Giorno is fond of schedules. Of following plans. It provides for him the same clean satisfaction of pushing a line of dominos over and watching them click into place one by one, cascading into spiraling patterns.
The plan for today was to shake hands and smile indulgently and take fake sips of his champagne until he’d been paraded around for an appropriate amount of time, and then after that, to return home before the sun set and retire in his study to finish up the previous day’s paperwork.
That didn’t quite happen, so he must fall back on other things. But there is a similar satisfaction to what he is doing now, too; that is, drawing blood from someone who deserves it.
The first domino: someone unwelcome slips into Giorno’s perfectly-organized gala.
The second domino: violence breaks out in the glittering crowd.
The third domino: Giorno chases the culprit and takes care of the problem.
Simple. Neat. It’s all under his control.
The man lying at Giorno’s feet is hacking into the dust and blinking away the wetness in his beady little eyes; judging by the way he’s breathing, his ribs are probably broken.
“So,” he manages to wheeze, “this is how Giorno Giovanna treats his guests! What people say really is true—young people these days just don’t know their manners.”
Giorno gazes down at the man’s squashed, red face and debates between giving him another kick or waiting for Bucciarati, Narancia, and Mista to arrive. On one hand, the shoes he is wearing are very expensive. Custom made leather. On the other hand, this building is at least ten stories tall; Giorno only managed to chase the man to the open roof because he used Gold Experience to ride a tree to the top.
The others will probably take another few minutes, he thinks.
“Proper guests don’t open fire at my galas. And that’s Don Giovanna to you,” Giorno says, and takes aim with his foot.
This time, before he can draw his leg back, the man clamps a hand around his ankle.
“The little Don of Passione,” he says through his fat lip. His fist tightens around the hem of Giorno’s suit pants, smearing dusty fingerprints into the fine cloth. “I observed you for hours, you know. So young. So shiny. You even have the smile down. What have you been watching, hmm? So many movies about the mafia, these days.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Giorno says mildly, and drives his heel into the man’s chest. He has no interest in mind games.
The man’s next coughing fit is powerful enough to roll him over onto his belly. He shudders limply, body writhing pathetically against the ground, fish-like. Giorno crosses his arms and stares down at the way his exposed cheek scrapes raw against the crumbling concrete.
“Stay here, then,” he says, when the coughs peter out into wet, whistling gasps. “There’s nowhere for you to go. My team will arrive soon enough.”
He’s already turned and moved a few steps away when the man calls out to him, voice cracking through the octaves.
“Giorno Giovanna! You goddamned fake!”
When Giorno pivots back on his heel, chin raised high, the man has staggered to his feet. He’s sweating heavily, but his teeth are bared in a mocking grin. “That got you to pay attention, didn’t it. Oh, I almost feel sorry for you. It’s so obvious that you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Giorno takes a step forward.
“Ah-ah, Don Giovanna. Hold it right there.”
Giorno stumbles to a halt without meaning to. Abruptly, his head feels like it’s about to split open.
“There we are,” the man says breathlessly. “There we go.”
When Giorno looks up through his swirling vision, the man is wiggling his fingers at him, the way one might wave goodbye to a friend they’ve passed on the street. It’s stupid and condescending, and Giorno wants to bend his fingers backward until they snap.
He tries to summon Gold Experience, waits to feel it melt out from under his skin.
Nothing happens—and then, to his cold horror, his own hand shoots up and wiggles its fingers back. He tries to grab at his arm. He can’t move.
The man gurgles through his laughter. “Ah. You only know how to copy, after all.”
He backs up one step.
Giorno feels himself step back too.
“Look at that,” the man laughs again, drooling ropes of bloody saliva from his busted mouth. “Monkey see, monkey do.”
Giorno tries to fight it, but his body won’t listen to him. Step by step, his legs back him up, farther and farther away from his target. The traffic in the street below gets louder over his shoulder, horns blaring faintly from ten stories down.
Giorno struggles harder.
The man smiles widely. “No use. Go look in a mirror, Giorno Giovanna. You’re just a child playing pretend.”
Giorno takes one more step back, and his foot pitches into empty air.
It’s an old building. No safety railings.
