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May I Love, Regardless of the Consequences

Chapter Text

Rohan woke up to a warm sensation filling his body. He was lying on the ground, grass blades poking uncomfortably through the clothes on his back. (Grass was never as soft as it looked. It was just itchy. Rohan made sure all the grass in his manga looked itchy instead of falsely soft.) When he opened his eyes and turned his head, that damned Higashikata Josuke was crouched over him with worried and hopeful eyes. He looked stupid. Almost as stupid as his Stand, which was next to him. Which was healing Rohan.

Rohan’s heart sped up, but it was only because of that gentle warmth and the fact that he was no longer on the precipice of death.

“Higashikata Josuke…” Rohan muttered, then turned away and sat upright.

The brat had dried blood streaks on his face and was looking away awkwardly. “Uhh, look, Rohan-sensei…” he said. His voice was soft with bashfulness and eagerness. “I know we have our differences, but I…”

He was obviously trying to make amends with Rohan. Trying to befriend Rohan.

But Rohan refused. ‘Friendship’ was a lie, just a convenient label people used to get things they wanted from others.

He interrupted. “Why did you heal me?”

Higashikata Josuke’s head jerked. He looked at Rohan with eyes that formed nearly perfect circles. A wonderful expression of surprised confusion. Rohan would draw it if he had his sketchpad with him. “Huh?” His bemusement made Rohan feel like messing with him.

“I didn’t ask for your help,” Rohan continued, closing his eyes and gesturing dramatically. “Death would have been preferable to being saved by the likes of you! I’m still flabbergasted that you chose to step into the enemy’s trap after I warned you to run. Are you really that stupid?”


“And to be clear, this is not a favor deserving of any repayment!” Rohan was indifferent to Josuke now (he was), but deep inside, wrapped around his guts, was an icy snake that hissed at the thought of Higashikata Josuke trapping him, Rohan, in an imprisonment of debt disguised as ‘friendship.’ Rohan refused to be part of such a lie.

He stood up, leaving the brat spluttering and Kujo Jotaro, standing a meter away by the tunnel entrance, lowering his hat with an exasperated sigh.

Rohan’s motorcycle was there by the side of the road, but Rohan refused to take it. Higashikata had ridden it, probably wrecked it and fixed it. Rohan didn’t want it anymore. He’d get a new bike.

There was a car next to the motorcycle, no doubt Kujo’s. Rohan could ask him for a ride, but he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t ask a near stranger to do something for him after seeing him so weak.

So Rohan started walking.

“Rohan-sensei, your bike!” Higashikata called after him.

“I don’t want it!” he snapped back. Then added, just to be petty: “It has your germs on it. I don’t want to be infected with stupidity.”

“You—!” The voice cut off before an insult could form. There was a pause; the brat was likely counting in his head or using some other calming exercise. “Are you planning to walk the whole way back?!”

“Yes.” Rohan kept walking.

Several meters later, after a hurried conversation behind him that Rohan only heard the murmurs of, footsteps came running up behind him.

Rohan didn’t turn around.

Higashikata fell into step next to him, hands laced behind his head and looking up at the sky. Rohan stopped and glared. “What are you doing.”

“I’m walking back to town,” Higashikata drawled. “I can’t take the motorcycle, it’s not mine—that would be stealing.”

“Then catch a ride with Kujo,” said Rohan flatly.

“I can’t ask my nephew for a ride, that’s embarrassing.” Higashikata was smirking now.

Rohan grit his teeth. “Don’t follow me.”

“I’m not following you.”

Rohan opened his mouth to reply, but just as quickly shut it again. He refused to participate in such childish behavior. He turned his head straight forward and forcefully ignored the menace baiting him.

Surprisingly, Higashikata didn’t try to reengage him immediately. They walked in silence.

Josuke watched Rohan out of the corner of his eyes. The manga artist’s face was set in a deep frown, his eyes narrowed and his lips, which were missing their characteristic green lipstick, pursed.

As they walked, Josuke thought. He wasn’t much prone to self-reflection, but he was self-aware enough to realize two things about himself: he was impulsive, and he was proud. Even when Josuke outsmarted his opponents, more often than not he was following instinct. As for his pride, well… part of his pride in himself was pride in his role model. The rest was in his ability to help people. Josuke couldn’t regret his pride one bit.

The problem with him and Rohan, Josuke thought, was that they were both too proud. Rohan wouldn’t give up his pride to thank Josuke. In fact, Josuke suspected, Rohan wouldn’t give up his pride for anyone or anything. He was certainly too proud to accept Josuke’s apology on the bus, and Josuke was too proud to grovel like Rohan had no doubt wanted him to. After all, Josuke didn’t give up his pride for anyone he didn’t respect or who didn’t respect him.

So they were at an impasse. In order to make amends, one of them would have to suspend their pride. And it certainly wouldn’t be Rohan.

Which meant it would have to be Josuke.

He didn’t have to make amends, Josuke reminded himself. But really… he wanted to. He didn’t like being hated by a good person for stupid mistakes Josuke had made. And Rohan was a pretty okay person. Josuke respected him a little, after today.

“Kishibe Rohan… I can’t believe you actually saved me…. It’s hard to believe, but I feel weirdly moved!

“Hang in there for me, Rohan!”

So. Making amends. Swallowing his pride and apologizing sincerely. Josuke breathed deep, let it out through his mouth, and mustered his courage and resolve.

“Rohan,” he began, not looking at the manga artist but wearing a serious expression. “I’m sorry for trying to trick you out of money. It was really immature of me, and I promise that I’ll never do it again.”

Rohan stopped walking and stared at Josuke. His gaze was penetrating, his expression unreadable. Josuke tried not to fidget, though he felt like Rohan was peeling back his skin and reading his thoughts without even using Heaven’s Door.

After a long moment of silence, during which Rohan stared and Josuke shifted and sweated nervously, Rohan sighed and closed his eyes. Josuke sighed in relief, but that feeling quickly flitted away like a bird in fright when Rohan opened his eyes again to glare.

“I know what you’re trying to do here, Higashikata Josuke,” the manga artist said. “You are trying to make amends with me. Why? Because you like me? No—because you need to categorize me in your head.”


“I am not your enemy,” continued Rohan, steamrolling over Josuke’s confused sputtering, “and I am not your friend. You can’t stand a relationship you don’t understand, so you are trying to put me in one of those categories. You can no longer think of me as an enemy after we faced a common enemy together, so you are trying to make me your ‘friend.’ ” Rohan spat that last word with so much disdain and disgust that it sounded like a profanity. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking what you want is friendship.”

Josuke scowled, confusion mixing with defensiveness. “That’s not what I’m—!”

“It is,” Rohan cut him off. “And I refuse to be trapped in such a false ‘friendship,’ knowing that you would be satisfied just with having leverage over me. But even if you did sincerely want to be my friend, it would never work out. We are diametrically opposed, completely incompatible. Because you are a liar, and I am not.”

Rohan suddenly stepped into Josuke’s space and jabbed a finger at the younger’s nose. “Listen well, Higashikata Josuke. My job is to describe and evoke reality through my manga. Lies do nothing but muddle reality. I hate lies, and I despise liars.

“And you, Josuke, are a compulsive liar. You never do what you say you will. You never do what I expect you to do.

“But worst of all,” Rohan said, his voice lowering to a hiss, and Josuke felt his insides go cold; “you had the gall to accuse me of lying. I do not lie. Do I manipulate? Yes. Do I put on acts? Of course. But I refuse to outright lie.

“You were rightfully wary on that bus, I’ll admit. I did plan on making you pay for the humiliation of tricking me. But I never would have done it by lying.”

Leaving Josuke frozen and gaping in shock, Rohan turned sharply on his heel, white half-jacket flaring, and power-walked toward Morioh.

Josuke, meanwhile, felt like his brain was collapsing a little. Rohan’s words were echoing in his head, bringing to mind their recent interactions.

At Rohan’s house, during the dice game:

“I’ve held back the anger I feel toward you for the sake of Joestar-san and Koichi up until now… but I refuse to sit here and do nothing while you make a complete fool of me! The thought of you laughing on the inside at my expense is unbearable!”

On the bus, as Rohan was leaving:

“You of all people don’t believe me, Higashikata Josuke? Even after lying about cheating while we played dice and never doing what you claim you will, you have the gall to accuse me of lying? You and I will clearly never get along. I suppose nothing good could come of you joining me, anyway.”

And what Rohan had yelled in the tunnel, after Josuke had stepped into Highway Star’s trap:

“You always do the exact opposite of what I expect you to do. And that’s why I hate your guts! That’s why you infuriate me beyond all belief!”

Josuke hung his head down and heaved a deep sigh. “Oh man, what a mess… Just great.”

It had become clear that Josuke couldn’t expect Rohan to forgive him with a simple apology, no matter how sincere. What more could he do? Did he even want to make amends with Rohan anymore? Josuke didn’t have to fix his relationship with Rohan. And Rohan certainly didn’t want anything to do with him. What point was there in trying? Josuke thought hard and couldn’t come up with a single reason to befriend Rohan that wasn’t easing his own conscience. There was simply no point in it.

But Josuke found he couldn’t give up on it anyway.

Laughing a little at himself, Josuke closed his eyes and tilted his head back to the sky. “Sorry, Rohan. I’m not done defying your expectations yet.”

Chapter Text

After Kira Yoshikage’s defeat and subsequent death, after Reimi had achieved her closure, after peace had returned to Morioh, Rohan had expected to never again have to interact with Higashikata Josuke. It was impossible to avoid seeing him entirely, unfortunately, as he was a friend of Koichi’s, but Rohan anticipated that he would never have to exchange more than obligatory greetings and pleasantries.

Little did Rohan know how wrong he was.

It started only a few weeks after Reimi’s passing on, when two annoyances and Koichi knocked on his door. After glancing through his blinds at his visitors, Rohan decided to ignore them, even if Koichi would no doubt be angry with him later.

“Ne~ Rohan-sensei,” Higashikata yelled from outside. His voice was fully audible, though muffled through the wall. “We heard you got caught stealing something from Kame Yu! Izzat true?”

Rohan grit his teeth and put down his ink pen. Such an absurd accusation, no matter how deliberately provoking, could not be allowed to stand. He swept silently down the stairs and yanked the door open suddenly, hoping to startle and unnerve his impudent trespassers. Koichi jumped a bit, but Higashikata was annoyingly unconcerned, smirking unbearably.

“Not that it’s any of your business,” Rohan said coldly, “but it is not true. There was simply a situation involving a would-be shoplifter trying to take a turtle statue on display. When the alarm went off, the security closed the exits in order to find the thief among the customers, and I happened to be in the store at the time. Naturally I identified the culprit and fixed the situation. I was only escorted to the police station to give my statement about the attempted theft.”

“Wow!” Koichi exclaimed. “That sounds like a good story! Um, would you mind telling us about it in more detail?”

Rohan carefully didn’t let his pleasure show on his face. “Well, I suppose it couldn’t hurt to hear your thoughts on it before I use the experience as inspiration for Pink Dark Boy.” He stepped back and left the door open. “Very well, come in.”

Once his guests were settled with tea (which Koichi had subtly insisted on), Rohan told the story of his most recent adventure:

The Morioh branch of the department store chain Kame Yu had started a fundraiser for an organization that worked to preserve and protect sea turtles. Customers could donate to the cause by buying raffle tickets for prizes: special coupons, Kame Yu brand clothes and merchandise, and, most importantly, a turtle sculpture made out of sea glass, donated to the raffle by a sympathetic local artist.

The turtle statue was fairly small, only about twelve centimeters long and nine centimeters wide, but intricately crafted with glue and wire. It had been displayed on a pedestal in the center of the store, with the baskets of Kame Yu merchandise around the base. A simple but discrete alarm had been set up to go off if the statue was removed from the stand.

“There were two small conductive stickers on the pedestal—one connected to a power source and the other connected to a switch that prevented the alarm from going off—and a larger conductive sticker stuck to the bottom of the turtle’s shell,” Rohan explained. “The sticker on the turtle’s underbelly overlapped the two small stickers, allowing electrical current to flow, which kept the alarm silent. If the turtle was removed from the pedestal, the current would stop flowing, a switch would flip, and the alarm would go off.”

As the pedestal had been in an aisle in the middle of the store, it was blocked by sight from most angles by shelves. It was only clearly it sight if one was standing in the same row as the pedestal. When the alarm had gone off, the security guards sealed the exits and several employees rushed to the pedestal. There they found a man curled up on the floor, who claimed that he had been knocked over when the thief rushed by. Since security was sure no one had left the store since the alarm went off, all the customers were gathered by the pedestal and searched.

But the turtle hadn’t been found on anyone or in any shopping carts or baskets. The security team eventually concluded that the culprit had escaped and was discussing reopening the exits when Rohan had stepped forward, rummaged around in one of the baskets around the pedestal, and produced the stolen statue.

“Of course, the security immediately jumped to the conclusion that I was the thief and was finally coming clean, and someone called the police. But after I explained what had really happened, the misunderstanding was cleared up before the cops arrived,” Rohan said haughtily.

“So what happened?” Koichi asked eagerly, as all three teenagers leaned in over the table in anticipation.

Rohan also leaned forward on his elbows, an unreadable expression on his face as he laced his fingers together in front of his mouth. “The thief,” he explained, “upon hearing the alarm, knew that he could not run for the exit, as doing so would immediately be seen as suspicious. He also knew that he could not conceal the statue on his person if he was searched, and there were few places he could hide something so fragile. So he quickly put the turtle in one of the baskets with Kame Yu clothes, the other prizes of the raffle. Then, because being at the scene of the crime would be suspicious, but so would be trying to distance himself at the last second, the culprit pretended to be a victimized bystander of the theft.”

Koichi gasped. “The man who was knocked over!”

“Yes,” Rohan nodded. “No one would suspect a victim to be the perpetrator of the crime. But the man made some mistakes which led me to suspect him.

“First, his acting was inconsistent. When he was found, he made a large spectacle complaining about how he had been injured by the thief, even going to the length of saying that his shoulder was dislocated. However, when it was suggested that he be escorted to a hospital, he changed his story, saying that his earlier claim had been an exaggeration, and that actually he had used his martial arts training to soften his fall. It was obvious that he didn’t want to leave the store—because his prize was still there.

“Second, the man kept looking at the basket with the clothes, and looking away. He knew that he shouldn’t be looking where the statue was hidden, but his gaze kept returning there, so the flicking motion was more obvious and suspicious than if the man had gazed steadily at the basket, where it would have looked like he was zoning out.

“Third, the man’s groceries hadn’t spilled.”

“His groceries?” Okuyasu asked. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that if he had, indeed, been knocked over by a running thief, his shopping basket should have been overturned and the contents spilled, or at least the eggs broken in their carton. But the shopping basket was not disturbed, because the thief set it down to hide the statue, and left it where it was when he threw himself to the floor.”

Once Rohan had explained these things to the security team, the thief was quickly apprehended and Rohan was free of suspicion.

“…And before the police arrived to take care of the thief, I used Heaven’s Door on him to see what motivated him to steal and what it felt like,” Rohan concluded. His mask of indifference had slipped, and he was grinning widely (maniacally or creepily, some people might say). “It turns out the man was a kleptomaniac. Such a fascinating character! The obsession, the thrill-seeking, the compulsion—his motives were nearly incoherent even to his own mind! Ah, I wish I could have taken one or two of his pages…”

Koichi’s face visibly twitched at the mention of pages, and he put his empty teacup on the coffee table and stood up from his seat. “Thank you for telling us that story, Rohan-sensei, but it’s probably time to go back. I’m meeting up with Yukako-chan in an hour.”

Okuyasu stood up to follow Koichi to the door, but paused when Josuke made no move to leave. “Ne, Josuke, you comin’?”

“Nah, you go on ahead,” Josuke replied, flapping a hand. “I have something I wanna talk to Rohan-sensei about.”

Okuyasu shrugged easily, but Koichi flicked his gaze nervously between Josuke and Rohan. Josuke gave him a reassuring look and a shooing motion until he left.

The door closed behind Okuyasu and Koichi with a click. Silence. Rohan glared at Josuke, who ignored his stare and drained the last of his tea. Rohan continued glaring as Josuke set his cup down with a light clink.

“Listen, Rohan,” Josuke started, finally meeting Rohan’s gaze head on. “I know our last deal ended with your house getting burnt, but I have another proposal for you.” When Rohan’s mouth immediately opened to refuse, Josuke hurriedly added, “Hear me out first, okay? I want to save up some money, so I got a job at the ice cream place nearby. But I missed a lot of school this year and my grades aren’t that good, so I have to attend summer school. My shift starts just long enough after class ends that I can’t go straight there, but there’s no point going home first. Your place is close by, so can I stay here after school before I go to work? In return I’ll tell you as many truths as you want to make up for lying to you.”

Rohan sat back in his chair, eyes narrowed to slits. What was this brat after now? Rohan weighed his options carefully. Then he said, “I refuse. Entertain yourself elsewhere.”

“Are you sure?” Josuke wheedled. “I mean, I guess I could kill time around town or something. But you know, I’ve come across a lot of Stand users. I wouldn’t mind telling you about them.”

Rohan’s eyes glazed over a bit and his fingers raised to his chin in contemplation. He was obviously thinking about all the things he could ask Josuke. His right hand twitched on the chair arm as if itching to grab a pen.

“Did you hear about Red Hot Chili Pepper?” Josuke asked casually, trying not to smirk. “I think that showdown happened before we met.”

Rohan came out of his thoughts and glared at Josuke. “I don’t know what you are trying to achieve, but you are obviously trying to bait me. But you are a liar, so there is no reason for me to believe that you would uphold your end of the deal. I refuse.”

“Look,” Josuke leaned forward on his elbows, staring intently into Rohan’s eyes. “What if I let you write something in me?”

The manga artist’s expression didn’t change, but his eyes widened slightly.

“ ‘I cannot lie to Kishibe Rohan.’ I’ll let you write that,” Josuke said. He wasn’t wearing that infuriating smirk for once. “But only that. Try to write anything else, and I’ll kick your ass. And if you write it, you have to let me stay at your house when I want.”

Rohan’s eyes widened a little more. His right hand twitched again. Rohan hated being trapped, and Josuke had just caught him between two of his favorite things: research for his manga, and saying ‘No’ to people who were sure of themselves. He wanted to accept. He wanted to refuse. He wanted to draw.

After a fierce and bloody battle inside Rohan’s head, the part of him that wanted to accept came out victorious. It had been unexpectedly aided by the fact that Josuke wasn’t smirking smugly and knowingly. The part of him that wanted to refuse had no reinforcements against the unanticipated cavalry and was shot down like Hijikata Toshizou, dying nobly for what it believed in. Then the Meiji Restoration took over.

“I accept,” Rohan said, summoning Heaven’s Door. Pages split open on Josuke’s cheek, and the Stand’s pen darted across a corner of blank space. Less than a second later the words were written and Heaven’s Door disappeared, and the pages sealed themselves back into smooth skin.

Josuke smiled. It still wasn’t a smirk. It was unbearably warm polite. He stood up and grabbed his school bag. “See you soon, Rohan.”

And then he was gone.

Rohan sat still for a few moments after, his mind whirling. The Hijikata Toshizou in his mind, now a ghost, was moaning in despair, but the rest of his brain was whirling with ideas. He wanted to draw.

Rohan got up and climbed the stairs to his studio, trying to remain calm even as his heart sped up in excitement. Standing in front of his desk, he lifted his arms over his head and bent his wrists into ninety degree angles, fingers straight. He brought his arms down to the sides and out to the front. With his palms facing forward and perpendicular to his arms, he bent his fingers: thumbs, pointer, index, ring, pinkies. He unbent them: pinkies, ring, index, pointer, thumbs.


He dropped his arms and shook out his hands.

“My warm-up exercises for drawing manga are now complete.”

Chapter Text

Josuke hovered on Rohan’s porch, working up the nerve to knock. Although he had been betting on the manga artist’s curiosity and desire for knowledge when he’d come up with the plan to get to know Rohan better, and even though Rohan had accepted his offer in the end, Josuke didn’t know how the man would react. Would he be cold? Would he be manic? Would he taunt Josuke and insult him constantly?

With these thoughts swirling in his head, Josuke finally rang the doorbell. After a moment, the door opened, and Rohan greeted him with an unreadable expression and a light green halter crop top with pen-nib-shaped cutouts and loose white pants with slits down the outer thighs.

Josuke swallowed nervously and smiled. “Yo, Rohan-sensei.”

“Higashikata Josuke,” Rohan said neutrally and moved out of the doorway. (Josuke wondered why Rohan insisted on using his full name so often.) “Come in. You can help yourself to anything in the kitchen. If you don’t mind, we’ll talk in my studio. Come up when you’re ready.” Without another word, the manga artist turned, leaving the door open, and retreated up the stairs.

Josuke blinked bemusedly at the neutral greeting and stepped inside, closing the door behind himself. He was a little hungry, so he wandered into the kitchen as per Rohan’s suggestion.

The kitchen was large, clean, and bare. The only appliances visible were an electric teapot and a fancy coffee maker by the stove, a microwave on the counter under the cupboards, and the refrigerator in the corner. There was a nearly empty fruit basket on the counter, but otherwise no food. When Josuke checked the cupboards looking for snacks, he found a set of fancy, dusty, unused china; a few plain ceramic cups, bowls, and plates; and one box of granola. The cupboards under the counter contained a trash bin and exactly zero pots or pans. And in the refrigerator, nearly every shelf was filled with takeout boxes and containers of leftovers.

“Geez,” Josuke muttered to himself, grabbing a pizza box. “My mom would kill me if I ate nothing but take-out. Does this guy not cook at all?! Even I can cook for myself if Mom goes away!”

Normally Josuke would have warmed up the pizza, but he didn’t want to keep Rohan waiting too long, so he hurriedly ate a couple slices, grimacing inwardly at the texture of cold sauce and cheese, before cleaning up and taking the stairs. The door to the studio was open, but Josuke knocked on the door-jam before stepping in.

The last time Josuke had been in Rohan’s studio was when he beat Rohan up and broke all the windows on the second floor. Josuke had been too mad to fix the house afterward, but now, months later, there was no sign of damage on the bookshelf, desk, furniture, or windows. At that time the room, and the whole house, had seemed dark and diabolical, but now everything seemed a bit brighter. There were sketches hung haphazardly along the walls and the bookshelf was overflowing with books of all kinds, from encyclopedias to plant guides, no doubt as references.

And at the center of this scene was Rohan, seated at the desk in front of the windows, bent over something. When he turned to look at Josuke over his shoulder, the summer sunlight from the window filtered through his hair and seemed to make its deep green hue glow.

“Higashikata Josuke,” Rohan acknowledged, turning in his swivel chair and crossing his knees to regard his guest. “You can have a seat on that couch.”

“Uh, sure,” Josuke said, sitting on the loveseat perpendicular to Rohan’s desk. “So, uh, what did you want to hear about first?”

Rohan took a large sketchbook from his desk and set it open on his lap, pencil already poised over the paper. “Tell me about your fight with Kira Yoshikage.”

Josuke hesitated. “Uh, are you sure you wanna hear about that right now? So soon after it happened…”

“Yes,” Rohan said firmly. His voice was quiet but his gaze was intense. “What better time than now? Since we’re all already looking for closure.”

That made sense, Josuke thought, looking at his hands on his lap. Rohan, Jotaro, and Koichi has missed most of the final fight, though Jotaro had delivered the finishing blow before the ambulance. It probably meant a lot to Rohan, hearing about how his friend’s murderer was defeated.

So Josuke took a deep breath and began.

That first day, when Josuke talked about Kira for the hour and a half before his shift, was heavy. Rohan took notes dutifully but without much enthusiasm, and when Josuke got to the ice cream shop, he bought himself a cone of strawberry to cheer himself up before dealing with the customers.

But after that heavy day, things shifted. Rohan still greeted him somewhat coldly at the door, but once Josuke started talking, he became wide-eyed with wonder and excitement, and his pen was in near constant motion. He relentlessly interrupted Josuke asking for absurd details—“What did Red Hot Chili Pepper look like? What did its presence feel like? What did the air smell like?”—and Josuke, compelled to answer truthfully, would shrug and say he didn’t remember or stumble through a disjointed description he could barely put into words.

By the time Josuke finished talking each day, the manga artist was grinning maniacally and his pen (or sometimes pens. Josuke had once seen him using three pens in each hand, though he had no idea how the manga artist had managed it) was dancing so fast it was a blur. When Rohan was that deeply absorbed in his work, he didn’t seem to notice if Josuke watched over his shoulder for a few minutes before leaving.

There was another heavy day when Josuke talked about Angelo and his grandfather’s death, and Rohan was respectfully (for him, anyway) less pushy than usual.

When Josuke ran out of Stand stories, Rohan interrogated him on his childhood, how he’d discovered Crazy Diamond, how he’d used it until he’d met Jotaro and found out what it was.

(Josuke had been a lonely child, feeling separated from his peers because of his untraditional family and because no one else could see Crazy Diamond. But while having a Stand had left him feeling unable to connect with anyone, it had also given him a (sometimes reluctant) sense of duty and responsibility because he could deeply affect people’s lives, even if they weren’t aware of it. For years, Josuke could only feel connected to people, however bittersweetly and one-sidedly, during the short flares of Crazy Diamond’s golden aura as he fixed them.)

