When Bruno wakes up, he goes from dreaming about the flowery, gilded skies of Heaven to staring at an ugly popcorned ceiling, and it’s probably the third greatest disappointment of his life.
Could be better, is his first coherent thought. He sees a nasty water stain lurking in one of the corners. Could get that fixed.
That wall trim’s a little unfamiliar, though. He racks his brain, trying to recall if he’d seen it before, if this is even one of the properties he legally owns. Remembers he’s a mobster, and has never owned anything legally in his whole life.
Feels a little relieved, honestly.
Well, even if he doesn’t own this place, he could still fix their ceiling. Could be mold, could be unsafe. He’s contemplating the possibilities of zipping in some new plaster, or putting Mista on a stepstool and getting the Pistols some tiny scrapers, when the rest of the room decides to buffer in around him.
There’s more than just the ceiling now; there’s color and sound, a cross-hatch of red and blue and the creak of a chair as the aforementioned Mista pops into his field of view. No stepstool, though. He wants to ask and see if there’s one nearby, but finds that he’s not strong enough to speak.
Mista’s looking down on him, eyes and smile both wider than usual. “Oh, thank God! He’s awake! Big guy is back in town!”
It’s the first time Bruno’s been called anything close to big guy, and he really can't be sure what town this is and whether or not he's been here before, but he’s not about to question it. Affection among his teammates can come in strange forms. Bruno takes what he can get.
“Dude, you scared me shitless, you have no idea,” Mista says, rambling a little faster than is comfortable to keep up with. “Literally zero shits. Completely out of shit stock. Shit’s discontinued. National shit shortage.” His grin grows wilder and more dopey. “Narancia was, like, sobbing.”
Narancia, on queue, rolls into Bruno’s vision in shades of black and orange.
“Shut up! I wasn’t sobbing, idiot! Don’t make me sound like some kinda baby,” he says, but his voice is suspiciously moist and his eyes a wobbly-wet as he pushes his face much closer. “Yeah, I cried a bit, but whatever! Buccellati says it’s healthy.” He looks directly into Bruno’s eyes, lips starting to tremble. “Are you okay now?”
“Maybe he’d feel better,” someone clips from behind them. Bruno can tell immediately who it is from the tone. “If there weren’t two dumbasses in his face taking up all the oxygen.” From where he lays, only a tuft of hair is visible, but he doesn’t need to see Fugo’s face to know he’s scowling. “Come on. Give the man some room.”
Mista and Narancia both pout and shuffle backwards, bowing their heads in the way they do when they know Fugo’s right but would rather die than admit it out loud. With the room a little clearer, Bruno can now fully see Fugo, who is trying very hard not to scowl in his direction. And behind him, there’s a golden glint as Giorno meets his eyes, nods, and steps out, probably to take a call or something.
Bruno smiles. He has no idea where the hell he is, what happened before, or what’s going on now, but it’s nice to see his teammates looking happy and safe. Gang’s all here.
He tries to sit up. Narancia darts over as soon as he does, hands held out like he’s trying to catch a newly walking toddler, but Bruno makes it to forty-five degrees unassisted, just enough to prop himself up on a pillow so he can breathe. This bed is definitely new, and his stomach feels like it’s been torn open by a wild animal.
Bruno clears his throat. Tries to talk, can’t. Tries again. It’s croaky, but it works.
Silence. Mista breaks it, as that’s one of his specialities.
“Uh,” he says eloquently. “Good one, bro?”
“He hit his head?” Narancia whispers. “I’ll get Giorno.” He leaves. Fugo frowns and follows.
Bruno frowns too. Bro’s a little much, and he’s not paying his subordinates for them to talk back. Yes, he’ll pull the subordinate card when he has to. He opens his mouth to try again, but even this much makes his bones feel like they’ve been ground down and turned to mud.
He chokes on a breath and his body slumps. Sticky Fingers slips out of him without being told to. It’s more difficult feeling than usual, like it’d gotten trapped in a tar pit inside of him. But now it’s free, and it catches his head before he can bang it on the headboard and make Narancia’s assessment come true. He wheezes. Tries to get himself together.
One more time, because it’s critical. “Where’s Abbacchio?”
Mista’s completely statue-still, just staring at him and Sticky Fingers. It’s probably the stillest Bruno has ever seen him, even when he’s focused, readying to pull the trigger. His mouth opens, closes, and then opens again, making him look like a malfunctioning muppet.
“Wow, uh, ha. Oh boy,” he says, once he’s finally able to speak. “You know--you know, that’s definitely a Giorno question, definitely a Gio---Narancia! “ Mista twists his head to shout at the door. “Narancia! Wanna get him a little faster?”
Narancia answers the summons by shrieking a “WHAT?” at the top of his lungs as he comes back inside. The sound is loud enough to make Mista wince before he can relax again, but for Bruno, the sound just keeps going.
“Holy fuck, is that Sticky Fingers?”
It won’t stop. It gets louder and louder, ramming into him like a steam freighter, hollowing him out inside. It starts to sound like rain, a thunderstorm inside his head. Black spots begin to crowd his vision.
“Why would it be here and not--”
“--asking where Abbacchio is--”
“Oh, shit,” Giorno breathes.
Bruno can’t hear them, can’t hear anything else but the rain. He wants to steady himself, to cover his ears, but the hands that move of their own accord have fingers entirely too long to be his. They’re touching his face, touching hair that’s also far, far too long. Music’s playing somewhere, he thinks. Is that Monteverdi?
The spots grow. His vision darkens.
Night falls, and so does he.
When the world rights itself, Bruno’s in a building far different than whatever room his team had put him in. He can't see all the details in the dark, but he can tell by the smell that it’s a far uglier place. There’s footsteps, many of them. It’s raining outside.
A gun is fired. His whole body shakes. It’s like he’s been set alight.
A shout. “Vitello!” He realizes it’s coming from his own mouth.
There’s the ka-thunk of a body falling to the ground. Screaming, screaming, like a hideous calf being slaughtered. Something’s wet on his face. Tears? Maybe rain. Maybe blood.
Don’t die bound by the past, someone is telling him. Bruno thinks he knows that voice, but it doesn’t end up mattering even if he does.
He’s plunged, body and soul, into the darkness regardless.
Bruno wakes up again to the clear-blue idylls of a seaside sky. It’s close enough to his vision of Heaven that he decides to forgive the moldy ceiling for daring to exist near other people. He’ll chalk this whole ordeal up as a success, because that’s what he does. Makes the best of things.
Now if he could just figure out what this whole ordeal was to begin with.
He gets up. He’s in a little town by the water that looks like it’s just begging to be made into a postcard. It’s a little too urban to feel like the place he grew up in, but comfort is shrugged onto him anyway, like a relative pulling a sweater over his head. Around him there are storefronts that seem to have no people inside. There’s a cafe with tables spilling out onto the sidewalk, umbrellas blooming in the sun.
“Buccellati. Hey,” says Abbacchio, because Abbacchio is there, too.
“Hello,” Bruno says on reflex, but it takes a moment to fully sink in. Then he double takes at Abbacchio, who is sitting at one of the cafe’s tables with a glass of white wine and a plate of tiramisu.
“Oh. Abbacchio. I was...looking for you.” It comes out uncertain, because now Bruno can’t clearly remember why he was looking in the first place.
Abbacchio glances up at him. Seems to be certain of nothing except how good the warmth there feels. He closes his eyes like he’s savoring the air, sunlight catching in his eyelashes. “You found me.”
“So I did,” Bruno says. And he’s glad he did, remembered or not. It’s lovely being here, even though the specific details of that here still need to be worked out. “Where are we, exactly?”
Abbacchio grunts, shrugging, eyes still closed. “Dunno. A dream, maybe?” His eyes open, their colors striking. “Feels like I’m asleep. Haven't seen anyone else nearby either.”
Bruno looks around. Abbacchio’s right. It’s still just as desolate as it was as first glance.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Abbacchio says. “Figured you’d show up eventually. Y’know, since there’s a setting for you, and all.” He gestures to the opposing seat, where a glass of red and another dessert plate are waiting, gleaming and perfect.
Bruno sits down, never one to refuse a food offering. He decides to accept Abbacchio’s idea of this all being a dream, because it’s far easier than trying to tease out another explanation. Trying to think feels like wading through jelly.
“How long have you been here for?” Bruno asks.
Abbacchio shrugs again, pointing to one street clock, then another. “Clocks don’t work,” he says. He swirls his glass. “Sun doesn’t move. And no matter how much I drink, I never run out of wine.”
He takes a long, long, long sip to demonstrate. Bruno raises his eyebrow at him out of habit, but raises it even higher when the glass stays as full as it had when he picked it up.
“Impressive,” Bruno concedes.
Abbacchio smirks, just ever so slightly. “Yeah, well. Can’t even get drunk, so.”
He takes a bite of cake. Bruno looks down at his own plate. He wants to eat, to stay here, but something in his memory is starting to breach the surface. It’s uncomfortable. It nags at him.
“Abbacchio,” he says. “Who is Vitello?”
Abbacchio freezes. He sets down his fork painfully slowly, as though it might snap in his hands.
“That’s...my old partner’s name,” he says, and Bruno does not need to check if he’s telling the truth. “I don’t...I never call him that, Buccellati. Not anymore, I don’t. How did you know that?”
Bruno tries to remember. Can’t. He opens his mouth to try to answer anyways, but the dark spots start speckling around him again like a swarm of flies.
Oh. Again, so soon. And it was such a lovely day out, too.
Abbacchio grimaces, rubbing his temple like it hurts. “There’s--there’s something wrong here, isn’t there?”
The rain starts to fall like a haze of static. His eyes unfocus. It’s beautiful.
“Where are we, Buccellati?”
Bruno tips backwards in his seat. The ground underneath him has turned to black tar, swallowing up his chair, pulling him down. Abbacchio knocks over his wine glass as he stands up in shock.
“Fuck!” he shouts, scrambling to get around the table. He grabs Bruno’s hand to try to get him out, stop him from sinking, but the darkness is too thick and he doesn’t budge. “Fuck, fuck!” Abbacchio pulls harder as the tar reaches Bruno’s shoulders, as it starts to wind around his own wrist.
When the ground finally gives and Bruno falls into nothingness, it’s with Abbacchio held on like an anchor, mooring him in the void. The descent is horrible and dizzying and infinite, but he does not undergo it alone.
It’s the least Abbacchio could do, after all this time.
When Bruno wakes up for the third time, it’s to the sound of someone confidently proclaiming that they got this, man, they got this, over and over again.
Bruno decides that he'd like to increase his chances of getting into Heaven, so he’ll allow Narancia ownership over the situation, rather than jump up and try to get it back to save everyone from some level of unplanned, imminent destruction. That would be distrustful of his teammate. Not very virtuous behavior. Also, he really couldn’t jump anywhere to begin with. He tried.
So the point is moot. It’ll be fine.
“I got this!” Narancia says, and it’s bound to be for the final time because Bruno can hear Fugo starting to grind his teeth. Bruno opens his eyes, now too worried to keep staying out of it.
“Looks like he’s waking up,” Giorno murmurs. “Narancia, you got this?”
“God, Giorno, don’t provoke him,” says Fugo.
Narancia opens his mouth again, but Mista slides forward. “All apologies, Narancia. I know you had this, but as Passione’s resident interrogation expert, I gotta intercept. It’s my title. My modus operandi. You understand. You know how it is.”
Narancia mumbles something that sounds like awargh and looks to Giorno, who only shrugs. Mista shoots finger guns at him. Narancia sighs, then clutches his chest, stumbling backwards out of the way, mournfully and dutifully miming his death by bullet wound.
Mista steps forward, assuming his victory. He starts, however, to look decidedly less victorious as he clears his throat in Bruno’s direction. All eyes in the room slide their way.
“Hey...buddy,” Mista says. Bruno squints at him. “Uh, so, know you just woke up, and all, but you got hurt pretty bad, so...we’re just gonna check in, make sure you’re still with it, you know?”
“Unlike some of us, who were never with it in the first place,” Fugo says. He’s leaning against the wall, arms crossed. Mista glares at him, putting a finger to his lips.
“Shh! Master expert at work.” He turns back to Bruno. “Anyway. Our plan is to just ask some simple questions, make sure we’re understanding each other. Got it? Answer them as best as you can. So. Numeri uno. What country are we in right now?”
Bruno squints so much it just becomes a blink. He coughs. “Uh...Italy?” He looks around, not putting it past his team to have made him an expat while he was asleep. “Presumably?”
Mista seems pleased. “Alright, good start, good start. What’s the current President’s name?”
Ugh. “Buffo Valentino.”
“Who killed Tupac?” asks Narancia.
“Narancia!” snaps Mista.
“What? I didn’t kill him! Shut up, you can’t prove anything.” He grins. “Who killed Franz Ferdinand?”
“Naran--wait, we know who did that already,” Fugo says. “So...it’s not a terrible question, I guess. Who did kill Franz Ferdinand?” Fugo only waits a millisecond before narrowing his eyes at Narancia. “Hang on, are you asking because you already forgot?”
“Gentlemen,” Giorno says, and the room instantly hushes. “Please.”
Mista nods. “Right. Let’s get to the point, then. So you know where and when you are, and you don’t know who killed Tupac. All normal. Perfectly normal. So now, the real question. Can you show us your Stand?”
Everyone seems to tense at the request. For a moment, Bruno selfishly considers just ordering them all away. He’s so tired. He feels like he’s being pulled somewhere, back to a half-remembered dream.
“Sticky Fingers,” Bruno says, biting back a yawn. His stand is ripped from him like separating Velcro. He tries to shake off the unexpected pins and needles feeling. A strand of white hair falls across his face.
“Oh,” says Narancia.
“Ah,” says Fugo. Giorno says nothing, just purses his lips.
“Uh,” says Mista. “Just for kicks. Can you tell us your name?”
So weary. His eyelids droop. “My name?” says someone from inside Leone Abbacchio’s body.
Mista doesn’t get to finish. He’s cut off by the loud sound of a dial-tone coming from Sticky Fingers, screeching powerfully enough to make everyone flinch. The stand glitches, flickering in the air, breaking into test colors like a TV stuck between channels. Mista reaches for his holster out of instinct.
“Giorno Giovanna,” says the man on the bed, voice deeper, full of hatred. Giorno’s eyes widen.
“Okay,” Mista says, slowly, hand still at his belt. “That’s...wrong. That’s, like, way more wrong than I was expecting.”
He gets no acknowledgement. A record plays from nowhere, just long enough to be recognizable as Days of Future Passed, and then it stops. Sticky Fingers melts into lavenders and blues, dissolving into liquid-latex shapes, staring down everyone with eerie, microphone eyes. The room is deathly quiet.
“What happened to me?” Leone seethes through grit teeth. “What the fuck did you do?”
Giorno opens his mouth, but then Sticky Fingers-turned-Moody Blues mutates again, twisting and turning between the two distinct forms, making their owner writhe on the bed. Giorno rushes to the bedside and puts his hands down on Leone’s shoulders, trying to keep him still. No one else dares to move.
“Breathe,” Giorno urges. “You’re still injured. You need to relax.”
A long, rattling breath is taken, and then when Leone Abbacchio’s body speaks again, it is with two distinct voices. It sounds like they’re calling from the end of a tunnel, the bottom of a well. It sounds like they’re talking from the grave.
“Giorno,” both Leone Abbacchio and Bruno Buccellati say. “What happened to us?”
my very first fic on this account and my first one for jojo! I was experimenting with style and was able to get this ready to go super quickly-- both new things for me, so any and all feedback is deeply appreciated.
Thank you so much for reading!
Thank you all so much for your wonderful comments! I read them all, they really make my day. I will respond to them all whenever I get a chance. If you have feedback, please don't hesitate to leave it!
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(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“So,” Giorno says, steepling his fingers. “Regarding recent events. I--”
“It’s okay, GioGio,” Narancia says, interrupting with great solemnity. “We already know. You beefed it.”
They’re in the den, now the unofficial meeting room, of the farmhouse Giorno’s rented. It’s an aging, creaky cottage in the middle of nowhere, having caught Giorno’s eye on the sole virtue of it being an unlikely place for the new Don of Passione to be conducting business. He’d ascended, bent the scum of Napoli to his will and made them kiss the ring, set up his guard. And then he left.
He needed quiet, he said. Needed peace, and this was the perfect place for it. He could exercise his will over Italia from afar and still enjoy some tranquility. He could handle his more...delicate situations in private.
Situations that were supposed to be handled yesterday.
Mista cuffs Narancia in the back of his head. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing, talking to your Don like that, huh? And Don aside.” He ruffles Narancia’s hair back into place, still trying to be stern about it, like he’s pulling a double shift on Buccellati’s behalf. “The man gave you life. He’s practically your father.” Both Giorno and Narancia grimace at the comparison, but Mista continues unheeded. “Go on, Giorno.”
Giorno nods, back to a careful neutral. “Right. That’s not a bad segue, Mista. I was able to give Narancia his life back fairly quickly. Easily, too. And he doesn’t really feel any different as a consequence. Right, Narancia?”
Narancia shakes his head. “Nope! Don't feel nothing! Well, actually, I can still do this.” He puts his hand on his waist and twists his torso until he’s looking over one shoulder. The sound of his spine cracking is like the crushing of a thousand water bottles, or ten bags of particularly nasty popcorn. “But you knew that.”
“And it’s still gross,” Mista says.
“It’s still gross!” Narancia agrees, beaming. “Better bring earplugs to dance practice, bro.”
Giorno smiles at him. It’s very demure, professional looking. “Good. I’m glad.” He sighs out the smallest, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it puff of air. “I’m...still discovering the details of the gifts that Requiem’s creation left behind for me. Honestly, fixing you, Narancia, it wasn’t even a conscious decision. It was an injustice that needed to be fixed, and then it was. There was no need to know how it worked." Another sigh. "Now I'm thinking that the only reason it worked as well as it did is because of the timing. You truly weren't gone all that long."
"In retrospect, yeah," Mista says. "Your survival abilities are always impressive, Nara. Especially considering your whole...you."
Narancia grins and gives a hearty thumbs up. Starts to sound out what he thinks are the opening notes of Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger, but it’s actually The Final Countdown. And there’s a little bit of Edge of Seventeen in there too, somehow.
“But Buccellati.” Fugo says. Mista frowns. The Final Countdown to Seventeen’s Edge dwindles away.
“Yes,” Giorno says, massaging his forehead. “Buccellati.”
“That’s where you beefed it,” Narancia says gravely.
Mista opens his mouth, but Giorno dismisses him with a wave of his hand. “It is...looking increasingly likely that something’s gotten...beefed, as it were,” he says. “Hence this meeting. Buccellati…” He chews on his lip, huffing out a humorless laugh. “Buccellati’s awake, as you may have deduced. I was successful in recovering his spirit. It’s just…” Has he ever taken this long to explain himself? “He’s...misplaced, at the moment.”
“Misplaced,” Fugo repeats. “Inside Abbacchio.”
Giorno chews his lip a little harder. “Yes.”
“So...why’s he in there?” Mista asks. “Think we all thought you were gonna just poof his old body back to normal and do it that way.”
“Buccellati’s body is a work in progress,” Giorno says, back to authority and precision. “And starting now, no one is permitted to enter the room it’s being stored in. That’s an order.”
There’s the sound of grinding teeth and a mocking laugh. “Don’t even need to go in there. You can smell it through the door some days.” Fugo says. “What are you even doing?”
“Fugo,” Giorno says as warning. “It’s a work in progress.”
Fugo’s chin snaps downward. He stares at the floor, saying nothing else. “And that was always the plan, Mista,” Giorno continues. “Is the plan, still. I’d appreciate it if you all would allow me the chance to explain.”
They’re all quiet. Giorno counts his next couple breaths. In, out, in again. “Alright. To start, it’s important to consider the idea that the energy of living beings and the souls of living beings are two different things. I could manipulate life energy with Gold Experience alone, but it wasn’t until after Requiem’s creation that I gained any ability with souls. And I can’t manipulate souls, to be clear. Can’t create them, destroy them, change them, things like that. I can barely fathom the power of a Stand that could.” He shifts in his chair, tapping his foot. “But I can...see them, sometimes. I can reach out to them, sometimes. It’s...very different. Than what I’m used to.”
Giorno chuckles over nothing again, keeps shifting, pulls at his hair. Is he stalling? None of them, especially not Giorno, can tell for sure.
“When a soul leaves the body, Requiem let me see the path it leaves behind. Even when something is clinically dead, there’s a connection to its spirit that’s maintained for far longer than you’d think. Like...like a golden chain, flowing upward.” He looks in Narancia’s direction but can’t quite look him in the eye. “With you, I could just...I turned around and saw you there and then I--it was so, so easy to just tug on it, like I was pulling down a kite, or something. And then there you were.”
“How miraculous,” Fugo says. Narancia keeps his head down. Giorno sucks on his teeth.
“With Buccellati,” Giorno says. He does not look Fugo’s way. “With Buccellati, what passed from him in Rome, it was---hm.” He stops. Decides it’s better not to mention exactly how long Buccellati had been dead for, exactly how little of his original spirit was still left inside him at the very end. “The connection, that chain, it was much, much thinner. I had both his body and a path to his soul, but it felt like too much time had passed, that they had drifted too far apart from each other. In order to pull him back, I thought, I’d need something that was...more compatible.” He also doesn’t mention that the idea was ultimately inspired by their former boss. “Something in-between. Between both life and death.”
“Oh,” Narancia says as it dawns on him. “Abbacchio.”
Giorno stares at the floor like he’s figuring out the best way to fit himself inside one of the many cracks in the wood paneling. “Please don’t assume that this was my end-goal. I didn’t just...pick Abbacchio up and leave him in stasis in the hopes that I could use him as a vessel later. His organs needed time to regrow. They still do. I was always going to bring him back completely. I just--I needed Buccellati nearby while I was preparing his body. So I pulled him inside Abbacchio, and I thought--” Giorno shrugs helplessly. “I thought I had pulled him out yesterday.”
“But then it beefed and they both woke up all smushed because Buccellati’s body dumped him back out?” Narancia asks.
Fugo sneers at the exact same time. “You needed--”
Mista cuts them both off. “Well...why didn’t you tell us that you had to do it this way earlier, boss? We coulda…” His eyebrows furrow. “Helped? Maybe? Somehow?”
Giorno does not, will not look at Fugo. “Because it was supposed to be temporary. It is temporary. The only reason you’re hearing about it now is because I need everyone’s cooperation.” He grips the handle of his chair, tries to sound imperious. “So yes. They are currently two souls in one body. I'm going to fix this, but in the meantime, we need to explain the temporary situation to Abbacchio and Buccellati so they’re at less risk of re-injuring Abbacchio’s body. We tell Buccellati first.”
“Oof, yeah,” Mista says, cringing at an image in his head. “Yeah, Buccellati definitely is gonna take this one better.”
“Exactly,” Giorno says. “I think we can safely determine that they’re still distinct entities, given Buccellati’s response and Abbacchio’s...reaction. When we wake the body up, we need to think of some way to get Buccellati’s attention alone.” Giorno looks around at his team, and it almost feels normal again. Just more mission orders. “Do we have any ideas?’
A beat of silence. Then Narancia and Mista, synchronized, both look over at Fugo. Fugo sighs at them, but there’s less venom in it now.
“Yeah,” Fugo says. “Yeah, I’ll talk to him.”
“Good,” Giorno says, politely addressing the wall. “Thank you.”
“Is there something the rest of us should be doing?” Mista asks.
Giorno looks at him. “Paperwork. Always.”
“Aw, dammit! Mista!”
“Walked right into that one, didn’t I?” Mista puts his hands up in surrender. “Could use some menial labor right about now, anyways. My brain, uh, needs a breather, I think. C’mon, Nara.” He gets up, and Narancia plods along behind him. “Call us if something...uh...I got no fuckin’ clue anymore, actually. Just call us.”
“I’ll fix it,” Giorno calls after them. They leave just him and Fugo behind. Giorno tries to lean back in his chair but just ends up scooting it backwards, making an awful scraping noise across the floor.
Fugo doesn’t react. He doesn’t move at all.
“I know. Don’t think I don’t.” Giorno says after what must be a full minute of nothing. “I know how you feel.”
Fugo exhales hard through his nose. Perhaps it’s a laugh-- if it is, it’s a laugh at the expense of himself and everyone else. “Yeah,” he says. Teeth slide over teeth. It’s a better sound than the chair scrape, but not by much. “You do.”
“I’m going to fix this,” Giorno says. “You have my word.”
Fugo turns towards the door, head high, voice low. “Either you fix it,” he says. “Or something else will.”
The door closes behind him, and then Giorno is alone as he’d been before this all began.
“Leone Abbacchio” looks so peaceful when asleep. Put some satin underneath him, prop up some bouquets nearby, and the mourners would line up down the block. No one would be able to tell the difference.
Well, he was like that before, too, but dying once only made the whole “worryingly pallid” thing more obvious. Fugo just being in the room with him feels like a one-person wake. Pathetic by association. He gets closer despite himself, trying to shove off the certainty that if he reaches out he’ll feel the chill of a corpse.
“Buccellati,” Fugo forces himself to say. The name is so damn sour in his mouth. Swallowing helps, but only barely. The shoulder is warm when he touches it, but that doesn’t make it any better, either. “Hey, Buccellati. Br--Buccellati. If that’s even you in there.”
Stirring. Someone’s moving a hand up to scratch an eyebrow, and the expression on their face looks far too much like an Abbacchio one for Fugo’s tastes. Fugo pulls his hand back but stands firm. “Buccellati. It’s Fugo. I...need your help?”
The expression relaxes a little bit. Fugo knew it would probably work, but still can’t believe it.
“Uh, yeah,” he says. “Your help. It’s...very personal. And...academic?” He shakes the shoulder again, thinking. Oh, of course. The puzzle solves itself. “I want to go back to school, Buccellati.”
He gets a response before he even gets open eyes.
It still sounds a bit like Abbacchio, given that it’s coming from Abbacchio’s mouth, but the tone is distinct different in a way that’s so strange to witness. Less gruff. Less like the speaker is trying to put their own throat through a meat grinder. Fugo just needs his deductive reasoning to cooperate.
So it’s probably Bruno Buccellati who’s rubbing his eyes and trying to sit up. “Mm. M’sorry. Don’t remember falling asleep,” he says. He smacks his lips. Fugo wonders if his tongue sits different now, how that must feel, and then regrets wondering it. Bruno moves like he’s hungover, like he’s been pinched into too-tight shoes, and Fugo can see how hard he’s trying to ignore the wrongness he’s woken up to. “What were you saying about school?”
“You died,” Fugo says.
In his head Fugo’s kicking himself. He’d told himself he wasn’t going to pull punches, but not like this, because what the fuck was that?
He winces, waiting, but Bruno’s only blinking slowly at him. “I...that figures,” is all he says, and it’s only the slightest bit choked. “Always figured it would happen sooner rather than later.”
Bruno looks around the room, stopping uneasily when he sees the water stain. That'd be part of a personal Hell for him, Fugo knows. “Er...am I dead right now?”
“No,” Fugo says. “But you’re--”
The door opens. It’s Giorno, because of course it is. Because of course he would have been waiting outside, listening. He’s smiling. “Buongiorno, Buccellati. Glad to see you’re awake. How did you sleep?”
“Buongiorno,” Bruno says. Fugo watches him play with his hands, pick at a fingernail. “Like the dead, apparently.”
Giorno’s smile doesn’t change, but something in his posture makes the room feel colder. “So Fugo told you, then.” Like he doesn’t already know. “Thank you, Fugo. You’re dismissed.”
It takes a Nobel Peace Prize level of restraint for Fugo to leave with only slamming a door behind him. Giorno just keeps smiling. He grabs a chair and pulls it up next to the bed.
“I apologize, Buccellati,” Giorno says, sitting down. “I would’ve preferred Fugo handle that with more delicacy.”
“It’s alright. I know he tries,” Bruno says. He sounds lightheaded when he speaks. “I...suppose I should ask what happened.”
Giorno nods. “Right. I don’t want you to have to wonder. You were mortally wounded, and I had to use Gold Experience to fix you. It may take some time to process, and that’s perfectly alright.” He tries to make his smile seem warmer. “Could I ask what the last thing you remember is? When you’re ready.”
Bruno closes his eyes, sighs like nothing in the world would please him more than to be tucked back into bed. “I remember being ready to take Trish to meet her father in the tower. Other than that, it’s…” He trails off, takes another deep breath. “Is she with him now?”
“Trish is currently visiting France with some of our colleagues,” Giorno says, smoothly, effortlessly. “She seems to be having a wonderful time from the cards she sends us.”
Bruno nods. “Good. I’m glad she has a family again. How lucky it is to have a chance like that.” He clears his throat. “How is everyone else? I know I was awake yesterday, vaguely. I remember seeing Narancia and Mista, and now Fugo again, and I was...looking for Abbacchio?” There’s something missing there, but he can’t put his finger on it. “Are they all still alright?”
“Everyone’s doing well,” Giorno says, and it’s almost the truth. “They’re all eager to see you and get you caught up on what you missed.”
Bruno’s head relaxes back on the headboard, relieved. “Good. I want to see them too. I just...may need a minute to adjust first.” He closes his eyes. “Talking is...more difficult than I remember it being. Do I sound strange to you?”
“Buccellati,” Giorno says, more urgent than before. Bruno reopens his eyes in confusion. “There is another question I have for you. Do you feel...anything different? Anything else?”
Bruno pauses and takes inventory as requested. There was, firstly, the pain in his stomach he’d noticed yesterday. It still feels like he’d been mauled, but there was now something underneath it, too. Bruno recognizes it as the shape of extreme displeasure, but strangely so, as it’s not an emotion he’s currently feeling. It only popped up when Giorno entered the room, he realizes. Almost like acid reflux.
And in his mind, there was certainly something else. A weight pulled at the corners of his consciousness that had never pulled at him before. It’s the same feeling of being stared at from behind. It’s the dip of the mattress as someone else crawls into bed. It’s a haunting.
He prods at it. It prods back. Bruno holds back a shudder.
“Only a little different,” Bruno lies. “Part of the healing process, I’m sure.”
“You could say that,” Giorno says. “You mentioned looking for Abbacchio. He…is also recovering from injuries of his own. You will both be restored to full health as soon as possible, but---his recovery is further along than yours. In the meantime, the two of you are going to be...living together.”
Bruno’s eyebrows furrow, his stomach twisting even more powerfully now, the weight in his mind growing weightier. “Living together?”
Giorno says nothing. He gets up, pulls the mirror off the wall, and sits back down. Then he hands it to Bruno.
“It was the only way to save you,” he says softly. “To...put you back where you’re supposed to be. I’ll fix it. I’m sorry.”
Bruno stares at the reflection for so long that it starts to distort, until it looks like a Picasso painting. All the aspects of a human face scramble themselves into something human in name only, and then not even that. Just a blur of flesh. Not human. Not anything.
“Ha,” Bruno says through a mouth that isn’t his. “Looks like I did find him after all.”
“Can Passione institute a ban on importing American cereals? Like, for everyone in Italy, but also especially Narancia?”
“Shut up, Mista,” Narancia garbles through a mouthful of one-third Fruity Pebbles, one-third Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and one-third Count Chocula. “‘S my money, I can do what I want.”
They’ve pulled up chairs and a table next to “Abbacchio’s” bed to encourage him to eat something. Bruno--still Bruno-- takes diligent, delicate bites out of his crostata but does not speak. Mista does enough talking for three Brunos anyway.
“I’m envisioning, like, an Internet stand,” Mista says. “We gotta have one of those somewhere, right? One that can see what websites you’re on and what you’re doing. Like, oh, the cereal company is blogging about how they’re gonna parachute in their garbage to every home in Napoli? Nope, delete that shit. Oh, Narancia Ghirga, scourge of the World Wide Web, is filling up his e-Bay cart again? Just telepathically unplug his computer or something.”
Narancia flicks a piece of toast-crunch at Mista's face. “Stay mad, dickhead!”
Mista doesn't flinch. The toast-crunch tumbles down his cheek into his lap, leaving a dusting of cinnamon sugar in his eyebrow. “Buccellati, thoughts?” he asks. Bruno just shakes his head. Damn, Mista was sure that was gonna work this time. “Fugo?”
Fugo’s been just as quiet as Bruno, watching him eat the closest. “I think,” he says tiredly. “That Narancia should stop putting me in positions where I’m forced to agree with you."
"Hey!" Mista and Narancia both protest at once.
"It's Narancia's money," Giorno says from the corner, flipping a page in a book about alchemy. "He's entitled to spend it how he likes."
Narancia pulls down his eyelid with his middle finger, sticks his tongue out at Mista, then goes back to eating immediately. Mista crosses his arms, unconvinced.
"And that’s just hacking, by the way," Fugo adds. "Telepathy aside. We can just do that. If we were really setting out to dismantle the breakfast industry that way, we could just hire a hacker and be done with it. No Stands required.”
Mista shrugs with his arms still crossed. “You know what I always say.” He picks up a buttery knife and waves it in the air. It’s really cool-looking, he thinks. “The more Stands, the better.” The Sex Pistols all squeal in horrible harmonization.
“You’ve never said that,” Fugo says. It sounds like genuine agitation is starting to creep into his voice. “And even if you did, why would you, after everything? Every time we’ve faced off against another Stand user, it’s just added more complicated bullshit to an already difficult experience. It wouldn’t kill us to try having less of that for once.”
Mista starts to hunch forward. There’s something suddenly hostile in the set of his shoulders. “How would you know what I’ve said? Could’ve said it a ton after you ran off. How would you know?”
Fugo slams his hands on the table and pushes himself to standing. Narancia’s cereal bowl rattles from the impact. “All I’m saying,” he grits out between hard, straining breaths. “Is that maybe. Just maybe, we don’t need to use Stands for everything. In fact, maybe we shouldn’t! Maybe we shouldn’t make things happen if they’re not supposed to happen!”
Giorno flipping another page is the loudest sound in the room for a moment. Bruno sets down his crostata.
“So this is about your damage, then.” Mista takes a long, nasty-sounding sip of coffee. “Knew you would let it out eventually. What? You jealous, man?”
Fugo grabs a fork. Drags its tines across the table until there’s four identical scratch marks. He’s trying to stay put, to not lunge at someone, with every fiber of his being.
“Jealous? Like, because of Giorno’s stuff?” Narancia says, thinking it over so forcefully that the grinding of gears in his head is almost audible. He looks back and forth between Mista and Fugo, then peeks over at Giorno, who’s not looking at anybody. “Because, like, other Stands can give life but Purple Haze can only take it?”