The rooftop door bursts open—
As he topples backward over the ledge of the roof, the last thing Giorno sees is Bucciarati’s frantic face, Bucciarati’s arm unzipping in a spiral and extending toward him in a desperate stretch—and Giorno’s reaching back out, straining, but suddenly his arm hurts so much—
And then it’s just clouds and sky, tumbling past his eyes in a swirl of blue.
When Giorno comes to, he’s laid out flat on one of the seats in Bucciarati’s large, breadloaf-y van. With great effort, he focuses his eyes on a weirdly-shaped stain on the felt-textured ceiling of the car; judging by its dark color and the way it crumbles at the edges, it must be dried blood.
He allows himself five seconds of mindlessness and then tries to turn his head.
“Oi, Gio, you’re awake?” That’s Mista’s voice, coming from his right. Strained, forcefully chipper, but not in a way that implies he’s injured. That’s good. “How are you feeling? You’re so busted up right now, god, this is why I keep telling you to stop being so reckless. What’s the point of having bodyguards if you’re just gonna—”
Mista’s cut off by Narancia, who shuffles out of his seat and bends over Giorno, face close. “Yeah, stop running off without us! Wow, I’ve never seen Bucciarati move so fast before! He barely got you by the ankle, and he totally scraped up your face a little as he was trying to drag you back up, so you look kinda gnarly right now—”
Giorno feels like he’s about to vomit. The edges of his vision blur and swirl, and Narancia’s head fills up everything else. Giorno can’t see anything past the tangle of his dark hair.
Narancia is still talking.
“—and your arm is all fucked up too, holy shit, how did that happen? It’s all weird and unraveled, it looks like when Bucciarati does his limb-unzipping thing, but ten times nastier, ‘cause you don’t have the zippers. And, y’know. All the blood and bone. Nothing Gold Experience can’t fix, though!”
Then Narancia smiles, bright and toothy—
—Giorno’s head spins—
—and he feels the wounds on his face protest as his own lips are forced into a grin.
Ah, he thinks involuntarily. That’s bad.
“Whoa there,” Narancia says, his smile twitching into something more uncertain. “Guess you’re feeling okay?”
Giorno’s cheeks ache. The cut on his upper lip splits open wider, dribbles hot blood into his mouth; he can taste it like pennies on his tongue. He blinks back, eyes achingly dry, and keeps smiling.
Narancia’s starting to look uneasy. “Gio, you’re acting kinda weird. You don’t need to smile to make us feel better, y’know.”
(Narancia and Mista and Trish have been making a little game out of it, lately: Who Can Make Giorno Smile The Most? They’ll bring back little wild creatures, desserts with unique flavors, interesting tourist trinkets, all just to try and tempt Giorno into a smile. It’s entertaining, it’s harmless, and—more importantly—it’s rewarding. A Genuine Giorno Smile, when produced under the appropriate circumstances and in a safe environment, is one of the most heart-warming and endearing sights around the Passione manor.
If they’re counting their current situation, Narancia’s probably got this round in the bag—this is by far the widest grin anyone’s ever seen Giorno make. However, as he and Mista stare down at the boy lying across the van seats, neither of them can bring themselves to feel any amusement.
Giorno’s pupils dart about in a white face. His lips tremble around his bared teeth. He doesn’t look very happy to them anymore. He just looks like a cornered dog.)
“Giorno,” Narancia says again. His smile is completely gone now, and he reaches one hand up. “Hey, did you hit your head harder than we thought—”
Giorno, helpless like a puppet on strings, mirrors him with his ruined arm. The fleshy coil drops to the floor of the van with a wet thump and a hot firework-burst of pain.
“Whoa, hold on,” Narancia says, scrambling back as the mangled limb rolls limply and comes to a rest an inch shy of his feet. “Gio—”
Giorno’s body rears back, too, arching unnaturally off the seats, and his vision whites out as he slams his skull into the wall of the van. He blinks, head throbbing, and holds back the quietest of groans.
Bucciarati’s voice comes from the front of the van. “Oi, Mista, what’s going on back there? Is there something wrong with Giorno?”
When the dancing spots in Giorno’s vision fade away, he looks up to see Mista darting his gaze between him and Narancia. Mista tips his head experimentally; Giorno copies him.
“What? What is it?”
