Chapter 1: Chromophilous
Your heart is pounding in your chest, the slam of the ocean against a cliff face. Your body is singing, the cries of a lost soul in the midst of a battlefield as you are ravaged and taken and owned.
But your nails find purchase in slick skin, lips finding the words to draw him closer as the smile curls across your face, relishing in how he destroys you--just as you destroy him.
It’s a plea for mercy, a demand for more, a command to never, never stop. And as his entire form moves again and again, tangled with your own as he presses closer, closer, never close enough, you are satisfied in the blurring of the edges between where you each end and begin.
A fresh start, your mother said. A new beginning, your father said. You didn’t want either, didn’t need either, but you appreciated their attempts to make you feel better all the same.
The truth of the matter is that your mother received a new job offer, one far more lucrative than what she had in Osaka.Your father found something just as good, and you were happy for them both. They’d be very busy, but you understood. Finding jobs they loved, and a more comfortable living situation? It was ideal. You supposed starting over was a small price to pay. You could still email your friends, since you had a computer now, and Osaka wasn’t too far to call from Morioh. You’d have to keep it brief, sure, but between email, phones, and trains you were sure to stay in contact.
Besides, your new uniform? Apparently the school dress code was kind of lax, and you could customize it. So you did a little bit--just a bit more fabric here, little less there, some embellishments that made it feel more your own.
You took a break from sewing a patch you'd gotten into your sleeve, shaking out your hand, fingers sore from pressing the thicker needle through the patch and the fabric. You knew how to hand-sew somewhat decently, but you weren't sure if you were using the right size of needle or the right kind or anything. But as long as it looked good, who cared about method?
Deciding that you'd been sitting for too long, you clambered off of your bed and straightened your clothes a bit, looking about your room. There were still a few unopened boxes, not all of them yours, but you didn't feel like unpacking them just yet. A whim seized you--why not familiarize yourself with the neighborhood? It looked like a beautiful day out, and you didn't know your way around the town too well. Best to start nearby and work your way outwards.
Besides, just a few houses over was this one really big, dilapidated looking house. It stood out against the rest of the neighborhood, which was incredibly neat and tidy. It almost looked like something out of a horror movie, which meant that it had instantly piqued your curiosity. You wouldn't go in or anything--well. You probably wouldn't go in. Depends how cool it looked.
Shrugging a little to yourself, you shuffled out of your room, making yourself to the front hall to put on your shoes. “Dad, I'm going out!” You called, pausing to hear the response.
“Just wanna get to know the neighborhood, that's all. I won't be long.”
“Okay, but be careful! It's hot out.”
And with that you were on your merry way. You didn't go to the creepy house immediately, to your credit--you tried to make your path as meandering as you could in this awful heat. Still, you found yourself on the sidewalk before it rather quickly, eyes tracing over the largess of the architecture. How had this place gotten built? It looked so blindingly different to just about everything else near by. That was the nice thing about Morioh--it was pretty and small. Just sort of quiet and pleasant.
Something caught your eye from the edge of your vision, dragging your gaze up to the second floor of the house. You could have sworn that you had seen something moving up there--and you had. The windows were open, you realized, letting the slight breeze move the curtains. Who would leave the windows just open like that? It was practically a screaming invite for bugs, especially with the humidity here--you'd never been anywhere so humid, but were now in a coastal area, so it made sense. Again, you shrugged to yourself, and turned to head for home now that you were thoroughly sick of this heat.
The second you turned your back to the house, your body exploded with pain, so suddenly and to such a degree that couldn't even breathe. Your back radiated with harsh sensation, and you felt as if something had ripped through your chest.
Everything hurt. You couldn't breathe. What was going on? Why didn't your lungs seem to work?
Looking down and seeing the gleam of something golden emerging from within your chest, you numbly realized that it had. The whole world has gone silent, an invisible audience waiting with baited breath for you to do something. But as you felt your mouth fill with something, the heavy taste of iron sitting sharp on your tongue, gravity seemed to reclaim you from your moment of perfect stillness.
The concrete was hot and hard, but you didn't really feel it as you felt yourself sprawled across it, face down. You had to--you had to go get help. You were bleeding, you realized lamely, you must be. That was the taste in your mouth. You needed help.