Mista slaps his hand to his forehead. Fugo rasps as hard as Purple Haze itself.
“God, Narancia!” Mista says. “Yeah, sure, I might’ve been implying something along those lines, but I sure as hell wasn’t gonna fucking say it!” He gestures to Fugo, who’s still devoting all his energy to trying, trying, trying. “You got a death wish or something?”
Narancia pops up to join Fugo in standing. He puts a foot on his chair and poses like a pirate, a conquering hero. “Not anymore!” he proclaims proudly. “Wish already granted, bitch! Though I’m sure you’d just love to slam dunk me back six feet under--”
They’re interrupted by a wailing gasp coming from the bed. Then “Abbacchio” stumbles towards them, tangled in bedsheets, trying to force forward muscles that haven’t moved in a long, long time. Giorno puts his book down, stands up. Everyone else is frozen.
"Oh," Narancia says, sounding very small. "No one told him, huh?"
“Narancia,” Bruno’s voice says. He takes a shambling step forwards, posture like a melting wax statue. “Did you die?”
Narancia keeps his eyes down, away, ashamed. He tugs on the hem of his skirt. ”Yeah,” he says, unable to lie, especially not to them. “But I didn’t mean to.”
Abbacchio’s body keeps walking towards him. There’s another horrible, ethereal sound, like an active loudspeaker being unzipped piece by piece.
“Just great. Just great," Fugo says.
“It’s bad, actually,” Mista says.
Another step towards Narancia. Narancia trembles like he’s been left outside in the cold, eyes darting to Fugo and Mista for backup, but no one else moves. “We--we don’t have to talk about it,” he says, gulping. “It was just a joke. It’s really fine.”
“You died,” Buccellati says. It’s not a question, and it’s not just Buccellati. Not anymore. There’s a reverb all around him, heavy, and the body sways as if under its weight. He gets closer, closer. Hardly feels the press of fork tines against the back of his neck.
"Don't hurt him," Fugo mumbles, the fork shaking in his hand. "Can’t let him get hurt again. Please." But the conviction’s not there-- the fork clatters to the ground as soon as Abbacchio’s body moves again, puts his arms around Narancia’s shoulders. Narancia flinches, eyes screwed up tight, hands clasped together and pressed up against his chest as if to cover his vitals.
But all they do, the both of them in one, is press a stressed kiss to Narancia’s hairline. Narancia’s eyes fly open, rimmed with tears.
“It’s okay,” Narancia mutters, unclasping his hands to ball them up in the fabric covering Abbacchio’s back. “It’s okay. I’m okay. I didn’t feel anything. I got fixed, and--and Giorno’s gonna fix you too--”
“Giorno,” he says, and it must be fully Abbacchio now, because no one else could fit that much acrimony into the name. Abbacchio lets go of Narancia and turns around to where Giorno’s standing. Giorno puts his arms up as if in supplication, one hand open and raised higher than the other, a clear sign to his guard to hold.
“Buongiorno, Abbacchio,” Giorno says. He talks slowly, like trying to calm a feral animal. “Glad to see you’re feeling well. Please, sit down, and I promise I’ll explain everything.”
“Think I know enough,” Abbacchio says, grabbing the shoulder of Giorno’s suit. He hears the click of a gun being cocked behind him, but the thought that he’s about to get put down like a dog only makes his grip tighter. He shoves Giorno against the wall, watching as his curls bounce out of and then back into place. The sign to hold does not drop.
“I think you should--” Giorno starts.
“I’ll kill you,” Abbacchio says. It’s a promise, not a threat. “Kill you, then bring you back, see how you like it--”
When Abbacchio pulls his arm back to throw a punch, two things happen. The first is that Sex Pistol Numeri Tre, on its bullet-rocket, goes whizzing past Abbacchio’s ear and into the wall. It was just a warning shot, just meant to graze. Despite Mista not following his orders, Giorno takes the given opportunity, twisting himself out of the hold to dodge.
None of the above ends up mattering, however, because the second thing that happens is that Leone Abbacchio whiffs it completely.
It’s absurd how badly he misses. The punch, though aimed directly at where Giorno’s head was, ends up going cross-body in the exact opposite direction, almost hitting Abbacchio’s other shoulder.
“Fucking hell?” Abbacchio says to himself.
But then he shakes it off, charging back at Giorno before he can get too far. Another punch, and this one’s even worse. It goes upwards, like he was aiming for a fly on the ceiling instead. He swears again. It’s not coherent.
It is then that Abbacchio glances down at himself. It is then that Abbacchio sees his hands surrounded by a ghostly outline, by the distinctive shape of Sticky Fingers’ gloves.
He stumbles backwards, staring at it. “No.” He tries to flex his fingers but they barely budge, like they’ve fallen asleep, like they’ve run out of blood. Then he watches in horror as his hands curl into fists all by themselves, beyond his command, beyond his control.
Abbacchio. Someone’s calling his name, so close, right up against his ear. But no one in the room has moved or spoken, and he knows that fucking voice.
Knows it so well.
“No,” Abbacchio says, louder now, trying to drown it out, to drown out everything. Everyone’s staring at him. He feels it, he doesn’t care. “No, no. I can’t. I can’t fucking do this. No.”
“Abba,” Narancia says. He’s holding out a box of cereal, part shield and part offering. “Maybe...maybe eating will help?”
Abbacchio just pushes past him. Count Chocula falls to the floor, innards scattering, a victim of circumstance. He keeps going, out the bedroom, out the living room, out the front door. He only stops for a second on the porch, because it isn’t Napoli outside--it’s the country. The air is a warm, summery-wet that smells like a barnyard. There’s a line of trees up ahead, thickening into a small patch of forest.
As excellent a place to die as anywhere, he decides.
So he takes off down the gravel road. It’s not fast enough, apparently, because there’s already voices leaning out the farmhouse doorway, shouting after him.
“Abbacchio! Don’t hurt yourself!”
“Come on, big guy, get back inside!”
That last call is much, much closer. The hairs on his neck stand up, as if he could feel the breath of a whisper.
They're just trying to help, Abbacchio.
He walks faster, even though it hurts.
He does not.
He keeps going, and then he starts to feel what seems like the pressing of hands on his shoulders, like someone’s trying to push him back. Maybe he could see Sticky Fingers’ gloves again if he looked. Maybe, if he tricked his eyes, he could see the silhouette of someone standing there in front of him, the familiar shape of someone who’d never be there again.
Stop, the someone says.
Leone shakes his head, wants to laugh at all this, but things haven’t been funny in a long, long time. He muscles through the pushback with the certainty that he’s going to find a nice bog somewhere nearby. One that he can sink into face-down. It’s got to be close. Steps away.
Steps that are getting increasingly difficult to take.
He looks down to confirm the road is still gravel and not as muddy as it feels. It’s the same road, he sees, but it’s him that’s changed, legs encased in an afterimage of Sticky Fingers’ ridiculous boots. They make his feet feel numb, leaden. He takes another stubborn step, and the feeling goes from moving through mud to moving through concrete.
The will to go on seeps out of him. “Buccellati,” he finally says. “Why?”
Leone doesn’t get an answer, because that’s the moment that Gold Experience's fist connects with the back of his head. He falls forward, landing face-first on the gravel. There's shouting coming from behind him, but soon that and everything else swirls away like water down a drain.
His eyes shutter closed, and he sinks, down, down, into the muddy darkness he was searching for.
Leone wakes up.
He’s back in that little town inside his mind, with the cafe umbrellas and the smell of saltwater. His initial arrival to this place was too strange and hazy to recollect at first, but the more exposure he gets, the longer he’s awake, the less hazy it becomes. He’s starting to remember.
So he knows what must be waiting for him here.
He’s standing in front of a light pole, so he punches it. The metal’s somehow soft to the touch, and hitting it feels like starting a bar brawl with a teddy bear. Is Trish here? No, that makes no sense. And right now Abbacchio desperately needs something to make sense.
He punches it again. His fist sinks into it, again.
“It’s your own mind,” says the expected voice from behind him. “It’s going to protect you. Nothing here will hurt.”
Leone balls his fist. He’s right. It’s his own fucking mind. So if he wants it to hurt, he’ll make it hurt.
When he punches again, now it comes with the satisfying clang of bone-against-steel and an ache vibrating all the way up to his wrist. Fuck, it hurts--but it hurts in a way that’s wrong, like brainfreeze or a toothache, not like hitting something. He shakes out his hand. Doesn’t want it to hurt anymore.
“And what did that accomplish?”
Leone finally turns around. There’s Buccellati, leaning forward out of one of the cafe chairs, just where Leone knew he’d be. His hair is mussed, like he’s been doing jumping jacks. Or perhaps using some kind of psychic influence to try and force-stop the body of a man much larger than him. One of those.
Leone turns back to the light pole and knows he’s a coward for it. “Narancia died.”
“I know,” Buccellati says. The sympathy in his voice makes Abbacchio want to disappear. “So did we.”
Leone rests his forehead on the light pole. “I’m going to kill Giorno.”
“No. You won’t,” Buccellati says. “I won’t let you. He’s done nothing wrong.”
Leone picks his head back up. Explaining to Buccellati his hatred of Giorno always made him feel the exact same way he does while explaining to Mista why he shouldn’t store a gun down his pants-- but this is particularly baffling.
“He did,” he says, turning around to make sure Buccellati gets it this time. “He did this to you.” He gestures around to the entire town, then gestures at himself. “This.”
“I’m aware,” Buccellati says, unmoved. “And I don’t blame him for it. He’s a child with an incredible, incredible power. If I had his abilities at his age, I don’t know if I could stop myself from using them.” He raises an eyebrow. “Could you?”
“So it’s fine, then?” Leone says, There’s something in his tone he doesn’t like, but he doesn’t know what. The wind picks up, bringing the smell of rotting fish with it. “This is fine, because you’ve decided it’s fine, and it has to be fine for everyone else too until the moment you change your mind. Then it’s not fine anymore, and everything has to fall into place or we all suffer the consequences. Because that’s how you operate.”
So that’s what’s in his tone. Bitterness, with equal touches of truth and inaccuracy. Buccellati just sits there, mouth forming a thin, hard line.
“Did I ever say it was fine?” he says. “I don’t recall ever saying that it was fine. I’m not exactly thrilled about the situation either.” Not exactly thrilled about it being you is what Leone thinks he hears, and bludgeoning his own jaw off would honestly be kinder to himself.
The sun flickers out for a moment, like a dying lightbulb, then it’s back like nothing happened. Buccellati frowns at the sky.
“I didn’t mean to imply that you should feel a certain way,” Buccellati amends. “Feel whatever you need to. I just won’t allow you to take it out on Giorno. What he did--it wasn't...good, but he's promised to fix it. There's nothing...personal to this, Abbacchio."
"Nothing personal?" Leone asks, incredulous. Really just can't help himself today. Cicadas buzz somewhere in the distance, the sound creeping up on them. "It's my fucking body! Pretty damn personal to me, Buccellati!"
"Speaking of," Buccellati says, powering right on past the turmoil. He stands up, readjusts his jacket, fixes his hair. He has the look in his eyes he gets whenever an enemy hostage is taking too long to explain himself. “If I’m understanding things correctly, your body was knocked out by Gold Experience. For all intents and purposes, this is just the dream of an unconscious man.” He’s fixing his cufflinks. “I’m curious to see if that will end up affecting us both. With your permission, I’d like to try to...pilot, so to speak. There are questions I’d like to ask.”
“What are they, then?” Leone asks. There’s still an edge to everything he says, but he can feel himself yo-yoing back into the soldato role and starts to wonder how much more pathetic he can get in a single conversation. “I can do it.”
“I don’t think you can,” Buccellati says.
“What? You don’t think I can behave--” Leone starts, but then he realizes that Buccellati’s pointing at something on him. He takes a closer look at his hands, realizes his skin is covered with a thin film of golden light. Leone tries to scratch it off. Gets nowhere.
“Attacks by Gold Experience alter consciousness,” Buccellati explains. “I don’t think you’ll be able to go back inside your body until it wears off. But I might. And that’s what I’d like to test.”
He walks over to one of the town’s storefronts. Leone recognizes it as the gelateria they used to take the kids to as a reward for good work. Buccellati opens the door, and the inside is completely black. Not just black-- there’s nothing there to see, that can be seen. It’s like a hole in the world. Leone recoils. Buccellati doesn’t.
“Other than waking up naturally and doing it that way, it seems like there are many different ways out,” Buccellati says. “This is the one that let me intervene earlier.” He turns back to Leone. “I want to help, Abbacchio. Giorno needs it, we need it. I want to figure this out. Will you allow me to try?”
Seeing Buccellati so close to the edge of that thing makes Leone’s stomach flip, like they’re suddenly at the top of a skyscraper. “Figure it out, huh?” he says, trying to sound disaffected though his mouth is bone-dry. “And how do you plan on doing that?”
Buccellati shrugs. “How did you?”
“Figure out how to work a body?” Leone says. “Just did.”
Got him there. Leone rubs his face, but doesn’t actually feel it.
“Uh,” he says. “Fine, I guess. Since I can’t--” Keep you safe. Can’t help you. Can’t do anything for you anymore, because we’re both dead. He hasn’t even thought about that last part at all, and he’s sure as not about to start now. Not in front of Buccellati. “--uh. 'Go out.' But uh...just...just know…”
Buccellati raises an eyebrow. “Yes?”
It takes him a moment. “Just know that it’s not...ah, very good in there. Being in there. Being...me.” He swallows. “That body, it's pretty low-rent accommodations. Just don’t get your hopes up.”
Buccellati, still facing him, takes a step backwards towards the door. He crosses his arms against his chest, like he’s preparing to be submerged into a pool.
“I don’t know, Abbacchio,” he says, a smile tugging at his lips as he steps back off the ledge and lets the void take him. He freefalls gracefully through the dark. “It’s never let me down before.”
Then Buccellati is gone. Leone feels his absence ripple through him. Can’t stop his face from turning red.
Even in the recesses of his mind, there’s no escaping Buccellati’s aftermath.
Note: Trish is really, actually in France, vacationing in Paris with Polnareff. At the time of writing, she's currently in a Chanel boutique, trying to commission a purse that will fit a turtle and let its legs stick out while still looking good. Keep an eye out for the sequel I'll never write: Saturday Night Divas, detailing all their wacky adventures.
Until next time!
Forewarning: this chapter leans harder into the grief/mourning section of the tags. Also, body horror, but nothing more extreme than is in canon. Next chapter will be lighter in tone. Enjoy!
It isn’t until much later that Bruno gets another chance to look at the body he’s borrowing.
He can’t look at himself as he wakes, instead assaulted by countless other sensations. The unconscious must be a reflection of the afterlife, he thinks, because he certainly can’t feel discomfort in Abbacchio’s mind like he can in the waking world, and he imagines his eternal sleep to be just as muted. He longs for it. Longs for sleep. But he’ll adjust to this, if he has to. For better or for worse.
Right now, not feeling would be for the better. Pain cracks across the back of his skull, blooms like fireworks until it reaches his teeth. He feels himself get hoisted up to a sitting position and wishes he could ask to be hoisted back out of the physical plane instead.
“Fuck,” Bruno says, mouth full of dirt. Someone’s holding him so he doesn’t fall back over. By the smell of chocolate, probably Narancia.
Someone whistles. “Damn, he woke fast,” Mista says.
“Hm,” Giorno murmurs. “Interesting. Must be Buccellati.”
“Well, hang on.” Mista squats beside him. “What’s your name, bro?”
“Not bro,” he says, head lolling. “Buccellati.”
Mista scoffs. “Likely story. Gonna play nice and then run again, huh? Fine. If you are who you say you are, tell me something that only Buccellati would know.”
Bruno groans, spits up gravel. He has to gasp for air. “When you first got recruited. When you couldn't control when the Pistols would appear,” he says. “Numeri Cinque came into my room every night for a month while you slept. Because it was scared to be alone with the others." Talking's still so damn strange. "I cut comic strips out of the newspaper for it to read. Made a bed out of a napkin and a matchbox.”
Mista smirks and shakes his head. “And I still have that thing, too. Sorry, had to check. You know how he can be.” He glances up. “Ready to move, boss?”
Bruno says “no” at the same time Giorno says “yes”. They look at each other.
“Oh. Right.” Mista scratches his forehead. “That.”
Giorno crouches down, offers his hand. “Apologies for the headache, Buccellati. Come back to the house and we can get you cleaned up and discuss more.”
He’s too tired to fight that, letting them set him on his feet and lead him back to the house. Every step is agonizing from the stomach down and they all make him wonder if he should have waited and taken Abbacchio up on his offer to handle this. But that isn’t like him--instead Bruno makes himself be grateful that he could divert this pain away from someone else.
He will figure this out. Just like he said he would.
They set him down at the kitchen table and give him a towel to clean his face. Bruno tries not to dwell on how large the hands he’s using are. He fails miserably. Then he is told, in no uncertain terms, that Giorno Giovanna killed the former boss and is now the Don of Passione.
“Ha!” Mista slaps his knee. “You should see your face! It’d be funny on Buccellati, but on Abbacchio--” He claps in delight. “Looks like your eyebrows are about to take off. Hysterical. God, it’s weird to look at you. Oh shit, sorry! That was rude. Forgot you weren’t actually Abbacchio.”
Mista earns a glare from Giorno, and that conversation ends there. Bruno only gets one of his questions answered, but he's finding it was far easier to gather the bravado to ask them when he was safe a dimension away. So it's relief that he feels when he gets down on newly creaky knees and kisses the ring, the heavy leader mantle lifting from his shoulders, Mista snapping a picture of “Abbacchio” willingly bowing to his least favorite person.
Relief when Giorno awkwardly leaves to go work more on Bruno’s body, promising that they’ll “catch up on the exact details of what he missed later”-- details, Bruno notices, that he doesn’t seem to want to mention in front of anyone else. Relief when Mista follows suit, his excuse about feeding the Pistols only thinly disguising his reluctance to be left in the room with him.
Relief when Bruno is alone.
And he’s really, truly alone now. He checks, and there’s no sign of the being-watched feeling in his head that he’s starting to recognize as Abbacchio being...close. Close, like he’s simmering just under the skin, a presence but not present, eavesdropping on his own body. Bruno remembers what that feels like-- straddling two worlds, soaking up the sights and sounds but having to wrestle for control to act on it. The same disorienting experience as sleep paralysis, or perhaps being read to in a coma.
Eyes without a face. Bruno wondered how it worked.
Well, he was never going to figure that out unless he got over himself. His...new self. Abbacchio isn’t watching. He’s alone. He goes to the bedroom and locks the door. No one sees him do it.
It’s not personal.
He glances over to the where the mirror hangs. The frame might as well be growing teeth, claws.
Figure it out.
With breath held, he approaches the mirror. Makes himself look at who’s looking back. Leone Abbacchio, his most loyal soldato, by his side for so many, many years, and yet this is the closest Bruno’s ever seen him.
Looking felt too dangerous, back then.
What catches him off guard is not fear or mournfulness like he expected. It’s the thrill, starting in his chest and burning outward. Bruno knows his true body like a broken-in leather jacket: where it will bend for him best, where it’s become roughened by time, and what parts are, to him at least, less flattering than they could be. But this has made him anew, his idle, occasional wish to be someone other than Capo Buccellati suddenly granted. It’s a fascinating opportunity, as long as it’s temporary. He’s in a body he feels completely neutral towards.
Bruno has to close his eyes and take a couple breaths, whispering to himself about this perfect neutrality, before he can try again. Then, watching himself in the mirror, he raises his hand, runs the fingers down Abbacchio’s cheek, and the feeling seems to echo down the column of his neck.
Abbacchio’s face is still covered in makeup, eyeliner crusty and starting to travel up his eyelids, lipstick dry and cracking from how long it’s been sitting there since he di--last applied it. Patches of foundation are missing from when Bruno wiped his face, and he finds himself consumed by the strange urge to finish the job, to just take it all off. To see what Abbacchio looks like underneath.
But he won’t, can’t. Feels a brush a shame for even thinking of it. Abbacchio’s permission definitely doesn’t extend to Bruno prying away the face he’s worked so hard to cultivate, for no good reason other than implacable curiosity.
He resolves to leave the makeup as intact as possible. Mostly intact, save for a hanging purple flake of lipstick Bruno can’t help but pick off. He means to just pluck it with his nails, but somehow the action turns into swiping across Abbacchio’s lip, getting to feel exactly how soft it is, thumbing it down to expose just a hint of teeth and glistening pink.
It instantly feels like he’s stuck his face in an oven, all the uncovered sections of Abbacchio’s face lighting up red. After years under Polpo’s thumb, Bruno's had to train himself to not blush, so it takes him a moment to realize that’s what’s happening now.
Is...this what the makeup was for, aesthetic aside? Is this something that Abbacchio’s been trying to hide? No gangster would be able to survive negotiations if the slightest bit of embarrassment made their skin look like marinara. It’s never let me down before, Bruno had said so confidently about this body. Was this one of Abbacchio’s many ways of making sure that was always true?
How many times, not counting the current situation, had Bruno made this happen and never knew it?
Bruno jerks his hands away and tries to remember what he was trying to accomplish here. To reduce the shock value, yet so much about this is electrifying in ways that scare him. He shakes his head to clear it and a lock of hair falls loose. That’s all it takes to distract him; he pinches it to take a look, surprised at the softness, not surprised that the spikiness at the bottom seems to be at least partially caused by a massive case of split ends.
Letting go of the hair leads his focus downwards before he can stop it. He’d been caught by the reflection of collarbones when he gets the better of himself, promptly fumbling to pull the laces on his top closed to cover up like he’s shuttering some curtains. He ties the ends into a bow without thinking about it. Feels extremely silly.
He’s done here. It’s decided. This exercise just made things stranger. He’s going to find some company and conduct business just as professionally as always. He’s going to leave this spot and he’s not going to spend a second wondering--
Bruno turns away from the mirror so sharply that it makes a bolt of pain sear in his stomach. Oh. He’d forgotten all about that. When he looks down again he feels less lecherous but no less worried. There’s something tied around his waist he didn’t notice before. It’s a strip of fabric that feels like it was cut from a t-shirt, though it’s stiff and approaching grimy. Bruno pulls it up, gently, to see what’s underneath.
What he finds is a perfectly cut hole in Abbacchio’s favorite outfit. It surrounds a perfectly circular wound in his abdomen, like someone used him as a test subject for a human-sized hole punch. The healing flesh that fills the wound looks like what Bruno can only describe as hamburger meat.
He’s on his knees on the floor before he knows what’s happening. He dry-retches, only able to cough up crostata crumbs, but he scrambles to look for a trash bin anyways.
Bruno’s never gotten nauseous from sights like these before. Maybe it’s another hidden weakness of Abbacchio’s, an ex-cop forced to swallow down disgust at blood in order to do his job. Or maybe it’s just him seeing something so horrible on Abbacchio’s body. Maybe the weakness is his own.
There’s something wet on his face. He touches it, it’s tears. Bruno hasn’t cried since his father died. He can’t recall Abbacchio ever crying either, at least never in front of him.
Perhaps it was always in secret. Perhaps he just never wanted to let Bruno down.
He gets up. He’s really, really done here now. Bruno pull himself together, swallowing until the taste of bile is gone, straightening Abbacchio’s clothes as delicately as he can. He’s debating the virtues of seeking out company and being seen like this or staying alone. As he opens the door, however, the choice is taken from him.
Narancia’s standing there, hand raised as if a half-second from knocking. His eyes widen in surprise. Bruno notices they’re red.
“Oh, uh, hi, Buccellati,” Narancia says, dropping his hand and tucking it behind his back. “Are you busy?”
“No,” Bruno says, although he wishes he’d been busy instead. “Are you alright?”
“What? Oh -- yeah. It’s stupid.” Narancia’s head dips. He’s drawing circles on the ground with his feet. “Yeah. I just, uh, I know you’re memory’s kind of funky, but I’m here to say that I’m sorry. For…” He makes a throat-cutting motion against his neck with his thumb. “For that. I really, really didn’t mean to. And I...wanted to make sure you weren’t mad about it, because Fugo was really, really mad. So…” Narancia looks back up. His eyes widen again. “Are you crying?”
“I’m not mad at you, Narancia,” Bruno says, feeling himself start to shake, feeling a tightness in his cheeks. “I couldn’t be mad at you for that.”
“Okay. Thanks.” Narancia wanders closer like a hungry stray. His head bumps into Bruno’s shoulder, his hands start rubbing at his eyes. “I missed you,” he admits.
Bruno puts his arm around Narancia’s back. Narancia lets out a low, sad noise.
“I missed you too,” Bruno says. There’s dampness forming where Narancia’s head rests. Bruno watches a tear drop from his chin into Narancia’s hair, and the embarrassment makes him light up red again. “I’m so happy you’re alright.”
“It’s gonna be fine,” Narancia says. “It’s gonna be fine, you know that? You know that, right?”
“It will,” Bruno says. He wishes it didn’t feel like a lie. “Some day.”
Night here brings crickets and gladiolus blooms. The smell of earth, heavy and sweet. It brings shuttered eyes and cool stillness and a sense of relief to everyone but Pannacotta Fugo.
To Fugo it just brings dread.
He paces. Considers going on another sweep. Mista’s outside, watching the perimeter, and he’d be radioing in if there was something suspicious. Without that there’s really no need for him to scope the house again yet. He could sit and read, but that requires focus, and he’s bankrupt. All he has is restlessness, like the time Narancia dropped an ant down his shirt.
Another sweep it is, then.
Kitchen’s clear. He’s not hungry. Bathroom’s clear. So is the bedroom. The living room-- he enters carefully, softening his footfall. Not clear. Still occupied. He lingers near the door, observing.
Narancia’s snoring gently in the arms of the man that both is and isn’t Buccellati. It doesn’t look like he’s moved much from the last time Fugo checked on them, one arm still flopped over with fingers grazing the carpet. Abbacchio’s propped upright as Narancia’s taken up most of his lap. His head rests on the back cushions, hair splayed out behind him. Smiles like he’s having a nice dream, but his face is blotchy. So are Narancia’s cheeks. They must have been crying. Fugo missed it.
He should go.
Should really go, he thinks, but he stands there and watches as Narancia suddenly yawns and adjusts, flipping over on his back, shirt riding up. Fugo stares, transfixed by the exposed swath of Narancia’s stomach for what isn’t the first time.
It’s become a habit of his, the staring. At Narancia’s arms when he’s walking in front of him, at his shoulders during stretches, at his ankles when he scratches under his pant cuffs. It’s not what Mista-- fucking Mista-- thinks it is. Fugo didn’t leave the team to pick up “being a creep” as a hobby.
He’s searching for scars. Gold Experience’s healing isn’t always...seamless. If he sees one, he’ll recognize it. If he finds one, he’ll finally have a clue. He’ll have something, anything, to go off of.
Because it’s not like anyone else will tell him how he died.
When his brain forces him to imagine it, Fugo concentrates until he can make it quick and peaceful. For all of them. Narancia nods off somewhere soft and slips away just as comfortably as he’s sleeping now. Buccellati looks heroic, noble. All the color’s still in his face and his suit stays white and clean. Abbacchio-- well. Fugo does know how he died, has seen the wound himself, and making that look peaceful...his imagination has limits. He makes it quick, then. It probably was. He hopes it was.
But in each scenario he creates, he’s able to stop it all.
Fugo grits his teeth and skulks back to the hallway. Front hallway, clear. Back door, just as clear. Broom closet, clear. Bucket inside closet, clear. His own fucking mind: really, really trying to be clear.
Spare bedroom. Always questionably occupied. Newly forbidden.
“Please," someone’s calling from behind its door.
Fugo stops. It was said so quietly that if he'd been two steps away he would've missed it entirely. He leans in a little closer, listening. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. And then--
The dread that grips Fugo's heart is ice fucking cold. He’s certain that it's Buccellati, his body finally upright and just behind the door, pleading for his help like a broke-down talking doll, suit unclean and covered a muddy-red and his face like--
Oh. That’s Giorno’s voice. The vice in his chest relaxes a fraction, but all the hairs on his neck are still on end.
He’s only heard about this “Requiem” Stand in the abstract, any request for more details waved off just like everything else Fugo wants to know about. Other than apparently grant Giorno the ability to touch souls or whatever, Fugo has no idea what its powers are, what its potential weaknesses might be. Which, y’know, seems like important information for someone currently guarding the Don of fucking Passione.
So if no one’s going to tell him, then…
Fugo stays. His skin prickles a bit from the stress of disobeying an order, but he ignores it. The door’s slightly open, and there's that weird smell coming from the room again, more evident the closer he gets. It’s not the smell of death or rot, thank god, but it is confusing, and therefore concerning.
It’s a high, cloying note of something floral and then the all-consuming scent of soil that follows it. When he first noticed it, he thought of Dracula, the ridiculous notion that Giorno’s plan for resurrection hinged upon a box of dirt from Buccellati’s hometown. Or that it’s a metric ton of potting soil, and Buccellati’s going to revive from the sheer healing powers of chamomile tea.
The reality, Fugo discovers as he peeks through the crack, is far closer to that than it should be.
The room’s been turned into a rainforest canopy. Vines run from the floor and up the walls and then dangle from the ceiling, aggressively burrowing their roots into any surface they can touch. The air is choked with golden asphodel blooms, pistils searching and reaching like so many tiny fingers.The smell of soil is ostensibly from a carpet of dead leaves. Too many of them crumple up and scatter as Fugo watches.
And in the center of it all is Buccellati’s body, laying on a table, covered in a white sheet. All vines crawl outwards from him, like the rays of the sun. They’re entwining the table legs, curling under the sheet, and from what Fugo can see from Buccellati’s one arm hanging off the table, wrapping around him as well.
No. Fugo looks closer. They’re going into him. The tendrils are sprouting out of Buccellati’s wrists like a patient with an IV line. Probably growing out from the rest of him, too, from the looks of things.
Fugo pulls his head away, biting his tongue to keep from screaming. Then, because he hates himself, he looks again to ensure that he’s seeing things correctly.
He is. It’s still terrifying. But now he sees Giorno, who he managed to completely miss the first time. He’s kneeling by Buccellati’s side as if in prayer, surrounded by flowers. Hair's coming out of his braid. He’s holding Buccellati’s dead hand and giving it a squeeze every so often-- something distinctly medical about it, the pump of an iron lung. The vines pulse with golden light every time he does, shimmering like live wires until the light reaches their ends, where it turns into an inch or so of more vine. Slowly the plants encroach the other wall, glittering with life.
“Requiem,” he murmurs. “Come back to me.”
Fugo kicks the door open, steps inside. Hears the crunching of stems and petals underfoot. Giorno doesn’t move, but all the vines in the room suddenly turn jet black, like he’d dropped an ink bottle.
“What the fuck is this?” Fugo says as greeting.
“Fugo,” Giorno says, quick to respond. Fugo hates this tone of his, hates his name being made into a punishment. “I don’t believe I--”
“I don’t care,” Fugo says. “What you believe. You’ve--” He looks around, feeling on the verge of hysterical laughter. “You can’t fix this, so you’ve just been--you've just been pouring out life thinking it will work? You've been sitting here making everything look like this and thinking it's progress--"
"I can fix this--"
"But you know, you know it's not progress, because now you’ve been reduced to trying to summon some alternate version of your Stand to do it, which doesn’t seem to be doing much for you--”
“You don’t know anything,” Giorno says. He’s using his Don voice, but there’s something petulant and especially teenage about it now. “Gold Experience Requiem is a sentient being who can come and go as it pleases, but I am still its user--”
“So why isn’t it answering you, then? Why isn’t it here?” Fugo crosses his arms. “Have you been able to use it at all since you got it?”
Giorno stays perfectly silent. Fugo can’t help but chuckle this time.
“You’re at your limits,” Fugo says, with all the gravity of a terminal diagnosis. “You can’t fix this. You need to stop. You need help, Giorno.”
Giorno finally turns around to look at him. For a moment, Fugo’s sure he’s seeing the Giorno that Abbacchio warned them all about-- cold, conniving menace and ill will. Then he notices that his eyes are rimmed with tears.
Huh. Fugo always thought that Giorno couldn’t cry.
“Every limit I’ve ever had,” Giorno says, quieter, more measuredly. It still seems like he can’t cry. His eyes water endlessly like he’s staring into bright light, but no tears ever fall. Maybe he doesn’t know how, Fugo thinks. “I’ve been able to break. This will be no exception. And whatever happened to your conviction, Fugo? I was under the impression that your loyalty was, above all, to the organization. My organization. As your Don,” he says, because of course that’s where they are now, of course Fugo’s just like a capo that won’t bend. “I’m disheartened.”
Low fucking blow. Fugo swallows. He wants to bend, wants to be able to so badly, and the strain of all this is making sweat bead on his forehead.
“Yeah,” he says instead, voice thick and ugly. “Look where that got me. Half the world’s population that would have cared whether I lived or died got obliterated in what I’m sure were increasingly terrible ways. Hell, one of them’s a fucking garden bed right now! Look at it, Giorno.” He points to Buccellati. “Look at it and tell me that’s what you wanted.”
Giorno stares at what’s left at the floor instead. Fugo bites his tongue, takes a step closer to both him and the table.
“I shouldn’t have let it happen,” he says. “So I’m not going to let this happen. I was willing to play along thinking this would be over soon, but I am telling you now as your friend that I won’t be a party to this. You need help.”
And then he does bend. He bows, but it’s not in defeat. It’s to offer a hand up to Giorno. Miraculously, Giorno takes it, and then his Don is standing up to wrap his arms around Fugo’s neck, chest heaving with not-quite sobs.
“You look like death,” Fugo says, unable, in the embrace, to point out Giorno’s eyebags, gaunt cheeks. “You need to rest. Then we’ll figure something out.”
“He told me not to worry,” Giorno’s mumbling, face pressed into Fugo’s shoulder. “But I couldn’t. I couldn’t let him go, Fugo. Do you understand? Do you understand what that’s like?”
“Yeah,” Fugo says. “I do now.”
Leone walks through a memory of his teenage bedroom and nearly trips on a pile of laundry. He curses, loudly, at his former self, who obviously must have been conspiring on a cosmic level to embarrass him this way.
God, was there ever a version of him that wasn’t such a fucking mess?
If there was, Leone supposed, he could probably find some evidence of it around here somewhere. After Bruno left and he found himself still literally in his own head about things, there wasn’t much for him to do. He did discover pretty quickly how Bruno was able to tell what was going on around him, though. Past the blue veil of sky, Leone gets a great view of what Bruno’s currently seeing, a perspective trick that’s exactly like looking up from inside Coco Jumbo. He watched, fascinated, until Giorno’s stupid face started dominating most of the horizon.
