a little tipsy now, those last couple drinks starting to hit him properly. As a matter of fact, he thought that maybe he could taste something a little different about the beer when he drank from it again, although maybe he was just paying closer attention to the tang of the metal or the faint hint of sweetness under the bitter hops. It reminded him of Okuyasu, and he kept drinking.

It had almost hit eleven o’clock, and the party was as full of drunk and raucous teenagers as it was going to be. Josuke could feel the music pounding in his feet as dozens of revellers stomped to the beat, his own hips feeling awfully loose. He closed his eyes to shut out the colourful sea of undulating bodies and focused on listening, letting his head roll lazily around as he swayed in place. Whoever was in charge of the music was going for a mostly upbeat, retro vibe, and he was definitely digging it. In his mind’s eye he began assigning colours to individual sounds – sharp yellow for the high, wailing guitar tones, and rich fuchsia for the deep rumbling bass notes he felt in his belly. The little kaleidoscopic patterns they made in his head were entertaining, and not something he usually thought about. He stayed with his eyes closed like that until the song ended, and upon opening them again he realised he was drunk as shit.

“Fffuuuck…” he groaned, laughing as he put a hand on Okuyasu’s chest to steady himself. “I’m fuckin’ drunk, dude.”

Okuyasu looked back at him, a little red in the face himself. “Y-yeah? You seemed sorta out of it there.” Josuke hummed in agreement and smooshed his face ungracefully into Okuyasu’s collarbone.

“I was thinkin’ about what that song would look like if it was a picture. I should learn how to draw.” Okuyasu froze up as a couple people glanced their way. Carefully, he guided a confused Josuke over to the couch that Koichi and Rohan were still lounging on, setting him down next to their small friend. Rohan was looking a little worse for wear after drinking the contents of the goblet and had since removed his jacket, leaving him wearing little more than a pair of unfashionable (but expensive) pants, a pile of belts haphazardly strapped around his body, and a very, very small crop-top. What a mess.

Koichi sighed when he saw the state Josuke was in. “Him too? I swear, these guys…” Josuke bumped his head softly on the wall behind them.

“Koichi,” he said sternly, “I want to dance. Why won’t Okuyasu let me dance?”

“I ain’t stoppin’ you from dancin’, Josuke, I just think you should probably sit down for a sec,” Okuyasu explained patiently, although he was clearly feeling the effects of his drink as well. “Can’t dance if you can’t even stand up.”

Rohan rolled his eyes and waggled his finger at Josuke. “You…you are not s’posed to eat alcohol, Hibashigata, you are in high school. You’re a delinquent.” He hiccupped, and Koichi put his head in his hands. “Say, why, why don’t we have…a fine challenge, over here, and see…who’s the best. Guess what it’s me.”

Josuke leaned over poor Koichi, who was sitting between the two of them. “Oh yeaaah? Well I betcha you can’t dance for shit. How’s that for a challenge, mister. Hey, hey Rohan, come closer.”

Rohan, too drunk to question him, obliged, and immediately recoiled as Josuke poured beer onto his head.

“Aaaaargh! Fuck you! Fuck you!!” Rohan fumed, storming off to the bathroom to clean himself up. “Koichi!” he bellowed, “take care o’ my stuff. I’ll be back to kick his ass.” The three boys watched as Rohan made his way halfway to the bathroom before being pulled over by an equally drunk and equally badly-dressed young man, who immediately started dancing with him. Shooting a competitive glare back at Josuke, Rohan attempted to dance back, and a wave of secondhand embarrassment rippled across the couch.

“Shit, man,” Josuke cringed, “that’s tragic.” Koichi hurried off to try and save what was left of Rohan’s pride, leaving Josuke and Okuyasu with the sofa to themselves.

--

Okuyasu took a moment to enjoy the peace. He definitely wasn’t as drunk as Josuke or Rohan, but he felt tingly and warm and happy, and his earlier nervousness had mostly subsided despite Josuke’s very unexpected drunken nuzzle on the dancefloor. It’d been a while since he’d had such a nice night out, actually. He’d have to thank the girls for inviting them, maybe make them something nice as a token of gratitude. Kumiko had arrived a little while ago, but it didn’t seem like parties were really her thing – she kept pretty close to Shouko and Mami and mostly just observed. Thinking about his classmates reminded him of why he was there, and Okuyasu suddenly realised that sitting on a couch alone with Josuke in the middle of a great party was probably a pretty good time to come clean. He swallowed heavily and tried to gather up his courage.

“Hey, Oku?” Josuke said, interrupting his train of thought.

“Yeah, bro? You okay?”

Okuyasu watched in disbelief as Josuke closed his eyes and rolled his head onto his shoulder, his towering pompadour brushing past his face. Apparently it was scented – did he use actual pomade on it or something?

“Yeah, I’m good. Jus’ wanted to thank you for inviting me. This is real nice.” Okuyasu’s heart was banging so hard in his chest he felt like he was gonna break a rib. This was it, this was it, it was now or never!

“Josuke, uh,” he began, a little too quietly, “I kinda wanted to talk to you, actually…” Josuke hummed a question mark into his shoulder, and Okuyasu clenched his beer can tighter. “Um…I was gonna say somethin’ sooner, but I didn’t think I’d be able to go through with it unless I was drunk, and I know you’re drunk too so maybe you won’t even remember anythin’ I’m about to say, but it’s kinda important and like please don’t hate me but um…”

Josuke lifted his head off Okuyasu’s shoulder and stared him straight in the eye, a mixture of worry and anticipation swimming over his features. Okuyasu tried not to lose his nerve.

“Um…I just…I’ve been thinkin’ lately, and uh…I really…”

Josuke’s eyes lit up and he grabbed the other boy’s hand with unabashed enthusiasm. “Okuyasu!!”

Okuyasu’s head was spinning. Was this really happening? He felt like he was gonna cry. Everything in his head was turning to soup and Josuke just kept looking up at him with that glowing expression, holding his goddamn hand and everything. He didn’t know what to do, so he just flashed a nervous grin as he tried to make the feelings in his head turn into good words. Taking one last breath to clear his thoughts, he opened his mouth and—

“Oh my god, Oku!! I fucking love this song!!”

Josuke sprung out of his seat and practically hurled himself onto the dancefloor. A funky beat had just started up, and Okuyasu had spent enough time around Josuke to recognise it as a Prince song. He sat on the couch by himself for a moment or two, trying to restart his brain and process whatever emotions he was meant to be experiencing right now. He then picked up his drink, guzzled the whole thing, found Josuke’s half-empty can, and finished that one off too. Trying not to feel too defeated (which was difficult), he followed a beckoning Josuke into the crowd.

Josuke was clearly having a blast, and as soon as Okuyasu was within his stand range he had Crazy Diamond pull him in for a boogie. Not being quite as keen to party with an invisible punchghost, Okuyasu chose instead to sway timidly on the spot and watch Josuke dance around. Although Josuke often busted out goofy little dances when they were hanging out, he’d never actually seen him really go for it, and as it turned out, the guy could seriously move. Josuke struck his poses with confidence and style, even singing along to the chorus when it came up, making sure to let Okuyasu know which of them could be the side effect, and who would rather be the dope. Absolute lyrical genius, that. He had to laugh. Even though his attempt at a confession had been thwarted, maybe this turn of events wasn’t so bad either.

--

It was a little past midnight, and Josuke and Okuyasu had crammed their giggling selves into a phone booth in an attempt to call Jotaro for a ride home.

“Josuke?” echoed Jotaro’s voice in the receiver.

“Yyyyooooo my nephew,” Josuke slurred back, “we’re about ready for that ride now, pardner.”

“Yee haw!” shouted Okuyasu in the background, and the two of them erupted into laughter again.

“…I’m on my way.” Click.

“WHY ARE YOU SO RUUUDE?” Josuke yelled into the dead phone line.

There was a knock on the phone booth window as another partygoer expressed their desire to use the phone, so Josuke and Okuyasu stumbled back out onto the street, tripping over one another.

“You heading back?” Koichi asked as he passed by, and Josuke just about pissed himself laughing at the scene in front of him.

“Oh my GOD Koichi, what the fuck happened to him?!” Josuke was in hysterics. He was referring, of course, to the fact that Koichi was pushing a large old wheelbarrow containing a completely incapacitated Rohan.

“He decided to sleep in there. I can’t even believe tonight, you guys. I’m not even going to bother moving him out of this thing, I’ll just roll him into his foyer and leave him there.” You had to feel a little bad for Koichi, having to put up with that hot mess.

“Yer a good man, Koichi. I hate that sonovabitch but I respect your commitment to being an upstanding dude,” Josuke said grandly.

The group chattered amiably for a while until Jotaro showed up with the car. The older man took one look at the wheelbarrow situation and offered to give the two of them a ride as well, but Koichi refused, saying he wanted to make a point. They reached a compromise whereby Jotaro would drop Okuyasu and Josuke off at home, then drive to Rohan’s and pick up Koichi afterwards. This seemed to suit everyone, so the first load of passengers hopped into the car and started on their journey back.

Josuke thought he caught Jotaro glancing suspiciously at the two of them in the rearview mirror a couple times, but he couldn’t work out why. They were just talking and laughing about all the stuff that had happened at the party (turns out Josuke and Shouko had got along really well after all, and she was totally allowed to come hang with them sometime). The car ride didn’t take too long, but Josuke was already feeling a bit sleepy from all the booze, and before he knew it he’d fallen asleep against Okuyasu, the other boy having slung an arm casually across his shoulders. He was awoken by Jotaro shaking him, surprisingly gently for such a big dude, and letting him know they’d arrived. Once Jotaro had made sure they both had their keys and were good to stand up, he drove off again to find Koichi, leaving Josuke and Okuyasu standing groggily in the front yard of the Higashikata house.

“You gon’ be okay walking home by yourself, dude?” Josuke asked, fumbling with the lock on the front door.

“Yeah, I walk home late from your place all the time, no prob,” Okuyasu reminded him.

“Shit,” Josuke said with a frown, “sorry about that, bro. That’s kinda not cool of me.” Okuyasu laughed.

“You don’ have to worry so much about me, Josuke, I can take care o’ myself.” He scooped up the keys from Josuke’s hands and unlocked the door for him, since he seemed to be having so much trouble with it. “See?”

Josuke turned around to face Okuyasu, letting out a tired groan. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Man, I’m gonna have such a headache tomorrow…”

“Me too,” Okuyasu admitted, “I probably overdid it a little.”

“Ah well, we had fun, yeah?” Josuke grinned.

“Yeah, for sure! I had a really good time. Well, catch ya round, Josuke!”

Before Okuyasu could leave, Josuke grabbed hold of his arm.

“Hey Oku, I just remembered! You were gonna talk to me about somethin’, right? I got totally distracted ‘cause Pope came on.” Okuyasu’s eyes were like saucers. “It seemed important, everything okay?”

Okuyasu looked nervous. “Yeah dude, it’s fine…but uh…are you sure you wanna talk about this now? Not like…tomorrow, or somethin’?” Josuke furrowed his brow and gave Okuyasu his most serious look (or as serious as he could muster when he was still a little drunk).

“Dude, come on, you’re being totally weird. What’s going on?”

He watched Okuyasu take a deep breath…then another, and then another.

“Ugh…I can’t get my words workin’ right to say what I gotta say,” Okuyasu said, squeezing his eyes shut tight. “Okay. Okay. Okay! Fuck it, here goes.”

The next thing Josuke knew, Okuyasu had grabbed his face with both hands and kissed him hard on the lips.

They broke apart quickly, both of their faces a mess of crimson blush and bewilderment. “S-so yeah, t-t-that…” Okuyasu stammered, clinging to his bag strap for dear life, “that’s what’s up. Uhh, I’m gonna go to bed now, g’night Josuke!” And then he sped away, tripping over his own feet as he went.

Josuke just stood gobsmacked in the doorway, now well and truly sobered up.

Chapter Text

Josuke awoke the next morning to a splitting headache and a bucket of sick.

He couldn’t quite remember how he’d managed to get upstairs and into the bathroom, but apparently whatever events had transpired between the doorstep and 10am had not involved getting back to bed. Every part of his body groaned with a dull but persistent ache, his shoulders were stiff from sleeping on the hard tiled floor all night, and he felt a sharp twinge of pain at the base of his skull as he tried to lift his head off the ground. The product in his hair made a sickly peeling sound against the floor, like the sole of a sneaker slapping against old sticky juice stains. The smell of the bucket wafted in his direction and made his stomach churn. His chest convulsed with a fresh bout of dry-retching.

Head spinning, he gathered what little strength he could muster and dragged himself pathetically into the corner of the bathroom, sitting cross-legged with the bucket wedged into his lap. He took a few deep, shaky breaths.

What in the fuck happened last night?

He cast his mind back to try and assess the damage. How much had he even had to drink? Not that much, right? Two, maybe three bottles of beer, a couple cans of Yuuya’s stuff, a cupful of whatever Shouko was drinking, a few sips of that weird shit Hazamada was carrying around in a water bottle that made his throat burn…well alright, so maybe he had gone a little bit overboard for a novice drinker, especially on an empty stomach. But it had been really fun at the time! Regardless of how terrible he felt now, there was no denying that Yuuya’s party had been a phenomenal success, and he would definitely chase up an invite to the next one. The music! The dancing! The cute girls! That jerk Rohan passed out in a wheelbarrow! Partying it up with Okuyasu! And, uhh…how exactly had they got home again? Jotaro, it must have been Jotaro…yeah, Jotaro gave them a ride.

The details of the night before were starting to filter back into Josuke’s foggy brain. So they’d got there, had a wild time, called Jotaro, made it back home, and then he figured he must have passed out on the doorstep. He scrunched up his face, confident that he was still missing at least a few crucial points. What else was there…? Koichi was there too, looking after Rohan like a total legend, a tiny, kind mountain of patience. The awesome DJ put on ‘Pope’ at one point, right about when Okuyasu was trying to talk to him on the couch about…

…oh, shit. He knew he’d forgotten something.

Josuke’s hand moved up to his lips and lingered there as a hazy sequence of memories popped into his head – Okuyasu standing on his doorstep, nervously scratching the back of his head; Okuyasu blushing furiously with beads of sweat pricking his brow; Okuyasu’s lips pressed firmly against his own with the force of an oncoming truck. That…that was a confession, right? Josuke was no stranger to romantic confessions (being both a superb catch and a sexy motherfucker), but this was something else entirely. Was there a chance he was misinterpreting it? He and Okuyasu were pretty close as far as friends went, and pretty touchy-feely too, so maybe this was just the logical progression of that regular platonic closeness? Most bros probably kissed when they were drunk sometimes, right? Maybe he’d meant it in a silly way and Josuke was stressing out about nothing. But the way his brain kept lingering on the feeling of Okuyasu’s hands holding his cheeks, and the bashful look he’d given him after the kiss…it made everything seem blurry. Or was that the hangover?

He swallowed hard as a sharp pang cut through his skull like a whip-crack. Whatever flip-floppy feelings were happening in his stomach would have to wait for now, because he was about 85% sure he was going to throw up again. What he really needed was a tall glass of water…and maybe a cold shower wouldn’t hurt either, now that he thought about it. He made an attempt to stand up and twist the tap so he could take a drink from the bathroom faucet, but lost his footing almost instantly and banged his knee on the counter. Fuck this, it was time to do what he always did when he felt like shit.

Josuke gathered his breath and expelled it like a siren. “Moooooom!”

To his relief, he didn’t have to wait long before he heard his mother’s footsteps pounding up the stairwell. He was lucky to have caught her at home, actually, since she usually went out to the veggie market on Sunday mornings. Tomoko clattered away at the door-handle for a second before kicking the whole thing open, hands full of groceries and hair in disarray. A flicker of concern passed over her features before she sighed and gave him the kind of disapproving stare that only a mother can manage.

“Finally awake, huh? At least you managed to get it all in the bucket.” She set her bags down on the floor and winced as the stench of vomit hit her nostrils.

“I’m sorry, mom…can you get me some water? I feel like shit an’ I can’t get up…” Josuke said, voice croaking as he pleaded with her.

Tomoko leaned against the sink, arms folded across her chest. “I’m not surprised, considering how drunk you were when Jotaro dragged your ass back inside. When were you guys planning on telling me about this big party, hm? You know I don’t appreciate finding these things out second-hand. It makes me feel like an outsider in your life.” She made a face.

“Not now, mom, please…” Josuke reached his hand towards Tomoko, shielding his eyes from the glaring bathroom lights. “Water…”

Tomoko walked over to him and crouched down so that their faces were level.

“Oi. Josuke. I get it, alright? I’ve been hung over a million times, and trust me, it sucks. Every time feels like the worst time ever. I’m not mean enough to just let you sit here and throw up all day, but you’ve gotta promise me that you won’t keep this kind of thing a secret from me again, okay? That’s the part I’m pissed off about, not the drinking. What if something had gone wrong, like you’d got hurt or run off somewhere and Jotaro couldn’t find you? I’d have no idea what was going on! That’s scary for a mom. Use your damn head!” She gave his forehead a flick.

“Ow!! Fuck, really? My head’s killing me…” He rubbed his forehead and pouted. Once the pain had dulled a bit, Josuke felt a touch of guilt drift over him. He sighed. “…I just thought you’d be mad at me if you found out I was going to a party instead of doing my homework. Y’know?”

Tomoko shrugged. “Well I mean, I am kinda mad about that, but whatever. You gotta let yourself have a break now and then, otherwise you’ll just go crazy. I don’t think this Japanese school system is healthy for young minds…Jotaro’s been talking about the way they do things in America and it seems a lot less stressful to me. Anyway. Is here anything else you wanna say to me?”

Tomoko raised her eyebrow and Josuke stared at the floor, embarrassed.

“…Sorry, mom. I love you.”

Tomoko leaned forwards and scooped her sweaty, smelly son into a hug.

“I love you too,” she said with a squeeze, “I just want you to be happy.”

Josuke let himself relax into his mom’s arms. He felt like a total baby in times like this, but he couldn’t deny that it was nice to know somebody was looking out for him. Despite all the annoying rules and boring chores that came with living under Tomoko’s roof, he was secretly dreading having to grow up and ‘make it’ on his own someday. Why couldn’t he just stay at home forever? It’d be way easier than having to pay his own bills. Josuke tried to push the term ‘momma’s boy’ out of his head for the time being.

“Anyway,” he said, “if I’d gone missing, Okuyasu woulda found me.” Tomoko released him from the hug and filled a small mug with tapwater.

Mm-hmmm,” she responded with a wry grin, “that boy’s always taking care of you, isn’t he? Aren’t you lucky.”

“W…what’s that supposed to mean?” Josuke asked cautiously. He gulped down the water and handed the mug back for a refill. Did she know about…? About what, he thought. There was nothing between him and Okuyasu, it didn’t mean anything! But now that flip-floppy feeling was back, and so was the ghost of Okuyasu’s kiss. He silently prayed he wasn’t blushing.

Tomoko kept up her mischievous smile as she busied herself with the unglamorous task of washing out Josuke’s sick-bucket. “Oh, nothing. Just a mother’s intuition.” She could hardly contain her amusement – Josuke knew this was a bad sign. “Well…there’s also the fact that you wouldn’t stop talking about how he kissed you while Jotaro and I brought you up here last night. You threw up all over Jotaro’s shoulder like a burpy baby, you know. He was pretty pissed.”

“Auughhhhh….” Josuke groaned, mortified. “Gimme back the bucket, I’m gonna be sick.”

Tomoko laughed. “Oh, don’t be so melodramatic, it’s not that big a deal. These things happen when you go out drinking sometimes.” She put a hand on her hip as her eyes took on a dreamy, faraway look. “Anyway, you’re his son, so I’m not surprised you turn into a swingin’ casanova after a couple of rounds at the bar…” She sighed, wistfully. “I remember, way back then--”

Josuke put his hands over his ears. “Mom! Please don’t start talking about how you and Mr. Joestar met again, or I really will puke.” He straightened his back against the wall. “Anyway, I wasn’t the one doing the kissing, okay? That was all Oku! It kinda just came outta nowhere, I don’t even…I don’t know how I feel about it. I’ll deal with it when I don’t feel like a pile of steaming dog shit.”

Tomoko raised an eyebrow. “You mean it was a surprise confession? Wow, way to go Okuyasu! I’m impressed, it takes guts to put yourself on the line like that.” She narrowed her eyes. “You’re gonna talk it out with him though, right?”

“Yeah, I mean…eventually…” Josuke could feel Tomoko’s glare without even looking in her direction.

“Josuke. Don’t you string that boy along. Figure out how you feel and talk to him about it, first chance you get. Communication, remember?”

Josuke covered his face with his hands. This was gonna be a long day.

--

Meanwhile, Okuyasu was trudging listlessly around the house, absent-mindedly chewing on strips of bacon as he nursed a headache of his own. The combination of his stronger constitution and the fact that he’d nervously gorged himself on snacks before the party meant that he wasn’t quite as sick as Josuke was, but he made up for it with a boatload of emotional turmoil. After wiping his greasy fingers on a dishcloth, he made his way to the living room, sank into the old ratty couch, and stared at the blank TV screen.  Yup, it was official: he done fucked up.

His dad was shuffling around too, dragging a bag of cat food behind him. Seeing Okuyasu zoned out and forlorn, he plopped the bag down in the hall and went to sit with his troubled son, giving him a light poke to the ribs with his oversized hand. Ever since his transformation, he’d been unable to speak properly – grunts and groans, but no words – and the control he had over his hands was slowly diminishing day-by-day. Still, he and Okuyasu were beginning to work out a system for communication, a mixture of gestures and simple pictograms mostly, and as a result their relationship was improving far beyond what either of them had expected. To be honest, Okuyasu had probably got more decent interaction out of his father over the past month or two than he ever did growing up. Josuke didn’t seem to get it (and it was a bit weird, so Okuyasu couldn’t really blame him), but he could tell that his dad really had changed since then. It didn’t erase all the bad things he’d done to him and Keicho over the years, of course, but Okuyasu wasn’t prepared to hold a grudge against what was essentially his last living family member. The summer had been bittersweet, but he was thankful for the small things. Right now, that included monster-dad.

He recognised the poke to the ribs as an expression of concern, and he took his time responding.

“…Hey pops.”

His dad tilted his head to the side.

“Yeah, I ain’t feelin’ too hot…” he said, “I had a bit too much to drink last night…did a few things I’m kinda regrettin’…”

His dad pointed to his own chest and nodded sadly. Okuyasu felt a lump in his throat.

“Y-you know that feelin’, huh?” he stammered, trying not to open old wounds.

His dad made a punching gesture, punctuated with a question mark. Okuyasu shook his head.

“Nah…it ain’t like that. It’s a bit more…personal, I guess…” He sighed. “I dunno pops, you sure you wanna hear what’s on my mind right now? It’s pretty heavy.”

His dad pondered for a while, then shrugged. Okuyasu guessed he was probably trying to put the ball in his court on this one. Reluctantly, he continued.

“…You know my buddy Josuke, right?” His dad nodded. “Right, well…uhh…how do I say this…”

Once again, words were failing him. He realised he had no idea how his father would respond to his current predicament. Would he be ashamed? Disgusted? Was telling him about it a terrible, terrible idea? He knew he was working himself up too much, but he couldn’t seem to calm down. He started crying despite himself, shakily gripping the fabric of his pajama pants at the knees. Maybe if he hadn’t been so fucking stupid, he wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. He’d just be at Josuke’s house right now, like usual, playing video games, instead of sitting by himself feeling like an asshole. His dad looked confused, like he didn’t know what he was supposed to do. He poked Okuyasu in the ribs again.

Sniffling, Okuyasu tried to give him a proper response. “I d-don’ want you to think I’m a f-freak, pops…but I need help, I dunno…I’m stuck…” His dad jumped at the word “freak” and gestured to his own body, his gnarled limbs and strange, scaly skin. Okuyasu immediately felt guilty. “N-no, shit! I don’ mean like…you’re not a freak, it ain’t your fault what happened…I shouldn’t have used that word…I’m a fuckin idiot, as usual…I’m sorry…” He curled into himself, sobbing and gulping for breath.