Your thoughts were interrupted as you felt something press you down into the sidewalk, an immense weight on your back,
the hard pressure of something like a shoe--and you felt the thing lodged in your chest get ripped out of you, causing a shriek to spill forth with this newer burst of pain before your cheek connected with the ground. You didn't have the strength to get up, to call for help, to do anything. You were just so tired.
“Just as well,” you heard someone say. “They looked weak, anyways.”
As the sound of footsteps faded away from you, you felt something swell and fill your chest. Something between fury and indignation, welling up in you as you longed to show that voice just how weak you were. But as you thought you saw the brief flash of what must be the hem of death’s cloak just before your face, darkness claimed your vision.
Two of the neighborhood kids had found you, your mother told you as you laid in bed, and called for help. You'd just been out in the sun for too long, it had been a bit of a heatstroke--nothing unusual, according to the doctor your parents insisted you see, and you nodded along.
But you hadn't imagined it. You found yourself waking in a sweat from nightmares of bleeding out, alone and undiscovered. The fact you'd come so close to it still frightened you. Your fingers, whenever idle, would wander to your sternum, where you had felt the awful splitting and shattering of bone, had seen your skin split open, had felt the awful warmth of your own blood on your hands.
But there was no mark, no bruise, no scar. Just the slightest patch of discoloration, just one shade off from your own skin color, the only proof that something had happened. There was that, and then there was the fact that something that you'd thought looked like Death itself followed you everywhere. At first, it frightened you terribly--but then you discovered you could make it go away, just by deciding you didn't want to see it. Was it a hallucination? You weren't sure. No one else seemed to see it--not your parents, not your cat, not strangers on the street. It worried you, to have such a vivid reminder of your own mortality trailing after you like some malformed spectre.
You came from a superstitious family, after all--and the best kind of way to deal with that sort of thing was to decide that it simply wasn't real. By now, though, your funny little shadow was more comfort than it was a threat, and so you let it linger.
Finally, your first day of school came, a few weeks into the year already. You wanted to show off your uniform, considering how hard you had worked to make it unique and stylish without crossing over into the territory of “too much”, but you found yourself worried that you looked too worried and overwhelmed instead of friendly. You didn't even make an attempt to look the latter, though, but just sort of...wished that people would look at you and consider you to be friendly. Almost immediately upon your arrival, you saw a few gazes on you, looks appreciative and smiles warm.
You couldn’t help your own broad smile as you were led to your seat. It was almost as if your own little wish had become reality somehow, and you'd take that as fortune smiling on you after your little...accident a few days ago. You wondered if you’d meet whoever it was who’d gotten you help--you did want to say thanks yourself, and maybe ask if they'd seen anything odd. But this wasn't the time to think about that, and so you banished the thought.
It was a pretty straightforward morning, luckily--you weren’t too far behind on schoolwork, but it looked like you might have a little extra reading to do, nothing too strenuous. You did, however, find yourself pretty distracted by a student a few feet in front of you and one row over. He’d clearly done some work on his uniform himself, and if the pompadour was anything to go by, he took his appearance very seriously. That wasn’t a bad thing in a guy, not by a long shot! You’d just started to ponder the merits of a man who takes care of himself when the subject of your study glanced back and caught your gaze.
You could practically feel your face going red. Scratch that, you absolutely could. You braced yourself for some sort of tease or laugh, but instead....
Instead he just smiled a little, winked at you, and turned back to face the front. His own gaze had lingered on you for a long moment before he had, and the effect on you had been immediate.
Now that just wasn’t fair. How the hell did he get your heart to beat so fast from a wink? Maybe he was hiding some sort of magic love potion in that pompadour. You should take it apart and find out, sometime--but not while in class. You turned to face the front again, continuing diligently on your notes. Just because you were new didn’t mean you’d let yourself fall behind.
Classes came and went, and before you knew it, it was lunch time. You’d expected to see everyone shuffle out, clustering together in groups of friends, leaving you alone to your spot. You didn’t really mind--you’d make friends soon enough, so what was one lunch alone?
But instead, you were approached by the subject of your attentions, another two male students alongside him. There was something about the three of them that seemed....more than the others in your class. There was something more settled and real to them--as if that made any sort of sense.
