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Shades Of Pink

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Welcome dear friends to the best thing I've ever written! This fic was a long-time coming but I'm extremely proud of the result! As you've read the tags, this story is diavalen and is going to be extremely long. You may have also realized that this isn't a normal chapter, but an introduction to the story. Before you begin reading this fic, I wanted to take some time explaining a few things. So, let's begin!

 

First things first, I'd like to talk about the setting. The story begins in 1990's America, in a rich, conservative suburb in the East Coast, where Funny Valentine lives with his family. Diavolo also moves there and they soon begin a relationship. Now, both boys come from rather strict, Christian families that view homosexual relationships as something extremely bad and in order for me to depict that in the most sincere and respectful way, I used my own experiences as a gay kid growing up in a homophobic Christian environment. In addition to that, Funny's family is also tied to the military, so of course they'd want him to act in a traditional, masculine way. 

 

I'd also like to address the underage thing. The reason why this story isn't tagged as underage is because every explicit sexual scene will be after the characters have turned 18. Diavolo and Funny - as well as other characters - will begin a romantic relationship, you know cute little crushes kids have, at around 14, and of course, there will be no explicit sexual scene because THEY'RE KIDS. At around 16-17, they will start exploring their sexualities more, in the way all teenagers that are in relationships with other teenagers do. Though, even then, there will be nothing explicit and everything sexual will only be implied, rather focusing on their emotions instead. So, the reason why this fic isn't tagged as underage is because there will be no explicit sexual scenes including minors and the characters will be adults for the biggest part of the story.

 

Speaking of minors, I would like to address the subject of characterization. Now, I can't have a tiny Funny Valentine going around snatching napkins and killing people, or a small Diavolo that wants to kill his kid. As I said, the story will begin with characters at age 13 and will end around the time they're 40, maybe even more. The characters will grow with the story, evolving, becoming better or worse. In order to write them as kids and teens, I used whatever scraps of background Araki threw at us. It's not much, but it's efficient. Also taking into consideration that this a modern AU, literally the same world we all live in, there were some few changes in character, so to make them more believable. It's not dramatic and definitely not ruining the character entirely, just a 'necessary evil' in order for the fic to work.

 

As you've noticed, there are two ships tagged. Even though the main ship is diavalen, scarlentine will also play a huge part in the story. I've always been interested in Scarlet and I really looked forward to writing a story where she would be more fleshed out and not used just for Funny's character development or just a memory. Their relationship will also grow within the story and you will get to see what really makes them stay together, their struggles as a couple, their problems, the love they have for each other and many more. There are also more ships that aren't as important but still there, like Jonadio and Esikars. 

 

With all of that being said, I think we can move on to the first and very exciting chapter! I will add more notes as the story goes by and please, send me all your questions either here or on my tumblr @mollydewinter! Enjoy the story!

Chapter Text

 

Baby Pink

 

I guess I shouldn't be complaining about this. This is what I wanted, after all. I'm alone. But I find this solitude suffocating at times, especially when I want to share my thoughts with someone. I know I can always call Yoshikage but I won't. So I let emotions bubble inside me, and then I push them in a nice bottle that I proceed to kick under my bed, just like I've always done. Sometimes, when sleep comes a bit too late, even for me, I can hear the echoes of my thoughts from the dark pit I've locked them in. I never respond. Sometimes, their voices grow stronger, more demanding. I ignore everything. I push myself to go to sleep.

I can hear his violin from where I'm sitting. God...I must really hate myself. To think that I still live right next to him, right next to his beautiful house where he lives with his adored children and wife. I can't believe he actually married that witch. Guess he must have run out of options. He says he loves her. Bullshit. I don't believe that. I don't want to believe that. I don't want him sharing his heart. Sometimes, I envy Trish and the way he cares for her, how he cooks for her and drives her at school, how he nurses her to health when she's sick. I'd never admit that, especially not when I'm trying to fix my relationship with her. I'm doing this for him. Because it would make him happy.

They say love is being happy when the one you love is happy, even if you're not the cause. I hate that. I want to make him happy and I hate that I can't do it.

In the end, it all comes down to the same thing. I adore him. I think about him every waking moment and at night, I think of him sleeping beside me. It overwhelms me sometimes, because I never expected to feel this way about anyone other than myself. But here I am, with a heart that starts screaming whenever I catch the glimpse of him. Sure, he pisses me off at times but the way I feel hasn't changed. Whenever I look at him, I go back to being that dumb 13-year-old kid who saw God in the face of his neighbor.

I love him. So much.

 

 


 

 


Diavolo didn't like America. The air was different from Sardinia, heavier, harder to take, either odorless or unbearable, no in-between. There was no sea where he lived, just trees and endless rows of perfect little houses with dogs and pristine grass and white picket fences. The food was horrible. Deep fried, too salty or too sweet, too heavy on the stomach and the portions were far too big. The entire country was too big, people spoke of four and five hour-long trips as if they were mere minutes. At least he lived close to the sea though, come to think of it, that wasn't a good thing after all. The pier was flooded with canteens, shops and all sorts of colorful bullshit, there wasn't even a centimeter of sand he could just go and unwind, listen to the water splash against the rocks, feel its soothing coolness underneath the soles of his feet. Even the water was bad. It smelled bad. It lacked that scent he never knew he would miss, thick with salt and jasmine, smelling like life itself.

But the worst thing about America was the Americans. Loud, obnoxious, nosy, entitled. They flooded into their home the moment they moved, touching HIS stuff and taking it to HIS room and asking about HIM. How dare they. They all had those big ass horse teeth smiles and said they were just showing neighborly support to the town's new priest. Bullshit. All they wanted to was to know more about them, as if that absolutely useless information was vital to them. Small people in their small lives, had nothing better to talk about. They all looked the same, with polo shirts and beige loafers and the women all drove the same ugly van. They moved in packs, two or three families always walking together. Omnipresent gods in their own, suburban universes. A group of them were there when Diavolo returned from his walk at the park. He didn't particularly like it there, it was just a plain park without identity, like all things American. And big. No one would bother him there and he sometimes stayed from sunrise to sunset, not caring if the priest was looking for him. He never got angry anymore, never questioned too much.

Diavolo stopped when his house came to view, horrified at the flock of neighbors at the porch. He contemplated running back but he was hungry and he didn't have any money to buy something. Keeping his head low and hands shoved in the pockets of his jeans, he headed for the house.

“There you are, Solido!” the priest exclaimed. He wrapped an arm around his shoulders and pulled him closer.

“Don't fucking call me that,” Diavolo hissed. The priest's smile wavered for a moment but he broke out in laughter like the rest of them.

“Aw, he's still a little finicky!” one of them women cooed, reaching and actually pinching Diavolo's cheek. Diavolo had never wanted to bite a person's arm off more in his entire life. The priest held him close with an iron grip, as if he could sense the storm brewing inside of him.

“That's expected,” one of the men remarked. He knew him. He was one of the persistent ones, spent a lot of time around their house. Like everyone in this neighborhood, he was very pious, godly and stuffy and he ranted about the 'calamities that had befallen society and how America had gone to the dogs' when he drank too much brandy. “Moving from Italy to Connecticut is a huge step. Which part of Italy did you say you were from, again?”

“I'm from Naples but Solido was born and spent his entire life in Sardinia.”

“I said don't fuck-”

They all nodded. The priest looked to the house next to theirs. Thankfully, it was empty, quiet, though Diavolo didn't expect it to stay like that for long. “Who did you say lives next door?”

The oil tycoon looked at the house. It was by far one of the fanciest houses in the neighborhood, made their own look like a shack. Pool, greenhouse, rosebushes, the whole shebang. “The Valentines,” he responded with inexplicable pride, as if talking about a family of royals. “Captain Valentine -well, he's a general now but I still call him that- is a truly extraordinary man. A war hero!” he emphasized. “A man entirely dedicated to the safety and prosperity of this proud nation. His wife is a remarkable woman, one of the kindest people you'll ever meet. You can rely on them for anything, they are always glad to help.” The priest nodded. He seemed impressed. Of course, he was. He loved it here. “They're on vacation right now, in the Hamptons with their kids. A son and two girls. The girls are babies but their son must be around your son's age.”

“Hear that?” the priest smiled. “You can become friends with him!”

“I don't give a fuck about him,” Diavolo grumbled as he broke free from the priest's hold. “I don't give a fuck about any of you.”

He barged inside the house, slamming the door behind him so hard that the windows rattled. He stomped up to his room. He got inside and locked the door behind him, immediately flopping on his bed. He looked at the ceiling, still light yellow. Fucking pastels. The priest wouldn't let him paint the walls black. He glanced around his room, the room that didn't reflect his character even in the slightest. His floor and furniture were wooden, still polished and clean, barely a few weeks old. His single bed was pushed in the corner against the wall, with a plain bedside table of the same material next to it. He kept a little lamp on the bedside table and his favorite belongings in the drawer and little shelf underneath. He had a closet that he kept closed with a padlock in case the priest tried throwing his clothes away. That's also where he kept his money and knife that he had been given by a sailor. Well, stolen from a sailor. Diavolo had a chair and a large desk, sitting next to his bed, in front of the window. It was still summer, he wasn't going to be using that any time soon. He only liked the bookcase, simply because he had neatly stacked his books and CDs in it. It was a boring room but it didn't matter. Once he had gathered enough money, he was going to board the first ship and head to back to Italy.

American summers were pleasant, he had to admit. If he closed his eyes and replaced the sounds of honking cars and loud conversation with the sound of waves crashing against the shore and the scent of searing meat with that of honeysuckle, he could pretend he was still in Sardinia. He closed his eyes, letting himself relax against the mattress. He could hear the curtain rustle softly as it swayed with the breeze, could hear the cicadas from the trees outside. Thankfully, he had already kicked his shoes off because in a matter of moments he was asleep.

His peaceful nap was rudely interrupted by the arrival of a car carrying a big, loud family. The moment the doors opened, a horde of dogs jumped out, barking excitedly. A woman was speaking, saying something about a baby. Said baby started crying within a few seconds. They opened the trunk and started unloading their stuff, quickly carrying it inside. Diavolo made out the voice of a man in the whole ruckus, as well as that of a little girl, impatiently requesting her doll.

“Sweetheart, could you get the mini-fridge?”

“Sure thing. Mom, Katie's bottle is right here!”

“Oh, thank God! I thought we forgot it at the hotel. Be a dear and bring it to me.”

They moved inside, still noisy as hell. Diavolo sighed deeply, murmuring under his breath. He angrily removed his pants and T-shirt and climbed under his sheet, trying to make himself more comfortable. And it worked, for a few minutes, it worked. The noise coming from the house next door reached him distantly, lulling him to sleep.

Apparently, the room right across his own belonged to the Valentines' son, whose first action after entering his room was to throw his window open, letting the fresh air in. Without giving it much thought, Diavolo sat up and moved to the window, ready to yell at the bastard to keep it down. However, the moment he saw the other boy, he completely froze, at a loss for words for the first time in the 13 years he had spent on this earth. He slowly approached the window, eyes wide, jaw hanging. He knelt in front of the window, pressing his forearms against the windowsill and he looked at the other with wide eyes. His neighbor's son was beautiful, too beautiful, more beautiful than any person or any thing Diavolo had ever seen in his entire life. Be it in Italy or America, he had never laid his eyes upon anyone like that, not even when reading Vogue under his covers with only the light of his tiny flashlight. He was pale but his milky skin was rosy in various spots, obviously kissed by the sun. His shoulders, his cheeks, the tip of his nose...He was very lean, moving with the grace of a white lily. His lips were dark pink, bordering on cherry red and plump, sweet like ripe berries. He had blue eyes, true, vivid cobalt blue eyes, surrounded by dark lashes. But clearly, his most eye-catching feature was his hair. Gorgeous flaxen locks, even longer than Diavolo's own. Thick and soft, shining like spun gold in the afternoon light. They reached down to his slim waist, ending in perfect, bouncy curls. He was otherworldly, divine, moving around his room with a delicate fluidity, taking his belongings back to their places. He was humming to himself, making an idle comment every now and again. Diavolo watched, mesmerized, still not sure if such a creature lived next to him or if he was dreaming, still dizzy from sleep. Every move he made, every breath he took, ever flip of his hair was enough to send Diavolo's prepubescent -and easily excitable despite his gruffness- heart doing somersaults.

He wasn't a specter or a figment of his imagination. He was real and Diavolo took his image in, staring at him in awe. But it would seem that the blond felt the stabbing of Diavolo's gaze burn on his skin as he suddenly looked up, startling Diavolo. He reacted a moment too late, hastily diving down against the floor. He had been caught red-handed staring at a kid he didn't know, just gawking like a brainless fool. He laid against the cool floor in only his boxers, too scared to even breathe. He stayed there for several minutes, listening to the sound of his own breath. He only moved when he heard the door of the room across open and close. Diavolo slowly got on his knees, carefully crawling back to the window. The other boy wasn't there but his presence lingered behind.

Diavolo liked one American.

 

 


 

 

 

June was warm and busy. More and more people went for walks around the pier, the kids stayed up late, playing on the street while the adults drank wine in the porches of their homes. On an evening like that, with a pleasant breeze blowing gently, Diavolo was sitting in his room, reading his favorite Poe stories. It was dark out and the streets were filled with life, the atmosphere was heavy with the sound of crickets and laughter resonating around the neighborhood.

He suddenly heard the young Valentine enter his room, shutting the door behind him. Diavolo quickly shut his book, tossing it to the side. Just one more glimpse, just to make sure he was still there. The blond rose and slept way earlier than Diavolo did, thus making it impossible for Diavolo to catch any glimpses of him. He'd nervously glance at his room, waiting for his arrival, thinking that maybe he had imagined it all. But no, sure enough, he was still there. He was dressed in his pajamas, a light blue satin shirt and matching shorts. Diavolo started gazing yet again. He was content with just seeing his neighbor walk around.

Those bright blue eyes that had drilled themselves into his brain looked up, once again catching him in the act. Diavolo fell on the floor yet again, waiting until Valentine left the room or at least went to bed. Moments blurred into seconds and he heard the door open and close. He hesitantly looked up, finding the blond waiting for him with his arms folded over his chest, looking annoyed and confused. He crouched down again, holding his bottom lip between his teeth, screwing his eyes shut as tightly as he could.

“You know,” started the other, “if you wanna talk, you only need to ask.”

Diavolo didn't respond. He shakily got on his knees and crawled to the window. His embarrassment didn't really let him look vicious. His head poked over the windowsill and he gulped dryly. The blond was standing across from him, arms crossed over his chest, an eyebrow quirked. His form was barely distinguishable in the lilac twilight. The gentle breeze blew softly, bringing in the faintest scent of peaches. Diavolo's entire face was set aflame. Good thing the other couldn't see how red his face was.

“You must be my new neighbor,” he remarked. “I'm Funny.”

Was this how Americans conversed? Just say hi and then state one of their characteristics? What was Diavolo supposed to say? The other guy was obviously very full of himself, just blatantly declaring he was funny. And how did he know that, exactly? Were his jokes so good that people were continuously reminding him how funny he was?

Diavolo shakily stood up. He thought it was impossible for his face to get even hotter but it did. There he stood, in front of the most beautiful stranger he had met in his entire life in his goddamn Donkey Kong boxers.

“I'm a L-Leo,” he stuttered with uncertainty.

“Your name is Leo?”

“No, my zodiac sign is a Leo.”

“Oh.” A pause. Diavolo's brain sprouted feet and started running around his head. He felt so damn awkward. “O...kay?”

“Hey, don't act so surprised!” he barked. Great strategy. Fucking snapping at him after the world's most awkward introduction. “You're the one who started this!”

“Started what? I just told you my name!”

Diavolo stopped mid-breath. He furrowed his brows, trying to figure out when exactly that had happened. “Your name is Funny?” he asked slowly.

“Yeah.”

“You have a weird fucking name.” Crap. He shouldn't have said that. Even though he couldn't see it clearly, he knew that Funny was scrunching his nose, furrowing his blonde brows.

“What's your name?” he inquired in a sing-song, condescending voice.

“Diavolo.”

At that, Funny snorted loudly before bursting out in howling laughter. Diavolo's head was screeching like a kettle, even the last drop of his blood coming to a boil. His embarrassment had skyrocketed but he was filled with a strange warmth, not related to it. Since it was the first time he was experiencing this feeling, he could only compare it to something else. It was close to the joy of tasting something good for the first time, of hearing a chilling song for the first time, for smelling jasmine the moment it blossomed. Only a hundred thousand times better. Funny's laughter was making him feel that way, his sweet, boyish laughter, as clear as running water in a river. It tasted like fresh gelato in his mouth, felt like a soft blanket during a snowstorm on his skin. A beautiful sound, unlike anything he had ever heard.

“That's not your name!” he accused after his laughter stopped.

“It is.”

“No way. Your Dad's a priest. There's no way he'd ever call his son that!”

“Well, that's the name I chose for myself!” Diavolo declared, stubbornly crossing his arms.

Funny, obviously intrigued, got comfortable on the windowsill. One of his legs dangled freely over the edge and in the little light, Diavolo could make out the shape of a smooth, sun-kissed calf. “What about your real name?” he asked.

“I'm not telling you.”

Funny pursed his lips. “Even if I politely ask you to?”

“You haven't done it yet.”

“Will you please tell me your real name?”

Diavolo paused only for a few seconds. “No.”

“Please!”

“No.”

“Hmph.” Diavolo heard a little yip. Immediately after that, Funny reached inside his room and pulled up a tiny little dog that barked happily and snuggled in his arms. Funny stroked the dog's fur lovingly, scratching it behind the ears. “I'll find out soon enough anyway.”

It didn't matter. Whatever his real name was, Diavolo had chosen another for himself and whoever disrespected that would suffer the consequences. When he gained power and stuff and stopped being a scrawny fourteen-year-old.

“What breed of dog is that?”

Funny looked at the little animal in his arms. “He's a corgi. They all kinda look like little potatoes but I love them regardless.” As if sensing Funny's words of adoration, the small dog barked happily and Funny gave him a little kiss on his wet nose.

“Which part of Italy are you from?”

“Sardinia.”

“I've never been there. What is it like?”

Pictures of home flooded his head. He sighed longingly. He hopped on the windowsill, mimicking Funny. “Beautiful,” he breathed. Maybe there were more words in English to describe Italy, better words, more poetic. But that was all he could think of at that moment, all he knew.

“More beautiful than here?” The question was innocent and genuine yet Diavolo still managed to take offense in it.

He scoffed, eyes moving to stare at the indigo sky. “You can't even compare this place to Italy. Not with your...McDonald's and your boring parks.”

“America isn't just that!” Funny protested. “You're too harsh.”

“I'm telling the truth.”

“Have you been to the pier?”

“Yes, and it sucked.”

Funny hummed. “You didn't go there the right way.”

Diavolo snorted. Weird kid, though maybe all American kids spoke like that. Funny was the first American his age Diavolo had met. “Is there a right way of visiting places?”

“Everything's better when you have the right company,” he smiled and Diavolo thanked every deity in existence for the dark. Because he was sure that if he had seen Funny's smile, he would've fallen off the ledge like a fool.

“I can show you around one day when it's not too hot,” he offered.

Diavolo's eyes widened. He looked at the other boy, who was tilting his head to the side slightly, still petting his sleeping puppy. He obviously expected an answer, one that Diavolo was incapable of giving.

“I don't like going out,” he gruffly mumbled, barely loud enough for Funny to hear it.

“Don't be like that! This is where you're going to be living! Don't you want to know your home?”

“...fine.”

“What?”

“I said fine!” he shouted. He quickly lifted his head, trying to see the other boy's reaction.

Funny didn't seem to mind the tone of voice. If anything, he seemed intrigued by Diavolo's peculiarities. “It's a date then,” he said as if it meant nothing to him. And it didn't, completely innocent. It was Diavolo's fault for letting his heart skip a beat.

“Oh, shoot,” he chirped, jumping off the ledge, puppy still in hand. “Time for me to go to bed.” Disappointment was written all over Diavolo's face. “You should sleep, too. It's kinda late.”

“...sure.”

Once back inside his room, Valentine's face was illuminated by the artificial light, fully exposing his softly smiling face. Diavolo gulped.

“Good night,” Funny said. “I'll see you around.”

“Good night.”

Diavolo sat on the ledge for a little while longer, listening to Funny climb on his bed. He had a very light step, made no sound when he walked. The lights turned off and Diavolo was left staring at the shadows dancing in Funny's room. Following his example, Diavolo detached himself from his seat atop the ledge and walked to his bed, numbly lifting the sheet and climbing underneath. He laid on his side, eyes glued to the wall inches away from his face. Sleep came hours later, when images of silky flaxen hair and plump peachy lips finally faded from his mind, only to find shelter into the realm of dreams.

 

 


 

 

 


Funny Valentine, Diavolo kept thinking over and over again. Like the song. He looked like one. For years he'd been asking himself, just how exactly does one look like a song? He had heard this in American movies and always thought it was disturbingly cheesy, like all things American. How was it possible for a person to look like a song? But there the answer was, coming to him and he didn't even have to look for it. Funny looked like a song, and that was the end of it. Diavolo couldn't explain it anymore or any better.

For the millionth time that day he sprang up from his bed and dashed to the window. And for the millionth time that day, his entire body deflated in bitter disappointment when he saw that Funny's room was dark and silent, as it had been the entire day. Funny rose much earlier than Diavolo did, was definitely way busier than Diavolo was and since he had a loving relationship with his parents, he didn't need to cower inside his bedroom all day. Throughout the day, Diavolo had heard sounds coming from the Valentine household, but he hadn't even caught the glimpse of Funny. At some point, the house had gone completely dark and silent which prompted Diavolo to think of two scenarios; one, that the Valentines had all been murdered (his money was on a silent murder with potassium cyanide, he wasn't totally sure though, he was still figuring out the details) or that they had gone out for dinner, a concept alien to Diavolo who strongly disliked the man raising him.

Bitter and angry at how Funny couldn't hear his thoughts, Diavolo looked around his room, wondering what to do next. Whatever it was he was going to be doing for the rest of the afternoon, he needed snacks. Those Americans were unlikeable but damn, they had some good snacks. He opened the room but suddenly froze in the middle of the staircase. Coming from below, specifically from the patio, were voices, the voices of people he barely recognized, mixing in polite conversation with the priest. Somewhere in the adult conversation, Diavolo could make out the faint babbling of babies. All this time, their nosy neighbors hadn't paid them a formal visit but the dreaded day had come.

Diavolo looked up, then down again. If he went back in his room, chances were the guests would hear him. Then, they would ask about him and the priest would command him to come down and meet the bastards. He took a deep breath and exhaled cool air. He straightened himself and took a bold step down the stairs. He'd just do as he always did; the raccoon; he'd skitter inside the kitchen, grab some snacks and run upstairs at the speed of light. If they wanted him to stay behind for chit-chat, fine. He could say a bland 'hello'. But no more than that!

When he came down the stairs, he came face to face with a truly jaw-dropping sight. Their visitors, the entire Valentine family, were all looking at him, suddenly silent. But Diavolo only had eyes for their son, sitting on a bamboo armchair next to his mother, holding his baby sister in his arms while the other was playing on his feet.

“There he is,” Funny's mother greeted warmly.

“Come, Solido,” the priest said with a big smile, beckoning him to approach.

Had the setting been different, Diavolo would have corrected the bastard that stubbornly insisted calling him by that name. But he didn't. Almost mechanically, he walked to the patio, eyes wide and glued on Funny, who was staring right back, a polite smile drawn on his beautiful lips. There he was, absorbing all the oxygen around him, while Diavolo looked like something straight out of an infomercial. He approached, drawn by the pretty blond that somehow canceled out everything and everyone around him. He stopped, breathless and exhausted, just a few feet away from Funny, seeing him up close for the first time.

“Hey,” he breathed.

“Hello,” Funny smiled back.

“Starting September, you too will be classmates, huh?” Funny's Dad asked. Diavolo briefly glanced at the other members of the family, just so the priest wouldn't bitch about him being rude later. The Dad was tall, muscular, with a scar on his face and a dull sorrow in his eyes. The Mom was also a brunette, with dark eyes and a sharp jawline. The little girls resembled them, and no one bore any resemblance to blonde-haired, blue-eyed Funny.

“High schoolers!” Funny's Mom added excitedly. “How do you feel about starting school in America, sweetie?”

“It's okay,” Diavolo mumbled with a shrug.

They probably thought he was shy, stressed because of the sudden change in environment. “Funny, why don't you show Solido around one of these days?” the Mom proposed. “You two should get to know each other.”

“Why don't you show Funny your room?” the priest suggested.

Diavolo's ears perked up like an excited dog's. Was that something he could do, just straight up take someone in his room? In his personal space? Of course it was. No one present knew what was going on inside his head, that he was thinking of drowning in those deep blue eyes. How was it possible for someone to have such blue eyes? It looked as if the entire sea had been poured into those eyes, they seemed like windows to Diavolo's past life, the windows to his room and the view he'd wake up to every morning, the endless blue of the Tyrrhenian sea he used to gaze at. He had taken that view for granted, not thinking he'd miss it so terribly one day but there it was back to him in the most unorthodox way.

“Only if he wants to,” Funny quietly said.

“Sure,” he accepted, trying his best to look unwilling and bitter, to pretend that his heart wasn't about to leap from his chest.

Funny stood up, mere centimeters away from Diavolo's face and for the first time ever since spotting him across the window, Diavolo could get a closer look on the other boy. He was wearing nice clothes, a white polo, and light blue shorts, both sporting self-important logos on them. His hair was meticulously brushed, appearing like threads of fine, golden silk under the warm lamplight. Up close, Diavolo saw that Valentine had soft, plump, rosy cheeks, the kind all rich boys had. But of course, nothing could compare to the clarity of his eyes or the sweetness of his lips. Diavolo gulped, completely frozen.

“C'mon,” Funny nudged him and he suddenly snapped out of it. “Let's go.”

“Y-Yeah...”

“We'll call you when it's time to leave.”

“Okay!”

Diavolo led Funny up the stairs and into his room. He paused at the door, observing the area. His bed was messy, a heap of covers and pillows and there were some clothes carelessly dropped on the chair. Diavolo swore under his breath but Funny didn't seem to mind. He walked in, looking around with interest. He waltzed around the small space, observing his surroundings as if he was in a museum. He walked up to Diavolo's bookcase, eyeing his books curiously and he suddenly reached for one. Diavolo darted from the doorway to the bookcase, shielding it from Funny's invasion.

“You can't just touch my things without my permission!” he angrily said.

“I was just looking at your books,” Funny shrugged and walked to the bed, making himself comfortable. “Nice place you got, Solido.”

“Don't call me that.”

“Why not? It's your name.”

“I don't like it.”

“Why don't you like it?”

Diavolo scoffed. He walked to the bed and sat down next to Funny, both their backs flat against the cool wall, feet peeking over the edge. “I'm not telling you.”

Funny pouted and Diavolo's heart did that thing again, that weird jump to his mouth. He was cute. “I don't like secrets,” he said.

“And I don't like nosy people.” Funny said nothing. From their few interactions, Diavolo had reached the conclusion that he was a pretty laid-back kid. He was simply sitting next to him, hands laced on his lap. He had pretty fingers, delicate and fine for a 13-year old boy.

“N-Nice hands,” Diavolo hesitantly stuttered, face immediately flushing a shade darker than his hair.

Funny looked down at his hands as if remembering he had them. He then burst out laughing, sending Diavolo deeper in the pits of despair. “I'm sorry!” he smiled. “I didn't mean to laugh at your face, you just reminded me of my friend.”

Friend. Right. Funny was pretty, rich and pleasant, of course he had other friends. Diavolo felt a twinge of jealousy over people he'd never met, people that had the luxury of being Funny's friends. Diavolo wondered what he was to Funny. Probably the weird new neighbor he was tasked with introducing to society because his parents asked him to. But one look at Funny's face was enough to confuse him. He didn't seem bothered by their interaction. If anything, he seemed genuinely amused. Or maybe it was the twilight, casting mischievous shadows over Funny's face, tricking Diavolo's plasticine brain.

“You have a friend that likes hands?”

“Yeah. He's a bit weird but I like him. You'll like him, too.”

Diavolo frowned. “I don't want to meet him.”

“You really don't like people, do you?”

“It's Americans I don't like.”

“He's Japanese.”

Diavolo paused. “I don't like people.”

Funny chuckled. “Whatever floats your boat...” He glanced around the room once more. “What do you do in your free time?”

Diavolo considered the question. “Back in Sardinia, I used to take our boat and go fishing.”

“I like fishing.” Common ground. Diavolo's lips twitched with a smile. “We go fishing whenever we're at our lake house.”

“What do you do in your free time?”

“I like playing with my dogs. You should come see them, they're the cutest!” Diavolo sat, unblinking. Funny's face seemed brighter when he talked about the things he loved. “I also play music.”

“What instruments do you play?”

“I play the piano and guitar but I like the violin more. I can also play the mandolin with my feet.”

Diavolo blinked, surprised. “Yeah, right.”

“It's true! I can do all sorts of things,” Funny shrugged, smiling cockily. “Wanna see something cool?”

Diavolo furrowed his brows. “You have a mandolin with you?”

Funny laughed. “No,” he said. Reaching inside his pocket, he pulled out a light blue handkerchief. He kicked off his shoes and sat with his legs crossed, waving the handkerchief in front of Diavolo's face. “But I can show you something cooler.” He looked around. He noticed a rubber ball sitting on Diavolo's nightstand. “I'm gonna have to borrow this.”

Intrigued, Diavolo sat cross-legged across the other boy, closely observing his motions. Funny held the ball into the palm of his left hand and covered it with the handkerchief. When he removed it, the ball wasn't there.

“Ta-da!” he exclaimed, grinning proudly.

Diavolo's mouth was hanging open, eyes wide with surprise. He grabbed Funny's hands, examining them closely. He then reached for the handkerchief, suspiciously looking for an answer to what he had just witnessed. His fingers traced some numbers and letter stitched on the cloth.

“It says something here,” he muttered.

“Oh, that's just my birthday.”

Diavolo looked at the date. 20th Sept. 1979. A month younger than him. He was going to remember it.

“What did you do?” he demanded.

“It's just a trick,” Funny exclaimed. He reached behind Diavolo's ear and miraculously, there the ball was, caught between his deft fingers. Diavolo's eyes almost rolled from their sockets. His gaze shifted from the ball to the handkerchief to Funny's triumphantly smiling face.

“How did you do that?” he mouthed breathlessly.

“A magician never reveals his secrets,” was the cheeky reply Funny gave him.

Diavolo kept staring at him, mouth growing dryer with each second. There was no way a being like that was from this world. There was just no way the same Earth that had created Diavolo had also created someone so sweet and confusing. Enchanting, that's the word, one he had heard the tourists mumble over and over again while walking through the island. He wasn't exactly sure what it meant but he had heard them whisper it in awe when seeing something beautiful. So yeah, Funny felt enchanting, otherworldly, like something out of a fairytale and not some American kid. And when he smiled, Diavolo's eyes grew even wider, as if suddenly discovering the meaning of life, just a few weeks before his 14th birthday.

“Maybe I'll tell you if you hang out with me and Yoshikage.”

Who the hell was that? Diavolo had no idea. But the prospect of being so close to Funny again filled with a warm, fuzzy, foreign joy.

“Sure,” he said and smiled.

“Funny!” That was his Dad's voice. Funny perked up. “We're leaving!”

“Coming!” he shouted back. “We're going to my aunt's house,” he explained as he slipped on his shoes.

“Will you be here tomorrow?” Diavolo asked hurriedly, not bothering hiding his anxiousness.

“Yeah. We'll talk, okay? If you wanna hang, just come by. We're just a fence away.” Diavolo nodded. Funny bounced on his feet, straightening his clothes. “I'll see you around, Solido.”

“I told you not to call me that!” Diavolo complained once more. Funny flashed him one final grin before leaving the room to join his family.

Diavolo was probably expected to go down and see the Valentines off. He didn't. He plopped on his bed, limbs sprawled all over the mattress, head sinking in the pillow, eyes glued on the ceiling. He felt numb, his enitre body was buzzing with a low burning excitement. He couldn't move, pinned down as he was by a strong, invisible force. That had to be how those star-crossed lovers felt when they caught each other's gaze for the first time. It felt like dying and being revived over and over again. Falling in love for the first time was absolutely electrifying.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Bubblegum 

 

 

 


I am jealous and pathetic. I can't stand the sight of anyone else standing beside you, anyone but me. But I could never stand by your side anyway, could I? You are made from light, meant to exist in the light. You were born to be seen, born to be worshipped. People should look up at you as you stand bathed by the sun and I will watch you from the shadows. I could never exist in the same space as you. You blinded me. Don't think I'm blaming you. I told you I am pathetic.

I grow bitter easily. You're the only cure for that. Just a kiss... A smile could do. But when was the last time you smiled at me? Our eyes lock at random times and you only ever scowl. I should be mad at you, forgetting you ever even meant something, yet here I am. Loving you. Now and always.

 

 


 

 

One of the days in his very eventful life that Diavolo would never forget would be a seemingly ordinary day in late summer. In the eyes of his then (almost) 14-year-old self, that day seemed normal but looking back at it from an adult's perspective he realized its importance because on that day, June 29th, 1993, Diavolo would meet three people that would deeply mark his his life forever; the woman that would in twenty years' time be known as America's most fearsome divorce lawyer and later First Lady of the United States, as well as his unorthodox rival, Scarlet Valentine, the pettiest, most bitter, gigantic asshole of a human being but surprisingly good parent, Dio Brando and the man, the myth, the hand-fucking legend, Yoshikage Kira.

In the days following Funny's visit, Diavolo would spring awake hours before the sun would rise, waiting for the other boy to wake up. Sometimes sleep would wrestle him back to bed but most times, he'd greet Funny nonchalantly, pretending that he hadn't been up for hours waiting for him. Then they'd talk a little, before Funny was eventually called to breakfast, as well as the rest of his morning activities. In a little over a week, Diavolo managed to 'program' himself to sleep at a reasonable hour (after a long talk with his crush) and wake up mere minutes before Funny.

Diavolo was sitting on the ledge, impatiently, holding a book that he wasn't reading as he kept glancing at Funny's window with every breath he took. Time didn't flow like water in a river, rather like ice that was left to melt slowly, painfully. Each second felt like an eternity, and Diavolo's anxiousness grew. Despite the cool morning dew that caressed his skin, Diavolo was sweating. Slowly, the world around him broke free from its standstill. Soft pink and vivid orange cracked the blue velvety horizon and the first few signs of life made their appearance around him. First, it was the birds, signaling the beginning of the new day just as dawn was breaking. Then came the first few cars, passing through the neighborhood, or speeding down the highway in the distance. Little by little, the neighborhood's houses came to life, including his. And then, Diavolo suddenly looked up, alerted by a sound he had been expecting to hear for what seemed like a century.

Funny pulled the curtains apart, his sweet little face appearing behind the glass. He spotted Diavolo sitting on the ledge and cracked a slow, sleepy smile. Diavolo's breath stopped inside his throat and he smiled back, face flushing pink. Funny opened his window and leaned outside, sighing. He looked so soft first thing in the morning, face and lips a little puffy, eyes not quite open yet, hair a bit messy. Diavolo had the nagging urge to leap forward and hug him.

"Good morning," he greeted warmly and Diavolo's insides got all fuzzy.

"Good morning," he said back in a hushed, awestruck voice. "What's up?"

"Not much, I'm afraid. I literally just woke up."

Diavolo nodded. Made sense. "What's the agenda for today?"

Funny huffed. "I'm sorry but I can't really chat." Diavolo's smile melted quicker than cheese on a pizza. There it was; the excruciating rejection. Funny had figured out Diavolo's feelings and was slowly trying to distance himself from the freak. Then, he'd stop talking to him altogether and go have a cute family and joke with his wife about the fucking weirdo that used to live next to him. "I have to get ready for church," he explained, flashing Diavolo an apologetic smile.

Oh. "Oh."

Funny blinked, confused. "Aren't you coming?"

"Why would I?"

"Because your Dad's the priest?"

Diavolo's eyes widened. Right. He had forgotten about that. He honestly couldn't remember the last time he had gone to church. Had it been anyone else, Diavolo would have barked at them that church was stupid and fuck his Dad for expecting him to show up. But it was Funny, with his clear blue eyes, golden hair and sweet lips, waiting for an answer.

"Sure I'm coming." Funny smiled and gave a little nod. Diavolo blushed harder. Why was he the only one like this?

"I'll see you there, then," Funny said and walked into his bathroom.

Diavolo leaped from the ledge with surprising agility, throwing his book on his bed in the process. What should he do first? His stomach grumbled. Breakfast. He sprang out of his room, screaming as he came running down the stairs.

"I'm coming to church!" he yelled as he barged inside the kitchen. Moving like a maniac, he reached for his bowl, the cereal, and the milk.

His Dad paused for a second to look at him in confusion. "Are you alright?"

"Yes!" Diavolo spat out through a mouthful of cinnamon toast crunch. "No time for chit-chat! I am coming to church!"

The priest's eyebrows rose in bemusement as his son kept stuffing his face with soggy cereal. He finally smiled, sighing as he pat Diavolo's head. The teenager glared at him but it was worth it.

"I'll be going on ahead," he said. "I'll see you there, okay?"

"Sure."

"I'm really proud of you, Solido."

"That's not my damn name!"

Once Diavolo finished his breakfast, he shoved the bowl and spoon inside the dishwasher and ran up to his room. He halted in front of the full-body mirror. Maybe he needed a shower? He sniffed one armpit. Grumbling under his breath, he stormed inside the bathroom, already under the water in mere seconds. He scrubbed furiously, scratching his skin away with the sponge with one hand and lathering his hair with shampoo with the other. The treacherous foam got into his eyes and he shrieked in frustration. The soapy sponge fell from his grasp and landed on the bathtub with a wet splat. Blind and in a rush, Diavolo stepped on the damn thing and slipped on his ass, releasing a string of profanities.

He eventually stepped out of the shower and got to drying his hair. Diavolo usually spent half an hour meticulously blow drying his hair but he had to compress that in five minutes. When he was satisfied with the result, he rushed inside his room in search of an outfit. He froze when he caught the glimpse of his reflection.

"Oh, fuck," he grumbled and numbly touched his hair. Looked like a damn pink fox tail. The only way to fix this mess was to pull it all in a ponytail. He brushed his ponytail, trying to smooth it down somehow.

Unfortunately, he didn't have that much time to plan his outfit so he just went for something appropriate for the temperature and occasion. In the end, a simple black shirt with black jeans and black shoes were what he chose. He hurriedly applied several coats of mascara, sadly having no time for eye pencil. He looked good, as good as he could make himself look in fifteen minutes. He stopped for a moment to check himself. No point in stressing out so much. Funny already liked him. But Diavolo needed to be liked as something more than a friend. Best friend? That'd be terrifying.

Diavolo stepped out of his new quaint American suburban home and immediately froze, back pressed against the door. The world looked so much different in the daylight. It was as if he was suddenly reminded of the harsh reality of immigration. No more sea and vineyards. Now, only picket fences and freshly cut grass. He gulped, trying to find some courage in his dry throat. With almost wooden limbs, Diavolo stepped away from the house and onto the sidewalk, beginning his very nervous and slightly disoriented strut to the church. He had no clue where he was going, he just let his feet carry him to strange neighborhoods.

This place was nightmarish. Everything looked the same. He looked around him; white fences, cobbled driveways, dully colored Chevrolets, rinse and repeat. A maze, that's what it was. He was trapped inside a maze, while the American sun was glaring at him from its throne upon the sky.

(He could have asked for directions, but he'd rather die.)

His last thoughts before dying were of Funny and how pretty he was, how cute when he did his dumb little tricks and flipped his blonde hair. Diavolo saw him walking away, into the light, turning his back to him, leaving him to melt away. From now on, he'd live inside Funny's head as a weak memory and nothing more, to be inevitably forgotten someday soon.

The church's bell rang, calling the parishioners to come pray. Diavolo's ears perked up much like a dog's and he sprung on his feet. His time spent hanging around the sailors at Sardinia and Naples had really enhanced his already heightened sense of direction. Following the thunderous, metallic sound that boomed all through the neighborhood, Diavolo soon found himself in front of a large open space, surrounded by trees and grass, with farms and cows standing in the near distance. The church itself was lackluster and even Diavolo found it disappointing. It wasn't much larger than a warehouse, lacking any personality, no different than those countless buildings he had seen on his way from New York. A white, plain, rectangle of a building, with a large wooden door and symmetrical wooden windows. It had a brown roof and a steel cross perched at the top, malevolently reflecting the early sunlight.

His numb feet brought him inside the almost empty house of God and he looked around with a frown, like a kid that had been promised a tiger shark and got...well, a tiger shark. Empty white walls, rows of wooden pews and a simple altar. Where was the stained glass, flooding the marble floor with red and blue and green light? Where were the statues of saints and angels, narrow and sharp, with deep eyes and angular faces, resisting the temptations sent by the sneering demons? Where were the ethereal music and eerie chanting? Quantity over quality, like all things American. They didn't care about elegance, only about fitting as many people as possible in this barn.

He walked further in, looking for a seat that would efficiently conceal him from the rest of the crowd but he suddenly noticed a blonde head at the first row, surrounded by many brown ones. Diavolo looked around. That was Funny and his family, waiting patiently for mass to start. If he sat this far back, there was no way Funny would notice him, no way he'd know Diavolo was there. But if he sat at the front, people would start talking to him. But he REALLY needed Funny to know they had something in common, or at least make it seem so.

Diavolo took a deep breath, filling his lungs before releasing all the air at once. He puffed out his chest and walked forward, cutting through the rows of pews as if it wasn't the most nerve-wracking thing he had ever done. His eyes remained glued on Funny's head as he walked. When Funny finally noticed him, he cracked a smile and waved. Diavolo waved back, lips twitching with a faint smile, face growing redder.

"Solido!” the priest called, ruining the moment. Diavolo reluctantly tore his gaze from Funny's, turning his head to the older man instead. “Ah, it's so good to see you here, my boy! Come, help me out a little bit!”

Diavolo almost responded in a very classic Diavolo way but he didn't. Funny was still looking at him, expecting him to not be an asshole. Reluctantly, Diavolo accepted the role of fetching the priest whatever items he needed and occasionally chanting from old, weathered books.

Despite the simplicity of the church, this was but a close-knit community of rather well-off families. More people started flooding from the doors, dressed as if they were going to a gala, each dragging a line of almost identical kids behind them. Diavolo recognized the oil tycoon with his doctor wife, this time accompanied by their children, three girls. One of them, the youngest looking, beelined for Funny when she noticed him and quite inappropriately, pulled him in a too-tight hug. Diavolo narrowed his eyes at her. Hot wax dripped from the candle he was holding onto his hand, burning him and also reminding him of his position. He kept glaring at the girl with malice and his hands started shaking when she sat right next to Funny, starting a whispering conversation. His left hand was almost entirely covered in wax but he was numb to the pain, as his blood was burning hotter.

Throughout Mass, Diavolo's head was filled with bitter thoughts, those of a jealous boy. He kept stealing glances at Funny, afraid that he was still whispering with the girl. But he wasn't. He was looking straight ahead, dignified and serious, occasionally turning to his side to quiet his baby sisters. The girl sitting next to him was obviously way less serious about Mass than Funny. She kept playing with her hair, kicking her feet, sighing in boredom. Diavolo observed her discretely. She was kinda cute. She was wearing a red flannel dress and glossy red shoes, with very small heels. Her jet-black, leather-like, straight hair was half-pulled up by a heavy golden hairclip, genuine, no doubt. She definitely looked better than the guy that had put on the first clothes he found, whose hair looked like a mutated fox tail.