Okuyasu’s dad hopped off the couch and retrieved a large pad of paper from the other side of the room, along with a fat purple crayon. This conversation was clearly going to require more than just a few hand gestures. He drew a crude outline of a face, then added a bunch of scribbly lines on top which just barely resembled Josuke’s pompadour. Next to the face he drew a question mark – an explanation was in order.

“O-okay…” Okuyasu’s hands shook almost as bad as his father’s as he reached for the crayon. Tears still pouring from his eyes and wetting the page, he leaned over the pad and drew a large, wonky heart around the cartoon Josuke. His father looked up, startled. “I told him, pops. Well…no, I didn’t tell him, but he knows. ‘Cuz I kissed him. And now everything’s r-ruined, an’ it’s all my fault.” He wiped his tears on his sleeve and took a few shaky breaths. “W-why’d I have to go an’ do that, pops? I just wanted to talk to him about it…b-but I’m shit with words an’ I just got all worked up…he probably n-never wants to see me again…I ain’t got a better friend than him an’ now I’m g-gonna end up all by myself…”

His dad poked him in the ribs again, trying to be reassuring. Okuyasu just cried harder.

“I don’ even know if he’s into dudes! I didn’t even know I was into dudes till the other day! It doesn’t make any fuckin’ sense!” He tried to calm down and steady his breathing. He thought of Josuke’s face when he was losing at a video game, that dorky thing he did where he scrunched up his nose. “H-he…he’s real cute, pops. It fucks me up. I get stupid when he says shit to me. Stupider than usual, I mean.”

 His dad made a weird gurgling sound as he processed the information. Okuyasu felt sick with worry, like he’d rather drop off the face of the earth than find out what his dad thought about him and his stupid crush. This was probably all one huge mistake. Then, slowly, Okuyasu’s father brought his hands up in front of his face and made a heart symbol, nodding sadly.

“…S-sounds like love to you too, big guy? Fuck.” Okuyasu moved to put a tentative hand on his father’s shoulder, but he flinched away from the touch instantly. Some things take time, he figured. That was okay. He was just glad his dad hadn’t straight-up walked out on him. He felt slightly less bad. Not better, but less bad. He tried to smile through his tears.

“So…what do I do?”

Okuyasu’s dad stayed deep in thought for a while, then picked up the pad and crayon again. Next to the scribbly Josuke, he began to trace out a sad-face with an X across it, representing Okuyasu. He drew little word-bubbles between the two characters, and finished off his picture with the messy words “WEIRD SON. BAD HAIR.”

That got a genuine chuckle out of Okuyasu. “You don’t think Josuke is cute, pops?” His dad shook his head vehemently and pointed to the words he’d written, which made Okuyasu laugh more. “I’m glad you ain’t mad at me for likin’ a dude, but I’m gonna have to disagree with ya there. You know he uses real pomade? The scented shit! Like a real pro.” His dad rolled his eyes, this time pointing at the picture. Okuyasu stared at it for a moment, interpreting it.

“So…I just gotta talk to him? I dunno man, I think it might be a little late for that…” Okuyasu fidgeted nervously. “Should I like…invite him over here or somethin’?” His dad made an X with his hands and pointed to the beautiful sunny morning outside the window. Okuyasu stroked his chin. “Um…so you mean…I gotta…pretend like Josuke is a girl in a cheesy movie…and take him out to talk somewhere pretty?” His dad nodded, and the reassurance made Okuyasu begin to feel a little more like himself. He still didn’t know if Josuke wanted anything to do with him anymore, but he was willing to try and earn back his trust. Maybe this idea could actually work? All he needed to do now was figure out what to say…

Okuyasu stood up from the couch with a worried expression and tried to boost his confidence with a few half-hearted air-punches. The quick jabs rattled his head a bit, so he went to swallow some painkillers. Then, with as much bravado as he could summon, he reached for the phone.

--

“Josukeee!” Tomoko called from the hall, “Okuyasu’s on the phone for youuu!”

Josuke tensed up immediately, still halfway through his breakfast (even though it was past noon). Jotaro looked up from his delicious combination of tea and research notes and gave him a meaningful stare, which Josuke chose to ignore. Tomoko’s voice echoed through the house again.

“Josuke! Phone!!”

Jotaro’s cold eyes were burning holes into Josuke’s skull. He caved.

“Okay, okay! I’ll be right there, just stop talking so loud…” He cringed at the scraping sound his chair made against the floor and shuffled his way into the hall. He reached for the receiver and got a wink from his mom, which he didn’t really appreciate – he was nervous enough already. Finally, Josuke brought the phone up to his face and swallowed loudly.

“…Hi.”

“Oh!! H-hey, Josuke…how you feelin’ bud?”

Josuke scrunched up his face. “Like shit. I woke up on the bathroom floor and I’ve been throwing up all morning. I’m just barely keeping my breakfast down now.”

“Oh…” There was an awkward pause. “That sucks, bro. I’ve got a headache but it ain’t too bad anymore. Throwin’ up is the worst. I used to be real scared of it when I was little…”

Josuke sighed. Maybe he was stressing out for no reason. Maybe Okuyasu wouldn’t even remember what had happened last night. He heard Okuyasu take a deep breath over the phone.

“Uh…actually, Josuke…?”

Ah, shit. Nope. He was definitely gonna have to talk about it.

“Okuyasu, can we maybe not—”

“—I was gonna say, do you wanna meet up by the beach in like half an hour? Bring some snacks an’ chill out in the sunshine. If you’re not feelin’ too shitty to eat snacks, that is…”

Josuke was caught off-guard. “Um…” He considered the offer. It was a nice day outside, and snacks on the beach did sound like a pretty good time, provided he could manage to keep the food down. “Yeah? We could do that, I guess. I need a shower though, so maybe give me a little longer to like…do my hair and shit…”

He could hear Okuyasu shift nervously. “Y…you could always just wear it down…if ya want…?”

Josuke’s stomach did a somersault. What was that? Why did he still feel so weird? Don’t think about it, don’t think about it. He spotted his mom leaning around the corner to listen in, and shooed her away. Shit, was he the one who was blushing now? Don’t think about it…

Apparently he’d taken a little too long to respond, because Okuyasu spoke up again.

“Sorry bro…nevermind that, just do what you wanna do. I’ll hang out by the big tree ‘till you show up. That…that cool?”

“Yeah…that’s cool,” Josuke nodded, even though Okuyasu couldn’t see him. There was a heavy pause.

“…Are we cool?”

Josuke felt himself tense up again. How was he supposed to answer that? He could feel the awkwardness building with every split second he stayed silent, so he opted for an honest response.

“…I…I hope so? Last night was pretty, uh…” He shooed Tomoko away again, and this time he also caught a brief glimmer of blue and purple fluttering away from the doorframe (Star Platinum? Really?). “I’ll talk to you about it later, okay? Mom and Jotaro are trying to listen to me from around the corner but I can totally see them.” He heard his mom suppress a giggle.

“Okay, dude. I’ll see you soon.” The line went quiet, and Josuke immediately stormed upstairs to the shower to get ready. Fuck this nosy-ass family life.

--

Okuyasu sat under the tree, anxiously ripping out little handfuls of grass and throwing them into the wind. He knew Josuke said he’d be a bit late, but they were meant to meet at 2:30 and it was already past 3:00. Maybe he wouldn’t show?

He stared out at the ocean and rearranged the pile of snacks on top of the blanket he’d laid out. Was the scene too cheesy, this whole ‘sunny beach and cute picnic’ setup? Did Josuke even go for this kind of shit? He’d meant to save the little chocolate wafer things for when Josuke arrived, but in his nervousness he’d already chomped through about a quarter of the pack. The spot he’d picked was a favourite for lovers and troublemakers, mainly because of its stellar views of the beach and the outskirts of town. He and Josuke had been there a couple times before to spy on Jotaro while he did his beach research, although they always got caught and ended up sprinting away, laughing like maniacs.

At about 3:15, he finally saw Jotaro’s car pull into the short-term parking space near the tree. He got a ride? What took so long, then? He pushed the thoughts out of his mind as his nerves suddenly tripled. Josuke tripped out of the car shouting obscenities at his older nephew and kicked the passenger-side door as it sped away. At least he seemed to be feeling a little better now, Okuyasu thought to himself. Josuke stormed up to the tree with his hands balled into fists.

“Fuck! Sorry I’m so late, I was ready like half an hour ago but somebody was talking on the phone for a billion years instead of giving me a ride down here! I almost took the damn bus!” He threw himself onto the blanket with more force than he meant to. “Uughh…my head’s still killin’ me too...” Okuyasu held out the open bag of chocolate wafer snacks, and Josuke gladly grabbed a handful.

“S’okay, dude. I’m just glad you showed up.” Okuyasu gave Josuke a thin smile, which earned him a frown in response.

“Whoa, man. You look totally shot. I thought you said you weren’t feeling that sick?”

Okuyasu shrugged and stared out at the waves again. The water in the bay never looked the same twice, and today it was a crystal-clear aquamarine, glittering as bright as the gemstone. He knew he had to talk to Josuke, but at the same time he didn’t really want to admit the state he’d been in earlier. He felt something at his side, and when he looked he was surprised to see Crazy Diamond sitting casually on the grass next to him, studying his features with a careful eye.

“You gonna talk to me about it? What’s going on in your head, I mean.” Josuke asked from his peripherals. “I’m assuming that’s why you called me out here.” Okuyasu forced himself to turn and look Josuke in the face, but his friend wasn’t looking straight at him either. For the first time, Okuyasu considered that Josuke might actually be just as nervous as he was. There was some comfort in that. He saw Josuke clench his jaw before continuing. “So…what are you thinking about?”

“You wanna eat some snacks first?” Okuyasu blurted out suddenly. Josuke seemed both surprised and a little relieved.

“Bro, I’m already eating a snack. I’m literally holding a bunch of wafer cookies right now.”

Okuyasu shook his head. “No, man, I brought all these snacks with me so we could like…combine ‘em. In fucked-up ways. That’s how the pro chefs find their crazy new tastes! Or at least, I think that’s how they do it…see, look…” He picked up the open bag of chocolate wafers and a pack of crunchy, spicy flavoured seaweed. Then, with an artful wave of the hand (which made Josuke laugh), he wrapped one of the wafers in a seaweed pouch and dipped it in another ingredient he’d prepared earlier – a sub-optimal batch of choco-strawberry sauce, the kind that was more like weird jam. He offered his new culinary masterpiece to Josuke.

“Whoa whoa whoa, no way dude, that looks fucked up…I’m kinda curious though…” He paused. “Shit…can we split it?” Okuyasu broke it in half messily and the two of them gulped it down.

Moments later, they were both spitting their half-chewed mouthfuls out onto the grass.

“Aauuugh!!” Okuyasu gagged, reaching for the water bottle, “Okay! Okay! Maybe that ain’t such a good method…”

“Fuck’s sake, Oku, what the hell?! Do you want me to throw up again?” He spat on the ground. “It didn’t even taste that bad, but the texture…ughhhh!”

They both guzzled down hefty mouthfuls of water and pressed their backs against the trunk of the big old tree. Now that the atmosphere had lightened a little, Josuke pressed on.

“So. Do you wanna go first?”

Okuyasu clenched his jaw and gulped. “…What should I say?”

“I dunno man, just say what you wanna say.” Josuke leaned back and watched some birds fly past. Okuyasu started ripping up grass again. It took him some time to find the words, but Josuke was patient.

“I…I wanna say sorry, I guess. For not talkin’ to you about it first. The kiss, I mean. That wasn’t part of the plan.” They both looked pointedly in different directions as the actual word ‘kiss’ came up in conversation.

“So, wait…what was part of the plan? You had a plan?” Josuke inquired, a little less calmly than he’d intended.

“Yeah, uh…I was gonna tell you…stuff…at the party, but I got too nervous, and…” Okuyasu threw some more grass in the air, but Crazy Diamond caught it and fused it back to the ground. Josuke pointed his finger at Okuyasu.

“So confess now, then.” Josuke stuffed his mouth full of corn chips in an attempt to hide the embarrassed blush that was creeping back into his face. “You already kissed me, so you might as well just say it.”

Okuyasu started spluttering incoherently. “I, what? I, uh…I mean I…you can’t just ask me to, like…I dunno how to say, like, uhh…y’know, the stuff…b-b-but—”

“—Oku.” Josuke put his hand on Okuyasu’s knee. “Yo. It’s okay, dude. I’m nervous too, but I gotta know what’s going on with you so I can figure out what to do next. Help me out, bud. Please?”

“Uhhhh…” Okuyasu struggled. “Um, how ‘bout we do it like this? You ask me a question, an’ then I can just answer it. Otherwise I dunno where to start.”

“Sounds fair. I think that might help me too, actually…” Josuke scrunched up his nose while he thought, and eventually he seemed to settle on an idea. “Okay – first question: on a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you like me? Say, like…10 is how much you love bottomless refills of choco-strawberry ice cream, and 1 is how much you love waking up with a mouth full of spiders.”

Okuyasu’s eyes widened. “That’s not fair, bro…I like you way more than ice cream!”

The words hung between them for a while. It took Okuyasu a second to realise that he’d essentially just confessed to his first proper crush using the line “I like you more than ice cream”, and he gave himself a mental slap in the head for it.

“Shit…more than ice cream,” Josuke laughed softly, “I guess this is pretty serious. Okay, second question – how long have you liked me for?”

Okuyasu thought hard about that one. “I…I dunno, man. I just…like you? I can’t remember when it started.” Josuke’s hand was still on Okuyasu’s knee and he could feel the heat from his palm radiating through the light fabric of his pant leg. He also noticed that Josuke was shaking.

“Hey, you okay, bro?” Okuyasu asked quietly. “Want some more water?”

“Yes, please,” Josuke sighed, accepting the bottle eagerly. “I’m so fucking nervous right now, Oku. Not gonna lie. It’s kinda just hit me all at once. What we’re talking about, I mean.”

“Yeah? I’ve been nervous ‘bout it for like a week solid…” Okuyasu admitted.

Josuke slapped his hand up to his face. “Oh my god! I just realised…I’ve been like, really unusually shirtless lately, haven’t I?”

“Uh…yup…pretty shirtless…” Okuyasu watched as Josuke covered his face and groaned with embarrassment.

“Fuck…sorry about that, bro. Well at least I’m fully dressed now. Third question. No, last question. What do you actually like about me? Like I think I kinda get it, I ain’t too bad, but I wanna know from you.”

This time, at least Okuyasu felt confident in his answer.

“What? Oh man, I like heaps about you! You’re fun to hang out with, you’re real nice to me an’ you care about me an’ shit, your family’s super cool, your hair is the best hair ever, we’ve been through all kinds of shit together and your stand is awesome, you make me think about cool stuff I’ve never thought of before, you’re, uh, y-you’re really fucking cute, uhh, your house has really good water pressure—”

“—Okay, okay…” Josuke stopped him, face redder than a lobster now. “S-stop, okay, cool, I get it.” He paused. “Did you just call me cute?”

Okuyasu just stared up into the sky, still as stone, face stuck on an expression somewhere between abject terror, delirious joy, and utter disbelief. He didn’t respond, trusting that his silence would probably tell Josuke everything he needed to know. Now that everything was out in the open, he wondered if something was going to be fundamentally different between them. He recalled his panic from earlier that morning and tried to swallow down his doubts, with limited success. Shouldn’t he be feeling more relieved now that he’d got that off his chest? That’s how it always went in the movies. This was where the big heartwarming soundtrack was supposed to come in, right? But this was real life. How were you supposed to tell if your confession scene was going okay without the soundtrack? Josuke was looking at him with concern, and he realised he must look pretty weird. If he was going to get anywhere, he realised, he was going to have to keep talking.

“Hey, Josuke?” Okuyasu said, his voice suddenly small, “Am I fuckin’ this up?”

Josuke was taken aback. “What? What do you mean? Like how?”

“I mean…can we still be friends? Did I wreck it?”Okuyasu tried to keep his eyes from watering, but it wasn’t working – he wasn’t even sure what emotion he was feeling, he was just overwhelmed.

“Fuck, Oku…” Josuke squeezed Okuyasu’s knee a little tighter, leaned in a little closer. “C’mon, don’t start crying, you didn’t wreck anything. It’s your turn to ask me questions now, okay? Oku? Hey, look at me.” Okuyasu obliged, a little reluctantly, blinking back his tears before they had a chance to start.

“O-okay…” he sniffed, “I guess I’ve got a question. Can I have a hug?”

Josuke laughed. “Dude, you don’t have to ask permission for a hug just because you confessed to me. We can still hug whenever.” He scooted over to Okuyasu and put an arm around him. “It’s just, uh…the context might be a bit different now, is all…”

Okuyasu stared at him. “Context? Huh? What do you mean?”

Josuke rested his head on Okuyasu’s shoulder, the way he had at the party the night before.

“I mean you still haven’t asked me the most important question yet, dude.” He settled into the hug a bit and waited for Okuyasu to get the hint, tracing a tentative line down his back for good measure. The result was immediate – Okuyasu sat up straight as a board and started shaking all over.

“Oh fuck…oh jesus…” Okuyasu blubbered, trying to hold himself together. “You serious, dude? D-does that mean what I think it –” Josuke nuzzled his face into Okuyasu’s neck and exhaled deeply, “—Whoooa-kay…uhh…d-do you…do you…” he steadied his breathing.

“Do you like me, bro…?” He felt Josuke’s eyes open against his skin, long eyelashes fluttering.

“…Yeah, dude,” he said, “I think so. I don’t really get it, but…that’s what it seems like.”

Okuyasu was definitely gonna cry now. “Wh…what?? Why?? Since when?”

“I dunno. I’m just as confused as you are.” Josuke sighed. “Maybe it’s been there all along and I just haven’t wanted to admit it. Who knows.” He sat up straighter and made a face at Okuyasu’s tears. “Aw bro, I told you not to cry, you’re gonna make me cry now…”

Josuke put his hand on Okuyasu’s knee again, and this time Okuyasu covered it with his own. It wasn’t quite the same as holding hands, but it was close enough that they both blushed a little as they tried to get ahold of their emotions. Josuke was the first to speak up.

“I do have one last thing to ask you, though…just to be sure…”

“Uh-huh…?” Okuyasu said, genuinely curious.

Okuyasu could tell that Josuke was trying to look more confident than he actually was. “I wanna kiss again. Sober, this time. I wanna make sure it feels right. Is…that okay?”

The Hand appeared behind Okuyasu to help hold his body steady. He let that one sink in. Josuke was really serious about this, wasn’t he?

“You want me to…?” Okuyasu trailed off.

“Or I mean, I could…” Josuke said, not faring much better in the communication department.

In the process of negotiating, the two somehow found themselves nose-to-nose. Where did the noses go when you kissed, Okuyasu wondered. Where had they gone last time? He couldn’t remember. He was going cross-eyed trying to make out Josuke’s facial expression so he gave up, tried to focus on other things to gauge how he was feeling. Josuke’s heart was pounding heavy in his chest, loud enough to count out the beats, or maybe that was his own…they were so close now, he couldn’t tell. He could feel Josuke’s breath against his cheek and it made him feel drunk again, it was too much, he had to go for it.

Carefully, he wrapped his arms around the other boy’s waist and closed that last couple inches between them. The atmosphere was entirely different from the previous night – instead of a drunken smash on the lips, this one was more delicate and calculated, a tentative feeling-out of the situation. He wondered why they hadn’t begun their conversation with this instead of the snacks. Maybe it was just him, but it seemed a lot easier to communicate these kinds of feelings through actions, rather than words. Okuyasu was suddenly aware of his whole body, everywhere he and Josuke were touching or almost-touching. The empty space between them felt charged like opposing magnets, almost as if the air itself was a different texture. It reminded him of using his stand, actually, and the awareness of space that came with it.

The smell of the sea mixed together with the smell of the grass and the old tree and Josuke, and it overwhelmed all of his senses completely. They broke apart briefly and took a breath, only to come swooning back together at Josuke’s insistence, his arms locked tightly over Okuyasu’s shoulders. Neither of them were particularly experienced with kissing (it was, in fact, only Okuyasu’s second attempt), but if it was awkward or clumsy they didn’t notice. All Okuyasu could tell was that it felt nice, really nice, and that he wanted to be able to do this kind of thing as often as possible. The kisses didn’t last for more than a few seconds each, but it felt like a full minute had passed by the time they both resurfaced, out of breath and overheating.

Okuyasu looked at Josuke, whose eyes had taken on a glazed sort of look while his face was pleasantly flushed. “W…was that okay?”

“Yeah…” Josuke said quietly, “it was…great, actually. I mean…shit. Can I fucking date you now?”

“Fuck yeah, you can.” Okuyasu grinned.

“Thank god,” Josuke sighed, flopping down onto the grass and staring at the sky.

Okuyasu flopped down next to him and grabbed his hand. He was feeling extra bold after that kiss, so he went right ahead and intertwined their fingers, too. Josuke didn’t seem to mind, but he turned to face him with a slightly more serious expression than he’d had before.

“Just wanna clarify something,” Josuke said, “I don’t do the whole…‘casual’ thing, yeah? If we’re gonna do this, I want it to be for real.”

Okuyasu was still a little woozy. “Yeah…yeah…that’s cool with me. I ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

“Cool. Me neither.” He smiled at Okuyasu, face half-hidden in the grass, hardly noticing the bits of sticks and sand that were getting caught in his pompadour.

“We’re gonna get sunburned if we stay like this.” Okuyasu said, not moving.

“Yeah, whatever man. The sun ain’t shit.”

Okuyasu laughed. “Oh man…the sun ain’t shit…if I get that on a t-shirt, you can get whatever I said last night on a t-shirt, and we can be t-shirt buddies.”

“Ha ha…more like t-shirt boyfriends, am I right?” Josuke laughed and jabbed Okuyasu in the ribs with his elbow, as if his joke was supposed to make sense. Okuyasu laughed anyway.

“What the fuck does ‘t-shirt boyfriends’ mean?”

“I dunno, bro. Why don’t we get it on a t-shirt and find out.”

The last pack of chocolates slowly melted in the late summer heat, and both Josuke and Okuyasu came to school on Monday hiding their blaring red t-shirt tans under their uniforms.

Chapter Text

It didn’t take long for news of their budding romance to spread throughout the school, a rumour caught on the wind like a spark of fire through dry summer pines. Much of this was Mami’s doing – Okuyasu’s gossip-loving friend had been quick to corner him for all the juicy after-party details, apparently having gone so far as to make bets with her classmates about who would kiss who first (for the record, she bet correctly, and was feeling very smug about it). Truthfully, Josuke and Okuyasu hadn’t really gone out of their way to conceal their situation either. They weren’t exactly roaming around town with their tongues shoved down each other’s throats or anything, but the combination of Josuke’s busy hands and Okuyasu’s perpetual lovestruck blush left little doubt as to what was going on. Their friends hadn’t been surprised anyway, apparently having cottoned on to the situation long ago. And so, the boys went about their regular school days with a slight spring in their steps, a few more whispers following them down the hallways, and sweet thoughts on their minds.

To absolutely no one’s surprise, Koichi was extremely supportive of their new relationship.

“Honestly, I’m really happy for you guys,” he said earnestly through a mouthful of some home-cooked snack during lunch hour, “Yukako’s been bugging me about setting you up for ages.  She asked me to pass on her congratulations, by the way.”

Josuke chuckled. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Yukako’s got a good nose for romance, huh? Tell her we say ‘thanks’ back.” He smiled amiably before a blush crept into his face. “Um…I mean, uh…tell her I said thanks? Not we…” He cast a sheepish glance in Okuyasu’s direction. “I guess it’s kinda rude of me to just reply on behalf of both of us, huh? Sorry, Oku.”

“I don’ mind if ya say it like that,” Okuyasu said with a shy smile of his own. “It’s kinda nice to be a ‘we’ with you…” The two boys exchanged sickeningly dreamy looks, and Koichi choked on his food.

“Okay, okay!” he said, rolling his eyes jokingly, “I get that you guys are together now, but don’t get all mushy on me…I’m still single, you know!”

“Honestly, how is that even possible,” Josuke said, snapping out of his reverie, “you’re literally the nicest guy in the whole school, plus you’ve got that ‘cute and genuine’ look going for you, chicks love that shit. Uh, if you’re trying to pull a chick, I mean. Lots of dudes are probably into that too, though, just sayin’.”