So Leone decided to keep his head down and go for a walk instead.
He’d expected this cafe town to be more like theme park scenery than an actual place. Just empty backlots and blank concrete once he'd wandered outside its limits. The assumption of uncanniness did hold up, in a way, when the buildings lost detail the farther away he walked, when the roads took a second to remember they were supposed to be roads.
But turns out the world went on beyond the little village. Buildings folded themselves into his line of sight. So he went towards them.
Leone doesn’t know how long he’s walked by now, how far away from that town he is. Concepts like time and distance definitely have no real meaning here, so it definitely doesn’t matter. He shouldn’t worry, because there’s nothing to be worried about.
There’s enough here to keep him distracted, anyways. The places he visits bridge the gap between memory and dreams. He wanders through a replica of his mother’s kitchen, then his primary school classroom, then the porch of his hometown’s corner store. The spaces smear together, small forgotten details replaced with approximations made of color and light, like Leone’s life is a series done in stained glass. He walks through sections of the countryside previously only seen out the car window on a childhood road trip, the flowers that grew there half-assedly filled in with white fractals.
It’s strangely beautiful, Leone thinks. And, well, anything’s better than his teenage bedroom.
What is really starting to be worrisome, time and distance aside, is that the landscape’s beginning to change. The more he walks, the sandier it gets, the less familiar the architecture becomes. It’s still Italy, but it’s a part of Italy he’s never been to. It’s more of a dream than a memory now, he supposes. Nothing to worry about, he tells himself.
The dream sweeps him up a winding set of stairs that make Leone feel like he’s climbing a tower. It’s night now, and breezy, with the air bringing smells of metal and saline. The ascent leads him into a small room with little else than a dresser and a window. No-- there’s an unfamiliar man sleeping there. He’s surrounded by medical supplies. Something moves in the dark outside.
Leone suddenly has a bad feeling about this. Leone’s suddenly very, very worried.
He feels a weight in his hand, looks down to see that it’s a knife, but doesn’t get any time to think that one over because the room’s exploding. Two men are bursting through the door with weapons drawn and sights set on the man in the bed. They reek of evil. They have no faces. They don't seem to see Leone at all.
Well, then. Actually not as bad as he was expecting. All Leone has to do is let his academy training take over.
Incapacitating them is easy. They're clumsy, amateurs. One he gets in a chokehold and dumps over his shoulder, the other he backsweeps and clunks the knife handle against the back of his head. The doors close on their own once they’re both out on the floor. Leone frowns at the look of things.
None of the memories he’s gone through have been violent so far. Strange. Leone certainly has plenty of material. He hasn’t even seen any signs of the worst night of his life, a night that’s practically burned into his neurons. Maybe the knife, all this, is a warning that it’s about to turn. Maybe Vitello’s right around the corner, waiting for Leone to come running.
But no. It’s Buccellati he runs into instead.
Well, only a glimpse of him, at first. It’s a flash of that famous black bob scurrying around Leone’s field of vision, ending up somewhere behind him. Leone twists around, trying to keep up.
“Buccellati?” he calls. He thinks he sees another flash of hair. “Is that--”
A figure shies out of a corner. Black hair, sharply cut, but much...smaller than Leone was anticipating. He stares. It’s--
They step forward again until they’re in the moonlight, but Leone doesn’t really need it. He knows that face. Would know it in the fucking dark. Would know it, apparently, even across the impassable gulf of time in front of him.
Even in the throes of what must be someone else’s memory.
“Is it safe?” the child version of Buccellati says. He’s all chubby cheeks and a button-round nose. Leone tries not to gawk and fails miserably.
“Uh...yeah,” Leone says, because he wants it to be true. “It’s safe. Are you…” He bites his lip before making himself saying a name he’s never actually said before. “Bruno?”
Buccellati nods. His eyes are wide, wild, scared. He’s holding a knife, Leone realizes. It’s an exact copy of the one Leone has, kept clutched to Buccellati’s chest. The bad feeling comes back and brings its friends with it.
“They said they wouldn’t send anybody to help,” Buccellati says, pointing to something on Leone’s outfit. Leone looks, it’s his badge. He’s in his police uniform again. “But you came anyways. Did you know I was here?”
“Yeah,” Leone says, because he wants to know everything, the curiosity making him feel a little ill. Buccellati’s never mentioned anything about his backstory, just that he joined the gang at a young age and his father passed away a while back. Leone racks his brain, puts pieces together. “These men...were coming to hurt your father?”
“Uh huh,” Buccellati says. “I knew they’d come. Did you kill them?”
The kid’s a wallflower, yet he asks that without an ounce of hesitation. Leone stumbles over his tongue. “Uh...no,” he says, and it’s true, this wouldn’t be fatal. “They’re just sleeping. When they wake up, I’m going to make sure they’re prosecuted to the full extent of the law. They’re going to go to jail, and you and your father are going to stay safe.” It’s sappy, nostalgic wish fulfillment, but Buccellati nods anyways. Leone’s eyebrows furrow. “They really wouldn’t send anyone? You told them this was going to happen, right?”
“Yeah,” Buccellati says. He grips the knife a little tighter, like he’s afraid Leone’s going to take it from him. “I told them.”
Leone’s face starts to redden. Starts to purple, actually, because rage is always more of a purple on him. “How old are you, kid?”
Might as well have just kicked Leone in the stomach. He feels a question bubble up inside him, a question he doesn’t want to or even need to ask. But he asks it anyway, and asking it feels like slow-motion car crash.
“Bruno,” he says. “What would’ve happened had I not been here?”
The room flickers with the truth. Time is rewound until Buccellati, Bruno, little more than a baby, is standing over a pair of fresh corpses with that knife in his hand. There’s red over everything. There’s red on his little jacket, his little hands. Bruno stares at nothing. From behind them, a shadow creeps forward, all reaching hands and greedy eyes. Leone recognizes Polpo’s silhouette. It’s like his heart got tossed down an elevator shaft.
But then the vision’s gone. They’re back to this alternate-dream reality, where there’s no blood at all, where the men are just sleeping. Buccellati’s answering his question.
“I don’t know,” he says. “Something bad.”
It’s lucky that things in his mind won’t hurt him unless he wants them to, because Leone’s squeezing the knife blade hard enough to chop his hand in half. As it is, it just feels like squeezing rubber. He tosses the knife away, it disappears before it hits the ground.
“Listen,” Leone says, hoarser than he’d like. He crouches down to be eye level to Buccellati and puts an unconfident hand on his shoulder. Not great with kids, but he’s going to try. “Bu--Bruno, listen. This is a dream. Well, uh, it was your memory, I guess, but it’s a dream now. I don’t really know how it works, but...let’s try and make something happen. Something else. Can you...can you show me what you would have done otherwise? If this...if it wasn’t like this? With the men, and your father, and...you?”
Baby Bruno thinks about it. Leone doesn’t know if he’s actually a part of Buccellati, or just a figment, or what he’s even asking, really. Bruno seems to figure it out without him, though.
“Take me outside,” he says. “And I’ll show you.”
So they go. The stairs are just as intimidating as they were the first time around, so Bruno gets a piggyback ride on the way down. Even with there being less feeling and no pain, Leone grunts from the exertion. Fuck, are all twelve year olds this heavy?
It’s a short trip. Now they’re at the beach, the water an unworldly blue, the sand a perfect white. Bruno jumps off Leone’s back and wanders into the waves. Leone lets him go. Wants this world to be his. A dream begins before Leone’s eyes.
Something shimmers in the air next to Bruno. It solidifies, turning into the image of the man on the bed-- Bruno’s father, ruggedly handsome, smiling as he drags a fishing net over to his son. Bruno holds up a scallop for him to see. They both laugh, and something in Leone’s chest aches.
Eventually Bruno’s father fades away with the tide. Bruno’s looking older, now very adult in the way he carries himself. Someone else is coming to join him. It’s some imaginary boy, very generic looking save for a kind face and being tall. Taller than Bruno, at least. Leone tries not to fixate on that last part. Stupid. They hold hands in the sunset while Leone shuffles awkwardly in place.
When Bruno turns around again it’s with a kid on his hip. Their face is somehow a mix of both Narancia and Fugo, and Leone has to bite his knuckles to keep from cracking up at that. His tall boy--husband now, probably--leans in to press a kiss to Bruno’s forehead. He smiles. They all smile, posing as if for a portrait, Bruno laughing as he tries to get his kid to look in the same direction as everyone else. Three, two, one-- a shuttering click comes from nowhere, then a flash of light, then they’re all frozen. The perfect family photo, forever.
“Thank you,” someone says from behind him. Leone blinks. The Bruno in front of him is gone, was never really there in the first place. He turns around to see Baby Bruno, no knife in his hand this time. His voice, however, sounds far too much like the Buccellati Leone knows. “That was nice. Less...exciting, but nice. I always figured I never would have left my hometown had things not turned out the way they did. Guess I was right.” He shrugs. “Was the pain worth it, in the end? I can’t really say, since Giorno’s decided it’s not over. But I got to meet everyone. And you. That’s worth it.”
Leone just gapes stupidly at him. “Is that really you, Buccellati? Are you real?”
The child takes a step forward and morphs fluidly into Buccellati the gangster, Buccellati the leader. “This is a dream,” he says with a slight smirk. “I’m just as real as you. But if you’re asking if the Bruno you know will remember this, the answer is no. You’ve travelled far. You should rest.”
He’s starting to turn transparent before Leone’s eyes, and he has to fight the urge to reach out and grab him. It ends up being unnecessary, because dream-Buccellati steps closer to him, ghosts his fingers over Leone’s face, gently urges his eyelids closed. Leone feels the blush start to spread, the brush of fingertips tracing the colors on his cheeks.
“Wake up,” Buccellati says. “Leone.”
And that’s an order from his capo, so he does.
Leone opens his eyes. Can't feel his legs. Oh shit, fuck, that's bad. Wait-- it's because Narancia's lying across his lap. Shit, Narancia's on his lap?
"Oh, hey Abba," Narancia says groggily, squirming around to look at him. "G'mornin'."
"Lucky guess," Leone groans. "Fifty-fifty shot. Now get off me."
"Not a guess!" Narancia pops up, tumbling around til he ends up on the floor and brings several pillows with him. "A fact. Knew it was you."
Leone bites. "How?"
Narancia grins. "You make this sound 'n get this look on your face." He demonstrates. The expression he makes would be better suited at a museum's caveman display. Leone frowns, but he can't exactly dispute it. "It doesn't go away until you've had your first espresso. Oh! I'll go make some."
Narancia bounds away before Leone can stop him. He sighs and tries to prepare himself for the cup of mud he's about to drink. Smiles anyways.
He'll make this work. For now.
Giorno slept through the rest of the night, a feat he hadn’t managed since arriving here. His brain still feels like it was run through a taffy puller, but he has work, so it’ll have to do.
Mista’s sitting at the kitchen table, polishing his gun. Fugo’s beside him, writing something in a notepad. Narancia’s in the living room, loudly presenting to someone the expensive Parisien chocolate that Trish sent him. From all the grunting, it must be Abbacchio.
Narancia stops his spiel as soon as he hears Giorno enter the kitchen. “Oi, Giorno!” he says, bounding over. “Can you use Gold Experience to make me a cocoa plant? I wanna show Abbacchio what a cocoa bean is.”
“I know what a cocoa bean is,” Abbacchio calls.
“Don’t think he’s ever seen one!” Narancia says.
“I’ve seen cocoa beans!” It almost sounds offended.
Giorno takes stock of himself. He’s exhausted. Getting out Gold Experience feels like dragging a corpse out of a lake, and both he and his Stand have turned more beige than gold. But it’s such a simple request. Shouldn’t take too much out of him.
He holds out his palm and creates a skinny-looking cocoa pod. Narancia goes to take it, beaming, but it turns from yellow to brown to black as he does, then turns to dust in his hand.
Inside Giorno, something snaps. Like a muscle being torn, or a rubber band stretched too far.
“Huh?” Narancia frowns. The flowers in the kitchen table vase wilt and turn to ash. Giorno clutches his head. The pain is unbearable. “What’s going on?” Narancia asks.
From the spare room comes the sound of something crackling. Fugo jumps up from his seat and urges Giorno towards its door, motioning to everyone else to stay back. Inside, all the vines are dying, decay flowing down the walls and towards Buccellati’s body.
“I told you,” Fugo says. “I told you you were at your limit.”
A thick vine dries out and falls to the floor, ripping out wires from the wall as it goes. A spark flutters down onto a room filled with tinder. Then another. Then another.
Giorno watches as the altar made for Buccellati’s new life becomes a pyre instead.
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Take some cowboy dreamin'.
The spare room is burning. Buccellati's body burns with it.
Mista, upon facing a crisis, has two main instincts. One is to be helpful. The other is to lighten the mood. So when smoke starts wafting into the kitchen, he jumps up, loads his gun to get ready to do his job, and calls to Fugo as he runs by.
“Damn!” Mista says. “Starting a barbeque without me?”
“It’s a fucking fire, you idiot, don’t shoot at it!” Fugo shouts at him. “Get some water or something!”
Right. Mista puts the safety back on. His instincts aren’t always good.
Narancia screams when he sees fire, because that’s what he does. He’s a lightning rod: tension boomerangs through him and comes back amplified to everyone else. He runs outside to find a hose, still howling the whole way. Bumps into Leone, who’d really just like to know what the fuck is going on. Between Fugo running and Giorno standing there shell-shocked and Mista pushing past him with a bucket, all he can see is a room in flames.
What’s going on?
Buccellati’s voice ripples out from the back of his mind. Leone grimaces. A housefire is concerning, of course, especially considering present company, but the terror that grips Leone from the neck down is only tangentially related. Something else feels wrong here, but he doesn’t know what yet. Fugo’s found a fire extinguisher and darts past them with it, spraying it at the room with a vengeance. The fire chokes, sputtering out under dusty-smelling foam clouds.
In the midst of it all, Leone thinks he can see the shape of a body.
Leone can feel his urgency, feels it down to his bones. He closes his eyes tight. “Stay put,” he says out loud. He doesn’t have the words to tell him why.
No. Tell me what’s going on, Abbacchio. I need to see it.
He keeps his eyes closed. Beside him, Fugo and Mista start wading into the room, kicking away chunks of the foam. Narancia comes back, still screaming. That only makes it worse.
Buccellati’s practically yelling in his ear. Feels like Leone’s about to drown in him. His skin is twice as hot as it should be. There’s too much desperation there for his heart to hold; it’s either going to give out or burst right out of his chest. And then it does-- his heart bursts apart and something pours out of him like blood. It’s Sticky Fingers, solidifying in the air and rushing towards the door, ready to unravel the room if it has to.
No. “Moody Blues.”
Sticky Fingers twists like it’s putty, swirls like it’s mixed paint, an infection of lavender creeping its tendrils inside of it. Again comes the sound of incompatibility, of a Stand and its user’s body torn in two. This time it’s a fax machine getting smashed with a zipper-covered baseball bat. Inside him, Buccellati struggles.
Narancia, oblivious to the turmoil, uses Aerosmith’s propeller to chop away the foam covering the table. He peeks through a gash of white, sees a charred face and two tarnished barrettes. Falls to his knees. “Buccellati!” he wails.
That’s all Buccellati needs. He surges forward, far stronger than what Leone can handle, and Leone can feel the tar-black of the mind wrap around his legs as he’s unplugged from the socket of the body. Buccellati emerges to the front. It’s not a perfect fit, something slack in his face and his posture, the remnants of Abbacchio still hanging on a little too tightly, but it’ll work. He’ll make it work.
“Narancia,” he calls, mouth numb. He pushes through the mess, foam sticking to his pants. Mista’s hand is on his shoulder, trying to pull him back, but he doesn’t notice it. “Nara--”
There’s Narancia. There’s someone else, too. A corpse drowning in a white sea. Blackened like coal, shrivelled like a body in a bog.
It’s himself. He can feel it.
“Oh,” is all Bruno says.
Inside of him, someone moves, pressing up against him in a sort of embrace. He feels the shape of the man who has never wanted him to suffer alone. Arms wrap around his waist, pulling him down into the dark like the Reaper. Bruno melts into them.
Sleep, he’s urged.
Bruno lets shadow fall over him. The world is bid goodnight.
They come to at the same table they were at when this all began. Still sunny, still warm. Still set up just for them. Leone looks down at his fake cake and fake wine.
He’ll pass, thanks.
Buccellati stands up so fast that it knocks over his glass. It teeters toward the edge of the table before snapping upright again, not a drop out of place. He kicks away his chair, wanders towards the road.
“Sorry,” Leone says. It’s lame and useless and he knows it. “No one should have to see that.”
Buccellati’s hands clench into fists. “You couldn’t have warned me, damn it?”
Leone stands up, but his head stays down, looking like a scolded dog. “I...choked.” Because it’s you. “No one should have to see that. And I’m sorry about, uh, pulling us both back here. Didn’t want you to have to keep looking. Panicked.”
Buccellati crosses his arms. Leone thinks he hears him huff. “You know you toppled over out cold with neither of us there, right? You probably hit your head again.”
Leone shrugs. “What’re a few more bruises to me now? Besides. Giorno Giovanna could use a lesson on cleaning up his messes.”
Buccellati visibly twinges. “His messes. Right. He can clean up what’s left of my body. He should only need a dustpan to do it.” He runs a hand down his face, then looks around at the town they’re in. “So this is it, then? This is all that’s left for me? Of me?”
Leone frowns. Goes to join him out on the street, but gives him ample space. “It doesn’t...doesn’t have to be,” he says. “There’s gotta be other options. We’ll find something. I’ll find something.”
Buccellati turns around to stare at him.
“Uh,” Leone says.
“So this is fine,” Buccellati dully repeats. “Because you’ve decided it’s fine?”
Leone slaps one of his hands against his forehead. “Ugh. Yes, I’ll freely admit I’ve been an idiot. But I want--it’s just--look.” He says the next words like they’re a revelation. “I’m not going to kill Giorno.”
“Wow,” Buccellati drawls. “Great. Thank you so much.”
Leone slaps both hands against his forehead. “Fuck! I’m not doing this right." And he will, he realizes, still have to kill Giorno because of this fire. Shit. "I--I want to be helpful, and I don’t think we should just--”
An idea occurs to him. “Wait, Buccellati. There actually is more. Past the horizon.”
That earns him a hard squint. “Are you...preaching to me?”
“What? Me? No, God no! When you were gone, when you went to ask your questions, I was bored, so I went walking. Turns out there’s a lot more than just this. Mental...constructions.” God, he probably sounds like Fugo with that one. “Or something.”
They’re near the end of this road. He steps closer to the edge of it to see what happens. Turns out the edge is now a literal edge, and Leone walks right down off it at a ninety-degree angle, the world folded over like a cubic plane, like the town was built atop a gambling die. Another memory has already popped up around him. Looks like a ski slope-- must be from Buccellati. Paper airplanes fall like snow. A ski lift chugs along onto heights unknown. Leone stops one of the chairs with his foot.
Buccellati peers over the edge, his side still perfectly sunny. An origami snowflake falls upward and lands on his nose, melting. “What are you doing?”
“I want to show you...things.” Leone grimaces. Describing a normal dream to someone was hard enough, but this? “We can go places. Places we remember.”
Buccellati sighs. Even the sight of snow-dreams isn’t enough to distract him. “I’m tired. I’m just tired, Abbacchio.”
“I know you are.”
“I’ve worked to clear my debts all my life. Just once I’d like to exist without them. I don’t want to impose on you forever, Abbacchio. I don’t want to have to be someone’s ghost until they die.”
Being haunted by Buccellati until the bittersweet end doesn’t sound all that bad to him anymore, but that thought is so atrociously pathetic that it makes him sick.
“I know,” Leone says. “I can’t do much about that right now, but I can do something. Let’s give them time to get their shit together. I’d like to help take your mind off of it in the meanwhile.”
Buccellati just keeps going. “I’m eyes without a face. Like that Billy Idol song, but worse.”
Leone’s getting jittery. The lift’s still running, and although the other chairs just phase through his stopped one, being one foot on the tram and the other on the platform is not an easy position. He tries to think of something comforting quickly. It can’t be worse than a Billy Idol song is what he comes up with, but it’s not even true. That song’s a banger.
Fuck, the moment for that’s gone now, isn’t it? Buccellati’s rubbing at his shoulders, staring at his shoes, getting lost in another line of grief in his head. Leone can’t begin to imagine it, can’t imagine how vast that abyss must be. Buccellati should feel however he needs to, but this, he worries, this maw yawns too wide for anyone. He doesn’t want to lose him to it. This idea, the prospect of helping, of emotionally providing for him of all people, has Leone nearly high off it. He wavers in his shoes, feels like he’s about to float away. Wants Buccellati to be with him if he does.
Buccellati sighs again. “I wish that--”
Leone’s composure slips. “Bruno.”
The name works to get his attention. Buccellati-- Bruno stares at him, surprised, and the comedown from the rush leaves Leone mortified. But Bruno doesn’t look angry or even upset at his audacity to use it. He almost looks like he’s...
“I met your father,” Leone blurts out.
The look drops off into total confusion. “You what?”
“In here. Ugh, it’s what I’ve been trying to explain. If you wander, you start finding recreations of memories. Like Moody Blues, in a way, except I don’t really know how it works. I got lost in one of yours. Didn’t mean to intrude.” Looks sheepish. “Sorry.”
Bruno narrows his eyes. “Which memory?”
“Uh...a bad one.”
“You’re going to have to be more specific.”
Leone sighs, scratches his face. “I was...in a hospital with your dad and two scumbags that I got to play cop on. Saw you as a kid.” He pauses to watch for a reaction. Bruno’s mouth makes a thin, hard line, but he says nothing. “I...uh...somehow I set off a version of events that wasn’t so bad? My point is that you can interfere with things, talk to your memories of people. What if we...go look for him? Your father.”
Bruno blinks, and then he laughs, light and dry and a little sour. “Just when you think nothing can surprise you anymore after being in this line of work, there’s always something else.”
He puts his hands on his hips and shakes his head, like being a bodiless spirit on the cusp of meeting his dead father’s reflection gives him the same level of exasperation as Mista leaving the good milk out on the counter all night. “Alright,” he sighs. “I’ll come with you. There’s little else to do, as you said. And it would be...nice. To see him again.”
He nudges the edge of the cube with his foot, testing how gravity pivots as he moves. Leone just stands there and tries to look as welcoming as possible, and it takes him a moment to realize it’s the lift and not him that Bruno’s looking at with apprehension. “You said you walked last time?” Bruno asks.
“Oh. Yeah.” The difference hadn’t even occurred to him. He just knows, instinctively, that this lift will take them deeper. “Maybe it’s reacting to both of us here. Can’t say. Either way, this will take us places, and it’s our mind now. It won’t hurt us and I won’t let it. I’ll kick my own ass before that happens.”
Bruno gives him just the slightest hint of a smile. “I’ll hold you to it,” he warns.
“I hope you will.”
Bruno steps over the edge and leaves the town behind. They climb into the lift’s seat, and it takes off the instant their feet leave the ground. Bruno still looks sullen, but something in his eyes seems brighter as he watches the snow-dream pass beneath them. The landscape looks like a miniature Christmas display. Bottle-brush trees the size of Leone’s pinky finger glitter with cotton frost.
Bruno points at a red toy castle on the side of the mountain. “I think that’s supposed to be Polpo’s favorite resort in the Alps. He used to take his trusted associates there as a reward.” The way Bruno says it, it doesn’t sound very rewarding. “I only went once.”
“Did you enjoy it at all?” Leone asks.
Bruno thinks about it. “While I was there, word got out that one of the capos in attendance was beating his wife. He later ended up breaking both his legs in a tragic, unforeseen skiing accident. If, perhaps, there was an open zipper somewhere under the snow...well, it’s his fault he didn’t see it. So yes, I guess I did enjoy myself.”
“Devious. I like it.”
Bruno shrugs, but he’s smiling. “I am when I have to be.”
They pass under a cloud shadow. The darkness morphs until they’re in the flickering dim of the Napoli metro, sitting across from each other as it rumbles through the tunnels. Abbacchio rolls his eyes to see it.
“Hate this place,” he says. “This was the worst beat to be on.”
Leone snarls. “Pickpockets.”
Bruno smirks. Opens his hand, and a fountain of gold coins clatter to the subway floor, bouncing once and then turning into dust. “I don’t think we would have gotten along back then.”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” Leone says. Clears his throat. “What’s your father’s name?”
“Paolo. Paolo Buccellati. He was a good man.”
“Seemed so, considering how much you loved him.”
“I loved him, but I didn’t do enough. I could’ve done more for him.” Bruno shakes his head. “The past is past.”
Leone shakes his head right back. “Not here.”
The subway picks up speed, disconcertingly so. It charges into a pitch-black tunnel and then launches into free-fall like it’s run out of ground. They fly upward untethered. Leone shouts, tries to grab onto something, to Bruno, but before he can hit the train ceiling he’s caught in the stomach by a metal bar and thrown back into his seat.
The sun switches on. The subway is now a roller coaster. No-- it’s the roller coaster, and Leone’s buckled in to face another drop.
“Fuck! Fuck! Not this again!” he screams. He grabs on to the restraints for dear fucking life, because as far as he’s concerned this is no longer a dream. It’s a fight for survival, him against the sadistic engineer of this death trap, who’d probably be more at home at a medieval torture dungeon than in an amusement park.
Bruno’s standing at the head of the car in front of him, impeccable and unwavering save for his hair swinging wildly around him. He stares into the seat beside Leone, completely unfazed even as they start going upside-down.
“Oh,” Bruno coos. He reaches to pull the next-door rider out of their seat in spite of every safety regulation and ounce of common sense. It’s a kid with a bob to rival Buccellati, the silver-white in perfect complement to his black. Their face is a snotty, wet red like they’ve been bawling for hours and there’s a deflating balloon tied to their wrist. Leone Abbacchio, age six.
“You look so sweet,” Bruno says, and it’s like his heart is melting. Leone tries and fails to not be jealous of his imaginary childhood. They hit a particularly abrupt dip, like the dream is punishing him.
“D-don’t coddle me,” Leone grits out, teeth chattering from the speed. “I was c-clingy.”
But it’s too late. Bruno’s already hoisted Little Leone onto his hip just like he’d seen him do it on the beach. The kid seems infinitely soothed by Bruno’s presence, and with one hand he grabs a fistful of Bruno’s suit and with the other starts chewing on his thumb. Little fucker. Don’t embarrass me.
“How was I as a kid?” Bruno asks. The force of the two of them staring him down is far greater than anything the coaster could generate. Leone’s eyes are wide.
“Uh, y-you’re cute. Were. Were cute.” His whole body rattles in the restraints. “S-shy. Intense.”
His face is unreadable. “So I’ve been told.”
Little Leone tugs at Bruno’s sleeve and squirms free of the hold. His balloon’s reinflated, and he sails off with it once he’s free, floating gently on a purple breeze.
Bruno waves him off. “Arrivederci!” Turns back to the actual Leone. “So. Rollercoasters, huh?”
Leone never thought he’d be grateful for a ride like this running out of track, but it does, just in time to keep him from addressing the question. Their car splashes into concrete that quickly melts into a Venetian canal. It’s now a small motorboat. Blurry figures, like they’re hiding behind frosted glass, huddle together on deck nearby.
Bruno looks around. “One of yours?”
“What? No, this is ours, remember? The boat? It was a whole thing.”
“My memory is…”funky.” Narancia’s words, not mine.” He frowns and looks at his shoes. Doesn’t seem to want to think about it.
“Huh,” is all Leone can think to say. A beat of silence. “So you don’t remember when I…passed?”
“Huh.” Leone bookmarks that in his mind. He’ll come back and probably get mad at Giorno over it later. Right now, the relief that Bruno doesn’t remember his ultimate let-down is too wonderful for him to want to wonder much more about it. “Wait, wait. You don’t remember what I said to you when we were boarding this thing, then?”
“Why would I, if I have no memory of this to begin with?” Touché. “Why? What did you say?”
“Nothing,” Leone lies. “Mission stuff.”
“Right,” Bruno says with a raised brow. “Never play poker. You have too many tells.”
Leone sucks his teeth. “Yeah. Mista reminded me of that last time I tried.”
“Is that why he has your record player?”
“Yeah,” Leone admits with a measure of regret. “Yeah.”
The water starts to steam, drying up, and the boat runs aground. Sheets of concrete resurface and then crumble away, forming massive sand dunes as far as the eye can see. The dream swaps out Leone’s seat from a shitty boat bench to something more solid and unsettlingly warm.
He looks down. He’s...on a fucking horse?
Peals of laughter come from beside him. There’s Bruno, in a cowboy hat, gloves, shirt with matching vest, and chaps. He’s cracking up so powerfully that it’s hard for him to breathe, that he has to wipe tears from his eyes. Leone hasn’t seen Bruno laugh like this since--scratch that, Leone has never seen Bruno laugh like this.
“M-my father,” Bruno starts, but he has to take another break to guffaw once he looks over and sees Leone in a cowboy hat and outfit of his own. “Ha!” Takes a breath to compose himself. “Ah. My father, he loved American Westerns. When I was little, I used to crawl up on the couch and lay on his lap while he watched his movies. Like a special treat. We used to help each other with English that way, too.”
Bruno looks down at his horse and gasps, all the hysteria turned to pure excitement. “I recognize her!” he says, reaching out to pet her head in reverence. “Slow Dancer! From one of my dad’s favorites. What was it called? Well, I don’t remember how they translated it, but its English name was Steel Ball Run. It’s about...well, it’s difficult to explain. But it had cowboys and horses!” He’s beaming about it. “Oh, this is great.”
Bruno leans over to rummage through the saddle pack. Pulls out a pistol and tosses it away. Finds a cattle whip and unrolls it, then mimes whipping Leone with it, making the cracking sound with his mouth, wa-pow. But there’s really no need for that.
Leone couldn’t get any more whipped than he already is.
He feels himself start to circle that drain again like he’s nothing more than bath-tub scum. He sits on his horse like a sad asshole while Bruno tugs on Slow Dancer’s reigns and gets her to scoot a couple feet. Bruno’s a diamond among the roughest of them all-- that’s not even fawning, just objective fact. But he’s not perfect, not on a pedestal. Time has shown Leone his blemishes, the scratches, inclusions. Time brings these secret facets to the light. And every time Leone finds another, the hole he’s in just gets deeper.
He watches as Bruno points at horseshoe prints in the sand. As he attempts to say yeehaw without an Italian accent. As he tries and fails to lasso a nearby cactus. A refined, suave mafia boss, reduced to chaps and clunky cowboy boots and a wide open grin. Leone has to clutch his chest, the ache is too painful.
So, so fucked.
Bruno looks over at him. “You alright? You’re sweating.”
“‘S just hot,” he says. “Have fun, we can go in a bit.”
Bruno shoots High Noon-style finger guns at him and goes back to business. It occurs to Leone that he and Paolo might be the only people who’ve seen Bruno this unreserved. Well, at least the cowboy genre makes a good setting for a gay crisis.
And a crisis it becomes, as it so often does. Because even the barest hint of wanting closeness can bring every reason why he can’t with it. Bruno should live in this joy forever. Leone’d be a fool to think that’d be something he could provide, that this, here, isn’t a mere fluke. A fool to think that he could be anything other than a burden to this already-burdened man.
The sand begins to tick away beneath them like an overturned hourglass. Dry turns to wet which turns to rain. Night falls and takes the rest of the desert with it. Now they’re on a familiar street, right outside a very familiar building.
Ah. So the worst night of his life’s arrived. All he had to do was hate himself enough to get here. Just like in the waking world.
Bruno looks around, checking over his shoulder for Slow Dancer, his disappointment palpable. He sees a door, the door. “Oh,” he says, back to self-collected. “I think I stumbled through here the first time I woke up. This is where I found you. This is where--"
“Yeah,” Leone says, looking around for an alley, a way out. This one looks good. He starts going down it. “Sorry you had to see that. Think I got distracted and changed the path. We can try to get your horse back on the way to find Paolo.”
Bruno doesn’t move. “You said you could intervene.” There’s something in his voice. “That you did intervene.”
Leone sighs. “Yeah. I guess I both said and did that. Look, if you wanna go in there, fine, knock yourself out, I guess it’ll make us even for...”
Bruno’s already almost at the door. Leone trails off as he watches him slip inside. Fine. Fair enough. He’s rewatched this shitty soap opera so many times that it has to be boring to him by now. It has to. He follows, and with every step pretends his legs aren’t shaking.
Inside, Bruno’s merged seamlessly with the memory. It’s a testament to how fucked he is that seeing Bruno in a police uniform is enough to distract him from the carnage about to unfold. It’s Leone’s uniform and Leone’s place that’s he’s in, gun drawn, cap askew and messing up his hair. He’s staring down the barrel at that fucker Leone hates, and seeing that feels so vindicating that it makes him dizzy.
Azione. The drama begins. The actors around Bruno start hitting their marks, saying their lines, just as they did that day. Bruno and Leone watch, rapt, until the finale.
A gun is fired. The bullet flies towards Vitello and Bruno. Leone steps forward, heart in his throat, but Bruno just calmly raises his hand in the air. Snaps his fingers.
Time stops. The bullet hangs frozen in the middle of the room. Vitello’s face sticks in its expression of surprise. Bruno waits another moment before gently setting down his gun.
“You know,” he says, and Leone’s heart lurches again to hear him sound so conversational. Bruno walks over to the other side of the room, to where that fucker is, and crouches beside him to examine his features. “When I pictured this guy, I always thought it’d be someone...more worthy of you, if that makes sense.”
Leone snorts. “Worthy of me? I was taking shit bribes from shit people. This rat bastard’s about as worthy as an opponent as I was gonna get.”
Bruno hums. Then he slaps the bastard in the face. His bastard head snaps to the side and then snaps right back as if nothing happened. Bruno looks up at Leone like he’s searching for approval.
Alright, nice. “Nice,” he says.
“Want a turn?”
Bruno shrugs and gets up. He goes over to the bullet and looks at it from several angles. Then he plucks it out of the air, rolls it around in his palm, closes his fist around it. Wanders back over to Leone. Leone thinks he sees a question brewing in his mind. Leone thinks he knows what it might be.
“What would you have done,” Bruno starts, and there it is. Can’t help himself either, it seems. “Had this never happened?” Bruno opens his hand, and the bullet unfurls into a copy of Leone’s badge. “Back to the force?’
Leone picks up his badge. Turns it over once, twice. Stares at it for a second.