Sensing Diavolo's intrusive gaze, she looked up in alarm and Diavolo hastily looked forward. Diavolo kept his eyes at the wall right across for the remainder of Mass, too scared to check on either of them any further.

He waited patiently until Mass was over and then sprinted out of the church, to where the parishioners were having lively conversations, planning brunch while their kids were running around. Locating Funny wasn't hard. He was standing near the entrance with the girl, unsurprisingly. He halted, contemplating whether to go or not. They obviously were close, Diavolo could tell that much from the way they were standing, hands brushing, to the way they talked, laughing at every other word.

“Fuck it,” he decided and made his way for them. He had to assert dominance, show that he wanted to kiss Funny's lips and play with his hair, too.

“Ah! There you are!” Funny exclaimed, flashing him a bright smile, blinding, brighter than the sun.

“Hey,” Diavolo greeted breathlessly, trying to sound as if he had better things to do.

The girl was looking at him and he met her gaze, her sharp, charcoal gaze. Diavolo had never seen completely pitch black eyes in his life before. They were otherworldly, but not in the serene and ethereal way Funny was. Inquisitive and bottomless, they were peering into his very soul. He felt naked in front of those unnerving eyes, as if every detail of his life was exposed. The way she snaked an arm around Funny's shoulders didn't go unnoticed by Diavolo.

“Scarlet,” Funny started, “this is Solido, my new neighbor from Italy.”

“It's not S-”

“Pleasure to meet you,” Scarlet smiled, still scanning him with her black eyes. She suddenly stood up, pulling Funny with her. “I think we should get going, our parents are waiting for us.”

“Oh, right. See you later!” Funny said as they walked away, leaving Diavolo alone and confused and bitter and angry all at once.

 

 


 

 

 


Some things had changed before Funny even realized it. It had been a while now; he was no longer allowed to spend so much time alone with Scarlet anymore, not without an adult supervising them, and he had no idea why. They couldn't sit in her room while their parents were having brunch anymore. But since they had their own, very important matters to discuss, the kids were sitting on the soft grass underneath a silver maple. Funny was running his fingers through the dewy tufts of green. Scarlet's white Persian cat, Charlotte, was nestled in his crossed legs, enjoying the feel of his slim fingers in her fur, melted away to the boy's loving touch. Scarlet was sitting with her legs stretched in front of her, idly observing her painted toenails.

“Are you gonna leave again?” he asked her.

Scarlet sighed. She leaned back, letting herself fall back on the grass. Bits and pieces of the cloudless blue summer sky were evident through the foliage. The scent of baked goods and fresh peaches from the brunch table was being carried by the wind. The babies were playing with their toys. Scarlet's sisters were caught in a world of their own. The adults were discussing the changes around the neighborhood, the arrival of the new neighbors.

“Stellar man, that Father Giacomo,” Scarlet's Dad said, his stuffy voice booming across the yard. “I'm usually skeptical about immigrants but...well, Italians get a pass.”

Laughter. “I'm worried about this boy of his,” Mr. Valentine commented, stern as always.

“Oh, you know how kids these days are, dear. With all that grunge and all this rock...and you know Europeans tend to be less strict on the way they raise their children.”

“He's just a confused little boy,” Scarlet's mother chimed in. Confused. She loved that word.

Scarlet shifted her gaze to the table, listening in to the conversation. She nudged Funny with her big toe. “Tell me about this new kid.”

Funny pursed his lips. “You didn't answer my question.”

“An eye for an eye,” she laughed.

Funny sighed. Tell her about the new kid... Solido Naso was weird. And there were a lot of weird kids in the neighborhood. He had a strange aura about him, something eerie and genuinely romantic Funny couldn't quite place his finger on. He was a kid but he was trying to act serious. His name of choice was also strange, blasphemous, mocking. There were so many questions about Solido Naso, so many mysteries. Even his appearance was singular. And not just the hair. Funny found himself caught up in his gaze whenever they talked. Captivating and fragmented, Funny had never seen anything like it.

“He's weird,” he decided. “But I don't think he's bad. I like him.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. I'll try getting closer to him, I don't want him to feel like an outcast. He is kinda hostile, though. I guess it's the stress from moving to another continent.”

“Perhaps.” Scarlet rolled on her stomach, legs dangling in the air. Her fingers swirled in the grass, throwing a small group of ants in disarray. “He likes you,” he mumbled.

“How do you know?”

“By the way he looks at you.”

How did Diavolo look at him? Funny hadn't noticed anything peculiar. Diavolo appeared more relaxed around him. Funny supposed it was natural, being around people his age was beneficial. He cut his thoughts short, halting the tender caresses on Charlotte's thick fur. Something about Scarlet's tone was troubling him. He had heard about it from his mother, or rather, had 'accidentally' heard about it when his parents were discussing Scarlet's illness. They said that people like her tended to see their demons on everyone. But Funny didn't want to be harsh on his friend. He shut his mouth, offering her nothing more.

“Tell me about your school. Are you going back there?”

Scarlet laughed a mirthless chuckle. As she prepared to sit up, her mother's voice reached her loud and clear. “Scarlet! Don't sit like that, sweetie!”

Scarlet rolled her eyes. She somewhat straightened her dress as she sat up next to Funny, folding her legs like he was. She reached to pet her cat, though the little sweetie had fallen asleep long ago. The sun was falling harsh on her exposed skin. She scooted further under the shade, shielding herself from the rays.

“That wasn't a school,” she admitted in a low, angry voice.

Funny had never asked about the specifics of her sudden departure. His parents, as well as the late Father Andrew, had spoken of an illness, a very harmful type of childish curiosity, that made young kids stray off the path of God and seek solace in the arms of the Devil, in whichever form the wretched creature took. For Scarlet, solace came in the form of a kiss on the lips, of a file filled with sketches of nude female bodies, of cutouts of models hidden under her pillow. One night she was there, the other she wasn't. Mr. Valentine had very sternly explained that Scarlet would be going to a special school that would cure her affliction. They had no communication for the following months, and Funny doubted she ever received those letters he had sent her. Every time he asked them, her parents would simply say that she was fine.

“It was a clinic.”

Funny's eyes widened momentarily. He tasted the word, bitter and metallic on his tongue. A clinic. That was where they sent sick and insane people. Was Scarlet insane? Was her illness contagious? Funny had heard rumors about this raging epidemic but nothing solid. On one hand, he knew his parents would never lie to him but on the other, he ought to be critical, try and be his own man, not just swallow whatever they fed him. Still, he was merely thirteen years old, growing up in a very protected environment with limited sources not checked by his parents. Subconsciously, he scooted away from Scarlet.

His move didn't escape Scarlet who merely huffed and went back to fiddling with the grass. “It was in a monastery,” she resumed, “somewhere in a forest.”

“What did they do to you there?” Funny pressed on, curious. A monastery. How confusing! Just what had that holy place done to Scarlet to offend her so?

Scarlet glanced at the table. The parents were talking about politics, about the army and how the Christian values of the country were under attack every day. She leaned closer, her long black hair brushing Funny's pink knees. “They made us watch movies,” she confessed, voice barely above a whistle of the wind. “Porn.”

Funny's breath hitched in his throat, eyes almost rolling off their sockets. “Porn?” he mouthed. That was a taboo subject in his house. He didn't discuss it with his friends, either, though he knew other kids in school were hiding magazines and picture books under their beds, Scarlet being one of them. Funny knew he was at the age where it was expected to wonder about these things but he couldn't bring himself to do it. Just the sheer idea of doing or watching something so filthy made all the blood rush to his cheeks.

“Yup, hardcore stuff, some of it really painful. They made us watch it for hours and if we looked away or closed our eyes, they hit us. They wanted us to see the natural progression of things, what you're supposed to do. They even brought a couple to fuck in front of us.” Funny's jaw dropped, cheeks burning hot red. “It wasn't enough.”

“Enough for what?” Funny asked, throat suddenly devoid of moisture.

“Enough to convince me. And they tried and tried... using so many ways.” Charlotte woke up and let out a soft little purr, nestling further into Funny's embrace. “Funny, I want you to promise me something.”

The request caught him off guard. He furrowed his brows. He wanted to support his friend but at the same time, he wanted to stay away from the dangers he had heard those horrifying tales about; he was going to be shunned by God and his family, society, and everyone around him, live like an outcast, rot in hell like a piece of meat.

“Sure.”

Scarlet smiled. She crawled even closer, her dress crumbling between her thighs and the damp ground. “One of the nuns kept punishing me for misbehaving. I had it relatively easy because my parents are rich but I guess at some point, I crossed the line.”

“What did you do?”

“I slept on the same bed with another girl.”

“Scarlet!”

Her grin was impish, though the more Funny studied her face, the more interesting details he found. Scarlet's sharp eyes seemed dull, face a bit too pale, laugh a bit too coarse. Her joyful mood was but a mask. Funny didn't have the heart to yank it off.

“Will you let me finish the story?” He nodded. “Thank you. As I was saying, they rarely hit me but I went asking for it and one of the nuns took it upon herself to discipline me.”

“What did she do?”

“She...uh... “ Funny leaned in, yearning for the precious piece of information.

(What was he going to do with this information, anyway? Quench his satisfaction, for one, then let it torment him for days. A secret, kept well hidden in the pits of his mind.)

“She spanked me.”

Funny blinked. “Spanked you?”

“Yes.” Scarlet waved her hands abstractly. “Don't make say it! You know what she did!”

“Okay, okay!”

Scarlet took a steadying breath. “She started hitting me and made me count with her.”

“Scarlet, that's horrible! Do your parents know about this?”

“Probably,” she shrugged. “But that's not the important part. Funny,” she whispered, voice laced with guilt, cheeks same color as her name, “I liked it.”

The confession lasted only for a second yet its echo drilled inside Funny's brain. The words became one with the summer breeze. He scrunched his nose, protectively hugging the cat tighter, putting a furry wall between him and Scarlet. “How is it possible to like that?”

“You'll know when you're older,” Scarlet smiled smugly.

“You're only three months older than me,” he scowled.

“Yeah, but I'm fourteen and you're still thirteen! You might as well be ten!”

Scarlet waved a finger in front of him and Funny bit it softly. Scarlet retracted her hand quickly, jumping up with a yelp. “You're not supposed to do that!”

“Yeah, but I'm a baby, remember? I don't know how to behave yet.”

The two joyfully bickering kids stood up and headed for the table, as their talk had gotten them hungry. After washing their hands, the two kids took their seats on the table next to one another, with the cat strolling around their feet.

“Funny,” his mother called for him while handing him a plate of quiche, “why don't you go out with Solido this evening? That poor thing is probably terrified!”

“Yes, going through such drastic changes at such a tender age can be stressful,” Scarlet's mother added. “Maybe that's why he's doing all these crazy things with his hair and clothes.”

“I'd expect a priest to have better control of his son,” Mr. Valentine added. “Can't believe he's letting his son walk around wearing makeup.”

Funny's gaze shifted to his stepfather. He was idly spreading some apricot jam on a slice of toasted bread but his face was hard and scornful. His stepfather didn't like men wearing makeup and every time a fashion magazine suddenly appeared in the house, he would always comment on the state of the media, on the state of the country.

“I'd say he's handling it pretty well, considering there's no mother to help,” Scarlet's Dad blurted and Funny looked up. “Oh, shit...”

“Anyway,” Mrs. Valentine quickly said, “enough of that! What are the plans for the 4th?”

 

 


 

 

 


Diavolo was laying on his bed, half-naked and with a book in his hands, resting it lifelessly on his slightly moving stomach. No matter how many times he read it, the words wouldn't stick on his brain. All he could do was stare at the ceiling like a corpse, not moving in the slightest. Outside his bedroom, the sun was setting, gracing the sky with soft hues of pink and gold. The wind whistled among the leaves, the neighborhood was still alive but Diavolo was dead. Or dying. Bitterness was smothering him, filling him with emotions he had never experienced before. Funny had returned home at some point but Diavolo forced himself to ignore him, don't go to him, even though it hurt. The rational part of his brain told him he was being stupid. Of course Funny had a life outside of him, a life he couldn't enter. He had friends and a family and all that nice stuff. Diavolo couldn't comprehend that, couldn't grasp the prospect of not monopolizing Funny's time. Just watching him was enough to soothe his soul. Funny was his only solace in this murky place yet at the same time, he was so much more than that. He was a blessing, a wonder, a miracle.

Diavolo was swimming in a sea of golden hair and blue eyes when someone knocked on the door. Diavolo glared at the wood. “Go away,” he barked. He shook his head. Maybe he could try clearing his head and get back to his book, forget about Funny for a second.

But alas! He wasn't free even in solitude. Funny's face appeared through the crack, his sweet smile lighting up the room. He stepped inside the room and Diavolo realized he was actually there, in corporeal form, and not just a shadow in his head. He scurried to the wall, using his sheet to cover himself up to the chin. Funny laughed. He shut the door with his foot and waited.

“Hi,” he said.

“What are you doing here?” Diavolo demanded. Funny grew prettier with every passing day. The desire to touch his golden locks was irresistible.

“I'm going out with a friend and I was wondering if you wanted to tag along.”

“Tag along?”

“Come with.”

Funny had come to invite Diavolo to spend time with him. He considered Diavolo interesting enough to dedicate a few hours of his day to him. Or perhaps his parents had made him do it, had pushed the boy to act as a guide to the newcomer. Diavolo narrowed his eyes, looking at the other boy with hostility. That had to be it. Funny detested him and was only there because his parents had forced him. In fact, he hated Diavolo so much that he had invited another of his friends to help him get through the ordeal. Was it that girl from the church? Scarlet? Were there more?

“Like hell I am,” he snarled and laid down on his bed once again, back turned to Funny.

He heard the other boy huff. He jumped when the bed creaked with the addition of Funny's weight. “Don't be like that! Going out will do you good! You'll get to know the neighborhood, you'll get to make friends...”

“I don't want to know the fucking neighborhood! I don't want to make friends!” Diavolo barked, turning to face the blond.

Funny's polite smile dropped, eyes narrowing. “You are very rude,” he commented. “I came here on my own volition-”

“What's that mean?”

“It means no one made me do it. I just came here to invite you out for a walk. I can't bear seeing you mop around this place like an old man! Even your Dad's out of the house!”

“He's not my Dad,” Diavolo grumbled under his breath. He sat up, setting a safe distance between himself and his crush. “Your parent's didn't force you?”

“Nope. And why do you think they would, anyway?”

Diavolo searched deep in Funny's eyes. He could be lying. Diavolo chased the blasphemous thought away. How could such a pure, sweet creature ever lie? Those sparkling eyes of his were as clear as the morning sky. He genuinely wanted Diavolo's company.

“Fine,” he accepted and that little smile on Funny's face made his heart tumble around his chest. Play it cool, he reminded himself. “Go out, I need to change.”

“No need to be secretive, we're just boys here.”

Diavolo had seen in movies how boys would change in front of each other in their locker rooms no problem. And really, Diavolo had no problem changing with his former classmates after gym class. But Funny was different. Diavolo already hated himself for presenting himself in front of the subject of his affections poorly, sloppily. He needed to be perfect when in Funny's presence, though who could really be perfect next to perfection itself?

He had to be calm, try not to give himself away. He stood up and walked to his closet. Hmm... It was very sunny outside, better go for something light. Diavolo picked a black T-shirt and a pair of black skinny jeans from his pile of sloppily folded clothes.

“Do you only have black clothes?” Funny questioned.

“Mostly.”

“Why?”

“Because I like the color.” Diavolo slipped the T-shirt over his head. Next, he put on his jeans. Another bad hair day. It seemed as though his hair liked sticking out on the top of his head. Some closer inspection informed him that he needed to dye it ASAP.

He turned around, finally dressed and ready to go. Funny stood up, smiling. His feet found the floor soundlessly, carrying him around like a lithe cat. “Shall we go?”

“Yeah.”

As they made their way to the door, Diavolo had to come face to face with the cold, hard truth of him exiting the house. Diavolo didn't want to know this neighborhood, this town or this country. He wanted to gather enough money to run back to Sardinia, and from there, move to Naples. But if Funny wanted to show him around, Diavolo could make an allowance. Funny and his friend, Diavolo reminded himself. Right. There was going to be another one.

The day outside warm and sunny, the dry heat disrupted by a gentle afternoon breeze. Diavolo saw perfect lawns and joyful companies enjoying iced tea on their patios, kids playing in their yards, people walking their dogs, all bathed in the sweet summery glow. Summer in America meant soft ice cream and mindless conversation. Diavolo longed to see the endless blue of the Mediterranean stretch before him, glimmering like a sea of sapphires, wanted to see ships sail from the port, heading to faraway destinations, smell roasted vegetables and lemon trees. Diavolo looked to his side and Funny returned his gaze. And there it was, the entirety of the Mediterranean captured inside those brilliant eyes. Without realizing it, Diavolo stopped, his mind lost to the thought of having those eyes be the first thing he saw in the morning.

“You alright?”

Diavolo's head snapped up. “Uh, yeah. Just wanted to see something.”

Funny looked around. “It's just houses around here. But the neighborhood gets prettier the closer you get to the pier.”

Diavolo doubted it but he still followed the other boy.

“That's my friend's house,” Funny pointed out when they reached a house a little further down the road. It was a very ordinary, boring house, like those surrounding it. Two floors, surrounded by a white wooden fence and tidy yard. Diavolo noticed a dark blue minivan parked outside the garage. Funny pushed the gate open and the two of them walked down the concrete path leading to the front door. Diavolo noticed the name 'Kira' scribbled under the doorbell. So this wasn't Scarlet. Funny had mentioned that one of his friends was Japanese. He rang the doorbell and the two of them waited.

The door was answered a short moment later by a middle-aged, Japanese woman, dressed in a simple skirt and blouse. She looked at the two boys and sighed. “Good evening, Mrs. Kira,” Funny greeted. “Is Yoshikage here?”

“He's here, where else would he be?”

“Can he come out with us? Oh, this is Solido Naso, by the way.”

“It's Diav-”

“He just moved in.”

“Yes, I heard. Welcome to our neighborhood, Solido.” Mrs. Kira leaned against the frame. “I don't think Yoshikage will be coming down anytime soon, sweetie. He's mourning.”

“Still? It's been two years!”

“One year, seven months and five days!” a voice hollered from inside the house.

A window was thrown open on the second floor and a teenager glared down at them. A shadow was covering most of the boy's features, though Diavolo still saw his blonde hair gleaming under the early afternoon sun.

“Oh, come on, Yoshikage!” Funny shouted back. “A little walk will do you good!”

“I'm mourning!”

“Freddie wouldn't like you to sit at home all day! You need some fresh air!”

Yoshikage paused for a second, considering the offer. “Fine,” he said after a while and went back inside, slamming the window shut after him.

“Freddie?” Diavolo questioned.

“Mercury.”

“From Queen? The singer?”

“Yes.”

“He's mourning Freddie Mercury's death?”

“Yes.”

“But he died two years ago.”

“One year, seven months and five days,” Yoshikage corrected sharply, stepping out of the house.

Yoshikage Kira was as ordinary as one could be. He wasn't breathtaking like Funny, but he wasn't ugly either. A boy still growing, his cheeks retained some childish chubbiness, though his sharp cheekbones were still present. He had pale blue eyes, cold and uninterested and blonde hair, neatly combed and short. He was dressed plainly, in a light green polo shirt and green shorts. There was nothing remarkable about him.

“You count the days?” Diavolo snorted.

“The hours.”

“Yoshikage! This is-”

“I know who he is. I heard mother.”

“Well then. Let's go!”

The three boys started walking along the sidewalk. Diavolo was walking with his back hunched, eyes on his feet, hands in his pockets. Yoshikage was quiet, walking with his fingers linked behind his back. Funny was the most cheerful of the three, burdened with the task of initiating a conversation. He talked about many different topics, expecting a response he never got. He looked kind of disappointed and one look at his sweet little face made Diavolo feel bad. Just a bit.

Yoshikage halted abruptly, making the others stop as well. “Where are we even going?” he asked, mildly irritated.

“The park,” Funny shrugged. “I just wanted to show Solido around.”

“It's Diavolo.”

“Yoshikage furrowed his brows. “Is that what you call yourself?”

“You got a problem with that?”

“Hey, is that the ice cream truck?” Funny suddenly blurted.

The three boys all looked at a colorful vehicle, slowly driving away, playing a sweet, repetitive tune. Before they could even question their decision, they all started sprinting after it, hollering at the driver to stop. They caught up to the machine of the dream flushed and panting. Diavolo wheezed and coughed, unable to take his eyes from Funny's red cheeks and wide grin, eyes gleaming as he requested some soft serve. Diavolo didn't really know what to pick so he chose the same as Funny. And so, cones in hand, the three boys walked into the park. It felt like a small grove, really, with tall trees that filtered the golden light, crisp grass and a little stream singing in the distance. Birds were flying from tree to tree, and even a few squirrels dared peak around.

“Nothing beats soft ice cream,” Funny sighed.

“Gelato does,” Diavolo mumbled somewhat bitterly, tasting the foamy, too-cold cream in his mouth.

“Gelato is Italian for ice cream, right?”

“No. Gelato is better.”

“How so?”

“It just is.”

“Gelato has a higher proportion of milk and fewer eggs than ice cream. Or no eggs at all,” Yoshikage explained in the same dead-pan, flat voice he'd been using for the past few minutes.

Funny let out an amused snicker and turned to face Diavolo. “Can't believe he knows more about gelato than you do.”

A flush of embarrassment washed over Diavolo's cheeks. He turned his head away, using his long hair to hide his ashamed face. “Whatever,” he grumbled while glaring daggers at Yoshikage.

Funny was sitting between the two boys, awkwardly trying to relieve the tension. None of them wanted to be there. He stopped talking at some point, feeling really stupid without any responses. As Diavolo was close to finishing his ice cream, Funny frantically searched around for something to latch onto, so to prevent the boy from leaving so soon. When he saw him.

“It's that guy again...” Yoshikage mumbled, his interest suddenly piqued.

Diavolo looked up curiously, to what the other two were referring at. He saw another boy, around their age by the looks of it, climb a tree a little further away. He looked like an animated statue, skin as white as milk under the sun. His hair was blond, silky, neatly combed and his clothes were simple yet stylish. What caught Diavolo's attention were the boy's eyes; sharp and almond-shaped, pure amber with long lashes. Diavolo didn't know such an eye color existed. He looked like a hawk the way he was perched up on that branch, clutching something in his hands and smiling smugly, triumphantly.

“Dio!” another voice called and rapid footsteps came to a halt under the tree. Two other boys came to view, younger; a short little redhead and a black haired kid with clenched fists.

Dio. That was the boy's name. Dio. Diavolo looked at him with wide, intrigued eyes and Dio returned his gaze. He did seem godly, the way the setting sun cast its orange glow over his pale face, illuminating his eyes.

“Dio! Give it back!”

“Or what?”

“I'm telling Dad!”

Dio snorted. He was holding a doll, a vaguely human toy, green in color, with some white lining. At the sight of it, the redhead let out a little whine. Dio laughed. “Do you want this, Noriaki?”

“Give it back to him!”

“I think he has a mouth to speak for himself, Jotaro! And what a large fucking mouth it is! Anyone ever tell you, you look like a frog, Noriaki?”

“Shut up!”

Without a single warning, Dio grabbed the doll by its head and body and tore it in two, its stuffing dancing on the ground like snowflakes. Noriaki started crying loudly while Jotaro kept hollering insults at Dio. Funny stood up abruptly and marched up to the scene.

Dio furrowed his brows at the intruder, lips scowling deeply. “Look who it is,” he mocked. “Are you here to defend the weak, Valentine?”

“You had your fun. Now give back the doll and go home.”

At that, Dio tossed the toy's pitiful remains on the ground and jumped down. He was quick, moving like a feral animal as he grabbed Funny by the collar of his shirt and stuck him up against the tree. Diavolo's body moved on its own. He meant to hit Dio but Yoshikage grabbed his hand, keeping it pinned down.

The move didn't escape Dio, who let go of Funny and put his hands on his hips, sneering, a dark gleam passing over his eyes. "Do you really think that you can lay a finger on I, Dio?"

“Dio, can you please shut up and go home?” Yoshikage sighed before Diavolo could jump at the bastard once again. “We've had enough of you for one day. Just go home before anyone sees what you did.”

Dio scoffed. He scanned the small crowd in front of him as if they were inferior. He stopped to glare at Diavolo for a few long seconds, as if trying to measure him. He turned his back and left, back straight, head held up high with exceeding arrogance.

“Who the fuck was that?” Diavolo inquired.

“His name is Dio Brando and he's a grade-A asshole,” Jotaro explained. He pat Noriaki on the shoulder, trying to comfort him. “Your mom can fix this, right?”

“Probably...”

“No point in losing time, then. Come on, let's go.”

With the departure of the younger kids, the other three saw it as their cue to leave. They started walking back to their homes, a bit more energetically than earlier.

“He lives here?”

“Yes, he and his brother recently moved in with the Joestars.”

“Joestars?”

“They're one of the families that live here,” Funny explained. “One Dad and his three kids; Jonathan, Joseph, and Jotaro. They're from England.”

“And they're stinking rich,” Yoshikage added. “Honestly, you should see their house. It's like a castle!” Funny nodded in agreement. “But Mr. Joestar hasn't adopted the Brandos yet, right?”

“No, not yet.”

“Why would he get this kid to live with him if he's so shitty?”

“Mr. Joestar doesn't know about Dio and well...he's not the best Dad around. But I don't think he had much of a choice. I heard he owed Dio's Dad a favor and that's why he's raising him and his brother.”

Yoshikage snorted. “There are all sorts of crazy rumors about this guy. I heard that he's living with Mr. Joestar to hide from the paparazzi because he's the secret son of Marlon Brando.”

“Marlon Brando?” Diavolo questioned. “The actor?”

“Yup. It's probably a lie but I don't care either way. Dio stands out too much and I don't like being near people like that.” Finally. For the first time since Diavolo met him, Yoshikage had said something he could agree with.

They left Yoshikage outside of his house with no promise of meeting up again. Now left alone, Diavolo and Funny resumed walking towards their homes. Even if they didn't realize it, they were walking slower, trying to win time.

“Did he hurt you?” Diavolo asked after a while.

“No, I'm okay. I didn't think he could but thanks for interfering.”

“What? You're that strong?”

“Of course, I am.” Funny flexed his arms and Diavolo saw...nothing. “Check out these puppies.”

“Your arms look like wet linguini,” he said and Funny started laughing. Pretty sound, loud, refined, stemming from the heart.

“Thank you for the compliment.”

Unfortunately, the time for them to go their separate ways came. Twilight had already arrived, painting the world blue and lilac. Funny's eyes seemed purple, smiling lips even redder. “Did you have fun today?” he asked and his smile seemed a bit sad.

“I did,” Diavolo admitted. A lie, but he would tell more heinous ones if it meant seeing Funny's eyes widen, his lips curl into a relieved smile.

“That's good to hear!” he sighed.

“You know, you don't have to pretend to like me because your parents made you be my friend.”

Funny seemed puzzled. “But I told you I came here on my own! I like spending time with you!”

Decomposing that sentence into its contents would lead to the following result; I like spending time with you = I like being together with you = I like being with you = I like you. Diavolo blushed hard, all the blood rushing to his head, heart beating hard enough to explode.

“You do?”

“Yeah! And we should do that more often!” he beamed, genuinely excited, and his smile seemed to light up the world around him.

“Sure. Why not?” A terrible idea. Going out of the house was a dreadful concept but Diavolo would tolerate it, if it meant being with Funny.

“Sweet. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?”

“Yeah.”

“Good night!”

“You too.”

The priest was at home, doing some work in the backyard while humming an old tune. Not knowing why, Diavolo approached him, peeking over the man's hunched body to where he was carefully planting tulips. He looked up and smiled, wiping the sweat off his forehead with his forearm. His hands were dirty, mud painted his nails black.

“Ah, Solido,” he smiled. “Did you have fun?”

Diavolo sighed. “I guess,” he shrugged.

The priest nodded. He stood up and wiped his hands on his apron. “Dinner will be ready in a while. I made pasticcio.”

“Call me when it's ready.” Without offering the man room for further socialization, Diavolo bolted up and went straight into his room. Heart full of youthful hope, he glanced at Funny's window, only to find it dark. There was music in the air. Violin and piano. A lovely duet.

Not knowing what to do with himself, Diavolo sat down on his desk and reached for the notebook the priest had given him when they had first moved in. To document your thoughts, he'd said, to vent. Diavolo skimmed through the blank pages. Spilling the contents of his mind into that little thing was impossible. His head was filled with Funny, and a few pages would never be enough to describe him. Mindlessly, Diavolo reached for a pen and started scribbling a few, ugly letters.

“Dio Brando,” he wrote, “cunt.” He paused to think. Should he elaborate on that? Nah, it was pretty descriptive. To be fair, Diavolo wouldn't give less of a shit about some dumb kids and their toys but grabbing Funny by the throat should be punishable by death.

“Kira,” he simply wrote next, as Yoshikage sounded very complex. “Doesn't like going out. Annoying.”

The boy looked at his accomplishments. There. That should be enough. There was no point in disclosing his thoughts on his new neighbors. They were all a bunch of dumb, old, pieces of shit. Including the priest. Well... the priest was okay. For now. If Diavolo wrote down what his thoughts on the people of the town were and the priest found the notebook, he'd be furious at him for hanging around the sailors at the port again.

Dinner was nice. Quiet. The priest tried striking a conversation but after receiving only grunts and shrugs, gave up. A strange sting of guilt found Diavolo's heart. He remembered Funny earlier that afternoon, and how hard he was trying to get him and Yoshikage to talk. And yet, even though Diavolo had been kind of an asshole, Funny still smiled at him and wished him good night.

After finishing his food, Diavolo sought his sanctuary once again. It wasn't that late, perhaps he had time to read a bit before going to sleep. Of course, his gaze traveled to Funny's window, magnetized by the promise of seeing him. In the dark of his room, Funny's form was illuminated solely by the moonlight, as he knelt by the bed, eyes closed, fingers linked, murmuring softly, lost in thought. The silver light fell on his blonde hair and pale skin, making him look like the sort of otherworldly creature one would stumble upon during a walk into the woods. He was praying, Diavolo realized, thanking God for the good day that had passed and hoping for an even better one. Diavolo kept watching, mesmerized. Delicate fingers moved to brush a silky lock of hair behind his ear and Diavolo's breath hitched in his throat.

Funny finished his prayer and stood up, visibly relieved. He looked to the side, noticing Diavolo standing by the window. Diavolo froze in place, just then realizing he had been caught staring. Funny didn't seem bothered at all. Instead, he only gave Diavolo a sweet smile and a little wave, before getting underneath his covers. It was a small gesture, the right thing to do, yet it filled Diavolo's heart with hope and his sleep with dreams of a better tomorrow.

 

Chapter Text

 

Dusty Pink

 

 

 

The car is driving in complete silence. The night is dark and the air is crisp. We're driving past trees and houses with bright yellow eyes, staring at us, knowing our guilt. My guilt. He has nothing to lose. This is a win for him.

I'm the only idiot.

It's been an hour since we left Albany and we haven't said a single word. We'll be in Rye in...an hour and fifteen minutes, forty-five with how he's driving. Christ...Why did I move in Rye? Right. To be close to him, right next to him, as we used to be.

A repetition of history, our history. That's what I want. I want us to meet again, fall in love again, disappear again, this time for good. This desire lasts only for a few seconds before I remember all I have to lose.

The car stops abruptly and I close my eyes, cursing every day that has led up to this moment.

"Look at me."

Words cannot express how much I hate this, him, me. Slowly, I turn my head to him. Our eyes meet and my heart swells. No other car passes. We're surrounded by tall pines. His face is only illuminated by the moonlight. Our breaths are shallow, quiet, agonized. I shift, coming an inch closer to him. I lean forward.

Goddammit.

 


 

 


Diavolo woke up that day filled with determination. He started his day early, ate his breakfast, washed properly and chose a decent outfit. Before he even knew it, he was out of the house, taking deep breaths. It was just another summer day, with the sound of lawnmowers filling the suburban air. Diavolo breathed in through the nostrils, forcing himself to be confident. If others could do it, so could he. Chest puffed out and head held high, the boy made his way out of his house. Destination; the Valentine home.

Even though the two houses were literally a fence away, Diavolo was shocked by the miniscule length of the trip. Before he could even close the gate of his own yard, there he was, standing on the Valentines' doorstep. He gulped and closed his eyes. He murmured things to himself, barely comprehensible garbage that meant close to nothing. He raised his shaking hand slowly, not daring to let it fall on the doorbell.

Too late.

"Look who it is!" exclaimed Mrs. Valentine, smiling brightly at her young neighbor. Of course it would be her. Diavolo believed himself to be lucky but not lucky enough to be greeted by his crush. He gulped. Despite his bravado, he was still thirteen and very anxious when it came to talking to adults. Especially well-intentioned ones. "Hello, sweetie," she said, one arm extending to caress Diavolo's face. The touch was sweet, motherly, warm, the kind of warm Diavolo had never gotten used to. He flinched away involuntarily, a move that didn't go unnoticed by Mrs. Valentine.

"Is Funny here?" he blurted in a single breath, huffing out all the courage he had bottled in the past few seconds.

"Oh, he's not here." Death. Instant death and disgrace. Nothing remained but the void. Abort mission immediately. "I sent him to buy milk. He'll be back in a few minutes, though. Come on in!"

Should he? Should he go in there and wait for The One's arrival? How long would that be? What if Funny never returned and Diavolo would be stuck inside that house forever, awkwardly sitting on the couch with nothing to do but be judged by Funny's parents? He should not, he really should not... but then again, Mrs. Valentine's house smelled like peaches and sugar, and her smile was as warm as her hands. Funny had gotten his mother's smile.

Reluctantly, Diavolo took a step inside. Already he was enveloped by that too-sweet homely warmth. The foyer was wide, the floor made of cool marble. Vases and other artsy knick-knacks decorated the entrance, carefully placed atop carved wooden tables. A slightly open closet stood right next to the grandiose staircase that led upstairs. Mrs. Valentine placed her hand on Diavolo's back and led him further in. As she guided him through the house, Diavolo caught glimpses of the kitchen. Colorful tiles and walls, modern appliances, a dining table reserved only for the closest family members and the indescribable smell of baked goods. He stepped into the living room, a room bigger than his entire house. The room was decorated in all shades of white, beige and muted gold. There was a plush, white L-shaped couch, placed around a rectangular coffee table with a marble top. The curtains, sparkling white and spotless, swayed with the wind, every little flutter letting a clear view to the picture-perfect backyard. There was a marble fireplace, currently empty, with several awards on the mantlepiece.

"Would you like some ice cream, sweetheart?" Mrs. Valentine asked.

Diavolo's mind went back into that fluffy cream of nothingness. "Yes," he said and the woman smiled at him.

The Valentines seemed like an accomplished family, if the several pictures, medals, and awards hanging all around the living room were anything to go by. Diavolo inched closer, examining each item. He saw medals, addressed to Mr. Valentine and another man. His wife's brother? He saw pictures of those two men saluting the Star Spangled Banner, proud in their military uniforms. He saw pictures of Mrs. Valentine passionately playing the piano, being awarded for it several times, too. Diavolo paused for a moment when he saw that unfamiliar man holding the world's most beautiful baby in his arms, shining with joy. The baby was chubby and blonde, looking like a sweet little angel with his twinkling blue eyes. Golden curls cascaded down his shoulders and pink outfit, framing his smiling face. The man and his son were seen together in several other pictures, doing the most ordinary things; there they were fishing, proudly showing the camera what they had caught. Playing together, sitting on the grass, there the man was, laughing to the point of tears while his young son cried in front of a nosy goat. Even though the man was tall, with broad shoulders and black hair, it was obvious he was Funny's real father. He disappeared after a while, then all the pictures showed a different man, Mr. Valentine, smiling less but still gladly posing with his wife and three kids in front of various international landmarks. And while he held his two daughters lovingly, there was a distance between him and Funny, the leftover kid.

Mrs. Valentine returned with the ice cream, two scoops of vanilla with chocolate syrup, colorful sprinkles and a glossy cherry on top. Diavolo eyed the delicacy with hostile curiosity. Too colorful, too...much, like all things American. Even though Diavolo was prejudiced against the poor ice cream, he had to admit it was good, rich, tasted like actual vanilla. The combination with the chocolate syrup was very tasty, too, very sweet but not overwhelmingly so. Diavolo sat down on the couch to enjoy his treat in silence, calmly observing his surroundings. Just as he was getting down to the last few bites, he noticed a pair of dark, beady eyes just staring at him from under the table. Diavolo realized it was a tiny little corgi, sitting under the coffee table. He had never seen a puppy as tiny as that one ever before. A chubby little thing, looking kinda like a furry potato, with soft round paws and stubby legs. Another skittered to Diavolo's feet and let out a little yip. Two more came, their little nails scratching on the floor. It was a chorus of tiny barks, a symphony of squeaky toys that just begged for his ice cream.

"They won't stop until you give them food."

Diavolo jumped, almost dropping the ice cream. He glanced over his shoulder to see Funny leaning against the doorframe, looking over the scene with a relaxed smile. Upon spotting him, the pups all ran up to him, running around his legs while barking joyfully. Giggling, he leaned down to give them all some well-deserved pats.

"Have you been here for long?" Funny asked.

"Not really." Funny stood up and went to sit next to Diavolo. His gaze fell on the bowl Diavolo was holding. Perhaps Diavolo needed to offer him some ice cream? From the same spoon, though? Indirect kiss.

"Mom!" Funny shouted, startling Diavolo. "Do we have any more ice cream?"

"We do! Do you want some?"

"Yes please!"

What was the deal with Americans? Why were they all so damn loud? Why couldn't they just...go to each other and speak normally, not put on a damn concert for the entire neighborhood?

"You guys are loud," Diavolo pointed out before he could stop himself. He paused, regretting his action.

"Yeah," Funny admitted. "Everyone keeps saying that, so it must be true."

Mrs. Valentine came in, holding her son's ice cream. She gave her little boy a pat on the head and he grinned. He turned to Diavolo, still smiling. "Do you wanna go and sit on the backyard?"

"Sure."

The two boys strolled out to the quiet backyard. If Diavolo thought the interior of the Valentine house was show-stopping, that was because he hadn't seen the exterior yet. He had caught glimpses of it from his room but nothing compared to the real thing. It was huge, for one, covered in perfectly mowed lawn. The emerald expanse in front of him was flawless, not even a little sliver of grass sticking out from the rest. In the middle of the backyard was a pool, one surrounded by a stone trim, filled with cool water. The evergreen leaves on the sycamore trees swayed with the gentle wind, their rustling echoing like a whisper. Children's and dog toys were strewn all over, probably another of the chores Funny had to help his mother with. Funny sat on the edge of the pool and dipped his legs on the water, urging Diavolo to do the same.

"How are you liking it here so far?" Funny asked.

Diavolo shrugged. The honest answer would be that he didn't like it at all but one that day, his anger seemed to have cooled down a little bit, courtesy of the ice cream and good company. "It's okay, I guess. For now."

"You won't stay here?"

"No. I want to travel the world, see everything, meet everyone..." he sighed, gaze shifting to the cloudless sky and every other sky that awaited for him out there. The words felt heavy as they rolled off his tongue, as if a chunk of his personality had fallen out with them. He had never been comfortable sharing information with strangers and despite his beauty and charm, Funny was still a stranger.

Diavolo cleared his throat, trying to shrug this off as nothing. "What do you wanna do when you grow up?"

"Well...I always wanted to be a professional musician. Everyone says I'm really talented," Funny said, puffing out his chest. "But I'll probably end up in the military," he added, a tang of bitterness coloring his voice. He looked at the grass, kicked in the water and ate some ice cream. He smiled a sad little smile that didn't reach his eyes. "Not that it's a bad thing, of course..."

Diavolo knew there was something hiding under his words, something dark and ugly. He didn't press on, not wanting to make their meeting unpleasant.

"Will you play the violin for me?" Diavolo asked in the gentlest, most polite voice he had.

It did the trick. Funny's entire expression shifted in the blink of an eye. A smile spread on his lips, sticky with ice cream residue. He sprang on his feet and bolted inside, Diavolo following closely behind. They left their empty bowls in the sink and quickly headed upstairs. Funny let Diavolo in his room eagerly, apologizing for the non-existent mess.

Funny's room was more or less how Diavolo expected it. It was clean and orderly, with crisp sheets that smelled like Egyptian cotton and sweet-smelling white rose on a vase on his nightstand. The room was equipped with everything a boy might need. There was a plush bed against the corner, dressed in fine covers and filled with soft pillows. The window was right above it, light pouring from it and flooding the room. A series of white, wooden dressers were neatly placed against the wall and an armchair stood in the corner, pale blue in color. There was a desk across the bed, currently devoid of homework and school books. Diavolo traced his fingers over the books stacked in the bookcase, titles he had mostly never heard of.

Diavolo sat down on Funny's bed, enjoying the breeze's caress on his back. "You got your own bathroom?"

"Oh, yeah. Makes mornings easier," Funny shrugged. He cleared his throat and adopted the very serious expression of a very serious professional. "And now", he announced, "time for the main event!"

Bearing the theatricality of an expert showman, Funny reached under his bed and pulled out a violin case. From it, he brought out a truly beautiful instrument, white with blue details, matching the décor of his room. Diavolo watched, already mesmerized, as the other boy prepared his violin with dexterous, fluid motions. Funny looked up and smiled.

“This is only the pre-game,” he mumbled. “Just you wait.”

When he was finally done, Funny carefully tucked the violin under his chin and grabbed the bow. Slowly, he moved it closer to the strings, even the faintest touch producing the promise of a melody. Finally, he moved his hand, filling the room with a drawn-out sorrowful note. He weaved each sound in a melody, crafting a story only with his fingers. His eyes were shut and his brow was creased in concentration, hands working mechanically, knowing just how to move and where to press. His body was swaying to the rhythm, following the music with his motions. Diavolo watched the private concert in complete awe, every hair on his body standing. This wasn't the most beautiful melody he had ever heard but this boy playing music for him in that tranquil summer day made Diavolo believe in God's existence. The music soothed his nerves and the picture of Funny, absolutely focused on what he was doing, filled him with unbelievable warmth and sweetness.

The minutes passed by way quicker than Diavolo wanted them to. Funny looked up, removing the violin from his shoulder and placing it back in its case. “What did you think?”

“I...” His numb mind shifted into gear, trying to find the proper words. “Così bello...”

Funny's eyes widened with bemusement. “What does that mean?”

“It means it was beautiful,” Diavolo admitted, voice low and head hanging lower, heavy with embarrassment.

“Thank you. Maybe I can teach you how to play one day. Though... you have to be ready to face the consequences.”

“Consequences?” Diavolo inquired, head perking up.

Funny's tone had gotten grim, eyes bordering on dark gray. Slowly, he sat down on the bed next to Diavolo, fists tight on his lap. “All violinists have a deformity.”

“D-Deformity?”

With slow, ritualistic moves, Funny pushed his hair over his shoulder and tipped his head backward, exposing the underside of his jaw. He took Diavolo's hand and guided it towards his jaw, towards a little bump. Diavolo retracted his hand, grossed out and Funny laughed.

“The hell is that?”

“It's nothing harmful. Just a little bump all people that play the violin have,” he explained. He prompted Diavolo to touch the spot again.

Funny's skin was smooth, soft. Diavolo kept caressing slowly, absolutely mesmerized at the feeling of Funny's skin under his fingertips. His fingers skimmed lower, brushing over his heartbeat. It was steady and healthy, unlike the trainwreck that was going on in Diavolo's ribcage.