“Hey, we haven’t been introduced.” It’s a fight to not blink in surprise--you’re not sure you’ve ever had a classmate who sounded so smooth and polished. Was this guy just the whole package? “I’m Josuke Higashikata. This is Koichi Hirose and Okuyasu Nijimura.” The two smiled, and you nodded to each of them.
“Is there something you guys wanted to talk to me about?” You winced. There had to have been a better, less-standoffish way to phrase that! But it’s not like you expected to be approached anyone your first lunch period, let alone these three.
“We wanted to know if you wanted to sit with us for lunch!” You found yourself startled at the rough voice coming from Nijimura. Were you really the same age...? “It’d be a real shame for somebody so cute to sit alone!”
“Oi, don’t just come out and say it like that! You’re making us sound like creeps!”
“Oh no! I didn’t mean for it to come out like that!”
As the two continued to squabble, the smallest of the three smiled apologetically. “Sorry, they both can be kind of....”
“Mm, something like that.”
The two of you shared a smile, and you expressed your assent to sit with them. New friends, already. Maybe your parents weren’t wrong, after all.
As you talked to Hirose, who seemed sweet if a little nervous, you missed the pointed and worried looks that the other two directed towards you, then each other, something between caution and determination gleaming in their eyes.
Chapter 2: Hex
Sorry this has taken so long. As per usual, life got in the way.
Your parents were happy, and so were you.
Somehow, despite being something of a late arrival, you’d managed to have your experience at your new school be good enough for it to be identified by your dad as a “rousing success”. Older turn of phrase aside, you couldn’t help but agree with them. You’d been breezing through all your schoolwork--and the little bit you did seem to have trouble with, you had more than enough friends to tutor you in.
It had all started when Josuke, Koichi, and Okuyasu had invited you to lunch with them. Apparently, knowing those three acted as a sort of gateway to knowing more and more people, each more colorful than the last--and all eager to be friends with you, as unlikely as that sounded. Maybe it was part of that famous sort of “small town charm” you’d always heard older people talk about since you were small. Regardless of whatever you could call it or try to label it as, you were grateful for it.
One lunch period with the trio had turned into two. Two lunch periods had turned into a week, eating with them each day, and a few weeks turned into a daily occurrence. Sometimes you’d all leave the school to get lunch somewhere else during the days with extended lunch breaks. You always wanted to try some place new, but your friends seemed to like Tonio’s--which was how you first met so many of the others.
Your first experience there had been more than a little...odd. Everyone had stared, waiting to see your reaction to the food. When you cheerily announced that it was really good, there seemed to be an odd sense of...relief? Probably just your friends being self-conscious about their cuisine choices. You were often the same when it came to your music, so you understood the sentiment.
And although the initial impression you had of some of your now-friends were less than good, you liked them all well enough now.
Okuyasu and Koichi were almost like brothers to you--how could they not be? Each of them was earnest to a fault, and you knew you would be safe with them at your back, hell or high water. The solidifying moment had been when you complained about lack of preparedness for a math test that day, they both stopped their own reviews to go over the material as quickly but comprehensively with you as possible. You'd loved your friends in Osaka, but they would have only given you a sympathetic look and continued their own work. Even if he didn't get it, Okuyasu did his best to help, with Koichi setting the two of you straight whenever you went off-path (which had been more often than you're comfortable admitting.)
Some of the others had terrified you (mostly Yukako’s incredible death stare, which you fully intended to have her teach you sometime), but things had mellowed out quickly. After she established that you had zero romantic interest in Koichi, Yukako had warmed up to you in her own way. She was still cool and reserved of course, but there were little moments of warmth between you here and there, be it in the form of trading dirt on your classmates for better “influence” down the road if needed or in the form of hair-care tips. That had caused a pretty hilarious argument between her and Josuke (which he was smart enough to back down from). Yuuya was alright, once you got used to him, and Mikitaka was....well. He was Mikitaka. Both of them were good guys, but you just didn't spend a lot of time together. You weren’t sure how well you liked Rohan, but you knew he didn’t like you. Pink Dark Boy had never impressed you.