“Fuck no,” he says, tossing it over his shoulder. Bruno’s cop uniform shifts back into his regular outfit. “Well.” Leone grimaces. Glances behind him for the badge, but it’s gone. “That’s what I want to say. That a close call would make me see the error of my ways and I’d quit while I still could. That I’d find some other way to improve Napoli that didn’t involve taking bribes and getting shot at. Helping old ladies cross the street, or whatever.”
Bruno smirks at that picture. “But knowing myself,” Leone continues. “Knowing how I was, it’s more likely that I’d get scared into keeping my head down for a couple months, forget about it, and then creep right back into doing the same shit. Then something just as bad or worse would happen and I wouldn’t even get meeting you out of it.” He chuckles. “All roads lead to the inevitable fuckup.”
Bruno doesn’t laugh with him. “I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Cop or not, you can’t envision another plan for yourself?”
“What plan? I had an ideal as a kid and followed the first choice that looked good without thinking of the consequences. You think I had plans?”
Bruno goes quiet, like he’s mulling that over. Leone wonders what he’s thinking, if he’s finally realizing he’s just a less successful, bargain-bin version of Giorno Giovanna. The rain falls a little harder outside.
“I didn’t have a plan either,” Bruno finally says. Giorno’s not on his mind at all, and now Leone feels terrible. “Once I joined, I mean. All this time, I’ve done what I’ve done because I thought I had to. It was all short term. How am I going to protect those I need to? Bluffing ninety-five percent of the time got me way farther than I ever anticipated.”
Leone tries not to gawk. “Have a hard time believing you bluffed that much. You were always so...controlled. With everything.”
Bruno looks at him. His eyes are soft, soft as cornflower petals. “There was never a moment where I wasn’t terrified. The only time I ever felt at ease, Abbacchio, was with you and everyone else. When you were safe.”
Leone doesn’t say anything. Can’t say anything, actually. Bruno walks past him, seemingly oblivious to what his words hath wrought, and stands beside the door. “I apologize,” he says. “I made this about myself when it’s not. This is your memory. Why don’t you show me what you would have done that night had you not been interrupted?”
“Uh,” Leone says. It’s taking a while for the stupefaction to wear off, and he’s only taken further aback by Bruno’s interest in a patrol cop’s scrubby lifestyle. "Uh, Yeah. I can do that, yeah. I mean, if you want.”
He goes to the door. Starts to turn the doorknob, stops. Then he goes to grab the frozen body of his ex-partner and sling it over his shoulders in a fireman’s carry. Grunts from the impact, because holy shit, why is everything in his mind so fucking heavy?
“We’ll need him,” Leone explains. Bruno looks....amused, but says nothing, just holds the door open for him. They go off, clunkingly, into the night.
The rain’s stopped but the street is still wet, and their footsteps echo a little too realistically to get used to. Buildings appear around them like from a child’s pop up book.
“Was he a good man?” Bruno asks.
Leone nods the best he can with Vitello’s whole torso against his neck. “Yeah. He was good. Stayed out of trouble. Knew about my bullshit, thought I was an idiot, but stuck out for me anyway. Had...had a girlfriend but no kids. Not that it makes it better.”
They’re coming up to a restaurant Leone recognizes. Compared to their old meeting space it might as well be a dump, but he keeps himself from commenting as he points it out to Bruno. “We’d always get dinner together after any shift we shared.”
The weight is lifted from his back as they go in. Vitello snaps perfectly into one of the booths, across from an in-uniform copy of Leone. Their table is set with bad beer in plastic cups and greasy pizza on greasy plates. Leone knows from experience that his portion will be half burnt and half raw. Leone knows he’ll eat it all anyways.
The figures have been stilled in the middle of a discussion. Bruno slides into the seat next to Vitello, smirking at how passionately he’s saying whatever he’s saying. “What are you two talking about?”
“Knowing him, La Nazionale.” Leone doesn’t sit down. He just hovers behind his copy, a shadow of his former self. “Well. He’s talking about it. I never really gave a shit. But it mattered to him, so.”
Bruno props his elbows upon the table, rests his head in his palm. Then he snaps his fingers and the restaurant comes to life. A department-store mannequin waitresses a tray of water bottles behind them. Barely-passed health inspection notices flutter against the window.
Vitello’s midsentence. “--and the FIFA regulations, they--” He makes a hand gesture that’s apparently supposed to describe the enormity of these regulations and ends up bumping Bruno in the shoulder, and then jumping because Bruno is there. “Oh, shit! Uh, sorry, hi! What--who are you?”
Bruno gives him his capo smile and extends a hand out to shake. Vitello’s bewildered, but takes it and shakes anyways. “Hi, I’m Bruno. Officer Abbacchio’s friend. I’ve heard so much about you.”
“Leone’s friend?” Vitello says, glancing over at the copy. “One besides me?” He looks earnestly, genuinely delighted. “Hey, great job, buddy! I’m proud of you! Knew it would happen for you one day!”
Leone chokes on his tongue and starts hacking up coughs. It takes three tries before he can snap his fingers hard enough to pause time. Bruno’s thrown his head back on the booth’s edge, shaking with laughter.
“I like him,” he declares.
Leone’s pinching the bridge of his nose. “Yeah. Yeah, that’s Vitello. Always said exactly what was on his mind.”
Leone drops his hand, lets himself look at him. Vitello’s appearance feels perfect-- curls just the right shade of auburn, smile dimpling just where it needs to be. This place is leagues away from where Leone is used to remembering him, so to be reminded of this, of him, of what Officer Vitello was when not bleeding out on a mouldy floor, it’s...nice. Painful, but nice, like getting a rotten tooth removed. Draining the pus. Leone wants to stay, wants to ask him more questions, but he knows that it would just be his perception of Vitello that answers. Too much lingering on these niceties, he knows, and it’ll just start to feel like robbing a grave for its jewelry.
“Let’s move on,” he says. Bruno nods, gets up, and gives the unmoving Vitello a polite bow as they go. This time they don’t need to walk as far; the scenery changes as soon as they open the door, and they step into a memory that’s already replaying, the building thudding with noise. The place is crowded with bodies, the lights dim and flashing, the floor sticky, the air thick with the smell of perfume and vodka. Ah, shit. Leone forgot about this.
Bruno shimmies past people who look less like people and more like low-poly characters from one of Narancia’s video games. Surveys the bar, then the dance floor, then looks back at Leone. “Huh. You never struck me as the nightclub type.”
Leone scratches the back of his neck. He’s pretty sure he’s never talked about himself this much, but with it all laid bare like this, it just keeps coming. “When I, uh, started getting in deep with the bribes and shit, I’d get...stressed. Felt like everyone knew, even though they were probably getting their pockets lined way more effectively than me. Didn’t know how to deal with it, but I knew that people went to these places to let off steam. This fine establishment was trashy as hell, but the drinks were cheap.” He gestures to an occupied table in the corner. There’s Vitello again, head resting on crossed arms, surrounded by a sea of empty bottles. “‘S where that problem started.”
Bruno gets closer to the table, then peeks underneath it to try and see Vitello’s face. “I think he’s sleeping. That’s...sweet.”
More guilt suddenly nags at him. “He’d only come to humor me.”
“Speaking of humor,” Bruno says, something mischievous in the quirk of his lips. Oh no. “Where are you?”
Leone does some mental math. Counts the bottles on the table as well as several shot glasses. Curses to himself. “Uh.” Oh no. “I’d be--”
The crowd parts on the dance floor. Someone’s dancing so fervently that several sober bystanders move back for their own safety. His appearance blends several time periods-- hair down to his shoulders, a cop hat on his head, his current outfit worn like a coat over the rest of his uniform. So with all the incriminating evidence combined, it is absolutely, unmistakably Leone Abbacchio who’s about to single handedly bring the roof of the clubhouse down.
The look Bruno gives him is almost one of betrayal. “You never told me you danced!”
“Because I don’t! Unless I’m--” He points to the tiny bottle museum. “That wasted.” Leone’s watching himself in horror. Some American hip-hop song that wouldn’t even have been out yet is playing. Past-Leone has his hands on someone’s waist and snaps his hips in a move so ambitiously salacious it’d give current-Leone a muscle sprain. “I don’t even think that qualifies as dancing. I don’t know what the fuck I think I’m doing.”
“Getting your freak on, apparently,” Bruno says. They watch in silence for a moment as Past-Leone changes partner after partner without discretion, and then Bruno speaks up like he’s commenting on uncertain weather. “So you...so you swing both ways?”
Leone can’t stop his eyebrow from raising. “I mean, have you seen me?” It comes out a little more sarcastic than he means it to. “Gender has never been a factor in anything I do.”
Bruno’s just staring straight forward. “Right,” he says, and then before Leone can ask why he follows up with “I’m going to go dance with him.”
“You what? Wait--”
It’s too late. Bruno crosses the floor, and Past-Leone notices him immediately. He bows, reaches his hand out, and Bruno takes it. He’s pulled into an embrace. Leone’s hand drops to the small of his back. The song changes to something slower.
It is then that the present Leone decides that every moment of human innovation that in any way contributed to this situation is garbage and should be thrown in the trash. Every moment, every last one, but especially whatever ones led to this song getting produced and his mother making him take tango classes.
Oh, if she could see now where her money was going to, she’d keel over and be dead before she hit the floor. This dance is vicious and raucous and totally improper, and even though the song doesn’t quite fit and his partner has a drunken stumble, Bruno makes it work as he always does. Leone watches him kick his leg out and swing it in an arc behind him, a move reminiscent of an ice skater. He’s pretty sure his past self has dropped his hand even lower. Leone needs to lean against the table to stay standing.
The feeling that rises up in him is the ugliest one yet. It’s another might-have-been, another never-was and never-will-be. He wonders, briefly, if this is Bruno somehow mocking him, but as Leone watches him roll his head back and grin as they switch directions, he knows it’s not malicious. So is this Bruno using him, then, as a stand-in for someone else that he can’t reach here? Fine, that’s fine, he can take whatever memories he wants, he needs it more than Leone does. What other use for this, for him, could there be?
They dance into a huddle of non-player-characters that burst into pixels from the impact. Leone repeats it’s not personal over and over again in his head so he doesn’t join them in exploding. Bruno lets out a giddy laugh as Past-Leone spins and then catches him, arms around his waist. Leone runs his hands down his face and forces himself to look somewhere else. Vitello’s still snoring gently in his seat, his uniform jacket fallen to the floor. Leone picks it up and lays it around his shoulders like a blanket.
“Thanks,” Leone whispers, in memoriam to someone whose sleep will never end. “Thank you. For everything. Don’t know if I ever got to tell you that.”
Bruno’s calling to him across the dance floor. “He’s fun!” he says.
“I can assure you he’s not!” Leone calls back, but Bruno’s already pulled back for another round. When Leone looks over to find him again, his copy is staring at him, head twisting all the way around to keep their eyes locked even as he turns.
“At least,” the copy says. His face turns into Vitello’s. Blood runs down from his hairline. “I’m not a coward.”
The Vitello-copy hocks up blood and spits it at Leone’s face, it runs down his cheek and disappears. Everyone in the fake-crowd is looking at him, he realizes, the weight of too-many eyes crawling like centipedes down his neck. He doesn’t need to look to know whose eyes they’ll resemble now. Coward, the many Vitello clones say. Coward. Coward. Coward.
“Buccellati!” Leone pushes his way onto the dance floor, bites his lip to keep it from trembling. “Buccellati, can--can we go, please?”
“So it’s Buccellati, now?” he says, untangling himself from the copy, seemingly unaware of the change. He looks put out, somehow. The building starts to melt, a glob of steel from the rafters falling and landing in Buccellati’s hair like a raindrop. He touches it, looks up. “Oh. Let’s go.”
They break through the throng of not-Vitellos into the club’s back hallway. Along the wall there’s a series of unmelted, stable-looking doors. “Does it matter which one we pick?” Buccellati asks.
Leone counts the doors, looks at the trims, the locks. Doesn’t recognize any of them. If they’re reconstructing a sample night, then...what? “Don’t think so.” It can’t, right?
So Buccellati picks the first one. As he reaches to turn the knob, time seems to slow for Leone as he begins to realize two things. The first is that he actually does recognize that door from one of his old apartments. The second is that he actually does remember how he used to follow up a night out drinking.
“Not that one,” he goes to say, but it’s too late, the disaster is already in motion. Buccellati opens the door to see a post-Passione Leone Abbacchio stark naked, crawling up on a messy bed, perching above some random clubgoer, hair hanging in his face and pulling his hips back for another thrust--
Buccellati slams the door shut. “I’m so sorry.”
“It was the stress,” Leone squeaks out. Even in dreams, where he looks exactly how he did in life with his face caked in the ideal amount of makeup, he’s blushing hard enough to seek part-time work as a stop sign.
“No, it’s fine.” Buccellati grips the doorknob so hard his knuckles turn white. His voice sounds like he’s sucked in helium. “It’s fine. Good--good for you. Better...better off than me.”
“Huh?” The supreme humiliation gets put aside for a second. “What, you...what does that mean? Did you never...you never dated? Always assumed you, uh, you had a--had a tall guy somewhere.”
“A tall guy?” Buccellati’s head drops almost imperceptibly. “You were the only tall guy I knew, whatever that means. And no. Anything like that would’ve been dangerous. A liability.”
“But…” Feels like his head’s been cracked open like a coconut, feels like his brain cells are being dried out in the sun. “But you...you never told us, uh, not to. That...wasn’t a rule?”
“I...no. Not for you all, it wasn’t.” His head really drops now. “I joined the mafia at twelve. I’ve had ample exposure. Just not the kind I would have preferred.” Leone decides he doesn’t like the sound of that, not at all. Buccellati stares rigidly at the door. “There wouldn’t have ever been a good time. There was never a time where I wasn’t a weapon.”
It’s like finding out he likes cowboy movies, just on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Leone can’t help it, he has to clarify. “But is that...something you wanted?”
Buccellati laughs. There’s no humor in it. “Something I wanted? Perhaps. Perhaps it would have been nice once, to want and then be wanted in turn. But that doesn’t matter and it hasn’t in a long time. It’s over now.”
Leone takes a step forward, but Buccellati snaps at him before he can even open his mouth. “I didn’t tell you this so you could pity me, Abbacchio.”
“I know,” is all he says. Slowly he reaches his hand out and puts it on Buccellati’s shoulder. Buccellati doesn’t tense, but he doesn’t turn around either. Leone leaves it there. Several moments pass.
Then a sensation pokes at Leone’s mind, like someone’s trying to stick their thumb inside his brain. There’s a foreign emotion spreading through him-- Leone recognizes it as envy, jade-green and desire-tinged and almost as self-aware and irrational as he’d felt in the club. His hand grows heavy. He looks down to see it sinking into Buccellati’s back.
“Shit!” He jumps back, pulls his hand free. The back of it is marbled with the signature pattern of Buccellati’s suit. There’s a similar smear of black down Buccellati’s shoulder blade. “What the fuck was that?”
Buccellati rubs at the spot on his back. “Hm. Interesting. Could it be that your mind is trying to combine us and solve the problem that way? One body wanting one soul? Considering how chaotic and painful it is to try and copilot or use our Stands at the same time, I couldn’t exactly blame it if it was developing this as a protection measure.”
“Yeah,” Leone says, sounding out of breath, still staring at his hand. Was that Buccellati’s jealousy he was feeling? Jealousy over what? Leone’s lifestyle? His opportunity to be close to someone else? What other reason was there? “Did you feel--”
“We should avoid contact,” Buccellati says. He turns towards the other doors, his footsteps echoing loudly throughout the hallway. “Avoid contact and keep going. Does it matter which of these we pick now?”
The strange stripe of color is starting to fade from his skin. “It can’t get any worse than that,” Leone mumbles. Oh god, can it? “Just try the next one.”
Buccellati tries the next one. The door opens into the team’s Napoli apartment bathroom. Buccellati doesn’t look at Leone, but his eyes narrow in questioning confusion. Steps inside anyways. Leone follows.
The shower’s running and the air is full of steam. Leone’s headpiece is sitting on the counter. An empty bottle of wine sits beside it. There’s another half-full one on the edge of the tub, and whoever’s bathing picks it up and takes a swig. Muffled sigh-like sounds come from behind the curtain. Real-Leone frowns. This isn’t worse, per se, but it does cement the fact that his life has all the comedic timing of a Russian classic doorstopper tragedy.
“Are you...crying?” Buccellati asks. “In our shower?”
“Sure am,” Leone groans. Buccellati’s already seen his pasty ass, he doesn’t give a shit anymore. “Hide for two hours, get wine drunk and bite down on a washcloth real hard and your roommates will never hear you. And yes, this was most nights. Which is why it’s popping up now.”
“That’s why my water bill was so high? Why didn’t you tell anyone?” He’s got the same look of betrayal on his face as he did finding out that Leone can dance.
Leone shrugs. “What was there to tell? I was dealing with it. This way I was just the jackass taking up all the hot water, and not the miserable drunk jackass taking up the hot water. Didn’t want to be just a liability to you.”
Buccellati jerks his head down, staring at the tile. He almost looks angry, but not at Leone. “You could have told us. You could have talked about it.”
“You could’ve, too,” Leone says softly. “You know that, right?”
Buccellati just turns towards the door, the one that would have led to their apartment hallway. It’s different now. This one’s light blue instead of white. “I know this room,” Buccellati murmurs. He runs his hand down the wood. “This is where my father must be.”
“Oh,” says Leone, eyes widening a little in surprise. “Good. Finally.”
“Thank you, Abbacchio,” he says. “For taking me here. And for letting me learn more about you.”
“Uh, you’re...you’re welcome.” Leone coughs. “Take all the time you need. I can go try and find a way out of here.” He turns to leave. “See what the brats are up to, go ‘n ki---help. Help Giorno.”
“Wait,” Buccellati says, a little too quickly. “You can stay, if you’d like. I’d...like you to. He would’ve wanted to meet everyone.”
“Oh,” Leone mumbles, throat dry. “Yeah. Yeah, of course.”
Buccellati holds the door open for him, and Leone steps inside. The room is set up almost exactly like he’d seen it in the other memory, except with sunlight and linen curtains flowing gently in the summer wind. The man’s still there, now laying in what’s more obviously a deathbed, pale and small in the sheets. Buccellati flits to his side without an ounce of hesitation, reaches for his hand, his spitting image.
“Papa,” he calls, gently, as if afraid to wake him. “It’s Bruno.”
Paolo opens his eyes. “Ah, Bruno. You’re back.” He smiles like he’s been cured, then he nods towards Leone, who’s dawdling awkwardly near the window. “Who’s this?”
“This is Leone, Papa. My companion-- one of my companions.”
Paolo looks him over, glancing at the hair, the lipstick, the clothes. Leone tries to stay as still as possible. “He looks strong,” is all Paolo says. It takes all of Leone’s willpower not to linger on how, on some level, that’s what Buccellati believes his father would say. “Good. Someone to look out for you once I’m gone.”
“You’re not going anywhere, Papa,” Buccellati says. “Not here.”
Paolo holds out his hand, gestures to Leone. “Come.” He’s paused, still hovering, before conceding that this is Papa Buccellati, the only man on earth with more inherent authority than his capo. Leone unpeels from the wall, slips his hand into Paolo’s open one, lets himself be pulled down until his ear is close to Paolo’s lips.
“My boy,” Paolo whispers, to him and only to him. “He can be an optimist, sometimes. He won’t want to think so, but I don’t have much time left. Take care of him for me. Take care of him when I can’t.”
Leone swallows. Tries not to choke. “I will.”
“I swear.” It’s firmer this time, and more solemn a vow than declaring loyalty to Passione. And much like Polpo’s test, he feels like he’s been pierced down to the soul, like there’s something new there in exchange. Something more.
“Good.” He smiles at them both. “Sun’ll set soon. Best time for bonito, I always say.”
But the sun never sets, and the wind never chills, and Paolo Buccellati’s eyes never lose their luster. They have time now. They have an eternity in the palm of their hands.
“Thank you, Buccellati.”
“Please,” he says. “It’s Bruno. Always. Bruno.”
“Thank you,” Leone says. “Bruno.”
It’s late afternoon. The spare room is clean. Well, the spare room is as clean as it’s going to get.
Mista sits in the kitchen with his feet up on the table, polishing his gun. A mason jar full of Buccellati’s ashes is tucked protectively in the crook of his elbow. When Fugo comes back he puts down the gun but not the mason jar. The mason jar he cradles with both hands.
“Hey,” Mista says. “How is everyone?”
“Giorno’s still passed out,” Fugo says, sounding like he’s not far from that himself. “I want him to stay that way as long as possible. Neither Buccellati nor Abbacchio are waking up, but there’s a pulse and they’re breathing, so who the fuck knows what’s going on with them anymore. Narancia’s crawled in bed with them to ‘watch for a concussion’, but seeing as he’s currently snoring, I think he just didn’t want to nap alone.”
“That tracks,” Mista says. “Keep waking up to him curled up on the foot of my bed. Gotta wear slippers to sleep now so I don’t kick him in the head too hard.”
Fugo sighs and pulls out one of the chairs to sit down. His knuckles are scraped raw. There’s a moment of silence. “You said you had a plan?” Mista asks.
“Something like one,” Fugo says. “First of all, I think we should get out of here and go back to Napoli. It’s not going to do us any good to hang around this miserable place anymore. Then we start looking into our Stand contacts, doing research. A Stand got us into this mess. I think one’s gonna have to get us out.”
“Huh,” Mista says, holding onto Buccellati a little tighter. “Funny. I thought you said we shouldn’t be using Stands for everything. If it’s not supposed to happen.”
“I don’t get you, man,” Mista continues, chuckling. “What’s your endgame here? You come back because you want Buccellati dead like he’s supposed to be?” His fingers twitch towards his gun. “Because you’re gonna have to go through me first--”
“No!” Fugo slams his fist down on the table like it’s a judge’s gavel. “That’s not what I meant! It’s--” He runs his fingers through his hair, grips his skull. “Look. All I know is that if I died, I don’t think I’d want to come back. I don’t think it would be natural or--or that it would feel good, and I know Narancia doesn’t remember what it’s like, but anything that’s out there has to be better than this, right? Eternal nothingness, even, would be better than a prison of existence.”
“I wouldn’t have brought them back, but here they are, and I don’t want to lose them. I don’t want them to have to go through that again, and I don’t want Buccellati and Abbacchio to suffer horribly if Abbacchio’s body decides it’s not natural after all. Does that make any sense to you?”
Mista shrugs. “I guess.”
“You guess? What do you think about it, then? I don’t think you’ve really said anything about anything that’s happened at all.”
“I don’t think about it,” Mista says, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “Trying this new thing I’m calling the quadraplex. I permitted myself to freak out for four days and four days only. Now I’m not thinking about it beyond the bare minimum until four months pass. I know you’re thinking that the four-to-four rollover would be bad luck, but it’s actually important here as a nullification measure. Keeps it balanced. Then after four months I reevaluate things on a biweekly basis, so once four years comes around, I’ll have thought about it 104 times. The 4 will absorb the residual negativity while the evenness of the 10 will bring positivity and alignment. I’ll be perfectly neutral. Quadraplex.”
Fugo opens his mouth, then gets the better of himself and closes it. “If that works for you, I guess.”
Mista traces circles on the jar lid with the tip of his finger. “You know,” he says quietly. “After I killed those guys, someone came to talk to me about it when I was in jail. I don’t remember what they said, but it was nice.”
“Yeah. But we’ve never...we don’t do that in Passione. Buccellati used to sit with me sometimes, and he always tried n’ wanted to help everyone, but he wasn’t--he’s not a, y’know, professional or whatever. And if I was thinking about all this, which I’m not, then it might be nice to--”
“We’ll go together,” Fugo says before he can stop himself. “To a professional. After this is over. We’ll find someone that we can trust and we’ll go. I don’t give a fuck if it’s not gangster enough or something. I’m sick of agonizing in silence. You bottle it up and it always bursts. We’ll go.”
“Okay,” Mista says, slowly nodding. “Okay. Yeah. We’ll go.”
It’s quiet for a minute. “We’re cool, you know that?” Mista says. “Know it probably doesn’t seem that way, but you and I are cool for now. Just thought you should know.”
“Thanks,” Fugo says, sounding a touch more affected than is typical for him. Then he clears his throat and does what he came here to do. “Can I get you to authorize us leaving tonight in Giorno’s stead, then?”
“No way we can leave without putting the vibrations in this house to rest. I’m not about to get my ass haunted for all eternity if Buccellati ever comes back as a crispy, vengeful ghost.”
“H--” Fugo starts to refute, because Buccellati is technically alive and the ass-haunting is pretty solidly restricted to one person, but he can’t finish, can’t even get a word out. Mista’s managed to stun him into silence the way only Mista can.
“We can leave tomorrow,” Mista announces. “After the funeral.”
for those that can't click the links, the songs that Ab-back-chio dances to are Get Ur Freak On by Missy Elliott and Genie in a Bottle by Christina Aguilera, respectively. Bailamos by Enrique Inglesias was a close runner-up for a tango candidate, but GIAB won out on the sole reason that it'd be more embarrassing.
It's like a wedding chapter, just in reverse.
Thank you for all your comments. I read every one and my heart bursts and tears fall out! Or something like that, anyways.
Upon being asked how he’d like to look at his own funeral, an idea that managed to persist beyond Abbacchio calling it every synonym of “horrendous” and “asinine” he could think of, Bruno Buccellati needed a moment to think about it. It was a long, quiet moment, like it was trying to already be part of the burial ceremony, but it was just a moment nonetheless.
“Fuck it,” he’d said. He was in Abbacchio’s body, after all. “Make me goth.”
Unfortunately for him, the resident expert on goth makeup refused to participate in this plan. No one else would back Abbacchio up, and that was maddening to him. Mista was the ringleader of this whole thing, Narancia was emotionally attached, fucking Giorno hadn’t made an appearance and Bruno was just letting everyone else do what they wanted to do. Fugo, even Fugo, the last bastion of rational thinking, had relented.
“It’s not the worst idea,” Fugo had said. “Keeping any part of Buccellati’s remains with us is a massive security risk, even with the addition of a failsafe.” His failsafe was apparently Purple Haze taking the mason jar of ashes deep into the woods, filling the jar with the viral gas, screwing the jar back up and putting it into a literal, actual safe. A fun surprise for anyone trying to break in. “We don’t know what an errant stand user might be capable of. Burying him here, anonymously, is probably our best bet. Also, Giorno’s never been to a funeral. Might be a good way to get him to process that this isn’t a viable option anymore.”
Fine, then. Leone leaves them all and wanders back inside the mind. He's not sure what he's doing, but it's definitely not wallowing or sulking or anything of the sort.
So it was Narancia who ended up inheriting Abbacchio’s dark legacy. Currently, he’s smacking his palm against the back of one of Giorno’s expensive eyeshadow palettes to get the little cakes of color to fall out onto a dinner plate, then smashing them all up with a fork to try and make a shade as close to black as possible. Bruno winces every time metal scratches porcelain. That’s Dior.
“What do we even call them now?” Narancia asks Mista, who’s sitting on the bed as he struggles with his tie. “Bru...abba?”
“Bruabba? What the hell’s a Bruabba? Who the hell’s gonna use Bruabba?” He carries on like Bruno isn’t there. Bruno says nothing, because it's a fair enough question. “How about Bucchachio? See, I’m liking that one. Spanish flair.”
“How about you call them by their names," Fugo scowls over his own tie. "Because this is still temporary?”
Mista looks extremely skeptical. “Yeah, but now there’s two of them. Scientifically, that takes longer to say. What if we have to yell at them or something?”
“Bu-cce-latti and Abba-cchio,” Narancia sounds out slowly. Then he says it as fast as he can. “Buchalattianabbichio.”
“Now that,” Mista says. “Was genius. We should all do that.”
“And you know what else you’re all gonna be doing, too? This makeup style, once I’m done designing it.” Narancia dabs a brush into the smushed-up pigment with glee. “You’re gonna look so good, Buccellati. Way better than Abbacchio and even better than that other goth guy I killed.”
Bruno scans his memory. “You killed a goth guy?”
“Not on purpose!” Narancia presses the tip of the brush under Bruno’s eye, almost parallel with his nose. Bruno's not an expert on dramatic makeup, but he’s pretty sure eyeshadow doesn’t typically go in the middle of the cheek. “Oh, we should fix the hole in Abba’s cloak before we go out there.” Narancia points with the end of the brush to Bruno’s stomach. “Funny story about that one, Buccellati.”
The tone makes Bruno brace for a story that’s not going to be funny at all. “Dunno if you heard or not, but it was actually Abba’s tit that got skewered and exploded and such. When Giorno fixed that hole up he like, grew a sheet of bat leather to fix the fabric and now you can’t even tell!” He pokes at a section of Bruno’s chest that is, indeed, more leathery than it should be. “Cool as shit, right? Not sure how we’re gonna fix the other one now that Giorno’s sick n’ all. We had to punch that one open ourselves to, uh, scoop some rot out. It was like Halloween in here. You know, like a pumpkin!”
On some level, Bruno can understand why Narancia might be telling him this. It’s a form of distraction, trying to keep his mind off the inherent gruesomeness of being cremated with the gruesomeness of something else. It would remind him a bit of how people show off scabs to delight in the disgust of it, how they present scars as badges of pride. Grim ways to find joy amidst violence. It would remind him of that, maybe, if he could think of anything else other than Abbacchio carved open. Like a pumpkin. Like a pumpkin.
Bruno feels the nausea start to rise back up, and he still can’t tell if it belongs to Abbacchio’s body or if it’s a sickness of his own making. Doesn’t matter, he swallows down bile either way. There’s a chorus of distaste from the rest of the room.
“God damn it, Narancia.”
“Agh, oh no!" Narancia's hands hover around Bruno's head, like he's fighting the impulse to grab it and shake the growing paleness out of his face. "I’m sorry! I'm so sorry! It was funny in my head!”
Hey, a voice says. The distress must have summoned him. You hanging in there?
“I’m fine,” he says to everyone, physically present or otherwise. “Keep going, Narancia.”
Narancia still looks stricken, and he reluctantly aims the brush like it's a loaded gun. Mista flips his fucked-up knotted tie over one shoulder and grabs a brush too. "I'll help," he says, and draws a big circle around Bruno's other eye. "Oh, fuck yeah. Look at that, Narancia. Now that's art."
You alright? Leone asks again.
"Mm," hums Bruno. He winces as Narancia firmly makes a circle around the other eye to match Mista.
...what are they doing to my face, Bruno?
He doesn't have an answer to that. His hand twitches and moves of its own accord, and he looks to see a shadow of Moody Blues around him. It's reaching out to grab a hand mirror and bring it up to his face.
Oh, fucking hell.
The switchover is the easiest one yet. Bruno feels Leone prodding at his mind and passes the control over gratefully, clicking into their places like a new face on a plastic doll. It's Leone who wrestles the brush out of Mista's hand and tosses it on the floor. Mista knows it.
"Look who decided to show up," he says, crossing his arms. "Thought you said you wanted no part of this?"
"I was more than content to mind my own business, but you're making us look like a goddamn raccoon," Leone says, grabbing Narancia's brush to toss it as well. Narancia just lets him do it. "Scram, all of you."
"You scram," Fugo pipes up, a kneejerk reaction to non-Buccellati authority. "We were here first."
"Yeah. We were here first, and we were busy,” Mista says. "He's a work in progress. Give Buccellati back."
"Absolutely not." He stands up, crumbs of makeup falling down his face. Leone grabs the discarded brushes, groaning as he bends over, and then starts to gather up as much of the cosmetic bags as he can carry. The others stand around and watch him do it, but Mista occasionally shouts "Hey!" as he reaches for something else. "I'll do it my-fucking-self," Leone says, and goes out the bedroom door, slamming it behind him.
Silence. Mista looks at Narancia, at the remaining makeup, at Narancia, then at Fugo. "Always knew he wouldn't know real art if it bit him in the ass. But we'll continue our masterwork, Nara. Fugo, come take a seat."
"I'd rather die, thanks."
"I can arrange that for you."
The rest of the makeup goes unused.
The lights in the bathroom make him look jaundiced, but that may just be his face now, so Leone sets up there anyways. He'll work with what he’s got.
Giorno packed enough makeup bags to beautify an army, so Leone has every tool in the catalogue at his disposal. Narancia was right, though-- there really aren’t any palettes dark enough for his usual, but he’s not just going to start wrecking things to compensate. He has standards, sometimes.
He’ll do a more neutral-toned face instead, he decides. More fitting for Bruno. Narancia hadn’t bothered to clean off the previous makeup, so he'll need to be thorough in getting it all off. Leone grabs a wipe and starts with that. He tries not to feel like he’s prepping himself for an open casket.
No one’s ever watched him do this before. It was always a private ritual, a transformation from some sleepy cocooned grub into a being that could be acceptably observed in public. Privacy’s a tricky concept now. Kind of overrated, when he thinks about it. Still, the extra eyes here follow his movements a little more closely than he was anticipating.
He swipes at his chin. “This interesting to you?”
Oh, I...sorry, Bruno says. You just...have freckles. I never knew that before.
“I do.” He does. They spatter the bridge of his nose, trail down onto his cheeks. “Don’t apologize. It’s fine. You should probably know that I burn real easy. All my foundation has SPF, but you should slap some sunscreen on just in case if you want to take me outside.”
You make it sound like I’m walking you like a dog.
“Uh, well.” Don’t blush, don’t blush, don’t fucking blush. He squirts out some foundation and smears it onto as face as fast as he can. The freckles vanish. “I just meant that I--you don’t have to be cooped up or anything like that. You can...do things. With...me. With the body.”
His own wording makes him cringe hard enough to get foundation in his eye. Hm, is all Bruno says, going quiet as Leone desperately cleans it out and then hurries onto eyeshadow so he can have something else to focus on. The familiar brushstrokes soothe him, give him some of his grace back. It’s soft, delicate work. Bruno watches.
“Know you’ve probably heard me say this enough,” Leone says. “But I think this is demeaning to you. You’re not dead, far from it. You shouldn’t have to play along with this.”
Bruno shrugs. To Leone it feels like a strange fluttering in his chest. I’m only partway playing along, he says. I’m hoping I can better accept it this way. Dead or not, I’m never getting that body back again. I should face it sooner rather than later.
Leone grunts. It sounds a little doubtful. “We’ll find something. We will.” He pulls back to inspect his work. The bronze of the smokey-eye would be a better fit on Bruno’s skintone. It's not goth either, but it’ll do. He starts on the eyeliner, surgically precise. “What would be the best outcome for you? What would be the best way to fix this?”
