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Yandere JJBA Prompts

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Yan!Jonathan trying to convince his Darling that everyone else is trying to take them from him

 

“Don’t you trust me?”

You felt a headache coming on, which tended to happen in situations like this.  

“Jonathan,” you said in the sweetest voice you could muster, trying not to clench your teeth, “this isn’t about trust.  Of course I trust you!  I knowyou, but I also know my best friend, and he wouldn’t do this kind of thing.”

Your boyfriend’s face brightened up at the words ‘I trust you’, but immediately fell again as you finished your sentence, ending up in the territory of ‘sad puppy’.  You suppressed a groan.  These conversations were always a pain, because his sweet face and earnest arguments always made you end up feeling like the bad guy somehow, even if all you were doing was trying to set boundaries.

You took a long drink from the water he’d given you, buying a few seconds to stave off the headache and avoid having to look at the dinner table littered with photographs, but eventually the glass was emptied and you had no choice but to sit down and deal with what was waiting for you there.  Jonathan immediately took the seat next to you, a solid and secure presence at your side.  He really wasn’t a bad guy–the two of you had hit it off immediately over some common interests and a shared major in archaeology–and since the first dinner date had been nothing but attentive and thoughtful. It was a sad irony, you decided as he leaned just a little closer towards you, that the very thing you found so attractive about him was rapidly becoming his biggest problem.

Jonathan was…protective, as some–including you–might generously put it.  About a week ago, your friend put it a little less generously.

“I’m serious, dude.  I get what you see in him, but your boyfriend gives off a bit of a weird vibe.  You really don’t think he’s too clingy?”  

“That’s not fair.” you jutted your chin at him defiantly, getting more annoyed with his incredulous reaction, “Jonathan’s just a thoughtful guy.  It’s actually nice for a change, I’ll have you know–he drove over two hours yesterday to pick up the book I needed for my article!  Brian would have just let me hang.”

“Yeah, he drove an hour for a book yesterday.  The day before that, he delivered your groceries.  The day before that, he did a checkup on your car.  By himself.  The day before that, he sent you flowers because you looked at them in a florist’s window for too long.  I’m telling you, it feels…off.  Like he’s trying too hard.”

You’d ended the conversation there, maybe in a bit of a huff–maybe from another guy it would have been too much, but there was something earnestabout Jonathan that made everything he did feel like it was from the heart.  Which, okay, might have been why you’ve let him get away with his overprotective behavior for so long.  Walking you home from dinner turned into walking you home every night, and you’re pretty sure he’d walk you between classes if he didn’t have his own schedule he was forced to attend.  In the beginning, you laughed off his concerns that there were some real creeps around your campus, and that you needed to be careful.  

Now?

Now…you weren’t sure.

You tried and failed to suppress a shudder as you stared at one photograph in particular, and Jonathan immediately reached forward to take your closest hand in two of his own.

“I’m sorry to upset you like this.  If you need a min–”

“I’m fine,” you snapped back, an edge in your voice.

They were photos of you.  More importantly, they were photos of you when you didn’t know you were being watched.  You could tell that these were taken on different days and at different times because of the outfits and lighting–here’s one from when you were out shopping, here’s one from when you were walking home alone, here’s one where you were cooking dinner…

Here’s one where you were asleep.

Your eyes lingered on this last one, trying to clamp down on the rising horror and nausea as you stared at your own unconscious helpless, vulnerable face.  You didn’t see it, but Jonathan was studying your expression carefully, too–not the one in the photos, but your reaction.

“He wouldn’t–” you tried again, but uncertainty was starting to poison your voice.  You struggled to think, the room dead silent except for your voice and the ticking of the kitchen clock, even Jonathan seemed to be holding his breath as he waited.  You’d lent your friend your key once, didn’t you?  Sure, he gave it back, but who’s to say he hadn’t made a copy of it beforehand?  

Was your friend some kind of creepy stalker?

No, no, no.  You shook your head quickly before you could spiral down this line of thinking or you’d make a wreck of yourself.  You needed to get a grip before your fear kicked Jonathan’s protective instincts into overdrive.

You forced yourself to stand up, wincing as the chair’s legs scraped against the tile.  The movement sent one of the pictures fluttering to the ground.  You watched yourself fall for a long, long moment.

“…how did you say you got these photos, again?”  If you were looking at Jonathan’s face as you asked, maybe you would have seen a flicker of a strange expression cross his face, but you were still transfixed by the multitude of your likenesses staring back up at you.  When his words came out, they were calm.  Measured, as steadied as if he knew the answer by heart.

“I have a classmate taking photography classes.  He approached me earlier today, asking me if I’d taken ‘all those photos’ with your permission, said he recognized you from our walks together.  Of course, I had no idea what he was talking about until he showed me…” he gestured mutely to the table.

“I didn’t want to believe it at first, that someone had been doing this to you and I wasn’t there to stop them.  I know your friend is majoring in photography, so I asked him if this was some kind of strange project you were helping with, and he laughed it off and said it was.  Of course, that didn’t feel right–I’m sure you would have said something to me if that was the case–so I went to you, just to make sure.  And what do you know?” he smiled halfheartedly, though there was an undercurrent of anger in it.

“He’s a liar.  Who knows how many of your friends are cooperating with him?  Honey, some of these are from inside your house.  You’re asleep in this one!  You ca–”

“Jonathan, that’s enough!”

You hadn’t meant to raise your voice, but the stress of the last few minutes has been getting to you.  Jonathan flinched back as if he’d been burned, but his words were already taking root in your thoughts.

What if people were helping him?  Didn’t your mom even say the two of you would make a great couple when she visited you last month?  Even if he didn’t make a copy of your key, could he have gotten your housemate to let him in?  Had he been complaining about Jonathan because he was hoping to drive a wedge between the two of you, because he wanted to take Jonathan’s place?

Jonathan hovered uncertainly as you paced, clearly wanting to step in and comfort you but probably worried you were going to lash out again.  You could be an asshole like that, you guessed.

The headache, which had started as an annoying throb behind your temples, was now threatening to turn into a full-blown migraine.  You thought halfheartedly about more water, but you were just tired.  Just tired.  This was all too much.

“…I need to nap.  Maybe if I sleep on this I’ll know what to do.”

Jonathan brightened, relieved that you were talking again.  “Sure!  I’ll of course be here to make sure nothing happens, I can wait in the kitchen if need be.”

You thought about sleeping in your bedroom, the room someone invaded and menaced you, probably more than once, where you would have kept sleeping peacefully if Jonathan hadn’t stepped in by pure luck.  It made your stomach turn.

“no…I can’t…”

“Then you can sleep at my place,” Jonathan immediately offered, “we don’t have to tell anyone you’re there.  Your friend–”

“I still don’t believe he’s the one behind this,” you interrupted firmly, “but even if he is, maybe he had some kind of reason.  I’ll talk to him tomorrow.”  You saw him open his mouth and start to protest.

“You’ll be there with me, Jonathan.  I just…want to hear it from him.  I want to know without a doubt that he did this, even if he had some twisted reason to think it was okay.  I won’t feel safe until I do.”

Jonathan sighed deeply, but knew better than to argue.  He liked to think of himself as your protector, but truth be told you were just as strong-willed as he was about some things.  He put his hand on your shoulder as he guided you out of the room, towards his waiting car and beyond.

 

It was worth it to save all those photos, Jonathan mused as he glanced at you dozing off in his passenger seat.  You were going to stay at his house (not that you knew it yet), and you understood that the interloper was only trying to take you from him.  You still wanted to meet him for whatever reason, but he could take care of that, too.

It’s not uncommon for stalkers to turn violent if their target gets away from him, and Jonathan is a strong man.  It would be easy to overpower your friend.  He’ll protect you.  He’ll keep you safe.  It was all that mattered to him.

And when you saw the rest of his photos, you’d know that too.

Chapter Text

“You haven’t seen the worst I can do.” 

The way he said it—a gentle whisper, barely audible above your own ragged breathing—made it seem almost like he was stating a fact, and not giving a threat.  You weren’t able to see your interrogator or what he was doing, so you flinched away when he tugged at your hair, rewarded with only a metallic clink for your efforts as the cuffs resisted you moving even an inch.  The sounds of dripping blood mingled with the noise. Each move you made elicited new waves of stinging pain through you, the result of several deep and deliberate cuts made along your back and shoulders.  You got the feeling that you’d find a pattern to the wounds if you concentrated, but that was the last thing you wanted to do.

The cuffs made another musical clinking noise as you yanked on them again, a little more desperately this time.  If he was amused by your futile struggle, your captor had the decency to not say anything.  He took a few moments of silence to brush at your hair, pulling it away from your neck until all that remained were a few strands stuck in place by rivulets of sweat.  You felt a chill, but you couldn’t decide if it was from the continued gentleness he treated you with or the air-conditioned breeze wafting past.

You wish you were cold; being cold could have numbed the pain, even just slightly.  Instead you were comfortable, too much so, the only chill you felt from the cooler air and the cold stone beneath your bare feet.  There would be no distractions from what could only be a painful, prolonged murder.

It was enough to get a sad, slightly hysterical chuckle out of you, the noise echoing in the space and mingling with a dripping sound coming from somewhere (it sounded cavernous.  Were you underground?  In the catacombs, maybe?).  Nero warned you that you’d mess up, that your Stand ability wasn’t meant for this task and you didn’t have the benefit of a team, and you should have listened to him.  You should have listened to him.

You should have listened to him.

A phone rang, breaking you out of your reverie.  The man behind you, who had gone from brushing your hair out of the way of your ears to inhaling the scent of your sweat and fear, quickly stepped away to answer it…or pretended to, anyway.  You could swear he made that clicking sound with his tongue.  What was going on?  Was this some kind of weird tactic, to make you sweat and get you to spill whatever information he wanted faster?

You took the chance to turn your head as far as it would go to look at him.  He seemed youngish, with flowing pink hair and a babyish face you could see only in profile.  He must have been holding his phone in his other hand, but the conversation certainly seemed real; he was in animated whispered discussion with whoever was on the other end.  

He didn’t seem like the type of person to be a torturer for the Boss…but if this job had taught you anything, it was that people were rarely what they seemed.

That, and you were an idiot for thinking this could have ended any other way.  You weren’t dead the second you were caught, you were dead the second you decided to even try to learn the secret of the Boss’ Stand.

You strained to listen to the conversation, desperate to get any kind of hint as to what was about to happen to you and prepare yourself, but the presence of a small white tray on a table behind you stopped you cold.  You couldn’t see what was on it, it was covered with a dainty white cloth, but it couldn’t be anything good.  The other man, following your gaze, quickly stepped over and nudged the tray to the side, pushing it out of your view.  You had the sinking feeling you were going to get acquainted with whatever was under that cloth very soon.

Click.”  The man had hung up—or pretended to, you weren’t sure— bringing his full attention to you once more.  You drew a deep breath as he walked up behind you again, resting both his hands on your shoulders, yearning to throw them off but smart enough to know that it wouldn’t matter.

“What made you do it, Carina?  Why did you decide to go against the Boss?”

You stared ahead in stony silence.  He’d get nothing from you, you decided, not this soft looking man who would probably spend the rest of his life bowing and scraping after some nameless monster. Your heart was thumping in your ears, and you had no doubt you would die screaming, but you would die with dignity.  It was all you had left.

“I have nothing to say to you.  You might as well kill me and get it over with, worm.”  You meant to say these words with a brave sort of defiance, but you choked on the word kill.  

“Kill you?” the man repeated, brushing past your moment of weakness and having the nerve to sound confused.  “Why would I kill you?”

Confusion at the apparent sincerity, anger at the reply, a nameless fear that you were missing something very important here—these feelings roiled in the pit of your stomach, making you feel even more sick than you already did.  Maybe you could throw up on his shoes, you decided, the thought giving you a savage sort of satisfaction.

“Are you stupid?  Should I even dignify that with a response?  Everyone knows the punishment for trying to learn about the boss is death, why bother lying?”

He laughed—a sharp, unnatural sound, as if it had been startled out of him.  You felt him pat your shoulder in a way that was probably meant to be reassuring but had the opposite effect. “Oh!  Oh, oh, oh—I mean, I agree that if it was anyone else in your chair, they would be removed from this world.  I understand your confusion now.  That makes sense, that makes sense…You don’t have to keep calling me names, by the way—I’m Doppio.”

“I don’t care.  Is there some other traitor you need to torture to death first?”  For someone who had spent over an hour in captivity and awaiting execution, you had been remarkably unharmed, at least by the standards of those who had been in your place before.  Apart from the cuts this Doppio person had been inflicting on you, all you had to show for the ordeal was a few massive bruises, a bloody nose and a twisted ankle from when the Boss’ guards took you down.  

At this point, your worst fear was that the Boss planned to make some kind of spectacle with your death, like he did poor Sorbet and Gelato of the Execution Squad.

“No, no, sorry about the wait.  The Boss just wanted to make sure I knew what your punishment was…he wouldn’t trust me to write it down.”

Doppio stepped back, and you heard the cloth fall to the floor as he grabbed whatever was on the tray with an unprecedented eagerness.  You braced yourself against the pain to squirm in your seat again, trying and failing to see what was in his hand, to no avail—the second he got close enough, Dopplio’s arm wrapped around your head with unexpected strength.  You cried out in spite of yourself, suddenly sounding as afraid as you felt.  With your hands restrained and your head locked in place, you couldn’t even consider resisting as you felt something cold and metallic rest against the entrance to your ear.

“You wouldn’t happen to remember what the parts of your ear are called, do you?” Doppio asked in that same soft voice, like the question had just occurred to him and he was hoping you knew the answer.  “I know you don’t have any medical training, but I thought you should know this much at least.  It’s important to be well rounded when you’re the Boss’ plaything, after all.”

That cold, sharp point traced the outside of your ear in a tight little circle.  A needle?  No, it was too big.  You wanted to scream, to fight him off, anything, but you couldn’t move.  Your cries came out as a whimper through clenched teeth.

“There are three parts, but we’re only really interested in two of them today.  There’s the outer ear—that’s the part most people think of, with the auricle and the auditory canal and the upper part of the eardrum.  Your middle ear is made of the tympanic cavity and the eardrum and the ossicles.  The inner ear, Carina, happens to be the most interesting part.  This is where your cochlea is, which transmits sound, and the semicircular ducts, which help you keep your balance.”

There was a reason he was telling you all this, and you realized what that reason was in a horrible bolt of clarity that made you feel sick.  Doppio had been studying your face quite closely this whole time, and his smile lit up as if you’d done nothing more than get a correct answer on a test.

“That’s it, you understand right away!  The Boss knew he was right to pick you, there’s no sense in a doll that can’t put two and two together.”  Your eyes, forced to stare upwards at the ceiling, wheel around helplessly, looking for something—anything—that could save you.  A reprieve, a distraction, a miracle of some kind—

“And, well, the Boss thinks—and I must say, I agree—that if you’re not going to do as you’re told, then you might as well have a reason.

Doppio’s voice had pitched lower suddenly as he uttered those last words, his eyes once soft and brown, but now pitiless and glittering oddly under the light, appearing green.  He shifted the angle of his hand, guiding the tip of what you now knew to be a very thin pair of scissors into your ear.  Your thrashing became even more desperate, but he was holding your head so tightly it was as if you weren’t moving at all.

“No—stop—no!  No!”  You choke out, to no avail, as Doppio took a deep breath and pushed.  You spasmed in your seat, your pleas cut off by your own high-pitched screaming as the metal was forced deeper into your ear canal.  The agony of the intrusion intensified exponentially as Doppio met a slight resistance, but only for a moment.  A wave of nausea overtook you as you felt something pop and fluid rush out, and your agonized wail suddenly become much quieter.  Doppio extracted the blade and let it fall to the ground, caressing your head and murmuring what sounded like comforting words.  It took you several seconds to realize he wasn’t murmuring, just speaking normally into an ear that could no longer hear.

At long last, he let you go, quickly stepping back as you turned your head and threw up the little that remained in your stomach.  Something trickled down the side of your face, but you couldn’t decide if it was tears or whatever your ear needed to function properly.  You sagged in your seat, now horribly aware that Doppio surely intended to do your other ear too but unable to do anything about it.

So this was what despair felt like.  You felt like an idiot for thinking you could brave it until the very end.  You squeezed your eyes shut.

A few seconds later, you registered something soft dabbing at your mouth, cleaning your face up; you closed your eyes tighter and turned your head away from Doppio as he tried to wipe everything away.  He ignored even this token defiance, not stopping until he was done, and then crouched by your good ear to try talking to you some more.

“Now, the Boss has decided to go easy on you this time.  He’s going to stop at your other ear.  Obviously this means you can’t work anymore, and we can’t let the other Passione members think they can try to disobey the Boss’ cardinal rule and get away with a small punishment, right?”  He pushed his head closer to yours, speaking so closely that the slightest turn of your head would plant his lips on your neck.  You don’t even have it in you to feel fear anymore at the pronouncement that you will become completely deafened.

“You aren’t leaving.  The Boss has made arrangements; you’ll be comfortable and taken care of, so long as you don’t disobey, ever again.  Your body is so delicate…it would be a shame to ruin it, but he’s going to punish you however many times it takes before you learn your lesson.”

“But you’ll be good for him, won’t you, Carina?  You’ll listen now, won’t you?”

You’re not even sure if you said ‘yes’.  You had begun to cry, ugly heaving sobs that wouldn’t stop, not even when you couldn’t hear yourself anymore.

 

Chapter Text

It really had been the perfect day for a confession.

The sun was out, blazing against a pristine blue sky, but the spring breeze that picked up every now and then made sure that it didn’t get too hot.  Flowers were abundant, growing along the sidewalks and streets you crossed and peeking out of window boxes you passed, bright splashes of color perfuming the air wherever you looked.  Everything had a vital energy of promise and life, an optimism that was positively infectious.  You had felt a smile grow on your face on your way here as you soaked the day in, despite everything.  It was the kind of day that made anything seem possible!

That was why, you decided as you watched Josuke Higashikata’s face fall from hopeful anticipation to absolute heartbreak, today had been absolutely doomed.

Josuke hadn’t exactly been subtle about his attraction to you.  He was a strong and capable guy, one who had dealt with more horrors in a couple years than most men did in their whole lifetimes, but he was still a kid, and did what kids do when they got a crush.  The sudden changes in the way he treated you—no doubt he thought he was being subtle—were laughably easy to spot.  You’d caught onto him when he made all sorts of excuses to be around (He wasn’t having that much trouble with English a few months ago) and humored him when he started opening doors for you and delivering lunch, making sure to pay him back and return the favor every time.  He was the pure love kind of guy, easily thrilled by infatuation and the chance to be the gentleman, but it would eventually die down, as all crushes did.  When that happened, he’d get interested in other girls and it would all begin again, you knew.

Except, of course, it didn’t.  If anything, his interest in you grew, despite your best attempts to let him down gently or keep things friendly, and when he suddenly sent you a text message asking you to meet him in the park by his house, you knew exactly what was going to happen and what you were going to have to do.  The idea of it made you want to crawl back into bed and abandon the day entirely, but Josuke was your friend and deserved the courtesy of your honest feelings.

“Is it—is it because I was too overbearing?” he blurted out, trying to hide the slight wobble of his bottom lip and failing miserably.  “Because if it is, I’m sorry, I can—“

“It’s not that.”  You were careful to try to keep your tone gentle, and not hurt him more than you already had, but this conversation wasn’t going to get anything but worse.

“Then is it because you don’t see me as a man?  Tell me what I’m not doing, I can fix it!  I’ll give up my games if I have to, I’ll do—whatever you want!” The words tumbled out in a passionate rush.  “I just care about you so much, and—“  You watched him turn away a little as he hastily rubbed at his face.

“Damn pollen.  This was such a stupid idea…”

“Josuke.  Josuke.  Look at me.”  You reached out and grabbed his shoulders, steadying him and forcing him to look you in the eye.  In that moment you knew that he was being completely serious, that he was desperate to correct whatever failing it was that prevented you from loving him.  It was a horrible truth, but the fact was that there really wasn’t anything he could do.

“It’s not your fault.  Okay?  It’s not because you aren’t a sweet guy, or that your heart isn’t good enough, or that you’re not manly.  Any girl would be happy to have you.”  Even me, if things were different, you thought but didn’t say.  Josuke didn’t seem convinced, just continued to stare at you in dejected silence.

You pressed on.  “Whenever we’re hanging out, even if it’s something boring or tedious, you’ve always found a way to make it fun.  I’m really happy I’m able to call you a friend, Josuke.  It’s just that sometimes people…aren’t meant for each other, you know?”  He could tell you were building up to something, probably read it in your face, but he just listened to you talk.

“I guess what I’m trying to say is that I already found someone…I already have a boyfriend.  Please understand my feelings.”

Something flickered in his eyes when the words came out of your mouth, something unsettling, but you were expecting that.  No man took ‘sorry I can’t date you!  There’s already another guy I like more’ well, even if they had to pretend to.  Even so, you’d hesitated; you and Kaito had only really begun your relationship about a week ago, and you’d avoided telling any of your friends for this exact reason.  It wasn’t because you really thought Josuke would do something crazy—he wasn’t that kind of guy, you thought—but because you’d stupidly hoped that even now he’d lose interest on his own and you wouldn’t have to deal with the matter at all.

Josuke took a deep, shaky breath.  He’d been handling this whole conversation like a champ, all things considered; if you were in his shoes, you had no doubt that you’d already been in tears, but it had to be done.

“Got it.  Alright.  I understand,” he said, after a very long pause.  He gave you a sad smile and gently took your hands off his shoulders, clasping them in his own.  “Don’t worry!” he said, his voice full of a fake cheer he couldn’t force himself to express with his face.

“I won’t get in your way, I promise.  But, uh…you’ll still be friends with me, right?  We can still hang out and everything?”  His grip tightened, not with an unspoken threat but with the worry of a teenager scared of losing the object of his affection entirely.

“If you promise to be nice when he’s around,” you warned.  

“Yeah!  I-I mean, obviously.  There’s no point in ruining our friendship just because we can’t date.” The words came easily, quickly, which you were expecting.  Josuke was the kind of guy who stuck to his promises, though, so you weren’t too worried about it.

Granted, given his face when he watched you walk away, you probably should have been.

Josuke didn’t have a problem.  He didn’t have a problem.  So what if Okuyasu was getting worried, and sure, he hadn’t even told Koichi, but it wasn’t a big deal or anything!  He could stop any time he wanted to.

He was just worried.

Kaito Nakayama was bad news, and he could tell that the moment he saw that slimy little smirk, the way Kaito wrapped his arm around your shoulders when he was introduced.  True to his word, though, Josuke sucked it up and played nice, even if there were times he had to laugh through gritted teeth.

It didn’t matter so long as you were happy, he told himself.  And hey, once you saw the creep you were dating for who he was and dumped his lame ass, maybe he’d have another shot.  In the meantime, though, he stuck to his mission with renewed determination, ready to be there at a moment’s notice the second Kaito went over the line or did something shady behind your back.  

He did have the presence of mind to know you wouldn’t be thrilled if you found out the…extent of his vigilance, so it became his little secret.  Checking out your boyfriend’s friends and making sure he wasn’t doing anything shady began to dominate his free time, but he always made sure to be near enough to you that he could step in when trouble happened.  Neither of you were Stand users, which gave him a pretty good advantage, even if it did feel a little like cheating at times…Josuke swallowed his guilt and focused back on the task at hand.

You’d been dating Kaito for eight months, now.  Eight months.  That was insane!  How did you go that long without wanting to throw him out on his ear?  Couldn’t you hear the way he talked to you?  Looked at you as you walked next to him?  Why did you smile when he pretended to be all gentlemanly, or choke down his shitty cooking whenever he made dinner for you?

Speaking of…Josuke leaned a little closer to get a better view through the window.  Kaito was in your place again, making dinner (like he owned the place, Josuke thought with a grit in his teeth).  You were getting off work by now, probably on your way home, but he had time.  He just had to make sure your boyfriend wasn’t doing anything funny in your house while you weren’t there to see anything.  

Usually Kaito knew better than to try anything, but something was weird about tonight—he had a small paper bag with him that he’d look into between cutting vegetables or stirring the pan.  He’d been fidgeting with it since he’d let himself into your house, in fact.  He’d check it while he was setting the table, checked it again when he got the groceries out, checked it another time when he went back to adjust the plates a couple centimeters…

Was it drugs?  Was this bastard going to put something in your food?  Josuke itched to get closer and check for himself, but Kaito was frustratingly attentive and never took his eyes off the bag for more than a few seconds, and he couldn’t get in the house without revealing himself anyway.  He took a deep, frustrated breath, inhaling the scent of cooking food that made his stomach grumble traitorously.  Shit, he should have packed a snack before coming here, it was going to be a long night.  He had to make sure that Kaito wasn’t planning on trying anything weird with whatever it was he had in the bag.

As if reading his thoughts, Kaito finally reached in the bag and pulled the item out, turning it over in his hands.  It wasn’t a pill bottle, but a small box, the kind you’d put jewelry in.  Alright, so he was trying to buy more of your affection with gifts, that wasn’t so bad.  It was still bad, but nothing he couldn’t handle—you were never one for lavish gestures, and imagining the annoyed look on your face as you pushed the box back at Kaito was enough to put a smirk back on his face.  

And then the bastard opened the box, and Josuke happened to be in just the right position to see what was inside—a small band of white gold, the single diamond in its center twinkling at him mockingly in the kitchen’s fluorescents.  

It couldn’t be.  He wouldn’t.  