“Hey, Bucciarati,” Mista says, face drawn. “I think I figured out what that guy’s stand power was.”
When he was a child, Giorno learned how to smile properly by copying what he saw on the theater screen.
His mama had a silver-screen smile. Pretty in a strange, plastic way. His stepfather smiled, too, but those smiles always came hand in hand with you’re a gloomy nasty thing aren’t you boy stop glaring at me like that or I’ll teach you a lesson like your mother should have, so Giorno never quite appreciated them the way he should have.
Giorno didn’t want to be gloomy. He certainly didn’t want to be nasty. Those things were for bad boys, and Giorno was still young enough to believe that he wasn’t one—so he went to learn Hollywood smiles at the movie theater, sitting alone on the creaky velour seats and dangling his feet above the popcorn-dotted floor.
The film he watched was full of laughing, apple-cheeked children, running around and getting dirt on their pants and going home at the end of the day to mothers and fathers who bandage their knees and make them dinner. Giorno thought he could be like that. He’d get the smile down, first—the rest was sure to follow.
After he left the theater, he first tried his new smile on the man who sold gelato at the corner. Got an eye-crinkling grin in return, felt a weird sensation rise in his chest. He liked that sensation, he decided. Liked how it glowed in his chest, summer-bright like his scoop of lemon flavored gelato. Liked how it made him feel less like a bit of scum under someone’s shoe and more like something alive, flesh-and-blood-and-heart-and-soul.
That was lesson one of Giorno’s observations, that day: if you give people something nice, you will receive something nice in return.
When he went home in the evening, his stepfather was stomping around in a spectacularly dark mood. Giorno would usually hide from sight when his stepfather was like that, usually would shut himself in his room and keep an ear out for the heavy tread of his boots in the hallway. But that day, he thought that perhaps this new shiny smile would work on his stepfather, too, and so he stretched his lips up, enough to lift his cheeks and show his teeth.
Look, he tried to say with his eyes. I’m not gloomy. I’m not nasty. I can be good, too. I can be a good boy, like the others. We can be like in the movies.
He spent the next half hour being put in his place with his stepfather’s favorite brown leather belt.
That was lesson two of Giorno’s observations: grinning toothily is for disrespectful little animals.
“Keep your eyes closed, Giorno,” says Bucciarati for the third time. The rumble of his voice travels through his chest and into Giorno’s shoulder.
“I am, Bucciarati,” says Giorno, careful to make sure that the intense humiliation churning about in his chest does not make it out into his voice.
If someone else were to see Don Giovanna being carried to his room like a sleepy child—they’d think—
(“It’s easier this way!” Narancia had said, sounding anxious. “We don’t want you to copy someone and accidentally hurt yourself even more! And how are you supposed to walk if you have your eyes closed? You wanna crawl instead?”)
Giorno listens to the crunch of gravel over the entrance to the villa and grits his teeth harder.
As Bucciarati steps through the front door, Giorno hears the pop of oil and then catches, heavy on the air, the aroma of garlic and onions frying over a pan.
The manor is like this most of the time. Warm. Full. Close. Startlingly alive, in these ways; maybe a bit too alive. It sets Giorno’s teeth on edge, sometimes. He’s not used to having other people in the house with him.
“You’re back,” Fugo calls from the kitchen. “I didn’t know if you guys were going to be home in time for dinner, but I made enough for everyone—”
The sound of the spatula scraping over ceramic stops abruptly.
“Hold on.” Fugo’s voice gets much closer. “What’s wrong with Giorno? Is he—“
“I’m fine,” Giorno says, starkly aware of the way his mangled arm dangles limply to the side, stinging every time it knocks against Bucciarati’s torso. It’s still dripping blood, since none of them really had any extra cloth available to staunch the flow. Someone will have to clean the floors later.
“Right,” is Fugo’s dubious answer. “You just felt like being carried around like a prized little dog, is that it. Bucciarati, what happened ?”
“Stand attack. I’ll explain later.” Bucciarati shifts his grip, trying to hike his passenger more securely into his arms, and Giorno bites his tongue as he’s introduced to the existence of more bruises along his back. “First, I have to get Giorno to his room so he can heal himself.”
“Why didn’t he heal it in the car?”
“Like I said, I’ll explain later,” Bucciarati replies tersely, and moves for the stairs.