I have no idea, he says. I didn’t know this was possible. I don’t know what’s going to end up being possible. I just...have no idea. What’s the best outcome for you?
“For me? For you to be happy.” Well, shit, that was a little blunter than he was planning, but it’s out there now. “That’s...yeah. That’s--that’s it.”
Oh, Bruno says. Thank you. But you--
“I’ve been shitty to you,” Leone says. He recaps the eyeliner and moves onto mascara. “I was shitty to you at the start of all of this. I’ve been a shitty host.”
No, you haven’t. It’s a difficult thing to--
“I want to do better. This shit’s unfair to you.” He picks his lipstick, a shade midway between purple and a matching bronze, a compromise between them both. “I want you to feel--” At home here. No, that’s too much. “Comfortable. I want you to feel welcome, while you’re like this. This is your body too, for as long as you need it."
Leone pulls out a pair of scissors, positions the blades right above where his hair starts to spike at the ends. Snip, and it falls away. He cuts until his hair hangs straight, stopping just below his chin, not quite a bob but something close. He unpins his headpiece and sets it aside, brushing out two strands of hair and beginning to braid. Once it's done, he holds it in place at the top of his head with two familiar barrettes.
"Needed a haircut anyways," he says. "Is that okay? How does it look?"
...can I see?
Leone obliges. He slips out, they change places. Bruno adjusts to suddenly becoming corporeal, then looks in the mirror. The person staring back isn't him, but they look so good it almost makes up for it. The makeup shimmers gold in the yellow light, and the cut’s angle frames Leone’s features in a way that’s elegant. Bruno watches the barrettes gleam, how the silver hair shines. It's almost hypnotizing
"We look-- it's beautiful, Abbacchio. It's beautiful work. Thank you."
There's a blush of feeling, the same sensation as smelling a favorite flower. It must be Leone's pride, his confidence. Bruno so sorely wishes he could see it.
Good, he says. Are you ready for this?
"As I'll ever be."
I'm with you.
“If it helps,” Mista says midway through adjusting the cuffs on Giorno’s black suit. “Before you came, Buccellati used to tell us stories about capos who got Stand exhaustion. Wasn’t super common, but you’d hear about it sometimes when things got bad, when people got stressed. None of them did anything like raise the dead one right after the other, but the point still stands. Shit just breaks. It happens. You’re gonna be right back to normal anytime now.”
Giorno pauses in fixing his braid. “Did you see the room, then?”
“Uh, well, I mean, it was pretty roasted when I got there, but I noticed that things were a little twiggier than usual, if that’s what you’re asking. Not exactly what I was expecting, but you’ve been doing the impossible for as long as I’ve known you.” He shrugs. “If it had to be done, it had to be done. And I don’t mean any offense about the funeral stuff, mind you. I just really think we should cleanse our vibes before we go back to Napoli. Don’t want this house’s owner’s ghost to hitchhike back with us or anything like that.”
The owner of this house is very much still alive and quite a nice person, but Giorno just hums. He slips into his shoes, lets Mista adjust his laces. “What do people do at funerals, Mista?”
“Well, I’ve only ever been to one,” Mista says. "Old Nonna Mista, may she rest in peace. And it was extremely important that we made sure she really was resting. If her coffin wasn’t nailed down, I’m sure that woman, like, would just drag her ass back up topside to look for her smokes and start commenting on my dad’s weight. Man, she did not go down easy.” He hastily crosses himself, and then does a couple more strange gestures to cover the rest of his bases. “So, yeah, we did it as a way to let go, to make sure that who was going got a good sendoff. We all sorta lined up and said ‘see ya’ to her body, one by one, and then people took turns talking about her. Telling stories, saying things that were important to say. Stuff like that.”
“And the things that were important,” Giorno asks. “Were they always the truth?”
"Hell no," Mista says, chuckling. "If someone there spoke the whole truth about everything in her life, we'd need to be planning a lot more funerals. Nah, some shit we just had to gloss over for peacekeeping's sake. She was, uh, definitely not perfect. But no one is."
"No one is," Giorno echoes. He checks the mirror. He hopes he looks appropriately somber. "Mista," he says, addressing his reflection. "As my guard, you swore an unending loyalty to Passione with me as your Don. But as my friend, Mista...what are the limits of your trust?"
Mista's mouth goes a little dry. "My limits?"
"We turned from the former boss because of because of his cruelty towards the children of Napoli, including his own daughter,” he says. “What would make you turn from me?"
Mista blinks like there's a spotlight directly in his eyes. "Uh...well, weird question, boss. But I guess...what you said would probably do it. Cutting Trish's hand off again would probably make me think twice about this job, yeah."
Giorno nods. "Fair enough. Anything else?"
Mista bites his lip. "Well. You, uh. You brought all my friends back, and that was great. And I know things went a little wrong with Buccellati, and you're doing these things because you need to fix it, but...there are things you could do with your powers that could probably weird me out. There's a lot of potential there. Just saying. As your friend."
Giorno pauses. He turns around to look Mista in the eye. "Are you afraid of me?"
Mista's eyes dart toward the door and then back to Giorno. "In...a god-fearing sense, sometimes."
Giorno turns back around. "Thank you for your honesty."
"Yeah, yeah," he says, out of breath. "Anytime. So, uh, are you ready to go?"
“As I’ll ever be,” Giorno says.
“Cool,” Mista says. “I’m with you.”
Giorno isn’t entirely certain about that.
“Dearly beloved,” Mista begins. He’s using an upturned Louis Vuitton trunk as a podium. “We are gathered here today to remember the certifiably dope-ass life of one signore Bruno Buccellati. Who, let it be most crucially known, is actually not dead, but we’re all going to enjoy remembering him anyway.”
He’s addressing the menagerie of kitchen chairs he dragged out into the backyard, arranged in a semi-circle around a scraggly hole Purple Haze dug up before immediately going to take a shower. In it sits the safe holding the jar holding the dust that's left of Buccellati. It's surrounded by chrysanthemums; picked, not grown, as Gold Experience was deemed still too wan-looking to participate. So Giorno sits standlessly in the chair nearest to Mista, his eyes sunken into their sockets, staring at nothing. Fugo stands behind him. Narancia’s next in the line up, already starting to look misty-eyed. Then there’s Bruno, looking at anything but his own grave, hands folded neatly in his lap, poised patiently and politely as Mista speaks.
Well, as politely as he can be, considering that someone’s running a line of constant, biting commentary through his head. This setup looks like Alcoholics Anonymous trying to put on a summer camp, Leone says. He's right, but Bruno's not going to dignify that with a response.
“--going to read some shit I found online that’s supposed to protect us from possession by specters, so here goes.”
Oh, great. Wait, wouldn’t I technically be the specter right now? Is he trying to fucking banish me? Gonna take more than that. I’ll poltergeist him. Tell him I'll poltergeist him.
Bruno makes a small shushing noise under his breath. Mista clears his throat. "Spirits of the-- oh shit, what?” He stops to squint accusingly at the page. “It says no hats in the instructions. Why did I not see it say no hats?"
Wait, is he gonna take it off? Right now? Holy shit, I've never seen him take it off.
Bruno's never seen it off either, and the prospect makes his throat catch with something approaching fear. Mista sighs in defeat. "Fine." Then he pinches the top of that godawful cap and pulls it off like he’s peeling an extremely reluctant banana.
His hair is brown, as expected. A little curly, especially at the ends. It’s the style that’s the real bewilderment here-- somehow Mista has managed to get his hair shaped in the exact same way as his hat, just slightly shorter, just more uneven. It's longer in the back than in the front, and it almost looks like a--
Leone’s howling with laughter. He’s cackling so fiercely that, if he was in a physical body, he’d probably need to be concerned about popping a lung and choking to death. Bruno slaps a hand over his mouth to try to disguise the sounds slipping out of him as coughs.
A mullet! He’s got a fucking mullet! A mullet, Bruno!
Bruno’s reduced to mumbling words against his palm like a goddamn ventriloquist, too softly for anyone but his mind-ghost to hear. “Are you trying," he says, attempting to sound stern. "To get me to disrupt my own funeral?”
He can feel Leone’s lopsided smile. Is it working?
Bruno lets out another laugh-cough before taking a deep breath to center himself. Mista hasn’t noticed. “Narancia and Fugo are being more serious about this than us," Bruno says. "Narancia.” It’s true. The others haven’t reacted to Mista’s hair at all. Narancia looks even sadder, somehow.
“...so mote it be. Okay, done, we’re safe.” Mista pulls the cap back on in relief. “You are all so welcome. Now we’re each gonna say a few words. I’ll start.” He clears his throat again. “Booch, you were the best of all of us. I say “were,” not because you’ve passed into the veil beyond, but because I’m now professionally obligated to say Giorno is the best. This is the second time your body has died, and that’s awkward, and it also sucks. But I want you to know that you have nothing to worry about. I promise that if whatever Fugo starts researching doesn’t work out, he and I will pool our resources to make you a totally sick robot body--”
“I am not doing that.”
“---Narancia and I will pool our resources to make you a cybertronic robot body and it’ll be sick as fuck, no thanks to Fugo. We’ll make it solar-powered, but it’ll also have a zippered plug-in panel on it just for you, so you can unzip it, pull out the power cord, and then sock people over the head with the end of it. It’ll be, like, a whole theme, and I, for one, am very excited for it. Anyways, you’re a real one, Buccellati. Thanks for everything. Peace.” Mista makes a move like he’s trying to drop a mic, but there’s no mic, so he just tosses his papers to the ground instead. They land in the mud.
“Thank you, Mista,” Bruno says.
“So who’s next?”
Fugo groans. “I’ll go, I guess.” Sighs. “Buccellati. You--you made me feel like a person when no one else would. It would have been...upsetting...if you never got to know that. But now with this, all of this, I’m not sure I know what ‘personhood’ means anymore. God, this whole event becomes an existential nightmare the longer you think about it. Why did I agree to this?”
Coming to his senses once it's already too late...well, at least that’s a consistent trait of his.
“Hush,” Bruno whispers. “He tries.”
“Thanks for nothing, Fugo, again," Mista says. "Let’s move on to someon---”
Narancia bursts into tears. “I’m going back to school for you!” He smashes his moist face against Bruno’s shoulder. “I love you, Buccellati!”
Bruno puts his arm around him. “I love you too, Narancia.”
Narancia snuffles. “Tell Abba I love him too.”
Leone splutters. Is he blushing? Probably. Bruno just smiles serenely. “He says he loves you as well.”
Bruno waits for a correction, but it never comes. How telling. And everyone talked about Bruno’s soft heart like it was the only one in Passione. Mista claps his hands together to try to get back on the itinerary. “Great job, Narancia. Not only is crying apparently healthy, but it’s also really helpful for our psychic register. The salt, it’s protective.” Claps again. “Anything else to add?” He nods towards the Giorno-shaped elephant in the room. “Anyone?”
Everyone looks at Giorno. No one speaks. A bird calls.
“I’m sorry,” Giorno says. His face is downcast, his voice is raw. “I’m sorry, Buccellati. And…”
He trails off. There’s a beat of silence. “And?” Mista prompts.
“Nothing.” Giorno finishes. “That was all.”
More quiet. Narancia's holding his breath. "It's alright," Bruno says, sounding distant, like he's back inside Leone's mind.
"It's okay," he says. Giorno's head bows.
"I love you," Giorno says, softly, so softly. It's the truth. Bruno knows this.
Another beat. Then: "I love you, too."
Even the wind has stopped. No one dares to move, until Mista slips and knocks the Louis Vuitton trunk into the mud. "Fuck!" he shouts, loud enough to scare the birds away. Narancia starts snorting.
"Okay," Mista says, breathless. He's laughing, too. "Okay, that was a sign. Let's wrap this all up. Everyone, file out. Fugo, have Purp get the shovel."
Giorno stands, dusts himself off. "I'll help with the burial," he says.
Mista shrugs. "Sure. Alright, then. The rest of you-- well, everyone minus Bucchachio, 'cause it's your party-- everyone else can pack the car. We're Napoli bound, baby. Narancia, play our exit music."
Narancia grabs his boombox and presses play. The slick sound of a Spanish guitar washes over them all. Then the lyrics begin. “Man, it’s a hot one--”
Mista screams. Jumps over the Vuitton trunk to grab Narancia by the shirt-collar, shaking him. “Narancia! Why would you play a song that starts like that for a dead guy that died in a fire?”
Narancia kicks Mista in the shins. “Because we didn’t have anything else, dumbass!”
Mista throttles him. “Why didn’t you check the fucking car?”
Narancia sticks his finger in Mista’s ear. “Because you didn’t fucking tell me to check the fucking car!”
Ugh. Let’s go.
Bruno sighs. “Let’s.”
They wander down the gravel driveway, the screams escalating behind them. There’s a break in the noise-- “Wait, found another CD!”-- and then the call of a warbling, soggy flute, playing the opening notes of the Titanic’s famous theme song.
“Oh my god!” Narancia cries out. “His heart really will go on! That’s...that’s beautiful!”
Bruno walks a little faster. Fugo’s leaning against the car door. “Hey,” he nods to Bruno. He’s...smoking a goddamn cigarette?
Bruno does a double take. “Since when do you smoke?”
Fugo shrugs. “It’s a funeral. Found these in the house. They’re clove and stale and just taste like shit in general. Want one?”
Bruno takes one. Fugo lights it up for him. “I see you doing this again, I’ll kick your ass. You understand?”
“Whatever you say, old man," Fugo says. "Don’t forget you’re in an older man’s body now, too. Don’t think the Crypt-Keeper can land a punch without his bones turning to dust.”
Oh, that fucker! Fuckin’ let me at him, I’ll kick his ass on your behalf right fucking now.
Fugo smirks. “He’s mad, isn’t he? I can see it in your face. Speaking of which.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out the notebook he’s been working in. “I was wondering. What happens when you two are unconscious? Or when you're, uh, not here, but Abbacchio is? Where do you...go?"
"Oh. Well, it's almost like we both dream. There's recreations of our memories that become places. We stay in those, essentially."
"Okay," Fugo says, jotting that down. "Okay, yeah. Of course. Because of course when we're all freaking out about you falling over looking half-dead, you and Abbacchio are just fucking having tea-time through the method of loci." He cocks his brow. "Or are you--"
"We have to be careful about proximity," Bruno says, picking his words carefully, smoothly, but not smooth enough to be by Santana nor, dare it be said, featuring Rob Thomas. "We discovered that too close and we...we merge, or so it seems. One body can handle two minds, apparently, but just not at the same time."
"Huh," Fugo says. Makes another note. Looks concerned. "I saw the, uh, hair, was that--"
"On purpose, yes."
"Alright." He pauses. "And the eyes?"
Fugo frowns a little bit. "Probably nothing. They just look more gold than usual. Probably just the light." He makes one last note and then shoves it back into his pocket. "We'll leave soon. You know--" Fugo stops to take a hard drag on the cigarette. It's too hard. He coughs. "Shit. Ugh. I'm just trying to say that--that what Narancia and Giorno said is true. And that Mista may never say it, but it's true for him, too."
"He doesn't have to say it," Bruno says. "He doesn't owe me anything. None of you do."
Fugo shakes his head. "It's not out of obligation, Buccellati. It's the truth. You--you don't know what you not being there did to us. To me. We…" His shoulders shake just slightly. "I love you."
Bruno takes a step towards him. He drops his cigarette, stubs it out with his shoe. Fugo swallows and stubs his out too.
"Can I hold you?" Bruno asks.
Fugo's voice cracks. "Please."
Bruno wraps his arms around Fugo's chest, presses a kiss to his head just like he did to Narancia. "I should have never left you," Fugo says. He knows that Bruno won't remember that, can't remember that, but it needs to be said, so it's said. "I shouldn't have."
"I love you too," Bruno says, and it's forgiveness, and it's enough. "Are you going back to school like you told me you wanted?"
"Oh. Uh...I will, one day." He frowns, pulling back and loosening the hold a bit. "God, you smell like Abbacchio. That's--that's weird."
Bruno drops his arms. "Well. That's how it is now." Scratches at his elbows. They both look elsewhere, like they're searching for something to make them forget that the arms that should have been holding him are burnt and buried behind them. Celine Dion restarts. Mista screams in rage.
The car ride back is just as quiet as the car ride there, when the van was stocked with unmoving bodies and their shrouds. Giorno had sworn over the steering wheel that when they were done here every seat would be filled with their friends, alive and well again. Now there's one empty, a crack in the promise. Yet the ride goes on. The countryside is beautiful, green, and endless.
But Bruno decides that he prefers to see it in his dreams.
Giorno's estate is a den of decadence. It's dripping with gold, polished shiny as a mirror, as pruned and cultivated as a prize-winning rose. It's a veritable live-in gallery, stocked wall-to-wall with the finest paintings Italia has to offer. There's a library you could get lost in. Art lovers like Buccellati and Abbacchio could spend weeks in the foyer alone.
But all Bruno cares about right now is where he can sleep. They’ve discovered that at least one person needs to be present for the body to actually rest. Both of them dreaming isn’t the same as sleeping. The exhaustion is down to the marrow.
He's shown his room. There's a four poster covered in red velvet, making the bed look like something that should be bought in a bakery rather than laid on top of. They've already brought over his personal effects from the old team apartment, boxes stacked and lining the walls. Bruno doesn't know when he'll look through them. He doesn't know if his things will feel like his.
He collapses into bed face-first. It hurts his stomach, but the sheets are soft enough to almost make up for it. They're silken and amber scented and Bruno presses his nose right into them. Then his eyes widen as he pulls back and sees a print of Abbacchio's nostrils made in foundation on the silk.
You should probably clean up, Leone says. You'll sleep better that way.
Bruno groans. He's right, but…
I can do it for you.
That gets him up. "No, no. I'll do it." He goes to the bathroom and turns on the tap. The sink is huge, the water is warm. He dampens a washcloth, washes his eyes. Sighs as it darkens with pigment.
Do you want to shower?
The washcloth slips from his fingers and lands with a plop on the counter. “I--”
Shit, sorry, I wasn't trying to make it weird. I just meant that...I thought that it would feel nice?
Not feeling greasy would indeed be an improvement. Bruno’s head still reels, though. "I...suppose that it would."
Leone's still going. While we're not Mista-level smelly, unless fucking Giorno was bathing me in my sleep, it's been a long time. And I'm not gonna think about that possibility too hard, because I'll give us both an aneurysm. So I can jump in there and do it, if you want. Or...you could take your time with it, if you want that instead.
Bruno picks the washcloth back up to hide as much of his face as he can in it. "You'd really be alright with letting me just...do that?"
Well...yeah, he says. When I said that this is your body, I meant it. Showering is a simple pleasure, right? You’re entitled to those. You’re not a prisoner. You’re alive, too.
“Not personal,” Bruno murmurs, more or less against his will.
Yeah, Leone says. You don’t have to, if this is too much. There’s no pressure to...be a certain way. I just wanted you to know that you could.
“Thank you,” he says with the voice of the man that’s been given an unthinkable gift. “I’ll get over myself. If you’re sure you’re alright.”
Of course. If there’s anyone I’d trust with that, it’s you. I’ll leave you alone.
And Bruno’s left alone, with only his reflection watching. He does not look back at it as he takes off Abbacchio's clothes. He does not look at the fresh bandage that Giorno insisted on putting on his abdomen. He starts resolutely ahead as he steps into the tub and pulls the curtain closed. He does not look down.
The water is perfect, its temperature exact. The soaps are the finest on the market: goat's milk, sheep's milk, honeyed shampoo. Bruno washes silver hair mechanically, feeling just as silver, feeling metallic, robotic. The longing that fills him then is unstoppable and so very human, and Bruno bites his lip when he feels the gravity of it.
He should have kept his hair longer, Bruno can't help but think. Should have kept it long so it can hang in his face, just like it did in the dream we walked in on. So it can hang down, long and beautiful, as he starts to--
The arousal that curls in his stomach is viperous. It bites him, filters venom through his blood, threatens to swallow him whole. The shame of it is immediate. He folds his arms across his chest as if to physically hold it back, but is instead struck by how strong his chest feels. Firm. Another shock of heat flashes through him.
Bruno presses his head against the corner of the shower and stays there. The water only sprays his back and he gets cold, but the guilt doesn't let him move. He's so pent up that it makes tears prick at his eyes, and he shudders as he breathes. He feels the sensation of approaching footsteps. Shudders harder. There's nowhere to hide.
Uh, Leone says by way of announcing himself. I wasn't going to bother you, but I...I could feel you were upset, so--
Leone pauses. Bruno knows what he must be feeling now, what he must have realized. He does not dare speak. The newly shortened hair hangs in his face, damp and sad.
Shit, he finally says. That's embarrassing. I should've, uh, should've-- well, it's been a long time, and, you know. Showers. They're hot. The water, it's hot. Steam, too. Sometimes it…does things. To me. The temperature, that is.
Bruno says nothing. The water comes down, down.
“You put your trust in me,” he says, miserable. “And I...:”
Hey, hey, Bruno, no. You haven’t done anything wrong. It happens. You’re alright.
"My mind was wandering," he admits.
Again, it's fine. It’s normal. You can do what you need to do.
“What I need to do?” Bruno chuckles, delirious. “I don’t--”
The call snaps him out of it. You’re allowed to want things, Leone says. Wanting keeps us alive. I know that probably better than anyone. You should do what you want to do, Bruno.
Then the presence recedes. He’s by himself again, and wanting rises up in him like a fever. He’s been issued an order. So he follows instructions.
Bruno lets his hand trail downwards. His body burns. The little jolt of pleasure that goes through him at the touch is almost what he’s used to, almost universal, but there’s some edge to it that must be distinctly Abbacchio. The difference is fascinating, the shame fluttering away. He lets himself slip lower, between Abbacchio’s thighs.
He gasps and covers his mouth. Leone said his body was low-rent accommodations, but the first-hand experience points Bruno to the contrary.
Once he’s adjusted to the feel of it, he starts off the way he likes. Slow, steady strokes in his palm, delicate attention paid to the head, occasionally a little reckless for a little bit of pain. If he had his way he'd be taking his time. He'd be teasing out every difference, he'd be doing things the way Abbacchio liked them. If he had his way he wouldn't be alone.
Another life, maybe. In this life, he’s not sure what went so wrong as to not only kill him but to make this situation, of all things, feel platonic. Because that’s what it must be. They told each other it wasn’t personal, so that’s what it must be. So he speeds up to get it over with and tries not to think of the man with bitter eyes and strong arms and a good heart in his chest. The man who, borrowing Fugo’s words, made him feel like a person. How perfectly put. But Bruno can’t let him know. He can’t know. He can’t, he can’t, he can’t--
Bruno comes with a sob. It takes the last of his will to stay awake with it. He shuts off the water and dries off in a trance, stumbling back to his room in the dark. He barely gets on some semblance of a nightshirt before falling back in bed. Closes his eyes. Then he opens them back up as he feels a weight in the bed beside him.
Sitting there is Moody Blues, glowing softly in the dark, a phantom in lilac. It reaches out its hand and puts it close to Bruno's back, not quite close enough to touch. It clicks at him.
You're not alone, it says in Leone's voice.
Bruno falls asleep protected. Moody Blues keeps watch.
"Turns out Koichi Hirose is a really nice person," Mista says, flopping on the library's couch. "His Italian's just okay, but he's really nice when, y'know, you don't immediately steal his passport and all his money and belongings."
Giorno shrugs. "It's not my fault he didn't know our customs." He flips a page in the book he's reading. "What did he say?"
"He sent the files. Fugo's reading them now. Man, I still wish we could call that doctor guy. Or anybody else from that cool foundation Polnareff was talking about."
"Yes,” Giorno says. “The foundation. Did Koichi mention reporting back to them? About us making contact?"
Mista shakes his head. "He didn't say anything, but it's their research, so I imagine he'll have to. I mean, he had to talk to Dr. Kudo or whoever to even get the files in the first place, and who knows what he told him? I think we can pretty safely assume that we're in their debt, now."
Giorno purses his lips. "I suppose we are."
Fugo throws open the door. "Holy shit," he says, wondrous. "The Speedwagon Foundation is fascinating. Why haven't we contacted them before? Or even heard about them, at least?"
"I can only assume," Giorno answers, a little coolly. "It's because having a third-party potentially interested in cataloguing our Stand users would be a massive threat to the way we operate." He closes his book. "They'd be a last resort. I trust you found some useful information?"
"Yeah,” he breathes. “So much. The range of variation between case studies is incredible. There's Stands without users, stands that essentially are alternate dimensions, stands that combine with or just are their own users, the latter being the most interesting. I mean, we have that guy in the turtle to sort-of back up that last one, but having it scientifically documented is significant. I always assumed that there'd be limits to the way Stands could exist and the forms they could take, but god, there's really not. Which is good for us. That's very good." He bites his lip. "The bad news is that I think we're going to have to act fast."
Mista cranes his head. "Oh?"
"They're...fusing,” Fugo says.
Mista cranes his head further. It looks painful. "They're what now?"
"I talked to Buccellati about some of the mechanics of the bodysharing thing. I think every time they've tried to move the body at the same time, or they interact too closely, they merge a little bit more." He pulls out his notebook, flips to a page. "It's definitely already happening. And even if they manage to avoid merging any further, I'm concerned that the longer we wait, the harder it's going to be to pull Buccellati out. Like, you can tell it's him when it's him, beyond just mannerisms and the haircut. Something changes in Abbacchio. The angles in his face, the eyes look different, things like that. It's like Buccellati’s getting anchored to the body."
"Becoming Bruabba Bucchachio forever," Mista says sagely.
"Stop fucking calling them that, but yeah. That's my concern."
Giorno's brows are furrowed. He rubs at his temples. "Print out every case study that you think is relevant. I'd like to read through them myself." He steeples his fingers. It looks very boss-like. “I’m assuming you already have a plan as to how we can best use our Stands to avoid this?”
“I think I have an idea, yeah,” Fugo says. “But I don’t think you’re going to like it.”
the devil driving my brain: this is technically a period piece, make a bunch of dated musical jokes
me: aye aye cap'n
On that note: the songs in this chapter are Smooth by Santana (featuring Rob Thomas) and My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion, respectively.
tried to support as many bucchachio gender hcs as possible. you got a good one? it's canon now.
i went back and forth with myself whether or not to tag this character death but ultimately decided not to, but please keep that in mind before reading. this chapter was challenging and may be intense. coming back to life is hard.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Upon being asked if they were willing to make a certain sacrifice in exchange for Bruno having a body again, both Abbacchio and Buccellati needed a moment to think about it.
Abbacchio took longer to deliberate than both he or anyone else expected. “Take it,” he said in the end. “If that’s what you need, take it. It’s not like I ever treated it as good as I should have.” He laughs. It’s regretful, with a little self-loathing on the side. “Maybe it’ll be better appreciated this way. Better appreciated with Bruno. Take it and do what you need to do.”
Buccellati was less certain. “What am I supposed to say? That it’s fine?” He sighs, and the mourning is cavernous inside him. “Either this or I risk dissolving into someone else. Everyone else’s minds are already made up, aren’t they? Just do it. No matter what I say, I won’t be able to stop this.”
Buccellati was right. He wouldn’t be able to stop this. It’s the nuclear option for a nuclear problem, and it has already been decided. His team has decided it’s not over.
They’re back in their old shared apartment to carry this out. Buccellati’s bedroom is set up like an examination room, a disconcerting parallel to the hospital Paolo died in. Giorno’s in his coat, carrying a clipboard with the printed-out case studies, tangible reminders that what they’re about to do is in the realm of possibility. Fugo’s pacing without knowing he’s doing it. Narancia and Mista both sit in the corner with their hands between their knees. Leone just stands there. Terror reaches all the way down to the soles of his shoes.
“I don’t trust you,” he says to Giorno for what must be the thousandth time. “Your Stand still looks like shit.”
“We all vetted Gold Experience,” says Fugo for what must be the hundredth time. “It’s recovered enough to do what it needs to do.”
“This is not my preferred solution, Abbacchio,” says Giorno for exactly the eleventh time. “It’s the quickest option for separating Buccellati and allowing him to inhabit a physical form. It’s the best solution we have, so let’s not delay any farther.” He glances at their written-out plan on the clipboard. “Abbacchio,” he says clinically. “Please summon Moody Blues and have it rewind to the occupant of this spot on March 3rd, 2001, at 2:28 PM.”
Moody Blues oozes into existence. It treads dutifully to the spot Giorno’s pointing at and begins to resculpt itself. Black hair, white suit, blue, blue eyes. Bruno Buccellati as he was in life. Leone stares at it, captivated. He’d seen this Bruno in his mind, of course, but seeing him again in person feels like an epiphany. Bruno, Bruno, out here among them all like he should be. He reaches out before he realizes what he’s doing, stopping just short of his fingers brushing the copy’s cheek.
Giorno continues. “Gold Experience will now attempt to freeze the recreation of Buccellati.” The Stand appears just as announced, hovering behind Giorno, and in Abbacchio’s professional opinion, still shitty-looking. It floats over to not-Bruno and rears back its fist. Leone’s stomach drops.
Gold Experience punches not-Bruno in the face. His head doesn’t move, but Leone’s does, snapping to the side as agony flowers in his cheek. “Fuck!” he shouts at Giorno, rubbing his jaw. Moody Blues’ Bruno flares with a gold film.
“I think that worked,” Giorno says. “Gold Experience’s ability should keep it from returning to Abbacchio’s body.”
Fugo makes a circle around not-Bruno, looking it up and down. “Yeah, looks like it worked.”
“We’ll continue, then,” Giorno says. “Now for Abbacchio.”
Gold Experience looks at Leone with its beetle eyes. Leone takes a step back with his hands raised. He strains to look past it at where not-Bruno gleams. “Hey, hey, maybe we could all take a minute to--”
A punch catches him in the ribs, and Abbacchio crumbles. Narancia and Mista rush to grab his body before it falls. "On the bed," Giorno urges. They maneuver him until he's laid out on the sheets, looking prone, looking vulnerable.
Everyone stands around his body. Giorno puts on gloves, just in case.
"Now," Giorno says. "Comes the fun part."
Giorno peels back the bandage covering the stomach wound and tosses it away. Using Gold Experience, he phases his hand through the hole, reaching upward under Abbacchio's sternum. It's not actually a physical process, but things squelch anyways. Narancia looks like he's about to be sick.
"There we go," Giorno grunts. He unwraps the tethers of their souls from around Abbacchio's heart and pinches them, pulling the ends out. "What do you think?"
"Looks great, boss," Mista says. "Can't actually see them, though."
"Oh, right." Gold Experience sends a pulse of life through them. The shape, outlined in a faint gold, becomes visible. The ghost of a pair of chains. Well, less so a distinct pair, and more of a knotted mess, like a necklace that went through a washing machine no less than six separate times. One chain is visibly smaller, the links bent and uneven. One is stronger-looking and bright: Abbacchio's, already treated by Gold Experience.
“Goddammit,” Mista says, once the magic of the moment wears off. “This is what you meant by them anchoring to each other? Undoing all that is gonna suck. Well, guys.” He flicks out his arm, and all the Sex Pistols walk down it like it’s a bridge and they’re the Seven Dwarves. They all leap onto the mess of chains, whistling rabidly, tiny gremlin hands working to clean up all the knots. "Let's get to work.”
It’s a blur of activity, full of the sounds of metal clanking and high little voices squabbling at each other. Mista picks through with his fingernails and pulls out the sections that the Pistols untangle. They make good progress. Clean, straight chains grow like vines, inch by inch.
"I can still hear you saying," Mista mumbles, singing to himself. "You would never break the chain."
"Oh god," Fugo says. "Please don't actually break the chain."
"Might have to. Look." Both Mista and Numeri Sette point to a snag. Through the silhouette Giorno’s given them, they can see that several of the links in both Abbacchio’s and Buccellati’s chains interlock around each other. Numeri Due tries to pull them apart. They rattle uselessly.
“Whoa,” Narancia says, eyes wide. “Merging. Fusion.”
“How’s his breathing, Narancia?” asks Giorno.
“Good! Normal. Like he’s sleeping.”
Giorno nods. “Have Aerosmith hover above the body cavity. We’ll tie the ends of the chains to the landing gear to give us better access to all angles. Do you think you can open the links back up, Mista?"
Mista pokes at one. "Looks like there's seams. They're already kinda melty, so yeah, I can try." Looks at Giorno. "Will that hurt them, though?"
Giorno flips through his clipboard until he finds a bookmarked page. “According to the case files, Stands that create physical representations of other people's souls for non-offensive purposes don’t tend to transfer damage done to the object they make to the soul itself. In the example of a Stand that turns souls into poker chips, SPW reports that dropping, scratching, or denting the chips had no effect on the recipient’s soul. Same thing with a Stand that turns people into books.” He frowns a little at that image. “Ripping pages out of the book-person causes them to lose memories as well as decrease in body mass, but no actual harm is done. Considering that we’re just doing alterations and not removing anything, I think we’re in the clear.” He says that tentatively, like with all conclusions drawn from Speedwagon research.
“Good enough for me,” Mista says. “Scoot over, Sette.”
Narancia hoists the ends of the chains onto Aerosmith, and Mista starts plucking at the merged links until they bend open. With what looks like tiny ropes dangling from a plane, the process now seems more like a military operation than a magical intervention. Mista unhooks the connected loops, but then grunts in frustration as more appear further downward.
“Ugh! They’re making more of them!” A knot undone by Numeri Tre reties itself. “What the hell? Is Abbacchio doing this?”
“What, being stubborn, unwilling to let things go, and resolutely attached to Buccellati?” Fugo says. “I’d bet on it. He’s probably trying to fit in one last tea party.”
“Keep going, Mista,” Giorno says. “We’ll get them eventually.”
Leone lands in the little town in his mind flat on his ass. This place, an un-memory of the afterlife left behind, is supposed to make him feel tranquil, feel like nothing. He scrambles to his feet and breaks out into a run through it instead.
Bruno’s where he always is: at the cafe. He’s holding a shaky approximation of a carrot and cooing at the street, trying to summon Slow Dancer while he still can. He looks up in surprise as he sees a glowing-gold Leone barrelling towards him.
“Is it my turn for something?” Bruno asks.
Leone slams his hands on the cafe table. “I don’t trust Giorno,” he pants.
Bruno rolls his eyes, sucks his teeth. “Thank you for always keeping me updated on the latest.”
"No," Leone says, making the table settings shake a bit. "He didn't give me any time! He didn't give me any time, and I saw you, and I need to-- I have to--"
There's a loud cracking sound, like a thousand bones breaking at once. The town's road splits in two, bits of asphalt turning to ash and fluttering away into nothing. Like lava, the void rises from underneath. Tar seeps towards them.