Josuke watched with increasing horror as Kaito dithered, hoping against hope that it was just another present but already aware of the only thing it could be.

“No,” Josuke whispered, unable to help himself as your boyfriend walked over to the dining table and started pantomiming getting on one knee by the side, proposing to the empty chair, “no no no no no no no—“

There was no way you were going to say yes. Not because Josuke was going to stop you, but because you were too smart to see anything permanent in this guy, too smart to actually fall for it and become his fiancé, too smart to actually marry someone like that (too smart to marry someone who wasn’t him, the traitorous voice at the back of his head hissed).  Josuke felt his heart pound in his ears and body move on his own, too caught up in his rage, and only distantly heard the commotion as Crazy Diamond’s fists slammed through the door, breaking it down and letting him step through.  He strode towards the other man, hands already curling into fists.

Kaito shot up, banging his hip on the table in his haste to get to his feet.  “Oh my god!  Higashikata?  What the hell—“

But Josuke was already on him, dragging him forward by the collar of his shirt, only a few inches between their faces.  

“You’d better not,” Josuke said in a low, dark growl, “You’d better fuckingnot.  I saw what you were doing with that shitty little box—“

“Jesus, you can’t just barge in here like that—did you break that door?  That’s—“

“Thinking you can just take her away just because she tolerated your shady ass for a few months—“

“Why are you even—what?”  Kaito said blankly as Josuke’s last words finally registered.  He searched Josuke’s face for a second in dawning comprehension, and then laughed, a quiet derisive sound.  “Oh.  That’s what this is?”

Bold of you to laugh when I’m this close to breaking your neck, shitheel. Josuke didn’t bother responding, just shoved him away, watching with savage satisfaction as Kaito collided with the table and knocked everything over in a shower of silverware and breaking china, the shards skittering across the floor like shooting stars.  He quashed his growing guilt at making such a mess in your home, too focused on the fact that this bastard had the nerve to still be laughing.

“I get it, okay?  You’re mad because she picked me over you, I could tell whenever we were all together.  Felt your eyes on me wherever we went, but I didn’t say anything because she kept you around for some reason.  But I’m only going to say this once.  There’s nothing you can do about it, alright?”  Kaito started to get to his feet, slowly, cautiously.  Josuke didn’t move, which the other man took as an encouraging sign.  He spread his hands, gesturing to the destruction that just happened.

“This?  This isn’t going to make her change her mind, buddy.  If anything, it’s just going to make her realize just how insane you are.”  He seemed to notice that Josuke’s knuckles were white from how tightly he clenched his fists, because he kept going.

“Go ahead, beat me up!  She’ll be here any second, maybe she’ll even catch you in the act.  You think she won’t call the police?  She loves me, Higashikata, not your lovestruck schoolboy act or your stupid little hair routine and certainly not this stalking bullshit.  Me?  I could propose to her from my hospital bed and she’d—“

Kaito’s next words were swallowed as Crazy Diamond’s fist smashed into his mouth, the force snapping his head back with an ugly crack that sent a chill down Josuke’s spine, but he was too far gone to care.  Kaito’s taunts had done their job too well.  It only took a few seconds for him to be rendered utterly unrecognizable, Josuke straddling his limp body and raining down blow after blow, forgetting even Crazy Diamond in the throes of his fury.  One spray of dark red splattered across the floor and walls as a blow landed, then two, then ten, until he paused and realized that the liquid dripping down his face wasn’t sweat or tears but blood.  Someone had been screaming, a sound of pure heartbreak and rage, and it wasn’t until he took a breath that Josuke realized it was himself.

Someone whimpered.  It wasn’t Kaito, now gruesomely trapped in the stillness that only the dead possessed…Josuke turned around slowly and registered you standing there, staring at him in dull shock, everything you were carrying forgotten on the ground as you took a slow step back.

“Hey—wait, I can—“

You turned around and made to bolt out the way you came, past the broken door and down the driveway, but shards of wood rose past you and reformed into the door, now locked in place.  You rattled the handle in useless desperation, a scream for help—for someone, anyone—rising into your throat.  You felt a hand force itself over your mouth as Josuke shoved you back against the door, mumbling placating words and promises that you were too panicked to hear or care about.

“Listen, listen, he was going to hurt you, okay?  The things he said about you—he was going to take you away forever, he was gonna trap you, I had to do something or he would—“ his words ran together as he tried desperately to calm you down, holding your head with his free hand and keeping you from getting free of his grasp.  You could only watch helplessly as the blood from the place your boyfriend’s head used to be pooled out further and further, watching your face in the macabre reflection.

“…I’m going to take my hand off your mouth, okay?  Promise you won’t scream.  Don’t scream, okay?”  you realized he was saying, his voice now so soft that it was nearly a whisper.  You started at his eyes, uncomprehending, unable to recognize the boy you turned down almost a year ago.  Blood was still dripping from his face, but he didn’t seem to care, his gaze fixed completely on you.  

You didn’t dare try to resist.  You nodded slowly, timidly, and took a shaky breath as he lowered his hand from your mouth, now cupping your cheek.

“Why?  I loved him,” you whimpered.  He frowned as you said the words, making a face similar to the one he made that day you turned him down, but different somehow.  Harder.  More resolute.

“I know.  I know,” he said quietly.  “I just wanted you to love me.”  

Chapter Text

Jotaro Kujo once heard a close friend describe love as plunging into the ocean: terrifying and exhilarating, utterly unpredictable, and once you were in you didn’t know up from down.

It wasn’t until he met you that he learned the truth.  Love wasn’t a sudden, conscious drop into deep water, it was standing on the beach as the tide came in.  It swelled slowly, gradually, from a mild fondness to an all-consuming passion, and by the time he noticed he was in over his head he was already drowning.

Women were annoying.  That was the truth he’d realized immediately, in that blossoming of youth where boys and girls grow into themselves and really began to take notice of each other for the first time.  Women were fussy, women said one thing but wanted another (and expected you to know this…somehow?), women chatted incessantly…

“Kujo?”  A voice broke into his thoughts.  Jotaro didn’t turn around, didn’t stop walking, didn’t even really give any indication that he’d heard, but he knew who was talking.  He worked with five people in the Marine Biology lab, but only one of them was bold enough to pester him like this…good grief.

“Great, glad I caught up with you,” you said briskly.  You had to be taking two strides for each one of his, but you didn’t comment on it—didn’t even sound out of breath, just shuffled the papers you were carrying expectantly.  “I took a look at your literature review and I think we’re about ready to write the proposal, I just need to sit down with you and go over some last minute edits.”

He couldn’t help but notice how you phrased it as a statement, not a request.

“Mm.”  He hummed.  Not in agreement, just an indication that he’d heard.  What a hassle.  You couldn’t have just told him what you wanted in an email or something?  Raindrops smashed themselves to pieces against the glass as the two of you walked past the long windows overlooking campus.  He didn’t think you had an umbrella; maybe he could shake you if he left the building.

“Great!  Are you busy now?” he heard you say, but he was already out the door, braced against the deluge as it soaked his coat immediately.  Water swirled around his ankles, soaking into his socks as he kept walking, making the five-minute walk across campus in stubborn silence.  He didn’t hear your voice anymore, something that made him release a breath he didn’t realize he had been holding.

What was it about being alone with you that made him feel so uneasy?  The fact that you wouldn’t shut up?  The fact that you wouldn’t leave him the hell alone when he made it plain he didn’t feel like talking?

He pushed the thoughts aside, pushing through another set of doors into a building, pausing to wipe the mud off his shoes before making a beeline for the coffee stand.

“Oh, great call, we can get coffee and talk it over.  This won’t take long.”  Your voice rang out from behind him, as if there hadn’t been a break in the conversation, and he could now hear your footsteps again.  Two for each of his one, and you were a little out of breath now, but you were here nonetheless.

He didn’t flinch—Jotaro had better composure than that—but he quickened his pace, bearing down on the poor barista with a deepening scowl.

Women were annoying.

“Watch where you step,” he warned.  You shot him an annoyed look, squinting in the bright sunlight beating down on the two of you.

“I know, Jotaro.  The coral’s delicate and we need to minimize disturbances—“

You trailed off, muttering.  Jotaro had actually been trying to warn you about your unsteady footing, but he was near enough to catch you if anything happened.  He didn’t say anything else.

The two of you were waist-deep in the South Florida ocean, armed with a clipboard and nets and (not nearly enough) reef-safe sunblock, trying and failing to count eels.  You were failing, anyway; Jotaro had proven frustratingly good at this, spotting so many individuals that you’d say he was making it up if he wasn’t just as good at catching them.

“No, see—if you lean back and—“ he sighed impatiently, guiding your shoulders and head so you could get the right viewing angle for what he was looking at.  Sure enough, you were just in time to see another skinny face pull back into its hole.  You grudgingly marked another tally next to the column for ‘Viper Moray’ as Jotaro pulled away from you with a sound that might have been an awkward cough.  You watched him adjust his hat for the fourth time in as many minutes, face carefully turned away from you.

It had been about a month since you stubbornly followed him a quarter of a mile in pouring rain to discuss the research the two of you were starting.  Something had changed in the intervening days.  Jotaro must have adjusted his opinion of you, because he’d started actually replying to you when you spoke to him.  It was still maybe a sentence a time at most, but a marked improvement from when the best you could expect was a grunt of acknowledgment.  He’d even started making eye contact with you; it was getting to the point that the other researchers would send you to ask him things if they needed something.

To be perfectly honest, your opinion of him had changed, too.  At first you thought he was a standoffish jackass, but the more you talked to him (and it was to him, now, not at him) you were pretty sure he just didn’t know how to deal with people and happened to have the perfect exterior to hide it.  And, hey, he was a good worker and a competent researcher—it’s just that he happened to be a little scary.  The two of you were out alone today because nobody had wanted to come, in fact, but you couldn’t say you minded.

He was good company.  Quiet company.  It gave you a little thrill of pride to think that maybe he’d felt the same way with you.

“Alright, we’ve gotten enough for today, let’s head back.”  Jotaro finally said as the sun began to tinge the sky orange.  He extended his arm towards you.  You took it, thinking he just meant to steady you as you made your way off the rocks, and squeaked in surprise when he instead wrapped his arm around your waist instead and pulled you up, walking along as easily as if you were just a waterlogged kitten.

“Jot—hey!  I’ve still got the—“ You flailed a little, desperately trying to keep hold of all the equipment before you wasted an entire day’s data collection.  Jotaro didn’t so much as pause, somehow catching the net you dropped before it could sink into the water.

“Stop whining, it’s faster this way.  Don’t you want to go home already?”

You frowned, but you weren’t willing to try to make him drop you, so you just stared back at the ocean as the water began to turn fire-orange, mirroring the dying sky overhead.  

It wasn’t until he dropped you—simply loosened his arm and let you land on your feet—that you realized he’d carried you all the way to the truck, instead of just letting you go on the beach.

Jotaro was watching the gentle rise and fall of your chest when he realized he had lost.  The two of you had gone out on one of your rare nights off, but it had gotten late and he argued it was easier for you to just sleep over at his place and head back to the lab in the morning, and now he was kept awake by his own thoughts as you dozed peacefully next to him.

The point where he could still live without you had passed well beyond the horizon by now.  Your conversation with him had ceased to be irritating chatter or even background noise, it was a comforting relief from the quiet fear that gnawed at him when he was alone.  You had courage, the stubbornness to refuse his usual attempts at stonewalling and the nerve to tell him when you knew he was wrong.  

He’d taken to thinking about you constantly, what you’d say about something and what you’d be unhappy with, anticipating everything from what drink you wanted to the comments you’d make when you reviewed his work.  It had gotten to the point where he had stopped going off on his own to research, waiting for you to become available so the two of you could go together.

It terrified him.

Did you know how important you had become to him?  What would happen if you left?  If your studies took you somewhere else?  That shithead immunologist made you an offer, a cushy internship somewhere in the Pacific Northwest that got you excited but only made him feel almost nauseous.  

Would you stay if he asked you to?  Would you go where he couldn’t follow?

Dinner and walks on the beach were one thing.  You were relatively unguarded with your feelings, and he suspected—no, knew—that as much as you liked him, you wouldn’t pass up opportunities to do the kind of work you really wanted to do.

You shifted in your sleep, reaching blindly for him, relaxing into his shoulder with a gentle sigh.  In that moment, he made a decision, vague plans overriding all his doubt and hesitation for one crystal-clear course of action.

The old man owed him one; there was no way the Speedwagon Foundation didn’t need more researchers, especially ones as capable as you.  He’d pay that immunologist (he didn’t bother to remember the name, but he had the business card Star Platinum stole from your pocket) a visit and explain that you wouldn’t be joining his lab, not ever.  If he made too much of a fuss about it, he could always just end up in the hospital.

Jotaro wasn’t holding you back, he decided.  He was just…pruning your opportunities.  Ensuring you made the best possible choice.  Keeping you near him, until you realized you needed him as much as he needed you.

The tide took him without noticing, but he would drag you under if he had to.

Chapter Text

Consciousness came reluctantly, as it always did these days.  You floundered, briefly, in those moments between sleep and wakefulness when you still didn’t fully realize where you were or what was happening, but the cool kiss of lips pressed against your forehead was more than enough to ground you in reality.

“Mmm,” the noise you made was something not quite a mumble and not quite a moan as you instinctively reached out, seeking the man you knew to be so close.  You ran your fingers along the knots in his hair before his hands took yours in a gentle but inescapable grasp, lowering them to rest on your bed.

“Are you feeling better today?” the words stirred something in you, something disquieting, but the feeling was too far in the back of your mind to be worth any real attention. Yes, you were feeling better, you decided, well enough to get up.

You opened your eyes.  It was late in the morning, if you had to guess by the way light filtered through cracks in the drapes, carefully pulled to prevent any light from falling on your bed.  Here in Cairo that would normally mean an oppressive and dry heat, but your room stayed blessedly cool even on the worst days, through a system of air circulation that…to be honest, you hadn’t fully understood Avdol’s explanation when he told you.  All you really cared about was that you were comfortable; a hot and stuffy room would have only compounded the agony of being cooped up indoors all day.

Forcing yourself into a sitting position was an exercise that was once trivial, but now left you pausing to catch your breath.  Avdol simply leaned over to rearrange your pillows, but you could tell he understood how weak you had gotten.  It was in everything from the way he avoided his gaze to the way he held his breath until your own returned to normal.  You watched the sunlight glint off the bangles on his hands for a long moment, seeing your own reflection in them, taken aback by how…awful you looked.  Someone had been careful to keep your hair neatly brushed, but the bags beneath your eyes and the way the clothes hung loosely off your frame were much harder to hide.  How much time had passed without you even realizing it?  How long had you been sick?

“What day is it?” you croaked, voice still heavy with sleep.

“Monday,” Avdol said simply.  He moved again, distorting your reflection and forcing you to pull your eyes away as he rummaged in a bag he’d brought to your bedside.  He held up a small glass with a faint smile.

Lassi.  The yogurt drink you’d taken a liking to had become one of the few bright spots of everyday life.  You could always count on Avdol to bring you a cup when you needed cheering up…the weight of an unknown sadness hit you suddenly as you took the glass from him, fingers brushing against his.

“I thought you might enjoy it if we visited the gardens later—when it’s cooler, of course.  The hibiscus blooms made me think of you.  And after that, we can…”

He went on about the plans he wanted to make with you, but you weren’t listening, too busy staring into the depths of your cup.  Deciding whether you wanted to finally voice the fear that had been plaguing you, to say the words and give it shape.

“Am I dying, Avdol?”  Even to your own ears, the question sounded offhanded.  Detached.  

He froze mid-sentence.  The bag he’d been fumbling with hit the ground.  You took a moment to brace yourself before meeting his own widened eyes, searching for the answer you already knew was coming.

“Is that why I can’t leave?  Why you’ve been keeping the doctors away?” If he was surprised that you knew about that—that you’d overheard snatches of his hushed conversations on the phone and outside your room—he didn’t show it, just let you keep talking.

Am I here because I’m not getting better, and there’s nothing anyone can do?”  

“Take deep breaths.  You aren’t—“  Avdol began to reach forward.  The fear and unnamed anger, already clawing its way up your throat with the questions you raised, flared.

“Don’t touch me!”  You regretted lashing out the moment you did it.  Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you looked at it), your inactivity had weakened you, and the cup fell short of its intended target, dropping harmlessly to the floor and spilling its contents everywhere.

Avdol dodged your throw easily and gathered you in his embrace, ignoring your halfhearted protests to hold you tightly to his chest.  He smelled like sandalwood, and the strong and steady rhythm of his heart reverberated in your ears.  A long moment passed, punctuated by your harsh breathing and his soothing mumbles, as your hysteria gradually melted away, replaced by muted grief.  You could feel your eyes well up with tears.

“You aren’t going to die.  You aren’t going to die.” Avdol said it like a mantra, as if repeating it would eventually make you believe it, too.  “This is merely a particularly stubborn illness.  I would never let something like this kill you.  Do you believe me?”

You didn’t, but humoring him would make him feel better.  “Sure,” you mumbled back.

Avdol chuckled and pulled back, looking down at you.

“No, no, I can tell that you don’t.  Then allow me to make a prediction: the worst is behind us.  Tonight you will recover some of your strength, and will surely feel more than well enough to go out and view the stars with me.  Perhaps,” and this he said with a wink, “we can even read together after dinner.”

The comment drew an awkward giggle out of you; you couldn’t remember the last time you’d finished a meal without immediately falling asleep.  “Now you’re just promising the impossible.”

“No, no!  I’ll stake the shop on it!” he laughed, trying to inject more levity into the conversation, but his hold on you was still tight.  Worried.  You shrugged, partly to loosen his grip, partly in answer to the unspoken question.”

“Sorry about the drink.  I can…”

Avdol would hear none of it.  “Go shower.  I can clean it up while you’re in there.  Come…”

He stood up, helping you to unsteady feet.  In times past he had carried you, but stopped after your repeated objections (“I’m ill, Avdol, but I can still walk”).  As you entered the bathroom, and he prepared to leave you to it, you hesitated.  He immediately froze.

“Something the matter?”

“Do you…really think I’ll get better?  As early as tonight?”

Avdol simply smiled at you, confident and sure.  “If I were a bad fortune teller, darling, I wouldn’t have stayed in business this long.  You’ll see.”

And you would get better.  Avdol would make sure of it.  He’d need to adjust your dosage to find the perfect amount, but it was unnecessarily cruel to make you live in fear just to stop you from leaving him.

 

Chapter Text

“Do you love me, darling?”

Go to hell,” you spat.  The words were a struggle to get past your mangled tongue, each syllable a fresh agony as it dripped from your lips like the blood and saliva splattering on the cool tiles, but you put as much venom as you could into the three words all the same.  Movement shifted in the reflections of the razors you had vomited; you could only watch helplessly as your attacker melted into the shadows, disappearing completely and no doubt awaiting your next move.  

The fucker, that fucker…Impotent anger made you brush them aside, scattering them with an almost musical chime of colliding metal, but then you remembered where you were and that every movement was precious.  Stand up.  You had to stand up.

Stand up.

Getting back on your feet was a battle in itself, but you had no choice.  You forced yourself to focus: one foot, and then the other, to one knee, and then the next knee, a deep breath and lift…

“Ohh….” the moan came as if dragged out of you.  The world jumped and spun the moment you were fully upright, the lights and gleam of the floor tiles melding together in one hazy blur.  You felt yourself slump against the nearby wall. You trailed a long smear of red behind you, but you forced yourself to keep standing, to keep moving.  Every part of your body that had been slashed open with Metallica screamed its protest as you hobbled along, but the adrenaline was louder, pulsing through your head with each beat of your frantic heart.

It was a testament to the futility of it all that Risotto still hadn’t moved to stop you again.  Whether he was in front of you or behind you or even keeping pace as you struggled along was irrelevant.  Any resistance you could have offered was absolutely laughable.

Then why…?

“I love you, you know.” Nero’s voice sounded somewhere to your side, close enough that you could swear you felt his breath on your cheek.  It was unnerving how calm he was, even now.  “That’s the only thing it could be.  There is no other reason you would invade my thoughts so constantly.  Did you know?  I never dreamed before I met you, not ones that I could remember, but it’s become normal for me to wake up reaching for you.”

You let him keep talking, long enough to make an educated guess about where his throat might be.  When you thought you were sure you lashed out, swinging your elbow in a wide arc that only met empty air.  You overbalanced, falling to the ground again with a cold thud that knocked the wind out of you and brought tears to your eyes.  You blinked furiously, bringing the world back into focus; he was still stubbornly, frustratingly nowhere in sight.  Your eyes locked on the limp hand in immediate view—your hand, you knew—and noticed with dull shock that your fingertips were blue.

“When I first brought you home, I knew it was possible you would never come to understand my feelings.  I thought I was fine with the idea.” Nero’s voice came from somewhere above you now, continuing as if nothing happened, as if there wasn’t a vague shape taking form under the skin of your fingertips, as if no agonized scream ripped out of you as perfectly formed needles burst forth, spraying the floor with yet more of your blood.  You shook your hand desperately, trying to get them out, but the fatigue made your movements rough and uncoordinated, and you only succeeded in losing a couple before the rest shoved in deeper.  If you were on your feet, you might have seen what Risotto saw—a beautiful abstract painting of glossy red against stark white, an art piece just for him.  Struggle Against Finality, mixed media, multiple artists.

You didn’t, though, and you had bigger problems.  There was a haze in your thoughts, weak at first but more noticeable now, that transmuted overwhelming hysteria into faint confusion.  How much blood had you lost?  Were you always so cold?

“Yes.  Yes, exactly,” Nero said encouragingly, your cry an answer to a question he hadn’t asked, “it hurt.  You can’t imagine how painful love is.”

“I think…I can guess…” you struggled to pull yourself along, unclear as to whether you had actually said the words or whether they stayed trapped in your head.  Perhaps he was going to kill you.  The thought sent a thrill of relief through your spine; you would only have to endure a little more of this torment before you could slip away into oblivion, forever free of him.

I didn’t know what to do.  Living without you was unacceptable, but you threatened to affect my work: equally unacceptable.  I became…confused.  You were air, and I wasn’t getting enough—how is that feeling, by the way?”

Your breath had been coming in unnatural, painful gasps, and there was a special cruelty in the concern in his voice when he pointed that out.  You pulled forward again, jerking in surprise when you felt yourself collide with the wall; weren’t you moving away from it?  Where were you going?  You felt yourself still as your eyes slid shut on their own, unable to make the effort of staying open any longer.

It was only now, in the moment you seemed to have finally given up, that Nero took you.  He knelt down and pulled you into his lap with an uncharacteristic tenderness.  You were too tired to try to check and see if he had become visible again, focusing only on trying to breathe as he gently plucked the needles he’d formed out of your fingers and tossed the to the side.  He pressed his lips to the last couple left, dissolving them back into your blood with the same effortless grace he used to create them.

You still didn’t move.  You couldn’t.  The agony and fear had faded into a dull thrum as more oxygen made its way into your system, mingling with the adrenaline into a vague light-headed pleasure.

“I am patient.  I have practiced.  It was easy to pretend your feelings were out of my control, but no longer.  I won’t stop until you see how useless it is to live without loving me as I love you.”  He punctuated each sentence with a kiss—this one on your hand, this one on your neck, this one on your cheek—neither knowing nor caring that he was getting your blood on his own face.  You felt the ground pull away as he lifted you up, the only thing in your world the tightness of his grip and the beating of his heart.

“I want you to love me so much it drives you mad.”

Chapter Text

To whom do lions cast their gentle looks? Not to the beast…the smallest worm will turn being trodden on, and doves will peck…

Shakespeare bored you at the best of times, but there was something about that particular passage—somewhere in Henry VI, maybe Part 3—that echoed in your mind with that sense of troubling significance the superstitious called premonition.  

Entertaining that kind of thought would do nothing for your nerves, though.  You turned your attention to the coffee you idly stirred, watching your reflection blink back from the surface of the drink.  It gave you a twinge of vicious satisfaction, seeing how composed you looked; your expression was determinedly neutral, almost bored looking, and there wasn’t a hair out of place or a wrinkle in your clothes.  Unreadable, you decided, that was how you looked.

This was important, because half this battle was fought by hiding how thoroughly rattled and angry you were.

You set your spoon down with a delicate clink and leaned forward, resting your hand on your chin in a gesture of thoughtful contemplation as you regarded the young man with you.  Like you, he was the picture of composure: well groomed and calm, enjoying his own drink in a way you could only describe as ‘elegantly casual’.  Diffused sunlight glinted off his golden bangs and highlighted the blue in his eyes, drawing more than one interested glance from the women milling around the open-air cafe.

Giorno Giovanna, for his part, was politely pretending he wasn’t watching you watch him, with mixed success; he seemed distant enough that other patrons kept trying to catch his eye, but you could tell by the subtle tension in his neck and the way his head was angled that you were the only person he was paying any attention to.  His fingers twitched against the handle of his cup every now and then, making it rattle in its saucer slightly.  He probably would have killed to have a book in his hands, anything to fiddle with.

Your coffee was getting cold.  You forced yourself to take a slow sip, and then finally broke the silence.

“I’ve given a lot of thought to what you said yesterday.  About wanting me to move in with you.”

Giorno was beautiful to watch in motion.  The second you finished speaking, he unfolded his legs and set his cup down, leaning forward in one practiced motion.  When he replied it was confidently and from the heart, as if the words had always been there.