As for Josuke himself, you had to be careful. You found your gaze consistently drawn to him, as if you couldn't get enough--and you really couldn't. It was apparent why he had so many fan girls: he was smart, beautiful, and a genuinely kind person. Smiles and jokes came easily to him, and that seemed to be something everyone highly prized, including yourself. You hated how it would be so easy to fall into the exact same place that his other admirers were, so you kept it to yourself and hung back with your shared friends as he politely made his way through the crowds every morning.
One morning, you had stared a little too long, and his gaze caught yours. There was no maliciousness there, and you knew the two of you were friends--but there was a silent intensity to his gaze now that made you nervous. It felt like he was searching for something about you, like he would find some sort of odd answer to an unasked question if he looked at you long and hard enough.
He looked you over, still searching for something, and you weren't completely sure what. You had a vague idea, but the thought of him seeing was...nerve-wracking, to say the least of it.
You didn’t want anyone to see the thing that was a part of you now.
Some mornings, you find yourself staring into the mirror for too long, examining and scrutinizing every part of you to see where something so dark and sinister as your ghost could have come from--and you'd yet to find it. That wasn't even including the fact that its presence was so comforting to you, which you refused to examine. So you kept playing innocent.
This worked until you met Jotaro Kujo.
Massive in both presence and stature, his stare seemed to have a palpable weight, and you felt clearly judged. But something about it made a fight rise back up in you. True, Josuke might not think too well of you, but your parents had let you know it was him who’d saved you (causing them to invite him to stay for dinner as well as studying, and then Koichi and Okuyasu too so they wouldn't be rude)...well. You wanted things between you to be better, for whatever tension you might have accidentally caused to be dispelled.
You were doing the best you could, so you’d be damned if you let this man judge you. You didn't want to fight--you just wanted him to leave you alone. A sense of calm slid over you as you thought this, and you felt something within you reach out and...touch Mr. Kujo? Deciding this was no time for hesitation, you focused on making him turn his gaze from you, seeing nothing of interest.
And that's just what he did.
A weight lifted off your shoulders the moment his gaze shifted away from you, and you felt a true calm take over where the thin veneer of one had previously been as Josuke and his nephew briefly talked about meeting up later--some sort of family business to go over.
“Well, later,” Josuke bid, the slinging of his school case over his shoulder and heel turn an indicator for you and Okuyasu to follow, chatting idly about the day you’d had before all going your separate ways for the evening.
You didn't notice Mr. Kujo’s gaze follow you as you walked away, sharp eyes fixed on the second shadow that trailed after you, limbs still and silhouette foreign where yours was not.
You hadn't wanted this. You hadn't wanted anything even close to this--Koichi staring at you in something like blatant horror, Okuyasu’s eyes wide, and both Mr. Kujo and Josuke’s narrowed in a glare.
All of their Stands at the ready, you and yours recoiling.
It wasn't even that anything had happened. It was just that yours had come in handy, as of late. You had been using it since you’d first met your friends. Retroactively, you realized, you had made sure that your first impression was a good one--just that the mood had been good regarding you, to smooth over your transition in.
You didn't use it except when it was important. You’d set that limit early on in your intial discovery of the ghastly thing that trailed after you like some bizarre phantom. You didn’t want to ever cripple yourself like that; but at the same time, if you had an advantage, why not use it? Surely no one could object to how you made your parents’ eyes slide over the bruises and scrapes that came with getting drawn into Josuke and Okuyasu’s antics, or making sure that an irate sales person at the local grocer came to regard you with a smile and a friendly chat. Little things that wouldn't matter in the long run, just a shiny coat of paint to cover up all the little imperfections that weren't worth mentioning.
But Mr. Kujo was relentless, with a sort of determination that settled into the crevices between your bones, weighing you down so heavily that you simply couldn’t move away from his razor-sharp gaze.
You hadn’t done anything, truly. You’d just decided to meet his gaze, exhausted of how it otherwise seemed like you were some sort of place holder for someone more important. If there was anything that you despised about Mr. Kujo, it was how particularly talented he was at making you feel tiny. Unimportant.
But you had made a crucial mistake.
