The hazy divide between spring and summer makes the very ground come alive — fireflies and daffodils and rose-fingered sunrises, bugs and frogs and an ever-present life humming from deep in the woods. Giorno has made a lot of fond memories here, in Fugo’s grandmother’s little old cottage: a city teen starstruck with the quiet, with the noise, with first love; a student, at school and far away, the woods washing away deadlines and lectures like waves on a shore; and as a young adult, his plans and dreams and ambitions lying low while he let himself just — rest.
Fugo has been here for all of that, bright eyes and a sharp tongue; and Giorno loves him for it, he really does. More than Fugo knows. More than he could ever know.
Because despite the summer, despite the noise, despite the enthralling hum of life — the thing sitting on the floor with its back to the closet staring at Giorno across the room isn't Fugo.
How does one even begin the process of trying to make a body? If his mother was still around she’d be furious with him just about now — the complete and total disregard for life — but she’s not, and Fugo’s not either, and that’s what really matters, isn't it? Isn't that what’s important?
His journals are a mess of scribbles and notes, library titles jotted in the corner with question marks all over them; it’s crazy, he knows it’s crazy, a desperate tangle of will this help me? will this help him? that he can barely make heads or tails of but does anyway.
He has to, so he does. The work is tireless and ending and he is so, so tired.
His nights stretch long into the future.
The hollows of not-Fugo’s eyes are deep and dark and strangely shiny, like a fruit left to ripe into rot. Its irises, comparatively, are full; it doesn't matter where the light reflects. And it’s not a deadness, not really — just a complete and total lack of life.
“Are you afraid?” the thing asks in Fugo’s quiet, pretty voice. Giorno has been aching to hear it for what feels like ages. He’s not quite sure it’s worth it now.
When the thing tilts its head to the side, Fugo’s bangs spill across its eyes. “You seem to be afraid.”
“Should I be afraid?” Giorno replies softly. It’s not an answer; it gets no answer back.
They're across the room from each other, Fugo leaning against the closed closet doors and Giorno sitting just next to the doorframe. The hardwood floor makes Giorno’s legs stiff and his tailbone ache; he adjusts his weight slightly, watching not-Fugo follow the movement with detached, inhuman interest.
Giorno finds, suddenly, that he can’t meet its eye. “Who are you?”
“What do you mean, Giorno?” it asks pleasantly, pretty confusion spelled in bold letters across Fugo’s features. “You know who I am.”
I know who I want you to be, he thinks about saying, and doesn’t.
He stares into the ground, avoiding the thing’s dull eyes, until his head hurts.
Hunched alone in the library, leaning over some old desktop computer with some old archiving software, flipping through old newspapers; and again and again and again, they mention the woods. The forest. How the trees whisper, how wishes come true if you just want it enough, desperately enough — the newspaper spells miracles in old, faded letters and Giorno gobbles them up like he’s starving, surrounded by too many hopes and empty coffee cups.
The woods spell miracles if you just want it enough, and God knows he does; so he goes.
Eventually: “Do you remember anything?” Giorno asks; his cuticles, where he’s picked at them, are red and raised and irritated. “Any — anything of his.”
Not-Fugo lists its head and Giorno can see years reflected in its eyes: fireflies and ghost stories, stealing dessert wine from parents’ liquor cabinets, trying his best to stay upright in the blustering April wind while Fugo ignores the glowing orange poppy fields all around them to snap his picture.
“Of course, Giogio,” it says, and the memory fades, and the illusion shatters. “Everything. I remember everything.”
What a thing to claim — everything, like Fugo was just the sum of some parts, like it would even know what those parts are. But then, hadn't Giorno done the same? Turned Fugo into an it, a jumble of pieces he could stitch back together if he just asked nicely enough — is that really a life?
“What bone did Fugo break when we were eight?” Giorno asks quietly.
“Elbow,” it answers, and then, when Giorno doesn't reply right away, “The summer at the lake, right?”
His stomach turns; he feels sick. “Right,” he mumbles, eyes closed with a sudden headache. “Yeah, that’s right.”