“It’s the only reasonable option,” he began, and you couldn’t help but wonder if that subtle emphasis on reasonable was deliberate, “until we uncover and stop your stalker, it’s safest for you to stay with someone who can protect you.  A temporary arrangement, naturally, it’s but an important one; they won’t be able to hurt you as long as you’re with me.  You won’t even have to go home to collect your things if you don’t want to, I’d be happy to pick things up.”

He said it like it was a foregone conclusion, that you’d already agreed even if you hadn’t said the words.  You suppose it made sense; where else were you supposed to turn?  How much longer could you endure your nameless shadow by yourself—worse, how much longer would it be before they finally did something?  Giorno was right: as long as you didn’t know who they were or how to stop them, all you could do was accept his help.

There was just one problem with that logic.  You sighed, a simple exhalation that did nothing to lessen the tension coiling in your chest, but you held his gaze.

“I don’t think that’ll be necessary, Giorno.  I already know it’s you.”

Your voice was flat and unemotional; this was not an accusation but a statement of fact.  The easygoing smile vanished from his face as suddenly as if you’d slapped him.  If you were expecting more of a reaction—an impulsive denial, a guilty glance, a flinch backwards—you would be disappointed.  He now looked at you with shrewd reassessment, no doubt mentally filing through possible responses for whatever would keep you on his side.

Whatever he prepared for, it certainly wasn’t this.  That was fine, you were more than willing to give him a piece of your mind since you had the opportunity.  

“Do you think I’m stupid?  In the beginning I thought it was just bad luck, and then I realized how everything that was happening came back to you.  You were good, I’ll admit; I didn’t think anything of telling you about my schedule.”  You found yourself leaning forward as you spoke, all pretense of relaxation gone, resting your hands on the table in an aggressive half-crouch.  

“You were the first one I told when I noticed the people following me, the things missing from my house.  You were the one I cried to when the police wouldn’t do anything and everyone stopped talking to me, and the more I confided the worse things got and the better friend you became.  You broke in, you stalked me…did you do something about the cops, too?  Did you threaten my friends?”

There was a reason you insisted on meeting Giorno at an outdoor cafe at the peak of business hours, and it wasn’t because you were in love with the coffee.  He wouldn’t dare try anything here, and you had plenty of exits if you needed to get away quickly.

“You need to understand—“ Giorno began, finally thinking of something he thought could manipulate you, but you were finished listening to him.

“No, you need to understand.”  You pulled something out of your pocket and slapped it onto the table.  It was a keychain, a little ladybug trinket he found somewhere and wanted you to have.  It was only now that he dropped his gaze, staring down at the gift and what it meant.

“The only reason I haven’t already called the police on you is because I know you could worm your way out of it, but you’re done making a fool out of me.  This is the last time I’ll see you, Giovanna.  That’s what I came here to say.”  You stood up, fast enough that the chair squeaked against the stone flooring, and turned to leave.  Your planned exit had been blocked by a particularly chatty group of college students, you noticed with some dismay, but you just held your breath as you walked past Giorno’s seat instead.

You were unsurprised but still afraid when he caught you by the arm, a gentle grasp that promised something else.

“This wasn’t how you were supposed to find out.”  His voice was a surprisingly urgent murmur.

“Don’t make me make a scene, Giorno.”  That was your only reply.  You gave him a moment to relax his grip before you roughly shook him off and all but fled the cafe.  Something burned at the corner of your eyes; you blinked away angry tears and quickened your pace.

Which was unfortunate, because otherwise you might have noticed your phone was missing.

Giorno would have given you a head start—some much needed time to cool off and be more understanding about the situation—but you had caught on far quicker than he expected, and he needed to move before you made things worse with this pointless game.

Following you was a simple enough matter.  It was cute, the way you’d changed your clothes and avoided all routes you took normally as you fled town, but he had something of yours, and that meant you could never reallyescape him.

Even so…he felt his nails dig into his palms as he walked alongside the snake that used to be a phone, but nobody was around to notice.  This was a significant setback.  A lot of work had been undone, and now he was going to have to do things the hard way.  

The snake paused, so suddenly he nearly stepped on it.  It poked its head at the crack under the door, finally locating the shitty hotel room you’d holed yourself up in.  The best-laid plans…the more you tried to prepare against your stalker, back when it was still a nebulous threat, the more Giorno knew about what you were like and what you planned to do.

And, of course, the fact that you were terrified of snakes.

You weren’t sure what woke you, at first; the darkness outside hadn’t changed, and the room was still dead silent.  The nearby lamp cast weak yellowish light over the little room, illuminating the bed you ignored and the cabinets, leaving shadows that shifted ominously if you indulged in a little paranoia.

Then it happened again.  The tickle of something moving, something on your leg.

Something crawling up your leg.

Your eyes darted downwards, only now registering the small dark snake winding itself upwards, eyes glittering like black diamonds in the low light.

oh jesus Oh JESUS OH JESUS—

You couldn’t be blamed for shouting and jumping up, wildly shaking your leg in the wild impulse to get it off, get it off before it bites, how did a snake even get—

And then your foot accidentally landed on it.  The snake became the last thing on your mind.

All the breath punched out of you at once as several somethings inside you snapped, strangling the scream before it could get past your throat.  You careened sideways, the edge of the nightstand rushing to meet you, helpless to do anything about the fact that you were about to bash your head open…

Someone caught you, held your head back at the last possible moment.  Someone who held you in a gentle grasp that promised no escape.

“Shh…oh, that was close.  I was hoping you’d be in bed when you attacked the snake, but this is fine too.”  Golden bangs came into view, glinting in the light as Giorno carefully lowered you to the floor, already lightly pressing his hand to your sides as your chest heaved.  

“That’s four…five ribs, and I think you’d smashed one of the vertebrae…” he turned you over, all too happy to lay his hands on you once more.  Pain became your world, an all-consuming crushing force that obliterated any sensation except the agony in your chest, silenced all noise except the pounding of your heart.  All you could do was blink slowly, stupidly, unable to see anything but the carpet pressed against your cheek.

“This is what I was trying to say, earlier,” Giorno whispered, probably trying to sound calm but unable to wholly hide the edge in his voice.  “You need to understand that you can’t take care of yourself.  Running off on your own like this will only get you hurt.”  

“Snakes bite when you step on them, after all.”

Chapter Text

Stress was a fact of life, as intrinsic to a person’s reality as breathing.  Being able to work under stress—to make wise and timely decisions, to keep a cool head, to retain and recall crucial information—is a quality that anyone expecting to survive, much less make anything of themselves, must master.  It stood to reason, therefore, that the childish tendency to freeze under pressure, to panic, to make impulsive decisions (or no decision at all) was a detriment and something to be outgrown as soon as possible.  This was how it had been explained to you.

 

Knowing, of course, didn’t dispel the panicked fog in your head, or help you understand the stubbornly complicated problem in front of you.  Black printed letters and numbers glared back at you from the crisp page, describing a concept you were supposed to understand but might as well have been in a foreign language.  You felt your pen tremble in your hand.

 

“Don’t tell me you’ve already forgotten.  We just reviewed this.”

 

You jumped.  Fugo’s eyes hadn’t left his book, but the room was so silent that he could hear the absence of your writing even from where he was sitting.  He idly turned a page.  It was strange, thinking of him as relaxed, given how he was only a few minutes ago.   Your throat was so dry.  You swallowed heavily, glancing at the glass of water just in arm’s reach.  Condensation on its surface glistened invitingly, but you hesitated in reaching for it.  Doing so required either putting your pen down (not an option), or…

 

Cold metal gleamed as you stared at the two knives stabbed into the table around your free hand.  One for each mistake.  You quietly, delicately raised your arm past them before leaning over to grip the glass.   The water was refreshing and cold, but more importantly it was a distraction.  For a moment, you could focus on something other than the chemistry problem leering at you, or the knives counting how often you’d messed up, or…y ou glanced over at Fugo and immediately regretted it.  He had abandoned the book entirely and was now staring at you, his expression almost—but not quite—something you could call a glare.

 

“Entrance exams are timed, you know,” his voice was gentle but still somehow accusatory, “the amount of time you’ve wasted on this problem would have been much better spent on another question.”

 

Deep breaths.  Deep breaths.  The implied suggestion was to give up and move on, but something in your gut told you this was a trick.

 

“I can figure it out,” you replied evenly, “this isn’t the actual exam; I should make sure I can do the material rather than worry about rushing.”

 

His expression barely changed, but you could tell Fugo approved by the brief lightening in his gaze.  He nodded, curt, and silence descended on the room once more as he waited expectantly for you to get back to work.  You looked back at the page.

 

14mL of water (18.01g/mol) reacts with 3g of calcium, creating…

 

Damn it all, your eyes were already watering again. 

 

When Fugo heard you were having trouble preparing for your university entrance exams and offered to help, you were elated.  He was a prodigy, someone able to easily understand and master the material you struggled with so much, and he seemed like a good tutor…even if he did get violent with Narancia once or twice. 

 

At first, everything seemed reasonable enough.  He developed a strictly regimented schedule of what you needed to know when, and that turned into regulating your sleep schedule and mealtimes to maximize how much information you retained, and that turned into…needless to say, your life became studying.  You ended up just staying at Fugo’s home to keep up with it all and ‘minimize distractions’.  It was getting to the point where the only time you had alone was when you were either asleep or in the bathroom.

 

Not that it wasn’t worth it!  You said you’d give anything to get accepted into your dream school, and with his help you were pretty confident about your chances.  It’s just that Fugo was... Intense.  Aggressive.  Violent, at times.

 

Scary.

 

He hadn’t hit you—you never would have tolerated something like that—but Fugo wasn’t exactly a patient teacher.  His memory was perfect, and he only allowed a mistake to happen once.  You were too intelligent to get things wrong the same way twice, he said.   It didn’t matter that you tended to freeze when stressed.  This was just another flaw to be overcome if you had any intention of excelling, and you could do it with enough practice and enough pressure.  It didn’t matter that it seemed impossible, he believed you could do it.  You could do it, and therefore you had to.   If he pushed you enough, you would break through.  You found yourself believing it, too, throwing yourself into your studies to please him just as much as you were doing it to pass the exam.  You lowered your free hand, firmly situating it between the knives once more, and got to work.  Fugo made a pleased hum as the scratching of your pen began once more.

 

“That’s very good.  Keep moving, that’s all that’s important.  You won’t solve the problem by freezing.”  He flipped another page.

 

One of the numbers in this problem was superfluous.  Was it one of the masses?  The molarity of the product?  Maybe…you looked at the possible answers and back at your math.  How did you get this wrong last time? 

 

“If you get them all correct, I think you’re due for a reward.  We can go out somewhere for lunch, we haven’t done that in a while.  After that we could see a movie, I’m fine with pushing your anatomy review—“ loud, erratic knocking reverberated through the house, cutting Fugo’s musing short.  He looked at his watch with a frown.

 

“I hope that’s not a mission.  What bad timing…stay here, I’ll see who it is.”  He got to his feet, pausing by your table instead of moving directly to the door.  You held your breath as he checked your work; not just because you were nervous, but because he rarely got this close and you could feel the warmth of his breath on your cheek.  Glancing at his face to gauge a reaction was tempting, but he was already turning away, walking out the door and down the hall in quiet but quick strides.

 

“Remember to show more of your work.  I want to see every step of your logic,” he called over his shoulder, and then disappeared from view.

 

He seemed pleased.  That must have meant you were correct, or on your way there.  You smiled to yourself and began working again, but paused as you finally gave proper thought to something that had been bothering you for a while now.

 

“What am I doing?”  It was ridiculous how quickly you’d lost control of your life.  Why was Fugo the one deciding when you were ready for a break, or whether you were doing well enough, or when it was time to go to bed?  Why was Fugo the one deciding how far to push you and what you could handle?

 

Why was Fugo the one who decided when and how often you left his house?

 

The knocking—that evidence of another person, an intrusion into a world that only held you and him for weeks—was enough to embolden you.  It was time to set some things straight, reign him in, remind Fugo that he was your tutor and not your owner.  You got out of your chair, kicking yourself for wincing at the light scraping noise (why did it feel like you were doing something wrong?) and heading down the hall, wandering the turns and staircases that would take you to the front door, where Fugo had headed.

 

It was silent, here, silent enough that your footsteps sounded deafening even though you were doing your best to walk quietly.  Your tutor had made several additions to the walls to accommodate your stay; you passed printouts of your schedule, reference sheets for various formulas and several charts of the human body so you could review as you walked from room to room.  Even the quietness of the house was for your benefit.  Fugo really had made you his one and only priority.   That was the problem, you realized as you approached the sound of a quiet but heated argument, he was too invested in this.  You rounded the corner, finally entering the front hall.  Fugo’s back was to you, and he had the door open wide enough to talk to but not enough for you to see who was on the other side.

 

“…from her in weeks.  Even Buccellati’s getting worried, I can tell.  What are you doing?”  The visitor’s voice was shrill, boyish.  Familiar.  Narancia?

 

“Just because you never took your education seriously,” you could hear Fugo replying through gritted teeth, even from here, “doesn’t mean she has the same abysmal standards.  This is an important time for her.  Nothing can interrupt it.”

 

He had been keeping people away?  It made sense, in a twisted kind of way, but the idea still made your stomach turn.  You thought they just knew you’d been busy…

 

“At least let me see her, damn it!  This is creepy.  You looked at Fugo’s hand, still on the door, and noticed with vague dread that he was clenching it hard enough to turn his knuckles white.

 

“Absolutely not.  It’s clearly better to keep you away if you’re just going to be disruptive—“

 

Narancia must have rushed him, because you watched Fugo suddenly stumble back, flinging his arms forward to contain the other boy.

 

“Fuck you!  Hey!  Hey!  Are you in there?  Can you hear me?” Narancia yelled, forcing his head past Fugo’s arm.  They struggled for a few seconds, and then he finally caught sight of you, still frozen in the hallway.

 

“What’s going on?!  Hey, tell me!”

 

They’re fighting, they’re fighting.  You had to stop them.  Why couldn’t you move?  You couldn’t even open your mouth for words to come out.

 

Enough!”

 

Fugo moved again, leveraging his weight behind his arm and forcing Narancia back a step.  He pulled back and struck a punishing blow, landing a direct hit on the other boy’s head with an almost unnatural force.  You watched his head snap backwards before the rest of him followed, tumbling end over end down the stairs.   Narancia was only still for a moment.  You were still running forward, on the verge of shouting his name, as he began to stand up, frantic concern replaced by a look of absolute murder.  He took a step forward…and stopped.  You collided with Fugo’s arm, thrown forward to prevent you from getting too close to the door, but Narancia didn’t come any closer, just pointed at Fugo accusingly.

 

“This isn’t over.”

 

“Yes, it is!” Fugo shouted, and you were finally able to see the fury that distorted his handsome features.  “I don’t care if you’re on my team, Narancia, you try that again and I’ll kill you.  That’s the only warning you’ll get!”  It must have been unusually hot outside, because heat rose from the pavement in waves, warping your view of Narancia’s face.  Blood was streaming down his chin—no doubt his nose was broken—and while his eyes were watering, you didn’t think it was from the pain.

 

He didn’t say anything more, though, just turned on his heel and stalked off.  Fugo pulled you further away from the door, rougher than he’d ever been before, and slammed the door shut.  He was holding your arm tightly enough that you were starting to lose sensation in your fingers, but loosened his grasp immediately when you tugged away from him and stepped away.  He took several deep breaths, visibly shaking, but you didn’t dare try to touch him.

 

“…go back upstairs.”  He said in a low growl, after the longest pause.  It wasn’t a request, but you were too frightened to comply.

 

“I can’t.”

 

In the past, the glare he gave you would have scared you into immediate compliance.  Now, however, things had changed.  The naked reality of your situation prevented you from playing along any further.

 

“I wasn’t asking.”  Something—and you say that because it certainly wasn’t Fugo—grabbed you by the shoulder and pushed, sending you staggering back several paces.  What the hell was going on? 

 

You could hear your heart pounding in your ears now, and the stress made your breath come in quick and sharp gasps.  Fear worked its fingers into your limbs threatening to paralyze you, but you forced yourself to move your legs, to stand taller and meet his gaze even if you knew he was stronger than you. 

Keep moving, that’s all that’s important.  You won’t solve the problem by freezing.

 

That thought occurred to you first, his words echoing in your head as Fugo took another step forward and grabbed you by the arm once more, pulling you along.  The next thought that occurred to you was the fact that you were still holding your pen.

 

It was a beautiful thing, an expensive thing, given to you when you first started studying here.  A fountain pen, with an elegant wood case and a razor-sharp nib that fit easily into your hand.

 

It sank just as easily, you found out now, into Fugo’s arm, the one that was holding you.  He shouted, more from surprise than pain, and reflexively let go, allowing you to pull away from him and run.  You bolted for the front door, wrenching it open, but stopped before you ran through.

 

The world had changed for you, in a way you hadn’t realized until now.  The distortion you noticed earlier wasn’t because of the heat at all—it was actually quite cool today—but a strange, whitish-purple haze that shrouded the door and front steps.  Your instincts screamed at you to halt, to get away from it, as the withered grass and melted corpse of an unlucky sparrow registered.  You took a step back, but then remembered who was behind you and turned around.  And froze.

 

“Oh my god, what is that?” you whispered.

 

It was tall, tall enough that you had to look up at it even from here.  It moved in time with Fugo’s advance, strangely splotched skin fading in and out of view.  It growled, a low ragged noise you were only registering now, even though something told you it had always been there and you just hadn’t noticed it before.   Fugo paused.  Blood had already soaked that part of his jacket, and you watched droplets hit the linoleum as he pulled your pen out, holding it like some would a knife.  He looked you up and down, considering your words.

 

“You can see it?  Interesting.  I knew you had promise, but I had no idea it would go this far…now I really have to make sure you reach your full potential.”  He stalked forward.

 

You had nowhere to go.  You didn’t understand what was happening, but the haze was still there, and something told you beyond a shadow of a doubt that going through it would kill you, as easily as it did that bird.

 

Given the look on his face, though, it looked like Fugo might kill you anyway.

 

“Since you can see my Stand, it should be easier to explain this to you.” Fugo took a deep breath.  Even now, he was making an effort to speak to you calmly, but you still shrank back as he advanced.

 

“You have nowhere to go.  If you keep trying to run from me, I can’t promise you’ll be able to attend school in the condition I’ll leave you in.  I don’t care what kind of new ability you have, there’s no way you’ll win against me.”

 

He wouldn’t hesitate.  You saw it in his eyes, in the advance of the monster next to him, relentless and unforgiving.  Fugo was Death, and who could fight Death?   Panic screamed in the back of your head, but you weren’t frozen anymore.  You stepped towards him, not in defiance but in compliance. 

 

Submission.

 

“Okay.”  your voice was a whisper.  As if a switch had been flipped, Fugo’s face brightened, an expression that once made your pulse quicken.  You flinched as he brought his arm close to you, but the monster didn’t move with him, just watched silently as he draped his arm around your shoulders and began leading you up the stairs.

Chapter Text

Your reservations for dinner at the Caprice were at six-thirty that evening, which meant that Jean-Pierre Polnareff had been preparing since well before noon.  Everything had to be perfect, after all.

 

He rose with the sun, enjoying the normal routine: three-mile jog first, cold shower next, finishing with a breakfast of whatever the locals enjoyed (here in Hong Kong that meant egg and satay beef with toast) paired with hot black coffee.  By the time eight-thirty found him he almost ready for the day, styling his hair with an attention to detail many would call ‘vanity’.  Polnareff preferred to call it discipline; everything in his life had to be attended to in neat and particular detail.  Things were at their most beautiful when they fell exactly into place, and today was no exception.  He winked at his passing reflection as he stepped outside the hotel room.  The day was coming when his mornings wouldn’t be so solitary, he just knew it.

 

Nine o’clock came and went as the sun overhead turned from mild to overbearing, beating on the crowded pavement.  It was a good thing his destination wasn’t a very far walk, even accounting for all the extra scouting he’d have to do.  When he finally arrived, double-checking the address against a hastily handwritten note, he couldn’t help but nod in approval.

 

Caprice must have been doing well; its premises enjoyed the pricey real-estate of the Hong Kong waterfront, giving diners an excellent view of the Victoria Harbor waterfront as they treated themselves to exquisite French cuisine.  And they were a Michelin star awardee, three of them!  What impeccable taste.  He took a moment to indulge in imagining the walk with you here.  He could see it now: the brightness of your smile, the flattering cut of your dress, the beautiful figure you’d make as you held his arm…if he found himself grinning like a fool as he snagged a copy of the night’s menu and made for a shaded spot across the road, who could blame him?

 

All play and no work wouldn’t make for a good evening, though.  He thumbed through the menu, mentally referencing what he knew of your likes against Caprice’s offerings for the night.  After that, it was another patrol around the block, mapping out the locations of alleys and potential hazards.  After that, it was casing Caprice’s premises again, checking on all the entrances and windows.  After that, it was waiting for the grocers to come by with the meat and produce needed for the day, to make sure it was all up to par.  After that, it was checking the streetlights.

 

After that, it was making sure he knew where the dumpsters were.

 

 

Evening came, bringing with it a balmy nighttime breeze and the sense of hopeful anticipation.  You didn’t normally go to pricey restaurants like Caprice, but your date insisted on treating you, and it was kind of fun to dress up once in a while.

 

You gave yourself a critical once-over in the mirror.  Were you trying too hard?  Was the perfume over the top?  Yes or no on the earrings?  Was it strange to wear jewelry another man gave you to a date?  Maybe—there you go again.  You took a deep breath and stopped yourself before you fell into a spiral of self-doubt.  Something your friend said about posture came to you…you squared your shoulders and pulled yourself up a little more, trying to project a little more confidence.  You looked…fine?  The heart-shaped earrings you were trying on gleamed in the light, perfectly accenting the color of your dress. 

 

Yeah, you were keeping them.  You reached for your clutch and evening jacket and stepped out the door, sending your date a quick text to let him know you were on your way.  He was supposed to meet you there, something your friend had been frowning about, but work kept him busy sometimes—a fact you would have to get used to if this relationship was going to go anywhere—and who died and left Jean-Pierre in charge of what was gentlemanly, anyway?

 

 

Scott cursed to himself and sped up his pace, dodging around pedestrians not walking quickly enough for him.  If he pushed it any faster, he’d be showing up to your dinner disheveled and sweaty, which was embarrassing, but being more than a half hour late was even worse.  He squinted at his phone, re-reading your last few texts and tapping out an apology as he rounded another corner, darting through the dark pool of a broken streetlight.  He was almost there.

 

Hey, I’m really sorry, he typed, eyes fixed on his phone, I’m—

 

Something grabbed him by the neck and pulled, lifting him clean off his feet and dragging him sideways into the waiting mouth of a side street.  He slammed against the brick wall with a painful thud, kicking his feet helplessly.  Something skittered to the side with the scraping sounds of plastic, and out of the corner of his eye he could see his phone, screen still illuminated with the message he had been trying to send.

 

“You’ve kept me waiting, you piece of shit.”  His attacker’s words were calm and dangerous, emphasized by the sudden increase of pressure on his throat, cutting off his air.  What the hell was holding him?  His hands swatted at empty air, trying and failing to force whatever was holding him away.

 

“I don’t—“ Scott wheezed, unsure of what he would have said even if he could complete the sentence.  I don’t know what you’re talking about?  I don’t have any money?

 

“You really don’t, do you?  You don’t deserve to clean the mud from her shoes, much less enjoy her company.”  It was too dark too see much, but the other man was tall, tall enough to be at eye level even with Scott’s feet dangling a good four inches off the ground.  His first instinct was to lash out, try to get loose and run away, but he could feel the power in his attacker’s physique as he roughly pinned Scott’s arm to the side and began searching through his pockets.   

 

“It’s dangerous to walk these streets alone, especially after dark.  Does her safety matter that little to you?  You’d really be careless enough to send her somewhere strange by herself, sitting on your ass until you felt like joining her?  You’d dare insult her like that?”  Scott felt his wallet and keys leave his pocket still struggling to catch up to what was happening.  Was this a mugging after all?  Some weird vigilante stunt? 

 

And then the other guy’s fist hit him, squarely in the solar plexus, and a sunrise bloomed behind his eyelids and all Scott could think was oh my god don’t kill me don’t let me die I’m sorry I won’t—

 

“Mon dieu, listen to you snivel.  That was just a love tap.”  Contempt dripped from his attacker’s lips, and Scott realized he’d been released, falling to his knees in a limp heap, too busy trying to remember how to breathe to make a run for it.  Had he been murmuring those words, that litany of please for mercy?  He wheezed.

 

“You’ve already got my money,” he whispered, hands raised, “you can take my phone—I don’t have anything else—please just let me—“

“Let you go?”  The other man repeated, apparently unable to believe the words coming out of his mouth.  “You mean you aren’t even going to try to fight back?”  A car passed the street they were near, briefly offering enough light to see by, and for a single second Scott finally saw the other man’s face.  There was something vaguely familiar about him, as if they’d passed each other in the street once before, but what struck Scott most in that instant was his eyes.  They were steel-grey, highlighted by sharp cheeks and a striking brow, but utterly without light or pity.  They could have belonged to a shark.

 

And in that moment, with complete and horrible clarity, Scott knew this man planned to kill him.

 

He took a chance, scrambling to the side and filling his lungs with breath.  H-“

 

Blood filled his mouth instantly as something pierced his tongue and the flesh of the chin below it, strangling his cry and making him choke.  His hands flew to his mouth, a reflexive attempt to staunch the flow and defend against whatever inflicted the agony, but he couldn’t see the blade that stabbed him.