“It is contagious, though.”

Diavolo paused for a moment to process the information. He had heard the word 'contagious' somewhere but wasn't sure of its meaning. He thought about it, not wanting to ask Funny, afraid that other boy would think him stupid. Right, it was in a movie about some virus, some deadly disease that spread like wildfire, one that wiped out half the population, one that was extremely-

“Contagious?!” he shrieked and fell off the bed, already contemplating chopping his entire arm off.

Funny burst into laughter, eyes closing as his lips split in a wide, joyful grin. He rolled on his side, laying on the bed and giggling. He kept laughing as Diavolo remained on the floor, looking at him with narrowed, confused eyes. Funny sighed and opened his eyes, staring at Diavolo with a bright smile.

“You're so easy to fool,” he grinned.

Diavolo's jaw went slack. He got on his feet and started pushing the other boy into the wall. “You asshole!” he shouted.

“I'm sorry!” Funny laughed.

“Stronzo,” Diavolo hissed.

“What does that mean?”

“I'm not telling you.”

Funny clicked his tongue. “You're full of secrets,” he mumbled. He scooted near the edge of the bed, letting his legs dangle off of it. “What music do you listen to?”

“Rock bands,” Diavolo shrugged. “Mostly British.” Funny nodded slowly. “Wait, so you're telling me the only music you listen to is what you played me? Those old dudes?”

“I know who Freddie Mercury is!” he offered, as if trying to make himself look better.

“Do you wanna come over to my house and listen to my music?” Diavolo suggested, astonished at his eloquence and ability to not fuck up a human interaction for once. “I listened to yours.”

Funny seemed hesitant. He glanced at the door, as if afraid someone would come in anytime. “I don't know,” he sighed. “My parents don't really let me listen to this kinda stuff.”

“You don't know what you're missing out on.” Funny frowned. He glanced at the door again. The silence allowed them both to listen to his mother going around the house, now with the puppies. “They'll never know.”

“I can't lie to my parents!” Funny gasped, scandalized.

“Be your own man. Don't share everything with them!”

Those words seemed to strike some sort of chord within Funny. He straightened himself, pretty face became more serious, darker. “Okay then,” he finally said and got up.

The two of them left Funny's room and headed back downstairs. “Heading out, boys?” Mrs. Valentine asked from the living room.

“We'll be over at Solido's!” Funny called. He shot Diavolo a warning glare to prevent him from protesting the name-choice. “I'll be back in time for dinner!”

“Have fun!”

Once the promise of a quick return was made, Funny sprang out of the house, Diavolo in tow. Within seconds, the two boys were inside the other house. Diavolo poked his head inside every room, relieved to see that the priest wasn't there. He ushered Funny into his room, immediately regretting his decision. It was a total downgrade going from Funny's tidy and pretty room to Diavolo's messy one. Hastily, he fixed the covers, straightened the chair and shoved a pile of clothes into the overfilled laundry basket. Thankful that the dim light was covering his flaming, embarrassed face, Diavolo offered Funny a seat on his bed.

“So, what's the plan?”

Diavolo approached his bookcase, the place where he kept his most valuable possessions and retrieved a few items, namely a Discman, some headphones and some CDs. He laid them all on the bed and Funny examined them with curiosity, looking at the cover art with obvious interest.

“We'll start with something you said you know,” Diavolo started as he held a CD. “Queen.” Funny nodded. “We have Freddie Mercury, the lead singer, Brian May, the guitarist, Roger Taylor, the drummer, and John Deacon, the bassist. The band is known for lots of things but what made them legendary was-

“The Live Aid performance at Wembley Stadium in 1986.” Funny smiled, blushing a little. “Yoshikage won't shut up about it.”

Diavolo handled the CD with the utmost gentleness. He offered Funny one headphone while he took the other. They sat with their backs against the wall, close because of the cord's length, thighs touching, golden hair tingling Diavolo's neck. The music blared in their ears, songs and melodies Diavolo had listened to a hundred times before, yet they seemed different. Clearer. Lyrics he knew by heart, long before he had learned English, seemed to hold a different meaning. Funny listened intently, drumming his fingers on his thigh, humming the rhythm, mumbling the lyrics he had managed to memorize in such a short period of time. He was lost in the music and Diavolo was lost in his eyes that were filled with joy and surprise. His chest swole twice its size at the pride of showing Funny something new, and seeing him enjoy it.

The hours passed and not a word was exchanged between them. The sky went from blue to pink to orange to lilac. The children were still playing outside, the adults were sipping on sweet tea on their porches and the two of them remained in their little cocoon of fragrant silence. As the last song died out, Diavolo looked at Funny, eager to hear his verdict.

“Well?”

“Hmm... You have a great music taste, Solido.”

Diavolo smiled, the sweetness of the compliment dulling the bitterness of his name. “Do you have any favorites?”

“I liked Queen. And Fleetwood Mac. But I think my favorite was that one song...AC/DC, wasn't it?” His fingers started drumming again, repeating the melody. “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. That whole album was great.”

“You liked it?”

“Yeah! I like how it rolls on the tongue.”

Diavolo looked down at the CD, at all those men and women with their covered eyes. Without missing a beat, he handed it to Funny, whose eyes widened in surprise. “For me?” he asked. Diavolo nodded. “I don't think I can take it.”

“Why not? You liked it.”

“My parents don't let me listen to this kind of music.”

“So you'll be listening to those old dudes for all your life?”

“Hey! Those old dudes paved the way for modern rock!”

“Fine. Take it!” Funny glanced at the CD. He pursed his lips. “You want it. It's rude to refuse a gift.” Diavolo placed the CD on Funny's lap. “It's yours now.”

“I didn't-”

“Learn how to keep a secret.”

Funny huffed. He picked up the CD, examining it. “Does your Dad know you have all these things?”

“No.”

“Why?”

Diavolo shrugged. There was an explanation for that, a rather lengthy and exhausting one, one that Diavolo would rather not think about. “Because they're my things. They're none of his business.”

“But he's your Dad,” Funny argued. “He cares about-”

“I don't want to talk about this,” Diavolo cut in, voice sharp and cold.

Funny closed his mouth. He accepted Diavolo's unwillingness, not wanting to agitate his new friend any more. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend you. Can I make it up to you?”

“I don't know.”

Funny reached behind Diavolo's ear, his graceful fingers brushing against his cheek. He presented Diavolo with a daisy, dainty and thin, spinning it on its stem. “I have more,” he said, and indeed, fished out another identical flower.

Confused, Diavolo touched his ear, finding no flowers. “How did you do that?”

“I told you; a magician never reveals his secrets,” Funny smiled. He tucked both flowers between each of Diavolo's ears.

Diavolo couldn't help smiling. “You keep your secrets, I keep mine.”

“Sounds good.” Funny got off the bed and stretched. “Hey, do you want to come over for dinner?”

Diavolo paused to think for a moment, though the absolutely mouth-watering scent of freshly-cooked food pouring from the window didn't really give much room for thought. “Okay.”

As they were about to enter Funny's house, Funny stopped them. He noticed his stepdad's car and quickly turned to Diavolo. He swiftly removed the daisies from his ears and threw them on the ground. Diavolo didn't have the time to question the move as Funny bolted upstairs, to hide the CD in his room.

“Are you going to stay for dinner, sweetie?” Mrs. Valentine asked.

Diavolo nodded. Mr. Valentine was already sitting on the head of the table, securing his infant daughter on her highchair. “Dad's still not back from the church.”

“Have a seat, then.” Diavolo sat down on the table, right across the two small girls. One of them, the eldest, kept staring at him with her large, black eyes. She, like her sister, looked exactly like her mother and father, nothing like her Cherub of a brother.

“Why is your hair pink?” she asked in her squeaky, toddler voice.

“Because he dies it,” Mr. Valentine replied in his always stern voice, locking eyes with Diavolo. “You Europeans have always been more...colorful.”

“He's a little punk,” Mrs. Valentine cooed, ruffling the much-talked-about mane.

“Can I go wash my hands?” Diavolo blurted, wanting an out from this increasingly annoying conversation.

Even though Mrs. Valentine instructed him to use the ground-floor bathroom (just how many bathrooms did this house have?), Diavolo went upstairs, in Funny's room. The blond boy poked his head out, surprised to see Diavolo.

“Did they send you to come to get me?”

“No, I'm just here to wash my hands.”

Funny's bathroom was as luxurious and neat as his bedroom. Was a kid really allowed to own all these things? He had a bathtub, a large, porcelain one with golden accents, the kind fancy hotels had, marble countertops, a high-tech shower and numerous bottles arranged by color. Diavolo cleaned his hands using strawberry scented soap and wiped them dry on a fluffy, baby blue towel.

“Did you hide the CD?” Diavolo asked.

“Yes.”

Diavolo smiled. “Our secret,” he said and Funny laughed, giving him a small punch on the arm.

 

 


 

 

 


Nights were for sleep and Funny had always been a fan of sleeping. If he had to list his favorite things in the world, sleep would be at the top, followed by food and music. He was a heavy sleeper, too, losing consciousness the moment his head hit the pillow. But on that night, Funny woke up just a few minutes after falling asleep, seeking water. He threw his covers off his body and got off the bed, heading out of his room. The moment he stepped outside, he heard a faint mumbling, a sound he had long before associated with adults talking after the kids had fallen asleep. Curious, Funny listened in closer, realizing that the voice belonged to the priest. He was sitting on the patio together with his parents, talking in a low and anxious voice. Funny went downstairs, thankful that his light step allowed him to go by unnoticed. He hid behind the wall and listened.

“This is all a reaction, I know it, but I can't help worrying.”

“That's understandable,” Funny's mother said. “You're his father.”

“The only father he'll ever have,” Mr. Valentine added. “And the sooner he realizes this, the better.”

“I can't...be rough with him. He's always been such a sweet child, but ever since he found out, he changed completely.”

“He's angry. Give him some time, make small steps every day.”

“I try. The move didn't help, either. I thought going away from home and all our problems there would do him good but I guess he loves Sardinia more than I imagined.”

“We will help you with whatever you might need.”

“You've already helped me. Your Funny is such a sweet boy, he's trying to become friends with Solido!”

“Yes, Funny is a great kid. I'm sure he'll help Solido calm down.”

“Every day I pray to God that my son goes back to being the child he was! It's like he's a completely different person!”

“He'll come around. Eventually.”

Suddenly, one of the puppies noticed Funny and skipped towards him excitedly, letting out little barks. Funny tried shushing his pet furiously but the damage had already been done. His stepfather discovered him, looking at him with furrowed brows. Funny cracked a smile, clutching the puppy in his chest for emotional support.

“I just came to get some water,” he stammered.

There wasn't much he could do after being found out like that, only to be led back in his room. He climbed on his bed and let his stepfather throw the covers over him. The man sat down on the bed, looking at the boy. In the moonlight, all the wrinkles and lines of his face became deeper, like that scar covering half his cheek. The silver hairs on his head stood out bright white. He looked tired and old.

“What did you hear?”

“I heard that...Solido's angry.”

“Yes. Did you hear why?”

“No.” He paused. “Why?”

Mr. Valentine huffed, the only sound he could make that was close to a laugh. “See, Funny, no families are perfect. Some just have it better than others. Like you. When God decided to take your Dad, He sent another.” Funny nodded. Yes, he should be grateful. “Solido doesn't have a family the same way you do. He only he has his Dad, who despite not being his birth Father, is his Father regardless. Am I right?”

“Yes, sir. What about his Mom?”

Mr. Valentine sighed deeply. He seemed really reluctant to answer Funny's questions. “She's in jail.”

“Jail?” Funny repeated, eyes wide in shock.

“Yes. She's a criminal, and never even saw her son. The reason why Solido is so angry, so rude to everyone he meets and does all these crazy things with his hair and face is because he found out he's adopted and didn't take it well.”

Funny sank further into the mattress, feeling a tang of sympathy for the poor kid. He couldn't even begin to imagine what a shock it was finding out that you had no relatives anywhere in the world. Did he know about his mother? Did he know she was a criminal?

“I'm glad you're trying to be friends with him, help him get used to this new life but keep your distance. He is the son of a criminal and criminals only breed criminals.”

Funny opened his mouth to respond, to say that Diavolo wasn't horrible, just a bit finicky, like Scarlet's cat, that being raised by a priest was good for him, that his father would never let him go astray. He stopped himself, pressing his lips in a thin line, choosing silence.

“Yes, sir.”

“You're a good kid, Funny.”

For one moment, it seemed like Mr. Valentine was going to maybe touch Funny or even lean in for a kiss. Such games the treacherous moonlight and the shadows of the dancing curtains played, making affection seem possible. Before standing up, Mr. Valentine turned to the white roses Funny kept on his nightstand. He removed the flowers from the vase, cool water dripping on the floor.

“These will look better in your sisters' room.” Funny nodded, thankful that the dark covered the bitterness in his eyes. “Good night, buddy.”

“Good night.”

They both waited, expecting another word, anything, really. Funny said nothing. He laid down and closed his eyes as Mr. Valentine exited the room. And like always, he was in deep sleep within mere minutes.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Peony 

 

 


The sky is dark as I head out. I don't risk getting a car. God knows who's watching. Most people in the neighborhood are well-intentioned but some are not. I shut the door and front gate as silently as I possibly can. It's cold. I'm dressed for the weather but still shivering. Maybe from the cold. Maybe from excitement. Maybe from guilt.

I'd rather not think about it.

This is the type of thing I can only ever say inside my head, out of fear of sounding cheesy in public. This whole thing is like a drug. Unless you fight to get rid of your addiction, it'll keep coming when you least expect it and bite you on the ass. It will always return, especially when you've forgotten about it, during your happiest moments. Like when your newborn child is sleeping and you're sneaking out to go meet your lover like a damn teenager.

Exactly like a teenager. That's the kind of bullshit we used to do when we first started this. Except we met in my garden shed and the church's basement, not a private yacht.

I should feel guilty. Damn, I shouldn't even be doing this. But here I am, at 2 AM, heading to the pier, glancing over my shoulder to see if a serial killer is after me. Oh god. There's a damn serial killer on the loose and not even that can stop me. I hope Yoshikage's doing okay. It's dangerous to be living alone with such people walking among us.

Salty air hits my face as the vast expanse of the sea stretches out before my eyes. The pier is dark and silent, devoid of all life. It's a haunting scene, eerie and hostile. The wind is howling in the trees, the docked ships sway back and forth. My last hope for salvation is that I get nauseous and vomit on him, then he freaks out and leaves.

Though he'll probably make me some soup and cuddle me to sleep.

As I get on deck, I hear him from below. He's singing, humming, more accurately. He's going around the room. I can smell candles, vanilla and cinnamon. My heart is warm and full. Without a second thought, I go below deck.

I'm sorry, Scarlet.

 

 


 

 

 


It was a warm, sunny, summery day when Diavolo came faced with a shocking discovery. His make up had run out, as had his hair dye. Diavolo stared at the empty boxes and cases with horror, hoping that they'd be refilled the next time he looked at them. Unfortunately, the miracle did not occur, no matter how hard he prayed for it. Enraged, Diavolo tossed the pathetic remnants of his most prized possessions in the garbage bin next to his bed. He fell on the bed, staring at the ceiling. He closed his eyes and breathed through his nose, trying to calm himself. He concentrated on the sounds from outside. Kids were playing on their lawns, moms and dads were chirping the latest gossip, and Funny's violin filled the air. He was in his room, playing. If Diavolo closed his eyes, he could see Funny's expression as he played music as clear as day. The shut eyes, the furrowed brows and those sweet, pink lips of his... Funny always looked good; his hair was always neatly combed and silky, his clothes were clean and ironed and he smelled good. It was clear he made an effort to look good for himself and for others.

Diavolo shot up from his bed, his body shaking with anger. If he ever hoped of getting closer to Funny, the least he could do was care for his appearance. Sure, everyone around him was displeased with his style choices, but he felt confident in this new skin he had fashioned for himself. And unless he felt confident, he couldn't approach the other boy.

Diavolo thought furiously as he paced around the room. Every time he glanced at his reflection, his anger bubbled inside him. He lifted his pillowcase and reached for his wallet. He remembered when he had first gotten it. It was the first item he had ever bought using his own money, earned through summers of working at taverns around the island, sometimes even acting as a guide to some tourists. Inside said wallet, Diavolo found some lire, pieces of the past he stubbornly clung to, oddly enough for him. He also found a crisp twenty-dollar bill, the weekly allowance the priest had agreed to give him. Plain and green, a watery, dirty color he didn't like, complete with the face of a stern-looking man that held no importance to him. He didn't really know what twenty dollars could buy but he hoped it was enough for some eyeliner and hair dye.

There was a little convenience store just a few blocks away, Diavolo had seen it on his way here. If he really was going to go buy all these things, he had to be quick, before the priest returned from the church. He quickly dressed and headed out, trying to make himself as invisible as possible. Wall to wall, hedge to hedge, Diavolo hid and crawled and dashed all the way to the convenience store, breath heavy with worry by the time he was there. The shopkeeper looked up from his magazine and stared at Diavolo for a long minute before cracking a too-friendly smile.

“Well, hello there!” he greeted in the same sing-song tone they all had, white teeth glaring right into Diavolo's soul. “You're Solido, right?”

Diavolo grit his teeth. “Yes,” he said quietly. Better give the man what he wanted and be done with all this quickly. The last thing he wanted was more trouble for himself and more reason for the priest to constantly bug him. “N-Nice to meet you.”

The shopkeeper smiled. “What I can do for you, Solido?”

Diavolo looked around. He had only seen this type of store in movies. They were common in neighborhoods like this, a little spot packed everything one might need in the middle of the night or during a milk shortage. He was aware of the big supermarket just outside the town but that was way too far away and the sun was too bright for him to be walking around dressed in all black for too long.

“I just need a few things,” he said.

The man nodded. He leaned back on his chair, reaching for his magazine. “Just shout if you need anything.”

“Okay.”

Diavolo took a calming breath before walking into the colorful aisles. Shelves stacked with candy all called for him. Peanut butter cups, sour patch kids, fruit rollers, chewing gum... They didn't have this much in Sardinia. As tempting as that cookies and cream Hershey's bar was, Diavolo walked right past it, heading for the cosmetics. The selection was rather poor, as one would expect, yet quite bigger than what his old home had to offer. Most of his cosmetics had been gifts from the girls down at the harbor. The priest didn't like his son hanging out with them. Diavolo didn't really know what these friendly ladies had done wrong.

He glanced over his shoulder to check if the shopkeeper was nosily looking at him. He needed to choose fast. He reached for a box of black hair dye and some black kohl. Maybe two. With this heat, his eyeliner would be melting off faster than wax. Diavolo searched for some pink hair dye but to his great displeasure, found none. A shame but not an unexpected misfortune. He had only gotten actual pink dye twice, when the sailors had brought them from England for the girls and they had kindly given some to him. He weighed his options. There was no way he was going to go bare. Maybe pink food coloring? But how long would that last?

Something caught his eye. White hair dye. Why would anyone want that? Diavolo looked at the box with suspicion, glaring at the overjoyed face of an elderly woman posing at the front.

“The perfect solution for those seeking to embrace white hair but desire a more polished look,” Diavolo read in a quiet, barely audible voice. He more or less understood what that meant. “Can work for those looking to brighten or make a lighter version of another color.”

Right. White could be used to make things lighter. For instance, if someone wanted grass green, they would add some white to their dark green. Mix black and white, you get gray. Mix red and white you get-

“Pink.”

The idea hit him suddenly, a smile appearing on his face. Yes, this would work. Satisfied with his discovery, Diavolo reached for a box of red hair dye and one of white. He checked the items to see if anything was missing. Right. Mascara.

He carried everything to the register and dumped them on the counter, relieved that he had found everything. The shopkeeper, however, clearly puzzled and suspicious of what Diavolo wanted to buy. He looked at the items with furrowed brows, murmuring under his breath.

“Are these for your sister, son?”

An invasive question, one he had no business asking. But again, Diavolo would rather avoid trouble. “These are for me,” he replied and it was clear his response greatly displeased the other man.

“I can't give you these.”

“Why not?”

“It's not right for men to use all these things.”

Not right. The priest had said something similar. The parishioners whispered the same thing as they left the church, glancing at the new boy as if he was from a different species.

Not right.

Diavolo considered offering the man all of his money but he was sure that wouldn't change his mind. “Okay,” he mumbled, face but a mask of disappointment. He sadly gathered everything and with heavy footsteps, he started walking back to the shelves, to return everything to its place. Once he had his back turned to the shopkeeper, Diavolo clenched his jaw. He knew what he had to do. He hesitated. He had never done anything like this before. He had thought about this many times but he'd never actually done it. The priest said it was a great sin but who gave a shit what the priest said anymore?

Diavolo stopped in front of the mirror and carefully, trying to make as little sound as possible, shoved everything down his shirt and pants. The slimmer packages went in his pockets. He tucked his T-shirt into his pants and threw the boxes of hair dye inside, securing they wouldn't fall. As he checked himself one final time, he saw a face through the mirror, the reflection of a glossy visage, immortalized on the cover of Vogue. It was the American version but it was better than nothing. Diavolo grabbed a copy and shoved it down his back, pressing it flat against his ass. He really wasn't fooling anyone, but he wasn't planning on being seen.

The rack filled with Pringles cans made a horrible screeching sound as it collided with the floor. “Hey!” the shopkeeper shouted, alarmed by the noise and existence of overpriced cylinders everywhere. “Kid, are you okay?”

As he heard the man's footsteps creeping closer, Diavolo tiptoed around the shelf, keeping his back hunched. Once he reached the door, he bolted out, running like he was on fire, not looking back. He headed straight for the park, hoping to lose himself among the trees and shrubs. He kept running, laughing at the success of the operation. A sense of pride swole in his chest, growing and expanding and getting in his head. He didn't think about the consequences, about the priest getting mad or some guy demanding compensation. The result only mattered, and that was him finally having some damn eyeliner-

His frenzied escape was cut off rather abruptly as he collided with something. Or rather, someone. He found himself on the ground, dirt in his mouth and eyes. He shakily got up, praying that his prized possessions hadn't gotten squished.

“Watch where you're going, you fucking idiot!” Dio hollered at him. He was still laying down on the ground, trying to dust the dirt off of his formerly pristine shirt. He glared at Diavolo with burning anger before getting up, standing at the same height. “Since you're new here, I'll make a few things clear.”

He emphasized the last word with a harsh push on Diavolo's shoulders, making him stumble backward. He stopped, intrigued by the weird bumps on Diavolo's torso. Before Diavolo could stop him, Dio's hands were down his shirt, yanking the stolen goods out. His amber eyes widened at the sight, jaw hanging before his lips curled into a smile.

“What the hell!?” he shouted, turning to Diavolo with a wicked smile. “You stole all this!” He held the box close to his chest. “You are so fucked-”

The echo of Dio's voice hadn't died out before it was followed by a scream of anguish, as Diavolo's knee collided with Dio's crotch as harshly as humanly possible. The blond fell on the ground with a near animalistic cry, a sound Diavolo had never heard before. As he gazed upon Dio's writhing form, Diavolo contemplated kicking the shit out of him but in the end, he decided against it. The part of him that remained rational advised him to head straight home and barricade himself in his room before the priest arrived and demanded an explanation. Or worse, an apology.

Quick fingers wrapped around his ankle and pulled him down. Diavolo tried kicking Dio off but the other kept him pinned down, climbing on top of him clutching something in his hand. The sunlight reflected on the knife's shiny blade. Dio's knuckles were white around the hilt. He wasn't grinning anymore. His eyes were dark, lips pulled down by fury best fit for grown barbarians.

Diavolo's body froze, paralyzed with fear. This maniac was actually about to stab him in the middle of the day, in a public space of all places. Stabbed to death in a strange country, without even holding the hand of the cute boy next door.

“Hey, asshole!”

A pinecone whistled through the air and landed right on Dio's forehead. Annoyed and alarmed, he looked up. Diavolo followed his gaze and found two boys sitting on a branch above them. One was a brown-haired, green-eyed little kid that was very expertly throwing the pinecones his blond friend was supplying him with. Another round of ammo fell, followed by a string of profanities pouring out of Dio's mouth.

“Nice shot, right Caesar?”

“Dumbass. You can't even get his eye.”

Dio got off, having chosen a new target. He fixed his attention to the two boys and Diavolo found the chance to jump right on his feet and run like hell to the opposite direction.

“Shit, he can climb! Run, Caesar!” was the last thing Diavolo heard before all else was replaced by the sound of his footsteps thumping on the dirt road and his heart drumming in his ribcage. For the second time that day, he ran without looking back.

The house was empty when he entered, the priest was probably still around learning the ropes. He quickly headed upstairs in his room. Locking the door wasn't enough. To ensure his privacy and safety, Diavolo dragged the dresser in front of the door, blocking it off. As much as he couldn't wait to dye his hair, he had to be patient. He didn't have the time for it and so, he hid everything as best as he could. Ideally, there could have been a loose floorboard, just the perfect hiding spot. For now, Diavolo had to make do with the dusty space under his bed and some shoe boxes placed at the front.

Diavolo walked to the window and glanced outside. Funny was in his room, reading something on his bed. Diavolo admired his profile for a long moment, once again lost in his perfection. His gaze roamed all over his fluttering lashes, full, peachy cheeks, the adorable slope of his nose and his flawless mouth, just like a little bow. He didn't linger for too long, afraid the other would catch him staring again. He laid on his bed and reached for a book, mimicking his subject of desire. And he waited, trying to calm himself, all senses fully awake and aware of his surroundings.

“Solido!”

There it was. Diavolo held his breath as he heard thumping footsteps going all the way up the stairs. Even though he was still laying on the bed, his body was as tense as a spring.

“Solido!” He sat up, lowering his book. The priest was outside his door, banging on it with his fist. He grabbed the handle and tried turning it. When the door didn't open, the priest tried again, yanking it down furiously.

[Solido, open the door!]

Diavolo looked around. The entire doorframe rattled. The priest was a pious and peaceful man, violence had always been frowned upon by him. Yes, he would never raise a hand at Diavolo and he had always instructed his son to do the same. Only his son, who at times found himself laying on the ground, totally helpless as the others showed to him that perhaps violence wasn't always horrid. He knew now. He had learned that himself.

[Solido, please! I need to speak to you!]

Diavolo gulped. Should he open the door? Sure, there would be no corporeal punishment but his most precious belongings would still be confiscated and he would have to answer for his actions. The priest knew he was inside. He couldn't pretend he was just sleeping, either. As was common with him, he panicked, having no idea what to do.

“Are you okay?”

Puzzled, Diavolo turned to the source of the voice. Funny was standing at the window, looking at him with obvious concern. “I'm sorry I'm being nosy but-”

“Can you help me?” Diavolo requested breathlessly.

Funny blinked, puzzled. “Help you?”

“I need to leave the house for a while.”

“Leave?”

“Yes, just the house! For a few hours!”

“Where are you gonna-”

“Are you going to help me or what?!”

Funny narrowed his eyes. “Say please,” he commanded.

“Please!”

Funny still seemed hesitant. He pursed his lips, glancing at Diavolo and over his shoulder. “This isn't right...” he said. “My parents-”

“I'll buy you more music if you help me!”

At that, Funny's head perked up. His eyes widened, gleaming with interest, tempted at the offer. He looked down again, as if calculating the distance from the window to the ground. Beads of sweat were running down Diavolo's face. Every second seemed endless. The priest stopped knocking on the door and was running down the stairs.

“Funny!”

“Can you jump down the window?”

Diavolo paused, blinking with confusion. He leaned out of his window, looking down. The ground seemed to move in waves, tufts of emerald coming closer and going in an instant. He had jumped from bigger heights. This was nothing.

“Yes?”

“Great. I'll go get my bike.”

Funny disappeared from his window, scurrying out of his room. Holding onto the windowsill for support, Diavolo placed his one leg on the ledge outside. Once he was certain that his footing was stable, he placed his other foot down. He jumped without much hesitation, landing on the ground with a dull thud. The priest opened the patio's door and headed out. Diavolo sprinted towards the opposite direction, heading out of the front yard. Funny was waiting outside on his bike. It was pretty in its simplicity, pale blue with a little white basket at the front. It shone under the sunlight, much like its rider.

“Come on!” Funny urged him. “Sit down and hold on to me.”

Right. Diavolo could do that first thing no problem. He sat down and froze instantly. His fingers itched to wrap around Funny's slim waist and pull him closer. He longed to just hold him tight and kiss him, kiss him until his lips went numb and time melted like wax. Good thing Funny had his back turned and couldn't see Diavolo's boiling red face. Slowly, Diavolo placed his shaking hands on Funny's shoulders.

“You good?”

“Yes.”

Funny started pedaling, using a bit more effort as he was standing up and carrying two people. The sun shone down on his golden head, making his hair sun like spun gold. The breeze blew gently on their faces, growing stronger as they traversed the neighborhood. Diavolo looked up. The sun was playing hide and seek, disappearing behind the treetops only to appear again a split second later. Lawns, picket fences, star-spangled banners swaying with the wind, they all passed by his eyes like the frames of a movie. Funny was huffing slowly. Diavolo's eyes found the nape of Funny's neck, his soft skin, and velvety hair. He gulped.

Where were they going? Diavolo wasn't sure he knew this part of the town anymore. The last familiar sight had been the church. A whole new world stretched behind it, a few small shops, cafes and a big supermarket a bit further away. Places he barely remembered, first having seen them on the dreaded day he had come here, exhausted after nearly a day of traveling and unable to keep his eyes open.

He glanced over his shoulders, unable to distinguish the neighborhood. The scenery changed yet again. Now, a beach stretched before his eyes, an opening to the endless sea. Though it was nothing like the Mediterranean, the water still run clear and deep and glimmered under the sun. A few people sat here and there, leisurely sunbathing or swimming, enjoying the perfect summer day.

Funny got down from the bike and sighed. “Do you want a popsicle?”

“A what now?”

Funny smiled. He jogged to a nearby stand and Diavolo watched him with narrowed eyes as he purchased two very brightly-colored items, two cylinders to be exact. He walked back to Diavolo and proudly presented him with the items.

“Which one do you want?”

Diavolo glanced at the popsicles. One was dark red in color and proclaimed that it was coca-cola flavored. The other was bright red and cherry flavored.

“I'll take this one,” Diavolo said with some hesitation, taking the coca-cola flavored popsicle and opening it. Inside the tube was...ice? It smelled good, though. Smelled like Coca Cola.

“You gotta squeeze from the bottom to get everything out,” Funny advised, already sucking on his popsicle.

Diavolo did as the other boy advice and his popsicle peeked out from its case. Hesitantly, he gave it a small, experimental lick, licking his lips with the air of a wine snob. “It's...good.”

“Really?”

“Yeah!” It was good, Diavolo decided. He liked coke a lot.

(A habit that would follow him into his later years.)

Funny smiled and Diavolo managed to give him a tiny little smile back. He blindly followed Funny as they walked down to the beach, going to a more secluded part of the coast to sit and enjoy their treats. Funny climbed atop a small pile of rocks and sat down. Diavolo sat next to him. Their feet dangled over the water and their eyes focused to the endless sea ahead. Diavolo kept staring, wide-eyed and yearning for lands unexplored, places he called home and so many more. It seemed as if it was calling out to him, inviting him, daring him.

“Do you like the sea?” Funny asked.

Diavolo turned to him, to see the ocean trapped in his eyes. Perhaps fate had worked her magic to make this moment happen, perhaps there was a meaning deeper than the one he understood but he couldn't just yet. He was too young for complex ideas like that one, too awestruck by the boy sitting next to him to think about anything else.

“Yes.”

“I figured,” Funny proudly declared. “You seem happy.”

“I want to be a sailor when I grow up,” Diavolo admitted.

“Why?”

“There's so much out there, so much to do, so many things to see, so many people to meet. Sailors always had the best stories. Whenever they came back to the port, I'd always run to them and beg them to tell me what they saw. They probably made up most of it but I can't be sure until I've seen everything myself, right?”

“Takes a lot of guts to become a sailor,” Funny murmured. “I couldn't ever do it. I don't think I'd be able to leave my family behind for so long.”

Family. Right. Wife and kids and all that. Diavolo didn't let bitterness ruin this moment. He was the one sitting with Funny and not...Scarlet. His mind drifted to her mechanically. She was the only girl he had seen close to Funny, the only threat so far.

“We all have different dreams.”

Funny hummed. “Did you hang around the sailors a lot?”

“I did.”

“Is that how you got so good at English?”

“Yes,” Diavolo grinned, his chest swelling at the compliment. “I took some classes but I picked up most of it through them. And the tourists.”

“You're very good.”

“Thanks. Do you speak any other languages?”

Funny paused for a second. “I speak French,” he said.

“I do too! Well, not as well as English or Italian, but if you left me at France, I'd be able to go by home.”

“Really?”

“Italy and France aren't that far away. I'd just walk.”

Funny laughed. The popsicle had dyed his tongue and lips a brighter red. A kiss from him would probably taste like cherries.

“Merci de m'avoir aidé.”

“De rien.”

Diavolo nodded. He opened his mouth, putting all his might into forming the words. “Je vous aime beaucoup.”

Funny paused and Diavolo could sweat all oxygen left his lungs. Slowly, the other boy smiled, letting out a small laugh. “Moi aussi.”

 

 


 

 

 

Moi aussi. Moi aussi. Two words spoken in a foreign language wrapped their fingers around his heart. Their echo wouldn't leave his head even as the days went by. Moi aussi. He closed his eyes and Funny's voice, his face, the glimmer of his gorgeous eyes become more vivid than the food in his mouth and the clothes on his skin. He was more real, closer than anything, than the curtain brushing against his knee as he lay on the bed as if in a coma, staring at the ceiling. Moi aussi. The confirmation. To some extent, Funny returned his feelings. Though friendship wasn't what Diavolo wanted, knowing that the other boy liked him even as a friend made his heart flutter. Those words of acceptance took root deep within his heart and made everything else seem so little, so brittle, so unimportant.

The priest had to pay back for the items Diavolo had stolen and made his son apologize to the shop owner and promise to help him with whatever he might need in the future. After that, he sat Diavolo down and had a talk with him. Well, a monologue, really, since Diavolo didn't offer much to the conversation. All he heard were those two words.

Moi aussi.

I like you, too.

He hadn't really seen Funny since then. The boy was busy with the things that made him so special. They greeted each other through their windows, stayed to chat for a few minutes and that was it. Occasionally, he'd catch glimpses of the little angel and be graced with a smile. Funny reminded him of his promise to bring him more music. His voice was hushed, sounding a bit scared but equally yearning and excited. Diavolo couldn't refuse.

Clutching a record clumsily wrapped in whatever scraps of wrapping paper he could find, he stood beside the priest, waiting to be allowed in the Valentines' grand 4th of July party. His hair was washed, freshly dyed and neatly combed, his clothes were clean and his make up was done perfectly. The priest had made seadas and Diavolo had only managed to sneakily eat two. Apparently, the party or potluck of barbeque or whatever other weird words it was called was a big deal, and the two of them had to make a very good impression.

[Please try to smile at the people who speak to you. We need to be on good terms with our neighbors.]

[I will do as I please if they annoy me,] Diavolo grumbled.

The door was answered by Funny, who upon seeing his new neighbors, cracked a big smile. His little rosebud mouth curled up with joy and his eyes sparkled. “Good evening! It's so good to see you, Father!”

“Likewise, my boy.”

“Come in, come in!” The boy ushered them into the house. Already, Diavolo could hear chatter and music coming from the backyard. “Thank you so much for coming!”

“Thank you for inviting us. These are for you,” he said and offered Funny the platter.

“These smell amazing! Thank you! I'll take them to the kitchen, you can go join everyone in the backyard. Will come help me, Solido?”

Diavolo didn't protest. He hoped that in time, Funny would start calling him by his chosen name. For now, he followed the boy into the kitchen. Platters with all kinds of food lay on every flatter surface. Pies and pastries Diavolo had never seen before, cupcakes with over-the-top-patriotic, sugary, plasticky décor, colorful tarts and so many more. Curiously, Funny picked a seada and gave it a bite.

“These are good!” he exclaimed, scarfing down the rest. He licked his fingers loudly before moving on to the next.

“You like them?”

“Yes! What's in here? It's delicious!”

“We use lemon honey and pecorino.”

“Pecorino?”

“It's a type of cheese from Sardinia.”

Funny nodded. “You have to bring us food more often.”

“As often as you like,” Diavolo quickly offered. He suddenly looked down, just then remembering the record. “I brought you this, as promised. I hope you like it.”

Funny accepted the gift, studying the cover carefully. “Leonard Cohen? I've heard that name before. I need a record player for this, right?”

“Yes.”

“I think we have one in the attic. Thank you, Solido,” he smiled and Diavolo could only mirror him. “I'll take this upstairs. You make yourself at home, I'll be right with you!”

And so the dreaded moment came. Diavolo was left all alone, standing awkwardly at the backyard's entrance. He twiddled his thumbs, gaze shifting from one place to the other. He saw faces he vaguely recognized from the neighborhood. Some glanced at him, then going back to their companions to whisper something. As nerve-wracking as the sight of the crowded backyard was, Diavolo had to admit that the party definitely was impressive. Red, white and blue ribbons were hanging from the trees, the mouth-watering scent of grilled meats wafted through the air and loud, cheerful music played from a set of speakers. Kids his age and maybe younger were running around while their parents engaged in all sorts of conversations.

“Hello, sweetheart!” Mrs. Valentine called, placing a warm hand on Diavolo's shoulders. She smiled down at him, ruffling his hair and pinching his cheek. “Aren't you handsome today?”

Diavolo pressed his lips in a thin line. “Thank you,” he mumbled. This woman had only been kind to him. There was no point in being hostile and rude. “Come on,” she coaxed him, gently pushing him into the party. “Don't be shy! Here, you know Yoshikage, right? Why don't you go talk to him?”

Before Diavolo could protest the forced socialization, Mrs. Valentiine had pushed him towards Yoshikage, who was in the middle of filling his plate with burgers and mashed potatoes. The boy looked at Diavolo with mild irritation, his pale blue eyes as passive and uninterested as always.

“Hi,” he mumbled, going back to the food without sparing Diavolo so much as a second glance. “Enjoying the party?”

“I just came.”

“Good for you.”

Finally, liberation came jogging through the door. Funny walked up to the two of them, smiling brightly. “Hey, guys! How's everything?”

“Food's good,” Yoshikage murmured, munching on a burger. “Your Dad's really got it, Funjamin.”

Diavolo narrowed his eyes. That right there was a nickname, the strongest proof that two people were close. Yoshikage didn't really seem to be close to Funny, but then again, he didn't show any emotion ever. Funny laughed and reached for a plate, joyfully filling it with food.

“Aren't you going to eat?” he asked, already biting into a hot dog.

Diavolo hesitantly grabbed a plate and put some food on it. He took a bite out of a key-lime pie, chewing very carefully. “It's good,” he decided, making Funny smile.

“Glad you like it. Don't be shy, you can have as much as you want!”

A platter of chicken wings covered in BBQ sauce caught Diavolo's eye. As he reached for one, his hand came in contact with another, smaller one. Looking down, Diavolo saw a little boy, no older than three or four, looking up at him with wide, blue eyes.

“Sorry,” the little boy chirped, lowering his chubby arm.

“Hello, Diego,” Funny greeted warmly. The boy, recognizing him, waddled up to Funny, instantly demanding a hug. Funny picked him up, planting a big kiss on his chubby cheek. Diego giggled. “This is Solido. He's new here.”

Diego studied Diavolo's face. Diavolo waited for the verdict awkwardly. Children could be harsh. Diego reached for a strand of pink hair, holding it in front of his stunned little face. He went to put it in his mouth but both boys stopped him. Deciding that he wanted to explore the world once again, Diego demanded to be put down. They watched him walk away, in the same, clumsy way all babies did.

“He's such a sweet kid,” Funny mused wistfully, like a grandmother from New England that watched her grandchildren play on her lawn. “He's Dio's brother.”

“What?” Come to think of it, they did look a bit alike, except Diego's eyes were blue and his head wasn't up his ass.

“Yeah. I know, they're so different. It's hard to imagine Dio ever was a good kid, right, Yoshikage?”

“He left.”

“Aww!” Funny exclaimed with disappointment. He scanned the area, seeing no signs of his friend. He sighed and returned his attention to his plate. “He always does that...”

The two boys leaned against the table and looked to the festivities. American parties sure were something, Diavolo had to admit. A few neighborhood dads had made some room and were busting out the moves, much to the dismay of literally everyone else. The priest seemed pretty content. He was drinking something out of a plastic cup, standing in a small circle of fellow neighbors, including Mr. Valentine, whose face was dusted with a blink-and-you-miss-it smile.

“Are you having fun so far?” Funny asked once they had finished all their food. His cheeks were flushed and he looked very pleased with himself. “I don't mean just the party. Are you liking it here at all?”

“I like it when I'm with you,” Diavolo said and it seemed like his soul left his body along with those words. Funny looked at him with mild confusion. Diavolo's face grew beet red. “I-I mean...You're nice to me and you keep me company and...thanks for that.”

Funny smiled. “It's nothing. I can't imagine what you're going through. Such drastic changes-”

“Drastic?”

“Big. Huge changes, dude. You moved out, came to a whole new continent, and you probably didn't have a say in the matter.” Yeah, he didn't. He kicked and bit and ran away from home, but in the end, his protests meant nothing. “The least I can do is help you feel more comfortable. Is it working?”

“Yes.”

“Really? I can't tell with how secretive and snappy you are,” Funny teased, pouting.

Diavolo lifted his head haughtily. “We all have our own paces.”

Funny rolled his eyes, though the smile remained on his lips. It was contagious. “Hey,” he suddenly said, turning to Diavolo. “Do you want to come watch the fireworks with me?”

“Now?” Diavolo looked up to the dark sky. The stars were only kind of visible, outshone by the lights from the town.

“They'll start in a while. Come on, I know the best spot.”

Diavolo followed Funny without question. They slipped past the endless sea of people, stopping only for Funny to exchange a few lines of small talk and maybe a smile. They went inside the house and on the second floor. They passed by several doors, one of which led to Funny's bedroom. Funny stopped abruptly, having picked up an odd sound. Diavolo had heard it too. Sounded like sobbing and sniffing, and it was coming from the bathroom. The two boys exchanged confused glances. The party had been a rather peaceful affair so no one had any reason to cry during it. Funny knocked gently, waiting for a response. Nobody answered. The sobbing continued.

“Excuse me?” he called as he pushed the door open, poking his head inside. “Jonathan? Is that you?”

Curious, Diavolo went in after Funny. He saw a boy sitting all curled up inside the bathtub. His face was all red and his deep blue eyes were full of tears. Upon seeing the two, Jonathan hastily wiped his round, chubby cheeks and bolted up, only to hit his head on the shower cad and fall back down, whimpering in pain.

“Jojo,” Funny called softly, approaching the other boy. “What happened?”

“It's nothing!” Jonathan sniffed, flashing Funny a smile. His gaze shifted to Diavolo. He extended his arm, smiling brightly. “You're Solido, right? I'm Jonathan Joestar!”

Diavolo shook hands with the boy. Jonathan moved to leave, but Funny held him back. “Was it Dio again?”

Jonathan paused. His eyes fogged with more tears, with some trickling down his cheeks. He shook his head, giving Funny another smile. “It's nothing,” he insisted. “I just got a bit sentimental again, that's all!”

“What did he do?”

Jonathan looked at Funny, realizing that there was no escape. He lowered his head, his chocolate brown curls covering his sad little face. “He called me a pig for eating too much, said I'm a classless oaf and told father I had eaten all the peach cobbler when in fact he had thrown it in the trash.”

