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Unlucky Stars is a story written by TheGr8DrX. It is set in an alternate universe to The Duality of Stand, so while some characters may be similar to others you've seen before, there are no spoilers present in this story. I hope you enjoy the read :)

Oh, and the info page is here, if you're into that.

Chapter 1 - You Give Me Fireworks

The scene is set in a large, fancy restaurant - fancy beyond one’s wildest dreams. The ruby carpet on the ground is immaculate, and every table has a pristine white cloth draped over it. Every man is in a sharp, black tuxedo, every woman is in a gorgeous, slim-fit, floor-length dress. There’s a low murmuring throughout the establishment as the patrons make polite conversation as they dine, accompanied by classical music played by a live band. It’s grandiose simply for the sake of being so, it’s the type of place most people never even consider being able to afford visiting, this is the true upper class of society. This is La Change Du Garde, a place for wealthy people with far too much money and far too little to do to come to demonstrate that they are a part of the 1%.

Numerous different people are seen enjoying their meals and company, until the focus shifts to a woman in a glittery black dress, with her raven-black hair styled upward, attended by a man with chestnut brown hair slicked back, wearing a black suit with a red heart-shaped pin on the lapel. In front of her is a parfait of assorted melons with nuts and honey drizzled over the top, which she’s currently wolfing down with no semblance of grace, while the man she’s with looks at her with a smile on his face, warmth in his eyes.

When she finishes the fruit she brings the dish to her mouth and tips it back, using her spoon to scrape the small amount of remaining honey into her mouth. The man she’s with grins at her.

“Is it good, darling?” He asks her, letting out a small laugh as he does.

“Ish d’lishush” she mumbles back with her mouth full. She finishes her dessert and puts the dish back down on the table, grinning widely. “Delicious,” she repeats, more clearly this time, before picking up her napkin and delicately wiping her mouth.

“Good, I’m glad,” he says, standing up from his seat. “Very glad to hear that.” He starts to walk toward her, and as he does, he continues speaking. “Listen, darling, there’s something I’ve been wanting to say.” She looks up at him and folds her hands on her lap politely, listening attentively. She looks at him again, standing up, and suddenly a thought occurs to her. Is it possible that… that he’s…? Suddenly she finds herself praying to God that what’s about to happen is what she thinks it is. “You know, darling, our relationship has always been… a little complicated… there are… haha… well… to be frank, there are quite rigid boundaries keeping us from being a truly ‘normal’ couple… I think we both know that. And… especially right now, with our very conflicting schedules, we… really haven’t been able to get a lot of time together…” He pauses momentarily to gauge her reaction. She seems to be on the edge of her seat…

Excellent.

“…But you know what?” he continues, “That… really doesn’t matter very much to me. Because you’re still the last thing I see at night, and the first person I see in the morning… and that’s all I need. Just to be able to have that… forever and ever, until the day I die… that would mean the world to me. It’s all I could ever want.”

People start to stop what they’re doing to turn to watch what’s about to happen. The man continues.

“And some would say that fate itself is trying to keep us apart… but I like to believe that love can be stronger than fate.” When he says that, he stops and laughs for a moment, his face starting to turn a bit red. “Sorry… that was a little corny…”

He pauses before going on, trying to gather his thoughts.

“What I’m trying to say is… you’ve made me so, so happy, darling…” He reaches into his pocket. “…But you could make me happier still.” He gets down on one knee and pulls a small box out of his pocket, opening it to reveal a magnificent diamond ring. She covers her mouth with her hands as her eyes start to water. “Black Cat…” he says, looking up into her eyes with the happiest smile of his life, “…will you marry me?”

“Yes!!” she cries out, tears in her eyes, jumping up and down excitedly. “Yes!!! Yes, oh my God, yes!!!!” He stand up and she entraps him in a hug, which he graciously reciprocates. Everyone claps as he slides the ring onto her finger. She stares at it in awe before she hugs him again, and then stands up on her toes to give him a kiss. She’s never been so happy. Years ago, she’d never have wanted this, never in a million years… but apparently she just hadn’t met the right person yet.

* * *

On the ride home – in the back of a limousine, obviously – the happy couple sits cuddled up together, staring lovingly into each other’s eyes. She isn’t saying anything, being much too preoccupied with holding him, being close to him. He, on the other hand, is lost in thought.

“You know, darling…” he finally says.

“Yes, honey?”

“I… uh…”

“I realized that I… shouldn’t have done that…”

She pulls away to look at him. “What do you mean?”

“I mean… I shouldn’t have put you on the spot like that… I know that in your… culture… marriage isn’t a thing that really happens… and when I asked you so publicly… it really puts pressure on you to say yes, even if you wouldn’t want to…” He pauses to look up at her. “I don’t want to marry you if it’s not what you want… I’ll be happy with any direction you want this relationship to go… so long as you’re happy…”

“Oh, shut up, stupid,” Black Cat says with a grin, “You think I care about what those random rich snobs think?” She laughs a little, getting closer to resume holding onto him. “If I didn’t want to marry you, I would have said no, right then and there. I’m a stone-cold bitch, you know that.” She rests her head on his chest. “I’ll admit that I really didn’t know where I expected this relationship to go when it started, but… as soon as you stood up and started talking, I realized what I wanted.” He puts his arms around her, smiling as he pulls her closer.

“Darling… I’m so happy to hear that… I can’t wait for us to…” he pauses, “I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you.”

She smiles at him, despite the fact that that’s actually a pretty sad sentiment, and gives him a poke. “I can’t wait to spend the rest of your life with you either, ya squishy sack of carbon.”

“Darling,” he says, smiling, “is that really all you think of me?”

“Of course not, honey,” she teases, “you’re also my meal ticket.” He laughs.

“Oh, I see how it is.”

“What? You didn’t know that I’m a gold digger? I’m sure I must have mentioned it.” They both giggle before he responds with,

“I’m a very lucky man.”

“And I’m a very lucky woman.”

A few more minutes go by before the man looks out the window.

“Well… we’re home,” he remarks.

“Indeed we are…” she responds

“What do you say we… celebrate the engagement, darling?” Hearing that, she grins mischievously.

“I like the sound of that.”

* * *

They make their way through the hall, toward their room, arms around each other. Black Cat stops.

“One moment, honey,” she says, ducking into the bathroom. He leans against the wall, waiting patiently for her to come out. He hopes she’s doing what he thinks she is.

In the bathroom, she lets her hair down and runs her fingers through it, before grabbing a couple of hair elastics and tying her hair into two buns, one on either side of her head. She knows he likes it, he says they look like little ears.

She opens the door into the hallway and grins.

“Sorry for the wait, honey. I’m ready now.” He looks at her and smiles ear to ear.

“You look so cute!” he exclaims, putting his arms around her waist and pulling her closer.

“I try my best,” she responds innocently.

* * *

The door to the bedroom flies open as Black Cat and her fiancé enter, mouths interlocked, simply unable to keep their hands off of each other, practically tearing each other’s clothes off as they make their way to the bed…

Actually it turns out that this is a bad time, they’re clearly busy, let’s cut to the next scene.

* * *

Are they done?

Okay good.

The couple lies in bed together, holding each other close.

“Hey…” he starts, “darling, I… I was thinking…”

“Haha, that’s dangerous,” she responds.

“Are you… do you think you’re going to take my last name when we get married?”

“Oh… I hadn’t thought of that…” she muses, “Yeah, I suppose I will.” Hearing that, he rolls onto his side to look at her.

“So then… my question is… how does that work?”

“Hm?”

“Well… you don’t really have a last name. So… are you just gonna… tack it onto your name?”

“Oh yeah, I suppose that’s an interesting enough thought… I guess I will?” She grins. “I must say, I like the sound of ‘Black Cat Kishibe’. It sounds very… sophisticated.”

“I think so too. Very fitting.” He lets out a yawn and smiles.

“Oh yeah, I guess you gotta get to sleep soon, huh?”

“Yeah, I suppose so,” he says with another yawn.

“Alright, honey,” she says, snuggling up to him and getting nice and comfy, “good night.”

“Good night, darling,” he says, putting his arms around her and giving her a kiss, “I love you.”

“I love you too,” she responds.

Around 10 minutes later, he’s fast asleep. She is not. She opens her eyes and gives him another kiss, before getting out of bed slowly and quietly, making sure not to wake him up, before getting dressed and heading downstairs. Sleeping is… not something that she does. At least, not like a human does.

As she walks down the stairs, she notices a spider crawling on the wall. She hits it with her fist, crushing it, and then eats the smashed bug off of her hand. It’s pretty tasty.

She walks into the sitting room and takes a seat, and almost as soon as she does, her phone rings. She looks at the screen. Caller ID says it’s someone named “Sunny Day”. Black Cat’s expression changes to one of excitement as she answers.

“Sunny Day!” she exclaims, “You’re never gonna believe this! Jacob proposed!”

“I’m very happy to hear that, Black Cat,” says Sunny Day, monotonously and not seeming at all happy to hear that, “You didn’t forget about your job tonight, did you?” Black Cat’s expression changes immediately.

“No, of course not.” She glances at the clock. “I’m on my way.”

“Okay, good. Call me when you’re out the door.”

“Will do.” Black Cat hangs up the phone and looks around the room, just to make eeeeeeextra sure that she’s alone. She is. She leaves the room and heads down to the basement. In the basement there’s a room with a tiled floor and off-white walls, kept clean and dust-free, but decorated with absolutely nothing, except for a small fridge plugged into a lone outlet. She walks over to the fridge and pushes it aside, revealing… nothing. At least, it doesn’t seem like the patch of floor under the fridge is anything out of the ordinary…

But she touches one of the tiles, and it sinks into the ground, like a button. Silently, the back wall of the room slides open. This place is full of secret passageways – as soon as Black Cat moved in, she insisted that they be put in, because being rich as hell and living in a mansion is completely pointless if there aren’t awesome secret passageways. Jacob had agreed, saying that that was completely true, and that that sounded like a super fun idea. Obviously, they both knew about every single one of them in the house. Except this one. Only she knows about this one.

She pushes the fridge back and walks through, down a narrow hallway, where she finds a mannequin wearing a black skintight leather outfit studded with silver spikes, with a mask and a headpiece that looks like cat ears. It looks like something a superhero would wear.

She puts it on and then pulls out her phone, calling Sunny Day back.

“I’m ready,” she says as soon as she picks up.

“Good timing,” Sunny Day responds, “do you need directions?”

“Nah, I know where I’m going.”

“Alright, perfect. Chase is here with me, he’s ready when you are.”

“Perfect.” Black Cat hangs up once again, and then presses a button on the wall, and another hidden door opens up, which she promptly walks through and out into the night.

Chapter 2 - That’s right, this is a superhero story

The night air is cool on her skin as she walks out into the night and away from her fiancé’s estate. She likes it this way.

Waiting for her outside is a bright red motorcycle. It looks perfectly ordinary… no one would suspect that it’s anything unusual, even the strange gold symbol depicting a triangle in a circle with some lines through it could just be some obscure or foreign manufacturing company. But rest assured, this vehicle is anything but ordinary. Getting on, Black Cat revs the surprisingly quiet engine, before calling out to… well, seemingly no one.

“Hey Chase, you there?” she says, to which a young man’s voice responds, coming out of a speaker on the motorcycle.

“Right here!” he says, sounding excited, “Ready to go?”

“Let’s do this thing.” She drives off into the night, the bike quickly accelerating to incredible speeds. She glances down at the speedometer, and sees the needle hit 300kph, and slowly move further still. She grins to herself. Going this fast… it’s exhilarating! She’s done it so many times already… but it never gets old.

“You do know how to get downtown, right?” Chase asks.

“Of course I do,” is her response, “what do you take me for?” She looks ahead of herself. “I’m almost there.”

Cut to a tall, slim, tanned woman with short, straight black hair and sharp, angular, almost plastic-like features, wearing sunglasses and a loose tank top, looking at a young man, probably no older than 17 or 18, with short and spiky light brown hair and a t-shirt and jeans. He’s staring at a window open to Google Maps on his laptop, and one of his irises is a golden triangle in a circle with some lines through it, while the other is a relatively normal-looking blue one.

“Chase,” the woman says to him, “Where is she now?”

“She’s almost there,” he reiterates, “she’s on Park Street right now.”

“Always cutting it close,” she mutters, starting to pace. He swivels around in his chair to face her.

“Come on, Sunny, you know she’s never been late,” he reminds her.

“Not yet,” Sunny Day responds.

“Hey, Sunny Day! Cool it!” Black Cat says, “You know full well I’m never gonna be late!”

“I certainly hope so.”

“Black Cat!” Chase suddenly exclaims, interrupting the two, “Spooky-lookin’ bad guy! 1 o’ clock!”

She looks where he instructed, and sees a guy in a blue hoodie, hands shoved in his pocket, walking with his back turned to her. Almost instantly, she comes to stop, which probably should have sent her flying over the handlebars but simply didn’t, and cuts the engine. He doesn’t seem to notice her as she dismounts.

“Who is it?” Sunny Day asks urgently, “What does he look like?”

“I don’t know, I can’t see his face,” Black Cat says, “But he’s probably our guy. I’m tailing him now.” She watches him a little longer. “Are we sure this is the dealer?”

“That’s what we’re here to find out,” Chase replies, "but... uh... yeah, probably."

“Don’t do anything stupid, Black Cat,” Sunny Day says to her, “Don’t make a move until the buyer exposes himself, too.”

“Yes, mother, I know. Okay, I’m gonna follow him now, you have anything else you wanna nag me about?”

“Nope, that’s it.”

“Good luck, Black Cat!” Chase adds.

“Thanks, Chase.” She walks away from her vehicle and starts to follow after the guy in the hoodie. The city at night is so eerie, so many near-identical buildings towering above everything, with hundreds and hundreds of windows, only a few showing a light coming from the inside, making one feel walled in, even outside. A chilling wind blows as a street light flickers. The streets are mostly empty, save for the occasional sleeping homeless person, and maybe whoever’s happening to be lurking in an alley. It’s an atmosphere not many would willingly enter into, especially not a woman walking alone. Black Cat doesn’t seem scared, though, or even uncomfortable. Not in the slightest. As she follows after her target, she takes care to make as little noise as possible…

But he still notices her. He doesn’t do much, but she can tell by the slight turn of his neck that he made. He doesn’t react much aside from that, though. He doesn’t even quicken his pace. Casually, he reaches for his phone and opens his contacts, making a call to someone.

“Hey, yeah, it’s me,” he says, to whoever picked up, “Probably hang back. Banksy’s on my tail.” Ah, shit. She probably should have stopped him from making that call. Oh well, no time for regret. Time for action.

“Super Psycho Love!!!!” She shouts out into the night, as a pink revolver with six different-coloured chambers in its cylinder and a heart-shaped barrel appears in her hand, which she points at the man, pulling the trigger. A red heart-shaped, faintly glowing bullet flies toward him as the red chamber of the gun turns pink, but he’s ready, whipping around.

“Revive!!” he shouts right back at her, summoning a violet spectral figure with a short but wide head and thin limbs next to him, leaking pink gas from tubes all over it, which takes a defensive stance and bats the bullet away with its arm, causing it to fly into a building and explode into a large red heart-shaped splatter of paint. “You really have to work on your stealth skills, Banksy,” he says to her, with a grin on his face.

“How do you know I didn’t want you to know that I was here?” she responds, far more smugly than she should have been given that he was exactly right.

“Feeling cocky, are we?”

“Only as much as is appropriate.” She looks at the thing he summoned, standing in front of him and looking at her with an emotionless expression coming from its long, thin robotic eyes, its proboscis twitching slightly. It seems to start puffing out more and more of that gas. “I suppose that this is the Stand behind Shugaland, huh?”

“Who’s to say?” he responds coyly. Black Cat points her gun at him and grins.

“You know, I don’t know about you, but I sorta feel like your best move here is to just surrender, and tell us who your buyer is,” she suggests, starting to walk toward him, “It’ll save you a lot of trouble… and a lot of pain.”

“Thanks for the offer, but I’ll pass,” he responds, staring her down.

“Suit yourself!!” She points her own Stand, Super Psycho Love, at him and pulls the trigger, firing a bullet just like the one before, only orange. Revive springs into action and points its proboscis at the bullet, blowing a puff of pink gas at it that instantly causes it to stop as soon as it comes into contact with it, and then in turn quickly disperses and sends it falling to the ground, splattering into an orange heart shape. “What the hell?” she mutters to herself, confused as to what had just happened.

“If you’re wondering,” her opponent says, “you just witnessed my Stand’s ability. Any part of any Stand that comes into contact with my Revive’s exhaust gas will lose all kinetic energy and become completely unable to move. So if you want to try to shoot me, you’re welcome to continue trying.” He points at her. “But not a single one of your Super Psycho Love’s bullets will ever get through!”

“Well then,” she says, starting to run toward him, “I’ll just have to try something else!!” She jumps into the air with remarkable acrobatic ability and does a flip, pointing her Stand downward when she’s right above the man. The shape of the barrel changes from a heart to a star, and when she pulls the trigger, a yellow star-shaped bullet is fired out, going straight down, heading for her opponent. He just looks up and smiles. Having predicted something like this, his Stand is already blowing gas to intercept the projectile, stopping it in its tracks, giving the man time to step to the side as it weakly falls to the ground, turning into a yellow star-shaped splatter.

“Not very-“ he starts to say before being cut off by an explosion erupting from the star on the ground, knocking him off his feet. He looks up at Black Cat, or, rather, Banksy, as she approaches him. “Revive!!” He shouts, prompting his Stand to start spraying more gas at her. Almost immediately, she feels her head start to spin and her vision double. She stumbles backward, trying to point at him with her gun, but realizes it isn’t in her hand. It’s a couple of metres in front of her, floating in space, right there where it was when the gas first enveloped her. She isn’t going to be able to make use of it like this… which is unfortunate. She falls to her knees as the gas clears, and her Stand clatters to the ground. She sees the man getting to his feet and looking at her with a grin. But she grins too, because she knows what’s about to happen. Looking across the street, she sees the motorcycle in a spot different from where she left it, with the headlight pointing at her and her opponent. It switches on, before autonomously charging toward him, hitting Revive and sending it flying into the wall of a nearby building before it collapses to the ground.

“Stay down, buddy!” Chase’s voice blares through the speaker, “My Ferrari’s ready to rumble!”

“Another one…” the man mutters to himself, “How… interesting…” Banksy, regaining her bearings, points Super Psycho Love at him.

“Wanna change your mind about that surrender?” she offers.

“Not a chance!!! Revive!!!” he shouts, calling his Stand to come back toward him.

Ferrari drives forward, almost crashing into him, but being stopped in its tracks by more of Revive’s gas. Banksy fires off two heart bullets, on green and one blue, but those are also stopped. She runs toward Ferrari and jumps on, driving it forward. “Ferrari, jump!” she calls out, to which Chase obliges, having his Stand jump into the air, flying over Revive’s next puff, before landing on the two bullets Banksy had just fired, perfectly positioned that each wheel would land on one, moments before the gas stopped affecting them. As the bullets fall, Ferrari jumps again, leaping onto the front of the same building the enemy Stand had just been knocked into, and starts to drive at a 90º angle, completely ignoring gravity as Banksy fires her last shot, a purple one, which is again stopped. Ferrari jumps off of the wall and while it flies through the air, Banksy leaps off of it. “Bullets, come back!!” she shouts out, holding up her Stand above her head. Instantly, the four heart-shaped paint splatters left behind by her shots peel off, leaving much more faded versions of themselves, turning back into bullets and flying toward her. The purple one is still stuck in the gas, and the orange one immediately gets stuck as it emerges from the ground near the man’s feet. But the other three are coming back to her, and fast. The green one hits the man on the shoulder, drawing blood as it flies toward the gun and re-enters its respective chamber, but Revive stops the other two. But then the gas holding the purple one in place disperses, and it flies for him on his way toward Banksy, but Revive bats it away, causing it to fly in a wide arc around them before it returns to its place in the gun. He breathes a sigh of relief, but such an action is punished immediately by the orange bullet, free from the gas shortly after it was stuck, flies through his leg, causing him to fall to the ground. He looks up at Banksy, walking toward him, and Ferrari starting to resume its path for him, and shouts out,

“Revive!!!!” With five bullets back in her gun, Banksy points and empties her chamber toward the man, but his Stand starts to shot out smoke from every hole on its body all at once, stopping everything in its tracks, one of the bullets mere centimetres away from him. Leaning on the wall for support, he gets to a standing position. “I… told you you couldn’t get through!!”

“You’re right… I can’t.” she muses, bending down to pick up a piece of cement from when she blew a hole in the sidewalk. In her open palm, it starts to spin. “Oh wait… yes I can!!” She throws the spinning piece of sidewalk at him, and it hits him, instantly causing him to lose his balance, twirling around before almost falling to the ground, deactivating his ability, allowing Banksy to get close enough to stop him from falling by grabbing his collar. His Stand lunges toward her, crying out,

“Oh-OOOOOOOOO!”

“Rev-“ Under her glove, her fist turns to stone and hits him in the face, knocking him out instantly, cutting him off and making his Stand vanish before it can land a hit on her. With is hood having fallen off, she can finally see his face. Nothing remarkable, a couple of freckles, curly brown hair… she doesn’t recognize him, not that she’d expected to.

“Haha!” Chase exclaims excitedly, “Sunny! She did it!”

Banksy fishes through his pockets, and finds what she’s looking for, a ziploc bag filled with a drug known as Shugaland… wait… no it isn’t.

“What is it, Banksy?” Chase asks.

“What? What’s going on? What did you find?!” Sunny Day asks.

“It… isn’t Shugaland. It’s black.” Banksy is looking at a bag of black powder. What she was looking for was light green.

“Could it be a different drug? Something new?” suggests Sunny Day.

“Maybe…” mutters Banksy in response. She keeps looking through his pockets, and finds a wallet. Dropping him to the ground, she opens it up. “Jason Paige,” she reads, “well, I guess we know his name now.”

Just then, she hears sirens, and turns to look as two police cars arrive. Some police officers get out and start walking toward her.

“Banksy,” one says to her, “I shoulda figured that we’d find you here.” He looks at Jason, unconscious on the ground. “What happened here?”

“Found this guy trying to sell drugs, allegedly to a member of Acid Wolfpack. Thought I’d show up and check it out.”

The officer raises his eyebrows and looks at the unconscious Jason again. “Really…” he looks back up at her. “Well, then it’s a good thing you were here.” He looks at the bag in her hand. “What’s that?”

“No idea. I thought it was Shugaland at first, but… well, it clearly isn’t.” She tosses it to him. “You’re more than welcome to have a look.”

After a short examination of the scene, and with Jason Paige in the back of a patrol car, the police thank Banksy and drive away.

“Hey… uh… did the buyer get away?” Chase asks.

“Oh, yeah,” she sighs, “He’s long gone.” She looks off into the night. She has no doubt in her mind that the guy who was here to buy that new black drug got away with plenty of time to spare while she was dealing with Jason. “Shit…” she mumbles.

“Hey… at least we got a dealer off the street?” Chase offers.

“Yeah…” she mutters, “I guess…” She’s still unsatisfied, though. She should have done better. Goddammit.

Chapter 3 - You Take All Of The Light Away

As soon as Black Cat enters the door to Sunny Day’s house, she lets out a sigh.

“Black Cat!” Chase says excitedly, as soon as he sees her, “Nice work! That was sooooooo cool!”

“Thanks, Chase,” she says unenthusiastically.

“Don’t feel bad,” he says, “come on, you did good! You stopped a drug dealer! And you might have discovered a brand new drug! That’s a big deal!”

“He’s right, you know,” adds Sunny Day, “It’s very unfortunate that the buyer got away, especially given who they could have been.” She looks at Black Cat’s expression. “But nonetheless, what you did was no doubt just as important. And whoever that guy was… we’ll have more chances to get him.”

“Yeah,” Black Cat sighs, “I guess you’re right.”

As they talk, Chase walks over to the doorway and Ferrari drives toward him, driving into his body and vanishing completely, as if it entered him.

“It just sucks,” Black Cat says, “I could have stopped them both.”

“Yeah,” Sunny Day replies, “that’s probably true, you might have been able to stop them both. But you still accomplished something.”

“Yeah…” At that, Sunny Day’s stoic expression changes into a happy one, and she turns around and walks toward her kitchen, addressing Chase with, “well, even if Black Cat’s sulking, we’re still celebrating!” The two follow after her. She opens the fridge and pulls out a bottle of champagne. “Chase, get the glasses, would you?”

“Oh, uh, yeah!” he says, running to the cupboard and grabbing three champagne flutes, “Uh… what are we celebrating?”

“Why, Black Cat-“ she’s about to talk, but stops herself. “Black Cat, you wanna tell him?” Black Cat finally cracks a smile. She takes off her glove and shows him her engagement ring.

“OOOOOOOOOOH!!!” Chase exclaims excitedly, almost dropping the glasses, but catching himself at the last second, “Oh my God!!! Oh my God!!!!” He puts the glasses on the table and runs to Black Cat and hugs her. “Oh my God, Black Cat, that’s so amazing!!! I’m so happy for you!!!!”

“Thanks Chase, I appreciate it,” she says, hugging him back, “I’m happy too.”

“If anyone deserves this, it’s you.” he responds. Sunny Day pours three glasses of champagne, handing one to Black Cat and one to Chase (who may or may not be underage, but no one here cares in the slightest), taking the last one for herself.

“Cheers, everyone!” she says cheerfully, holding out her glass. Black Cat and Chase clink their glasses with hers and everyone takes a sip. “I gotta say, you definitely made the right choice, just based on what you’ve told me about him.”

“I certainly think I am…” Black Cat says happily, downing her drink. Chase yawns.

“Well, ladies… it’s been fun,” he says, finishing his drink and setting his glass down on the table, “but it’s almost 2 in the morning… and I’ve got school tomorrow.”

“Good night, Chase,” Sunny Day says to him as he leaves.

“Night, Chase!” Black Cat adds.

“Good night!” he calls back, climbing the stairs to go to his room. Sunny Day turns back to Black Cat.

“Humans,” she laughs, “imagine having to sleep every day.”

“Pathetic,” Black Cat jokingly adds, “truly the inferior life forms.”

“I love that kid,” Sunny Day sighs happily.

“He’s pretty great,” Black Cat agrees.

“And you said that I couldn’t take care of him.”

“I never said that you couldn’t take care of him,” Black Cat corrects her, “I said that you couldn’t have a, I believe your exact words were, ‘pet human’. You know, ethically speaking.”

“How wrong you were,” Sunny Day says.

“Yeah, I’ll admit it, I underestimated you. I didn’t think you’d be responsible enough to walk him every day,” jokes Black Cat, “you showed me.” The women laugh.

“You know,” Sunny Day muses, “They say that humans and us aren’t really compatible… funny how we both have a special one in our lives.”

“That’s… that’s true…” Black Cat says, “I guess experts are full of shit. Humans aren’t so bad after all…”

“They really aren’t… at least, some of them…” Sunny Day smiles. “You know, I really am happy for you. Sorry if I was a little… unenthusiastic before. I just-“

“I get it. You get a little too focused sometimes when there’s work to be done.”

“Haha, yeah… that’s me.”

“It’s all good, don’t worry about it. I appreciate all the support…” Black Cat looks down at her outfit, “…not just with the superhero stuff… with everything…”

“Hey, any time, bestie.” Black Cat smiles at that, then looks at her empty glass.

“Oh, hey, can I get a refill?” she asks.

“Oh hell yeah,” Sunny Day says, reaching for the bottle and pouring herself and her friend another glass.

* * *

“Good morning, darling!” Jacob says, descending the stairs to the main floor and seeing Black Cat waiting for him at the landing.

“Good morning, honey,” she replies, “How did you sleep?”

“I slept pretty well, how was your night?” When he gets to her she gives him a kiss.

“It was fine. Not super eventful… I went for a walk. I saw an owl. The lilies are blooming, by the way.” His eyes light up.

“Oh, really? That’s nice. We should go for a walk in the garden tonight when I get home from work,” he suggests.

“That sounds like a wonderful idea. Can’t wait.” He puts his arm around her and they walk into the dining room, sitting down next to each other. Less than a minute after they sit down, a man in a suit carrying a tray with two plates enters the room. Jacob looks at Black Cat and raises an eyebrow.

“I already told the chef what you wanted,” she says.

“And how did you know what I wanted?”

“I’m psychic.” The butler puts a plate of French toast in front of each of them. Jacob smiles.

“Wow,” he remarks, “you are psychic.” He looks at her. “Seriously, how’d you know?”

“French toast is your celebrating food,” she says, “it’s what you always want when something good happens. And I was just assuming that given last night’s events, you might want it.” He picks up a fork and knife, and cuts off a piece, taking a bite.

“Not every time…” She gives him a punch in the arm.

“Yes, every time. Despite what you think, you’re the most predictable man I know.”

“Fine… maybe I am…” She gives him a kiss on the cheek.