"Shit," Leone says, bouncing from foot to foot. "Shit, shit's breaking, and I-- we need to run, Bruno. Will you come with me?"
He holds out a shaking hand. Bruno looks at it, brows furrowed, fingers tentatively seeking. "Weren't we just supposed to stay here and let it happen?"
"I just need a moment," he pleads. His hand reaches. "A moment, before it's over. There's something I need to do. Do you trust me?"
Bruno takes his hand immediately. "With my life," he says. Behind them, darkness surges. One of the buildings gets swallowed by a sinkhole. Leone holds on tight.
"Run," he says, and so they do. Hand in hand they run to the edge of town, where another ninety-degree drop has appeared, just like before. They jump off it blind, plunging into dark sky. Stars light themselves like candles, numbering in the millions. A spaceship scoops itself up around them. They both get donned in colorful, futuristic uniforms.
Leone supposes the dream’s emulating movies he’s seen, like with Bruno and Steel Ball Run. He really couldn't give a shit about that right now, though. He keeps running through the spaceship, passing through a holographic map of other planets, leading Bruno onto the captain's bridge. "I made a promise," he says, never stopping, never letting go of Bruno. Their hands melt together, he doesn't care. "To three good people. To you, that I wouldn't die bound by the past. To your father, that I would take care of you. And to Vitello, that I would stop being such a fucking cowar--fuck!"
The bridge collapses, the ship torn open. They're sucked into the vacuum of space, spiraling into patterns of black, white. The shades turn solid but stay thin as paper, transformed into the set pieces of a silent film. Leone’s dressed the part of an antique cop with billy club, Bruno wears a bowler hat, a suit, white gloves, and is made up in the wild eyes and dark brows of the leads at the time.
Leone tries to speak, but the words come out as text that insert themselves into the scenery. I JUST NEED TO TELL YOU SOMETHING, it reads.
IS THIS ABOUT THE SHOWER? Bruno asks.
WHAT? NO! They’re hurrying down a set of train tracks. The train is coming. A live orchestra hoots a whistle at them. Leone narrowly avoids an ill-placed banana peel. IN CASE I DON’T MAKE IT THROUGH THIS, I WANT YOU TO KNOW--
The train speeds up, the whistle hooting so furiously that it just sounds like a scream. It bowls them both over and explodes into cinders. When the air clears enough to see, everything is still black and white, but they're under a streetlight on a road in a distant city. Leone's a hardboiled detective. Bruno's five foot ten of trouble in a trenchcoat that blew into his office with a case only Leone could solve.
"Take my body," Leone says, smoke from his cigarette curling in the air. "If I don't make it, if this doesn’t work, I want you to have it. Everything I have, Bruno. It’s yours.”
“Don’t talk like that,” Bruno says. “You’re not dying. This isn’t your will.”
“But you have to know, Bruno,” he insists. A bitter wind blows. “You gave me my life back. I want to give you yours if you need it. Because--”
The wind picks up violently, swirling around them both, pulling them apart and Leone spins, spins, spins until he realizes he’s being spun in the arms of a waltz partner in a royal ballroom. The floor is crowded with dancers all dressed as luxuriously as the people in some of Giorno’s paintings. He pushes past them, searching the crowd, feeling like he's drowning. "Bruno!"
There-- the gleaming of barrettes like a lighthouse in the fog. Bruno's wearing the ruffled, velvet finery of a noble and stuck in a waltz of his own. Leone pulls him free of it as the building lurches. All the other dancers drop down dead, shot and stabbed. The void breaks through the windows, crawls across the floor. It eats all the light, eats everything, its hunger unknowable.
Leone tugs Bruno into one of the palace’s winding hallways, and they run past torn-apart bedrooms and caved-in dining rooms and bathrooms that disappear before their eyes. They run and run but the carpet turns to sludge and they slide smack into the palace’s end, a great brick wall that stretches in every direction. The floor drops away behind them, leaving them in the emptiness with only the little island they're standing on.
"Got 'em!” Mista says. He holds up two separate, disconnected lengths.
“Great job, Mista,” Giorno says. He takes the end of Buccellati’s chain and hands it to Gold Experience. “Now for the fun part.”
“You keep saying that,” Narancia says, “But it never gets any more fun.”
“Just think of it as advanced team bonding, Narancia.”
"This is it," Leone says. Smacks his hand against the wall, laughs. Gallows humor. "We can't go any farther. Giorno's gonna kill me."
"One of those things is true, yes."
Gold Experience pushes the end of the soul tether into Moody Blues like threading a needle. The copy ripples like dropped jelly, but the chain goes all the way through. Purple Haze grabs it as it emerges from Buccellati’s back, holding it there. Giorno pulls more chain out of Abbacchio like unwinding a winch.
“Is it ready, Fugo?”
Fugo nods. “On your order.”
Leone tugs at his frilly coat sleeve, at his high ribboned collar. "This is it and I'm dressed like this."
Bruno looks him over. "I think it looks good on you."
“Pull, Purple Haze.”
Purple Haze pulls, starting the most mystical game of tug-of-war anyone’s ever seen.
"I love you," Leone finally says, finally getting to the goddamn point. "I love you, Bruno."
Bruno looks at Leone. Leone looks at Bruno. Then Bruno is gone, yanked away into the night.
The pain of it is so great that all Leone can do is laugh and laugh and keep laughing. He closes his eyes and lets the night take him too.
Buccellati’s ghost comes out of Abbacchio and goes flying into the copy. On impact with his soul, Moody Blues showers the room in static and struggles to stay solid. Narancia rushes to its side. A piece of chain lashes out of Buccellati’s chest, flailing like a dying eel. With a shout, Fugo grabs it and shoves it back inside.
“Hold him,” Giorno orders. “Until it takes.”
Narancia wraps his arms around Buccellati’s waist. Fugo holds his back. Giorno takes his wrists like he’s checking for a pulse. Mista, with nowhere else to go, curls up around one of his legs. A piece of chain snakes around Buccellati’s ankle. Mista swats it into submission. “C’mon, Boochie Blues,” he says.
“Don’t--ugh--don’t call him that,” Fugo says.
Giorno agrees. “His name is Bruno Buccellati,” he says. “And he’s going to be fine.”
When Bruno wakes up, he goes from dreaming about a dance in a palace with Leone and an important sentiment he can’t quite remember to staring at an expanse of absolute darkness. He feels nothing about this development. If he weren't emotionally numbed, however, it would probably be a great disappointment. Maybe even the second greatest.
A switch is flipped, and then there’s light. Red and blue make purple make Moody Blues, who appears out of nowhere and gives Bruno a little wave.
“Hello,” Bruno says on reflex. “My team, they were...looking for you.” It comes out uncertain, because now Bruno can’t clearly remember why they were looking in the first place.
You found me, it says in Leone’s voice, finishing Leone’s line.
“So I did,” Bruno says. “Where are we, exactly?”
A dream, Moody says. A tune from Long Distance Voyager plays.
Bruno frowns. Something in his memory is starting to breach the surface. It’s uncomfortable. It nags at him.
"Oh," he says. A part of him wishes he could have just stayed numb. "We're here because they're going to try and put my soul into the copy of me you made."
Bruno sighs. All this, it makes him ache. "Are you sure you're alright with this?"
You gave me my life back, it replays. I want to give you yours if you need it.
"Thank you," Bruno says, though he knows nothing will be enough. "For everything, everything you've done for us. You've saved us countless times. You were an excellent agent, Moody Blues."
It beeps and reaches out its hand towards Bruno. Bruno takes it, and Moody pulls him into position for a last dance. The tango begins.
They dance through memory, starting from Bruno's very first. He's being held and read to by his mother, then he's being tucked into bed. He's watching his father shave. He's learning how to brush his teeth. His mother leaves him. Every moment of boredom and joy and fear and sadness and anticipation from his childhood he lives again, a perfect replay. He kills two people. He meets Polpo. He’s a dying weapon in someone else’s hands. He kills, kills, kills. His father dies and he can’t stop it. He meets Fugo, and a little light comes back in his life. Abbacchio. Narancia. Mista. Breakfast with the team, aching feet after a long night working. Another fight, then Giorno. Then Giorno’s plan. Then Trish, and their promise of protection.
Then San Giorgio Maggiore.
The dance ends there. Moody Blues is gone, and Bruno is left alone in the shadow of the tower. His team is nowhere to be found. The air is frozen. He walks towards it, and his footsteps make no sound.
The front door marks the end of his memory. He pushes it open because there’s nowhere else to go, and its weight strains both his mind and body. Inside, it’s desolate. Looks like an empty chessboard.
Instinct leads his steps from there. He recalls every move he made then just as he makes them now. Further into the church, up the stairs, onto the elevator. Trish isn’t there, but a disembodied hand still is. He remembers. Bends over to dry-heave in renewed panic before making himself follow the rest of the timeline.
No one’s in the chartel house. No one comes down the staircase with Trish’s body as Bruno hides behind one of the upper pillars. No one triumphantly announces Bruno’s position. And as he slips down to the lower floor, no one rushes to attack him, but a hand is shoved through Bruno’s torso anyways, in the exact same spot where Giorno remade Abbacchio’s wound on his stomach.
This is the end, no one says.
Bruno coughs up blood in surprise, but not in fear. This isn’t the presence of an enemy and it hasn’t actually injured him: it’s familiar, comfortingly so. Bruno cranes his neck down to look and sees that it’s the hand of Sticky Fingers that’s impaling him. It crept inside this replay for an encore to the last dance. Perhaps it wanted to protect him from having to see King Crimson again. Bruno smiles.
“Thank you, old friend,” he manages. “Goodbye.”
Sticky Fingers rumbles at him, and Bruno feels it fade away. But the opening in his stomach doesn’t fade with it. It’s still being held open by something. It’s the arm of a being that’s growing impossibly hot, burning like otherworldly fire, like a spear of sunlight. Bruno screams as it starts to scald him, cauterizing from the inside out.
The new being holding him shifts further into existence. The parts of it that Bruno can see grow scaly and regal and frighteningly organic. He recognizes those colors for just a moment, and then Bruno’s pulled into a dimension outside of time where he can’t recognize anything anymore.
Bruno Buccellati, it says. It speaks with a thousand voices, a chorus of the dead and dying and damned from Heaven and Hell and everything in between. Endless copies of both their bodies converge their trails towards them. I am REQUIEM. You require my intervention.
Requiem's hand is wrapped around his heart, weighing it in judgement against its feather-light touch, dissecting it valve by valve like it’s being pinned open for display. Bruno sobs. He can't breathe. It doesn't hurt, but that's because it's so far, far beyond pain.
Your continued life on Earth defies your fate, Requiem says. I could reset the path. In a sense, I am obligated to.
Bruno hears Fugo’s voice. Either you fix it, the illusion whispers. Or something else will.
Yet too many hands hold you here. Too many lives entangled. Restoring your original fate would mean the shattering of many others.
“Please,” Bruno babbles. He doesn’t know what he’s even pleading for. His chest shudders, more tears run down his face. He wants to fall to his knees, but the grip in his stomach and on his soul won't let him. “Please, please!”
Humans, my user included, do not understand the cost of such transgressions. I know it is not your fault. But a price must still be paid, it says, unheeded. For this chain of events to proliferate successfully, there is a burden that you and you alone must bear. Bruno’s shown a vision of Fugo missing from the team, of Mista threatening to shoot Giorno. He doesn’t know what it means. He doesn't know what he's supposed to do. He sobs so hard that he chokes up more blood.
Your memory will be the toll for your existence.
Its body turns to pure light and detonates. It's like Bruno's been given a front row seat to the birth of a new universe. He howls, agonized, ecstatic, everything about him torn asunder by Requiem’s horrifying divinity. He is gutted down to his atoms. He's sent back to the primordial pool.
The light fades. Bruno is lying on the floor of the church of San Maggiore. Requiem is gone. Giorno's leaning over his body like he's peeking into a coffin.
He can't move, he realizes. Because this is where he died, he realizes.
He can hear Giorno talking to him, but he can't move or speak. Leave me here, he wants to say. Let me go. But then his body answers Giorno back. Then it begins to get up. Bruno can't stop it. It feels like being woken up during your own autopsy. He screams. It does nothing.
He's buried alive inside himself, he realizes.
It's not like Moody Blues's replay anymore. He questions if this is even memory, if he hasn't just gotten sent back in time instead. Here can feel each of his cells slowly decay with a brutal, unflinching precision, a sense of body-rot far beyond anything even Cioccolatta could manage. And he can't do a damn thing about it. He rails against the limits of his tomb but it does not give. He can only watch as he leads his team towards their own destruction. He watches and he screams.
Somehow, being a consciousness trapped in an aging corpse isn't the worst part of this. It's watching himself make mistakes. It's knowing he allowed Leone, with the least defensive Stand, to be left completely alone on the beach. It's knowing that he couldn't stop Narancia killing Risotto, removing the potential for an ally, unintentionally engineering their doom. It's seeing Leone dead and feeling nothing. It's knowing that he left him there.
He goes to the coliseum and leads the boss directly to them. The presence of his soul allows the Chariot switch to happen, the briefest respite from that body. Narancia's skewered to death, he barely reacts. The soul light is destroyed. He's free.
This is how it should be.
But instead of Heaven, there's just more inky blackness waiting for him.
Somewhere else, a clock ticks. The timer on Bruno's forehead, the last souvenir from Moody Blues, begins to move. It catches up to the current time. Then it moves forward, second by second, perfectly in sync with the clock on the wall. Then it disappears. Bruno begins to sway. Fugo catches the body before it can topple and drags it into an armchair.
Giorno collapses, pale and sweaty. Narancia flops onto the bed beside Abbacchio. Mista sighs, taking off his hat to run his fingers through his hair.
"Did we do it?" Mista asks.
Fugo takes a big swig of water. "Yeah," he nods. "Yeah, I think we did."
"I'm fucking...tired," Narancia announces. "Is it going to work? I really don't want for us to have to do that again."
"We'll just have to see," Giorno says weakly. "When he wakes up. Either way, it's not over."
"Woo!" Narancia raises his arms, and then immediately loses all his energy and lets them drop again. "Not over!"
"You're all home. I brought you all home," Giorno said, more to himself than anyone else. "Just like I said I would."
When Leone wakes up, he goes from a dreamless sleep to staring at a beautiful mahogany-trimmed ceiling, and god, he's so fucking hungover.
Wait, wasn't I at the apartment? is his first coherent thought. Did I walk here? Where is here? Shit, how much did I have?
"You're awake?" someone says. The someone is Fugo. "Finally. Good morning."
Leone looks over at him, which turns out to be a huge mistake, because moving his eyes at all makes the world careen like a back-alley tilt-a-whirl. It's not all for naught, though, because something in Fugo's face reminds him that he hadn't actually been drinking and was subject to some bullshit complicated Stand procedure instead. Leone's not sure what in Fugo's face reads "bullshit complicated Stand procedure", but he thinks it's probably the eyebrows.
Fuck, it really does feel like a hangover, though. A hangover with a dash of extra vitamin deficiency. Shit, does he have scurvy? Did fucking Giorno give him scurvy? Leone tries to remember the symptoms. Goddammit, is amnesia a symptom of scurvy?
A water glass floats in the air towards him. Well, shit, now he's seeing things. Definitely a symptom. Wait. He remembers one of the caveats of the procedure now. "Is that...Gold Experience?" he croaks.
"Why the hell would it be Gold Experience?" Fugo says. "It's Purple Haze, idiot. I've been having it do smaller tasks in order to practice my control. Hope you didn't lose your deductive reasoning, too."
"Fugo," he groans. He feels like he's hungover and talks like he's drunk. "Can you just...let me have this? Can it just be Gold Experience so...so I can say--say it sucks?"
Fugo shrugs. "Fine. Whatever. It's Gold Experience."
"Okay." Leone closes his eyes and nods contentedly. "It sucks."
"Wow, you really got me good," Fugo says, not sounding like he's been gotten very good. "Can't believe you're considered one of the adults around here."
It is that moment that Leone realizes he's lost critical track of one of the other adults around here. His hangover crashes down around him. His hands claw at the bedsheets, he tries to kick them off. A force shoves him back into lying down. It must be Purple Experience.
"He's fine," Fugo says. "Buccellati's fine. It worked. He's outside of you now."
Oh. Leone remembers. Bruno got ripped away and apparently took all his Vitamin C with him. He relaxes, but not completely. "Good. Good. Is he okay?"
"He's...okay," Fugo says. "He's inhabiting the copy that Moody Blues made. I wouldn't go so far as to say he's returned to the human condition, given that we had to bind his soul to a body made of raw Stand power, but you know. He's Buccellati. He looks exactly the same. He's as good as he's going to get, considering the circumstances."
Leone prods around inside his mind. Nothing prods back. He feels a lot lonelier than he was anticipating. "Is Moody--"
"Your stand is undetectable as a distinct entity," Fugo continues. "Buccellati has completely absorbed it. Considering that you can't see Purple Haze either, I think we can safely say that you are no longer a Stand user."
Leone swallows. "Right."
"Buccellati, however, can see Stands. We're thinking that's because he's technically part Stand now. Sticky Fingers isn't with him anymore, though." Fugo pinches the bridge of his nose. "This is another line of thinking that gives me a headache. I hesitate to say that they’re gone, because they were parts of you two, but as for where they would go, I have no idea. There’s also a question of what constitutes death for a Stand. Can something that may have never been alive to begin with die? Did they think it was death? Did they think about it at all?"
Leone takes a very long breath through his mouth. "Slow down, Socrates. I just woke up."
Fugo drops his hand. "Right. Yeah, I'm rambling." He pulls out his notebook. “Other things you should know. Buccellati can be seen by non-Stand users, but it can take them a while to realize he’s there. He can eat, but he probably shouldn’t. He still needs to sleep, though.”
“How have you had time to figure all this out?”
Fugo gives him a look. “You’ve been out for a bit, Abbacchio. We had to move you back to the estate while you were unconscious. Oh, don’t give me that look. Giorno didn't touch you. Grow up and drink your damn water."
Leone drinks his damn water, but he doesn't look happy about it. “Healthwise, we’re not sure how his body originating from Moody Blues is going to affect him,” Fugo says. “It seems like he can go as far away from you as he wants, so it’s not like he’s tethered to you or anything, but that is a part of your soul that you traded. It’s unlikely that he’ll age like this, so, barring him being injured or moved to an alternate body, I think you should play it safe and assume he’ll pass when you do.”
Leone immediately starts making a checklist. Quit drinking. More sleep. Better hydration. Citrus, leafy greens, fiber. Yoga? Yoga. Oh god, he hasn’t seen a doctor in years--
“Abbacchio,” Fugo says. “You’re spiraling. Stop that.”
“‘M not.” Does he even know a doctor anymore? Does fucking Giorno count as a doctor? Goddamnit. “‘S good that he can go wherever. Wouldn’t want him to be cooped up.”
“Before you ask,” Fugo continues. “You’re not allowed to see him yet. We want to make absolutely sure he’s stable before letting you two be in a room together. Don’t want him accidentally snapping back inside your mind or something like that.”
Leone’s heart sinks. A splash of water dribbles down his chin. “Yeah. Okay. Makes sense.”
Fugo shakes his head. “God, you two are ridiculous. Completely ridiculous. You have time now. You better do something about that before we all die of second-hand embarrassment and Giorno has to invent another Rube Goldberg machine to bring us back again.”
He turns bright red. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Sure.” Fugo heads for the door. “Of course you don’t. Of course you wouldn’t.”
“Wait. Fugo,” he says. “Thank you. Thanks.”
Fugo looks at him. “Thank us by living,” he says, and then he’s gone.
As soon as Narancia and Mista start to lose interest in supervising him, Bruno goes off on his own to explore the estate. It’s better alone, anyways. Better than mutely putting up with endless tests. Better than having to force himself to look Narancia in the eye.
Walking’s different now. He has to be careful. Gravity doesn’t work on him the way it used to, and he has to concentrate on making his steps heavy or else he’ll just hover across the floor. A natural position for a Stand, he supposes. Floating behind their master. He’s sure he’ll find this side effect entertaining one day. Right now, it’s just...too much.
This place is a labyrinth. He’s been walking through lacquered hallways for what feels like hours. He lets his hand trail along the wood paneling as he goes. The sensation of touch both is and isn’t what he’s used to. He feels the wood, but a part of him also feels the memory of hands here before him, or perhaps a memory of a past self, hands on his mother’s oak table, at his desk at school. He can’t distinguish between these senses with any clarity. As it is, it just makes the walk feel longer.
A visiting capo recognizes him and nods. Bruno remembers to walk normally just in time. The capo’s lower assistant glances at him, but their eyes just skip right past. Like he wasn’t there at all. Bruno keeps going.
This hallway is darker than the rest. It’s nearly empty, save for a young woman leaning against the wall with her arms crossed. She has dark hair and a scar over one eye. Bruno knows her as one of the new guards Giorno’s hired.
He must have found what he’s looking for.
Bruno walks past her. Her eyes follow him but she does not move, not even when Bruno raises his hand to knock on the adjacent door. After a moment, it opens, and Giorno sticks his head out. "Buccellati.” Giorno smiles. “Hello. How are you feeling?"
"I remember San Giorgio Maggiore," he says.
Giorno's smile drops, but a millisecond later it's back like nothing happened. "Sheila," he nods towards the girl in the hall. "You're dismissed." He opens the door up for Bruno. "Come in."
Bruno goes in. All the lights are off in Giorno’s study. He’s doing paperwork by candelabra like he’s a Gothic novel protagonist. Giorno sits back down at his desk and gestures to Bruno to take the opposing seat. Bruno does.
“So,” Giorno begins. “You remember everything, I presume.”
“I believe so,” Bruno says. “And I believe it was a version of your Stand that showed me.”
Giorno’s smile really drops this time. “Requiem?”
Giorno looks like he’s at a loss. He opens his mouth to speak, closes it, and then opens it again. “What...did it say?”
Bruno holds his head in his hands. He swallows, but he can’t get the taste of the grave out of his mouth. Remembering Requiem’s words feels like taking a nailgun to the back of the neck. “It said that I needed to bear a burden for things to continue successfully. That I needed to remember. And then it sent me back, and I relived three days longer than I should have.”
Giorno nods slowly. Pauses to think about it. Then nods again. “I see.” He gets up, stands beside a curtained window. “Perhaps it does have our best interests in mind after all.”
“Best interests.” Bruno grinds the heel of his palm against his temple. “You allowed me to believe that Trish had been successfully reunited with her father, only choosing to inform me about his death when you couldn’t hide it anymore. How long were you planning on keeping all this from me?”
“You’ve answered your own question,” Giorno says. “I would have kept it from you for as long as it takes.” He steps forward with his hands behind his back. “Do you know how we got the idea to put you in this body, Buccellati?”
"No," he says. It's the truth. He and Leone were only told about the plan once it was already formed.
Giorno nods. "I thought so. I had every intention to retether you to your original body. Had the unfortunate accident never happened, I would have surely been able to resurrect it.” There’s details missing there, but Bruno was expecting that. “We needed a different solution after that. One that could be accessed quickly with the abilities we had on hand. I was forced to fall back on a former contact in order to get some necessary Stand intelligence. He’s affiliated with the Speedwagon Foundation. Do you know what the Speedwagon Foundation is, Buccellati?”
“The Speedwagon Foundation is an international organization that researches supernatural phenomena. You can imagine how interested they might be in some of our members, and this former contact has already attempted to investigate me once on their behalf. Getting their attention in exchange for their assets was not a decision I made lightly. Now they’re demanding payment.”
A price must still be paid. Bruno hears those words under Giorno's voice. He jolts like he's been stung.
Giorno pulls a sheet of paper out of the stack on this desk. It’s a printout of an email that has notes written on it and words crossed out. He also pulls out a bubble-wrapped package addressed from the Speedwagon Foundation. It’s open.
“They’ve sent me a DNA test. You don’t need to imagine how I feel about an organization outside our own having my DNA, do you?”
Bruno’s head hangs lower. When did it start feeling like this? When did this turn into an interrogation? The memory of Requiem still stings at him. “No.”
“Good answer.” Giorno drops the package on the floor. It explodes into a colony of ants that scatter in all directions. “Since I won’t be returning their favor and they’ve already sent agents after me in the past, I have every reason to expect that they’ll be trying to pay us a visit in the future. Without a doubt, they’ll attempt to record all our Stand users and their capabilities. Infringement on our territory, when this transition of power has already presented so many challenges. Even without considering the Speedwagon threat, how do you think the team would feel if they knew what had transpired at San Giorgio Maggiore?”
The vision of Mista targeting Giorno. Fugo vanishing. Abbacchio with a crowbar, which is an image Requiem didn’t actually show him, but he can picture it clearly anyways. He’s beginning to understand. He’s the one that said they shouldn’t know to start with. “Betrayed,” he says.
“Exactly,” Giorno says. “Exactly. And a stray thought of betrayal, no matter how small, is something I cannot tolerate at this critical hour. A mere second of disloyalty could mean war. So I’m going to have to insist you cooperate with keeping this a secret.” He pulls something else out of the stack of papers. It’s a photograph of Bruno, in Abbacchio’s body, on his knees swearing fealty to Giorno. “As your Don.”
“Why?” Bruno blurts out. “Why me? Why go to those lengths for these ends?” His hands grip his skull hard enough for his nails to draw blood. Or they would, if he could still bleed. “Why not leave me there?”
Giorno’s frowning at him. “Bruno,” he says, and there’s a cold pity in his voice that makes Bruno bare his teeth. “Do you really not understand why we would want you back so badly? Why we would do whatever it took to give you a second chance?”
“No,” he says. He sounds so young in that moment. He sounds just like the kid who had nothing but a dying father and a kitchen knife. “I don’t understand. I don’t understand. I’ve done nothing to--nothing to earn this.”
“Bruno,” Giorno calls again, and it’s softer, sadder. “I’m setting out to make the world a better place. And the world is better with you in it.” He says it like it’s so simple. “That’s all.”
“How am I supposed to live?” he asks. “How am I supposed to remember and say nothing? How am I supposed to live knowing death like this?” He can feel it, he can still feel it, feel every part of him waste away. His own skin is his cerement now. A part of him wishes that Requiem would have left him in pieces, left him ruined and dissipated like grains of sand.
A touch. Giorno’s hand is on his shoulder. The light from the candle casts yellow over his face, highlighting one perfect green eye. “I can’t answer that for you,” he says. “I can only encourage you to try.”
Bruno doesn’t respond. Giorno pulls away after a moment and puts one last object down on the desk, far away from the candelabra. It’s a small vial filled with what looks like ashes and a curl of purple smoke. Recognition dawns on him. It’s his ashes, and the smoke must belong to Purple Haze. Fugo’s failsafe. Giorno, the only one immune, must have taken some during the burial. A private bomb.
“When Speedwagon comes,” Giorno says. “We’ll be ready.”
Bruno doesn’t look at him. “You’ve really grown up, Giorno.”
Giorno laughs. “Grown into what, I wonder? Ever since the arrow, I don’t know if I feel like a person anymore.” He sits back down. “Like it made me into a force of nature beyond my control. Inavoidant cruelty was part of the job description before this, but now…” He shakes his head. “Everything I do is tinged with it. I can’t stop it, no matter how hard I try. Do you know what that’s like? To not be human anymore? To just be...a thing?”
“Yes,” Bruno says. “I do.”
Song: The Chain by Fleetwood Mac
had to do something with all the chain imagery in the OP!
I am slowly but surely replying to comments but it turns out I'm shier than anticipated. So in the meantime please know how much I appreciate you reading and all the feedback I get!
all your lovely comments are the light of my life. thank you!!!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When Abbacchio and Buccellati are cleared to meet again, Abbacchio is not warned in advance.
Fugo’s courtesy towards concepts like privacy and personal space extends to giving him a quarter of a knock on his bedroom door before throwing it open anyways. He catches Leone brushing out his bedhead while still in his night robe. Leone looks at him like he just got caught finishing up a murder, but would gladly clear his schedule to make sure Fugo dies too.
“Look who it is,” Fugo says, gesturing behind him. The who is Bruno, seeming like he got as much notice about this happening as Leone did. Fugo steps back to usher him inside like he’s some lost sheep. Oh. Leone can see that, he realizes. Can see Bruno on his first try. Good. That’s something he’d forgotten to be worried about until just now, now that every worry he could possibly be having is suddenly frothing up inside him.
“Listen,” Fugo says, not seeming to care about the imminent threat of Abbacchio-induced peril. Leone can barely hear him over his own heartbeat. “Giorno’s decided that the two of you have recovered enough to both a) be in the same room and b) move forward with your roles in the organization. He’s going to call a meeting about Speedwagon soon, how that’s all supposed to work, what the plan is for you if they do end up attacking us like he’s so certain they will. Don’t repeat that last part.” He takes a step back towards the door, leaving Bruno standing where he is. Bruno currently looks fascinated by a particular plank in the wood floor. “He requested that the two of you have met up beforehand,” Fugo says. “So that it’s--you know. Not weird.”
“Not weird,” Leone says. His voice sounds withered, a mummy trying to participate in this conversation. He joins Bruno in staring at the floor. He’s right. That particular plank? Really great. Just top notch. “Sure.”
“I know that’s probably a challenging concept for you, Abbacchio,” Fugo says, taking another step backwards out the door, hand on the doorknob. “But it’s boss’s orders. Talk it out or something, I don't know. Just do it."
The door closes. They're alone now.
“I hate that kid,” Leone says.
“You don’t,” Bruno says, a reflex.
“You’re right,” Leone says. “I don’t.” He swallows. “Hey, Bruno.”
"Hello," Bruno says.
Neither of them move. What do you say to a man who, until very recently, was living inside your mind, your dreams? Fuck, Leone wishes he could’ve showered. Wait, he showered last night. Fuck, Leone wishes he could’ve showered again, just in case.
He lets himself look at Bruno. It’s excellent work, like Moody pulled him out of a mirror, plundered a family photo. Thank you, he thinks, in case it can somehow hear him. He really does look exactly the same. Except…
"Uh...you're floating," Leone says.
Bruno looks down at his shoes. "Ah, shit." He lands, and now he looks exactly the same. “I’m still learning how to stop that. Sorry.”
“No, no, it’s fine.”
Silence. Leone desperately tries to remember what people talk about with each other. So how's it hanging? What do you think about this absurd mansion Giorno’s gotten for himself? Are you happy? Do you even remember the dream we shared? When Fugo said you can eat but shouldn’t, what did that mean, exactly?
"What's...what's up?" he croaks out instead. Winces. Briefly considers shouting an insult down the hall to get Fugo to come back and kill him. Wait, Fugo's temper has been much more measured these days. How high is this window, then?
Bruno doesn’t answer. "Will you dance with me?" is all he says.
Bruno shrugs. "Just right here. Nothing fancy. I enjoyed dancing with you in the dream. We don't have to."
"No, please." Leone sets his brush down, smooths out the robe, clears his throat and rushes to stand. “Please. I’d love to.”
He holds out his hand. Bruno takes it. Leone pulls him close without hesitation, like it’s the most natural thing in the world. One hand they intertwine, one hand slips around Bruno’s waist. A step forward, to the side, then back again, one two three, one two three, a dance that’s a waltz in form but in function is just tuneless swaying, moving for the sake of moving. Bruno’s heartbeat, a droning pulse that’s too dependable to be real, keeps time for them.
"Did you get to see your Stand?" Leone asks. "Before the end?"
“I did,” Bruno says. “I got to say goodbye.”
“Good.” One two three. “How do you feel about it?”
“I still don’t know.”
“Me neither,” he says. One. “Are we just...regular people, now?”
Bruno can’t stop the humorless snort that comes out of him. “Not even close,” he says.
They keep dancing. To Leone, Bruno smells like electricity, like an empty room, like a tear in the ozone layer. His body buzzes to the touch. Their skin doesn't meld together, but it feels constantly on the verge of it. It's unfamiliar. It's wondrous. Leone could dance until he dropped.
"How's...the physical plane?" he asks.
Bruno snorts again. "Strange," he says. “I’m still working on figuring out what’s real. Working on feeling real.”
“Me too. Do you dream when you sleep?”
Bruno rests his head into the crook of Leone’s shoulder. He takes a breath and smells the scent of Leone’s skin, a smell that even Fugo recognized as distinctly his. He smells like clay and rain and warmth, marking him undeniably as the creature of the Earth. It feels like coming home after an expedition to a distant planet, but nothing is the same. Everything’s been rearranged, just ever so slightly.
“How do we live,” Bruno asks. “Having died once already?”
Leone hums. “I’m still trying to figure that out,” he says. “Before this, all I did was try to be some level of useful in the grand scheme of things. I wanted to be useful, but I couldn’t handle even a hint of the pain that came with it, so I ran. Ran from pain into whatever escape that would take me. Ran right into death. And now, after reliving all that shit, I’d think I’m just going to try and be content. I’ll do what needs to be done for the people that are important, of course. You still can puppet my body once Giorno’s finally had enough of me. Kid’ll yank me back out like he’s trying to start a goddamn lawnmower, mark my words.” Laughs. “I’ll just...never be useful to anyone if I keep killing myself trying to get there. So yeah. I still don’t exactly know what contentment means, but I’m going to try.” He shrugs. “I’m just grateful I don’t remember when I ate shit. Died, I mean. When I died.”
But I remember, Bruno thinks. He ripped right through your heart like it was sausage casing. Turned the beach into a slaughterhouse. The sand was red. Everything was red. I bit into my lip until I bled but that was all I could feel for you. You’re the first subordinate I’d ever had to really lose, and I left you there. I left you there. And you would never blame me for that. I should have been left there instead.
But he can’t say that, so the dance goes on. Leone hums the tune of a Psychedelic Furs song into his ear. Bruno knows this one, has heard this record playing behind Leone's door many times. Swallow all your tears, my love, the song goes. And put on your new face. You can never win or lose if you don’t run the race.
Well, Leone probably isn’t intending for it to be that on the nose, but the lyricist has a point. What does Bruno have to lose, now? He’s met death and God and the devil and it turned out that they’re all different faces of the same thing. What’s left? Nothing. But it’s not true, of course, and he knows it. The last and most important thing he could lose is being held in his arms right now.
Still, Bruno pulls back to look at him. The dual tone of Leone's eyes always reminds him of candy, of lavender and lemonade, but that’s not the reason behind the bittersweet taste in his throat. "I love you," he says.
The song stops. Leone nods, not looking him in the eye. "Yeah."
Bruno raises an eyebrow. "Just yeah?"