He goes to the woods and no one’s there, tramps in the mud and no one’s there, calls out until his voice is hoarse and his throat feels angry and scratched. It isn't until hours later that he stumbles toward his car with his heart and fingers numb.
It meets him at the crossroads.
“I hear you’re in the market for a life,” it says, a million whispers and a single shout running out of the darkness and into his ears in waves and echoes, waves and echoes. A figure steps out of the shadows, slow and fluid, incandescent, glittering where the light reflects. It cocks its head to the side, and it’s Giorno looking back at Giorno, his mirror image except for the little things — like, has his hair always been that smooth? His eyes that bright? What happened to the bags under his eyes, the freckles across his nose, the tiny scar below his eyebrow?
It — Giorno, but not Giorno — looks distinctly unimpressed with his numb wonder. “You certainly sounded sincere wandering in the wood, at least.”
He snaps out of it suddenly, like waking from a dream. “I was — I mean, I am. What do I have to do?”
The thing smiles with Giorno’s face, Giorno’s mouth, Giorno’s teeth (just a little too long). “There are two ways this can go,” it says.
|Its fingers draw across Giorno’s jaw. “I could give you what you want,” it says. “Mortals just bleed sincerity, and you’re bleeding it, too — troves of it, I’m sure. I’m no demon, you know; this is no deal with the devil; I’ve just taken an interest in you.”
Its eyes glow, too wide and too golden. Giorno feels afraid, unsure, in a way he hasn't felt in a long, long time.
His head aches; he feels like it’s splitting in two. "Stop," he tries weakly.
|Its fingers draw across Giorno’s jaw. “Or,” it says, at once and continuing — but from what? Continuing from what? “You could come with me, and I could take you, and I could have you, and you could learn to forget.”
Giorno’s head hurts, hurts, hurts. “Stop,” he says, “stop, I — what are you doing to me? What is this?”
“It would hurt less,” it murmurs, almost musing, “to forget.”
“I don’t want to forget,” Giorno whispers; his voice is hoarse like he’s been shouting, but he doesn’t remember shouting; he doesn't remember at all.
His own face stares back at him thoughtfully. “Is that your answer?”
He hasn't even finished nodding his head when a crash comes from the woods.
The Not-Fugo across the room grows more and more restless as the night goes on. By the time the cabin falls completely into darkness, it’s taken to pacing, glancing occasionally at Giorno from the corner of its dark red eye.
Giorno ignores it, to the best of his ability, until he doesn’t. “Are you angry with me?”
Not-Fugo pauses; when it cocks its head to the side, it’s at just the most slightly wrong angle. “What?”
The summer air is thick and sticky; it sticks in Giorno’s throat when he inhales. “Are you angry with me,” he repeats flatly, staring down at his shoes, “for bringing you back?”
There’s a pause, and the thing with Fugo’s face stills in the corner of the room like an animal scenting blood. When it sets back into motion, it’s sudden: stop and go, stop and go, like a game of red light green light. “Of course not, Giogio,” it says gently in Fugo’s voice.
The confirmation is only that: a confirmation; it’s a stab in the heart nonetheless. Giorno’s stomach drops; he feels like he may be sick.
“Fugo wouldn't say that.”
The moment shatters like glass, the atmosphere tipping, tipping, tipping. Giorno can feel himself sliding right off. “What?” the monster with Fugo’s face asks, deathly calm and honey-sweet, and Giorno can see right away that it’s stopped moving its chest up and down in a cheap imitation of life.
When he stands, he’s calm; when he brushes dust off his pants, he’s calm. Inside, his heart is racing, bones settled with uncertainty: this never worked. This was never going to work.
Hell is full of good meanings,
but heaven is full of good works.
He’s done no good work, here.
“Fugo would be furious at me,” Giorno says blankly, “for even thinking about any of this.”