 

The other man hadn’t even moved

 

“I could be a villain.  A rapist, a killer, some swine that saw your girl and decided he wanted to have her for himself.  And when confronted with this, your instinct is to…grovel?  To beg?  Would you have thrown her to whoever asked if it meant you could flee with your skin intact?”

 

Whatever stabbed him was still there, Scott realized, because he couldn’t close his mouth, and something pushed further until a point dug into his throat, just above the clavicle.  Writhing in agony didn’t budge it, didn’t do anything, as if the air itself had turned solid and was holding him in place.  All he could do was feel the blood trickle down his throat, unable to even cough as it began to flow down his windpipe and into his lungs. 

 

“I won’t waste her time any more than you already have.  Goodbye.”

 

It was with those words in his ears that Scott died, a sword he couldn’t see driving itself even deeper and impaling his heart with surgical precision.

 

Polnareff took a deep, shuddering breath and stepped away from the body, snatching up the phone before its screen turned off.  He’d gotten more worked up than he thought…it wouldn’t do to approach you like this.  You might get worried.

 

With barely a thought he ordered Silver Chariot to get to work, propping open the lid of the nearby dumpster.

 

 

You were an idiot.

 

It was impossible to keep a sigh down, rereading your latest message with a heavy feeling in your chest that was something worse than disappointment. 

 

Hey, I’m really sorry, but I can’t do this.  It’s not you, it’s me, I swear.  Get home safe.

 

Sure.  Sure, okay, Scott.  Asshole.

 

Was there any point in hanging around here, anymore?  You could afford the plate, but there was a special kind of humiliation in eating dinner alone when you were supposed to have a date, especially when the waiter kept shooting you sympathetic glances.  You raised your hand to ask for the check.

 

“…oh!  Cherie, what a surprise!”

 

You jumped at the familiar voice.  Jean was making his way towards you with a broad grin, ignoring the waitress leading him to his own table.  You returned the smile, in spite of yourself.

 

“Hi, Jean.  Wow, you’re eating here tonight, too?”

 

You hadn’t seen him in a suit before.  He cleaned up…well, great, actually.  His eyes passed over your face, apparently thinking the same thing about you, and a blush heated your cheeks as you suddenly remembered you were wearing his earrings.

 

He pressed a hand to his chest, letting the moment pass.  “Guilty as charged.  It’s nice to have a fine dinner, but nicer still to enjoy it with fine company.  You wouldn’t happen to be with anyone tonight, I hope…?”

 

Scott’s last message was still burned into your mind, and the flare of anger welling up in you made you adventurous enough to take a chance.  “Oh, no, that’s not…I mean, not at all!  Do you want to sit down?”

 

His grin got even wider.  “Nothing would make me happier, believe me.”

Chapter Text

Night fell over Cairo with a sense of dreadful inevitability, strangling the final rays of sunlight until all that remained was all-consuming darkness punctuated by streetlights.  You had run out of time.

 

You bit your lip as bitter frustration welled up in your throat, pulling the ill-fitting jacket tighter against the evening chill.  The rough pavement scraped at your bare feet as you moved with the crowd, making you wish you’d thought to bargain for a pair of sandals in addition to your stolen clothes.  It wasn’t all bad, though; discomfort aside, you looked like a beggar, someone nobody would spare a second glance for, and that was an important asset in itself.

 

Escaping Dio’s mansion should have been the greatest of your hurdles—even with the peak hours of daylight on your side, you had to evade the Stand users guarding the perimeter—but once you were free and seemingly in the clear, it became immediately apparent to you that you had nowhere to go.  With no documentation it was impossible to go to the airport and flee, and without money (and no real way of getting any, since your Stand was still recovering from its near-destruction) you had no real bargaining power with the disinterested locals.  Worse still was the fact that you had to contend with spies everywhere—twice now you’d spotted the familiar flesh bud hidden just behind the hairline of someone who seemed willing to help, and fled before it was too late.  The precious few hours of daylight that were your best chance to put distance between yourself and the monster that decided you were his had completely run out.  In these hours that allowed him to move freely, all you could do was hide and wait out the hunt until morning.

 

Fatigue made your shoulders slump and feet drag as you flowed with the crowd to the next street.  Was it from the anemia or the stress?  You caught a glimpse of your face in a nearby window and winced at the dark circles under your eyes, reflexively pulling the collar of the shirt higher to hide the bruises and bite marks.  Your time in captivity had more or less forced you to transition to a nocturnal lifestyle, which meant that by now you were running on twenty-two hours without sleep, but collapsing on the sidewalk to rest felt laughable.  To stop now was to surrender.

 

And then you rounded the corner, still desperately trying to forget your weak knees and clammy sweat—more symptoms of a problem you could do nothing about—and realized that it didn’t matter.  As if your body moved on its own, you pulled to the side and darted down the mouth of an alley, hoping against hope that you hadn’t been seen.

 

Dio stood a full head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd, walking unhindered, as if he could part the sea of bodies with barely a thought.  His path had been perpendicular to yours, and his eyes seemed focused only on what was in front of him.

 

If he saw you, it was over.  You quickened your pace, feeling the ground bite into your feet and skipping around the glint of broken bottles, making your way for whatever was up ahead.  You didn’t dare think of trying to lose yourself in the crowd again; even without the weapon of his strange charisma, Dio had absolutely no problem with collateral damage.  It was laughable, but even with the threat looming over your head, you couldn’t bring yourself to needlessly kill innocent people.

 

Not least because he would tell you all about them, whispering the words of their last screams and useless pleas into your ear as he punished you, putting his hands wherever he pleased and sinking his fangs into your throat with gleeful abandon—

 

“If you were bored, you could have told me.  I’m never too busy to play with you.”  the voice that broke into your thoughts was soft but cold, laden with the unspoken promise of imminent violence.  You cowered, pressing your back against the rough brick, hands clasped over your face to suppress a pitiful whimper.

 

Fifteen feet away, as if waiting for you there all along, Dio stood, the shadow he cast nearly bridging the distance between the two of you.  Golden hair gleamed in the weaker light, highlighting his eyes as they drank in your fear with predatory delight.  If he was this close, it was already over.  Running was pointless.

 

You ran.  You threw yourself into the motion, deaf to his derisive laughter you fled, feet pounding the pavement in a graceless sprint that carried you past the blur of buildings and tents and confused passerby.  The tattered shards of your wounded Stand coalesced inside your chest, ready to put up whatever fight it could if it could buy you even a moment.  You took a risk and glanced behind you.

 

Dio hadn’t moved a muscle, standing exactly where you had left him, but you didn’t dare feel relief; if he wasn’t chasing you, it was because you weren’t far away enough.  You turned your head back, breathing deeply to keep running—

 

“Agh!”

 

As if colliding with a wall, you went flying, hitting the ground with enough force to bounce, finally landing face up.  You gasped for breath, blinking away stars as you struggled to sit up and see what you had run into, but Dio (how could it be him?  He hadn’t even moved) was already upon you, straddling your waist and pinning you down.

 

Fear, the thoughtless impulse that overrode even the strongest of survival instincts, forced your Stand out, driving its attack towards his face to try to get him off you—

 

“Enough of that.  You’ve already lost, be gracious about it.”  Dio had the nerve to be calm as he admonished you, the golden arm belonging to The World effortlessly deflecting your attack and catching the Stand by its throat, slamming its head onto the ground beside yours.  Stars bloomed behind your eyelids.  The Stand dissolved into empty air once more in a vain effort to relieve the crushing pressure on your neck, but Dio’s grip (now his hand, his real hand, on your own throat) didn’t relent.  He moved his thumb under your chin, forcing your head to the side so he could admire the bruise blooming along your jaw.  All you could see was the leer of his face and the unfathomably black sky overhead.

 

“L…go…” you whispered as your world became tinged with black.  Dio pretended to think about it, feeling the desperate heave of your chest beneath him.

 

“Oh…if you insist,” he finally said, loosening his grip just enough to let air into your lungs once more, “I suppose you deserve a reward for such a challenging chase, even if it was over too quickly.”  He lowered his head to your shoulder, eliciting a shudder as he licked a long stripe against your bare skin, lapping at the blood that flowed from the fresh scrape.

 

“I wonder what my prize should be for winning this round,” he murmured in your ear, “you gave me quite the handicap, running away like that in the middle of the day…I don’t think a kiss will be enough.”

 

His free hand wandered up your chest, tracing the light blue veins that pulsed with your frantic heartbeat.  If you had the air, you would have gasped at the unnatural sensation as his fingers suddenly slid beneath the skin of your neck, caressing your jugular in an uncomfortably intimate way you could only call fondling.

“S-stop—“

 

Dio frowned as he withdrew the hand, a surprisingly petulant expression.  The next thing you registered was the sound of the slap, before you felt it, a stinging pain that grounded you in the moment as much as it hurt.

 

“I said to be gracious,” he hissed, “you’ve already lost.  The only words that will be coming from your lips are ‘please’ and ‘yes’, or I’ll feed you your tongue as one of my rewards.”  The hand returned to your neck as he began to almost wind your artery around his finger, relishing the fear in your face.

 

Prize.  Reward.  Your desperate escape attempts were life or death to you, but to him they were a game.  The euphemisms made you sick, but you had no choice but to play along.  You didn’t nod—you didn’t have the strength to—but he could feel your compliance in the way your body went limp beneath him. 

 

“That’s more like it.”  The fingers shifted, and you spasmed briefly at the horribly familiar rush of pain (and pleasure, you were ashamed to say) as he began to drink from you.  The moment he tasted your blood he all but moaned, barely restrained in his obscenity, leaning forward to force his lips onto yours.

 

Dio was not gentle in anything he did; his grip was still enough to render you lightheaded, and when he kissed it was almost overwhelming.  You tasted blood, but it was unclear whether it was from earlier or the cut in your lip from where he bit you.  You could feel your Stand writhe, somewhere in your heart, desperate to come to your aid but powerless to do anything but worsen your punishment.  His tongue invaded your mouth, unwilling to leave any part of you unclaimed, and it took several seconds for you to realize he was mumbling something.

 

Mine.  Mine.  Mine…the world spun as the words echoed in your ears, to the point where you no longer knew if you were merely hearing them or if they had become your thoughts. 

 

“It’s so brazen of you, seducing me like this…you’ve gotten me excited.”  Dio finally pulled back, withdrawing his other hand from your neck, and in the streetlights you could see his fingertips were glossy with your own blood.  He licked at his fingers slowly, suggestively, putting on a show of how delicious you tasted.  You realized, with a faraway sense of awareness, that he had released your throat entirely, allowing you to breathe again.  When he stood up it was slowly, deliberately, comfortable in the knowledge that you didn’t have it in you to run no matter how much your instincts screamed at you to.

 

“I can’t drink much more from you—you’ll be going into shock soon—but I’m sure you can think of other ways to satisfy me.”  He gathered you into his arms in a parody of intimacy, letting your head rest against the cool skin of his neck.

 

“I really do love these games you play with me.  You really should learn by now—no matter where you go, I’ll find you eventually.”

Chapter Text

You hated nail polish.  The whole process of manicures, in fact, seemed like a frustrating hassle, far too much effort for a result that would only chip in a few days anyway, something that was…girly, in a way you instinctively shied away from.  Your friends would admire your hands and complain that leaving them bare was a waste of good genetics, but you were perfectly content to simply regard their nails with vague admiration and leave things at that.  When would you ever need to learn, anyway?

 

“Fuck.” you swore under your breath as your hand trembled, moving the brush in the wrong direction and ruining the coat yet again.  Reaching for the rubbing alcohol and undoing everything for the umpteenth time was the last thing you wanted to do—you’d already been at this for over an hour—but entertaining the idea only reminded you of the last time you’d given into the impulse.  You saw his face in your mind’s eye, clear as day, the handsome cheekbones and elegantly styled light hair framing cold grey eyes that betrayed no hint of emotion but communicated profound disappointment all the same.

 

“Even young girls can do this properly, it’s one of the first things they teach each other.  How is this so difficult for you?”

 

The mere memory of hearing him say the words made your heart wobble.  You scrubbed at the fresh paint with new fervor, erasing the thought of having to actually hear them again with each stroke.  You’d do it right.  You could do this right.  It was easy.

 

You’d never paid attention to the routine before, but in only a short time you knew it intimately.  You knew how to push your cuticles back (an intimidating process that drew blood the first time you tried it) and to lay a clear base.  You knew how long to wait between coats and how to brush them for the best consistency and coverage, and you knew to coat the undersides of your nails with the topcoat to keep them from chipping for longer.

 

Only a month or two ago, if someone told you you’d learn to do all this for some guy, you would have laughed in their face.  You tried not to think about that, just pushed past the fatigue of making such tightly controlled motions for so long and tried again, watching the rainbow flecks of the micro glitter swirl against deep blue in the wake of the brush.  It was a good thing you were on the very last nail.  There wasn’t much time before you had to go to work, and Kira hated to be kept waiting.

 

You waved your hand in the air in an effort to get the last coat to dry faster, capping the bottles with your free hand and putting them away.  These, too, had a particular order to be in, and you weren’t sloppy enough to forget again.  Everything had its place.

 

Time to go.  You took a glance at yourself in the mirror, adjusted your slacks and dress shirt, and made for the door, stepping into the hallway.

 

“Kira?  I’m ready to go,” you called for your boyfriend (it still felt a little weird to think of him as that) and made your way down the stairs.  Yoshikage Kira waited for you near the front door, standing between you and your shoes, making a show of adjusting his tie even though his appearance had never been short of what you’d call ‘effortlessly immaculate’.  It was enough to make you straighten your shirt again, a little more nervously this time, even though you’d already confirmed you looked professional enough moments ago.

 

Kira gave you a very obvious once-over as you came to a stop in front of him, finally reaching forward to redo the button at the very top of your shirt.  The sensation of his hands, close enough to your neck that you could feel their warmth, was enough to make your breath hitch, but he graciously ignored it. 

“That’s all anyone else should be seeing of you.  You look very professional.”  He raised his hand, a wordless invitation (or an order, something in your head whispered) and you complied, resting your hand in his.  He tilted his hand, letting the light catch your fingers from all angles, regarding your work in complete silence.  You couldn’t help but hold your breath.

 

“Very nice.” Your heart fluttered at the words, so simple yet rarely heard from him.  “I can see you’ve been improving with practice, I told you this wasn’t hard.  Although…” a frown creased his thin features, “I’m not sure about the color.  Don’t you think the glitter’s a little childish?”

 

You felt your heart sink.  “But…you said it was fine, when I picked it out.”  This was stupid.  It was your nails, it should have been fine if you liked it.  Ever since your relationship began, however, it became increasingly obvious that Kira was far more sophisticated than you were.  You found yourself acting in response, changing how you dressed and even what you cooked, a childish compulsion to please him, to live up to the standards he set for you.

 

“For work?  When you wanted to buy this I assumed it was for a night out or the weekend, so I didn’t raise any objections.”  He eyed the clock overhead.  “You don’t have any time to change it.  Come on; traffic will be terrible.”  He stepped aside, letting your hand fall out of his grasp as you stepped into your shoes.  Without another word, Kira opened the door and walked you to his car, letting his arm rest around your shoulders in a way that was almost possessive.

 

But I don’t want to change the color, you thought but didn’t say.

 

 

“…and that’s how I got Sato to start putting his laundry away!”  Suzuki, one of your coworkers, finished her latest spiel about her adventures in childcare, sitting back for your reaction with an expectant grin.  You gently nudged her to move her leg, letting you finish filling out the form, and gave a noncommittal hum of acknowledgement.  Lunch hour was only ten minutes away but really couldn’t come fast enough.

 

“Everyone kept telling me ‘oh, once he’s got the habit it’ll be so hard to change’, but once you know the trick it’s actually really easy,” she wound a brunette curl around her finger with a knowing smile.  Suzuki was a nice enough coworker, older than you and modern enough to work despite being a mother, but she had a frustrating ability to carry on a conversation almost entirely one-sidedly, and learning to tune her out was almost a prerequisite for your job.

 

“It’s just boiling the frog.  All you need is patience.”

 

The strangeness of the phrase made you pause, and you watched her grin broaden as you stared up in incomprehension.  “‘Boiling the…frog’?”

 

She clapped her hands, loudly enough to draw looks from others in the office.  “Funny saying, right?  I picked it up on a trip to America.  Basically, instead of trying to do everything all at once, you change things gradually, one at a time, and wait.  They get so used to things that they’re doing everything you want, and they don’t even notice the change!  Next I’m going to do it with vegetables.  You’ll definitely want to do things like that when you’ve got kids of your own!” she gave a knowing wink, despite the fact that you’d never once expressed the slightest interest in children.  She opened her mouth to continue some other story about parental wisdom she wanted to pass to you, and you went back to work, hearing her voice muffle into a background drone that was almost musical.

 

A shadow loomed over you, breaking into your thoughts.  The next thing you registered was that Suzuki’s presence had mysteriously vanished from your desk, freeing up a good third of the space. 

 

Kira loomed over you, beautiful even in the fluorescent lights that flattered nobody.  His hand came over your own, stilling your pen.

 

“What are you doing?  Lunch has started.  Hurry, we’ve only got an hour and I want to have Saint Gentlemen’s.”  Normally you would have objected—not even Suzuki would interrupt you in the middle of work, and there were only a couple lines left on the form—but Saint Gentlemen’s was popular, and missing out on lunch would put Kira in a bad mood.  You put the pen down and stood up.  It felt bold to grab Kira’s arm as the two of you walked out, but he didn’t pull away this time; when you looked up at his face, you realized it must have been because he was distracted, glancing over his shoulder with an unreadable expression.

 

“What’s wrong?”  You waited until the two of you were alone in the elevator to ask.  You hated to look like you were gossiping.  He took a deep breath.

 

“It’s nothing, really…I just dislike two-faced people, who smile to your face but laugh at you behind your back.  I’m so glad you’re nothing like that.”

 

You watched the lights on the display slowly count down, itching to press but unsure if you should.  “Like…did something happen?”

 

He looked at you out of the corner of his eye and then reached out, once again holding you close. 

 

“I don’t want to upset you.  We’re about to have lunch, I’d hate to ruin the mood.”

 

Memory flashed.  It was Suzuki he’d been staring at. 

 

“Was it Suzuki?  Did she say something about you?”  The elevator doors opened, and Kira stepped out with you, holding you tight against the crowd flowing out the doors into the warm sunshine.

 

“Actually, it was about you.  She’d been laughing with some friends on her break, while you were still working.  ‘They’re so gullible,’” Kira repeated in a high-pitched imitation of your coworker, “‘Did you see their face when I joked that their work was worth the promotion?  I trust the part-time hires more!’”  His face betrayed no emotion, but you felt your stomach twist as you began to rethink every compliment or comment she ever told you in a new light.  Was that really how she felt?  Why didn’t she say anything?  She—

 

Kira took your chin in his hand, turning your face to meet his.  Something like amusement tugged at the corner of his mouth.

 

“You’re so easy to rile up.  Didn’t I tell you I didn’t want to ruin your mood?  Forget about it.  You aren’t even friends with her.”

 

I thought I was, you thought but didn’t say.

 

 

“You’re lovely to look at, and so intelligent.  You’re just so…unpolished.  Only with my help can you really shine.”

 

Those were the words Kira said to you that first night you began dating.  You would have laughed, but you could tell by the conviction in his eyes that he was completely serious, so you played along, even if you didn’t have any idea what he was talking about.

 

As time went on, however, you began to realize just how right he was.

 

You were careless.  Time and time again you’d found yourself locked out of the house or missing your wallet, only for Kira to check—with you in hysterics—only to produce the missing item from a pocket you must have forgotten to check.  You’d misplace laundry, and Kira would have to buy you new clothes.

 

You were naive.  Suzuki was the first of your silent bullies you learned about, but she wouldn’t be the last; it seemed like everyone at the office was undermining you somehow, and if Kira hadn’t been acting as your silent guardian you’re sure you’d be the office fool still.  It had been enough to make you quit your job from the stress, though Kira had been more than gracious enough to keep you at his home to recover in peace.

 

You were hysterical.  Too often you got yourself worked up, imagining that Kira said something hurtful, that he was trying to control you, that he told you this or that or locked you in your room.  It was in the moments of clarity that followed, moments that swept you up in shame and embarrassment, that made you realize that you’d imagined it all.  The stress of being the hunted at your job, of everyone being against you, was threatening to turn you against the one man truly and unconditionally on your side.

 

Kira had been so patient.  He helped you through it all, tolerating both when you hurled insults at him through the door he you locked to the moments of weakness when you sobbed like a baby into his chest.

 

“Structure,” was all he would say in those times.  “Structure is what will put your mind in order and make you stronger.  You’re very close, you just need me to help you a little more.”

 

He was right.  It was only when you knew you were following his lead that you really felt safe, that you could wear that coat or follow that recipe without being sure that you were somehow making a mistake.  The agonizing hours that he was gone (“I still have to work to support you, dear,” he said with a smile as you opened the door for him to leave) were almost suffocating.  Those rare, rare nights when he was out for longer than normal were the worst, when you genuinely felt that you were going to die.

 

Even so, it was with numb incomprehension that you watched him crush pills from an orange prescription bottle and tip them into the pot he stirred.  He caught your eye and smiled reassuringly, turning the label away from your view.

 

“To help you sleep tonight,” he offered as explanation, “I have to work late, but I don’t want you to be up all night worrying for me.  You’re fine with it, right?”

 

The idea of being awake and by yourself was awful.  The idea of being drugged—unconscious and vulnerable to whoever happened by—was borderline unbearable.  No, you felt the word push behind your lips, but you couldn’t make yourself say it.  You nodded slowly.

 

Kira tilted his head, a satisfied smile that made your heart flutter with pleasure.  If it made him happy with you, if it made you less unmanageable, maybe it couldn’t be that bad.  He gestured to the dinner table, where a small bottle of nail polish waited.  You could see your reflection in its pearly pink sheen as you approached.

 

“A new shade was released at the department store today.  I’d love to see it on you; we have enough time before dinner’s ready.”

 

You looked at the label, some high-end brand you would never buy on your own.  Killer Queen.

 

“It suits you, doesn’t it?”

Chapter Text

Those who become doctors do so for one of two reasons: the love of life, or the love of power.

 

When you graduated medical school and took your first steps on the path to becoming a surgeon, you were certain that you would be surrounded by peers like yourself, peers who respected life and worked to save it when they could and protect its dignity when they couldn’t.  What other reason was there to attend all those torturous years of studying and sleepless nights?  What other reason was there to endure the constant sight of flesh being sliced open and stitched back together, the terror and grief of loved ones forced to wait outside the operating theatre, the unrelentingly ugly reality of the dying?

 

The longer you worked, the better you knew.  You heard the cruel laughter of other doctors as they mocked their patients and traded stories.  You were there in the operating room when another surgeon walked in, flipped up the sheet to admire the patient’s breasts and continued his conversation with the nurse like nothing happened.  You watched the hope and energy drain from those around you, replaced by cynical and shrewd opportunism, until you barely recognized the people you began working with.

 

Granted, that could have just been because everyone kept transferring.

 

“I’ve finished my residency,” Doctor Bisco had told you with an unapologetic shrug as he carried his box down the hall like a trophy, “and I got a great offer from San Giovanni.  I’m outta here.  You’re sure you want to take over my current patients?

 

What, like you’re still going to take care of them?  You wanted to say, but held your tongue.  It wasn’t wrong to want more money—nobody would deny you were being overworked, least of all you—but something gnarled and angry stirred in the bottom of your heart when you heard him talk about numbers and connections, like it was all that mattered.  Like the politics of the administration mattered more than the people.

 

When you opened the door to your office and found Doctor Cioccolata Torte sitting in your chair and drinking coffee out of your mug, you started to wonder if maybe they did.

 

“Doctor Amaretto!  Having a good shift so far, I hope?” the man exclaimed as he set your mug down and smacked his lips, giving you a very obvious once over.  You felt your jaw twitch.  Rather than say the impulsively stupid first words that came to mind, you took a moment to wonder if his black lipstick was that shiny because it was freshly applied.

 

“Doctor Torte.  I’ve asked you not to use a nickname with me,” you ignored his question and walked to the desk, unable to shake the feeling of being a visitor in your own office.  You moved your mug away from him and resisted the urge to immediately throw it in the garbage can—even if the lipstick came off, you weren’t sure you were willing to drink from something he touched no matter how much you washed it. 

 

“I’ve also asked you to remember boundaries.  You’re not supposed to be in here when I’m gone…”  Were these papers in the order you left them in?  What else had been touched?  Torte frowned, but it apparently wasn’t at your rebuke.

 

“I keep telling you to call me Cioco-lata!” he whined.  “We’ve worked together too long for you to be this formal!”

 

“Well, I keep asking you not to call me Amaretto,” you said evenly.  “Use the name I have, not the one you gave me.”

 

The nickname, while cute, wasn’t a flattering one.  You had rankled at Torte’s dismissive bedside manner and the way the hospital administration blatantly favored him.  He was their celebrity surgeon, the skilled doctor called upon to take care of the politicians and rich businessmen when they needed medical care, and in exchange for high-profile success (and the large donations that followed) was given next to no real oversight.  Most of your peers were happy to follow suit, trying to curry favor with either him or those in power.

 

Those who love life and those who love power will never be friends.

 

“That’s so cute of you!” Doctor Torte had laughed, seeing the grit of your teeth when you caught him videotaping a patient’s agony-induced babbling, “You seem sweet, but you’re bitter.  Just a little bitter.  Well, Amaretto ?  If you have a problem, surely you should go and tell the director?”

 

The taunt echoed in your ears even today, silencing the comment you were about to make about knowing for a fact that the door was locked when you left.