“Hey!” Okuyasu said, pumping his fist, “I got an idea! Why don’t me an’ Josuke set you up on a hot date? We can like…put a description of you up on the school bulletin board and be like, this awesome guy needs a date! You wanna be his date? Come to this place on Saturday, or whatever! Then if heaps of people show up, they can all fight, and the one who wins can take you out!”

Koichi sighed. “So what you’re saying is, I should just give in right now and date Yukako? ‘Cause we all know that’s how that situation would end.”

“Oh.” Okuyasu said. “Shit, you’re right. She’d clobber ‘em all in two seconds.”

“What about Rohan?” Josuke teased. “You do go over to his house an awful lot…pretty suspicious…hmmm?” He waggled his eyebrows obnoxiously at his smaller friend.

Koichi made a face like he’d just seen a fish walk out of the ocean. “Are you serious, Josuke? Rohan-sensei and I are just friends. I sometimes wonder if we’re even that, to be honest with you…he can be a pretty cagey guy even when you know him well.”

“Yeah, yeah, I was only messin’ with ya,” Josuke said, flinging an arm around Koichi’s shoulders.

“You wanna know something weird, though?” Koichi asked, dropping his voice to a low hush. Josuke and Okuyasu perked up immediately and leaned in to get the scoop.

“Ohh, is it a big scandal? I wanna know! Tell me!” Okuyasu whispered roughly, and Josuke nodded by his side.

“Okay. So you know how I wheeled Rohan to his house after the party on Saturday?”

The boys nodded again.

“Right. Well, when I got there, I found out that Rohan had managed to forget his house key, so we were locked out.”

“Wait. So what? Why didn’t you just break in?” Josuke asked with a shrug of his shoulders. Koichi narrowed his eyes.

“Oh sure, that’s a great idea, Josuke. It’s not like Rohan holds massive grudges against people who damage his stuff or anything. Plus, I can’t fix things back up like you can with Crazy Diamond, remember?” Josuke pouted, but stayed quiet. Koichi continued.  “…Anyway, while I was trying to figure out what to do, Jotaro pulled up to give me a ride back to my place, like he promised. But you know what he did next?”

“Ora-ora?” Okuyasu said with a laugh. Josuke gave him a goofy punch on the arm.

“Nope. He reached into his coat pocket and unlocked the front door with a spare key.”

There was a short pause while Josuke and Okuyasu considered this information.

“Wait, wait, wait, hold on a second.” Josuke frowned, chewing on the straw of his juice box. “Why does Jotaro have a key to Rohan’s house?” Koichi leaned in, an intense glimmer in his eyes.

“Right? That’s what I wanna know. Even I don’t even have a key, and I’m there all the time.” Koichi folded his arms and puffed up his cheeks. “I guess maybe Rohan is interviewing him for manga material? He does seem like a pretty interesting guy.”

“Uh huh. Ya know what else he is?” Okuyasu grinned. “Tall an’ handsome.”

Josuke spat out his juice. “Dude. Ew. No talking about Jotaro like that, okay? That’s just wrong.

“You guys are related, though, I mean…you kinda look like him—”

“—Just no, man.”

Okuyasu put his hands up in the air, laughing. “Alright, just sayin’…I think we’re onto somethin’ here…”

Before this line of conversation could be explored further, Josuke spotted another one of their buddies in the distance.

“Oh hey, it’s Mikitaka. Yo! Mikitaka!” he shouted, waving his arms in the air to catch their oddball pal’s attention. Mikitaka pointed to his own chest, apparently puzzled, but did not come closer. Josuke kept waving. Mikitaka waved back, still rooted in place. “Hey!” Josuke called again, beckoning with his hand.

“Hey!” Mikitaka shouted back, trying to mimic Josuke’s tone of voice. He didn’t move. Josuke was getting frustrated. Thankfully, Koichi stepped in.

“Mikitaka, come over here and hang out with us!” he yelled, and this seemed to work, as Mikitaka was suddenly running full-tilt in their direction. He came to a sharp stop once he reached the three boys, and took a seat in between Koichi and Josuke.

“Hello. I’ve heard about your new relationship,” he said abruptly, staring straight into Josuke’s eyes. Josuke still wasn’t sure if their friend was just a weirdo or a genuine, honest-to-god alien boy, and somehow it didn’t seem like they would find out the truth anytime soon. He knew that Okuyasu wanted to believe that he really was from outer space, but some part of Josuke couldn’t help but think this was all some elaborate ruse.

Koichi laughed. “Who hasn’t heard about these two getting together? I’m surprised it didn’t make the papers.” A light breeze jangled the delicate gold chain connecting Mikitaka’s nose and ear as he laughed at Koichi’s joke, his soft lavender hair framing his face in an effortlessly appealing way. Josuke narrowed his eyes. He wondered if he should get a nose ring, too.

“Huh? Whatcha lookin’ at, Josuke?” Okuyasu asked, placing a hand on his boyfriend’s shoulder. Of course. Trust Okuyasu to notice he’d been staring enviously at Mikitaka’s cool accessories. Josuke tried to shrug it off.

“Nothing, it’s cool,” he replied unconvincingly, leaning back into Okuyasu’s touch. Whatever. Even if he would look good with a nose ring (and let’s face it, Josuke could rock pretty much anything), he couldn’t get one now anyway without being seen as a copycat. Plus his mom would probably kick him out of the house or something. At least he still had his badass pompadour.

“Shit,” Okuyasu sighed, staring wistfully off into the rolling hills of Morioh, “Y’know, it feels like forever since we’ve all hung out together…”

Koichi raised an eyebrow. “Weren’t we just at a party together like, not even a week ago?” Okuyasu shook his head.

“Nah, dude, not like that. I mean like, just us guys and Yukako an’ stuff, the way it was before we beat Kira.” Hearing the late murderer’s name added a touch of intensity to the group’s mood, and suddenly everyone was listening a little bit closer. Their memories of Kira were still fairly fresh, after all, and although the threat had been neutralised, it wasn’t an experience they were likely to forget anytime soon.

Okuyasu sensed the shift in tone and switched to a more candid register. “I dunno…sometimes it just feels like school’s kinda takin’ over everythin’ else, ya know? I mean, I ain’t too good at school but I’ve been doin’ a little better lately, mostly ‘cause of cookin’ class, which is cool…I just…I dunno. I wish we all had more time to fuck around an’ goof off the way we used to.”

Josuke’s heart felt like it was ready to burst at his boyfriend’s speech, and he resisted the urge to sweep the other boy off his feet and carry him straight to Tonio’s. He settled instead for a quick, chaste kiss to his forehead. Koichi frowned and glanced at Mikitaka, who seemed to be wrestling with something in his mind. The lavender-haired boy hadn’t gone through the Kira experience with them, but he seemed to understand that something big had gone down. He sighed.

“Yeah,” Koichi admitted, “school’s been a little crazy for me, too. Sometimes I wonder if the teachers realise how much homework they’re actually assigning us when you combine all the subjects together. I’ve been up till midnight almost every day this week…”

“That’s ‘cause you’re a model student, Koichi,” Josuke teased, “I just give up at 10 o’clock no matter how much homework is left. A couple hours of study a day is plenty.” He strategically avoided mentioning the fact that his grades had definitely dipped again recently, and that Yuuya’s weekend party and his subsequent boyfriend-acquisition hadn’t really helped him keep his focus. He tried not to think about his rapidly dwindling chances of getting into a decent university. Maybe the Speedwagon Foundation was hiring?

“I seem to get acceptable grades no matter how little study I do,” Mikitaka chimed in, “this apparently makes me a ‘lucky bastard’, according to some of my classmates.”

“That does make you a lucky bastard,” Okuyasu groaned, “I wish I could be like you guys. I could study all night, every day, an’ still flunk right outta school. Why should I put in the effort when it don’t make any difference anyway…” Josuke squeezed his shoulders sympathetically. Lunchtime was almost over, and he wasn’t prepared to let Okuyasu go off to his next class feeling sad. He had an idea.

“Yo, how ‘bout this,” Josuke said, addressing the whole group. “Let’s have a sleepover party. Y’know, like the kind people used to have in middle school. My house is big enough to fit everybody.”

Okuyasu’s eyes lit up and he clenched his hands eagerly in front of him. “Shit!! Really, Josuke?! I’ve never been to a sleepover party before!” Josuke saw stars. How could anyone be this goddamn sweet?

“That’s a great idea!” Koichi agreed. “Uh, as long as it’s okay if Yukako comes along. She’ll go crazy if we don’t invite her, I’d never hear the end of it…”

“Yeah, sure,” Josuke said with a shrug. “Just make sure she doesn’t do anything weird or like, destroy my house. Mikitaka, you in?”

Mikitaka blinked. “In what?”

“Do you wanna come to the sleepover party?” Okuyasu asked, grinning.

“Oh. Yes, that sounds like fun. Do I need to bring my own bedding?” Mikitaka asked, glancing at Josuke.

“I mean, it’d be good if you did, but if it’s too much of a hassle we can sort something out. And uh,” Josuke smiled awkwardly, “please don’t like…turn into a pillow, or something like that. That’s just weird.”

Mikitaka nodded in understanding as the sound of the bell rang over the school grounds.

“Wait, Josuke,” Koichi said as the boys all started packing up their bags, “you don’t mean this weekend, do you?”

“Nah, let’s make it the week after. Gives me time to clear it with my mom. Although…” he said, suddenly leaning very close to Okuyasu’s face and flashing his most devilish grin, “you can still come around whenever you want~.” Okuyasu made a weird gurgling sound and looked like he’d just been shot.

“O-o-oKAY!!” Okuyasu bellowed, face the colour of a ripe tomato, “I-I-I’m gonna go to class now!! See ya later!” He sprinted off into the distance with his friends’ laughter echoing behind him. Josuke was pleased with himself.

“I believe we have Chemistry now, Koichi,” Mikitaka said, gesturing to his timetable.

“Yeah…I guess we’d better go…” Koichi sighed. Chemistry was interesting enough, but not his strongest subject by a long shot. At least having the inexplicably competent Mikitaka as a lab partner made a bit of difference, even if the other boy couldn’t always explain why his answer was correct.

Josuke waved them off, still grinning, then wandered off to class thinking about how the hell he was going to convince his mother to let a bunch of rowdy teenagers hijack her house for an evening.

--

As it turns out, convincing Tomoko was surprisingly easy. She had been planning to go out drinking with some friends that night anyway, so they didn’t have to worry about keeping her awake with their antics, and she was more than happy to facilitate a friendly gathering so long as Jotaro stayed in the house as a babysitter. In any case, she was used to having Okuyasu around all the time (and was really starting to like the kid, actually), so a couple more bodies in the house wasn’t a big deal.

Okuyasu came over a few hours before the guests were due to arrive, and Tomoko immediately pulled him into the kitchen so they could decide what snacks to prepare. Okuyasu had brought along some treats of his own, but Tomoko enjoyed cooking with him too much to let the opportunity go to waste, and Okuyasu appreciated having someone like Tomoko around to support him. The two of them chattered away in the kitchen like family while Josuke set about choosing his outfit and trying to tidy his dump of a bedroom upstairs. After an hour or two of peaceful messing-around, Tomoko decided it was probably time to take her leave.

“Okay, I’m heading out!” Tomoko called up the stairs, “Don’t trash the place while I’m gone! Have a good time!”

Okaaaay,” Josuke replied grouchily from his room as he stuffed a few more piles of trash under his bed. Tomoko swivelled towards Jotaro, who had been sitting at the table like a slab of Kobe beef the entire time, and pointed a finger aggressively.

“And Jotaro, I don’t care if you’re technically Josuke’s nephew, you’d better be the responsible adult in this situation otherwise I swear to god—”

“I’ll take care of it.” Jotaro grunted cryptically. This seemed good enough for Tomoko, who grabbed her coat off the rack and made for the door, giving an expectant Okuyasu a peck on the cheek as she went.

“Keep those boys in line for me, will you?” Tomoko chuckled, accepting the fist-bump Okuyasu had offered.

“Yes ma’am!” Okuyasu grinned back with earnest enthusiasm.

As soon as she locked the door closed behind her, he bolted up the stairs to check on Josuke (who he hadn’t seen at all for a tragic two hours). Finding his bedroom door closed, he gave it a couple heavy knocks. “Yo dude, can I come in?”

“You don’t have to knock, Oku, we’re fucking dating,” he heard Josuke mumble from inside. He sounded a little on edge, and Okuyasu frowned.

“Okay…I’m comin’ in then,” he said as he swung the door open.

Inside was total chaos. Josuke’s room had been messy before, but somehow in the space of the last couple hours it had gotten even worse. Trinkets, ornaments, stray jewellery, old clothes, childhood toys, piles of books, scribbled-out drawings, test papers, you name it – it was on the floor. Honestly, Okuyasu still found himself a little shocked at just how much stuff Josuke had that he didn’t even use.

“Uh…bro? I thought you were cleanin’?” Okuyasu said, poking one of the towering piles of god-knows-what with his foot.

“I am cleaning!” Josuke huffed, “This is just part of the process! First you take everything out from where it’s not supposed to be, then you sort it out, then you put it all back somewhere else! I’m just…still in the middle stage, that’s all.”

“Want a…hand?” Okuyasu joked, manifesting his stand in the doorway behind him and wiggling his fingers around.

“No thanks, man. No offence, but I kinda wanna keep my stuff,” Josuke said as he sorted a stack of papers into three indistinct piles, which all looked the same to the other boy. Okuyasu decided to tease him a little more, and reached forward with his stand. After a quick swipe, the paper in Josuke’s hand danced just slightly forward, out of his grip and onto the floor again. Josuke grumbled through Okuyasu’s laughter.

“Dude, why are you even cleanin’ this way? Just use Crazy Diamond and put it all back how it’s supposed to be,” Okuyasu suggested with a bemused expression, hands on his hips. Josuke sighed.

“Yeah, I mean I guess I should just do that. I kinda like looking through all my old stuff sometimes though. I guess this is why cleaning always takes forever.” He shifted a little in his spot on the floor. “Plus I, uh…” he trailed off, a slight blush rising his cheeks, “I guess I’m kinda feeling…a little nervous about tonight. I dunno.”

Okuyasu crouched down next to Josuke and examined a book that was lying on the ground. “Huh? How come? It’s just gonna be us.” This made Josuke’s face even redder, much to Okuyasu’s confusion.

“That’s just it, bro…how many times have you hung out here? Like 100 or something?”

“Yeah, probably,” Okuyasu agreed, “why?”

“Okay…think about it,” Josuke continued, “how many times have you actually slept over? Like, stayed for the whole night. With me. In my house.”

Realisation finally dawned, and Okuyasu’s face turned a matching shade of pink.

“O-oh…y-you’re nervous… about that, huh?” His mind was going about a hundred miles a minute thinking of all the situations that could be on Josuke’s mind right now. The mental images were very distracting. “W-well, I…I ain’t gonna…try anythin’ on ya, if you don’t wanna—”

“—No no no! I didn’t think we were gonna do something, I just…wait, were you planning on…?!”

“I wasn’t plannin’ on anything!” Both of their faces were bright red as they stared pointedly in opposite directions. Okuyasu felt himself shaking, and kind of wished his stand could just erase the weird tension that was suddenly building between them. “D-don’ get me wrong, man…I really really like you, an’ I’ve been thinkin’ a lot about comin’ over here tonight, but it’s only been a couple weeks since we started goin’ out and I…I don’t think…I’m not quite ready for…”

“Me neither,” Josuke admitted quickly, a hint of relief in his voice. “M-maybe we should just keep taking it slow, yeah? I like it like this.”

“Yeah…” Okuyasu said with a gulp, trying desperately not to stare at his boyfriend’s soft cheeks and sharp jawline. “J-just kissin’ your face feels…real good…I wanna keep doin’ that part…”

Josuke put his head in his hands and groaned as if he’d suddenly been struck by a migraine. “Ughhh, no, Oku, don’t say shit like that, that’s way too cute, fuck…god damn it…my hormones better sort themselves out when I graduate…”

“Well…” Okuyasu said after a long pause, “better get back to the kitchen…the oven should ding soon…”

“Yeah, yeah, you do that, I’ll…just use my stand to finish up the rest of this, good idea…” Josuke said as he waved him away, face practically radiating heat. “I’ll be right down.”

--

The first to arrive for the party were Koichi and Yukako, looking fresh-faced and carrying what looked like an entire campsite’s worth of bedding with them.

“I didn’t know if Mikitaka was going to bring anything to sleep on,” Koichi explained, “so I brought extras for him just in case.”

“You’re so thoughtful, Koichi,” Yukako crooned, twirling her hair at him. “Afternoon, Josuke, Okuyasu. Thank you so much for inviting Koichi and I, we really appreciate it.” As usual, Yukako talked as though she and Koichi were already dating. He seemed used to it, barely even reacting as he set his things down in the living room.

“Wow, something smells amazing. Are you baking?” Koichi asked. Okuyasu beamed.

“You bet! I’m makin’ cupcakes! And I’ve got four different flavours, too! An’ then after that, we got proper Italian-style spaghetti! It ain’t as flashy as Tonio’s, but I reckon it’s still pretty good!”

Yukako raised an eyebrow. “Aren’t you normally supposed to have sweets after dinner?”

“Huh? We’ll be doin’ that too – the cupcakes are the entrée! I didn’t even say what dessert was yet!” Okuyasu chattered excitedly, gesturing to the fridge. Yukako peered inside.

“Oh! Did you make this, Okuyasu?” she asked, unable to hide the awe in her voice. “It looks amazing.” Okuyasu nodded proudly – his cooking skills were increasing week by week, and he was starting to get good enough to attempt trickier recipes. “You’ll have to teach me how to make things like this, Koichi would love it.”

After going through the usual formalities, the four of them settled onto the couch and Josuke loaded up a party game to play. Yukako wasn’t particularly interested in games, but was more than happy to watch the boys compete loudly against each other as she nibbled away on a cupcake or two. Koichi wasn’t all that great at games either, and often lost, but seemed to be enjoying himself anyway. Meanwhile, Jotaro lingered silently on the fringes of the room, trying to keep a watchful eye without interrupting the teenagers’ conversations. He also stole a cupcake (a dark one with delicious mint-chocolate icing), but no one needed to know about that.

“Oi, Jotaro!” Okuyasu called at the end of a match, turning in his seat, “you up for a game?”

Jotaro paused and considered the offer. “Do I get to choose which game?”

Okuyasu felt like he knew where this was going.

“Uh, sure! Whatcha got in mind?”

“I’d like to try a racing game,” Jotaro said with the ghost of a smile. Josuke groaned, knowing full well that these sorts of games were his weakness.

“Wow! You’re really gonna play with us, Jotaro-san?” Koichi exclaimed, turning to face him as well. “I didn’t know you were into games!”

“He’s not,” Josuke said with a sneer, “he just wants to make me look dumb in front of my friends.”

Jotaro took a seat on the end of the couch, making the teenagers bounce a little with his weight. With the hulking marine biologist squeezed next to them there was suddenly a lot less room, and the five of them had to bunch up shoulder-to-shoulder to fit. Jotaro seized a controller with more confidence than Josuke would have expected from a big nerd like him, and the younger boy was instantly suspicious.

“Well,” Jotaro said flatly, holding the controller in his hands like he expected something to happen.

Josuke grunted as Crazy Diamond slotted the correct game cartridge into the console. “Alright, let’s get this side-show over with, I guess.”

Josuke, for what it’s worth, wasn’t actually as bad at racing games as Okuyasu had once suggested. Sure, he was still pretty lively and didn’t plan ahead very well, but he could usually hold his own and not come in last, at least. Okuyasu had played this particular game quite a lot in single-player mode, so he had technical elements like the controls down just fine, and often pulled out some surprisingly tricky manoeuvres. Unfortunately, facing off against human players instead of computers made the game a lot less clean and predictable, which was always his downfall. Koichi had no experience at all, but took his frequent losses in good humour.

Jotaro, on the other hand, had an unnerving habit of butchering the first lap, gaining ground on the second, and then somehow pulling off a solid tactical win in the final lap. Every. Single. Time. Josuke was sure he was messing with them, that he must have been secretly practising in the middle of the night and was just pretending to suck for the first lap or so, but Jotaro insisted that it was the first time he’d ever played the game. By the end of the sixth race, Josuke was well and truly over it.

Thankfully, he was saved from another round of virtual humiliation by a knock on the door.

“That must be Mikitaka!” he said, leaping from his seat with a little too much enthusiasm. He ran and opened the door to find their lavender-haired friend staring at him with a soft smile.

“Hello, Josuke. You look like you’ve been having fun,” he said, pointing to his flushed cheeks and slightly rumpled clothing. Josuke glanced down at the envelope in Mikitaka’s hand.

“Good to see ya, Mikitaka. What’s that for?”

Mikitaka took the ornate envelope in both hands and presented it grandly to Josuke. “It’s for you and Okuyasu. To celebrate your union.”

“Our what?!” Okuyasu screeched from the couch, and made his way swiftly to the entrance to check it out.

“Oh…oh Mikitaka, no…” Josuke clutched his face in embarrassment. “This is like…the kind of gift you give to newlyweds…” Okuyasu peeked his head out from behind Josuke’s shoulder and his eyes went wide.

“Whoa!!” he shouted, “That totally does look like a wedding present!”

“Yeah, I’m real sorry, dude, but we can’t take something like this, it’s way too –” Josuke narrowed his eyes at the envelope before continuing quietly.  “– Hang on. Is there money in there?”

“Yes,” Mikitaka said plainly, “I read that it is customary on your planet to give money and gifts to new couples in celebration and support of their future together.”

“Ohhh man…” Okuyasu blushed hard at the word ‘future’ and gave up trying to make words for a while. Josuke spoke up instead, his hungry expression utterly at odds with the words tumbling out of his mouth.

“W-well in any case, we can’t take this, no way, we’ve only just started—”

“—I also read that it is a polite Earth custom to reject a gift once before accepting. Thank you for being so courteous, Josuke." Mikitaka pushed the envelope into Josuke’s hands and walked past the dumbstruck lovebirds into the house, evidently accepting no further objections. “My! What tasteful décor! I enjoy this particular kind of wood very much! Your house appears very clean!” he said loudly, as if reciting a list of compliments from a guidebook.

Yukako sighed. “Calm down, Mikitaka. You’re overdoing it.”

“Oh!” Mikitaka gave her and Koichi a quick bow. “I did not know you two had already arrived. I hope I’m not late.”

“You’re just the right kind of late,” Yukako said, “the boys have just been playing video games anyway. Cupcake?” She held out her hand and offered Mikitaka one of the cupcakes she had picked up earlier (a vanilla one with strawberry icing). He accepted gladly, licked the icing off, and gave the soggy cake back to her.

“Hey, Josuke!” Koichi called over Yukako’s silent fuming, “can we go upstairs and see your room now?”

Josuke didn’t hear him, because he and Okuyasu were busy huddling together in the corner near the door, clutching the contents of the hastily-opened envelope with shaking hands.

“N-no way, dude…” Okuyasu said quietly.

“How much is that?” Josuke whispered back, “10,000? 15,000 yen?”

“Shit…fuckin’ decent…we could go on like…four whole dates, with food an’ everything…”

“Or…one big date…” Josuke gulped.

Excuse me,” Yukako hissed menacingly in their direction, “you two still have guests, remember? And at least thank Mikitaka for his gift.”

“Thanks, Mikitaka!!” they yelled in unison, their previous concerns apparently meaningless in the face of 15,000 yen in cold hard cash. Koichi leaned closer to Mikitaka.

“Hey…where did you get that much money? Did your mom give it to you?” he whispered.

Mikitaka smiled innocently. “I found it.”

Koichi decided it was best not to push the issue, and followed Josuke up the stairs in silence.

Chapter Text

Two hours and quite a lot of food and gossip later, the gang of teenage stand users were all seated in a circle on the freshly-cleaned floor of Josuke’s bedroom. Tomoko had ruled that there was to be no drinking in her house while she was away, but that wasn’t going to stop them from coming up with other kinds of games to play.