Later, after Giorno is safe and alone and can finally open his eyes to heal himself without accidentally braining himself on the walls of his room, he uses Gold Experience to heal himself back up. For the scrapes and cuts on his face—there’s nothing he can do about that, but such small injuries are easily treated. He’s had plenty of experience, and he knows that there’s neosporin in the bathroom.
As for his arm—
Well, he’s solved a problem like this before.
Ten minutes later, Giorno hears the quiet squeal of the loose floorboard at the top of the staircase; his shoulders drop back down from around his ears once he recognizes Bucciarati's steady stride, and then the heavier echo of Abbacchio just behind him.
Bucciarati’s voice filters in from the hallway, muffled by Giorno's bedroom door. “Giorno? Do you need any help?”
"No.” Giorno tucks away the rest of the mess. “I've just finished up."
"Okay." Bucciarati pauses. "May we come in?"
When the doorknob turns, Giorno has shuffled around in his desk chair so that he's facing away from the entrance and staring out through his open window instead. He focuses on the empty, lush green estate and the cool wind against his face, breathes deeply as the air rolls in.
"How is your hand?"
Giorno lifts his arm out to the side and stretches out his fingers. "It's fine."
"And your face?"
Abbacchio speaks up then. "Come on, Bucciarati. Unfortunately, he's stuck with the one he's got. There's nothing we can do about it."
Giorno lets the words bounce off him. It took him a few weeks, but he's finally learned that when Abbacchio uses that particular tone of voice, he doesn't mean any harm. It's just his way of communicating.
"I'll clean the cuts out later," he says instead. "I can use the neosporin in the bathroom. They'll close up on their own."
Bustling noises, a little closer.
"There's no need to do that by yourself, Giorno. I can help you—"
"Hey, kid,” Abbacchio interrupts, “when did you get a new plant?"
Giorno blinks down at his windowsill; the long, leafy addition trembles slightly in its thin glass vase, slender green branches splitting and spreading like fingers in the breeze.
He considers lying. Decides against it.
“Just now,” he replies serenely, and makes sure not to clench his hands when the air goes still behind him.
"Where did it come from," says Bucciarati, slow and quiet and restrained, like he already knows.
Giorno lifts one shoulder, drops it again. "Gold Experience is better at replacing limbs than piecing broken things back together," he says, tapping a finger on the windowsill. He doesn’t know why his hackles are rising; he didn’t even do anything wrong. "It was the quickest solution."
Abbacchio cuts in again. "Brat, why is your solution for everything to lop off your fucking—"
"It's fine," Giorno says firmly. "I fixed it. And I cleaned everything up, too.”
Bucciarati’s voice sounds strange. "But Giorno, there was no need to take such drastic—”
"I've had worse and my arm is back to normal. I don’t see what the problem is."
Giorno breathes in and out. In and out. Bucciarati and Abbacchio are silent behind him. His neck prickles. The floorboards creak again—then, something touches Giorno on the arm, and he flinches.
That’s embarrassing, but it’s hard when he’s facing the other way. He can’t predict things he can’t see.
Bucciarati pulls back his hand from where it had frozen over Giorno’s elbow.
“I’m sorry. I should have asked.”
“What for,” Giorno says to the sky outside his window. “I’m fine.”
Bucciarati sighs. “Okay. I can help you clean the cuts on your face, at least.” When Giorno makes a protesting noise, he adds, “That’s not a suggestion. Stay here, I’ll go get some materials and be right back.”
Giorno can only hear the sound of one person leaving. When Bucciarati's footsteps move out of the room, Abbacchio sighs loudly and drops himself down onto the extra chair in Giorno's room with a creak. Giorno can feel his eyes burning a hole in his back, and waits for—something—
But Abbacchio doesn't do anything. Just sits there, quietly, until Bucciarati returns. Then he gets up and leaves.
“Stand effects aren’t supposed to linger after the user dies,” Fugo says. Even though his eyes are closed, Giorno can imagine Fugo’s expression in his head, can see the knit of his brows carving a deep canyon of worry through his face.
The sun set hours ago. Giorno thinks that his team must forget he has working ears, sometimes, or else they wouldn’t be having a conversation about him only two doors down from his room. Maybe they think he’s already asleep.