 

Shouldn’t you tell the director?

 

A long moment passed as Torte leaned back in his seat, toying with one of your pens as he regarded you thoughtfully.  There had always been something unidentifiable in the way he stared at you that made your skin crawl.  You knew what lust looked like, and you’d definitely caught it in his face before, and you’d seen amusement when he watched you mentally grapple with the fact that no complaint to administration would touch him.  This was something else.

 

This was something that only showed on his face in the rare moments the two of you were alone, and the unsettling sense that it was just barely restrained made your gut twist in a nameless reaction that could only be called fear

 

You wanted to open the door behind you, but that would require you to turn your back to Torte.  That was out of the question, so instead you took a deep breath.

 

“What can I help you with?”  You felt your tone get even more clipped, stretching the limits of professional politeness.

 

“I want you…” Torte paused, tasting the words, but then apparently remembered the rest of the question.  “I want you to change your scheduling.  Give your cases to Madeline, or Pignoli—I’ve seen the patients you’re supposed to work on!  You’re one of the brightest surgeons on this staff and they fill your days with cholecystectomies and artery bypasses for riffraff that would just get sick again anyway…” he waved his hands, words no longer sufficient for his contempt.

 

“I ch—“ you began, but he continued as if you hadn’t.

 

“You’ll never grow as a doctor like this.  You could be brilliant, but you’re too worried about cleaning up the trash.”

 

The phase change from ‘strong dislike’ to ‘outright hate’ was like a plunge into icy water, powerful enough to make you dizzy.  You felt yourself flush as your heart hammered behind your ribs, and in the next moment realized you’d moved forward to lean over the desk, close enough to Torte’s face to kiss.

 

“I chose,” you repeated slowly, carefully, determined to make every syllable sink in, “to treat them all.  Everyone I could, especially the ones people like you would ignore.”

 

His eyes were so dark.  Wide and black and empty, like a shark’s.  How had you never noticed before?  How had you never seen the nothing behind his eyes?

 

“I am a doctor, and that means I heal people.  I will heal whoever I can, no matter how trivial their condition is or how little they can pay, until my heart gives out.  Are you hearing me?  Keep your politics and connections to yourself.  I’ll work in the ER until I drop dead if I have to, because I’ll die first before I become anything like you.”

 

“I understand completely,” Torte muttered, voice soft. 

 

“Great!”  You straightened up and walked away to throw the door open.  It hit the wall with a bang, rattling the pictures of your dogs in their frames.  You gestured with a sweep of your arm.

 

Get out of my office.”

 

Doctor Torte left quietly, almost meekly, pausing to study your face on his way out.  It wasn’t until you heard the sound of his footsteps recede completely that you began to breathe normally again.

 

 

You couldn’t help but sigh as you finished dropping off your tools at the decontamination area.  The end of your shift was finally, finally in sight.  The only thing holding you up at the moment was sheer willpower, and when you made your way back to your office all you could think about was collapsing into your chair, getting to rest.

 

“Doctor Amaretto!”  Hurried footsteps as someone rushed for you from behind.

 

What?” You jerked your head, a rebuke on your lips—I don’t care if he does it, you can’t call me that—and paused when you realized you didn’t recognize the wide-eyed young nurse in pale green scrubs, mask pulled up almost over his eyes.  You sighed and ran a hand through your hair as he kept pace alongside.

 

“I’m so sorry about that, you must be new and I’m very tired.  Amaretto is…an office nickname, one I’m not fond of.”  You tapped your nametag. “Call me this instead, okay?”

 

“You’re needed for a surgery in the new wing,” the nurse replied instead of answering, “I’m supposed to take you there.”

 

It was enough to make you stop dead.  Now?  But nothing had been scheduled.  The image of your beloved office chair loomed in your mind.  God, you needed to sit down…

 

“It’s an emergency,” the nurse offered, “life or death.  You’re the only one who can do it.  Won’t you come?”

 

You felt another sigh escape you.

 

“Alright.  Lead the way…ah, you’ve forgotten your nametag…”

 

“Secco,” he replied, picking up speed to lead you away from the main operating theaters.  You made one turn after another—this hospital was the oldest in Milan, and the layout could get confusing—until you started looking for signs or familiar faces to try and figure out where you were.  Fewer and fewer doctors milled around as you walked, and soon the only people in the hall were you and Secco.  Finally, just when you were sure he had gotten the both of you lost, Secco pulled a door open and stood aside, a mute invitation.

 

The operating theater was empty.  You blinked a couple times to check if maybe you were hallucinating (you weren’t).

 

“I don’t understand.  Where’s the patient?”  You turned, hoping for an explanation, directly into a savage blow as Secco struck.  Your vision filled with white as he drove his fist into your temple.  A strangled half-cry of pain echoed in the theatre as you collapsed, gracelessly falling to the floor until your head rested on the cool tile.  The blurry silhouette of a man wavered in your vision, looming over you.  In the next instant, it was two.

 

“You’re so funny, Doctor Amaretto,” Cioccolatta Torte laughed, an unnaturally high pitched sound as Secco stepped away to shut the door, “she’s right here.”

 

He drew his leg back as if preparing a kick, but you blacked out in the moment it connected.

 

 

You were so cold.

 

The sterile air was absolutely freezing, wafting over your bare skin (what happened to your coat and scrubs?).  You were reclining, resting in a chair, and for a foolish moment you let yourself believe that you were back at your office, waking up from an unproductive nap and a disturbing nightmare.

 

Whatever your head rested on was warm, someone’s shoulder.  That someone’s fingers were trailing through your hair, moving it away from your face, and that forced you to open your eyes.  Nobody touched you like this. 

 

The first thing you registered was the lens.  A camera loomed in front of you, fixed on your face, held by that nurse—if he even was a nurse—capturing every minute expression in your face.  And if he was here, then that was…

 

You recoiled, pulling your head as far away from Doctor Torte as you could.  This turned out to be a few centimeters, because you weren’t reclining in a chair, you were bound to it.

 

“Did you have to wake up so soon?  I was enjoying that.” Torte pouted, having the nerve to look hurt, and then looked at Secco.  “It’s recording, right?  Plenty of battery?  I won’t forgive you if you mess this one up.”

 

Your breath came in shaky gasps, but you forced yourself to look around.  The lights here were bright, too bright for you to make out much more than the men before you and a small table of surgical tools.  You had no idea where you were, but the feeling in the air made you worry that it wasn’t anywhere in the hospital.

 

“Doctor Torte—“ you began, but the words died in your throat as he grabbed you, cupping your cheeks in his hands and forcing you to look him in the eyes.

 

“I keep telling you,” he breathed, “to call me Cioccolata.  When you’re begging, when you’re pleading, when you’re screaming, you’ll say Cioccolata, or the first thing I’ll do is take the tongue out of your head.”

 

Were you going to die?  The frenzied intensity in Cioc—Torte’s eyes seemed to promise nothing else.

 

The moment passed, and he took a deep breath and stepped away.  “You’re just trying to get me worked up,” he mused with a smile, “that’s what this is.  It won’t work!  This is going to be special.  It’s like a first date.”

 

You heard the camera whir as Secco zoomed in, taking in different parts of your face with shaky glee.

 

“Doctor T—Cioccolata,” you hated the waver in your voice when you said the words, watching him select a large needle and an IV bag from a box (they didn’t gag you because it didn’t matter if you screamed, nobody was coming and that meant nobody would save you if he really did cut your tongue out).  “This is insane.  This is murder—“

 

“Exciting, right?”  You recoiled at his clammy touch when he put his hands on you again, poking at the flesh of your elbow.  He plunged the needle in without any preamble, eliciting a spasm of agony; he’d missed the vein.

 

He frowned as your face twisted in pain, but the camera was still going.  “Oops.  You know, you really should hydrate better if you don’t want this to happen.”

 

“Why are you doing this?” you hated, hated how your voice had become a whisper.  All the angry courage you had in your office this morning had completely evaporated, leaving you weak and trembling and alone in front of Death and his sycophant. 

 

And every instant of it was going to be preserved, forever.

 

Cioccolata sank the needle into your arm again, this time a cold pinching sensation instead of the electric pain you’d felt before.  He taped the tube in place and attached the IV to some point behind your head, somewhere he couldn’t see.  He stood, pausing to caress your jawline before his fingers wandered down to the frantic rhythm of your pulse. 

 

“You’d die first, right?  That’s what you said.”  The words he threw back at you were casual, infuriatingly so, as if their significance was no greater than the date and time of an appointment.  He walked back to the table, laid out with all its implements, and selected a syringe from a styrofoam box. 

 

“I wasn’t sure what to do with you, at first.  I thought about cutting the median nerve in your wrists and taking your talented hands from you forever…” he chuckled to himself and tapped the syringe, watching the clear liquid flow around, “but that seemed wasteful.  Maybe I’ll do it if you’ve been bad, but I didn’t want it to be what made you mine.”

 

“In fact, until this morning I wasn’t sure what I would do to you.  I knew what I wanted to build up to, but not how to start, what that first operation between us should be…and then you had a brilliant idea!  You’re so smart.”  he winked.  The needle gleamed in the light, laden with unspoken promise, but it was that look on his face again—the one you saw in your office, the one that only came out when you were alone and there was nobody to help you—that really frightened you.

You couldn’t help it.  You writhed in your restraints, desperately, as he approached, though they were tight enough that moving even a half-centimeter was out of the question.  You watched, helplessly, as the needle plunged into the IV, delivering its payload straight into your veins.

 

“What is that—what is—don’t—“ you babbled, even though it was far too late to do anything.  Cioccolata didn’t reply, just stroked your head.

 

“You’ll be fine.  You’ll be fine…when we watch this together later, you’ll laugh at how hysterical you were over this.”

 

You wanted to throw up, but you forced yourself to try to control your breathing, to steady your runaway heart now beating fast, too fast, out of control, rushing toward the edge and plunging into hysteria…

 

And in that next instant, your heart stopped.  You felt yourself change, from being a living person to a conscious mind trapped in a cooling corpse.

 

The light, too-bright before, was now unbearable, burning into your retinas as your pupils expanded unnaturally.  You felt the blood pool in your legs and arms, a sensation you wanted to regard with mind-numbing terror but could only manage detached curiosity.  You gasped for breath, once, twice, but no relief came with the action—air was coming into your lungs, but it wasn’t going anywhere.  You were dying, you were dying, you were dying, your mind wheeled frantically, scrambling for a way to save yourself, but you had nothing.  There was nothing you could do.

 

Ciocolatta had severed the strands holding you to life—how frail!  How incredibly easy to cut!—and now you were in free-fall, plummeting into the yawning mouth of the grave.

 

In the instant your heart started again, Ciocolatta’s dark lips slammed into yours, stealing the breath you would have gasped as you felt life return, a hazy euphoria blanketing your body and filling the void in your chest. 

 

His hands came up to your face, holding it steady as he continued to kiss you, pressing hard enough that they could feel your returned pulse.

 

“Didn’t that feel incredible, Amaretto?  Don’t you feel amazing?”

 

You didn’t feel anything at all, actually.  Shock made you dazed and pliant, submissive to his touch. 

 

Cioccolata…!  You’re getting in the way of the shot!  You’re covering up her face!”  Secco, forgotten until now, made his complaint known as a petulant whine, stamping his feet and forcing the camera closer, almost delivering a kiss of its own.  You couldn’t help but stare at yourself reflected in the glassy lens, a trail of lipstick smears covering your mouth and continuing towards your neck.

 

“What did you…do?” you struggled to get the words out.

 

“You’ve dropped dead!” he clapped his hands in glee.  “You won’t be healing anyone anymore, you’ll be playing with me.  That was our little promise, remember?”

 

He regarded the IV, still hooked into your arm, with an expression you would learn to recognize is dark intent.

“If you have a problem with it, though, we can do it again to make really sure.  You’ve got a strong heart, you can take it.”

Chapter Text

Out of Breath

 

Overdrive…!”  The Hamon crashed over the zombies like a tidal wave, leaving collapsing pools of rotted flesh and liquefied bone in its wake.  The full moon hung overhead, an indifferent observer, bright enough that you could clearly see your reflection in the blood as it spread across the rough stone. 

 

You looked tired.  No, you looked ragged.  The effort required to use that last Hamon technique had only been a further drain on your rapidly dwindling stamina, and you had actually felt your power stutter as you struggled to maintain your breathing.  If you had to do this for much longer, you’d be completely overwhelmed.  All you could do was wait and try to catch your breath, hoping the next wave wouldn’t have too many enemies.

 

“Tired already?”

 

In the past, you would have jumped at the unexpected voice, but not anymore.  Only one person spoke to you at all, these nights.  Only one person came to visit you in the desolate prison you’d been confined to.  You craned your neck upward, already knowing what you’d see.

 

The pit—your cage—was massive, thirty feet in radius and over a hundred feet deep, hewn from rock.  The sides were smooth, eroded by unnaturally powerful wind, too sheer to scale without the help of Hamon.  The very bottom, an area you had become intimately familiar with, boasted a handful of small caves and rock outcroppings to shelter in, though none of it was useful for your repeated escape attempts.  Nothing could grow down here.  What little soil existed had been poisoned, by the defiled flesh of the undead you destroyed nightly, forcing you to rest entirely in the mercy of your torturer.

 

Kars lounged at the edge of the pit.  You were only human, and couldn’t see very well in the dark and at that distance, but you were certain he had the smile he always wore when he saw you: indulgent, but casually sadistic all the same.  He wasn’t wearing his scarf this time; the cold moonlight gleamed off his flowing hair as it drifted in the night breeze, contrasting against the tanned skin you longed to cut apart more than anything in the world.  Pristine, beautiful, powerful…he was the total opposite of how you felt now.

 

He cut a perfect target, silhouetted against the black sky.  In spite of the futility of it all—you couldn’t hope to lay a hand on Kars when you were fresh and ready for the battle, how would you possibly do it now?—you felt yourself snatch a flake of stone off the ground, spinning it rapidly in one hand as you channeled the absolute last of your energy into it.  In response, the vampire simply held a cloth bag aloft, dangling it teasingly over the edge towards you.

 

“How is that new technique coming along?  I forget what you called it…you’ve gotten more efficient if you can use it after that fight.” his voice echoed off the stone, giving the illusion that it was coming from everywhere at once.  Inescapable.  You didn’t reply, just took aim.

 

“That look on your face is so cute.  If you can hit me from here, I’ll give you a treat; you’ve been working so hard to impress me.”

 

What a twisted way to frame it.  There was a reason you couldn’t climb out of this pit, and it wasn’t because you didn’t have the technique or enough control over your Hamon; Kars all but flooded your prison with the undead, forcing you to fight for your life and absolutely exhaust your reserves, forcing you to rest until the next wave came around.  When you began to overpower his monsters more easily, he’d simply sent more.  You tried not to think too hard about the number of villages he must have wiped out by now to keep you here, how many more would have to die before you…

 

“Eat shit! Arrowhead Overdrive!”  You shouted, banishing the thought as you launched the stone flake with the force of a bullet.  For a moment it looked like you weren’t going to hit; the trajectory was a little too low, sending it into the wall instead of Kars’ smug face, but the impact made the flake shatter, scattering a thousand Hamon-infused shards in every direction.  Your heart sank as he moved, almost too fast for your eye to follow, apparently avoiding the attack completely.

 

None of them would have hurt him even if they had managed to connect.  You knew that before you made the decision to try.  But maybe you could provoke him, get him to go too far and kill you in a fit of rage, finally put you out of your misery, because once you’d used up the last of your stamina that was it.  If you failed, you’d be too tired to even struggle when he finally tired of waiting and came down to do whatever he wanted to you.  You felt yourself sink to one knee as your breath now came in desperate, useless pants.

 

Satisfied that you were finished, Kars moved, a casual step into thin air that carried him over the edge and plummeting downward.  You felt the ground shake as he landed, barely ten feet away.  Even from there he was imposing; a pillar of implacable cruelty that towered overhead, delighted to play yet another round of a game he had already won.  You watched him pick a shard of stone from his arm, a surprisingly delicate gesture, before he crushed it to powder between his fingers.

 

“I was expecting just a little more…I’ll make sure some of your next playmates can fly so you get the practice in.  You still have so far to go before I’m satisfied…” he took a step towards you.  You couldn’t help but lurch backward, preparing to crawl away even though you had nowhere to go.  He cocked his head as he watched. 

 

“Don’t you want my present?  I bothered to bring it all the way here.  You could be a little more grateful for your master.”  Kars had the nerve to sound irritated, like you being here was an inconvenience for him.

 

“You’re not…my master…” the energy spent taking was better spent trying to regain your breath, but you couldn’t help the defiant words that clawed their way up your throat.  These words, the angry glare you leveled at him, were all you had anymore, and both of you knew it.  Kars made a show of looking around at the walls of the pit and the pitiful little camp you’d made nearby.

 

“I suppose it’s always been difficult for those of the Hamon tribe to accept reality.” he mused.  He took a slow step forward, eyes fixed on you with a predator’s focus. 

 

“You’re wasting your time.  Even your underlings know it…is that why they don’t accompany you here anymore?”  Kars curled his lip slightly, but just took another step forward in response.  The ease with which he covered the distance between you was humiliating, but the tremble in your voice was even more so.

 

“I don’t have the power to kill you…but I don’t need to.  Denying you what you want is victory enough.  I’ll die…I’ll die before I give in…”

 

That was a lie, and you felt your heart sink when the smile returned to Kars’ face and you realized he knew it, too.  In the beginning you fought tooth and nail against every indignity he inflicted, but with each night that passed you felt your resolve weaken just a little bit more.  Could giving up and submitting to him possibly be any worse than what you were already going through? 

 

Another step.  Kars was now so close that he was practically between your legs, dominating your field of vision.  The dark intent in his eyes was almost overwhelming, as relentless as fate itself.

 

No, it was your fate.  No power on Earth could avert what would happen if he decided to do something.

 

Your eyes couldn’t even follow what happened, he’d moved that fast.  One moment he was simply standing over you; in the next he was on you, pinning your head back and forcing your throat forward, completely exposed for him.

 

“‘You’ll die first’?  What a foolish statement,” Kars breathed against your neck, all but kissing the frantic pulse as you struggled instinctively, uselessly.  “You can no more decide your death than you can leave this place without me willing it so.  You have already lost; your primitive brain simply hasn’t caught up yet.”

 

It was impossible not to try; you thrashed as you felt his fangs scrape the skin of your neck, but you might as well have been fighting a wall.  It was only when you heard his pleased hum that you realized your movements had been rocking your hips against his, a dangerous move.

 

“Even your body knows it.  This heart beats, for me.  You breathe, for me.  All your cunning, your thoughts, your killing intent, that’s all for me.  I have already become the focal point of your world…my gift to you is making you realize that.”

 

He sat up, ignoring your surprised yelp as you were pulled along, nestled in his lap.  He held your head to the hard muscle of his chest, preventing you from escaping or seeing the contents of the bag as he opened it at last.  You could only wait, heart hammering in your chest, until something snapped shut around your neck, all but cutting off your air.

 

“Agh—!”  You fell backward as he finally released you, nearly landing in the remains of a zombie you killed previously, writhing as your lungs rebelled against the sudden restriction of air.  The golden collar was metal, and heavy, too tight for you to speak and nearly too tight to breathe.  Kars just chuckled and pulled you back into his arms, cradling you with uncharacteristic tenderness.

 

“It’ll be easier if you stopped struggling,” he chided, “it tightens the faster your heart rate is.  Find peace in obeying me; that’s the only way you can stay conscious, let alone use your Hamon.”

 

Against all instinct, you forced yourself to try, to shut away the panic and calm down.  Your vision was no longer tinged with black, but you still felt a faint giddiness from the lack of oxygen as the collar loosened infinitesimally.

 

Kars watched you relax with undisguised amusement, but all you could think about was the hopelessness that threatened to strangle you where the collar didn’t. 

 

You had already given in.

Chapter Text

“I’m not sure about the color.”  Your boss frowned at the tube of lipstick and waved it under your nose for inspection.  You glanced at the color—a matte magenta—and then noticed the sales rep hovering anxiously a few feet away, clearly itching to give her opinion but too intimidated after getting an earful the first time.  Trish Una might not know what she wanted, but she certainly wasn’t about to tolerate anything she perceived as attempting to rush her into a decision, something that every employee and nearby customer in the store could attest to.

The two of you had been shopping for long enough to make your legs feel weak, but if you let Trish buy anything she was unhappy with, you’d be the one suffering.  You smiled indulgently.  “Do you think it’s too dark?  If you’re hoping to match with your hair—“

“I didn’t ask what you thought,” she cut you off with an irritated snap, “I just said I wasn’t sure.”

You knew better than to reply; just shut your mouth and nodded, trying not to admire the way her eyes flashed when she got petulant.  They weren’t just green, they were deep, with beautiful little hints of blue or dark green depending on the lighting and emotion.  She seemed to like it when you made eye contact, too, which was one of the reasons you’d lasted longer than all her other bodyguards.

“They’re either afraid that I’ll catch them looking, or they stare like I’ll vanish if they stop.  It’s creepy.  I like how  you  look at me; maybe I’ll keep you around.”

The sensation of something waxy being pressed against your lips startled you out of your thoughts, though you knew better than to move your head.  Trish applied the color to the contours of your mouth with an expression of quiet concentration, which was good because she probably missed the light blush as you realized how close her fingers were to your lips.  She took a step back, either admiring her work or making sure she didn’t miss a spot, then pointed at her feet.

Here?  In front of everyone?  You didn’t hesitate; making her repeat herself was a mistake that was only made once.  You sank to one knee all the same as she extended her hand expectantly.  Her eyes never left yours as you pressed your lips to the back of her hand, a well-practiced symbol of submission that left a magenta mark along her knuckles.  Trish pulled her hand back, staring at it from different angles, and you watched for her reaction with bated breath.  Would she make you do this again, with all the colors she was considering?

Again, her eyes met yours.  “I like the color after all.”

You got to your feet, more than a little relieved, as she wandered off to go look at highlighter.

“Chianti?  I think it’ll go great with the penne.”  Trish toyed with the menu, giving an annoyed glance at the waiter busy taking someone else’s order.  No doubt, he’d soon know the magnitude of his insolence.

“Oh, I couldn’t possibly, Miss Una.”

Another frown as she leveled her glare at you.  “I keep telling you to call me Trish.  And it’s only a glass.”

“I’m meant to be protecting you, Miss Una.  Even a glass would be too much.”  The words were well-practiced and neutral, but the way her eyes narrowed sent a shiver down your spine.

This wasn’t an unfamiliar argument, but it was still a stressful one; while part of your job was to keep her happy in addition to protecting her, your actual employer was her father—the motherfucking Don of Passione—and that meant some things were out of the question.  Trish opened her mouth to argue but seemed to realized this too, taking a deep breath.

“Then you’ll drink with me in private,” she muttered, “if Daddy can’t keep me safe in my own villa, then I don’t know what you’re supposed to do.  It’ll be fine.”

“If that’s what you want, Miss Una.” The waiter had finished and was now approaching your table; you counted the seconds until his imminent earful as you replied.

“And you’ll call me Trish, too.  When it’s just us.”  It wasn’t phrased like a command, just a statement, like there wasn’t another option.  

“If that’s what you…”

“Welcome to—oh, heeeey, I thought I recognized you!”  The man broke into a broad grin, boldly putting a hand on your shoulder.  It took a moment for you to register who he was, darting your eyes from his face to his name tag and back again, before it clicked.

“Dominic…oh, it’s been a while.”  That wasn’t just a rush of self-consciousness you felt as he stared at your new lipstick, that was panic.  Your old boyfriend was the type who loved to catch up and talk at length, but you were on the job.  Trish hadn’t spoken yet, apparently in a surprisingly merciful mood, but her patience was far from finite.  You spoke over Dominic’s next words, probably an attempt to prolong the conversation.

“The lady will be having a your penne—the chef’s special—and I’ll just have the Bahn Mi.  She’ll also be having a Chianti; you’ll need to open the bottle at the table where I can see.  Same as the mineral water.  Got all that?”  Dominic dutifully took your order down.  He turned to leave, and you were just beginning to breathe easier again when…

“Ah, before I forget…I’m actually getting off in a few hours, after the dinner rush.  If you’re not busy, let’s hang out, okay?  Catch up.”  He scrawled his number on a napkin and tucked it into your breast pocket with a wink, giving it a pat.  You watched him wander away and then looked back at Trish, the apology dying on your lips as you watched her reach over and delicately pluck the napkin from your pocket.  Her eyes didn’t leave yours as she neatly tore it apart with a deliberation that could only come from barely suppressed rage.

Inside.”

That was the first word Trish had said to you in well over an hour.  Lunch had passed in chilly silence, and her interest in new clothes or sweets had mysteriously died out.  When she wanted the car brought round to take her home, she ordered the chauffeur herself instead of telling you to do it.  

You tried not to feel like a disobedient pet as you watched the light play over the gold accents in her jewelry and expensive clothes, but it was hard not to; Trish had a way of making even minor things seem like a deep betrayal, and it might take a few days for her to recover enough to talk to you again.  The last time she was this quiet, you’d been conversing with the doorman for a little too long, and she wouldn’t say a word for the entire day.

You hurried to open the front door for her—it wouldn’t do to make her wait, not with you already in trouble—and she swept past without giving you a second glance.  You trailed behind, deaf to the snickering of the driver as he walked in.