You’d forgotten your Stand could only change what people sensed, not what they felt. You didn’t mean for Superstition to rush him, its sickening silhouette surging across the ground, grasping at his in a sudden attack before he moved himself out of your range in the blink of an eye. You were afraid--afraid of losing your job, your friends, the routine you’ve gotten used to that had helped with adjusting to this smaller town. You couldn’t be blamed for how you reacted, surely.
But you were.
You supposed you could understand their shock. It was bad enough that your Stand could hide its existence, and move so quickly, but it's appearance...the revulsion on Koichi’s face was understandable.
It was a skeletal thing, too-long limbs and trailing fabric. Black bones, etched and carved into with gold, symbols of bad luck repeating all over its body. Sharp vertebrae pierced through the ever-shifting fabrics that only barely concealed the horror of its form, fused and twisted bone, disproportionate and deformed. Worst of all was the face--or rather, the complete lack of it. All that there was, beneath the thin and faded veil, were two eyes sunken into an otherwise flat surface. Grey sclera stared out, the gleaming gold of “死” and “四” making up its poor excuse for irises.
You understand why they've reacted the way they have.
But you didn't expect the look on Josuke’s face to hurt you so much. You wondered if Crazy Diamond had ripped you open and ruptured your heart, only to heal up your ribcage.
Your mouth is dry as you speak.
“I'm not--I wouldn't---”
You try again.
“I'd never hurt you all. You're my friends!”
You wait for their responses. Koichi is too shell-shocked, and Okuyasu seems to be struggling for words. You look at Mr. Kujo and see the guarded look in his eyes, at the readiness of his form for a battle.
You can't force yourself to look at Josuke, and so you turn tail and run. You feel Superstition wave its taloned hands as you wish you could just disappear---
And to the others you do, but still your feet pound against the pavement as you run like a creature hunted.
Chapter 3: Ignus Fatuus
Ignis Faatus: Noun. A will-o-the-wisp; something deceptive or deluding.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
For three days, you make your mother believe you have the flu. You might as well--sleep eludes you, and you can't seem to keep any food down. Superstition trails behind you like a shadow, and every time you catch a glimpse of your reflection, it's face is all you see in place of your own. You're not sure where it stops and where you start, anymore. But was there ever that boundary in the first place? You can't remember. Now your body drifts along like a ghost, too.
You wish that you could disappear for real, but you can't, and so instead you wait. You wait, hoping that maybe one of your friends will come to comfort you. You wait for your friends from Osaka to call. You wait for someone to tell you that it's alright.
But no one comes. No one calls, no one stops by.
On the last day you can go without falling too behind, you add something new to your uniform. “四” and “死” just on the inside of your collar, stitched carefully and delicately into the lining with gold thread. A reminder, just for you. You feel Superstition move as keenly as your own body, wisping through the days as your shadow. You could never forget its haunting existence, but the gleam of the gold floss just out of your periphery will keep you careful, alert.
You’ll need to be vigilant, in the days to come.
You return to school. You ignore the whispers, and you use Superstition liberally to ensure wayward eyes pass you by. Your teacher calls roll, and you are marked down as present, and that is the last that you hear your name all day. You are careful, cautious to only let your power spread when least noticeable. All the same, you feel the eyes of your (former) trio of friends on you the whole time. You ignore it, acting as if nothing is wrong, the same way everyone else is.
You briefly meet Josuke’s eyes on your way out the door for lunch, and then you slip out and away. You decide to eat your lunch on the roof. It's a breezy day out, enough so that the chance of any of your classmates using the open space is slim. Though the silence of the past few days gnaws at you, you’re more than willing to let it fester in continued solitude. You’re not ready for the inevitable confrontation with the others, and you intend on keeping your distance until you are—if you ever are.
The thought of never seeing Josuke’s smile again makes something in you ache, the pain seeping down into the palm of your hands. It’s only lessened by the press of your nails into your palm, the almost-pricking a temporary distraction from the pain. You force a sigh, and open the roof door and—
Somehow, though, Josuke’s beaten you there, and your shock means that your concentration slips away from you. The only indication that he's able to see you now where he couldn't before is the way his eyes fix onto you, instead of the slow, sweeping searches of a moment ago.
“Hey,” you greet lamely.
Silence, for a long moment, before the words pour from you like water over the edge of your falls.