“Okay. Here’s how it works,” Yukako explained sagely, as if she’d been to a thousand sleepover parties before. “Each person in the circle makes up a dare, and then chooses somebody’s name out of the bowl in the middle.” She picked up the bowl and shook it for emphasis. “You don’t get to decide who you pick, and if you get your own name, tough – you have to do it yourself. So don’t pick any dare you’d be too chicken to do, because you’re not allowed to back out.”

“Why not just play normal Truth or Dare?” Josuke asked, arms folded across his chest. Yukako glared daggers.

Because if you do that, everyone just picks truth all the time. And that’s boring, and cowardly, and doesn’t make for an effective bonding exercise.” Josuke felt like he kinda disagreed with that point, but considering it was Yukako saying it, he decided it was probably safer to nod in agreement and let her move on.

“Your version sounds fun to me,” Koichi said tentatively, probably thinking the same thing. Mikitaka echoed him as he stuffed another cupcake into his mouth (the orange kind). At least he ate the whole thing this time.

Okuyasu shot his hand up. “Ooh! Can I go first? I’ve got a good one!”

“Your dare cannot be ‘kiss Josuke’,” Yukako warned. Okuyasu looked crestfallen.

“Uh…I wasn’t gonna say that…but maybe somebody else should start us off, yeah, good idea…”

Josuke laughed to himself. Seeing Okuyasu enjoying his first-ever sleepover party was a relief, especially since he’d been the one who had wanted them all to hang out together in the first place. He made a mental note to have these little quiet get-togethers more often, even if only for Okuyasu’s sake.

Yukako sighed at the lack of volunteers. “All right then. I’ll start. The first dare is…” she rummaged around in her bag for a while and pulled out a ridiculous outfit that vaguely resembled Sailor Moon. Apparently she’d been planning this all along. “…Whoever I pick has to wear this for the rest of the evening.”

“Oh my god!” Josuke shouted, a little too loud. “For real? That’s not even gonna fit any of us! The skirt is like this big!” He estimated the length of the skirt with his hands, prompting a laugh from the others.

“I know,” Yukako sing-songed in a sickly sort of way, “that’s what makes it a good dare.” She hummed to herself as a lock of her hair slithered towards the bowl in the center of the circle. “Time to find out who gets to wear the lucky costume! Koichi, be my lovely assistant and read the name on the paper, will you?”

A hairy tendril brought the folded piece of paper up to Koichi’s face and slowly, slowly opened it. When he read the name inside, he burst out laughing.

“It’s Mikitaka!” he chortled, slapping his sides.

“Oh?” Mikitaka made a puzzled face, giving the costume a long look. “How does one wear a garment like this?”

“You boys can leave the room while I help him change,” Yukako decided, pushing the rest of them towards the door.

“Don’t you mean transform?” Koichi snickered, earning himself a playful pinch on the cheek. The door slammed shut behind them and he, Josuke, and Okuyasu were left sitting on the hallway floor to wait.

“Okay.” Josuke said, getting right down to business, “Time to place some bets. Here’s my position: I think Mikitaka is actually gonna look totally fine in that outfit. Anybody wanna bet against me?”

“What?!” Okuyasu exclaimed in a harsh whisper, “No way man, nobody could make that crazy shit look good. I’ll take your bet, 1000 yen.”

“I won’t bet,” Koichi laughed, “but I think you might be right, Josuke.”

“All right, Oku, you’re on then,” Josuke said with a clap to his boyfriend’s back. “You’d better not cry when you hand over that money, though.”

After a couple minutes of fussing, the door swung open and Yukako beckoned them back inside. By the time the door was swinging shut behind them, Okuyasu’s eyes were already bugging out of his god damn skull.

There was Mikitaka, sitting just the way he had been before – hands in his lap and legs tucked comfortably underneath him, as if kneeling – but due to the change of clothes, he looked quite different now. Thanks to his long legs, the hem of his skirt only just reached mid-thigh, revealing a tasteful flash of pale skin between it and the knee-high socks he was also sporting. The bodice section was just a little too small across the shoulders, which served to accentuate his surprisingly toned arms and chest. He wore a perfectly serene expression, like a smooth and sinless peanut, as if this was not in any way out of the ordinary for him. Okuyasu felt a sharp blush rising in his cheeks and quickly closed his mouth, which he realised had been hanging open.

“Wow, Mikitaka! You look great!” Koichi said, and Yukako nodded.

“Yes, it actually suits him quite well. You can keep that if you want, Mikitaka. I bought it for a costume event and I’m not likely to wear it again.”

“Oh, no. I couldn’t possibly,” Mikitaka said with the same quiet smile, but his eyes sparkled like distant stars. Yukako caught on to what he was doing and played along.

“No, I insist, Mikitaka,” she said as she sat back down with the rest of them.

“All right, then. If you insist! Thank you very much, Yukako.” Mikitaka bowed his head, clearly pleased with himself for correctly executing both sides of the gifting protocol in the same day.

Josuke leaned over to Okuyasu and gave him a suggestive nudge. “I see you blushing, cutie. Pay up.” Okuyasu sighed and handed the cash to Josuke, trying not to stare at Mikitaka all the while. He silently cursed his luck at having so many attractive friends. He also wondered if there was any chance of getting Josuke into an outfit like that.

“You’re next, Josuke,” Yukako said, handing the bowl to him. “Make it good.”

Josuke cleared his throat. “Okay, okay, how about this. Whoever gets this dare has to prank call Kishibe Rohan’s house and pretend to be his secret admirer. Say you love him and all that shit.”

The room erupted into laughter, and Yukako clapped her hands. “Good! That’ll do nicely. Now, who’s it going to be?”

Josuke swirled his hand around in the bowl a few times and drew out a fresh piece of paper with a flourish, a stupid grin plastered all over his face. Unfortunately for him, that grin disappeared as soon as he read the name he’d drawn.

“Oh, no way…” Koichi covered his mouth with his hand in anticipation.

“…Fuck! Fuck!!” Josuke yelled, throwing the piece of paper with his own name written on it to the floor and stomping on it a couple times. He composed himself in short order, pointing to his guests dramatically. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not backing down, I’m gonna do it! Just…aauugh!!”

“Well, this is why I said, don’t pick anything you wouldn’t do yourself…” Yukako chastised, trying to hold back her own mirth.

“Ohhhohoho, this I gotta see!” Okuyasu roared, and the whole gang followed an uncharacteristically stoic Josuke downstairs to the phone. Once he’d finished steeling his nerves, with all his guests crowded tightly around him, Josuke took Rohan’s number from Koichi and started to dial. Yukako had the presence of mind to turn the speakerphone on so the others could listen in. The phone rang once, twice, three times, with no answer.

“If he doesn’t pick up, am I off the hook?” Josuke pleaded. Yukako shrugged, but just then they heard a click on the other end of the line.

A bit late for you to be calling, isn’t it?” Rohan’s voice drawled over the phone. “I was working, you know.

Josuke took a deep breath and put on the goofiest voice he could manage.

“Oh, Rohan-sensei!” he cooed, several notes higher than his normal register, “I’m sorry it’s late, but I just couldn’t bear to wait any longer! I had to tell you! From the moment I first read your manga, I knew we were destined to be together! Oh, Rohan, my darling! Rohan, I love you! Aah~!”

The entire group lost it, clutching at their faces as they shook with laughter. It was impossible not to – Josuke’s voice had been so silly and the dare itself was so ridiculous, even Koichi had to admit it was pretty funny. Their laughter only continued as Josuke started loudly smooching the receiver.

Wh-what?! Is that…Higashikata?!” Rohan’s screeching indignation made the situation even funnier somehow, and Okuyasu had to steady himself against the wall to keep from falling over.

“What are you guys doing?”

Jotaro had suddenly appeared in the hallway next to them – whether he’d used his stand or they just hadn’t noticed him enter was unclear. The look on his face betrayed a hint of genuine concern, and his voice was low and stern.

Jotaro? What the fuck is going on?” Rohan shouted, sounding like he was about ready to skin them all alive.

“Give me the phone.” Jotaro commanded, and Josuke relinquished it happily, having succeeded in his mission to annoy the hell out of the mangaka. Star Platinum reached out and turned off the speakerphone option while Jotaro brought the receiver to his face. “I’m babysitting, Rohan. Yes, they’re going back upstairs now.” He gave the giggling teenagers an icy look, and they took the hint.

After they’d all tumbled back into Josuke’s room and taken a few seconds to calm down a bit, Okuyasu put his hand up.

“Okay. So. Do I get a point for callin’ it?”

“Calling what?” Josuke asked, wiping tears from his eyes. Okuyasu cleared his throat and listed the facts.

“Jotaro had a spare key to Rohan’s house just casually in his pocket. Rohan seemed like he was expectin’ somebody from this number to call. And now Jotaro just made us all go upstairs so he could talk to Rohan. Alone.” Yukako’s eyes went wide.

“Okuyasu,” she said in a hushed voice, “are you trying to say that Jotaro is having an affair with Kishibe Rohan?”

“Actually, I…I think he might be right,” Koichi marvelled. “I could use my stand to listen to what they’re saying…”

Yukako shook her head. “No! Don’t you start spying on adult love affairs. You’re such a rude boy sometimes, Koichi.”

“I don’t believe it,” Josuke said, “I don’t fucking believe it, no way. I’ve never even seen them have one conversation together!”

“That’s just it – you’ve never seen ‘em,” Okuyasu said with a cheeky wink. “That’s why it’s a secret affair.”

“And after he had the nerve to call Mr. Joestar out for cheating with my mom!” Josuke mimed a punch in the air. “That fucking rat bastard!”

“I have a dare.” Mikitaka said abruptly. Josuke and the others snapped out of their gossip circle to look at their glamorous friend.

“Yeah?” Okuyasu responded, gaze accidentally flicking down to Mikitaka’s legs before finding their rightful place back at his face again. Mikitaka continued.

“The dare is to use your abilities to steal Jotaro-san’s hat.”

“Ohhh boy…” Josuke sighed, “This ain’t gonna end well…” Yukako pondered for a moment before nodding.

“Okay. Let’s set the rules then. You have to use your stand, and you only get one try. Does that sound fair?” The group agreed, somewhat hesitantly, and she offered the bowl to Mikitaka. “Draw.”

There was a collective gulp – using a stand to sneak up on Jotaro was probably more than a little bit dangerous, even if he was distracted on the phone. Plus, no one except Josuke had ever seen him without that damn hat on, and it was obvious how much he liked it. Would he be angry if something were to happen to it? Josuke crossed his fingers and prayed it wasn’t going to be him.

Mikitaka unfolded the piece of paper and smiled brightly at Okuyasu, who blushed before he realised what had happened.

“Ohhhhhh shit, ohhhh man,” Josuke chanted, partly in relief, but in the meantime the blood had drained clean out of Okuyasu’s face.

“I gotta use The Hand to snatch it? But...what if I hurt him?” He looked terrified. Josuke reached over and cupped Okuyasu’s face gently with both hands, stroking his boyfriend’s cheek with his thumb.

“It’s okay, dude, it’s okay.” Okuyasu seemed unconvinced, so he gave him a quick, supportive kiss, despite all the watchful eyes. He pulled away slowly, gazing dreamily at his worried face. “You can do it. I know you can.”

“Alright, Okuyasu!” Koichi cheered, joining in Josuke’s efforts to calm Okuyasu’s nerves. “We’ll all back you up, don’t you worry!”

“Yes, we support you,” Mikitaka said calmly.

Okuyasu smiled sheepishly, the taste of Josuke’s chap stick still lingering on his lips. “Aw…thanks, you guys…” He puffed up his chest and screwed up his face, apparently trying to look confident. “Okay. Let’s do this!” The group kept cheering him on as they all filed sneakily back into the hallway.

Taking the lead, Okuyasu crept down the stairs as quietly as his feet would allow, strategically avoiding all the steps he knew had creaky spots. He took his hand off the banister to avoid any sliding sounds, and slowly, carefully, used his stand to peek around the corner. Jotaro wasn’t far away, and he had to duck back for a moment to make sure he hadn’t been spotted.

“That’s good, but it isn’t the kind of thing the scientific community will accept,” he heard Jotaro say from his spot at the hallway phone. “I know. No, I’m not doubting you. I’m glad. But I can’t cite “Heaven’s Door” in a research paper.”

Disregarding how little sense he could make of their conversation, Okuyasu pressed on, keeping himself hidden from sight. His plan involved sneaking up behind Jotaro, but that was going to be difficult considering the big guy kept facing the stairs. He sat on the step and thought for a minute. What he needed to do was distract him, giving himself enough time to launch out with The Hand and swipe the hat off his head before he turned around. But he seemed deep in conversation about something or other, and Okuyasu wasn’t sure how to distract him without just drawing attention back to himself. If he could just make a loud enough sound…

A lightbulb went off in his head and he scurried back up to the top of the stairs, where the gang was waiting expectantly.

“Dude, what gives?” Josuke whispered. “You can’t back out now!”

“Koichi!” Okuyasu said, ignoring Josuke and leaning in close to his smaller friend. “I need your help to make Jotaro turn around.”

Koichi nodded, understanding. “Right! As soon as I distract him, you go for it!”

Clambering back to his safe spot on the stairs, Okuyasu pumped himself up and waited for Koichi’s signal. He was gonna do it. He was gonna do it!

Out of nowhere, a series of loud knocks came from the door.

“Jotaro? Josuke?” Tomoko’s voice called, “I left my keys inside, let me in! I’ve been trying to call you but it says the line is busy!”

“Rohan. I have to go.” Jotaro whispered into the phone, and hung up abruptly. He turned away from the stairwell, towards the front door, and Okuyasu saw his opportunity. He jumped out from the stairwell and into the correct range, summoned The Hand in front of him, and made his swipe. It was a clean line from his stand to Jotaro’s hat, a perfect strike, but all of a sudden it was as if he’d been thwarted by video game lag and Jotaro was standing just to the left of where he’d swung, looking straight at him.

“Nice job. You’re getting better,” he said, seemingly unfazed.

“Wh-what? You knew I was there?” Okuyasu groaned, still panting a little from the adrenaline as The Hand slid back out of existence.

“You too, Koichi,” Jotaro called up the stairs, “That really sounded like Tomoko.”

“Uh…gee, thanks, Jotaro-san…” Koichi replied, a little embarrassed at having been caught in the act.

Jotaro made a ‘hm’ sound and moved to get something from the kitchen, the conversation apparently over. As he turned to leave, Okuyasu couldn’t help noticing that his hat, while still on his head, was missing a small strip of fabric at the back, no wider than an inch. Puzzled, he relayed this information to his friends once they had all settled back into Josuke’s room.

“You think The Hand did that?” Josuke asked, “I thought it couldn’t erase something that small?”

“Maybe it can now?” Okuyasu said, looking down at his hands. “I guess I’ve still been usin’ it, even if it hasn’t really been for fightin’. Lemme try to do it again.” He plucked a stray bit of paper from under Josuke’s bed (ignoring the other boy’s protests at having his mess revealed) and tossed it to the other boy, who held it out in front of him like a target.

“Okuyasu, be careful!” Koichi hissed as he reached his hand out, as if to stop them. Okuyasu’s expression changed a little in response, and Koichi felt bad for betraying doubt in his friend’s abilities.

“…Listen, I know I ain’t too good at bein’ careful usually, but I really think I can do this!” Okuyasu said with a twinge of sadness to his voice. “I swear I won’t hurt anybody, honest.”

“Do it, Oku. I trust you.” Josuke said, holding the paper up confidently. He was a bit worried too, of course, but letting Okuyasu know about it would only make him more likely to fumble his attempt. Besides, he was on this whole ‘supportive boyfriend’ kick right now, and being the one Okuyasu went to for cheering up made him feel like he was doing something good for somebody. Okuyasu took a few deep breaths and summoned The Hand again.

“Alright. Here I go.” He pulled back with his stand and held the tension in his arm steady as he focused on what he had to do. He thought of Josuke, tried to feel all the empty space between their bodies the way he had during their very first kiss, charged like a magnet and thick as fog. Josuke’s hands were there, his chest was there, his pomp was there, his cute face was there, and the middle of the paper was right…there. He took his swipe, extending a single finger instead of the full hand, and the whole room held their breaths.

…And then exhaled. Josuke peeked opened one of his eyes (which he had apparently closed at some point) and saw that the paper in front of his face remained intact, except for a thin, controlled arc missing from the very center. Through the fresh hole in the paper, he could see Okuyasu’s stunned expression.

“I…I did it!” he said excitedly, and launched himself forward into Josuke’s arms, crumpling the paper in the process.

Yukako gave him what looked like a genuine smile. “Congratulations, Okuyasu. You should be proud of yourself – you really have improved.”

Something about her words set Okuyasu off, and he started happy-sobbing into a bewildered Josuke’s shirt. Josuke held his bawling boyfriend close, not really sure what else to do.

“Well, fuck,” he said apologetically, “I didn’t expect such an emotional roller-coaster of an evening, guys.”

“Don’t be silly. Every good sleepover has moments like this,” Yukako said as she watched the tears soak into Josuke’s shirt. “It just means we’re becoming closer as friends. Wasn’t that the point?” Mikitaka handed Okuyasu a tissue, although no one was really sure where he’d gotten it from since his current outfit didn’t have any pockets.

“Hey,” Koichi offered, “why don’t we all do one last dare together, to set the mood right again? The dare is to go outside and do a good deed. Good deeds always make you feel nice, and who knows – maybe we could get the chance to really help somebody!”

Yukako whirled around to face him, starry-eyed. “What a wonderful idea, Koichi! You have such a beautiful and kind heart.” She steepled her fingers in front of her face and grinned in a way that was simultaneously sort-of cute and sort-of terrifying. “Since Jotaro is guarding the door, shall we take the window?”

Within moments, and before anyone could debate this suggestion, Josuke, Koichi, Okuyasu, and Mikitaka were neatly wrapped up in Yukako’s dark hair like spider food. Another tendril snaked its way towards the window latch and slapped it open, letting in a blast of cool summer air. One by one, Yukako lowered each of her wriggling companions onto the ground outside, her characteristic mess of tenderness and explosive recklessness on full display. Once she had deposited everyone safely on the lawn and clambered down the side of the house herself, she clapped her hands together decisively.

“Great! Now we don’t have to worry about Jotaro anymore. Koichi and Mikitaka, you come with me. Josuke and Okuyasu, you can be your own team, since I’m sure that’s what you want,” she said with a flippant wave of her hand. “Do your good deed and meet back here in ten minutes. Let’s go!”

And so Yukako tore off down the street, string of boys in tow, leaving Josuke and Okuyasu standing by themselves at the side of the road. Okuyasu still had tears staining his cheeks, although he seemed a little too distracted by Yukako’s forceful commandeering of Koichi’s dare to keep up the crying for now. Josuke pulled him gently into his arms.

“Guess we should get going, huh?” he said, wiping Okuyasu’s wet cheeks. Okuyasu just nodded and gripped Josuke’s hand firmly in his own as the two of them started off down the dark streets of Morioh. It was amazing how quickly the act of holding hands had become routine for them – not boring, not by any means, but comfortable, normal. Every time they laced their fingers together, Okuyasu felt like he was right where he was supposed to be.

“What should we do?” he asked Josuke, “Look out for kitties stuck in trees or somethin’?” Josuke drew him closer and breathed softly into his ear in response, causing his boyfriend’s skin to burst into goosebumps.

“I was thinking…” he said too-softly, too-sweetly, very suspiciously, “…why don’t we just take a walk somewhere quiet…Yukako won’t know if we did a good deed or not anyway. I wanna spend some time with you.”

Were it not for the cover of darkness, Okuyasu’s blush would probably have been visible from outer space. He stared breathlessly at the contours of Josuke’s face as they danced in the streetlights, the golden glow of the lamps bouncing off his high cheekbones and pouty lips.

“T-there’s a little shed in the park over there…might be quiet…or…could be full o’ spiders…” he stammered, head spinning at the implications of what he was saying. “We’re…still gonna take it slow though, right Josuke?” His pompadoured boyfriend laughed and gave him a goofy jab to the ribs.

“Dude, we got less than 10 minutes till we have to be back at my place, I wasn’t gonna try anything funny. Besides, we promised it’d just be kissing for a while, remember?” Josuke stopped walking and pointed a finger directly at Okuyasu’s nose, causing the other boy to go a little cross-eyed. “So I’m gonna kiss your god damn face off!”

Okuyasu’s brain ground to a halt while he processed that one. When he finally regained control of his senses, he grabbed a very surprised Josuke and wrestled him into a headlock.

“Fuck! You! How are you so cute, aaargh!!” he growled, happy tears pricking his eyes once more.

“No, ugh! You’re so cute, ahh!! That’s why…I’m gonna…kiss you, gah!” Josuke grunted back as he tried to wriggle free.

“You can’t kiss me if I’m kissing you!!” Okuyasu said, losing his grip a little.

“Yes I can! Watch me!” Josuke replied. He successfully disentangled himself from Okuyasu’s headlock and summoned Crazy Diamond to push their two flailing bodies in the direction of the park, which wasn’t more than 100 metres away.

They reached the small, dingy shed in a flurry of teenage passion, hands and stands grabbing at each other’s clothes like they were about to die. Josuke didn’t bother walking around to the entrance, instead just smashing a hole in the side of the wall and fixing it with Crazy Diamond once they got inside. When they were both under cover and safe from prying eyes, Okuyasu took the lead, smooshing Josuke into the corner of the little room and pulling their faces together with as much care as he could manage in his current state. They’d become a little bolder and more confident in this activity since their first kiss, and had established clear boundaries about what they did and didn’t want to happen during their frequent make-out sessions. For instance – no matter how heated things got, Josuke’s hair was still absolutely off-limits for ruffling, even as a joke.

Josuke took a second to gasp for air in between Okuyasu’s onslaught of kisses. Turns out he’d been proven wrong, and it was indeed very hard to kiss Okuyasu while Okuyasu was busy kissing him. Not that he minded, of course – it still kind of blew his mind that somebody could be this crazy about him, and in any case he’d discovered he rather liked the feeling of Okuyasu’s strong body pushing forcefully against his own.  He knew his boyfriend would never let him come to harm, so a scraped knee or bruised elbow here and there was no big deal, especially if it meant they got to lose themselves in the heat of the moment like this.

Josuke had a thought, and giggled into Okuyasu’s mouth. As much as he was enjoying things as they were, he felt like it was probably his turn to mess around now. Without breaking his rhythm, he summoned Crazy Diamond behind Okuyasu and watched with impish delight as his stand ran its hands down the other boy’s silhouette.

“F-fuck!” Okuyasu gasped and arched his back, taken very much by surprise. He bit his lip at Josuke but didn’t pull away, instead closing his eyes and tightening his grip on Josuke’s collar.

“This okay, Oku?” Josuke asked, breath tickling the other boy’s face.

“Uh…uh-huh…” Okuyasu was pretty sure his entire body was in the process of short-circuiting, but whatever, it was totally worth it. The two of them went right back to kissing, this time with the addition of Crazy Diamond grabbing Okuyasu by the hips and planting ghostly kisses up and down his spine. They’d never done this before, and Okuyasu could feel himself starting to lose his grip on reality, as well as failing to stifle the sounds now freely spilling from his lips.

Josuke laughed softly, feeling more excited than he had any right to be. “Keep your voice down, Oku, this is a residential area…”

And then, suddenly, he couldn’t hear anything at all.

“Oku?” he said quietly, “You okay?”

Josuke opened his eyes – or at least, he thought he’d opened his eyes, but when he did, everything was just as dark as it had been when they’d been closed. When it had got so dark out? Was it a power outage? Had the streetlights turned off?

“Oku?” he called again, a little concerned this time. “Hey, Oku? Where are you? What’s going on?”

He reached out his hand to where Okuyasu should have been, but found nothing around him except for darkness and silence. Taking a step backward, he also realised that he could no longer feel the wall of the shed behind him. He spun around wildly to see where it had gone, but was once again met with an endless black void.

“Oku!!” he shouted into the blackness, “Okuyasu!!” He started to panic, tried to summon Crazy Diamond, and it felt as if his stand should have been at his side, but he still couldn’t see it anywhere.