A couple minutes passed where the only sound was that of your footsteps on hardwood floor and plush carpet, before she threw open the door to her quarters and all but stomped inside.  Leaving and dealing with the wrath of her father seemed like the more attractive of your two options, but you followed her anyway…and found yourself slammed against the wall, held in place by her Stand.  Trish’s face was barely an inch from yours, close enough that you could smell her perfume.  Her eyes had an intensity you’d never seen before, one that trapped your gaze.  You couldn’t look away.

“How dare you,” she breathed, reaching to shut the door with a quiet snap, “let that man put his dirty hands on you.”

“I shouldn’t have let him get that close, but he did know me, and you’d asked me not to make a scene in the pas—“ Spice Girl’s elbow shifted, now pressing against your throat as you felt yourself sink slightly into the wall.

“Did you see how he looked at you?  How he talked like he could just see you?  ‘Let’s hang out…’” her face twisted as she parroted Dominic’s invitation.  “Did he think he could just have you again?”  Her glare was back on you.

“I’m the only one who can look at you like that.  I’m the only one who needs to be in your world.”

“And you are…Trish.  You’re the only one I think about,” you croaked, taking the chance.  Placating her was more important than propriety at the moment.  She scrutinized your face, apparently deciding whether you were pertinent enough, before abruptly stepping back, dismissing Spice Girl and letting you fall to your knees.  You felt the point of her heel dig into your shoulder as she pushed you lower, until your head was inches away from her other foot.

“Hm…if you want me to accept your apology, you’re going to have to make more of an effort.  Can you think of anything?”

You leaned forward, sagging slightly under the weight of her heel, and touched your lips to her ankle.  You raised your head slightly, pressing the next kiss to her shin, gradually going higher as you left a trail of magenta kisses behind.  You couldn’t see it, but Trish’s smirk widened with each one.

“That is nice.”  Her delicate fingers rested in your hair and then twisted, forcing your head upwards to meet her gaze.

“But I think you can do better.”

 

Chapter Text

“Are you ready?!”

 

The computerized announcer’s voice was loud enough to turn heads, even in the excitingly deafening din of the arcade, but you just sighed and sat back to watch.  Hana hopped from foot to foot as Yamamoto straightened out his uniform, the two classmates preparing for yet another round on Dare To Dance EX’s stage…

 

“They’re going for it again, huh?  That’s determination; didn’t Yamamoto almost break his neck on this song last time?” Nakayama—another one of the carousel of faces in your after-school clique—passed you an ice-cold soda from the vending machine as the music started in earnest.  You couldn’t keep your lips from curling in a self-assured smile, an expression she mirrored as she took the seat next to you.  It was your up-to-something-grin, so a fun story was surely around the corner; you always seemed to have one of those.

 

“Hana and I have a bet,” you admitted, popping the cap of your drink for a sip, “she’s convinced I’m hiding some secret crush—I bet she just wants to make sure Matsuda still has a chance—and won’t quit bugging me about it.  So, I promised to tell her everything she wanted to know…if she can beat the record on MAXX Ultra.”

 

Nakayama tittered as she playfully elbowed you, nearly making you spill your drink.  “That’s so mean of you!”  She pointed in mock accusation, giving you a close-up of her chipped neon nail polish.  “You’re too competitive to let her beat you on the easy levels.  You’re really going to ask her to beat your score on the hardest?”

 

The song ended, eliciting a chorus of disappointed groans from your friends as the scoreboard popped up.  Third place changed the most frequently; right now it was held by someone going by MRBST.  Second place had also changed recently, to a TNKAK.

 

And of course, first place, the score no mere high schooler would beat, the letters that had been in place for months…

 

SNPAI.  You’d entered it as a joke; for a while, the #1 in the arcade had been entering LUVYU in all the machines they could, and it was going to be your way of admitting a crush at the time.  Surpassing them had ruined the joke, though, and since you were the oldest of your friends they’d naturally assumed the name was referring to you.

 

“We got close that time!” Yamamoto grumbled, patting his pockets for more change, “I’m sure we can get it—hey, you brought enough coins to do this, right…?”  He glanced at you.  You sighed, already reaching for your purse.

 

“They’re going to make me bankroll my own defeat?  Who’s the mean one, again?” you muttered to Nakayama, who giggled again; this time definitely at you, not with you. 

 

“He wasn’t…oh, never mind.”  She waved a little as Hana laughed and Yamamoto suddenly found new, very interesting depths in his pockets to search.

 

You felt heat creep up your neck.  “…ah.”  The song started up again as the two got back into position, both very determinedly keeping their backs to you.  You stood up, quickly enough to make Nakayama do a double take.

 

“Oh?  Do you want me to get something else for you, Senpai?”

 

“No, I just feel like walking for a bit.  I’m going to go buy some snacks.”

“Then I’ll go with you!” she jumped up, trailing behind you like a brightly colored comet as you crossed the tacky carpet and various games to the snack counter.  You were just in line to order when she said something that gave you pause.

 

“Huh.  What’s he doing here?”

 

“Who?”  You whipped your head around and immediately regretted it.  “Ugh.”

 

The arcade was full of people, bright lights and loud noises, which made it your ideal stomping ground once classes were done.  It was also someplace that Jotaro Kujo—some punk who happened to be in the year above you, not that he acted like it—shouldn’t have been caught dead.

 

And yet, there he was: tall, brooding, and stubbornly still wearing his uniform, stock-still in the ever-changing crowd he’d once said wasn’t really his scene.

 

…what he’d actually said, that afternoon you’d tried to invite him with your friends, was: “What a hassle.  Arcades are annoying as fuck, I can’t believe you actually spend all your free time there.”

 

You couldn’t decide what it was about him that rubbed you the wrong way, what sent that spike of irritation through your good mood or why you practically glared at the little of his face you could see.  People had different tastes, and some were ruder about it than others; you weren’t someone who could honestly claim to be unfailingly polite.  Your little circle ran the spectrum of honor students to borderline delinquents, so it wasn’t like he wouldn’t fit in.  You couldn’t even say he was particularly boring, or hard to look at. 

 

It was just…

 

Nakayama nudged something into your hand, bringing you back into the present moment.  It was the candy you were going to order.

 

“Oh, hell.  You should have said something sooner, let me pay…” you fumbled for your wallet as the two of you started to push back towards the others.  She just smirked, glancing back at the direction you were staring; Jotaro was tall enough that he was visible even from here, still conspicuously not doing anything in a place where everyone was doing something.

 

“You seemed preoccupied, what can I say?  But…” she leaned in conspiratorially.

 

“is it Kujo you’ve got a crush on?  Because I didn’t take you for the type to be into bad boys…”

 

Oh my god, isn’t it bad enough I have to take this from Hana?”

 

She threw her head back and laughed, then immediately cursed as she spilled some of her snacks.  “come on, you know I had to!  But really…it’s gonna be weird if he is, and you start bringing him around.  He got in a fight with Miiki the other day, that’s why he wasn’t at school.”

 

You frowned at her as the music from DTDEX got louder and louder.  It was a different song than when you left, so Hana must have given up for the day.  “Miiki told me he’d fallen off his bike.”

 

Nakayama shrugged.  “He knows you hate fighting, he probably didn’t want to piss you off.  Who knows what boys are thinking?”

 

——

 

There was another reason you loved the arcade so much, and it was because silence gave you the creeps.  There was a thrill, an energy you got when there were a lot of people around, especially when they were paying attention to you.  You’d gotten so used to it that its absence had made you uncomfortable, and you found yourself looking over your shoulder periodically as your footsteps echoed in the empty halls of your school.

 

If there were still students or faculty around, you didn’t run into any of them, which was just as well.  You were never really good at hiding your feelings, and the expression reflected in the windows you passed would only invite questions you didn’t feel like answering.

 

You slammed the door open to the stairwell and stepped inside, frowning as you caught some cigarette smoke wafting from the fire exit.  You checked your watch—it was a little after 3PM—and slowly descended, letting whoever was in here with you hear each and every footstep.

 

Jotaro watched you turn the corner with a blank expression that could only be surprise, cigarette still frozen a few inches from his face.  He probably hadn’t moved a muscle the moment he he heard you come in.

 

You stopped on the last step, still several feet away but high enough that the difference in height wasn’t as extreme.  You leveled him with a stare you hoped was cold and waved the folded-up note in your free hand.

 

“Hey, Kujo.  Let’s talk.” 

 

If Jotaro was surprised that you knew the note was his, he didn’t show it.  He just leaned forward a little, maybe to check and see if you really had come alone.  “You’re early.  None of your groupies came to back you up?”

 

If they knew I was meeting you, maybe, you thought.  What you actually said was: “I’m already doing something at the time you wanted to meet, and I figured we could get this over with before I head to the arcade.”

 

Jotaro growled, a low rumble deep in his throat as his eyes bored into yours.  The brim of his cap threw most of his face into shadow, giving his sharp features a more menacing cast, but you didn’t flinch.  You’d seen worse.

 

“What can I do for you, Kujo?  Hoping to get my homework?  Money, cigarettes?  I hope for your sake this isn’t a confession, because after what you’ve done to my friends I won’t have any problem breaking your heart.”

 

Miiki.  Reo.  Yamamoto.  In between injuries and nebulous troubles, the boys who tagged along with your group after school were suddenly finding excuses to not hang out, and your other friends were starting to follow suit.  It didn’t take a Philip Marlowe to figure out why, but you got all the proof you needed when you confronted Yamamoto at his house and all but forced Jotaro’s name out of him.

 

“They’re not your friends,” he hissed, taking a step forward, “they’re a bunch of hangers-on who only want to talk to you because they think you’re attractive.  That, or they’re trying to get something.”

 

You laughed, but there wasn’t any humor in it. “Oh, and that’s something you’d know all about, huh?”  Jotaro’s scowl was growing deeper and more dangerous by the second, but you couldn’t help but grin; if fists were his weapons, words were yours.

 

“Maybe if you bothered to talk to people more, you’d understand.  You could have had that with us, not that it’s going to happen anymore—not after the stunt you pulled.  They’re my friends, and they could have been yours!”  As if someone else was speaking, you felt your voice rise, felt the heat fill your face. 

 

There was a smaller voice somewhere in the back of your head that whispered that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to provoke him like this, but it was easy to ignore.  Giving Jotaro exactly what he deserved felt too good.

 

“I don’t care who they are, damn it!” Jotaro shouted back, carried forward in the burst of his words, until he was inches away from your face.  You moved to push him away or take a step back, and realized that his hands were wrapped around your shoulders, holding you in place.

 

That little voice was getting a little louder.

 

“I never want to see you talking to them again.”  He hissed, watching your eyes widen as if he’d slapped you.  Maybe he thought he’d cow you into compliance if he got physical, but the rage that filled you—rage at this bastard for daring to think he could step in and control your life, with one conversation—overwhelmed any instinct you had to obey.

 

“No.  No, I won’t,” you spat, “I’m not going to cut myself off from everyone just because you want me to be as alone and scared and miserable as you.”

 

You made your move, in the instant the words hit home and his face twisted in inarticulate rage, bringing your knee up to slam into his groin and give you the space you needed to get away.  You—

 

In the next instant, you weren’t looking into his face but at the washed-out wall of the stairwell, peculiarly slanted, and it took another heartbeat for your mind to catch up and realize you were looking at it from the ground.

 

You had been in a car accident once.  There was a strange sensation—not quite vertigo, not quite nausea—that overcame you after the initial overwhelming force slammed you backward into your seat, drawing the breath from your lungs and the blood from your face.  It was so strange, feeling it now.

 

Had he moved?  You didn’t see it.  And yet, you had been hit and sent flying backward.  The back of your neck must have connected with the cement edge of the stair behind you, something you knew was horrible but couldn’t really feel too worried about.  You watched a thin line of ants make their way along the cracks in the wall with a faraway sense of alarm.

 

Could you get up?  You should get up. 

 

You couldn’t get up.  You could see your hand, fallen by your face in the awkward sprawl Jotaro had knocked you into, and you could see it twitch but you couldn’t make it close.  You couldn’t move it to prop yourself up.  You couldn’t do anything.

 

Someone pressed their hand to your neck, shaking with enough force that you felt your chin jitter a little.  A face came into view; Jotaro’s, of course.  No doubt admiring his handiwork, even though all the anger had vanished from his eyes and he was now holding your face as carefully as if you were made of glass.

 

A bit late for that, don’t you think, Kujo?  You wanted to say, but couldn’t.

 

“I don’t—I didn’t do that.  I didn’t…” he choked, a surprisingly vulnerable whimper from a man who practically dwarfed you.  His body curled forward, shielding your eyes from the eye-searingly bright light overhead. 

 

You felt yourself get pulled upward, gathered into his arms like a child collecting their doll.  One of his hands came back into view, now covered in something red.  Irritation rose in your throat, and you longed to kick at him, to tell him put me down before you get that all over my uniform, but all that came from your throat was a high-pitched whine.

 

“I know.  I know.” he whispered, brushing the hair from your face, leaving a streak of something warm and wet in its place.  “I’ll…I’ll fix this.  I’ll take you home, find out what happened.  I’ll take care of you.”

 

Your head lolled forward, resting against his shoulder as he pushed through the door and carried you out of the back of the building, away from the sounds of other people.  The pain was coming, now, a stabbing pain that sat behind your eyes and radiated through your head, overwhelming all thought.  Maybe it was better not to think.

 

Your senpai would take care of you.

Chapter Text

“Is the camera really necessary?”

 

Your therapist smiled in a way that was probably meant to be reassuring, but seemed sinister somehow; the harsh light of his office was washing him out somewhat, that must have been it.  “It’s for insurance purposes.  You and I will be the only ones to see them, unless you say otherwise, but sometimes patients…struggle with reality.  It can be helpful to have a record of what was discussed when working through difficult topics.”

 

You stared at your reflection, small and distorted in the curve of the camera’s lens.  Between it and the therapist’s stare, it was hard not to feel exposed, and you found yourself unconsciously gripping your arms and turning away from it.  A few seconds passed as he watched your body language, and then he got up, reaching for the camera with thin fingers.

 

“Of course, your comfort comes first.  I suppose I can make an exception for one of my patients—“

 

“No!  No, I mean, you don’t have to do that, if this is normal then—“  Why the hell were you stopping him?  You didn’t want to be recorded.  But going to a therapist at all had felt strange, an act of weakness somehow, and the idea that you were somehow even more delicate than the other patients was absolutely galling.

 

He sat back down immediately, the smile back on his face and somehow more genuine.  Very good!  I can tell we’re going to get a lot of work done this week, you’ve always been very cooperative.  So good for me…you might even be my favorite.”

 

The therapist—Ciocco, he’d been telling you to call him, but that still felt a little too informal for what was an embarrassingly personal matter—pulled his notepad closer and clicked his pen excitedly, scribbling something down about the start of your session with a flourish.  It was your third session or so with him, but you still found yourself waiting for him to make the first move, to initiate conversation.

 

God, you felt awkward.  You forced yourself to stop fiddling with your hands and looked around his office in search of something interesting to look at.

 

You didn’t know what to expect from a therapist with Mafia patients, but Ciocco’s office had an unusual superficiality about it.  The couches were comfortable and the decoration tasteful, but it all felt impersonal somehow.  You skimmed the titles of the books on his shelves and admired the impressionistic paintings of the Italian countryside on his wall, but you still didn’t have the slightest idea of who this man was or what he liked about the world.

 

Maybe that was the appeal of therapists.  Like a priest’s confessional, it was the anonymity that  loosed the gates of your mind and allowed the words to come forth, in the way that being with a close friend or confidant couldn’t.

 

So.  Last week, we touched on something very interesting.  Something I’d like you to really go into detail about,” Ciocco tapped at a line in his previous session’s notes, green eyes now bright with enthusiasm, “we were talking about how you felt, after your first kill.  The first night after, I mean.”

 

Your breath caught in your throat.

 

“Assume that I know nothing about it.  Put yourself back in that moment, really relive it.  Tell me every thought, every feeling, going through your head.”

Your capo always picked someone easy for the first time.  The Cherry Moment, he called it, that instant you realized that taking another life wasn’t at all hard, and that you could do it.  Not just in self defense, not just once, but again and again, on command if you had to, as many times as you were told.

 

He’d begged, of course.  He was some idiot who was drowning in debt and didn’t hope to pay back even a fraction; no family to sell, no assets to seize, no way for the mob to get its investment back.  His fault, at the end of the day.  He’d dug his grave with his own two hands, and you were the one delivering the sentence.

 

It was so easy to ignore him.  The whimpering, the muffled begging, the pleading eyes might as well have been white noise to you.  Capo had insisted you not use your Stand for this first mission.

 

The gun felt heavy when you took it from him, but it was almost part of your hand in the moment.  Lifting it, pointing it at that furrowed little space between your victim’s eyebrows, was as natural as breathing.

 

You felt nothing when you squeezed the trigger and heard the sharp report of gunfire as the ground beneath him instantly became slick with blood.  You felt nothing when you walked away, leaving him prone in the labyrinthine alleys of Naples for someone else to find, and you continued to feel nothing when you got in the car and your teammate drove you away.

 

No, that came later.

 

It took a moment for you to realize that Ciocco wasn’t writing anything down, just listening to you speak with an intensity you’d never seen before.  His eyes refocused when he realized you’re staring at him, and he nodded, understanding in the way that only a fellow murderer could.

 

“That’s something a lot of my patients report.  In that moment you’re too focused on completing the mission, on carrying out your orders, to feel anything about it either way.  But we’ve been over this before; tell me what happened when you did feel something.  Where were you?  What were you doing?”

 

“I was—“ and then you stopped, remembering the camera, and flushed a little.  Ciocco didn’t say anything, just waited for you to continue.

 

“I was getting ready to shower.  I still felt fine, after what happened, or I thought I did, because once I got…uh, naked, and looked in the mirror, I felt…”

 

Sick wasn’t the right word.  ‘Sick’ was too weak for what you felt.  Looking at your body was nauseating, unnatural in a way it had never been before, the revulsion punching the breath out of you as you scrambled to cover yourself.

 

“I didn’t like it,” you finished lamely.  Ciocco had an expression like he wanted to press you on it, but he just smiled instead.

 

“Some of my patients report feeling unclean after their first kill,” he said slowly, watching your face closely, “that their skin felt wrong somehow, once they had time to reflect on what they had done.  A crawling rot in their veins, not because they took a life but because they felt nothing about it.  The moment they realized they had a murderer’s soul, that they were rotten…would you say you feel that way?  Think to that moment, remember it in detail…do you feel it?  Do you feel unclean?”

 

You hadn’t realized it, but your breathing had gone strange, shallow gasps as you gripped your knees tightly enough to make your knuckles white.  You weren’t here anymore, sitting on his plush couch, you were back in your shower, avoiding every glimpse of yourself you could, standing under water that had long gone cold and scrubbing at gunpowder residue hard enough to leave your skin raw.

 

A murderer’s soul.  An unclean, rotten murderer’s soul.  The words send spirals of a horrible sensation up and down your arms, clawing up your throat, making your feet tap an uneven staccato on the hardwood floor.

 

Ciocco’s voice felt like it was simultaneously coming from a long distance away and a meter in front of you.

 

“Perhaps this is why you’ve been experiencing those nightmares, the paranoia episodes…it’s never about you being caught, because you know you have nothing to fear from being caught.  No policeman in the world, no agent of justice, will ever bring you to justice for what you’ve done.  You know in your soul that, if it’s on Passione’s orders, nobody will punish you.  Nobody can punish you.”

 

You were starting to curl on yourself now, a pathetic panicky little ball falling apart in front of the one man you promised yourself you wouldn’t do this to, but you felt yourself get pulled to the side until you were rested against Ciocco’s side, almost pulled into his lap, letting him stroke your hair as your frantic pulse beat against his shirt.  When had he gotten up?  Were you too self-absorbed to notice?  You wound your fingers into the expensive fabric, too far gone to worry about it wrinkling and ruining his professional look, trying to ground yourself in the only thing you could.

 

But you want them to.  You do, don’t you?”  He whispered, almost a growl, in a way that had all but abandoned the careful professionalism he’d always had until now.

 

No…” you couldn’t force yourself to speak above a whisper, but the denial felt weak.  Perfunctory.  A lie, somehow, one that only reinforced the truth that Ciocco already knew.

 

“It’s the only way you can live with yourself, the only way you can live with knowing your soul is dirty.” he continued, breath hot against the shell of your ear.  You wanted to pull away from him, to leave, but his arms had become constricting, holding you in place, rendering you unable to do anything but listen.  “Why else have you been hiding from other people, dear?  Cowering in your room when you aren’t being told to work, hiding in crowds as if they can drown out your crime…the fact that nobody can open you up and see how rotten you are inside isn’t a relief, it’s torture.”

 

Stop…”  Your breath had gone from panicked pants to dry sobs.  Ciocco murmured soothing nothings as he held you close, careful to keep your face turned towards the camera.  You watched yourself in the lens, fat tears spilling over your cheeks and dotting the sleeve of his shirt.

 

“There’s no need to cry.  You are my favorite patient…I would never let you suffer like this.  Now that you know what’s wrong with you, we can fix it together.”  His thumb swiped at one of your tears, and you watched him bring it to his lips.

 

 

Ciocco’s office had a bathroom, one with a shower and tub, and with some coaxing he had managed to get you out of your shirt and sitting awkwardly  in the tub.

 

“It’s a little less comfortable, but easier to keep everything clean this way,” he’d explained, setting up the camera on a little tripod to capture everything in here, too. 

 

You realized now why you hadn’t been more forceful about the camera.  Ciocco had helped you realized that you needed a witness, you needed proof that you were penitent, punishing yourself because you knew you deserved it.

 

When the straight razor came out, presented to you the same way the gun was only a few weeks ago, you couldn’t help but hesitate.

 

It wasn’t that it would hurt.  It would only be real if it hurt.  But being the one to do it to yourself twisted at something inside you, the last echoes of the voice telling you to get out of the bathroom, put your shirt on and run.

 

“Can’t…can’t you do it?” you hesitated, stretching your bare arm forward hopefully.  Ciocco laughed, removing his own white jacket and letting it rest in the sink, and folded your fingers over the blade.  Forcing you to take it.

 

“I’d be honored…but don’t you think it’s time you took responsibility for yourself?  All I can do is help you through this.  You have to be the one to do it the first time.”

 

You looked at your distorted reflection in the metal, tilting it up to reflect the light instead.

 

“Be good, now…it won’t be hard.  Once you’ve paid enough for the life you’ve taken, you can look at yourself again.  You can live without feeling dirty.”

 

He knelt next to the tub, almost brushing your cheek with his own, blind to the way you shivered at the sudden proximity that was somehow more intimate here.  With the tip of his finger, he guided the edge of the razor, tracing the light blue veins that webbed your wrist.  His movements were precise, almost surgical, steady.  You found yourself clinging to it, to being told what to do; your breathing was the steadiest it had been in an hour.

 

“Here,” he drew a line with his finger along your flesh, leaving goosebumps in his wake, “this is punishment, not suicide…press in and pull towards yourself, following that line.”

 

The blade trembles, ghosting against your forearm at the start of the line he indicated.  A tiny drop of blood wells up.  Ciocco’s arms are iron against your shoulders, almost holding you down.  You can’t leave until you do this.  You won’t be free until you do this.

 

You have to do this.

 

The shuddering gasp that came out of you wasn’t in relief, it was in pain: this hurt.  The slicing tear of metal through skin and muscle made your hands shake after barely half an inch into your arm, and it took all your restraint to not throw down the razor and flee at the sight of it.  Your insides were red and wet and alive, something that was easy to know but difficult to watch twitching wetly under the bathroom light, and you inhaled sharply as the smell of blood invaded your nostrils, making your stomach turn.

 

Ciocco’s hand was resting on your own, neither moving to finish the cut or letting it fall away entirely.  His eyes followed the outpouring of blood over your forearm and onto your pants legs with an expression you could only describe as hungry.

 

“Good…good, good…that’s a start, but you haven’t done enough.  You haven’t opened yourself to me enough.”

 

You’re crying again.  You hear your sniffling echo in your ears, pathetic, stupid, childish, as you pull with the blade again, watching your body pull apart and expose muscle and skin and blood in the wake of your knife.  The agony of your guilt, of the crawling rot Ciocco exposed within you, is gone, replaced wholly by the screaming instincts of your body that you’re in real, physical pain, that you’re injured, to fucking stop

 

Wonderful!”

 

The cry startled you out of your fugue.  The razor was still in your hand, but was now dragging a scarlet line through another part of your skin, and it was with dull surprise that you watched Ciocco snatch the blade out of your hand before you could continue cutting into yourself.  He seized your forearm, unceremoniously letting the razor clatter to the floor tile, experimentally pushing the wound open and shut.  He watched the blood well up and drip around your forearm with unbridled glee, blind to your writhing as you instinctively and desperately tried to pull your arm away from the unnatural sensation.

 

“You’re so obedient.  You’re so good.  You’re perfect, perfect…” he mumbled, more to himself than you, and then licked at your arm, mouthing sloppy kisses like sutures against your flesh before reaching behind him for a kit.  As if watching him hold someone else’s arm, you nodded slowly, listening to him ramble about medical practices or what to discuss in your next appointment or how far you had come in such short time as he began to stitch up your self-inflicted wound.  Your movements were purely reactive—a flinch when he poured peroxide over the stitches, a shudder when he wrapped your arm in a thick bandage and stroked it lovingly, a slow blink when he finally made eye contact with you again.

 

“Don’t you feel better already?”  He was finally talking to you again, not at you.  Without hesitation, he leaned forward and planted a kiss on your lips, abandoning his veneer of professionalism entirely, but you hadn’t really noticed.

 

Truth be told, you didn’t feel anything at all.