“Don’t feel bad. That’s a good thing. A girl likes to know what she’s getting into.” Saying that, she picks up a piece of French toast and takes a big bite.

“Well, at the very least, I can give you that, darling,” he says, taking another bite.

“Is it good?” she asks. He chews and swallows, then smiles.

“Delicious.”

* * *

Cut to several hours later. Jacob is in a board room, standing in front of a group of executives sitting at a table in a conference room. There’s a graph projected on a screen in front of him, seeming to indicate profits.

“Okay, ladies and gentlemen,” he says, “In summary… we’ve had a great quarter… keep up the good work.” With that, everyone stands up and files out of the room, murmuring among themselves. Jacob, the last one out of the room, sighs as he walks back to his office. He doesn’t particularly love those sorts of meetings, but CEOs have responsibilities, and he can’t exactly just shirk them because they’re boring. Whatever, they always come to an end eventually. They really aren’t that bad, even if they do seem a little unnecessary at times. It’s just that it can be fun to complain sometimes.

When he gets to his office, he finds a few men, also in suits, already inside. He walks over to his desk and sits down before addressing them.

“Hello,” he says nonchalantly. No one says anything in response. “Do you have what I asked for?” One of the men take a step forward.

“Uh… yeah, boss… about that…” he says nervously, to which Jacob seems unimpressed.

“You didn’t get the stuff?”

“Boss, Banksy showed up and took out the dealer! What was I supposed to do?” Jacob stands up and starts pacing around the room.

“Did she now…?” he says, picking up a snow globe off his desk, inspecting it for a moment, and putting it back down.

“Uh… y-yeah…” responds the man.

“And I suppose when you saw her coming, rather than helping out the dealer, you just turned and ran?”

“Uh… well, I sorta just thought that I should… uh…”

“It’s fine,” Jacob suddenly states.

“Huh…?” The man responds, confused. “It’s… fine…?” He was sure Jacob was going to do something to punish him somehow.

“Yeah,” Jacob responds, “it’s fine. There are other ways that I can get my hands on what I’m looking for. And I suppose it’s fair to not want to go up against Banksy… I’m sure she would have been able to stop you both at once anyway. No harm, no foul.”

“R-right…” he responds, “my thoughts exactly…”

“I’ll tell you, Doug, you’re lucky that I’m in such a good mood today,” Jacob laughs, before turning immediately serious again, “just don’t let it happen again.” The man goes pale and takes a step back.

“Of course, boss… I won’t…”

“Good.” At that, another man speaks up.

“Speaking of being in a good mood…” he says, “I heard from a friend of mine that someone got engaged.” Jacob sits back down and spins around in his chair cheerfully.

“Someone did indeed!” he says happily.

“Congratulations, boss. You’re a lucky man.”

“Thanks, Ron,” Jacob responds. Another man speaks up just then.

“You got engaged, huh? To that Black Cat lady, I’m assuming?”

“That’s exactly right.”

“Isn’t she one of those… rock humans?” The man asks. In response to that, Jacob sits forward, looking him in the eyes with intensity.

“She is. Do you have a problem with that?”

“No problem, I’m just a little concerned,” he explains, “you know what they say, about relationships between humans and rock humans. About how nearly every one ends in disaster, usually murder.” Jacob stares at him, completely expressionless, as he talks. “I’d just hate for something bad to happen to one of you two. It’d be a shame if she went psycho one day and one of you ended up dead. You never know when she might decide to try and take your money and leave.” Slowly, Jacob Stand up and walks over to the man who had just spoken.

“Yes… indeed, you’re correct… that would be a shame…”

He points his finger at him, and his arm up to his elbow turns pink, his fingers sharpen and elongate, and on his elbow a red heart held on with a black band appears. His index finger starts to glow with an acid green light, before something like a laser of the same colour fires from it into his chest. Immediately, everyone jumps back, and in just a couple of seconds, the man who was targeted by the ability screams out as his skin starts to bubble and boil, the flesh melting off of his bones. In less than ten seconds, he’s nothing but a skeleton lying on the floor in a puddle of corrosive goo.

“How dare you say such a thing,” he scorns, sitting back down yet again, his arm returning to normal. “Black Cat is perfect, and nothing is going to come between us.” He looks at his henchmen. “You all agree, don’t you?” Everyone hurriedly agrees, nodding and mumbling. “Good.” He looks at the bones and puddle on the floor. “Someone get a cleaner on that, would you?” Someone nods and runs off. He leans back in his chair, starting to breathe a little heavily, seemingly made tired from melting that guy. “You all can leave now.” Everyone immediately files out of his office. “Except you, Doug.” He stops and turns back toward Jacob.

“Uh… yes, boss?”

“That dealer you were supposed to buy from last night… you know his name?”

“Yeah… Jason Paige… I saw his name on the news…”

“Why don’t you go down to the police station and… pay him a visit?”

“Uh… yeah, alright, boss. Can do. You can count on me.”

“I certainly hope so.” Doug stands at attention, staring nervously at Jacob.

“Get moving, Doug.”

“Y-yes sir!!” he exclaims, turning and almost running for the door. As he exits the office, he passes a man dressed like a janitor entering. Jacob nods at him and he nods back, as a blue mop with a broken and splintered pole end materializes in his hands, and he starts to clean up what used to be a man in Jacob’s employ.

Chapter 4 - You Always Find The Words

Jason Paige is sitting in a holding cell, bandaged up and feeling pretty damn miserable. He hurts all over, the substance he experimented all week to make was taken from him… but what’s worse is that Revive-

“Paige!” a guard shouts at him, snapping him back to reality, “On your feet!” Jason stands up.

“What’s going on?” he asks.

“Your lawyer’s here to see you,” responds the guard, opening the cell door and walking toward the prisoner with a pair of handcuffs, which he promptly puts on Jason’s wrists behind his back.

Lawyer? Jason thinks to himself, Since when do I have a lawyer? He’s confused as hell, but he’s definitely not about to say anything.

He’s led rather roughly down the hall and toward the visiting area, where he’s pointed toward a door.

“In there. You have 15 minutes.”

“Uh, alright…” he says, still confused, and walks through the door, sitting down at the table and looking at the man on the other side of the glass, reading something on his phone until he noticed him, at which point he put it in his pocket, giving Jason his full attention. He has pink hair pulled back into a ponytail, and is wearing a midnight blue suit… and he looks stressed as fuck. He picks up the phone on the table and puts it up to his ear, looking at his visitor and pausing again before he starts to talk. “Uh… hi.”

* * *

Doug walks into the police station, looks around briefly, and then heads to the front desk, where he finds a woman working. She raises her head and looks up at him.

“Can I help you?”

“Yeah, you can,” he responds, “I’ve been informed that you have a Mr. Jason Paige in your custody.”

“That is correct.”

“I’m here to see him, as his lawyer.” She looks him up and down.

“One moment, sir,” she says, standing up, “I’ll be right with you.”

“Of course,” he responds, pulling his phone out of his pocket as she stands up and walks over to another officer. He opens his texts, looking to see if he has any messages from his boss… like, maybe something that says he has backup coming? There’s nothing. He looks over at the policewoman and the guy she’s talking to. They’re talking quietly, so he can’t overhear. She says something to the policeman, prompting him to look over at Doug. Then they both start to walk over to him. Oh. That’s probably not good. He probably shouldn’t have expected that to have worked. Oh well.

“Sir,” the policeman says, “I’m going to have to ask you to come with me.” Doug grimaces, but his expression slowly changes into a smile. This is fine. It’s fine. Fine.

“I’d love to…” he starts, summoning, floating behind his head, a strange sort of Stand, looking like a framed sheet of paper with a hastily-scribbled smily face with stick arms and legs that look like they were drawn by a four-year-old. “Unfortunately, I really do need to see Mr. Paige. I’m his lawyer, remember?” Both officers pause.

“Wait… you are?” the woman asks, “For real?”

“Uh… yeah?” he responds, “I am, is that a problem?”

“No, no problem,” the man says, “we just… thought you were lying.”

“Huh… weird…” Doug says, “Uh… I’m not.”

“No, of course not,” he responds, “do forgive us. Right this way.” Doug smiles as he’s led toward a visiting room. This is why the boss always puts his trust in him, because despite how much of a coward he can be at times, with his ability, he can never fail. “Just wait in here, I’ll get him for you.”

“Thank you.” Just then, Doug’s phone buzzes, and instantly, his heart rate doubles. He knows who that is. Hand shaking slightly, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone, seeing a message from Jacob. Oh boy. He feels a bead of sweet run down his face, and only perceives the officer saying some kind of behavioural instructions as a mumble.

“…Understand?”

“Yeah… got it…” he chokes out. Shit… he shouldn’t be this scared. He knows that he’s just being checked up on… but… what if he isn’t? What if he’s being messaged to say that he’s decidedly unreliable and that he’s going to be killed so he doesn’t spill secrets?

“You okay?”

“I’m great…”

“Okay, that’s good. I’m going to go and get Mr. Paige. Wait inside.”

“Okay…” The officer leaves and Doug enters the visiting room. There’s a table, at which he promptly sits, with a thick glass pane dividing the room. He opens his message. It says,

“Where are you now?” Doug gulps and responds with,

“Visiting room,” and then puts his phone down on the table. A couple of seconds later, it buzzes again. Doug almost jumps out of his chair. He reaches for it. Jacob’s response is,

“Excellent,” followed by, “Forgive me for checking in, I do trust you. I just want to make sure that you know how important this is.” Doug exhales. He starts to type his response, but freezes when he reads a message that appears just then, reading, “And what could happen to you if you mess up again.” He goes pale, and it takes him a few seconds to work up the nerve to text back,

“I won’t fail.”

“Good.” He looks at that single word for what feels like a lot longer than it probably was, when the door suddenly opens, and in comes the man he’s here to see, who sits down across from him and picks up the phone on his side. Doug puts his phone in his pocket and picks up the one on the table, bringing it up to his face to talk to Jason.

“Uh… hi,” Jason says, a little hesitantly. Doug clears his throat and sits up straight.

“Hello, Mr. Paige.”

“Uh… who… are you…?” Jason asks, evidently confused.

“Right, we’ve never actually met,” Doug says, “I’m the guy you were supposed to meet with last night, before Banksy showed up.” Jason’s eyes widen.

“Ah… uh… I see…”

“I’m a member of Acid Wolfpack,” Doug continues, suddenly seeming a lot more confident, “and my boss is very interested in that new product you’ve got.” Jason pauses.

“I… I see…”

“Yeah, so, my boss is rather upset that you were apprehended before he got what he had intended to pay for… so I’m here to come and get you.” Jason raises an eyebrow.

“You’re… busting me out…?”

“In a sense,” Doug responds, standing up, “But really, I’m more so just intending to walk out the front door.”

“Uh… how are you gonna do that? I’m assuming you’re a Stand user… what’s your ability?” Doug smiles and summons his Stand again.

“Indeed I am.” Jason looks at it and can’t help but laugh a little bit.

“Hahaha, what the hell is that thing?” Doug glares at him.

“This is my Painted Faces. And it’s your ticket out of here, so show it some goddamn respect.”

“Uh… right, sorry…” he looks at it again, with its stupid-looking drawn-on face and wimpy little noodle arms. “What… does it do…?”

“It does this.” Doug makes a motion with his hand to get the officer’s attention. “Officer, we’re done here.” The officer walks in and takes Jason by the arm, leading him out of the room. “Oh, officer, there’s no need to bring him back to his cell. I’ll be taking him with me.” The officer looks at him for a moment, before shrugging.

“Okay.” He walks out the door and leads a very confused Jason toward Doug.

“Oh, and it’d probably be better of you took off his handcuffs, there’s no need for those.”

“Right, sorry. Just a second.” The officer takes a keyring off his belt and unlocks Jason’s handcuffs.

“Thank you, officer.” He nods and walks off.

“Okay, I regret what I said, this Stand is amazing!” Jason says.

“Quiet,” Doug instructs, “be cool, no raising unnecessary attention to yourself.”

“Uh, alright. Can do.” The two walk back toward the entrance of the police station. The woman at the desk immediately notices.

“Hey!!” she yells at them, “What’s going on here?!” She stands up and draws her gun from her holster. Jason immediately puts his hands in the air.

“There’s no need for that,” Doug says, sounding almost bored, “We’re just stepping out for some air. We’re allowed, I asked. Trust me, it’s fine.” The officer looks momentarily confused, but then puts her gun back in the holster.

“Oh… alright.”

“We’ll be right back, don’t worry.”

“Shouldn’t he at least have handcuffs?” she asks, sitting back down.

“Nah, it’s fine.”

“Okay.” They walk out the door and start heading toward the car.

“So… this is just… happening?” Jason asks.

“Keep walking. We don’t have that much time before people start to realize what just happened.” The two get in the car, and drive off.

“So… wait… you’re taking me… to your boss…?”

“Yep.”

“As in… the boss of your whole organization…?”

“Yep.”

“Jesus…”

“Yeah, that’s a fair reaction. Just do what he says and I’m sure you’ll be fine. You are very valuable, after all.”

“That’s… good, I guess.”

“Yeah, it’s more than most of us have…” Doug says, laughing nervously to himself.

Chapter 5 - I Wish The Lows Were Higher

Doug and Jason pull into the parking lot of a large office building, the sign outside reading “Kishibe Accounting Firm”. Jason looks at Doug, confused.

“This… is an accounting firm.” Doug looks at him like he’s stupid.

“Yeah. I know,” he responds, “Have you never seen one before?”

“Uh… I… I have…”

“Okay, so what’s the problem?” Jason takes a moment before responding.

“Uh... there’s no problem…” Doug finds an empty spot and parks.

“Good.” He pulls his phone out of his pocket. “One moment.” He sends a text, presumably to his boss, and then turns to Jason. “Alright, time to get moving. Ready to meet the boss?” Jason gulps. He is not.

“Yeah,” he responds, acting a whole lot more confident than he feels, “Let’s do this thing.”

* * *

Jacob smiles as he receives a text from Doug, reading “We’re here. We’ll be right up.” Apparently it all went over well. Perfect.

Only a few minutes go by before there’s a knock at the door. Jacob gets up from his seat, and as he walks toward the door, a white membrane starts to spread over his body, transforming him. His skin turns white, and his hair turns pink, and stands straight up in spikes, held in place by a red zigzag headband, as his ears elongate and become pointed. Over his chest appears a large red heart, with a crack starting to form down the middle, stitched back together to be only partially held shut. Around his waist and on his elbows and knees, black bands with a red heart on them appear, and as his fingers elongate and sharpen and his shoes transform into high-heeled boots, his legs and forearms turn pink. Finally, over his right eye, a black eye patch appears, while his right eye turns entirely red and starts to glow with a dim light.

Fully transformed, he reaches out his hand and opens the door, seeing Doug and Jason, the latter of which almost jumps out of his skin when he sees him. “Hey boss,” Doug says, “this is Mr. Paige.”

“Mr. Jason Paige…” Jacob says with a grin, holding out his hand, “it’s very nice to make your acquaintance.” Jason nervously shakes his hand.

“Do come in.” The two men start to enter the room, but Jacob stops them. “Not you, Doug. You are relieved. Nice work.” Doug nods.

“Understood. Thank you sir.” He turns and leaves.

“You, on the other hand, Mr. Paige…” he says, turning around and allowing Jason to enter, “may follow me, for a quick chat.”

“Uh, alright, Mr… uh…” Jason says, following after him.

“You may call me Ace of Hearts,” he says, sitting down, putting his feet on the desk and leaning back.

“Ace of Hearts… okay… and… you’re… the boss of Acid Wolfpack?”

“Indeed I am.”

“Huh… alright… that’s cool…” he says, looking around, trying to seem nonchalant, “Uh… why… are we in an accounting firm…?”

“We all gotta have a day job, don’t we?”

“You… work here…?”

“Indeed I do.” Jacob kicks his feet down off the table and leans forward, resting his head on his hand on his desk. “I don’t expect you to recognize me…” the membrane-like Stand partially recedes, turning his face and head back to normal, “…but I’m Jacob Kishibe. I’m the CEO of this place… of course, most of my revenue comes from… well, I’m sure you know.”

“So… this place is a front for… the mafia…?” Jason asks.

“Yeah, more or less.” Jacob’s head changes back into Ace of Hearts’. Jason suddenly goes pale.

“Oh God… are you gonna kill me because I didn’t complete that deal? Look, man, I can get you more-“

“Kill you? Why would I kill you?” Jacob, or rather, Ace of Hearts, says, laughing.

“I… just sorta figured… you know, I’m vulnerable… and… you’re a supervillain, and you revealed your secret identity… it just made sense…”

“Supervillain?” Ace of Hearts laughs again, “Oh, you’re kind, but you give me too much credit…” he stands up from his chair, starting to walk around the table toward Jason, “No, my dear Mr. Paige… I did that because I wanted you to know that you can trust me. And because I know that I can trust you.” He pauses and glares at Jason, bringing his face close to his. “I can trust you… right…?

“Y-y-yes!! Yes, of course!” he responds, sweating bullets, “You can trust me… you can trust me with your life!” Ace of Hearts smiles.

“Well… that’s very good to hear.” He stands up straight again and turns to walk toward a bookshelf, wandering absentmindedly around the room. Jason swivels around in his chair to be able to follow him with his eyes, but doesn’t stand up. “I’m assuming that you know why I had you brought here.”

“Uh… yeah, I… have some idea…” Should he stand? Is it rude to stay sitting while this guy’s standing? Or maybe he’s supposed to stay sitting… maybe if he stands up, he’s gonna think he’s trying to intimidate him or something… and then he’ll be fucking killed. “But… uh… there… may or may not be a problem…” Ace of Hearts turns around when he hears that.

“A problem…?” His expression is utterly unreadable… and that’s absolutely horrifying.

“U-uh… y-y-yeah… a problem… uh… ever since I got arrested… my Stand hasn’t been… working… and I kinda need it to make Shugaland…” Don’t kill me don’t kill me don’t kill me don’t kill me…

“Oh.” Ace of Hearts cracks a smile, and then starts to laugh. “Haha, for a second there, when you said “problem”… I thought you meant, like, a real problem. Haha, that’s not a problem at all.”

“It isn’t…?”

“No, of course not. They injected you with something, right? Like, you have a sore spot, probably on your arm, where it feels like you got a shot?”

“Yeah…”

“Yeah. That’s a serum that the police have, it suppresses your ability to summon your Stand. It’s not really public knowledge because it really only just started to roll out, and it’s only being used on people deemed to be of ‘top concern’. Apparently, Banksy had something to do with helping in its development.”

“Oh… I see…”

“It’s only temporary, though. So you should have your ability back in around 36-48 hours from when it was originally administered.”

“Oh! Okay, well, that’s good.”

“It certainly is… for the both of us…” Ace of Hearts walks back to his desk, opting to sit on it instead of his chair. Again, Jason swivels in his chair to face him but is far too scared to get up. “I suppose you won’t be able to just go back to your home, now, can you?”

“Uh… no, I suppose not,” Jason muses, “I guess I’m a fugitive now…”

“Worry not… I’ll have someone get in contact with you regarding anything you might be in need of… I intend to take good care of you.”

“Thank you…?”

“You’re quite welcome.” Ace of Hearts stands up once again, walking back toward his chair, which he finally sits back down in. Reaching under his desk, he presses a button. Jason’s just wishing he’d stop moving around so goddamn much… it’s stressing him out. “Well… I don’t know about you, but I am extremely tired.” Ace of Hearts turns back into Jacob. “I think I’ve done quite enough work today… I do believe I’m going to head home now.”

“Oh… uh, alright, have a good rest of your day…” Jacob grins.

“Oh, I will,” he says, with a little more than a touch of excitement in his voice, “You see… I just got engaged to the most wonderful woman imaginable, and right now, I want nothing more than to walk through the garden with her… that sounds so lovely…” Jason isn’t entirely sure what he’s expected to say to that, or why he’s being told this…

“Yeah… that sounds great… congratulations…” Jacob smiles at him.

“Why, thank you.” Just then, the door opens up, and in walks a blonde woman in a grey suit. She’s pretty attractive, but Jason is still around 40% sure he’s going to be murdered, so he doesn’t really focus on that detail. She adjusts her glasses before speaking.

“Hello, Jacob. You rang?”

“Leah, hello,” Jacob responds, “indeed I did.” He stands up. “This is my friend Mr. Paige… I’d like you to make sure he’s comfortable… has a place to sleep… you know, all that good stuff. And… if anyone comes looking for him, well… you know what to do.” She nods and grins.

“We know what to do.”

“Excellent. I knew I could count on you two.” He turns back to Jason. “You’re free to go now.” Jason nods and stands up, walking to meet Leah at the doorway, before turning around.

“Um…” He stops and turns back toward Jacob.

“You’re worried about Banksy?” Jacob asks.

“Well-“

“Don’t be. You’re in very good hands. Besides… I predict that she’s going to be out of commission for a while.” Jason doesn’t know what that means, but it’s… a little reassuring, he supposes.

“Come on,” Leah says, walking out of the room. He follows after her. Jacob, with a smile on his face, leaves the room shortly after, heading for his car. He can’t wait to go home.

* * *

Black Cat is sitting at the bottom of a rather expansive swimming pool, her skin turned to stone. She’s completely still, and has been for the past half hour. Ever so slowly, she moves her head to look up at the sunlight above, shining down on her through the crystal clear water. She loves doing this, it’s so peaceful. The deafening silence is actually incredibly serene… nothing relaxes her like this. She only wishes that Jacob could be here to do this with her.

After a couple more minutes, her rock-like skin shifts back to flesh, and she swims to the top, finally taking a breath of fresh air. And the timing for her doing so is impeccable, because just then, her phone starts to ring. She climbs out of the pool and walks over to it, drying her hands off on her towel before seeing Sunny Day’s name. That could mean that she’s just calling for a friendly chat… but it could also mean…

“Hey, Sunny Day.”

“Black Cat.” Yep. She can immediately tell by her tone that she’s all-business right now, which means Banksy is going to be needed.

“What’s up?”

“Remember our friend Jason Paige?”

“From last night? What about him?”

“Well,” Sunny Day sighs, “he got broken out of custody. Actually, he really didn’t. Some guy claiming to be his lawyer showed up, and then they both just walked out the front door, putting up no fight or anything. They just left, and everyone let them.”

“Uh… pardon?”

“You heard me,” Sunny Day reiterates, “everyone just fucking let him and the guy that showed up to get him leave with no resistance.”

“I’m guessing some kind of Stand was at play?”

“Yeah, seems like it.” Black Cat sighs when she hears that.

“Okay… I’m on my way. Get Chase to send Ferrari, alright?”

“It’s already out front.”

“You’re the best.”

“I know,” Sunny Day says, hanging up. Black Cat sighs, and hurries to change out of her bikini into an outfit a bit more suitable for the situation.

* * *

Banksy walks through the doors to the police station.

“Alright, what happened here?” she asks immediately, looking around, “Please tell me a drug dealer didn’t just walk out of here.” The policewoman at the desk stands up and walks over to her.

“Banksy… I suppose I should have been expecting you to show up…” she says, avoiding eye contact with her, “Uh… yes… I’m afraid that’s exactly what happened…” Banksy gives a wry smile.

“Awesome.”

“It must have been-“

“It was a Stand ability, I know. Not your fault. Still annoying though. Do you know the guy who did it?”

“Uh, well, no… but you’re welcome to check the security footage if you want.”

“Great. I’ll do that.”

“Right this way.” Banksy follows her into a back room so she can get a look at who she should be looking out for going forward.

As she leaves, a man with short lavender hair, the one Jacob called Ron, is seen outside, leaning casually against the wall of the police station, with his hands in his pockets. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Banksy head toward the back, and grins. His shadow extends outward, turning purple and changing into an odd, 2-dimensional outline of a segmented body with horns coming out of the side of its head. It goes through the window, snaking along the ground, following after her.

Chapter 6 - Your Hand In Mine

Banksy examines the security footage. She sees a long-haired guy in a suit just… walking right out of the door. She sighs.

“This is annoying.” She turns to the policewoman. “I don’t suppose you got the guy’s name…”

“Uh… no… we didn’t. He introduced himself as Mr. Paige’s lawyer and… that was just sorta… enough, in our minds.” Banksy lets out a sigh.

“Alright. I’ll be on my way now, I guess…” she mutters, admittedly a little frustrated, as she turns to leave the back room. But suddenly, she stops. Did something just… move?

“Banksy? Are you okay?”

“Shh!” She holds up her hand to motion for the woman to shut up. Super Psycho Love appears in her hand.

Nothing… is happening…

“Is everything okay?” The policewoman asks in a hushed voice.

“There’s something in this room with us…” Banksy responds in an equally quiet voice.

“What kind of something? A Stand?”

“That would be my guess…” Slowly, the two look around the room, not wanting to make any sudden moves. Suddenly…

“There!!” The officer points at a spot on the ground behind Banksy, where she can see something purple darting across the ground in the corner of her eye. Banksy pulls the trigger on her Stand, shooting a red heart-shaped bullet at what’s most likely an enemy Stand, but misses, leaving nothing but a red paint splatter on the ground in the shape of a heart. Frantically, she looks around, but the thing has vanished.

“Alright…” Banksy mutters, “it’s definitely a Stand… and if you can see it, it must be a Bound Stand. So that means that even if we kill it… the user will be fine, and he’ll just send it back again in a bit.” She hurriedly starts to walk toward the door.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m leaving. This thing probably doesn’t want anything to do with you. I’m gonna go somewhere secluded and have a one-on-one with it, safely.”

“I strongly advise against doing that, there has to be a safer w-“

“I didn’t ask you!!” Banksy runs through the door and out into the main area of the police station. Suddenly she sees something moving in the corner of her eye, something on the ground, reaching out toward her! She looks down just in time to see some kind of weird, purple outline reaching out a hand to touch her foot. Just as it makes contact, she blasts it with an orange bullet, splattering paint as the Stand’s head explodes, resulting in its body dissolving into nothingness shortly after. She smiles a little, but she keeps running. Like she had made clear before, she knows that she still has to find the user.

Getting outside, she sees Ferrari and jumps on it, driving off.

“Chase! You there?”

“Yeah, I’m here!” He responds, “Did you get any leads?”

“Nah, nothing much. Just some guy with a ponytail. He must have some Stand that lets him convince people that anything he says is true.”

“Oh… that sounds like it’s gonna be irritating as hell to deal with…” Sunny Day adds.

“Yeah, no kidding,” Black Cat says, “But for now, there’s a different Stand coming after me, so I guess we’re dealing with that.”

“Wait, what kind of Stand?” Sunny Day immediately asks.

“I couldn’t get a good look at it, it seems like it’s always darting around in the corner of a room. No idea what it does, either. I blasted it apart, but it’s visible to non-Stand users, so-“

“…So it’s still alive. Right. Okay, that’s a problem.”

“Yeah.” Sunny Day pauses.

“But you said you killed it, right?”

“Yeah?”

“Well, it probably has to try and find you again. So what you should do is come over here, regroup, then try to find it, and have it lead you to the user.”

“Okay… good idea.”

“See you soon, Black Cat!” Chase calls out. Just then, however, as Banksy passes through an intersection on Ferrari, her heat sinks.

“Uh… guys…?” She watches a car she recognizes drive by.

“What?” Sunny Day asks, concerned, “What is it?”

“Uh… Jacob’s heading home right now…”

“Oh…” Sunny Day mutters, “I see… I guess you have to get home then, don’t you?”

“I suppose so…”

“…Okay… that’s fine… here’s what we’re going to do… you go home, pretend you were there the whole time… and then Chase and I will head out and try to intercept the Stand before it gets to you. Once that happens, I’ll give you a call, and then you make some excuse to leave, and you come out here and we resume the plan.”

“Okay… sounds good…”

“Alright.”

Black Cat gets back home just in time, and runs for the basement as fast as she can. Just as she gets back into her normal clothes, she hears the door open upstairs. Hurriedly, she runs up the stairs to meet him.

“Darling, I’m home- oh, hello, darling!” She walks up to meet him, a little bit out of breath. “Are you okay, darling?”

“I’m fine,” she replies, “I was just…” she pauses for only the briefest of moments, “…working out. I’m just a little tired.”

“Oh, alright,” he says, taking off his shoes, and then his jacket, and then proceeding to hang it.

“You’re home really early today.”

“Well, don’t sound so disappointed!” he jokes, turning to face her, “Yeah, I was just getting so bored of the day, and feeling a little tired in general, so I figured I’d leave early and come see my darling fiancée.” They both smile as he puts his arms around her waist and pulls her closer to him. “One of the perks of being the boss.” She knows she’s supposed to be staying alert, but she’s having a pretty difficult time trying not to melt in Jacob’s arms.

“Lucky me…”

“Plus… you know… I did promise you a walk in the garden. And what kind of man would I be to leave my one and only waiting at home, all alone, in crushing anticipation?” She wraps her arms loosely around his neck.

“Plus there’s no paperwork here.”