Funny clicked his tongue. “Have you told your Dad?”

“It's no use,” Jonathan sniffed. “He always takes Dio's side.” Jonathan sighed. He fixed himself and stepped out of the tub. He washed his face, attempting to somewhat tone down his puffy, teary eyes. “I should go back,” he said. “My brothers must be looking for me.”

“That Dio guy really is a cunt, huh,” Diavolo noted as he followed Funny up some more stairs.

Funny gasped, turning to gawk at him in horror. “Don't say that word!” he admonished, giving Diavolo a little slap on the arm. He paused. “He is, though.”

He pushed open the door leading to the attic. The room was far less impressive and grandiose than the others in the mansion, at least during nighttime. The light that entered through the only window cast its rays upon the vague shapes all around the room, some covered in sheets, others locked in chests, family secrets to remain hidden forever.

Funny walked to the window and opened it. “It's safe, don't worry,” he reassured as he stepped on the ledge outside. Diavolo followed his example. “I've done it a hundred times.”

They walked along the ledge, leaning against the roof for support. They walked the entire perimeter, ending on the flat roof that stood above the front porch. Funny sat down, motioning to Diavolo to do the same. The front of the house was far quieter than the back. The sounds from the party reached them distantly, not disturbing their serenity. From their spot, they could see the whole neighborhood, every little rooftop, all the way to the dark sea. However, the roof ahead was nothing compared to the view above. The stars shone brighter than any tiki torch or paper lantern. Millions of silver freckles dotted the blue velvet of the sky, casting their light upon them.

“It's beautiful, isn't it?” Diavolo mumbled, eyes wide as he took in the mesmerizing image. He laid down on the roof, gazing up at the endless cosmos.

“And the stars look very different today,” Funny hummed.

Diavolo turned his face at him. Funny's profile seemed like a part of the landscape. Diavolo easily made out the hills and mountaintops of his nose and lips, as well as the valley of his eyes, shining brighter than any star ever would.

“For here am I sitting in a tin can,” Diavolo continued.

“Far above the world.”

“Planet earth is blue and there's nothing I can do.”

The two boys shared a second of silence before bursting out in laughter. Diavolo could sing the entire song with him. “The fireworks will start at any moment now.”

“What's the deal with the 4th of July?”

“It's the day this country declared its independence,” Funny proudly explained. “Look! Here they are!”

True, in an instant, the air was filled with the familiar sound of fireworks exploding in the sky. They burst into a hundred colorful sparks, painting the night red, white and blue. Music played and the people cheered and Funny's face seemed to glow with wonder as he took in the sight hungrily. Diavolo had seen fireworks countless times before but he had never seen such beauty as the one lying next to him. It really did seem extraordinary that someone like Funny really existed and was sitting next to him, just looking at the fireworks as if his entire life had led up to that moment.

“T'amo,” he whispered and thankfully, his little secret was carried like a dandelion in the wind, scattering, leaving nothing behind but his heart that ached in his chest, burning with a fever he had never experienced before.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Violet

 

 

 


The sky outside is dark gray, clouds heavy with rain are looming overhead. A veil of rain covers everything, so thick that I can't even see past my front yard. I'm laying on the bed, awake, listening to the downpour, hoping I was asleep.

He hates me. I've said this a million times before but now I'm sure. He absolutely despises me. I will never forget the look on his face as he told me he never wants to see me again. The echo of his voice bounces around my head like a fly looking for a window. Every time I close my eyes, I see the fury burning in his own. Cold wrath, that had always been his way. Rather than explosive fits, his true anger manifests through icy stares and cold, heartless words. He doesn't care who he hurts, but then again, in his eyes, I didn't care about hurting him, either.

I lied to him. Deceived him. Manipulated him.

Or so he says.

The ultimate betrayal, he said, all the while the video of Yoshikage's arrest played on the TV for the millionth time that day, as it had been doing for the past week. He hates me with all his might and expresses it any way he can.

He's laying next to me as I'm listening to the storm, hating me as well as himself.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

Diavolo poked his head through the curtains, squinting. He pressed his lips in a thin line, unable to make out whatever it was that Funny wanted him to see.

“I don't see it,” he mumbled.

Funny rolled his eyes. He grabbed Diavolo from the head and forced him towards the direction of the house right across, where a white moving van was half-concealed behind the thick trunk of a sycamore tree. Right on cue, a tall, incredibly muscular, gray-haired man, came out of the house, dressed in sweats and whistling merrily. He went over to the van and reached down for a stack of boxes, which he carried back into the house.

“Do you see it now?” Funny pressed on, sounding quite excited. Perhaps it was customary in American suburbia, to be excited over new arrivals in the neighborhood.

“Is he alone?”

“In such a big house? I doubt it. Plus, there was a wedding ring on his finger.”

“How did you even see that?” Diavolo murmured in awe as Funny grinned, enjoying that his vision was being praised.

“All he does is spy on the new neighbors,” Mrs. Valentine chided, though the smile was audible in her voice. The two boys jumped, surprised by her entrance. So light her step was, airy, like her son's.

“I just wanna know who they are!” Funny quickly defended himself. He turned his face to the window once more, fixing his curious gaze on the house across the street. “We had some idea who Father Giacomo and Solido were before they came but those guys are a complete mystery!”

“You'll find out tomorrow. Once they've pretty much settled in, we'll bake them a pie and take it over. To welcome them. What do you say?”

“Nice!” He turned to Diavolo, still smiling. “Do you wanna come?”

“I don't think I can. I have to help around the church.” Stupid priest, costing Diavolo precious time with Funny. To Diavolo's great surprise and joy, Funny's smile dropped a bit.

“It's okay, maybe some other time.”

“Solido!”

Just a fence away, the priest stood at the patio, calling out to his son. [Food's ready!]

Diavolo grumbled. He got up, but not before scarfing down the last bite from his banana bread. “Thanks for the food, Mrs. Valentine!”

“You're most welcome!”

Funny, being a very polite young man, accompanied his friend out the door. On the front porch, the two boys stopped. Diavolo turned to Funny, a bit hesitant, attributing his flaming cheeks to the hot sun glaring down at them.

“Did you listen to the CD I gave you?” he asked, voice barely above a conspiratory whisper.

“I didn't get the chance to do so,” Funny explained in an apologetic tone. “We can listen to it together. At your place!”

Diavolo's eyes widened, lips sucking in a breath. A smile slowly crept upon his lips, tickling the edges of his mouth. “Yes,” he said, “anytime you want.”

Funny remained at the porch for a few seconds more, until Diavolo had gone into his house. He cast a final glance at the newly occupied residence before going back into his own. Now then. It was the middle of the day and he had nothing to do. His friends were all currently unavailable and it was too hot to go for a ride on his bike. He considered going to the park for some fresh air but he quickly scrapped the idea. Dio could be lurking somewhere, waiting to beat him to a pulp. Funny had thought about talking to his parents several times but no one believed Dio could be anything but the perfect child he posed as. Taking the circumstances into consideration, it was clear that Funny had to find some indoor entertainment. The pool? Swimming alone was a bit boring. Even his dogs were enjoying some quality nap time. Seeing their passed out little bodies, Funny yawned. He never was the one to pass up a napping opportunity.

Suddenly, his head perked up, having thought of something he'd actually been meaning to do for a long time. He walked out to the backyard, where his mother was watering their roses. He approached her from behind but she still picked up the ever so faint rustling of the grass as he stepped on it. She turned to him and smiled, before returning her attention to her roses.

“It's too early for lunch, honey.”

“I'm not hungry.” A lie. He was always down whenever food was involved. He shifted his weight from one leg to the other, trying to find the proper words. Why was this so difficult? He remembered talking about it with everyone, from his mother to his long-forgotten relatives. The wounds were still fresh back then and after a while, everyone assumed he had healed. He was a child, and children tended to forget more easily, there was always something they could busy themselves with. But there was so much he needed to know, so much still to discover.

“What kind of music did Dad like?”

At the sound of that simple, short word, those meager three letters combined to create a tiny word, his mother froze. The hose spilled from the roses to her feet, creating a puddle around her. She remained frozen for a few long seconds, staring at her son. She quickly shook her head, quickly reaching to turn off the tap.

They never talked about his father while his stepfather was present. Or rather, they did talk about him, though it seemed as if they referred to a different man. Mr. Valentine talked extensively about the soldier, the hero, the patriot. It was the first thing he ever said to Funny, at the tender age of seven, sitting in front of the young child and talking to him about the brutality of war and how losing his father in such a gruesome manner was worth it. He talked about ideals and battles needed to be fought, never about the man, the husband, the father. He spoke about him the way people talked about fabled heroes of long forgotten times. They were real but in death, they became something more than human beings. Perhaps he was scared. He, who had faced death, was scared of the cloud hanging overhead, the shadow of a man who loved and whose essence couldn't fit into the story of his demise.

His mother parted her lips breathing slowly. Her eyes became foggy for a split second before she cracked a smile, full of sadness and pride. “Your father had an amazing music taste.”

“Really?”

She nodded. “He liked ABBA a lot, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles...Joan Jett.”

“Scarlet likes her,” Funny mumbled.

“He had this huge collection of records and every time we'd go on a date, he'd play a different one for me. He had this record player that I had given him on the first Christmas we spent as a couple. All the way back in high school.” She chuckled, smiling fondly at the memories. “I still have them. Everything's in the attic, just the way he left it.”

“Can I go take a look?”

“Of course!” she exclaimed. She ruffled his hair, pinching his chubby, peachy cheek. “Have fun.”

Funny climbed the stairs to the top floor and stopped in front of the attic's door. He had entered that room many times but this one was different. He opened the door, curiously stepping inside. The Valentines' attic was like any other attic. That was where they kept the Christmas decorations, useless knickknacks that they didn't want to let go off, winter clothes and several other things they didn't need currently. Old photo albums, carefully preserved military uniforms, his stepfather's memories from before marrying Funny's mother. He liked bringing Funny up here to show him pictures from the Army, most featuring the battered but still smiling face of a very familiar man, a man whose life and memories had been stuffed into boxes and stacked by the window.

Funny had always known that his father's things were kept in that specific spot. His mother came up there regularly to clean them up. She usually stayed for a few hours and her eyes were always red when she came back down. The dust, she said. Maybe she was right. A thick layer of dust lay on the sheet used to cover the boxes. In one swift motion, Funny tore it away, making the dust dance in the light like snowflakes. A moth flew away, landing on a different dark corner of the room. Funny saw more boxes, dusty and a bit worn, carefully stacked on top of one another. There wasn't much to see. After his father's death, his mother had given most of his clothes to charity and had kept only what really mattered. Funny set the boxes on the floor and sat down cross-legged, sleeves rolled up and ready to explore.

There were many pictures of his father downstairs, out of sheer respect, but Funny discovered even more. They were yellowed at the edges and the colors were faded, but the faces on them were vivid and more alive than anyone in the world. His father smiled at the girl held under his arm and she grinned back at him. Funny found their wedding picture, both dressed in ridiculously outdated clothes. Pictures of vacations, picnics, of his mother doing the most mundane things, of his father holding a chubby little baby boy, trying to teach him about the world. Underneath the sea of photographs, he uncovered VHS tapes. Each had a label on it, a date and an occasion.

September 20th, 1979. Best day of my life.

September 25th, 1979. Brought the little guy home.

June 17th, 1980. First vacation!!

July 4th, 1980. Baby steps!

September 20th, 1980. Funny's 1st birthday.

May 3rd, 1983. Fun at grandpa's farm!

There was a VHS player in the room, a dusty old thing no one ever really used anymore. They had bought a new one, a better one, but this old guy still had some life left in it, enough to buzz into life and play the tape. Funny sat in front of the screen, completely motionless, holding in his breath. The screen came to life, showing the image of a blonde toddler dressed in pink. The little boy was standing next to a man's log-like leg, trying to support his chubby body.

“Funny,” his mother cooed behind the camera, earning a really curious look.

“Look at this little man!” his father beamed enthusiastically. “Look what he can do!”

At the sound of his father's voice, the baby's attention was shifted on him. Babbling, he lifted his chubby arms for the man to catch. Holding his son upright, the man started walking carefully, helping the baby make what could very loosely be described as steps. After just a couple, he laughed and tossed his baby to the air. The little boy squealed with joy, his blonde curls flying around his head like a halo.

Trembling, Funny paused the video, just in time to get a clear shot of both his father's and his own smiling faces. When was the last time he had heard his voice? When did he last hold those big hands, look into those bright eyes, hear that booming, joyous laughter? His cheeks were damp and his throat was swollen. His eyes stung, foggy, flooded with tears. Seven years ago, the day he was told he would never see his Dad again, he became a man and tears were unfit to men. He didn't feel like a man. He felt like a little boy, not even a year old, at a 4th of July barbeque, feeling like the whole universe had been shrunk into his father's eyes. The eyes he would never see again. He crawled to the TV, letting the quiet sobs heave his chest. He wrapped his arms around the blocky TV as best as he could, laying his crying face against his Dad's. He cried softly, his sobs resonating within the quiet room. Oh, how he wished to be sucked into that tape, or for it to come to life, even for just a few seconds. Everything had been so rushed, the last time they had spoken, his Dad had promised to come back soon. He only needed a few seconds, just a moment together to tell him how much he meant to him and he needed him there. He screwed his eyes shut, hoping that upon opening them, his dream would come true. It didn't. He only saw the attic, filled to the brim with memories and half-lit by the morning light. His breathing returned to normal, still anxious huffs of breath. He clumsily wiped his eyes and crawled back to his treasure trove.

Now was the chance to remember – no, to discover – who his father really was. Funny reached into the collection of records and pulled out a vinyl that had the smiling faces of four people smiling at him. ABBA, it read in bold, golden letters and Funny turned it around to look at the track list. He remembered some of these songs, by name, though, not by sound. His Dad liked to cook and as he cooked, he played some music and sang along to it, even danced clumsily for his giggling son.

Funny reached for the record player, its baby blue had mostly faded but it still worked just fine. There was a short, whirring sound until the music started, a mellow, melancholic piano, followed by the questioning voice of a woman. She spoke and spoke, asking her questions and demanding answers. Funny kept the music low enough for him and him alone to hear it. He sat with his back against the wall and fished for his handkerchief in his pocket. He took the pale blue cloth in his palms, twisting and feeling the fabric under his fingertips. His fingers skimmed over the blocky stitching, over those little lines he knew so well.

So, when you're near me, darling, can't you hear me S.O.S?

The world around him blurred until nothing but his handkerchief remained. He liked to believe, tried to make himself fall for it, that his father's scent was imbedded in there.

And the love you gave nothing else can save me, S.O.S?

Funny got on his knees, turning around to look outside the window. The moving van was now gone and their new neighbor was probably inside his house. A fence away, Funny saw Diavolo's spotted, hot pink head, resting against the frame as he sat on the windowsill.

When you're gone...

Curious kid, probably the weirdest person Funny knew. Teenage rebellion or a rare case of extraordinarily unique standards? Based on Funny's experiences up to that point, that kid was the most singular person he knew. Something about his hostility, the way he was slowly, so very slowly opening up, made Funny want to be around him even more.

How can I even try to go on?

 

 


 

 

 

 

“This is unfair,” Funny whined for the hundredth time that day, glaring at the key lime pie held in his mother's hands.

“It's to greet our new neighbors, stop being so greedy,” she chuckled, playfully pinching his nose.

Mother and son crossed the empty street and stepped into the newly occupied house across. The lawn was still quite empty and in need of a fresh trim. The mailbox and doorbell still didn't have any names on them, though there were curtains hanging from the floor-to-ceiling windows, white and flowy. Mrs. Valentine knocked a few times and waited for a response. She straightened her back and glanced at her son, making sure his appearance was impeccable.

“We should get your hair cut before school starts,” she mumbled and Funny's face drained of color. Before he could protest, the door opened.

They were greeted by the same man they kept seeing over and over again and boy, was he an absolute unit. Funny wasn't the biggest kid, he actually felt kinda bad about that, but this guy made him feel tiny. He was built like a brick wall, so incredibly muscular and strong underneath his gray sweatshirt and black shorts. He was tall, taller than anyone Funny had ever met before and looked like he could pulverize him with a single flick of his wrist. His almond shaped, blue eyes twinkled and his lips spread in a smile upon seeing them. Despite the gray hair on his head, he looked relatively young, ageless, to be more exact.

“Hello!” he greeted. “Are you the first members of our welcoming wagon?”

Mrs. Valentine laughed. “Oh, we're the first ones? What an honor! My name is Vanessa Valentine, I live right across! This is my son, Funny.”

“Hi.”

“Hey, there little buddy. Nice name you got.”

“Thank you.”

“My name is Esidisi-”

“AC/DC?” Funny blurted. “Like the band?”

“How do you know this?” his mother inquired.

Esidisi laughed, his loud, booming laughter echoing within the quiet neighborhood. “Yes, chico. Like the band. Come in, come in! Don't just stand there!”

“This is for you.”

“Oh, how nice of you, Mrs. Valentine! Please, make yourselves at home and please forgive us for the mess!”

The house was as messy as one would expect. It was one of the nicest, most expensive residences in the neighborhood, second only to the Joestar Manor, with gorgeous marble floors and staircases and an airy lounge with huge windows. Some pieces of furniture had been assembled, others lay around with no clear purpose yet. Funny paused suddenly, having noticed something. A large number of photographs, the kind one saw in prestigious fashion magazines, were placed against the wall, waiting to be hanged. The people on them were aloof, timeless, perfect. Their faces were adorned with color, their bodies were hugged by stunning clothes and jewlery. Men and women, with no clear distinction as to who was what, posed either together or alone, flaunting their beauty, forever to remain immortlized on Esidisi's walls. Was his wife a fashion model? A photographer? A make up artist? A stylist? Funny's train of thought was interrupted once again, even more abruptly this time. Only one photograph was hanging on the wall, the large print of a truly divine creature. The person, young and sunkissed, was sitting on the edge of a stone balcony, surrounded by pale pink roses, staring out to the distance with no particular interest. They wore a silky pink dress, the kind that slithered all across the body, feeling like heaven itself. Their hair, blonde and short, was artfully messed up by the wind and their baby blue eyes were made brighter by mascara. Funny's eyes stopped at their lips, glossy and full, painted pink.

“Who is she?” he mumbled in awe, unable to tear his gaze off the creature.

“His name is Frank Ferdinand,” Esidisi replied. “He's a rising star on the field.”

Funny nodded slowly. His eyes widened and he turned to gawk at Esidisi. “He?” he asked. “That's a boy?”

“Yes. How old are you?”

“I-I'll be turning 14 this September.”

“He's only a year older than you.”

Unable to fully grasp what had been revealed to him, Funny followed Esidisi to the living room, where his mother had already taken a seat on the couch. He hurriedly walked past Esidisi and sat as close to her as possible, not daring to look around anymore.

“How are liking the neighborhood so far?”

“Hadn't had the time and pleasure to explore it just yet but it looks lovely.”

“May I ask how you found the house?”

“Of course. We were looking for a quiet suburb with good schools for the kids.”

“Kids!” Mrs. Valentine exclaimed. “You have kids?”

“Yes, two boys!”

“Hear that? New friends!”

“Yes, we're both very eager for them to make friends. Moving around a lot has definitely taken a toll on their social skills.”

“Where did you live before here?”

“Well...we're both from Mexico but we left there when we were young. After that we went to London, then Rome, Paris, Cairo, Marakkesh, Beijing, Tokyo, Berlin, Athens...”

“You've been all around the world, basically!”

“Basically,” Esidisi shrugged. “It comes with the job.”

“The job?”

“My spouse is a photographer, has collaborated with Vogue and most fashion brands.”

Spouse. The choice of word didn't escape Funny. He lifted his head, furrowing his brows. Esidisi noticed his realization and winked. Mischief looked mighty fine on him. As if he had been made for it.

“That's very impressive. Is she here?”

Esidisi paused. He smiled and nodded. “Honey!” he called, his voice booming through the estate. “Our new neighbor and her son are here!”

A few seconds later, Funny heard the telltale sound of a door opening, of creaking hardwood flooring and flipflops on marble steps. With each passing second, the sound grew closer, nearer, and a sense of dread took refuge in the pits of his stomach. The sound was now a room across, crossing the hall and approaching the lounge. The next moment, a person appeared on the doorway. A man. No, to call him simply a man would be an understatement. He had nothing in common with any man or woman anywhere in the world. Singular, god-like, absolute. He stood there and the world around him fell on its knees, disappearing below his feet. He seemed unreal, too good to exist, to perfect to have been produced the same way other mortals had. Taller than anyone had ever been before, with the immaculate caramel bronze skin of a deity, cheekbones and jawline sharp enough to slice through the skin. His lips, full and perfectly sculpted, remained flat and uninterested, his sharp, hawk-like amber eyes gave away nothing. Dark purple hair was flowing all the way down to his back in messy curls, framing his stunning face and heavy golden earrings His mere existence stripped Funny of his ability to breathe. When the Greeks made sculptures and when the Romans copied them, did they ever think that their creations would one take life, take form more beautiful and perfect than the one they had planned? Funny stared, and even though he had been taught that it was rude, he was unable to look anywhere else, fearing that the man would cease to exist. Those unbearably cold eyes fell on him, piercing him to the bone, bearing his psyche. Was that too much? Too corny? Too ridiculous? Well, it was the truth, for Funny had never seen anything quite like this in his life before and he doubted he ever would.

“Kars, this is Mrs. Vanessa Valentine and her son, Funny. They live right across. This is Kars, my husband.”

Funny felt the temperature in the room drop by ten degrees, felt it become a totally different plane of existence than the hot summer day outside. Next to him, his mother tensed, her body becoming rigid and cold, overcome with some sort of rigor mortis. Death by reality.

“Husband?” she uttered, unable to conceal her shock even in the slightest.

“Thank you for coming,” Kars said though he didn't really sound like he meant it. His voice perfectly matched his aloof and divine physique. His gaze fell on Funny once again and Funny inhaled sharply, his face growing red with shame. “How's it going, kid?”

“You two are a couple?” Mrs. Valentine inquired breathlessly.

“Yes. Judging by your shock, I assume you've never had gay neighbors before.”

“...no.”

Kars smiled, full of pearly teeth and arrogance. “There's a first time for everything.” His tone shifted into something mellow, something sweet, something that sent chills down Funny's spine.

Suddenly, his mother stood up and he, so lost and confused, took a while to register the move. He hurriedly got on his feet, struggling to keep up as she left her house in a hurry.

“We have to leave,” she murmured. “The girls are home alone and-”

“Really? Your husband's car is still there.”

She paused. She looked out. “He must have gone somewhere nearby...”

Offering nothing else, she scrambled out of the house, dragging her clueless son behind her. Kars snorted. His eyes met his husband's and he smiled knowingly. “You insisted we come here.”

“And you promised to behave. Now stop being horrible and help me assemble the bed. I'm not sleeping on the floor a second time.”

Back in the Valentine house, Mrs. Valentine stormed into the living room to find her husband sitting on his armchair, reading his newspaper. Noticing her distress, he furrowed his brows, lowering his newspaper.

“Is something wrong?”

“The new neighbors.”

“What about them?”

“They're both men.”

“Relatives?”

“A couple.”

Mr. Valentine froze, eyes growing wide. “Couple,” he mouthed, tasting the word.

“Can I,” Funny started, cutting the awkward pause short, “go hang out with Solido?”

A forced, feeble smile spread on his mother's lips. “Of course, honey. Just be back in time for lunch.”

Funny nodded. He exited the house, heading for his bike. He cast a fearful glance at the house across, magnetized as he was by its sheer presence. He mounted his back and once he was a few houses away, started pedaling like hell. His legs worked furiously, muscles flexing, sweat rolling down his neck and back underneath his polo shirt. He huffed and puffed, trying to keep his long hair out of his face. The sun glared down at him, bringing his blood to a boil. He pedaled relentlessly until the church came to view. He didn't even come to a full stop, he merely jumped off his bike and tossed it on the grass. He ran into the church, looking for his friend.

“Solido!” he called, his voice echoing through the empty church.

The other boy raised his head, alarmed at Funny's presence. He was by the confessional booth, holding a broom, looking hella confused. “Funny?”

Funny's little feet made no sound as he hurriedly stepped down the marble floor. He practically collapsed on the floor, just then realizing how exhausted he was. His breath was coming out in anguished puffs, a sharp pain stabbing his side. He leaned against the wall, trying to calm himself. There was shade inside the church and the marble interior was cool, soothing his feverish skin.

“What happened?” Diavolo asked, discarding the broom. He wasn't too keen on swiping this entire thing, anyway.

He sat down next to Funny, stretching his legs in front of him. “Mom and I met the new neighbors.”

“The ones that moved to the house across yours?” Funny nodded. “Oh. And?”

Funny took a calming breath, trying to steady his hands. His palms were sweaty, leaving wet imprints on the floor. He looked up. Beams of sunlight, filtered red and blue by the stained glass windows, fell on The Virgin's serene face, illuminating her full, youthful cheeks, bringing them to life. Dressed in all her finery, embracing her blessed infant, terrifying what Catholic imagination could do to a Middle Eastern girl.

“It's a couple. A couple of ...men.”

Diavolo furrowed his brows. “A couple of men. As in ...a bunch of dudes living together? Like Big Brother?”

“No! Two men living together as a couple! Like man and wife! And they have kids!”

Diavolo felt his blood run cold. For the priest to have chosen this neighborhood, he knew exactly what it was, what beliefs its residents had. Good Christian families, the former priest had said in his invite. But apparently, not everyone was. Two men, living as man and wife, spouses, not hiding their bond. Was such a thing even possible? Diavolo knew many did it in the shadows, despite the protests and the legal fights, the world wasn't up to par yet.

“Really?”

“Yes!”

Diavolo straightened his back and pressed his lips together, appearing too serious for a 13-year-old. “So the new neighbors are gay?”

“Don't say that!” Funny shushed him, terrified that they had offended the sacred icons.

“But that's what they are!”

“It's a bad word!”

“It's not! It's not like I called them f-”

“No!” Funny yelled, clasping his hand over Diavolo's mouth. His eyes were wide, full of fear and shock. He was panting, his sweaty palm cupping Diavolo's mouth until he felt a wet tongue lick his skin. He staggered back, face a mask of disgust, looking at his hand then at Diavolo. He punched him on the shoulder, his bony fist able to cause some damage. “That was disgusting. All of it. You're not supposed to say that word.”

“That's the first gay couple you've ever had in the neighborhood?” Funny nodded gingerly. “It seems unlikely. Maybe you guys just aren't observant.”

“I'm sure of it.”

“What do other people's choices matter to you, anyway?” Diavolo shrugged. “I'm pretty sure they don't give a shit about your opinion.”

Funny narrowed his eyes, briefly growing offended and irritated at Diavolo's attitude and choice of words. He decided to let it slide, as they were in a church, and grudges and arguments didn't fit the atmosphere of the place. He sighed, casting his gaze to the ceiling.

“It's wrong,” he decided. “It's wrong for two men to lay together. Or two women.”

“Says who?”

“It says it in the Bible.” Diavolo snorted. Funny shot him a confused look. “Didn't your father tell you this?”

“So what if he did? I'm not my father, I have my own opinions.”

“You should listen to your parents.”

“You know they don't know everything, right?”

“I do. But they still know more than me. If you can't trust your parents, then who?”

“Yourself.”

“Myself,” Funny huffed, half amused, half genuinely baffled. This kid that had come out of nowhere, only a few months older than him, was so sure of himself as if he had swallowed the library of Alexandria. His mythos grew as did Funny's desire to know more. Was Diavolo's confidence based on his experience or was he just full of bravado? There weren't any clues into those fragmented eyes, those eyes that seemed so unnatural at times.

“Are you done here?” he suddenly asked. “I wanna head home and I can give you a ride.”

Diavolo glanced around the church. The floor needed to be mopped, the front pews needed a good polishing, he still had to dust off the statues and finish swiping.

“Yeah,” he said and stood up. “Let's go.”

They rode Funny's bike back home, chatting along the way and letting the warm breeze mess their hair. Diavolo grew bolder with each day, masking his advances as the familiarity between two friends. His hands remained steady on Funny's waist and his eyes roamed on every bit of sunkissed rosy skin he could find.

Funny halted abruptly outside his house, intrigued by the commotion. Many of the neighbors stood at their porches and lawns and the two boys joined them as they all watched the scene playing out in front of them. Scarlet's father stood only a few feet away from Kars on the latter's porch, narrowing his beady eyes with as much ferocity as he could, trying to intimidate the demigod. Kars listened to his ramblings, arms crossed, face blank, uninterested, unbothered.

“Your presence here will corrupt the children!”

“Really? How so?”

“It is immoral to lay with a man! It is against God's law!”

“I don't believe in God so unless you have an argument that applies to me, then I'll have to ask you to leave. You're trespassing.”

“Trespassing?! You stole this land!”

A flash of anger passed over Kars' face. He kept his cool, though his stance was evidently more aggressive. “I bought this with my own money, just as I have purchased all the houses I own in several cities around the world.”

“Then go live there! You're not welcome here!”

“Fuck you,” Kars cackled. “You don't get to tell me where to live!”

“How dare you speak to me that way? A sodomite like y-”

Kars effortlessly picked the man up by the collar of his shirt, slamming his helpless, weak body against the wall hard enough for the thud to echo around the beighrbhood. A collective gasp rose like smoke from the row of houses.

“If laying with another man is a sin, then so is fucking your own sister but that didn't stop your dad, considering how fucked up you are.”

Kars didn't acknowledge the several pairs of eyes watching him intently. He let go off the other man, letting him fall on the ground, panting and feeling his intact throat. Kars loomed over him like the flawless statue of a warrior god, his eyes shining with disdain, fists clenched.

“Then next time you set foot into my property, you lose that foot.”

Three things happened simultaneously; Kars stepped into his house and moved to close the door, Scarlet's father shoved his foot into the way to prevent the door from closing, only to have his nose busted. A graphic crack, black, warm blood ruining a perfectly ironed linen shirt, two hands grabbing a broken nose, a startled scream. Funny heard his mother cry out and race to aid her neighbor.

“The police!” someone hollered. “Call the police!”

Hearing that one of richest residents of the suburb, as well as intrigued as to why such a quiet, upscale neighborhood required the police's presence, had been injured, the authorities arrived within a few short minutes. Kars still stood at his doorway, aloof and unyielding, when the police arrived. He didn't deny the accusation his frantic victim screeched. He offered no resistance, calmly walking towards the squad car, only stopping as he was about to climb inside.

“This is war!” he hollered, his voice booming loud and clear. “On all of you!”

 

 


 

 

 

The first time Diavolo saw the Joestar estate was the night of Kars' arrest. An assembly at George's, Mr. Valentine had said, and Diavolo had reluctantly agreed to accompany the priest, half wanting to see Funny, half wanting to see this supposedly very luxurious house. And it was indeed the epitome of luxury. In terms of grandeur and unnecessary showcases of luxury, it went in par with those absolutely stunning villas in Olbia and Sorrento. The priest would always smile a little smirk whenever they drove past them, always too quickly, as if he knew something those people didn't.

The Joestar Manor was settled on top of a small hill, a bit further away from the rest of the neighborhood but still close enough. The gigantic estate was surrounded by a tall, dark fence. A cobbled driveway led to the charming, fairytale-like fountain that stood in front of the main entrance. Diavolo looked up, gawking at the sheer size of the house and the gorgeous gardens that adorned it. Once inside, a butler came to lead them to the grand lounge, where the meeting would be held. Diavolo saw a grandiose, marble staircase, heavy, crystal chandeliers, fine china on every flat surface, stunning paintings and other expensive pieces of décor presented in glass cases. Some of it looked ancient and genuine, probably priceless and one of a kind. The lounge itself, only a tiny bit of the house, was easily the most majestic room Diavolo had ever been into. Plush couches and armchairs, mahogany and glass coffee tables, floor-to-ceiling doors that led to the garden, the scent of jasmine spilling inside with every gust of summer wind.

This was the kind of luxury Diavolo wanted to surround himself with for the rest of his life.

The butler led the priest to the front of the room, where the adults were sitting. The kids had been pushed to the back, forced by their parents to attend but not allowed to intervene in their talk. Diavolo saw many familiar faces; Joseph with his buddy, Caesar, having a very lively conversation, Jotaro and Kakyoin hunched over Kakyoin's GameBoy, Jonathan chatting with Yoshikage and Funny with Scarlet playing with Diego. Diavolo halted, taken aback by the sight. He took a deep breath. Nothing dangerous there, they were just friends. They had grown together so being friends was expected, right? No, Diavolo couldn't detect anything romantic in the way they engaged and talked. He still had a chance. He casually approached his friends, smiling when Funny grinned up at him.

“Hey,” the blond greeted, still bouncing Diego on his knee.

“Hey, what's up?” Scarlet asked. There was something unnerving about her gaze, something Diavolo couldn't place. It was as if those gleaming, intelligent black eyes knew all his secrets.

“Not much,” he murmured and shrugged, sitting down next to Funny. “Hey, little guy.”

“Hi,” Diego babbled. He was missing a few teeth. He was holding two plastic dinosaurs, trying to get Funny to pay attention to them again.

“So...what's going on here?”

“The neighborhood is holding an assembly regarding the new neighbors,” Scarlet replied, sounding awfully tired and just a bit annoyed. “As if we don't have anything better to do.”

“It's an important issue,” Funny offered.

“Really?” Scarlet met Funny dead in the eye, quirking one brow, nails tapping on her armrest. “You think having gay neighbors is the worst fate you can suffer?”

“Scarlet-”

“And maybe they're bisexual! Have you thought that maybe this is an option? That liking both can be a thing?”

“Hey, hey,” Jonathan intervened, softly grasping Scarlet by the shoulders. “There's no need to fight.”

Annoyed, Scarlet broke free from Jonathan's hold and marched off into the gardens, her red-clad form standing out like a drop of blood against the emerald green lawn.

“Don't worry about her,” Funny reassured him. “She'll come around.”

Diavolo wasn't particularly worried. Just intrigued. Scarlet had reached the gazebo (what a word!) that stood amongst a patch of lavender, and sat down. She was too far away for him to see what she was doing but he could sense her irritation. He couldn't imagine her crying. She was fourteen and her voice was tough as nails and sure, devoid of fear. She felt strangely mature, and not in the way girls usually were.

“Sorry to have kept you waiting, my friends. There were some matters that required my attention.”

George Joestar was an older gentleman in every sense of the word. Even in his house, he was dressed in an expensive suit and his thick brown hair was neatly combed. Had it not been for his ridiculously thick mustache, he would have been the spitting image of Jonathan. He didn't look that old, Diavolo estimated him being around 45-50, but he obviously had some problems with his left leg. He was holding a wooden cane with a golden handle, decorated with a large ruby, and was aided by Dio, who led him to his seat.

“Thank you, my boy,” George smiled once he had sat down. Dio bowed his head and moved to the side, dutifully staying by George's side. His demeanor was way different than usual. He was quiet, respectful and helpful, though exceeding arrogance was oozing from his amber eyes.

“Why's he standing there?” Diavolo inquired.

“Cuz he's an asshole that likes to make a show out of everything he does,” Yoshikage replied.

“Hey,” Jonathan gently scolded him.

“I'm really sorry I couldn't attend last month's services, Father. I was still recovering from my surgery.”

“No need to apologize, Mr. Joestar,” the priest said. “I'm still happy to finally meet you even in these... unfortunate circumstances.”

“Yes, shall we get on with it?”

“They need to leave!” someone barked.

“We're here to hold a civil conversation,” Mr. Valentine said, voice flat and full of authority. “It's not like we can go to their house and demand they get the hell out. Look what happened to Mason.”

“What happened in the end?” Mrs. Valentine inquired. “At the police station?”

“They took Dad's testimony. Everything was going great until this guy called his lawyer, some fancy attorney from New York. They claimed self-defense, brought in footage from the security cameras at the house and walked away scot-free. He didn't even pay a fine,” Scarlet's older sister explained. “He's going to sue Dad.”

“Serves him right,” Scarlet mumbled, spooking the other kids with her sudden reappearance.

“He's your father!” Funny hissed, scandalized. “How can you even say that?!”

“He marched into a guy's house and attacked him. He got what he deserved.”

“The problem is way bigger than just a lawsuit,” Mr. Joestar said, trying to calm the angry voices. “These people are going to corrupt the children and ruin this perfectly normal neighborhood with their lifestyle.”

“We can't kick them out,” Scarlet's mother said. “They legally bought the house, that's their land now.”

“How do they even have so much money, anyway?”

“Kars, I think his name is, is apparently a fashion photographer. He even owns a modeling agency that's going quite well, judging by his bank account.”

“A modeling agency?” Mrs. Valentine gasped. “That's why his house is filled with pictures of little boys! He's probably a pedophile, too!”

“That's not true,” Funny mumbled, knitting his brows. He remembered Kars' house with more clarity than his own. All the models were clearly adult, with the exception of Ferdinand. At the thought of him, his face grew beet red.

“So, what can we do if not drag them out? Dammit, I thought the police would cooperate!”

“They have an army of lawyers, some say they even work for the mafia. The police officers have families, they can't risk too much!”

“It's their job to protect us!”

“They can't charge them for anything if they don't have something,” Mr. Valentine said. At this point, he was pacing up and down the room, hands linked behind his back. “Just letting them be isn't an option. We have to think of something.”

“What if we provoke them?” George suggested. “We've all seen how hot-headed this Kars is. If we keep pestering them and giving them chances to antagonize us, they'll take the bait and make a slip. That's our only way.”

“Well, I'm not in the mood to get punched but I'll do it to keep the kids safe.”

There was some overly polite laughter around the room. “Mr. Joestar's suggestion seems to be our only possible course of action,” the priest stated, “but please remember, my friends, that these people have children and whatever we do, we must make absolutely certain that we don't hurt them.”

“Children,” Mr. Valentine scoffed. “They probably stole them from another couple. Has anyone even seen their kids? They're already suffering in this deranged family and God knows what other tortures these freaks are putting them through for them to be so quiet.”

Eventually, it was decided that they would go along with George's plan, provoke their new neighbors until the did something serious, giving the others a reason to chase them out. As the meeting dispersed, Funny walked together with Diavolo, following a few meters after his parents.

“What do you think of this?” Funny asked.

“I'm pretty sure what they want to do is illegal.”

“I think so too. God, this is going to be messy.”

The two boys walked silently for a moment. The night was quiet, save for the pointless chattering and sounds of the nocturnal animals. It was a hot night in July, broken only by the gentle breeze. The scent of jasmine and wet grass filled the air. If he closed his eyes, Diavolo could see the emerald beaches of his home.

“Do you still think it's wrong?”

Funny sighed. “Jesus said to love one another but then again, it's wrong to lay with a man. I know my parents don't know everything but if I'm not to believe them, then who?", he repeated.

“I told you. You have to believe in yourself.”

Funny huffed. He seemed very perplexed, his rosy cheeks a darker shade of pink, eyes gleaming with fatigue. He opened his mouth to speak but his mother called for him.

“Funny! We're leaving, honey!”

“Coming!” He turned to Diavolo, offering him a tired little smile. “I'll see you tomorrow, okay?”

“Sure. Good night.”

“You too.”

The blond raced to his family's car and climbed inside. Diavolo didn't linger for too long, afraid people would catch him staring. He walked up to the priest and they went home, in dire need of some food and rest.

 

 


 

 

 

3 AM, the bright red letters on the clock on his nightstand informed him. Funny lay on his bed completely motionless, his eyes shot wide open, staring at his dark room. He was looking straight ahead but saw nothing. He was tired, exhausted, but too scared to sleep. It had been a while since he had felt this way. The last time he had been too scared to fall asleep, his dreams had been filled with dark dungeons, a man's voice begging for help, his flesh rotting from his bones, melting into a puddle on the floor. Funny's nightmares had changed. They were terrifying only for him. Behind his closed lids, Ferdinand stared at him with his brilliant blue eyes, arrogant and bored, and so gorgeous. Kars was with him, bathed in the golden light, his godly body glowing, his gaze pinned on Funny. That was too much for him to take. He bolted up, drenched in sweat, his pajamas and sheet glued on his body like second skin. His heart was drumming in his chest and it was so loud, he was scared the whole neighborhood would hear it. Shakily, he got his trembling feet on the floor. Some water would help.

His balance was a little off but he managed to walk to the door. He opened the door slowly and ventured out. The whole world was still, deep in sleep, all but him. The night outside was dark and quiet, broken only a few, distant cars that raced up and down the highway. He stopped to glance at Diavolo's house for a second. Father and son were both asleep. Funny really needed a chat, anything to distract him from his torture. He walked downstairs, finding his puppies sleeping with their mom. One had rolled on his back, his little tummy moving with every breath he took. Funny stepped into the kitchen. The fridge's electric light illuminated his pale face. He reached for a bottle of water and filled himself a glass. It was cool and pleasant as it slid down his throat, exactly what he needed to stay awake for a few hours more. Fantastic.

Tiredly, he walked to the window. Why he did so was inexplicable to him. He glanced outside, hope and fear swirling in his brain. Kars' house was quiet and dark, save for a faint electric light coming from the lounge. Who was up? Was it Kars? Esidisi? One of the kids? Were they unable to sleep? Were they occupied with something else? Funny's breath hitched in his throat, his face bloating with heat.

“Funny?” He spun around with a startled gasp. His stepfather stood at the doorway, looking at him with concern. Funny drained the rest of his water and moved away from the window. “Are you alright?”

“Yes,” he replied, praying that his voice sounded stable. “I just couldn't sleep. It's too hot.”

“Why didn't you turn the A/C on?”

“I always have a sore throat when I sleep with the A/C on. Some water is fine.” His stepfather nodded. He sat down on the kitchen table and filled himself a glass. “You?”

“Couldn't sleep,” came the gruff reply. Funny didn't press on. He knew his stepfather was tormented by sleepless nights and whatever sleep he got was short and anxious.

Funny walked to the table and sat down. “You're a man now,” Mr. Valentine asked. “What do you think of this?”

Funny drank some water, finding something to busy himself with. “What do you mean?”

“Them.”

Funny wasn't dumb and there was no point in feigning so. “I...I know it's against God's word to be with another man.”

“Yes, but do you know why?”

“Because they can't produce children?”

“Yes, that's part of the reason. But it's mostly because when God created Adam and realized he needed a pair, an equal, He created Eve. That means that a woman is the perfect half for a man and vice versa. Marriage is a holy bond between a man and a woman that complete one another. And only by being complete can one walk towards the Kingdom of Heaven.”

What about a widow? What about a woman whose half was gone and she had chosen herself another? That only meant two things, either that she was forever to remain incomplete or that it was possible for someone to have more than one halves, Funny didn't say. This didn't feel like a conversation but a lecture. He nodded obediently, keeping his questions to himself.

“I understand.”

“Good. I know you do. You're a smart kid.” Mr. Valentine reached and ruffled the boy's hair. “We should do something about this hair of yours.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Go to bed now.”

Funny placed his glass in the sink and walked away. It didn't seem like his stepfather would be sleeping any time soon.

“Funny?” he called out to the boy, stopping him at the entrance.

Funny paused and waited. There was always anticipation, always waiting for something. It didn't come that night, either. Only the desire for it to exist hovered overhead like a cloud.

“Good night.”

“You too, sir.”

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Mauve

 

 


I never liked clubs much. Sure, I used to frequent at them when I was younger but I don't see the appeal. It's a necessary evil, in this case, I suppose, plus a great excuse for me to dress as I please. I missed wearing high heels, the kind of sharp, delicate stiletto that makes you feel like God. My dress is barely there and my hair is darker than the sky outside. My heart pumps with arrogance.