But just in front of him, no more than a few paces away, he could see another dim shape forming. It wasn’t Okuyasu or his stand, it wasn’t anything he’d seen before, but something about it seemed oddly familiar. A pale, thin rod with a sharply pointed end stretched in front of him, like a dancer’s leg peeking out from behind a thick curtain. It bent sickeningly in the middle and curled back towards itself before being joined by another rod, then another, then another…and then Josuke realised with a shudder of dread what the shape reminded him of.

Unfurling slowly before him was an enormous, translucent spider.

Josuke bit his lip to keep from shouting. The spider’s body was small and low to the ground, but its leg-span must have exceeded a metre in length. Each leg twitched and groped in the dark, emitting a series of low, echoing clicks, the only sound he’d heard since being thrust into this unnatural abyss. Its many eyes were fixed directly on him as it began to scuttle menacingly in his direction.

“W-who’s there?!” Josuke shouted, trying to see where Crazy Diamond had manifested. “Show yourself! I know you’re a stand user!”

The spider stopped, and an unfamiliar voice reverberated through the darkness.

You’re a stand user, too. I saw you at Yuuya’s party.

Josuke’s mind was reeling. “Wait, do you know me? Who are you?” He tried his best not to sound as nervous as he was, but something about this stand’s power was seriously giving him the creeps. “Where am I? What did you do to my friend?” He recoiled as the spider raised its front legs at him in a threatening display, hissing and exposing its ribbed underbelly.

“Josuke?” said a quiet voice inside his head, somehow both impossibly close and nearly too distant to hear at all. He grabbed at his own skull and clenched his jaw, desperately hoping that this was all just some kind of feverish dream. The clicking of the spider’s legs drew closer, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t seem to bring out Crazy Diamond to defend himself. The air around him felt thick like water, and he suddenly imagined himself crouching at the bottom of the ocean, helplessly clawing for air. It wasn’t just the spider edging toward him anymore, either – countless tiny luminescent figures were springing to life in his peripherals, only to disappear when he looked their way.

“Stop it! Get the fuck away from me!” he cried, squeezing his eyes shut against the visions swimming all around him. He felt his heart hammering like a drum in his throat. “I’ll…I’ll fucking kill you, do you hear me?!”

“Josuke!” The voice was louder and more insistent now, and he finally recognised its source. Groping blindly in the dark, he called out to Okuyasu and opened his eyes.

And there he was, standing right in front of him, inside the little dingy shed at the edge of the park. There were tears streaming down his face, and his big hands had Josuke by the shoulders.

“Okuyasu!” he almost screamed, and, feeling a cold wetness on his own cheeks, realised that he must have started crying at some point, too. “Okuyasu,” he repeated, more softly this time, throwing his arms securely around his boyfriend’s neck and shaking.

“Josuke…what the fuck just happened?!” Okuyasu asked, almost as rattled as Josuke was. “Did I do somethin’ wrong? You just started screamin’ and yellin’…” Josuke pulled away from him with a snap and grabbed both of his hands in a vice-grip, eyes burning with a cold intensity. Okuyasu looked like he was having trouble keeping up.

“Okuyasu, it was an enemy stand!” His boyfriend’s eyes grew wide as saucers. “Everything went dark, it was like I was nowhere, and then all of a sudden there was this spider and a voice…I didn’t know where you were…fuck, man…” He threw his gaze down to his shoes and clenched his jaw. It had been a while since something had rattled him this much.

“We…we gotta go home an’ tell Jotaro an’ the others. Are you gonna be okay?” Okuyasu’s face was contorted with worry, but the hand he placed on Josuke’s face was firm and steady. Josuke let out a shaky breath and took a step forward.

“Yeah…I think so…just…don’t let go of me, okay?”

“I won’t. I promise,” Okuyasu said, holding Josuke’s hand tightly as they exited the shed. “D…do ya think the user is still around here somewhere?” he asked under his breath.

“Honestly I don’t give a shit where they are right now, Oku. I just wanna go home. I can’t fight them like this.” Josuke had tried not to sound sharp, but his nerves were still running high and the adrenaline was pumping. Okuyasu seemed to understand. They walked together in silence, both trying hard not to look back over their shoulders.

A few minutes later they were greeted in front of Josuke’s house by a very stern-looking Yukako, her hands placed on her hips. The rest of the crew was, presumably, already inside.

“I’m pretty sure I said ten minutes, you two. It’s been almost twenty! Don’t tell me you just snuck off to make out instead,” she huffed, hair dancing menacingly.

“Yukako,” Josuke said, “I was attacked by an enemy stand.”

“What?!” she exclaimed, grabbing him by the wrist not currently held by Okuyasu and giving him a thorough once-over. “…You don’t look injured. What happened?”

“Let me sit down first, would you? I’m feeling kind of fucked up right now.” This time it was Okuyasu’s turn to administer the supportive forehead-kiss, and Yukako got the message.

Once they were all back inside, Josuke called Jotaro and the others into the living room and laid out the details of his experience.  It was almost midnight now, and Tomoko would probably be home any minute – this stand user business had to be dealt with as quickly as possible. Everyone seemed shocked by what had happened, even Jotaro, although he did reprimand them all for sneaking out into the night without informing him.

“I’ll contact the Speedwagon Foundation first thing in the morning,” he said, “in the meantime, you should all try to get some rest. I’ll keep watch overnight.”

“Thank you, Jotaro-san,” Koichi said with a tremor in his voice. “This is awful, you guys. I feel terrible for suggesting it. We should never have split up.”

“From what we know, this enemy seems to target one person at a time,” Mikitaka said, still sporting his sailor costume, “and Okuyasu did not perceive anything strange about his surroundings during the event. Perhaps it would not have made a difference how many people were there.”

“What were you two doing skulking around an abandoned old shed, anyway?” Yukako frowned, arms folded across her chest as if she already knew the answer.

“Uhhh…” Okuyasu’s blush gave him away, and Yukako sighed disapprovingly. Jotaro pulled down the brim of his hat and muttered a soft yare yare.

“Alright,” Jotaro said, standing up from the couch and heading to the linen cupboard, “we need to get this place looking like a sleepover party before Tomoko gets back.”

“The cake!” Okuyasu shouted, making Josuke jump a little. Okuyasu lowered his voice and gave him an apologetic look. “Sorry, I just remembered, we didn’t even eat the cake.” He rushed into the kitchen and pulled out his masterpiece, placing it delicately on the coffee-table in front of the television. “This oughta cheer you up a bit, Josuke!”

Sitting on the platter was an impossibly decadent chocolate mousse cake made in three layers, with real sliced strawberries and a spread of white cream supporting each tier. The entire thing was drenched in dark icing, which had been left to set solid while it was still dripping excessively down the sides of the cake. Decorating the very top was a pink heart, also made out of a collection of strawberries. Basically, it was the cutest fucking cake Josuke had ever seen.

“This baby took me a whole day to prepare, so I hope it tastes good!” Okuyasu said proudly as he watched his friends admire his culinary creation. “I got the ingredients an’ the recipe from your mom, Josuke, she said she always meant to try it.”

“Holy shit, Oku…” Josuke gasped, “you’ve really outdone yourself. This looks like a store-bought cake.” Okuyasu beamed and started slicing it up as the group eagerly lined up to try a piece.

When Tomoko finally arrived home a half hour or so later, she found her living room full of very sleepy and very well-fed teenagers sprawled out in a haphazard pile of blankets and pillows. Jotaro was seated calmly at the kitchen table flipping through some magazine, and nodded at her arrival.

“I take it they behaved, then?” she said with a smile. Jotaro exhaled through his nose, which might have been a laugh.

“They’ll sleep well tonight,” he replied. Tomoko glanced over at her son, whose sleeping face was pressed comfortably into Okuyasu’s back as the two of them spooned on the floor next to a splayed-out Koichi. Okuyasu still had chocolate cake smeared all over his face. She had to laugh.

“I’m glad they had fun,” she said, and carried her bags up to her room.

Jotaro rubbed his temples and made himself another cup of coffee.

Chapter Text

In the immediate days and hours following Josuke's tumultuous sleepover party, nothing much had happened to further arouse the suspicions of the concerned bunch of stand users. The only thing that seemed different from normal was Josuke himself, whose occasional sullen moods had begun to spill over into his daily life as well. He now spent most of his time at school staring at his feet, or out the window, barely paying any attention to whatever he was meant to be learning in class. How was he supposed to focus with everything else that was going on? Every time he finally started to relax, images of that god damn spider in the darkness just came flooding back into his mind. It was enough to put anybody on edge.

Okuyasu studied his trembling boyfriend with a mixture of worry and bewilderment. It seemed like the ghostly spectacle Josuke had witnessed in that dank shed three days ago had really got under his skin, and no matter how hard he tried to downplay his anxiety to his friends, Okuyasu knew something was seriously wrong. The frustrating part was that he had no idea what he was supposed to do or say in order to help him, and even if he did know, Josuke would probably insist on handling it on his own anyway. For now, all he could do was keep The Hand close to Josuke during class to administer the occasional supportive shoulder-squeeze. This seemed enough for Josuke, at least, who shot a weak smile in Okuyasu’s direction with each gesture.

He carried his worry with him into cooking class, hoping desperately that the girls could help him come up with a plan.

“I just dunno what I’m supposed to do, y’know?” Okuyasu sighed, passing a rolling pin to Kumiko. “I wanna help, but there ain’t nothin’ I can do to stop nightmares.” He hadn’t told the girls about the stand user part of the story, of course - the nightmares were all they really needed to know about for now.

Shouko’s brow furrowed as she racked her brain for some practical advice to give her troubled cooking buddy. “It’s tough, yeah…” she said, apparently having drawn a blank as well. “At least he knows you’re there for him if he needs somebody to talk to.”

“Maybe you should just stay the night at his place,” Mami chuckled, “y’know…all cosy-like. Give him somethin’ nicer to dream about…” Mami waggled her eyebrows and Shouko jabbed her in the stomach with a wooden spoon.

“Oi, can you stop teasing him for like one second?” she chastised with a roll of her eyes, “some of us are trying to give actual advice here.”

“What's he having nightmares about?” Kumiko asked softly, not looking up from the pastry she was flattening against the board.

Okuyasu frowned. “Well see, that’s the thing – he won’t tell me what happens in 'em. He just wakes up all sweaty an’ confused an’ I keep gettin’ these weird stressed-out phone calls in the middle of the night. Truth be told, I ain’t been sleepin’ much either since, uh,” he checked himself, “since the nightmares started at the sleepover party.”

“Probably doesn’t help that you’re expecting to be woken up by Josuke anyway,” Shouko said sympathetically, “I can’t get to sleep properly when I’m nervous or anticipating something either.”

“I got it!” Mami shouted, drawing some attention from the rest of the class, “Why don’t you make a tape of you sayin’ nice things to Josuke, and give it to him to listen to while he's asleep? Maybe then it’ll get into his subconscious mind or somethin’, y'know - like subliminal messaging!”

Okuyasu considered this. “Hm…that’s kind of a good idea…”

“Except it won’t work,” Kumiko stated bluntly. “That whole ‘learning in your sleep’ thing is just a myth. If it really worked, then why would anyone even bother going to school...”

“Jeez, Kumiko, who spit in your soup?” Mami huffed. “Okay, let’s hear your bright idea then.” Kumiko paused for a moment.

“...I don’t have any,” she said finally.

Shouko rested her cheek in her hand. “I guess all you can really do is wait and see if the nightmares stop, and just be there for him in the meantime.”

“Yeah, guess so…” Okuyasu agreed sadly, “Thanks for tryin’ to help anyway, guys, I appreciate it.” He looked down at their recipe and frowned, realising he had almost forgotten to add the spices. It was going to be a long day.

----

When the two boys arrived outside Josuke’s house after school, they were surprised to find Jotaro already sitting on the front steps waiting for them.

“Jotaro? What are you doing there?” Josuke called out, “You get locked out or something?” Jotaro shook his head.

“I had an idea that might stop your nightmares,” he said, slowly raising himself up to his full height and adjusting his bag strap. “Can’t do it here though. Follow me.”

“Uh, sure, but can I at least go put my bag in my room or – hey!” Josuke grumbled as Jotaro ignored him completely and started walking away. “God damn it…how long was he just waiting on the front step? Why is he such a weirdo?” he muttered to a snickering Okuyasu.

The two teens followed Josuke’s gigantic nephew down the street in silence, since he was apparently not in a talking mood and no amount of questioning would persuade him to reveal their destination. As it turned out, he didn't keep them in the dark for long, because within a few minutes the upper floors of Rohan’s excessively lavish house had begun to peek over the tops of the trees. Josuke, realising Jotaro's intentions, immediately kicked up a fuss.

“Jotaro, man, are you serious? You’re not gonna let that smug psychopath poke around inside my head, are you?”

Jotaro kept up his stony exterior, not letting a single grunt escape his lips. Josuke clawed at his own face and made a gurgling sound in a burst of melodrama.

Jotaro didn’t bother knocking once they got to Rohan’s door, which was apparently unlocked anyway. Not that he needed to alert the mangaka to their presence – Rohan was already waiting poised in the foyer, arms folded tightly across his chest with a characteristic snarl spreading over his features.

Okuyasu blinked. “Uh, for real though Jotaro, what are we actually doin’ here?”

“What do you think, you big oaf,” Rohan snapped, “I’m fixing Higashikata’s nightmares so he can help us focus on finding the stand user. Since someone won’t stop worrying about him.” He glared at Jotaro, apparently disgusted at the very thought of familial affection. Before Josuke could protest, Jotaro leaned down to his eye level with his hands still in his pockets.

“It’s worth a try, Josuke.”

Josuke was unconvinced. “Pfft! Yeah right – as if Rohan would pass up an opportunity to fuck with my head. Nuh-uh! I'm not doin' it, no way, no how.”

“Don’t talk about me like I’m not here, Higashikata,” Rohan sneered coldly. “You should be grateful I’m even doing this for you. I'm a busy man, you know.”

“Don’t worry,” Jotaro said, his tone firm, his eyes knowing. “Rohan knows better than to try anything funny. If you can’t trust him, then at least trust me.”

Josuke looked nervously over at Okuyasu, who reached out and gave his hand a gentle squeeze. Truth be told, Okuyasu was pretty relieved that Jotaro and Rohan had managed to come up with an idea that might actually help Josuke, although he understood and shared his boyfriend’s scepticism about the exact method they'd decided on.

“...Okay, fine,” Josuke conceded, “I’ll do it, since it seems like I don't have much of a choice. But on one condition.”

Rohan raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “Oh?”

Josuke faltered slightly, face tinted by a slight blush as he avoided eye contact. “I, uh…I’m only gonna do it if I can stay like this.” He raised the hand which Okuyasu was currently holding as if displaying it to the world, not letting his boyfriend’s grip loosen. “Just, y’know…for support and –”

Ugh, that’s enough,” Rohan said, looking positively queasy. “Do whatever you want, just spare me the romantic mush, please.”

“What’s wrong with two people bein' in a relationship, Rohan?” Okuyasu jibed slyly, “you mad ‘cause you ain’t gettin’ any action these days?”

Excuse me? I don’t hate relationships, I just hate your relationship. And my love life is absolutely none of anyone’s business.”

This time it was Josuke’s turn to interject. “Man, what the fuck is your problem, you asshole? You telling me I’m not allowed hold my own boyfriend’s hand?” Rohan closed what little distance was left between them and jabbed Josuke’s forehead with a long, elegant finger.

“Yes actually, I am telling you that, because it’s the most hackneyed, saccharine shit I’ve ever seen and I won’t allow it in my household.”

“Oh yeah?!" Josuke said, raising his voice and grabbing Rohan by the shirt collar, "Why don’t you just write on yourself, “I cannot be an insufferable prick all the time to everybody”, huh?! It’d solve all of our headaches and save us a fortune in painkillers!”

“Well, why don’t you –”

“Rohan.”

The snooty mangaka’s tirade was cut short by Jotaro’s hand on his shoulder, and the teens were somewhat surprised by the ease with which Jotaro was able to rein in his contempt. Rohan sniffed derisively and wiggled his shoulders to shake off this tag-team Joestar attack on his person.

“Fine. Have it your way. Are we going to do this, or are you just going to continue standing there wasting my time?” He waved his hand dismissively at Josuke, who looked like he was trying very hard not to bulldoze a hole straight through the wall into Rohan’s living room.

Eventually, they all acquiesced to settling down on one of Rohan’s very expensive sofas, Okuyasu and Jotaro lingering on the edges while Rohan and Josuke sat awkwardly in the center, avoiding eye contact. Rohan was taking his time applying unscented hand lotion for some reason, possibly just to unnerve the other boys.

“Uh…so like, am I gonna feel this?” Josuke asked, shifting nervously in his seat now that their mind-altering plan was actually going ahead. His grip on Okuyasu's hand got a little tighter.

“Hm. Probably. I can erase your memory of Heaven’s Door too, if it’ll stop you whining,” Rohan replied. Josuke shook his head.

“No, that’s definitely weirder. Just…make it quick, okay? And uh, don’t read too much.” Josuke looked at the floor in a way that was definitely not suspicious.

“No promises, Higashikata,” Rohan smirked, earning him disapproving glances from all three of his guests. Hearing no further objections, he went to work. “Heaven’s Door!

Josuke gasped as he felt the pages of his face burst open suddenly, Rohan’s sparkling green eyes greedily scanning his soul. It was hard to describe the sensation...on one hand, it was unnerving, vulnerable, almost like having one of those dreams where you accidentally show up to school stark naked and everybody laughs. On the other hand, it wasn't quite uncomfortable either - intimate, yes, dangerous, certainly, but also a little bit...thrilling, actually? Josuke mentally kicked himself for the thought. As if he could sense that Josuke was getting slightly too comfortable with this invasion of his privacy, Rohan promptly burst his bubble.

“Hm, what’s this?" he said a little too loudly, pointing to a particular phrase, "‘Don’t let Kishibe Rohan know that I…’ oh my, Higashikata, that’s a juicy little detail, isn’t it?” he cooed triumphantly as Josuke’s face rapidly went through several shades of red. With each word Rohan was inching closer and closer to his specimen, to the point where Okuyasu almost wanted to remind him that there were other people in the room watching. Looming over Josuke, close enough to hear the younger boy’s heart pounding as he held his open face in his hands, Rohan continued. “Now, where can I find the events of Saturday night…ah, yes. It starts with, ‘Okuyasu and I snuck out to the shed in the park so we could get freaky’ – your words, not mine – ‘but while I was in the middle of teasing Oku with Crazy Diamond –’”

“R-Rohan!!” Josuke squirmed, “for god’s sake, just read it in your head!” Rohan laughed smugly to himself, but complied, having already got Josuke back for the embarrassing prank call he’d had to endure a few days prior. Jotaro pulled the brim of his hat down over his eyes and said nothing. Suddenly, Rohan’s eyes lit up.

“Wait a moment, this is…” he began, moving his finger up and down the page as he read, “this is excellent, Josuke! The spider thing is a little cliché, sure, but this feeling of dread and hopeless isolation…it’s so real! So visceral! It's as if I'm experiencing your reality first-hand!” Rohan gripped the page tightly, staring hungrily as the ‘paper’ was beginning to tear away from Josuke’s face.

“Okay, dude,” Okuyasu growled, “We get it, great inspiration for your manga, whatever – just fix him already, ya creepy bastard!”

Rohan pulled himself together with an indignant tch and brought his pen up to Josuke’s face. “Well, now who's the killjoy? You greasy lunkheads clearly have no appreciation for fine art. There you go: I will no longer have nightmares about the stand attack on Saturday. Happy now?” The pages of Josuke’s face snapped shut abruptly and the mangaka pushed him away again, clearly disappointed at not being able to mine the younger boy for more valuable resources. It was suddenly very clear to both Josuke and Okuyasu why Rohan had agreed to this plan in the first place.

“Thank you, Rohan,” Jotaro said, voice tinged with exasperation, “And I hope this fixes the problem, Josuke.”

“Y-yeah, I’m gonna get outta here if it’s all the same to you guys,” Josuke laughed awkwardly, face still flushed. Rohan flashed him a devious look.

“Leaving so soon, Higashikata? Isn’t there something you’d like to say to Okuyasu?”

“Nope!! Bye, Jotaro!” Josuke shouted, pulling Okuyasu up by the wrist and bolting out the door. Okuyasu ran behind him like a dog on a leash, not really sure what was going on but happy to see Josuke with a little bit more spring in his step again.

“Hey, what’s Rohan talkin’ about, Josuke?” he asked while they were running, “whatcha gotta tell me?”

“Nothing!!” Josuke shouted again, face the colour of ripe strawberries, “Fuck that guy! I told him not to…aughh!”

Josuke continued to curse ‘that fucking shit-faced paintbrush-head mangaka’ all the way home, much to Okuyasu’s mingled amusement and confusion. Maybe all this excitement would do them both some good.

----

There was a crack in Rohan’s ceiling. He noticed it whenever he was trying to sleep, since it was situated right above the spot where his many plush pillows lay on his bed. Rohan generally slept on his back, partly to counteract the damage done by so many hours with his spine hunched over a drawing table, and partly because he had once read that sleeping on your back increased your chances of experiencing sleep paralysis, a chilling phenomenon he had yet to encounter but was eager to try out. After Jotaro had left earlier that afternoon, Rohan had spent much of his free time sketching out possible page layouts he could use to effectively depict Josuke’s memories, and as a result had (once again) skipped dinner. He tried to ignore the insistent churning of his stomach as the digital clock on his nightstand flicked over to 2am. One of these days he really must call in a handyman to deal with that crack.

When sleep finally came, Rohan was enveloped in a familiar, warm darkness, and he waited for the dreams to follow. After some time, though, it became clear that he was already dreaming – but nothing was happening. Rohan tried not to wake himself up out of sheer disappointment. Finely honing the ability to lucid dream had been a hard battle, but one most definitely worth it for the mangaka, except for those frustrating times where he knew he was dreaming, but couldn’t influence the narrative. This seemed to be one of those nights.

After a while, the darkness relented to show a small pinprick of light in the distance, and Rohan thought he could faintly make out a pale, glowing figure. It was hard to tell exactly what the shape was meant to represent, but it seemed vaguely humanoid, at least. Every time Rohan tried to move towards it, it would glide away again, as if being chased, and so he decided to pursue it more aggressively, his sharp curiosity building up inside of him like corked champagne. Still, no matter what he did, each step he took towards the figure seemed to propel it further and further away from him, leaving a strange glowing afterimage in its wake. Eventually, the figure disappeared altogether, and Rohan spun around in the darkness in search of it.

Instead of finding the glowing image, however, he found his eyes resting on a very familiar shape about twenty paces to his left – the unmistakeable form of the one and only Kishibe Rohan. This impostor, this Other-Rohan was staring straight at him, its face contorted in horror as it backed slowly away into the blackness, mouth open wide as if it were trying to scream, but no sound came out. Rohan moved towards his other self and reached out his hand, but stopped short. Where he should have seen his own arm, he instead found a shimmering band of pale blue light, wriggling and writhing beyond his control. The situation finally dawned on him with a sickening jolt – he was the strange glowing figure. He tried to feel his face with the monstrous, unearthly tendrils which had replaced his arms, but all he felt was a rough, featureless slab of meat where his head should have been, raw and painful to the touch. With mounting panic, Rohan tried to initiate his failsafe wake-up measure, the mental escape route he had built for when his dreams weren't going according to plan. For the first time ever, he was unsuccessful. The only thing that changed was the silence.

After his first attempt at waking, the deathly quiet was suddenly pierced by the sound of his own guttural screams, disembodied, swirling around him from seemingly every direction. Each successive attempt to return to the real world was met with a sharp increase in the volume and pitch of the screams, until finally he felt the cold meat where his face should have been split open in a searing, oozing gash, and the Other-Rohan’s eyes rolled back into its head.

He awoke to the stench of his own vomit in the bedsheets.

----

Ring, ring.

No, not again, Okuyasu thought. Please. Not tonight.

Ring, ring.

Hadn’t Rohan dealt with this? Shouldn’t everything be okay now?

Ring, ring.