Within a week of their arrangement, Rohan started leaving the front door unlocked and told Josuke to just come in when he arrived. He’d sniffed haughtily as he said that he was tired of having to let Josuke in, but after seeing Rohan’s cold facade so much, Josuke was easily able to look past the taunting and privately feel proud that he’d earned some semblance of trust from the manga artist.

About halfway through summer break (though it wasn’t a break for Josuke, what with summer school and his job), Josuke started bringing food over to Rohan’s house. Most often it was leftovers of his mom’s cooking from dinner, but sometimes when he made breakfast he packed some for Rohan. When Rohan asked him about it, Josuke had explained, “It’s annoying that there’s only takeout here,” though he had neglected to mention that he was annoyed that it was all Rohan was eating, rather than that he himself had to eat it.

Shortly after that, Josuke found himself thinking that Rohan was cute sometimes. Not his appearance—his face was too sharp to be called cute—but the way his eyes became childish with unrestrained joy when he heard about Stands, the way he focused on his work to the point where he lost awareness of all else and wouldn’t notice if he got ink on his nose, the way he brought his sketchpad with him if they left the studio for even a moment. Even some of his outfits were cute in their ridiculousness.

Of course, that didn’t mean Rohan himself was cute. It was different. Completely different, Josuke told himself.

“How’s it going with Rohan?” Koichi asked, sipping at his milkshake. “Have you guys fought yet?”

It was nearing the end of summer break, and Josuke, Koichi, and Okuyasu were sitting at Café de Maigot. Josuke and Okuyasu hadn’t seen much of Koichi lately because he didn’t have to go to summer school like they did, and instead had been spending much of his time with Yukako.

“It’s been smooth sailing, thankfully,” Josuke said, leaning his cheek on his hand. “He was a little prickly when I first started going over, but I think he’s warmed up to me. We haven’t fought at all.”

“Heh?” Koichi breathed wonderingly. “When you told me what you were planning to do, I was sure he would kick you out or you would beat him up within a week.”

Josuke scowled playfully. “Geez, you don’t have any faith in me, do you, Koichi?”

Koichi hurriedly shook his head, waving his hands in front of him as if to ward off Josuke’s accusation. “That’s not it! It’s less that I don’t have faith in you and more that… well, I know how frustrating Rohan can be to deal with. To be honest, I thought he’d push you to the breaking point, since he’s really arrogant and petty a lot of the time.”

Josuke prodded his sundae thoughtfully with his spoon. “Well, yeah, he’s arrogant,” Josuke admitted, “but he’s also really hard on himself, you know? It’s hard to be too angry with a guy’s high standards when he holds himself to it, too. And anyways, he’s not so bad when he’s in manga-writing mode. It’s a tough job handling all his questions, but he’s too excited to be an asshole, so it’s not like he’s being deliberately provocative.”

When Josuke glanced up, Koichi and Okuyasu were frozen, staring at him with wide, round eyes. A bite of cake fell off Okuyasu’s fork, still poised outside his open mouth. “What?” Josuke asked.

“It’s just,” Okuyasu said, finally setting down his fork, “I didn’t expect you to defend Rohan-sensei. Does that mean you guys are friends?”

“I’m not sure friends is the right word,” said Josuke, still frowning. “I mean, I wouldn’t mind if we were, he’s actually pretty fun to hang out with. But I don’t think he thinks of me that way, since he’s only talking to me for his manga.”

Koichi’s eyes widened further, gaining a concerned look. “Are you okay with that, Josuke? Isn’t he kind of taking advantage of you, if you guys have a one-sided friendship?”

Josuke looked up and smiled his confident, determined smile. “No way,” he laughed. “I started this whole thing because I didn’t like being pointlessly hated, and it’s been working. And he may be learning a bunch about me, but I’m also learning a bunch about him. Even if he won’t admit to being friends, I know he’s warming up to me.”

Koichi examined Josuke’s expression a bit longer, before his expression relaxed. “Alright, I won’t worry about it, then. But what will you do if he decides he doesn’t need any more info from you and stops the arrangement?”

Josuke shrugged lazily and blithely waved off the question, but that was actually something he had been wondering about for a while. What would he do if Rohan stopped being interested in him?

For some reason, the thought brought a lump to his throat. But he swallowed hard and put that worry out of his mind. He would cross that bridge when he got to it.

Chapter Text

“You shouldn’t come over for a while.”

It was mid August, nearly the end of summer break and the start of school. Josuke, who was getting ready to go to work, froze. Was this it? he thought frantically. Did Rohan finally lose interest and get tired of him?

Before he could ask, Rohan continued, “I’m going on a research trip to the mountains. Rumor has it there are yokai there.”

Something tense inside Josuke eased. “Maa, that sounds hard to believe,” he drawled. “But have fun looking.”

Rohan turned a narrow-eyed gaze on him. “You don’t believe me? I can’t wait to see your face when I prove you wrong.”

“Sure,” Josuke agreed easily. “You can tell me and Koichi and Okuyasu all about it.”

Josuke quit his job at the ice cream shop when school started, so he no longer had an excuse to hang out at Rohan’s house, but he planned to go back, if only to tell Rohan he wouldn’t be coming over anymore.

But Josuke happened to see Rohan before he had to chance to visit him at his house. Josuke, Okuyasu, Koichi, and Mikitaka had been hanging out together on a sunny Saturday when they had spotted Rohan at Café de Maigot, sitting with an unfamiliar man and obviously in the middle of telling a story. The group barely had to share a glance before it was collectively decided that they would listen in. The man Rohan was sitting with was so engrossed in Rohan’s narrative that he didn’t even notice when four teenagers pulled up seats at their table. Not that Josuke could blame him for his inattention, once he started listening to Rohan speak.

Rohan had a talent for storytelling in any medium, it seemed. His voice as he recounted the tale of the Mutsukabezaka was deeper than usual, breathy in a way that gave his words an air of suspense and mystery. Then suddenly his voice would raise and his rhythm would quicken, making the listener jolt in surprise and fear. As he wrapped up the story his tone became soft and pondering, evoking a feeling that the world was far vaster than what he had just described.

“Is that true, Rohan-sensei?” Koichi asked when he had finished. His words caused the stranger to startle, finally noticing the additions to the conversation. “I find it very hard to believe.”

“But, you know, you can’t say for sure that it isn’t true,” mused Okuyasu, a hand on his chin. “You ever heard of this?” he asked Mikitaka.

“Yes,” the alien replied. “I believe there was a similar organism living in the Orion constellation.”

The stranger stood up, his chair scraping against the sidewalk as he protested, “Hey! You guys can’t just sit down here—”

He cut himself off when Rohan raised a palm toward him, signaling him to stop. There was a pause, before Rohan turned to Mikitaka.

“By the way, I’ve been wondering about this, but are you really a space alien?”

“Yes, I came from the Magellenic Clouds to live on Earth,” Mikitaka said in his earnest way, a hand placed on his chest. “My spaceship is at an altitude of about 1,500,000 kilometers above the Earth. On it…”

Okuyasu sighed loudly, “What an annoying alien,” while the stranger looked between Rohan and Mikitaka with growing confusion and fear.

When Rohan had finished listening to Mikitaka and taking notes, he turned back to the stranger. “Anyway, Kaigamori-kun, that’s why I need an advance payment. Can you do that?”

“Eh? Rohan-sensei, you need money?” Okuyasu asked.

“Yes. As I was explaining to Kaigamori-kun, I bought six mountains in the region nearby to prevent a development company from building a resort trail through the forest, which might have scared the yokai away. Obviously I needed to preserve the land for the sake of research. But since the resort trail was canceled, the land price crashed and I can’t resell the mountains. So now I’m bankrupt and homeless.”

Josuke had been quiet up until then, content with watching the scene play out, but now he exclaimed his surprise. “Homeless?! Then, where are you going to live?!”

Rohan glanced at the short boy seated next to Josuke. “I was planning on asking Koichi-kun if I could stay at his house.”

Something in Josuke twisted painfully at the thought that Rohan had chosen Koichi over him after the month they’d spent talking.

Koichi scratched his cheek in thought. “I mean, I guess you could, but my parents and sister are there, and there’s not much room. I don’t know if you’d have anywhere to work.”

Josuke saw a chance and seized it. “You know, you could stay at my house for a while,” he said, trying to sound casual. “It’s just me and my mom, and we have a spare room. I’ll ask her if she minds you coming over, but she’ll probably be fine with it. She’s pretty chill.” Well, except when it came to chores, but she wouldn’t make a guest do housework. That was just something she did to Josuke. “Hey, Mister Editor, do you have a cell phone?”

Kaigamori Minoru, who was still standing at the table looking lost, startled and looked over at Josuke. “Uh… yes?”

“Lemme borrow it for a moment,” Josuke demanded, holding his hand out expectantly.

Kaigamori glanced at Josuke’s hand, then at Rohan, who just shrugged in response to the unasked question as he stared at Josuke with a poker face. After a moment, Kaigamori sighed and handed over the clunky cellphone. He didn’t even know what his life was anymore.

“Great! Thanks!” Josuke dialed his homeline and held the mobile to his ear. After a few rings, his mother picked up.

“Moshi moshi?”

“Hey, Mom. One of my friends is homeless, can he stay with us for a while?”

“Which friend?” Tomoko asked. “Okuyasu?”

“Nah, it’s Rohan-sensei. The mangaka. He’s been letting me stay at his house after summer school before my job.”

“Well, if he’s put up with your lazy ass for a month, he must be a good guy! Sure, he can stay for a while.”

“How was I lazy? I had a job on top of summer school! It wasn’t easy, you know!” Josuke groaned, rolling his eyes. Then he turned to Rohan and covered the receiver. “My mom says it’s okay.”

Rohan bowed his head slightly, an unreadable expression on his face. “Give your mother my thanks for me. Is there anything I should bring over as a gift?” He paused. “As long as it doesn’t cost more than… 1,850 yen.”

Josuke uncovered the receiver and lifted the phone to his ear again. “Rohan says thanks, we’ll see you later. Bye, Mom.”

“Bye, sweetie.”

Josuke hung up and tossed the phone back to Kaigamori, who fumbled catching it and nearly dropped it. Ignoring the man’s struggles, Josuke said to Rohan, “You don’t need to bring anything over, Rohan-sensei.”

Rohan scowled. “It’s polite. I’m going to be imposing on your mother. Of course I have to bring something.”

“Since when do you care about being polite?” Josuke laughed.

“I’m polite to those who deserve it!” hissed Rohan. “You’re the rude one, using ore all the time!”*

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Josuke said unconcernedly. “Bring some flowers if you really want to.”

At this a thoughtful look smoothed Rohan’s anger. “Flowers?” he muttered, his teal eyes staring into the middle distance. “Flowers… Higashikata-kun, what kinds of flowers does your mother like?”

“Huh? I don’t know. Normal flowers?”

Rohan pinned Josuke with a sharp look. “What do you mean by ‘normal’ flowers?”

Josuke shrugged. “The type that people usually give? Roses?”

“Absolutely not! Roses are inappropriate as a gift to a host. Surely even you must be aware of their romantic connotations!”

“Well, it’s not like I pay much attention to flowers,” Josuke defended.

Rohan abruptly stood up, slamming his palms down on the table hard enough to make the cups rattle. “Higashikata Josuke! Come with me, right now! We are going to find flowers that your mother will like, and I will not let you rest until they are found!”

“Eh?” Before Josuke could protest, he was being dragged by the wrist out of his seat. “What about your tab—”

“Kaigamori-kun will take care of it,” Rohan dismissed, leading his captive away without glancing back.

Kaigamori watched them go in shock. After a moment, Koichi said sympathetically, “You haven’t been Rohan-sensei’s editor for very long, have you?”

“I still don’t get what the big deal is,” Josuke groaned two hours later. True to his word, Rohan had dragged Josuke across half of Morioh without pause, except to ask whether some flower or another would please Tomoko or to make a quick sketch. Already the manga artist had filled nearly two dozen pages with flowers so realistic Josuke thought they might pop off the page.

“I refuse to show up to a host’s house empty handed,” Rohan grumbled. “And flowers are stupid gifts because they wilt and die after a few days and just become a mess to clean up. A picture of flowers is obviously better.”

Throughout the whole research escapade, which had them hovering like suspicious people in front of flower shops and people’s gardens, Josuke had mostly resigned himself to bemusedly following Rohan lead. At least it was entertaining to watch the manga artist. Rohan was like a bee, the way he flitted from flower to flower, and his eyes were lit up with excitement. Josuke didn’t get what was so great about flowers, but seeing Rohan like this was… endearing.

Josuke blushed at his own thoughts.

Meanwhile, Rohan flipped through his sketchbook and frowned. “I’ve gathered a lot of material, but if I don’t know what Higashikata-san likes…”

“You know it doesn’t really matter, right? My mom will be happy no matter what flower you draw.”

“It matters to me,” Rohan hissed. “I refuse to randomly guess what she will like. Higashikata Josuke, since you have been absolutely no help this far, you will have to pick the flowers.”

Josuke blinked. “Huh? How does that make sense?”

“Children’s preferences in many things are determined by what their parents expose them to in their youth. Even if you don’t know the names of flowers, you must have some subconscious awareness of the flowers your mother likes,” Rohan explained. He shoved the sketchbook in Josuke’s hands. “Just look through this and tell me which flowers look most familiar or most pleasing.”

“Well, I guess I can give it a look,” Josuke murmured hesitantly. He flipped through the pages, marveling at the detail and energy in the pictures. Josuke really wasn’t a flower guy, but looking at Rohan’s drawings, suddenly they seemed a lot cooler. One page in particular caught his eye.

“These ones,” Josuke said, pointing. “But, er, they’re all too similar. I can’t tell which one is most familiar.”

Rohan took the sketchbook back, studying it carefully with a serious look. “Chrysanthemum, hydrangea, and dahlia, hm?” Then suddenly, his eyes curved upward in glee and his lips pursed and puffed out a small sound. “Pfft!”

Shock shot through Josuke. A second later the expression was gone, but the teenager wasn’t going to let the matter disappear so fast. “What was that sound just now?!” Josuke demanded, pointing a finger in Rohan’s face. “What was that expression just now?!”

Rohan’s eyes were half-mast and lazy but his mouth was a thin, trembling line. “Nothing,” he said unconvincingly.

“It wasn’t nothing! What was it?!”

“It’s nothing, nothing,” Rohan repeated, waving a hand airily. “I know what to draw now. While I’m doing that, why don’t you go fetch my luggage for me? It’s at Morioh Station Plaza.”

“You can’t order me around,” Josuke growled. He wasn’t truly angry, but he was definitely put out by Rohan’s secret amusement.

“I’m not ordering you, I’m pointing out a way for us to save time. I’ll be finished by the time you come back, and then we can go to your house. If you don’t fetch my stuff now, you’ll have to come with me to get it later.”

“Tch! Fine,” Josuke acquiesced, turning on his heel and striding away.

Rohan watched him go with a small smirk on his lips. He looked back down at his sketchpad—more specifically, at his drawing of a dahlia flower.

It looks just like Josuke’s hair, Rohan thought gleefully.

It wasn’t until Josuke was halfway to Morioh Station that he realized how strange Rohan’s directions were. Why would his luggage be at the station? Did he mean that it was at the luggage check for the train?

“That bastard,” Josuke grumbled to himself, hands shoved in his pockets and back hunched. “If he sent me all this way and I can’t find his stuff, I’ll go back and kick his ass.”

But once Josuke arrived at the station plaza, he saw what Rohan had meant.

In the center of the circular courtyard there were two suitcases propped on end and a third open on its side, with books and clothes tumbling out. In front of the suitcases was a white paper placard that read, “Modern Art Sculpture, Temporary Showing Today Only. On the Move by Kishibe Rohan. Please Do Not Touch.”

Josuke gaped for a solid minute before bursting into laughter. The people nearby gave him weird looks, so he tried to smother his giggles, but he couldn’t stop. Every time he thought he had managed it, he glanced at the ‘sculpture’ and began guffawing all over again. He bent over so far he nearly fell down, arms wrapped around his heaving sides.

“That guy,” Josuke wheezed. “That crazy, gutsy mangaka! I’ve gotta admit, this is pretty great.”

(Later, Josuke would look back on this moment and think fondly that it was the start of falling in love.)

Chapter Text

Higashikata Tomoko was immediately charmed by Rohan.

When Tomoko had opened the door, Rohan had introduced himself politely, bowed low, and handed her a gorgeous framed still-life picture of a flower bouquet. And that was all it took to secure Tomoko’s eternal admiration and the indefinite use of the Higashikatas’ spare room.

Rohan was, in many ways, the perfect house guest. He wasn’t loud, he kept his things in his room, and he occasionally helped wash the dishes despite Tomoko’s protests.

But even though they were in closer proximity, Josuke thought Rohan had become more distant. The man no longer asked Josuke questions about his life, and he spent most of his time in his room working. On weekends he left on “research” trips early, before Josuke even woke up, and came back late. At dinner he was polite but reserved, subtly prodding Tomoko to do most of the talking.

All of this made Josuke confused and a little distraught, though he didn’t know why.

“I just don’t get why he’s suddenly all clammed up,” Josuke complained to his friends one Saturday, picking at Koichi’s french fries.

Koichi very tolerantly allowed this blatant food theft. “He’s probably just uncomfortable in a new place,” the gray-haired boy reasoned. “Rohan-sensei is a very private person who doesn’t deal well with behaving on other people’s terms. He’s probably trying to establish some control over his interactions with you, now that he can’t control the environment they occur in like before.”

Josuke sighed. “You’re probably right, Koichi. Geez, how’d you get so wise? Me and Okuyasu would be lost without you,” he teased with a smile.

“That’s for sure!” Okuyasu laughed while Koichi blushed.

“Anyway,” Koichi continued, “just give him some time to adjust. I’m sure once he gets comfortable, he’ll open up to you more.”

Josuke really had planned to follow Koichi’s advice and give Rohan space. But when he arrived back home, he found Rohan sitting on the couch in the living room, drinking tea instead of coffee with a content look on his face that was strange after the past few weeks. For some reason, seeing that smile made Josuke’s heart skip a beat. He swallowed and tried to push the strange feeling aside.

“Rohan-sensei, you look happy. Did something good happen?”

Josuke braced himself for a glare and a snappy answer, but Rohan only looked at him mildly. “I finished my manuscript for this week,” he said, his voice infused with giddiness. “I have to say, I’ve outdone myself once again.”

With a barely audible sigh of relief, Josuke relaxed and plopped down next to the manga artist on the couch. “That’s great!” When Rohan still didn’t snap at him to leave, Josuke pulled out his video game controller, hooked it up to the living room TV that Rohan hadn’t been watching, and started playing one of his favorite games. Rohan didn’t seem to mind, and Josuke tried to focus on the racing game instead of the manga artist beside him. It was surprisingly difficult.

A few days later, Josuke woke up with his alarm and wandered into the kitchen to find Rohan painting his mother’s nails at the kitchen table.

“Uh, what’s going on?” Josuke asked. After a belated moment of realization, his hands flew self-consciously to his hair, which he hadn’t styled yet and was falling in gentle waves and sleep-mussed cowlicks into his eyes, making him look younger than he liked.

“Kishibe-kun is doing my nails for me!” Tomoko said excitedly. “I always have trouble getting the strokes even, so Kishibe-kun offered to help.”

“As a mangaka, I have to take care of my hands,” Rohan explained, setting Tomoko’s hand down carefully. “I don’t usually paint my nails, but I learned how to do a full manicure, so it is in my skill set.” He finally looked up at Josuke and his eyes widened. “Don’t move!” he commanded, grabbing a sketchbook on the chair next to him. He glanced briefly around for a pencil before giving up and using the nail paint brush he was still holding.

Josuke tried to cover his hair in dismay. “Wait! I haven’t fixed my hair yet!” His cheeks turned red in embarrassment, yet he didn’t run from the room. For some reason, even though he was embarrassed, he was happy that Rohan was drawing him and paying such attention to him after so long, and he didn’t really mind Rohan seeing his hair down if it accomplished that. Which was strange, now that Josuke thought about it.

“Amazing,” Rohan breathed. It wasn’t sarcastic or mocking but awed. Josuke blushed harder.

Rohan finished the sketch and started to the turn the page, before making a dramatically dismayed face when he realized that he couldn’t make another drawing before the nail polish he had used dried. Josuke took the opportunity to retreat to the bathroom, grumbling halfhearted insults to soothe his pride and calm his jack-hammering heart.

Still, Rohan’s open expression of surprise and admiration stuck in Josuke’s mind.

The day after, Josuke was walking home with Okuyasu and Koichi when the group saw Rohan seated with someone at Café de Maigot. The other man appeared to be the same editor they had seen last time (Kaigamori Minoru, not that Josuke remembered his name).

The three teenagers were heading over to Rohan’s table when suddenly the mangaka stood up and slammed his palms on the table, knocking over his chair and splashing the coffee out of their cups. Alarmed, Josuke started running, closely followed by his friends.

They arrived at the table to hear Rohan in the middle of a rant, his face a ghastly mask of rage that put any glare he’d sent Josuke’s way to shame. “—completely unrealistic! What do you take my manga for?! Some cliché shounen rival story?! Some ridiculous world where people just come back to life as they please?!”

The editor pleaded, “I’m not insulting your work, Rohan-sensei! I’m just saying Toushirou was a popular character, and if you brought him back—”

“Toushirou is dead!”

“It was never shown explicitly, only—!” Kaigamori protested.

Rohan’s shoulders were trembling with fury and his voice was uneven as he interrupted, “Toushirou has already served his purpose. To reintroduce him as a living character would be completely unrealistic, disrespectful to the readers who have mourned him but accepted his death, and also utterly boring! Do you think readers want the same arcs rehashed over and over again?!”

“But it would sell more!” Kaigamori protested. “Rohan-sensei, aren’t you broke? Surely—”

“I don’t care about the money!” Rohan screamed. It was the loudest Josuke had ever heard him raise his voice. “I don’t care about sales! All I care about is writing interesting stories that people want to read! If I ignored reality and disrespected the readers’ feelings towards a character for the sake of simple convenience, I would lose my purpose as a mangaka!”


“I refuse to listen to single word you say! You sicken me. Suggesting such stupid—!” Rohan grabbed his bag and slapped some yen down to cover his spilled drink. “Tell Shueisha* to assign me a different editor.” With that, he stormed away, not even noticing the audience he had amassed, much less the three teenagers.

Kaigamori gaped after the manga artist, then slumped in his chair. He closed his eyes and sighed, rubbing his temples.

“Hey, what was all that with Rohan-sensei?” asked Koichi.

Kaigamori startled and opened his eyes to find Koichi, Josuke, and Okuyasu now seated at the table, watching him intently.

“Oh, it’s you kids,” the editor said. “I was just…”

“What did you do to piss Rohan off so much?” Josuke asked. His face and tone were polite, but something about them gave Kaigamori shivers.

“It’s just,” he blurted out nervously, “his manga would be more popular if—”

“You must not have worked with Rohan-sensei very long if you suggested he change his style to sell more,” Koichi said mildly. “After all, Rohan-sensei works very hard to find exciting new things that will surprise and thrill his readers. I would know, since I’m one of those loyal readers.”

“Er—it’s true that I was only assigned to Rohan-sensei recently—”

“You know, I think Rohan-sensei mentioned to me once that he cycles through editors rather frequently,” Koichi mused. His eyes suddenly turned sharp, though his expression remained pleasant. “Your time is probably up, don’t you think? It’s probably best to let someone else take it from here on.”

For some reason that he couldn’t quite place, Kaigamori suddenly felt very, very afraid. (Little did he know that there were three Stands hovering over him menacingly.) He stumbled away from the table, forgetting to pay in his haste to leave.

After that incident, Rohan was in a state of near constant irritation, making him even more unapproachable than usual. He snapped and snarled at anyone who attempted to talk to him, though he visibly tried to reign in his temper around Tomoko, and he was out most days looking for inspiration for his manga and working furiously when he was home.

Josuke wanted to help Rohan, but he didn’t know how. For the first few days he tried to wait the manga artist out, tiptoeing around him in the meantime. But soon he became impatient and took a direct approach.

When Rohan returned in time for dinner for once, Josuke greeted him and tried to strike up a friendly conversation. “Welcome home, Rohan-sensei!” he said cheerfully. “Did you find anything interesting today?”

“No,” Rohan replied curtly. “But my new editor Izumi-san asked me to accompany her tomorrow as she goes to buy a vacation home, saying that I might get some inspiration out of it. I don’t think it will happen, but in any case, I might not be back until the day after tomorrow.”

“Oh, well, I hope that turns out well,” Josuke said awkwardly. There was a bad feeling niggling him, but he couldn’t pinpoint what about the excursion sounded weird, so he dropped the thought.

But the next morning after seeing Rohan off at the door (and waking up early with an alarm just to do so), the bad feeling only grew. Throughout the day Josuke tried to distract himself, but when his mom took away his video games, he couldn’t stop worrying enough to pay attention to any task he attempted.

Finally, with a huff of frustration, Josuke sat down on the couch and closed his eyes. He didn’t notice when he fell asleep.

That night, Josuke had a horrific dream.

Of course, he didn’t realize it was a dream at the time. His dreams always seemed perfectly normal when they were happening.

Josuke was in Rohan’s house, in Rohan’s study, back when he was hanging around after school and Rohan was asking him questions. Josuke was in the middle of telling a story about a turtle with a Stand ability and how it had attacked him when Rohan interrupted him. “Josuke, why are you still here?”