I can see him. He's watching me. I'm experienced enough to know that this isn't a look of suspicion. He's enamored. His eyes are wide and he's constantly licking his lips, smirking to himself. I keep my gaze on him, blasé, indifferent, there but not quite. I am within sight but out of reach. He will come to me but it will be with my invitation.

It's an unorthodox staring contest, two people staring at each other in the middle of a bustling nightclub. The owner is somewhere in the back snorting coke, that lying fuck. Our eyes are still locked, our minds bear different thoughts. He wants to shove me down the bed and fuck me and I-

One blocky bodyguard approaches me. He's pale, square and his blue eyes are tiny. "Mr. Kocaqi would like to speak to you."

Russian. I smile softly and put my drink down. "Of course," I mutter demurely.

I reach for my little clutch bag. Scarlet's lipstick, my phone, and a revolver are inside. Good riddance, asshole.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 


“You need to be less hot-headed.”

Esidisi's fingers kept caressing Kars' scalp, soothingly combing through his luscious purple locks. His body was warm, though it was exactly what Kars needed even in such a hot summer day. He was laying on top of his husband, enjoying the steady thumps of his heart and his sweet, loving touch. A formerly crisp, royal purple, Egyptian cotton sheet sloppily covered their tangled bodies. It was the middle of the day and the neighborhood was as quaint and calm as always.

“I'm working on it,” Kars replied, voice groggy and heavy with sleep.

“Not hard enough.” Kars scrunched his nose. He lifted his gaze and glared at Esidisi. His husband chuckled, not stopping his caresses. “You know I'm right.”

Kars huffed. He laid his head back down on his spouse's chest, his long, sharp nails softly scratching the caramel skin. “He provoked me.”

“I know he did. But you need to have better control of your anger. Do it for the boys. These people are just waiting for the right opportunity to kick us out. This is our chance to give our babies the home they deserve.”

“I'd rather not have my sons raised in a den of cunts,” Kars grumbled and Esidisi nudged him.

“The neighborhood is safe and there are good schools nearby.”

“We could have chosen any other suburb in the country.”

“I'm pretty sure every privileged suburb in America is occupied by annoying, white, homophobic and racist people.”

Kars huffed. Esidisi was right. He was right about most things. He was right about him needing to have better control of his temper. Despite being the more emotional of the two, Esidisi knew how to control his emotions. With him, it was usually just an explosion and then tranquility. With Kars, it was always just the first part. He owed it to his sons, he decided. They deserved a healthy, perfect role model. Plus, their new neighbors would jump at every opportunity they had to label Kars as dangerous and kick them all out. Kars wasn't going to do them the favor.

“I want this kid.”

Esidisi quirked his brows. “What?”

“I want this kid,” Kars repeated. “Funny Valentine. I want him.”

“You know...this is a pretty weird thing to talk about while laying in bed with your husband.”

“Did you see him?” Kars pressed on, his excitement becoming more obvious with each word. “His cheekbones, his lips, his hair, his eyes... They're indigo! Have you ever met anyone with indigo eyes? I'm telling you, this kid is going places. Only if I can get my hands on him.” He sighed longingly. “I've never seen a face like his.”

“Hey!” Esidisi whined.

Kars rose to his face, planting a smiling kiss on his lips. “No one will ever compare to you. You will forever be my muse, my biggest inspiration.”

Esidisi bit his lip, unable to hold back his grin. “You sleaze,” he mumbled, looking at his husband in awe. His thumb pulled down Kars' full bottom lip. His hair was messy and his lips were puffy, eyes still a bit lazy but sparkling the way only they knew. “How are you planning on wooing this kid over to the dark side? His parents are bastards.”

“I have my ways,” Kars replied. He did. Nothing had ever stood in his way.

There was a gentle knock on the door. “Dad?” Wamuu's small voice was heard from the other side.

Kars slowly propped himself up and got off the bed. He hastily wrapped a silk, aubergine robe around his muscular body, got his hair up in a messy bun with a hairpin and opened the door. His son stood in the hallway, looking at him with his wide aqua eyes, nervously twisting his thumbs.

“Hey, buddy,” Esidisi greeted him from the bed.

Wamuu walked inside and sat down on Kars' vanity unit. Kars walked over to the foot of the bed and sat down. His eldest child had a tendency to always look serious, even for a little boy, and Kars always braced himself for the worst. “What is it?”

“I just...” Wamuu's gaze nervously moved to the floor. “It's really hot outside and we don't have any ice cream left,” Esididi glared at Kars who merely lifted his head haughtily, “and I was wondering if I could take Santana out for some ice cream or lemonade? Please?”

The two men looked at each other. The people in the neighborhood definitely were aggressive bigots, but could they really harm young children? Hating the parents was understandable, considering their beliefs, but would they really go this far? Kars wasn't afraid of going to the authorities, or even better, breaking a few bones if anyone harmed his babies. A silent debate began between them. The kids hadn't stepped outside of the house ever since they had moved. Soon enough, their parents would have to go back to their busy schedules and not be present to entertain them and keep them occupied, and they, too, would have to go to school and inevitably interact with the other kids from the neighborhood. The sooner they got used to their surroundings, the better.

“Is twenty bucks enough?” Kars asked, reaching for his wallet.

“Yes,” Wamuu grinned.

“Stay close to your brother and if anything happens, run right back here, okay baby?”

“Is it dangerous out there?”

Kars blinked a few times. Esididi sat up, smiling softly at his son. “No, but it's a new neighborhood and you have to be careful so you won't be lost. Understand?”

“Yes. Thanks, Dads.”

“Now go. Have fun.”

Wamuu nodded enthusiastically and skipped down the stairs to meet his little brother. Kars turned to Esidisi. “They'll be fine,” Esidisi reassured him.

“It's not them I'm worried about,” Kars mumbled as he made his way to the bathroom.

 

 


 

 

 


Summer mornings were for lazing by the sea. Some of the kids were splashing around in the shallow, others were playing in the sand, others were lounging under the shade. Funny and Diavolo were sitting together side by side, sharing a pair of headphones, bobbing their heads to the music. Yoshikage was sitting under the parasol, casually reading a book with a blank expression. Jotaro had found a crab and was carefully studying it. Caesar and Joseph were playing in the sand. Or wrestling. Or trying to feed each other pebbles.

Holding two ice cream cones, Jonathan walked away from the ice cream stand. He bent down and offered one to a very eager Diego. “Thank you,” the little boy chirped and started licking his ice cream with a happy smile.

Jonathan glanced down at the ice cream held in his hand. He reluctantly offered it to Dio, who kept his arms crossed and head high. He looked at Jonathan with dismay and scrunched his nose.

“Would you like some?” Jonathan smiled.

“Fuck off.”

“Okay.”

Jonathan took Diego by the hand and hurriedly joined the others. He sat down on his beach towel and occupied himself with his soft serve vanilla ice cream. “You know, you really shouldn't let him talk to you like that,” Joseph admonished him, glaring at Dio, who stood at a safe distance from everyone else, reading a thick book.

“He's probably going through a lot.”

“Stop making excuses for him! He's just an asshole!”

“Joseph,” Jonathan softly scolded him. “Just let him be.”

Annoyed, Joseph huffed. “I don't get why he keeps coming with us if he hates everyone so much.”

“Let him be,” Jonathan repeated.

Joseph scowled. His brother was a good person and Joseph didn't want him to stop being one. Jonathan just needed to be less of a victim. Everyone took advantage of him, even Joseph sometimes, but no one did it like Dio. Dio didn't exploit Jonathan's kindness for his own benefit, he used it to make Jonathan miserable. He didn't need to do it in order to make himself look better, he was already quite smart and an exemplary student. He derived joy from Jonathan's misery. It was like a sick little game known only to him. He made the rules and he was the sole player. Jonathan was the pawn. The goal was known only to Dio. Joseph looked at him for a few seconds more. Not a day went by that Joseph didn't grow mad at their father for bringing someone like that into their home, with a very confusing explanation. Maybe it was his hunch or his childish naivety, but Joseph couldn't shake the feeling that something darker, uglier was lurking underneath those golden eyes.

His train of thought was halted abruptly when two new kids came into the picture. The one was tall, probably around eleven or twelve, with short, blonde hair and bright, aqua eyes. His skin was tanned and he was quite muscular for his age, keeping his back straight effortlessly and walking with a prideful and self-assured stride. He was holding hands with this younger, short boy. His vivid red, wavy hair was long enough to cover his shoulders. They both were dressed in neat, fashionable and colorful clothes, and even had a few woven bracelets around their wrists. The older boy paid for the ice cream and offered one cone to the other boy, probably his little brother. Together, they walked away from the boardwalk and onto the beach, casually walking by the sea.

“They're the new neighbors' kids,” Funny blurted, staring at the new faces. “I saw them playing in the yard yesterday.”

Every pair of eyes focused on the newcomers. They looked perfectly normal, saying almost nothing but looking comfortable and relaxed. They enjoyed their sweet treats in silence, basking underneath the sun, gazing out to the glimmering waters. They were obviously unaware of the prying eyes. None of the other kids moved towards them or acknowledged them in any other way other than just staring. The kids were clean, dressed nicely, allowed to walk on the beach and eat ice cream and bore no visible signs of abuse. What if their looks were deceptive? What if the bruises were cleverly hidden underneath their clothes. Their 'parents' were devious, God knows the lengths they could go to.

“Hey.”

All heads turned to Joseph. Caesar furrowed his brows and quickly held Joseph back when he saw him heading towards the other kids. “What are you doing?”

“I just want to greet them, dude, chill!”

“No, you're not. I know what you're thinking.”

“It's a good idea to go tell them hi,” Jonathan said and Funny nodded. “Regardless of their...uh...situation, we should be nice to them.”

“Only if they're nice to us,” Joseph scoffed and marched to the other boys.

Noticing him, Wamuu glanced at Joseph with a look of mild interest. “Can I help you?” he asked. His voice was polite but bearing no particular emotion.

“My name is Joseph Joestar and I live here.”

“Good for you.”

Joseph narrowed his eyes. “What's your name?”

“My name is Wamuu.”

“Wamuu what?”

“Just Wamuu.”

“You got no last name?”

“Do I have to?”

Joseph paused, baffled. “And who's he?”

“He's my little brother. His name is Santana.”

“Can't he speak for himself?”

“Aren't you happy with your answer?”

“There's no need to fight,” Jonathan hastily said, moving closer to the two boys.

“Hey,” Joseph called, addressing the other boy, “it's rude not to speak when spoken to.”

Santana gave him a blank look. There was a little scowl on his face. His tongue darted out of his mouth and licked his melting ice cream. He remained silent, looking down upon everyone even though he stood a head shorter. Joseph grit his teeth.

“Hey, man, cheer up!” he prompted, poking the younger on the shoulder. Santana made no move to acknowledge him or his action. Wamuu grabbed his brother's hand and moved to the side but Joseph quickly got in front of him.

“I want to leave,” Wamuu simply said, though the growing irritation was prominent in his voice.

“What about what he wants?” Joseph asked. “Why are you so glum, dude? Hey, say something!” Another poke, harder. The little boy winced a little and took a step back. Wamuu marched up to Joseph, shielding Santana. He was only a bit shorter but he glared back with twice the ferocity.

“Leave him alone,” he hissed.

“Do as he says, Joseph!” Jonathan cried, trying to pull his brother away.

“Or what?” Joseph snarled. “Are you gonna beat me up? I'm just being nice and trying to welcome you in the neighborhood! It's not my problem you guys don't know how to act!” Joseph's gaze found Santana once again. Although his lips were sealed, the redhead was still glaring at him. “Didn't your parents teach you it's rude to stare and not say anything?”

Joseph moved quickly, giving Santana a harsh push on the shoulder. The kid lost his balance and stumbled backward, falling on the sand and dropping his ice cream, half on the sand, half on his clothes. The coarse grains scratched his palms, that were now red and a bit bloody. He looked at his injuries before shifting back to his brother. His eyes slowly became foggy, about to spill tears at any moment.

Wamuu's fist found the middle of Joseph's face faster than the blink of an eye. Joseph's nose broke with a graphic crack and he staggered back in horror, holding it tightly and yelling in pain. “Fuck!” he screamed as he fell on the sand. Warm, black, blood gushed from his busted nose and down his chin, his shirt, even his shorts.

Everyone else either rushed to his aid or remained completely motionless, shaken to the core. Even Dio, who harbored no feelings other than an intense dislike for Joseph, was shocked by the assault and could only watch as the two brothers moved away from the scene with quick strides.

 

 


 

 

 


The angry knocking on the door was by far louder than the crinkling of the little plastic baggie. Funny paused while trying to tear open another pack of Gummi Worms, alert, listening intently. He exchanged confused glances with Yoshikage, who had his brows furrowed, trying to pinpoint the sound like an agitated cat. The two boys sprang up from the patio's couch and headed inside the house. Mrs. Valentine was standing on the porch, watching with a serious face and her arms folded. Diavolo, who was begrudgingly painting the fence, was also watching. The whole damn neighborhood was watching, some stood on the street, while others had chosen a more discrete way.

“What's going on?”

George Joestar was banging on Kars' door, a whimpering Joseph standing a few steps behind. Another incident in just a few days. Everyone in the neighborhood was either shaking their head in disgust or nodding with certainty. Never before did this neighborhood had to deal with anything more serious than the silly little quarrels of the kids. Ever since that horrible pair had come to the picture, something seemed to always be going on.

The door was answered by Kars, who looked as godly as ever. That day, his beauty seemed to radiate even stronger; his chest was exposed, every little perfectly sculpted muscle was covered by a slick and shiny sheen of sweat. His hair was pinned back, tied in a high ponytail and falling on his shoulders like a waterfall of amethyst. Funny found his mind going blank at the sight.

“What seems to be the problem?” Kars asked. He spoke first, as Mr. Joestar momentarily lost his ability to speak.

“Your...boy broke my son's nose!”

“You mean my son?”

“I mean this little boy you have gotten from God knows where and have turned into a little animal like yourself! And you have two! As if the world didn't need any more violence in it!”

Kars remained still and silent for a few seconds. He wasn't intimidated, just slightly annoyed. “Wamuu!” he called out, his voice booming through his luxurious estate. In the next second, Wamuu appeared by his father's side, as serious as always. Kars lovingly placed his arm around the boy's shoulders, bringing him closer. “Honey, did you break this boy's nose?”

“Joseph's!”

“Did you break Joseph's nose?”

“Yes-”

“See?!” Mr. Joestar shouted. “He doesn't even deny it!”

“I'm sure it was merely a silly fight between the kids-”

“It was not! Your boy attacked my son completely unprompted!”

“It wasn't.”

A little voice, young and slightly afraid, was added to the chorus. Kars and George sought the source of the sound and saw Funny, standing close to his fence, looking at them with wide eyes and flushed cheeks. He looked frozen, definitely felt the part. A part of his brain, rational one, yelled at him for being an idiot and that this was none of his business. But the other part, the part that was enamored by Kars and surprisingly spoke with his father's voice, told him that he was doing the right thing.

“The attack,” he resumed after the initial shock had passed and had melted down to a dull buzzing. Andrenaline or fear. Could be both. “It wasn't unprompted. I was there, I saw it. Yoshikage was with me, Solido, too.”

"Don't drag me into this!"

“It's Dia-”

“Wamuu and Santana just came to buy some ice cream and eat it on the beach. We were already there when they arrived. Joseph started talking to them and then he started harassing Santana.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well...” Funny's thumbs twiddled furiously behind his back, cheeks growing even hotter. It was the sun. Definitely the sun. “I guess he must be non-verbal or very reluctant to speak because no matter what Joseph did to him, he wouldn't respond.”

“Yes,” Kars murmured, the smile audible in his voice. “He is non-verbal. He can communicate just fine, though.”

Funny froze again. The man had addressed him directly and his voice was tinted with...praise. His breath hitched in his throat. “Joseph didn't really like that. He kept annoying Santana and trying to make him speak. Wamuu told him to back off but Joseph wouldn't listen. I guess Joseph must have gotten angry because he pushed Santana on the ground. Poor kid dropped his ice cream. Then Wamuu punched him in the nose. But it probably was to defend his brother. I would have done the same. Probably.”

“No, you wouldn't,” Yoshikage whispered in his ear. “You once cried for ten days because you accidentally stepped on your dog's tail.”

“Shut up.”

“Joseph, is that true?” Mr. Joestar asked, sounding baffled and shocked. Joseph nodded with shame, averting his gaze from his father's face.

“Well, then!” Kars exclaimed. “Now that we know the full story, I think your...boy should apologize to my son, Jared.”

“George.”

“See if I care.” Kars folded his arms, piercing Joseph with his arrogant gaze. He smirked, almost triumphantly. “Well?”

Joseph looked around, seeking support, any kind of support. The faces of those watching him suddenly were blotches of paint on wood. Motionless, emotionless and void. He bit his lip. He dared cast one glance at his father. George's expression could only be described as furious, although, being a proper gentleman, he didn't show it.

“I'm sorry,” the boy mumbled.

“I'm sorry, what?”

“I'm sorry, Wamuu and Santana.”

“Good.” Kars moved on to George. How gorgeous did he seem next to any other plain mortal... “And you, Mr. Joestar? Aren't you going to apologize for adding more violence to a world that doesn't need it?”

A few seconds passed. Cars were coming and going on the highway. Somewhere in Los Angeles, an aged writer was writing his last pages. “I'm sorry.” There was going to be a storm back in the Joestar house. No one could deny it.

After the little episode was over and the neighborhood had gotten back to normal, everyone returned to their former occupations. Yoshikage went back to his house, as it was time for lunch. Diavolo went back to angrily muttering while painting the fence. Funny was informed that lunch would be ready in twenty minutes and so he went into his room. He looked around. Maybe he could play the violin. Or cuddle with his puppies. Or read a book. He plopped down on the bed and grabbed his pillow. He wrapped his limbs around it, gripping it tightly like it was a tree trunk and he was about to fall. He shut his eyes. His back was against the wall and his head throbbed. Behind his closed lids, figures danced from the shadows, sharp eyes and full lips, caramel-tinted hands with strong fingers and black nails. A deep, warm, honeyed voice called out to him. He was laying under the sun and the voice was next to him. His father? No, his father didn't have hair like that. He didn't move like that. No one did. Only him. Kars. At the mere thought of the name – that, oh, so bizarre, name – his heart started pounding inside his chest. Was it admiration? No, it couldn't be. It was something indecipherable, something hotter. Something darker.

 

 


 

 

 

 


“Come here, boy!”

At the sound of Jonathan's excited voice, all four boys raced to him, yipping and nibbling on him. They licked his face and he giggled, getting lost in the sea of Corgis. Their mother barked warningly, probably telling her children to behave. Or encouraging them, it would seem, as they relentlessly kept attacking Jonathan with puppy kisses. Funny sat on the grass, cross-legged, petting his dog while she watched over her children. Her fur was clean and smelled of bubblegum. Nothing better than a bubblegum-scented dog.

“Is Joseph alright?”

“Oh, well. His nose is broken. Wamuu did a number on him, I tell you. And he's grounded?”

“Really? Why?”

“Dad grounded him because Joseph made him apologize to a homosexual.”

Funny's eyes widened. That was a bit of an overkill, but he didn't expect Mr. Joestar to see things any other way. His fingers kept combing through his dog's fur, softly lulling her to sleep. His parents weren't home. His mother had taken his sisters to a playdate and his father had gone to the base. Mandatory vacation paperwork, he had explained before walking out the door.

“What do you think?” Funny asked. Jonathan quirked a brow at him. “Of them.” He very vaguely nodded towards the house across.

Jonathan stared at the house's exterior for a few seconds. He pursed his lips. “I don't think anyone is inherently evil,” he decided. “Sure, some people make the wrong choices, but I think evil takes a long while to be planted in one's soul. Even if it does, it's like weeds. It only needs to be plucked out.”

“So what are you saying?”

“I don't think they're bad. Just that they need someone to help them and maybe...understand them.”

It was Funny's turn to think deeply. He had a feeling Jonathan's words applied on more than one cases. “What do you think?” Jonathan asked him.

“I don't know.” And he was being honest. If he declared his new neighbors evil because of his religious beliefs, then that would be hypocrisy. Religion taught him to love one another.

A shadow, man-shaped and humongous fell on the grass, alerting the two boys. Kars was leaning on the fence, his figure was completely black but the sun shone around his head like a halo. He was smiling down at them, a smile that cut like a knife.

“Good morning,” he said. At the sound of his voice, both boys froze in place, taken aback and ambushed, even. There was no denying that he was talking to them, directly addressing them, that he had crossed the street only for them. “How's it going?”

“Um...”

Both Jonathan and Funny were raised to be very proper since their earliest days. They knew that every time someone spoke to them, they had to respond, even with just one word. Kars made them lose the ability to speak.

“Going great,” Funny shrugged, feigning a facade of nonchalance. He was terrified, unable to think or act properly. Jonathan, even more so. Poor guy had his eyes wide and couldn't close his mouth.

“A little birdie told me one of you guys is interested in Mesoamerican history?”

“I am!” Jonathan exclaimed, suddenly overjoyed and pleasantly surprised. The sweet giant was known for having obscure interests that other people either mocked or didn't pay any mind to. Somehow, Kars knew. He knew something not really talked about. What 'little birdie'? How did he know?

“I happen to possess several authentic artifacts, I'm sure you'd like,” Kars offered. “Along with some ice cream. What do you say?”

“You're not actually thinking of going, right?” Funny quickly blurted in a tone of voice unfit for a proper young man like himself. “You're not supposed to go into strangers' houses!” Especially such strangers.

Jonathan seemed confused. He was probably having an intense debate inside his head. He stood up and straightened himself. The corgis barked demandingly around him. His brows were furrowed and his eyes shone with determination.

“I'm a gentleman,” he declared. “And gentlemen never decline an invitation.”

“You know what happens if your father finds out about this, don't you?”

Slowly, very slowly, Jonathan turned to look at him, cracking the faintest, most childish, sly smile. “If.”

Really, what more could Funny say? There was no way of their parents finding out about this unless they told them. Prying eyes behind the curtains were rare at this time of day, while everyone was too busy to spy and gossip. Still, he fought.

“Jojo,” he hissed with emphasis, “what are you thinking?”

“Aw, come on, Funny! It's the middle of the day! What can he do to us?”

Eat us, beat us, tear us open and sell our organs, Funny thought in a frenzy though he never said it. He looked back at Kars. Was such a creature really capable of malice? (He was, but by the time Funny discovered that he would have done his fair share of dirty deeds as well.) Perhaps his parents were overreacting. But if he couldn't trust them, then who?

“Our secret.”

Odd. Since when did his conscience speak in Diavolo's voice? Jonathan was looking at him with bright, eager eyes. A secret. A tiny little secret that wouldn't harm anyone. They'd just stop by Kars' place for a little while and then leave. Besides, the idea of going back there wasn't at all unpleasant to Funny. There, right at the foyer, the photo of that gorgeous boy waited for him.

“Fine,” he mumbled.

The two boys followed Kars back inside his house. The place looked practically the same, although tidier and better well-put-together. It was obvious that the couple loved color and geometric patterns. The house was dressed in all shades of blue, yellow and purple, from bright azure to midnight blue and pale yellow to the deepest purple. More pictures hung from the wall, depicting models clad in color and jewels, forever immortalized in those prints. They looked godly, vessels for Beauty itself and not mere mortals. And of course, Ferdinand shone among them, Venus herself, just born from the waves.

As they stepped into the living room, Funny noticed something. Or rather, someone. Scarlet was sitting on the couch, kicking her feet and enjoying some ice cream. She looked up and smiled.

“Hey, dudes.”

“Scarlet? What are you doing here?”

“I just wanted to see our new neighbors.”

“This guy broke your Dad's nose.”

“I know.” Scarlet shoved another spoonful of ice cream in her mouth. “This tastes good.”

“Of course it does!” Kars yelled from the kitchen. “It's homemade.”

“I take it you're the 'little birdie'?” Funny asked, placing his hands on his hips in a rather motherly manner.

“I had no ill will. I just wanted to have peace and quiet around the neighborhood.”

Funny huffed. Scarlet still grinned at him. Jonathan was strolling around the living room, looking around as if he was in a museum. Kars returned, this time holding two bowls of ice cream. Two scoops of delicious, lemony-scented and flavored cream, garnished with lemon shavings and fresh mint leaves. Scarlet was eating the same thing and still seemed fine.

“I know why you're doing this,” Funny hissed into her ear while angrily eating ice cream. It was a damn good ice cream.

“I don't know what you're talking about.”

“Hey!” Jonathan suddenly exclaimed. He was pointing at a mask hanging from the wall, made from stone and despite being only an empty husk, its expression was explicitly malevolent. “My mother has one of those!”

“Does she?” Kars mumbled with genuine surprise. “Is she interested in archeology?”

“She was.”

“Oh. I'm sor-”

“No, it's fine. It's not like I met her. The only way I can connect with her is through her notes and findings. Her mask is a little different from this one, though. It doesn't have a hole in the forehead."

"This is supposed to be a puzzle, of some sorts. I need a special gem to complete it. I doubt I'll get superpowers but it will look pretty."

"Do you have the gem?"

"Unfortunately, I don't. It was stolen from me. From a Tibetan monk no less."

"You know so much about this!"

"Hmm."

"My mom didn't have any information on this thing."


“Well, I do. In the library.”

“Really?” Jonathan muttered in complete awe, his eyes as wide and bright as a clear lake on a summer morning.

“Yes. Will you please show him around, Scarlet?”

“Of course!” the girl said with excitement, taking Jonathan further into the house.

Just as his ice cream was starting to melt, Funny realized that he was left completely alone with Kars. The man was sitting on an armchair, one knee crossed over the other, idly skimming through the contents of a Vogue. Sensing Funny's intrusive gaze, Kars looked up. Funny looked away, blushing.

“I can hear you play the violin from here,” he said. “You're a really powerful player.”

“Thank you.”

“Do you want to be a musician when you grow up?”

“That would be nice.” Funny gulped down his ice cream. “This tastes great.”

“Thank you.” Kars put his magazine down and stood up. He walked to a grandiose, wooden, carved bookcase and reached for several photo albums and white folders filled with pictures. He brought them all to the coffee table and sat down on the couch next to Funny. “I've seen you staring at the pictures.”

“I-I wasn't-”

“I'm not accusing you of anything. Pictures are made to be stared at. And those are extremely pretty pictures.”

He opened one of the folders, revealing a stack of colorful pictures straight out of fashion magazines and luxury campaigns. More faces, more figures, more colors, extraordinary clothes, and precious gems. On the first one, Funny saw a person dressed in an unbelievably stylish black suit, black heels, and ruby red lipstick.

“This is from last year. I shot Armani's campaign for their new perfume. I wasn't fully on board with the concept but the creative director insisted.”

Next up was a beautifully shot scene of people posing with high-end shoes. They were wrapped in crinkled sheets and laughed as they lay on a bed, their limbs tangled, their bodies yearning one another's. Their feet were high in the air, perfectly shaped and with gorgeous skin, sporting different pairs of high heels. Funny's eyes instantly went to a pair of shiny, patent leather, black stilettos that looked like they could pierce through someone's chest. Pointy and perfect, higher and sharper than his mother had ever worn.

“I shot this for Jimmy Choo last May while I still lived in New York. They said the setting was too plain but in the end, it was the best way to focus on what's important; the shoes.”

“Can you wear shoes like these?” Funny asked, still not taking his eyes off of the sight.

“Yes,” Kars answered, smiling.

“Aren't they for women, though?”

Kars scoffed. “Men, women...It's the 1990s. Gender roles are outdated. Androgyny is in, it's hot, it's perfect. Mixing masculine and feminine elements to create perfection is my top priority as an artist.”

“But God intended-”

“I don't believe in God, so I guess I don't care what He intended. Besides, you're not exactly a stereotypical young man. Long hair and pink clothes are for girls, right?”

“I like my hair long,” Funny muttered in a low, ashamed voice. Nobody else seemed to like his hair long.

“I think it suits you.”

Funny's gaze darted up. Kars simply shrugged and returned to his stack of photographs. “Don't let other people tell you what looks good on you. It's your body. You decide what to do with it.”

Kars' long, elegant fingers pulled up another large print, this time featuring Ferdinand's weirdly familiar face. He was leisurely lounging on a swing hanging from a sturdy tree, with pale pink roses surrounding him like clouds. His pale fingers were stretched under the swing, barely brushing against the pond's crystal surface. His other hand rested on top of his stomach. He appeared to be half-asleep. Bored. Always.

“This was for Dolce Gabbana. Little bastard made it into Vogue.”

“Vogue? But you said he's only a year older than me!”

“So what? He's very beautiful, loves what he does and, well, he is managed by a very successful photographer and agency owner.”

“Who's that?”

“Me.” He chuckled. Poor boy looked equal parts surprised and terrified. “I think you can make it, too, Funny. You have everything.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Modelling. You're at the perfect age and you're actually prettier than any model out there at the moment. With no plastic surgery!”

Funny blinked slowly, trying to understand what was being told to him. “Me? A model?”

“Only if you want to. But I'm telling you, if you choose to follow this path, you can only go to the top.”

“I-I don't think my parents would let me...”

“You haven't talked to them about it yet.”

True. That much was true. What was also true was that Funny's parents weren't the most suitable audience to address such an idea towards. But the beauty printed on those glossy pages that so effortlessly slithered underneath his fingertips... Was he really qualified to be one of them? Even to be better, like Kars had said?

“Ah, this one's old.”

Kars wasn't talking about a fashion editorial or another stunning shot, but about an ordinary photograph, one depicting him and Esidisi. It was blurry, too bright, smelling of the early 80s. They appeared to be inside a house, with the sea at a short distance behind them. Kars sat on top of his husband's knees, sending the camera a haughty but playful look and having his arms around Esidisi's neck. They both looked practically the same, ageless and aloof. The only thing different was the look on Esidisi's eyes. So bright, so full of warmth for the man in his arms. He looked soft and vulnerable but strong at the same time. In that world inside the photograph, only the two of them existed, untouchable and in love.

“There it is,” Kars murmured, voice dripping affection. “That's the look that made me realize Esidisi truly loves me.”

“What do you mean?”

“That's the look of love. When someone gives you that look, when he looks at you as if he's seen God, you know you want to spend the rest of your life with that person.”

He. A man. Two men. The love of Kars' life was a man and in the eyes of a young kid, this love was pure, purest than any he had ever seen. He spoke of his lover with such admiration, such devotion. True love, right there.

Time passed by quickly in Kars' house. Funny was overcome with fear when he heard his stepfather pulling up into their house's driveway. He, Scarlet and Jonathan made a quick escape through the kitchen door. To everyone else, they seemed like three kids taking a stroll around the neighborhood. Only they knew. Their little secret.

 

 


 

 


Mowing the lawn was like giving the planet a haircut, Funny thought, huffing with fatigue but smiling with satisfaction. The scent of freshly cut grass continued to be highly repulsive but the sight of a perfectly trimmed lawn was worth it. All that was left for him to do was to store the lawnmower in the garage and find something else to busy himself with.

“Burn it! Burn it!”

Funny's head darted up, alerted by the sound. That was Esidisi's voice. The man himself was in the kitchen, hopping around frantically. He jumped on the counter, cowering away from something with a distraught expression on his face.

“Kars, I'm serious!”

Kars came into view, holding something too small to be recognized between his fingers. “It's just a spider.”

“I don't want it here! Baby, please!”

Kars laughed and moved to throw the spider towards his husband. Esidisi shrieked and Kars' laughter got louder. In the end, Kars carried the terrifying beast outside and let it free on the grass. He walked back into the kitchen and snuggled up to his husband.

“I'm sorry,” he cooed, still laughing.

Esidisi had his arms folded and was looking away stubbornly. His frown melted into a soft smile as Kars kept giving him little kisses all over his face. Their house was loud. Funny's was quiet. His mother was in the kitchen and his stepfather was in the living room, watching TV. Just how God intended.

“Funny?”

Diavolo was standing across the fence, looking at Funny. The blond quickly regained his composure, putting on a smile for his friend. “Hey. What's up?”

“Not much,” Diavolo shrugged. “I just got back from the store. Went to buy some milk.” Funny nodded. “Listen... Do you wanna come over and listen to some music or something? If you got nothing better to do.”

“I'd love to. Hey, I can bring my violin! Play a little something.”

“That'd be great.”

Funny fetched his violin and quickly headed to Diavolo's house. The priest was out of the house, probably going around to see what else needed to be done at the church. The two boys went straight into Diavolo's room. It was tidy, at least compared to how it usually was. Without waiting for an invitation, Funny sat down on the bed, stretching his legs out in front of them.

“Can I get you something?” Diavolo offered.

“Nah, I'm good.” Diavolo sat down next to him. “Do you want me to play you this new piece I've been practicing on?”

Diavolo's eyes widened. He had heard snippets of a sorrowful tune pouring from the windows but never the full piece. “Yes,” he replied with genuine excitement.

Smiling, Funny stood up. He grabbed his violin and rested it under his chin, supporting it with his shoulder. With the faintest brush of the strings, the melody came to life, filling the room, melting into the air. The dim light cast smoky shadows and golden rays inside the small room. Funny's form was clad in light while Diavolo's rested in the shadow, mesmerized by the sound. Its sadness was sweet, addictive. Funny's eyes fluttered open, seeing Diavolo watching him with an awed expression.

He's in love with the music, he thought, still staring into the other's wide eyes.

The music died out, yet its presence lingered. Funny lowered the instrument, humbly waiting for a critique. “I'm not really good at it-”

“What was this?”

“It's a requiem.”

“It was the most beautiful thing I've ever heard.”

“You say that every time I play for you.”

“Yes, because every time is better than the last.”

Funny chuckled at the compliment. He set his violin to the side and climbed back on the bed. He laid down, groaning when his back popped. Diavolo flinched. “Sorry. What do you have for me?”

“Have you heard of Pavlov's Dog?”

“I...think?”

“It's a band from Missouri. I can't say I love all their stuff but I really like this one song of theirs. It's called 'Julia'.”

The record Diavolo presented him with featured this rather chubby, sad-looking dog on the cover. He slid the record out and placed it on the record. There was that familiar whirring sound for a few seconds before the music started. A melancholic piano, sounding like heartbreak and despair itself, filled the air, followed by a man calling out to a woman.

Julia, you've set the standards for me.

The two boys sat together in silence, letting the music play freely. The neighborhood was quiet on that lazy, summer afternoon. Time felt like jelly. The song went on and the man grew sadder. Funny actually felt bad for him, listening to him cry out Julia's name and beg for her affection.

I can't live without your love

He loved her, they way Kars and Esidisi loved each other. Funny was surprised at himself for thinking about the couple. The thought was intrusive and he couldn't force it out. Their image stayed there. Esidisi's lovestruck eyes never left his mind.

Oh, please see how much, how much you mean to me...

The look of love. To stare at someone as though you've seen God. Was it possible for such a thing to exist? Funny often thought about his future and what it held. He definitely wanted a family. Would his wife love him like that? Would she ever look at him like he was God?

The singer cried out his lover's name and Funny felt goosebumps riddle his skin. His eyes fluttered open. The sun had gone further down. The room was mostly dark. Hovering above his face, Funny was surprised to find a pair of eyes.

I can't live without your love

I can't live without you

Diavolo's eyes were unwavering, unblinking, glimmering ever so faintly in the dark room. He was looking at Funny and him alone. His gaze was soft and warm. Tender. Loving.

Julia...

Funny gulped. “Oh...”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Blush

 

 


I check the time. 5:07. Fantastic. Doppio won't wake up in another hour. I've been sitting out here for two hours in total. I could go to Dio's but I'm too drunk to stand up. I could go to Funny's but I'm too bitter. I considered throwing rocks at the windows but that might scare Trish. She won't shut up if I dare wake her up.

The neighborhood is quiet, still, empty. The sun is only shyly rising but the sky is still mostly dark. It's cold. I hear movement to my left and I tense up. Funny's door opens and he steps out, just out of bed, holding a cup of coffee. God, he's so sweet first thing in the morning, so warm and fuzzy and cuddly. My mind jumps back to our lazy mornings in the lake house. His gaze is frigid as it spots me. Wish we had stayed at that place.

 

 

 


 

 

 

"I..." Funny stammered. He snapped up, narrowly avoiding slamming his forehead on Diavolo's. He scrambled off the bed and got to his feet. Diavolo looked at him with pure confusion and Funny blushed. This probably looked hella weird.

"I have to leave," he finally managed.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah. I just...I promised my mom I was going to practice a few pieces with her and I totally forgot about it."

"Oh." Diavolo nodded slowly. This sounded...odd. Rushed, ungraceful, completely out of character for Funny. He pressed his lips together. There was nothing he could do to make the boy stay. He was busy, he had interests and hobbies, something entirely foreign to Diavolo.

"That's too bad. We can hang out later, right?"

"Sure! Bye!"

"Bye..."

Funny left, slamming the door shut behind him and scurrying down the stairs. Diavolo crawled to the window. He saw his neighbor run into his house. His expression was odd, frightened, confused. Had Diavolo done something to offend him? They were just sitting together listening to music like they always did. Well, not exactly. Funny had decided to lay down on Diavolo's and although Diavolo had been successful in hiding his attraction, he couldn't resist this. Funny's golden hair spilled like a halo around his angelic face when he lay down, his soft lips were curled with an ever-so-faint smile. Diavolo was tempted into taking a peek, a tiny look. Just for a second. Two. Ten. One minute. Two. Upon realizing he was being watched, Funny's eyes snapped open and he left like a rat on a sinking ship.

Oh, God.

He knew.

Diavolo sat on the floor, eyes wide and unblinking, staring at the wall. All color drained from his face. Goosebumps riddled his skin. Cold sweat soaked his face. A feeling of nausea bubbled in his stomach. Funny knew Diavolo was in love with him. There was no way he didn't. The moment he saw that idiotic, love-struck look on Diavolo's face, he was certain. Could Diavolo simply brush this off as just admiring his friend's face? Was this something friends said? He panicked.

Funny knew and there was nothing Diavolo could do. At night, he dreamed of laying on the beach and feeding him fruit, brushing his hair and watching him play the violin. All gone, thanks to him and his stupidity. Funny would tell his parents about the freak and then they would tell the priest and then Diavolo would be punished. Funny would never speak to him again. Diavolo would have to board a ship and go to where nobody knew him while Funny married some girl and had babies with her. Just as God intended.

Diavolo stood up. His chest was heaving. Using both hands, he tore the sheets off of his mattress. He threw the pillow at the wall and knocked over everything on his nightstand. He yanked his closet open and maniacally threw his clothes at the floor. He angrily stomped on the pile while cursing himself.

[Stupid, stupid, stupid!]

The glint of something silver caught his eye. Right. His pocket knife. He reached for the blade, just then realizing how much his hands shook. Should he do it? Slashing his wrists, slicing his own throat, stabbing himself in the heart. That was all it took for him to be done with this bullshit. To hell with feelings. To hell with crushes. To hell with Funny. To hell with himself. He stood before his mirror, holding the knife. His entire frame shook. Bile climbed to his throat. He fell on his knees, almost puking at the floor. No, he couldn't do it. He was too much of a coward for that.

Diavolo curled into a ball on top of his discarded clothes. The tears came naturally, rolling hot and salty down his still childish cheeks. Why, why why. He cried softly, muffling his sobs into the wrinkled cotton of his prized ACDC T-shirt. His heartbeat slowed down, turning into something piercing and painful. Heartache was a weird sort of pain. It felt as though someone had their fist around his heart and was threatening to squash it like a bug.

The door creaked open, accompanied by soft footsteps. [Solido? What happened?]

Diavolo didn't reply. Even if he opened his mouth, all that came out was pitiful sobs. The priest walked to him and sat down by his side. Diavolo crawled closer to his father and cried into his embrace.

 

 

 


 

 

 


Once inside his house, Funny raced up the stairs to his room. His heart drummed inside his chest, rapidly thumping. What had just happened? They were in Diavolo's room listening to music. Funny shut his eyes for a minute, just to enjoy the ballad, and when he opened them, Diavolo's face hovered inches away from his. His eyes were wide and awe-struck, staring at him with a strange warm tenderness. Admiration and...what?

Europeans were known to be more expressive when it came to their emotions and closeness came more naturally to them. This could be just it. Extreme friendliness. Funny sighed. His room was dipped in the lilac twilight. He lay on his stomach, tracing his covers with his index finger, drawing gentle circles on the crisp cotton. It didn't feel like friendship. This relationship between them was warm and sweet and thoroughly enjoyable but new. Entirely new. Diavolo was nice to him, only him. He was eager to share his music with Funny, even going as far as to gift him an album. They had little secrets, silly little things known and precious only to them. As small and unimportant as it was, it was exhilarating for Funny. He had friends but he never had secrets with them.

Then there were the looks. Kars' voice started playing like music in his head, involuntarily. Diavolo loved it when Funny played the violin for him. He was always so genuinely amazed, even though Funny didn't like his work sometimes. Diavolo's face lit up when Funny played, and his words were always so sweet. He was gruff and tough and rude but he laughed at Funny's dumb jokes and lost his shit at the little magic tricks. He held his breath when Funny tucked those out-of-thin-air flowers behind his ear. His eyes were always wide with admiration, as if the world's secrets had been unveiled before him. As if Funny held the universe in his hands.

It was stupid and pointless but it made his face flush and heart beat faster. He was overthinking things. It was Kars' fault for putting such notions in his head. He should immediately head to the confessional and get rid of this burden. And say what? How could he tell the priest of the looks his son was sending him, of the beautiful things he said about his sometimes mediocre music and the thoughtful gifts he gave him? Perhaps he could omit the name, even paint another as the culprit. Maybe Yoshikage. No one suspected him of anything, ever. Then the priest would instruct him to spend more time with his family, pray even more frequently and cut ties with this troublesome boy. For it was a sin and Funny should act quickly, instead of letting this get out of hand.

But how could 'this' be a sin a when 'this' felt so right? So good? So wholesome? No one had ever admired him so openly, so genuinely. His mind drifted back to the day they had first met. He would never forget the look of surprise in those odd, black eyes. Were those even his real eyes? There was so much Funny wanted to know about this awkward, secretive boy that loved music and had fondness in his eyes only for him.

He snuck his arms under his pillow. Perhaps a nap would clear his head. His fingers brushed against something hard. Funny pulled out the record Diavolo had given him at the 4th of July party. He still hadn't listened to that. The tracklist featured several songs, probably written about beautiful women with beautiful habits and sad eyes. One caught his eye, a title circled with blue ink. Funny sat up, holding the record in his hands. He got off the bed and headed out of his room, going for the attic. Perhaps he should bring his father's record player into his bedroom for more convenience but then his parents would question him about the music. He didn't want to betray his secret.

Funny reached the attic and easily found the record player. He put the record on the B side and waited. The whirring started and lasted only for a few seconds, followed by a forlorn guitar and a melancholic voice.

I loved you in the morning
Our kisses deep and warm
Your hair upon the pillow
Like a sleepy golden storm

It felt more like a confession rather than a song. The singer's lover was really lucky. Funny couldn't imagine being told such sweet words of adoration. Men were never exposed to such a luxury. It seemed unfair, almost cruel.

Yes, many loved before us
I know that we are not new
In city and in forest
They smile like me and you

Diavolo was tender and adoring. His compliments were always honeyed words, the clumsy attempts of a child to express his feelings. It worked. At least to a fellow child. Funny thought about it for a second, closing his eyes and enjoying the gentle breeze and the soft guitar. In the near distance, Esidisi prepared dinner and Kars laughed with his jokes. Funny could sometimes hear them at night, having hushed conversations on the porch, the flow of their deep voices broken by a little giggle. How could it be wrong when it was so beautiful?