He couldn’t ignore it. If Josuke needed him, he had to be there. That’s what best friends – boyfriends – were for, right? With a sluggish grumble, Okuyasu rolled out of bed and trudged into the main hallway, where the phone sat on a small wooden table.

“Yo, Josuke,” he yawned into the receiver.

Okuyasu.” Rohan’s voice in his ear made Okuyasu start.

“Huh? Rohan? Why the fuck you callin’ me in the middle of the night?” Rohan seemed to hesitate before continuing, which was unlike him.

“...I already tried Jotaro and Josuke. They didn’t pick up.

Okuyasu sighed. “Yeah, that’s 'cause regular people don’t answer their phone if it rings at 2 in the mornin’. Good thing you got me as a last resort, huh?” he said with a hint of bitterness. “What’s got you so wound up anyway?”

I…had a nightmare.” Rohan’s voice sounded small and weak, and despite his contempt for the mangaka Okuyasu had to try very hard not to give a damn.

“That’s probably cause you looked at Josuke’s memories. Your brain got to thinkin’ about it so you dreamed about it too. Happens all the time.” Okuyasu yawned again despite himself. “You expectin’ me to comfort you or somethin’? I ain’t a shrink.”

No. I think there’s something more to this stand. Something we didn’t predict.

“Wait, you think the nightmares are related to the stand attack?” Okuyasu asked, pinning the phone between his ear and his shoulder as he sat down on the hallway floor.

I think the nightmares are the stand attack, Okuyasu. What Josuke experienced was just the seed. I think it spreads.

“Huh. You mean like a virus?” Okuyasu pondered this for a moment. “But how would that work? You’re the only one besides Josuke who’s had a nightmare about it.”

Maybe that’s because I saw those images in his memories then, I don’t know.” He could hear Rohan rub his face in exasperation on the other end of the phone.

“But…” Okuyasu furrowed his brow. It was way too early for this kind of complicated bullshit. “I don't get it. That'd mean it could only spread to you, right? Since you’re the only one who can see people’s memories.”

Rohan seemed thrown by this. “I…no, it must be something like that, I’m sure of it…

“I’m goin’ to bed, Rohan. I got school tomorrow. Get some sleep.”

But –

Whatever Rohan was about to say was lost to the telephone lines as Okuyasu hung up abruptly. So much for a decent night’s rest, he thought. Just as he was about to crawl back into bed, the phone rang again.

Ring, ring.

“Fuck that,” he mumbled, and double-checked the Doraemon alarm clock before dropping straight back into a heavy sleep.

----

Okuyasu knocked on Josuke’s door a little early the next morning, hoping to sneak in some quick morning cuddles before they had to run off to separate classes for the first half of the day. As usual, Tomoko answered, inviting Okuyasu inside to relax while Josuke got himself looking beautiful. He gave her a friendly wave and hello as he scampered up the stairs to Josuke’s room, ignoring her bemused sigh about ‘randy teenagers’.

He opened Josuke’s door without a knock, as he’d become accustomed to doing, and was met by the sight of his usually-immaculate boyfriend lying face-down in the pillows, his hair a sticky, flyaway mess.

“Whoa, dude,” he said with mounting concern, circling around to Josuke’s side, “School starts in like half an hour, you gonna be ready in time?”

“I’m not going,” Josuke mumbled as he rolled onto his side. His face was puffy with exhaustion and it kind of looked like he’d been crying. Panic sprung into Okuyasu’s chest.

“Oh shit babe, you really ain’t okay, huh?” He lifted up the covers and nestled alongside Josuke, gripping the other boy from behind in a tight hug.

“I really thought all Rohan’s bullshit woulda fixed it,” Josuke said softly, “but it happened again. They’re getting really bad, Oku...” He sniffed. “Sorry, I feel like an idiot. I’m usually the one taking care of you, not the other way around. I know they’re only nightmares and they're not real, but they just...fuck me up for some reason, I don’t know why…”

Okuyasu kissed the back of Josuke’s head. “I dunno. I think I get it. I had lots o’ nightmares after my bro died, those fucked me up for a bit too. They stopped eventually, though.”

“How? What stopped them?” Josuke asked. Okuyasu felt his heart swell just a little, and tried not to upset Josuke by laughing. Wasn't it obvious?

“Uh, you did, bro. Duh. Guess I was too happy around you for the nightmares to get me.” Okuyasu gulped and blushed in the dimly lit room, thankful that Josuke couldn’t see him all that clearly. “And yeah, you’re right, you do usually take care o’ me. But that just means it’s my turn now, right? C-cause I love you an’ shit, y’know…”

A long silence hung in the air between them, and Okuyasu’s palms started to sweat. Was that too much? Too soon? Josuke slowly rolled over in his bed to look Okuyasu in the face. “Wait…what did you just say?”

Okuyasu squeezed his eyes shut, face glowing red. “C’mon…don’t make me say it again, bro…I get nervous…”

Josuke held his bumbling boyfriend by the shoulders and kissed him slowly and deeply, hands still a little shaky from his late-night terrors. He was vaguely aware of the fact that he probably tasted kinda gross, since he hadn’t even brushed his teeth yet, but he hoped Okuyasu wouldn’t mind. This seemed like kind of an important moment, after all. He pulled away after a little while, taking care to angle his mouth away from the other boy’s nose, just in case his breath didn't smell the freshest either. “Yeah, I heard you,” he said. “I just, uh, I…”

Okuyasu threw some words into Josuke’s pregnant pause. “Y-you don’t have to say it back or nothin'!! It’s okay if you need more time or –”

“I love you too, Oku. Like...I really, really do.”

Okuyasu’s breath caught in his throat. He lay motionless for a while, staring in stunned silence as the situation washed over him. Josuke looked away, a little sheepish, waiting patiently for a response. Warm tears pricked at the corner of Okuyasu’s eyes, and he wiped them away with his sleeve.

“F-fuck,” he whispered, “I didn’t actually think you’d say it back…”

“Well, I didn’t expect you to say it first,” Josuke said. “I’ve been…meaning to. I was just waiting for the right time, you know…”

Okuyasu’s eyes went wide. “Oh shit!! You wanted it to be somethin’ special! I shoulda taken you out to dinner and then said it…god damn it!” Josuke smiled for the first time all morning as he wrapped his arms around Okuyasu's neck, pressing his face into the other boy's chest.

“Nah, you did good. Not every day I get to lie around in bed with you like this.” He sighed. “Makes this bed less of a scary place. Having you in it, I mean. Maybe it’ll make the nightmares stop, too.”

They were interrupted by Tomoko’s voice calling out from the upstairs hallway. “Josuke? Okuyasu? You guys had better get a move on, or you’ll be late for school again.” Hearing no response, she groaned and knocked on Josuke’s bedroom door. “You guys better be decent, I’m comin’ in.”

Josuke squinted at the harsh beam of light that washed over his eyes when he turned to face the door. Seeing the state the two of them were in, Tomoko’s expression changed quickly from annoyance to concern, and her eyes briefly flicked to Okuyasu to get a better handle on the situation.

“Sorry, mom,” Josuke said quietly, “I don’t think I’m gonna make it to school today. Can you call up the office and tell them I’m sick so I don’t get in trouble?”

“Josuke, what’s happened?” Tomoko asked, placing a hand on her son’s forehead. Josuke didn’t respond, so Okuyasu stepped in.

“He’s been havin’ real bad nightmares all week, ever since Saturday. I might stick around today an’ look after him, if that’s okay by you.” Tomoko ran her hand through Josuke’s sticky hair, much to his distaste.

“I see. You can stay, Okuyasu – sounds like my boy could use some TLC while I’m at work. I’d prefer to stay and look after you myself, but unfortunately I don’t get the luxury of pulling a sickie.” She stood up and made for the door again. “I’m leaving in 10, but I’ll call the school before I go. Feel better, okay hon?”

“Thanks, mom…sorry to make you worry…” Josuke said with a small smile in her direction.

“Yeah, well you should be sorry – the receptionist at your school is so annoying to deal with, I swear!” Tomoko grinned back, the resemblance between her and her son almost uncanny. “There’s plenty of food in the pantry, Oku – make sure he eats!”

“Yes, ma’am!” Okuyasu laughed, and Tomoko closed the door behind her. Both boys breathed a sigh of relief at having their daily classes mercifully cancelled. Already they could feel the mood lifting, and the two of them spent a few moments snuggling closer.

“…No school, huh? What should we do all day then?” Josuke asked slyly, already angling for the right answer.

“Well, I can’t let you go back to sleep, in case you have another nightmare…” Okuyasu grinned as he caught on. Josuke sat up in his bed and arched his back in an awfully exaggerated-looking stretch.

“Mm…I’m feeling a little sore, actually, and my hair’s a mess…think I need a shower…” Okuyasu accidentally inhaled his own spit and started coughing violently. Josuke laughed. “But I’m a little worried…” he pouted, “what happens if I get so relaxed in the nice warm shower that I fall asleep again?”

“Uhh, uhh, umm, I already had a shower,” Okuyasu replied articulately as Josuke peeled off his singlet.

“I’m not saying you gotta get in with me, doofus,” Josuke said as he playfully booped Okuyasu's nose, “I just think I oughta have somebody keepin’ an eye on me…if you get my drift.”

Okuyasu definitely got his drift, and ran to the bathroom faster than Josuke could say “my mom’s still home”.

Chapter Text

There was a chill in the air these days. Not enough to warrant a sweater, not enough to crowd the morning air with complaints, but enough to make you wonder at the sharpness of the setting sun rasping raw against your nose and ears. The kind of weather that you felt against your skin like the wings of a beleaguered dragonfly. Weather that whistled a song you thought you had forgotten. The days, though not yet long, grew longer, as they often did just before the flowers went to wither, crumbling into the weary embrace of the oncoming winter.

For Josuke, the cold nights were the worst of all. Usually he’d be tucked away snugly under an extra blanket or two, but with the way things were, he couldn’t risk getting too comfortable and dropping off to sleep. His bedroom had become a battle zone, and there seemed to be no victory in sight – he was either sleep deprived and ill, or plagued by increasingly horrifying nightmares. As always, Okuyasu was a blessing, checking in often and trying to lighten the load Josuke felt looming over him by running small errands or just giving him a hug if things were especially bad. But in the end, despite their best efforts, another three days passed without a single lead on the stand or its user. The fact that even Heaven’s Door had been unable to lift the mystery stand’s curse was as concerning as it was puzzling, and this failure left Rohan himself the most frustrated of all.

And so, after a string of dead-end investigations and botched sleep experiments, Josuke decided to go for an early morning walk around town. It was weird to see Morioh at this time of day, when the dew was still fresh on the ground and the streetlights were still glowing despite the sunrise peeking over the hills. It was definitely way too early, but somehow there were an awful lot of people running around, droves of half-dead coffee-goblins and zombies trudging to the office with their mouths still full of breakfast. Damn, he thought. Adulthood seemed like a real pain in the ass. He reminded himself never to grow up and get a real job.

He was considering swinging by Okuyasu’s place and seeing if his early-rising boyfriend was in a talking mood, when he noticed a number of posters scattered around, messily taped to trees and message boards. They seemed to have sprung up overnight, and upon closer examination he recognised the character featured under the blurb, which read:

Special one-on-one autograph signings with the extremely famous and highly acclaimed Pink-Dark Boy mangaka Kishibe Rohan! Free admission, no booking required! Meet the legendary man himself and get a customised drawing in this exclusive Jump promotional event! Tomorrow only!

“The hell...?” Josuke scoffed, tearing a poster from its place on the side of a vending machine. For a moment he was actually surprised that the mangaka’s out-of-control ego would compel him to go along with a promo event while he was still fucked up on the same stand bullshit he was dealing with, but then he remembered it was Rohan he was talking about, and just shook his head and muttered “wow” under his breath.

A voice suddenly came from behind him. “Uhh, Josuke?”

Jesus fuck!!” Josuke yelped, spinning around a little too fast in his attempt to determine the source of the voice and almost losing his balance. He was relieved (albeit a little embarrassed) to find Koichi standing behind him, hands full of the very same posters he had just been examining. 

Koichi jiggled the stack of papers apologetically. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to freak you out. It’s just that, uh...I just put that one there, and you just tore it off again...”

Josuke glanced at the ripped poster in his hand. “Oh...shit, sorry man. I’ll put it back.” A subtle glow surrounded the poster as it danced back into place. “And hey, don’t sweat it, I’m just a...little jumpy lately, ya know.” Koichi’s brow furrowed with concern and sympathy.

“It’s okay, I get it. That’s why Rohan-sensei and I are both doing our best to get to the bottom of this.”

“Huh? What does this --” Josuke pointed to the poster incredulously, “-- have to do with that?”

Koichi gave an exasperated sigh. “He didn’t tell you, huh? Figures.” He shook his head. “The autograph signing tomorrow is just a cover, Josuke. For an investigation. Rohan-sensei is gonna scan everybody who walks through that door to try and figure out if anybody knows anything about this stand user.”

Josuke grimaced. “Wait – he’s gonna Heaven’s Door everybody? Isn’t that kinda, uh...”

“...Ethically dubious?”

“Well, I was gonna say ‘fucked up’, but yeah, same diff.”

“...Yeah. I wasn’t a big fan of this plan either, to be honest...” Koichi shuffled a little on the spot, “...but I mean...if this is what it’s gonna take to bring the stand user to justice, then, well...”

Josuke leaned forward and ruffled his small friend’s hair affectionately. “Careful, Koichi. It sounds like that shitty mangaka might be rubbing off on you a little.”

“I just want my friends to be okay,” Koichi said, a little sadly. Josuke felt a pang in his chest. Making his friends worry about him was not one of his favourite pastimes. He forced a grin. 

“It’s okay, buddy! I’ll be fine! I’m sure Rohan will come up with some good leads after tomorrow!”

“Yeah...” said Koichi, clearly unconvinced, “I hope you’re right.”

--

Ring. Ring.

Josuke sat shivering in the darkness, a lone siren screeching across the void. Just ahead of him, the enormous ghostly spider tore apart one of her own babies and bit into its exoskeleton with a sickening crunch.

Ring. Ring.

The shape of the injured baby spider began to swirl, gradually morphing into a form that was almost humanoid. Behind it, the mother spider seemed to grow larger and larger – or was he getting smaller? Josuke tried to call out to the helpless baby, tell it to get away, but when he opened his mouth he felt the darkness fill his lungs like tar and silence his voice. He gagged.

Ring. Ring. 

It wasn’t a baby spider anymore. Its body was still mostly arachnoid, sure, but now it had a distinctly human face, wide eyes bulging out of their sockets in terror. In fact, hang on...that face looked sort of familiar...

Ring. Ring.

The sirens had risen to deafening heights. It was enough to make Josuke’s skin crawl – or was that the army of tiny insects which were now flowing over his body like water? The baby spider dragged its broken body towards him, twitching, and stared into his eyes.

“Bro...?”

Josuke went cold. God, come on, really? Why did it have to be this?

Bro...” the spider with Okuyasu’s face whimpered, “Help me, bro... 

And then, finally, the giant spider dealt the fatal blow. 

“Okuyasu!!!”

Josuke snapped back to reality, drenched in sweat and tears. He scrunched his face up in pain and put his head in his hands, trying to gain some kind of composure back. Meanwhile, the phone downstairs was ringing, and his mom was really gonna let him have it if it went on for too much longer. Breathing raggedly, he forced himself to his feet and waddled downstairs to answer it.

“...Hello?” he croaked into the receiver, feeling as if he’d just run a marathon in hell.

“Josuke.” Fantastic. It was Rohan, a.k.a. the last person he felt like fucking talking to right now.

“Nnngh....damn it, Rohan, what do you--”

“--Were you asleep?”

Josuke gritted his teeth. “Well of course I was, it’s four in the morning and I’ve been running on empty all--”

“--No. Don’t do that. Sleeping is bad.”

Yeah, no fuckin’ shit,” he spat, “now what do you want?”

“I’m going to begin my autograph signing at 9am. Koichi told you about it, I presume?” 

“You mean your big ‘invade everybody’s privacy’ party, yeah?” Josuke braced himself against the wall with one hand, trying to shake the images still dancing sickeningly behind his eyelids. “Y-yeah...he told me this morning...or yesterday, or whatever time that was...”

Rohan’s eye-roll was almost audible. “I don’t see you coming up with any better ideas. Come to my house at noon, alright? We’ll debrief then.” 

“Yeah...sure...” Josuke said weakly, and hung up the phone.

He paused. Okuyasu’s face flashed in front of his eyes again, and he dialled.

Ring. Ring.

Ring. Ri--

“Ghhgn. Sup, Josuke.”

Josuke felt tears prick the corner of his eyes. Why was he so emotional? It was only a dream. Okuyasu was totally fine. Totally, totally fine and definitely not being ripped apart and dying. He swallowed heavily. “H-hey, bro...I’m uh...”

Okuyasu sighed. “Nightmare?”

“Yeah...except this time it was different...you were in it...”

“Is this gonna get creepy, dude? Cause my house feels kinda spooky tonight...”

Josuke went to explain, then stopped. “...Yeah. It was pretty creepy. You don’t gotta hear about it though. I’m just glad to hear your voice. Stay on the line with me for a while?”

Okuyasu grunted in affirmation, and the two chattered quietly about the most comfortingly mundane things they could think of until Tomoko emerged from her room and made both of them go back to bed.

--

Eight hours and three cups of Jotaro’s bitter coffee later, Josuke banged on the door of Kishibe Rohan’s house. It didn’t take long for the mangaka to answer – as usual, he seemed to have been hovering eerily in the threshold awaiting his arrival. As soon as Josuke laid eyes on him, though, he could tell something wasn’t quite right. Rohan’s skin was even paler than usual, and he swayed uncertainly on his feet with each small movement.

“...Josuke,” he nearly groaned, “you’re ten minutes late.”

“Whoa. What the fuck happened to you, dude?” Josuke grimaced.

“Just...get inside, will you? I’ll explain everything.”

The inside of Rohan’s house, too, was in a shambles. Everywhere Josuke looked, there were loose books strewn about, strange notes hastily scrawled on scraps of paper, even a pair of dirty shoes perched on top of the normally pristine sofa. It was a little like how he’d expect the den of a conspiracy theorist to look. The man himself looked like he hadn’t slept at all in days. Maybe he hadn’t, Josuke realised.

Rohan wasted no time getting into it, walking over to his workdesk and picking up a list of names. “Take a look at this,” he said, handing the paper to Josuke. “Nineteen people, all having the same kinds of nightmares. Darkness, glowing shapes, psychological trauma...the victims all seem to fall within the ages of 14 and 25, but besides that there’s no clear profile – the people I investigated weren’t similar to each other at all. Or at least, that’s what I thought at first. Now look at this.”

He pulled a town map out from between the pages of his sketchbook. It looked the same as any map you’d buy from a shop, except his was sprinkled with a number of red dots and connecting lines. The conspiracy-theorist tone was really amping up in the Kishibe abode today.

“See those dots? Those are the home addresses of all nineteen victims, plus the two of us. Notice anything?”

Josuke squinted, his sleep deprivation taking a hefty toll on his critical thinking abilities. “Uhh...they’re all over the place? I don’t really --”

“--God, Higashikata. Half of them are clustered around this area right here,” he made a circling gesture over the map, “and none of them extend any further than 15km beyond this center point. I think it’s safe to assume that this stand probably has a range of about 15km. What’s more...” he pointed again, “...five of the victims live in the same apartment complex, right here.”

“Shit...do you think that’s where the stand user lives?” Josuke asked. Rohan started rolling his eyes before he’d even finished his sentence.

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Do any of the names on that list ring a bell to you?”

Josuke shook his head sadly. “I...I dunno, man. Like, maybe? Whoever it is said they saw me at Yuuya’s party, so I’ve been thinking maybe it’s somebody that goes to my school...I’ll go ask Okuyasu and Koichi and see if they’ve heard of any of these people before.”

Rohan sighed, the heavy dip of his shoulders betraying some of his fatigue. As if to overcompensate for this, he spiked his voice with a little more venom than usual. “I hope you appreciate what I’ve gone through to get this information. I’ll tell you another wonderful little thing I’ve learned about this stand.”

He paused, almost anxiously, before continuing.

“...The effects of this stand are cumulative. That means it gets worse and worse every time you’re exposed to it.”

“Yeah,” Josuke groaned, “I know what cumulative means, asshole.” This was a bluff. Josuke had never heard the word ‘cumulative’ before in his life. “It doesn’t take a genius to see that this shit keeps getting worse.”

Rohan narrowed his eyes. “Alright then, fine. If it’s so obvious, why don’t you tell me what you think would happen if you were exposed to the effects of this stand nineteen times in the same afternoon? How many dreams have you had now? Five? Maybe six, at the most?”

Josuke’s eyes widened as he finally caught Rohan’s drift. “Wait...you get hit with a new attack every time you see someone’s nightmares with Heaven’s Door? Oh...shit...then I guess your dreams would be--”

“--something like three times more potent than yours currently are, yes.” Rohan grimaced. “I passed out after the autograph signing and...I’m not even sure how to describe what happened to me. I might have passed out again when I got home, too, but I’m not actually sure. It’s difficult to fight it.”

As he spoke, Josuke began to notice more clues that the mangaka wasn’t actually doing so well – creased clothes, bloodshot eyes, sallow skin, bitten-down fingernails...and as much as he hated the guy, he didn’t exactly take pleasure in seeing him slowly unravel before his eyes, either. There was no satisfaction in something that took its toll on a person in such a cruel, slow way. Josuke shivered as he tried to imagine how intense the dreams must be for him.

“Can I...” he began, cautiously, “...can I ask what you dream about?”

“No you most certainly may not,” Rohan snapped, rubbing his eyes with a tired hand. “But I can tell you that if you think you’ve got it bad now, you’re in for a rude awakening.” He cast his eye out the window, his quiet voice suddenly taking on a more candid tone than usual. “...I haven’t been able to keep a meal down since the morning after I read your memories, Higashikata.” Josuke did some quick mental math. Did that mean he hadn’t eaten anything in two whole days? Three? What day even was it today? Rohan continued.“Now, since the autograph signing, I can barely even remember what I was doing half an hour ago. I’m writing everything down because I feel like I’m losing my mind. At this rate, I’ll have to put Pink-Dark Boy on hiatus again.”

“H-hey, no way, dude,” Josuke said, trying to sound reassuring, “We’re totally gonna catch this guy. And when I find him, I’ll punch him so hard he’ll forget what a stand even is!” Rohan smiled weakly at this, the vulnerability in his expression catching Josuke off-guard.

“For your sake and mine, Josuke, I certainly hope so...ah...”

Something heavy seemed to wash over Rohan then, his eyes becoming cloudy and unfocused. The hand which had been keeping a vice-grip on the windowsill fell softly to his side, and all the malice in the older man seemed to drain out through his legs, leaving him looking strangely peaceful. It was almost like...

...Oh shit. It was almost like he was drifting off to sleep.

Josuke grabbed Rohan by the shoulders. “Oi, Rohan! Rohan, get a hold of yourself! You’re passing out!” He snapped his fingers in front of the mangaka’s face and gave him a shake, but he could tell it wasn’t doing any good. Rohan’s body fell limply against Josuke’s chest as his knees gave out, eyes not so much closing as rolling back in his head. Josuke’s stomach churned with guilt. This was totally his fault. Rohan wouldn’t have been exposed to this at all if he hadn’t been such a baby about his nightmares in the first place. Why did Rohan agree to help him out anyway? Why couldn’t he have just been his usual dickhead self and stayed out of it?

Not knowing what else to do, he scooped the (surprisingly lightweight) man up in his arms and carried him up the stairs, peeking into the various rooms until he found one that looked like the master bedroom. His nostrils recoiled at the faint smell of vomit, another quiet indication of just how bad Rohan’s condition must really be, despite all his posturing. The two of them were doing the same thing, he realised, pretending things were more okay than they actually were. His pity for the shitty man tasted like lemons on his tongue.