“Huh? Well, we have a deal, don’t we?”

Rohan turned around in his chair and rested his cheek on his fist. “Josuke, our deal is over. You no longer have any use to me. Why are you still here?”

“W-what do you mean?” Josuke stuttered.

“Josuke, I’ve had enough of you. There is nothing more you can offer me. You’re boring.”

“N-no, wait, I still have more—”

“I’m going to find something new,” Rohan said, standing up and turning away. There was a tall painting hanging on the wall, showing a street in Morioh that was gray and covered in blood. He walked to it, lifted his foot above the bottom edge of the frame, and started stepping into the bloody painting.

“Wait, Rohan!” Josuke protested. “You can’t go there! It’s too dangerous! Let me come with you—”

Suddenly Josuke was outside his body, watching as Rohan used Heaven’s Door on him. “You will fly backwards at 70 kilometers per hour!”

Josuke watched himself be tossed away, followed his body as it tumbled through space and time, seemingly forever, with half-remembered childhood scenes flowing around him. It went on and on—until, between one blink and the next, Josuke was walking with Koichi and Okuyasu through Morioh.

“Josuke,” Koichi said, tugging on his uniform. He was staring in horror at something behind Josuke. “Josuke, look!”

Josuke turned around. There was a woman on the ground, writhing and gasping with a hole through her chest. He rushed to her and crouched down. “Crazy Diamond!” In a second, his Stand had repaired the woman. But when he looked at her face again, he saw that it was Reimi. She turned to Josuke with sorrowful pink eyes.

“There is something hiding in this town, hurting people.”

Josuke felt a shiver and knew, without a doubt, that he had to find Rohan. He took off running

He turned a corner and found a dismembered businessman trying to crawl to safety. Josuke healed him and he stood up and disappeared. Josuke kept running.

He found another body, this one a child missing her lower half and choking on blood. Feeling sick, Josuke fixed her, and she sat up and walked away.

Josuke healed person after person, until finally he found the one he was looking for.

Rohan was lying on the ground, his eyes fixed on some long-gone horror and his grip worryingly lax on his pen. There was no puddle of blood under him but his chest had been completely opened up. The ribs that should have encased his organs were broken and sticking straight out, and his heart was missing. Someone had stolen Rohan’s heart.

“It’s okay,” Josuke said shakily, “I can fix this.” Crazy Diamond touched Rohan, and his chest closed up as if it had never been otherwise. His face smoothed into a serene expression and his eyes closed, as if he were asleep. Josuke cradled Rohan’s fixed torso and waited for him to open his eyes, say something caustic and witty, and walk away.

But he didn’t.

“Rohan?” Josuke called, hesitantly at first, then stronger. “Rohan! Wake up! I healed you, you’re fixed! Wake up already!” He shook the manga artist roughly, and Rohan’s head lolled listlessly. “Rohan…?”

Rohan wasn’t waking up. Rohan was—

“No!” Josuke yelled, shaking Rohan again. “You can’t be dead. You can’t be! I healed you!”

Josuke reached for Rohan’s shirt, for what purpose he didn’t know, but somehow his hand slipped through the fabric, inside Rohan’s chest, as if Josuke were a ghost—or as if Rohan were the ghost. Suddenly Rohan was semitransparent, and his heart was still missing. Josuke clenched his fist in the empty cavity, as if he could pump Rohan’s blood himself.

“Rohan,” Josuke breathed, his voice shaking. His own heart ached and seemed to stutter in his chest. “Rohan, if you were going to run into danger, why didn’t you leave your heart with me? I would have kept it safe.

“Rohan, I love you!”

Then Josuke woke up, panicked and disoriented on the couch at 5 AM in the morning. He gasped and sat up, his mind whirling chaotically. Already the dream was fading, but the last moment was still clear: Rohan’s serene, lifeless face, his missing heart, and the despair and heartbreak that had squeezed Josuke’s heart. It had felt so real.

Josuke flopped back down on the couch, pressing his hands to his eyes, but the dream flashed behind his eyelids. There was no way he was going back to sleep, not with his mind such a mess.

What did the dream mean? Was Josuke in love with Rohan?

Josuke had heard about homosexuality before, but he didn’t know much about it, nor had he met anyone who was openly gay. Truthfully, he hadn’t thought about it at all. Up until now, he had only ever had crushes on girls.

His first crush had been an extremely energetic girl in elementary school. She was always the most active in P.E., and she was passionate about nearly every sport. In retrospect she had been a quite the tomboy. She had been four years older than Josuke, so he never went to school with her after elementary.**

His second crush had been a girl in the same class as him throughout middle school. She was shy with people but passionate about art, and she was often doodling in class. Josuke spent most of his time watching her doodle with a besotted smile on his face. In his last year of middle school Josuke had gathered his courage and confessed to her, but she politely turned him down, saying that she was too busy with school and art to think about dating yet. Josuke was disappointed but not heartbroken, and they became amiable acquaintances after that.

After entering high school, Josuke hadn’t had time to develop another crush with how many other things were happening—his grandfather’s death, the arrow, Red Hot Chili Pepper, and Kira. Josuke had hardly thought about romance at all, except to be a little jealous of Koichi for already having a girlfriend.

But now, out of the middle of nowhere, Josuke apparently liked Rohan. Rohan, the enemy that had hurt his friends. Then the arrogant asshole who got on Josuke’s nerves, acting like he was better than everyone. Then the jerk who was actually a decent ally. Then a mystery Josuke had wanted to unravel.

Without meaning to, Josuke started daydreaming about Rohan, about the manga artist’s face when he was excited, concentrating, angry, shocked; and his hands, gesturing as he talked, holding a pen and flying over a page; and the awe on his face that time he’d seen Josuke with his hair down—

Josuke shifted his hands from covering his eyes to covering his hot cheeks. “Shit,” he groaned. “He’s cute.”

Josuke’s third crush, apparently, was an insane (passionate) manga artist four years his senior.

Still, Josuke didn’t know if he was gay. He had liked girls, and still liked to look at girls. Then, did he like both girls and boys? Rohan was the only boy that he was aware of in that way, though. What did that make him?

Josuke couldn’t come up with an answer to that, so he put the matter to the side for the moment. Instead he tried to imagine dating Rohan. It was surprisingly easy. He could see himself and Rohan going on dates around town like they had when they’d gone looking at flowers, with Rohan stopping every five feet to whip up a sketch. He could see himself smiling fondly at Rohan, bringing him food when he forgot to eat like the manga artist sometimes did, carrying Rohan’s sketchbooks for him, holding his calloused hand, leaning down to steal a kiss—

But could they really do that in public? Despite his limited awareness about homosexuality, Josuke knew that being gay was looked down on in society. Even worse, Josuke realized with a sinking stomach, he didn’t know what Rohan thought about homosexuality. Did Rohan like girls or boys? Would he be disgusted if Josuke confessed to him?

Did Josuke even want to confess to Rohan? Or would it be better to say nothing, and get over his infatuation instead?

Josuke had hit a mental block, and no matter how he turned the questions over in his head, he couldn’t make any progress. With a sigh, he got up and headed to the kitchen, thinking that a cup of tea would soothe his nerves. But he was so distracted by his thoughts that he knocked a cup out of the cupboard to crash loudly on the counter. Josuke reflexively fixed the mug, but the sound brought his mother into the kitchen.

“Josuke?” Tomoko yawned. “What are you doing up so early? You usually sleep in on the weekend.”

“Haha, yeah,” Josuke chuckled nervously. “I just, er, had a weird dream that woke me up.”

Tomoko hummed and started making herself coffee. Josuke sipped his tea and watched her, feeling questions bubbling under his skin.

Eventually he couldn’t hold it in anymore. “Hey, Mom,” he blurted, “what would you think if someone you knew told you they were gay? Hypothetically, I mean!”

Tomoko had been calmly drinking her coffee, but at Josuke’s question, she slammed her mug down on the table, making Josuke flinch. Her eyes bored into Josuke’s as she declared, “I’d accept that person as a comrade against the tyranny of society’s oppressive relationship conventions!”

Josuke blinked, frozen in split-second fear that was fast turning into confusion. “Er. What?”

Tomoko leaned toward her son over the table, planting her fist on the surface. “I’m telling you, there’s something wrong with a society that doesn’t let you love whoever you want! Do you know how much shit my friends gave me for hooking up with your father?! ‘Tomoko, he’s old enough to be your grandfather! Tomoko, he’s married! It’s wrong!’ What bullshit! Love is love. I still love Joseph Joestar, and I always will! No matter how old he is!

“So I’d think of a gay person, or anyone who doesn’t fall into society’s stupid conventions, as a comrade,” Tomoko said with finality. “Do you know, Japan used to be very accepting of homosexuality before the Meiji era? It was all the Westernization that changed that. Isn’t that so stupid?!”

Some of the worry gripping Josuke eased. Love is love, he thought, turning the phrase over in his mind. That agreed with something in him, fit into his worldview like a missing puzzle piece.

Still, his mother being with Joestar-san was a bit beyond his comprehension.

“Josuke,” Tomoko said, drawing Josuke’s attention back to herself. “If you love someone, you should never let society tell you that you can’t. You should never be afraid of showing your love, because love is beautiful.”

Josuke smiled, slightly at first, until it grew into a grin that hurt his cheeks. “Hai!”

Buoyed by his mother’s acceptance, Josuke decided to tell his friends about his revelation right away. He called up Koichi and Okuyasu and asked them to meet him at Café de Maigot.

Josuke was uncharacteristically the first to arrive (usually that was Koichi). He was too excited and jittery to eat much and he’d already had tea that morning, so he ordered orange juice to keep from getting kicked out. He glanced around as he sipped from his glass, noting the yellowing leaves on the trees and the slight chill of autumn. It was late October already, Josuke realized. Rohan had already been living with the Higashikatas for a month, but there was still more distance between them than Josuke liked. He wondered how he could close that gap.

While Josuke was musing on this, Koichi and Okuyasu arrived together. The shorter teen ordered tea and the other ordered hot chocolate, and then they sat down at Josuke’s table with their drinks.

“So, Josuke,” Koichi began, “what did you call us out for?”

“Is it another Stand user?” Okuyasu asked.

Josuke chuckled nervously, turning his glass in his hands. “Nah, nothing that… serious. I just realized something this morning, and I wanted to tell you guys about it. I… I think I like Rohan!”

Koichi accidentally took a gulp of hot tea in his surprise and yelped when he burned his mouth. “You mean, like-like?” he squeaked when he recovered. “How did that happen?”

“I don’t know!” Josuke moaned, covering his face with his hands. “He’s a total jerk, right? But he’s also so… passionate, and he and my mom get along well, and he wears those ridiculous clothes but manages to make them look cool, and his surprised and concentrating expressions are really cute! Shit, he’s so…” Josuke sighed, not realizing how besotted he looked.

“Wow, dude,” Okuyasu said. “I don’t really get it, but you seem really happy. Good on you!”

Koichi watched his two delinquent-looking friends thoughtfully. They both seemed completely unconcerned about Josuke liking another boy. Were they even aware of the stigma homosexuals faced? Koichi had gone to a different middle school than Josuke and had gotten an up-close look at homophobia there in his second year. A boy in his class had confessed to another boy and had been mercilessly bullied for it, forcing the student to move away. Koichi remembered watching all the drama and feeling disgusted by the cruelty that many of his fellow students were showing. The whole affair had left a deep impression on Koichi, and he had decided, in his core that was brave when he was pushed to the edge, that it didn’t (shouldn’t) matter the gender of the person you loved as long as you weren’t hurting anybody else.

Koichi wondered if he should bring the topic up with Josuke, but after a moment of thought, he let it rest. Despite his appearance, Josuke was not oblivious or stupid. He had to know there were consequences to loving another man in this day and age. But Josuke was also the kind of person who would never let himself be ruled by something as arbitrary as societal conventions. So Koichi smiled and didn’t say anything on the topic.

Instead, he asked, “What are you going to do? Are you going to confess?”

Josuke shook his head vigorously. “No way! Not yet! I’m not ready, and I don’t think Rohan is, either. But I’ll definitely win him over eventually!”

“Hey, speaking of Rohan, isn’t that him over there?” Okuyasu said, pointing. “Oi, Rohan-sensei!”

Josuke and Koichi turned to look and indeed, there was the manga artist himself. He looked much more relaxed than the last time Josuke had seen him, wearing a satisfied smirk. He waved in response to Okuyasu and approached their table. Josuke could feel his face heating up and hoped his blush wasn’t noticeable.

“Welcome back, Rohan-sensei,” Josuke called out, attempting a casual tone. “You didn’t come home last night. What happened?”

“I spent the night at my editor’s house,” Rohan said as he pulled a chair up the table and sat down. “She was incredibly worried after our adventure and had to urgently check on her family. By the time that was done, it was too late for her to drive me back. I caught the bus back to Morioh this morning.”

“ ‘After our adventure’?” Koichi repeated. “Does that mean you found something interesting?”

Rohan’s smirk grew. “Indeed we did. Let me tell you about the Millionaire Village.”

The three teens were quickly drawn into the story, but Josuke felt unease churning in him. He shivered as Rohan described the mountain gods’ wrath, seeing a scene from his dream flash before his eyes: Rohan walking into a desolate painting, Rohan mutilated on the ground, Rohan dead in his arms

When Rohan finished his story, Koichi remarked, “Wow, that really happened? By the way, what happened to your editor’s mother?”

“She was perfectly fine. She just got rear-ended, and her relatives overreacted.”

“What a relief!”

“Oh, right, Josuke,” said Rohan, turning to the other teen. “I’m going looking for material after this, so I won’t be back until after eight.”

Anxiety twisted Josuke’s gut, but he tried not to let it show on his face. “Ne, Rohan-sensei, why don’t I go with you? I’ve got nothin’ else to do today.”

“Really?” said Okuyasu. “Then why don’t we—” He was cut off when Koichi elbowed him and gave him a pointed look. He didn’t get why, but he knew Koichi was telling him to shut up, so he did.

Rohan watched Josuke with narrowed eyes. “Hm. That could be interesting…” He watched Josuke start to smile, then added sharply: “But I refuse.”

If Josuke was disappointed, he didn’t let it show. He smiled lazily. “Fine.”

Huffing, Rohan stood up and started walking away. Then he stopped and turned around. Josuke was standing behind him, hands in his pockets, looking unconcerned. “Don’t follow me,” Rohan snapped.

“Who said I’m following you?” Josuke asked. His innocent expression was transparently smug. “I’m just walking this way too.”

Rohan growled and sped up his steps, but Josuke just matched his pace, walking next to him. Rohan had too much pride to outright run away from the annoying teenager, so he resolved to ignore him, turning up his nose and resolutely not looking at his bothersome companion.

Meanwhile, Koichi barely kept in his giggles as he watched the pair go.

“Ne, Koichi, what’s so funny?” Okuyasu asked.

Koichi shook his head. “It’s just… Josuke’s a force of nature when he cares for someone, isn’t he? Rohan won’t even know what hit him.”

Chapter Text

Higashikata Josuke was acting weird. Weird even for him, a mess of idiosyncrasies and contradictions. Truly, he was the most difficult character Rohan had ever encountered.

Still, after interrogating Josuke about his life, Rohan had thought he had him all figured out. Higashikata Josuke was fairly clever when it came to fighting, selfish when it came to money and selfless when it came to his friends, and would have made the perfect optimistic-go-getter protagonist type if not for his vindictive streak and reluctance to get involved in anything that didn’t directly affect him.

In conclusion, Higashikata Josuke’s character had no place in Rohan’s manga.

After the brat had gone back to school, Rohan had naively thought that was the end of their acquaintance. But then Josuke had offered his own house to Rohan. Rohan had wanted to refuse so badly, but his offer was better than Koichi’s house, and Rohan’s work came before his comfort.

But as it turned out, their cohabitation hadn’t been as bad as Rohan had feared. He could avoid Josuke for the most part and the brat wasn’t completely intolerable when they were in the same vicinity. Meanwhile Higashikata Tomoko was a spirited and entertaining character, well worth the stay.

But then something had changed.

By Rohan’s calculations, Josuke should have gotten over the novelty of having Rohan in his house, forgotten his misplaced guilt or sense of obligation, and left Rohan alone already. Instead, Josuke was being weird, and it was infuriating.

The first symptom of weirdness was Josuke’s sudden pushiness. On the weekends when Rohan left to do research, Josuke refused to be left behind. Even when Rohan left while the teenager was still asleep, Josuke would somehow catch up to him by midday at the latest. When Rohan was researching on weekdays, after school let out, Josuke came and found him without fail.

(Unbeknown to Rohan, Josuke took a small piece of rubber from his shoe soles every night. When he wanted to find Rohan, he used Crazy Diamond on the rubber piece and followed the pull until it led to the manga artist.)

And once he found Rohan, Josuke would walk alongside him, making asinine comments and denying that he was following the older man.* Nothing Rohan did could get rid of him.

Once, Rohan had gotten on a bus to a nearby city and visited an aquarium. Josuke had followed along, grumbling, “Geez, why is it so expensive just to go look at some fish?” But he didn’t bug Rohan to pay for his ticket. And once they were inside he was as excitable as a kid, pressing his nose to the glass and exclaiming over the colors and shapes of the fish.

Josuke remained in his overexcited state until they reached the sea turtle exhibit, where his face pinched and he bit his lip. Intrigued, Rohan lingered in front of the turtles, taking his time drawing first the turtles, then Josuke as he tried not to look at the turtles.

Fascinating, Rohan thought, laughing inwardly with glee.

Rohan spent a good fifteen minutes at the turtle exhibit to torture Josuke, then finally moved on—to the touch pool.

“Ugh, why would you wanna touch those?” Josuke scoffed, eyeing the creatures in the exhibit. There were stingrays in one pool that visitors could stroke and sea stars, urchins, and mussels in another tank. “Don’t you just have to see them to draw them?”

“It’s not enough to just see something,” Rohan retorted from where he was letting a sea urchin put its tiny suction cups on his fingers. “In order to accurately capture the essence of anything in art, you have to also know what it feels like, sounds like, smells like… even what it tastes like, sometimes. You can only draw something once you know the full reality of it.”

“Gross. I wouldn’t touch one of those things if you paid me,” Josuke said, his tone disgusted. But when Rohan glanced at him, his expression was… fond. Of what? The starfish? Well, that would make sense. Josuke was Joestar, after all.

“I wish I could watch a sea star regenerating one of its limbs,” Rohan said wistfully. “Did you know some sea stars can even regrow a completely new disc from a severed limb?”

“That’s—” Josuke began, but was cut off when a woman shrieked, “No, Ryuunosuke, it’s supposed to stay in the water! Don’t—”

Next to them at the touch tank, a toddler had picked up a sea urchin with his pudgy hands, dropping it over the floor when his mother’s raised voice startled him.

In the split-second before the urchin hit the floor, Josuke kneeled and caught it in his cupped hands.

“Thank you so much!” the mother exclaimed, her face flushed with adrenaline and embarrassment. To the touch tank attendant, she bowed in apology. “I am so sorry. I will make sure that my son knows what he did was wrong.” With that, she picked up the toddler and carried him away to scold him in private.

Josuke deposited the urchin safely in the water, and the attendant let out a relieved sigh. “I’m so glad you caught that,” she said, pressing a hand to her frantically beating heart that was starting to calm. “If it had been injured, there would have been a huge commotion and a lot of unpleasant bureaucracy.”

“Don’t worry, it was no problem at all,” Josuke replied with a smile. “I was glad to help.” Immediately after saying this, he rushed for the hand sanitizer, but didn’t complain about touching the urchin.

So much for not touching one even for money, Rohan thought, looking down at the picture he had captured in the second Josuke had caught the sea urchin. From his angle Rohan hadn’t seen Josuke’s expression during the moment. It bothered Rohan for the rest of the day, the question of what face Josuke had made when saving something he didn’t want to touch.

Josuke’s strange behavior and persistent following consumed Rohan’s attention, such that he realized two days before his deadline that he hadn’t started that week’s manuscript. Rohan spent those forty-eight hours shut in his room working furiously, leaving only to relieve himself and fetch water.

At one point Josuke had knocked on his door to ask if he wanted food or coffee or anything, but Rohan had yelled back, “I don’t need it!” even though his stomach was cramping and his eyes were burning from the effort of keeping them open. “The only thing I need is for you to leave me alone!”

Without caffeine, Rohan resorted to other means of keeping himself awake, running his nails over his upper arms hard enough to leave livid red scratches. The sharp sting and lingering burn of the scratches helped clear his head for a little while, but his body was becoming increasingly numb, and he had to scrape harder every time to refresh the pain.

The next time he left his room for water, it was nighttime, and Rohan found Josuke with an open school workbook at the kitchen table and a pot of coffee on the counter. The aroma of burnt coffee beans filled the room wonderfully.

“Hey,” Josuke greeted, glancing up at the manga artist. “My mom made extra coffee, in case you want any.”

Rohan bit his tongue hard enough to make his eyes water. He looked away, hoping Josuke wouldn’t notice the wetness. “Don’t need it.” He filled up his water bottle, resolutely refusing to look at the teenager, and retreated back to his room as quickly as he could.

(Meanwhile, Josuke studied Rohan from under his eyelashes, his worry growing even bigger when he noticed the angry red lines on the manga artist’s arms and the unnatural shine to his eyes.)

Rohan worked furiously through the rest of the night. His mind was crystal clear with panic but his body wouldn’t cooperate and kept trying to shut down on him, such that he nearly nodded off mid-pen-stroke several times. Usually drawing felt like it took no time at all, but now Rohan was painstakingly aware of every line he made, knowing exactly how the scenes should come together but somehow being slow to execute his vision.

(There was brown blood and clearish skin oil crusted under Rohan’s fingernails and ugly scabs on his arms that he didn’t remember putting there. They didn’t hurt, though. All Rohan felt was numb.)

At some point Rohan turned to the window to see that it was no longer night. Early morning sunlight filtered into his room, seeming to hang in the air like dust. He hauled himself out of his chair with a heavy body and plodded to the restroom.

After he had relieved himself, Rohan was on his way back to his room when he heard Josuke exclaim loudly from the kitchen: “Man, this coffee was expensive, but damn is it worth it! I don’t think I’ve ever had a coffee like this!”

Hearing that annoying voice jolted Rohan’s brain more awake, and he drew closer to the room, intrigued. Josuke was sitting at the kitchen table with his back to Rohan, holding a paper to-go cup. Tomoko was leaning against the counter with her own mug of homemade coffee, an expression of mild amusement on her face. “Oh, is that so?”

Josuke curled around his cup protectively. “Yeah, but don’t even ask if you can try it, Mom, ‘cause I won’t give you any! This is for me and me alone!” Then he stood up from the table. “Don’t touch it while I go call Koichi.”

Rohan ducked out of sight behind the doorway when Josuke went into the living room, then strolled into the kitchen. Feeling devious despite his tired state, he popped the travel lid off Josuke’s coffee and downed the warm drink in a few hurried gulps, then replaced the lid and winked at Tomoko, raising a finger to his lips to ask for her silence. She smirked and nodded, and Rohan went back to his room smugly.

When he sat down at his chair, a hot tingling sensation spread out from his stomach, sweeping through his limbs, so hot it nearly hurt. His eyes felt gooey, like they were melting, and salt water spilled down his cheeks and blurred his sight. Rohan hunched over gasping from the intensity of it, but within a few seconds the feeling had passed. He straightened back up, suddenly feeling much more awake and aware than he had a few moments before.

Just then Rohan heard Josuke screech, “IT’S GONE?! MOM, I TOLD YOU NOT TO TOUCH IT!” from the kitchen, and that combined with Rohan’s newly found energy made him feel amazing. With a smirk, he got back to work.

(In the kitchen, Josuke smiled triumphantly, having successfully tricked Rohan into drinking coffee. It had taken three trips to Tonio’s restaurant and two wasted coffees, but it was worth the time and money and waking up early just to have helped the stubborn manga artist he loved.)

Finally, with only a few hours to spare before the deadline, Rohan had finished and faxed in his manuscript, then stumbled straight to bed. Rohan was usually a fairly light sleeper, but he didn’t wake when Josuke broke the lock on his door to slip into his room.

Josuke sat down carefully on the side of Rohan’s bed, looking Rohan over with a small frown as he took in the bruises under the manga artist’s eyes and the scabs on his arms. He sighed. “I wish you would take better care of yourself, you crazy mangaka.”

At Josuke’s silent beckoning, Crazy Diamond materialized next to him, its eyes worried under the shadow of its helmet. The Stand leaned down and kissed Rohan’s forehead, healing the wounds and fatigue in his body. Josuke wanted to copy his Stand’s action, but in the end he stood and left the room without bestowing his own get-well kiss.

When Rohan finally awoke feeling refreshed in the early afternoon the day after turning in his manuscript, he decided that being late for his work due to Josuke distracting him was unacceptable. Rohan couldn’t let Higashikata Josuke sidetrack him from his work.

The obvious solution to this, of course, was to make Josuke part of his work.

Rohan had thought he didn’t need a character like Higashikata Josuke. But he still didn’t understand the teenager, and Rohan couldn’t leave a person unsolved. So he would have to figure Josuke out, forwards and backwards, inside out, from his worst fear to his deepest desire.

And maybe along the way Rohan would find something in that obnoxious, contradictory teenager to put in his manga.