“Plus there’s no paperwork here,” he agrees with a laugh, “you’re very correct.” He gives her a quick kiss and they momentarily separate so he can put his arm around her side.

They walk into the sitting room, a large room with an elegant hardwood floor, pristine leather furniture and ornate marble statues on display on pedestals. But they walk right past all of that, toward a large bookshelf occupying the entire wall. Jacob pushes her gently against it, her back against the books. She looks up at him as he brings his face closer to hers, and kisses her. As he does, he reaches out his hand a little bit to the right of her head toward a dark green book, and pulls it out a little bit, it making a clicking sound as it moves. A sound like gears turning is heard, and then a section of the bookshelf starts to turn outward, revealing a secret passageway leading to some kind of tunnel. Their faces separate, but only by a couple of centimetres. Jacob grins.

“That’s so cool,” he says.

“You say that every time,” Black Cat responds.

“Well, it’s true every time.”

“I told you it would be.”

“You were right.”

“I’m always right.”

“You really are, aren’t you?”

“Of course I am. It’s my best quality.”

“Oh, it’s definitely up there… but I don’t know if I’d say it’s your best quality…”

“Oh, you…”

“Come on. I wanna see those lilies.”

The two make their way down the passage, a dark hallway with barely enough light to be able to see. There are light switches, of course, but they don’t use them. It’s more fun this way – spookier, more authentic.

Suddenly, something darts across the wall in the corner of Black Cat’s eye.

“Ah!” she exclaims, startled, jumping backward and bumping into Jacob.

“Are you okay, darling?”

“Y-yes… I just… thought I saw something run across the wall… maybe it was a spider…” Jacob grins.

“Since when are you scared of spiders?”

“I’m not! It just startled me.”

“Well,” Jacob laughs, putting and arm around her side and pulling her closer in a teasing manner, “worry not, darling, I’ll protect you.” She gives him a wry smile that he can’t see but nonetheless knows is there.

“My hero.”

They get to the end of the passageway and Jacob opens the door, and light from the outside comes flooding in.

“M’lady,” he says with a grin, holding the door open for her. She walks out from the secret passage into the garden, where, indeed, asiatic lilies are starting to bloom. “Beautiful,” he says with a smile.

“Beautiful indeed.” Jacob looks at her.

“Almost as beaut-“

“Oh my God, don’t,” she laughs, “there’s no need for that.”

“What, is that too corny?”

“Yes. Yes it is.”

“My apologies, darling.”

Black Cat doesn’t respond to that. She’s looking at one of the lilies, one that hasn’t even bloomed yet.

“Darling?”

Again, no response. There’s something oddly… interesting about that flower…

“Darling?”

There’s something… purple… on the stem, snaking around it… she can only see a little bit at a time, but it looks… oh God, it’s that Stand from the police station!! It’s here? This whole time, it’s been following her?

“Darling!”

She snaps back to reality.

“Uh… sorry, honey. I guess I just got a little… zoned out…”

“That’s not like you… are you okay?”

“Yeah…” she starts to respond, “I’m just a little…” she trails off as a purple thing darts across the ground under her feet, visible only in the very bottom of her vision. She looks down at the ground, but now the thing is to the right of her, still only in the corner of her eye. Again, she looks at where she expects it to be, and sees it plastered to a tree trunk, completely 2-dimensional, almost like it’s drawn on. It looks at her, before sliding along the tree to go behind it, out of her view.

“Just a little…?” Jacob follows up, starting to sound concerned.

“J-just a little tired,” she responds absentmindedly, looking toward the tree. Oh God… it’s here… it might attack Jacob! What do I do?! While she thinks to herself, Jacob frowns.

“Tired…?” he asks, sounding suddenly disappointed, “Does that mean…?”

“…That I have to go to sleep soon?” Black Cat finishes, “Nah… not yet… probably not for a couple more days…” He puts his arm around her.

“That’s good… I was really hoping for a few more days of being engaged to you before we had to part ways for a couple of months.”

“Well…” she says, “You’ll definitely get tha…” She trails off yet again as she sees the Stand on the ground, sliding along, away from her and Jacob. “One moment, honey…” she says, suddenly feeling incredibly focused on the Stand, like she has to follow after it…

“Huh?”

“Just… uh… I’ll be right back…”

* * *

Doug is in his car, sitting at a red light that’s just… taking… fucking FOREVER to change!!

“Come on, change!! What’s the goddamn hold up?!” he shouts at the traffic light, frustrated. He swears, this light has been red for at least ten minutes now. Or maybe it’s been like 45 seconds. He can’t tell. Bouncing his leg restlessly, he checks his rear-view mirror. Nothing out of the ordinary. No one coming after him. Of course not. And even if Banksy was coming after him, he’d be safe with his Stand. Painted Faces is invincible.

But still… Banksy is Banksy…

Change, you stupid fucking light!!!

Doug takes his phone out of his breast pocket and dials a number. After just one ring, someone picks up.

“Yeah?”

“Ron! You got Banksy, right? She’s not coming for me?” Ron laughs.

“Ah, no, don’t worry about that. She isn’t coming for you.”

“Are you sure?” Doug asks, a hint of nervousness in his voice. Ron, walking down a street, seemingly just enjoying the weather, stops and grimaces. Doug really pisses him the fuck off sometimes.

“Yes, I’m sure,” he responds, irritated, “Trust me. It’s done. My Galactic Love has a hold of her mind… we aren’t going to have to worry about her for a while.” And with that, he hangs up, exhaling to himself. Seriously. Fuck that guy. He resumes his walk.

Doug puts his phone away and lets out an exhale of his own. Alright. Cool. It’s done. Banksy’s out of commission for a while. Perfect. Perfect. Excellent. Perfect and excellent.

The light turns green, and he drives off.

Chapter 7 - Our Hearts Entwined

Black Cat runs around a corner to where Jacob can’t see her. But now she’s lost sight of what she’s pursuing.

“Show yourself, you little piece of shit!!!” she whispers aggressively. As she does, Galactic Love runs through the ground, under her feet. She turns around to see where it went, but sees nothing. She looks around, and finds it on a tree branch above her head. She summons her Stand in her hand and fires a bullet at it, but it darts out of the way, running up, along a branch, into another tree. She shoots at it again, but it wraps around the tree, ducking behind it.

“Darling?” Jacob calls to her, “Is everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine, honey!” She looks over in the direction his voice is coming from, ever so briefly, and instantly realizes her mistake. Where the fuck did it go?! She goes pale as she considers the possibility that it could be going after Jacob, but breathes a sigh of relief when she sees it dart through the right side of her vision. The way this thing’s acting… and the fact that the user is nowhere around… it’s gotta mean that this thing is automatic. That means that it’s probably only going to target her… which means that if she gets out of here now, it’ll follow her and leave Jacob alone! “Honey, I’m sorry, but I’m gonna run out for a second…”

“What?” he asks, following after her, “Why? We just got out here!” She sees him rounding the corner and walking toward her. She backs away from him as he gets closer to her, maintaining what she feels is a safe distance in the instance of an attack.

“I’m sorry… but… I just gotta… run out for a second… I’ll be right back… just… stay here…” He looks at her, concerned.

“Are you sure you’re feeling okay, darling…?”

“I’m… yeah… I’m fine… it’s just… it’s a…” Her eyes go wide and her heart beats faster as Galactic Love glides along the ground, going right under Jacob’s feet. “…a… a rock human thing… you wouldn’t get it…” If that thing lays a finger on him… “I’ll be right back, I promise!!” she shouts as she turns and runs, leaving Jacob behind, confused.

As soon as Jacob can’t see her anymore, she pulls out her phone, dialling a number and putting it to her ear as she runs for the front of the estate. Sunny Day picks up after two rings. On her end of the phone, there’s a sound like an intense wind, making it a little hard to hear her. She must be on Ferrari.

“Black Cat?” Sunny Day answers, “What’s up? Did you think of something?”

“Uh… no…” she responds, still running, looking around. She can see it gliding along the ground next to her, and picks up the pace. “…actually, it’s right here…”

“It’s there with you right now?! It followed you?!”

“Well, I’m looking at it right now, so… I’d say yeah!!” Oh wait… she isn’t looking at it. Where did it go?! “Just… get over here, now!!”

“Alright, one second! I’m coming!!”

In just two minutes, Sunny Day has arrived, riding on Ferrari.

“Get on!” she commands.

“Good thing you told me, I never woulda thought of that…” Black Cat mutters, jumping onto the second seat. As soon as she’s on, Sunny Day speeds off.

“Okay, what’s happened so far?” Sunny Day asks.

“Well… not a whole lot. It seems like it’s waiting for something…”

“Good. Well… I guess it’s not good that you don’t know what it does… but it’s good that you aren’t hurt…”

“Yeah…” Black Cat agrees, “I’m glad I got out of there before it got Jacob.”

“Hey, Sunny,” Chase interjects, “Uh… now that Black Cat is here, are you gonna wanna head back?”

“What does that mean?” Sunny Day asks, “You don’t think I can handle this?”

“N-no!! No, of course not, Sunny! I just mean that… Cute Shadows isn’t really-“

“It isn’t really much of what?

“N-nothing, Sunny… just…”

“…”

“I’m gonna shut up now. Uh… Black Cat, what does the enemy look like?”

“It’s kinda weird-looking, actually, it’s kinda like if-“ she stops as she sees it in a storefront window to the left of her, looking at her. “There!!! It’s there!!” She points at the window as they drive by. Sunny Day raises an eyebrow.

“Uh… where?”

“In that window!!! Back there!!” Black Cat shouts urgently, “Sunny Day!! Turn around!!!”

“Uh… alright.” Sunny Day makes a sudden U-turn, driving back toward the store, when Black Cat suddenly yells out again, standing up on the bike.

“Wait!! It’s right there!!!” She points at the ground on the right side of the bike, where the Stand is gliding along next to them. She summons Super Psycho Love in her hand and points it at it.

“Uh… where…?” Sunny Day asks, looking at the road where Black Cat is pointing with her Stand.

“What do you mean?” Black Cat asks as she pulls the trigger, “It’s right there!!!” As the bullet makes contact with Galactic Love’s head, it bursts apart and vanishes.

“Black Cat… uh… you just shot at nothing…”

“What are you talking about?!” she responds indignantly, “No I didn’t!!!”

“Yes you did! It must only be visible to you… I don’t think it’s trying to affect you, I think it already has.” Sunny Day turns right and starts heading down a different street, obviously no longer finding any need to inspect a random window. “Did it manage to touch you at all?” Black Cat pauses. She thinks back to her encounter with it, when it just barely grazed her foot and she thought she was safe.

“Oh… you know… now that you mention it- AH!! Sunny Day!! Look out!!!” She sees Galactic Love, from the waist up, plastered on the back of Sunny Day’s shirt, looking at her, drifting slowly from her right side to her left, and points Super Psycho Love at it.

“Wait, what? Where is i-" Black Cat cuts her off by pulling the trigger and shooting at Galactic Love, which gets blasted apart, but was probably not actually harmed by it. The same can not be said for Sunny Day, who has a bullet promptly pass through her shoulder. Alarmed, she momentarily loses control of Ferrari, causing it to swerve down a different street, but Chase takes over and makes it drive straight before anything too bad can happen. “What the fuck you crazy fucking bitch!!!!”

“What’s happening?” Chase exclaims, concerned by the sudden outburst. Sunny Day ignores him, instead addressing Black Cat.

“DID YOU JUST FUCKING SHOOT ME?!” Black Cat looks at her. She looks at her Stand in her hand. Oops…

“Uh…” she stammers.

“Let me spare you from responding!!” Sunny Day shouts, “YOU FUCKING SHOT ME!!!!!”

“Sorry!!!” Black Cat responds frantically, “It was an accident!!!”

“What!!” Chase interjects, “Sunny, you got shot?! What’s happening?! Are you okay?!”

“I’m fine, Chase, Black Cat’s just an IDIOT!!!”

“IT WAS AN ACCIDENT!!!” Black Cat reiterates.

“Nonetheless…” Sunny Day responds impatiently, “YOU!!! FUCKING!!! SHOT!!! ME!!!!”

“I was trying to shoot the Stand!! It was on your back!!”

“Wait, what’s happening?!” Chase interjects, confused, “What’s going on? Is there a Stand or isn’t there?”

“Sunny Day, you’re fine,” Black Cat insists, “You’re made of plastic. It can’t have hurt that bad.”

“Yeah, I guess it didn’t,” Sunny Day agrees, “but it’s the thought that counts! Also, I really liked this shirt!!”

“Well, if it’s the thought that counts, then you should be thanking me for saving you from- CHASE LOOK OUT!!!!” Black Cat suddenly sees the Stand on the side of Ferrari, just sort of… chilling there, not doing anything aside from slowly gliding closer toward the front. She aims her Stand at it.

“NO!!!” Sunny Day shouts, grabbing her by the wrist and pointing the gun toward the sky, so that when she shoots, she doesn’t hit anyone. She slaps Black Cat. “Black Cat!!! What the fuck is wrong with you!!!!”

“I-“

“You almost shot Chase!!!!”

“What?!” Chase shouts.

“Don’t worry, she didn’t!!”

“What is happeniiiiiiiiiiiiiiing?” he says in a tone that’s almost a whine, exasperated, “I can’t see!!”

“Black Cat is being attacked by a Stand. It’s making her go crazy and attack random shit. And she doesn’t seem to be able to help it.”

“Yes I can!!” Black Cat insists, pointing Super Psycho Love at Sunny Day absentmindedly, looking at Galactic Love, which has moved from Ferrari’s side to Sunny Day’s face.

“Oh really? Then what are you doing right now?” Sunny Day asks.

“Uh… oh, shit!” Realizing what she’s doing, she vanishes her Stand. “Sorry…” Sunny Day looks incredibly unimpressed.

“Why don’t you tell me everything you know about this Stand?”

“Uh… alright… it’s always just sorta there… like, wherever you aren’t looking… and then it’s suddenly right in front of you… uh… it’s completely flat…”

“It’s flat?” Sunny Day asks.

“Yeah, it’s flat. Like, 2-dimensional. It always shows up on a surface, like it’s painted on.”

“Huh…”

“And it…” She trails off as she sees Galactic Love on the side of a building. She shoots at it, battering a window. “Ah, shit. Oops…”

“Focus, please. ‘And it…’ what?”

“And it’s a bound Stand, like I said. There’s not a lot I know about it.”

“Okay… that’s actually enough… I think…”

“What do you mean?”

“One second…” Sunny Day takes a notepad and a pencil out of her back pocket. She quickly sketches some rudimentary shapes on it. “Chase, take the wheel,” she mutters. He does. “Oh, and turn around, go back where we came, will you?”

“Yeah, one second,” he responds, making Ferrari autonomously turn around and start driving in the other direction.

“Okay… so… this is us when you first saw it in the window…” She shows Black Cat her doodle, pointing to an X she drew on the road, then draws an arrow from the X to the side of the road. “And this is the direction you were looking when you saw it.” She draws a little dotted line indicating their U-turn, then makes another X. “Then we were here, and you saw it on the road next to us… this time to our right…” She draws another arrow, parallel to the one from before. “Are you following so far?”

“Yeah, I’m following,” Black Cat responds.

“So then we took a turn here…” she continues to make her little dotted trail, “…and you saw the Stand on my back…” she adds in a glare with that last part, before drawing an arrow going forward. Again, it’s parallel to all the others.

“Sunny Day, look out!!” Black Cat suddenly makes a lunge to the side, jumping off of Ferrari toward Galactic Love, to the right of the bike. Sunny Day just rolls her eyes and holds out her hand, catching her and pulling her back onto the back of Ferrari, moments before disaster. “Uh… haha… thanks…”

“No problem. Pay attention now, would you? So… then, because someone shot somebody else, I don’t remember who,” she glares again, “we ended up accidentally making another right turn. Then you saw the Stand on the left side of Ferrari, and tried to shoot at it…” she draws a fourth arrow, “…and then just now, we made another U-turn, and then you saw it on the right side.” Another arrow. “Are you seeing a pattern?” She shows Black Cat the very hastily-made drawing. It’s immediately obvious that all of the arrows are pointing the same direction.

“Huh…”

“And you said that it was a bound Stand, right? What do you think it’s bound to?”

“Oh…” Black Cat gets it right then.

“It’s 2-dimensional… and it can only appear in one direction relative to you for any meaningful amount of time…”

“It’s a shadow!” the two women exclaim simultaneously.

“Exactly!” Sunny Day exclaims, “And I can see all of our shadows, so it’s gotta be the user’s.”

“So if it’s bound to the user’s shadow… and it’s always showing up that way,” Black Cat muses, pointing in the applicable direction, “what are the odds that it’s still connected to the user?”

“Those are my thoughts exactly!” Sunny Day responds, “Whoever the user is, they must still be casting the shadow through you. So if it’s being cast that way, going the other way will surely lead us to them!” She grins at Black Cat. “Where would you be without me?”

“Haha… probably not in a very favourable… LOOK OUT!!!” Black Cat summons her Stand and points it at Sunny Day again. Sunny Day sighs and once again reaches for her arm, pointing the gun away from her.

“Oh boy, that’s gonna get old fast…” she mutters, annoyed but not overly worried, “Chase, turn here, would you?” He does as he’s told.

“Oh boy, bad guy hunting!” he says excitedly, driving off in search of Black Cat’s attacker.

Chapter 8 - Half An Octopus

Jason is sitting in the front seat of Leah's car… it’s really well kept, it must have been vacuumed recently. That’s actually a bad thing, though. Because that means there’s nothing to fidget with absentmindedly, nothing to look at to distract himself. And that means that he has no choice but to pay attention to Leah, next to him, driving him somewhere to “take care of him”, as that Jacob guy had said she was supposed to. He’s still about 30% sure that he’s going to be killed. He looks over to her. She… hasn’t said anything yet. He doesn’t know if that’s a good or bad thing. On the one hand, the silence is deafening… on the other hand… anything she says is probably going to be terrifying. Jesus… how long have they been driving for? Like, 10 minutes? He checks the clock. Oh. It hasn’t even been one minute. Awesome. Suddenly, a woman speaks, making Jason jump.

“Oh, that Jakey,” she says from behind him. She must be sitting in the backseat. “Always so serious. Always telling you what to do. ‘Leah, do this. Leah, do that.’ Where does he get off?”

“He’s the boss, you know,” Leah responds, rolling her eyes, “his job is to tell me what to do. My job is to do what he says. That’s kinda how this whole thing works.”

“Well, still! You’re smart and strong and capable. You should be giving the orders. Not him, with his always pacing around like a crazy person, nattering on and on about that Black Cat girl, talking about ‘profit margins’ and other boring ass bullshit, with his gorgeous chestnut hair… and piercing blue eyes… and…” She pauses. “…He is kinda cute though…” Leah sighs.

“Would you stop?”

“Uh… who is-“ Jason starts to turn around to look in the back of the car to see who the third person is, but as soon as he starts to move, a sword instantly comes out from behind the seat and is against his throat. Eyes wide, he resumes looking forward, head pushed against the back of his seat, shaking uncontrollably, tears in his eyes

“Whoa there, buddy. Easy now. Whatcha tryin’ to do, sneak attack me?”

“N-n-no!! No, I swear!! I just didn’t know there was someone in the backseat of the car! I was just trying to l-look at you!! P-please don’t kill me!!” The woman starts to laugh as Leah rolls her eyes. “Wh… wha…?”

“She’s just fucking with you.”

“Hahaha! It’s funny every time!”

“You know… you’re able to… just… not do that, right?”

“Yeah… I guess I could, but that sounds way less fun. What’s the point?”

“Well, you’ve got me there,” Leah responds sarcastically.

“Aw… don’t be like that, Leah!! He likes it! Hey, what’s your name?” she asks.

“J-Jason…” he squeaks out in response.

“You liked it, right? It was funny?”

“Uh…” he responds nervously, sweating bullets, “Yeah… I loved it… it was so funny I… almost cried…”

“See? He loved it!”

“Yeah, that sounded real convincing.” Leah turns to Jason. “Don’t encourage her.”

“If you don’t encourage me, I will kill you.”

“She will not kill you.”

“I might! You don’t know.”

“She won’t. I do know. Because she’s grounded for a month if she does.”

“Leaaaaaaaaaah!” the woman objects.

“C-can you please… take the sword… away from my neck… now…? Please…?” Jason nervously interjects.

“I suppose I could…”

“Legs, I swear to god!!!” Leah almost shouts.

“Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiine!” The woman Leah called “Legs” takes the sword away from his neck. He breathes a sigh of relief. Wait… her name is “Legs”? What the hell kind of a name is that? Did he mishear her?

“Uh… if you don’t mind me asking…” Jason cautiously asks, “what’s your name…?”

“None of your business!!” she responds, “Stranger danger!!”

“Her name is Supermodel’s Legs.” Leah says.

“Leah!!! My secret identity!!!” Supermodel’s Legs screams out.

“You don’t have a secret identity.” Leah sighs.

“I could! If you didn’t keep giving it away!!”

“No you couldn’t. You can’t stop yourself from talking for even a second.” Leah turns to Jason again. “I’m sorry about her. She gets a little bit attention-hungry sometimes.”

“I do nooooooooot!”

“Yes, you do. Any time there’s anyone around, you act like an insufferable child and try to kill them.” There’s a pause.

“You think I’m insufferable…?” Supermodel’s Legs asks, suddenly sounding like she’s on the verge of tears.

What the fuck is happening? Jason thinks to himself, Why is everyone I meet horribly unstable and terrifying?! Leah sighs.

“Legs, you aren’t insufferable,” she says in a much kinder, softer tone, “I’m sorry for saying that. I didn’t mean it.”

“You promise…?” Supermodel’s Legs asks, sniffling.

“I promise.” Leah responds.

“Then why does this guy get the front seat?!” Okay, instantly back to yelling. Awesome. “I said ‘Shotgun!’, and then you gave it to him instead of me!!”

“Because he’s the GUEST!!! You can ride in the front seat on the way back!!”

“But I don’t wanna!!!”

“Uh… I can ride in the back if… uh… Supermodel’s Legs wants to sit up front,” Jason offers, “I don’t mind, really. I had no idea you wanted it… I didn’t even know you were here…”

“I like that idea!” Supermodel’s Legs exclaims excitedly.

“No,” Leah says firmly, “you both are staying where you are. Mr. Paige is in the front because that is where he is currently sitting, and you are in the back because you need to learn that you don’t always get your way just because you throw a temper tantrum like a petulant child.”

“You think I’m a petulant child…?”

“Oh, for the love of God.”

* * *

“Sunny Day, look out!!!” Black Cat shouts, “It’s right there!!” Sunny Day rolls her eyes. She was right. This is getting really annoying, really fast.

“Yes, Black Cat. I know. There’s a Stand. That’s crazy. I think I’ll be okay though.”

“Okay, you don’t have to be like that…”

“Well, you don’t have to shout out every ten seconds.”

“I can’t help it!!” Suddenly, she sees Galactic Love on the road and instinctively shoots it. “Uh… see…?”

“You know… maybe you should just close your eyes and not look at anything.”

“Oh… good idea.” Black Cat closes her eyes. Instantly, her vision, or lack thereof, is overtaken by visions of Galactic Love everywhere at once, gliding all over. Oh dear God… it’s on the back of her eyelids… or… is it inside her eyes?! Is it in her head?! It’s inside her!! She’s doomed!! “Oh God, it’s inside me!!!! It’s inside my head!!!!!” she shouts out, opening her eyes and frantically jumping to her feet, standing up on the back of a speeding Ferrari, not falling off or even stumbling despite its incredible speed. She summons her Stand in her hand and points it at her own head.

“BLACK CAT!!!!” Sunny Day stands up and punches Black Cat in the face before she can do anything terrible to herself. She stumbles back, but still seems a shaken. “Get a hold of yourself, for fuck’s sake!!”

“Sunny Day, it’s in my head!! It’s inside me!!!!”

“No, Black Cat, it-“

“Oh! Wait, no!! It’s on you!!” Black Cat aims at Sunny Day’s chest. But then Galactic Love starts to rapidly slide away from Sunny Day, down onto Ferrari, then the road, then backward, sliding along behind them. Black Cat has her gun trained on it the whole time.

“Wait, is it moving?”

“Yeah! It’s following behind us!!!”

“Wait… does that mean we passed him?” Chase asks.

“Yeah, probably…” Sunny Day responds, sitting back down, “Black Cat, sit down.” She does. “We must be getting close. Uh… if the Stand moved that way, then… uh… left here, Chase. Then pull over and park.”

“Got it!” Chase does as he’s told. Sunny Day and Black Cat get off of Ferrari.

“Stay here, Chase. I’ll shout if I need you,” Sunny Day says.

“Alright. Good luck, you guys.”

“Thanks Chase. Come on, Black Cat, let’s…” she turns to look at Black Cat and finds her to not be next to her. Turning around, she sees her pointing at a random spot on the road.

“Sunny Day, stay back!! It’s here!!”

“Alright…” Sunny Day walks over to her and takes her by the arm. “Here, girl!” She calls invitingly, like you would to a dog, followed by a whistle, “Come on, girl! This way!”

“This isn’t funny, you know,” Black Cat responds indignantly.

“Yeah, that’s true,” Sunny Day responds, “but I guess you could say that I’m making the best of a bad situation.” Black Cat has nothing to say to that. Her and Sunny Day turn left and walk onto a street with a few people on it, seemingly just minding their own business. Black Cat briefly almost pulls out her Stand to shoot at Galactic Love, which appear to the left of her, but Sunny Day quickly and discreetly snaps her out of it as soon as she starts to move, giving her a punch on the shoulder to snap her back into focusing.

“Okay… it’s to the left of me…” Black Cat whispers, “which means that the guy is to the right…” They both look and see a man in a suit with short lavender hair walking in the other direction on the other side of the street.

“He doesn’t have a shadow,” Sunny Day remarks.

“Yeah… so what do we do…?”

“Well, I can’t do anything…” Sunny Day says, “You’re the one with the fighting Stand. If I go after him, he’ll just run away. Maybe Chase can go after him. But what if he has backup nearby?”

“Here, I have an idea…” Black Cat says, bending down to pick up a pebble on the ground.

“Are you trying to fight the Stand again?”

“No, I know exactly what I’m doing. I guarantee that the second I try to attack him, I’m just going to be immediately distracted again. So what I have to do…” The pebble starts to spin in her hand as she talks, “…is make sure that I can’t be distracted.” She presses the spinning rock against he back and feels a strange tingling sensation in her spine. Her legs start to move all by themselves and her arm points outward stiffly. She summons her Stand and marches autonomously toward Ron.

Ron, meanwhile, is enjoying his walk on such a lovely day. But then he hears footsteps. He turns to the right and sees a woman in black walking toward him. He feels like he knows her, like maybe he met her before… is that… Jacob’s fiancée?

“Oh, hey there,” he says, “I think we’ve met bef-“ It’s then that he notices what’s in her hand. “Wait…” His eyes widen. “Ba-!“

Black Cat sees Galactic Love in the side of her vision, but she can’t move her body aside from what she’s currently doing to address it. She pulls the trigger and fires a bullet into Ron’s chest, causing him to collapse. Unfortunately, she can’t stop herself and she just keeps walking, tripping over him and falling to the ground, with her legs moving back and forth awkwardly as she just lies there. Sunny Day walks over to her.

“Nice shot.” She grins. “Do you need a hand, maybe?”

“Very funny. It worked, at least.”

“Yeah, that was good thinking.” Just then Chase drives Ferrari over to the two.

“That was so cool! You got him!” he exclaims excitedly. But it’s also kinda like… he’s holding back laughter.

“Something funny, Chase?”

“No… not at all.”

“You two are the worst.”

Chapter 9 - Worrying Is Boring

Leah arrives at a large, fancy-looking hotel. She pulls into a spot labelled “VIP” and parks the car.

“We’re here,” she states, opening her door and getting out.

“We’re here…” Jason repeats with a slight waver in his voice, as he does the same.

“We’re here!” Supermodel’s Legs exclaims, getting out of the car herself, but rather than opening the door, she just phases right through. Jason turns to face her, and finally gets a good look at her. She’s a tall, scantily-clad doll-like Stand with blue skin and hair, covering half of her face, and pink clothes. Her mouth looks like it’s stitched into a smile, and as she talks, her robotic eye flashes in time with every syllable while her mouth remains completely motionless. But the main thing he notices is that instead of hands, she has sword-like blades coming out of her arms, one of which she promptly outstretches, as if she’s offering him an incredibly hazardous handshake. “Nice to finally meet you face-to-face, Jason. Can I call you Jason?”

“Uh… yeah… y-you can call me Jason…” He eyes the sword that’s being pointed at him. She doesn’t actually expect him to shake her… “hand”, does she? Actually… she might…

Noticing his hesitation, Supermodel’s Legs cocks her head.

“Awww, are you staring at my boobs?” She asks playfully, leaning forward, “That’s very forward of you. I gotta say, I’m a little flattered~.”

“Wh-what!! N-no!! I’m staring at the weapon you’re pointing at me!!”