And so Josuke found himself crouching anxiously next to the bed of the most irritating man he’d ever met, swaying on the balls of his feet and wringing his hands uncertainly. He noticed a sleek black phone on the nightstand – should he call someone? Okuyasu? Jotaro? He felt kinda weird hanging around the place while Rohan was asleep, and in any case he had things to do today, but it didn’t seem right to just leave him alone, either. As he reached his hand towards the receiver (which he noticed had decorative gold flecks on it, probably real gold), he heard a couple small, desperate whines escape Rohan’s sleep-heavy lips. Fuck, it’s starting already, Josuke thought with a shudder, and braced himself for the worst. He didn’t want to look directly at Rohan’s face, but he was somehow unable to tear his eyes away as the man’s whines gradually increased in volume, until he was almost crying out. It felt like he was stealing a glimpse into his own future, and the thought alone made him break out in a sweat. Further attempts to wake Rohan up proved as fruitless as before, so Josuke swallowed his pride and placed a tentative hand on the mangaka’s chest, feeling his heart pounding like a jackhammer against his frail ribcage. To anyone else it would probably have looked like a tender moment, but Josuke was more concerned with just making sure the man he suddenly found in his care wasn’t about to die or something. Rohan’s voice had risen to a real scream now, deep in his throat, loud and ragged enough that Josuke was sure the neighbours could hear. His hands clawed at the sheets.

But just as Rohan had warned, it got worse. The screams turned to gurgled, half-formed words, and all of a sudden Rohan’s chest began to convulse violently on the bed, reminding Josuke unpleasantly of all those scary stories he’d heard about demonic possession. He jerked his hand away instinctively, as if afraid something would pop out of Rohan’s stomach and bite it. Amidst the string of nonsense words, he caught a few he recognised – stop and can’t breathe stood out the most – and soon blood was pouring from the mangaka’s nose as quickly as the tears flowed from his half-closed eyes, carrying streaks of what must have been mascara down his sunken cheeks. Josuke panicked. Shit, this was getting really serious.

“Rohan!!” he shouted, grabbing the older man by the face, “Rohan, snap out of it!! You gotta wake up, man, c’mon!!” To his horror, the volume of Rohan’s bloodcurdling screams only seemed to increase, and for the first time that afternoon Josuke began to truly worry about the possibility that this experience might not end well for either of them. With an unsteady quiver of the lips, he manifested Crazy Diamond at his side, ready to punch him back to his beloved reality. Normally he’d be overjoyed at the chance to knock Rohan’s lights out, but not today. This was a little too real. “Rohan...please dude, I really don’t wanna have to do this...”

And then, as if a switch had been flipped, everything was quiet. The screaming had stopped, although his pillow was now bloodstained beyond salvaging. Josuke was about to breathe a sigh of relief – until he noticed the peculiar shade of purple that Rohan’s face was beginning to turn. Was he...breathing? A quick check by Crazy Diamond confirmed that no, he was not. Furthermore, that insistent clanging heartbeat was now nowhere to be found.

“Shit, shit, shit, shit,” Josuke gasped, hands clawing at his face. Was he dead?! Could this stand fucking kill people?! With no time to lose, Crazy Diamond pulled back for one solid, desperate punch.

His stand’s fist made contact with Rohan’s chest with an awful crack, which sounded a lot like a broken sternum. The shock and pain of the impact sent Rohan’s eyes flying open, and he drew one sharp, gasping breath as if he’d been pulled from a shipwreck. Josuke healed the chest wound and bleeding nose immediately (and hopefully before the older man could process what he’d just done to him), and grabbed Rohan roughly by the shoulders.

“Rohan?! Jesus christ, are you there? Can you hear me?”

Rohan squinted at the other boy with a dazed look on his face, seemingly unaware of what had just occurred.

“W-what? Why...Higashikata? Who let you...in my house...” Josuke forced down the sizeable lump in his throat, which was part relief and part terror. Okay. At least he didn’t die. He wasn’t dead. But if Josuke hadn’t been there...

“You invited me here, Rohan...to talk about the stand user...don’t you remember? You were only asleep for a few minutes...”

“No...I...I didn’t do that...” Rohan whispered, before gagging abruptly and reaching around the other side of his bed to grab the bucket that sat waiting. He retched painfully into it for a few moments, and Josuke offered him a napkin for his face once he was finished. Rohan refused the napkin and continued.

“Get...out of my house, why would I...invite you, I hate your guts...” he said, scratching at the back of his neck so hard he drew blood. Josuke fixed that up too.

“H-hey Rohan, you’re...really freaking me out, y’know? You’re not well. You’re sick. I’m gonna call somebody to come take care of you, okay?” Remembering Okuyasu’s pet theory, Josuke took a gamble. “...Do you want me to call Jotaro over?”

Rohan shook his head, hunching over in his bed. When he looked back up at Josuke, the other boy was relieved to see a little bit of lucidity flutter back into his eyes. “No, I...it’s bad enough that you’re seeing me like this. I don’t even want to talk to Jotaro anyway.” Rohan averted his gaze in a highly suspicious manner.

Despite the circumstances, Josuke had to grin a little, earning himself another glare. “Sorry dude, I’m not buying it. I’m getting him on the phone right now.” He reached for the phone and dialled, and to his surprise, Rohan didn’t try to stop him. Maybe that was just due to exhaustion, though.

“Eyyy...Jotaro?” Josuke spoke into the receiver once he’d gotten a hold of his nephew (and his nerves), “Yeah, uh, I’m at Rohan’s and like...can you maybe come over? He’s doing pretty bad...I’ve gotta head out soon, but I kinda feel like a dickhead just leaving him by himself, even if he is a shitty octopus...” Rohan looked like he was about to interject, so Josuke continued quickly. “Aaaanyway he’s denying that he wants to see you but we both know that he’s totally lying since you guys are practically dating or whatever--” Josuke’s sentence was cut short by Rohan thrusting his finger onto the cradle’s hook, causing him to abruptly hang up the call. He looked livid, which was actually a relief. It was almost like he was his usual again.

“No, that’s it. Get the fuck out of my house, Higashikata. Don’t make me say it again.”

Josuke tried not to enjoy this little tease, given that Rohan had just about fucking died or something, but it was awfully hard. “Don’t worry, I’ll fuck off once Jotaro gets here. I know you two would rather be alone anyway--”

“--Don’t you try and act smug with me, you little brat!” Rohan screeched, leaning towards him and widening his eyes.

“Uh-huh, don’t want me stealing your trademark, right? Since you’re basically the King of Unjustified Smugness.”

Rohan tried to leap out of bed to (presumably) kick Josuke’s ass, but lost his balance the moment his feet touched the floor. He would have come down onto the hardwood with a solid crash if Crazy Diamond hadn’t instinctively shot out to catch him, which Rohan wasted no time in complaining about (“Get those ugly pink hands off me! I’d rather fall!”). After that, the mangaka begrudgingly crawled back into bed and awaited Jotaro’s arrival, his poor health finally getting the better of him. Neither of them had to wait long, which was a relief since they were clearly incapable of spending more than five minutes together without one of them trying to start a fight. Jotaro’s presence in the house was announced by the sound of his heavy footfalls, and Josuke took that as his cue to leave.

Outside the master bedroom, he gave Jotaro a quick rundown of what had happened, hands shaking a little as he recalled everything. Jotaro didn’t say anything, only nodded and furrowed his brow in concern. From what it seemed, Rohan really hadn’t told him anything about it.

“So uh, Jotaro?” Josuke asked, pursing his lips and narrowing his eyes, “...Was I right? I gotta know, come on. Don’t leave me hanging.”

Jotaro’s expression gave nothing away. “Right about what?”

“About...you know...” Josuke wiggled his eyebrows, hoping Jotaro would get the hint.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. Go home, Josuke.”

Knowing when he was beat, Josuke sighed and gave both of them a half-hearted wave as he picked up his bag and made for the door.

--

Meanwhile, at the nearby Budogaoka High School, Okuyasu was also struggling to keep his eyes open. In his case, however, the reason for this sudden attack of drowsiness was not a terrifying stand attack, but the endless drone of his Math teacher as he went over Statistics concepts for the umpteenth time. Spending three whole days at school without Josuke was proving to be agonisingly boring, and it didn’t help that the class’ underwhelming test results had prompted their teacher to schedule an entire week of pure, dry revision. Okuyasu glanced out the window, hoping to at least find some semi-interesting cloud formations to stare at for a while. He wondered about the statistical probability of seeing a cloud formation that looked like Josuke. Maybe he oughta take up Koichi’s offer to tutor him after all.

Instead of finding Josuke-looking clouds, however, his attention was drawn to a familiar pompadour poking out from behind the main gates. There’s only one person that sick ‘do could belong to, he thought with a smile. But like...did Josuke seriously think he was hiding? Did he not realise his hair was sticking out? If the teachers caught him loitering on school property when he was supposed to be too sick to attend, he’d be in big trouble...

He watched as Crazy Diamond popped out of Josuke’s back and made a series of strange gestures towards the classroom Okuyasu was currently sitting in, like he trying to tell him something. He was kinda impressed that Josuke knew he’d be looking out the window instead of doing work, although that was also what he always did, so maybe it wasn’t so surprising after all. He let The Hand drift towards the window and tried to mime confusion by having his stand shrug its shoulders with its hands in the air. Crazy Diamond apparently saw, because the other boy’s stand then waved its hands in a way that seemed to say “you, me, meet here!”. The Hand gave a thumbs-up and disappeared shortly before the bell rang to signal the beginning of break time. He was trading secret invisible spy messages with his boyfriend at school now. How cool was that? Super cool, that’s how cool. The only thing cooler would be transforming into a famous superhero chef or something like that. He considered writing that down on his next career form.

Okuyasu wasted no time in scurrying to the front entrance, strafing down the halls in what was probably an excessively spy-movie kind of way. When he met up with Josuke he was already chuckling to himself.

“Heh heh...how was that, bro? Kinda like 007, right?” He adjusted some imaginary sunglasses. “I’ll have my boyfriend shaken, not stirred...heh heh...”

Josuke gave him a tight-lipped grin in return. “Yeah, dude. Real cool. I gotta talk to you about something though, okay?”

Okuyasu’s mood dipped slightly. He’d expected at least a little bit of a laugh at that, but Josuke actually seemed kinda serious. “Uhh...sure, go for it. Didja find out somethin’ new about the stand user?”

“Kinda, yeah. At least, Rohan...” Josuke paused uncomfortably, “...Rohan did. He’s uh. Pretty fucked up, actually.”

“Pfft!” Okuyasu laughed flippantly. “Well duh, everybody knows that guy’s fucked--”

“--No, man, like...he’s really sick. Worse than me. Normally I wouldn’t care but...” He made a pained expression and refused to elaborate. “Anyway, he found all these people who’re having the same kinds of nightmares as us...” He pulled out the list of names and held them out for Okuyasu. “And see those ones there? They all live at that same address...”

“Whoa...think the stand user lives there?” Okuyasu held the paper unnecessarily close to his face.

“Probably. It’s worth checking, anyway. Wanna go scope it out?”

Okuyasu hummed thoughtfully. “Yeah but...d’ya mind waitin’ until I can ask Mami about all these names? None of ‘em ring a bell to me, but that girl knows everybody ‘round here...”

“Yeah, fair. Just pretend you’re going to the toilet during class or whatever and come meet me here asap, okay? I feel like death.”

“You can count on me! Special Agent Nijimura is on the case!” Okuyasu said with a grin and a salute, and gave Josuke a quick peck on the cheek before dashing back into the school building.

--

“...And he saw that friendship bracelet you made for me last summer and was like, well what guy gave you that then, huh? And I kind of just stared at him like, uhh, right, of course you’d think it was some guy...

Mami gave a derisive snort. “Oh my god! It’s literally a fuckin’ friendship bracelet, what kinda assclown would get shitty with his girlfriend about a friendship bracelet?” She placed a firm hand on Shouko’s shoulder, suddenly serious. “For real though. You’re breakin’ up with him right? He’s totally just tryin’ to control you. Plus I heard some reeeeal sketchy shit about him from his last girlfriend. Get out now before he gets too attached, I say.”

God!” Shouko groaned, head falling heavily into her hands. “He honestly seemed okay! Why is every guy I date like this? Is it me??” She looked up at Okuyasu in pain and frustration, waiting for a meaningful response from The One Guy in their group.

“H-huh??” Okuyasu spluttered, not great at being put on the spot, “You didn’t do anythin’ weird, that guy just sounds like a weird jealous douche...”

“Thank you! That’s what I’ve been tryin’ to say!” Mami said, clapping her friend on the back reassuringly. “It ain’t you, bud. Bad dudes just see how nice you are an’ wanna take advantage of ya. Not your fault.” She sighed. “But also like, can you maybe trust my advice next time? I know he’s cute an’ all, but please just accept that there ain’t nothin’ I don’t know about the people at this school. I know a rotten apple when I see one.”

“Uh, speakin’ of that, actually...” Okuyasu began, crinkling the piece of paper Josuke gave him in his hand, “I got a list of names here, an’ I was wonderin’ if you could tell me if you know any of ‘em? Especially the ones in the red circle? Or even just the address under ‘em? I know this is kind of a weird thing to ask, but-”

“Yo!! Lemme see that!” Mami snatched the list out of Okuyasu’s hands and immediately started reading, apparently unperturbed by the unknown reason behind her friend’s query.

She took one look at the address on the page and burst out laughing.

“Wait, are you serious, dude? This place? Of course I know this address, I’ve been there like a million times – that’s Kumiko’s apartment! And look, all the names in the circle, those guys are on the same floor as her an’ everything, I see their mailboxes every time I go over there!”

Okuyasu felt the blood drain from his face. No fuckin’ way. There had to be some kind of mistake.

“W-wait, huh?? How can Kumiko live there, this is...”

“Oh hey, there she is! Lady of the hour! Yooooo, Kumiko!!” Mami called, waving her friend over, “Okuyasu’s tryin’ to stalk your apartment, man, I think you oughtta invite him over!”

Kumiko’s gaze darted from Mami, to Okuyasu, to the list of names in Mami’s hand, and back to Okuyasu again.

“...What? What’s...going on?” she asked, gripping her bag strap a little too tightly.

Okuyasu’s mind was racing. No way was Kumiko a fucking stand user. He’d spent all this time in class with her, he would have noticed by now! Plus, Kumiko was a super nice girl, real shy and shit, she’d never do something as nasty as fuck with people’s dreams. She must have a stand-using neighbour, or maybe a sibling...yeah, that must be it. Still...he decided to take a chance, just in case, and let The Hand hover behind him for a moment, trying to gauge Kumiko’s reaction. His stomach churned when he saw her eyes flick straight towards it before she hurriedly averted her gaze. Fuck.

Something in his expression must have tipped her off, because she didn’t say another word before bolting straight back out the door. Ignoring Mami and Shouko’s confused protests, Okuyasu took up the chase immediately, barrelling through the hallways in pursuit of his classmate. How was this even happening?! Of all the people he knew, Kumiko seemed like the least likely to be the culprit here! Then again...he realised he didn’t actually know all that much about her. He knew about superficial stuff like her family’s hot sauce business, and that she liked sweet things, that her favourite colour was purple like Josuke, and then a couple bits and pieces about her favourite actors and recipes and TV shows, but aside from that, she was usually pretty quiet...hell, he didn’t even know if she lived with both her parents or not. With Mami and Shouko being as talkative as they were, he never really got a chance to ask about that kind of thing. Kumiko sort of just...became part of the background of their lives. That was a little sad, he thought, to always be forgotten like that, and he started to worry if he was doing the wrong thing by assuming she was behind it all.

No, he thought, he was overcomplicating shit again. Nothing good ever came of him trying to use his brain so hard in times like this. What mattered now was finding the stand user who hurt Josuke and figuring out how to stop them, and if it really was Kumiko, well...he was just gonna have to get to the bottom of it. He picked up his pace. Special Agent Nijimura. On the case.

Chapter Text

Okuyasu skidded down the halls, literally bouncing off the walls and sliding down banisters to try and gain a little bit of speed. Somehow, Kumiko was actually really fucking fast, something he hadn’t quite counted on. Was she in the track and field club or something? For all he knew, she might be. The chase led Okuyasu straight out the doors of the school, and he ignored several reprimands from teaching staff as he kicked the doors wide open in pursuit. At this point, their scuffle had drawn quite a crowd of onlookers, the students leaning their heads out of classroom windows like in a kids movie. This was gonna be hard to explain afterwards.

“Oi!!” he shouted, trying to ignore the possibility of another suspension, “Get back here!!”

Kumiko didn’t so much as look at him, instead keeping her eyes focused straight in front of her as she sprinted clear of the front gates – the gates that Josuke was still crouching behind as he waited for Okuyasu to return. As luck would have it, the bulk of her bag happened to swing in just the right way to hit Josuke square in the face as she passed, only barely missing his impeccable hairdo.

“Ay yo what the fuck?!” Josuke shouted after her, jumping to his feet with a scandalised look on his face and hastily smoothing his pompadour back with his hands.

“Josuke!!” Okuyasu called, tugging on his boyfriend’s shirt as he zoomed past, “That’s her!! I think she’s the stand user!”

Josuke’s eyes widened and he sprung into action, keeping pace alongside Okuyasu even though he could feel his aching body screaming for rest. He was in no state to fight a stand user right now, but they clearly didn’t have a choice. He had coffee and adrenaline and that was just gonna have to be enough. “Holy shit, man!” he puffed, “You caught the stand user?!”

Okuyasu was too high-strung to blush at Josuke’s obvious pride. “I ain’t caught her yet, she’s fuckin’ fast!”

Indeed, Kumiko’s sprint was relentless (she actually was in the track and field club, as it would happen), and within moments the three of them were already veering off onto a quiet side-street with no signs of stopping. Based on the direction they were headed in, it seemed like she was shooting for the river near Keicho’s grave. Okuyasu wasn’t sure why that would be – her house was in the opposite direction. Maybe she was trying to lose them by escaping into the water? Could she swim good, too?

“Bro!” Josuke shouted, “We gotta get closer! Use The Hand!”

“Huh? Oh!!” Okuyasu took a second to process that suggestion given all the commotion, but once he’d got himself on the same page he quickly manifested his stand and erased a hefty chunk of space between them and Kumiko. Sure enough, in a couple more swipes he had almost closed the distance between them completely, and the frantic girl finally cast a glance over her shoulder just in time to see Crazy Diamond shoot out and grab her by the back of the shirt.

“HA! I got ya now!” Josuke cheered, looking slightly delirious. “Your sorry ass ain’t goin’ nowhere till you tell us what’s going on and how to fix it! Or...” he said with a threatening aura, “I can always just beat the truth outta you, how’s that sound?”

“No, get off me, get off me!” Kumiko squirmed, flailing her limbs desperately away from them, almost running in midair.

“Don’t think I won’t hit you just because you’re a girl!” Josuke said, raising his voice a little, “Cause I’ll fuckin’ do it! I haven’t slept properly in days and I’m at the end of my rope, don’t you fuckin’ try me!”

“Josuke, wait a minute!” Okuyasu called, concern creeping into his voice, “I dunno if she wants to hurt us, dude, maybe we can just--”

“--Okuyasu!” the other boy snapped, “What the fuck, man? She already hurt me! And Rohan! And like nineteen other people too! Why the hell were you chasing her if you didn’t want to actually catch her?!”

“I know, I know!!” Okuyasu ran his fingers through the short sides of his hair, feeling his doubt and stress mounting again. “But like, look at ‘er, man!” He gestured to Kumiko’s stricken expression, the tears in her eyes, the way she tried to wrench herself free of Crazy Diamond’s grip. “She doesn’t look mad! She just looks really scared! It...it just don’t feel right!”

Josuke was livid. “That’s the face of somebody who knows they’ve been caught, bro, and you know it! She’s guilty as fuck and she’s trying to escape the consequences! You’re just bein’ soft on her because she’s your cooking buddy!”

Okuyasu frowned anxiously. Josuke did have a point – how did he know that Kumiko’s quiet demeanour wasn’t just a front? Maybe she liked to slip under the radar on purpose? Was he wrong for wanting to go easy on her? Was he just a sucker?

“Oku.” Josuke looked straight at him, cold fire burning in his eyes. “If Akira Otoishi had been your friend before you learned that he was the user of Red Hot Chilli Pepper, would you still have attacked him?”

That one hit Okuyasu like a fucking piledriver to the heart. Of course the answer was yes. He had to avenge his brother. What kind of a question was that?!

Josuke continued in a low growl. “Well this time it’s me getting hurt. So can I count on you to back me up, or am I gonna have to do this without you?”

Okuyasu froze. He couldn’t pretend he wasn’t a little hurt by this kind of talk, but it didn’t really make him angry, it just made him sad. He tried to remember that Josuke wasn’t feeling 100% right now, but it felt bad anyway. What was even the right thing to do in this situation? Fuck if he knew, to be honest. But if it came down to it...if he really had to make a decision...

He gulped.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m with ya, Josuke.”

Kumiko’s entire body began to shake and sweat as Okuyasu approached resolutely, his eyes draped in deep shadows. “Let me go!” she cried, still struggling uselessly.

“No damn way.” Josuke sneered as he circled around in front of her and glared straight into her face. “Not until you tell us why you attacked me – and you better make it quick, because I’m in a fightin’ mood.”

“I...” she stuttered, “I, I...!!”

“Spit it out, fucker!!” Josuke bellowed, face inches from hers. “I swear to god if I have to deal with one more fucking nightmare...!”

“Bro...” Okuyasu warned, his attention suddenly turning to Kumiko’s body, “Bro, look at her skin.”

Josuke looked, and immediately took a step back. A pale, eerie blue glow had begun to spread over Kumiko, radiating from her shoulders and growing and spiking in wide arcs.

“Shit, it’s her stand!” Okuyasu hissed, trying to shield the other boy with his body, “Josuke, look out!”

Josuke stood motionless behind him, staring in wide-eyed horror at the familiar translucent form emerging from Kumiko’s back. One long, ghostly leg unfurled from somewhere inside of her chest...and then another, and another. But the stand that took shape before him wasn’t a spider, or a ghoul, or any other recognisable thing on this earth. Its head, if you could call it a head, resembled a funnel or long wedge, embellished on one side by dozens of eyes in random formations, beneath which no other facial features could be found. Those spider-like arms were not its only appendages – on the contrary, the body of the stand was riddled with innumerable grotesque protrusions, every one of them twitching and writhing and reaching forth in improbably ghastly ways. The central form around which the rest pivoted was not solid or stable in the least, but rather it continued to morph and shift with the jerky movements of its monstrous limbs. It didn’t look like it could have emerged from a human. It didn’t look like anything. It just looked like a nightmare.

“That’s it.” Josuke said, the anger shaken out of him like rainwater crashing to the floor from the sides of an umbrella. “It doesn’t look the same, but I know that’s what I’ve been seeing in my dreams.” He bit his lip and clenched his fists, trying to steel his nerves to fight again. “B-but that doesn’t matter! I won’t back down! I’ve got you-” he squared himself against the still-ensnared Kumiko and pulled back Crazy Diamond’s free hand, preparing for a punch, “-right where I want you!!”

Okuyasu noticed one of the stand’s many writhing tendrils suddenly fashion itself into a sharp, spearlike blade. It wasn’t pointed back at Crazy Diamond’s threatening fist, though – it was pointed straight ahead, at Josuke.

“Josuke!!” he shouted again, “It’s gonna attack!”

But it was no use – he recognised that burning look in Josuke’s eyes, raging like a forest fire, the same look he had seen when he beat the living daylights out of Rohan the first time they met. On top of that, he knew the other boy was scared senseless and acting on pure impulse. There was no way Josuke was going to hold back now, not for any reason. Okuyasu wracked his brain for options, wrestling to stay in between Josuke and Kumiko, not quite sure who it was that he was trying to protect.

Unfortunately, he barely had time to consider the horror that loomed above them both before the stand’s sharp appendage sailed over his shoulder and speared Josuke clean through the chest.

Time almost seemed to move in slow motion. Okuyasu spun around to see Josuke staggering backwards, coughing blood. He thought he could hear the wind whistling through the hole the stand had left in Josuke’s middle as he fell to the pavement.

“Josuke!!” he cried, dropping to his side and placing his hands over the wound. He could see that it wouldn’t do any good – the hole was too big, the damage too great...