But now it's come to distances and both of us must try
Your eyes are soft with sorrow
Hey...

Funny scooted to the window and peered outside. The neighborhood was still alive. It was a nice summer evening, perfect to sit outside and chat. There were visitors over at the priest's house. Diavolo didn't bother dropping by. He was at his room, leaning out the windowsill.

"Psst."

Diavolo looked up sheepishly. His face was dark, unreadable. Funny couldn't make out his expression but he still heard his voice.

"Yeah?"

"I'm really sorry for leaving like that. It was very rude."

Diavolo paused for a few seconds. "It's fine," he said.

"I'll make it up to you."

"You don't really have to."

"No, I want to."

That's no way to say goodbye.

 

 


 

 

 

 


The instructions Diavolo had been given were clear; find the hose, water the roses, leave. For some reason, the priest insisted that all the plants be watered at night. Diavolo found the watering hose coiled on the side of the church. He turned on the tap and started watering the plants. They had all kinds of roses; playful orange, bright yellow, sweet pink, pure white, velvety crimson. It was the priest's idea and Diavolo quite liked it. The church was too plain, more protestant than catholic. The former American priest was satisfied with this display of humble simplicity but the new Italian one had already discussed with a local workshop to add more stained-glass windows.

The day was hot, the breeze nonexistent. Diavolo stood in the quiet yard, accompanied only by the splashing water and the nocturnal creatures that slowly came to life in the trees around him. The sky above his head was mauve, melting into gold far beyond the treetops. The dewy drops of water clung to the roses' dark green leaves. Diavolo turned the hose to himself. His face, bare of makeup, was able to enjoy the cool water freely. The water ran down his neck and chest, pooling at his feet. It felt good, refreshing, just what he needed on a hot day like this.

"Hey."

Alarmed, Diavolo looked up to find Funny leaning on the fence, watching him intently. His stupidity suddenly dawned upon him. He was soaking wet, his drenched clothes sticking to his scrawny body. He felt exposed. His face was once again set aflame.

"Uh...hey."

Funny smiled. He, too, was blushing a bit. Unless the tricky sunset was playing tricks on Diavolo. The boy approached him. His stride was playful, his smile was boyish and naive. His hands were linked behind his back and some of his hair was tied behind his head, forming a halo of golden strands.

"Can I ask you a favor?"

"What is it?"

"Can you give me a few roses? I really like having flowers in my bedroom. I usually cut from our rosebushes but then my stepfather will notice."

"What color do you want?"

The question caught Funny off guard. He obviously didn't expect his request to be taken seriously. "White, please," he replied. "Just one or two."

"I'll give you three," Diavolo bragged.

Upon closer inspection, he realized that the stems were covered in thorns. Exquisite. There had to be at least one pair of scissors in the shed. He quickly went inside the church's garden shed and retrieved a pair of gardening scissors. The tool required some more force than ordinary scissors but Diavolo managed. He selected the prettiest blossoms and carefully cut each. He collected the small bouquet and offered it to Funny.

"There you go," he mumbled, awkwardly extending his arm.

"Thank you." Funny reached for the flowers. Their fingers brushed, the faintest, most innocent touch. Electricity sparked where their fingertips connected. "Ouch!" Funny hissed, quickly pulling away his hand.

Drops of blood trickled down his thumb, as red and glossy as rubies. "Shit," Diavolo cursed. "Sorry."

"It's okay. Don't worry about it."

Without a moment of hesitation, Funny stuck his thumb inside his mouth and started sucking, pressing his tongue flat against the wound to stop the bleeding. Diavolo felt a shiver down his spine. He found himself unable to look anywhere else. The sight was singular. Not just beautiful. His eyes moved from Funny's injured finger to his lips, to his eyes, already looking at him. Diavolo froze, caught red-handed like the first time. Funny took his thumb out of his mouth and wiped the excess saliva on his shorts.

"There," he smiled. "This will do for now."

The two boys remained motionless for an awfully long couple of seconds. Funny's lips moved, trying to form words.

"Are you done here?" he asked. "Do you want to walk home together?"

"Yeah. Sure."

The two boys started walking towards the direction of their homes. They engaged in pleasant conversation. Funny talked about this piece he was practicing on. He had a concert in September and by the way he described it, it sounded like a pretty big deal. His face seemed brighter when he talked about his music and Diavolo was overjoyed just listening. They reached Diavolo's house and they stopped at the gate.

"Thank you for the flowers," Funny said.

"It's fine. We have plenty."

Funny nodded. He looked around and leaned closer. "I went at Kars' house the other day," he confessed. His voice was hushed, secretive, scared but excited at the same time.

Diavolo blinked, surprised. "And?" he pressed on. He only ever caught glimpses of that house , heard snippets of the men's lives. Joseph enjoyed scaring the others, telling them how the house was filled with porn photographs and how the men had sex with their curtains open. And how did he know from his house atop the hill?

"And...he was very nice. He showed me his work, some photographs he had taken. He's very good at his job." Obviously. How else was he going to afford such a big house in such a luxurious suburb? Funny cast his gaze at the ground, an awkward little chuckle escaping his lips. "He told me I can be a model if I want to."

"A model?" Diavolo blurted before he could stop himself. Funny as a model was just...right. All those clothes and jewelry in fashion magazines, he deserved them. They were made for him. Someone like him was entitled to every piece of finery in the world. Diavolo naively wished upon a star, any star, that perhaps one day, he would be able to gift this boy a proper gift instead of plain, white roses.

"Yes. He said I can do it. What do you think? Do you think I'm pretty enough?"

Was the question really necessary? Was there anyone prettier than him? "Yes," Diavolo mouthed. Their faces were close, feeling each other's warmth. Funny's lashes almost tickled Diavolo's cheeks.

"Thanks," he smiled. "Hey! You have freckles!"

"What?" Shit. Fuck. Diavolo had forgotten about the foundation. Of course he wore fucking foundation. He never left the house without it. His hands reached to cover his cheeks but Funny held them back. His delicate fingers held Diavolo's own. Diavolo's breath hitched in his throat. Funny sucked in a breath.

"Don't hide them," he whispered. "They're cute."

Cute. The word bounced inside Diavolo's head. Funny called him cute. Well, his freckles but who owned the freckles? Funny called him, Diavolo, owner of the freckles, cute. Was this something Americans did? Diavolo had never seen bros call each other 'cute'. Why had Funny done that? Didn't he know that this compliment wasn't usually exchanged while holding hands and looking at the other deep in the eyes? He didn't seem that certain himself. His grip tightened faintly and his lips parted slightly. He seemed surprised, ambushed by his own slippery tongue.

He cleared his throat, straightening his back like a good son of a military official. "I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

"Okay."

"Goodnight, Solido."

"It's Diavolo."

Funny snorted and rolled his eyes. "Loser."

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

All things American were bigger. Even the churches. While the neighborhood church couldn't even begin to compare to the grandiose cathedrals in Florence and Rome, it was still twice the size of the old church in Sardinia. It even had a basement, a proper, large basement. A small side room served as storage of sorts. The main room was big and fully equipped to be a comfortable hang-out spot; a blocky, plush couch, several chairs and armchairs, tables with drinks and snacks laid out on them, a bookcase filled with the appropriate books and even a few board games and of course, a TV settled on a rusty little trolley. By the time Diavolo and the priest had finished preparing the room, the first kids strolled in. It was the Joestar boys accompanied by Dio, whose smile was faker than the couch's leather. Just seeing the boy invoked a bad reaction to Diavolo. Something churned in his belly. Those amber eyes made him feel exposed, haunted. More and more neighborhood kids started coming, a few faces Diavolo didn't recognize. Everyone stopped by to have a chat with the priest, say how excited they were for Sunday school. Diavolo scurried away, busying himself with something else, anything, really.

"Man, I wish I had a cat," Diavolo heard someone say. In the next moment, Yoshikage came down the stairs, followed by Scarlet, who was sharing her cat's misadventures with the new vacuum and Funny, who looked happy just being there.

Diavolo's lovestruck gaze instinctively searched for the other boy's eyes. The whole world shrunk and faded and only the two of them remained. When they locked eyes like this, nothing else mattered. Diavolo gulped, already feeling himself shake as the other boy drew near. Funny stopped just a step away. His hands were linked, thumbs twiddling. He brushed a stray lock of hair behind his ear.

"Hey," he greeted.

"Hey." Diavolo looked down. He grabbed a plastic cup and shoved it in Funny's face. Empty pints of Sunny D rested under the folding tables. Whatever the hell this fluorescent fluid was, it wasn't juice. "Uh...juice?"

"Tha-"

"Oh, boy, Sunny D!" Jonathan exclaimed and snatched the cup straight out of Diavolo's hand, chucking it in one go. "I love this thing!" he smiled. "Dad never lets us buy it, though." He looked at the boys, both awkwardly staring at him. Funny was smiling a little. Diavolo's expression was purely hostile, fire pouring from his fragmented eyes. Jonathan gulped. "I'll just...take some for the boys."

Jonathan walked away with his cups of mysterious, orange-scented lighter fluid, leaving the two boys alone. Funny sighed. Relief? Diavolo's mind shifted into panic mode. Why was he relieved that it was just the two of them? "Love the big guy but he can't read the room sometimes." He huffed, suddenly very aware of what he was saying and doing. His cheek turned a dark shade of pink. He cast his gaze at the floor, staring at his shoe. Diavolo had learned that this absent-minded little gesture meant that the other boy was a tad awkward. "Thanks for the flowers the other day."

"I told you, it's fine."

Funny grinned. He extended his arm and his dainty little hand brushed Diavolo's ear. He rolled a little blossom in between his fingers. It was a sweet-smelling jasmine flower. He handed it to Diavolo, together with a big grin. He walked off to sit by his two friends and Diavolo was left alone with the flower. It was just an ordinary blossom yet its magic radiated through Diavolo's fingertips. How could he do that?

"Alright, kids," the priest called, clapping his two hands together. At the sight of some many children present, his smile became wide, the wrinkles in his eyes even more defined. "I think it's time we began."

The kids took their seats and prepared to listen to the priest's words. Some had been pressured by their parents to attend, others did it just to be polite, most have decided to do so by themselves, surprisingly so. Diavolo glanced around the room. Funny was completely focused. He was obviously very interested.

"We're starting a little bit earlier this year and many of you might not like that I'm taking time off your vacation, but I thought it'd be nice to spend more time together. We have so many things to talk about!" The priest walked to the blackboard. He grabbed a piece of chalk and started scribbling. "Today, I think it would be nice if we talked about our purpose in this world and God's intentions for us."

He moved away, the words 'Why are we here?' and 'What are His plans?' written on the board. The two phrases were separated from each other by a slightly curved line. "Some of us get really mad when we hear people talk about God's intentions. If He gave us free will, then why has He made plans for us? Doesn't it feel that His intentions are just robbing us of our freedom?"

Diavolo folded his arms. Whenever the priest talked about such matters, Diavolo simply fell deaf. He didn't care, he didn't want to know. Perhaps when he was older, he'd realize that he was being bitter and hostile for no reason, but he wasn't. He was young and scorned and the world was his enemy. What's more, Diavolo knew what the priest was going to talk about. He was going to condemn unconventional love, always using gentle, kind words and the word of God as undeniable proof. Diavolo sometimes had the inexplicable urge to blow it all. Come clean. Run away. Disappear. Shape himself as he pleased, with no past to define him. He had his own intentions for himself.

"Think of it like this; God is your parent. And like every caring parent, He has built a home for us all. We are out in the world, freely exploring it. Sometimes we make good choices, sometimes we don't. God has supplied us with the instruments we need to save ourselves, to go back to His house, our haven of safety."

"Or burn in hell," Scarlet mumbled bitterly, loud enough for those near to hear her. "Come home or perish. Doesn't sound like free will to me."

"Scarlet," Funny hissed at her.

"If we don't want to return home, that is also fine. His Grace will always protect us, as long as we seek It. God's home is the Kingdom of Heaven and we all will reach it differently. Others will do so faster, others will take a bit more time. Time isn't important when it comes to eternal life. We will all make it, one way or another. But know this, my children. We cannot attain heaven on our own. Think of Adam and Eve. God created the pair, for they couldn't reach heaven on their own. Together, they made perfection. Man and woman, destined to inhabit the Kingdom of Heaven together."

He moved back to the blackboard. Underneath 'Why are we here?', he wrote 'So we can work our way to the Kingdom of Heaven'. Under 'What are His plans?', he wrote 'For us to attain heaven with our destined pair, and enjoy eternal life as a whole'. Satisfied with his observations, the priest moved away from the board and turned his gaze to the children.

"Do you have any questions?" Diavolo looked around absently. Most of the kids looked bored, others were still nodding in agreement, most had blank eyes. Was anyone paying enough attention to have questions?

Well, apparently, someone did. Scarlet's hand, stretched and tall, stood out like a stray weed in a neatly trimmed field. She was smiling politely. Her expression was odd. Very contradictory. Her lips were slightly parted, giving the impression of someone who couldn't understand what was being discussed, yet her eyes spewed flames.

"Yes, Scarlet?"

"Father, I have a few questions, actually. Didn't God make us all perfect?"

"He did."

"Then why can't we achieve heaven on our own?"

"Think of it like this; ever seen wooden sticks being tied to trees?" Scarlet nodded. "Those help make the saplings straight and strong and shape them into beautiful trees. That's what a man does for a woman and vice versa. They support and guide each other toward perfection."

"Alright," the girl said. She seemed to be satisfied with this response. "Then let me ask another thing. You said that everybody has a pair, a soulmate, that will guide them to the Kingdom of Heaven, right?"

"Yes."

"So we're all born and 'tied' to another person?"

"That's right."

"Then, what about widows and widowers? What about people whose spouses died and they remarried? They can't be whole now. Or is it possible to have two soulmates?"

The priest's smile wavered. All eyes were on him. His stance was wooden. He nervously scratched the piece of chalk still held in his hands. Slowly, he smiled again, letting out a little chuckle.

"God can make an exception in those cases," the priest smiled.

"Then that means His rule isn't absolute."

"Only tyrants are absolute, my child. And God isn't a tyrant. He is a benevolent shepherd."

Scarlet shifted in her seat. She licked her lips. Her fists were balled on her thighs, wrinkling her flannel dress. How many did she have?

"If God can make an exception for widows, can He make an exception for Kars and Esidisi, and all that are like them?"

A faint gasp echoed around the room like a feeble gust of wind. The priest appeared even tenser than before. He clenched his jaw. All eyes were on him. Even Diavolo was suddenly very interested. He glimpsed at Scarlet. She had some serious balls, he had to admit. He usually didn't like outspoken people that always wanted to state their opinions and attract attention, but they were good for one thing; downright stating what everyone more or less thought. The priest had depended too much on the kids' naivety. He didn't expect any of them to be ballsy enough to mention things like these. In most houses, the subject of their new neighbors was taboo. The kids were taught to scorn and pity them. Even if they did, they were still curious, driven by the fatal human need to know more.

"Relationships like these are unnatural-"

"Why? Because it's between two men?"

"Yes."

"So what?"

"The point of marriage is to produce offspring.”

“I thought it was to attain Heaven.”

“That, too.”

Everyone in the room collectively held their breaths. Poor choice of words. Suddenly, attaining Heaven wasn't as important as reproducing.

“What about people that can't have children? Or that don't want to?”

“I...I'm glad you have questions, Scarlet.” No. No, he wasn't. Diavolo knew him well enough to be able to tell. The crease in his brow, the little scowl, those were signs that his father was gradually getting more and more annoyed. “But perhaps these are subjects we can discuss when you're older.”

A diplomatic answer, polite, its bitterness concealed behind a smile. The priest was nervous, the tiny bead of sweat that rolled down his temple said so. Diavolo cast a sideways glance at Scarlet. Her face was neutral, her eyes were wide and alert. Next to her, Funny was murmuring something to her ear. His voice was so low, it sounded almost like a breeze or dust falling on forgotten furniture.

“Perhaps,” Scarlet chirped. Her voice echoed around the crowded room. She was going to drop the subject for now.

The remainder of the lesson went by uneventful. The priest decided to stray a bit from the former subject of discussion and instead talked about the beauty of belonging and that humans were extremely social creatures. He even mentioned that good things could only be born within communities, though Diavolo was sure he was just ripping off Aristotle.

Of course, after the meeting adjourned, Diavolo was tasked with cleaning up. Stack up the chairs, clean up the leftovers, throw away anything empty, store everything else in the pantry. He could just not do it but that would result in another fight with the priest and the last thing Diavolo wanted was more fighting. Reluctantly, he headed into the broom closet to get garbage bags. Upon returning to the sitting room, he came face to face with a rather unpleasant surprise. Dio leaned against the table, tracing the rim of a plastic cup with his index finger. His predatory eyes fell on Diavolo and he smiled. There used to be assholes back in Sardinia, big, blocky kids that had nothing better to do and only hay inside their heads. Those were easy targets, painful at first, but easy once Diavolo learned how hard enough to sink his teeth in their flesh. But this guy, he was different. It was just a hunch, but Diavolo couldn't shake the feeling of dread that overcame him when he locked eyes with Dio.

“You like Funny, don't you?” the blond teased, his grin growing even wider.

Diavolo's fingers curled around the plastic bag. His heart stopped momentarily. Dio was just fucking with him. Just baiting him. “Mind your fucking business,” Diavolo snarled as he strode past Dio, suddenly too interested in cleaning up.

But Dio wasn't done yet. He grabbed Diavolo by the arm, his grip tight enough to bruise. “You think I can't tell? Have you no idea how fucking obvious it is? I've seen the way you look at him, how you smile like an oaf when he speaks to you. Stupid cunt,” Dio hissed. He pulled Diavolo closer, their noses almost touching. Diavolo tried to writhe away from Dio's hold but the other's hands were like claws, his blunt nails cut into Diavolo's skin. “You think you're subtle? Fucking freak. You know what happens when your dad finds out about this, huh? He'll kill you.”

“You won't tell him,” Diavolo warned. To him, his voice sounded threatening and certain but judging by the way Dio's grin widened, he most likely sounded scared.

“No, I won't. He'll find out himself.”

Dio's hands moved from grabbing Diavolo's shoulders, to the back of his head. He forced his mouth upon Diavolo's, holding him too tight to even let him breathe. Diavolo's eyes were unblinking. He was kissing him, the fucking bastard was kissing him! Dio's nails scratched the back of his skull and his lips were still glued on his. He lay completely immobile, allowing Dio to do as he pleased. Anyone could walk in and see what was happening. Worst of all, Funny.

Diavolo's mind snapped into action abruptly. He opened his mouth and bit down Dio's bottom lip hard. The blond boy staggered back with a shrill scream. Diavolo's chest swole with cockiness. He wasn't expecting that. Shocked and surprised, Dio touched the fresh wound, gawking at the bright drops of blood that trickled down his chin. Diavolo had the taste of copper in his mouth. He spat on the ground. Poisoning was the last he needed.

“You fucking animal,” Dio hissed and lunged for him.

Diavolo threw a can of Fanta at Dio's face. The cylinder narrowly missed Dio's eye. It fell on the ground, cracking open and leaking on the floor. Dio reached inside his pocket and held out his knife, a little pocket blade that could actually do some harm if handled masterfully. He probably felt superior brandishing his little weapon, but Diavolo knew his way around daggers. He jumped out of the way of Dio's attack, but slipped and fell on the puddle of Fanta. He quickly grabbed Dio by the ankle, dragging him down. Dio straddled his chest, one bony knee digging into Diavolo's abdomen. The two boys struggled, huffing and puffing, trying to keep the one from attacking the other. Dio still clutched his knife in his clammy hand. Diavolo's fingers were wrapped around Dio's wrists, trying to hold back his hands. For such a scrawny kid, he sure was strong. Persistent. Vicious. Bloodthirsty. His amber eyes seemed red as they peered into Diavolo's own.

“Fucking freak,” Dio mumbled. His knee dug even deeper into Diavolo's chest. Diavolo held a faint crack. He could feel his bones slowly giving in. Dio wasn't above crushing his ribcage.

Using his free legs, Diavolo brought his knees up to Dio's groin. The other boy fell back with another shrill, animalistic screech. Diavolo kicked the knife out of his hold. He stood up, wheezing and panting, feeling his heart drum in his chest. Dio lay on the floor, still writhing in pain. Diavolo kicked him in the stomach. At first, his hits were reluctant, but the intensity grew the louder Dio's cries got. Diavolo found himself lost in the moment, kicking and kicking the boy's soft stomach, enjoying every second.

“Stop it, stop it!”

Two big hands pulled Diavolo back. He was so absorbed by the feeling of overpowering his rival, that he was left kicking the air for a few seconds before he realized what was going on. Jonathan stood between him and the still writhing Dio. Diavolo stopped, watching curiously as Jonathan knelt beside Dio, kindly offering him his hand.

Dio looked at it with narrowed, hateful eyes. He swatted the hand away angrily. “I don't need your help!” he barked, even though it was obvious he did. Dio's legs shook and his knees buckled as he struggled to stand up. His sweaty hands sought support on the wall. The blood from his split lip had dried, forming a dark red crust that reached his chin. He eyed the two boys venomously. Slowly, he reached down for his dagger. He didn't wince or groan. He held his mouth shut. His face was waxy and pale. Sweat rolled down the sides of his face. His movements, even though pained and requiring a lot of effort, carried dignity. Pride.

Jonathan sighed once Dio was gone. “Sorry about that,” he said.

“Why are you apologizing? His behavior isn't your problem.”

Jonathan huffed. “I guess you're right. Hey, do you want me to help you clean up? Looks like you have some work to do around here.”

As much as Diavolo didn't want people interfering in his business, he couldn't deny Jonathan's offer. Four hands worked quicker and more efficiently than two. The two boys had the place looking better than before in only a few minutes. They had stuffed every bit of trash they found in a large garbage bag and carried it upstairs. It was already dark when they stepped out of the basement. Diavolo breathed the air greedily. He breathed wet grass and delicate roses, definitely better than the stale basement air.

“I heard what Dio said,” Jonathan confessed guiltily.

Dio had said a lot of things. Diavolo glanced at the boy in confusion. “What?”

“About you...liking Funny.”

Diavolo stopped. His heart started beating rapidly again. He was going to die, he was sure he was going to die. “What?” he mouthed in disbelief.

“I won't tell anyone!” Jonathan hurriedly reassured him. “I mean it!”

Jonathan wasn't Dio. Somehow, his promise felt real, his word felt genuine. This chubby-cheeked, bright-eyed boy wasn't going to tell a single soul.

“Is it that obvious?” Diavolo grumbled bitterly.

“To me it is. I guess I'm good at noticing things.” They reached the trash can and Jonathan lifted the lid while Diavolo threw the bag inside. “You shouldn't feel bad, because you know what?”

“What?”

Jonathan's gaze shifted to the side and Diavolo followed it. Funny stood by the roses, chatting with Yoshikage, though his eyes were on Diavolo, a little smile playing on his lips.

“I think he likes you, too.”

 

 

 


 

 

 

 


Funny liked him. That's all that mattered. Diavolo rolled on his back. The sweaty sheet was stuck on his body, crumbled and in dire need of a wash. His eyes were fixed on the ceiling. Funny liked him. As a friend or...? No. He was an idiot but not such a big idiot. His heart started beating fast. Funny liked him. Funny smiled at him and made little magic tricks for him. Because he liked him. Funny liked him. The words kept playing in his head like a broken record. No melody, just the same, repeated lyric.

Diavolo rolled on his side and got on his elbow. He locked eyes with the wretched creature in the mirror and the giddiness in his head stopped, the fluttering in his heart ceased immediately. How could someone like Funny like this? How could someone so beautiful and perfect even look at something so repulsive? Bitter and angry, disgusted by his own reflection, Diavolo turned to the wall. He curled into a ball, refusing to acknowledge the reality of his face. His eyes. A bottle of contact lens solution stood on his nightstand, mocking him. He should have been smarter. But he wasn't. And now he didn't know what to do.

“Solido.”

Great. The last thing he wanted. He curled even tighter, his little scowl deepening. [Go away!]

[Solido, there's someone here to see you!]

[Tell them to go away!]

“It's okay, Father,” Funny said. Diavolo snapped up. “I'll come la-”

“No, wait!” Diavolo roared. Shit. Fuck. He rolled off the bed in a heap of sheets and limbs. He was panting already. Christ. He got on his knees, one hand clutching his hair. He needed clothes. He couldn't appear in his cheddar-stained Looney Tunes boxers! He frantically leaped into a pile of clothes. He sniffed a pair of jeans. This would do. And...uh...a surprisingly clean dark gray T-shirt.

“I'm coming!” he hollered, hobbling around the room. As he wrestled to put his clothes on, he kept looking for a pair of sunglasses. He knew he had one somewhere. He rummaged around, throwing things on the floor in a frenzy until he found them underneath a pair of socks. He put them on and checked his reflection. Much better.

Diavolo stepped out of the room. Funny and the priest were downstairs, chatting in the kitchen. The moment Diavolo stepped into the kitchen, they both turned to him. The priest looked disapproving while Funny looked bemused.

“Why are you wearing sunglasses in-”

“Why didn't you tell me that it's your birthday?” Funny inquired.

Right. That. Two tragedies in one day. While Diavolo wasn't a big fan of his birthday, he had actually forgotten it was today, all thanks to the contact lens fiasco. He gulped, trying to appear as nonchalant as possible. “I... didn't think it was important?”

“Unbelievable,” Funny huffed in exasperation. He stood up and marched up to Diavolo. “Father, you don't mind if I borrow him for a few hours, do you?”

“Not at all, my boy.” The priest chuckled heartily as Funny dragged Diavolo out the door. “Have fun!”

There he was. Once again, dragged out with the help of his crush's mystic powers. The sun was on its way down, the atmosphere was noticeably cooler, as cool as late August could be. Diavolo blindly followed Funny, not knowing where they were going.

“I can't believe you didn't tell me it's your birthday!” Funny whined.

“I don't like my birthday that much,” Diavolo explained. Was it that much of a big deal?

Funny seemed confused. “What? You don't like celebrating your birthday?”

“Nope.”

“Why?”

“I just don't like it.” Funny sighed. It was obvious he wasn't willing to drop the subject but he had learned to give Diavolo some space. “So, where are we going?”

Funny hopped in front of Diavolo, flashing him a cheeky little smile. His hands were in the pockets of his shorts and he walked with the playfulness of a 1920s newspaper boy. “I told you I was going to make it up to you! Thought it'd be nice to spend your birthday afternoon at the sea.” Great. The pier. “Hey, don't be a grouch! We'll have fun!”

“I'm too scared to ask what that is.”

Funny went behind Diavolo and started pushing him forward. Diavolo planted his feet on the ground, pushing back as much as he could. It didn't take long for the two boys to end up on the ground. Their noses brushed and their long hair was tangled. Their giggling died out, replaced by the heavy silence of reality. So close... Diavolo could smell the sweetness of Funny's breath, could almost taste the bag of Skittles the blond had just devoured. Funny's breath was shaky, his eyes were questioning. They were so damn close.

“Umm...excuse me, dudes?”

A pizza delivery guy, not older than 17 years old, hovered above them. The two boys sat up, puzzled and suddenly very aware of their actions. The newcomer looked entirely lost and on the verge of tears. “I have a delivery for the Joestar house but I have freakin' clue where that is.”

“Who's the pizza for?” Funny asked.

“Uh...Dio Brando.”

“I am Dio Brando.”

Diavolo stared blankly at his friend. The delivery guy looked even more perplexed. “...really?”

“Yeah.” Funny took the pizza off of the guy's hands and smiled. “Isn't that right, Solido?”

“Yes,” Diavolo confirmed with a fervent nod of his head.

The delivery guy sighed in relief. “Oh, thank God. Okay, lil dude. That will be-”

“Oh, I don't have any money on me. My house is just up the hill, you'll see it once you make it to the top. You can get paid there.”

The delivery guy seemed skeptical for a while. He finally stepped into his car and drove off to where Funny had pointed. As soon as the ran-down Ford went out of their sight, the two boys burst into laughter.

“What the hell was that?” Diavolo asked. They started running, pizza in hand.

“Shh! We'll go eat it at the pier, let's go!”

The boardwalk was as crowded as one would expect on a pleasant, summer afternoon. The little shops and stands were open and busy. The small amusement park was crawling with squealing children and tired, mildly unwilling parents. Couples, young and old, walked along the boardwalk hand-in-hand, enjoying the sea air.

“Hey, look at this!”

Funny directed Diavolo's attention to one of the stands. This one, in particular, was filled with stuffed toys, with some even hanging off the walls. The two boys approached and the vendor perked up. He was brandishing a toy shotgun while cardboard cutouts of bunnies ran up and down behind him.

“One dollar for one round. You hit three, small prize. Five, medium prize. All of them, well, no one's done that. You guys up for it?”

“I'll do it,” Funny volunteered. He handed the money to the vendor and reached for the gun.

Diavolo didn't exactly know what to expect when Funny started shooting. The shotgun looked good on him. Diavolo couldn't look away from the way his golden hair was pushed to the side, how focused he looked, how he bit his lips before making a shot. Within a few seconds, all seven bunnies were down.

“I did it!” Funny exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air, still holding the toy gun. “I got all seven!”

“You did it!” Diavolo laughed, eagerly partaking in his crush's joy.

The vendor scratched his chin, staring at Funny and the bunnies. “Did you cheat?”

“No, sir.”

“Have you done this before?”

“A couple of times.” Funny turned to Diavolo. “I'm good at this,” he informed with a conspiratory whisper.

“Alright, then. Which one would you like?”

The prizes were all tacky and childish in Diavolo's opinion, but apparently, Funny was seriously considering them. Finally, he pointed at one, namely the biggest of the bunch. “That one.”

Satisfied with his triumph, the boy walked away with his prize in his hands. It was an absurdly large bald eagle plushie, with a turkey hat on its head and a pair of basketballs shoes on his feet. An all-American manifesto.

“Here,” he said, offering the bird to a very confused Diavolo. “Happy birthday! I know it's not much but it's your fault for not telling me sooner! I would have gotten you something better!”

A gift, from Funny to him. Even though it was a really tacky plushie that faintly smelled of cigarettes, it was a gift. Diavolo held it close to his chest, a little smile spreading on his lips. “Thank you,” he mumbled and his chest swole a bit. A tingly feeling of joy spread across his entire body. This was slowly becoming the best day of his life.

The two boys walked along the boardwalk. The weather was pleasant, the ambiance even more so. The sun had set even further, making Diavolo's walking with the shades on a bit difficult. They walked until they found a spot they liked. It was a bit further away from the crowd, though not entirely detached. They sat down on the wooden platform, their legs dangling above the water, the looted pizza between them. The sun set in the horizon, turning the sky into a million colors. Blue, yellow, orange and pink mixed seamlessly. The golden rays caught on the fluffy clouds and slid across the glimmering waters. The waves softly crashed on the beach, licking and shaping the shore for millennia to come.

Funny opened the box. Even though the pizza had gotten considerably colder, it was still enjoyable. Diavolo quirked a brow at it. A round, doughy circle, filled to the brim with cheese, sauce, bacon and some mysterious yellow squares.

“Yesssss,” Funny snickered, hungrily taking a slice. “Hawaiian.”

“What?”

Funny took a bite out of the pizza and groaned in delight. “Don't tell me you've never had pineapple pizza!” Funny gasped, scandalized.

“What now?”

Funny took another slice and offered it to Diavolo, who glared at the food as if it had done him a great evil. “It's pizza but it's got pineapple on. Come on, don't be a snob! Give it a try!”

Diavolo pressed his lips together. Funny had eaten most of his slice and hadn't thrown up yet. He could trust Funny, right? He hesitantly accepted the pizza and closely inspected it. He didn't even know where to start. Funny watched him intently as Diavolo took the first, very reluctant slice. He chewed. Very soft. The dough was too thick, with no particular flavor. The sauce was almost sweet. The cheese was good, tasted like good quality mozzarella. The bacon was nice and crispy but what the hell was it doing on a pizza? The pineapple... It was a pleasant surprise. The bits were juicy, adding a pleasantly sweet acidity to the pizza. He swallowed.

“Well?” Funny pressed on.

“It's good,” Diavolo announced, “but it's not pizza.”

Funny pouted. “Then what is pizza?”

“The crust should be thinner and the sauce should be made from fresh tomatoes. All you need to make a pizza is some fresh cheese and basil.”

“Sounds boring.”

“Americans don't know how to eat,” Diavolo lamented. “I'll cook for you one day, show you real food.”

“I'd love that.”

The two boys locked eyes. They blushed, quickly looking elsewhere. Funny busied himself with slowly, very slowly, munching on his pizza.

“Why don't you like celebrating your birthday?”

“Why do you?”

“I like being the center of attention, every once in a while. I like...getting gifts, eating my favorite foods. I like growing older! Soon, I'll be able to do all sorts of cool things!”

“I like growing older, too,” Diavolo mused. He saw the shadow of a ship in the far distance, sailing across the Atlantic. “But I don't like celebrating my birthday.”

“How so?”

“Well, I don't like being the center of attention. I don't like... Ugh, how can I say this! I don't like feeling that time passes.” He frowned. He didn't feel like he was making any sense. “In my head, I'm planning things. I'm planning myself in the future. And I like who I am. But I don't like who I was, who I currently am.”

“Why? I think you're a very interesting person.”

“You do?”

“Yes!” Diavolo had finally learned how to distinguish the truth from the lies. Still, Funny's words didn't sound real. “I like you, and I wish you liked yourself, too. And if you don't, focus on changing the things you don't like.”

“I'm trying to do that but it feels like fighting a losing battle. I changed my name, my hair, my clothes, my eyes, and nobody respects my choices, not even to humor me.” He choked on the last syllable. His head was heavy with sorrow.

“Is that why you're wearing sunglasses?” Diavolo nodded. “May I take a look?”

Diavolo took a deep breath. He lifted his head. Funny moved carefully, very gently removing the sunglasses. Diavolo opened his eyes, meeting his beloved indigo gaze. He felt bare, exposed, but safe. The warmth in Funny's eyes was shielding him. Nothing else mattered. Not a single soul in the world. Only him.

“I think you're beautiful,” the blond boy whispered in awe. “I didn't know you have green eyes.”

“Yeah, I don't really like them. That's why I wear contacts. They expired, though, and I don't know where they sell this kind.”

Funny was still looking at him. He was absolutely mesmerized, not looking away from Diavolo's jade gaze. Diavolo swallowed. A knot settled in his throat. His poor heart couldn't take it. His legs felt like jelly.

Funny cupped the back of Diavolo's head. His touch was gentle, tender, loving. His lips glistened with bacon fat. A little crumb was stuck on his chin. His breath smelled like questionable food choices. Diavolo was petrified, certain that the entire East Coast could hear his heartbeat.

A kiss. Faint, almost nonexistent. Funny lips touched the corner of Diavolo's mouth. Diavolo closed his eyes, almost crying at the touch. A little piece of heaven just for him. The sweetest, most innocent kiss, not directly on his lips but almost there. Almost. He felt it. He felt it in his bones, in his bloodstream. He felt it in his very soul.

Funny pulled away, smiling. Diavolo couldn't move. The memory of his soft lips lingered behind, the scent of his golden hair floated under his nose. Death could come and Diavolo couldn't be any happier. The stars had aligned, his destiny had led him to this very moment.

“Happy birthday, Diavolo.”

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Magenta

 

 

Dawn arrives and with that, the realization of what I've done. What have I done? My clothes lay discarded on the floor, or whatever the hell I was wearing last night. My head is throbbing, I can feel the pain like a sledgehammer, trying to tear down my skull. I roll around and he's there, still on the bed, scrutinizing the soon-to-be-published issue of Vogue. He pays me no mind. As if I'm not there.

What should I do? I feel...nothing. I know I should feel guilty. But I don't.

"Hey." He doesn't respond. He seems bored. Well-rested, but bored. He must have fallen asleep after me. I don't remember much. Only the crucial bits, those that make my blood hot.

"Good morning." He doesn't move his gaze from the pages. Damn it. Is this a tactic? A way for him to trick me into begging for his attention? I doubt it. He knows he has my attention and he doesn't care. How could he not have it? One glance at him makes it hard to believe that he is a human like I am. That gorgeous body, covered in perfect muscles, his beautiful lips and sharp eyes, his mane of glorious, purple hair. Will there ever be another like himself? One so stunning, so divine? Godly. He should have been born a god. Mortality doesn't suit him.

I move slowly. My thighs ache, still bearing the memory of his experienced touch. A ripple of pleasure shocks my body at the memory of his every move. I need him. I lose all sense of morality, of guilt. I don't care. I want him.

As I climb on his thighs, try to straddle that enormous body, he grabs my jaw and looks at me. There's so much ferocity in his gaze, so much darkness in his voice. "You mean nothing to me," he says.

"I know," I reply. He puts the magazine to the side and wraps his hands around my waist. Oh, God...

 

 


 

 

 

 


Euphoria. Bliss. His feet didn't touch the ground. He was floating up in the sky, flying amongst clouds and stars and planets. He perched himself upon the crescent moon and peeked down to where his body lay on his bed, clutching his chest, trying to stop his heart from spouting feet and running out of his ribcage. His mouth ached with a slight burn, right where Funny's lips had touched him. Touched him. Kissed him. It was so faint, like the breeze itself. The scent of Funny's hair hung under his nose, the memory of his fingertips lingered on Diavolo's shoulders. When Diavolo closed his eyes, Funny was there, sitting next to him, smiling at him, calling his name. His name, his own, chosen name. His real name. It sounded so pretty in his mouth, the way it rolled on his tongue was like harmony itself.

Diavolo sat up on his bed. His head felt empty, buzzing. He glanced at his bedside clock. 2 AM. His heartbeat drummed inside his ears. The entire neighborhood could feel his joy, could hear his thumping heart. Sleep seemed like a distant destination. He didn't want to sleep. He wanted to lay in his bed and replay the scene of their kiss, that faint, delicate kiss.

Slowly, he got his shaky feet off the bed. The wooden floor creaked softly under his weight. He tiptoed to the door and opened it, carefully getting out. He could hear the priest's light snoring as he descended the stairs. The house was dark and quiet, sunk into the night's stillness. It was too small for him, too small for his overflowing bliss. He snuck out. Despite it being summer, a chilly breeze was blowing. It prickled his skin and blew on his face. Breath of life itself. He sat down on the curb, fingers tangled in the damp tufts of grass. So quiet. So still. Only the nocturnal animals and their songs could be heard. Cars passed on the highway, scarce and distant. The light in Kira's bedroom was on. Was he the type to sleep with the light on? Didn't matter. Nothing mattered. Only Funny and their kiss. His fingers shook as he brought them up to brush the spot Funny had kissed. He closed his eyes and inhaled sharply.

The inside of his mouth tasted sweet. The scent of cut grass and painted fences wasn't so annoying anymore. He closed his eyes and he flew back to the gorgeous beaches in Sardinia. He was swimming in the crystal waters and Funny was drinking the sun, shining brighter than any star. Golden and divine, devoid of all faults. Diavolo saw them together, older, different but not so much. They were inside a little apartment near the sea, their balcony too close to their neighbor's. Funny practiced his music and he was cooking pasta with a delicious sauce. Life was good. Life was sweet.

Dawn broke in all its glory. The dark sky shattered into a million pieces, its velvet darkness pierced by the newborn light. Pink, gold, lilac, and orange. Diavolo turned his head to gaze at the colors. He hugged his knees closer, smiling wider. The night had ended and the memory of Funny kissing him was still there. Not a dream, then.

 

 


 

 

 


Dread. Panic. Guilt. Terror. Mrs. Valentine, holding a plate of steaming pancakes, turned around to see her son staggering into the kitchen. Her smile dropped into a face of concern at the sight of the boy. It really was an unusual image for Funny. Sure, he had his slow, lazy mornings, but he always made sure to at least wash and dress before he went down for breakfast. His curls stuck out in random places, his face was concealed behind the messy strands. His eyes were nearly closed and only grunts came out of his mouth as he dragged his feet into the kitchen. He sat down and dropped his head on the table.

"Funny?" his mother asked, voice full of worry. Her comforting hands rubbed his shoulders. "What's wrong sweetie?"

"Didn't sleep well," the boy replied after some struggling.

"Why?"

Why. He had spent that night rolling in his bed, unable to sleep, counting every agonizingly slow second that passed. Seconds turned to minutes, minutes turned to hours, the night turned into day, the sky turned from black to blue and Funny was wide awake, to the point of tears. He prayed and counted sheep and read and studied his music. He did all these things he usually did before falling asleep but nothing worked. He closed his eyes and wished on every star in the sky for sleep to take him. He closed his eyes, finally at peace, only to be haunted by a pair of jade eyes. Tender, loving, looking at him with adoration and admiration. And then, his heart would flutter loud enough for him to snap awake. Rinse and repeat.

He had kissed him. Even though faint and small and afraid, it was a kiss. Why, why, why? He coiled around his drenched sheet, letting the word bounce inside his head. A tiny voice kept yelling that he had done the biggest mistake of his life. But that voice was tiny and insignificant compared to Diavolo's sweet gaze and even sweeter words.

Funny jumped when his mother put a plate of pancakes in front of his face. She looked at him with concerned suspicion. The stack of fluffy goodies topped with a waterfall of maple syrup and fresh fruit made him nauseous. The fork almost fell from his grasp. His hands were clammy and shaky. He hesitantly cut a piece and chewed. It felt like paper in his mouth. He washed it down with orange juice. His mother watched him closely, observing him as he ate. Funny offered her a smile that didn't really convince her.

"What's wrong, Funny?" she inquired.

"I didn't sleep well."

"I can see that." She brushed his hair away from his forehead. She smiled down at him. "Talk to me, sweetheart. What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Funny replied, brushing her off. Her touch suddenly seemed unbearable. "I'm just..." Crushed by guilt. Terrified. Spiraling towards insanity. "Nervous."

"Ah." Smiling, his mother went back to feeding the baby. "Is it the Vivaldi concert?"

"Yes!" Funny exclaimed. His head perked up, he was suddenly very awake. "That's it! I'm worried because I don't know my part well."

"That's alright. You have plenty of time to practice and be perfect. I trust you."

"I'll try."

Relieved with the little diversion, Funny returned to his breakfast with much greater eagerness. He managed to gobble everything down and also make sure his beloved dogs had eaten their fill. He noticed his mother had dressed the girls up and was getting ready to go.

"Are you going to the doctor?" he asked.

"No. We're going to help cousin Sarah pick a dress for her wedding." Cousin Sarah had managed to drive two wedding planners near to the point of insanity, have three caterers file a lawsuit against her and caused a poor photographer to cry like a baby in public. All in the span of two weeks.

"I wanna come!"

"You'll get bored, sweetie."

"No, I won't."

His mother sighed. "This is girl stuff, Funny. You'll have more fun staying at home and-"

"But I wanna come!" There was nothing for him at home. Whatever he did, Diavolo's threat would keep looming.

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah."

His mother offered no further protests. Come to think of it, having her sweet boy to calm the girls down in a room full of screaming relatives was not a bad deal.

They all got in the car and after a short drive, they were at the wedding dress parlor. Most of the other members of the entourage were there, gushing over the babies and pinching Funny's cheeks. The moment he set his foot inside, the hens were all over him, acting as if they had never seen him before. For a few seconds, he completely blacked out. He was being tossed around from one pair of arms into the other and had his breath squeezed out of his lungs. For a little while, he completely surrendered to that horrible fate.