The nod was apparently part of Leone cringing in extremely slow motion. "Sorry. My brain shut off," he says, turning salmon-belly pink. "What I meant to say was that--that you don't have to."
"I think I preferred just 'yeah'."
"Ugh, no, fuck!" Leone makes to slap himself in the face, but both of his hands are currently occupied, so he bumps his forehead against Bruno’s shoulder instead. “I just...I just don't want you to think that you’re obligated to me. Because of what I said. I'm content just having said it and surviving."
Bruno blinks. The dream comes back in a rush of colors. Leone had said that, hadn’t he? "Oh. I had honestly forgotten about that after the rest of it."
Leone seems both relieved and more worried. "Oh."
"You looked good in that nobility outfit."
Leone looks even more worried. “Uh...thanks.”
“I’m not going to make you wear it. And I said what I said because it's true," Bruno clarifies. "Because I wanted to. I want to want things. I’ve been holding myself back from that for so long. I’ve been holding myself back from you.”
The pink in Leone’s cheek turns to red like the sun is setting. Bruno reaches out, traces the gradient with his fingers, feels how Leone shudders under his touch. “There are things I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself for," Bruno continues. "But I’ve been given a second chance, albeit against my will. And I think you’re right. Trying to be content is all we have left. Wanting that is how we live. I'd like to try with you. If you'll have me.”
"Of course," Leone says, stumbling over his words in a hurry to get them out. He's catching up, getting with the program. "You've always had me, Bruno."
"You've never let me down," Bruno murmurs.
"And I never will," he says. "I swore it to Paolo and I'll swear it to you. You've never let me down either."
"That's not true," Bruno says. "But I aim to fix that." As if this is a pain that could be fixed. There will always be a hole inside him, but he decides that it's not going to be his grave. Not their grave. Not right now, anyways. Not today. "Can I kiss you?"
"Oh god," Leone says. "Please do."
So Bruno does. Leone's lips are soft and generous. Kissing him feels like the sun is rising: light, heat, a new start. Bruno slips in the tip of his tongue. Leone does the same. They still sway in each other's arms. Back and forth. Back and forth.
"Hey," Leone mumbles against Bruno, unwilling to pull his mouth away any further than is absolutely necessary. "So, uh, we could slow down, but, uh, when you said you wanted...if you want…"
He stops talking and just points at Bruno's leg, which has somehow coiled itself around Leone to let Bruno straddle his thigh. Huh. That wasn't on purpose, but now that he’s found himself in this position, he’s having a hell of a time trying to convince himself to leave it. Bruno knows, logically, that he's moving this along fast. However, it turns out Leone’s thigh is pretty much the ideal surface to grind down on. He squeezes down, drags his hips, gets a little lurch of pleasure. Continuing that, of course, is obviously the most logical solution.
"Mm," he starts to speak, when he remembers that he’s supposed to. "Yes. Bed."
They tumble onto the comforter, still in their embrace, Leone ending up on top with Bruno underneath. Bruno's hair splays out in a black fan against the sheets, his braid starting to loosen as he wraps his legs around Leone's hips. Leone's still kissing him like his life depends on it. Bruno drags his fingers down Leone's back, trying to memorize the definition there, before remembering that he'll actually need to let go to make important progress.
Bruno tugs on Leone's collar, reluctantly unlocks his legs. "Could you take this off? Are you ready?"
Leone clambers to get back to standing. Takes the whole outfit off in one fell swoop. His whole chest is flushed, the contrast with the white bandage especially stark. Bruno looks him up and down, and then up again for good measure.
"Do you know how handsome you are?"
Leone's nose turns the color of a hot coal. He looks drunk, almost. He mumbles out a series of not-quite-words. Bruno watches him struggle with a raised eyebrow.
"You don't have to force an answer. You should just know that."
Leone's still blustering. "Maybe I will, one day," he says. "Do you know how handsome you are?"
Bruno's clothes aren't real in the same way anymore. They're part of Moody Blues' memory, and a part of him by extension. So getting rid of them isn't a physical undertaking-- Bruno just wills his suit away and then it's gone, and he's down to his underwear. He holds back a laugh as Leone's eyes boggle to get an answer to his question like this. “I’ve heard as much,” he says.
"This might be weird," Leone says, pointing to Bruno's signature lacy number. "But I've always been fascinated by that. Could never figure out whether it was a bra or tattoo."
Bruno pulls off the lace, but the pattern stays on his skin. The bra disappears. "It's both," he explains. "I liked it so much when I saw it that I bought fifty pairs. Then I still liked it, so I had it inked."
"Oh my god." Both Leone's voice and hands shake, unable to contain the sheer power unleashed by this ridiculous revelation. "Oh my god, Bruno, I love you so much."
"Good," he says. "I'm glad you like it. I could use more markings, though."
King Crimson must be rolling in its grave, because the time between Bruno's suggestion and Leone's mouth on his chest completely vanishes. His tongue traces the tattooed lace, leaves imprints of his teeth along Bruno's ribs. He can't bleed, but when Leone sucks at his skin it turns a moody purple-maroon, bruises turning into more ink. There's a smug look in Leone's eye as his lips close around one of Bruno’s nipples. Bruno lets out a little whine, and it only makes Leone look more smug.
"D-don't look so proud of yourself," Bruno says, out of breath. "You still have a lot more work to do."
Leone pulls back and chuckles, looking even prouder as he lifts the back of Bruno's hand to kiss every knuckle, one by one. "What would my great capo have of me?"
Bruno stares him down. "I'll need you fucking me full in the next sixty seconds or else we're going to have a problem."
The brain shut-off Leone experienced earlier was just a blip compared to this. Now it's a full system meltdown, heart working a triple shift trying to push all his blood to both his face and his junk at the same time. He moves like he's going to kiss Bruno's knuckles again but misses completely, stabbing himself in the nose with them. "Fuck!" Holy shit, get it together. "Okay, yeah. Okay. We can do that."
Leone lines his hips up with Bruno's, positioning his hands along the band of his underwear, thumbing at the elastic. Through the headrush, a wiggle of concern swims its way upstream. They'd need to get lube, first of all, but Leone's also remembering what Bruno said in the dream. Better off than me. Never a good time. I’ve had ample exposure. Just not the kind I would have preferred.
"I hate to pry," Leone says. "But...have you ever actually done something like this before? Something...penetrative?"
Bruno lets out a small breath. "Not...exactly. Not like this. But wait--wait." He balls his hands in the fabric of the sheets. "I told you not to pity me. I won't break. Just do it."
"I'm not pitying you." Leone spatters Bruno's cheeks with kisses as if to prove the point. "I just want my great capo to get the treatment he deserves." Another barrage of kisses. "Neither of us are prepared and we have no supplies."
"I know," Leone says, voice husky. "That once you decide on something you want it to be carried out. I know after all this it might not feel like you'll have another chance. But we have time now, Bruno. We should use it."
Bruno screws his eyes shut, even as Leone’s mouth moves to his neck to pepper it with more kisses. He’s right. Bruno burns with both guilt for being insistent and with embarrassment for this not going flawlessly. Not perfect, not like romance movies, not like all the older capos bragged about it being. Then Leone starts sucking at his collarbone with just the right amount of teeth, and that train of thought is suddenly nowhere to be found.
"I can still spoil you, if you'd let me," Leone says. "My mouth is good for more than just saying stupid shit."
Oh. Bruno's eyes flutter back open. "I'm starting to see that," he says as the mouth in question begins to move down his chest. "I'll still need proof."
He feels the shape of Leone's smile against his skin. "Think I can manage," he says, then sucks hard on Bruno's nipple again. Bruno gasps as he pulls away and leaves him cold, but there's no time to protest. Leone's pulling down the elastic, mouth disappearing under a shock of dark hair.
And Bruno begins to get far more proof than he bargained for. It's damning evidence. Inadmissible in court, especially when Bruno comes-- quicker than he'd hoped-- and Leone takes his time licking him completely clean. He comes back up for air with a smirk on his face. Smacks his lips. Savors the taste.
"You're incredible," Leone says, crawling back up the bed to lay down beside him. "So fucking incredible. I love you. Did I say that yet?"
"Incredible...is a good word for it. For this," Bruno says, chest rising, falling, rising. "And you did."
"Mm. Good." He's on his side. His eyes droop closed. "Gonna say it a lot while I can."
Bruno feels like he has all the muscle coordination of a car dealership tube man, but he props himself up anyways. "Are you going to fall asleep? We aren't done." He puts his hand on Leone's stomach, right above where the fabric of his briefs are already damp with interest. "You aren't done."
Leone peeks an eye back open. Looks a little sheepish. "I just...figured you--I didn't want you to feel pressured."
"I'm not," he says, "I'm not. I don't feel that way. I want to learn about you. As much as I can."
It's far less explicit a desire than anything he'd said earlier, but it turns Leone red the fastest he's ever seen it. "Okay, yeah. I'd like that, yeah."
So he lets Bruno take him in hand, just like in the shower before, just less lonely, now. Leone likes it rough, likes it when Bruno digs his fingernails down his back, and his little vocalizations of "good, good" and "keep going" and "yes" and "Bruno" remind him of being directed to back into a parking space. He loves that, loves all of it. It's dizzyingly sexy, even if it's taking him back to driving school. The affection threatens to devastate him.
"I want to stay," Bruno says, once it's over and they're both cleaned up. "I don't know if I made that clear. I don't know what's going to happen to us, but I don't want to go without you. I want to stay."
"Then stay," Leone says. His mouth is slack, his voice is low. He's already almost back asleep. "We have time, Bruno. We have time."
Bruno stays. They don't dream.
The first time Abbacchio unzips something, it makes a hole in the coffee table and shatters Mista's favorite mug.
"What the hell, man? That's my favorite mug!" Mista says. "Wait, is that a zipper?"
It is indeed a zipper, but it comes nowhere close to the golden splendor of Sticky Fingers. It's silver, puny, and cheap-looking, the teeth ragged and uneven. There's no mysterious swirling void between it either. They can see clean through the table to where the broken remains of a ‘DON'T BE A DICK’ novelty brass-knuckled mug lay. Mista stares slack-jawed at it.
"Holy shit," he says. Mista pokes it and hisses as he cuts his finger on one of the malformed teeth. "How'd you do that?"
"I don't know!" Leone hadn't done anything. He's just been sitting there, trying to trick himself into enjoying Narancia’s espresso. Daydreaming about Bruno in a stupid bowler hat, but like, a completely normal amount of that. In a panic, he fumbles for the pull tab, hoping that zipping it back up will mean that it will have never existed in the first place. It closes halfway and then breaks, disappearing. A hole in the table is left behind. Mista points at it like it’s a smoking gun.
“What the hell?” he says. “That’s Narancia’s favorite table!”
“Narancia’s favorite what?” Narancia says, sticking his head out of the kitchen. He bounds over, sees the hole. “Aw, man! My favorite table!”
“Abbacchio unzipped it!”
“What the hell? I’m telling Buccellati!”
“No!” Leone slams his hands down and two more zippers appear around Narancia’s least favorite hole on his most favorite table. “Shit!”
“Buccellati!” Narancia and Mista both call. To Leone’s endless dismay, the summon works. Bruno comes over, looks at Leone, the zippers, the hole in the table, then back at Leone. Then back at the zippers again.
“This is Narancia’s favorite table, Leone,” he says, with all the gravitas of a medical examiner.
Leone turns around to smack the nearest wall, trying in vain to produce another zipper big enough to zip him out of this situation.
“And these,” Bruno says, finally pointing out the offending fasteners. “Are quite curious.” He traces them with his fingers in a way that Leone has no right to shiver at, but he absolutely does. “You can see and touch them even without a Stand. They’re real in a way Stands aren’t. Fascinating.” He zips them back up expertly and nods to Narancia. “Go get Fugo and Giorno. Leone, could you make me another one so I can see it?"
Leone slaps the wall again to no avail. “Maybe I could,” he says. “If I knew what the hell it was that I’m supposed to be doing.”
Bruno tilts his head. “Try dragging it open.”
“Dragging it open?” Leone scoffs. “Don’t know what that even means.”
He drags it open. A silver zipper cuts through the drywall to let them peek into the pantry on the other side. Narancia comes back with Fugo in tow.
“Boss is busy,” Fugo says. "What is-- oh god, are we destroying property now? Wait, is that a zipper?”
“Fugo,” Bruno says. “Did you read anything in your research about swapping Stand abilities? Or about former Stand users developing powers?”
“Not like this, no. And you’re the only former users anyone’s ever heard of.” He steps closer to examine the wall zipper. "These look worse than yours did, Buccellati. Shittier."
“Thanks,” Leone says, but hey, it’s the objective truth.
Shitty or not, Fugo leans in to study its details. “God,” he says, voice picking up a little in excitement. “So interesting. Zippers that lack the interdimensional functionality-- a modified version of Sticky Fingers. If we use the theory that Stands are a piece of your soul, and that the two of you traded that piece when you separated, it makes sense that a transfer would happen. But then it doesn't make sense if your Stands aren't present or if they're distinct beings. Maybe they're dormant and influencing the two of you in reverse through the soul chains? A lot to think about, here."
"Who died and made you nerd king?" Mista says. He reaches through the zipper-hole to grab a box of Narancia's cereal out of the pantry. "Is your new title Official Stand Genius or something?"
Fugo shrugs. "At this point, it basically is." He zips the hole back up. A scar gets left on the wall. Fugo points to Bruno and Leone. "I'm so studying the two of you once this is over."
“Wait,” Mista says. “Does that mean Booch can do something, too?”
The gratitude Leone feels at the scrutiny being moved off him fizzles out when he sees Bruno’s grimace. It’s a little funny, and now he feels like an asshole. “Not Booch,” Bruno says. “And I don’t—”
Narancia pops over. “Try it! Try it! Moody Blues could replay stuff, right? Try and replay this!” He strikes a cool pose. “No, no, wait!” He moves a foot to the left and strikes an even cooler pose. “Try it now!”
“Try dragging it out,” Leone says.
With a sigh, Bruno steps into the spot where Narancia struck his less-cooler pose. He stands at the crossroads of a faint trail of memories, unintelligible moments from both his own life and the lives of others intersecting like Requiem’s copies. It’s an extra sense he’s been learning to ignore, but now he shifts through it, scanning for Narancia’s shape. Narancia, Narancia. Black, orange. Firecracker, lightning rod. Narancia.
There. He drags it out. Something shifts against his skin. Several people in the room gasp. “Holy shit,” Mista says. “Narancia costume!”
Bruno looks down at himself. His suit has morphed into a perfect recreation of Narancia’s outfit, down to the squares on his skirt. His tattoo shows through the netting of his shirt, his hair has cloned every tuft underneath the headband. “Oh my god!” Narancia hollers. “My swagger! You ganked it!”
Fugo scratches his chin. “You know, this makes sense actually. Considering how important it was to get your appearance correct, it tracks that any remaining ability wouldn’t be powerful enough to change it beyond superficial details like clothes and hair. Try again and let’s see what happens.”
“Alright,” Bruno says. He doesn’t sound like Narancia at all, just his regular tired self. He searches the room for another memory to grab onto. Got it— his hair sprouts into a long braid, three black curls bloom on his forehead. Black and orange change into shades of magenta and beetle-blue. It’s one of the most conflicting moments in Leone’s life.
Fugo nods, getting out his notebook. “So you can’t replay moments like Moody Blues, but you can partially recreate how someone looked during a certain moment. Like an instant disguise, almost. And then Abbacchio with the zippers...this could be useful. They’re not anywhere near full Stand abilities, of course, but they could be useful.” He nods to Mista. “We should report this to Giorno before he calls the meeting.”
“Yeah, yeah, enough with the nerd talk,” Mista says. “My turn. Replay me, Buccellati.”
Bruno looks at the patterns on Mista’s pants, and then glances at his hat. Remembers the mullet that’s underneath. “Oh no,” he says, stretching his arms up in an exaggerated yawn. “This ability, it...really takes a lot out of me. I’ll need to, er, recharge. Before I can use it again.”
“Yeah,” Leone chimes in, coming up behind Bruno, a united front. “Let the man rest. All of you run off. Go justify our existence to your glorious leader or whatever.”
With Bruno there, they actually scram this time. Fugo leads the Lost Boys out with his notebook in hand. Leone sighs, rubs his head, and goes to make Bruno a cappuccino. “Just when you think nothing can surprise you anymore after being in this line of work,” he says. “Then you unzip a table. God, everything is weird.”
Bruno chuckles. He remembers his first zip. “Everything is weird.” He wanders into the kitchen, back in his white suit, and brushes his fingertips against Leone’s waist as he steams the milk. “I don’t know if things will ever stop being weird.”
Leone hums. “Maybe Narancia’s right. Maybe I am opening up.”
Bruno shrugs. "And I guess I can choose what kind of person to be, now. Sort of fitting for us, in the end. The things we lose," he says. "They don't ever really leave us, do they?"
"No," Leone says. "They don't." He pours the foam into a coffee cup. “I just don’t want to— guh.” It sounds like his throat closed up, like his body is trying to protect him from saying the words he’s thinking of. He says them anyways. “Gank...your swagger.”
Bruno laughs louder. “I don’t know,” he says, taking the mug, still grinning as he takes a sip and the cappuccino gives him a foam mustache. “My swagger looks pretty good on you.”
The tips of Leone’s ears turn red. “Oh?”
“It does,” Bruno says. Hey, it’s the objective truth. He finishes the cup, his breath smells like coffee. “How does yours look on me?”
Leone’s cut off by the sight of Bruno transforming. The suit turns black and grows long, sweeping, and dramatic. Purple ribbons lace themselves across his chest. His hair extends until it hits his shoulders, that version of Leone’s hairstyle plucked directly from his brain. Bruno looks at him through dark and heavy-lidded eyes.
Leone has to grab the counter to steady himself. He swallows thickly. “Uh,” he says, just as thickly. "God, that shouldn't be sexy."
"And why not?" Bruno says, spinning around to make the fabric of the cloak swish. The spiky ends of his hair bounce as he moves. It's devilish, is what it is. "Why shouldn't it be sexy?"
There’s no good answer to that. Leone concedes the point by kissing him. "You're going to be the death of me," he says.
Bruno nips at his bottom lip, just enough to tease. "Not this time."
“Your mood sure turned around,” Leone says.
“It did,” Bruno says. “I’m alive. You make me feel alive.”
They barely make it to the bedroom.
“So,” Giorno says, steepling his fingers. “Regarding recent events. I’ve heard reports that the two of you have made some interesting discoveries.”
They’re all filed into the estate’s meeting room. Giorno sits with his legs crossed atop an imposing throne. Buccellati and Abbacchio stand before him. Everyone else sits in smaller chairs lining the walls. “Having Stand-related abilities but no Stands,” Giorno continues. “An incredible feat. Unfortunately, this only increases the need to keep what we’ve accomplished here secret.”
The room holds its collective breath. With all the tension in the audience, it makes it seem more like Giorno’s deciding what method of execution to use. “I know there have been wonderings about what your positions might be, considering the circumstances. I know you may even prefer to retire after all this. I am amenable to your wishes, of course, but for now I must insist that you stay with Passione until the Speedwagon threat blows over. Existing outside of our protection and influence would not only endanger yourselves, but would endanger everyone in this room.”
“My god,” Leone says. “Could you lay it on any thicker, Don Giovanna?”
Bruno makes a shushing noise. Giorno ignores him. “That being said, I can’t, in good conscious, allow you to work in the city center either. The Speedwagon Foundation knows that we’re headquartered in Napoli. I'm certain their investigation will start here. If anyone sees you using a version of each other's former Stand abilities in these streets, word will spread far too quickly for us to control. I also can't discount the possibility that rumors about your lives and bodies may pop up. Any wind of this, and Speedwagon will target you immediately."
Narancia, in the corner, raises his hand. “As he has his full Stand capabilities and was the least affected by complications, I'm not worried about Narancia in this regard." Giorno's still addressing Buccellati and Abbacchio. Narancia slowly puts his hand back down. "As planned, he will be going to school here and helping us when he's available. The two of you, however, will need to be relocated. To that end, I'm officially putting you on a unique assignment."
"Unique assignment sounds like you're arranging our execution," Leone says.
"Are you done?" Bruno says.
"Never," Leone says.
"It's far from an execution," Giorno says, but the superstition of it only lets up the slightest bit. "In fact, I think you'll find it to be much safer than many of your previous missions.” He gets out his clipboard, flips to a page. “Our operations have always focused on urban areas out of necessity. We’re the underbelly of business, so we stay where the business is. We keep to our own work. Or so we should.” He flips through several more pages. “The former Don was careless with civilian lives, irresponsible with territories. He allowed crime and corruption to trickle into honest, defenseless places. Small towns filled with people just trying to make a living, getting the fallout from his bad decisions, then left behind and forgotten about because they’re small.” Giorno shakes his head in disgust. “I want it fixed.”
“Fixed?” Bruno says.
“Well,” Giorno says. “It’s debatable whether or not something like that could be truly fixed. But at the very least, we can answer questions, resolve issues. The places I’m thinking of typically don’t have the resources or political power to investigate every unsolved mystery someone like Diavolo could create. But they don’t have you yet.”
Giorno grips the arm of his chair. He burns with conviction. "I want parents of missing children to be able to sleep at night," he continues. "I want stolen heirlooms tracked down and returned to their families. I want the last of Diavolo’s low-level vermin eradicated. I want to ensure that there’s justice, genuine justice, available to the people that need it. Consider, then, how fitting your abilities would be for a pair of investigators. Abbacchio, able to break into anything. Buccellati, able to access an infinite supply of disguises. Your targets would be rural enough that it's extremely unlikely that you'd have to worry about enemy Stand users. You'd be the most powerful individuals around. Think of the progress you could make."
Leone’s ready to fire off another criticism— trying to drop us as detectives in the Murder She Wrote middle-of-nowhere, do I look like Angela Lansbury to you?— but then he remembers what he saw of Bruno’s childhood. How differently it would have gone if he had been there. How all it took was the back end of a knife handle. Maybe he can keep his mouth shut. Just this once.
“That...sounds doable,” Bruno says, something hesitant but honest in his voice.
“What he said.” Both he and Fugo better be getting medals for their self-control, Leone thinks.
Calling the movement Giorno’s mouth makes a smile is generous, but it’s the closest word to it. “I was hoping you’d think so,” he says. “I’ll write up the details of your first mission. Prepare for a departure by tomorrow night.” He stands up, the platform of the throne making him the slightest bit taller than Leone. “As of right now, you no longer rank soldato and capo, respectively. You are now Passione' first investigatores. That is all. This meeting is adjourned." He bows his head at them. "You may leave."
Everyone else gets up. Narancia, Mista, and Fugo start filing out the door, chattering lowly to themselves. Bruno goes to join them. Leone lingers.
"I'm not bowing to you, you know," he says to Giorno.
"Not to worry," Giorno says, pulling out a piece of paper that's starting to get well-creased and dog-eared. It's Mista's picture of Bruno bowing. "You already have."
Leone laughs at that, a malicious sound. "You little shit. I always knew you had it in you." He takes a step towards the door. "Thanks, by the way. For...nevermind. Fuck you, actually."
Giorno's unphased. "You're welcome," he says. Leone finally leaves, and Bruno's waiting for him in the hallway. He does not ask what they were talking about. Perhaps he doesn't need to.
Leone and Bruno walk out into the streets of Napoli. It's starting to get dark, streetlamps blinking on one by one like fireflies in the summertime. The air is humid, the warmth welcome. They both stumble towards more familiar neighborhoods like Giorno hit them with a road roller. Bruno looks particularly aimless, staring at the sidewalk, forehead scrunched and brows knotting together.
“Did...did we just get fired? By Giorno?”
Leone laughs. “I think the technical term is demoted. But yeah, essentially. I think we did.”
Bruno comes to a dead stop. Unseeing pedestrians part around him on instinct. He starts to crouch, holding his stomach. Leone’s throat floods with worry.
Then Bruno starts to absolutely bray with laughter. It’s even louder than it was when they were cowboys, so loud that it’s already starting to make him cough. He pops back up like he’s a jack-in-the-box and grabs Leone’s shoulders, shaking them, a wild, boundless smile on his face.
"I GOT FIRED!” he shouts at the top of his lungs.
The only thing Leone can do when met with such a reaction is laugh with him. They laugh and laugh and laugh, holding onto each other as they gasp for air. It begins to rain. They hardly notice. They cackle down the road with reckless abandon, jumping in puddles, splashing each other like children. Leone pulls Bruno into a tango. They dance and dance and laugh and earn a dozen weird looks from people who don’t notice Bruno until it’s too late.
It’s not the first time he’s had a job prospect to consider in the rain, but Leone finds he prefers it much more this time around.
"Dr. Zeppeli is my mother's cousin,” Bruno says, writing an address down on the back of a napkin. “He runs his practice in the suburbs. Get whatever security measures you need set up and tell him I sent you. He'll get you an appointment quickly."
They're at Libecco for a celebratory consolation dinner. It took the staff a moment to recognize Bruno, but they seemed grateful to see him again. They were immediately set up at their old table, for old time's sake. Bruno's hair is still damp from the rain. He hands the napkin to Mista. "He's a good man."
"Sweet, thanks!" Mista takes the napkin, reads it, and then stuffs it in the band of his pants next to his gun. Fugo watches him do it in horror. "We're doing it, man!" he says, turning to Fugo, holding up his hand for a high five. "Going to a professional!"
"I'm not touching you or that napkin ever again."
Mista pulls his hand back, pretending that he totally meant to just rest it on his head this whole time. "Fine, whatever. Probably more hygienic without you. I'll save that shit for marriage anyways."
Narancia pauses mid-slurp of his puttanesca. “But wait, Mista,” he says. A glob of red sauce drips down the corner of his mouth. “We high-five all the time! Are we married?”
“I’m talking about real marriage, dude,” Mista says. “Like wedding-marriage. When you get married, you and your spouse both high-five your rings together super hard to make the metal clank as loud as you can. That’s where the wedding bells come from.”
“Huh,” Narancia says. “Can’t refute that. I’ve never been to a wedding.”
“Yeah, me neither.”
“Please,” Fugo’s saying, stress in his voice. “Please give me a copy of the address.”
Bruno’s already writing on another napkin. "This may not even be possible," he says, finishing it off and handing it to Fugo, who puts it in his pocket, very hygenic-like. “But I think you should try to convince Giorno to go with you.”
The table goes quiet. Bruno feels Leone’s knee bump his own. “We...can try,” Mista says, grimacing.
"I know as the Don he may be resistant to the idea," Bruno says. “But it would be good for him to talk to someone. I think he’s—”
“Burdened,” Bruno finishes. “I think he’s burdened. And I think he’s trying to push himself to places where no one else can follow. Don’t let him. Don’t let him be alone while we’re gone.”
Narancia, Mista, and Fugo all nod at once. It’s an order from their capo, no matter what title he has now. “We won’t,” Mista says. “We don’t leave people behind.”
It’s quiet again after that. The only sounds are from the kitchen, from Leone swirling up more spaghetti and from Fugo pulling out a folder and opening it. “What’s in the folder, kid?” Leone asks.
Fugo skims through it, smirks, and then chucks the folder at Bruno and Leone’s side of the table. “It’s the specifics of your assignment from Giorno. Take a look.”
Bruno hands it to Leone to have him read. Leone squints at it. “He’s...sending us to the goddamn Dolomites?” Glances at Fugo, who only nods. “A village near Asiago. Says it recently had someone buy their way to mayor using Passione funds, laundered through their ski resort. Now the new mayor’s been accused of embezzling tax money. Giorno wants us to investigate and see if we can find a local candidate that would treat the town better.”
Bruno peeks over Leone’s shoulder, pointing to a picture on the page. “Is that where we’ll be staying? What a beautiful villa,” he says. "A great view of the mountains right out the bedroom window."
Mista raises an eyebrow. “The bedroom?”
“Yeah,” Fugo says, not bothering to hide his shit-eating grin. “Bedroom, singular.”
Narancia gasps. “Oh no!” he says in faux shock. “One bedroom? What are they going to do?”
"Hang on, hang on." Mista jumps out of his seat like he’s been waiting for the opportunity. “I think we all know that it’ll probably go something like this.” Clears his throat, then puts one hand on his chest and stretches the other out like he’s about to deliver a Shakespearan soliloquy. “Oh, Buccellati!” he keens, in a horrible gruff imitation of Leone’s voice. Mista directs his performance at Narancia, who he pulls up and into his arms. Narancia puts a hand to his forehead, kicks his leg out, and swoons dramatically in a way that’s precise enough to have been rehearsed. "Please!" says Mista to Narancia's Bru-not. "Don't waste your time on such inferior pillows! Save your braid and sleep on top of my tremendous pecs instead!"
Leone accidentally unzips his glass, spilling water all over the tablecloth. Fugo’s cackling, holding his sides. Narancia laughs so hard that he falls right out of Mista’s hold and onto to the floor. Mista, emboldened by his audience, gets down on one knee and pleads to the rolling Narancia with his hands clasped together. “Oh, Buccellati! Please! Let me have your baby! Scoop a dozen of them off the street, I don’t care! I love them all! Please!”
Bruno sits unmoving, his legs crossed, his hands perched atop his knee. He’s been watching this with the same impassivity of receiving mission orders, but Leone can see that he has to bite the inside of his lip to keep it that way. “Perhaps if we make enough progress with someone like Dr. Zeppeli,” he says, voice unaffected, addressing the fake Leone. “I’d consider it one day.”
The real Leone turns as red as Narancia’s puttanesca sauce. “Aw!” Narancia and Mista both shriek in tandem. Then Narancia vaults up, prowls his way around the table, swinging his hips out to accentuate every word. “Legally adopt Narancia Ghirga, Buccellati!” he says.
It doesn’t work as well as a caricature, but Bruno seems to consider it more closely. Leone considers it too. Then he stands up, rolling back his sleeves, having finally collected himself enough to react to the situation.
"You think you're such a fucking clown, huh? You wanna be a fucking clown?" Leone says, stomping over to Mista, hands balled into fists. "I'll make you a fucking clown--"
"Gentlemen,” Bruno says, and Leone immediately turns on his heel to go sit back down. Mista follows, laughing at him the whole way back. Then, when Mista tries to take a bite of spaghetti, the head of his fork unzips itself and dumps the pasta onto his lap. He screams.
The rest of the table erupts into bickering. Bruno does not join in. The scream was just the right pitch to reopen that maw of death inside of him. He begins to feel his presence there fade, withdrawing into memories that he can never dare to speak of, but then there’s touch, a hand on his leg. Leone’s holding onto his thigh underneath the table, just above his knee, just enough for Bruno to know that he isn’t alone. It tethers him to the room again.
Bruno looks at his team. Fugo’s cheeks are pink from laughing so hard. Narancia has tears in his eyes at Mista’s expense. Mista’s still picking individual noodles off his pant legs. Leone’s smiling, just ever so slightly. He thinks about Giorno. He hopes he’s working in the light this time. Mista eats a pants-noodle and Fugo starts yelling at him. They’re all safe.
This was worth it, he thinks. This is enough.
Song: Love My Way by the Psychedelic Furs
adding another chapter for an epilogue. woo! not over!
during the course of writing this I made myself a) cry b) take one step closer to becoming to guinea pigs what Victor Hugo was to the Parisien sewer system
it’s the end! Enjoy.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Abbacchio's midway through an interview about horse thefts along the edge of the Madonie when his ringer goes off. "Sorry," he says, pulling out his flip phone, squinting at the name on the screen like he's never seen a screen before. Grimaces. "Sorry, uh, I have to take this. It's my fu--” He pauses to keep himself from swearing. ”It's my kid."
Leone turns ninety degrees in the restaurant booth. Grabs his phone, flips it open. "What?"
"Papa!" Narancia says.
Leone jerks his face away from the phone. Takes a deep breath through his nostrils. Puts the speaker against his ear again. "I told you," he says. "To stop calling me that."
"But it's the law!" Narancia says. "Legally, that's what you are. What happened to your respect for the law, Officer Dad?"
The list of things that are worthy to kill Giorno over is a lengthy one. If he tried to write it all down, the scroll would roll right off the table and bounce right out the door. On the top of the list now, however, has to be Giorno's adherence to paperwork. He, respectably, wanted Narancia to get into the best school in Napoli, an institution renowned for their strict entrance requirements and emphasis on traditional grade levels. Rather than just pay them off, however, Giorno insisted on forging an entire academic and personal record for Narancia, then paying them off. The new and improved Narancia was a fourteen year old A- student, fresh out of middle school, ready to start at a level educationally appropriate for him. Of course, a kid that young needed legal guardians in order to get properly admitted into the system.
Enter Officer Dad.
It’s not the implied parenthood that’s the annoying part. It’s the goddamn paperwork. Forged or otherwise, Narancia uses it to back up every fatherly-related idea he has, like calling him something ridiculous like papa or babbo or demanding he legally take him camping. Really, he just seems gleeful to be able to lord the law over a former cop. Such an accomplishment. But Leone lets him have it more often than not. Kid’s doing well in school. He makes a note to himself to thank Fugo again later.
"What do you want?" he says.
He can hear Narancia’s smile. "Giorno told me to tell you that he's finishing up negotiations with the Speedwagon guys soon,” he says. “He wants you back for it once you're done there.”
Oh. That’s...news. "Right. We'll finish up and then take the ferry over."
"Good! Love you!"
Leone turns around as far as he possibly can, like if he cranes his head enough the person sitting across from him will forget he was ever on a call in the first place. The leather of the booth squeaks as he moves. "Love you too," he mumbles. Goes to shut the phone.
"Wait! Wait!" Narancia says. Leone raises the phone, albeit reluctantly, back up to his ear. "Can I have a guinea pig?" he asks.
Another long breath through his nose. "A guinea pig?"
"Yeah! Fugo and I were clearing out some slumlord's house and we found her there! We thought she was a toupee at first, but then she had legs! I named her Melabella. She eats hay! Can I keep her?"
"Ask your father." Leone flips the phone closed to hang up for real. God, the flipping, it's really so satisfying.
"He can have a guinea pig," the other father says. Today Bruno's disguised as one of the waiters, giving him a prime position to eavesdrop on tables. His hair is pulled back in a ponytail as part of the borrowed outfit, and there’s a pencil sticking out of the elastic. In one hand he’s holding a tray of someone else’s food, in the other a pot of coffee. Mrs. Cavalleria, their new client, hasn’t noticed him yet. "I think they're tender souls."