“Wh...what the fuck, dude?” Josuke croaked, eyes tearing up from the pain as he stared at Okuyasu. “I thought you said...you had my back...” A pool of blood began to form under him, dribbling between the cracks in the asphalt and running into the gutters. A small leaf floated atop the crimson stream. Okuyasu turned his back to Kumiko, to the stand, to every other fucking thing in this piece of shit world, and clutched Josuke by the shoulders. His hands were stained red with blood.

“H-hey, come on, man!” he said, tears streaming down his face, “I’m right here! W-we can get ya patched right up! It’s gonna be fine, I...I just know it, it has to be...”

Josuke coughed violently. “Why didn’t you save me, dude?”

“I was tryin’ to! Just hang on, okay?” Okuyasu choked.

Josuke let out a strange, shuddering sigh as Crazy Diamond began to fade above him. Okuyasu felt his own heart stop.

“No!! No, no no no C’MON!” Okuyasu tried to shake him, but his head kept falling onto his chest. “Josuke? Josuke!” He slumped down, grabbing his frail boyfriend and pulling him into the tightest hug he could. “Please god, no...come back, bro, please...not you too...” Josuke didn’t respond, and he cried harder. “I don’t wanna be all alone again...”

“OKUYASU!! Snap out of it!”

He blinked, and suddenly he was standing in between Kumiko and Josuke again. His hands were clean.

“W-wh?? Josuke?” he sobbed, staring at the other boy in disbelief, as if he’d seen a ghost. “JOSUKE??”

“Oku!! It’s me, it’s okay! It wasn’t real!” Josuke said, grabbing Okuyasu’s hand with his own. “See? I’m right here!”

“B-b-but...y-you got stabbed, and then you had a b-big hole in your chest, and you were dyin’ r-right in front of me, b-bro...” Okuyasu collapsed into Josuke’s arms, wailing. Josuke’s eyes widened before he started to tear up himself. He stroked Okuyasu’s hair in an almost motherly way.

You were the one that got hit, dude...as soon as that thing touched you, you started losing it...”

Okuyasu blinked, sniffing snot back up into his nose. “I...you mean I was hallucinatin’?” He thought back to how Josuke had acted in the shed on the night of the sleepover and understanding dawned. He started sobbing again despite himself. “You made this sound, man...l-like a...like a death rattle...you said it was m-my fault...”

Josuke gulped own his tears back down. Maybe he had been too harsh with him earlier. “Yeah I...I remember thinking I’d lost you, Oku. I never wanna feel that way ever again.” He kissed the top of Okuyasu’s head tenderly. “You’re everything to me, babe. I swear I’ll never say that. Now let’s deal with thi-”

Josuke stopped. The stand rising from Kumiko’s shoulders seemed to be twisting itself into contortions, and when he looked at its user’s face, he found that she was crying, too.

“I’m so sorry,” she said softly, a pained expression on her face. “You guys don’t deserve this.” Josuke regarded her with cautious skepticism as she continued. “The stand...it’s called Starbelly,” Kumiko said, chest heaving, “...but it’s never done that before.”

“You mean...” Josuke took a step back. “Are you tryin’ to tell me you can’t control it?”

Kumiko squinted in concentration and shook her head. The stand behind her writhed and reached out a human-looking hand, which withered at the fingertips before being absorbed back into the main body. Sweat dripped down her face.

“But...but you can still cancel it, right?!” Josuke said, his voice rising to a panicked high. What about his nightmares? “Can’t you just...tell it to stop?”

“I can’t cancel it! It doesn’t cancel! Don’t you think I’ve tried that?!” Kumiko’s concentration broke for a moment, and Starbelly shot out another sharp, spearlike rod very close to Okuyasu. Crazy Diamond’s arm, which was still holding onto Kumiko’s shirt, began to sizzle dangerously where it made contact with her stand, and Josuke winced.

“Whoa!” Okuyasu dodged the spear and put himself on guard. “Listen, wait, Kumiko! You can totally control it! You just gotta like, think about it real hard!”

Kumiko grunted in exasperation, clearly losing focus. “I can’t help you, okay? Just let me go! I don’t know how long I can hold this thing back...”

Josuke and Okuyasu looked at each other for a moment.

“I’m sorry...” Josuke said cautiously, his hand still stinging, “I’ll let go of you with Crazy Diamond, but I can’t let you leave before we find a way to fix all this.” He thought for a moment. “How about this. We teach you how to control your stand, you find a way to lift this fucking curse off me. Everybody wins. Deal?”

Kumiko paused and took a few long, ragged breaths. “Fine...I’ll stay put. Just let m--”

“Alright, alright already...” Josuke interrupted, releasing her from his grip. She sank to the ground immediately, suddenly appearing quite fragile, stand looming over her like an omen. Okuyasu couldn’t help but feel sorry for her, and Josuke gave him an apologetic look.

“Sorry, Oku,” he mumbled, “looks like you were right after all. I shouldn’t have lost my cool. I’m just...tired. I’m gonna let you take the lead for now.”

“I know, bro, it’s okay...” Okuyasu sighed. He squared his jaw and walked a little closer to Kumiko, trying to ignore the terrifying stand twisting and howling above them, and crouched down in her line of sight. “Hey, uh...you don’t gotta be scared, okay? I was real scared of my stand at first, too...hell, I still kinda am. But you can definitely get better at usin’ it! If you got no cancel ability right now, you just gotta...make one, I guess.” He frowned. That didn’t sound as convincing as he’d hoped it would be.

“And how am I supposed to do that?” Kumiko said quietly, “I can barely stop it from attacking you again...”

Okuyasu and Josuke both gulped at that. Starbelly was looking more and more frantic.

“Well...” Okuyasu pouted as he thought. “I ain’t never tried this myself, but what if you just concentrate real hard an’ think like...” he closed his eyes and scrunched up his face, trying to summon up the right words. “I need to come up with a new way to use my stand! or maybe, I gotta find a way to fix everythin’!” Somehow just saying those things aloud seemed to generate a kind of power, almost like a magic spell. Or maybe that was just in his head. In any case, he continued. “If...if you just try an’ think about all the shit that’s got fucked up lately, an’ then think of how you want all that to be okay again, then I think maybe your stand will...”

Wait. Something felt weird. He opened his eyes.

He wasn’t crouching in the middle of the street anymore, that’s for sure. From what it looked like, he wasn’t anywhere. Shit, he thought, I’m hallucinatin’ again! It’s the void Josuke talked about! But somehow this time seemed different from before. He wasn’t quite sure how it was different, but there was no monster, nobody was hurt, nothing was really even happening at all, he was just...existing. In some kind of weird limbo place. With random chunks of dirt and trash floating around like he was in zero-gravity. He watched in confounded silence as a piece of a sign floated past, along with a couple splinters of wood.

“A’ight, I know this ain’t real,” he called into nowhere, “I just gotta wait it out, right?” He expected an echo, but it was as if the space itself was swallowing up his voice.

And nothing happened. A minute passed, and still nothing happened.

Frustrated, Okuyasu picked up a nearby floating rock and tried to throw it. It didn’t go very far. It was almost as if the air was heavier here (wherever ‘here’ was), and it eventually just floated back onto its previous orbit path. He shoulda snapped out of it by now, right? How long had it been? His eyes rested on a clock that had found its way into the place, an old, rusted one that looked...kinda...familiar, actually...

He reached out and picked up the clock, which he noticed happened to be missing a piece off one of its jangly, ancient bells. But...that was just like...

He felt a cold sweat on the back of his neck. It couldn’t possibly be that alarm clock? The one that belonged to his bro? That clock was gone, he’d swiped it clean out of existence...But a thought struck him. He swiped it out of existence, sure. But where was that? Where did all that shit go? He’d never figured that out. He glanced down at his hands. The right hand was glowing a little, of course, like it usually did when his stand was at the ready. But now, his left hand, too...

He raised his left hand and took an experimental swipe. Sure enough, a hole opened up in front of him – but it didn’t close up again, instead lingering in the air like a glimmering mirage, swelling to a size almost as big and tall as he was. He squinted into it. It kinda looked like Josuke and Kumiko in there...

Still holding onto the clock, he took a chance and stepped into the ripple in space.

Josuke had Kumiko pressed against a nearby fence, panic flooding his features. Kumiko looked like she was at her wit’s end as her eyes scanned her surroundings for some kind of escape route. “What did you do to Okuyasu?!” Josuke shouted, “Where did he go?!”

“I told you, I didn’t do anything this time! It wasn’t me!” Kumiko spluttered, voice as shaky and unsteady as her feet.

Okuyasu looked behind him to check if the mirage-like portal was still there. It wasn’t. The clock, however, remained in his hands.

“Josuke...”

Josuke whirled around, almost losing his footing.

“Okuyasu?! Where were you? And...” he narrowed his eyes in bewilderment, “why are you holding...a clock?”

Okuyasu took a deep breath. “It’s Keicho’s, bro. This is the clock I erased.”

“But...” Josuke stared at the clock incredulously. “How can that be the same one? When you swipe something it’s gone for good...”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought too,” Okuyasu said, shrugging away his disbelief, “but I guess...that ain’t true anymore.” To demonstrate, he took another swipe with his left hand. A portal appeared the same way as it had in the Other Place, and after sticking his hand inside the opening and rummaging around for a while, he managed to pull out a piece of that sign he’d seen floating around. “See? This is from when I met you, remember?”

Josuke stared at the sign, at the portal, and at Okuyasu’s stand. “Oku...are you tellin’ me that your stand just...evolved?”

“Looks like my pep talk worked?” Okuyasu said with a sheepish grin, bringing out his stand. “But it worked on me instead o’ her. And now I guess this big guy is...The Hand Act II?” He sucked in a breath of air and puffed out his chest proudly. “See, Kumiko? I told ya it was possible to-”

He stopped. Kumiko wasn’t listening, because she was unconscious.

Okuyasu pointed at her. “Josuke! She fuckin’ passed out!”

Josuke sighed deeply. “Thank god, to be honest. She musta fainted from the strain of trying to hold that stand back. Now all we gotta do is take her to Rohan and Jotaro so we can regroup and figure out how to reverse the damage. Come over here and help me lift...”

A menacing shadow fell over the pavement, growing in size and causing Josuke to trail off as he glanced upwards at its source. There, raised to a horrifying full height of seven feet, was Starbelly, its clustered eyes spinning wildly. Josuke jumped back to Okuyasu’s side.

“What the hell?! How is her stand moving while she’s passed out?”

Okuyasu didn’t get a chance to speculate before the stand lunged at them both, suddenly much faster than it had been before. He grabbed Josuke’s arm and swiped the air with The Hand just in time to throw them both out of the way of the attack, but it was a close call. The moment they hit the pavement again, Crazy Diamond dora’ed up a makeshift barricade from the sidewalk.

“Okuyasu, fuck!” he gasped, “It’s gone berserk! Do ya think we could escape into that place your Act II opens up?”

Okuyasu figured it was worth a shot, and with another swipe, the portal was open. “I got yer hand, Josuke, hop in!”

Unfortunately for Josuke, it seemed that ‘hopping in’ wouldn’t be quite so easy. No matter how he pushed his body against it, the portal reacted as if it were a solid pane of glass, as strong and immovable as the concrete barrier he’d made in front of them. Some hurried experimenting proved that although Okuyasu could move freely between the two worlds his stand connected, other people were unable to gain entry. Meanwhile, Starbelly’s amorphous tentacles had begun to engulf the edges of their barrier like dozens of wriggling larvae, eroding its surface quickly enough to necessitate a backup plan.

“Ain’t gonna hold!” Josuke shouted, zipping away to the side and scrambling for a new place to take cover. As soon as his shoulder poked out from behind the makeshift wall, Starbelly shot another appendage forth with frightening speed and precision. It made contact, and Josuke’s entire body shuddered as if he’d been stung by a jellyfish.

“Josuke!” Okuyasu cried and dragged the other boy back behind the now-crumbling structure by the legs, watching in horror as he convulsed beside him. Had he looked like this when the stand hit him earlier, too? Or was it worse for Josuke because he was already having nightmares? He decided it must be the latter, and did his best to comfort the other boy in his arms throughout the hallucination. The effects wore off quickly, but Josuke emerged both looking and feeling noticeably worse for wear.

The wall came down suddenly and with a roaring crash, finally buckling under the relentless onslaught of Starbelly’s tentacle-like arms. It was lucky for the boys that Kumiko’s stand was not especially powerful physically, but what it lacked in strength it more than made up for in sheer agility. The fact that it didn’t appear to have a discernible ‘front’ and ‘back’ made its movements that much harder to predict, not to mention that the range of its dangerous appendages was completely unknown. The stand shot out another two tendrils, this time aimed at both Josuke and Okuyasu, but Crazy Diamond managed to parry them – an act which spared them both the hallucinations, but caused mysterious burns to spring up on Josuke’s hands where Crazy Diamond and Starbelly had touched.

“Jesus!” he hissed, cradling his hand in pain, “I can’t hold this thing back, we gotta find someplace to hide!”

Okuyasu grabbed onto Josuke’s arm again. “I’m on it – you build us somethin’ to hide inside an’ I’ll keep us movin’!”

Starbelly let out a piercing, inhuman wail from somewhere in the center of its limbs, and Josuke didn’t need to be told twice. He busied himself with constructing another, sturdier structure, while Okuyasu used The Hand to continuously erase the space around them and keep them from standing still for long enough to take a hit. Starbelly’s attacks continued without abatement, one volley after the next, each perilous reach of its arms fluttering closer to the boys as they continued their frantic dance. Once the new barricade (which resembled a bunker more than a wall) was complete, Crazy Diamond tore them an entrance and sealed the hole behind them.

“Okay,” Josuke puffed, squatting beside Okuyasu in the dark, low-ceilinged enclosure, “I’d say that bought us about a minute, tops.”

“How’re we meant to figure out how to beat it when it won’t stop attackin’ us?” Okuyasu gasped, similarly exhausted from zipping around with his stand so much.

“We can’t touch it with our bodies or we’ll hallucinate,” Josuke said, rubbing his temples, “and we can’t touch it with our stands or we’ll get zapped. Plus, I forgot to mention, this thing probably has decent range, judging by what Rohan told me earlier. There’s a chance it could keep chasing after us for a while if we’re not careful.”

“It don’t help that since Kumiko ain’t awake to call it off, the damn thing is basically on some kinda autopilot fight mode...” Okuyasu jumped a little as the rock ceiling began to crack above them. Outside, Starbelly was bearing down on the bunker like a lumberjack trying to split a log of wood. Flecks of dirt fell into Okuyasu’s hair.

“Wait...Oku, that’s it!” Josuke said, the metaphorical lightbulb almost visible above his head. “Uhh, this is kind of a risky plan, but...”

“Lay it on me, bro, I want this shit to be over as much as you do.”

Josuke took a deep breath. “Okay. So the stand is going berserk because Kumiko passed out, right? And she’s probably not gonna wake up anytime soon.”

“Huh?” Okuyasu furrowed his brow. “How d’ya figure?”

“Look, I might not have seen this stand before, but I’ve been feeling it for days. It’s almost as if I’m...connected to it, I guess? It’s weird but...I can tell it’s not gonna let go of the control it has over her right now. But I think there’s a way to get the stand to disappear.” He gulped. “By erasing Kumiko.”

Okuyasu rose to his feet so fast he smacked his head on the ceiling. “What the fuck?! No way, bro! I’m not gonna kill her, are you crazy?! She’s my friend and she’d get chopped to bits!” He shuddered.

“Wait, wait, hear me out!” Josuke put his hands up defensively. “You know how you did that little swipe with The Hand on the paper during the sleepover, right? Just...this time, do a big swipe. Get her whole body in it, nothing left out. And then, once her stand disappears...”

Okuyasu caught on with a flash of realisation. “...Then I go to the Other Place with Act II and pull her out again.”

The roof above them burst open with a crack, revealing their position. Starbelly let out a triumphant roar.

Okuyasu looked over at Josuke, fear all over his face as the wind howled over them.

“But what if it doesn’t work like that?” he shouted.

Josuke looked over at Kumiko, still slumped against the fence, and then back at Okuyasu. “We just gotta try! That’s all there is!”

Okuyasu tried desperately to process everything that was happening around him. He saw Kumiko, the broken-up pavement, the ruined bunker, the huge, twitching stand above them...he saw Josuke’s face as he tried to be brave even though he was about to collapse from stress and fatigue and the pain of the burns on his hands, felt the tingling glow that ran through his veins and told him his stand was somehow more than what it used to be...he thought about all the names on Rohan’s list, all the people who were suffering like Josuke, and felt the weight of their safety heavy on his shoulders. He thought of Mami and Shouko, and all the time the four of them had spent laughing and gossiping in class together, and how much pain they would feel if their plan failed and Kumiko never came back. He thought of his brother’s face at the end of a long, bright tunnel.

It’s all on you, man, he thought to himself. Nobody else can pull this off but you.

But when he stared into the funnel-like face of that unholy stand, already rearing back for another attack, he faltered. This plan was too easy to fuck up. The stakes were way too high. He was out of his depth. There had to be some other way.

“What the fuck happened here?!”

Okuyasu almost choked. No. That was Mami’s voice.

“Shit!” Josuke hissed, and both boys saw Starbelly’s eyes suddenly fix on the two girls running towards them. He turned around and waved his arms frantically in their direction. “No! Stay back!! Don’t come over here!”

“Is that Kumiko?!” Shouko gasped, breaking into a sprint towards her unconscious friend and the enormous threat that neither she nor her friend could see. At the same time, Josuke was struck in the back by Starbelly’s next attack, and went down with a thud. Okuyasu ducked as the stand leapt into the air, sailing over both of them despite having nothing resembling legs, before landing on the other side of the bunker and scampering grotesquely towards Mami and Shouko.

Everything was going wrong all at once. Josuke was on the ground again, his body shaking, this time with a small trickle of blood flowing from his nose. The effects of each hit were definitely getting worse and worse. Meanwhile, Starbelly’s incredible speed was catapulting it towards the girls so quickly that it would certainly reach them within the next five seconds. And Okuyasu was still just standing there, petrified, sweat dripping from his nose. He looked back at Kumiko. There was no stand between the two of them now, and she was in his range. He tried to clear his head. There was no time. He just had to feel it.

Breathe in.

Imagine the space between us .

Breathe out.

Think about gettin’ her whole body in the swipe.

Breathe in.

Get ready.

 

Breathe out.

 

With a strangled cry, he raised his right hand and took a long, forceful swipe, and suddenly Kumiko was gone. 

On the ground next to him, Josuke gasped awake. He stood up slowly and looked at Okuyasu’s back, which was shaking silently although there were no tears in the boy’s eyes. Starbelly was nowhere to be seen.

Shouko and Mami caught up to them, looking both confused and terrified at the sudden disappearance of their friend. Okuyasu could tell they were talking as they ran their hands over the broken-up sidewalk bunker and rushed to the spot where she used to be, but he couldn’t hear them. He just kept staring at that chewed-up hole in the ground. Yeah, he’d managed to do a big enough swipe to get her whole body at once...but now what? If other people couldn’t get into Act II’s limbo dimension, how did they know they’d be able to get somebody back out again? And even if they did get her out, would she still be...

Josuke put a hand on his shoulder. “Oku. It’s okay. You did good.” He pulled the other boy into a tight hug from behind. “Now you just gotta go get her back, and this’ll all be over.”

Okuyasu sniffed, nodded, and turned to face his friends, his eyes looking more distant than they’d ever been. Josuke winced at the expression.

“I’m...I’ll be right back,” he said hollowly. Act II opened up a portal and he stepped through without another word.

Once inside, he scanned the rippling void for signs of life. “Kumiko?” he said, almost in a whisper. For a sickening moment he thought the space was empty, but after a few moments he saw her floating amidst piles of rubble, looking almost like an unborn baby with her knees drawn towards her chest. Her eyes were closed, her body still. Okuyasu blinked back tears. “H-hey...there you are...are you okay?”

When no response came, he scooped his classmate up in his arms and, clenching his jaw, pushed through the barrier to bring her back into the world where her friends were waiting.

He set her down gently on the ground, amidst the dumbfounded looks on the faces of Mami and Shouko, who had just witnessed him mysteriously disappear and reappear from a hole in the air. The fact that Starbelly had failed to emerge upon Kumiko’s return to the real world was both a relief and a worry – they were safe again for now, but there was no telling what this meant for Kumiko. She just lay on the ground, motionless. It was hard to tell whether or not she was even breathing.

“Her stand totally consumed her...” Josuke said softly, “it’s like she wasn’t ready for it yet...”

“W-what happened?” Mami blubbered, holding her friend’s hand gently. “I don’ get it, she was fine a few minutes ago...”

Okuyasu looked up at Josuke with wet, pleading eyes. “I know there’s nothin’ you can do to fix her if she’s...you know...” He averted his gaze quickly. “B-but...just in case...”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’ll try, Oku.” Josuke crouched down with the others and let Crazy Diamond lean over Kumiko’s body. “C’mon...please let this work.” There was a golden glow, and then...nothing.

Josuke’s brow scrunched up. “Fuck...”

Shouko shoved her way roughly past Josuke until she was directly at Kumiko’s side. “Don’t just sit there! We have to give her CPR or something!” She gave a few desperate pumps to her friend’s chest. “Come on, come on!” She repeated the motions she’d learned in her emergency skills class – a cycle of pumps to the chest and mouth-to-mouth – two, three, four times, until she was crying and talking nonsense words and then--

“Ngh!”

All four of them looked up at Kumiko’s face as her eyes suddenly opened wide, chest heaving with a spasm of coughs. Mami and Shouko both sobbed and wrapped their arms around her immediately, supporting her weight and pulling her in for a close, tearful hug. They stayed like that for a long time, clinging to each other as if they were afraid they might float away into nothing.

“Don’t you ever scare me like that again!” Shouko cried, pulling Kumiko’s head onto her shoulder. “I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m not gonna let my friends get hurt...”

Kumiko blinked a few times, the world gradually swimming back into focus. Once she had regained her senses, she broke free of her friend’s embrace and looked guiltily at Josuke and Okuyasu.

“M-my stand, it just broke free, I couldn’t...”

“Stop. It’s okay.” Josuke said, holding up a hand. “We know. We’re just glad that you’re okay now.” He paused. “But uh, just in case...it’s not gonna pop out and attack us again, is it?”

Kumiko opened and closed her hands a few times, almost like she was testing out a new body. “I...I think something’s different now. I can’t sense all those people’s dreams anymore, and I can still feel Starbelly inside me, but it’s not coming out.” She looked up at Josuke. “I think whatever happened back there reset it, somehow. It’s back to zero.”

Josuke sighed so hard his lungs just about popped out of his mouth. Even as she said it, he could feel something had left him, too – the stand’s curse had been lifted. Thank god, he thought, feeling genuine relief for the first time in days. But wait, did that mean it was over? Like, finally, actually over? He could have cried, but instead he set about fixing the torn-up sidewalk before his week of sleep deprivation overtook the adrenaline and knocked him out right there.

Mami and Shouko both stared at him, jaws practically on the ground as they watched entire chunks of stone re-shape themselves into a regular-looking landscape, apparently at the will of Okuyasu’s weird pompadoured boyfriend.

“Okay...” Mami breathed, breaking away from Kumiko and wiping the last of her tears on her sleeve. “I’m real glad you’re okay, girl, but I think these guys-” she pointed a finger at Josuke and Okuyasu, “-have got some serious explainin’ to do.”

Josuke shrugged heavily. “Yeah. Fair enough. But can we do it in like, 5 hours or so? I’ve never needed a nap so badly in my fuckin’ life.”

“How ‘bout we make a picnic of it? The big tree by the beach?” Okuyasu suggested. “I’ll get everybody together while ya nap.”

Shouko helped Kumiko back to her feet and beckoned to Mami. “Forgive us if we go back to school. Y’know, since it’s kinda still the middle of class?” she snarked.

Okuyasu nodded. “Okay. You take care o’ Kumiko. I’ll take care o’ Josuke. Meet at the beach about six. Yeah?”

They all agreed, and after the girls had gone back to school, Josuke and Okuyasu began the short walk home with their arms around each other.

Chapter Text

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.”

“Mmhm?”

“...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.