"Aw, look at you!" his grandmother cooed, taking him into her arms and trying to suffocate him. "You grow more handsome every day! I'm sure the girls will be all over you in high school!"

At that, Funny tensed up. Ever since that point, they had only been joking about him being a ladies' killer and how despite him never having any contact with another girl, ever, he was a proper womanizer. Somehow. Said that something about his shyness made him irresistible. Again, somehow. But now, they weren't gonna hold back. His parents had met in high school and he was expected to do the same. Find the girl of his dreams and tie the knot. Not kiss the priest's son and lose himself thinking of those green eyes.

"Mom, can I go walk around? I promise I'll be back soon."

"Okay, sweetie."

Funny escaped as quickly and as politely as he could. Once outside the room, he took a deep breath. When did his heartbeat become so damn fast? He checked his reflection, frowning at how pale he looked, how distraught. He walked away, trying to busy his mind with something else. He glanced around, seeing nothing but endless rows of spectacular dresses in all shades of white. Ivory, ice, pearl, porcelain... Other were long, with puffy sleeves and elaborate details, others were short and skimpy, the kind that would get his entire family huffing in exasperation. The employees, all clad in black, ran around like busy bees, hurrying to cater to their clients' every wish. They carried dresses in their arms, each one different than the other. So many styles, so many details. Funny walked around in a daze, dizzy, not knowing where to look.

"Grooms' suits are so plain," he mumbled. He was looking at the various posters hanging around the entire parlor. They depicted models wearing different wedding attires. The women were all blonde and slim and demure, all wearing white and acting like it was the highest point in their lives. The men were all dressed in pretty much the same suit, brows knitted, looking like they had better things to do. Kars' models were nothing like this. They were bright and colorful and genderless and divine and their eyes spat flames. And Kars had told him he could do the same. That he could do better. Was he really so beautiful?

He checked his reflection. Scrawny, with bruised knees and long hair that nobody liked. Nobody but him. And Kars. And Diavolo. Diavolo only had soft words and compliments for him. And Kars... Why was he so friendly? That day in his house, he was polite and welcoming to everyone but he stayed with him, showed him his work, urged him to become a model. Was he... Funny's stomach sunk. Why would someone so beautiful be... sick and deranged. His parents had warned him. There was no other explanation. Kars was obviously insane and interested in something else. Funny had read about Stockholm syndrome somewhere. That explained why the boys were so protective of him.

Virtue and beauty. Kaloikagathoi. Were his looks really so deceptive? Was there really malice behind those sharp eyes, those beautiful lips, and mane of purple hair? Was he really so evil?

(Yes, but not in the way Funny imagined at that time.)

"This way, Frank."

The new voice made Funny snap out of his train of thought. He looked to the side only to have his jaw betray him and fall to the floor. No picture, poster or print could have ever prepared him for the sheer divinity of the living, breathing thing. Ferdinand was tall for his age, slim and not scrawny like Funny, oozing grace with his every move. His hair was cut short, brushing his ears. His lashes were long, fluttering as he looked around. His lips were pouty, full and pink, glistening with lipgloss. He cast a bored glance at his surroundings and his gaze fell on Funny. Funny held his breath. He quickly looked elsewhere. He skin heated up, his cheeks were flaming, even the tips of his ears. He heard the small group of people move away. Ferdinand disappeared from his sight. Funny remained on the same spot, hearing his beating heart drum inside his ears. As if this couldn't get any worse.

 

 


 

 

 

 

"Diavolo?"

Funny stepped into the church basement, finding it empty. The chairs were stacked in the corner. The room was quiet.

"I like it when you say that."

Funny looked to the side. Diavolo stepped out of the pantry, smiling, holding a bottle of coke and two plastic cups. Funny blushed a little. He lowered his gaze, finding it difficult to look at the other boy. The name still sounded weird in his mouth, wrong, but Diavolo's expression was rewarding.

"Sorry I'm late. I was practicing."

"It's fine. Nobody's going to come."

Funny nodded. He followed Diavolo to the couch and sat next to him. Close enough but not too close. He kept his hands fisted on his lap and focused his gaze on the linoleum floor. Something cool was pressed against his arm. Diavolo offered him a cup of coke and Funny accepted it.

"We haven't talked much," Diavolo started, "since my birthday."

"Y-Yeah."

"Are you avoiding me?" he asked, voice a little hurt.

Funny's head snapped up. He looked at the other boy, guilt shading his features. Diavolo's green eyes were expressive and sad, even though he tried to keep his voice casual. Funny gulped. He drank some of his coke to gain some time.

"This...this is all new to me." Honesty was the best policy. This was entirely new to him. Unexpected. It contradicted everything he knew but it didn't feel wrong. "I'm not used to it."

"Do you regret it?"

"No!" That much was true. He didn't regret the kiss or showing his attraction to Diavolo. He only needed some time to come to terms with this, realize it was true. "I told you. I just need some time to...adjust."

"Adjust," Diavolo repeated the word. His face was stern, brows knit, deep in thought. A wave of guilt ran through Funny. It was obvious that the poor boy liked him a lot and he had kissed then left him. Gave him hope and snatched it away. For all his bravado and tough talk and rebellion, Diavolo was still a kid. A kid in a new country unlike his home, experiencing drastic changes in his life and facing problems Funny couldn't even imagine. And he was the priest's son, meaning that he was terrified of this little secret as much as Funny.

"Why did you kiss me?" he asked, looking anywhere but in Funny's eyes.

A hundred thousand words flew inside Funny's head, all trying to crawl out of his mouth. "It seemed right at the time."

"Do you like me?"

"Yes." Confirmation. Both for himself and Diavolo. By saying that simple word, Funny felt a load being lifted off his shoulders. "I like you."

"Why?"

"Because you're different. And not just your hair and your clothes. It's a bit of everything. I like it when you talk about exploring the world, when you show me good music, when you praise me for playing the violin."

"Praise?"

"Compliment."

"Ah." Diavolo twiddled his thumbs. He sniffed his nose. He still was looking away.

"Do you like me?"

"You're not sure?" Funny gave him a little punch on the arm. "I like you, yeah."

"Why?"

"What do you mean 'why'? Have you seen yourself? You're gorgeous, you're the most beautiful person I've seen. You're smart, interesting, talented. And..." At that, Diavolo stopped. His head was hanging low. His voice was small, heavy with emotion. "You're the only person that ever treated me like a human being," he admitted. He sniffed his nose loudly. Funny's heart clutched. He gulped. "Everyone else mocks my hair and my clothes, the priest wants me to change... The kids back in Sardinia...they..." A shaking hand moved to wipe his runny nose. "They beat me up. They told me things about my mother and beat me up. Said the son of a criminal deserved this, that I needed to pay for her crimes. I don't even know the bitch!" he shouted. "It didn't matter to them. I learned to defend myself and fought back. Suddenly, it was my fault for being too violent and everyone started seeing me as an animal."

"You're not an animal."

"I know I'm not an animal," Diavolo barked. "I know that. You're never mean to me, you never beat me up."

"I doubt I can beat anyone up," Funny mumbled.

"So...I like you for that. You're kind."

Whatever the future held, they didn't know. Perhaps it was written in the stars, their stars, that they were destined to be cruel and violent and all sorts of horrible and dreadful. But for the time being, Funny was kind and Diavolo was crying. Reality was what they made it, and on that moment, their hearts beat as one.

Diavolo looked up when Funny's prized handkerchief brushed his face. Funny offered him the pale cloth together with a smile. Diavolo straightened himself, suddenly very aware of the state he was in. His trembling fingers accepted the handkerchief, his lips mumbled a small 'thank you'. He wiped his tears, frowning when his eyeliner and mascara stained the soft fabric.

"I ruined it."

"I can wash it."

Diavolo nodded. "Thank you-"

He never finished his sentence. Funny leaned in, his silky hair brushing Diavolo's face as his lips pressed against Diavolo's own. Diavolo blinked furiously, trying to comprehend what the hell was going on. Slowly, he steadied his clammy hands and brought one behind Funny's head. He buried his fingers into the soft golden locks, shuddering at the pleasant feeling underneath his fingertips. He puckered his lips against Funny's, returning the kiss. By grown-up and romantic fiction novel standards, it was a horrible, amateur kiss. It was the perfect fit for them and it was utterly theirs. So, they kissed. Properly this time.

 

 


 

 

 


"Funny, why are all your dogs so fat?" Yoshikage inquired, pushing the little corgi with the tip of his foot. The little dog saw this as a sign of approaching pets and so he rolled on his back, ready for some belly rubs.

"They're not fat!" Funny quickly defended his puppies. "They're just a bit chubby."

"They're fat," Scarlet noted.

"The doctor said they're fine."

They were all sitting in Funny's front yard, just lazing around poking fun at the chubby and enthusiastic puppies. Diavolo picked one up and the little animal gave an excited yip before licking his face. Diavolo, now traumatized, put it back down.

"I never learned your dogs' names..." he said.

Funny furrowed his brows, realizing that Diavolo was indeed not aware of this very important detail. He gave the puppy he held in his arms a kiss on his furry little head and let him join his brothers. "Their names are Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Jackson."

Diavolo quirked a brow, not understanding what these names meant. Usually, the dogs were named after cute things. Or popes. He would never forget the day he told the priest he had named the neighborhood dog Innocent the Third.

"He named them after the four presidents on Mt. Rushmore," Scarlet explained. The dogs were wary of her. She smelled too much like her cat. "Which is the nerdiest thing one can do."

"What the hell is Mt. Rushmore?" Diavolo asked. The more time he spent on American ground, the more obscure the country seemed.

"A formerly sacred Indian mountain where white people carved the faces of four ugly dudes," Yoshikage offered in the same, monotone voice as always.

"Four ugly presidents," Funny very sternly corrected. "And I don't see why it's so weird that I named my dogs after them. I want to do the same with my kids."

"You want to name your kids after your dogs?!" Scarlet laughed.

"I want to name my kids after the presidents on Mt. Rushmore!"

"How do you know you'll have four kids."

"Just a hunch."

"And what if you have girls?"

"I always wanted to have a daughter and name her Beatrice."

"Beatrice?" Scarlet gasped. "Why would you do this to her!?"

"It's a beautiful name!" Funny argued, flustered that his choices were being ridiculed. He crossed his arms, refusing to look at the girl.

"You can't even shorten it..."

"You can get 'Trish' out of it," Diavolo mused.

"I pity your wife," the girl mumbled.

Wife. Kids. The words struck a chord within Diavolo. They mentioned these things casually, already so certain that they would become a reality. Funny had decided the names for his kids. No doubt, he had already fantasized about his future wife. He thought about the color of her hair and the shape of her lips and the sound of her voice. He had made plans for the future and those plans included a picture-perfect family. Diavolo's plans for the future were nothing like Funny's. His only dream was to leave, go away where no one knew him and live life as he pleased. Once he grew bored of that place, he would simply move to the next and so on, and so forth. The idea of a family, to tie him down and hold him back, wasn't exactly what he dreamed of. He made plans for himself, though these days, he often dreamt about this small apartment that he shared with Funny.

"What are those guys doing?" Yoshikage wondered and Diavolo looked up, snapped out of his thoughts.

The four kids looked across the street where Joseph, accompanied by Caesar who was holding a baby, Jotaro, Kakyoin, and Jonathan, crawled outside Kars' fence. Joseph looked very excited about whatever the hell was going on while the others looked anywhere from anxious to annoyed to scared.

"This is a bad idea!" Jonathan whispered.

"Would you rather stay at home with Dio?" Joseph hissed.

"Joseph!" Funny called. The others all snapped to the side to look at him. "What on earth are you doing?"

"We're on a mission!" Joseph informed him. "We're infiltrating their house!"

"Wh...why would you do this?"

"We wanna see if they really eat children like Dad says," Jotaro said.

"Are you stupid enough to believe that?" Scarlet mused, genuinely worried about their state of mind.

"You don't?"

"Only an idiot would fall for this bullshit!"

"You're only saying that because you're too scared to go inside!"

Hearing her pride be insulted, Scarlet stood up and marched to the boys. Proud and tall, she crossed her arms and didn't spare Joseph a glance. She looked at the other three, who still stood on Funny's lawn.

"Are you guys coming or what?"

"They don't eat children," Funny insisted.

"What, you're scared, too, Funny?"

"Hey!"' Funny furrowed his brows. With much less certainty than Scarlet, he walked up to the others. Judging by the look on his face, he must have realized what a horrible idea this was. "Diavolo?"

"Diavolo?!"

"Mind your damn business," Diavolo grumbled as he made his way to Funny. His heart fluttered with pride when Funny said his name in front of other people. They stood side by side and Diavolo could have sworn that Funny brushed his fingers against his own.

"Yoshikage?"

"No."

"You scared, Kira?"

"You're not? Those guys are crazy buff. What will you do if they catch you? What if they eat you, too?"

Kira's words made the others all shut up. They were frozen and still, suddenly very aware of the danger they were into. Joseph gulped loudly, regretting his decision. The only one enjoying this situation was Caesar's baby cousin, who was transfixed by Funny's hair.

"They do not eat children!" Funny shouted. "Let's hurry up and go if you're so freaking curious!"

"Are you gonna come, Yoshikage?"

"Absolutely not."

Leaving their ripoff David Bowie behind, the kids embarked on the dangerous journey of infiltrating the new neighbors' home. Cannibalism, mindless drug use, debauchery galore hid behind those walls, according to their parents. Of course, they had all warned them to stay away but nothing could stop a child's curiosity.

"You know the truth," Funny whispered at Jonathan, a bit offended that he kept spreading lies about Kars and Esidisi. "Why didn't you stop him?"

"You know how Joseph is," Jonathan sighed. "Once he gets something in his mind, there's no stopping him."

The kids went around the corner, sticking close to the fence to remain undetected. It wasn't particularly high or sharp, just different. More aesthetically pleasing. The couple had chosen to surround their house with a stylish, granite wall. They were also planting cypress trees to ensure more privacy.

"What now, genius?" Caesar asked.

"We climb inside," Joseph stated, matter of factly. Silence. "Who wants to go first?"

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. The first person to set foot in the mysterious territory, would have to make sure the coast was clear, prepare the way for the others to follow. It was an important task, very serious and dangerous.

"Shouldn't you do it?" Kakyoin pointed out. The others all nodded. Joseph's face drained of all color. He blinked a few times, struggling to find the correct words.

"I'll go," Scarlet huffed. "Help me out, Jojo."

"Wait, you can't go first!" Jonathan argued. "It's not...chivalrous." Scarlet sent him a death glare. Jonathan linked his hands together, creating a little step for her. Scarlet climbed the wall easily. The boys soon heard a faint thud as she landed on the grass.

"Scarlet?" Funny asked with a hushed, anxious voice. No response. "Scarlet?!"

"Help! They're eating me alive!"

"Scarlet!"

Scarlet's smiling face appeared from over the wall. She extended one arm, prompting one of the boys to take it. "Who's next?"

"This is so ridiculous," Funny mumbled as Jonathan helped him up.

Diavolo followed, easily landing on the soft grass. Kars and Esidisi's house was big, bigger than Funny's and definitely bigger than his. The garden was still a work in process but a lot of plants were already there, mainly bright colored flowers, ferns, exotic species unknown to him, and even a fragrant herb garden. They had tied a hammock between two trees by the poolside and had arranged for a lovely sitting area around a bonfire. The house was very tasteful and unlike anything else in the neighborhood. Perhaps it was a bit strange, but it reminded Diavolo of a villa he had once seen somewhere in Puglia.

The youngest members of the group followed soon after and Joseph along with Caesar helped Jonathan get over the wall. "What am I supposed to do with him?" Caesar inquired, obviously referring to the baby.

"Just...throw him in the air and the others will catch him."

There was a small pause. "Are you for real?"

"Joseph, that's ridiculous!" Jonathan shouted.

"Why did you even bring him?"

"The only one available to look after him was Dio and I'd rather die than leave Gyro along with that bastard!"

"Just toss him over and the others will catch him!" Joseph said with much more intensity

"My cousin is not a football!"

"He'll be fine!"

"This is completely stupid- Hey! Bring him back, Jojo!"

"Incoming!" Joseph hollered and in the next second, Gyro was thrown in the air. He hovered only for a moment, just lingering in the air like a bird, giggling with glee, before gravity brought him down.

Jonathan jumped but Funny was faster. He scaled Jonathan, getting higher and catching the baby in mid-air. He landed on the ground, on his back, with the baby in his arms, safe and sound and too excited about this entire situation.

Joseph and Caesar joined the others. Joseph now sported a bright red mark on his left cheek. Caesar's frown almost split his face into two. He reached for Gyro but the baby whined at the thought of being separated from this new boy, whose hair was long enough to yank and bite. Gyro nestled into Funny's chest and Funny rocked him gently, making the baby giggle. Diavolo watched as Funny interacted with the infant. He didn't particularly like babies, didn't see why they got so much attention. In reality, he didn't like the way kids were expected of him, how everyone was so sure he'd grow up to be a husband and father. Of course, he was too young to put these notions into words so for the time being, he disliked babies. Seeing Funny with the baby in his hands made for an oddly beautiful picture, holy, even.

"It suits you," he said and immediately blushed, regretting his decision.

Funny turned to him, blushing as well. He smiled and giggled, holding Gyro over his shoulder. "You think?" Diavolo nodded. "Thanks." He seemed happy to hear that.

The gang had all made it over the garden wall and were ready to explore the much talked about inside of the ever-mysterious residence. Joseph got at the front, proudly leading the others further inside. Funny rocked Gyro, shushing the baby whenever he made too much noise. They found the patio's door open and so they ventured inside, looking around for any sign of the occupants. The house appeared completely silent, the tranquility of the scene only disturbed by the rustling of the curtains as they swayed in the light breeze.

As they walked, not sure what they were looking for, Diavolo saw colorful vases and fashion photographs hanging from the walls. There were flowers and candles and all sorts of precious artifacts decorating the carved tables and marble countertops. Joseph pointed upstairs furiously and the other kids all nodded. They tiptoed upstairs, still having their ears wide open, trying to pinpoint the occupants. They held their breaths as they walked, jumping at the faintest sound. Their eyes roamed around, hungrily taking in the luxurious interior, the high ceilings, and bright colors, the bejeweled mirrors and antique tables.

“That's their library,” Jonathan informed his friends as they passed in front of a white double door.

“Do you think this is where they keep their spellbooks?” Joseph eagerly inquired. Jonathan opened his mouth to protest but it was too late. Joseph pushed the door open and they all got inside.

Having a fully equipped library was definitely a bit of an overkill, even for an already opulent house. Diavolo's gaze hungrily took in the sight. He had only seen a private library once, in a cardinal's castle in Tuscany. Of course, Kars and Esidisi's collection didn't compare to that of a Catholic prince but it was definitely impressive. Very impressive. Endless tomes of books, bound in silk and leather, filled with heavy bookcases, decorated with scenes of ancient civilizations. Feasts, weddings, human sacrifices... The further in they went, the darker the decoration got. He saw big, satin pillows thrown under the window. A few empty cups were on the windowsill together with a mostly burned candle. This made for an excellent reading spot, better than reading Poe on your crappy bed, anyway.

“Do you think this is it?” Joseph beamed, reaching for a heavy, leather-bound book. Its black cover and silver letters certainly seemed very important and even a bit mystifying. The kids all gathered around it, holding their breaths as Joseph opened the first page.

“What language is this in?”

“Spanish, obviously. They're Mexican.”

“Funny, you know Spanish?”

“I know that they're Mexican.”

“It's a book about Mesoamerican agriculture,” Diavolo explained casually, prompting everyone to look at him.

“You speak Spanish?” Funny asked, obviously baffled and impressed.

“The pope once taught me a couple of things.”

“You've met the Pope!?”

“What the hell is going on here?”

A gasp. The kids all turned around to find Kars, towering over them in all his glory, looking more terrifying than ever in his sweaty gym wear. He was as confused as they were terrified. For a few agonizingly long seconds, nobody moved. Then, hell broke out.

“Scatter!” Scarlet hollered at the top of her lungs.

The kids, like rats on a sinking ship, hurried to different directions, smashing face-first into the bookcases. Diavolo remained completely immobile for a moment, not knowing what to do. He felt a soft hand grasp his own and firmly pull him away from the scene. His feet moved on their own, his body was being completely dragged by Funny.

“Joseph!” Jonathan cried. His little brother flailed and screamed, trying to slither away from Kars' hold.

“There's no time!” Jotaro shouted and pushed his brother away.

Diavolo let Funny take him where he wanted. His breath was but a quick puff and his body was mere jelly. They were out of the house but where? He didn't care. All that mattered was the way the sun glided over Funny's hair, making it appear like spun gold. His curls bounced as he kept running, his pale skin flushing with the effort. They jumped over a short wall, with Diavolo almost tripping over it. They sat down on the grass, at a safe distance from the neighborhood, panting, with their backs against the stone wall.

Still breathless, Diavolo looked at Funny. A bead of sweat rolled down the side of his head. His golden hair stuck to his face. His indigo eyes shone bright blue. His cheeks were pink and sweet. Gyro was still in his arms, somehow. The baby seemed oddly chill about the whole situation, finding shoving handfuls of Funny's hair way more entertaining than whatever was going on.

Funny looked at the baby, then back at Diavolo. He snorted before breaking out in loud, sweet, melodic laughter. Diavolo joined him, giggling the summer evening away.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Fuschia

 

 

My legs are heavy like lead, my breaths are quick. One, two, three. I climb the stairs and suddenly, I'm right outside his door. It's black, contrasting the white exterior. The house is dark and the street behind me is quiet. The neighborhood sleeps and I pray he does, too. I'm not ready for this, not yet. Not ever.

I look back. Yoshikage motions furiously at me to knock on the door. I do. One, two, three. I wait. My knocks echo. I knock again. I wait. Nothing. I look at Yoshikage.

"He's probably sleeping," I try to reason. Yes, he probably is. Having a full time job and caring for a child must be stressful. I wouldn't know.

"Or not answering because he's afraid of serial killers."

"And whose fucking fault is this?"

"We'll come again tomorrow."

"No," I snap. All Yoshikage cares about is going home and going to sleep. "If I leave now, I'm never coming back again." I sit down. The concrete steps are cold. "I'll stay here until he wakes up."

Yoshikage looks at me with disbelief for a second. He sighs and walks away from the car. "You're lucky it's my day off tomorrow," he grumbles as he sits next to me.

"Nobody asked you to stay."

"Like hell I'm leaving you alone. You'll break into his house the moment I'm gone."

True. Love is patient, love is kind. Love is painful, love is blind. Fatigue never touches me. I stay, watching the empty street. The sky is dark. When I check again, it's lilac. Pale blue in the far east, slowly melting into yellow. The first car passes me and the door behind me opens.

I jump on my feet. Yoshikage snaps awake. Funny is frozen at the door, staring at me with those eyes I dream of. Time stops.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

There was nothing better than sweet lemonade on a hot summer afternoon. Funny sat cross legged on the crisp grass of the backyard, glass of lemonade in one hand, book in the other. His horde of puppies ran like bullets around him, playing and munching on the grass, attracted to the turf the same way locusts descended upon fields. He'd look up every now and again, to see how they were doing. His skin rose with goosebumps. He felt the most content during serene days like these. The sun was setting in the west, sending its last rays over the rows of houses. The soft splashing of the sprinklers reminded him faintly of rain. He sipped on his lemonade, enjoying the sugary taste that filled his mouth. The new school year was almost upon him so he made an effort to enjoy even the tiniest carefree moment.

Funny looked up when he caught up heavy knocking on the front door. He looked over his shoulder to see his mother hurrying down the stairs to answer the door, mumbling to herself. Intrigued, Funny stood up and went back inside the house. He heard his mother let out a startled gasp, nearly overpowered by Kars' enraged, accusatory tone. Funny tiptoed into the foyer. He stopped at the corner, leaning over the edge, close enough to hear but remaining undetected.

Kars stood at the front door, filling the entire foyer with his imposing presence. He was obviously angry, his handsome features appearing colder and sharper than usual. The sight was intimidating, yet Funny found himself even more drawn to the man's aloof beauty.

"My son would never-"

"Your son was amongst those that broke into my house! He is just as guilty as everyone else!"

"You're lying!" Mrs. Valentine barked back. "My son never broke into your house!" She turned around, just then noticing Funny, who, unfortunately, didn't back away in time. "Funny, what is this man saying?"

With his cheeks flaming hot red with shame, Funny stepped out of his hiding spot. He kept his hands linked in front of him, trying to avoid his mother's gaze. He looked up, meeting Kars in the eye. Kars didn't seem so angry anymore. He looked at Funny with disdain, disgust, even. Somehow, that hurt even more than anger.

He opened his mouth to speak, managing only a squeaky, anxious breath. "He...He's telling the truth," he stammered out, trying to keep his voice calm and failing miserably. He bit the inside of his cheek, fighting back his tears.

"What?" his mother mumbled with shock.

"One of my stone masks is missing. It has been missing since the day you and your friends broke into my house!"

"Funny, what is he talking about? Did you break into his house?"

"We did!" Funny admitted, watching his mother's face shift into an expression of pure shock . "But I never stole anything! Neither did anyone else!"

Kars folded his arms, making his muscular chest appear even larger. He quirked a perfectly arched brow. "So you're telling me than my priceless artifact went missing on its own."

"...yes?"

"And you expect me to believe that?" Funny's face went from beet red to sheet white. He quickly shook his head, eyes wide and not daring wander away from the imposing man. Kars drummed his fingers on his forearm. "So what happened?" he impatiently pressed on.

"Funny!" his mother urged. Oh, to have your model son shame you in front of this animal. Funny couldn't imagine how she felt.

Funny swallowed. He fumbled a bit, struggling to find the right words. "I don't know what happened! I swear it! I swear it on Daddy's memory!"

"Funny!" his mother gasped, scandalized. Do not speak the name of the Lord in vain and do not take oaths. Her displeasure with his behavior was justified.

"I went there with the other kids but I didn't take anything!" Funny cried. He was beginning to doubt his memory. Had someone from their group really taken something from the house? "It wasn't me!"

"Well it was fucking one of you!" Kars shouted, enraged. He stormed out of the house, slamming the door shut. He opened it once again to glare at the dumbstruck duo. "Disgusting!" He slammed it shut again with so much force, that the windows rattled and a vase full of flowers fell on the floor.

"Mom-”

Before Funny could even squeak, his mother's open palm fell on his cheek hard, fast, slicing the air. It took a few seconds for him to realize what happened, for the pain to kick in. it started slowly but bloomed quickly, spreading like spikes across Funny's soft, pale cheek, painting it a crimson color. The shade known as unrelenting rage. His skull buzzed and his vision blurred, either from the shock or the tears. Maybe both. His shaking, disbelieving hand reached to touch the aching flesh. His skin was hot, pulsating. She had never hit him before.

He stood there for several seconds, speechless, feeling hot tears trickle down his face. His vision cleared and he regained his hearing. One by one, his senses returned. It felt like waking up a second time, only this one was more intense. More...real. He was aware of his actions, his surroundings, his pain. Slowly, he turned to look at his mother, who was still seething with rage, frozen with anger.

“Go to your room,” she ordered. Her voice was shaking. She was crying, too, but why did it matter? “We'll talk about this when your father gets home.”

Funny bit down his tongue. Bitterness filled his mouth. He swallowed it down. He wiped his tears and walked away running up the stairs and into his room. He slammed the door shut and stood with his back against it, breathing quietly. Twilight had dashed deep purples against the walls. Oh, late summer. As sweet as its scent was and as hot as its days, they didn't last long enough. Already the sun dipped at an earlier time. Soon, the stars would be out by lunchtime and the sun would rise before the moon set.

He was a man now, almost fourteen years old. Emotions were not fit for a man, unless they were rage or... fury. He didn't feel any of those and the emotions swirling in his head were too loud to ignore. He walked to his window and sat on the windowsill, letting the breeze wash his face and play with his hair. A smile crept to his lips. His parents had been shamed by a man they ranked lower than an animal. And all because of their pride and joy, their only son. Not that Funny was shaking with euphoria, it just brought him a certain level of satisfaction.

“Funny?”

Diavolo's small, hushed voice made Funny look up. The other boy was also sitting on his windowsill, holding something in his hands. To his great surprise, Funny caught the metal glint of a knife. He sat up, intrigued, looking at the object with furrowed brows.

“What's that?” he inquired.

Diavolo looked down, as if just then noticing the object. He lifted it so Funny could see it better. It looked like some kind of switchblade, albeit much bigger, with a wooden and leather handle that was decorated with blood red roses. Funny leaned closer to the object, observing it.

“It's a vendetta knife. From Corsica.”

“Oh...” Funny mouthed. He didn't understand much of that sentence. “Can I look at it?”

Diavolo pursed his lips. “I don't think I can leave the house. I'm grounded.”

Funny perked up. “So am I! Are you grounded for breaking into Kars' house?”

“Yes. Who do you think stole this mask?”

Funny shrugged. He doubted if any of his friends were capable of theft. Scarlet maybe. “Can't you just toss the knife?”

“No way!” Diavolo gasped, scandalized. “What if I drop it and someone sees it?”

Funny scowled. He really wanted to see the cool knife. He had nothing better to do at the moment. He was a bit tempted to play some music but that would only add fuel to the fire inside his house. His puppies barked merrily in the backyard and Funny had never wanted to join them more.

After a moment's consideration, Diavolo stood up on the windowsill. His lanky frame shook slightly as he shoved the knife in his back pocket. Slowly and carefully, he reached for the sturdiest-looking branch of the sycamore tree and planted his right foot on it. Funny watched with his breath held as Diavolo climbed on the tree and walked towards his window. The branch shook and caved with the boy's weight, though not significantly. A fall from there would surely result in a broken leg. Or neck. Diavolo reached the edge of the branch and stepped on Funny's windowsill. He stood there for a moment, grinning triumphantly, basking in the glory of his successful stunt. He hopped off, landing inside Funny's room.

“Never do that again!” Funny scolded him.

Diavolo chuckled, clearly not sharing Funny's anxiety. He sat under the window next to Funny. “I'll have to do it again to leave. It's not like I can use the front door.”

That was enough to make Funny crack a smile and giggle. A flush climbed on Diavolo's cheeks, fortunately covered in the dim light. “Show me the knife,” Funny nudged him and Diavolo quickly obliged. Funny moved to take the knife from Diavolo's hands but Diavolo quickly jerked it away. “What?”

“It's bad luck to give a knife like that. It means we'll fight.” He put the knife on the floor. “Now you can take it.”

“You're weird,” Funny mumbled fondly. The knife was even more beautiful up close, from the intricate floral details stitched on the soft leather of the handle to how the blade captured and imprisoned the dim light. Funny noticed some words carved on it and traced them with his fingers.

“Che la mia ferita sia mortale,” he read, though his pronunciation was quite off. “What does that mean?”

“May my wound be deadly,” Diavolo explained.

Funny nodded. “What's a 'vendetta'?”

“It's...revenge. It's when someone kills a person you love and so you go out to kill them.”

“That's brutal,” Funny commented disapprovingly. “Why do you have this?”

“A sailor gave it to me. He killed the man who killed his brother so he had no use for it anymore.”

“This was used to kill a person?!” Funny gasped, distraught. He looked down at the knife still held in his hands. To think that this had once been plunged into someone's heart, that it had so easily stripped another person of their life. His skin was riddled with goosebumps. He quickly gave the knife back to Diavolo, glad to be free from its suddenly crippling weight.

“Why did you do that?!” Diavolo cried. “Now we'll have a fight!”

“Oh no! I'm sorry! I didn't mean to!”

Diavolo furrowed his brows. Funny waited in complete silence for the boy to find a way to reverse this curse that he had so foolishly bestowed upon them.

“I think we won't fight if we kiss each other on the cheek.”

“You sure?”

“Absolutely.”

The two boys kissed and even though no dark cloud rose from within their hearts, they certainly felt lighter. Relieved, Funny leaned his head on Diavolo's shoulder. With each kiss, with each touch, his heart beat even louder, even faster. Their little secret was just a small bud but it bloomed with each day. Only they could see its beautiful colors, share its warmth. The guilt was there but so was the sense of justice. Funny couldn't see how it was wrong when it felt so good. Sins are sweet, his parents warned him, but how could love be sinful?

“We're grounded,” Funny reminded him. “There's not much we can do right now.”

“At least we're together,” Diavolo smiled. His smiles were always hesitant and shy, like he was smiling for the first time. It was sweet. Funny looked up into the boy's sparkling green eyes, finding them brighter than any meadow during spring. He smiled back.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

3 AM. Under the covers, flashlight in hand, eyes stinging with fatigue but heart thirsting for knowledge. Jonathan's unrelenting curiosity urged him to keep going. His mother's notebook was placed on his pillow, her notes and sketches revealing new worlds to him. Old photographs, pressed leaves, questions left unanswered. Her spirit lived in those pages. When studying her notes, Jonathan could feel her by his side.

4 AM. His stomach grumbled. Sleep had faded away. He'd probably stay up studying until 6, only to fall asleep then and walk around like a zombie for the rest of the day, only to be on the receiving end of a barrage of cold words headed by his father. As usual, but Jonathan didn't have the mind to consider these things. He threw the covers off of himself, sighing at the pleasant night breeze that cooled his sweaty body. He walked to his window and leaned out. From his house atop the hill, he could see the entire neighborhood, all the way down where the tar black sky met the dark sea. Countless silver stars speckled the night sky. The moon had gone hiding again. The neighborhood was quiet. Everything was perfectly still. A beautiful summer night, one of the last few.

His stomach grumbled again and Jonathan knew better than to ignore it. His father constantly scolded him for eating too much but Jonathan couldn't really help himself. Hunger was such a devastating situation. He couldn't even begin to deal with the pain seated in his stomach, indiscriminate between if it was just a single second or over an hour. Carefully, he opened his room's door and peeked out. As expected, the hall was empty and quiet. He closed the door behind him and tiptoed across the floor, heading for the stairs. The cooks and the housekeepers wouldn't wake up for at least two more hours, giving Jonathan a large window to grab as many snacks as he wanted.

He walked into the empty kitchen and smiled to himself. The chef thought he had found an excellent hiding spot for the snacks but Jonathan still managed to discover them. He sat down on the floor and pushed away the rug. The marble floor looked perfectly normal to everyone else, but Jonathan knew one tile in particular held a secret. Using a small knife, he lifted the loose tile, revealing a hole on the floor, containing a small wonderland. Jonathan's face lit up at the sight of the treasures. Chocolate bars and potato chips, peanut butter cups and gummy worms, he had everything his heart desired. Having a dedicated sweet tooth, he reached for a milk chocolate bar and started munching on it joyfully.

Footsteps. Jonathan's head perked up. He looked around, seeing no one. He heard the tell-tale sound of something sharp and metallic being dragged along the side of the granite counters. He snapped his head to the side, trying to pinpoint this presence. His face grew pale, drenched in cold sweat. He swallowed thickly. The once gentle breeze felt like pinpricks on his skin.

Suddenly, a scream. Two hands reached for him, throwing him on the floor. Jonathan yelled with fear and found himself underneath...a creature. It wore a crude, ugly, terrifying stone mask, with its amber eyes gleaming from within the thin slits. It held a knife in its hand and pressed it against Jonathan's neck as it screamed bloody murder. Jonathan felt hot tears trickle down his face. He wasn't sure if he was breathing anymore. He was frozen solid on the floor, absolutely terrified to face the truth.

The masked creature stopped screaming. Instead, it erupted in laughter, uncontrollable, mocking snickering. Dio fell back, holding his stomach, still clutching the knife in his hand. “You peed yourself!” he cried, unable to stop laughing. Jonathan started crying more which only fueled Dio's laughter. “You're disgusting! You actually peed yourself!”

Dio's enthusiastic laughter boomed around the kitchen. Jonathan slowly sat up. His eyes were wide and unblinking, freely pouring tears down his face. His body was rigid, cold, petrified. He gasped softly, almost choking on his own breath. He didn't dare look down. His face burned with shame.

“Why...” he started. His throat was dry, his voice was hushed, distant. “Why did you do this to me?”

Dio's roaring laughter quieted down to a hearty chuckle. “You should have seen your face,” he cooed. Goosebumps riddled Jonathan's skin at the sound of Dio's voice. It resonated from behind the stone mask, as if coming from another dimension. Strange as it was, it suited him. As if fake presentations had been set aside for the hour, and allowed the soul to make the face its newest territory. The appearance of a monster fit him better than that of a human.

Dio stood up. Even though he couldn't see it, Jonathan was sure he was grinning behind the mask. “I'll go get your father, bring him to see what you've done,” he sneered, voice oozing with arrogance and joy.

At the thought of his father bearing witness to this scene, Jonathan sprang into motion. He wrapped his hands around Dio's ankle, holding him from walking away. “No,” he begged, his voice breaking with new sobs, “please, don't!”

“Don't be ridiculous!” Dio snarled and kicked Jonathan's hands away. He huffed. “He needs to know that his eldest son needs to be potty trained.” He giggled. “Who knows, maybe he'll make you walk around in a nappy!”

Still laughing, Dio moved to take off the mask. Persistent thing, needed some force. Maybe a bit more. Dio tugged on the rough, stone rim but to no avail. He pushed harder, huffing from the exertion. He swore under his breath. He pushed and tugged but the mask wouldn't come off.

“Dio?” Jonathan mumbled, watching as the other boy struggled to remove the mask. More seconds passed and it remained stuck to his face. Dio grew angrier, growling like an animal and yet the mask was glued to his face.

“Goddammit! Jojo!” he barked. “Go get help!”

Slowly, Jonathan stood up. His muscles ached from sitting down in such an awkward position. His mouth was sweet with the taste of chocolate. The tears had dried on his face, so had the wetness on his crotch. He took a step back, heading towards the door.

“I'll...go take a shower.”

“Jojo!” Dio gasped. Jonathan didn't listen. His eyes were fixed on Dio's even as he fled the kitchen, running up to his room. “Jojo!”

 

 

 


 

 

 


Lazy mornings were a gift from heaven. Diavolo was deep in the sweet embrace of sleep, tangled with his sheet, hugging his pillow with all his might, resting his head on his messy nest-like hair. When he had last checked the clock last night, he saw 3 AM. He had once again used this newfound bridge to slither into Funny's room and talk with the boy until 2 AM. In the end, Funny fell asleep on his shoulder and it was his job to tuck the boy in bed. He remained there for a few minutes, just admiring his very own sleeping beauty, even daring to steal a kiss from his sweet lips. Did Funny feel it? He didn't wake up but he did stir, even made a pleased little sound. Reality or Diavolo's overactive, hopelessly romantic imagination? Whatever it was, he stayed up staring at the ceiling, thinking about this blessing that had graced his life. While awake, he thought of Funny's golden hair and melodic laughter and in his sleep, he dreamt of that small apartment near the sea, of lunch dates on their tiny balcony and their fingers linked like their eyes.

“Solido!”

Diavolo didn't move, though he did wake up. He heard the priest approach his bed. He screwed his eyes shut even harder, hoping the man would go away. Instead, the priest started shaking him gently. Diavolo cracked an eye open, just enough to see this figure clad in black looming over his head. Servants of God were so ominous sometimes.

He didn't respond to the priest's words and nudges. The priest huffed in annoyance, mumbled something under his breath and yanked the sheet off of his son's body. Diavolo snapped awake, lying immobile on his bed, staring at the wall across with wide eyes. Oh, that bastard.

[Wake up, Solido. Breakfast is ready.] Diavolo groaned. He rolled onto his other side and reached for his pillow, hoping sleep would find him again. The priest, obviously not satisfied that his son was still laying in bed, snatched the pillow away from Diavolo.

Enraged, the boy sat up, glaring at his father from behind a mane of incredibly messy hair. [Why are you doing this?! It's summer! And it's not Sunday! I can sleep late!]

The priest pressed his lips in a thin line. He placed his hands on his hips and looked down on his disgruntled son. [We're going to get school supplies with the Valentines today, remember? School starts in a week!]

At the sound of that, Diavolo's brain clicked into action. Right. That. He tossed the sheet off of his body and stormed into the bathroom. He got into the shower like a whirlwind, quickly pouring shower gel and shampoo on his body. He cursed under his breath as he washed himself. He couldn't present himself to Funny looking like a trash-digging raccoon. He washed his sweaty body thoroughly and lathered his head in shampoo until he was squeaky clean. Even if he bathed in lavender-scented oils and spent his time napping in great, rolling meadows of amorous plants, one universal truth remained: Diavolo was a teenager, and teenagers smell awful. He stepped out of the shower, dripping wet on the floor. Water pooled around his feet, painted a soft, pink color. Panicking, he checked his roots. Still good, thankfully. Would probably last him another few weeks. He wrapped himself in his favorite red towels (the priest wouldn't let him get black) and headed back into his room, in search of an outfit. The extremely fashionable fit of choice that would make Funny's heart beat faster point blank was a perhaps too-short AC/DC shirt, a pair of black jeans, black shoes and a studded belt. Diavolo dried his hair as fast as he could and combed it, managing to battle the frizz with some hairspray. He was lucky he was born Italian. Hairspray was never missing from his house.

Dressed and ready for his date, he skipped down the stairs and into the kitchen. The priest had prepared him some pancakes and eggs with orange juice. American breakfast was already growing on him and to be honest, Diavolo couldn't complain. He ate his breakfast in silence, while the priest read his pocket version of the Bible. He was distant these days, sulking, disappointed and showing it. He probably thought he wasn't a good parent and Diavolo felt satisfied knowing that. Yes, he wasn't a good parent. His son didn't listen to him, broke into people's houses and dreamed of serenading the neighbor's son. And there was nothing he could do about it.

[Are you coming too?] Diavolo asked when they stepped out of the house.

[Of course. If I leave you alone to shop, you'll come back with everything but the things we need.]

Fair point, though Diavolo was pissed at the lack of trust.

Funny was waiting by the car with his stepfather and to Diavolo's great displeasure, Yoshikage. At the sight of the other boy, his hopes and dreams shattered. Gone was the fantasy of holding hands when no one was watching, of talking about music and sharing dumb jokes. Yoshikage, with his apathetic blue gaze and perfectly combed blonde hair, came out of nowhere to destroy Diavolo's day. He stood next to Funny, looking as disinterested as always. He was kind of attractive, Diavolo had to admit, though how bright could a torch shine next to the sun? Funny smiled and waved at him and Diavolo cracked a small, shy smile that painted his cheeks pink. Funny was wearing a white polo shirt, pale blue shorts and brown shoes. His hair was combed back and tied in a low ponytail. Diavolo wondered if the absence of pink had anything to do with his stepfather's presence.

“Good morning, Father,” Mr. Valentine greeted. “Good morning, Solido.”

“Good morning, Mr. Valentine,” Diavolo mumbled. “Hey,” he said, turning to Funny.

“Hi.”

“Didn't know you were coming with us.” Instead of a response, Yoshikage shrugged. Diavolo clicked his tongue. Annoying piece of shit.

“Hey!” Funny chirped enthusiastically. “Did you hear-”

“Funny,” Mr. Valentine warned and the boy's smile dropped. He looked down at his feet, slouching his shoulders.

“Sorry.”

“Did anything happen?” the priest questioned.

Mr. Valentine sighed. “I don't like indulging in gossip but the mask thief was found.”

“The one who stole the mask from Kars' place?” Diavolo blurted. At the mention of Kars' name, both men's faces turned sour.

“It was Dio.”

“Dio!?” the priest gasped in shock. Mr. Valentine nodded in forlorn agreement. “But how is it possible? He's such a good, well-mannered boy!”

“Well apparently not. I've been hearing some odd rumors about his family and have always kept an eye on him. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, after all.” He opened the garage door. “Enough of this. Come on.”