“Legs, for the last time, no being annoying,” Leah mutters, walking over to the trunk of her car and retrieving a briefcase.

“Alright. Sorry, Jason,” Supermodel’s Legs says, “To be honest, handshakes aren’t really my thing either.” She abruptly takes a step forward and, before he can protest, throws her arms around him, wrapping him in the world’s most dangerous hug. “This is much better.”

“Uh… uh…!” Jason tries to stay very still lest he accidentally get horribly mutilated.

“I’ve always been more of a hugging girl. Do you like hugs, Jason?”

“Uh-“

“Nah… that’s no good…” she mutters to herself.

“What is ‘no good’?”

“I can’t call you Jason. If we’re gonna be besties, you need a fun nickname. What do you think I should call you…?”

“Uh… I think Jason is fine-“

“How about JJ? I like JJ.”

“I think I’d prefer it if you just called me Ja-“

“JJ it is! JJ, we’re going to be very good friends, you and I!” She hugs him a little tighter. He can feel her blades pressing into his back and every hair on his body stands on end.

“G-g-great…!” Jason stutters, “H-how about you let go of me now…?”

“Oh, alright,” she says, obliging.

“Thanks…”

“Of course. Anything for my bestie~.

“O-okay…”

“Hey, are you two ready to go?” Leah asks, sounding a little impatient.

“Yes!” Jason exclaims eagerly, “Good idea, let’s go!” He follows her toward the hotel. “Uh… where exactly are we going…?” Leah points to the hotel.

“Where do you think?”

“Okay… but… uh… why…?” Leah looks at him, a look of annoyance and frustration on her face.

“Are you fucking stupid? The boss said to take you somewhere where you’ll be comfortable and can get a good night’s sleep. I’m taking you to a place where you’ll be comfortable and can get a good night’s sleep. What is so hard to understand?”

“…” Leah sighs.

“Sorry. I’m a bit on edge. Stressful job. Stressful life.”

“Uh… it’s all good. I… I get that…”

“Whatever,” she mutters, “let’s just go. I’m really tired. I just wanna get checked in and take a bubble bath.” She starts walking toward the hotel entrance, and Supermodel’s Legs and Jason start to follow her.

“Wait, you’re checking in too…?” Jason asks.

“Yeah,” Leah responds, “I am. How else am I supposed to keep an eye on you?”

“Uh… okay…”

“Not in the same room, dumbass.”

“Oh. Oh… right… yeah. Good idea.”

“But, yeah. I’m gonna be in the next room over, making sure no one comes to arrest or kill you. So I’m gonna be staying on top of you to make sure you’re safe.” Supermodel’s Legs nudges him in the side.

“And I’m gonna be on top of you for a different reason.” Jason doesn’t even really process that remark.

“Oh… yeah… I guess I’m gonna be laying low for a while…”

“Yep,” Leah states, matter-of-factly as she reaches the door, “you are.” She turns to face him and flashes him a dry grin. “Better than being dead, though.”

“Y-yeah…”

The two walk into the hotel lobby. Holy shit… it’s really fancy.

“Whoa…” Jason mumbles under his breath. The lobby is the size of his entire house, if not bigger, and the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling are the size of cars. Leah leads him toward the front desk, where a woman in green is talking to the attendant.

“Hello, Henry,” Leah says, stepping in front of the woman. The attendant, Henry, looks at her, and is about to tell her not to interrupt his conversation, but closes his mouth the instant he recognizes her.

“Uh… my apologies, ma’am…” he says to the woman he was talking to, “but this is rather time-sensitive… if you could just step aside for a moment, I’ll be right with you…” The woman grumbles something to herself but nonetheless steps aside. “Uh… Ms. Howe… Supermodel’s Legs… good to see you two…”

“Good to see you tooooooo~” Supermodel’s Legs says excitedly, leaning on the desk, “Did you miss me?”

“Yeah… I missed you a lot.” He turns back to Leah, “Uh… how may I help you today?” Leah gestures to Jason.

“Jacob wants him taken care of.”

“I see… right away!” He turns around briefly, goes over to a filing cabinet, and comes back to her with two card keys, which she promptly takes. “Enjoy your stay…” She walks away without responding.

“Uh… thanks!” Jason says, following after her, “We will!”

The three of them get on the elevator and head up to the 4th floor.

“Uh… isn’t 4 bad luck…?” Jason asks. Leah looks at him like he’s stupid.

“You know, you’re pretty goddamn timid for a drug dealer. Especially a drug dealer that fought Banksy.”

“Yeah… I dunno… I guess I’m just… getting in a little over my head… all I’m trying to do is use what I have access to to make enough money to support myself… and in one 24-hour period, I’ve had my ass handed to me by Banksy, been arrested, got broken out of jail, and now Acid Wolfpack’s boss wants me working with him. And to top it all off, I can’t summon Revive. It’s been a good ten years since I’ve been without it.”

“Yep… I guess that’s gotta be pretty tiring, huh…?” Leah asks, seeming less than empathetic toward his complaining.

“You sound like you could use another hug,” Supermodel’s Legs offers.

“He doesn’t.” Leah says. The elevator doors open and they all walk out into the hall. “You’re in room 403,” she says to Jason, handing him a key.

“Thanks.” They go to his room, and he unlocks it and heads inside. His eyes widen. It’s… luxurious. Like, stupidly so. He walks over to the king-sized bed and sits down on it. Holy shit. It’s really fucking soft. It feels like a cloud. Suddenly, he realizes how tired he is. He didn’t sleep overly well in the police station. “Oh my God…” he mutters, lying back on it.

“Satisfactory?” Leah asks.

“Definitely. Definitely!” Jason responds. He literally never even dreamed of being in a room like this. His living conditions at home are… significantly less remarkable than this, to say the least.

“Right. So, I’ll be in the next room over. If you need anything, just come get me.” He sits up.

“Uh… alright…” She examines his expression, one that’s a little hard to read.

“You okay?”

“Yeah… yeah, I’m fine…” he says, “it’s just… well…” he looks up at her. “When you said that I was here because that way no one would be able to arrest or kill me…”

“Are people coming to kill me?” Leah shrugs.

“Maybe. There’s a decent chance. Since the boss sees value in you, you never know what rival organizations might do in order to make sure he doesn’t get what he wants.” Jason gulps.

“But… I’m… safe here, right…?”

“Yeah. No one has any reason to suspect that you’re here. And also I’m here to protect you.” He doesn’t seem very relieved to hear that. “What’s the problem?”

“I mean… I just feel like… there’s always a paper trail, right? If someone wanted to find me, they could with enough effort, right…?”

“Well, yeah, I guess. But once again, that’s why Legs and I are here.”

“Yeah… but…” he trails off. Leah’s eyes darken.

“‘But’ what?”

“I mean… no offence… it just sorta seems like… she’s kinda unstable, and you don’t seem… remarkably enthusiastic about your job…” Leah takes a couple of steps toward him. Oh God… he really shouldn’t have said that. She’s gonna kill him. His life is over. Instinctively, he moves backward on the bed. When he reaches the edge, he doesn’t realize it and falls off, hitting the floor awkwardly before scrambling to his feet. Just then, he feels a hug from behind, and sees Supermodel’s Legs’ bladed arms surround him. When did she get over here?! He didn’t even see her move!!

“Now, now, JJ, that isn’t very nice.” Supermodel’s Legs says cheerfully. Leah walks around the bed to get to him. He breaks into a cold sweat instantly. He wants to run… but if he so much as moves, he’ll be diced like a tomato. She stops a good ten centimetres away from him. Not… very far away. She does not seem amused.

“You know, there’s a reason we were given this job,” she says. She’s completely poker-faced. Probably so Jason won’t know the moment he’s going to die until it occurs… “No one gets past us… not a single person. If you don’t trust us… well… you’re more than willing to walk right the fuck out that door.” She gestures to the door as she says that. “Understand?” Jason nods hurriedly.

“I-I understand!! I trust you!!” Supermodel’s Legs lets go of him and he falls to his knees, shaking uncontrollably.

“Good,” Leah says, turning around and heading for the door, “Legs, let’s go!”

“Coming, Leah.” Supermodel’s Legs follows after her.

“Time for that bath…” Leah mutters to herself. And with that, the two exit. Jason slowly gets to his feet. He sits down on the bed.

Holy shit…

Chapter 10 - That's My Favourite Part

The door opens and in walks Black Cat. Immediately, Jacob is there to greet her.

“Darling, are you okay?” He asks, “What’s going on?”

“Hi honey,” she responds, “I’m back. I’m fine.” He eyes a bottle of honey in her hand.

“What’s that?”

“Sorry honey, this is what I ran out to get.” She opens it and drizzles some directly into her mouth.

“Uh… pardon…?”

“Yeah… I read somewhere that honey can actually stave off the negative symptoms of needing to hibernate somewhat. Figured it was worth a try.” Jacob raises an eyebrow.

“Oh damn, really?” He asks.

“Yeah,” she lies, “I guess there’s a reason that my whole species likes this stuff.” She tilts her head back and drinks some more.

“Well, I like it too, if it means that I get you for a little longer.” Black Cat grins at him. “What, was that too cheesy?”

“Yeah, a little.”

“Well, that’s just how I am, you must know that by now.”

“I suppose I do.”

“And perhaps you like it a little more than you’re letting on…?” Black Cat drinks a little more honey before responding.

“Maybe,” she answers coyly, “I suppose anything’s possible in this crazy world.”

“I thought so.” He glances at the honey in her hand. “Can I have some…?” She grins at him and drizzles more into her mouth.

“Come anh geh ih,” she says with her mouth full. Jacob smiles as he pulls her close and gives her a kiss.

* * *

Black Cat knocks on the door to Sunny Day’s house. It opens and she walks inside.

“Hey, Black Cat.”

“Hey, Sunny Day.”

“Hey, Black Cat!” Chase calls from upstairs.

“Hi, Chase!” He comes down to meet her, still brushing his teeth.

“How you doing?”

“I’m good!” he responds enthusiastically. Sunny Day laughs.

“He’s been a little amped up since our outing.”

“Yeah,” Black Cat responds, “that checks out.” She notices Sunny Day wearing a yellow shirt, different from the green one she was wearing earlier today. “Uh… how’s the… gunshot wound…?” Sunny Day pulls her shirt collar down to expose her shoulder. The injury she had sustained early that day is gone.

“It’s fine. Can’t say the same about my shirt though.”

“Uh… sorry…”

“It’s fine. At least you’re okay.” Sunny Day pauses. “Wait… Jacob’s fine, right? You didn’t shoot him?”

“Yeah. Jacob’s fine. I told him I was running out and that I’d be back. He was a little upset since he came home early to see me, but it’s fine. Tomorrow is the weekend, and he said that he’s probably not going to need to go in for anything, so it’s not like we aren’t going to be spending any time together.”

“That’s good.”

“Yeah.” At that moment, Chase turns around and heads for the bathroom to spit in the sink. “Hey…” Black Cat muses, turning to Sunny Day, “come to think of it… isn’t Sunday-“

“It is,” Sunny Day responds matter of factly, cutting her off. “And what if it is?”

“You don’t… have any special plans?”

“Do I ever?”

“You know… it wouldn’t kill you to take the day and-“

“You know what I’m going to say to that.”

“Sunny Day, you do realize that-“ She abruptly stops talking when she sees Chase walking toward them again, now without a toothbrush.

“I gotta say, Black Cat,” he says, grinning, “for all the times you use that spinny thing, it’s never not cool.”

“You mean the Spin?” Black Cat asks.

“Yeah. Spinny thing. Spin. Same thing.” He pauses. “That’s… another one of your rock human abilities… right…?”

“Nah, actually, it was originally made by humans, apparently. It was pretty common in Italy, dads would teach it to their sons in some families… of course, it’s a bit more wide-spread now.” Chase perks up a bit when he hears that.

“So… uh… follow-up question…”

“You want me to teach it to you…?” His eyes light up.

“Would you?” Sunny Day raises an eyebrow.

“You want to learn the Spin?”

“Well, yeah, Sunny. Of course I do!”

“Might I ask why?”

“Well… I mean… I want to be able to help Black Cat!”

“You do help,” she responds, “your Ferrari is invaluable.” She turns to her friend. “Right, Black Cat?”

“Yeah, of course you help! Chase, I couldn’t do most of what I do without you.”

“Well, nonetheless, imagine how much more help I could be if I could also help out in the battlefield with you!”

“You know, Chase, what Black Cat does isn’t all fun and games. It also isn’t the most safe.”

“I can handle myself.”

“What, are you worried about him?” Black Cat asks. Sunny Day opens her mouth and then wordlessly closes it again.

“No,” she responds indignantly, “I just think that there’s no reason to have more than one person regularly going out into the field.”

“Chase, I’d love to teach you the Spin,” Black Cat says with a grin.

“We’ll talk about this tomorrow,” Sunny Day interrupts.

“But it’s the weekend!”

“Yeah, but you get grouchy when you don’t get enough sleep,” Sunny Day responds.

“Fine…” Chase mutters, “Good night Sunny, good night Black Cat.”

“Good night.”

“Good night.”

Chase heads upstairs to go to bed, and Black Cat and Sunny Day head toward the living room, where they sit down on different sofas across from each other.

“Hey,” Black Cat asks, “I’ve been meaning to ask… why do you have so much furniture…?” Sunny Day shrugs.

“I dunno. I guess I don’t really know what else I’d use the space for. I might as well get furniture. It certainly came in handy when Chase’s friends came over earlier today.” Black Cat raises an eyebrow.

“Chase has friends?”

“Apparently so. They came over shortly after we got home and came in to hang out. I guess Chase is popular?”

“Huh. I never would have guessed.”

“Me neither.”

There’s a brief pause.

“You know,” Black Cat says, “If you’re really worried about Chase, I won’t teach him the Spin.”

“Whatever,” Sunny Day responds, “he can learn or do whatever he wants. It’s not like he’s my kid or anything. He’s just my pet human.” Black Cat pauses.

“Right…” she responds, “anyhow, I get being worried about your loved ones. When I thought Jacob might get attacked by that thing, I was terrified. It’s a good thing I was able to get away without him noticing him out of the ordinary.”

“Yeah, definitely.” Black Cat doesn’t respond. She seems to be suddenly lost in thought. “Black Cat?”

“He…”

“He… what?”

“He… when I shot at the Stand, he asked me if everything was okay… he…” Sunny Day’s eyes widen.

“Wait…” she responds, “You mean to say…”

“He heard my Super Psycho Love…”

Chapter 11 - It's Confusing To The Core

Slowly, Jason opens his eyes. He’s in heaven, being cradled by angels among the clouds.

Well, no. He’s just in his hotel room’s amazing bed. He doesn’t think he’s ever slept that well in his entire life. He tries to sit up but he can’t make his body move. It’s just… so soft… he never wants to leave this glorious embrace.

Eventually he gets out of bed, and as soon as he’s on his feet, he feels different. It’s hard to explain exactly what… it’s such a slight sensation. But it’s definitely there. Wait… does that mean…?

“Revive!” he calls out, and his Stand appears next to him, puffing out pink gas from the many tubes all over its body. He beams as he sees it… it feels so good to have it back. He suddenly feels so much less helpless in the world.

His Stand vanishes as he turns his attention to his clothing on the floor, which he promptly puts on. A few minutes later, there’s a knock on the door. He freezes and looks toward it.

“Uh… who is it…?”

“It’s me,” Leah responds, “open the door.” Jason walks over to the door and opens it, seeing Leah standing outside. She promptly walks inside.

“How are you feeling today?” She asks, sounding disinterested.

“I’m pretty good…” He looks around and notices a specific lack of Leah’s Stand. “Uh… where’s-“ As soon as he starts to inquire about her location, Supermodel’s Legs leaps out of Leah’s body, up into the air, toward Jason.

“Hiiiiiiiiiiiii, JJ!” she calls out incredibly over-enthusiastically, “Did you miss me?” Without him turning to look at her or even flinching, Jason has Revive appear and send a cloud of gas Supermodel’s Legs’ way, freezing her in place suspended in the air. “Hey!!” she shouts, “What the hell?! No fair!!”

“I see your ability has returned to you,” Leah remarks. Supermodel’s Legs falls to the ground, landing on her feet, as the gas around her disperses.

“Okay I changed my mind, I think I like it. Do it again!” Jason ignores her as he responds to Leah.

“Yeah, it’s back alright,” he says, “And about time, too.”

“Jacob’s gonna want to meet with you about that then, I suppose.”

“Oh… now?” Jason asks.

“Now?” Leah responds, “Fuck no. We’re getting breakfast. He can wait an hour.”

“Oh, alright,” Jason responds, “I like the sound of that.”

* * *

Jacob and Black Cat are enjoying themselves by the pool. Black Cat is swimming laps, but Jacob seems to have had enough. Shivering, he climbs out of the pool and heads over to a lounge chair.

“What?” Black Cat teases, “Too cold for you?”

“Yep…” Jacob says as he sits back on the chair, “Unfortunately my crappy human DNA makes me a bit of a wimp.” She swims to the edge of the pool, crossing her arms as she puts them up on the side.

“Too bad,” she remarks, “We were having such fun… and now you’re gonna be bored… maybe I’ll have to come out and give you some attention in a bit…” He smiles.

“Oh, no worries, darling, I’ll come back in in a a little once I warm up a bit,” he says, before pausing to look her up and down in her bikini, “Besides, in the meantime, I’ve got a pretty nice view. I’d say I’m entertained.”

“My my… you’ve certainly got a way with words,” she responds, “well, then I suppose I’ll just be here… waiting…” And with that, she resumes swimming.

Just then, Jacob’s phone starts to buzz. He turns to look at it. The caller ID reads “Leah Howe”. Jacob looks back at Black Cat before pressing the “Decline Call” button and turning his attention back to his fiancée.

“Oh dear…” Black Cat says playfully, untying her top and letting it float away in the water, “Clumsy me…” Jacob stands up.

“I do believe I’ve warmed up.”

“Well, that was fast.”

“Huh… I guess you’re right. Weird.”

* * *

Leah looks at her phone in annoyance as it goes straight to voicemail.

“What a goddamn asshole,” she mutters.

“Yeah!” Supermodel’s Legs agrees, “fuckin’ asshole!”

“What is it?” Jason asks.

“The motherfucker sent me to voicemail,” Leah says, “as if I don’t already have reason enough to be frustrated.” She presses his number in her contacts again.

* * *

Jacob’s about to get back in the pool when he notices his phone going off again. He lets out a sigh and goes back to check it.

“What is it, honey?”

“It’s work,” he responds, evidently frustrated by his tone. He picks up his phone, sees that it’s Leah again, and this time answers it. “What is it? I’m with Black Cat right now. This had better be good.” Leah rolls her eyes.

“Congratulations, boss,” she says, trying her best to not sound sarcastic and unimpressed, “Mr. Paige’s Stand has returned to him.”

“Ah…” he responds with a sigh, looking back toward Black Cat, “I see…”

“So… yeah. That’s pretty much it. Ever so sorry to bother you. What do you want to do now?”

“I… guess have him come into the office. I’ll be there shortly.”

“Alright, boss.” They both hang up.

“What’s going on, honey?” Black Cat asks.

“I gotta go into work. Something’s come up.” he responds with a sigh.

“But you said you were going to be free today…” she says, disappointed.

“I know. But I’ll be free later tonight. We’ll do something fun. I promise.”

“Alright…”

He heads inside, presumably to go and change before he leaves for work. With a sigh, Black Cat reaches for her top and puts it back on.

She looks at Jacob as he leaves. He… is going into work… right? Jacob wouldn’t lie to her. He wouldn’t…

She can’t stop thinking about him having heard her Stand… or maybe he just heard the sound of a tree breaking. That could have been it.

Did she break the tree? Or did the bullet just splatter apart on it…? She can’t remember… that whole incident is kind of fuzzy in her mind.

She sighs again, and then takes a deep breath, turning to stone and sinking to the bottom of the pool.

* * *

Jacob walks into his office, dressed in a black suit with a heart-patterned tie. When he gets in, he sees Jason and Leah waiting for him.

“Ladies,” he says, closing the door behind him, “and Mr. Paige, of course. Good day to you three.”

“Hey, man,” Jason says, leaning on Jacob’s desk, “how was your evening?” Jacob raises an eyebrow as he gives Jason a warm smile.

“You certainly seem a lot more confident today,” he remarks, to which Jason does nothing more than shrug in response, “it was fine. Some of the flowers in my garden are starting to bloom, so that was pretty nice. And I had a pretty good sleep. So I have no complaints.” Jason grins.

“Yeah… me too. God, I don’t think I’ve ever slept so well in my life.”

“I trust that means the accommodations were deemed satisfactory?”

“Oh yeah… definitely.”

“Good,” Jacob says, “Then I suppose it’s time to get down to business, no?”

“Ah…” Jason say, standing up straight, “yeah, I suppose so… uh… and what exactly will that entail…?” Jacob smiles, summoning his Stand around himself. Jason jumps back a little in surprise.

“Leah, Legs, I thank you for taking care of Jason last night,” Ace of Hearts says, “but now I’d like to ask you to deal with… a different individual for me.” Leah nods.

“I’m assuming you’re referring to our dear friend Aiden?” Jacob grins.

“I am. Why don’t you go tell him that I want to see him? That it’s… time to pay up? And that I want to have a conversation with him… face-to-face…” Supermodel’s Legs sticks her head out of Leah’s body.

“Aiden?” she asks, “Is that the weirdo with the scented candles?”

“It is indeed,” Ace of Hearts responds.

“Oooooo,” she says excitedly, walking out of Leah’s body to manifest fully, “I like him.”

“I do too,” Ace of Hearts agrees. Jason looks over at them and raises an eyebrow.

“Uh… who’s this Aiden guy…?” He asks. Ace of Hearts turns around to look at him.

“Mr. Aiden Durer is an old acquaintance of mine… one who borrowed a rather sizeable sum of money from me a couple of months ago and is yet to pay it back…” Jason’s eyes widen.

“O-oh…”

“Nothing to concern yourself with. They’re just going to go and rough him up a bit before he comes to see me.”

“Or maybe a little more… hehehe…” Supermodel’s Legs says with a giggle. Ace of Hearts smiles.

“Or maybe a little more. I’ll leave it up to the experts.” He turns to face Leah and Supermodel’s Legs as they walk out of the room. “Have fun, ladies.”

“Oh, we will~!” Supermodel’s Legs responds. Leah walks out the room and closes the door behind her. Supermodel’s Legs follows after her, walking straight through the closed door. Ace of Hearts turns his attention back to Jason.

“So…” Jason mutters, “what… uh… business is it that you have with me… if I may ask…?” In response, Ace of Hearts raises his index finger on his right hand, and it starts to glow with an acid green light.

“See… my ability…” Ace of Hearts starts to say, pacing around the room, “…is something that I like to call the ‘Acidic Line’.” He whips around suddenly and points at the far wall. From his finger, a thin projection, like a laser beam, shoots out and makes contact.

Nothing is happening yet…

“Um…?” Jason vocalises hesitantly.

“Now… what it does, you see, is attract hydrogen toward it.” Ace of Hearts looks at Jason. “I’m assuming that you’re familiar with the properties of hydrogen.”

“I am…” Jason responds warily, “Uh… if I may ask, is that hydrogen ions, or-“

“Just hydrogen in general,” Ace of Heart responds, “both in its diatomic gaseous form, as well as its free-floating ion form. So long as it’s made solely of hydrogen, it gets gravitated toward my Line.”

“Wow… that’s a… pretty interesting ability…” Jason responds, “so then… what’s the problem…?” Ace of Hearts retracts his Line before walking back toward Jason.

“Well, you see,” he muses, “my favourite way to use this ability of mine is to shoot it right at somebody, and…”

“…and draw all of the hydrogen out of their body…” Jason finishes. “Kinda ironic that the ability’s called the ‘Acidic’ Line when it actually renders your body highly alkaline…” Ace of Hearts smiles.

“Indeed, my thoughts exactly,” he says with a laugh, sitting down on his desk, “you know, I think I quite like you, Mr. Paige.”

“Uh…” Jason responds nervously, unsure of how exactly to respond to that, “haha… thanks. You can… call me Jason, by the way… only seems fair, since you showed me your secret identity and all that… plus… uh… then I’ll feel a little less like I’m about to be yelled at by a principal…” Ace of Hearts laughs again.

“Very well, Jason. I can do that for you.”

“So… uh… what exactly did you need…?”

“Ah, right,” Ace of Hearts says, standing up and resuming walking around the room, “Look at me getting distracted. Anyway, yes, here’s the thing. Obviously… any human who comes in contact with my ability is… well, pretty screwed.”

“Right.”

“But you see, a rock human, with their different physiology… not so much. Which poses a rather difficult problem with Banksy, as you could imagine.”

“Wait… Banksy’s a rock human?”

“She is, yes.”

“Uh… why doesn’t she ever sleep?”

“I don’t know. I’m still working on that. She never stops posing problems for me…” Ace of Hearts says scornfully. “Anyway. What I need from you is a way to harm her with my Stand. I need some kind of… new ability. An upgrade, if you will.” Jason raises an eyebrow at that, but then grins. Then he laughs.

“Haha, I see!” He looks Ace of Hearts in the eyes. “I think I can do that for you. This is going to be fun.” Ace of Hearts’ head recedes, revealing Jacob’s, who grins right back.

“That’s what I like to hear.”

Chapter 12 - Light A Candle And Let It Burn

Leah walks up to a small house with a well-kept garden out front, ascending the stairs to the porch. Supermodel’s Legs summons herself and, with a blindingly fast motion, cuts the doorknob off, completely destroying the lock in the process. Leah opens it and is greeted by the smell of pine… no doubt a scented candle. This freak loves those things.

As soon as the two enter, a woman with dark brown hair and pale skin wearing a blue crop top and jeans walks toward them, looking confused and annoyed.

“Excuse me?!” she exclaims, looking at Leah and folding her arms, “Who the fuck are y-” Supermodel’s Legs interrupts her by dashing toward her and swinging her arm, cutting the woman’s head off in just a tiny fraction of a second. If you blinked, you would have missed it. Leah looks little more than slightly disappointed.

“Was that necessary?” She sighs.

“I dunno,” Supermodel’s Legs responds with a shrug, “but it was fun.” Just then, a man walks in. He has mint green hair and is wearing an orange sweater over a pink shirt with a picture of a rose on it. On his feet are highly fashionable orange, pink, black and red high-heeled shoes.

“Brianna?” he calls out as he approaches, “What’s going o-“ He stops as he sees her headless body lying on the floor. He goes pale, and for a second, he feels like he’s going to throw up. “Wh… wha…” That’s when he looks up and notices Leah and her Stand. His eyes widen and he takes a couple of steps back, pressing himself against the wall, shaking, tears in his eyes. He’s utterly terrified. “H-hey… w-w-w-wait…”

“Helloooooooooo, Mr. Durer~!” Supermodel’s Legs exclaims happily, starting to walk toward him, “Did you miss me?”

“S-s-stay back!!!” He shouts, holding his hand out. She does not oblige in the slightest, continuing to walk toward him.

“…Because I missed you!”

“B-Brianna… you… you killed her…” She puts her face right in front of his and grins.

“Wow, you’re such a dooooooowner! she whines, “It’s fine! You’ve got a much better woman in your life now.” She looks at the beheaded woman on the floor. “I’m much prettier, don’t you think?”

“Legs, why don’t you let me talk to him?” Leah suggests, walking toward Aiden, “Just for a bit. You can have him back in a couple of minutes.” She grins as she adds that last part.

“He’s all yours, Leah,” Supermodel’s Legs says, stepping aside.

“L-l-look, Leah… I… I don’t have the money yet, but I can get it!! I can get it by the end of the day if you want!! T-tell your boss that-“ Leah interrupts him but putting her finger over his mouth. He looks at her with wide, frightened eyes.

“I’m not here to collect your money.”

“Y-you… wait… what…?”

“He told us to come and get you. He said that he wants to see you in person.”

No one is saying anything.

“How does that sound?” Leah asks. Aiden lets out a deep breath.

“Uh… I… uh… I think that that’s… uh…” Leah takes a step back, but doesn’t take her eyes off of him for a second. “Uh…” He looks at her. “Can I just… g-grab something real quick…?” Leah grins a little. She knows what he’s about to do… but she honestly doesn’t care.

“Sure thing.”

“Th-thanks…” He walks toward his kitchen. On the table there is one of many scented candles burning bright.

“No rush, really. Our boss has other things he can do today. We don’t have to leave immediately.” Leah says.

“G-great…”

He’s staring at the candle. Almost as if he’s… contemplating something. Leah looks at him, and then back at her Stand, meeting her permanent grin with one of her own. It seems they both know what’s going to happen.

After a couple of minuted of nothing happening, Aiden mutters something.

“What was that?” Leah asks, knowing full well what he said.

“L… L…” Aiden turns to face Leah. “Light A Candle!!!”