Trish pipes up. “Or, y’know, maybe the user is still—”
“He’s dead,” Bucciarati cuts in, interrupting Trish. “I can confirm that.”
“Are you s—”
“I would like to see someone survive what I did to him,” Bucciarati says, and leaves it at that.
“Okay,” Fugo says after a long moment. “Okay. Well, something’s definitely wrong with his stand, then. The ability keeps on...transferring, I don’t know. Instead of just the user, it’s anyone in Giorno’s sightline. Isn’t that a cause for concern?”
A long pause. Bucciarati heaves a sigh.
“There’s not much we can do about it, at this point. We’ll just have to wait it out. Hope it fixes itself by tomorrow, at least, for Giorno’s sake.”
“And if it doesn’t?”
Giorno lies there, statue-still in every limb.
“Well,” Bucciarati says, and his voice is plain and calm, like he’s just stating a fact. “He’s got us, too. He’s not in this alone.”
Giorno turns over in bed, soundless, and buries his face deeper into his pillow.
Giorno’s fixed himself at least a hundred times, now. Watched his skin crawl together and split apart, over and over and over. He was born into one body; he’s not sure that any of it remains now.
He always does it alone. He doesn’t need other people seeing the way he’s stitched together.
Those old parts—the parts of Giorno that were in pain—are gone entirely. They don’t bother him anymore. They shouldn’t bother him anymore.
His mind, though. That’s another thing.
He’s probably not supposed to have many memories from before he was three. He was practically still a baby, anyway. His brain was barely developed. But sometimes—mostly at night—he remembers things from that empty shell of an apartment.
The tepid light of the streetlamp outside, reflecting weakly off the ribs of his crib.
The strange, sweat-stale smell of his moldering blanket, its frayed edge flipped over his face.
The grinding creak of the rusty old heater, screaming itself awake along the wall.
The cold. The dark. The gnawing of his hunger. And the relentless shaking. The certainty that the farthest, blackest corner was something alive, more than even himself; that it would ooze forward and swallow him whole like it was a beast with eyes and claws and a huge gaping mouth, and that maybe it would be a mercy—
He tries not to think about it too much.
Now, after hours of tossing and turning, morning is still hours away, and Giorno does not feel like lying around in the dark anymore. He’s spent half the day with his eyes closed, anyway.
When he descends the stairs, careful to dodge the creaky floorboard at the top, and slips in from the hallway, the kitchen is empty and dark and still. The digital clock glows a faint red above the stovetop: it’s 3:30 AM.
Giorno makes a beeline for the herbal tea in the bottom drawer—he’s found that it helps a little, on the nights when he really can’t sleep.
The kettle goes onto the stove with a muffled clank, and then Giorno goes on autopilot, listening to the steady click-click-click of the gas burner trying to light, and then the soft fwoosh as flames burst forward. He stares off into space for a while, mind drifting away amidst the sounds of the manor at night.
For a long while, he focuses on the gentle hiss of the simmering water. He can detect exactly when the water is about to shift into a boil; the kettle lets out a quiet hiss, an intake of breath before it slides into a shuddering squeal.
In retrospect, he’d like to blame the noisiness of the kettle for his inattentiveness. But really, he knows it’s his fault for letting his guard down.
“Oi,” calls a deep voice, “what’re you doing standing in the middle of the kitchen in the dark, creepy as hell—”
Giorno startles and snaps around at the same time that Abbacchio reaches out to flip the light switch on, and lets out an embarrassing noise of surprise; in an even more unfortunate turn of events, he forgets to close his eyes, and feels his body jerk as he locks eyes with Abbacchio.
His arm flies out to the side to mirror Abbacchio’s, his hand landing directly on the burning hot metal of the water kettle.
“Shit!” Abbacchio yanks his own hand down hastily, but the damage is done. “What the hell—close your eyes, kid!”
Giorno screws his eyes shut obediently and starts bumping along the kitchen counter with his side, trying to make his way to the kitchen entrance. His palm is alight with hot pain—he should probably do something about that soon. For now, retreat.
“Whoa!” says Abbacchio somewhere to his left. “Hold on, isn’t there something you should be fixing?”
“Ah. Apologies. Could you turn the burner off for me? I can’t see.”