Chapter Text

When working with knives, you were supposed to tuck your fingers in.

 

The technique had been demonstrated during a Home Economics class in school, though you can’t say you’d ever gotten the hang of it; folding your fingers felt awkward and unnatural, and it seemed easier to just chop slower than to get used to the feeling.  You tended to be pretty careful anyway, so—

 

“..ah.”  You didn’t have to see the blood to know you’d cut yourself; the whisper of metal as the knife slid past the carrot and over your thumb to the cutting board beneath was all the warning you needed.  You barely yanked your hand away in time to avoid getting blood on the vegetables as a throb of pain coursed through your finger.

 

It wasn’t that bad, really.  If you wrapped it up and put pressure on it, you could keep cooking…

 

“Oh, you poor dear.  Did you mess up again?  Let me fix it for you…”

 

You pulled your lips into a smile and turned to face your girlfriend, already walking over with a napkin in an outstretched hand.  “Thanks, honey.  I know I can get really clumsy sometimes.”

 

She just tutted as she leaned in, grabbing your arm to elevate it and clean the mess you’d made of yourself, and you couldn’t help but catch your breath at the force of her grip.  Yukako did her best to be gentle, but there was a certain forcefulness in her love for you that could make her…difficult.  It was in the intense scrutiny of her gaze when she watched you (and really, when was’t she watching you?), the way she was always touching you (slinging her arm around your shoulders to keep you close, cuddling up to you on the couch, all but holding you to her side when the two of you were out and about), the way she catalogued who you spoke to and what you were doing, and when…if there was one thing you’d learned in the weeks you’d been going out with her, it was that it was easier to just go along with what she wanted.

 

Did she feel the stiffness in your shoulders when she hugged you?  Did she hear your breathing at night, when you fought to choke down the claustrophobia clawing up your throat?  Did she see how forced your smile was, just now, a show of domestic contentment you put on just for her?

 

More importantly, did she care?

 

Yukako turned your hand over, checking for any spots she missed, and despite everything you felt a twinge of longing at the tenderness in her eyes.  Without thinking, you reached out to push the curtain of dark hair behind her ear, keeping it from dragging through the blood along your arm.  It was long, her hair; the movement only seemed to wrap it around your elbow, almost tethering you to her.  She sighed and leaned into the touch just slightly, letting your hand brush the warmth of her cheek, but in the next heartbeat her gaze had hardened and her grip on your other hand was iron once more. 

 

“You should have said something,” she muttered.

 

You swallowed, forcing the fear back down, and tried to pull your arm back.  “…I don’t think the cut’s that bad, Yukako, and I’m almost done getting lunch ready.  You’ve got bandages somewhere, right?”

 

“Hm?  Oh, right.  I’ll get those now.  Keep the cut elevated and put pressure on it like I showed you, I’ll finish cooking.”  The moment seemingly passed, because her voice was neutral once more.  She let your arm fall away from her grip and turned to leave, making her way out of the kitchen for the closet next to your room.

 

“There’s really no—“  You began, but she hadn’t even paused.  Once she decided things would be one way, that was how they would be.

 

That was something you’d admired about her, once.  It wouldn’t do to dwell on that, though.  You obediently moved away from the counter and waited, watching the seconds tick by on the kitchen clock the two of you had picked out when moving into this place.  Moments like these—when it was truly just you in the room, with your girlfriend’s attention elsewhere—were rare, and was it just your imagination or could you breathe a little easier?

 

Yukako strode back into the kitchen, bearing a little plastic white case that must have held first-aid supplies.  You couldn’t help but smile, a little more genuinely this time, as she set it on the counter next to you.

 

“It’s really not that bad, babe, you could have just brought me a band-aid—“

 

“It’s important to do it right the first time,” Yukako cut you off again, taking your hand once more, “otherwise you’ll just do it again.”

 

The two of you stared at each other for a long moment, the smile falling off your face at the inscrutable expression on hers.  Somehow you didn’t think you were talking about the same thing.

 

“Well?” she prompted, and you suppressed a flinch at the edge in her voice as she glanced at the box.  “Aren’t you going to get that for me?”

 

You pushed aside the voice telling you this was a mistake and reached for it with your free hand, clumsily undoing the little latches and pushing up the lid, already reaching for the tightly-rolled gauze…

 

Except that there wasn’t anything in the case.  Anything except a disposable phone, discreetly purchased for under 2600 yen, the phone you thought you’d carefully stashed behind a few boxes in the bathroom a few days ago. 

 

The phone you’d been using to communicate with an old classmate to try to arrange your way out of here.

 

The sensation that came over you was difficult to describe.  Your thought process had become slow, almost stupid, as fear doused your senses in a slow, cold wave.  How long had she known?

 

“I—“

 

I didn’t say you could speak,” Yukako whispered, and your mouth snapped shut as suddenly as if she’d physically gagged you.  Distantly, vaguely, as if noticing it happening to a stranger, you understood that you were in a lot of danger, but for the life of you you didn’t know what to do about it.

 

“How could you do this to me?  Did you think it was funny to try to string me along, lying through your teeth?  After everything I’ve done for you?  Were you laughing in your heart when you kissed me this morning?  Dreaming about how stupid I would look when you ran off and broke my heart?”

 

Her grip had tightened with each accusation, hard enough that you were now starting to feel pins and needles tingling at your fingertips.  You pulled at your arm, halfheartedly trying to get her to notice she was hurting you, but she didn’t blink, just leaned closer and stared at you with that horrible, betrayed look on her face.  Were those tears welling up at the corners, intensifying the blue of her glare?

 

I just needed to get away for a bit, you wanted to say but couldn’t make your lips move, I just wanted some time alone.

 

Something was tightening around your elbow.  Her damn hair was wrapping around your arm again, tangling with the waves of her impassioned motions, you would have guessed, except that it was continuing to tighten even though she’d stopped moving.  You took a risk and broke eye contact to look down and see what was happening.

 

You cried out, you couldn’t help it.  Her hair was alive, coiling around your forearm like an angry snake, tighter and tighter until it had all but formed a cocoon from your knuckles to your elbow.  You yanked at it, stupidly, in a panic, but you might as well have stayed still for all the give it had.

 

“I love you, you know,” she said, almost absentmindedly, watching your fingers redden from the lack of circulation, reaching for the phone—your phone, your last lifeline to a world outside of her.  She shrugged her shoulders, sending a ripple through her possessed hair (how was she doing that?) and making it turn your arm over.  Yukako delicately, carefully tucked your phone into the palm of your hand, and no sooner had she pulled her fingers away than her hair began to coil higher, pressing the plastic into the flesh of your hand.

 

“That’s why I have to make sure you learn your lesson.  You’ve been good so far, I’ve never had to punish you twice.  Keep it that way.  I don’t think your arm could take this again.”

 

You found your words again.  Whatever she was about to do, it was horrible, and you had seconds to change her mind.

 

“Honey—Yukako—“ you tried to say more, but it was in that moment that her eyes found yours again and her hair twisted, suddenly possessing the strength of a vise, one that tightened around your arm until you felt a snap, then another one, then more, and you knew what had happened before you felt it.  There was a fraction of a second where all you felt was numb terror, and then your knees gave out and you collapsed, slamming your head on the edge of the counter as you plummeted to the kitchen tile with a strangled scream. 

 

You heard, rather than felt, Yukako kneel next to you and press a kiss to your cheek, withdrawing her hair to examine the crushed remains of your phone…and your hand.

 

“Hush already,” she admonished, turning your arm over once more and watching you writhe at the sensation, “it’s not that bad.  At least you didn’t tuck your fingers.”

Chapter Text

Suppose you were sitting at a table with a man who loads two bullets into a revolver side by side.  He spins the cylinder once, twice, three times, points it at your forehead—that little spot between your eyebrows that aches when you’re frowning—then pulls the trigger.

 

Click.

 

He congratulates you on your luck, and then informs you he’s going to pull a second time.  If you survive, you win.  He gives you the option to ask him to spin the cylinder once more before this next pull.

 

Should you?

 

“Mista, I—“

 

“It’s a yes or no question, sweetheart,” the man cut you off, twirling the gun around his fingers.  The ease in which he did so, the casual way he talked, could have easily fooled you into thinking this was just a hypothetical, a harmless thought exercise people toyed with when they wanted to imagine how it would feel to be daring.

 

It would have, anyway, had you not just watched him load two very real rounds into his very real gun, point it at you and pull the trigger. 

 

You weren’t restrained to your chair or anything, but there wasn’t any point in bolting; the kitchen table separated you from Mista, and he separated you from the door.  Though he lounged in his seat, balancing the gun in one finger so he could adjust the sleeves of his crop top with the others, the look he gave you—a tiger deliberating when to move in for the kill—told you all you needed to know about what he’d do if you tried anything.  You realized you were hyperventilating, still trembling with adrenaline from what just happened, and forced yourself to take a deep breath.  The room was dead silent as he waited.

 

Light glinted off the barrel of the revolver (so lovingly polished), but you couldn’t make yourself look away from his eyes.  It was incredible, really, how the goofy, loving boyfriend you knew had completely vanished, as if a switch had been flipped, leaving only a hardened gunman who wouldn’t be moved by your words or tears.

 

“Mista, I’m sorry,” you choked on the words, amazed you hadn’t managed to start crying yet.  You weren’t saying them just because you were at gunpoint, you really did feel shame—the niggling doubt you’d buried all these weeks, of this is wrong and you should tell him, surged forward into poisonous, all-consuming regret.  He was so sincere, though, and seemed to take your sweet nothings at face value, that there really seemed to be no way to break it to him, to admit what you had been doing all this time.  It seemed so much easier to just play along and enjoy what you had, even if its foundation was a lie, that you were really only with him to keep your family from drowning in Mafia debt.

 

Here’s the thing about Russian Roulette, though: you don’t start playing it without accepting the fact that you might end up eating the bullet.

 

Mista sauntered closer, never once letting the barrel of the gun stray from your face, past the table to where you sat.  His free hand grazed the side of your face in an almost-caress as he raised his leg to slide into your lap.  If this were a game, you would have enjoyed the sensation of lean muscle, the warmth of his body so close to yours, but all you could feel was raw and mind-numbing terror as cold steel rested gently against your lips.

 

“I’m gonna assume your final answer is to pull again, without spinning,” he said, barely above a whisper, and when you looked into his eyes you saw that they were deep and completely void of remorse or pity.  The barrel pressed against your pursed lips, and you could actually feel the metal start to slip past and knock against your clenched teeth.  Your shaking hands came up to his waist—maybe to push him off, maybe to hold him close, you had no idea what you were doing.  If he noticed, he didn’t respond, just stroked the line of your jaw with his free hand before it held your head in place.

 

“C’mon, you like playing games, right?  Give it a kiss.”  The angle changed as he moved his hand to press the gun against your mouth, harder this time, and you were already leaned back as far as the chair would allow.  There was nowhere for you to go, with the weight of his body on yours, and nothing else you could do, so you opened your mouth just enough to allow the barrel to slide past your teeth.

 

Mista pressed the gun further and further, forcing your mouth open wider until you were practically kissing the cylinder.  Something hot dripped past your cheek, falling onto the flesh of his free hand, and you belatedly realized you were crying.  Your breathing had gone funny, a stuttering sob that made your head tremble and teeth rattle against the metal, but his had remained steady, slow and deep, as he watched every twitch you made with a detached, almost scientific fascination.

 

“Don’t bite down, now, mind the teeth.” he said, chuckling a little at the inarticulate whine you gave in response.  Almost teasingly, he pulled the gun back an inch or so and then pushed it in again, letting it graze the roof of your mouth before angling it towards the back of your throat, a sensation that would have tickled if you weren’t on the edge of hysterics.

 

“Wrong answer, by the way,” was the next thing you heard, and before your mind could properly register the words you felt him pull the trigger. 

 

The blast echoed through your skull, the sound of a thousand mirrors shattering at once, somehow simultaneously deafening and muted in the too-small space of your head.

 

Several seconds passed, seconds where all you could register was the blindingly bright light overhead, before you realized you weren’t dead.  Slowly, as if in a dream, you felt yourself raise a shaking hand to cup your left cheek and the hot wetness coursing down the side of your face, unable to pull away from the painful burning in the roof of your mouth.  More pain was coming, but it was almost peripheral, masked by the numbing adrenaline that made your legs tremble under Mista’s weight in the useless, desperate instinct to run, to flee the danger it hadn’t realized already passed.

 

You still couldn’t look away from his eyes.  You barely registered that his face had relaxed, just slightly, from the hardened neutrality of a killer to the too-casual calmness he displayed before, as your fingers danced around the edge of the blood freely flowing down your face, searching for the wound but too afraid to actually touch it, to make it reality.

 

Somehow—it was too insane to be a miracle, but you felt every millimeter of that gun between your lips and knew it couldn’t possibly have moved—the bullet had changed angle, and instead of going through the back of your skull exited your cheek instead, leaving your face almost completely intact, and leaving your life entirely in your boyfriend’s hands.

 

Calloused fingers came over your own—he must have set the gun down while you were still in a daze—pressing down and forcing you to feel the ragged, tiny hole in your cheek.  A distant but hysterical part of you was thankful he’d chosen to use a relatively small caliber just now.

 

“I like to think I’m a pure-love kinda guy,” Mista’s words forced you to return to the moment.  You felt unfamiliar, hot pain tear at your cheek, pulsing in time with your heartbeat and threatening to bloom into full-blown agony, “but I’m fine with making this relationship whatever you want it to be.  You want everything to be a transaction?  Make this all about what we can get out of each other?  That’s cool, that’s cool.”

 

I’m sorry I’m sorry I didn’t want to let me go please forgive me let me go—

 

“We’ll call the hole in your cheek a down payment,” he continued dabbing at your face with his sleeve, “and what I’m doing right now?  That’s your last gift.  You can get painkillers, I can get you patched up…but how are you going to buy them from me?  Hmm?”

 

He pressed his forehead to yours, staring deeply into your eyes.  You blinked a few times in response, furiously, trying to stop your vision from blurring with tears.  Carefully, almost delicately, you moved your chin forward a little, meeting his lips in a kiss.  You watched his eyes close as he leaned into it, slightly, and then more, letting his warm tongue slip in and chase the memory of cold metal from your lips.

 

After a moment, he pulled back again, and the smile on his face was much more genuine.

 

“That’s a start,” he smiled, “that’ll buy you a needle and thread.  We’ll work out how much it’ll cost you to go out after this later.”

 

As he got up, rummaging through a nearby drawer for the first-aid kit, you wondered with a sense of faraway dread whether or not he should have let the bullet kill you after all.

Chapter Text

You’re not one to be easily frightened, but you couldn’t help but rest your hand on the stock of your rifle as you glared into the darkness at the edge of your camp.  “I think that’s close enough, don’t you?”

 

Bear Ghost, your Andalusian white enough to glow in the dark, tossed its head, ears swiveled in the direction of the intruder.  Your unwelcome guest raised his hands, letting the gold accents on his shirt and hat flash in the spluttering firelight of your camp.  “Easy there, easy…didn’t mean to frighten you.  Heh, heh…”

 

Your grip tightened as the posh English accent registered.  You knew who this was, not that it meant you’re any safer out here in the Midwestern wilderness.  Diego-Fucking-Brando was unlikely to qualify for sainthood, to put it mildly, and tonight was the worst possible night for whatever underhanded tactics he might try.

 

The other riders you’ve banded with have noticed the newcomer by now, and moved to flank you.  Nobody’s pointing their guns yet, but the situation was certainly tense; you saw Wesson’s hand tense over his revolver, and Thompson’s rifle was slung over his shoulder in that too-casual way he adopted when he was preparing to shoot.  You watched Diego’s eyes rove over each of you, clearly calculating the situation and working out what his approach should be, as his horse pawed the ground.  Bear Ghost mimicked the action, though his was from definite nervousness.

 

Diego’s eyes were so blue, even in the near-blackness of the moonless night.  The color was intense, almost unnaturally so, and the way the shadows played over his face made it easy to imagine more monstrous features.  He took another step forward, properly illuminating himself in the campfire’s light, and you kicked yourself for being so paranoid; his features were handsome and arrogant, but all too human.  It was bad enough that you were being stalked by a monster; did you have to start imagining them on horseback, too?

 

“Are you sure I can’t give you the pleasure of my company?” he wheedled.  “It’s dark out here, and bitterly cold.  Safety’s in numbers, they always say…”

 

Safety in numbers.  The words sent a flash of memory through your head, of white teeth and unnatural shadow, and your next words—to tell him off, to leave before you opened fire—died in your throat.

 

Smith, ever the voice of mercy in your little group, noticed your hesitation.  “C’mon, Colt.  I’ve got no love for him same as you, but it’ll be murder to leave a man by his lonesome out there, what with the—“

 

“Oh, don’t scare the man.” his brother cut him off and stepped to the side, gesturing to the campfire.  “You can spend the night with us, but we’ll have to ask you to keep your distance from our horses, and we won’t be riding together come morning.”

 

Diego obligingly slid off his horse’s back in that arrogantly elegant little flip he does when trying to show off.  You were very pointedly not looking, suddenly busying yourself with the coffee you’d been making before you were interrupted by his arrival.

 

Honestly, that was for the best.  You were still shaken up by the events of the past few days, still easily spooked, and seeing the strangely cracked skin on the side of his face before he adjusted his bandage would have only made things worse.

 

 

“So…you’re going by Colt, now?” the words drifted a little on the evening breeze, making you groan.

Diego, to his credit (and your relief), had felt no need to get buddy-buddy just because he was sharing your fire; once he’d collected his coffee and some dinner, he’d retreated to the far side of the camp to tend to his horse, rebuffing Smith’s perfunctory attempts at conversation.  You wished he would, though; if his attention was on something else, it wouldn’t be on you.

 

He was watching, when Thompson’s hands brushed against yours as he took a seat next to you, and he was watching when Smith started with his stargazing and you shepherded him back to the safety of the group.  He was watching when you checked on Bear Ghost and the other horses.

 

Hell, you didn’t think he’d stopped watching you since he’d shown up tonight.  Thompson and the brothers had all headed to bed already, trusting you with the first watch, though the former whispered in passing that he’d stay up just in case Diego tried anything when you were apparently alone.

 

For the first hour or so, he hadn’t said anything, just sat by his horse and watched you pretend to not be watching him, as the night wind toyed with some dried leaves and something made scratching noises in the distance that made you shiver.

 

Now that he was apparently certain only the two of you were left awake, though, he’d approached.  Not close enough that you felt justified pointing the gun at him, but when he carefully lowered himself into the spot Thompson had occupied only a couple hours before, you found yourself holding your breath.

 

“I needed a fresh start, I guess.  Had to get away from my history in the racing circuit, under that…other name.”

 

“Your real name, you mean?  The name praised in every paper on the East Coast for your unerring skill and peerless talent?  That name?” he leered, the firelight doing something strange to the edges of his mouth.  You averted your gaze.

 

“If I wanted to talk about it, Diego, I would have.  It’s just Colt, now.  For as long as Thompson and the brothers’ll have me, anyway.”

 

I hope it’s forever, you wanted to say, but that felt embarrassingly personal to declare somehow, and Diego wasn’t really the kind of person you wanted to have this conversation with, anyway.  You didn’t have to look at his face to know he was frowning.

 

“Hrmm,” he replied, in a way that could have been interpreted as ‘I respect your boundaries, Colt, and I’ve decided not to press for more information despite my burning curiosity’, but what you suspected to be ‘wow! I just realized I didn’t care about this at all, actually, and I’m relieved you stopped before I had to get up and walk away from the conversation’.

 

He opened his mouth to say something else, but shut it again with an irritated snap as one of the tent flaps popped open and Wesson came into view, suppressing a yawn.

 

“Diego seduce you into racing with him instead yet, Colt?” he called as he wandered into the brush to take a piss. 

 

The blond curled his lip, but you grinned and called back.  “I’m giving it some pretty serious thought…he’s promised me a fortune back in England, and also to marry me.  I’m still holding out, though, I’m hoping for his horse.”

 

Wesson gave a bark of laughter (answered by a muffled “Chrissakes, shut up!” from Smith’s tent) as he finished up and came back.

 

“Is that all it would take to buy your talent?” Diego asked, eyebrow raised.  “This may be easier than I thought.”

 

The way he said it was easy to play off as a joke, but the idea—that Diego Brando, genius jockey, even considered you worthwhile competition—made you pause, even if you’d just promised you’d left that life behind.  Wesson caught the look and chuckled.

 

“Don’t let Thompson hear you talk like that.  He’s gotten pretty fond of you, y’know…keeps dithering about how to ask you to stay with us once this whole race thing’s over.”  Wesson gave you a knowing smile and threw another couple logs onto the campfire.

 

Has he, now.”  Diego hissed, almost inaudible over the crackling of the flames.  His handsome features, already distorted by the uneven shadows of the firelight, now looked downright monstrous.  He glared at the tent the other man was resting in, then back at you.

 

You decided to go to bed.

 

 

The first thing you registered upon waking up was that it was still impossibly dark.

 

The second thing you registered was the hand over your mouth.

 

You shouted, a sound strangled by your assailant as they held you down, and it took several desperate seconds of struggling for your gun before you realized it was Wesson, trying to get you to stop with frantic, hushed whispers.

 

He had to repeat himself a fourth time before the words finally registered, finally taking his hand off your face.

 

“Smith’s dead and Thompson and Diego are gone.  We need to get out of here.”

 

“What?” you repeated, dumbly.  Smith—excellent with a knife and unbeatable as a navigator, who had seen so much and somehow maintained an attitude of ‘let’s be nice to other racers even though the Run has been nothing short of cutthroat’—dead?  How?

 

The stench of blood registered in your nostrils as you wrapped your head around the words.  How hadn’t you noticed it before?

 

“Smith is dead,” Wesson repeated, a definite wobble in his voice, “Thompson and Diego are gone.  I think…I think it took them.  We need to go.”

 

It had finally come.  Fear, numb and overwhelming, threatened to paralyze you, but Wesson was already moving, grounding you in the moment.  Cold metal forced itself into your hands.  Your rifle.  It was all you were carrying with you—Wesson barely gave you time to put on your boots before he grabbed your hand and lead you through the hole he’d cut in the side of your tent, slipping in the mud left behind by a recent rain.  You could barely keep up as he dragged you toward your horses, still tied to their tree but only barely; Bear Ghost had all but torn himself free in a frenzy of terror, and the other three were…

 

It hadn’t rained.

 

In the moment you realized this, Wesson lost his footing entirely, plummeting to the ground and sending a wave of gore splashing over your boots as he landed squarely in the eviscerated remains of his own horse.  One glassy eye stared up at you as you frantically pulled him back to his feet, deaf to his disgusted spluttering as he tried to get the blood out of his mouth.  You heard a crunch underfoot as your heel crushed the remains of Bonnie Tyler’s jaw, torn off and left half-buried in the mud a few feet away, but more importantly you heard the rattling hiss of something that was very definitely not a deer, coming from the direction of the campfire.

 

“Fuck.  Shit!  Get on, Wesson!” you whispered, forcing yourself onto Bear Ghost’s back, holding a hand out for him.  Instead of taking it, however, Wesson pulled a knife and cut the rope tethering your horse to its tree, letting it give into instinct and flee into the darkness in a mad dash.  You were too surprised by the move to react; all you could do was hang on.

 

Wesson!”  You screamed, whipping your head around, and the last thing you saw as he disappeared from view was the flash from his rifle—your rifle, he must have taken it from you in the confusion—as he took aim and fired, still desperately trying to buy you the seconds you needed to escape, abandoning his own hope for survival in the same breath.

 

Tears blurred your vision, making it impossible to navigate even if you could somehow see in the dark, and you found yourself letting Bear Ghost dictate where to go.  Was this a nightmare?  It had to be.  It was too close to what you’d been dreading but didn’t dare voice—the loss of your precious friends to a nameless horror that stalked the night and finally made its move, something that could dodge a bullet and gouge stone with its claws, something that wouldn’t stop until it had finally eaten you alive.

 

Help.  You had to get help.  But where could you go that could protect you from a living, breathing monster?  As if recalling the words of another lifetime, you remembered that the nearest town was a day and a half’s ride away.

 

It might as well have been on the moon, for all the good it would do you now.  Hell, you could say that for a town an hour’s ride away, ten minutes away, because there was something else in the hills with you now, and your horse didn’t have a hope in hell of outrunning it. 

 

You’d almost missed it.  Its gait matched Bear Ghost’s almost perfectly, and it hadn’t been directly behind you, so you wouldn’t have seen it looking back.  Even now that you knew where to look, though, you didn’t have a clear idea of what exactly you were looking at.

 

That was Diego’s horse.  You knew it well enough, had stared at its ass for more than long enough on those perilous stretches where you were so close to passing him, but the thing riding it was unlike any living being you’d ever seen before.

 

It had a tail, one that lashed the air as it egged Silver Bullet closer and closer to you. 

 

It had claws, talons thicker than your fist that somehow managed to grip the reins without gouging the horse.

 

It had eyes, electric blue and full of a malevolent intelligence no animal could possess, eyes that had been fixed on you since…

 

No.  It couldn’t be.