Instantly, the candle on the table starts to rapidly melt, as do the other ones in the house. Quickly, all of the puddles of candle wax leap toward Aiden and merge together on the floor next to him, rising up and taking the form of a dripping humanoid with a melted base instead of legs and feet and a lit wick coming out of the top of its candle-like head. Finally, three flowers bloom on its body, one blue, one purple, and one pink. Aiden, breathing heavily, stares down Leah, prepared to fight. Supermodel’s Legs looks at her.

“Leah...?”

“Have at him, Legs,” Leah commands with a grin on her face.

“EEEEEEEEEEEE HEEHEEHEEHEEHEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!” Supermodel’s Legs squeals excitedly, dashing forward. As she runs for Aiden, she wildly flails her arms around, leaving cuts in the walls, floor, ceiling, table and chairs.

“Light A Candle!!!” Aiden exclaims as his Stand throws its arms forward, launching large blobs of melted wax from its body at her, which she dodges with seemingly very little effort, sidestepping the incoming projectiles and dashing further into the kitchen, still leaving numerous cuts in its wake, all over the walls, cabinets, drawers, stove, and fridge, also taking care to shatter every window.

“You miiiiiiiiiiiissed!!” Supermodel’s Legs calls out, taunting him. Light A Candle, now armless after having thrown them, bends down at the waist, pointing its flame at her. It shoots out a jet of fire in her direction, but with a backflip, she leaps over it and then runs toward Light A Candle, hacking it to pieces in seconds with wild arm swings. “HAAAAAAAAAAA HAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAA!!!!” But Aiden just grins.

“Careful now,” he advises her.

“Huh?” Supermodel’s Legs responds. Just as she does, all of the wax splattered all over the room from Supermodel’s Legs’ massacre animates, leaping to one spot behind her, reforming Light A Candle, which wraps its arms around her. At least… that’s the plan, but with an upward swing from both of her arms, Supermodel’s Legs cleaves Light A Candle’s right off, sending them falling to the floor. “I’m not as stupid as you might think, candle boy,” Supermodel’s Legs says in an odd tone that could only be described as a cheerful sneer.

“Better hope you’re right…” Aiden responds, gritting his teeth. Supermodel’s Legs turns around to face him.

“And what does that mean?” In response, Light A Candle lunges at her head-first. Lightning-quick, she dashes backward to dodge, but its head detaches and is launched at her, landing on her leg and splattering apart, quickly hardening and sticking her in place.

“Gotcha!!!”

“Hey, no fair!!!” The wax starts to spread out, moving up her leg. “Ah!! Ow!!! Hot!!!” Supermodel’s Legs cries out, “You’re supposed to establish a safe word first, asshole!!!” Leah winces in pain as her Stand’s pain is transferred to her. But nonetheless, she grins.

“Damn, Legs…” she mutters, “…that’s the first time we’ve actually had an attack land on you in a while, huh?”

“This is for Brianna!!!” Aiden shouts, ignoring them. The wick sticks out of the wax on Supermodel’s Legs’ leg and a flame promptly springs to life on it. She swings her arms at Aiden, but he’s out of her reach. The piles of wax on the floor that were Light A Candle’s arms spring to life and lunge at her once again, sticking her arms to the wall behind her. “Die!!!!”

“Oh, you will!” Leah says with a grin. Just then, the wax binding Supermodel’s Legs goes up in flames.

“GYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!!!” Supermodel’s Legs screams out.

“I wouldn’t be so sure…” Aiden responds smugly. Leah grits her teeth, grimacing, enduring the pain of having her arms and leg being burnt. Suddenly, Aiden gets stabbed in the back of the leg. “Guh!” He turns his head to see a knife with a pink and blue hilt sticking out of him. “Wha…?”

“I don’t suppose that you know what Legs’ ability is, now, do you?” She asks.

“I… I don’t…” As he says that, all the colour drains from his face. He looks at Supermodel’s Legs. She’s stuck there… she can’t move. She didn’t move. What did she do?! Suddenly, he’s stabbed in the back. He falls forward. “Wh… what…?”

“What’s wrong, candle boy?” Supermodel’s Legs teases. Aiden looks around. And then his eyes widen. He sees a knife coming out of one of the cuts that Supermodel’s Legs made during her dash around the room! It emerges from the wall and flies toward Supermodel’s Legs, travelling in a perfectly straight line right for her body. As it makes contact with her stomach, it bounces right off, flying right at Aiden on his hands and knees. He quickly dives to the side, but there are more coming from behind him. He takes one in the side and another in the back. He dodges two more, but they’re all headed for Supermodel’s Legs, bouncing off of her when they make contact and returning in his direction. One lodges itself in his chest, but he avoids the other one.

“Ugh… no…” He tries to stand up but takes a few more knives in the back and coughs up blood. “D-dammit…” He turns around to see more than ten knives flying through the air. He dodges one but ends up in the path of another, getting stabbed in the chest, and then his leg by another one, but the others he isn’t in the path of. But they’re all heading for Supermodel’s Legs… they’re going to come back and hit him… there’s no way he’ll survive.

He thinks of his girlfriend, killed on the spot without a second thought. He’s never going to see her again… sure, he’s made some bad decisions, but this isn’t right… she’s not supposed to suffer on his behalf…

He’s filled with anger and hatred and… determination. He turns around once again and gets to his knees. He sees the knives fly toward Supermodel’s Legs and spits the blood filling his mouth out onto the floor.

“Light A Candle!!!” he proclaims, having the rest of his Stand’s body lunge for his “This is for Brianna!!!” A couple of the knives make their way to Supermodel’s Legs before he can take action, bouncing off of her and lodging themselves in his body, but most of them are intercepted by Light A Candle’s wax body, which promptly presses itself up against her, fully encasing her in wax.

“Mmmmph!” Supermodel’s Legs protests as her head, the last thing to be covered, is closed in.

“Ha… haha!! I win!! Now that you’re covered in wax… no part of you can make contact with your blades!! And now that you’re completely helpless… I can set you ablaze!!”

But just then he notices something.

Where… where is Leah?! He looks around, but freezes when he feels a tap on his shoulder. He spins around to face her, holding one of the knives that Supermodel’s Legs created. In one swift motion, she slashes him in the neck, and he falls backward, landing on the floor and gasping for breath frantically. He can feel his lungs fill with blood. As his vision goes dark, he can feel his Stand disappear, and can see Supermodel’s Legs join her user in standing over him. The last thing he sees is Leah taking something out of her pocket... some kind of vial… and bending down toward him…

Chapter 13 - A Freshly Fallen Silent Shroud Of Snow

Jason, smiling, walks over to Ace of Hearts’ desk and sits down in a chair across from it. Ace of Hearts does the same, taking his seat and facing Jason. Jason looks him up and down.

“Using your ability, your Acidic Line… it makes you tired, doesn’t it?” he asks. Ace of Hearts looks at him, a little surprised and a little curious.

“What makes you say that…?” he asks after the briefest of pauses.

“Your breathing is a little heavier than before… and your posture’s a little more slouched,” Jason responds.

“My, my… aren’t you astute?” Jason shrugs.

“All I’m saying is that while I’m upgrading you… I think I can fix that…” he says nonchalantly.

“Well… you just keep getting better and better, don’t you?” Ace of Hearts says, a little impressed.

“I try,” Jason says, grinning a little, “I just try and make sure I’ve got a quality product for my dear paying customers.” He pauses. “Wait, I’m getting paid for this, right…?”

“What, me not killing you isn’t enough?” Ace of Hearts asks.

“U-uh…” Jason immediately goes white.

“I’m only joking,” Ace of Hearts laughs, “God, you’re so serious.”

“Haha… yeah…”

“I was thinking… like, a couple hundred grand,” Ace of Hearts muses, “does that sound fair?”

“Haha… good one…” Jason laughs, a little nervously.

“What? Is that not enough?”

“W-wait…” Jason sits forward in his chair. “Are you serious?”

“I mean… yeah,” Ace of Hearts responds, “I feel like in the grand scheme of things, it’ll be worth it. Why don’t we make it an even $300,000?” Jason’s eyes widen.

“Th… th… three…” He’s never seen that much money in his entire life. Nor did he think he ever would. “Deal…” he finally splutters.

“Excellent,” Ace of Hearts says with a grin, “I look forward to doing business with you.” He stands up and holds out his hand. Jason shakes it.

“Same…”

“Now…” Ace of Hearts says, starting to pace around the room, “why don’t you tell me about your process? It has something to do with your ability, right? How about you fill me in?”

“Uh…” Jason remarks hesitantly.

“What, are you scared to tell me your ability?” Ace of Hearts asks. “I suppose that’s fine. But it might make it harder for me to know what to supply you with.” It occurs to Jason that he was just informed of Ace of Hearts’ ability… it’s only fair.

“No… it’s fine… I can tell you…” He takes a deep breath. He never even told his own mother about Revive, let alone how it works. “It… uh…” He summons Revive, which promptly starts to puff out a pink gas. “See… that gas… it’s actually composed of a unique composition of subatomic particles, not found anywhere else in nature…”

“A brand new element…” Ace of Hearts says, “…incredible…”

“Exactly. And because I’m the one who’s responsible for its creation, I decided to call it-“

“Wait wait wait, lemme guess,” Ace of Hearts interrupts with a grin, “Did you call it Jasonium?”

“…Maybe,” is Jason’s eventual response. “Anyway, on its own it has pretty unique properties, causing any living being that inhales it to experience disruption in their motor abilities… you know, dizziness and all that. But when it comes into contact with a Stand, it completely halts all motion it’s carrying out, as well as preventing it from moving, like, at all. A Stand affected by it wouldn’t even be able to fall should it be mid-jump.”

“Very interesting,” Ace of Hearts responds, “How does that tie into-“

“I’m getting to the good part,” Jason interrupts, “as I was saying, Jasonium, while powerful on its own, shows just how useful and versatile it can be when combined with other elements. Shugaland in its normal form is a combination of potassium, iodine, and silicon, in addition to, of course-

“Carbon and hydrogen?” Ace of Hearts guesses.

“Uh, yeah, how’d you know?” Ace of Hearts shrugs.

“I remember a little organic chemistry from high school.”

“Ah, uh, alright. Well, anyway, yeah. So, that’s normal Shugaland. And what that does is… well, I’m sure you know. It gives you a really nice high, and makes your Stand glow like a lantern.” Ace of Hearts smiles.

“Haha… yes… I’ve seen that.”

“But then, that new type I came up with incorporates tungsten into its formula instead of potassium, and boron instead of silicon.”

“So, wait, you need tungsten?” Ace of Hearts asks.

“Yeah. And Bunsen burners, and 125 mL and 200 mL Erlenmeyer flasks, and- actually, you know what, I should just write down what I need…”

“Well, in terms of equipment, you should already have plenty, but of course… if you’re lacking, I will of course provide.”

“Wait… you just… have a bunch of chemistry equipment?” Jason asks, confused.

“Yeah,” Ace of Hearts responds, “In the lab.”

“You have a lab here?”

“Yeah.”

“Uh… where?”

“Secret passageway.”

“Pardon?” Ace of Hearts smiles.

“It’s through a secret passageway,” he reiterates, “I like secret passageways. They’re very cool. It’s no fun being rich if you don’t have secret passageways. My fiancée-“ he turns to Jason, pausing momentarily. “Follow, please.” Jason stands up and follows him out the door. Ace of Hearts turns back into Jacob the moment he exits his office, and resumes talking. “My fiancée likes secret passageways. She insisted that we put a bunch in our house when she moved in. She said the same thing I said about them.” He chuckles a little. “She thinks she introduced me to them. But I’ve been using them for almost a decade now.” He turns to Jason. “Do you like secret passageways?” Jason raises an eyebrow.

“Uh… yeah, they’re pretty cool, I imagine… I can honestly say I’ve never been in one…”

“Well!” Jacob responds, “That changes today!”

They walk into an elevator and Jacob presses the button to take them to the ground floor. When they arrive, Jason is about to get off the elevator, when Jacob stops him.

“And where do you think you’re going?” He asks.

“Uh… out?” Jason says uncertainly.

“No, no, no, my dear Jason,” Jacob says, pointing to the wall across from the door, “We go this way.” He punches a combination Jason doesn’t catch into the elevator keypad, and the wall slides open, revealing a passageway.

“Whoa…” Jason breathes, “Okay… you’re right, that’s cool.”

“Right?” Jacob grins, “It never gets old.”

The two walk down the hallway that just opened up. It’s a well-lit, well-cleaned environment, like walking through a hospital.

“This way,” Jacob says, turning right. Jason follows. They arrive at an unmarked windowless door. Jacob knocks, and then immediately turns into Ace of Hearts.

“Coming!” A woman’s voice calls out. A couple seconds later, the door opens to a very pink room, and a floral scent almost knocks Jason off of his feet. Ace of Hearts seems unbothered by it. “Hi!” The woman inside throws the door open energetically and holds out her hand for Jason to shake. “IIIIIIIIIIIIIII’m Catherine!!”

“Hi… Catherine… I’m Jason…” Jason responds, shaking her hand. He looks her up and down. She, like the room, is very pink. Pink shirt. Pink skirt. Pink shoes. Pink hair. Pink headband. Pink makeup. The only thing that isn’t pink is her eyes, one being blue, and one being red. That… can’t be natural, right?

“Oooooooooooo, so yoooooooou’re Jason,” Catherine says, “I’ve heard loooooooooots about you.”

“Uh… who are you?”

“Ms. Happenstance is our-“ Ace of Hearts starts to say, before Catherine cuts him off, saluting before saying,

“Resident science chick, at your service!”

“Ms. Happenstance, our friend Jason will be working down here with you, which means you’re going to have to share some equipment. I’m assuming that’s okay?” She looks at him and smiles.

“That’s fine with me.”

“That’s exactly what I was hoping to hear,” Ace of Hearts says with a smile, “You never disappoint, do you?”

“Of course not.” He grins.

“I predict that he’ll be very helpful to you in your research.”

“That’s what I like to hear.” At that, Ace of Hearts turns to leave. “Play nice, you two!” He calls, as Catherine grabs Jason by the wrist and pulls him into the room.

“We will!” Catherine responds, shutting the door. Jason looks around. Well… this very pink room covered in flowers… it’s definitely a chemistry lab, despite the fact that it kinda looks like a teenage girl’s bedroom.

“You… uh… you have a very unique sense of decor…” Jason says.

“Why thank you,” Catherine responds, walking over to one of many lab benches and analyzing a rack of test tubes filled with a bluish-purple liquid.

“What have you got there?” Jason asks. Catherine sighs.

“It’s supposed to be a toxin that can be used to fight rock humans…”

“…but it isn’t working?” She sighs again.

“Nope… it hasn’t yet.” Catherine picks up a test tube and holds it up to the light, before putting it back down. “Seven months now, I’ve been working on this. She’d tell me to keep my head up, and that I’m smart and talented and shit… and that I’ll figure it out eventually… but… you know, it’s hard to stay motivated when your biggest, most important project keeps yielding no successful results…” Jason puts a hand on her shoulder.

“Hey, I’m sure that you’ll figure something out… you seem…” He pauses. “Wait… who’s ‘she’?” Catherine points at one corner of the room, at some kind of robot-looking thing crouched down staring at a potted plant.

“Her.”

“Oh!” Jason exclaims, “I didn’t notice it- uh, her…”

“Yeah, this is my- Mew Mew! Say hello!” Catherine calls out. The Stand turns around to look at Jason. She’s a pink mechanical Stand in a pointed skirt and high-heeled boots, with a square cat-like head with what look like speakers for eyes. In her chest is a screen displaying a pixelated face which smiles when she sees Jason.

“Nyah!” she exclaims, seemingly cheerfully, as she waves hello.

“Hi,” Jason returns.

“This is my Stand, Mew Mew,” Catherine explains, “she likes flowers, butterflies, the colour pink, and other pretty things.”

“Mew!” she adds.

“And orange juice,” Catherine translates, “She’s my partner here… she may seem like nothing but a pretty face, but really, she’s an invaluable asset, I’d be lost without her.”

“I’m sure she’s…” He pauses when he takes another glance at the plant Mew Mew is looking at. It’s a small tree with a straight, screw-like trunk with thin, angular thorny branches sticking out at right angles, and small leaves that sort of resemble that of a fig tree. His eyes widen. “Holy shit… that… that tree… is that…?”

“A Locacaca tree? Yeah. It is.”

“How… how did you get it…?”

“A couple of months ago, the boss sent out some guys on a raid to the W.O.U. And… uh… well, Banksy showed up. They got their asses absolutely handed to them… only a few of them made it out alive, actually. Those rock people… they’re savages. But one guy… he had this on him. No clue how he got it back.” She scowls. “But unfortunately, I haven’t gotten a single fruit out of it yet. I think that bastard JQ did something to it.”

“Who?”

“Eh, it doesn’t matter. Just some asshole I used to know. Let’s just say we don’t exactly get along.”

“Alright…” Jason says, “Well, in any case…” He smiles. “…If you have access to that plant… I think that I can help the both of us out.”

Chapter 14 - Enough! Enough! Enough!

“Nnnnnnngh…” groans Aiden, slowly opening his eyes. What happened…?

“Oooooooooo, Leah, he’s awaaaaaaake!” Supermodel’s Legs says cheerfully. Aiden’s eyes widen in terror, as, vision becoming less blurry, he sees Supermodel’s Legs’ face really close to his. She’s sitting on his lap in the backseat of what must be Leah’s car.

“Li-!” He starts to speak, trying to summon his Stand to defend himself, but he’s stopped in an instant by a sword at his throat.

“Ah-ah-ah,” Supermodel’s Legs scolds, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. It would be a shame if I slipped and… something horrible happened.” She starts to delicately caress Aiden’s face with one of her blade arms. “Understand, candle boy?” He silently, frantically nods in response. “Good boy.”

“Mr. Durer. Hello. How’d you sleep?” Leah asks. He says nothing in response. “You know, you’re kind of an asshole. Attacking us like that. Not cool.”

“Yeah!” Supermodel’s Legs agrees, “Not cool!”

“We weren’t going to attack you until you attacked us first. Our boss just wants to talk to you, like I said.”

“You killed-“ he starts to say, but Supermodel’s Legs puts her arm right back at his throat, and he falls silent right away.

“That was an unfortunate accident,” Leah responds.

“Yeah, sorry,” Supermodel’s Legs adds, “it was fun using you as a pincushion though.” It’s then that Aiden remembers exactly what just happened.

“Oh… I…” He looks down at his body. His… perfectly healthy… puncture-free body. “What happened…?” He looks at himself again, more closely this time, and it’s then that he notices his hands, missing his pinky and ring fingers on his right and his middle finger on his left, with nothing but small, rock-like stumps left where they used to be. “Ah… ah! What happened?! What did you do to me?!”

“I fixed you,” Leah responds, “you’re welcome.”

“My… my hands…” he whimpers. Leah rolls her eyes.

“Would you rather have 13 stab wounds and a slashed throat?” Aiden doesn’t respond. “That’s what I thought.”

“P-please…” Aiden whimpers after a few seconds of silence, “don’t take me to him… I’ll do anything…” Leah doesn’t immediately react in any meaningful way, she doesn’t display any sort of emotion.

“Sorry, Mr. Durer…” she sighs, “but orders are orders.”

“…”

“…”

“Yeah…” Aiden finally says, sounding dejected.

“Besides… you… you made some bad decisions… you made your bed, and now you have to lie in it. You knew what could happen when you got involved with him.” She looks at him in the rear-view mirror. “I warned you. I did.”

“Yeah… you did…” He pauses. “What’s he going to do to me…?” Leah sighs.

“I don’t know. I really don’t.”

Somehow, that doesn't make Aiden feel any better.

* * *

Almost 20 minutes have gone by, and Jason is still looking at the Locacaca tree in the corner of the room. He’s inspecting every inch of it, every minuscule detail… anything that could possibly be out of the ordinary.

“Hey, what are you doing over there?” Catherine asks, “I thought that you said you were here to get some work done.” Jason doesn’t respond. Not because he’s trying to be rude or anything… he literally just doesn’t hear her. He’s too focused on his inspection. “Hey!” She yells at him.

“Mew!” Adds Mew Mew. Jason turns to face her.

“Sorry… I was just looking at the tree… it must have been sabotaged somehow… but if I can figure out what was done to it, I can figure out what’s still usable, if anything,” he explains.

“You know a lot about plants?” She asks. He shrugs.

“I wouldn’t say a lot, but… enough. Before I got into… uh… my current line of work… I was studying to become a doctor. I was really into human biology… and of course, the textbooks don’t just talk about people, so… yeah… I’m a bit of a plant guy now.”

“Meoooow!” Mew Mew responds.

“Yeah, I agree,” Catherine adds, “that’s really cool.”

“…And… I think…” Jason continues, “…that I found the problem…”

“What?!” Catherine exclaims, running over to him, “What do you mean? What do you see?!”

“Okay… here… look…” He motions for her to squat down to be at his eye level, and points at a spot right below the lowest branch on the tree. “Right there. There’s a tiiiiiiny little hole on the underside right in the spot where that branch meets the trunk.”

“Huh…” Catherine murmurs, “I didn’t notice that… what do you think it is?”

“Well… you’re right… whoever that JQ guy is… he definitely tampered with it. Or, at least… someone did.” He inspects it some more. He runs his finger along one of the branches. “Fascinating…” he mutters. “Uh… I’m just guessing, of course. Obviously none of my scholarly sources were talking about things like this… but that hole definitely wasn’t natural. My guess is that something was injected into it… something to make it die… but seem like it’s alive. Probably a Stand ability of some sort… most rock humans are Stand users, after all…” Catherine sighs. Mew Mew makes a sad face on the screen on her chest and does the same.

“Yeah… I figured that it was something like that. It’s a real shame… having a renewable resource like that would have been a game changer.” She turns and goes back to her table. She examines her test tubes again, sighs, and begins preparing another rack. “Especially since I’m starting run out of what little I have.”

“Wait… you have a Locacaca fruit?!” Jason asks, suddenly at full attention.

“No,” Catherine responds, walking over to a cabinet and taking out a vial of clear liquid, almost empty, “but I do have this.” Seeing it, Jason’s eyes widen.

“Oh!” He exclaims excitedly, “Oh my God!! Is that-“

“Locacaca 6251?” Catherine grins. “Indeed it is.”

“That’s so cool!” Jason almost shouts, running toward her to get a closer look, “I’ve read about that stuff! You’ve been using it in your toxin? That’s awesome!!”

“Yeah… well… that’s the plan…” Mew Mew picks up one of the vials that didn’t end up working out and inspects it. Experimentally, she swirls the liquid inside it around. It makes a very slight fizzing sound and her screen displays a smile.

“Nyah!”

“…But I’m close. I’m really close. I’m really, really close, I know I am!” She pounds her fist on the table, takes a quick breath, and turns back to Jason. “Sorry. Sorry, it’s just frustrating. It’s like… the solution is right there… but no matter what I do… I can’t find it… you know?”

“Yeah… I know the feeling… I know it well. It’s… not fun,” Jason responds, “But maybe I can help you.”

“Awww, that’s really nice of you to say…” Catherine says, “but…” She shoves the rack she had just set up to the side. “I’m done with this for today. I’m taking a break. Breaks are good for the soul.”

Mew Mew starts to tap on the glass of the tube it’s playing with. It makes a fun little plink! sound with every tap.

“Nyah!” It exclaims happily.

“Okay… that sounds like a good idea,” Jason says, “I myself am familiar with the value of a good break.”

“Why don’t I help you get set up?” Catherine suggests.

“Oh, yeah, good idea,” Jason responds. They both go over to different cabinets and start to grab a whole bunch of equipment and glassware.

“So… what’s the task that you were given?” Catherine asks, “Uh… if you don’t mind me asking…” she adds.

“Ace of Hearts wants me to upgrade him.”

“Wait… what?” She pauses. “Wait a second… you’re the Shugaland guy!”

“Indeed I am,” Jason says, “I guess I’m famous.”

“I’ll say! Oh my God, I tried to reverse engineer that shit one day…” She pauses and looks at him. “Uh… for research purposes… of course…”

“Of course,” Jason responds with a small laugh.

“And… uh… I couldn’t figure out what the hell that shit was made out of! It was like nothing I’ve ever seen, really impressive stuff!”

“Haha… thanks, that means a lot…” This time it’s him who pauses. “Wait… what did you mean by ‘reverse-engineer’? Is that something that you can do? You can undo chemical reactions? That’s way cooler than anything I’ve done!” Catherine grins.

“Oh… uh… thanks… haha…” She looks down at the ground. “But… uh… Mew Mew is the one to thank, really. Her ability creates a liquid that works as a fantastic catalyst and solvent, both in one.” She looks up and sees Jason’s eyes light up as she says that, and she smiles and continues. “But the really cool thing is that it can make things go intangible, even individual ions in compounds.” She looks down again. “Uh… of course… to be that precise, it takes like an hour to do that for only 25 mL… but… uh… I think it’s pretty cool…”

“Are you kidding? That’s incredible!!” Jason’s smiling ear to ear. “That’s amazing!” Catherine looks up and smiles at him.

“Thanks…” And then something occurs to Jason.

“You’re…” He pauses. “You’re… just like me…”

“What do you mean?” Catherine asks.

Mew Mew picks up another test tube in its other hand and clinks it against the one it was already holding. The sound it makes is even better.

“Nyah!”

“I… uh… I just mean…” He summons Revive. “My Revive does the exact same thing. It’s my chemistry buddy, just like how Mew Mew is yours. It’s actually how I make Shugaland… that gas it’s puffing out is a brand new element.”

“What!!” Catherine exclaims, “Oh my God, that explains why I couldn’t figure out what was up with it! That’s waaaaaay cooler than what we do!”

“Haha… well, thanks, but it’s really not that big of a-“ He’s interrupted by the sound of glass breaking. Him and Catherine look over at Mew Mew, who has evidently dropped the test tubes she was playing with. She’s displaying a surprised face on her screen, looking down at the liquid it spilled on the floor among the shards of glass.

“Mew…” it whimpers, shifting its expression to a frown.

“Aw, Mew Mew, it’s okay,” Catherine says, consoling her as she walks over to her Stand, “accidents happen.”

“Mew…”

“Here, let me help…” Jason offers, “Uh… what protocol do you use to clean up… uh… that?”

“Oh, don’t worry, none of it works, it’s basically water for all the harm it’s gonna do… we just need some rags,” is Catherine’s response. She points to one of the cabinets. “They’re in there.” Jason grabs a few rags, as well as a broken glass container and a broom, and passes a rag to Catherine, and the two start to wipe up the mess. “Thanks… you don’t have to help. This happens often enough, I have plenty of practise… you should go finish setting up.”

“Oh, it’s no bother…” Jason responds.

“Well… then, thank you.”

After a couple of minutes, the majority of the stray drops that splashed outward have been cleaned up, and all that’s left is the main mess, right at the impact sight.

“You know,” Jason muses, “you’re pretty good company… at least, you have been so far… I don’t think this is gonna be so bad after all…”

“Aw, that’s nice of you to say.”

He looks around. “Of course… for 300 grand… I’d do a whole lot more in way worse conditions…”

“Ah… haha, yeah… I feel that.”

There’s a pause. Jason starts picking up some of the bigger pieces of glass by hand. Catherine does the same. Eventually, he starts to speak again.

“Damn… that Ace of Hearts guy… he’s scary as hell… but… also not? It’s weird… he’s friendly, and honestly seems like he’d be really cool to hang out with… but… he’s also terrifying. I feel like I’m holding my breath the whole time I’m talking to him.” Catherine laughs.

“Yeah, that’s a really good way to describe him. He’s a big softie… but… he also gets the job done… whatever it may be…” She laughs again. “Whatever… a job’s a job… and I’m not exactly one to be turning down work…”

“Haha… yeah… me neither…”

There’s another pause. Jason goes for a piece of glass, but Catherine evidently also had her eye on it, and reaches for it, too. Their hands touch, and they both freeze. Jason can feel his face getting warm. Slowly, he moves his hand back, just as Catherine does the same.

“Sorry…” he mutters.

“Uh… no… I’m sorry…” she responds.

“Uh…”

Suddenly, the two are interrupted yet again by a knock at the door.

“U-uh… coming!” Catherine says, standing up. She runs over to the door and opens it. There are two men carrying jugs no doubt full of chemicals. One also has a toolbox.

“Delivery,” one says.

“Thanks… just… set it down there…” They oblige and then leave. Jason comes to the door.

“What’s up?”

“Just some chemicals being delivered… I guess this is stuff you’re gonna need.”

“Yeah, I suppose so.” He spies the toolbox and bends down to open it up to see what’s inside. It’s metal. No doubt it’s… “How the hell did he get tungsten so fast?” he wonders aloud, before looking at all the other chemicals, too. “Actually… how did he get any of this so fast? It’s been… like… a half hour.”

“I don’t question it,” Catherine says, “I’m just thankful that it happens.”