Chapter Text

“Hey, what’s up with that weird guy over there?”

Josuke was just getting out of school when he overheard his fellow students muttering, and he looked out toward the school gates to see what they were talking about. He nearly choked on nothing when he saw who it was.


There, leaning casually on the school fence, was none other than Kishibe Rohan. The manga artist had turned in his manuscript two days ago, and he looked much healthier after being healed by Crazy Diamond and getting rest. Even though it was already November, Rohan was wearing a cropped green cardigan that showed off his toned abdomen and had pen-nib motifs stitched in with yellow, a blue knee-length skirt over white leggings, and white knee-high boots with one-inch heels. His zig-zag headband was the bright red-orange of maple leaves in autumn.

Josuke was brought out of his admiring daze when he heard a boy nearby snickering. “Man, what’s up with that outfit? What a pervert! Disgusting.”

A chill rushed through Josuke, quickly followed by a rising heat in his blood, the same that he felt whenever someone insulted his hair. Josuke whirled on the boy who had spoken. “WHAT did you just say about Rohan?!”

Before Josuke could reshape the bastard’s nose, however, Rohan’s voice called out: “Higashikata Josuke! Hurry up, I heard about an interesting place nearby and I want to check it out!”

Josuke’s head flew up, turning wide eyes on the manga artist who was now approaching him. “Really?! Great! I’ll be right there, just let me beat this guy up first!”

Rohan looked over student whose collar was in Josuke’s grasp with a haughty expression. “Hmf. Whatever he did can’t possibly be more important than me. Leave the extra, or I’m leaving without you.”

With a groan, Josuke dropped the boy, who landed stunned on his butt. “Fine, I’m coming already!” He turned to follow Rohan, but made sure Crazy Diamond landed one punch while he was still in range.

Over the downed teenager’s startled wailing, Josuke caught up to Rohan and asked cheerfully, “Hey, what’s with the outfit? I mean, it looks good and all, but aren’t you cold? And since when do you wear skirts?”

Rohan started walking, but carefully watched Josuke’s face for a reaction. “Not that it’s any of your business, but this skirt is made of wool and is actually fairly warm. I got it once when I was cross-dressing for research.”

Josuke tilted his head, interested. “Research?”

“I have female characters too, you know,” Rohan said dryly. “Of course I had to know what women’s restrooms look like. I couldn’t exactly sketch in there looking like a man, that would have made the women uncomfortable at best or at worst they would have called the police.”

“Oh, that makes sense,” Josuke nodded. “But… why wear a warm skirt when you’re not wearing a warm top?” he pointed out. “Your belly will get cold!”

“Shut up!” Rohan snapped. “I didn’t ask for your opinion! And I’m not cold!”

“If you say so,” Josuke shrugged, then added eagerly: “So, where are we going?”

(What’s with this person? Rohan wondered, frustrated. Does he not care about the skirt or about me going into a woman's restroom? He's only concerned about me getting cold? Why does he care about that?! And why is he so excited to come with me? This confusing idiot!)

“A h-haunted h-house?!”

“Indeed,” Rohan replied mildly. “Or at least, that’s what the neighbors say. Why are you hiding behind me?”

Josuke, trying to compress his large body behind Rohan’s smaller frame, squeaked, “No reason!”

Rohan tilted his head to look at Josuke over his shoulder. Is he afraid of ghosts? Taking in the sweat on the teen’s face, his flicking eyes, and the teeth digging into his lower lip, the manga artist smirked. He is.

In a low, breathy voice, Rohan began to tell the story he’d heard: “Legend has it this villa has been haunted for over a century. It used to be owned by a merchant family named Ikeda, but a series of misfortunes befell them. The first son was lost at sea. Then the mother died of illness. The second son gambled away the family’s money and was killed in a drunken argument. Several years later, the daughter fell in love with a bandit and ran away with him. The third son tried for many years to help with the family business, but he was a weak and sickly and died young. Finally, the father, alone and with deteriorating eyesight and hearing, took his own life.

“The community planned to give the villa to a new family, but when some men went to inspect the house, they found signs of life and heard a voice moaning from the walls. They ran away, claiming that the house was haunted by the father’s ghost.

“And ever since then, no one has been able to move into the house. Anyone who tried, if they didn’t believe in ghosts at first, were believers when they fled a few days later.”

Josuke’s hands on Rohan’s shoulders spasmed and clutched tighter. “Then, maybe we should leave this place alone? N-not that I’m scared, or anything! I just think we should leave the poor ghost alone, yanno? If there even is one!”

“But Josuke-kun,” Rohan said with false sympathy, “wouldn’t it ease your mind to know if there isn’t a ghost at all? That means we must investigate it.”

“I don’t need to be put at ease! Because I’m not uneasy in the first place!”

Rohan ignored Josuke’s wails and walked up to the old-fashioned traditional villa, taking off his boots before stepping onto the raised porch. “Remember to take your shoes off, Josuke-kun. Even if no one is living here anymore, it’s safer to be respectful.”

While Josuke grumbled and took his shoes off, Rohan ventured inside. The mansion was decrepit but not dark or dank; there were holes in the walls and ceiling that let shafts of light inside, slanted like collapsed pillars. The light looked strangely tangible in the shadowed house, and its warmth felt like it had weight when Rohan passed through it.

“Rohan?” Josuke called, his voice high and strained.

“Here,” Rohan replied without looking back. He felt the other’s approach until Josuke was behind him, crowding as close as a person could get without actually touching.

“It looks like nobody’s here, so we should go, right?” Josuke nearly begged.

“We’ve barely even entered,” Rohan scoffed. “Quit being such a—”

There was a hollow clank, and the low rumble of a ball rolling over wood.

It wasn’t a loud sound, but in the stillness and silence of the abandoned home it interrupted Rohan and left him glancing around. Josuke flinched and closed the distance to Rohan’s back, clinging to his shoulders once again. “What was that?” he hissed.

“Probably a cup or something falling over,” Rohan replied, his eyes narrowed. “Unusual for a house left abandoned for so long—anything that was going to fall over should have already done that a long time ago—but not inherently suspicious. Let’s keep going.”

“Let’s not,” Josuke moaned, barely even trying to hide his fear anymore as he followed Rohan deeper into the mansion.

All was quiet as they explored, except for the soft sighing of the wind. The house was nearly empty; the clothing and bedding had long since disintegrated or been taken by animals. All that remained were a few pieces of wind-roughed furniture, some basic housekeeping tools, and some books and scrolls blurred beyond readability.

Within twenty minutes they had traveled the perimeter of the house and found nothing.

“There’s nothing,” Rohan muttered, feeling disappointed.

Josuke, in contrast, laughed in relief. “That’s right, there’s nothing here! So there’s no reason to stick around. Let’s leave already!” He turned and started walking back to the entrance—

—only for his foot to bump into something, sending the object skittering across the floor with a sound like a flock of birds taking flight in unison. Josuke shrieked in surprise and stumbled back into Rohan.

The object rolled to a stop at the far wall. It was an empty clay sake bottle.

“Where did that come from?!” Josuke demanded loudly, though it wasn’t clear if he was asking Rohan or asking any ghost that might be about. “It wasn’t there a second ago!”

Just then there was a distant scraping sound followed by a clatter, and Rohan felt a shiver go up his spine and a drop of cold sweat slide down his cheek. Adrenaline started pumping in his veins, making his muscles twitchy and his senses sharper. He whirled around and threw open the sliding doors to the room they had just been in.

It was no longer empty. There was a sake bottle on the floor. The scrape and clatter rang out again, ever so slightly louder.

Rohan’s heart quickened from fear and excitement. This was what he had been looking for. This fear and anticipation, the sense of being on the precipice of discovering something previously unknown, the adrenaline that followed. It made his heart flutter and his knees weak every time. This was what Rohan wanted to feel, what he wanted to make his readers feel—heartbreakingly, delicately alive.

“Rohan, let’s leave,” Josuke hissed. His blue eyes (they really were closer to indigo, such a startling shade that somehow kept surprising the manga artist) were wide, and he was biting his lip. “Rohan!”

Rohan smiled. “I refuse.”

He started retracing their steps. The previously empty rooms now had empty alcohol bottles, growing in number with each room as the sounds became louder and louder. Soon they could hear a voice murmuring and giggling.

Then, outside one set of sliding doors, they heard the words. “Odds… or evens?” A chuckle, accompanied by the scrape of a bowl on the floor and the clatter of rolling dice.

Rohan had been the one opening the doors up until now, with Josuke flitting skittishly behind him, but now Josuke’s nerves snapped and he threw open the door, needing to confront his fear head-on. “Where are you, ghost?! Come out and show yourself!”

This room was littered with empty alcohol bottles, upright and tipped over. A few glass bottles were broken, shards scattered on the old and faded tatami mats. When they’d last been through this room, the doors to the outside were shut, but now they were fully open to show the back porch overlooking an overgrown garden and, in the distance, the ocean.

Still there was no one to be seen.

“Come out already, you bastard!” Josuke yelled, stepping into the center of the room and looking around.

“Odds or evens?” the voice whispered in Josuke’s ear. He whirled around, Crazy Diamond already punching with a cry of “DORA!”

But there was nobody there.

“Dammit!” Josuke cursed. “Where is he?!”

“Evens,” said Rohan.

Josuke turned sharply to look at him, eyebrows drawn together in confusion. “What?!”

There was a chuckle, and then suddenly a figure was sitting on the porch, pushing an upside-down bowl on the wood. It scraped loudly, and two die tumbled inside. The figure lifted the bowl. The die showed a six and a four. “You’re right. It’s evens.”

At last, Josuke got a good look at the ghost. It was a man in a plain yukata. His face was heavily creased and weathered, but his back was straight and his shoulders wide, and there was a childish mirth in his eyes. He had long gray-streaked hair in a high ponytail. Somehow the man looked both old and young at once, so it was difficult to determine his actually age.

The ghost smiled widely. “You’re the first person to take a bet instead of running away screaming. That’s refreshing. Say, young one, will you indulge this old man in a game?”

All the doors in the house slid shut except for the ones along the back porch. It looked like they wouldn’t be allowed to leave peacefully.

Rohan strode forward and sat down opposite the man. Josuke watched him, gaping. The manga artist’s eyes were narrowed, but he didn’t look scared. “What are we betting?” he asked.

The man chuckled again. “Oh, no, nothing like that. It’s a drinking game. If you guess wrong, you have to take a drink.” Here he pushed forward a clear glass bottle of honey-colored alcohol and a sake cup.

“And if I’m right?” Rohan asked.

The man sighed. “I’d love to take a drink, but I’m a ghost, you see, so I can’t drink or get drunk. Instead, I’ll answer any question honestly. You win if you manage to make me pass on to the afterlife by the time you run out of alcohol.”

Rohan looked smug. Josuke waited to hear those words Rohan loved so much: “I refuse.”

Instead, Rohan said, “I accept.”

“What?! Rohan, you can’t be serious,” Josuke spluttered. He hovered awkwardly behind the manga artist, wondering if he should try attacking the ghost or just pick Rohan up and run away.

“Of course I’m serious,” replied Rohan, firmly ignoring the teen’s looming and fidgeting. “I want to know more about this ghost and I’ve never gotten drunk before. Both will be interesting experiences for me. It’s what an American would call a win-win situation.”


“Higashikata Josuke,” Rohan cut him off. “You can either leave, or you can sit down, shut up, and stop being annoying.”

Josuke scowled. “I should leave you here to get eaten by a ghost or too drunk to get home, you idiot.” Then, contradicting his words, Josuke sat down next to Rohan, eyeing the ghost suspiciously and ready to attack at a moment’s notice.

The ghost smirked. “You two are interesting. This is going to be fun. All right, odds or evens?”


The bowl lifted. A four and a five. “Ah, that’s too bad. It’s odd. Time to drink.”

Without complaint, Rohan opened the bottle and poured a cupful into the choko.* He carefully considered it for a moment before tossing it back like a shot. The alcohol stung the back of his throat, then made it heat up. The ghost circled the bowl over the die, grinning widely. “Odds or evens?”

“Odds,” said Rohan.

The bowl lifted. A five and a six. “Well done, it’s odd. What would you like to know?”

Rohan lifted his bottle and swirled it in front of his eyes. “What kind of alcohol is this?”

The ghost froze, looking dumbstruck. Then he threw his head back and guffawed so loud it made Josuke jump.

“It’s whiskey,” the ghost said after calming down. “But I was so sure your first question would be to ask what my name is.”

Rohan smirked. “I already know who you are. You can only be an Ikeda, based on the story I heard. I’d say you were the father of the family, but you don’t seem like a depressed man who killed himself. You don’t look like you died in a fight like the second son—the other ghosts I knew still had the wounds that killed them—and you don’t look like the sick son who died young. Therefore you must be the first son, supposedly lost at sea.”

The ghost grinned even wider. “Well done! You’re correct. I am Ikeda Shou, first son of the Ikeda family. I wonder, how much more of my story have you guessed?”

(On the sidelines, Josuke gradually relaxed. Although this ghost wasn’t the kind, justice-seeking ghost that Reimi had been, it also didn’t seem to be an obsessed, malicious ghost like Kira’s father. Now that Josuke could see the ghost, and now that it was behaving like a normal (if weird) human being, he wasn’t frightened anymore, and instead he just felt disgruntled. He had been all keyed up on adrenaline, and now he didn’t get to fight or run away. All he could do was sit there and watch Rohan drink with a ghost. It was frustratingly anticlimactic.)

(At least Rohan looked good doing it, Josuke thought, blushing. It was past four in the afternoon and already the sun was dropping the in the sky. The angled sunlight cast golden highlights on Rohan’s skin and soft shadows on his clothes, making him look almost as ethereal as the ghost.)

Rohan’s answering hum was mild, but his eyes and smile were sharp. “I wonder why you’re using sake cups for whiskey.”

Ikeda shrugged. “It’s just alcohol, and drinking games are better when there’s a set measurement. What if you only take little sips from the bottle? That’s no fun.” He scraped the bowl along the floor as he talked. “Odds or evens?”


Ikeda lifted the bowl to reveal a one and a four. “Too bad, it’s odd.”

Rohan poured another cup and drank. The burn was so strong he could barely decipher the taste of the alcohol. He thought it maybe tasted like the sour aftertaste of honeyed bread. “Next will be evens.”

The next roll showed two twos. “You’re right, it’s evens. What’s your next question?”

“Why are you lingering here?”

The ghost’s smile became the slightest bit wistful. “There’s a treasure here,” he confided. “I can’t leave until I know that it’s in good hands.” He paused, circling the bowl, then added, “And just so you know, you can only ask yes or no questions about the treasure.”

“Fair enough,” Rohan agreed. “Odds.”

The bowl lifted. Another five and four. “All right, go ahead.”

“What really happened when you were ‘lost at sea’?”

Ikeda laughed loudly again. “I expected you to ask about the treasure! You really are a strange one. I suppose I should stop expecting you to react like an exorcist trying to get rid of me as soon as possible.”

“Don’t worry, I still intend to win,” Rohan said smugly. “But it would be such a waste to send you on your way without hearing your story. I’m a mangaka, after all.”

The ghost cocked his head. “Mangaka? What’s that?”

“A writer, only I draw pictures alongside words. But you still haven’t answered my question.”

Ikeda chuckled. “Very well, I will tell you.”

Over the course of a dozen more rolls and several more drinks for Rohan, Ikeda revealed his story in pieces. He had been a merchant who traveled between Japan and China, and on one voyage in 1853, a storm hit and the ship he’d been on had sunk. Ikeda spent a day clinging to a piece of wreckage before he was picked up by a junk fleet of Chinese pirates.

The pirates, captained by a man named Sao Cheng-gong,** had just been in a fight with the British Royal Navy and were looking for new recruits, so they had forced Ikeda to join the crew in return for saving his life.

At first Ikeda had been unhappy, but he had soon become friends with his crewmates and grew to enjoy the pirate lifestyle. He quickly became a proficient fighter and valued member of the crew, and remained a pirate until 1871.

“Your life is fascinating,” Rohan breathed, his teal eyes alight with excitement as he took notes and quick doodles on his sketchpad. Then he frowned (it was closer to a pout, Josuke thought, and it was very cute). “I wish I weren’t drunk. It’s hard to pay attention. And I don’t want to forget this.”

“Try to hang on, will you?” Ikeda grinned. “It would be a pity if you passed out now. Odds or evens?”

And so the bottle became increasingly emptier, and the ghost continued his story:

Over the years, Ikeda had become especially close with Sao Cheng-gong, though Ikeda never rose to the position of second-in-command. They were both very alcohol-tolerant, so when everyone else was drunk, they often played Odds and Evens together, alternating who guessed. If the guesser was wrong, they took a drink, and if they were right, the other took a drink.

By the 1870s most pirate junk fleets had dissolved, and Sao Cheng-gong’s fleet was down to a single ship when they were caught in a storm that decimated their vessel and left Ikeda and Sao Cheng-gong stranded on the coast of Japan with a crate of sake and whiskey from their last raid.

Theirs had been a miraculous survival, but Sao Cheng-gong had nearly drowned, and he became ill soon after. On his death bed he had laughed between coughs and expressed his regret that they couldn’t finish off their alcohol over a game of Odds and Evens. In return, Ikeda had vowed to drink Sao Cheng-gong’s share of alcohol as well, and Sao Cheng-gong died with a smile on his lips.

After burying his friend, Ikeda had dragged the crate of alcohol back to his old home, only to find that he was the last of his family, his father having recently hung himself.

“And then, well, there was nothing left to do but fulfill my promise,” Ikeda concluded. “I was grieving and lost without my best friend, and I felt that I could not go back to being a normal citizen after having experienced the freedom of a lawless life on the open seas. Getting my life back together, going back to being a simple merchant, settling down—it was unthinkable to me, not even an option. I didn’t want to do anything other than drink myself into oblivion. And I almost finished off all that booze, too, but I died of alcohol poising with just one more bottle to go—leaving my promise unfulfilled.”

Rohan blinked slowly, his mind sluggish and his cheeks flushed. Then something connected. “One bottle. You mean—” He cut off, picking up the whiskey bottle that had only dregs left in it. “This?”

“That’s right,” said Ikeda, his smile bittersweet. “That was the last bottle keeping me from fulfilling my promise—the treasure keeping me bound here. Maybe I could have left earlier, but I was picky about who would have the last bottle. I wanted it to go to someone brave enough to honor Sao Cheng-gong’s memory. But when I tested the people who came here to see their resolve, they all ran away.”

Ikeda grinned wryly. “To tell the truth, I was doubtful of you when you first arrived. But then you played my game, sat down with me, and showed more interest in my story than in the treasure I mentioned. That, more than anything, made me think that you were worthy. So will you finish it, and let me move on?”

Rohan looked back and forth between the bottle and ghost with squinted eyes. “…Very well,” he said at last, trying to gather an appropriately dramatic tone. He mostly just sounded tired, so he let his voice become haughty. Haughtiness was easy. “You entrusted me your story, so I’ll be the one to end it.”

Ikeda’s grin became brighter as Rohan lifted the bottle to his lips. “I left my treasure in good hands.”

After getting used to the whiskey, it no longer burned so much (or maybe it did and Rohan was just numb to it). He could now detect spices and sweetness along with the grainy taste, and he savored the last drops as they went down. When he looked back to the ghost, Ikeda was dissolving into light and rising up into the evening sky, the shape of Thank you on his lips.

Rohan scrambled to capture the moment on paper, but his normally quick hands were sluggish and sloppy. It was hard to control his body. Even when sleep deprived and high on caffeine Rohan could keep his hands steady, but now they trembled and jerked as if there was a bad signal between them and his brain. He made a noise of frustration and drew back, frowning.

“What is this,” Rohan slurred, trying to squint through the blurring that seemed to have come over his eyes. “Why can’t I draw this? What’s wrong with me? Everything feels blurry and my body won’t work right. How am I supposed to work like this? I just experienced a beautiful, unique moment of reality and I can’t capture it perfectly!”

As Rohan talked, he realized that he was angry. Angry at the alcohol, and at Ikeda for getting him drunk and then leaving before he was sober. It was a strange feeling for him. Normally when he was angry, Rohan felt distinct physical sensations: a hot flush at the least, chilled when he was more upset, and when he was absolutely furious his vision would tunnel and tint red while his skin crawled with ants.

Now, though, Rohan felt mad in the head. It was a strangely abstract anger that made him rant, “This is outrageous! Ridiculous! Why do people drink this stuff?! How can anyone get anything done like this?! I hate it! I hate it! I hate being drunk!”

But just as soon as Rohan finished speaking, his anger slipped away, and he was left blinking in confusion, feeling as if he was outside his body watching an idiot getting hung up over nothing. How funny, he thought, and started chuckling. And observing himself giggling for no reason was hilarious, so Rohan starting laughing, high-pitched and gasping and hysterical, flopping forward onto the floor and quivering against the rough tatami mats.

When Rohan ran out of laughs and turned on his side panting, Josuke was crouched over him, looking worried. It reminded Rohan of waking up after Highway Star.

“It’s funny,” Rohan gasped. There were tears in his eyes, from laughing and from the burn in his lungs and the cramp in his gut. “Isn’t it funny? I can’t hold onto anything, not even this anger.”

Rohan waited for a reply, but Josuke just sighed, looking—fond? sad? Then the teen shrugged off his uniform and draped the black jacket over Rohan’s shoulders. The manga artist couldn’t do anything but look up at him, wide-eyed and feeling inexplicably stunned.

Suddenly Rohan felt mad again. “You!” he demanded. “What are you doing?!”

“You’re cold,” Josuke replied mildly, smirking infuriatingly. “Geez, what kind of idiot wears a crop top in November?”

“I’m not cold,” Rohan said, even though he was still trembling and it wasn’t the aftershocks of laughter anymore. “What gives you the right to give me your jacket?! I didn’t ask for it! Take it back! I don’t want it! I hate it! I hate you! You’re too confusing!”

Rohan wanted to stand up and yell these things at Higashikata Josuke, but his body wouldn’t make the effort, so he clumsily grabbed the front of that ridiculous yellow shirt to rage in Josuke’s face. But his hand felt numb and disconnected from his brain, and it slipped only to be caught in Josuke’s own hands.

“You drive me mad,” Rohan said. He felt exposed, like he had been opened with Heaven’s Door and all his pages were tumbling out. He thought that he shouldn’t be giving pieces of himself away so easily, but he didn’t care. Rohan didn’t care. He had things to say, and he didn’t care who heard them.

“What kind of character are you? I can’t figure it out. Infuriating! Contradictory! I should be able to read you by now but I can’t! You’re purposefully being being infuriating, aren’t you?”

Josuke shook his head, looking like he was on the verge of laughter.

“You are! You’re doing it on purpose! Well, I won’t stand for it. You hear me?! This Kishibe Rohan won’t be led on like a fool! I’ll figure you out! I’ll read you without even using Heaven’s Door!”

Rohan paused, reflecting on his words. The melodrama felt fitting, justified, but also—ridiculous. He started laughing again, and didn’t stop when strong, warm arms lifted him off the ground. The sensation of floating just made him laugh harder, until tears were streaming down his face and disappearing into the skin-warmed fabric against his cheek.

Josuke had a drunk, laughing mess of a manga artist in his arms. Not just any manga artist either, but his crush, the normally unflappable and aloof Kishibe Rohan. And Josuke had no idea what to do about it.

“Time to go home, I guess,” Josuke said, carrying Rohan carefully over the floor. No way was he letting the drunkard navigate the glass-littered floor in his stockinged feet. He nudged the sliding doors open with his feet, and they went easily with no ghost controlling them.

Rohan’s laughter subsided to giggles by the time Josuke made it to the front porch, but he now seemed dazed and not fully aware as the teen set him down and started sliding his boots on for him. Rohan hunched under Josuke’s uniform jacket, staring unseeingly at the sketchbook in his hands.

Josuke finished lacing up Rohan’s boots and pulled on his own shoes, then crouched down in front of the manga artist and looped his arms back around the other’s legs. “Alright, up you go, piggy back ride time.” He hefted up and Rohan went unresistingly, the sketchbook caught between his front and Josuke’s back.

Once he was sure Rohan was secure, Josuke started the long walk back home.

It was quiet, and Josuke entertained himself for a few moments by imagining being stopped and questioned by the police for suspiciously carrying a drunk young man, even though Josuke was the younger one.

“It’s a good thing you’re twenty and legal to drink,” Josuke remarked, not necessarily expecting a reply from his companion.

Rohan stirred a little on his back. “Shut up, I’m twenty-one,” he mumbled.

“What?!” Josuke exclaimed, craning his head back to look at the manga artist, though it was a lost cause since Rohan had his face buried in the teen’s shoulder. “When did that happen?!”

Rohan didn’t reply for a moment, as if he had to struggle to remember his own birthday. “September… nineteenth,” he said at last.

Josuke jolted, almost dropping his burden. “You mean your birthday passed while you were living with us and you didn’t say anything?!”

“Why do you care?!” Rohan snapped. The anger in his voice drained quickly as he continued, “I don’t get it. Why do you act like you care? Stop it. I hate it. I hate you. Go away. Leave me alone.”

Josuke’s heart broke a little at the dejection in the manga artist’s voice, and he tightened his grip. “No way,” he said with fake levity. “I like you too much.”