“You have to—”
“I just wanted—”
You both pause at the unintentional unison, Josuke letting out an easy chuckle. Against all your will, something in your chest lightens just a little.
“You didn't have to bolt, y’know.”
“What else could I have done?” You hadn’t meant for your voice to be so biting. The sound of it rings out against the concrete and flies out into the open air, sharp and cutting in a way that you expect to make him take a step back from you.
But he doesn’t. That’s one thing you’ve always admired about Josuke; just how steadfast he is. Not without flaw, of course--you’re both teens, you both have your share of problems, but he seems to rise above his whenever he truly needs to. The thought brings up another hot flush of shame in you, at the coward that you are.
“You could have stayed. Talked to us. None of us—” He stops himself mid-lie, and quickly corrects course with that nervous side glance you recognize from the many misadventures you’ve been dragged along on at this point. “I mean. Nobody was gonna be mad at you for what your Stand is. Mostly just that you kept it from us.”
The tide of shame rises higher, the flush of it now staining your cheeks, you’re sure. In the bright light of the afternoon, there’s nowhere to hide. You know he can see it, and you’re thankful his mother raised him well enough that he doesn’t comment on it.
But you caught the “mostly” in his words, and it’s that turn of phrase that gives you cause to retreat. The temptation to have Superstition erase you from his view is strong, enough that you can feel the telltale fluttering of veils against your back where your Stand hovers.
You had sworn to leave this feeling of being small and alone behind when you moved here. You had promised yourself to be the bright, shining person you’d always wanted so badly to be. And here you were, practically folded in half, cringing away from one of the people you’d come to care about most.
You hate damnably timid you sounded when you did finally speak.
“I didn’t know that’s what it was.”
You note the look of surprise on his face, and somehow, the words spill out from you, desperate to keep his face as something besides anger, or disappointment, or anything like that. You don’t have time to process what all you don’t want his face to say, too busy rushing out what you think will do the trick and bring you back into his good graces.
“Not at first, anyways. I thought it was—it was some kind of monster, or ghost, or something, since it only showed up after that arrow.” Something flashes across Josuke’s face at that, but you barrel on. “I couldn’t get it to go away, and when I first saw Crazy Diamond I thought maybe they were the same, but none of you could see it, so I figured....” You trail off, not quite sure what you had thought in your bursts of panic.
“Then people started—they started looking at me like I wanted them to, saying all these nice things about me that I had always wanted to hear but couldn’t possibly be real, and I noticed Superstition was always around when they did it, so the kindness must have been its fault, and I was so afraid that if I told you all about it you’d think I was crazy or I would be right and you’d all realize that I’m boring and leave me alone!”
Your words are a waterfall now, and you can’t stop speaking. Your voice, your breath aren’t your own anymore. You feel Superstition’s hand on your shoulders, the talons a barest press over the fabric of your uniform, and you keep talking. “Because what does that say about me? That we only met because I was—because I was dying, because I was randomly hit by some fucking arrow that pulled this thing out from inside of me!” You barrel onwards, though you can tell Josuke is burning to speak. “This! This ugly, wicked, vile thing that makes people think I’m so much more than I am! Look at it!”
You move, and watch Josuke’s ocean gaze trail over the form of your spirit companion, and you look away. You don’t know if you could take seeing disgust on his face. “It’s a monster,” you manage hoarsely, throat thick with the threat of tears. “Covered in bad luck and bad omens, and this ugly thing that I made is the only reason people like me, the only reason you like me! I wish that damn arrow would have killed me!”
It’s only after you hear the words leave your mouth that you realize it’s true. When did you start to feel that way? When had your heart decided that death would have been better than this? Was it when you realized your accidental deceit cost you your only friends, or had it been when you’d spent days alone hoping someone would reach out...
And they didn’t?
Your chest heaves with the force of your words, and you’re left only with silence and Josuke’s stunned expression, his blue eyes wide with shock. There’s a tenseness in his shoulders, a silent determination in his gaze as he starts forward. Your stomach drops, bile rising in your throat, your whole being screaming that this, this is when you run from him and never talk again, go bury yourself under your covers, and then—
Josuke is hugging you.