“The burner—I’m talking about your hand!”
“Had worse,” Abbacchio interrupts. “Yeah, you said that before. You sound like a broken record, Jesus. I’m gonna go get the first aid kit.”
Giorno hovers awkwardly, eyes still shut. “I can fix—”
“Fix it yourself? After the stunt you pulled this afternoon? Fat chance. Come here and run it under the tap.” Abbacchio pauses. “I’m gonna touch your arm. Since you’re blind and all.”
“Oh.” This time, when a hand taps at his upper arm, Giorno only flinches a little bit. “Thank you.”
Abbacchio grunts. “I’d get yelled at if you tripped and bashed your head open.” The faucet sputters, and then Giorno feels his hand being guided under a shockingly cold stream of water. “Wait here.”
Giorno waits obediently, lids squeezed shut, as the shuffling of footsteps moves away to the bathroom. He keeps his burned hand held gingerly under the spray, feeling cool droplets trickle down to his elbow.
Abbacchio’s footsteps return within minutes; then, curiously, the sound of the kettle being moved, and the pouring of water.
Something clinks down on the kitchen table, and then Abbacchio moves to Giorno’s side and steers him to a chair.
“You can open your eyes now,” he adds. “Just keep your face turned that way. No peeking.” Clattering, shuffling; he must be rifling through the first aid kit.
Giorno cracks his eyes open cautiously. Between his lashes, he sees the steaming mug at his elbow.
“Oh,” he murmurs. “You didn’t have to.”
A loud scoff. Tearing noises: a sterile gauze packet being opened.
“Just drink it before it goes cold. I’m going to touch your hand again—don’t move around too much.”
The kitchen is silent for a few minutes, Abbacchio focused on treating the burn and Giorno taking slow, careful sips of his tea.
Then: “What were you gonna do if I didn’t stop you, huh. Go upstairs and de-arm yourself again?”
“No,” Giorno replies delicately. “That wouldn’t be necessary this time. I would have treated it properly. By myself.”
“Uh-huh. This is the third time you’ve gotten injured today, you’re aware.”
“I am not incompetent, Abbacchio. I have experience treating my own wounds. And it isn’t such a big deal.”
Giorno taps his fingertips on the side of the mug. Dances them across the porcelain, feeling the sting of the heat, and then lets go. “I have a high pain tolerance.”
“So you’re a big tough guy, is that what you’re saying,” Abbacchio huffs. “A real grown-up boy. Next you’re gonna tell me you were born like that.”
“No,” says Giorno, curling his fingernails into his palm.
“I was different when I was younger,” he admits. “I was—”
Messy, was what his mother had called him, the one time he was still naive enough to make the mistake of asking. An inconvenient time-suck. A little red-faced grub who would fall apart without constant care, whining and screaming and damn near bursting my eardrums for attention, Giorno, do you know how annoying that was? I taught you better, eventually. Thank God for that. You don’t know how hard it is to be a mother, how many hoops I have to jump through just to put a roof over your head and food in your mouth and clothes on your back, so stop making that face—hey, look at me. Giorno. Stop crying. Do you want me to be angry? No? Then be quiet. Good boys are quiet.
“—high-maintenance,” he decides. “That’s what I’ve been told.”
Abbacchio doesn’t reply for a moment, just finishes up wrapping Giorno’s hand, uncharacteristically gentle. Then he makes a disparaging noise. “Hmph. You’re still high-maintenance, kid.”
Giorno allows himself the barest twitch of his lips.
Once Giorno has swallowed down the last of his mug’s contents, Abbacchio insists on personally steering him back up the stairs, ostensibly so that he doesn’t topple over the banister or some stupid shit like that. Giorno isn’t sure how that extends to settling him down to bed and aggressively tucking him in, but he doesn’t say a word, just lets Abbacchio’s strange mood wash over him. It’s oddly calming.
When Giorno is propped up comfortably against his pillows, feeling his head grow heavy from lack of sleep and the warmth in his belly, Abbacchio speaks up again.
“So what changed?”
Giorno breathes in through his nose, trying to power through his drowsiness. “What?”
“You were a high-maintenance little brat, and then you were a slightly bigger brat with high pain tolerance. I’m asking what changed.”