“Alright.” Leone’s addressing both of them, but only nodding towards Mrs. Cavalleria. Bruno likes to milk the semi-invisibility thing for as long as possible. Leone watches Bruno refill her coffee mug, and then, a moment later, watches as her eyes widen once she realizes that the level of liquid went back up as if by magic. Keeping his face neutral is a concentrated effort. "Sorry for the interruption," Leone says to her. Checks his notes. "You were saying that Tiramisu was the...fourth? Fifth horse that's missing?"
It's the fifth horse, and Leone gets to hear all about it. Bruno's still idling by their booth though the frittata he’s carrying must be getting cold by now.
"Do you think that when we find her horses, we can keep one of them?" Bruno says, asking a question he knows Leone can't address. He's in one of these moods, so it seems. "No, no, that wouldn't be right. But...what if?"
Leone's eyes stay forward. It's work, though. "And when did you first notice them missing?”
She tells him. Leone takes another sip of coffee. He's gonna need it, if this is how Bruno wants to play today. In his peripherals, Bruno's getting a look in his eye. Oh no. Leone almost chokes, but swallows past it, keeps drinking. Act cool. Act natural.
"You know," Bruno says. "Sometimes I miss being inside you. But then I remember I can just come inside you later, if I wanted to."
He can't do it. His throat betrays him. Leone spits coffee all over the table, all over his notebook. The spray is impressive and intimidating, somewhere halfway between garden hose and blue whale. Brown drops spatter Mrs. Cavalleria's glasses. Leone turns maroon.
"Oh no!" Bruno says, loudly announcing himself, Mrs. Cavalleria's eyes widening as there's suddenly a waiter where there wasn't. "I'm so sorry for sneaking up and startling you, sir. I've been told I'm good at camouflage." He pulls out a napkin with flourish. "Here, dear." Mrs. Cavalleria lets him clean her glasses.
Leone just sits there, like a chump. Bruno hands back the glasses, wipes down the table. "Payback for the funeral," he whispers as he goes. Because every time Leone loses at this game, it's payback for the funeral. Like attempting to disrupt someone’s own funeral is especially notable or something. Wait. Wait, no. No, he has a point.
“Sorry about that. Again,” Leone says. “I think I have enough information here to start looking. So you can, uh, go. Sorry. Again.”
She leaves, disgruntled and smelling of espresso but ultimately still alive. Bruno slips into her seat, pulling out the ponytail and shaking out his hair. It turns back into his bob, and he combs through it with his fingers.
“Good shift?” Leone says.
“It was,” Bruno says. "A lot of tips and only one major mess to clean up.” He smirks. “So we've been summoned back to Napoli?"
"Mhm," Leone says over the last of his coffee. "Once we find Tiramisu and company. Did you pick up on anything?"
"Table 1 was talking about an abandoned hangar left behind after the airport tried to expand. Said there was some sort of party being planned there. Does that sound suspicious to you?"
"Sure does," Leone says. "I’d buy a rave in an abandoned building being part of the goth circuit in a big city, but that’s not exactly the scene in this town. We should investigate.”
“Probably full of horses,” Bruno says.
“Probably.” A beat. “Are you really going to let the kid have a guinea pig?”
“Don’t be absurd,” Bruno says. “He’ll need to have two guinea pigs. They’re very social creatures. Keeping one on its own will make it lonely.”
“Fair enough,” Leone says. "And...uh...did you mean what you said about…" He lowers his voice, makes a complicated hand gesture. "Coming?"
"Don't be absurd," Bruno says, grinning. "I didn't mean I wanted to come inside you later. I meant I wanted to right now, if that's what you would like."
Leone's already grabbing the car keys. "Let's go."
They get a room.
Abbacchio and Buccellati track down the abandoned hangar. It’s exactly as dingy a building as the term “abandoned hangar” would imply. Like Bruno predicted, it’s also full of horses.
“What the fuck," Leone says, upon climbing through an unzipped hole and facing evidence of both equestrian sequestering and the face of the ugly man responsible. "You again, Zuppa?"
"Shouldn't you know better by now, Zuppa?" Bruno says.
Abbacchio and Buccellati first had the misfortune of meeting Zuppa Toscana in a town, surprise surprise, outside of Toscana. Curly-green hair atop a wiry body makes him look like a sprig of parsley. A lackey of a lackey of a now dead capo, Zuppa's a surprisingly adept thief. He's skilled enough to have made them consider referring him to Giorno, but two things about him made them throw out that idea quickly. The first was that he was so damnably stubborn about never knowing any better. The second, and the thing least likely to jive with the new Robin Hood philosophy of Passione, was that he was addicted to inflicting get-rich-quick schemes onto the people of the Italian countryside.
“Dammit!” Zuppa says. He ducks behind a horse to try to hide, but given that horses typically aren’t floor-to-ceiling stone pillars, there’s a gap beneath the abdomen where his legs are visible. Leone tackles him. He’s very glad his hamburger wound finally finished healing a few weeks ago.
Since it is now their fourth time meeting, Leone knows better than to bother with the pleasantries. Instead, he grabs a set of broken reins and starts tying Zuppa to a floor-to-ceiling stone pillar.
Zuppa starts whining. His voice sounds like a gerbil was trained to talk. “Why do you keep following me?”
“Following you?” Leone says, grunting from looping the restraints. “Why are you following us?”
“Zuppa,” Bruno says, stepping forward to make sure Zuppa can really see him. The genuine caring in his voice makes Leone’s heart swell mid-reining. “Did your gardening career not work out? What happened to the seed kit I gave you?”
“You lost it?” Leone says, pulling hard enough on the reigns to make Zuppa squeak. “Bruno grew those cucumbers himself while we were helping the Cetriolo family with their gardens in Bari. Those were worth their weight in gold. Apologize.”
“I can forgive the cucumbers,” Bruno says. “I may not be able to forgive the horses, depending on what you had in mind. What, exactly, were you planning on doing here?"
“A legitimate--hey!” He squeaks again as Leone ties a knot far tighter than necessary. “A legitimate business opportunity. I was just gonna borrow them for a little bit! Get my concept off the ground and then return 'em! Really! And they can go outside whenever they want! Look!"
He gestures with his head to an open overhead door. Through it, they can see Tiramisu, the fifth horse, grazing out in the lawn. She sees them staring and flicks her head at them like a wave. Bruno looks mildly less concerned.
"I'm almost impressed you dared to go back to keeping animals after the snail breeding fiasco," Bruno says.
"What, you mean the other legitimate opportunity the two of you ruined for me?” Zuppa snivels. “Still pissed about that, by the way! I had it all lined out perfect! I get the snails, make the snails marry each other, get more snails from their matrimonial consummation, then I figure out how to milk them and sell the slime to tourists as olive oil! Victimless crime!" He stamps his foot as best he can being tied to a pole. "How was I supposed to know that room was attached to the library? And that the snails could break out and start eating the books?"
Leone kicks him in the knee. "He asked about the horses," he says.
Zuppa yelps. "Still a brute, I see! Don't know how you manage to get on with him, Braulio."
"It's Bruno," Bruno says. "And we get on quite well, thank you."
Leone kicks him again. "Horses."
"Fine! I stole the--borrowed the horses so I could kickstart my underground jousting ring! People were going to come and pay admission and then ride in a circle while swinging swords at each other! It was gonna work this time, I mean it! Classless bastards!”
“Do I need to check if you’re lying?”
“No, no, please! Not that again! Gross!”
"I know I say this a lot to you, Zuppa," Bruno says. "But that's a horrible idea."
"Just really, really bad." Leone adds.
"You know, I think your moral superiority is really just ha-ha-hilarious. You think you're so much better than me, but you’re the mobsters here! You’re the bad guys! Not me! No respect for the grind!"
"The difference between you and us, Zuppa," Leone says. "Is that we are good at what we do."
"That is true," Bruno says.
"And we don't steal horses from old ladies who make a living off people riding them," Leone says. "But if we wanted to, we'd be good at it."
"That's also true."
"But we don't want to."
"No," Bruno says, but there's the tiniest bit of wistfulness in his voice. "We don't."
"Honestly, Zuppa, you should be grateful that you're meeting us now instead of us from back then. Back then, we wouldn’t have had the displeasure of meeting four times, because you would have already been fish food midway through the first. You have no idea what Bruno here was capable of." Bruno waves. "Lucky for you that we don’t do that anymore, but now we have to decide what we do have to do with you."
“Make him cough up his own fingers," Bruno says.
Leone shoots a look of moderate horror at Bruno. "Not after the last time," he says. Getting the fingers off isn't the problem. Getting them back on is. "Gonna save that one for predators and perverts. The evil ones, I mean." He squints at their captive. "Are you a pervert, Zuppa?"
"Not...not on weekdays."
Leone sighs a heavy, heavy sigh. "One finger, then."
Leone unzips Zuppa's pinky finger. He doesn't put it in his mouth as planned, instead just sort of waving it around his face like he's trying to entice someone into taking a bite of a cocktail weenie at a party. Zuppa wails. Does not look very enticed. When Leone zips it back on, it goes much better this time. It only leaves behind a weird mark that'll probably hurt if Zuppa presses on it too hard. An appropriate punishment for an equinal crime.
"Knock it the fuck off," Leone says. "Leave this town and get a real job. Or it'll be your dick next time."
"Fine! Fine! Whatever! I get it!"
"Try gardening again, Zuppa," Bruno says. "Get a stall at a farmer's market."
"Are we done here?" Leone asks Bruno.
“I think so. Someone’s going to have to ride all these horses back to town, though.” He sighs in fake hardship, shrugging his shoulders. “Such a difficult chore. I couldn’t possibly ask anyone else to do it. It’ll be hard, but I think I can manage. Somehow.”
Leone laughs, pats him on the back. “I’ll drive the car beside you.”
“Wait, wait!” Zuppa cries. “You’re just going to leave me tied up like this?”
“We’ll let the jousters get you down, Zuppa.”
“See how good they are with swords, Zuppa.”
Mrs. Cavalleria gets her horses back. She’s delighted. She offers to pay, as their clients always do. They turn it down, as they always do. They do, however, accept a ride from her husband to Palermo, who’s going there for business anyways.
Once there, they head down to the docks to catch a night ferry. For Bruno, it’s easy; he just dons the uniform of one of the ferrymen and walks right on. For Leone, boarding requires a bit more finesse; he has to slip around sailors and other guests and make sure that he’s not zipping through anything important. Breaking through the hull is easier than one would think. Not that he would, uh, know that first-hand, of course.
“You think Zuppa’ll ever change?” Leone asks. They’re in a cabin of their own, marked off with a borrowed CLOSED FOR CLEANING sign.
“I always want to think he will,” Bruno says. “But then we keep meeting him.”
“Yeah,” Leone says. “Yeah, you’re right.”
“Who knows, though? Maybe it’ll happen one day. We changed, didn’t we?”
“We did. We did.”
It speaks with a thousand voices, a chorus of the dead and dying and damned from Heaven and Hell and everything in between. Endless copies of both their bodies converge their trails towards them. I am REQUIEM. You require my intervention.
Requiem's hand is wrapped around his heart, weighing it in judgement against its feather-light touch, dissecting it valve by valve like it’s being pinned open for display. Bruno sobs. He can't breathe. He can't breathe he can't breathe he can't he can't he--
"Bruno." Someone's touching him, someone real. They're shaking his shoulder. "Bruno."
Here he can feel each of his cells slowly decay with a brutal, unflinching precision, and he can't do a damn thing about it. Can’t. Can’t. Can’t. Can’t.
He sees Leone dead and feels nothing. He knows that he left him there. He left him there. He left him there. He--
Bruno is pulled upright. He gasps, wheezes. Leone is there, hands on his back, supporting him so he doesn’t fall over. He's in the bottom bunk of their ferry cabin. He must have been sleeping.
It was another dream, then. No. Not a dream, never a dream. He doesn't have those anymore. He has nightmares.
"You were choking again," Leone says. Hands him a glass of water. “Here.”
Bruno takes it and drinks. Water does nothing for him anymore, but the act of drinking is soothing, normal. “Sorry,” he says, wiping his face on the back of his hand.
“It’s alright,” Leone says. His hand rubs slow, warm circles into the small of his back. “Just think we should find a doctor for you. Since these keep happening more often. Don’t know exactly how a doctor would even work, but I’m just worried it could be something with...your lungs?” He frowns, like he’s trying to decide whether or not Bruno has lungs. “Maybe?”
Bruno doesn’t correct him. “I’ll ask Giorno what he recommends. Thank you.” He hands the glass back. “You can go back to bed. I’ll be fine.”
Leone's hands pull back, but he doesn't leave. "Will you be able to fall back asleep?"
Bruno considers lying. Doesn't know what the point would be. "No. But it's--"
"Want to come up on deck with me, then?"
They leave the cabin, head up the stairs. Sometimes Bruno wonders what the shape of the telling would take. Something bad happened to me, Leone, it would begin. Something awful. It's no one's fault, but...
But there's no shared memory this time around. Leone can't just stumble onto this the way he found the men he killed or his father's deathbed. Bruno would have to drag it out himself, and the act of telling is a blunt and filthy thing. The shape of it would be marred and clipped by words that never get close enough to the meaning he needs. All he can picture about it is Leone’s face, turning purple in rage. It’s no one’s fault, but…
They reach the deck and lean over the railing to look out over the sea. In the dark, the Tyrrhenian just looks like an empty hole, but they can see pinpricks of light off a distant coast, and the wind picks up salt and sticks it to their skin. Leone raps his knuckles against the railing and listens to how the metal echoes. Hums. Tries to match pitch with it.
“Wanna talk about it?” he says.
So he suspects it’s not his lungs. Bruno doesn’t know what he wants anymore. “What should I do,” he says instead. “If Giorno fires us for real this time? Or if he forces us into retirement? What should my new position be?”
Leone grins. They bounce this question off each other from time to time, and the answer always changes from one asking to the next. “I think,” he says. “I think you should go back to teaching self-defense classes like you did that one time. That’s, uh, perfectly rational of me to say, by the way, and is not at all influenced by how you look in aerobics wear.”
Bruno snorts. “I don’t know if I could handle that again, honestly. I think I made a monster out of Mrs. Cazzotto.”
Leone winces, nods. “God help the next poor idiot that tries to break into her house.”
"May he rest in peace," Bruno says. "If Giorno asks us to keep doing this, I don't know if I'll be able to turn him down."
"Me either," Leone says. It's the truth. They both know this. The question about what they'd do otherwise keeps growing more and more theoretical each time around. "Thought I was set on retirement, on getting us away from all this shit. Thought doing Giorno’s odd jobs while he figured himself out was gonna be insulting. And there’s definitely a version of me that would have still been insulted. Cleaning up corruption, chasing out corny con-men, making sure things get built the way they should, keeping other people’s kids safe, scaring the hell out of someone’s abusive partner-- it’s all small stuff. It’s small, but I--I like it. Feels like I’m helping people. Helping the community, little by little. Makes me feel useful.”
Bruno nods. He’s a particularly big fan of the “scaring the hell out of someone’s abusive partner” genre of their work. Especially when the "pretend to be a ghost" opportunity presents itself. “I agree,” he says. "It's nice."
“And you know how I feel about the kid,” Leone says, and Bruno braces himself. "But you have to give him credit for it. If he wanted us with Passione to protect us so badly, Giorno just could have put us on house arrest or something like that. But he gave us the chance to feel useful. He didn't need to do that."
Giorno's very good at doing things he doesn't need to, is what he thinks. "Yeah," is what he says. "You're right."
They go quiet. The water is endless, ravenous. The waves will go on forever and ever and ever and there's nothing they can do to stop it.
"Bruno," Leone says. "If you're still in this body when I get older, and I can't keep up, or--or you don't like me anymore, you don't have to stick around. You should be happy. Always."
Bruno turns towards him. "Leone--"
"I know," he says. "I know, I know it's selfish to bring that up when you woke up sick, but I just...I just had to tell you. You should know. If it's ever too much, you're free to go wherever you want to. That's all."
Bruno purses his lips. Bites the inside of his cheek. "Leone," he says, tone measured. "Do you really think I would miss out on the chance to see you with crow's feet?"
Leone barks out a wet, sad laugh. "Alright," he says. "Alright, true."
Bruno's not done. "And age spots? More freckles? It's in my artistic opinion that there can never be enough freckles on you. If I get even more to find...well, I'll have to be very thorough in my search."
Bruno takes Leone's face in his hands, presses a kiss to his forehead. "I'd be in the presence of the world's sexiest senior. An international phenomenon. You'd need a bodyguard to fend off the hordes of admirers, and I'd get to protect a timeless treasure. A win-win situation."
A tear beads at the corner of his eye. Bruno kisses it away before it has the chance to fall. "Thank you," Leone says. "Thank you, Bruno."
"I will follow you," Bruno says. "As you have followed me." He pulls him into a forceful embrace, like chest compressions in CPR, something vital and serious in the movement of his arms. "And the day may come where we decide to part ways, but it will not happen without serious discussion between the two of us. But until that day ever comes, I will follow you. Until the end."
"Until the end," Leone says.
"And past that. We'll meet again, after it's over. We always do."
"Yes," Leone says. "We always do."
The waves break, and they break, and they break. It sounds like blood. Like the beating of a heart.
It'll be a new day, soon.
They’re late for the meeting they were supposed to attend today, because the first thing they did once the ferry docked in Napoli was zip their way into a hotel room and take a nap. They had to call the estate to get another driver lined up. Whoops.
Their last stay at the Passione manor wasn’t all that long ago, but Narancia’s on them like it’s a ten decade drought and they’re the river. “Babbos!” he shrieks as quietly as he can. Goes to grab Bruno’s waist like a hyped-up linebacker. The force of it throws him off balance; they teeter and Leone’s mind works before his body, launching himself underneath them so they land on his chest instead of the floor. Unfortunately, this means that they land on his chest instead of the floor. He grunts on impact as all the air gets shoved out of him.
“No! Papa!” Narancia hisses. “I’m sorry!”
Leone goes to grunt some more, but Narancia brings a finger to his mouth and shushes him. He points down the hall to a closed door from which murmurings can be heard. The meeting, in progress.
Narancia helps Leone and Bruno back up and sets their bags to the side. He leads them down the hall, holding both of their hands. From one of the other hallways comes a shrill, piercing noise, like the cries of a macaque in terrible pain, or perhaps the squealing gears of a rusty rack. Its resonance chills Leone to the bone.
Bruno gets a strange look on his face. "Torture?" he mouths to Narancia.
"Even better," Narancia mouths back. "Guinea pigs."
The meeting room is packed with people, several of whom they don’t recognize. Giorno’s in his familiar throne, flanked by Mista and Fugo, sitting across from a man with hair that looks like it’s trying to eat his own hat. His suit? White. His face? Peeved. Next to him is a young man with grey hair and bright eyes. Various other officials, Passione or otherwise, fill the chairs and line the walls.
They’re midsentence. The man in the hat is reading something off a sheet of paper. “--submit to six month blood tests in exchange for--”
“Yearly,” Giorno interrupts. He looks exhausted, and the man in the hat makes a face like some of that exhaustion rubs off on him with every word. “I already discussed this with your supervisor, Dr. Kujo. I'll submit to yearly testing. No more. That includes the clause where the samples must be destroyed when testing is finished."
Dr. Kujo mutters something under his breath. "Yearly," he amends with a measure of reluctance. "Yearly blood tests, in exchange for a ban on studying and/or surveilling Stand users affiliated with you or Passione, except in the case of clear emergency or upon receiving explicit permission.”
“I agree to these terms,” Giorno says.
Dr. Kujo doesn’t react, just passes off the sheet to the grey-haired boy, who starts jotting something down on it. Pulls out the next sheet. “In exchange for both previous and future access to SPW resources, given that the intended use of resources is for non-illicit purposes, Passione agrees to locate and dispose of the stone mask of Siracusa island.”
“We agree,” Giorno says. “Agents Mista, Fugo, Sheila and Murolo will begin their search following this meeting.”
Mista shoots finger guns. Fugo does nothing. The girl with the eye scar and a man with a hat worse than Dr. Kujo’s both nod.
Another page gets passed along. “You acknowledge,” Dr. Kujo reads. “That breaching any of the terms of our agreement will result in its termination.”
“I acknowledge it,” Giorno says.
Dr. Kujo grunts. “That’s it. For now, anyways,” he says. “We’re done here.”
They both stand up. Giorno looks like he’s thinking about offering a hand to shake, but quickly gets the better of himself. They nod at each other instead. Dr. Kujo doesn't even look at him.
“Meeting adjourned,” Giorno says.
Everyone else stands up and starts milling about. This wouldn't be a very good mixer-- there's nary a cocktail weenie in sight-- but some people are treating it like one anyway. Mingling begins. The hat-man Murolo makes a beeline to a random Speedwagon agent with such intensity that it makes several onlookers step back to protect themselves. Narancia and Mista set their sights on the beleaguered Dr. Kujo, who seems to be wordlessly urging his assistant to pack up as fast as possible.
Narancia sidles up beside him first. "I'm Narancia Bucchachio-I-Ghirga," he says. "The I doesn't stand for anything, it was just so I could have the same initials as Biggie. And I'm something of a scientist myself."
"The I stands for idiotic," Mista says. "Inintelligent. Itty-bitty."
"Shut the fuck up, Mista, inintelligent's not a word."
"And where'd you learn that, nerd boy? School?"
"As a matter of fact, I did! So you can proudly fuck off and go die in a hole somewhere."
Mista's visibly struggling to not make a joke about resurrection around the Speedwagon people. "Well...you know what? Maybe I will!"
"Oh, so that's how it is--"
By then, Dr. Kujo is long gone.
Fugo comes over to Leone and Bruno. “Welcome back,” he says. It’s not a mixer, but he somehow has a glass of wine in hand. By the smell of his breath, it’s not his first one, either.
Bruno squints at him. “Have you been drinking the whole morning?”
Fugo swirls his glass and then downs the rest of it in one go. “Huh,” he says. “Don’t remember you being my dad.”
“Watch your mouth,” Leone says, leaning over Bruno’s shoulder, pointing an imposing finger at their not-son. “I’ve got my body to myself now. Bruno can’t stop me if I need to kick your ass.”
“No,” Bruno says. “No, I can still stop you.”
“Okay, Bruno can stop me,” Leone says. “But you better watch it, still. Giorno’s handing out adoption papers like candy nowadays.”
Fugo seems like he’s seriously considering it. “And then what? You couldn’t kick my ass if you were my dad. You wouldn’t.”
“No,” he says. “But I could ground you.”
Fugo smirks and rolls his eyes. “Wow. Really got me. And ‘drinking since morning’ implies that there’s a delineation between night and day, which for me, there is not. I’ve been up for…” He pauses, counts on his fingers, and then gets to his pinky and gives up. “A long time. Had to go through the agreement with Giorno, make sure all the language was what we wanted it to be, draft some addendums to be discussed later. I was relying on straight espresso for a while, and then I got bored and dumped some wine in it to try to make Narancia’s batch taste better, and that was horrible. So I just switched to wine.” He sardonically pumps his fist in the air and tries to knock back the last couple droplets. “Finally, the real college experience.”
Bruno’s brows are furrowed. It looks like he’s itching to tuck Fugo into bed via a pro-wrestling-style bodyslam. “You need to sleep. Not healthy.”
Leone feels similarly. "And quit binge drinking, you little fucking punk."
"Slow down, dads, Giorno doesn't even have the paperwork yet." It's only halfway a joke. "I’ll crash after we’re done here. Not even drunk, anyways." He tosses his glass over his shoulder. It’s actually just a plastic cup, so it bonks the top of a stupid hat harmlessly, but Murolo turns around with murder in his eyes like Fugo threw a solid steel baseball bat instead.
"Speaking of Giorno," Bruno says. "Where is he?"
“Dunno,” Fugo says. “He ducked out of here quick, didn’t he? Probably needs to decompress. I know I’m not always very fun to be around, but that Dr. Kujo…” He takes a deep breath, grimaces. Urges them into a corner so they can talk in private. “I respect the work he does, but the man just...sucks the energy out of every room he’s in. If you told me he had a Stand that did nothing but make him a massive drag, I’d believe you. Giorno had to have several meetings with him.” Fugo shakes his head. “It went well overall, though. Never really came to a head like Giorno expected it to.”
Bruno remembers the vial of smoke. “Good,” he says. “Good.”
"Given that the organization is technically an NGO, I think one of Giorno's main fears was that they'd try to influence the Polizia di Stato from taking bribes and start working with them to take us down. Or they'd start sending in specialists of their own under the guise of keeping the peace. Turns out they don’t exactly have the moral superiority we thought they did. Skeletons in the closet. Point is that they won’t do shit to us. Can’t do shit to us. We’re making sure of that." There's the slightest edge of wickedness to his voice. "It's going to be an interesting alliance for sure.”
“Sure,” Leone says. Honestly, all this political drama is making him miss the Madonie, where there were less “skeletons in the closet” and more “horses in the abandoned hangar”. Shit, does that make him boring, now? Ugh. Probably.
"Once this mask mission is over, I think I’m going to ask to work with them more closely,” Fugo says. “With research stuff, I mean. Giorno knows already. I think I’m almost ready to go back to school, and while I can’t exactly major in Stands, I can do research about research and do an internship in Speedwagon as part of my courses. Get credit for what I’m already doing, you know. So yeah. That’s my plan.”
Bruno’s face brightens back up. He was starting to tune things out the same way Leone was. His advice to Zuppa was right on; it really is amazing how a soothing round of gardening and a robust cucumber harvest can put someone off a life of endless crime. “I’m so proud of you,” he says.
Fugo’s cheeks turn a light shade of pink. “God, old man, don’t embarrass me,” he says. Neither Bruno nor Leone can refute that this time. That’s just who they are now, crotchety down to their very souls. They go to bed at 9 PM. "But really, thanks. I think...I think it’ll be good. Different university. I'm nervous, but I think it'll be good. Giorno's giving me a fake name to enroll under."
"Do you need fake parents, too?" Bruno asks.
"No," Fugo says. "No, I'd want you to be my real ones." His face turns the rest of the way to fuschia. "Shit. I stopped joking, didn't I? Think I'm drunk after all. Excuse me, I'm gonna go...find a couch to die on."
Fugo goes off in search of a final resting place. "Don't die!" Bruno calls after him. The spot where he stood is filled with another kid a second later.
"Pops!" Narancia says. "It's an emergency!"
"Oh god," Leone says.
"Sheila's talking shit about you and now you have to arm wrestle her and like three Speedwagon guys to save the family honor. I tried to reason with her, but that's what the legal system says. And legally--"
"Fine," Leone groans. Glances at Bruno. "Duty calls."
Bruno waves them off like they're knights going off to battle. "Godspeed," he says. "Save our honor, Pops."
Leone turns his head around to shoot a withering look at him, but Bruno's already gone.
He has someone he needs to find.
Giorno’s in the garden, like Bruno figured he would be. These have to be some of the most beautiful grounds in all of Italy, but Giorno’s not spending his time where the oleander blooms, where the lunaria shines like ghosts. Instead Bruno finds him holed up in a makeshift arboretum that wasn’t there before. The tree trunks are all forced too close together to make a perfect spot of darkness, a chaotic shelter from the sun. It ruins the careful spacing of the rest of the garden. Giorno’s standing in the shade he created, not moving, just resting his head on one of the tree trunks.
“Hello,” Bruno says. “Giorno.”
Pulses of life skitter up bark and trickle through leaves, wrenching crop after crop from the canopy above. The trees bud and flower, then fruit their apples that grow as big as they can, then let them rot and fall to the ground all in the span of a few seconds. Again, again, again. Through the dark, Bruno can see the glow of one of Giorno’s eyes. The moon, waxing.
“I see that the situation went well," Bruno says. "I'm proud of you."
Giorno's voice is weak. "Should you be?" he says.
Bruno doesn't answer. The life-pulses stop, leaving all the apples in a frozen state of decay. Makes the place smell like cobbler gone bad.
“They look at me,” Giorno says, quiet and unprompted. “Like I’m a god. Or the devil, in the case of Dr. Kujo.” He makes a strange sound. Could’ve been a laugh, maybe. “He said he knew my father. My biological father. There was something wrong with him, he said. A disease. They’re worried about me inheriting it. He said that we’re cousins, him and I.”
Something’s wrong there, but Giorno’s not lying. “So that’s why they’re asking for a blood sample,” Bruno says. “And the DNA test was to prove your lineage, wasn’t it?”
Giorno nods. His hair hangs around his face like Spanish moss, dead and dried up. “It was a match,” he says. “Apparently I have several relatives on that side.”
“Are you going to meet them?”
“I think Dr. Kujo would greatly prefer I didn’t,” Giorno says. “And I think I can see what he means. I think I know what sickness they’re searching for. I can feel it. Something my father left behind. I hear it calling, sometimes.”
“And when it calls,” Bruno says. “Do you listen?”
Giorno swallows. “No,” he says. “No, I don’t. But it’s loud, Bruno. Feels like I’m standing on the edge of a pit, looking down on it. I’m afraid of it. I’m afraid all the time, now."
Bruno thinks of his own pit, of the hole that sleeps beneath his ribcage, behind his heart. The hole that’s not his grave, but could very well become it one day. He thinks about Requiem’s prediction of failure if he ever spoke of it. Who’s best interest was it? Requiem’s or Giorno’s? Was it ever real, that world threatened with betrayal? Which world is real, then? The one where he’s dead for three days and then forever, or this one, where he’s in a garden in the sun?
Does it matter, in the end?
“I’m going to tell him,” Bruno says either way. “I’m going to tell Leone about San Giorgio Maggiore. It won’t be soon. It might not even be for years, and I may never tell the others. But it will happen. I will tell him. I need his help. I need him to understand. This is killing us both, this way.”
Giorno’s head drops. “I had a dream,” he says. "But it turns out the dream was empty without everyone there. I can't lose them. Not again. If they knew that I allowed something so horrible--"
"I know it's going to hurt, Giorno," Bruno says. "We should be under no illusion that it won't. It's going to hurt to tell and it's going to hurt to hear. But then they'll know, and they'll know that it wasn't your fault. Wasn't anyone's fault.”
“But I ruined your body, too,” Giorno says. “The fire. It was an accident, but I caused it. And even before that, I was ruining your body with the way I was trying to fix it. That was my fault. I’m sorry.”
Bruno takes a step forward. “This is why we bring these things to the light, Giorno. So we can see them for what they are and then move on.” He holds out his hand for Giorno to take. “Come,” he says.
It takes a moment, but Giorno slowly reaches out for Bruno’s hand, jumpy and withdrawn like an injured bird. He lets Bruno pull him out of the grove, winces as the sun hits him like he’s expecting it to hurt, then he sighs, relaxes.
Bruno holds out his other hand. Giorno knows what that’s supposed to mean. He pulls out the vial of Purple Haze’s virus from his pocket. Together they lift it, letting the sun clean away every drop of poison, until all that’s left in their hands are ashes.
"Come back to us," Bruno says. “Come back to your family. Not your blood. Your real family.”
It’s going to be a beautiful spring this year.
Once slept and sobered up, Fugo goes to grab take-out from Libeccio, so they can all eat dinner on couches that are far too fancy to eat dinner on. In the meantime, Abbacchio and Buccellati get to meet Mela and Bella, the first guinea pig members of Passione.
It's a historic moment for all involved. Leone gets handed Mela, a beast that looks like she's made of fifteen different mohawks that were all hot glued together. He immediately recognizes a sinister, unfathomable power in her eyes. Knows that she could end them all instantly if she wanted to. Pretty goth, he thinks. She has his respect. And Bella is, in Bruno's words, a dumpling. Acceptable. They pass the test.
Fugo comes back with food and is briefly the most popular person in the room, which for him is quite the accomplishment. They had Libecco pack a container of pure lettuce for Bruno’s “dinner”, which he drops leaf by leaf into the guinea pig pen. Watches them eat like little weed wackers. Their dark radiance...it permeates.
“Called Trish,” Narancia says. “Let her know you’re in town. She’s finishing up some work at a recording studio in Milan, but she said she’ll come over in the next couple days.” He throws up his arm and wiggles it around a little bit. “Woo!”
“Good!” Bruno says. “How’s Milan treating her?”
Mista’s mouth is full of pizza, so he gives them two thumbs up instead. “She’s doing well,” Giorno says. He’s picking at his pasta and still trying to relax, but he looks good. Normal. He got to sleep, too. “She misses the food here, though.”
“So did we,” Leone says, between bouts of trying to inhale his timballo as fast as he possibly can.
“So what are the two of you going to do after this?” Fugo asks.
Leone and Bruno both look at Giorno. “Uh,” Leone says. “Help more people, maybe?”
Giorno nods. “La Spezia could use support,” he says. “There’s been some scandals regarding cruise ships.”
They’re both visibly relieved. “But--but!” Narancia says. “But what about me? Don’t go! I wanna come with you!”
“No fucking way,” Leone says. “Stay in school.”
“Well yeah, Dad, but what about the summers?” Narancia says. “I don’t have anything planned for those! Giorno wouldn’t need me here, right? You could come back and pick me up and take me with you!”
Giorno thinks about it. “That’d be alright. It would be good to have an actual Stand user on your team as backup. You two could also be assigned more cases in Napoli, if you wish. There’s plenty of help needed here.”
Narancia punches the air several times in rapid succession. “Here during school, then Officer Dads featuring Narancia roadtrip in the summer! Plus pigs! It’s foolproof!”
Leone and Bruno look at eachother.
“That...sounds doable,” Bruno says.
“Yeah,” Leone says. “Yeah, we can work it out after this.”
Narancia does some really cool air guitar in celebration. Bruno gets an idea. “We’ll need to track down our friend Zuppa by the summer, anyways.”
“Oh yes,” Leone says. “Our good friend Zuppa.”
“Who’s Zuppa?” Narancia asks.
Leone and Bruno both have matching fiendish smiles on their faces. “Oh, Narancia,” Bruno says. “The two of you are going to get on splendidly.”
Somewhere, in a distant part of Italy, a man named Zuppa Toscana feels a foreboding chill go down his spine. He suddenly has the urge to get on the closest bus that’ll take him the farthest away possible. But there’s nowhere to run, Zuppa. There’s nowhere to hide.
This plan is foolproof.
The Bucchachio-I-Ghirga detective agency is officially open for business.
aside from a couple short projects in fifth grade, this marks the end of the first story i've ever actually finished. it was very cathartic to write and i put a lot of myself into it. so it means an unspeakable amount that people read it and liked it and talked about it. thank you!!!!
if you haven't already, please read 'what resembles the grave but isn't' by anne boyer. it's a poem that i referenced a couple times. it's a great piece to keep with you as a reminder
special acknowledgment to my partner, who read through several iterations of every chapter. still the best, 1973