A weak fist hit his shoulder, then grabbed the fabric of his shirt and twisted it, no doubt stretching it out. “Stop confusing me,” Rohan groaned. “Stop distracting me. Don’t you know you’re taking over my life? Stop it. Get over the novelty of trying to befriend me. It won’t work. Become a part of my work quietly or disappear already. I can’t handle anything else.”

Josuke nearly stopped walking at that confession. As opposed as Rohan was to lying, he sure wasn’t open with his thoughts. To hear him so honest was strange and, honestly, a bit creepy.

The hand on his shirt kneaded the material, as if Rohan were a cat. The manga artist continued, “You made me late for my last deadline. Don’t you know I live for my work? You’re messing me up. Stop it. I won’t forgive you. Higa—Higasu—Higashigashi—” Rohan struggled with his family name for a moment before giving up. “Joshuke! D’yoo undershtand me?” He was slurring worse now.

Josuke felt faint, like his heart was pumping too fast but still not getting enough oxygen to his brain. “Y-yeah, I hear you,” he said distantly, reeling from the drunken rambling. He was panicked to realize how Rohan had been trying to push him away, yet elated to realize he had such a strong effect on the manga artist. His conflicting feelings left him dizzy.

“Good,” Rohan whispered. He went quiet and relaxed, probably asleep, leaving Josuke alone with his whirling thoughts for company.

Thankfully, by the time Josuke got home, Tomoko had already gone to bed, so there was no one to question him about the drunk manga artist. He removed Rohan’s shoes and tried to remove his uniform jacket, but Rohan was clutching it tightly along with his sketchbook and wouldn’t give it up. So Josuke tucked him into bed with it, unable to suppress the sappy smile that arose on his face at the sight the manga artist made.

Josuke let himself out and got ready for bed himself, but once he was horizontal he couldn’t find rest for a long time, turning restlessly. Apparently Josuke had gotten closer to Rohan than he’d realized, but there was still a gap between them. How could he close it?

Eventually, Josuke exhausted himself with thinking and slipped into sleep.

Chapter Text

Upon waking up, Josuke had decided to give Rohan some space for a few days. The manga artist probably wouldn’t want to see him again so soon after being a drunken mess.

So Josuke was surprised when, returning home from a distracted day of school to find the manga artist at the kitchen table nursing a cup of coffee and a headache, Rohan took one look at him and pounced.

“Higashikata Josuke! I demand that you tell me what happened last night, in extreme detail!”

Josuke drew back from Rohan’s strong grip and manic eyes, startled. “Wh-what?!”

“I was drunk,” Rohan gritted out, “so I don’t remember everything as clearly as I would like, and my drawings after a certain point are less than reliable. Truly, the alcohol destroyed my coordination. So I need you to tell me everything that happened after I started drinking. I need to record this experience as accurately as possible!”

Rohan was getting in Josuke’s face again, so the teen pulled back, flustered. “Okay, I get it! I’ll tell you!” He paused. “But in return… you have to let me celebrate your birthday!”

Rohan blinked, finally softening his grip in surprise. “My birthday?!”

“Yeah! September nineteenth, right? Geez, why didn’t you tell us when it happened?”

Rohan scowled. “What do you care?!” he snapped, unknowingly repeating his reaction from last night. Josuke experienced a surreal moment of déjà vu, the defensive Rohan in front of him blurring with the honest, fragile one in his memory.

At that moment, Josuke felt an impulse to say, Because I love you, the urge so strong it made his heart ache.

But Rohan was still distrusting of him, still thought Josuke was interacting with him on a whim. Rohan wasn’t ready to hear Josuke’s true feelings, and Josuke wasn’t ready to risk driving Rohan away.

“Because you’re a good guy, even though you’re kind of a jerk,” Josuke said instead. Still true, but not the truth he really wanted to say. “Besides, I’m always down for an excuse to party.”

Rohan searched his face with narrowed eyes. At last, he conceded, “Fine.”

Josuke grinned.

That night, after Josuke was grilled for details about the Ikeda mansion and Tomoko was informed about Rohan’s belated birthday, the Higashikatas celebrated by putting candles in a pudding cup and singing loudly while Rohan bore it with stoic grace. After dinner Tomoko gave him some colorful bath bombs and Josuke gave him a gift certificate to the ice cream shop he’d worked at.

Rohan had thought that was the last of the spectacle, but that Saturday, Josuke dragged him to Tonio’s restaurant where they met Koichi and Okuyasu. When Rohan entered, the two seated teens jumped up and yelled, “Happy belated birthday, Rohan-sensei!”

Rohan glared at Josuke accusingly. “We already celebrated my birthday.”

“But these guys didn’t get to,” Josuke said innocently. “They were upset when they found out they weren’t included so we decided to have another celebration here.”

“Geez, Rohan-sensei,” Koichi huffed with exasperation, “you should have told us earlier. These are the kinds of things friends should know!”

Rohan sighed and gave in. “Very well, I understand.”

As everyone settled back into their chairs, Tonio came over with a smile. “Good afternoon, Signores,” he greeted, looking them over with a critical eye, assessing any and all issues with their health. “Hm… I see, I see. I will prepare your meals momentarily. Would you like anything to drink?”

Soon the group was settled with their appetizers. The students talked about school while Rohan sketched scenes from the restaurant.

When there was a lull in the conversation, Koichi said suddenly, “Did you notice that Tonio-san seems to be paying special attention to that foreigner over there?” He pointed towards a corner table where Tonio was chatting with a customer.

The stranger was fair skinned and obviously tall, though he was sitting down. His hair was like straw, the coarse strands sticking up in the front, and his eyes were a pale glacial blue in his sharp, regal face. He was wearing a light blue denim jacket over a black turtleneck and jeans, and there was a thick scarf folded over the back of his chair. His hands, covered by fingerless gloves, were being examined by Tonio.

“Normally it only takes a second for Tonio to figure out what’s wrong with someone,” Koichi noted thoughtfully, “but he’s been with that customer for several minutes now.”

As they watched, Tonio continued chatting with the customer in English before giving those hands one last pat and heading to the kitchen.

“Huh, that was kinda strange,” Okuyasu agreed, scratching his head. “But what does it mean?”

Koichi tilted his head thoughtfully. “Well, I can’t be certain, but… it looks like Tonio might be interested in him. And since the man doesn’t look annoyed, he might be interested in Tonio, too.”

Okuyasu looked at Koichi with wide eyes. “Hey, Koichi… does being in a relationship give you the special ability to, like, sense other couples?”

Koichi’s face turned red and Josuke laughed. “That must be it!” the pompadoured teen crowed.

“It’s not! And I never said that the interest had to be romantic,” Koichi objected, flicking a bit of water at Josuke’s face in retribution. Hanging around Josuke and Okuyasu had clearly made him less timid, and it especially showed when he responded to their teasing.

“Hey hey hey, watch the hair!” Josuke exclaimed, laughing. He pulled out his ever-present comb to fix the hairdo.

“Oh please, as if a little water could do anything to that… delightful head of yours, what with how much hair gel you put in it,” Rohan drawled.

“You bet my hair’s delightful,” Josuke grinned, ignoring the jab about hair gel and putting the comb away in his pocket.

Just then Tonio approached the foreigner’s table with a steaming drink. The chef waited while the customer drank from the cup, but the man showed no visible physical reaction, only thanking Tonio with a smile. Tonio bowed and turned away, but looked slightly troubled.

“What, did the food not do what it was supposed to do?” Okuyasu wondered aloud.

Josuke shrugged and changed the subject. “Hey, has Rohan-sensei told you guys about the haunted mansion yet?”

After dessert—a special birthday cake made by Tonio—Okuyasu and Koichi went their separate ways and Rohan holed himself up in his room to get some work done. Josuke let him go without complaint, since Rohan had put up with all the birthday plans up until then. Josuke entertained himself playing video games until it was dinnertime.

That night, as Josuke was changing into his pajamas and getting ready for bed, he noticed that his comb was missing. But it was just a cheap plastic comb, easily replaceable, so he thought little of it besides making a mental note to buy a new one.

The next morning Josuke woke up feeling a little chilly, though all his blankets were still on the bed and the window was shut tight. He got out of bed feeling mildly depressed for no apparent reason.

Bemused, he stumbled to the kitchen and found his mother sipping coffee with a smirk while Rohan read ridiculous police reports of mundane life from the newspaper out loud to her.

At the sight of his loved ones, any sensation of cold or sullenness disappeared in an instant. Overwhelming warmth and gratitude for his life filled Josuke, and he only beamed wider when Rohan asked him accusingly what he was so happy about.

A few weeks later on a chilly December day, Josuke and Koichi were walking together when Koichi said out of the blue, “Hey, did you know you have a character in Pink Dark Boy?”

“Huh?” Josuke startled. “What do you mean?”

“Rohan-sensei made a character based on you,” explained Koichi. “He showed up in the latest chapter. Kubota Sukejirou, a delinquent in a biker gang.” When he saw Josuke’s stunned look, he continued, “It’s not that surprising, really. In fact, the surprising thing is that he took so long to create a character based on you. He introduced a Jotaro-san character ages ago as a police inspector, and a Hayato-kun character as a boy who wants to be a detective.”

Josuke felt a little jealous that Jotaro and Hayato had gotten characters before him, when he had met Rohan before them, but he knew that his personality threw Rohan off, so he pushed the feeling down. He asked, “Then, do you have a character, Koichi?”

“Well, now I definitely have a character in the biker gang, but before that—” here Koichi paused and flushed bright pink, “—I think Rohan-sensei has used me as inspiration for some of Pink Dark Boy’s moments.”

Josuke grinned and clapped Koichi on the back. “That means you’re protagonist material, right? Way to go!”

Koichi stuttered and waved his hands, and Josuke laughed. Koichi was still too fun to tease.

Josuke had never been interested in manga, but knowing that he was becoming a part of Rohan’s work made him want to see what he was being written into. It niggled at him all week until, by Friday’s end, he had resolved to do some research of his own.

And so the next morning Josuke had uncharacteristically let Rohan leave by himself, then made his way on his own to the bookstore, where he now found himself staring at the first volume of Pink Dark Boy.

The cover was taken up nearly entirely by the protagonist, mid-leap with one hand on his wide-rimmed fedora and the other pointing straight out at the reader. His face and body were somewhat childishly proportioned, and he wore a wide, wild grin.

Josuke bit his lip, feeling oddly nervous. This was a window into an important part of Rohan’s life, but it was only the first volume of twenty and the manga was still being serialized. It felt like such a huge undertaking to be starting so late into knowing Rohan.

Better late than never, right? Josuke reminded himself, tightening his fingers on the book. He had found the starting point to the manga, and after coming so far—metaphorically when it came to Rohan, physically when it came to being in a bookstore—he would just have to read it.

So Josuke opened to the first page.

Soon Josuke was immersed in the story, and had forgotten about the outside world and even his original motives for reading it, until—


Jolted back to reality, Josuke looked up and found the author of the very manga in his hands watching him with a stunned expression. “R-Rohan! What are you doing here?!”

“I come here often to look for research material and look at other mangakas’ work,” Rohan explained. “As a mangaka, I have to know what other popular mangakas are doing so I can know what not to do. But as for you…” He studied the teen with raised eyebrows and a piercing stare. “You’re reading my manga.”

“Uh… yeah,” Josuke mumbled, looking down at the volume in his hands as his face heated up. “I was curious, yanno?”

Rohan’s expression settled into something more neutral, but his eyes were still wider than usual. “I’m going to buy this—” he held up a book called Most Dangerous Reptiles of the World “and then you’re coming with me, Higashikata Josuke.”

Josuke gulped and unconsciously clutched the manga a bit tighter when he saw the book in Rohan’s hands. He hated reptiles! But he tried to put that out of his mind to focus on replying to what Rohan had just said. “What? But I’m not done reading!”

“I have copies of all my manga, you can read them in my room,” Rohan said, plucking the volume out of Josuke’s hand and putting it back on the shelf. “But this isn’t a library, and more importantly—did you think you could read my manga without giving me a chance to watch you react to it?!”

Josuke blinked, his empty hands slow to lower. “Huh?”

A manic light entered Rohan’s eyes, and his lips quivered with excitement. “Watching people read my manga is one of my favorite things,” he said reverently. “Watching people react to it, seeing them relate to it and be affected by it—it’s the best feeling! I must have it. You’re not going to cheat me out of this experience by reading my manga alone and in secret, Josuke!”

The barely restrained joy and anticipation that Rohan was radiating was incredible, Josuke thought dazedly as he was dragged to the checkout counter and then out the door and all the way back home.

Josuke only snapped out of it when Rohan grabbed him by the shoulders and pushed him down into a seated position on the manga artist’s bed. “What—?!”

A manga volume was shoved in his hands a second later, and Rohan plopped himself down in a chair facing Josuke, staring at him unblinkingly with his sketchbook out and pencil ready.

“Um… I’m not sure I can read when I’m being stared at so hard,” Josuke said nervously.

“Just ignore me,” Rohan replied. He still hadn’t blinked. “Forget I’m here.”

“I’m saying I can’t ignore you when you look like that!”

“Like what?”

“Like… like a snake that’s about to jump at me!”

Rohan’s eyes sparkled and he finally looked down to make a quick note. “That’s a great analogy, Josuke! Ah, I wish I could see what I look like through your eyes to inspire such fear…” He glanced back up at the teen and sighed. “I do want you to be able to read, though, so I’ll move.” He stood and brought his chair around so that he was facing Josuke’s profile. “Is this better?”

Having the manga artist in his peripherals was still distracting but far less unnerving, so Josuke nodded and opened up to where he’d left off.

And in moments he had, indeed, forgotten about Rohan watching him as he was sucked into the story.

(In fact, he didn’t notice when Rohan slowly shifted his chair back around so he could see Josuke’s whole face again.)

Pink Dark Boy was scary, but somehow instead of freaking Josuke out like scary things usually did (he couldn’t stand ghost stories or zombie movies), it made him excited. He read through lunch and was only roused from his state by Tomoko’s call for dinner. Josuke had scarfed down the meal in record time and returned to reading.

(Rohan, meanwhile, was almost feverish with glee. Some people’s faces remained stoic while they read, but Josuke was truly an open book! The manga artist had seen so many new expressions on him that day, he’d been able to fill half a sketchbook. Sometimes the teen had even unconsciously mimicked expressions of characters in the manga, leading to him wearing uncharacteristic sneers and doubtful frowns.)

After what felt like years and also no time at all, Josuke finished the last volume and emerged blinking from the experience. “…Whoah,” he said at last.

Rohan leaned toward him eagerly. “What do you think?”

“It’s great!” Josuke exclaimed. “Normally I can’t deal with scary things, but this… I don’t know if I can put it into words very well, especially since I don’t know much about manga. But it’s like, being scared and then seeing Pink Dark Boy overcome his challenges, the satisfaction afterward felt even better after having been scared.”

The manga artist settled back in his chair, nodding. “As a reader, you want and expect the protagonist to constantly win and grow. So you trust that however bad the situation gets, the protagonist will find a way out. And because of that, you can feel scared without falling into despair, and after it’s over you feel like you have overcome your fear along with the protagonist. Is that right?”

“Yes, that’s exactly it!” Josuke said, surprised. “How did you know?”

Rohan crossed his left arm across his chest and propped his cheek on his right hand, regarding Josuke. “People read manga because they want to forget their world and be transported to a different one. And in most cases, they want to leave that world feeling good before they return to reality. And in order to feel happy about the story, the reader has to see steady and unfaltering upward progress from the protagonist.

“There are exceptions, of course; it can be cathartic to watch someone or something degrade, even if the story ends on a bad note. But for the most part, people want to feel good after reading manga. And that’s why the protagonist can never lose.”

Rohan’s gaze, which had unfocused during his explanation, snapped back to Josuke suddenly. “Speaking of the protagonist. What did you think about Pink Dark Boy?”

Josuke thought for a moment. “I think… he felt a little childish at the beginning? Not in a bad way, just… he was a little naive. But then later on he got wiser and more thoughtful. It was really interesting to see the transformation.”

“Childish is a good word for it,” Rohan said. “Yes, Pink Dark Boy was childish at the beginning. Truthfully, I’m not fond of my early work on the series.”

Josuke frowned, confused. “What do you mean? Why?”

Rohan leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees, fingers laced in front of his mouth. “In order to be a successful mangaka,” he began, “one has to balance what they want to write with what others want to read.

“The most important part of being a mangaka is writing what interests you. If you write something you don’t care about just because it’s popular, you’ll burn out and your readers will be able to tell. But if you ignore the desires of your readers in favor of your own preferences, no one will read your manga.

“In order to break into the industry, I had to win a competition by Shonen Jump. My vision for Pink Dark Boy was more of a mood manga, where the protagonist struggles in ways other than fighting, but the readers of Jump generally prefer fighting manga, where the protagonist directly battles against a person or entity. So that people would read my manga in the beginning, I made it more similar to a fighting story while trying to retain the themes I wanted to explore. As part of this, I made Pink Dark Boy a more brash character than I was originally planning so that he could collide head-on with proper villains.”

Rohan sighed. “In retrospect, I was disrespecting my readers by thinking I had to dumb things down for them, as I saw it. Of course, after a while what I really wanted to write started coming through in my work, and the story and protagonist shifted. It brought me a great deal of anxiety and insecurity, wondering if my readers would continue reading my story. I’m incredibly fortunate that my readers accepted my style.”

Josuke blinked, thrown for the loop by the manga artist’s sudden openness. The vulnerability in Rohan’s expression took his breath away and made his heart ache. “Rohan…”

Rohan turned away. “Since you’re done reading, you should go to bed.”

In that moment, Josuke desperately wanted to hug Rohan. He wanted to kiss him, comfort him, to say something that would put that manic smile back on the manga artist’s face.

But Rohan wasn’t ready for it yet.

Josuke stood up and left the room, lingering in the doorway. “Good night, Rohan-sensei.”

Rohan didn’t reply, and after moment of waiting, Josuke retreated to his room, heart heavy.

“Hey, Koichi,” Josuke called out on Monday when he saw the shorter boy on the way to school. “When does Shonen Jump come out?”

“Good morning, Josuke-kun. It comes out every Monday,” Koichi answered. Then he remembered how odd it was for Josuke to show an interest in manga. “Why do you ask?”

“Are you gonna go get it today?” Josuke asked, ignoring the question.

“Y-yes, after school, like I usually do. But why are you asking?”

Josuke deliberately avoided Koichi’s inquiring look. “Can I read it after you’re done?”

Koichi stopped walking and stared. Josuke could see the moment he figured it out, because the gray-haired boy started beaming. “You read Pink Dark Boy, didn’t you?! And you liked it!”

“Yes, I liked it!” Josuke burst out. “And now you’re gonna say ‘I knew it’!”

“I knew it!” Koichi crowed triumphantly, before realization passed over his face. “Hey!”

Josuke smirked.

Koichi scowled. “Just so you know, you’re not getting my Jump for free. If you’re going to read it after me, you can very well pay for it! We’ll split the cost in half between us.”

“Cheapskate,” Josuke teased. “I shouldn’t have to pay when I’ll be getting used goods!”

“The cheapskate is you!” Koichi retorted.

Just then, Okuyasu ran up to them, waving. “Hey guys! Guess what I just bought?” He proudly held up a copy of Shonen Jump. “I wanted to start reading Rohan-sensei’s manga, but I couldn’t remember what it was called, so I just bought the magazine instead!”

Josuke and Koichi looked at the magazine. They glanced at each other, looked back to the magazine, then stared at Okuyasu.

In unison, they blurted, “Can I read it after you?”

Chapter Text

Rohan sneezed and shivered, crouched down with his sketchpad out in front of a dandelion pushing its stubborn way up through a crack in the sidewalk.

It was December 24th, a Friday, and Rohan had spent his morning so far people-watching. In the city, Christmas Eve had been the perfect time to observe young couples and new fashion trends, because the holiday was considered a romantic one in Japan rather than a religious one, as it was in the West. Young couples would go out to dinner and then take a romantic stroll to see the holiday lights around the city.

Rohan was curious to see if people in Morioh celebrated the same way, and had been keeping a close eye on the people out and about. It was still too early to find couples, but he had seen hints that Christmas Eve was popular here; the festive lights strung up around town were one sign, and the groups of young women hunting for last-minute wardrobe additions and getting their hair styled were another.

Rohan finished his drawing but stayed crouching, lost in thought about the couples he had seen for years in S City. When he had just been starting out as a manga artist, his editors had frequently told him to make his women more sensual. Rohan had made an effort to learn to draw sensually only because he understood that it could contribute to horror and suspense; the erotic becoming deadly or grotesque made it all the more horrifying and exciting.

After considerable observation and experimentation, Rohan had mastered a style of dark sensuality that captured the image of lust.

But recently his new editor—one of Shueisha’s better ones—had suggested adding more romance to his manga. Not necessarily to Pink Dark Boy, but to the repertoire of things he could draw. Since this was an experienced editor Rohan had worked with before, he was giving the suggestion due consideration.

(Because Rohan was remarkably self-sufficient for a manga artist and always met his deadlines, he was often given less experienced editors so they could learn something from dealing with him or editors who needed a lighter case load for personal or professional reasons.)

The purpose of manga was to make the invisible visible. Things like friendship, fear, wind, warmth, all had to be given visible form. On an intellectual level, Rohan understood the importance of romance in life, and he knew that there must be some way to portray it through art. But he didn’t know how to do it.

In order to draw things in a way that feels real to people, one has to know how they work, what they’re composed of, how they’re put together. This applied equally for objects like guns and for emotions like despair. Rohan had experienced all kinds of emotions, but never love. He couldn’t draw something he didn’t know, and now he was left wondering.

What did love look like?

Rohan sighed and started to stand up stiffly, but something slammed into his face and sent him tumbling onto his back and thumping his head on the sidewalk. “Aaugh,” he gurgled, clutching at his bloody nose as his vision distorted from the pain.

Scheiße!” exclaimed a voice above him. “Are you okay, sir? I’m terribly sorry,” the voice said in accented English.

Through watering eyes, Rohan blinked up at a tall silhouette outlined by the sun. “Gah,” he wheezed.

I’m sorry, I’ll help you up,” the man said, crouching down next to Rohan and lifting him into sitting upright. A handkerchief was held up to his nose. “Tilt your head forward.”

Rohan went pliantly, still dazed from hitting his head. After a moment, though, he recovered himself enough to push the handkerchief away. “Stop, I’m fine.” He remembered that the foreigner couldn’t understand Japanese and repeated the sentence in English.

I’m so glad to hear that,” the man said with relief. “I’m sorry for hitting you with my knee. I was looking at my travel guide and not where I was going.

Rohan’s eyes finally began to clear and he got a better look at the stranger who had bumped into him. He had blond hair, a sharp face, and icy blue eyes. He looked faintly familiar, but Rohan couldn’t remember where he’d seen the man before.

More blood dripped down Rohan’s upper lip, and he remembered his bloody nose and gasped. What a perfect opportunity to draw! “I need a mirror,” he exclaimed in English, grabbing his sketchbook and running into the closest store. He located the bathroom and opened his sketchpad, quickly drawing his portrait with swollen nose and bloodstains.

By the time he finished drawing, Rohan’s mood had much improved, and he cleaned his face up and left the bathroom. It turned out he had run into a general store, and the cashier eyed him warily as he left.

He thinks you’re a freak, something whispered in his head. Rohan frowned. He hadn’t had intrusive thoughts like this since before he’d gotten his Stand.

When Rohan emerged on the street, the strange foreigner was gone—not that Rohan cared that the man had left. He wasn’t particularly upset about being hit, especially since it had given him something to draw. He turned and started walking towards the Higashikata’s house so he could wash the blood off his jacket properly and change clothes.

After those tasks were done it was past noon, so Rohan headed to Café de Maigot for lunch. He took a seat at his usual table, ordered some soup because he felt a little chilly, and settled back into people-watching.

As he was drawing, two middle school students approached on the sidewalk, apparently on their lunch break. As they grew closer, Rohan heard one exclaim, “Hey, isn’t that Kishibe Rohan? The author of Pink Dark Boy?”

“Oh, that manga,” replied the other boy. “I tried to start it because my friends said it was good, but it was too gross so I stopped.”

Rohan’s hand froze with his pencil mid-stroke. Your manga’s too gross, something whispered. He stopped reading it. He didn’t like it.

The soup arrived, but Rohan had suddenly lost his appetite. He started eating for appearance’s sake, but it felt like trying to swallow mud.

Most of the time, criticism didn’t make Rohan upset. Either it was constructive criticism that helped him improve his manga, or it was useless criticism from someone who didn’t know what they were talking about or who was simply incompatible with his style.

But Rohan was still insecure about his manga, for all he tried not to be. His greatest fear was that nobody would read his manga, and his second greatest fear was that nobody would understand his manga.

He didn’t hear what you were trying to say. You couldn’t reach him, the something said.

Rohan had always been fascinated by the fragility and cruel beauty of life. In retrospect, perhaps it had something to do with his near death experience at the Sugimoto’s, when Reimi saved him. Even if he had repressed the memory, it probably contributed to his obsession with life and death.

What Rohan really wanted as a manga artist was for his readers to feel the same terror and awe of the world that he himself felt, and for them to be just as desperately grateful to be alive as he was.

You didn’t reach him. He didn’t understand.

Rohan never took compliments on his manga to heart because compliments didn’t help him improve as a manga artist. Worse, most compliments he received were too vague to be worth anything. It was good, great, amazing—none of those all-too-common words really said anything about what affected the readers or why. Rohan didn’t want to hear what people thought of the manga itself. He wanted to know what his manga meant to his readers, how it made them feel. But to press his fans for such answers would be unseemly, would expose how desperate he was for someone to understand.