Giorno has to gather his wits before he can answer. “A lot,” he says, as casually as he can. “I grew up.”
The mattress dips. Abbacchio’s sat down on the side; Giorno thinks he can see his silhouette moving behind his eyelids, a dark shadow moving through the moonlight.
“You never talk about your parents. There a reason for that?”
“Not one worth talking about,” Giorno replies.
Giorno’s eyes are shut tightly, but Abbacchio’s glare still sears the side of his face. “You could at least spare me the insult of acting like I’m stupid, kid. I can read between the lines.”
Giorno tries not to clench his hands. “What lines.”
A breeze whistles over the cracked-open window. The water pipes creak loudly within the walls.
“Giorno,” says Abbacchio. “Just tell me. It’s okay.”
Giorno holds his breath.
It’s so still. So quiet. But his room is awash with the glow of the moon, not a flickering streetlamp. He’s warm in bed, not shaking in the cold. And he’s not alone—Giorno is not alone, and someone is sitting at his bedside, speaking softly to him, and his team slumbers on peacefully in the other rooms of the manor.
He is not living in an empty shell anymore.
“I got a stepfather,” is what spills out of Giorno’s mouth. And then, before he can stop himself: “He didn’t like me.”
“I see.” Abbacchio’s voice stays quiet, steady. It catches Giorno off guard, because that’s not like Abbacchio at all—and this is what Giorno blames the hot prickling in his eyes on. It’s just the surprise, is all. He blinks it back.
“And your mother,” Abbacchio asks, and even though his eyes are closed, Giorno turns his face away, in the vague direction of the window.
“She didn’t take my side very often,” he whispers.
Abbacchio shifts on the bed. The springs groan. “I’m sorry, kid. Thanks for telling me. I know that was hard for you.”
Giorno shrugs, hands tangling in his sheets. His fingers are trembling. He wants them to stop.
“I’m going to hug you. If that’s okay.”
When Giorno nods silently, Abbacchio scoots closer and wraps an arm around Giorno’s shoulders.
Giorno feels his breath shudder out of him.
“It hasn’t happened for a while,” he feels compelled to add, after a few seconds. It’s like the weight of someone else’s touch is squeezing everything that he’s been collecting in his belly. “They leave me alone now, mostly.”
Abbacchio’s voice is a low rumble over Giorno’s head.
“What they did was wrong, whether it happened ten years ago or yesterday. You don’t have to make excuses for them.”
When Giorno says nothing, just slumps into the warm arm across his back, Abbacchio breathes deeply and goes on.
“Maybe she made you. Maybe the both of them raised you, in the barest sense of the word. But that doesn’t make them your family. Family is—” and here Abbacchio pauses, sounding awkward. “Family is something else entirely.”
“I can’t make definite promises,” he continues bluntly, “but we’ll do our best to make sure nothing like that ever happens again.”
Giorno bites his lip.
Abbacchio jostles him, gently. “You understand me, kid?”
The room is still for a heartbeat.
“I can tell when you lie, you know,” Mista said once, on the way back from a banquet. He sounded a little tired, but Giorno thought he was entitled to it—after all, he'd just spent the last two hours lurking over Giorno's shoulder and staring down anyone who didn't address him as 'Don Giovanna'.
"I don't lie," Giorno replied, after a long and loaded silence.
Mista huffed, doubtful. “By your standards, maybe. Yeah, you don’t lie straight-up a lot, but I think lies of omission still count, don't they? Like, when you're hiding something. I can tell now."
Giorno folded his hands in his lap and watched the streetlights smear past the window, and Mista lapsed back into silence.
The car ride passed peacefully for another ten minutes, Mista humming to the quiet music eking out from the radio. Then:
"You know we’ve always got your back, right? You’re like—family."
“Of course. All of us in Passione are part of the family,” Giorno parroted. He’d spent so much time hearing it said and saying it back in return that it had started to spill out of his mouth automatically.
“Don't give me that schmoozing talk, Gio, your voice is so weird and formal when you do that. But, like—you, me, Narancia, Fugo, Bucciarati and Abbacchio. We really are—it doesn’t have to be blood. It’s like, when I make too much pasta, you’re the first people I wanna give the rest of it to. Or like, when I see a really fuckin’ pretty sunset, and I wanna take a picture of it and send it to you guys, just ‘cause. Like, the care, or the love, or whatever. That’s what makes us a family. You get that, right?”