“Ah… haha… yeah… I guess that’s a good attitude to have.” Jason sighs. There’s so much going on that he just doesn’t understand. But it’s fine, he supposes. He isn’t being paid to understand things, he’s being paid to get to work. Speaking of which…

“Want me to help you bring this stuff in?” Catherine offers. Jason smiles.

“Yeah… sure… thanks, I appreciate it.”

“My pleasure.”

Chapter 15 - I Saw A Star Fall

The door to Jacob’s office opens, and Leah and Supermodel’s Legs march through, with Aiden in tow. Ace of Hearts sits leaning back in his chair with his feet up on his desk.

“Mr. Durer!” He calls out excitedly, raising his hands above his head before standing up. “It’s been far too long! How’ve you been?” He starts walking toward the three with a big smile on his face. Aiden does not respond, being far too busy shaking and trying not to cry. “Glad to hear it, me too!” Ace of Hearts says to Aiden’s lack of response. He turns to Leah and Supermodel’s Legs. “Ladies… I thank you for your service.”

“Our pleasure, boss,” responds Leah.

“Yeah!” Supermodel’s Legs agrees. Ace of Hearts smiles once again as he looks at Aiden.

“It's good to see you.” He notices Jason hands and smiles at Leah. “Oh man… Ms. Happenstance is going to be mad at you.”

“I could not care less…” Leah responds, “…uh… sir. With all due respect." Ace of Hearts laughs.

“Fair enough, fair enough.” He turns his attention back to Aiden. “Anyway... so sorry to have to summon you like this at such short notice. I do hope the ride here was comfortable.” Aiden does not respond. “Well, I must apologize, but I’m afraid I’m not yet ready to see you. Fret not… I don’t foresee you needing to wait for much longer than to the end of the day.” Aiden does not respond.

“You want me to take him down to the basement?” Leah asks.

“That sounds like a good idea,” he responds with a smile.

“Roger that, sir.” With that, Supermodel’s Legs puts a sword at Aiden’s neck, and the three leave the room and go out into the hallway. Once they leave, Aiden finally finds the ability to speak.

“Wh-where are you taking me?” he stutters, “What’s in the basement?”

“Scary stuff!” Supermodel’s Legs says, “Spoooooooky scary stuff!”

“It’s nothing, really,” Leah says, rolling her eyes, “it’s basically a waiting room. It’s actually really nice.”

“A waiting room that you can’t leave,” Supermodel’s Legs adds, “like a dungeon. A really nice dungeon.”

“It’s not a dungeon,” Leah sighs, “you’ll be comfortable.”

“Alright…” Aiden responds doubtfully, not believing her for a second.

When the three reach the elevator, Leah presses a button to go to the ground floor, which Aiden notices is the lowest floor.

“Uh…” he stammers, “I thought we were going to the basement…?”

“We are,” Leah responds, “there’s just no button for it.” When they get to the ground floor, Leah punches in a series of numbers and a secret passageway opens. “See… our boss is a child who likes things like this.”

“Yeah… that’s him,” Supermodel’s Legs agrees, “just a big baby.”

“I… I see…”

They walk through the same sterile hallway that Ace of Hearts had led Jason down, and pass by the same door. But this time, instead of going in, they go further. They come to a four-way intersection of hallways and as Leah leads Aiden down the one to the right, he takes a moment to look around. Just how expansive is this place…?

“This way,” Leah instructs, “don’t get distracted, now.”

Aiden obediently follows her, trying not to think of what’s going to happen to him when he gets to this “waiting room”. It takes less than two minutes from when they first reached this basement area to reach their destination, but to him it feels like a half hour slog through a viscous liquid. Every identical windowless door he passes fills him with a little more dread.

“Why are there so many… secure, windowless rooms down here…?” Aiden asks timidly. Leah just rolls her eyes.

“I don’t know. Our boss just likes them.”

“You’re asking a lot of questions,” Supermodel’s Legs comments, “are you nervous? Do you want a hug?” Aiden doesn’t respond.

“Anyway,” Leah interjects, ignoring her Stand, “we’re here.” She pulls a key out of her pocket and unlocks the door they’re in front of. “Come on, let’s go.” Aiden walks into the room and looks around. It… actually is pretty nice. It’s certainly no prison cell. There’s fancy, comfortable-looking leather sofas by a wooden coffee table and a large flatscreen TV mounted to the wall, and a refrigerator in the corner with a cupboard next to it.

“…Huh…” Aiden remarks, “this…”

“It’s just like I said,” Supermodel’s Legs says, “it’s a really nice dungeon.”

“…Yeah…”

“Anyway,” Leah says, sounding a little bit tired, “there’s food in the fridge and cupboard if you get hungry… and the TV has Netflix and Amazon Prime… and some video game console if you’re into that… I don’t remember which one.”

“It’s an Xbox,” Supermodel’s Legs contributes.

“An Xbox, perfect. Anyway, enjoy being here. Don’t do anything stupid.” Leah turns around and walks out of the room. Her Stand promptly follows. “See you.”

“See you, candle boy!”

“Uh huh…” he responds.

The door closes and he hears a click, like it locked. Cool… cool… cool…

He looks around. Eventually he decides to just walk over to a sofa and sit down. And that’s how he stays for the next little while. Slowly, everything that’s happened over the course of the past several hours starts to dawn on him. His girlfriend is dead. He will never see her again. And now he’s here. Trapped. Locked in… and he’s going to be until Ace of Hearts wants to see him… at which point… well, something will happen. And it definitely can’t be good.

And sure. He’s made some bad decisions. He recognizes that. This is his fault, it’s all his fault.

It’s all his fault…

He lies down on the couch and curls up into a ball. Tears start to run down his face. At this point, he’s fully expecting that his death will come. And he doesn’t seem overly opposed to that idea. It’s not like it would be unfair.

* * *

“Goddammit…” Jason mutters, the liquid in front of him turning from red to clear, “not again…” He pushes the flask in front of him away after his eighth failure of the day.

“Are you sure you’re doing it right?” Catherine asks.

“Yeah… I am… this is just like what happened last time… it’s so precise… even the slightest amount over the required amount of titrant makes it turn clear…”

“Even with the burette?”

“Yeah. Just one drop can be too much sometimes… it all depends on the tiniest little difference in the volume I pour initially… 49.02 mL vs. 49.03 is a big difference… but there’s nothing that I can do about it… it’s not like I can be precise enough to do anything but just keep trying and hope I get the right amount…”

“Well,” Catherine says, grinning, “why didn’t you say so?” She looks over at her Stand in the corner of the room. “Mew Mew, come here, would you?”

“Mew!” She responds, walking over to the two and holding a finger over the flask Jason had pushed away. From her finger, a drop of clear liquid falls in.

“Wait…” Jason says, “you mean you’re…?”

“Yeah… I think we can fix it… I can definitely undo such a small amount… now shut up, I gotta focus… it’s just silicon boride dissolved in the titrant, right?”

“Yeah.”

After a couple minutes, the liquid Jason was working on turns blue.

“Oh!” he exclaims, “You did it! You did it, you’re a genius!!”

“Of course I am.”

“God… the first time I tried making it, it took me a month… Catherine, you’re a godsend!”

“Oh yes,” she agrees with a smile, “I know.”

“Now, all I gotta do is the second infusion my Revive’s gas…”

“How long does that take?”

“Just… like… four hours,” Jason responds casually.

Just four hours? Of just waiting?”

“Yeah… it’s a lengthy process… but I can be patient. It just sucks that I gotta stir it every half hour, so I can’t leave and do something else.”

“Yeah… that does suck…” Catherine turns and heads toward one of the lockers in the lab. “…But I think I can keep you entertained.”

“What does that mean?” he asks as she opens a locker and pulls something out.

“What do you say the two of us…” She shows us the board game she’s holding. “have some fuuuuun?”

“‘Stratego’?” Jason reads, “What’s that?”

“What!!” Catherine exclaims.

“Nyah?!” Mew Mew reiterates, changing her expression to a shocked one.

“You’ve never heard of Stratego?!”

“Uh… no…” Jason says.

“Well!” Catherine says, putting the box on an unoccupied table and opening it, “That changes today!!”

“Uh… are you sure we should…?” Jason stammers, “Like… shouldn’t we be doing something… work-related?”

“We are working,” Catherine insists. Mew Mew nods in agreement. “I’m keeping you occupied while you wait four hours for your reaction to complete. If we don’t do this, you could get bored and wander off, and then that thing,” She gestures to Jason’s flask. “…will explode, and kill us all!”

“It won’t explode, it’ll just not work prop-“

“And then it’ll explode, and kill us all!” Catherine insists.

“Right… wouldn’t want that to happen…” Jason says, setting a timer on his phone and then setting it down on a table, “…I guess we’re playing Stratego.”

“Now you get it,” Catherine says, setting up the game, “this is happening. Resistance is futile, Jason. Futile! Fuuuuuutiiiiiiiiiile!!”

“Haha… alright… can’t wait…”

* * *

About an hour has gone by, and Jason is on his fourth game. He’s lost the past three; the first two were against Catherine. She’s really good. And then Mew Mew had a turn. She beat him even worse. Now he’s playing against Catherine again. She claims she’s only playing at 10% of her full power. Evidently, 10% is more than enough to kick Jason’s ass.

“Why don’t the bombs go away when they kill something?” Jason asks, “That’s, like, the main feature of bombs – their lack of reusability!”

“You’re just mad because you’re losing.”

“I think I’m doing pretty well for my first time,” Jason objects.

“I mean... I guess you are,” Catherine teases.

Just then, there’s a knock at the door.

“Come iiiii~iiiiin!” Catherine invites. The door opens, and in walks Ace of Hearts. Jason’s heart just about stops.

“Uh! Ah! Ah! I…! We…! Uh!!” He splutters nonsensically.

“Hello to you too,” Ace of Hearts responds with a laugh.

“We’re…! Uh!! We’re working!! It’s just that… uh… it’s a slow reaction!! It’s gonna take hours, so we’re just taking a break!!!”

“I’m teaching him Stratego!” Catherine adds helpfully.

“I can see that.” He turns back to Jason. “Don’t worry Jason, I trust you’re managing your time well. I was just wondering if I could potentially get an ETA for that item I requested.”

“O-oh! Yeah… it’ll only be, like, three more hours,” Jason responds, taking a deep breath. “It woulda been more, but Catherine really helped… like, so much.“

“I saved the day, as usual,” Catherine says.

“That’s great to hear,” Ace of Hearts says, “Thank you.” He pauses briefly, looking around the room absentmindedly. “Well, I’m going home. Call me when it’s ready.”

“Will do, boss!” Catherine calls.

“Go easy on him, Ms. Happenstance!” Ace of Hearts calls as he leaves.

“We’ll see!” She calls back.

Jason moves a piece and takes one of Catherine’s.

“Oh no, you got me, not my-“ Catherine says, feigning horror, as she in turn moves one of her pieces all the way across the board, “I win.”

“Hey! What! No!! How!!! How did you know where my flag was?!”

“You put it in the same spot every time.”

“That’s the strategy!!” Jason objects, “You’re supposed to think that I wouldn’t put it there twice in a row!”

“Or three or four times in a row?”

“Uh… yeah…”

“That’s dumb.”

“Yeah… I guess so…” he says, “But next game I’m gonna do something different.”

“I don’t believe you for a second.”

“And the mind games begin!! Get ready to lose for once!” Jason proclaims.

“Well… we’ll see.”

Jason starts setting up his side of the board, but notices Catherine not doing the same.

“Uh… you good?”

“Yeah,” she responds, “yeah, I’m good.”

“Did I… say something? Do something?” Jason asks, confused. Catherine looks at him, with a blank expression on her face.

“Why did you tell the boss that I helped you?”

“Huh?” Jason looks at her, even more confused than before. “What do you mean?”

“Why’d you tell him that I helped you?” she reiterates.

“Why wouldn’t I?” he responds.

“That’s not a response. You must have had a reason.”

“You helped me. I’m not gonna take sole credit when you saved me what could have been weeks of work,” he explains, “what, do people usually not give you credit for the work you do?” He pauses briefly to examine her expression. “Do people often take advantage of you…?” She doesn’t respond. “Well… sorry to hear that… but I’m not gonna do that.” She looks up at him.

“Thanks…” is her eventual response.

“Of course.” They smile at each other. Jason looks into her eyes. They’re kinda weird… but they don’t seem as abnormal as when he first saw her today. They’re actually kinda pretty… the colour’s still weird though. Part of him wants to ask if they're contact lenses or something, but another part of him doesn't want to be intrusive.

They keep smiling and staring like that for a few more seconds, until they realize they’re being weirdos and both simultaneously train their eyes back on the board.

“Alright!” Catherine exclaims, breaking the awkward silence and blushing slightly, “Ready to lose a fifth time?”

“Maybe I’ll win this time.”

“Doubtful. Very doubtful.”

“Nyah!” Mew Mew agrees.

“I thought you said you were gonna be going easy on me.”

“I am. This is only-“

“Only 10% of your full power.” He smiles. “I know.”

Chapter 16 - Something Lately Drives Me Crazy

“I just don’t know…” Black Cat says into her phone, sitting by the side of the pool on a lounge chair, “it’s just that… it could be nothing… but… the fact that he could be a Stand user is making me paranoid… like… what if he’s hiding something else, too?”

“You know, I think you’re right,” Sunny Day responds, “you are being paranoid.”

“Hey!”

“Look,” Sunny Day says, “most people are not Stand users. So he probably isn’t one. Furthermore, he thinks that you aren’t one. So that means that, if he is one, he really has no reason to discuss it with you, especially since most people don’t talk about their Stands much at all.”

“I guess you have a point…”

“Exactly. Of course I have a point,” Sunny Day responds matter-of-factly, “So just ask him. He loves you like crazy, right? He won’t lie to you.” She pauses. “Unless he’s some kinda superhero like you, and has reason to lie about being a Stand user. But I feel like that’s also pretty unlikely.”

“Yeah… alright… that’s a good-” Black Cat is suddenly interrupted by a noise she hears coming from inside. “That’s a good idea. Alright, I think he’s home. I’ll call you back later.”

“Alright. Talk to you later.”

Black Cat hangs up the phone and puts it down on the table next to her, just in time for Jacob to come outside to meet her.

“Hey, darling,” he says, sounding a little bit tired, coming over to sit down next to her.

“Hi, honey,” she responds, “you’re home a lot earlier than I’d expected.” To that, he sighs.

“Yeah… I’m technically not done. But I’m not needed for a couple more hours, so I decided I’d come home and see you for a bit. Beats staying there… but I’m gonna have to go back when they call me.”

“That sucks… but at least I have you for a little while,” Black Cat responds, moving to sit on her fiancé’s lap. Suddenly, he smiles. “What’s so funny?”

“Oh, nothing,” he replies, “it’s just that there’s this new guy we recently brought on… and him and this other lady clearly have a crush on each other… it’s pretty cute. They don’t realize it yet, but it’s pretty obvious… to me, at least. Made me realize that I love love.”

“Oh? Just now you realized that?” Black Cat asks with a sarcastic smile.

“You know what I mean, darling,” he responds, “anyway, I’ve been thinking… and I’ve decided that I’m going to try to make sure work gets in the way less. I think that’ll be nice. I’ve found myself getting tired in the middle of the day more and more lately… I think some you-time will do me good.”

“Maybe you’re just turning into an old man,” Black Cat suggests jokingly, giving him a poke.

“Haha, yes, yes, I suppose so…” his smile gets ever so slightly less wide for a second. “Regardless… I think I’m going to refuse coming in tomorrow should they call… you’ll have me the whole day.”

“That sounds absolutely splendid, honey.” She and him smile.

“I think so too…” Jacob hesitates a moment before continuing. “I think that it might be a good idea for me to be here for you tomorrow regardless, given that it’s…” he pauses briefly, “you know.” Black Cat sighs.

“I’m fine. It doesn’t bother me. My kind isn’t like you guys. We don’t form those kinds of… attachments… you know that.” Now Jacob sighs, and there are a couple seconds of silence. Then he puts on a smile.

“Well, regardless, I think I’d prefer it if you at least said you were upset, so that I can take the day off work to comfort you. You know, since you’re so distraught.” Black Cat grins when he says that.

“Well, that I can do!”

“That’s what I like to hear.”

“Hey, are you a Stand user?” Black Cat asks suddenly in a dramatic change of topic. Jacob is instantly taken aback. His heartbeat quickens a little. Why is she asking that?

“Huh?”

“Are you a Stand user?” she asks again, repeating herself.

“No, I’m not,” he responds, looking strangely at her, “I would have told you if I was. You know that.” He grins at her. “Why do you ask?”

“I dunno. Just curious, I guess,” Black Cat says with a shrug, “I was just thinking about how most rock humans are Stand users, but most humans aren’t. I’m not one, so I thought it’d be a neat coincidence if you were. You know, that way we’d be even more rare of a couple.”

“What? We’re not defying the odds enough for you?” Jacob jokes.

“It was just a random thought!” Black Cat responds defensively, “I have a lot of time to come up with those. You know, what with the ‘no sleeping’ thing.”

“I guess that makes sense. I suppose anyone would think of a million things with all that extra time.”

“Exactly. It’s a blessing, and a curse,” Black Cat says dramatically, putting her hand on her forehead and leaning back. “Like, okay, think about this: every single person’s taste buds could be completely unique… and we’d have no idea.”

“Huh?” Jacob looks at her, raising an eyebrow.

“Like… when you eat something sweet… you know it’s sweet, right? But… you’ve only tasted through your taste buds. Maybe your sweet is completely different from mine. So maybe when you taste a hamburger, you’re tasting what somebody else tastes when they eat pizza. Maybe that’s why some people don’t like foods that other people do.” Jacob pauses.

“Huh…” he responds eventually, “…you really do have too much time on your hands.” Black Cat makes a pouty face. “But… you know, it is kind of a fun thought.”

“Right?”

They both laugh. Black Cat is relieved that she was just being paranoid. He’s not a Stand user. He’s not hiding anything from her. He wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t lie to her, he wouldn’t hide things from her.

Jacob, on the other hand, is relieved that she switched the topic of conversation so fast… he hates not telling her the truth like that. It would be very difficult for him to explain if she found out the truth. As much as he really does hate to lie to her, there’s really no alternative in his mind. Maybe one day he’ll tell her. Maybe she’ll understand. He’d love for there to be no secrets between them.

“So,” Black Cat says, shifting her body around to be facing Jacob, straddling him, “what are we doing, since we have a few hours together?”

“Well,” Jacob says, putting his arms around her, “I have an idea.”

“Oh? Do tell.”

“Close your eyes, darling.” She does as she’s told, and he stands up, still holding onto her, with her wrapping her legs around him so as to stay put. She can feel him walking, he’s definitely taking her somewhere. Then he stops. What’s he doing…? Oh, wait. She knows. And she’s ready for when she feels him push her, which is why she holds on to him tightly, so she doesn’t go anywhere. “Goddammit…” he mutters. She opens her eyes.

“Honey, were you trying to push me into the pool?”

“Maybe.”

“Well,” she responds, “you know what has to happen now, don’t you?”

“I regret my decision?” he says.

“No.” She starts to lean backward, causing him to start to lose his balance.

“Hey hey hey, I’m not in a bathing suit like you! I’m gonna have to change!”

“That’s a pretty weak argument.”

“Uh… I love you?”

“Nice try.” Grinning, she keeps leaning backward, but he puts his leg forward, letting him catch himself. She’s not deterred, though. She’s a woman with a dream. She turns to stone, and Jacob’s eyes widen as the extra weight makes him finally lose his footing and fall forward.

“Hey!” he cries out, “No! That’s cheating! That’s not fair!!”

“All’s fair in love and war, honey.”

As they fall, she lets go so as to not drown him, and the two laugh as they land in the pool with a splash.

* * *

“Why is Mew Mew even better than you at this game?” Jason asks Catherine as her Stand captures his flag for the millionth time.

“I dunno. Maybe since she’s the true manifestation of my soul, she’s also the true manifestation of my skill at Stratego.”

“Right. I guess.”

“Meeeeeeew!” Mew Mew adds, to which Catherine laughs.

“What?” Jason asks, “What’d she say?”

“She said she wants you to know that she was only using 6% of her full power.”

“Great.”

Just then, they’re interrupted by yet another of Jason’s half-hourly alarms going off. He stands up and walks over to the table and picks up the flask, swirling it around for a few seconds before setting it down, picking up a glass rod, and giving it a quick stir.

“Alright… that should be the last stir… any minute now, it should be done…” Jason says, turning toward Catherine.

“You mean like that?” Catherine asks, pointing at the liquid, which suddenly turns from blue to black.

“Oh!” Jason exclaims, “It’s done!!” He rushes over to it and starts to slowly pour it into a filtration mechanism. “Do you have a way to contact J… the boss?”

“Yeah, one sec.” She takes her phone and calls him. He answers after four rings. “Hey, boss. Yeah. It’s me. Jason wanted me to tell you that the stuff’s ready.” Jacob says something Jason can’t hear. “Alright. I’ll tell him. Thanks. Bye.” She hangs up and turns to Jason. “He wants you to get your stuff ready and meet him in his office. He also said that someone’s gonna meet you in the elevator.”

“Well… okay, then.”

In 15 minutes, the process is done, and he turns off the suction, gathering black powder off of the filter paper and placing it in a bag. “Well…” Jason says a little nervously, “wish me luck… haha…”

“I don’t believe in luck,” Catherine says, “it doesn’t exist. There’s no ‘luck’ particle floating around in the air… it’s just something people think about to make themselves feel better.” She smiles. “So instead, I’m gonna wish you success.”

“Mew!” Mew Mew adds.

“She says the same thing,” Catherine translates. He smiles back at them.

“Well, thank you, ladies.”

* * *

After a short walk through the blank white hallway, Jason finds himself in front of the elevator, which opens as soon as he gets near. Inside are two people he very much should have been expecting to see.

“Hello, Mr. Paige.”

“Hiiiiiiiiii, JJ!”

“I guess you two are my escort?” Jason asks.

“Only if you as nicely!” Supermodel’s Legs responds, giggling. Leah rolls her eyes.

“I suppose we are. This way,” Leah instructs. Jason gets on the elevator and the door closes behind him.

“How was your day, JJ?” Supermodel’s Legs asks, putting her arm around Jason.

“Uh… it was fine…” he responds timidly, pulling away from her a little while simultaneously trying not to impale himself. “I learned how to play Stratego,” he adds with a smile. Leah scowls when she hears that.

“I hate that game.”

“…Oh…” Jason responds after a short pause.

“I don’t think it’s that bad,” Supermodel’s Legs responds, “I’ve never won, though.”

“Haha, yeah, me neither…” Jason responds.

“Okay that’s enough now,” Leah says, and then the three all fall silent.

After a short elevator ride, they reach the top floor and exit, and then head into Jacob’s empty office. Leah checks her phone.

“He’ll be here in about ten minutes,” she informs the others.

A very awkward ten minutes later, Jacob does indeed walk through the doors.

“Hello!” he calls out cheerfully, “How’s everyone doing?”

“Did you change your suit?” Leah asks.

“I did.”

“Why?” He shrugs.

“Long story. Now, would you please go and get him?” Jacob asks Leah. She nods and leaves, alongside Supermodel’s Legs. He turns to Jason. “I hear you have what I asked for.”

“Y-yes! I do!” Jason responds, holding up the bag. “It’s here.”

“Perfect.” He examines it. “And what exactly are you expecting it to do?”

“Uh… well…” Jason looks down at the ground.

“Uh… Jason? That’s not exactly the response I was hoping for.”

“I… uh… I don’t really know?” Jason responds hesitantly. “When I first got that call all those months ago for ‘something different’… I guess that was from one of your guys… I’d only ever made one type of Shugaland… and I made such a small amount that I didn’t get a chance to test it… and this is the same stuff… so… uh… yeah, I don’t really know what this does… but I know that it’s gonna affect both you and your Stand… just like the original Shugaland does… only… more, because it has a lot more energy in it…”

“Well,” Jacob responds thoughtfully, “I suppose that’s promising… I’m looking forward to trying it myself.”

“Yeah… I really hope that it does what you want it to…”

“Me too,” Jacob responds with a grin, “I certainly hope this test goes well.”

“Yeah, I’ll second that…” Jason suddenly looks up at Jacob. “Wait… test? What test?”

“The test I’m about to preform. You don’t seriously expect me to just take some random drug some guy hands me without seeing for myself what it does first, do you?” Jacob suddenly looks a lot more serious. “Not that I’m accusing you of anything, of course.”

“Of course… no… I get it… that’s a good idea…” Jason responds.

Just then, the doors to Jacob’s office swing open, and Aiden comes into the room, led by Leah and her Stand. Right as that happens, Jacob activates his Stand, transforming and turning toward them.

“Jason,” Ace of Hearts says, “this is my friend Aiden Durer.” Aiden does not respond. Jason, on the other hand, reacts immediately, his eyes widening.

“O-oh… this is… him…”

“Indeed it is.” He turns back to Aiden. “Mr. Durer… why don’t you take a seat?” Aiden sits down in a chair. “And Mr. Paige… why don’t you hand me the goods?” Jason obliges.

“Wh-what is that…?” Aiden asks, more than a little terrified.

“Nothing to worry about… just an experimental substance… one that does something that we’re about to find out.”

“W-wait… no… p-p-please!” Aiden stutters, standing up. He looks around. Could he run? He sees Supermodel’s Legs a few metres away from him. And Ace of Hearts in front of him. And that guy holding the drug… whatever his ability is. No… he definitely can’t get away…

“Okay, fine. I’m a nice guy. I’ll give you a choice,” Ace of Hearts offers, “Either you try the drug, or I break your legs. That’s what you do when someone owes you money, right?” Jason goes pale when he hears that. Not as pale as Aiden, though.

“F-f-fine… I’ll do it…” Aiden says in a voice that’s barely even a whisper.

“Good idea,” Ace of Hearts responds, holding out his hand toward Jason. He places the bag in his hand and takes a step back. “Mr. Paige, how is it administered?”

“Uh… any way, really… you can snort it or lick it up… or mix it with water and drink it… or bake it into food and eat it… or burn it and inhale the fumes… just so long as you get it into your body somehow…”

“Perfect.” Ace of Hearts responds, opening the bag. “Mr. Durer, do you have a preference?”

“Uh… n-no…”

“Here.” He hands him the bag. Aiden hesitates for a moment. He looks up at Ace of Hearts, who’s just looking back at him.

Slowly, he opens the bag and tilts his head back, pouring the powder into his mouth. It tastes like charcoal… but he doesn’t really have the option to spit it out. He can feel a little bit fall back into his windpipe, but he fights off the urge to cough until he’s swallowed what’s in his mouth.

Chapter 17 - Never Let Hope Disappear

A couple of seconds go by.

Nothing… seems to be happening…?

“Mr. Paige… what is going on?” Ace of Hearts asks.

“I… I’m not sure…” he responds, “but… something should be happening.” He looks at Aiden. “Uh… try… summoning your Stand…?” Aiden does as he’s told, and Light A Candle takes form beside him. Everyone looks at it. “Uh… is that what it usually looks like…?” Jason asks.

“Yep. That’s it.” Leah responds. “Light A Candle. Nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps you need to try again, Mr. Paige.”

“Uh… yeah… I guess so…” Jason looks down at the ground. “Damn… I really thought that would work…”

Just then, Light A Candle’s arm falls off, landing with a splat sound and melting into a small, formless heap of wax. Then the other one does the same.

“L-Light A Candle…?” Aiden says, alarmed, “What’s happening?”

“What indeed?” Ace of Hearts asks, grinning intently as the rest of the Stand loses its form, melting into nothing more than a pile on the ground.

“Uh… guys?” Suermodel’s Leg interrupts, “Look at candle boy.” Everyone does.

“Huh…” Ace of Hearts muses, “that’s interesting.”

“What?!” Aiden asks, alarmed and, frankly, terrified, “What’s happening to me?!”

“There’s a black spot on your face…” Supermodel’s Legs replies, “right there.” She points at a spot on his left cheek, which indeed has turned pitch black.

“U-uh… what…? What does that…?” Aiden starts to ask, but stops when he notices another one on his right arm. “Ah… ah…!”

“Very interesting…” mutters Ace of Hearts.

“Ah!” Aiden shouts, “What’s happening to me?!”

“I… I don’t know…” Jason responds, a lot calmer than he feels he ought to be. As much as this is… a little bit horrifying… he’s honestly just fascinated seeing what his drug is doing.

“Ah… ah…” Aiden pants, frantically checking his body, seeing more black spots on his arms, and legs as he pulls up his pant legs, and chest as he pulls up his shirt. “Ah… ah…”

“Hey…” Leah notices, “the spots are… growing…”

“Wh-what?!” Aiden exclaims, examining himself more closely. Sure enough… the spots all over his body are slowly getting bigger. “Hah… ah… what… what…” And that’s when he starts to feel it. A strange… itchy… burning sensation… all over his body. “Ah… ah… it… it burns… it burns!!” he screams out, “It burns!!! Help!! Help me, please!!!” Ace of Hearts only frowns in response.