The thing across from him doesn't move, doesn't change its expression at all; the lukewarm, pale smile on its face is frozen completely in a distinctly wrong, distinctly inhuman way. Then its neck cricks, righting itself, takes one step forward, and Giorno
All night, the woods whisper. Giorno goes back to Fugo’s grandma’s cabin and sits on the bed he and Fugo used to share in sleepovers and whispered stories — but he’s alone, now. It’s only him.
It’s only him, until suddenly, it isn’t.
“Giogio,” croaks a voice thorough the wind, through the door, in the walls. “Where am I?”
Through the doorway,
past the front door,
over the creaking porch
and the old, crooked stairs
(footsteps in dusty ground, the smell of blood — why does it smell like blood?)
and he can’t hear it after him but he can feel it, dark and foreboding, oppressive, a weight on his back and a hand around his neck; he’s drowning in the weight of what he didn't do and the sureness of what he did; there’s no way out from forever and he’s known it the moment that demon crept into his mind —
not a demon, it whispers. a friend. an advisor. i am as a part of you as you are of me
“Shut up,” Giorno says to no one, out of breath; he takes a step to the left. He turns to glance behind him in the dark and when he turns around a stray branch jabs into his eye; he curses instinctively and covers his eye, sharp pain fading into a dull sort of aching. Hot tears collect at the corners and he wipes them away instinctively, steadfast and determined; and he can’t use his vision in the dark anyway, really, why does he need it? What would he even need to see?
i warned you, it whispers. i tried to warn you. if you’d come with me, none of this would have happened. it wouldn't be all your fault
Giorno gasps a breath and continues, taking a step to the right with his head ducked. His foot catches on a stray root and he rights himself before he can fall entirely, but his ankle feels raw and strange and throbbing and when he puts any weight on it he feels like he’s dying. He remembers, suddenly, that summer at the lake, when Fugo had slipped from the bank into the water, and Giorno had laughed at his misfortune for a minute too long until he realized: Fugo wasn't moving.
It’s dark. He doesn't know where he is.
of course you need your eye, it says. the moon is beautiful tonight
He grits his teeth; why on earth would he need to see the moon right now? Why would he ever need to see the moon again? Not that it’s visible, anyway; the thick canopy of trees makes sure of that. The moonlight doesn't touch these woods.
oh, but it does. you could see — if you could see
There isn't time to think on the crypticness of that statement. He keeps running, running, turns left, glances behind him —
and doesn't even think, for the moment, whether his eye is injured at all or not.
the path you take does not lead to virtue, it says
He doesn't answer, because it’s ridiculous. Of course it doesn't lead to virtue; it never did. It was never going to. If it were, he wouldn't have had to call on a demon, of all things.
not a demon, it chastises lightly. we’ve been over this
And they have — or haven’t. He can’t remember, somehow. His head aches, along with his — eye? His ankle? He doesn't know. His entire body hurts; his entire body feels wrong. And for the first time, the first real time all night — he’s afraid.
it's not too late, says the voice
you couldn't have known, it says. you were a child
We were both children, he thinks of saying, and doesn’t. He pauses only a moment, then steps right.
His ankle aches with a phantom pain he can’t quite put his finger on, like the echo of an old injury long since healed; but there’s a wrongness to it, too. He feels like he can simultaneously feel none of and too much of his body.
a child nonetheless, it says. and a human. you've done well, considering these setbacks
He almost laughs, a thin, hysterical thing, but swallows it down at the last moment.
There’s the snap of a branch behind him.
“Of course it’s too late,” he says weakly, coming to a sudden stop. “It’s been too late. It was always too late.”
There’s a suspicious pause, and then:
who are you talking to? it asks, and Giorno’s heart goes cold.
“No one,” he says (prays, whispers), and
The forest breathes in the dark.
In the morning there will be no blood, no body, no signpost at the crossroads. There won’t be footprints running out the door and into the forest; no candles will be lit, and all the dust will be as it had been, unsettled, in the cabin no one’s touched in too long. In the morning, there will be no death, and the summer will hum with life again
— and there won’t be any Fugo, either. Maybe that’s the most important part.
There is no end; there is only a way out.
(i follow you)
All night, the woods whisper.