You haven’t reached anyone. Nobody can understand you. You’re too different. You’re too weird.

Rohan’s thoughts were spiraling now, and he felt sick. He wouldn’t be able to stomach another spoonful of soup, so he dropped money on the table to pay and left the bowl half full. He put his sketchbook back in his shoulder bag and started walking in a random direction, barely seeing the ground beneath his feet, barely aware of the passing time.

You’re obsessive, you’re neurotic, you’re selfish. Who could love someone like you? Who could even care about you? As the thoughts cycled, the voice was getting louder, more clear, and it was starting to sound… not like himself.

Rohan stopped. Something was whispering in his ear. Wasn’t that familiar? Hadn’t that just happened to him five months ago in July? At that time, it had been—

“Cheap Trick,” Rohan said out loud.

But Rohan had gotten rid of Cheap Trick, it had been carried to hell by whatever you couldn’t look at in the ghost alley. So now it could only be—

“A Stand attack!” Rohan gasped, whirling around, scanning with his eyes, and—

There, clutching onto his arm, was what looked like a doll. It was only about 20 centimeters tall, one of the smallest Stands Rohan had ever seen, and it had no features, only a blank face covered with mini goggles. It was wearing a parka and snow pants, giving it a soft, nonthreatening appearance.

“You’re unloved,” the Stand’s childish voice said, for all that it had no mouth.

“So you’re the one putting thoughts in my head,” Rohan snarled.

“They’re your thoughts,” the Stand replied. “Your thoughts. You know it’s true.”

“Heaven’s Door!” Rohan called, and his Stand appeared and split the doll open like a pomegranate. Its grip released and it fell on the ground.

Crouching down, Rohan peered forward without touching the Stand. Then he gasped. “What the hell?!”

Instead of finding information about the Stand or its user, Rohan instead found his own name, over and over again: Nobody understands Kishibe Rohan. Nobody loves Kishibe Rohan. Nobody reads Kishibe Rohan’s manga. Kishibe Rohan’s parents wish they’d had a normal child. Kishibe Rohan has no friends.

On and on, sentences of a similar type filled up all the pages, no matter how many Rohan flipped.

Nobody believes Kishibe Rohan.

Kishibe Rohan doesn’t mean anything to anyone.

Kishibe Rohan will never be able to write all the stories he wants to write.

Kishibe Rohan is probably going to go crazy and kill himself before he’s thirty.

Rohan shivered, his eyes wide. “How can this be?! Heaven’s Door reveals everything inside a person or thing. Does that mean… inside this Stand… is only me?”

He pulled his hand back, and the doll’s pages folded back up. “No one loves you,” it said.

Rohan stood, stumbling back. The doll stayed where it was. He turned and started running, but—

“Nobody understands you.” The doll Stand was suddenly on Rohan’s shoulder.

“Get off!” Rohan yelled, swatting at it. But before his hand could connect, the doll disappeared. At the exact same moment, a weight settled on his other shoulder. Teleportation?

From his other shoulder came the words, “You’re worthless.”

Rohan shivered. He suddenly felt cold, colder than he should be. As a seaside town on Japan’s east coast, Morioh seldom got cold enough for snow, and certainly not so early in winter. But despite that, Rohan felt like it was below freezing temperature, even wearing one of his thickest jackets.

“I n-need to find the user,” Rohan said to himself. His teeth were starting to chatter.

“Even if you did, it wouldn’t help anything,” the doll said, patting him on the head as if trying to be comforting. “You’re too weak. You can’t fight. As soon as someone gets around your Heaven’s Door, you’re done for.”

“Th-that’s n-not true,” Rohan hissed. “I—”


Flooded with relief, Rohan turned to find Koichi waving and crossing the street towards him. Then Rohan frowned. Had school let out early? Or had it passed four in the afternoon without him realizing it?

“Oh my god!” Koichi exclaimed as he got closer. Rohan’s heart lifted. He must have noticed the Stand! “Rohan-sensei, what on earth happened to your nose?!”

Rohan blinked, confused. “My nose?” He lifted a hand to his face, and realized that it was still swollen and sore. “I got hit in the face earlier, but that’s not important! There’s—!”

“He thinks you’re selfish,” the Stand said. “He only puts up with you because he’s too good of a person.”

Rohan scowled at Koichi, whose gaze remained on the manga artist and didn’t stray even once to the Stand on his shoulder. “Oi oi oi! Don’t you hear that—?”

“He can’t see me or hear me. Do you really think he’ll believe you if you say you’re being attacked by a Stand? He didn’t believe you last time.”

Rohan cut off and looked to the side where the doll Stand was still on his shoulder. “And if he could see me,” it continued, “what would he think of you for not being able to handle such a tiny thing?”

“Rohan-sensei?” Koichi prompted, eyebrows creased in confusion.

The manga artist’s insides burned cold with shame. “J-just leave me al-lone right now,” he stuttered. “I’m busy!”

“Rohan-sensei!” Koichi called, sounding hurt, but Rohan turned away and started speedwalking. He felt cold and oddly stiff, like his joints wanted to stick in place.

The Stand gigglied childishly. “Look at you! All you do is hurt people. That’s why they don’t care about you. You’re unloved. You don’t mean a thing to them.”

Rohan’s mind was fuzzy and sluggish, like he was wading through snow. It was getting harder and harder to think.

“And if you don’t mean anything to other people, what are you? Nothing. If you can’t touch their hearts, why do you exist? No reason.”

He kept walking, not noticing when the Stand’s voice in his head became his own. Eventually he reached a ledge and sat down hard, drawing his arms around his knees as if it could keep him warm when he was so, so cold. The words kept coming, falling all around his head like snowflakes: You’re nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

He stared into the night approaching from the east and floated farther and father away from his body.

When school let out, Josuke waved for Koichi and Okuyasu to leave without him, and then hung around the gates for a while to see if Rohan would show up. These days, he picked Josuke up from school more often than not.

When Rohan didn’t show up after fifteen minutes, Josuke headed home to see if the manga artist was there. But Rohan’s shoes were missing from the genkan.

“Josuke, is that you?” Tomoko called out from inside the kitchen. “Koichi called, he asked you to call him back.”

“Okay,” Josuke called back, going over to the phone and punching in Koichi’s number. The phone only rang once before being picked up. “Koichi?”

“Josuke-kun,” Koichi greeted. His worried tone came across clearly even over the phone. “I saw Rohan on the way home, he was acting weird.”

A chill of fear ran through Josuke. An image flashed in his mind: Rohan stepping into a bloody painting. “Weird how?” he asked urgently.

“He looked really shaken, and his eyes kept flicking to the side. He started to ask me if I heard something, but then he snapped at me to leave him alone because he was busy, and then he practically ran away from me! I didn’t want to upset him more by following him, but I thought you should know about it.”

Josuke bit his lip. “I’m gonna go look for him. Which way did he go?”

“Towards the hotel, but I’m not sure he knew where he was going. He looked pretty out of it. Oh! Also his nose was all red and swollen. He said that he got hit in the face, but that it wasn’t important.”

“Okay, I’m going to go looking for him. Thanks, Koichi.”

“Of course! I hope you find him okay, Josuke-kun.”

Josuke hung up and ran back to the genkan, pulling on his shoes. Tomoko peered around the corner. “You just got here! Now you’re going back out again? What’s the rush?”

“I’m going looking for Rohan,” Josuke replied, searching his pockets for the the bit of Rohan’s shoe rubber he used to track the manga artist. He cursed internally when he realized he’d forgotten to get a new piece the night before. It looked like he’d be searching the old fashioned way.

Josuke ran toward the Morioh Grand Hotel, keeping his eyes peeled for a flash of green hair. Whenever he came across someone on his way, he stopped to ask if they had seen the manga artist, but nobody had.

By the time Josuke got to the hotel, he had pit stains on his uniform from sweating and his hair was coming undone. He asked the woman at the hotel counter if Rohan had checked in, but he hadn’t.

Next he went to the beach behind the hotel, looking frantically up and down the coastline. He was about to give up and backtrack when a fisherman who was packing up for the day called out to him. “Young man, are you looking for something?”

“Yeah,” Josuke panted. “Have you seen a guy with green hair go by? A little shorter than me, wearing a big headband. Probably wearing a white jacket.”

“Oh, yes, I saw him,” the fisherman said. “I remember because he wasn’t looking too good and he was heading towards Boing-Boing Cape.”

Josuke’s heart nearly froze right then and there. An out-of-it Rohan heading towards a cliff overlooking the sea? “Thank you so much!” Josuke hurriedly bowed to the fisherman, then started sprinting north along the coast.

Soon the path started sloping up, and Josuke’s shoes started to slip, but he refused to slow down. I have to make it in time! he thought. I don’t know what’s going on, but whatever it is, I have to be there!

For the second time that day, Josuke was struck by a fragment of that dream from months ago: knowing that Rohan was in danger, running through the streets of Morioh, feeling like he couldn’t move fast enough. Josuke was suddenly afraid that when he found Rohan, he would be a torn-open body with a missing heart.

Finally, finally, Josuke approached the crest of the cliff and saw a figure sitting at the top. He was exhausted, already at his limit, but he poured on another burst of speed and grasped the figure’s shoulder, pulling him around. “Rohan!”

The manga artist didn’t reply, his eyes dull, half-lidded, and unseeing.

Trembling from exhaustion and panic, Josuke shook Rohan’s shoulders. “Rohan, what’s wrong with you?!” When shaking him didn’t work, Josuke infused him with Crazy Diamond’s healing power, but all that did was fix the swollen nose. Next Josuke felt Rohan’s forehead for a fever, but jerked back with surprise. “Holy crap! Your skin’s like ice!”

“Of course it is. That’s my power, after all,” said a kid’s voice from nearby.

Startled, Josuke clutched Rohan to his chest and whipped his head around. “Who’s there?! Where are you?!”

“I’m right here,” said the voice again. Josuke looked down and found a creepy blank-faced doll on Rohan’s shoulder.

“DORA!” Crazy Diamond yelled, punching the doll. But it vanished before the hit could connect.

“It won’t work,” said the doll. “I may not have any power, but I’m fast. You won’t be able to hit me.”

Josuke held Rohan tighter. “So you’re the Stand that attacked him?!”

“That’s right,” the Stand replied. “My name is Ice Time, and my power is that when I connect with people, they freeze and eventually die when I tell them about their fears and insecurities. And I connect with them through a bit of hair or skin or blood. In fact, the only reason you can see and hear me, Higashikata Josuke, is because I was connected to you not long ago.”

“What the hell are you talking about?!” Josuke demanded.

“In November, when you suddenly felt depressed for no reason. You didn’t have enough insecurity to succumb to me,” Ice Time explained, “but you do have a very strong fear. You’re terrified of not being able to save your loved ones.”

Josuke clenched his teeth and Crazy Diamond waited at the ready, restless.

“Luckily for you, we don’t care whether he lives or dies, so if you tell me where we can find Joseph Joestar, I’ll let him go.”

Slowly, Josuke tilted his head down, shoulders beginning to shake with fury. “You mean to say,” he gritted out in a low voice, “that you’re doing all of this for a goddamned address?!”

“It’s a top-secret address,” the Stand said, its voice somehow pouting.

“But why did Rohan have to go through so much pain just for that?!”

Ice Time paused. Then: “Because we’re cold. Don’t you feel warmer when you see someone colder than you?”

“No way!” Josuke exclaimed. “Don’t you feel colder when you see someone who’s freezing?! Making someone colder than you won’t make you feel warmer at all!”

Suddenly Ice Time seemed agitated, disappearing and reappearing closer to Rohan. “Give me the address already! Or else he’s going to die soon.”

Josuke took a deep, steadying breath. “This guy’s insecurities made him listen to you, right? Well, that just means that if I erase his insecurities, he’ll be free!”

Josuke put his palms on Rohan’s cheeks and lifted those dazed eyes until they met his. “Rohan,” he began, voice trembling with emotion. “I don’t know what this thing’s been telling you, or what you’ve been telling yourself. Maybe that no one will read your manga, since you’re worried about that—but whatever it is, it’s not true. It’s not true, you hear me?!

“Rohan, you’re not worthless, you’re not alone, you’re not anything it told you. And you are definitely, definitely not unloved. You wanna know how I know?!

“Because I love you! Did you hear me?! I’ve fallen for you, you stupid dramatic mangaka! I’ve been in love with you since you sent me to get your luggage and it was a freaking street art show! I love you so much it makes my heart ache!”

Josuke thought he saw Rohan’s eyes widen the tiniest bit, and he took another deep breath before continuing. “I can’t lie to you, Rohan. You wrote it in me, remember? I’m not lying! This isn’t a trick! I love you and I’ll tell you every day until you believe me. I’ll shout it for all of Morioh to hear if you want! Okay?! So come back!”

Rohan had been drifting in a snowfall of cold and despair when he heard a familiar voice. When he focused it grew clearer, and began to blow the snow away.

“—you hear me?!”

Suddenly that voice was all Rohan could hear, the murmuring of nothing falling away.

“Rohan, you’re not worthless, you’re not alone, you’re not anything it told you. And you are definitely, definitely not unloved. You wanna know how I know?!”

A warm tingle spread out through Rohan’s consciousness, filling in space around him, until he remembered he had a body. He could feel his face, and two spots of warmth against his cheeks.

“Because I love you!”

Rohan’s eyes began to focus. He saw Josuke over him, almost like back after Highway Star.

“Did you hear me?!” Josuke demanded. His voice was shaking. “I’ve fallen for you, you stupid dramatic mangaka! I’ve been in love with you since you sent me to get your luggage and it was a freaking street art show! I love you so much it makes my heart ache!”

Love. Josuke loved him. Was it possible?

Something in Josuke’s face softened. “I can’t lie to you, Rohan. You wrote it in me, remember? I’m not lying! This isn’t a trick! I love you and I’ll tell you every day until you believe me. I’ll shout it for all of Morioh to hear if you want! Okay?! So come back!”

And Rohan did.

Suddenly he could see and feel with crystal clarity, and he was stunned by what he saw. Josuke was a mess; he was biting his lip, his indigo eyes watery, his precious hair disheveled and falling in soft curls around his sweaty face. He was holding Rohan’s cheeks in his warm, warm hands, and he was looking at Rohan with fondness, desperation, determination, and—

Oh, Rohan realized. This is what love looks like.

His hand twitched, filled with tingles of long inactivity and receding cold, then settled on the sketchbook in his shoulder bag. Slowly, Rohan lifted his other hand to move Josuke’s hands off his face. “Keep that expression,” he whispered.

“…What? Rohan!”

Of course Josuke’s face changed, but it didn’t matter. The expression from before was seared in Rohan’s mind, and he had it down on paper in a few seconds. When he looked back up Josuke was making another amazing face, like he wanted to laugh and cry at the same time, so Rohan drew that, too.

“Rohan!” Josuke protested again, his voice heavy with relief and exasperation.

“Your expressions were too good,” Rohan said unapologetically. “But because you had the courage to honestly confess to me in such a way, I’ll respond to your confession in kind.”

Rohan put down his sketchpad and took Josuke’s hands. “Higashikata Josuke. You have confounded me at every turn since we met. And though I hated it at first, I also find it fascinating. I don’t know if what I feel for you is love, but I know that I feel something. And so, Higashikata Josuke… I want you to show me what love is.”

At the end of his declaration, Rohan inclined his head in a small bow, smirking at Josuke teasingly. “Please take care of me.”

Josuke’s expression was frozen in shock for a moment, before a blinding grin grew on his face. “You bet I will!” he said, pulling Rohan into a crushing hug.

Rohan laughed, feeling dizzy with elation and warmth.

They stayed embracing for several long minutes, before Josuke suddenly pulled back. “Wait! That Stand—Ice Time. It disappeared!”

“It’s probably gone back to its user,” Rohan said. “But it’s fine. I know who the user is, anyway.”

“You do? Who?!”

“Do you remember the blond foreigner we saw at Tonio’s last month?” When Josuke nodded, Rohan continued, “He bumped into me earlier today—though I didn’t remember where I’d seen him before until just now—and the Stand attack started soon after that. Since Stand users attract other Stand users and we haven’t run into this Stand before, it must be him. And since he’s a tourist, he’s almost certainly staying at Morioh Grand Hotel.”

“That asshole,” Josuke seethed. “Let’s go get him right now!” He jumped to his feet and pulled Rohan up with him. And then he just… didn’t let go of Rohan’s hand.

“Ugh, my butt fell asleep,” Rohan grumbled. He didn’t let go of Josuke’s hand either, and it made Josuke’s heart soar.

They set off at a brisk pace down the hill, and even though he was going slower than he had been on the way up, Josuke felt like the distance was shorter with Rohan by his side.

As they were approaching the hotel, about 20 meters away, they saw a tall man exiting the building with a large duffle bag. He glanced side to side, and even in the dim light his blond hair was visible.

“Shit! He’s trying to get away!” Josuke exclaimed, breaking into a run.

The foreigner saw Josuke and Rohan coming towards him and started running the other way. It was soon clear that the enemy was faster than them, having longer legs and being less tired.

“Shit! This is… too much… running…” Josuke gasped between breaths. “I’m… definitely gonna… make you… stop!” So saying he stopped running and punched a rock on the ground with Crazy Diamond.

Rohan continued running a few steps past before whirling around. “Josuke! What are you—?!”

The pieces of the shattered rock had reshaped to form rifle rounds. “It’s a good thing I went hunting with Jotaro-san,” Josuke said. “I don’t know exactly how far these will go if they’re made out of stone instead of metal, but he should still be in range. Crazy Diamond!”

Crazy Diamond shot a rifle round with a flick of its thumb, and a couple seconds later the foreigner stumbled and fell, clutching his leg.

“Now’s our chance!” Josuke yelled, and he and Rohan took off again, quickly closing the distance. Instead of trying to run again, the injured man pulled out a gun and pointed it unwaveringly in their direction. Josuke and Rohan ground to a halt only four meters away, barely outside Crazy Diamond’s range.

Don’t move,” the man gritted in English. His voice didn’t give away any pain, and his hands were steady on the gun, but his brow was furrowed and his lips were pinched in discomfort.

Josuke paused, weighing his options. Normally he would disregard the gun and charge in, but this enemy seemed to have experience with guns. If he was a good shot, he might shoot for their heads, and Josuke wasn’t sure if he could heal Rohan from that (not to mention he would die himself if it got him).

While Josuke was still trying to figure out what to do, Rohan raised his hands as if in surrender. “Very clever of you to keep us out of range,” Rohan said mildly in Japanese, drawing the enemy’s gaze to himself, knowing the man would assume him to be trying to negotiate. “But what you don’t realize is that even if my Stand itself can only go so far, my potential range is as far as you can see clearly.”

In a burst of movement, Rohan drew a picture of his Stand in the air. “Heaven’s Door!”

The gun fell from the foreigner’s hand as he unraveled like a slinky, unable to move but still conscious, glaring up at them with cold eyes.

Josuke let out a deep sigh of relief. “Nice one, Rohan!”

Rohan smirked over his shoulder at Josuke. “Of course! I had to repay him for earlier.”

The manga artist leisurely approached the fallen enemy and crouched down next to his prone form to read. “Let’s see… Klaus von Stroheim, born November 4th 1979 in East Berlin. He works for the German Foreign Intelligence Service, but he’s only using the job to further his goal of killing Joseph Joestar. He’s been a Stand user for around three months. And he’s looking for Joseph Joestar because… Joestar-san killed his grandfather, Rudol von Stroheim.”

There was a moment of silence as Rohan and Josuke exchanged a wide-eyed look. Then Josuke said, “We’d better tell Jotaro-san about this, huh?”

Chapter Text

Klaus von Stroheim lived in a cold household.

Born in 1979 in East Berlin, he grew up in a dark time. The secret police—the Stasi—maintained a tight surveillance over the population, rooting out opposition, alleged and actual, to the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany through techniques of psychological warfare. The Stasi had eyes and ears everywhere thanks to a vast network of informants, casting a pall of paranoia and misery over the people.

The Stasi also made Klaus’s life miserable, but in a different way than for most. His father, Reinhardt von Stroheim, was a Stasi officer. A serious, career-oriented man, he lived for his job. Family was a secondary concern. His wife, Sonje née Siegert, was a similarly serious woman. They had met when Reinhardt approached her with a bribe to become a Stasi informant. She, too, was career-oriented, and took to Stasi life well. Although she was never an official officer, she helped her husband with his work off the books.

Their shared work ethic led Reinhardt and Sonje to only have children later in life. Their only son was born when Reinhardt was 41 and Sonje was 36. Their work ethic also led them to be rather cold parents, neglecting Klaus’s emotional needs. They never sang their son to sleep, tucked him into bed, or comforted him when he was upset—nor did it even occur to them to do so.

The only way Reinhardt could think of to bond with his six-year-old son was to bring him into work and teach the boy about his job. Klaus, wanting to please his father, paid careful attention to his lessons and was soon revealed to be something of a prodigy. Although his he was too young for official Stasi school, he studied the Stasi handbook on his own, and, when he showed an impressive aptitude for the work—and most importantly, a lack of concern about the ethics of the Stasi’s methods—he was given formal (if unofficial) training in interrogation and torture, espionage, and English, Russian, and French.

At first, being a Stasi prodigy satisfied Klaus’s need for attention and recognition. But soon his father and his father’s coworkers stopped seeing him as an ingenious child and instead as a small adult. Klaus was forced to reign in his emotions and act far more mature than his age in order to fulfill their expectations.

Klaus’s mother was not there for him either; she was constantly out of the house attending social parties and listening to the gossip. She only provided Klaus with his basic needs, and only until he was old enough to take care of himself.

So Klaus’s emotional needs still were not being met by his parents. His father saw him only as a tool for work and his mother all but ignored his existence. Klaus couldn’t confide his insecurities in either of them. They felt cold to him, and he felt cold in their presence. As if they were made of ice.

Because of this, the lonely boy sought refuge with his grandmother, Rosalind. Rosalind was a passionate woman in her early 70s, a former singer and musician. When Klaus came to her for comfort, Rosalind would smooth his hair and talk about her late husband, Rudol von Stroheim.

“You are just like your grandfather Rudol was,” she would croon to him. “Brilliant, hardworking, passionate—he was a prodigy too, you know. He was the youngest officer in the army! Rudol would be so proud of you.”

(In fact, Rudol would have been surprised to know he even had a grandson. He hadn’t known that Rosalind was pregnant when he left to investigate Santana, so when he had been turned into a cyborg, he had thought it best that Rosalind think him dead and move on.)

(To cover up the existence of the Pillar Men and Rudol’s involvement with them, the official story given to Rosalind was that Stroheim had been in Mexico trying to make allies when a British spy, one Joseph Joestar, killed him.)

(Rudol had wanted Rosalind to move on, but he had greatly underestimated her tenacity and her love for him.)

Rosalind never moved on from the death of her beloved husband, and she spent the rest of her life cursing his murderer, Joseph Joestar. She never remarried, and she told her son, and later her grandson, all about Rudol’s cruel death.

“Everything would have been better if your grandfather had lived,” Rosalind would tell Klaus. “We would have more money, be in better standing. Your father would be happier if he had grown up with his father, I’m sure. Oh, Rudol would have loved you, my sweet one. Damn that Joestar! Damn him to Hell for taking Rudol from me! From us!”

So Klaus, unlike most children, grew up with stories not of a boogeyman or devil, but rather of one irredeemably evil man.

Then, when Klaus was 10, Germany reunited, leading to the end of the Stasi.

In November 1989, citizens of East Germany were allowed to cross into West Germany and the Berlin Wall began to crumble. In January 1990 the Stasi organization was dissolved and citizens stormed the Stasi headquarters. And in October 1990, East and West Germany officially reunited.

Reinhardt had tactfully withdrawn from the Stasi when it became clear that the communist regime was doomed. Then, after the dust had settled, Reinhardt approached the Federal Intelligence Service (also known as the BND) which had been West Germany’s official foreign intelligence agency, and offered them his knowledge and service. Reinhardt was not loyal to any cause, but rather to the work itself. He had cultivated his skill set as an intelligence officer so perfectly that he could not imagine any other type of work.

Klaus was not allowed to come into work with his father anymore, so the boy stayed at home with his grandmother. Rosalind was developing dementia, and it fell to Klaus to care of her because Reinhardt was always working and Sonje didn’t care much for her mother-in-law.

Klaus had used to love spending time with his grandmother, but since she had developed dementia, it had become painful. Rosalind called him Rudol more often than Klaus and babbled at length about her love for him, about all the things they would have done together if Rudol had lived. Sometimes she even forgot that Rudol had died. Klaus no longer existed to her, and he felt like his identity was crumbling.

Still Klaus took care of her, fighting desperately to not lose the only person who had ever shown him affection, but it was a long and losing battle.

When Klaus was fifteen, Rosalind died.

As Rosalind took her last shuddering breaths, Klaus held her hand and vowed through sobs to avenge the man she had loved, the man who would have fixed everything. Klaus would kill Joseph Joestar, the one who had taken it all away.

(Despite his burning need for revenge, Klaus felt cold down to his bones. He wondered if he would finally be warm when Joseph’s blood spilled over his fingers.)