 

Belatedly, you realized you’d let the other rider—this Not-Diego, whose muzzle gleamed in the starlight with a dark liquid you knew to be blood—get far, far too close.  Bear Ghost was foaming at the mouth in its mad dash to get away, but for every few strides it took, Silver Bullet somehow managed to take one more, until the two of you were neck and neck, separated only by a few meters.  You yanked the reins in one hand as you made one last, desperate gamble, reaching down your boot for the concealed pistol and pulling it up, aiming and firing in a wild shot that was more like a prayer than anything—

 

In that moment, faster than your eye could follow, the thing jumped, slamming into Bear Ghost’s side, tearing into its flesh with the massive talons on its feet. Its jaws opened, surely about to rip into your own flesh and tear your head clean off—

 

The world became a blur as Bear Ghost screamed again with a desperate finality, losing its balance under the weight of the Not-Diego and plummeting to the side.  You hit the ground with a graceless thud and rolled a meter or two, barely able to register the wind knocked out of you as you stared up at your horse, transfixed.  Time seemed to slow to a crawl as its full weight hovered overhead, its body contorted in a grotesque dance, and you found yourself hoping that the fall would kill you before the monster could, that you would be crushed before you had to endure the agony of being eaten alive.

 

Sorry, Wesson.  Looks like you did all that for nothing.

 

Teeth sank into your shoulder and pulled just as twelve hundred pounds of horse slammed into the earth, obliterating the spot you occupied a fraction of a second previously.  Your breath came in shaky, hysterical gasps as you watched Bear Ghost writhe in place, unable to get up or escape.  You found yourself struggling to your elbows to get up and help it, but a massive reptilian foot suddenly put its weight on your chest, keeping you in place, the points of the talons puncturing your jacket and grazing your skin.

 

The Not-Diego’s face came into view, teeth bared in a hideous grin as it breathed in the smell of your blood with quick, hungry snorts.  You shut your eyes.  If you wished hard enough, prayed hard enough to a god you stopped believing in years ago, maybe this would all turn out to be a dream.

 

“I’m really sorry about your horse,” the surprisingly human voice startled you into opening your eyes, to see the monster sitting on your chest had turned back into a man…mostly a man.  The feral, too-large grin you thought had been a trick of the firelight loomed at you now, as horrifically real as the rest of the night had been.

 

“What a shame…looks like you won’t be racing with your little pack anymore.  You’ll have to ride with me, instead…safety in numbers, and all that.”

Chapter Text

i.  you are someone who did not die when you should have.

For Yoshikage Kira, hate had become something comfortable, routine, and every morning when he woke up he found it settling into his lungs as naturally as the air he breathed.  Air that somehow, with almost unnatural persistence, still carried notes of your perfume, despite the fact that he’d scrubbed his bedsheets with every detergent he could think of before ultimately throwing them out and buying a new set entirely.

 

You had a habit of doing that.  You were gone, a ghost, a memory he found himself reaching for when he wasn’t thinking about it (especially now, in these horrible moments between sleep and wakefulness, when all he could think about was the warmth of your skin against his), and yet wherever he looked he could see your hands resting upon the pillars of order he built his life around, threatening to smash it all to pieces with one delicate, almost casual push.  You were gone, but the empty air of your absence had a weight to it all the same, and as Yoshikage Kira forced himself to sit up he could feel it crush him a little more.

 

He didn’t look at his bedside clock as his feet hit the floor.  Even without an alarm, he had always woken up with more than enough time to do as he pleased and take the morning at his own pace.  It was something he noted with a satisfaction bordering on vicious as he dressed himself, accepting how hate rubbed against his skin like a second shirt.  You had taken his sleep from him, and his peace, but his routine was still his.  It was the only victory he had in a war only he was fighting, and if he allowed himself to dwell on it a heartbeat longer than he had to, Kira would have found it breathtakingly pathetic.

 

Was it hate that pricked at his hands as he cracked a second egg into the pan, or was it just hot oil?  Was that hate that warmed his skin as he sat down to eat at a table that now felt too large for a single person, or was the sun oddly bright for this time of day?

 

Kira forced himself to take a deep breath, chewing a bite of food he couldn’t taste.  Hate ebbed and flowed when he glared at the space you obstinately refused to occupy, racing down the lines of his arteries and veins in a rush that threatened to make him light headed…

 

The scrape of his chair against the kitchen tile barely registered as he all but fled for the bathroom.  He had time, he had time…it wouldn’t do to leave the house in this state.  You would take his peace and you’d take his sleep, but you wouldn’t take his routine and you certainly wouldn’t take his composure.

 

This was the litany of lies he told himself as he shed his clothes and stepped into the lukewarm blast of his shower, as if any amount of water could wash away the hate clinging to his skin.  Masturbating was a clinical, joyless affair, one he approached like an act of revenge as he forced himself to think of any and every woman he’d encountered recently who didn’t look a thing like you, imagined them doing the things you’d always refused to, a doll-like, docile, obedient glaze of adoration in their eyes as they breathlessly whispered and cried out his name in that way you never did.  Gratification wasn’t the goal here; if it were, the disgust that deadened his insides would have turned this into yet another defeat.

 

He wasn’t even hard.  His careful, practiced strokes were of absolutely no interest to his cock; he might as well have actually been scrubbing himself clean, for all the time he’d spent here.  Kira realized he was biting his lip, hard enough to draw blood, a streak of red running down his chin only to be obliterated in the flow of clear water.

 

You wouldn’t take this from him.  You wouldn’t.  His hand clenched, hard enough to actually hurt, as if checking to make sure he actually could still feel something, and then he started again in earnest.  He kept trying, and he kept failing, long after the water had gone cold, and he realized with a belated sense of horror that he had lost all track of time. 

 

For the first time in his uncompromisingly mediocre career, Yoshikage Kira was late for work.

 

ii.  they were victims of love, every one of them.

It takes a person and fixes them to the center of the universe.  It renders them more compelling than gravity, more terrible than death.  It makes them the foundation of dreams, the cornerstone of waking thoughts, the roof overhead that shuts out the stars.  It makes their absence unbearable, but their presence overwhelming.  Your pace quickens at the thought of chasing after them, your hands tremble in anticipation of what you will do when you reach them, when you feel their skin against your fingers.

 

What are we talking about?  Taste its name on your tongue.  Did you call it hate, or love?

 

She whimpers, a strangled animal bleat of weakness as he slams her head into rugged brick and dirty asphalt—not hard enough to leave a smear of drying maroon, not yet.  If she offers resistance, it’s unnoticeable, she just whispers something in a desperate rush he doesn’t bother parsing.  He considers the tone of her voice, turns it over in his head.  It will have to be good enough.

 

He assigns her a name.  The You of tonight isn’t anything like you, not really; not in smell, not in touch…

 

Kira leans in, unusually forward with someone he’s just met, and licks, dragging a long stripe along her jaw with his tongue, blind to her shudder at the contact.  He tastes sweat, and foundation, maybe a distant hint of the sample fragrances from the perfume department at Kame-Yu. 

 

She doesn’t taste like you, either.

 

There’s a fear here, though, a muted terror in her eyes as he pinches her flesh between thumb and forefinger and forces her to look at him.  Her eyes are the wrong color, the wrong shape, but they have the very same look You used to give him, back when you were still his and knew you’d been bad, and you were finally alone to receive the punishment you so thoroughly deserved.

 

This You is an inferior substitute.  A pale shadow of what the real thing would look like, would feel like, but Kira can’t help but feel a stir of excitement as his hands (so large, compared to her, fitting around her neck like she was made for this, and in that way the two of you were identical) rest against the hollow of her throat.  He doesn’t press, not yet.  He wants to savor this moment, has to fight against every atom in his body screaming at him to get to the good part, but his patience is wearing thin, and going by the uncomprehending horror on her face his composure has already failed utterly.

 

You had a habit of doing this.  This is so like you, he decides, and in a very deliberate move he presses his hips against You instead of leaning away, letting her feel every inch of what You did to him, thin fabric all that separates her from its full obscenity.  He brings his face to hers, close enough that they’re almost kissing, and despite Your frantic jerking she’s powerless to get away.

 

“You’ve made me late for work today,” Kira breathes, watching wisps of hair float away from her face with the action, “I’ve never been late before.  You…humiliated me, in front of everyone I work with…as if your misbehavior at home wasn’t enough…”

 

You’re saying something again, breathless pleading he’s heard a thousand times—you always did this, you always tried to get out of what happened when you acted out of line—Kira I don’t know what you’re talking about, Kira I was just talking to him, were you following me I saw you on the train please don’t hurt me who are you talking about I’ve never seen you before I don’t even know who you are

 

“Whatever will I do with you?  I’m starting to think you enjoy being treated like this.”  Deliberately, gently, almost for emphasis, he crosses his thumbs over her windpipe and presses, feeling his cock twitch in excitement as the start of her scream becomes a strangled squeak.

 

This You fights back, and maybe the two of you are more alike than he first thought, because she claws at his wrists and feebly reaches for his face and chest and neck in the same way you once did, and it’s just as futile as when you tried.  He squeezes harder, and the tattered remains of his restraint evaporate entirely as she thrashes, canting her hips against him, and he ruts back, letting You have everything you asked for.

 

You had a habit of doing this.  He doesn’t bother counting the seconds the way he used to—this was a punishment, after all, and if you didn’t learn you’d just do it again—and the faster his heart beats the harder he squeezes, until he’s certain he’s felt his fingernails break skin, tearing You apart the same way you continue to tear at him.

 

For several seconds, once You finally grow still and he’s all that’s holding her up, Kira thinks that she’s more resilient than the others, because he’s still feeling a pulse.  Slowly, belatedly, he realizes that what he actually felt was just his own pulse; his grip is that tight.

 

Catharsis graces him, caresses his chest and makes breathing just a bit easier, but he knows it won’t last.  As if a switch had been flipped, all his interest in You is completely gone; he simply lets go, letting her fall at his feet in a heap, already beneath notice or care.  His attention now turns to the front of his trousers, as Killer Queen steps out of him in an easy breath and already gets to work, erasing all evidence of the prelude to your punishment, of this inferior You.

 

Kira clicks his tongue, an indulgent tsk as he sees what you’ve done to him, once again.  You really can’t find it in you to behave yourself, can you?  How is he supposed to go walking around, with this mess you’ve made him make of his clothes?

 

Hate settles around his shoulders, comfortable, routine, as he steps away and takes off his coat, holding it in front of him to hide the damage.  If this is what he feels like now, he can’t wait until he’s caught up to you, until he finally has the real thing.

Chapter Text

the heart grows brutal from feeding on fantasies.

“May I have this dance?” A mouthful of knives glimmers at you in the low candlelight, but in the next moment it’s a row of white human teeth.  You watch the light play off the gold edges of his mask and wonder if he can taste the poison in your answer.

“Lead the way, sir.”  You rest your hand in his waiting palm, but his fingers tighten and seize your wrist instead, leading you away from the coterie of high-society belles you’d been shielding yourself with, deep into the throng of revelers wearing other faces.

Do any of them know?  You turn the question over in your head as he begins to move in time with the music, stiffly playing along as he slides an arm around your waist, resting just slightly against the curve of your hip—

The two of you tumbled end over end, like children playing.  Your body cried out as it dashed against the rocks, new agonies crying out with each roll as Diego forced you beneath him, and you turned him under you, down and down into the ravine—

His eyes perfectly match the teal painted into the sweeping curves of his mask—an eagle, maybe, or a hawk, either way it’s bespoke and fashionably out of place among the sea of carnival masks.  This masquerade is for you—a welcoming party as racers from the Steel Ball Run return to society—and the novelty of anonymity makes for an irresistible game, as enemies and friends and perfect strangers mingle without the slightest inkling that anyone is themselves.

This close, however, with your bodies pressed together, perfectly fitting into the grooves of the wounds you inflicted on each other, there’s no mistaking who your partner is.  When his hand presses into your upper back, fingers probing at the black bruise blooming under layers of tailored silk, you know that he knows, too.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been this close to you,” he muses in your ear as the two of you circle each other, a languid slow-motion pantomime of a much deadlier dance, “I’m glad you’re here…I was worried I’d have to leave this wonderful party, and, ah…seek you out.”

“That eager to conclude your beating, are you?” you murmur back, and your hands trace the angled contours of his chest.  To those around you, you’ve been emboldened by the delicate planes of your jeweled cat’s mask and the opportunity to admire the compact muscle accentuated by your partner’s suit, but you hear the pause in his breath as you trace the short, harsh line of a knife wound near his sternum.  You wonder what you’d find if you peeled back the fabric of his shirt and had a look; did he stitch it up himself?  See a doctor who didn’t ask too many questions?  Let it close on its own, his healing facilitated by the unnatural power he had come into?

Only an inch or two to the left would have done it, you muse with a vacant sort of regret, but the unnaturally twisted bones of a monster’s torso leap to your mind’s eye, and you know how lucky it was that you’d landed the hit at all.

Step carefully, now.  This is treacherous ground.  The two of you smile at each other—yours strained and perfunctory, his a lascivious sneer—and you think about how it would feel to kill him.  You want to kill him.  You’d like to kill him very, very much.  You’d already come so close.

Your bodies fit together in a way that only existed in romance novels.  You straddle his hips, sweat dripping down your neck as your head comes daringly, dangerously close to teeth longer than your fingers.  Fists won’t do anything, would only glance off the armored scales of his face or scrabble uselessly against the talon buried up to the knuckle in your side, tearing at anything it can reach, so you steady yourself with a hand around the loose skin of his reptilian throat, and you take a rock, and you—

The music does a sudden sweep, and Diego effortlessly tucks a leg under yours and pulls you into an unwilling, dangerously low dip, all but forcing you on the ground.  Everyone is too distracted by their own delights, by the sheer proximity of bodies, the energy of the music, the fragrance of hopelessly expensive wine, to see what you see: electric blue eyes that glow in the dark, and hands that twitch with the badly suppressed need to fit into the contours of your throat.

“You’re thinking about that day, aren’t you?  I am, too.  It’s all I can think about, lately,” he breathes as he pulls you back upright.  He carelessly brushes a lock of hair back, and for a moment you let yourself imagine that he’s talking about something else, something so innocent and foolish as young love, but then the next words drip from his lips and the moment dies as suddenly as a candle getting snuffed out.

“You hurt me, back then.  I had to delay a whole day, almost two, because of what you did…I can’t wait to pay you back.  I’m going to make you crawl.  I’m going to make you beg…”

You make to pull away, but his hands are at your shoulders, and you can actually feel something razor sharp punch through the finery of your garments, and this itself is a silent promise.  If you make any reaction, your mask conceals it, and you follow his steps into the next part of the dance as if the tips of his talons weren’t there at all, as if you didn’t feel something hot and wet soaking down the blades of your shoulders.

His breath continues, a quiet litany of fury gilded with his sweet voice.  “I won’t even bother with your horse.  You don’t deserve it.  I’ll get a collar for you and drag you behind Silver Bullet, all the way to England, so everyone can see the beast you are—“

“You say such things in polite company, and I’m the animal, here?” you murmur, reveling in the shocked hiss of breath as you suddenly jab your palm into the bruised bone of his ribs and set back, hoping he can’t hear your heart hammer in your throat as reality closes its fist around your heart and you remember that your only weapon in this moment is the snare of civility, of the witnesses crowding you.  

Watch out.  Injuries to body simply hurt, but injuries to pride drive one to madness, and you’ve done both in one practiced stroke.  You can see it now, in the hunch of his shoulders as he starts to crouch, in the calculated deadness of his eyes as he weighs the idea of throwing everything aside and simply attacking you here.

“‘Scuse me…I don’t suppose I could have this next dance?” you hear a shy warble at your elbow, and it’s with belated surprise that you realize the song has come to an end.  The organism of the dance floor has broken into its components once more, as people mill around and select new partners or return to the refreshments table.  The boy is innocent, soft–not a racer, then–and you can see hopeful brown eyes staring at you from behind the planes of his mouse’s mask.

Don’t feel too guilty about what you do next.  Fear makes people selfish, and in that moment all you can think about is shielding yourself with others, to appeal to that part of Diego Brando that cares about appearances above all else, to delay his retribution for as long as you can until you figure out a way to escape.

“Of course,” you reply, and you take his arm.  The crimson staining your clothes is unnoticeable in this lighting, and the smell of iron and salt easily drowned out in perfume and wine and sweat and hors d’oeuvres.  Nobody can see your carefully masked limp, has any suspicion of fresh bruises or weeping cuts, and certainly nobody can see the way Diego’s eyes follow your back, the snarl playing over his lips he has to physically bite back, the twitching of hands he has to stuff into his pockets.

Or, if they do, they don’t care.

Chapter Text

be careful to not mistake being desired for being loved.

 

“We’re going out.”

 

Vertigo spins the floor under your feet as your heart flips over itself, but you don’t make any outward appearance of excitement; simply raise your head to look at him with languid adoration.  Out?  Past the crumbling stone walls and tightly drawn curtains of this forgotten palace, back into the cool night air of Cairo?  Out, into the press of bodies, the throngs of humanity you’d abandoned when you entered your master’s service?  Out, where the trembling lamplight is drowned out by the indifferent glare of the moon overhead, trading the claustrophobia of decaying ceilings for a roof of endless stars?

 

He must have seen some subtle change in your eyes, because Dio’s lips curl into something like amusement, but hungrier.  He leans back slightly, your wordless cue to lean into him, and you shiver at the way his clammy breath ghosts across your face.

 

“It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  I suppose I have been keeping you busy.”

 

His nails drag across the bare skin of your chest, almost light enough to tickle, and you can’t suppress a hiss as they trail lower across the bumps of your ribs and scrape at a blooming bruise.  He considers the sound, and then presses again, hard enough to actually scratch, drinking in the little mewl you make just for him.

 

There’s a moment where you worry he might actually forget his plans and just amuse himself with your body some more—it wouldn’t be the first time—but Dio abruptly stands, candlelight glimmering off his alabaster skin as you tumble gracelessly to the floor.  “Come, dress me.  The mortals shouldn’t see us in anything less than our best.”

 

You pull yourself to your feet and hurry to the side of the room, picking your way around the discarded designer garments and silk scraps, the trappings of a man who enjoyed opulence for opulence’s sake, and pull the closet doors open.  Dio has never worn an outfit more than once, and his memory is immaculate.  Be careful when selecting something for him; a mistake here means you’ll be enjoying your outing without a stitch of decency again.  You mentally retrace the nights your master bothered to wear proper clothes, pull something unfamiliar from the rack, and walk back to where he waits, watching you return in the full-length mirror he prizes so much.

 

In the beginning, you were so overwhelmed to touch him that your hands would actually shake, rattling the buttons in their fixings and hitching the fabric in the angles of his limbs.  It amused him at first, but he eventually tired of it.  Now you could drape him in finery in your sleep.  Your movements are elegant and practiced, covering him in gold-embroidered fabric and black silk, sliding his feet into boots that cost more than a month’s rent for you, once upon a time.  The cologne is next—like incense, something rich and unmistakable, nobody will be in his presence without realizing it—and you’re just about to pull heavy gold rings over his fingers when he stops you with a look.

 

“Is that any way to treat me?” he asks, and there’s a heartbeat of confusion where you don’t understand what he means, but you’re already sinking to your knees and bringing your hand to your lips and ah, you understand now, as your teeth close around cold metal and you tilt your head back.

 

His fingers are cold—not one of your endless hours with him could warm his body even slightly—as they press against your lips, his own special kiss (this one’s just for you, too.  Isn’t it nice?  Don’t you like the privilege?) before pushing into your mouth, sliding the ring on as his fingertips graze your tongue, the back of your throat.  You remember gagging, the first time he tried this, but all you give him now is a little moan as he pulls his finger back out, slick with your saliva, and waits for you to repeat the motion with the next ring.  You want to look away as you take the next one—encrusted with rubies that glint in the candlelight—or the next one—an ornate piece that forces your jaw open wider than the others—or the next one—this one you don’t even see clearly, your eyes are too blurred with unshed tears from the stress of choking down your body’s protests as he prods at your palate, a little harder each time.

 

You can’t.

 

***

 

what are we made of but hunger and rage?

 

 

By now you’ve learned to shut your shame away in a dark corner of your mind, but it’s still hard sometimes.  There are moments when you want nothing more to cry or scream, but those haven’t been options in a long time.  So, instead, you laugh.

 

You’re laughing now, a peal of delight that echoes off the facades of the surrounding buildings but fails to drown out the agonized bawling, inhuman groans that began their life as pleading.  He’s moving, again—maybe trying to crawl away, maybe just trying to get comfortable before the end—it doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter.  His suit is almost as expensive as the airy clothes Dio pulled over you, and the remnants of the gold chain under your feet could feed a family for months, but he’s broken and bleeding and none of it matters.  It doesn’t matter.

 

You feel incredible.  Power is better than any drug, and Dio has always been good to you—has never let you be withdrawn for too long—and you sway, drunk on your elation as Dio presses a crystalline glass of something warm and red to your lips, and you take a deep sip without even registering what you’re tasting.   

 

In hindsight, you should have known what would be happening when you were pulled along into the cool nighttime breeze, but reality is just as painful as shame, so you consigned it to the same cell.  Hopefully you won’t have to do this for too much more of yourself; there’s only so much space in your mind before you’ve locked yourself out entirely.

 

“Don’t you think that’s enough, sweet thing?  He’s tried to apologize so much he can’t even move his tongue anymore.”

 

If he really wanted you to stop, you already would have.  This isn’t about the apology, penance for the crime of speaking to you without permission.  You’d let Dio get bored, alone in that dark mansion, and this is how you’re making it up to him; you’re tearing apart the rich and drunk for him, with your own two hands, because it’s fun.  It’s fun for him to watch.  It’s fun for you to do.  It’s fun.

 

You’re laughing again, but now it’s more of a disquieting giggle as you worry at the skin and caked blood under your fingernails and wonder how long it will take to wash the feeling away.  The man takes what’s left of his face in shaking hands and pushes it back into a recognizable shape, maybe hoping your hesitation means a reprieve is coming.  Perhaps the two of you, master and favorite pet, will turn your attention to something else that’s more fun to destroy.  It’s an expression you barely recognize—could it be?  Hope?

 

You’d say you feel bad about taking your nice designer shoes and undoing all his hard work, but the ecstatic bloodlust in Dio’s laughter drowns all of that out, so you raise your foot and do it again, and again, carefully and deliberately, with a precision borne of wanton cruelty, until you hear something crunch and snap and your heel suddenly sinks deeper than it did before.  The mingled chorus of your laughter and his begging abruptly becomes a solo.

 

Quiet footsteps echo from behind you.  You turn, expectant; you did what was asked of you, after all.  Dio tuts, tucking a finger under your chin and forcing you to meet his gaze, and pulls you back from the body by your jaw.

 

“So wasteful, don’t you think?  You’ve deprived me of a fine meal.  You’ve made a mess of yourself—those shoes were your gift.  I suppose I can’t fault you for it; I do love it when you’re having fun.”

 

“We have the whole city,” you find your mouth moving, “and the night is young.  We’ll get more.”

 

“I suppose we will,” he hums, raising a thumb to wipe at a drying smear of gore on your cheek.  You lean into the touch, are ready to pull yourself into his arms if he wills it, but he simply drops his hand and looks away, tired of the contact.  You step into his shadow.

 

“Shall we play your favorite game?  Good-hearted fools tend to be particularly delicious…it shouldn’t be too hard to find someone, looking like that.  Don’t be boring and find a policeman, now.”

 

Run for your life and find someone to help you.  This one’s a particular favorite of yours—you obsess over it, in fact, when you think he isn’t paying attention.  It’s your favorite fantasy.  It’s so nice of him to indulge you like this, to let you act it out over and over, even multiple times in one night.  You’re the only one he’s like this for.

 

Obediently, you kneel down, stripping the gore-caked shoes from your feet, slip the blood-drenched jacket from your shoulders.  You hunch your shoulders, adopt that wide-eyed terrified look that comes so naturally.  The transformation is immaculate; a three-move metamorphosis from murderer to victim.  Dio doesn’t move as you break into a run, feeling the bite of rough pavement under your feet as you begin the search; even if he didn’t follow, you would return to him without fail.  This game was too fun to play only once.

 

***

 

the empty space your soul occupied has its own weight.

 

Fatigue pulls at your eyelids as you run cold water over your face, but you don’t let it slow your movements; the fun was over, and now it is time to clean before Dio pulls you into bed with him to wait out the dawn.

 

The clothes began their night in a number of pastels and fancy embroidery, but it’s all the same lump of red-brown staining the antique tiles now.  Not your problem, naturally, but you can’t help but feel something unnamed in the distant shut-away part of yourself.  Your skin is smooth and soft, clear of the blood that soaked it only a half hour before, but you still reek of iron and salt; should you shower?  Scrub at yourself with scented soaps and perfumed washes?

 

Yes, your thoughts whisper.  You can’t stand to smell like this.  You can’t stand to look like this.

 

Your hair is getting in your eyes, plastered to your skin by the water.  You sweep it aside in a moment of ignorance, before your eyes find your face in the mirror and you wish you didn’t.

 

You look terrible.  Haggard, pale.  Your lips are bitten up and swollen.  There are no clothes to gloss over the weeping scars and bruises that story your skin.  And to crown it all, there, at your hairline, a tightly coiled bud sits.  It’s sewn into your skin, in clear view now that your hair has been pulled away, throbbing slightly as if it had a heartbeat all its own. It’s repulsive, it’s obscene, and just looking at it provokes a white-hot moment of insanity where you want nothing more than to reach up and tear it out of your flesh and choke on death, on your only way out of this nightmare.

 

In the instant you think it, you watch the flesh bud pulse, and your fatigue and hatred and sorrow are washed away in a flood of giddiness.  What a ridiculous thought; you must be quite tired.  You shut those traitorous feelings away in that distant part of yourself; hopefully you were quick enough, and Dio wouldn’t find out.

 

You pull your hair back into place and open the door, leaving as the floor spins under your feet.