They all boarded the car with the kids sitting in the back. Diavolo shoved Yoshikage to the side and quite literally slithered next to Funny. He didn't care how weird it looked. All that mattered was the subtle brush of Funny's fingers against his own during the ride. They'd steal glances and share smiles in between sentences and Diavolo's heart fluttered with unfathomable euphoria. The midday sun kissed Funny's rosy cheeks and its beams caught on his golden lashes and Diavolo envied it. He almost lost control and touched the other boy, almost let his lips glide over the other's. He stopped himself, swallowing down his affection.

Their destination was a short ride away. At first, Diavolo only saw asphalt and parked cars. Endless rows of them, stretching as far as the eye could see. Was this really a parking lot? Or a small nation? They rolled inside the parking lot and Diavolo saw a humongous rectangular building, bigger than he had ever seen, with an even bigger sign on top. 'WalMart' it read, and its sheer size baffled and terrified Diavolo. What was in there if not airplanes? The priest had been to the US before and so Diavolo was the only one walking around with a gaping mouth.

The inside was even crazier. Clothes, make up, food, school supplies and even furniture all stacked on plain white shelves, forming an endless sea of things, so many things with so many names in so many colors. People walked around with shopping carts, adding more items into their piles without much thought. Diavolo didn't know where to look. Funny headed straight for a truly indescribable T-shirt the size of a small tent, dark blue in color, depicting a bald eagle, holding two guns and riding a brown bear upon a plain of bacon with a river made from whiskey. 'GOD BLESS AMERICA' it read, with the Star Spangled Banner flowing behind. As if it wasn't already clear enough that this was the good ol' US of A.

“It's illegal to put the flag on clothes,” Mr. Valentine sternly informed them. “Or anywhere else.”

“Do I look good?” Funny asked, modelling the T-shirt. It was big enough to cover his entire torso and most of his thighs. Diavolo's gaze stopped at the milky surface of Funny's thighs and his cheeks went aflame.

"I can't believe people actually wear these," Yoshikage commented bitterly and it was the first time Diavolo heard him speak that day. Diavolo had to agree. As far as clothing went, WalMart was definitely not the place to be.

"Can we go wander around the store?" Valentine asked.

"Fine, but don't wander too far," Mr. Valentine said and Funny nodded.

The three boys left the adults behind and started walking around this maze-like store. Funny and Yoshikage were chatting casually, or rather, Funny was chirping enthusiastically while Yoshikage replied in his hushed, serious voice. Diavolo didn't like being left out and he most certainly didn't like seeing others interact with his crush, but he was too amazed at this abundance of material goods that he was getting dizzy. His fingers skimmed over a case containing twenty glitter gel pens that Funny had stopped to glance at for just a second. His sad little sigh didn't escape Diavolo. He wanted this and Diavolo wished he could give it to him, give him everything he wanted and rightfully deserved. Money. He needed money. Urgently.

"So it's true?" Yoshikage inquired. Diavolo jogged up to the two boys, wanting to be included in their conversation.

"I told you!"

"Are you guys talking about Dio?" Yoshikage nodded. Diavolo nudged Funny. “You haven't told me.”

Funny glanced above his shoulder. He motioned at the other two to come closer. "This morning," he started, his voice but a conspiratory whisper, "it was maybe earlier than 7 AM, Mr. Joestar came at Kars' house with Dio."

"Why so early?" Diavolo asked.

"He probably didn't want anyone to see him. It's embarrassing. You're a British aristocrat and the child you're taking care of makes you apologize to a homosexual. And every parent in the neighborhood thought he was an angel, so it was pretty shocking to know he did something like that."

"Did he get grounded?"

"Probably. Jonathan dropped by earlier and brought Diego to play with the girls. I asked him about it but he refused to tell me. He seemed to be in a good mood, though."

"It's about time," Yoshikage mumbled. "This guy treats this place like he owns it or something."

Diavolo nodded in agreement. As odd as it was, he found himself agreeing with Yoshikage, the few times the latter spoke.

"I really hope this taught him something and he stops being such a...meanie."

"Meanie?!" Diavolo wheezed. "Is this the worst you can do?"

"I don't like swearing," Funny stated, holding his head high, and pursing his lips in a serious manner.

"Well, he's an asshole." Funny gasped, scandalized. "What? If you don't say it, then I'll say it for you."

Shaking his head in exasperation, Funny stood up. "Whatever happened, happened. It's not right to meddle in other people's business. And it's not right to swear!"

"Whatever," Diavolo scoffed.

The three kids resumed their walk down the halls of the store, browsing the various items, stopping to comment or examine something. Diavolo had to gag at the sheer vulgarity of the home decor section. Busy, colourful, mass produced posters and paintings and all sorts of knick-knacks that gave him a headache just by looking at them. At one point, Yoshikage stopped abruptly, almost mechanically, like a deer caught in headlights. His eyes widened like plates, their pale blue growing darker, his pupils dilating like a cat's. Diavolo, not being able to stop in time, crashed into him but Yoshikage didn't budge. He didn't even blink. Intrigued, Diavolo looked at what Yoshikage was staring at with such devotion. It was a poster of the Mona Lisa, albeit in a more colorful, contemporary fashion. It was the type of 'art' piece college students hang at their doors in an attempt to look sophisticated. Nothing impressive, especially not when you have been at the Vatican and the Museums of Florence, yet Yoshikage was utterly transfixed by it. Mesmerized. Enamoured.

"Yoshikage?" Funny called. "You okay, dude?"

"I'm fine," Yoshikage breathed out. "I'll...You guys go on ahead. I'll catch up in a bit."

Diavolo exchanged weirded out glances with Funny. The blond shrugged and walked away, Diavolo in tow. "Is he okay?" Diavolo asked, not concerned but definitely curious. Yoshikage was still there, like a moth buzzing around a flame.

"Probably... He's a cool guy," Funny explained, not at all sounding like he was trying to make excuses for his weird friend. "He just has some obsessions."

Diavolo nodded, understanding. Everybody had their obsessions. He was obsessed with the sea, the wind, the way the sun glided over the waters, the way it melted on Funny's golden head. He was obsessed with Funny and his rosebud lips, his slim fingers and pink knees, his little nose and the sweetness of his eyes. He was obsessed with dreams of their shared life, a territory entirely new to him.

"Do you have any?" Funny looked at him quizzically. "Obsessions, I mean."

"Oh...I never thought about it. I definitely have things I like but I don't think I'm obsessed with anything. I suppose that's for other people to say." He shrugged. "Can I ask you something?"

"What?"

"This vendetta knife you have...are you going to use it?"

Diavolo wasn't stupid enough not to know what Funny meant. This was something he asked himself quite often; would he ever kill someone? He often dreamt of killing the other kids from the village, wished he had actually gone ahead and mashed their heads with a rock, tossed their soulless bodies into the sea. Imagination was vastly different from reality, and sometimes so far apart. Yes, he imagined himself as an all-powerful creature, master of life and death of those he despised. Harm was not necessarily death. To strip someone of their life, their hopes, their future, even if rightfully so, would anyone hurt him so much to deserve this fate?

"Would you kill for someone you love?"

Funny asked this and his voice was but a breath, anxiously anticipating Diavolo's answer. Love. What did he love? He loved his home, his heart ached every time he thought of Sardinia. He didn't love the priest, not anymore. What was love, besides an annoyingly catchy song? Maybe a promise, a disease, sand slipping between his fingers. Abstract, never truly his. Love was a pair of blue eyes and peachy lips and golden, silky locks.

"I'd kill for you."

Funny inhaled sharply. Fear shone in his eyes but his lips parted so faintly, like an exclamation of excitement. Silence settled over them like fine dust. Diavolo was petrified. Had he said too much? Had he scared Funny? He had admitted he was a monster capable of murder. That was enough to make any sane person fear, or at least, avoid him. He panicked, feeling cold sweat trickle down the sides of his face. Funny's eyes were wide, giving away nothing.

"Would you?" he whispered. Doubt, awe, disbelief.

"I would," Diavolo confirmed like an idiot. What were words in front of a child's promise, his pure, unblemished love. He tucked Funny's hair behind his ear. They both shivered at the contact. Yes, he would. Even using one of those hideous plastic babies hanging behind them. He didn't know what he was talking about but at that moment, he felt like he would do the ultimate sacrifice for Funny.

Diavolo leaned in, placing a gentle kiss on Funny's lips. Funny squirmed and placed his hands on Diavolo's shoulders hesitantly, accepting the kiss. They pecked each other and parted, rinse and repeat. Green and blue stared at each other. Diavolo cupped Funny's face. He rested his forehead against Funny's own, looking deep into his eyes.

[You hurt my heart,] he confessed.

“What-”

He took Funny's lips in another kiss. His body was warm and fuzzy with Funny in his arms. His heart jumped inside his chest and his brain refused to do anything other than sing. Was this love? Could something so sweet be called love? Only love? What was love compared to what he felt?

“Um...”

The kiss ended suddenly. In hindsight, kissing in plain sight in a crowded store wasn't a stellar idea. The two boys turned to the side to see Yoshikage standing a few meters away, utterly dumbstruck, blinking furiously in disbelief. He took a step back but didn't make it too far before Diavolo grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and slammed him against the shelf.

“Wait, no!” Funny protested, getting between the two of them.

“What did you see?” Diavolo snarled.

“I...uh...” It was the first time since meeting him that Diavolo saw Yoshikage lose his cool.

“Yoshikage, what did you see?” Funny inquired, albeit in a much softer tone. He still sounded very serious and he definitely wasn't going to let Yoshikage slither away. “Did you see us?”

“I...yes! I saw you!”

Diavolo's grip tightened. Yoshikage squirmed like a cornered animal. “Swear you won't tell anything,” Funny pressed on. “Swear it on Freddie.”

“I swear!”

“On Freddie!”

“On Freddie!”

Funny kept staring at Yoshikage for a little while longer. He turned to Diavolo and nodded. Diavolo let go off Yoshikage, who immediately started fixing his shirt and hair. He sported a small pout on his lips. He looked more annoyed than frightened.

“I don't care what you guys do,” he declared. “And everyone knows you like Funny, Solido. You're not being exactly subtle.”

With that, he pushed Diavolo to the side and walked away haughtily. “Am I not subtle?”

Funny gave him a long look, from head to toe, before cracking a smile. “Not really,” he grinned and scrubbed his mouth clean of black lipstick residue.

Time went by quickly in those gigantic places. They had no windows or functioning clocks, no way to tell if it was night or day. They caught up to the adults, who had in the meantime, purchased everything the boys needed to begin school the next week. They walked out of the store and to his great astonishment, Diavolo saw that the sun had already set. The previously clear blue sky was indigo, riddled with lilac clouds. Behind him, Funny mumbled sheepishly. Yoshikage met Diavolo's gaze every now and again. Now he knew. He was potentially dangerous, despite his oath.

They boarded the car once again. Funny yawned and stretched. Skipping his afternoon nap had obviously taken a toll on him. He rested his head on Diavolo's shoulder, murmuring something about taking a small nap until they reached home. The backseat seemed like a separate universe. Funny's warmth was on Diavolo, his sweet, fruity scent hovered right under his nose. His dainty hand slipped into Diavolo's. Their fingers intertwined and their cheeks grew hotter. Diavolo risked planting a quiet, secret kiss on Funny's golden head. He moved his gaze outside the window. 7 PM and the sky was already so dark. The blue hour. The death of summer. The birth of something new.

 

Chapter Text

 


Ballet Slipper

 


"Ah..."

He calls my name sweetly like a prayer, voice hushed, words mushy behind his lips, swollen and red from all this abuse. This is what bliss feels like; holding him in my arms, filling him, making love to him. His hands reach out to find me, his eyes seek my own. I reassure him. I tell him I'm here. I tell him I will never leave.

Never.

When we're both done, I put him down on the bed, covering his sweaty and exhausted body with the duvet. His sighs. His sleepy face rests inches away from mine. I brush his hair away, revealing his pouty lips.

"This is a mistake."

 


 

 

School in Sardinia was simpler. The school rested near a cliff, overlooking the sea, clearly the worst place to put it. There, they were taught pretty standard things like literature, grammar, maths, religion, to love the Pope and to clap each time they saw l' Altare della Patria, as if fucking Mussolini himself was holding a gun to the back of their heads. They were also taught to call the priest's son a bastard, in the literal sense, and constantly remind him that he was completely alone in the universe.

School in America seemed...complicated. For starters, there was a uniform, one that Diavolo had to be measured for, which was now resting on his bed. An ugly thing; tasteless and shapeless. It came in two versions, one for winter and one for spring. The winter edition consisted of black slacks, a white dress shirt and a pale blue sweater. During spring, he would simply not wear the sweater and instead loop a tie around his neck, like a damn noose. 

Then there were the subjects. The headmaster spoke of levels, AP classes, college admissions, Ivy League and whatever that meant. Diavolo didn't really listen. The priest acted as his spokesperson, since none of the questions were directed at Diavolo. 

“And what do you want to do after high school?” the headmaster had asked.

“He wants to be a sailor.”

“A man of the sea?” the headmaster chuckled. “Typical for an islander. The sea just calls out to you. Many of our students have made it into marine law courses in the country's best universities!”

Law. Fantastic. One look around this place and Diavolo knew that this was the kind of over-achieving school he only thought existed in Hollywood teen dramas. Everybody had to go to this Harvard place or else George Washington himself would fuck their mother. Diavolo's desire to travel all over the world and every now and again return to Italy was absurd, childish and apparently, not worthy of respect. 

Scowling, he stared at his pile of books. One was thicker than the other. The worst one had to be his history book. 1850-1865; The Civil War Era, it read, and Diavolo recognized none of the faces on the cover. He glanced outside the window, seeing Funny sitting on his desk, no doubt reading one of these books with ease. The guy was a star student, Diavolo was certain. He moved away and plopped on his bed, creasing his new uniform. 

Succeeding in academia had never been his desire or his forte. He didn't care. School was just a place where useless information was dumped into his head and where he got punched in the gut, one happening more often than the other. He was supposed to succeed, otherwise something terrible was going to happen to him, according to everyone.

George Washington couldn't get to his mother, at least. She was still in prison.

He had to be good at something he barely understood. He knew how to read and speak some English, but not everything. He was willing to make an effort. After all, if he made it into this college thing, then he'd be able to leave without anyone there to question him. But how could he be good at something he didn't know?

Oh, the weight of the world was on his shoulders, and he was only fourteen.

 

 


 

 

 

Winter was clearly the superior segment of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Funny just knew it. He hummed the tune under his breath, trying to fully grasp it, sync himself with it. He waxed his strings with care, making sure his precious violin was ready. The house was empty, save of course for his dogs that napped out in the sun. His parents had taken the girls to their grandma. They were going to come back in the evening. Funny was almost fourteen, old enough to not set himself on fire while preparing a snack. Plus, this was a very safe neighborhood. There would be no problem with their young son being home alone for a few hours.

He placed the sheet music on the podium and stood before it. He cleared his throat. He placed his violin on the crease between his jaw and shoulder. He took a deep breath. The doorbell rang. Funny groaned. It rang again. Frustrated, the boy put his violin aside and hurried to answer it.

“Coming!” he yelled. The puppies all sprang up, hurrying to investigate the newcomer.

In hindsight, he should have used the peephole.

“Hey, kid,” Esidisi greeted, lazy smile playing on his lips. “How're you doing?”

Funny was frozen at the door, completely immobile, just staring at this absolute unit of a man. There Esidisi was, tall and bronze and smiling his wicked little grin. Funny had to strain his neck to meet the man in the eye. He knew that he had no reason to fear him, but his parents' doctrine was hard to get rid of, like a wine stain on a silk shirt. Above all, he had been taught to always be polite. He puffed out his little chest, straightened his back and put on a dignified expression.

“Hello, Mr. Esidisi,” he said in his most formal voice yet. “I'm fine, thank you for asking. My...my parents aren't home-”

“Oh, I know. I saw them leave. It's you I'm here for.”

Funny's eyes widened with surprise. “Me?” he muttered. There went his serious face and demeanor. Who could blame him? What was this if not surprising? A hundred thousand scenarios sped around inside his head. Why was Esidisi there? What business did he have with him?

“Yeah, you. Word has it around here that you're a pretty good babysitter.” Oh. Well, that was true. Funny was exceptionally good with children, especially toddlers, a talent not even most adults had. He was the only one who could handle Diego and Gyro together, and with great ease, too. “My husband and I have this dinner party we have to attend and unfortunately, we can't take the kids with us. We trust Wamuu to take care of himself and his brother, but the poor thing's down with a bit of a cold. We could really use the extra help. What do you say?”

Funny looked around. The fear that his neighbors were witnessing this encounter was there and it was real. He surveyed the area, head filled with anxiety. How many eyes lurked behind the curtain, marking everything down, waiting for his parents to return and then break the news to them? He fumbled with his words, not sure of what to say.

“I'll pay you for your services, of course.” Esidisi reached inside his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He fished out a crisp hundred-dollar-bill and presented it to Funny. “That enough?”

Funny's eyes were round like coins. A hundred dollars, all for him. And all he had to do was watch over two children for a few hours. If his parents knew about this, they would be fuming with hot anger. But they didn't. They weren't there. And this man had done nothing other than offer Funny some money in exchange for him watching over his sons. 

No catch, no trap. Just that.

“I...I can't take the money,” he meekly refused.

“Of course you can.” Before Funny could protest, Esidisi had shoved the crumpled bill into Funny's little palm, closing it. “There. This should buy you ice cream for the whole year.”

Yes, yes it would. Trip to the arcade, too. It was hard to refuse this offer, both the money and the chance to stay at this beautiful, art museum of a home for a few hours. He could look at Ferdinand's pictures all he wanted without anyone bothering or judging him. Or knowing. He guiltily glanced at Diavolo's window. They had only spoken briefly in the morning. He didn't seem to be in a good mood.

So caught up in his thoughts he was, that he didn't notice Esidisi talking to him. His cheeks flushed and he lowered his head with embarrassment. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “I wasn't listening.”

“It's okay, kid, don't worry about it. You coming or what?”

Funny nodded fervently. They crossed their street together, and he actually managed to walk faster than than the much larger man, fearing someone would see him if he took a moment longer. Esidisi let him into the house, which was rather quiet and still. He led him upstairs and to Funny's great surprise, into his and Kars' bedroom.

Never in his life had Funny seen a bedroom like this one. It wasn't just beautiful and aesthetically pleasing, it was regal. Light in abundance poured from the large windows. The heavy, mauve drapes had been pulled to the side, letting the fragrant summer air in. Various shades of purple and gold were all over the room. The bed was easily the largest one he had ever seen, round and dressed in the finest covers, silk and satin and heavy brocade, deep, rich plum with intricate gold stitching. Kars was sitting in front of his vanity unit, meddling with the numerous bottles and cases laying in front of him. He was trying on earrings, taking them out of their velvet cases and trying them on his stunning face. He noticed Funny through the mirror, standing awkwardly in the doorway, not daring to step inside.

“I found us a babysitter,” Esidisi announced.

“Oh, that's great.” Having finally decided on a pair of earrings, Kars stood up. He checked his reflection one last time, smiling at the result.

It was so easy to believe in God when seeing Kars. Who else could create someone so breathtakingly gorgeous, perfect in every way? He was wearing a purple suit with a slight sheen to it, as well as a black dress shirt underneath. His lips were painted dark indigo and his eyes were made sharp with some expertly applied mulberry eyeshadow. Two small braids formed a crown around his head, fastened at the back with a golden hair clip, leaving the rest of his hair to flow in all its glory. His jewelry glittering under the light, precious stone and polished gold adorning his neck and fingers. He draped a cashmere shawl around his shoulders, one in the same color palette as the rest of his outfit. It was easy to realize that purple was most likely his favorite color.

Esidisi smiled, his eyes shining with fondness and admiration. He murmured something sweet and placed a loving kiss on his husband's lips. Kars grinned at him, mumbling something back. They stared deeply into each other's eyes, as if the rest of the world held no meaning. No one existed aside from them. No one mattered besides them. Nothing was brighter than the love they shared.

Envy and uncertainty filled Funny's young heart. Would he ever find someone to gaze at him with such adoration, someone whose mouth dripped honey when he spoke of him? He thought of Diavolo, and the way his eyes sparkled when Funny played the violin. Oh, those treacherous eyes, spoke the words his lips couldn't. Funny's cheeks flushed. 

“We won't be long,” Kars informed him. “Just a couple of hours. To be honest, I don't really want to go. I hate everyone there.”

“Then why are you going?”

“I have to,” Kars sighed. “It's an event held by Vogue, a lot of important people will be attending.”

Important people in the fashion world. Models, photographers, beautiful people dressed in beautiful clothes. Funny glanced at Kars' earrings and wondered how they'd look on him.

“We left you instructions and phone numbers on the kitchen table. I don't think you'll need any help but if you do, call the hotel, ask for me. Okay?” Funny nodded. Kars gave him a long, scrutinizing look. “Good,” he decided. “Good luck!”

“Thank you. Have fun!”

Funny wasn't surprised to see the couple speeding away in a Lamborghini. The moment the sleek, black vehicle disappeared into the horizon, he headed back into the house, specifically, the kitchen. It was beautiful like the rest of the house, bathed in natural light, dressed in a neutral, pleasant palette, clean, with polished, wooden cabinets and colorful, porcelain vases filled with flowers that sent their sweet fragrance all over the room. Funny found a piece of paper on the counter.

“Heat some of the soup that's on the stove and take it to Wamuu,” he read. “But make sure it's not too hot. Make him some tea (everything's in the cabinet next to the fridge) and check him for a fever. You probably don't know how to cook any of the food we eat so just make cut up some fruit, and maybe a PB&J sandwich. Make sure they've both drank their juice. NO TV UNLESS IT'S FRENCH, GREEK, OR ITALIAN!! Bedtime is 9PM for Wamuu and 8 PM for Santana. We should be back by then. Help yourself to whatever you want from the fridge EXCEPT FOR MY BREAKFAST BURRITO, I'LL EAT IT KARS, I PROMISE.”

Funny put the note down. He counted all the things he had to do. Didn't sound like anything too difficult. He was certain he would manage. He looked around, peeking to the hallway outside. Empty. He was alone in the house. With two kids. Two kids he was supposed to be looking after. And he had no idea where they were. Great.

He hopped off the stool and ventured into the mansion, searching for the kids. Even though Funny had been to the house before, he felt like viewing it for the first time. Venturing into its great halls, Funny felt as if he was in a museum. Stylish, colorful, filled to the brim with bits and pieces the couple had collected from their various trips all across the globe. His fingers skimmed over books containing Kars' photographs, vinyls in languages he didn't understand, top-shelf liquor in artsy bottles. His eyes roamed over the stunning photographs of Kars' models, those godly figures shrouded in light and color. Stunning pieces of art stood at every corner. No wonder Kars and Esidisi were so happy, they lived in a damn museum.

Funny quickly snapped into reality. He wasn't there to see the sights but care for the kids, one of which was sick. His stride grew fiercer, more determined as he walked down the hall, trying different doors until he found Wamuu's bedroom. There the little boy was, laying in bed, sniffing his nose and reading a book. His sparkling sea-green eyes found Funny and he put his book aside, once again putting on a too-dignified expression for a kid his age.

“Hello,” he said.

“Hey,” Funny greeted casually. “May I come in?” Wamuu nodded.

Now, Funny was overall satisfied with the quality of his life, grateful because he knew he had it better than most, but like all kids, he felt a pang of jealousy when seeing something he didn't have. Wamuu's room wasn't just pretty; it was...fun. One look around and it was obvious to tell that the boy really loved the ocean. Rare seashells were placed on the shelves of his packed bookcase, his fully-mirror was decorated with starfish and a stunning mobile hung from the ceiling, carrying miniatures of marine creatures. The room was dressed in the ocean’s bright blue and the warm, golden of sand.

“Nice room,” he complimented, though with not as much sincerity as he thought. 

“Thanks.”

“How are you feeling?”

“My throat hurts a bit.”

“Do you want some soup? A cup of tea?”

“Some soup would be nice. Thank you.”

Funny turned around to leave but stopped at the last second. “Do you know where your brother is?”

“Nope,” Wamuu replied with a small smile. “He doesn't like it when people are over so he's probably hiding. He'll come out on his own.”

That...wasn't exactly encouraging. Funny needed to know where this kid was. But first, he had to bring Wamuu his soup. He headed back to the kitchen, still keeping an eye out for any sign of Santana. He spotted his first clue in the sink; a used glass of water. So Santana was around here somewhere. He peered into the living room but found nothing.

“How big is this house...” he pondered quietly while he got ready to prepare the soup.

He honestly expected to find a can of Campbell's inside the small pot on the stove but as he soon would discover, this family wasn't big on premade, processed stuff. What awaited him was a lukewarm pot of mouth-watering tomato soup that needed just a bit of heating. Thick and red and so deliciously fragrant, Funny couldn't resist having a small taste. Fresh tomatoes with basil and garlic danced on the freshly burned tip of his tongue. This would be fantastic with olive oil.

Funny filled a generous bowl, careful not to spill any on the spotless counter. He carried it up to Wamuu, who had in the meantime resumed his reading. His eyes lit up upon smelling his (probably) favorite soup. 

“It's hot,” Funny warned. 

“And delicious.” Wamuu took the first spoonful eagerly. Funny had to admit, he was feeling a bit awkward. He was a stellar babysitter, and he took great pride in that, but he had never been in charge of a kid as old as Wamuu. And how could he ignore the elephant in the room, Wamuu's two dads?

“Are you going in high school this year?”

“Yes,” Funny replied, happy to engage in any kind of conversation with this calm and strangely mature kid. “You?”

“I still don't know. Dad and Dad don't like the idea of us going to school. So we'll probably end up being homeschooled again.”

“Why are you being homeschooled?” It was obvious Esidisi and Wamuu could easily afford the best private school in the area.

“Santana doesn't trust people and kids get kinda mean when they discover our parents are gay.”

There it was. The word rang clearly in Funny's head. Wamuu said it so casually, and why shouldn't he? He was being raised by two men that loved him to bits. Nothing weird about having parents. Funny had so many questions, so many things he wanted to talk about but he didn't. Not out of discretion, no. As was usual for him, his manners flew out the window where his curiosity was involved. He was just scared of the answers he would receive, positive, no doubt. The confirmation that these people were not in fact sick or deranged like everyone he knew claimed, but that they were...people. Just a bit rich and definitely fashionable. He didn't want to lose the trust he had in his parents. Not yet. He couldn't deal with that.

After Wamuu was done with his food, Funny carried his plate downstairs...to the dishwasher. Of course they had a dishwasher. Scarlet's mom had bought a dishwasher during last year's Black Friday sale but Mrs. Valentine insisted there wasn’t a better dish-cleaning method than one's own hands. After all, despite the magic a dishwasher could supposedly work, she did find stains on her plate.

With one of the two kids fed and under control, Funny still needed to find the other. As he was feeling a little hungry, he filled a bowl with soup and sat on the counter. It was good, albeit a bit unorthodox for the summer. Spoonful after spoonful, Funny ate the entire bowl, savoring each gulp. Something was missing, a side of grilled cheese, maybe. 

There was a little knock on the doorframe and Funny lifted his head to find Santana standing at the doorway, staring right at him. His jaw went a little slack, not sure how to respond. He quickly got down from the stool and walked closer to the little boy.

“Hello,” he chimed. Santana's expression didn't change. “I'm your babysitter for the evening. Is there something I can help you with?” Was that too much like a phone center operator? At least it got the point across. After blinking for a few seconds, Santana raised his hand and pointed at the stove. “Right, of course. You want to eat.”

Santana waddled into the kitchen after Funny. He climbed onto the counter, watching what the other boy did closely. Funny grinned. He loved having an audience. 

“Hey,” he started, “you know what goes well with tomato soup?” Santana shook his head. “Grilled cheese! You ever had grilled cheese?” Another shake. Damn. Those kids needed to eat some real food. “You wanna help me make it?” A nod. An eager one, as far as Funny could tell. “Get me a pan, some butter, bread and cheese.”

Santana hopped off his spot to fetch the ingredients. He hurried back up just in time to see Funny assemble the sandwich and toss it in the pan. A few seconds passed before the cheese started melting gloriously, dripping off the edges of the golden, crispy bread. Valentine seasoned with chives, freshly cut from the small planter by the window. Once cooked, he cut the grilled cheese into sticks and served it to Santana with some soup.

“Dip it in,” he advised. “Pretty good, isn't it?” Santana nodded eagerly. His little smile grew after each bite. Funny smiled back.

After dinner, they went into the living room to watch something. Santana presented with a copy of a DVD about the ancient city of Pompeii. Must have been nice, being curious and having parents that helped you find the right material. Santana sat on a large pillow on the floor while Funny curled up on the couch, fully immersed into the intricacies of the Roman urban planning. At one point during the documentary, Wamuu came down and joined them for a while before going back to sleep. During his stay, the two brothers didn't exchange a single word, but their interaction overflowed with affection. 

Not just words, then. Or gifts. Love came in many different forms, from sharing the comfortable silence to staring at the neighbor's son.

Funny hummed to himself. He hadn't spoken to Diavolo at all that day 

At around 8 PM, Funny announced to Santana that it was time to go to bed. The little boy pouted, refusing to move for several minutes and almost biting Funny's hands when he tried to move him. Eventually, Santana must have gotten tired and gave up,  allowing Funny to take him to his room. 

Wamuu's room was ocean themed and Santana's revolved entirely around jungle animals. The walls had leaves painted on them, resembling the jungle's thick foliage. The fluffy rug was a perfect imitation of tall grass and countless animal figures were hanging from the ceiling. It was easy to picture the little boy laying in bed with his Dads and have them point at each and every one of the animals, teaching him their names and what sounds they made.

Santana climbed in bed and got under the covers. He seemed happy to be in bed. Every day seemed awfully long and tiring when you were so little. He pointed at his bookcase, prompting Funny to browse through the vast selection of books. Most of the books were in Spanish, with some French, Italian and Greek thrown in the mix. Funny was fortunate enough to find a book in English.

“Not that one,” piped a little voice. Funny turned to look at Santana, surprised to hear him speak. “Daddy read it to me last night.”

“Which one would you like?” Funny asked softly.

“I want to see you do magic tricks. I saw you doing one at the beach.”

Funny beamed. He giggled awkwardly, feeling his cheeks flush. He sat on the chair next to Santana's bed and reached for his handkerchief. He waved it in front of the kid's face, watching as his clever eyes followed the pale cloth closely. Funny waved the handkerchief above his hand and in an instant, he was holding a coin between his fingers.

“Ta-da!” he exclaimed.

Santana gasped. “How did you do that?” he whispered, eyes gleaming.

Funny reached behind Santana's ear and the coin was suddenly a daisy. “A magician never reveals his secrets.”

He showed a few more tricks, each time earning another excited exclamation from the little boy. Santana was fully immersed in the show, struggling to keep his eyes open. Just as Funny was about to run out of tricks, Santana fell asleep, breathing quietly, clutching his daisy. Funny exited the room as quietly as possible, shutting the door behind him. He checked up on Wamuu, who was fast asleep in his bed. All was well.

Having nothing else to do, Funny walked around the halls, trying to find something to occupy himself with. He checked his house across the street, relieved to find the lights still out. Diavolo was doing some gardening in the front yard next to his father, not looking quite happy about it. Poor guy, he was probably wondering where Funny was.

With the house empty and the kids asleep, Funny got an idea. Now, he knew he wasn't supposed to be snooping around other people's things and that it was a bad thing to do, but he also curious, drawn by all those bottles and vials Kars owned. If he didn't know better, he would have thought that this was a potion maker's station. He crept inside the room, looking around in awe. How much money did those guys have, anyway? The covers felt like heaven under his fingertips, silk robes hung behind the door, expensive shirts rested on an armchair. The couple had a full walk-in closet, roughly the size of Funny's own bedroom. Clothes, shoes, bags, but nothing could compare to the selection of jewelry. Kept behind a glass showcase was a very collection of necklaces, earrings, rings and bracelets, all made from the finest metals and stones. His mother owned a pair of diamond earrings that she only wore at weddings. How could these tiny rocks compete with the dazzling beauty of that absolutely stunning golden necklace, one so full and heavy with the gems that it looked like a chandelier? The stones looked like stars the way they reflected the light. Funny ran his fingers along the glass, tracing the necklace, trying to touch it. How would that look on him? Was he capable of wearing such a gorgeous thing?

He exited the closet, looking out for something else to daydream about. And he found; there, on Kars' vanity, standing between vials and jars and bottles holding the scent of jasmine, and flowers, and fruit, and spices, Funny found a tube of red lipstick. Bright red, like molten rubies, like fresh blood, hidden inside a heavy, golden tube. His mother never wore red lipstick, saying it was unprofessional and promiscuous. Said it gave others the wrong message. Funny had only seen actresses wearing it on the big screen, and each time the whole world seemed to revolve around their scarlet lips. They danced like two rose petals, sucking the light around them. It was impossible to resist. He tried. He really did.

Funny, who was certain he had steady hands, found his fingers damp with sweat and shaking, unable to remain still for even a second. He brought the lipstick close to his face, shaking with enthusiasm, fear, anticipation. His heartbeat rang in his ears. First swipe. Messy, misplaced, fit for a clown. But the pure red looked so good under the clarity of his blue eyes, and among the gold of his hair. Wide-eyed, Funny remained fixated on his reflection, testing new angles, sides, profiles, always keeping his eyes on his red mouth. 

“I wouldn't share my cosmetics, if I were you.”

The blood in Funny's veins froze in an instant. He gasped, almost falling off the stool. His heart started drumming again, screaming in agony. Kars stood at the doorway, looking at the intruder with a half-amused smile. He slowly undid his turban as he walked in, letting his thick, purple hair run freely down his shoulders. 

“I-I-I-”

“You were alone in a house full of pretty things and you decided to snoop around. I was your age once, I did the exact same thing.”

Funny gulped. Even though Kars' tone was friendly – nonchalant and bored, even – Funny couldn't relax. He had been caught using another person's things, there had to be some form of punishment. His face paled. What if he turned into one of those stories he often heard about, of respectable people dying wearing dresses and high-heels and wigs. Oh, the disgrace his red-lipped dead body would bring to his family!

“Really?”

“Mhmm,” Kars hummed. “You did a great job with the kids. You even did the dishes.”

How did he know? He must have taken a look around the house. That meant that he had been here for some time, enough to witness him using his lipstick. “When did you come back?”

“A few minutes ago.” Kars was still smiling, a soft, paternal smile that sweetened his sharp features. It was an expression of pride, oddly, that of a parent seeing his child mimic them. “You want some help wiping that off?”

Funny nodded. Kars went inside the bathroom and returned with a bottle containing a clear liquid and a flat, round, cotton pad. Funny had seen those items in his mother's bathroom. His cheeks flushed. How humiliating. What would his mother say if she saw him doing this?

The lipstick gave in easily, leaving behind a bright pink smear. Even that, even the lipstick's faded memory, looked beautiful on his swollen lips. He'd kiss them if they were owned by another, Funny was damn sure.

“You have no business using all that.”

“Because I'm a man?”

“Because you're a kid. And you're not a man.”

“Mr. Valentine says I'm a man.”

“He also says that people like me eat children alive.” Fair point. “Isn't it time you stopped believing every single thing your parents tell you?”

Yes. It was about time. It was harder than Kars made it sound. Scarlet had somehow accomplished it. Perhaps she could share some tips.

“And you also don't need any makeup because you already have the perfect face.”

“Nobody's perfect.”

“Perfection is subjective. For me, a photographer, a face like yours really is perfect. You have no idea what's out there, how many mothers are trying to push their ugly children forward, turn them into supermodels.” Kars scoffed and shook his head. “They should take a look at you, see what they should look like before they even consider speaking to me.”

Funny shifted. His eyes were wide with excitement. “You really think I have what it takes?”

“Please, I have no reason to be sucking up to a kid. Of course I'm telling the truth.”

That was his way of 'complimenting'. Funny giggled. He couldn't be hurt. He climbed off the chair. It was time to head back home, his parents would be back soon. Before leaving, he stopped, turning to look at Kars. “Santana spoke to me today.”

Kars quirked a brow, obviously surprised. “Did he? Hm. That must mean he likes you.”

The guilt hit Funny the moment he stepped out of Kars' house; he hadn't practiced the violin at all. The concert was less than a month away and he was nowhere near prepared. He hurried back in, reluctantly keeping himself away from his pups. He found his violin exactly where he left it, discarded and forgotten atop the couch. Silly as it was, he believed objects performed better the better you treated them. He stroked the polished wood apologetically before he started playing.

His head was full of Vivaldi when he heard his parents pull up in the driveway. They walked in, carrying his sleeping sisters. Smiling, his mother motioned at him to keep quiet. Did he have another option? With his music now absent, not filing his head anymore, he was subject to the torture of hearing his parents walk around upstairs, putting the girls to sleep. They were coming down to him. He gave himself a slap on the cheek, trying to swat away the mask of guilt settled on his face. He was a horrible liar. His parents could detect his lies just by looking at him.

They were going to find out how he had spent his afternoon and he was going to be grounded.

“Did you have anything to eat?” his mother questioned as she came down the stairs.

“I didn't. I was too busy practicing.”

“Aww, poor baby. I'll make you something now!”

“I'm not hungry!” he quickly chirped.

His mother furrowed her brows. “Nonsense. Funny, you should never skip meals.”

“Really, I'm not hungry,” he insisted.

“You alright?” his step-father throne inquired from his favorite place; the armchair. Funny had once sat on the armchair when no one was looking, to see for himself what was it that made it seem so important. He sat for a few minutes and then left, not knowing what made it so special. Yet his step-father would sit on it for hours on end, reading the newspaper or a book, watching TV, sometimes doing nothing, staring at the distance or shutting his eyes and traveling to destinations that made his brow crease and face sweat.

Perhaps the secrets of the armchair were known only to men, not anxious little boys like himself.

“N-nothing,” he mumbled, not convincing anyone.

“He's probably worried about starting high school.” That. He hated that. They referred to him in third person, even when he was present, for he couldn't possibly speak for himself. His mother ran her fingers through his hair, cooing lovingly. “Isn't that right, sweetie?”

“Yes,” Funny sighed. Not true, but it helped excuse the expression on his face. 

“We've been meaning to talk to you about this,” his step-father started, crossing one ankle over the other. “High school is very important, as you know. It can determine a person's life. If you're successful in high school, you'll go to a good college and a good university and get a good job that will allow you to live comfortably and provide for your family.”

“Dad's right,” his mother chirped. Dad wasn't right. Dad wasn't even there. 

“Besides, only good students get into West Point.” At the sound of these words, his mother stiffened. Her face went a bit paler and she met her son's gaze. His father had graduated from there, before dying like a dog. 

“It's a bit too early to talk about all that,” she smiled, trying to conceal her concerns. They never argued in front of the kids. They didn't really do anything, either.

“No, it's not,” Mr. Valentine pressed on. “He's a man now. It's time to start thinking about the future.” He shifted in his seat, uncrossing his legs and leaning forward. Funny's gut churned. This was too familiar. “What did I tell you?”

“That patriotism is the greatest virtue one can have.” He repeated that line so often, it didn't even mean anything, like a silly word he kept saying again and again until it became mush. 

“Correct. Now, if you're going to serve the country one day, you will have to excel in your life. You must learn discipline and constantly better yourself. After all, this country deserves the best.”

“What if I don't want to?” he blurted before he could stop himself. He realized what he had said a moment too late, but boyish, immature anger bubbled inside him, spilling over. It was too late to stop. “Why does the country deserve the best but I don't?”

His step-father seemed flabbergasted, or at least as flabbergasted a man like him could look. Again, his brow creased, as it loved to do, his lips dropped in an even deeper frown. “What do you mean? What else is there for you to do in your life?”

“I could play music. I could be a professional violinist. I could even be a model! Why do I have to be a soldier?”

Too far. This time, Funny's eyes opened wide. He looked at his parents, watching their faces twist into masks of horror. He cursed that stupid mouth of his, that big, big mouth he couldn't control. They gaped at him in genuine distress. He tried finding the right words to explain even a fragment of this. Only a pitiful squeak came out, unlike any human sound.

“What did you just say?”

Funny gulped. A man's anger. Funny never liked it when people raised their voice at him, mainly because tears came to his eyes far too quickly. 

“Who told you this? Where did you hear this from, Funny?!”

“I-”

“Have you been talking to these people?” Oh, his poor mother. Her hands were over her gaping mouth, her eyes had almost rolled out of their sockets. Mr. Valentine reached forward and grabbed the boy by the shoulders, shaking him. “Answer me, Funny! Did these people tell you all this? Those...freaks!?”

“They're not freaks!” Funny protested. This was probably the worst thing he could say. “They're nice people! They let me babysit their kids and they give me money!”

“You went to their house?!” Mr. Valentine hollered.

Funny opened and closed his mouth like a fish. His breath was a ball of dust in his throat. His eyes were burning with tears. The man was yelling things at him but he couldn't hear them. White noise buzzed in his ears, canceling out everything else. 

“Robert, no!” his mother yelled.

She threw herself at her husband, holding him back. His hand was raised over his head, ready to strike Funny. His eyes burned holes into Funny's skull. The boy lay on the floor, at the man's feet, breathing raggedly, terrified. No one had ever even come close to hitting him before.

“You will go to your room immediately,” his stepfather barked, “and I'll deal with those animals in the morning.”

“They're not animals! They're nice pe-”

Mrs. Valentine wasn't strong enough. Her husband's open palm sliced through the air and found Funny's soft cheek, painting it a berry shade of red. The pain bloomed slowly, its sting spreading until it became dull, then a sharp, pulsating, hot. His trembling fingers reached for the pained flesh, testing its realness.

“Robert!”

“Shut up! You. Go to your room right now and don't say another word or I'll lock you in the damn basement!”

Funny scrambled on his feet and ran upstairs, not daring to look down. The baby was crying, startled by the commotion. Once out of sight, Funny let his tears spill freely, roll down his injured skin. He slammed his door shut and locked it for safe measure. He threw himself on the bed and muffled his sobs into the pillow.

“You ruined him, is what you did!” Funny heard from downstairs. The voice sounded closer than it was. “Steve always was soft on him, always letting him do as he pleased.”

Funny choked on a sob. He shakily reached in his pocket and pulled out his handkerchief. He clutched the cloth in his grasp, bringing it to his wet, quivering lips. 

“I'm getting him to the hairdresser's tomorrow. We're getting rid of that damn hair. A boy has no business having hair like that.”

“Funny?”

A voice, soft and questioning, called out to him. Funny blinked, catching his tears on his lashes. He got on his elbow, turning his face to the window. The soft breeze cooled the wetness on his cheeks, making it sticky. 

“Are you there? Are you alright?”

Funny hesitated. He was drawn to Diavolo's sweet voice and concern but at the same time, he didn't want to be seen like this. Especially by him. He lay back down, bringing his knees up to his chest. 

“Funny?”

“I'm fine, Diavolo.”

“Are you s-”

“I'm fine. Really.”

Diavolo fell silent abruptly. “Okay.” His little voice broke Funny's heart. He sounded so sad. Funny felt bad about cutting him off so suddenly but at that moment, he needed solitude. “Good night.”

Diavolo lingered at the window for a bit, waiting for a reply that never came. Funny heard a sigh, followed by the squeaking of the mattress. He twisted the handkerchief around his fingers, holding it against his nose.

“You'd never do this to me,” he whispered, feeling fresh tears spill down the corners of his eyes, staining the pillow. A hiccup cut his breath short. “This wouldn't have happened if you were here, Daddy.”