Shortly after the funeral, Klaus started training as a Bundeswehr soldier in preparation to join the BND. He was the youngest of the recruits but soon surpassed all others, graduating in three years and joining the BND at the age of eighteen.

(His fellow trainees had often looked at him with awe and confusion when he did more push-ups than them, ran farther and longer and faster than them, when they were panting on the ground with sweat pouring off them and he looked barely affected.)

(They asked him how he did it. He couldn’t explain to them how even when his muscles burned with effort, even when he was sweating, he didn’t feel hot. All he ever felt was cold inside.)

It was through the BND that Klaus had his first fortunate encounter with the Speedwagon Foundation. The BND and SPW occasionally worked together and had facilities nearby each other. On one joint mission, Klaus befriended a young SPW agent named Martin. Martin, like Klaus, was younger than most of his coworkers and found it hard to connect with them, latching onto Klaus instead.

(When they shook hands, Martin had exclaimed, “By God! Your hands are like ice!”)

(Klaus had smiled wanly. “They’re always like that.”)

Thereafter, Klaus and Martin became drinking buddies, and Martin grew to trust Klaus. Soon Martin was complaining at length about the crazy things he had to deal with at his job.

It was through these complaints that in March 1999 Klaus learned about Joseph Joestar’s infidelity, a major topic of gossip within the SPW, and his illegitimate son Higashikata Josuke. And it was in July 1999 after the retrieval of the arrow that Klaus learned about Stand powers.

Klaus didn’t know where to find Joseph—as a vulnerable old man with many potential enemies, his location was heavily guarded—but now he knew how to find his enemy.

Klaus got Martin to let him into the Berlin SPW facility where, coincidentally, the arrow was being kept. When they were far enough inside and away from any cameras, Klaus jabbed Martin with a memory-erasing tranquilizer and broke into the arrow’s containment chamber. Using the arrow he stabbed himself in the neck with no hesitation. If he lived, he would have the power he needed to get revenge, and if he died—well, it wasn’t like he had anything else to live for.

A few minutes later, Klaus awoke cold on the ground with the arrow in his hand, his throat healed, and a doll-like Stand next to him. It was dressed in a parka and looked like it was warm. Much warmer than Klaus himself.

(He wondered how any part of him could be warm enough to create such a Stand.)

He got up, replaced the arrow, erased the evidence of his presence, left Martin asleep in the break room, and escaped.

Klaus spent the next few months experimenting with his Stand, until he was confident in his ability to control it. Then he arranged a vacation, packed up, and flew to Japan.

It was finally time for Klaus, age 20, to put his grandparent’s souls (and his lost childhood) to rest.

(It was long past time for him to finally, finally find warmth.)

Chapter Text

After some deliberation, Rohan and Josuke decided to take Klaus back to his hotel room. Since Klaus had been in a hurry to escape after his plan failed, he hadn’t checked out, and the room was still booked for a few days. Rohan wrote “I cannot wake up” in Klaus to knock him out and then they carried him back to the hotel. Several people had to have their memories wiped by Heaven’s Door on their way up to the room.

When they finally reached the room after much exertion (Klaus was taller than both of them and quite heavy and difficult to maneuver) and dropped their burden on the bed, the first thing Josuke did was call his mom. It was well past 6 in the evening by then and the sky was dark, and Josuke didn’t want to worry her. He told her that Koichi had invited him and Rohan over for the night, and although Tomoko nagged him for not telling her before she started making dinner for three, she eventually told him to have fun and hung up.

Next Josuke called Koichi to tell him that Rohan was safe but that something had come up. Koichi asked if they needed help, but Josuke hesitated to get him involved. Since Klaus’s grievances were entirely personal and not related to Morioh, it felt wrong to bring unrelated people into the situation. It was bad enough that Rohan had gotten caught in the crossfire. In the end, Josuke declined Koichi’s offer but informed him of the alibi he’d given his mother. Koichi agreed to corroborate the story if Tomoko asked.

Finally, Josuke called Jotaro. He wasn’t sure where Jotaro was at the moment, in America or Japan or somewhere else, so he wasn’t sure he would pick up. But after two rings, the line connected. “Hello, this is Kujo speaking.”

“Jotaro-san! It’s me, Josuke!”

“Josuke. What is it?”

“We got attacked by a new Stand user,” Josuke explained. “We have him under control now, but… the thing is, he was trying to get me to tell him where Joestar-san is.”

“The old man?” Jotaro said, sounding as surprised as his deadpan voice could get. “Why?”

“Well, he said—or, actually, he didn’t say, Rohan read it in him with Heaven’s Door—that Joestar-san killed his grandfather, some guy called, um…” Josuke struggled with the foreign name. “Ru-do-ru fon Shu-to-ro-hai-mu.”

“Hm. I haven’t heard of him, but I’ll ask the old man about it,” Jotaro-san. “I’m in America right now, so I’ll get there in 20 hours or so. Where are you?”

Josuke gave him the hotel room, and Jotaro hung up with a short farewell. Then Josuke turned to Rohan, who was tying Klaus’s belt around the man’s wound to apply pressure (Josuke wasn’t willing to heal Klaus yet after what he’d done).

“So I guess now we just… wait for a whole day,” Josuke sighed. “Is it okay to leave this guy alone?”

“He won’t be waking up, but it would be better for us to stay here in case someone calls him or knocks on the door,” said Rohan.

Josuke wandered over to the sofa and dropped down heavily. He looked around the spacious room. “Ah, it’s so boring here… there’s no TV. There aren’t even any magazines! What can we do?” He thought for a moment, frowning. Now that he was finally relaxing, his stomach felt uncomfortable.


Josuke grinned. “Hey, we should get room service! We haven’t had dinner yet, and the meal will go on this guy’s tab. We should buy the most expensive food they offer!”

Rohan’s eyes glittered and he immediately started searching the hotel for the room service menu. He wholeheartedly approved of this type of petty vindictiveness.

Once they found the menu they did indeed buy the most expensive meal (they decided buying two meals would look suspicious) along with several appetizers. When the server arrived Rohan erased her memories with Heaven’s Door and pushed the wheeled cart towards the balcony. “Let’s eat outside.”

“Huh? Why?” Josuke asked. “It’s cold outside!”

“It’s Christmas Eve,” Rohan said. “A romantic holiday to eat dinner and look at the festive lights. Well, we can’t walk around and there aren’t any light displays within viewing distance, but Morioh’s normal city lights will have to do. Or do you not want to take advantage of this date?” He sent Josuke a goading look, already opening the double French doors onto the balcony.

Josuke blushed and stuttered. For not having been in a relationship before, Rohan sure was bold, he thought. “Let’s look at the lights!” the teen agreed, almost yelling in his flustered state.

Rohan chuckled as Josuke lifted a couple wooden chairs with Crazy Diamond and carried them out onto the balcony. Rohan found a spare blanket to drape around them. They sat with their chairs pressed side to side, sharing the blanket and the plates between them as they looked out over Morioh.

It was the best Christmas Eve either had ever had.

That night they slept squeezed together on the sofa, Rohan lying with his head on top of Josuke’s chest. It was the perfect spot, Rohan mused. Comfortable, warm… and, upon waking up, a perfect vantage point for drawing the teen’s sleeping face and messy hair.

Even when he finished drawing Josuke, Rohan was reluctant to leave his personal heated mattress, so he started planning his next Pink Dark Boy chapter in his sketchbook. When that was complete, he finally got up and relieved himself, then ordered room service for breakfast since he didn’t want to risk the communal continental breakfast. (And because it would add more to Klaus’s tab and Rohan lived for petty revenge.)

Josuke, exhausted by the events of the day before and still a teenager capable of sleeping for 12 hours if left alone, continued to slumber. Rohan let him, since there was little to do until Jotaro arrived.

Finally the teen began to stir at around 1PM. He groaned and tried to roll over, falling off the sofa instead. “Ow!”

Rohan laughed at him, loudly and unashamedly.

Too groggy to be properly annoyed, Josuke stumbled to the bathroom, reemerging a few minutes later with a look of horror on his face.

“What time is it?! When is Jotaro-san going to arrive?!” he asked frantically. “My hair’s a mess! I can’t see him like this!”

“It’s half past 1300,” Rohan supplied, amused. “I don’t know when Kujo-san will arrive, but you should still have time.”

Josuke relaxed, shoulders slumping with relief. “I don’t have any of my stuff here, I’ll have to go home.”

“While you’re there, bring me back a book from my room,” Rohan ordered.

“Ugh, fine,” Josuke said with more annoyance than he actually felt.

Throughout the hurried walk back to his house, Josuke glanced around himself worriedly, not wanting to be seen with his hair in disarray. Thankfully there weren’t too many people about, and he made it back to safety with little incident.

When he unlocked the door and opened it, Tomoko called out from inside the house: “Josuke, Rohan-kun, are you two back?”

“Just me,” Josuke called back, slipping off his shoes and heading to the bathroom. “I’m going back out once I fix my hair.”

As Josuke started styling his hair, Tomoko came to lean in the bathroom doorway. “And where are you two going today, hm? You’ve been going out together an awful lot lately, it seems.”

Josuke dropped his comb, then scrambled to pick it up, blushing. “W-well…”

Tomoko narrowed her eyes. “Is there something you want to tell me, Josuke?”

Sweat started to bead on Josuke’s forehead. He couldn’t tell his mom about Klaus, but he needed an excuse for him and Rohan being gone all day. The obvious thing would have been to say that he, Rohan, Koichi, and Okuyasu were all going to do something together. But what came out of Josuke’s mouth instead was, “We’re going on a date!”

Tomoko gasped, squealed with delight, and pounced on her son with a hug. “You asked him out?! He said yes?! Oh, sweetie, I’m so proud of you!”

She pulled back and looked closely at Josuke’s face, expression suspicious again. “You did ask him properly, right? You two didn’t jump into things the wrong way? Wait, tell me you didn’t do that at someone else’s house—”

“Mom!” Josuke yelled, mortified. His face was bright red. “W-we didn’t! We haven’t even k-k-kissed yet!”

Tomoko relaxed instantly, patting Josuke on the shoulder. “Good! Well, don’t wait too long for the first kiss, or else he might start thinking you’re not attracted to him after all.”


“And be safe if you want to take the next step, understand? Make sure you—”


Tomoko released her son with a chuckle. “Okay, okay, I’ll stop embarrassing you and let you get all dressed up for your date. Will you two be back for dinner? Or at all tonight, for that matter?”

Josuke gave he a sour look, his face still red. “We might get dinner out, but we’ll probably be back tonight. Now, shoo.”

Finally his mom left, and Josuke finished styling his hair as his cheeks faded from red to pink to their usual skin tone. Then he grabbed a book at random off Rohan’s bookshelf—a tome on Ancient Roman history and culture—and headed back to the hotel.

At around 4PM, there was a knock on the hotel room door. “Josuke?” Jotaro’s voice came from the other side. “It’s me.”

Rohan was closer to the door at the moment, so he answered it. “Kujo-san, it’s good to see you… You brought Joestar-san?”

Josuke whipped his head around towards the door. Indeed, Jotaro was helping support Joseph as they entered the room.

“When I mentioned Stroheim, the old man insisted,” Jotaro explained. “Grandma Suzie approved the trip. It seems whoever that person was, she knew about him as well.”

Joseph, meanwhile, was looking at the still figure on the bed with a startled expression. “Is that—?”

“Klaus von Stroheim,” Rohan supplied. “Apparently his grandfather was Rudol von Stroheim.”

Something in Joseph’s face became weary. “I have to talk to him,” he said, sounding more solemn and more cognizant than Josuke had ever heard him.

They settled Klaus into a chair and secured him with makeshift restraints built from the chair arms and legs themselves by Crazy Diamond. Only then did Rohan erase the command he’d left in him, letting Klaus wake up.

When he came to, Klaus glanced around the room once, focused on Joseph, and made a move as if to jump out of the chair. When he found he couldn’t, he settled back, silent and seething.

Klaus von Stroheim,” said Jotaro in English. “Please tell us what you know about your grandfather’s death.”

Klaus glared at him. “Joesph Joestar killed my grandfather in Mexico, 1938, when my grandfather was on an assignment to find allies for the German army. His death ruined my family.

Joseph sighed heavily. “Klaus. I didn’t kill Rudol.”

Don’t lie to me! You did!” Klaus snarled.

I’m going to tell you everything I know about Rudol,” Joseph continued. “It’s a long story, but I hope you will listen to it and keep an open mind.”

Then, Joseph began his story. Josuke’s English wasn’t very good, but he tried his best to follow along. Rohan, on the other hand, could understand the story just fine. (Unlike Josuke, he had always applied himself to English in school, knowing that it was the most prominent lingua franca of the current age. Knowing English had been immensely helpful whenever he traveled outside of Japan for research, and traveling had improved his pronunciation and his comprehension, so he was used to English with accents other than Japanese.)

Rohan had his sketchbook out before Joseph even started talking, ready to soak in what would no doubt be a bizarre and amazing story.

And it was.

In 1938, Robert E.O. Speedwagon, who was like a grandfather to Joseph, was in Mexico investigating a stone mask, and there he discovered and ancient being embedded in a pillar yet still alive. Before he could communicate about the Pillarman to the rest of the Speedwagon Foundation, he was betrayed by a comrade, who wanted the power of the stone mask.

(Why did this man betrayed Speedwagon? Rohan wondered. What was was his motivation? What did he want the mask for? He burned to ask these questions, but this storytelling was not for his benefit. It was for Klaus. So Rohan couldn’t interrupt. Although he often flouted social norms, he had his own code of manners. The story was for Klaus’s sake, so Rohan could not disturb the story.)

(Joestar-san seemed to have a similar idea. Although he described the circumstances of the Pillarman with detail that bordered on melodrama, his tone was unusually solemn—his way of showing Klaus that he was sincere and taking the act of imparting the story seriously.)

Soon after, Joseph arrived in New York to meet Speedwagon, but instead found Straizo, the man who had betrayed Speedwagon and claimed to have killed him. After Joseph defeated him (Joestar-san was sadly lacking in details here), however, he learned that there was a possibility that Speedwagon was still alive in Mexico. So that’s where he headed.

While Joseph was traveling there, he was attacked by a German assassin, Donovan, who intended to interrogate him about Straizo. But Joseph defeated him (again, no details about how Joestar-san had defeated his adversary), and from Donovan he learned that Speedwagon was indeed alive, and was being held captive by a German research expedition.

The leader of that expedition was Rudol von Stroheim. They had not been sent to Mexico to make allies, as Klaus’s family had been told, but rather they were on a secret mission to find ways to improve Germany’s technology. They had found the Pillar Man and were conducting experiments on him—primarily by giving him the blood of prisoners.

When Joseph had arrived at the Germans’ secret underground facility, they had awakened the Pillar Man, who they called Santana, and he was attacking them. Joseph saved Speedwagon and Stroheim; all the other soldiers were killed by Santana.

(Joseph hadn’t saved Stroheim because he thought the man was somehow more worthy of living, he said. Under normal circumstances, even, Joseph might have let him die because he was a fascist. But since Stroheim was the highest ranking officer present, Joseph had thought that the man may have some use, either for his strategic intelligence or for his position of authority.)

(How fascinating a character Joestar-san was! Clearly, Rohan thought, he was the type of person who considered others in terms of their worth to him, rather than on some scale of inherent worth.)

Santana, despite being an ‘ultimate lifeform,’ was weak to the sun. Joseph tried to drag him out into the sunlight, but Santana latched onto his leg and weighed him down. He couldn’t reach the door.

(Finally more details and sensory description! Rohan felt jittery with excitement.)

That was when Stroheim decided to help. He had jumped up the stairs to open the doors to the outside, but before he could, Santana trapped his leg in a web of flesh to the walls of the stairwell. So Stroheim ordered Joseph to chop his leg off, so he could reach the door.

Here Joseph shuddered and admitted, “I had nightmares about cutting Stroheim’s leg off for weeks afterward.” His expression was haunted, as if the dream was flashing before his eyes. (So Joestar-san had no problem killing those he considered enemies, but was loathe to harm those he considered allies, even if it was at their request. And interesting set of personal morals, Rohan noted.)

But even when Stroheim opened the door, it wasn’t enough to beat Santana. Santana also had the ability to go inside of people, and he entered Stroheim through the wound in his leg.

Rather than let Santana control him, Stroheim had pulled out a grenade. He was going to blow himself up to reveal Santana to the sun.

(Something in Rohan’s chest stirred besides simple curiosity. Blowing oneself up to defy a parasite, to protect the future of mankind—it was exactly the kind of desperate, dramatic demonstration of human courage and willpower that Rohan was inspired by and wanted to capture in his manga.)

Before pulling the pin, Stroheim told Joseph that the Germans were investigating Santana because other Pillar Men had been found in Europe. He told Joseph to go to Italy and destroy them.

After the grenade went off, Stroheim was nowhere to be found and Santana was left exposed. Fueled by rage and determination, Joseph quickly defeated him by tricking the Pillar Man into jumping into a well at high noon, so the sunlight reflected off the water and fried him.

That had supposedly been the end of Stroheim. But a month later when Joseph was fighting another of the Pillar Men, Stroheim appeared again. He had been turned into a cyborg and was directing a troop of the German army’s super-elite soldiers.

(Since Klaus’s family hadn’t been informed of Stroheim’s survival and enhancement, Joestar-san mused, he had probably been announced officially dead so that he could pursue the Germans’ secret mission of destroying the Pillar Men.)

On that occasion near at the Italian-Swiss border, Stroheim prevented the Pillar Man Kars from taking the Red Stone of Aja that they were after by shooting a laser out of his eye to knock the Stone out of Kars’s hand. Later, when Joseph was nearly overwhelmed by Kars’s vampire army, Stroheim brought his troop alongside the Speedwagon Foundation’s special force to take care of Kars’s grunt soldiers. And when Joseph took off to confront Kars, alone, Stroheim came after them and saved Joseph from a plane crash, sacrificing his own mechanical legs in the process, which allowed Joseph to defeat Kars for once and for all by launching him into space with the force of a volcano.

(Rohan was making frantic notes at this point, overflowing with amazement at all the bizarre things being mentioned, and hysteric frustration at the rapid pace and lack of details. The glossing over only left Rohan with more questions. Just how advanced was Stroheim’s cyborg body? What did it look like? How did Joestar-san trigger a volcano eruption?!)

(For Klaus, this part of the story was a mere listing of the ways in which Rudol von Stroheim helped Joseph. But for Rohan, it was an untapped source of bizarre and fascinating research material. Alas, this story was not for Rohan’s sake.)

Joseph concluded: “So you see, young Klaus, I did not kill Rudol von Stroheim. In fact, I owe him my life several times over.

I don’t know how your grandfather actually died, but I suspect it was during the war. I’m truly sad that his death caused your family so much harm. But I hope you can take comfort in the fact that he did not live or die meaninglessly. And he only left your family to ensure your survival, along with that of humanity itself.

(Joestar-san’s tone as he closed his story rang with respect. Even though he was anti-fascist and had despised Stroheim’s ideals, he had come to respect the man’s personal qualities—his courage, his perseverance and optimism in the face of what others would consider a disability and setback, his willingness to sacrifice himself for something larger than himself. How interesting it was, Rohan marveled, that two people with opposing ideals could respect each other for values other than those ideals.)

Josuke hadn’t understood more than a few words of Joseph’s story, but he could clearly see the impact it made on Klaus. His face had gone pale, his eyes wide, and by the time Joseph finished he was crying silently. Next to Josuke, Rohan looked fascinated and awed, his sketchpad out with notes and doodles on it. Jotaro looked as solemn and impassive as always.

Seeing his look of incomprehension, Rohan leaned over to whisper in Josuke’s ear. “Joestar-san didn’t kill Rudol von Stroheim,” he summarized. “They actually fought together to take down superhuman beings that threatened humanity.”

Josuke’s jaw dropped open. His father (however weird it was to think of him like that) had fought superhuman beings?!

I never knew that Stroheim had a family,” Joseph continued. “He never mentioned it. Klaus, would you mind telling me about them?”

Slowly, haltingly, Klaus described his family. He spoke the most about his grandmother, who had loved Rudol intensely for her whole life, and only briefly mentioned his stoic parents. Josuke, who couldn’t understand what was being said, realized there was no longer any need to restrain Klaus now that he seemed to be over trying to kill Joseph, so he fixed the seat back to its original shape and fixed Klaus’s wound for good measure, but Klaus made no indication of moving or even of having noticed the restraints disappearing or being healed.

When Klaus seemed to run out of words, Joseph walked over to him and placed a hand comfortingly on his shoulder. “Take as much time as you need to process all this,” he advised. “Don’t hurry back to your job. I think Morioh might help you find what you need.

Klaus nodded dazedly, and Joseph patted him one more time before retreating. Jotaro stood and gave Josuke a slip of paper. “We’re going to my mom’s place now,” he said. “If you need to reach us, here’s the home phone there.”

“Ah, thanks,” said Josuke. Jotaro nodded and turned to help Joseph out of the room. Josuke looked at Klaus, who was staring at his hands and rubbing them together slowly. “Er, I guess we leave now?” he said to Rohan.

“Almost,” Rohan said. He turned to Klaus. “Your story was touching and gave me a lot of inspiration, so I’ll forgive you for attacking me. As long as you don’t attack anyone else here in Morioh.

I won’t,” said Klaus dully. “I have no reason to.”

Rohan nodded and turned back to Josuke. “Let’s go.”

They left the room and started down the hallway. “That was kinda anticlimactic,” Josuke observed.

“Only because you couldn’t understand the heartfelt stories as they were being told,” Rohan said derisively. “I assure you that it was a cathartic and fitting end to this saga of misunderstandings.”

Josuke ignored the insulting tone, used to Rohan’s attitude. “So, what now?”

Rohan gave him a serene look. “Obviously, now we go home.”

Josuke nearly stopped walking and stumbled. Rohan had never referred to his house as home before, only as Josuke’s house or the Higashikata’s place.

Warmth spread out through Josuke’s chest. Even though they had been living together for months, Rohan finally sounded secure in his place there. It made Josuke giddy with elation. Before he could second guess himself, he burst out, “Let’s go on a date! That’s what I told my mom we were doing. We can get dinner at Tonio’s, or someplace else, and then we can go wherever you want to go. Yeah?”

Rohan looked at at Josuke’s face. He almost said I refuse on principle. But he only liked tearing people down when they were sure of themselves. Josuke looked nervous, hopeful, excited, fond. He looked at Rohan as if he wanted to be with him more than anything, and wasn’t sure he could have it.

So Rohan said, “Yes.”

Chapter Text

“…and now we’re dating,” Josuke finished, smiling with a dopey, lovestruck expression.

“Congratulations!” Okuyasu cheered.

Koichi stared at Josuke, speechless. Isn’t this too dramatic a change in too short a time?! he thought hysterically.

On the other side of the café table, Josuke and Rohan’s chairs were so close together that Rohan was almost sitting in Josuke’s lap. The manga artist was leaning against Josuke’s side with his sketchpad propped against the table edge as he drew. For once he had declined telling a story, leaving it to Josuke to explain the recent events with Klaus and how he and Rohan had gotten together.

It was Sunday December 26th, and Koichi had been on a date with Yukako at Café de Maigot when Josuke and Rohan had walked by. Koichi had called out to them since he was worried and curious about what had happened to them on Christmas Eve, and they had invited themselves onto the date to catch him up on what had happened. Then Okuyasu had shown up to listen in, and somehow Koichi’s date had turned into one of their regular friend meetings, made more awkward by the additions of Rohan and Yukako.

Speaking of Yukako, Koichi could feel her stare drilling holes in him. Why don’t you let me sit with you like that in public, too?! her gaze was screaming.

That is not a normal standard for relationship development! Koichi thought back at her, unwilling to meet her eyes.

“We should celebrate with lunch at Tonio’s,” Okuyasu continued.

“Ah, sorry, we can’t this time,” Josuke said. “Since Joestar-san and Jotaro-san are still in Japan for now, we’re going to meet them at the hotel in…” He looked at the clock inside the café. “Crap! We’re late! Rohan, we gotta go!”

“I told you this would happen,” Rohan drawled, putting his sketchbook away and grabbing Josuke’s hand like it was the most natural thing in the world. “For your next birthday, I’m buying you a watch.”

“Aww, Rohan! You’re already thinking about my birthday?”

As the new couple walked away, Koichi felt Yukako’s gaze intensify. This is unacceptable! Koichi! We have to show them we’re the cuter couple! Hold hands with me right now!

Koichi quickly grabbed Yukako’s hand and sweated nervously.

Meanwhile, Okuyasu stayed at the table slurping his milkshake, not realizing that he was third-wheeling their date.

When they met Joseph and Jotaro at the hotel, the old man seemed back to his cheerful, forgetful, slightly off-his-rocker self. Nevertheless, after the events with Klaus, it felt good to just talk normally. It felt like closure, like a confirmation that nothing had really changed.

Still, Josuke found himself watching Joseph closely, looking for that hint of a younger man that he’d seen the other day.

Josuke knew what Joseph had looked like as a young man, only because Joseph had once shown him an old picture of himself, Suzie Q, and his mother Lisa Lisa (a shockingly young-looking woman for being over fifty in the photo). At the time, Josuke had hardly been able to see the connection between the young Joseph and the old.

But when Joseph had been talking to Klaus, the lines of the old man’s face had changed, and suddenly it had been easy to see the man he once was.