Giorno was used to Mista’s rambling by then. “Of course, Mista.”
“...Yeah. So you know it’s okay to tell us the truth? It’s okay even if it’s ugly. That’s what family’s for. Like, even if you mess up, you can come to us. We’ll still have your back.”
“I understand, Mista,” Giorno said again, even though he didn’t.
“You’re doing it again.” Mista tugged at his hat, sharp and quick, the way he always did when he was frustrated. “You do this thing where you say whatever you think we wanna hear. Like—like, you reflect. Like a mirror. You show us a pretty reflection so you don’t have to show your own thoughts. But I need to hear what you wanna say.”
Giorno watched his knuckles whiten.
“So, no. I think sometimes you don’t understand. And that’s why you don’t come to us with some things, or you say you’re fine when you’re not. ‘Cause we haven’t drilled it into you, yet. That it’s okay to tell us the ugly things.”
“Hey, I’m not gonna make you do anything you don’t want. But I just wanted to get it out there. Made things awkward, didn’t I.”
Giorno flexed his hands and stared down at the little red half-moons his fingernails left in the flesh of his palms. In the driver’s seat, Mista drummed his hands on the wheel and let the silence drag on.
“But this is a good type of uncomfortable, see,” he said finally. “That’s the type you want with your family, Gio. It lets us know where it hurts. Lets us know where to put the bandage. You get me?”
Mista didn’t wait for an answer after that, just turned the radio up and went right back to humming along, voice soft and slightly off-tune.
Giorno didn’t say anything for the rest of the car ride. There was no point, after all; Mista could tell when he lied.
—Giorno can still taste his tea in his mouth—the tea that the others always remember to put on the shopping list, even though he’s the only one who feels comfort from drinking it. He can feel the band-aids Bucciarati pressed over the cuts on his face, slipping after several hours of wear. The gauze Abbacchio applied over his burn itches against his hand—
—and he thinks he gets it, now.
“Yes, Abbacchio,” he says. “I understand.”
By the way,” Abbacchio says later, stopping in the doorway on his way back to his own room, “what did you say your step-father’s name was again?”
Giorno almost manages a laugh at the breezy, faux-casual tone. “I didn’t.”
“Fair enough.” Even in the darkness behind Giorno’s eyelids, Abbacchio’s grin is sharp enough to hear. “I guess I can find that out for myself.”
In the morning, Giorno wakes up to the smell of fried eggs, and he’s so hungry that he doesn’t have the presence of mind to shut his eyes when he bumps into Trish on the stairs.
“I was just coming to get you for breakf—wait! Ah!” Trish shouts, penciling into a hazard-free, neutral stance when she realizes Giorno’s staring right back at her. “Giorno, eyes shut!”
Then, after a few frozen seconds, they both realize Giorno hasn’t mirrored her movements.
Trish waves experimentally. Giorno’s hand stays at his side.
“Thank god!” Trish cries, grinning widely in relief. “Looks like we just had to wait a night, after all! You had us worried!”
Giorno feels his shoulders loosen, too. “Sorry about that.”
“Aah, it’s fine, just don’t be so reckless next time. Let’s go tell the others the good news! We can tell Bucciarati and Abbacchio when they come back, too. They’ll be so happy.”
“They’re out? What for?”
Trish shrugs, nonchalant. “I’m not sure. They said they were paying someone a visit? I’m sure it’s not too big of a deal—I asked if they needed backup and they said it was fine. Something about personal business.”
Something soft blooms in Giorno’s chest.
“Alright,” he replies, once he’s gathered himself enough to speak. “We’ll tell them when they get back.”
“Sounds good,” Trish says. “Okay, okay, enough chitchat, I’m sure you’re hungry! Fugo baked some sausage, too, and I’ve been waiting for it to come out for ages…”
Her voice trails off as she bounces down the stairs and heads towards the low sounds of chatter, trusting that he’ll follow behind.
Behind her, Giorno dallies for a moment on the landing. Breathes in and out. In and out.
Feels his lips curl up.
Then he descends the stairs, one at a time, and joins his family in the warmth of the kitchen.