“Hey. I get it. Having a Stand is hard. Just...have a little more faith in us, yeah?” He pulls back, but holds onto your shoulders, that bright smile blooming wide across his features. “You make sure Koichi gets to talk sometimes, over Okuyasu ‘n’ me, and sometimes you come up with these comments out of nowhere and make us all bust a gut laughing.”
“You laughed at a knock-knock-joke last week.” Your voice is weak, almost inaudible, but he acts like it isn’t.
“It was funny.”
“A bad knock-knock joke. Grandpa level bad.”
“It was funny! I can’t help it when I think something’s funny, that’s just how it works.”
You can’t help but laugh at him a little, the sound a surprise to your own ears. Josuke seems to notice, and keeps up his smile even as he withdraws from you slightly. His fingertips pass over the skin of your cheeks, wiping up the tears that you hadn’t been aware of spilling over. It’s a strange feeling; his skin is soft, but you can still feel the barest catching of calluses from hard work. You don’t think anything has encapsulated who Josuke is more than that singular sensation.
His voice is gentle as a summer tide when he speaks up. “I’m sorry.” The apology surprises you, and it must show from the shadow of guilt that appears on his fine features. “We....I never would have let you run off like that if I’d known how you felt. That’s a pretty heavy burden to carry alone.” There’s a shimmer of light, and his stand appears, gem-radiant in the sunlight. “I’ve had this guy since I can remember. I forget how jarring it must be, for people to go from thinking the world is totally normal to suddenly having a fighting....magic...ghost thing.” He waves his hand in a “whatever” sort of gesture, a smile hiding in the corners of his mouth.
“But for what it’s worth, I don’t think you or your stand are monsters.”
You’re stunned, silent. He watches you for a moment before pressing on cautiously. “It’s...okay. I’m not gonna lie, it’s a little freaky, but it’s not the worst thing I’ve seen. I’ve seen a talking bird-dinosaur thing that turned into electricity. I’ve had magic rats try to kill me. I hang out with a guy who might genuinely be an alien or might be a shapeshifter, my dad is older than my grandpa ever was, I have a nephew who’s gonna be a doctor before I graduate high school and apparently the physical manifestation of my own fighting spirit is a giant, sparkling cotton candy half-naked power lifter who literally punches people better.” He shrugs and spreads his hands non-commitally. “The threshold for weird in this town is super high.”
You don’t know how to respond, but Josuke gives you the space to. When it’s evident that you’re at a loss, he continues gently.
“Look. Nobody is pissed at you, except Jotaro, and he gets pissed at a breeze so his opinion means shit. But...” He sighs a little, staring out into the sky. “No matter what, you’re my friend. I don’t like the thought of you being hurt, and I’m...I’m not good with the kind of hurt that’s on the inside like what you have. And I honestly can’t tell you how to fix that.” He bumps your shoulder with his own, his smile soft and real. “But you’re not alone. You’ve got me, and Okuyasu, and Koichi, and a bunch of others, plus your family. Shitty as it might feel right now....it’s gonna be okay. Promise.”
You can’t help but believe him. Sincerity shines from him like the beacon of a lighthouse, drawing you into safe harbor. Something in you smooths over, lulled and soothed by his care and regard.
Josuke stands, taking your hand and gently pulling you to your feet. “Also....look, no pressure, but...we should figure out what your stand can do.” Your brow furrows in question, but he plunders on. “You should at least know just how far you can push things, in case you get into a tight situation. Shit is getting weirder and weirder around Morioh. You should know how to defend yourself, at least, for when you’re not with us.”
“Defend myself from what?” You ask, something in the back of your head opening into a gaping chasm of anxiety and cloying upset. Josuke sucks in his breath through his teeth, hand rubbing the back of his head for a moment as he thinks.
“It...we will tell you. Soon, too. But you’ve been dealing with some heavy shit. This other stuff can wait until you’re feeling better, okay? So don’t worry about it. It’s not a big deal.”
It is, and you both know it. But when he gently suggests you come eat lunch with the others, you decide to trust in him, and follow him back inside.
You still don’t feel well. You still hurt inside. But you have the sense, as Josuke turns to throw you back a smile over his shoulder, that you’ll be okay.
Evidently I update once a year.
So see you next year I guess. (We’ll see.)