Now that Josuke was looking closely, he was beginning to see that Joseph wasn’t quite as oblivious or mentally afflicted by age as he looked or acted.

The conversation was being carried by Rohan, since Jotaro was too quiet to contribute much and Josuke was too deep in his thoughts. And since Rohan was Rohan, he was asking Joseph dozens of questions about his life and taking notes on his sketchpad, eyes alight. Joseph was indulging him, answering his questions, but there was something strange about the way he talked that seemed uncharacteristic of his age. It took Josuke a long while to pinpoint what was different about Joseph’s stories.

Josuke had heard old people talk before. Although his grandfather had been relatively young, Higashikata Ryohei been familiar with all the elderly in the neighborhood and occasionally invited them over for tea. It had been one of the many ways he took care of Morioh, helping the old folks socialize and stay in the loop of current events.

Several of the older and more addled elderly that his grandfather had invited over would talk about their early lives rather than current events. They had told detailed stories about their first jobs and experiences, though they couldn’t recall the current Prime Minister, or what they had talked about at the last tea meeting. And though their stories were detailed, they were incredibly focused on the speaker’s experiences, not other people’s experiences or the nation’s experience.

What Joseph was doing that those old people hadn’t, was talking about people and things other than himself, with himself as an observer of them rather than them as incidents of his life. He described the entire sequence of events of the Joestars’ feud with someone named Dio, not just mentioning his own part in the century-long timeline. He told anecdotes about Lisa Lisa, Suzie Q, and someone named Caesar, stories that Joseph himself had not been a part of. He told stories about Jotaro, and was able to subtly draw the taciturn man into the conversation, such that Jotaro seemed neutral about talking rather than being annoyed.

And it was then Josuke realized that it was Joseph controlling the conversation. Even though Rohan was asking the questions, and even though he would have been thrilled to listen to Joseph ramble about himself, Joseph was skillfully directing Rohan’s attention to other interesting things that had happened as well as drawing Jotaro into the discussion, all while maintaining the appearance of a rambling old man who just couldn’t keep his thoughts together long enough to stay on one topic.

This more than anything showed Josuke that Joseph was still a tactical genius.

Josuke didn’t say much throughout the meeting, but when, after a few hours, the conversation seemed to be wrapping up and Rohan was ready to go home and work on his manga, Josuke told Rohan to go ahead without him.

As intrusive as Rohan could be about some things, he never had trouble giving other people space, so he left without questioning the teen.

Jotaro seemed to understand that Josuke wanted to talk to Joseph alone, so he left, not even bothering to come up with an excuse, only saying that he would be back in twenty minutes.

Once they were alone, Joseph turned to Josuke. “What’s on your mind, Josuke-kun?”

Josuke moved to sit on the couch next to Joseph. “You were handling Rohan really well. Directing his attention, hinting at other things he could research on his own, that kind of stuff. How did you figure out to do that?”

Joseph looked at him knowingly. Instead of answering the question, he said, “You’re in love with him, aren’t you?” When Josuke startled, he laughed softly. “I’m only old and visually-impaired, not dumb or blind.”

Josuke rubbed his hands together restlessly. “Is it that obvious?”

“It’s not a bad thing,” said Joseph gently. “You just have a big heart, and it shows.”

Josuke bit his lip, not knowing how to reply.

After a moment of silence, Joseph said, “Serious people like him are amazing, aren’t they? They live life to the fullest, regardless of how painful it may be. They look cool on the outside, but they’re actually quite hot-headed and impulsive.

“Josuke-kun, I don’t know you as well as I’d like, but I get the feeling that you care most about the things that you can hold with your own two hands. Your friends, your loved ones, your home. You’ll do anything to keep them and yourself safe, including running away if that’s what it takes. You constantly reevaluate your situation, and you almost always choose the path of least resistance.

“But serious people like them are able to care about more abstract things. Ideals, legacies, people they’ve never met. They’ll choose the hard path even if it hurts, even if it could kill them, because for them, risking everything is what it means to be alive. They’ll even leave you behind if they think you’re holding them back from their purpose.”

Joseph placed a cold, withered hand on Josuke’s warmer one, and his voice was wistful, nostalgic, and a little bit sad. “So hold onto him, Josuke-kun,” he advised. “If you let a person like that leave your reach once, you could lose them forever.”

Those words nearly knocked the breath out of Josuke. They resonated with his fear that Rohan would leave him behind and get himself killed. He wondered who Joseph had known like that, and if he’d lost that person. Surely he must have, to say what he had with such surety and sadness.

“I’ll hold on,” Josuke promised. Joseph smiled.

Even though Josuke and Rohan were now together, their relationship hadn’t changed much. Rohan worked on his manga in the morning, then in the afternoon he went out and Josuke went with him. The manga artist was less resistant to Josuke’s presence, and was in fact a touchy person, frequently holding Josuke’s hand or touching him in some other way, leaning on his shoulder or using him as a pillow.

Every day, Josuke told Rohan that he loved him at least once. Rohan never repeated it, and they hadn’t kissed yet, but Josuke wasn’t complaining. Rohan has stopped actively trying to push him away, and for now, that was enough.

Their relaxed winter break routine was disrupted when, on New Year’s Eve, Tomoko went into a cleaning frenzy and forced the boys into joining her. She even enlisted Rohan when she usually left him alone, and soon he and Josuke were wiping fingerprints off the cabinets and scrubbing the bathroom tiles with toothbrushes.

Josuke didn’t really mind the cleaning. It was annoying, but since Tomoko did this every year, he had gotten used to it and knew better than to argue. And admittedly, working hard cleaning the house made it all the more rewarding and relieving to shuffle under the kotatsu in the evening and watch New Year’s specials on the TV.

As soon as Tomoko dismissed them from cleaning, Josuke dove under the kotatsu in his comfiest pajamas, melting into a boneless puddle. He sensed Rohan hovering over him and opened his eyes. “C’mon, Rohan, join me.”

Rohan watched him with an unreadable expression. “It’s been years since I watched New Year’s specials under the kotatsu.”

Josuke patted the space next to him. “All the more reason to do it now!”

In the end, Rohan squeezed his way into the kotatsu side with Josuke, and a few moments later Tomoko joined them and took the side facing the TV. They watched the holiday shows and ate oranges and Rohan doodled, his sketchbook ever in reach.

A relaxing New Year’s Eve with his loved ones. It made Josuke’s heart as warm as his body, under the heated table and pressed side to side with the manga artist that, only six months ago, he had been completely at odds with.

It was nearing midnight when Rohan turned to Josuke with an aside while Tomoko was distracted by the screen.

“The New Year is a rather interesting holiday,” Rohan observed with a lowered voice. “The concept of the new year, of rebirth and new beginnings, seems to be fundamental to human civilizations, but the date of the new year is arbitrary.

“For example, the Chinese New Year, also known more generally as the Lunar New Year, starts on the first new moon between January 21 and February 20. But according to the Mayan solar calendar, the year starts on July 26th. The Mayans also had a ritual calendar that lasted 260 days, with its own new year ceremony.

“In Ancient Rome, although the start of a new tax year was January first, they actually considered the new year to be after the winter solstice, the ‘birthday of the unconquerable sun,’ and celebrated on December 23rd at the end of their festival Saturnalia.”

Rohan’s eyes turned bright, impish. “Actually, there’s a particular tradition of the Romans’ that intrigues me. Apparently it is still commonly used in the West, although now it occurs in line with the Gregorian calendar New Year.”

There was a suspenseful pause, and Josuke took the bait, well aware that he was feeding the manga artist’s sense of drama. “Yeah? What was that?”

A smirk curled Rohan’s lips and he leaned closer to whisper in Josuke’s ear. “On the stroke of midnight, you kiss the person closest to you.”

Josuke gulped. His heart started pounding with excitement. “D-do you mean, like, closest to you physically, or closest romantically…?”

Rohan pulled back to give him a dry look. “On an occasion like this, shouldn’t the person you’re physically closest to also be the one you love the most?”

Distantly, Josuke heard the countdown start on TV. “Ten! Nine! Eight!” “Th-then,” he stuttered, “does that mean—”

“Six! Five!”

“C-can I—I mean, do you want—” Josuke started again.

“Three! Two!”

“Didn’t I basically already say it?” said Rohan, threading a hand around the back of Josuke’s neck, looking at him with fond exasperation.


Rohan pulled Josuke down by his neck and kissed him.

“Happy New Year!”

It was a dry kiss, since neither of them had any experience. Then Rohan tilted his head and experimented with his tongue. Josuke made a noise like a muffled squeak.

When they pulled back after a long moment, Rohan’s face was smug and Josuke’s face was red.

“I’ve always had trouble drawing people kissing,” Rohan said conversationally. “It’s because I don’t know how they’re doing it. How do their mouths and tongues move? It’s impossible to accurately portray from the outside without know what’s going on in the inside.

“I thought I wasn’t missing out on anything by not knowing, but that was actually more pleasant than I imagined. Maybe kissing has a place in my manga.

“So, Josuke,” Rohan said, smirking, “I hope you’re prepared to help me learn how to draw kisses.”

Stunned, Josuke could do little more than blink. Then Rohan’s words finally clicked in his brain, and he grinned and laughed happily.

Who else besides Rohan, Josuke thought, would use such a dramatic, roundabout way of saying that they want to start kissing?

(Except that it wasn’t just I want to kiss, was it? It was also I want to start the year with you and You’re the one closest to me and maybe even I love you. It was a promise to stay.)

“Yeah, okay,” Josuke agreed breathlessly. And then he kissed Rohan again.

What a way to start the century, he thought.

Chapter Text

Klaus had been like a glacier in his revenge: unassuming, seemingly stationary, but secretly vast and treacherous. Slow, yet steady, constant, and with enormous crushing force. Carrying the weight of years upon years of buildup.

Glaciers had always seemed like unstoppable forces to Klaus. He had forgotten that even they could melt and crumble.

That was what Klaus felt like now: a piece of ice trembling, crumbling, sloughing off into the ocean, separated from what had made him feel so vast and unbeatable.

He was lost at sea, now, in a daze, drifting in his mind like a single sheet of ice on the waves.

(And also lost literally—at some point, though Klaus didn’t remember it, he had left his hotel room and started wandering Morioh in the chilly night. But he was too deep in his thoughts to care.)

And now Klaus was left wondering: Was everything he’d done up until then pointless?

He’d found purpose in life by seeking the one who had hurt his family. But that man hadn’t actually hurt his family. Was revenge meaningless? Should he not have pursued it?

Klaus couldn’t bring himself to regret setting out for revenge. If he had ignored the death that had torn apart his family, if he had let the hurt and anger fester without ever trying to relieve it—impossible. He would have gone insane. Revenge had been a necessary outlet for his emotions, a goal he needed to direct his aimless life.

But when he’d reached the peak of his journey, he’d found that his childhood boogeyman was only the twisted shadow of an innocent man. There was no great enemy to defeat, and nobody to avenge. Nobody to blame.

(No closure to the misery of his life.)

So all that Klaus was left with was unrealized revenge. A journey he’d needed to embark on, but couldn’t finish. What a farce.

(There was still a way to end this ridiculous situation he’d backed himself into. The last escape. It was an option growing larger in his mind.)

(Klaus recalled an English poem:

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.

(That poem had resonated with Klaus—but only the first half. To die by ice, in Klaus’s mind, could never be great, for all that it would be easy. It would be easy to let the ever-present chill in his bones freeze his heart and mind once and for all—)

Something in the peripherals of Klaus’s unfocused gaze caught his attention, and he jolted back to his shivering body.

There was a nativity crib scene on a strip of grass next to the sidewalk, lit with the dim but warm, flickering light of real candles. The colors in the scene were bright reds, oranges, yellows, with the blue of Mary’s shawl popping in contrast. The faces of the figurines were incredibly detailed, with such vivacity of expressions—joy, excitement, tenderness. (Love.)

Klaus had seen nativity scenes before; they were common enough in Germany, though not one of the most prominent Christmas traditions. But this scene drew him in unlike any other he’d seen. It filled him with awe, confusion, longing, despair. It was a moving scene.

Not because of the religious aspect—Klaus personally was agnostic. (His father had been adamantly atheist, but his grandmother had been a devout Protestant of the German Evangelical Church. Klaus, caught in between them, had been too confused to pick a side, and had eventually decided that he didn’t care whether God existed or not.) But something about the scene felt more personal, and at the same time more unreachable, than any he had seen before. It made his heart ache for something he would never have.

“Oh, do you like the nativity crib?”

At the question, posed in Italian-accented English, Klaus looked up to find Tonio Trussardi smiling at him, wearing comfortable jeans and a knitted sweater instead of his usual chef’s uniform, emphasizing his strong shoulders and waist in a way that was usually obscured by his apron. If Klaus had better circulation, his blood would have rushed to his cheeks.

(Once Klaus had confessed to his grandmother that he felt cold. Rosalind had placed a hand on his shoulder and promised, Love is the warmest thing there is. One day you’ll find a girl who will make you warm, just like Rudol made me warm.)

(So Klaus had awaited the girl with anxious anticipation. But no matter how much he looked at them or thought about them, nothing about girls made Klaus warm, and he couldn’t understand why.)

(Until one day during his Bundeswehr training a fellow trainee had praised him—“How did you do that move? It was amazing!”—and his heart had stuttered, his stomach had flip-flopped, the faintest warmth grew on his cheeks—only to be followed by the cold sinking of dread.)

(It was then that he knew that he was doomed to cold, empty future, because men were supposed to find warmth in women and Klaus could not.)

Klaus looked away, glad that he was now seemingly incapable of blushing, and belatedly realized that he was standing outside of Trattoria Trussardi. The restaurant owner’s gaze was strangely penetrating, and it made Klaus flustered. “I guess,” he replied noncommittally.

“It’s from my hometown, Naples,” Trussardi said conversationally. “Naples is famous for its cribs and crib making. In fact, one of the things that makes our cribs special is that they always have some every-day people and objects. It’s important to remember how the story interacted with ordinary people’s lives, don’t you think?”**

Klaus turned back to the crib. Indeed, there were figures besides the traditional religious characters, looking excited and hopeful. There was dog standing at attention, looking curious. There were plates of food on tables, as if the people had abandoned their meals to come see the miracle that had come into the world. It made the scene seem humbler, yet more significant.

It felt like Trussardi was waiting for him to say something. “I guess,” he said again.

If he was bothered by Klaus’s awkwardness, Trussardi didn’t show it. “Would you like to come inside? We’re still officially open, though I don’t get many late-night customers here.”

Late-night? Somehow, without Klaus noticing, the sky had gone dark. He checked his watch. It was half an hour to 2200.

Suddenly, Klaus registered a hollow ache in his gut. He hadn’t eaten since lunch the day before.

“…If you won’t mind,” he said quietly.

Trussardi beamed. “Not at all! Please, come in.”

Klaus followed the chef inside, and was quickly seated at a table in the back, close to the kitchen. “Please wait. I believe I know just what to make for you,” Trussardi said. Before disappearing into the back, he paused at a short cabinet table with a record player on top. The cabinet obviously held a collection or records, which the chef searched through for a moment before putting a record on the player. Moments later, the melody of “Silent Night” began to play.

The record that Trussardi had put on, Klaus discovered as he waited, had instrumental versions of classical Christmas songs. Klaus sank into the music, reminded of when his grandmother would play the piano on Christmas Eve, and of the holiday carolers he would see on the streets in Germany. Without even realizing it, Klaus began to sing along softly in German.

Some time later, he was roused from the music when Trussardi emerged from the kitchen and set two plates on the table. A familiar smell tickled his senses, and Klaus looked down wide-eyed at the meal before him.

“Roast goose with potato dumplings and red cabbage,” Trussardi explained, pouring wine into two glasses. “Along with Glühwein—also known as vin brulé in Italy. A traditional German Christmas meal, is it not?”***

Klaus swallowed hard, nostalgia clogging his throat and burning his eyes. His grandmother used to make this meal every Christmas, up until she was too bedridden to do so. (It was a meal he hadn’t had in years.) “It is,” he conceded.

“I hope you’ll excuse my presumptuousness in joining you,” Trussardi said, sitting in the seat opposite. “I don’t anticipate any more customers tonight, and meals are more enjoyable when shared.”

Avoiding Trussardi’s intent gaze, Klaus looked down at his food. “I don’t mind,” he said. To avoid his own awkwardness, he cut a piece of goose and took a bite.

As soon as the rich, oily taste burst over his tongue, Klaus felt a flash of skin-deep warmth and an almost overwhelming wave of memories. He shivered at the feeling. The warmth of the restaurant, the hot oily goose, and his own thick clothes made his skin tingle as if it had just been unthawed.

(And yet, as always, it was a superficial warmth. His insides were still as wintry as ever. Klaus thought that his skin could be on fire and his bones would still be icy. But even a surface-warmth such as this was welcomed. At night Klaus would curl into a ball under as many blankets as he could find, lying awake feeling heat taunt over his skin, but it was never enough. He would never sweat no matter how his skin burned, and in the morning he woke as cold as ever.)

“It’s good,” Klaus whispered, overcome with emotion and sensation.

Although he didn’t look up, Klaus could hear the smile in Trussardi’s voice when he replied, “I’m glad.”

They ate in silence, and Klaus didn’t rush, despite being hungry. He savored the meal, chewing slowly and thoroughly to get all the flavor out, and sipped at his wine which complemented the food perfectly. Klaus didn’t often have time for good food, but it was a special experience when he did, and one of his few pleasures in life. Sometimes only the thought of revenge and the promise of a good dinner out was enough to get him through his (cold, cold, it made him feel like ice) job.

Finally the record ran out, filling the restaurant with static white noise, and Trussardi took a deep intake of breath, about to speak. “Pardon me, Signore, but is there something troubling you?”

Klaus was too well disciplined to let his surprise show visibly, but when he glanced up to meet the other’s gaze, the chef hurried to add, “I don’t mean to intrude, but… Well, it’s Christmas. No one should be troubled on today of all days. You certainly don’t have to talk about it, but if you do want to, I would be honored to listen.”

Klaus looked back down at his plate, nearly empty. Since his grandmother had died he hadn’t been able to confide in anyone, and the idea of doing so now, the idea that a stranger cared enough to listen was… tauntingly comforting. He gave in to the temptation.

“I dedicated my life to something based on a falsehood,” Klaus said slowly, “and when I learned the truth, I lost my sense of purpose. Yet there is no one I can reasonably blame, for the falsehood or for the events that resulted from it. I cannot even blame myself.”

Trussardi’s eyes grew wide, then grew heavy with some emotion that Klaus hesitated to put a name to. Solemnly, Trussardi said, “I’m sorry for your loss. To be honest, your troubles remind me of my own…” The chef sighed. “I had a similar experience. Do you mind listening to my story? I have not had anyone to tell it to, and it would ease my mind to be heard by someone who knows my frustration.”

Klaus’s heart sped up. He was selfishly curious about this man’s history, and pathetically happy to be relied upon. He nodded. “All right.”

“I had a childhood friend who became my lover. But she grew ill… a tumor developed in her brain. I thought that I could heal her with food, so I made all kinds of dishes, with all kinds of ingredients. But none of them helped.”

Trussardi looked sadly down at his own hand, half curled palm-up on the table, and when Klaus instinctively followed his gaze he had to quickly suppress any signs of surprise. There, in and around the Italian’s hand, were several creatures like tomatoes with faces and limbs, surrounded by a fiery golden Stand aura. “Meshii!” they chanted with high voices.

Klaus subtly shifted in his chair to be more able to escape quickly. If this man was a Stand user, he might know the Stand users Higashikata Josuke and Kishibe Rohan. And if Trussardi knew them, they may have told him about Klaus.

But it seemed unlikely. The man was carelessly bringing his Stand out for no reason (for his own comfort, perhaps? Truthfully, Klaus had done the same, but only when he was alone), suggesting that he did not realize that Klaus was also a Stand user and could see the manifestation of will.

Oblivious to Klaus’s well-hidden discomfort, Tonio continued his story: “Finally I heard about a special kind of abalone that lived only on Morioh’s coastline. I was sure that with that, I would be able to heal her. But scarcely had I arranged my trip to Japan, when I received the news—my friend and lover had died. I was too late.”

The unknown Stand disappeared and Turssardi sighed. Klaus wondered: Had the chef tried to use his Stand to cure his lover? Did his Stand have something to do with food, then? Had he already used his Stand on Klaus?

“Immediately, I felt regret,” Trussardi continued. “Instead of spending her final moments by her side, I had been absent on a fruitless quest, squandering my limited time with her. And yet, if I had to do it all again, I would do nothing different—for as long as there was the slightest chance I could save her, I would have to pursue it.”

Trussardi smiled at Klaus wryly. “It’s a peculiar kind of grief, isn’t it? Mourning for time and life wasted, yet unable to say that it was truly wrong.

“But after failing her, I couldn’t bare to face my hometown, my family, her family. So I carried through with my travel plans and emigrated to Morioh. I needed a new start, I suppose, somewhere completely unfamiliar and unexpected, unattached to my past. And then I decided to help as many people as I could, although it will never make up for being unable to help her.”

Klaus’s mind was whirling, but with this last sentence, his anxiety eased somewhat. It appeared that this man’s Stand was supposed to help people, not harm them, so Klaus was likely not in immediate danger, especially since Trussardi didn’t realize that he was a Stand user. Klaus wondered if he had in fact already been helped by this man—but he hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary about the chef’s meals, other than the comfort and pleasure that the food gave him.

Gathering himself so that his preoccupation would not be noticed, Klaus said solemnly, “I am sorry for your loss.”

Trussardi smiled, that same genial (polite) smile that he always wore during his work. “Thank you. But on another note—Now that we have shared a meal and our stories together, will you tell me your name?”

Klaus hesitated a moment, but decided it would do no irreparable harm. “Klaus von Stroheim.”

“I am Tonio Trussardi,” the chef said, though he had already introduced himself the first time he had served Klaus. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, Signor Stroheim.”


Trussardi stood up from his seat, taking the empty dishes from the table. “Now, how do you feel about fruit cake? I have some panettone if you’re interested in dessert.”

Klaus hadn’t had cake in years, not since his grandmother’s last birthday when he’d bought her a cake and she’d happily thanked Rudol for it. Suddenly, after the world-shattering day he’d had, Klaus desperately wanted cake. “Yes, please,” he said, trying not to sound as eager as he felt.

Trussardi’s smile seemed knowing as he retreated into the kitchen and returned a few minutes later with two slices of tall fruity sponge cake, but it probably only looked that way to Klaus. The man couldn’t possibly know how much Klaus wanted that cake.

They ate in companionable silence, though before digging in Klaus examined the cake critically for any sign of a Stand’s influence. He didn’t find anything, and the cake was too tempting to resist.

After finishing the panettone and drinking the last of his wine, Klaus started to pull out his wallet. “Oh, there’s no need for that,” Trussardi said. “This is on the house, as thanks for eating with me and listening to my story.”

Klaus frowned and continued opening his wallet, uncomfortable with not paying. “I insist.”

Trussardi reached across the table and pushed the wallet back down, and Klaus only barely stopped himself from knocking that hand away. “No, no, I insist. This meal is free, I will not accept payment for it.”

Klaus put his wallet away, but he wasn’t giving up yet. “Then, let me do the dishes. I will not accept no payment.”

For a moment, Klaus feared that he had offended the chef; Trussardi’s smile was frozen and plastic-looking. But then the Italian laughed boisterously, looking delighted. “You’re quite stubborn, aren’t you! Very well, I will let you help clean up.”

Inwardly smug, Klaus followed Trussardi to the kitchen, and obediently washed his hands before grabbing a sponge and setting to the pots and pans in the sink. Trussardi swept the kitchen, and started making small talk to fill the silence. “So, how long are you staying in Morioh?”

Klaus didn’t pause in his cleaning, but the question threw him off. He had meant to leave as soon as possible, but…

Don’t hurry back to your job. I think Morioh might help you find what you need.

“…I don’t know,” Klaus said at last.

“Well, it’s a beautiful place,” Trussardi said cheerfully, ignoring his awkward pause. “Very good seasonal vegetables here, even in winter.” And then he continued chatting about the various ingredients available in the area. Klaus was content to listen.

When they finished cleaning, Trussardi walked him out and wished him a merry Christmas, then added, “Come back soon!” with a charming smile. Klaus mumbled some kind of affirmative and walked back to the hotel in a daze.

He was still in a daze making his way to his room, letting himself in, and walking to the phone. He barely noticed punching in the numbers for an international call, and only realized what he’d done when the voice of one of his superiors greeted him. He was so surprised by himself that he forgot to reply until the voice prompted, “Hallo?”

I’m quitting,” Klaus said numbly, in German. The words felt like they had come from someone else.

There was a pause. “Klaus von Stroheim, isn’t it? Has something happened?

“I can’t do it anymore. I hate it.”

There was another, longer pause. “I’m very sorry to hear that,” his superior said carefully. “I know this is a tough job. You’re one of our best agents, so it wouldn’t do for you to get burnt out. How about you extend your vacation by another month? Take some time off to relax, and then you can come back.

All right,” Klaus said faintly, but he didn’t mean it. Because he was suddenly filled with the conviction that he absolutely couldn’t go back to Germany, back to his job, or he would kill himself. He hung up while his superior was saying something else.

Don’t hurry back to your job. I think Morioh might help you find what you need.

Klaus hoped so. Because he didn’t know what he needed, but he knew he couldn’t live without it.