“Huh…” he mutters.

Aiden frantically stands up, his body twitching all over as painful spasms overtake his body like shockwaves. He can only last for a few seconds on his feet before he collapses to the ground, writhing in agony.

“Oh dear…” Leah remarks, as he notices his right hand, now entirely black. More specifically, the tips of his fingers, which are starting to melt and drip onto the ground in the form of a viscous black liquid.

“A-AAAAAAAAAAAAGH!!!” Aiden screams, seeing his hand start to melt, the skin on it starting bubble as if boiling, before his other does as well. “AAAAAAAAAGH!!! H-HELP ME!!! HELP ME, PLEASE!!! I-I’LL DO ANYTH-iiiikkkkhhhhhhhh…” He’s cut off as his insides start to melt, parts of his throat dripping down into his lungs and suffocating him, preventing him from making any sounds beyond desperate gurgles. He thrashes and flails around on the ground helplessly for about 30 seconds, even after his eyes have melted out of their sockets, and teeth out of his mouth, and all four of his limbs have been rendered barely even stumps, until his body loses its consistency altogether and he’s reduced to nothing but a puddle of bubbling black goop.

“Oh dear…” Ace of Hearts reiterates, staring down at his now very ruined carpet. “I guess I’m not getting my money back…” He walks over to his desk and picks up the phone that’s present on it. He presses a number on speed dial and holds it up to his ear. “Alexander… there’s been another situation… please come down here. Your services are needed.” He’s met with no response other than the phone being hung up. He does the same.

“Hey… uh… Jacob…” Jason starts, a little hesitantly, “I know this might be a little… uh… inappropriate… but… could I maybe… uh…” he pauses, trying to find the right wording for what he wants to say, “uh… collect a sample of the… uh… ‘body’? If you’re done with it?” Ace of Hearts laughs.

“Hahaha… sure… go right ahead. Leah, would you be so kind as to go and get some kind of container to hold some?”

“Uh… sure,” she responds, turning to leave the room, Supermodel’s Legs in tow.

When she leaves, Ace of Hearts puts a hand on Jason’s shoulder, causing him to instantly stand at attention.

“Well,” he remarks, “it sure is a good thing that we tested it on someone else first, now, isn’t it? You wouldn’t want something like that happening to me, now, would you?” Jason goes white as a sheet.

“U-uh… wait… Jacob… Mr. Kishibe… Ace of Hearts… sir… no… I didn’t… I wasn’t trying to… it was a mistake… I thought it would work… I swear…” he stammers more than a little nervously. Ace of Hearts grins.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Paige,” he says with another laugh, “I’m sure that killing me was not your intention.” Jason breathes a sigh of relief at that. “But you should know that you’re not getting paid for that. Not until you provide what you actually were supposed to make.”

“Uh… yeah, that’s fair,” Jason responds. He’d figured as much. And the fact that Ace of Hearts didn’t just melt him is honestly making him content enough in just that alone.

“That was pretty interesting, though…” Ace of Hearts muses, looking back at the pile of black goo and wax. Or… at least… where there should be black goo and wax. Instead, there’s only the former. “Uh… what…?”

“Huh?” Jason turns around and immediately realizes the same thing. “Oh…” Light A Candle, or rather, what was left of it, is just… gone. “Where did it…” He sees it oozing along the ground in the form of a little blob of wax, like a generic slime monster you’d see in a movie, heading toward the window. “Uh…”

“Fascinating…” Ace of Hearts breathes, grinning ear to ear. “What’s it doing?”

“Well… if I had to guess… it probably wants to…” Jason says as Ace of Hearts walks over to the window and opens it, “…uh… yeah…”

Light A Candle, if that is what it is, leaps toward the window as soon as it’s opened, and leaps right out, falling down toward the streets below like a brick. Ace of Hearts laughs.

“You know… maybe I’ll give you half your pay now, Jason. This, at the very least, will definitely keep me entertained.” Jason’s eyes go wide.

“U-uh… thank you, sir!!”

“Don’t mention it. I’ll have it wired to your account shortly. And… why don’t you take the rest of the day off? You earned it.” He starts walking toward the window.

“Thank you! I will!” Jason responds with a grin, “Uh… where are you going?”

“Why, after it, of course!” Ace of Hearts says, smiling. “I gotta see what happens next!”

“Of course…” Jason pauses. “Uh… Jacob, sir?” Ace of Hearts, one leg already out the window, stops and turns around.

“Yes?”

“Uh… could Catherine get the day off, too?” Jason asks, “Seeing as how I couldn’t have done it without her?” That question yields Ace of Hearts’ biggest grin yet.

“Sure. Why not? Have fun!” Jason smiles.

“Thanks, we-“ Ace of Hearts jumps out the window. “…will…”

Jason pauses for a couple of seconds, then shrugs, and heads toward the exit of the room, taking care not to step in what used to be Aiden. It’s weird… that didn’t bother him nearly as much as it probably should have. Maybe he’s in shock. Or maybe he’s a sociopath. Who knows?

Right as he gets to the doors, they swing open, and in walk Leah, Supermodel’s Legs, and a red-haired man in sunglasses dressed like a janitor. Leah takes a brief look around the room, and then sighs.

“Where’d the Stand go?” Leah asks.

“Out the window.” Leah pinches the bridge of her nose.

“And I’m guessing that the boss…?”

“Followed it? Yeah. He’s gone,” Jason responds.

This time the janitor, Jason supposes that he’s the “Alexander” that Ace of Hearts was talking to on the phone, is the one to sigh. But nonetheless, he enters the room wordlessly, and starts to clean up the mess with a blue mop that appears in his hands out of nowhere. Leah hands Jason the dish in her hand.

“Here,” Leah says.

“Thanks.” Jason scoops a little bit up and then turns to leave, but stops. “Uh… what’s the code for the secret basement…?”

“1774,” Leah responds.

“Cool.” With that, he heads for the elevator.

* * *

Jason enters the lab and Catherine immediately turns to look at him.

“Hey!” she greets, “How’d it go?”

“Uh… different than expected…” Jason responds, “…but… good, nonetheless.”

“Well, that’s good,” she says with a smile. She sees what he's carrying. “What’s that?”

“Uh… long story. I’m sure it’ll yield some really interesting results when I analyze what it's made of,” Jason says, walking over to her and setting the dish down on the table. “But that can wait. Listen, the boss gave us the rest of the day off, because of how impressed with our work he was.”

“Oh! That’s awesome!”

“Yeah.” Jason hesitates. “So… uh… I was wondering… if… maybe… you’d wanna… like… hang out…? You know… given as how we now have all of this extra time…?” Catherine raises her eyebrows and grins slightly.

“Mewww!” Mew Mew exclaims, seemingly excitedly.

“What exactly did you have in mind?” she asks.

“Uh… well… I’m pretty hungry… and… I did just get paid a whole bunch of money…”

“Jason, are you asking me to dinner?”

“I mean… if you want to…” Catherine stops and gives the proposition a good, hard think. Or at least, she pretends to.

“I suppose I could be persuaded…” Catherine says thoughtfully.

“Ah… awesome… awesome!” He smiles. “It would be… you know… as friends, obviously…” he hurriedly adds.

“Obviously. Right.”

“So… uh… I’ll pick you up… uh… later…?” Jason says. “Like… in an hour or so…?”

“That sounds good to me,” Catherine says. Mew Mew makes a purring sound in agreement. “Do you need my number?”

“I guess so…” he says, looking down at the ground as he starts to turn red again. She writes it down on a piece of paper and hands it to him. “Thanks… uh… I’ll be in touch…” Catherine giggles.

“Great. I guess I have to get ready for a night on the town.”

“Yeah… me too…”

Her and Mew Mew leave, and Jason lets out a breath he feels like he’s been holding in for that entire conversation. Then he smiles. That went well! Really well!

Jason heads out of the lab. He has a lot to get done.

Chapter 18 - Dom, Dom, Dom (part 1)

Light A Candle finally lands on the ground, right on top of a woman unfortunate enough to be right below it, reducing her to a bloody stain on the road in barely a moment. She certainly didn’t realize that she was in danger. But the other woman that she’s with certainly does. She screams as it leaps at her, consuming her body in a matter of seconds with a spine-chilling crunch. Having eaten both people in the immediate vicinity, Light A Candle goes off down the street, oozing along like a slime mould.

“Jeez…” mutters Ace of Hearts, clinging to the side of his building with his pointed fingers dug into the wall, “I’d hate to be one of them right about now…” He drops down to the street below, making a small crater from his impact as he does a superhero landing before standing up and brushing himself off. “That was pretty cool…” he mutters to himself, before looking toward Light A Candle. “Hey!!” he calls. Light A Candle slowly raises a up a small part of its goopy body, almost like a head. Some wax oozes backward, making two indents shaped vaguely like aggressive-looking eyes take form in its “face”, with small, flickering balls of fire somewhat resembling pupils going ablaze. There’s no doubt in Ace of Hearts’ mind… this thing is looking at him. And it doesn’t seem friendly.

“Rrrrrrrrgggggghhhhhh…” it moans softly at him.

“Can I ask what your deal is?” Ace of Hearts asks, “Do you just wanna run around killing people? Because, if so, could you maybe go do that somewhere else? I’d kinda prefer to not have a bunch of attention drawn to this place.”

“Blblblblbl…” it gurgles, turning around and starting to head away from him. Ace of Hearts looks at it as it leaves. Did it just listen to him? Is it… intelligent?

“Hey… wait…!” Ace of Hearts calls to it, curiosity getting the better of him. It stops, and its eyes appear again, looking at him. “So… you can understand me…” he mutters to himself, “you are intelligent… you’re… alive… that’s amazing…” He sees it staring at him, waiting patiently for him to tell it why he wanted it to stop. “Uh, sorry. Never mind. Be on your way.”

“Blblbl…” With that, its eyes close and vanish, and it makes its way away from Ace of Hearts, eventually turning a corner.

“Well… I gotta see where it goes…” he starts to follow after it, smiling to himself, when he’s stopped by a sudden scream.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!” He picks up the pace and turns to see Light A Candle consuming the dead body of a woman lying on the ground, with others running away as it happens. Upon closer inspection, it looks like as she’s being eaten, her body is starting to turn into more of a creme colour and lose some of its consistency.

“Interesting…” Ace of Hearts muses, “it’s turning her into wax as it consumes her… it’s making more material for itself…” he smiles. “Which means that it must be trying to make itself bigger…”

Having fully digested its prey, Light A Candle raises up its “head” and opens its eyes, looking around. Seeing the people fleeing from it, it stars to head in their direction.

“Uuuuuuuurrrrrrgggggghhhhhh!” it growls, as it starts to pick up speed. As it moves, it becomes all the more obvious that it’s substantially larger now than it was when it first jumped out that window. Turning a corner, it sees someone on the sidewalk confused by all of the people running from it. Him being the closest person, it starts to make his way toward him. The man takes notice of the thing coming toward him and takes a step back, then another, then turns and starts to run in terror. Crossing the street in pursuit of him, Light A Candle oozes over a median strip, sucking the tree growing on it into its body. Ace of Hearts also notices that there is no longer grass growing on it.

“So… it’s taking in all organic matter… very interesting…” He looks at the Stand. “I wonder where it’s going… probably somewhere really populated… not just with people, but with plants and shit, too…” He looks at it as it turns a corner, and an idea pops into his head as to where it may be heading. “…like a mall with a garden centre…” His face goes completely void of expression. “Well…” he finally mutters, “…this is bound to be interesting…”

* * *

Black Cat is sitting poolside, now fully dressed, eating a fruit salad out of a bowl with her bare hands, because she is a sophisticated and classy lady. She’s about halfway done when her phone starts to ring. She grabs it and sees Sunny Day’s name on the caller ID. She must be calling to see how things went with Jacob.

“H’llo,” Black Cat answers with her mouth full.

“Black Cat stop eating,” Sunny Day responds. Ah, shit. Black Cat recognizes that tone instantly. Perhaps this call isn’t just a friendly one. Black Cat swallows and then sighs.

“What’s up, Sunny Day?”

“We may have a problem.”

“You don’t say,” Black Cat says, absentmindedly putting another handful of fruit in her mouth, “whad ij ih?”

“Black Cat, stop eating!” Sunny Day scolds, “Get suited up, you can have dinner later!”

“Fine,” Black Cat responds, standing up, “what’s going on?”

“There’s an attack going down as we speak at Vasarely Mall,” she explains, “some kind of blob-like Stand running around and eating people.” Black Cat grits her teeth.

“Sounds like fun.”

“Well, you won’t know until you get there,” Sunny Day responds, starting to sound slightly impatient, “are you suiting up yet?”

“God, give me a couple seconds, would you? I’m getting ready right now!” Black Cat says as she makes her way toward the basement.

“Okay, good. Ferrari is heading your direction as we speak.”

“Great, talk to you soon.”

“Right.”

Sunny Day hangs up. Black Cat, lamenting the fruit she really wanted to eat, heads down to the basement to get ready for a good old-fashioned trip out on the town.

* * *

“Okay, remind me again what we’re going to do?” Chase’s voice blares through the speaker on Ferrari, “We’re fighting a slime monster?”

“Pretty much,” Sunny Day responds.

“Do we know how to do that?” he asks, “I mean… Black Cat can’t really punch a blob, right? She’d just get sucked in… and I can’t imagine that bullets would do much either… then again, I’m sure Black Cat will think of something…”

“Yeah,” Banksy agrees, “it’s something to think about, I guess. Maybe the Spin will be able to do something to it. But the first priority is to make sure everyone gets out safely. Then we’ll see about fighting it.”

“Look out!!” Chase suddenly cries out, as Banksy swerves to avoid a car coming right at her, going well above the speed limit, and then another, and another.

“Three guesses as to where they’re coming from…” Banksy mutters.

“It’s good that there are people escaping,” Chase says, “but…” He trails off.

“…but ideally there would be a lot more…” Banksy finishes, “yeah… I know…” She swerves to avoid another car and presses a little harder on the gas.

Pretty soon they arrive at their destination. There’s nothing immediately obvious as a threat, at least not visible from the outside.

“What’s going on?” Sunny Day asks.

“Nothing yet,” Banksy responds, “I’m going in now.”

Just as she says that, a huge piece of concrete comes flying through the front wall toward her.

“Whoa!!” Chase exclaims, making Ferrari jump up into the air to dodge.

“What?!” Sunny Day repeats, “What’s happening?!”

“Something just threw a giant thing at us!” Chase yells in a way that makes him sound almost-

“Don’t sound so excited, Chase, you coulda have gotten seriously hurt!!” Sunny Day scolds.

“But I didn’t!!”

“Can we discuss this later?” Banksy interrupts, “There’s kind of a giant monster in there, remember?” She drives forward, summoning her Stand in her hand and shooting out the door in front of her so she can drive right through undeterred. And as soon as they get inside of the mall, they immediately see what they’re here for.

“WHOOOOAAAAA!!!!!” Chase exclaims.

“Holy shit…” Banksy mutters, staring up at the massive creature before them, towering at over 50 feet without a doubt, with a body like a sentient pile of some kind of cream-coloured goop.

“I take it that means you’ve found the enemy?” Sunny Day asks.

“Uh… you could say that…” Banksy responds, watching as Light A Candle extends a gigantic pseudopod to smash out a section of the staircase to the second floor.

“Okay… the first priority is getting the civilians to safety!” Sunny Day instructs.

“Yeah, I know that, but…” She looks around. There… don’t seem to be many people around.

“But what?”

“But I don’t see anyone around here!” Black Cat responds, “It looks like everyone either got eaten or got away!”

“…”

“…”

“That’s less than ideal…” Sunny Day sighs, “I mean, not about people getting away… I meant for the ones who got away…”

It’s then that Light A Candle notices some sounds coming from behind it, and turns to face Banksy and Ferrari with its huge, angry-looking flaming eyes.

“Well, it sees us,” Banksy states.

“Don’t die!!” advises Sunny Day.

“Great, I’ll keep that in mind!” Banksy retorts as Light A Candle, opening its huge mouth to reveal a raging fire inside of itself to roar at her, flings forward one of its pseudopods, hurling a huge glob of wax right at her. She leaps off of Ferrari, doing a front flip as she does, pointing Super Psycho Love at the projectile. Its barrel changes from its usual heart shape to one of a star, and she pulls the trigger, firing a red star-shaped bullet that blows apart the wax, protecting her and Chase. She lands on the ground and turns back to Ferrari.

“Ferrari! Quick! Go see if you can find any stray civilians!!” Banksy instructs.

“But-” Chase starts to object, before she cuts him off.

“No buts!! I’ll be fine! Regular ass humans will not be!! So get going!!”

“Okay!” Ferrari turns and drives off. Banksy turns back to Light A Candle just in time to see it belch a giant fireball toward her. She lunges out of the way and lands in a somersault, but that only results in Light A Candle breathing a stream of fire toward her. This time she doesn’t have tie to get out of the way, so she just stands up and crosses her arms in front of her defensively, shifting to stone in order to withstand the temperature. She smiles a wry smile as she withstands the blast, pointing her Stand at Light A Candle and firing another star bullet at it, blasting off a part of its body and halting its assault momentarily.

“GGGGGGGGRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!” roars Light A Candle as it goes to make a slam attack with a pseudopod, which Banksy is able to dodge.

“Yeah… it’s just like I thought, I can’t do much damage to you…” Banksy remarks, seeing Light A Candle looking just as it had when she had first shown up despite her having just blown a crater in it with her Stand. “That’s kind of annoying…” She looks at Super Psycho Love in her hand. “And I guess I should probably conserve my star bullets…” She looks back at it. “So how are we gonna do this?” She points her Stand at it as it winds up for an attack of its own. “While I’m here, can I ask you what you’re doing? If scary movies have taught me anything, it’s that creepy blob monsters go around eating whatever they can to grow.” She looks around briefly. “And it looks like everyone here’s left! So why are you still here trashing the place? It couldn’t be that you’re just trying to have fun, is it?” Banksy asks in a mocking tone, obviously not expecting to actually get an answer.

But she gets one.

“You know,” a man’s voice says, prompting her to turn around to look at its source, “I’m wondering the same thing.” Banksy scowls as she sees the figure of a man emerge from the shadows.

“I should have known that you’d be behind something like this,” she sneers.

“Good to see you too,” Ace of Hearts responds good-naturedly, “It’s been a while.”

“Not long enough.”

“Well…” he says, putting a hand on his hip, “that’s no way to greet an old friend.” He smiles at her. “Someone should teach you some manners.” Banksy grins right back, pointing her Stand at him and loading her third star bullet of the day.

“Likewise.”

Chapter 19 - Dom, Dom, Dom (part 2)

Black Cat, having turned her attention toward Ace of Hearts, lost focus enough to have been immediately sent flying by a huge slam from one of Light A Candle’s pseudopods.

“Oh my,” Ace of Hearts remarks with a grin, “do be more careful.”

Black Cat rams hard into the far wall and crumples to the ground, leaving a small impact crater in her wake, as Light A Candle lets out a monstrous bellow.

“Asshole…” mutters Black Cat as she starts to get to her feet. She looks forward and sees Ace of Hearts slowly walking toward her.

“Are you okay, Banksy?” he asks, “That looked like a nasty hit.” He grins. “But I’m sure you’re fine… you can take hits like that. You’re a big girl, aren’t you?”

Banksy’s response is to wordlessly point Super Psycho Love at him and pull the trigger, firing a green heart-shaped bullet right for Ace of Hearts’ face. With lightning-fast reflexes, he bites the bullet, catching it in his teeth. He grins, meeting Banksy’s scowl, before spitting the bullet out right back at her, just as fast as it was when it first exited the barrel, aiming to hit her in the shoulder, but she’s able to react to it in time, moving her hand so her Stand can intercept the bullet’s path, absorbing it back into the cylinder of the gun rather than letting it go through her. Ace of Hearts, meanwhile, hasn’t stopped his steady approach.

“You should really watch where you point that thing,” Ace of Hearts comments, “you wouldn’t want to accidentally end up hurting someone.”

“Go fuck yourself!” Black Cat shoots her remaining three bullets at her opponent, who dodges with dance-like movements before flashing a grin and turning to Light A Candle.

“Hey big guy!!” he shouts, “You didn’t quite get her!!”

It turns back to her and roars. She completely ignores it, instead opting to narrow her eyes at Ace of Hearts.

“I should have known that it was you behind this thing.” He shrugs.

“Actually, I’m not. Not technically.”

“Right. Then, do you care to explain why it listens to you?”

As she talks, she sees in the corner of her eye a huge glob of wax coming toward her and jumps up into the air, doing a backflip in the process, in order to avoid it.

“Truth be told, I don’t know,” he says, shrugging, “maybe it just recognizes good moral character.”

“Ha! ‘Good’ moral character?! That’s not exactly how I’d describe you.”

“You’re one to talk!” Ace of Hearts responds, suddenly scowling, “I suppose you had nothing to do with Robinson?”

“That glitter guy you sent our way? As far as I’m concerned, that was your fault,” Black Cat says, with a dead-serious expression on her face, “You knew what would happen to him if you sent him our way, and you did it anyway, because you can’t take no for an answer. And for the record, it wasn’t me who did it.”

In only a moment, Ace of Hearts, an expression of absolute seething rage on his face, lunges forward, punching Banksy in the stomach.

“I’m gonna rip you into pieces, and make you into my driveway,” he spits, before grabbing her from the back with both hands and lifting her up over his head with both hands. “Come get her, waxy!” he yells at Light A Candle. In response, it starts to lift up a pseudopod, winding up to deliver a slam attack on Banksy, helpless, ripe for the picking.

Thrashing around in Ace of Hearts’ grip for a couple seconds, trying to get free but failing, Banksy opts to angle her arm back, pointing her Stand at his arm and pulling the trigger, sending a bullet straight through his shoulder, causing him to wince and let go of her, but not nearly in time, the giant arm about to crush both of them. Okay… so that plan didn’t work. Time for Plan B… that being… uh… hope that not too many of her bones are broken? Hope that if she gets sucked into that thing that being a rock human is going to somehow protect her? Uh…

“Coming through!!!”

Moments before disaster, Ferrari comes flying toward the two of them, crashing into Ace of Hearts, leaving him clinging to the front while Banksy lands right on the seat, quickly getting herself into a sitting position, leaving Light A Candle to completely miss its target and do nothing but smash a crater into the ground.

“Good timing, Ferrari…” Banksy breathes, more than a little relieved.

“Thanks,” Chase responds, “Uh… I can’t see.”

“Oh, sorry ’bout that,” Ace of Hearts says politely, pulling himself up in order to be standing on top of the handlebars mere instants before Ferrari drives up onto a wall, driving at a 90º angle. He looks around at his surroundings. “Well… this is pretty trippy.” Light A Candle opens its mouth and shoots a fireball toward the three, but Ferrari maneuvers out of the way of it with a quick swerve. Ace of Hearts looks down at the Stand he’s standing on and grins. “I gotta say, I love this application of your ability, young man.”

“Uh…” Chase says in response, trying to find words to answer with. Fortunately, he doesn’t have to, because right then, Banksy leans back and kicks Ace of Hearts as hard as she can in the shin, causing him to grunt in pain and fall over, and the instant he’s no longer touching Ferrari gravity affects him normally again, causing him to fall down, right into Light A Candle’s body, which he promptly gets sucked into vanishing from sight completely.

“Asshole…” Banksy reiterates.

“Did you just… did we win?” Chase asks.

“Pfft,” Banksy scoffs, “If it was that easy to kill the bastard, he woulda been dead the first time I saw him.” She does a quick scan of the mall. “Did you find any people?”

“Yeah,” Chase responds, “there was a couple hiding in the David’s Tea, a man and a woman. I dropped them off at the entrance and they ran like hell. That’s when I noticed you needed help.”

“Great.” She turns her attention to Light A Candle, once again throwing a punch at her and Ferrari, dodging the blow and leaving a huge hole blasted in the wall. “Then that means that we’ve got one less thing to worry about.”

Right on cue, Ace of Hearts rises out of Light A Candle’s waxy body, standing on top of it. He’s holding some wax in his hand. Banksy takes the opportunity to call her three non-exploded bullets back to her Stand. Unfortunately, Ace of Hearts ducks down to dodge the one that he was in the way of.

“Did you say your name was ‘Ferrari’?” he calls out to Chase. Banksy locks eyes with him and scowls. “Well, ‘Ferrari’…” He grins, “…catch!!” He points at a spot ahead of Banksy’s current position on the wall and fires an Acidic Line.

“Ferrari!! Jump!!!” Banksy shouts. Ferrari jumps into the air and lands on the Line, then starts driving on it, using it as a bridge from the wall to Light A Candle and, by extension, Ace of Hearts.

“Now, Waxy,” Ace of Hearts says with a grin. The wax in his hand catches fire, but it doesn’t seem to bother him. He throws it not at Ferrari, but below the Line entirely, completely missing…

“You fucking missed, idi-“

…Or so it seemed.

BOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!

The hydrogen gas concentrated around the Acidic Line ignites in an instant, resulting in a huge explosion erupting right under Ferrari’s wheels, sending it flying and launching Banksy from her seat.

“AAAAAAAAGH!!!!” Chase lets out a pained scream.

“CHASE!!!” Banksy calls out. She isn’t sure, but she’s pretty sure that she can hear Sunny Day screaming through the speaker too… Chase… Chase… what happened to him?! He’s okay, right?! It was just a… point-blank explosion… he’s fine, right? Humans are resilient… right?

Her thought process is interrupted as she lands on Light A Candle. She quickly gets to her hands and knees, but gets stuck from there and can’t get up any more. Actually… she’s sinking. She’s being sucked inside this thing!! She looks up at Ace of Hearts in front of her, who kicks her in the face with a smile on his face, breaking her nose, before she gets fully pulled inside.

Oh fuck… this can’t be good… Banksy thinks to herself, instinctively turning to stone in order to withstand the heat. She can’t move… this wax is so thick, it’s practically a solid… she can’t breathe… she can’t-

She falls suddenly into a large cavern with a massive fire blazing in it, and lands on her feet, but instantly starts to sink. Without hesitation, she points her Stand down at the ground, its barrel rotating rapidly, and fires a spinning bullet down into the wax, which instantly liquifies it. She lifts up a foot and the spot where it was instantly hardens, allowing her to safely step down on it, before doing the same with the other one too.

“Oh, Baaaaaanksyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!” Ace of Hearts calls out as he falls from the “ceiling” and lands in front of her among the flames. “We aren’t finished, my dear!”

She breaks off a piece of the little platform she made that’s floating on in this sea of flaming wax that Ace of Hearts isn’t seeming to have any trouble standing on. Chase’s scream echoes in her mind as black flames ignite in her eyes, and the piece of wax in her hand starts to spin. She throws it at the ground in front of him as she leaps from her platform, creating another one for her to land on as Ace of Hearts starts to run toward her.

“You’re gonna die, fucker!!!” She holds her Stand behind her and the spinning bullet returns to its chamber before she points Super Psycho Love at her enemy and leaps forward. She gets to him and instead of landing somewhere, she instead wraps her legs around his waist, and her arm around his neck, pointing her Stand, with a star-shaped barrel, right in his face. She pulls the trigger, but right as she does, Ace of Hearts grabs her wrist and moves her arm enough so that she only grazes his ear as the bullet flies upward and explodes, blasting a huge hole in Light A Candle and causing it to let out a deafening roar, even though it heals pretty quickly. With her face only a couple of centimetres away from his, Ace of Hearts can’t help but laugh a little bit.

“You know, it just occurred to me that it hasn’t eaten you yet… I understand why it didn’t eat me, I’m protected, I’m wrapped in a Stand, after all. But you…” he sneers, “maybe it’s because you’re made of the same stuff as my tiled floors!!” He grabs her and forcibly shoves him off of him, slamming her to the ground and stomping down hard with his boot, pushing her into the wax floor. “How long can you hold your breath for?” he asks, “an hour? Maybe two? I have all the time in the world.”

“I… see no reason to try and find out…” Banksy gets out with a grin as she delivers a kick right to his crotch. He recoils backward as she presses her spinning gun barrel to the wax around her, liquifying it and freeing herself. She gets to her feet and runs toward Ace of Hearts.

“That… was a bit of a low blow, Banksy…” Ace of Hearts says, scowling.

“That was the fucking point!!!” She grabs him by the throat and fires a spinning bullet toward the wall behind him, hardening it so she can slam him against it, but he responds with a throat chop that sends her reeling, before kicking her all the way across the battlefield. Fortunately, she’s able to land on one of the hardened spots she had made. Unfortunately, she only gets one foot on it, so now she’s stuck. But that’s no problem, as she’s shown several times within the past minute-

Just then, Light A Candle grabs onto a support beam and rips it out of the ground and ceiling, and stabs it into itself, it penetrating deep into the cavern inside of itself, heading right for Banksy.

Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me… she thinks as she sees it coming toward her. There’s no time to free her foot. So she does something else. “Super Psycho Love!!!” She points her Stand at her thigh and pulls the trigger, breaking off her leg and letting her dodge the beam… at the cost of… well, you know. “Shit…” she mutters, “that’s not ideal…”

“Hahaha!” Ace of Hearts laughs. “That was brilliant thinking, Waxy!” he says, praising Light A Candle. “And you, Banksy… well…” he starts to clap, “I gotta say… that was pretty cool. Very badass.”

Banksy shoots him in the leg, shattering his shin, before grinning and leaning on the support beam for balance.

“There, now you can feel cool, too.”

“Y-you goddamn BITCH!!!” Ace of Hearts yells at her, clenching his teeth, falling to his knee, and pointing at her, “I’ll blow you to bits!!!!” He fires an Acidic Line, but as he does, Banksy points behind her with her Stand without looking and fires a spinning bullet, conveniently hitting the spot the Line is about to, giving it the perfect spot to land. It’s only active for a mere few moments before it goes off, creating a huge explosion inside of Light A Candle, which normally wouldn’t be such a big deal… unfortunately, Banksy had hardened some of its body using the Spin. Light A Candle bellows as large pieces of it get blasted outward and are unable to come back. The two Stand users are both thrown back, and have obvious reason for their difficulty standing up. Banksy is the first to get up, the barrel of Super Psycho Love extending outward in order for her to be able to use it as a makeshift crutch. “What the fuck am I looking at…?” Ace of Hearts asks.

“Stands are just psychic projections… they can do whatever you want. If I tell my Stand to change shape, it does,” she explains. She considers making her way toward him to finish him off, but she’s having a little difficulty moving right now, not to mention that the thing that would help her to do so is also her weapon, complicating matters further. The second reason is because now that there are holes in Light A Candle’s body, its body is starting to lose some of its trapped heat. It’s losing its ability to move, and stay conscious… and since it can’t stay conscious, it’s starting to fall apart. Its body is caving in, and that means that her priority has to be escaping. She looks at Ace of Hearts. He’s clearly not gonna be able to move very well, because unlike her, he doesn’t have anything to use as a makeshift leg. He isn’t going to drown, either, at least, he probably won’t. He’s not that easy to kill. But she has to get out, which means that she has to leave him behind, as much as it pains her, if not for the fact that she needs to get to Ferrari to make sure Chase is okay. “See you next time, I guess, fucker…” Banksy sighs, disappointed, as she turns and hobbles toward the nearest way out as Ace of Hearts only scowls. Light A Candle lets out one last roar as its body collapses in on itself, Banksy just barely making it out with a dive. She looks back at the mountain of wax and grits her teeth. That could not have gone worse.

She makes her way over to Ferrari, lying on its side on the ground.

“Chase… Chase, are you okay?!”

“Banksy, it’s me,” Sunny Day responds, sounding panicked to say the least, “are you okay?!”

“I’m fine, how’s Chase?”

“You are not fine, you’re missing a leg!!!”

“It’ll grow back. How’s Chase?”

“Uh… b-bad. I’m taking him to the hospital,” Sunny Day responds shakily, “his entire body caught fire. It was only for a second, but it’s still bad… he’s barely conscious right now…”

“Okay, come and get me!! I’m gonna come with you!!”

“No, you’re going to the W.O.U. to get yourself fixed!!” Sunny Day returns.

“No, I’m fine, that can wait, all that’s important right now is Ch-“

“NO!!!” Sunny Day shouts, “I said no!!! He’s getting medical attention, and so are you!!! I swear to God, if either of you die-“ She gets a catch in her throat and stops talking.

“Okay… fine… I’ll go. But you’re keeping me updated with everything the doctors tell you!”

“Alright, I will. I promise.”

“Good.”

Banksy heads over to the entrance of the mall and waits for Sunny Day to come and get her. She pulls up in her car a good ten minutes later. She gets inside and Sunny Day drives off.

Probably around a half hour later, Ace of Hearts claws his way out of the huge pile of wax, now starting to shrink, and throws himself onto the ground, before slowly getting up.

“Fucking… goddamn… bitch…” he mutters, starting to limp away.

Chapter 20 - And I'll Never Know The Reason Why

“Go get yourself fixed up,” Sunny Day says, pulling up outside a building that looks like a community centre, “I promise I’ll call you as soon as I find anything out.” Banksy gets out of the car, using her extended Stand for support.

“Good. Make sure you do.” Banksy looks over at Chase, looking rather worse for wear, unconscious in the front seat.

“See you, Black Cat,” Sunny Day says, driving off.

Banksy makes her way over to the building’s entrance, passing by a sign welcoming visitors to the “World Of Understanding Foundation”. The automatic doors slide open and she makes her way inside. Immediately, a man at the reception desk greets her.

“Banksy, hello, to what do we owe this-“ He notices her leg, or, rather, lack thereof. “Oh. Oh my.”

“Yeah,” Banksy responds, rather impatiently, “can we hurry up here? I gotta get this fixed, I have places to be.”

“Right, of course,” the receptionist says, picking up the phone on the desk, “I’ll let JQ know you’re coming.”

“Great.” Banksy turns to the left and heads down the hallway, past a number of identical, windowless doors. Eventually, she makes it to a staircase. She looks down at her current condition and sighs, before making her way past the stairs, heading toward the elevator, grumbling to herself as she does. She almost makes it there when she hears a door open, and then a voice calls out to her.

“Banksy!!” a man addresses her, sounding excited to see her, “As I live and B-R-E-A-T-H-E!!” Banksy can feel herself instinctively starting to grate her teeth. That voice… or, rather, the person it’s attached to… he goddamn drives her up the wall. Nonetheless, she inhales deeply, and then exhales, and turns to face the bastard. He’s tall and muscular, wearing a black coat, with silver-blue hair that fades to pink at the ends.

“Hello,” Banksy utters impatiently, in a way that makes it sound somewhat like she’s about to deck this guy.

“It’s me,” he says, smiling an infuriatingly stupid-looking grin, “E.N.I~G.M.A!” he exclaims excitedly in a sing-song tone.

“I know who you fucking are!!!” Banksy snaps, “now please, if you’ll excuse me, I have somewhere to be!!” She continues on her path to the elevator. Unfortunately, E.N.I.G.M.A. follows after her.

“Oh,” he comments, examining her rocky stump, “yeah, that L-E-G looks pretty B-A-D. You might wanna see JQ about that.”

“Wow… why didn’t I think of that…” she mutters under her breath.

“What’d you say?”

“Nothing. Why are you following me?”

“No real R-E-A-S-O-N,” he responds, shrugging, “I just wanna talk to Y-O-U for a bit.”

“Why…?” Banksy asks, sighing, cursing every deity she can think of for putting her in this situation. At least she isn’t thinking about Chase.

“Because it’s been a while! I haven’t seen you in forever, and I M-I-S-S you!”

“Yes… how unfortunate that we haven’t talked in a while…”

“Exactly!” E.N.I.G.M.A. agrees, either not noticing the sarcasm or simply choosing to ignore it. “You know, we never did set a date for that dinner. My sister is dying to M-E-E-T you. I think you’re really gonna like her.”

“Uh, huh, I’m sure she’s great,” Banksy responds without even the slightest hint of emotion.

“So?” he says excitedly, turning to face her, “Does that mean you’re up for it? Are you free maybe… next Saturday?”

“Oh, I’d love to,” Banksy lies, “but unfortunately, I’m gonna be hibernating pretty soon. So I don’t think I’ll be able to.”

“Aw, that’s too bad.” E.N.I.G.M.A. frowns. “But I guess we’ll have T-I-M-E eventually. No need to rush things.”

“Yeah, that’s the spirit,” Banksy responds, finally making it to the elevator and pressing the button to open the doors, “we’ll get together eventually. Maybe.”

“Yeah! Can’t wait!”

“Alright,” Banksy says, getting on the elevator, “nice seeing you. Bye.”

“Good S-E-E-ing you, Banksy!” E.N.I.G.M.A. responds cheerfully, waving as the doors close.

Banksy sighs. That was the longest conversation of her entire life. E.N.I.G.M.A… what a fucking weirdo. She doesn’t have any intention of going over to his house to meet whatever woman is related to him. There’s no doubt in her mind that she must be just as much of a psycho as him.

She pushes the button to take her to the second floor.

The funny thing is that she doesn’t really have a reason to hate him… he just irritates the ever-loving shit out of her.

Well, that’s not entirely true. He is a bit suspicious. See… his hibernation schedule… isn’t really… “right”. It’s irregular… which is not exactly a typical rock human trait. Sometimes he sleeps for a month, sometimes he sleeps for three. One time he only slept for two weeks. It’s weird as hell. It’s almost as if he isn’t a rock human. Of course… he is, though. There’s no way that he’d be able to get in here and just walk around if he wasn’t one. Still, though… she can’t shake the feeling that he’s hiding something.

And what the fuck is with the spelling words out? Is it some kind of tic? Is it just something he does to seem quirky? Regardless of the reason, it pisses her off.

Ding!

Well, no reason to keep thinking about that now. She’s reached her floor. She gets off the elevator and turns to the left in order to head to JQ’s lab, but stops when she sees E.N.I.G.M.A. leaning against the wall, looking at her.

“Banksy!” he greets her with a big smile, “H-E-L-L-O! Funny running into you like this!” She takes a moment to compose herself before she does something violent.

“What are you doing here…?”

“Oh,” he responds, reaching into his coat and pulling out a manilla folder, “I’m on my way to deliver T-H-I-S to JQ.” Banksy rolls her eyes. Of course that’s what he’s doing.

“You know, if you’d told me that, I could have just dropped it off for you. Then you wouldn’t have had to come all this way.”

“Oh yeah, I guess that’s T-R-U-E… oh well, now we can continue our talk!”

“Lucky me.”

“I was just T-H-I-N-K-ing the same thing!”

“Crazy.” The two walk in silence for a couple of seconds until E.N.I.G.M.A. pipes up.

“Hey, have you ever considered dying your H-A-I-R? I feel like you’d really be able to pull off B-L-U-E hair.”

“I have not. I don’t plan on it.”

“Just thought I’d A-S-K. I’m a pretty big fan of hair dye myself, you know.” She looks him up and down briefly.

“Yeah, I figured.”

“Hey, do you want me to H-E-L-P you out there? You can lean on me if it would be easier.”

“I’d rather not.” He shrugs.

“Okay, just figured I’d ask.”

“Thanks. I appreciate it, but I’m good.”

“Okay.”

The two make it to a door with a plaque on it that reads “JQ Jones”. Banksy turns to E.N.I.G.M.A.

“Well, here we are. I guess we’re parting ways for real this time,” she says as she knocks on the door.

“I S-U-P-P-O-S-E so.” As he says that, the door opens, and the two are greeted by a tall, skinny pink-haired man wearing a black dress shirt with a red and gold tie. He doesn’t really look at either of them, though, because his eyes are closed.

“Hello,” he says, “what is this about?”

“Hi,” Banksy responds, “I’m missing a leg.”

“And I’m here to D-E-L-I-V-E-R this to you,” E.N.I.G.M.A. says, handing him the folder. JQ does not look impressed in the slightest.

“Is this supposed to be a joke?” JQ asks.

“Oh yeah,” E.N.I.G.M.A. says, taking it back, “I guess this isn’t super U-S-E-F-U-L to you, huh?”

“No. It isn’t.”

“That’s fine, it’s B-L-A-N-K anyway.” No one says anything for a good few seconds, until E.N.I.G.M.A. turns to leave. “Well, good seeing you both. Have a good N-I-G-H-T!”

“Go fuck yourself.” JQ responds. E.N.I.G.M.A. nods and turns to walk away, singing to himself as he leaves.

“Give me the money, give me the money, oh! ’Cuz this is where the diamonds G-R-O-W…” JQ scowls before turning to Banksy.

“Fucking asshole. Fucking irritating asshole. Anyway, you said you were missing a leg?” It would be hard to notice, but a light, silver mist-like gas comes out of the room JQ was just in and swirls around Banksy, most of it congregating around her stump. “Ah. Yes. I suppose that’s a problem,” he comments with a remarkably unimpressed tone, “Come in.”

Be civil, Black Cat, Banksy encourages herself as the two enter the room. The right half of it looks like a perfectly ordinary chemistry lab. The left half, however, is full of small, potted trees with screw-like trunks and thorny, angular branches, with spiky red fruits growing from them. There are several on every table, and even more on the ground. On a far table are three glass cases, each one with a tree similar-looking to the others in the room. Two of them don’t have any fruit, but the one on the right has two of them, and they’re different from the others. These ones are shorter and wider, with lime green protuberances coming out all over them. “So… what happened this time?” he asks her.

“I had to break it off so I wouldn’t get crushed by a support beam fighting a giant goop monster.”

“Fun.” JQ walks over to a cabinet and pulls a vial containing a pale, translucent pink liquid out of a rack.

“I guess.”

“You know, I’d appreciate it if you tried to make sure this happened… less often. I only have so much of my resources that I can waste like this.”

“First of all,” Banksy responds indignantly, “This has happened THREE TIMES in the last 60 fucking years!! Give me a goddamn break!!” JQ scoffs. “And second, I don’t think it’s a WASTE when I’m out there saving LIVES. Including yours.” She scowls at him even though she knows he won’t be able to see it. “Now give me the goddamn juice.” She wrenches the vial out of his hand, pops it open, and drinks the contents. It tastes like tar, but she supposes that it’s worth it. An intense pain flares to life in the spot where her leg promptly starts to grow out of.

“You’re childish, Banksy,” JQ says coldly, “you’re out there saving the lives of the people who are destroying our planet and trying to take what’s ours, instead of doing something actually important, all the while having the gall to preach about how you’re doing what’s ‘right’. But no, you can save everybody, can’t you?”

“You talk about doing something important as if you aren’t just a racist piece of shit whose job is to look after trees.” She glares at him. “Emphasis on look.” He slams his fist down on the nearest table.

“Was that a goddamn blind joke, you bitch?!” His Stand aura flares to life around him, and next to him, a large green and blue patchwork doll appears, floating a few centimetres above the ground before promptly falling into a sitting position. Its right eye is a shiny red button, while the left one is a dull black one which promptly falls off and lands on the ground. Banksy glares at JQ, completely ignoring the thing he just summoned.

“Maybe it was. What are you gonna do? Your Silver Spring can’t do shit to me, you goddamn idiot.” She leans on a table for balance and reforms her Stand into its original form, pointing it at JQ. “This, on the other hand, could theoretically do some pretty big damage to you, I think.”

“You’d better reevaluate where your allegiance lies, Black Cat,” JQ responds coolly, “Our cause is the only one that will actively benefit the planet.”

“Your CAUSE,” Banksy spits, getting right up in his face, “is the goddamn fourth fucking reich!!!”

“I’ve been alive for 180 years, you know. I’ve seen first hand every terrible thing that humanity has done for the past two centuries. I think we’re justified in feeling that we could do better as the dominant species of the planet.” He smiles a vile, crooked smirk that makes Banksy’s blood boil. “I wouldn’t come in here and act all high-and-mighty, you know. There are people here that are thankful for what you’ve done for us, especially in regards to the Acid Wolfpack, I won’t deny that. But don’t for a second think that we trust that you’re on our side. We know that you’re dating a fucking human.” At that, Banksy is now the one to slam her fist on the table, with enough force to leave cracks.

“I’ll have you know that I’m MARRYING a ‘fucking human’!” JQ scowls. “He proposed, and I said yes. And we’re gonna be happy as FUCK together!!!” Her leg now having fully regenerated, she turns and walks out of the room. “Go fuck yourself!!” she calls, slamming the door behind her as hard as she possibly can. With that, she walks toward the stairs, pulling out her phone and calling Sunny Day. She’s pissed the fuck off, and she’s hoping that she’ll have some good news to hear regarding Chase. She can’t wait to get the fuck out of this goddamn building.

Chapter 21 - Chasing S★ars

Two women are seen walking through a forest - Black Cat and Sunny Day. They look completely identical to how they do in modern day.

“…All I’m saying,” Black Cat says, “is that you can’t say that you don’t like something until you try it.”

“Sure, I don’t disagree,” Sunny Day responds, “I’m not arguing that there’s no way it could be good. But I’m allowed to say that ketchup on scrambled eggs sounds gross.”

“Fine!” Black Cat says, abruptly stopping in her tracks before starting to walk in the opposite direction, “come on, then.”

“Where are we going?”

“We’re going back to my place,” Black Cat explains, “I have eggs and ketchup there. You’re trying it.”

“Is this really necessary?” Sunny Day asks, running briefly to catch up with her.

“Yes! It is!”

“Hey, do you hear something?”

“Don’t change the subject, Sunny Day.”

“No, seriously!” Sunny Day stops walking and looks around her. “I hear a sound. What is that?”

“Huh?” Black Cat stops too. “What kind of sound?”

“Listen!”

The two women go quiet and listen. Indeed there is a sound, it’s kind of like a… high-pitched whine?

“What is that?” Black Cat asks.

“I don’t know,” Sunny Day responds, walking in the direction of the sound, “come on, let’s find out!”

It isn’t too long until they stop again.

“Hang on… that kinda sounds like…” Black Cat starts, listening intently.

“…crying?” Sunny Day finishes, “What the fuck, is there a child out here?”

“I think… it’s over there!” Black Cat exclaims, walking in the direction of a large oak tree. She looks behind it. “Holy shit…”

“What? Is it a kid?” Sunny Day asks, walking over to Black Cat.

“Yeah,” Black Cat says, staring at a crying baby wrapped in a blanket lying in a picnic basket, “it’s a fucking baby.” Sunny Day looks at the baby. It’s… a baby.

“Holy shit.”

“Yeah.”

“So… what do we do…?” Black Cat asks.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I’ve never abandoned a human baby in the woods before!! Do we call child protective services? Do we drop him off at a fire station?” Sunny Day doesn’t respond, instead opting to pick the baby up out of the basket, and starts to gently rock it back and forth in her arms, shushing it softly. Pretty soon, it stops crying, opening its eyes to look up at her. “Uh… Sunny Day?”

“I don’t… I don’t think we should do any of that,” Sunny Day responds, seemingly lost in thought.

“What?”

“I think…” Sunny Day starts to say before trailing off, still looking into the baby’s eyes.

“Uh… hello? Sunny Day?”

“I think… I want it.” Hearing that, Black Cat does a double-take.

“Uh… excuse me?”

“I want it.” Sunny Day starts to unwrap the baby. As she frees its arms, it reaches up toward her. She brings her finger close to it, and it grabs it in its hand. “I want…” she spreads the baby’s legs and peeks down its diaper briefly, “…him. I’m gonna take him home, I think.”

“Wha… you… what?” Black Cat stammers, flustered and caught completely off-guard by that statement, “What the fuck are you saying?!”

“I’m saying… I want him.” He smiles at her and makes a babbling sound, and she smiles back. “I’ve always wanted a pet.”

“Pet… b-… y-… wh-… what…?”

“Yeah,” Sunny Day says, tickling the baby on his tummy, causing him to laugh, “he’s gonna be my pet human. That could be pretty cool, right?”

“What?!” Black Cat exclaims, “No!! No, you can’t! You can’t just have a ‘pet human’!! That’s… gotta be unethical!”

“As unethical as abandoning a baby in the woods?” Sunny Day returns.

“I was abandoned in the woods. You were abandoned in the woods. Every single one of our kind was abandoned in the woods! And that’s because rock humans make for terrible mothers!!”

“I’m not gonna be his mother,” Sunny Day responds calmly, “I told you, he’s gonna be my pet human.”

“Do you know how to take care of a baby?” Black Cat asks.

“I’ll figure it out.”

“Are you financially able to support a baby?”

“Why are you trying to talk me out of this?”

“Why are you so hell-bent on doing this?” Black Cat asks with growing frustration, “If you’re feeling like your life is empty or something, you should take up woodworking or something! A baby is not something to be taken lightly, okay?”

“I know that, but…” Sunny Day trails off.

“But what?”

“But… this little guy…” she pauses, looking into his eyes. He smiles at her. “There’s just something about him…”

“What does that mean?”

“…”

“Sunny Day?”

“I… don’t know,” Sunny Day finally responds, “I just feel like he deserves to be loved.”

“He will be loved,” Black Cat ensures her.

“I know. By me.” Black Cat looks unimpressed. “Look, this is how it’s gonna be. If you wanna stop me, you’re more than welcome to shoot me, leave me for dead, and do whatever you want with him.”

“You’re really serious about this, huh?”

“Yep. I am.”

“Alright. Fine.” Black Cat turns and resumes walking. “Then I guess we’ve got a human.”

“That’s it? You’re giving up?”

“Yeah, I am,” Black Cat responds, “There’s no talking sense into you, I know that.” She turns to look at him again. “Maybe he’ll be a nice presence in our life.” She smiles. “He is pretty cute.”

“Right? It’s gonna be great. Everything good comes in threes. Like musketeers.”

“Do you have a name in mind for him?” Sunny Day looks at him.

“Uh… no… not really. But I’ll think of something.”

“Yeah, I’m sure you will. Now, come on.”

“Where are we going?”

“My house. Remember? I’m showing you that ketchup is good on scrambled eggs?”

“Oh yeah.” Sunny Day picks up the basket they found the baby in and hurries to catch up with Black Cat. “Right, I kinda forgot.”

“Maybe the baby will like it, too. It wouldn’t surprise me. It’s pretty good.”

“Can babies eat eggs?” Sunny Day asks.

“Uh… I’m not sure. Probably? I don’t see why not…”

“Maybe we should do some research…” suggests Sunny Day.

“Yeah, that might be a good idea.”

* * *

Black Cat, in civilian clothes, hurriedly runs toward Chase’s hospital room and finds the door closed, with Sunny Day standing outside.

“Hey!” Black Cat calls, “Sunny Day! How’s he doing? Why aren’t you in his room- oh God.” She goes pale. “Oh God, oh God, oh God-“

“Calm down, Black Cat,” Sunny Day says, “I’m outside because he’s getting dressed. He’s just about to be discharged.”

“Oh, thank God.”

“He’s gonna be fine… he has a bunch of first degree burns, but nothing is overly serious. It could have been way worse. He’s gonna be really uncomfortable for the next three to five days, but they prescribed him some salve for pain relief. He’s gonna be fine.” As she says that last part, she smiles and sheds a tear, looking down at the ground.

“That’s good… oh God, that’s the best news I’ve heard all day… goddamn.”

“Haha… yeah, I second that,” Sunny Day responds, “Hey, you’re shirt’s inside-out.”

“It is?” Black Cat looks down at herself. It is. “Ah, shit. I guess I was in a rush to get here.”

“Understandable…” Sunny Day looks up at Black Cat. “…thanks for coming. I know you’ve gotta be dead tired right now.”

“Oh, stop it with that,” Black Cat responds, “you know full well that I do not rest if Chase isn’t well. I fuckin’ love that kid, I’m not doing shit until I’ve seen him with my own eyes.”

“Yeah…” Sunny Day sighs, “I love him too.” She pauses. “You know… as a pet. He’s my pet human, and he’s a very good boy.”

“Right. He’s just your pet,” Black Cat says with a sarcastic expression on her face.

“Right.” There’s another pause, this one longer and more awkward. “So… how was the trip to the W.O.U?” Instantly, this elicits a reaction from Black Cat.

“Ugh. Don’t get me fuckin’ started.”

“That good, huh? JQ getting on your nerves?”

“Fuckin’ goddamn nazi piece of shit,” Black Cat responds with more than a hint of hostility in her tone. Sunny Day grins.

“Does he know Jacob proposed?”

“Fuck yes he does. I made sure to tell him.”

“How’d he react?”

“I dunno. I stormed out before he could say anything. God, that motherfucker pisses me off so goddamn much.”

“Yeah… I get it. Me too.”

Just then, the door opens and a doctor steps out.

“Ma’am, he’s ready to go.” They both turn to face him, before Chase walks through the door, bandaged up but otherwise looking pretty healthy considering what had happened. He waves and smiles.

“Hey Sunny, hey Black Cat.” Instantly, the two women run toward him, arms outstretched, fully intending to pounce on him with a hug, but he holds up his arms in front of him. “Uh… please don’t. You know… what with the… full-body pain…” Sunny Day obliges, instead opting to give him an almost-hug, with her arms around him, but physically a couple of centimetres away from touching him. He laughs a little.

“Chase, you promise you’re okay?”

“I’m fine, Sunny, I promise,” he ensures her, “I’m just a little sore.”

“You promise promise?”

“Yes,” he insists, “I promise promise.”

“Okay. Good. You wanna go home now?”

“Oh God yes. I’m tired as hell,” Chase responds. The three smile and start to walk out of the hospital.

“I’m really glad you’re okay, Chase,” Black Cat says, “I’m so sorry fro what happened.”

“Don’t feel bad, it wasn’t your fault,” Chase responds, “I’m just excited that I got to fight a giant monster!”

* * *

Jacob walks into the lobby of his accounting firm, his leg encased in his Stand’s boot, holding his broken bone together as he limps toward the elevator, with an absolutely livid expression on his face.

Right as he’s about to press the button to open the doors, he hears a ding and they open. Leah is standing inside, and she’s right about to walk out when she notices him.

“Oh! Sir, hello,” she says, bowing her head respectfully, “How was your adven-“

“Bad,” he snaps, cutting her off, “it was fucking bad. Banksy showed up and killed Light A Candle.” He scowls. “Also, she broke my fucking leg. And now I’m in no mood to deal with anything.”

“…” Jacob sighs.

“Sorry, Leah. I’m just a little irritated. I didn’t mean to raise my voice. Have a good night.”

“Don’t think anything of it, sir,” she responds without lifting her head, “no need to apologize. I’m sorry to hear about your injury.” He sighs.

“Leah, why are you still here? It’s very late.”

“Oh, well, I was just-“

“You gotta stop working so late. This isn’t healthy.”

“That’s what I’ve been telling her!” Supermodel’s Legs’ voice rings out from Leah’s direction.

“I’m fine, both of you,” Leah responds.

“I think you should take tomorrow off,” Jacob says, “Monday too. With time and a half pay.”

“Sir, no-”

“Leah, yes. You’ve earned it. It’s really not a bad idea, I myself am taking tomorrow off, too. If I receive word that you've been sighted here at any point, I swear to God, I’ll have security escort you off the premises.”

“…”

“Understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good.” He gets onto the elevator and Leah steps off. “Good night, Leah. Good night, Legs.” He types the code into the elevator and the secret passageway opens up.

“Good night, Jakey!”

“Good night, sir.” He nods and starts to limp down the hall. “Thank you.” He stops and turns back toward her.

“You’re very welcome.”

He sees her turn to leave right before the door slithers closed. He lets out a sigh and continues forward. This was a long day. It was pretty good at first… but then it got a little bit frustrating. Goddamn Banksy.

It’s fine, though. Because he’s gonna go to Lorenzo’s lab, and use some of that nanomachine shit he’s got that Jacob doesn’t fully understand in order to fix his leg. Then he’s gonna go home and see Black Cat, and she’s gonna cheer him up like she always does. That’s gonna be nice.

He grins.

Then, tomorrow, he’s going to organize an investigation team. Because he finally has some kind of lead. A name that Banksy made the foolish decision to call out. He just has to find that “Chase” person…

Chapter 22 - You Set The Rain On Fire

Jacob walks through the door and closes it behind him. He lets out a tired sigh before calling out,

“Darling, I’m home! Sorry I’m so late…” Black Cat walks up to him and wraps her arms around him.

“Hi, honey,” she says, “how was work?” He lets out a groan in response. “That good, huh?”

“Just… very frustrating. Someone I was hoping wouldn’t show up… showed up… and she did not make the night any more fun.”

“Who is it?”

“Oh, just some lady with no sense of fun… the worst part is that it isn’t someone I can just fire or make someone else deal with.”

“It’s okay, honey, you’re home now. You’re safe. The bad lady can’t bother you anymore.”

“Haha… thanks darling,” he says with a smile, “How was your night?” Black Cat takes a step back and then a deep breath, composing herself.

“Frustrating. Irritating.”

“You wanna talk about it?”

“Okay, so, I went out for a walk.”

“Right.”

“And while I was walking, I saw a frog. So of course, I followed it.”

“You’re so cute,” Jacob interrupts with a smile.

“I know,” Black Cat responds, smiling back, “So, anyway, I was following it, and I ended up not focusing on where I was going, and I tripped. And I got startled by the fact that I was suddenly falling, and accidentally turned into stone, and so when I hit the ground, my finger broke off.”

“Oh my God, are you okay?!”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. But it was an important finger,” she says, gesturing to the finger her engagement ring was on, “so I wanted to get it fixed. So I went to the W.O.U.”

“Oh,” Jacob says, his expression darkening a bit. He doesn’t much care for that place. “And how was that?”

“Terrible. I hate rock humans.”

“They aren’t all bad,” Jacob comments. They both smile.

“Even still,” Black Cat continues, “most of them are racist, supremacist fuckin’ assholes. I mean… at least I’m back in one piece, but I was not in the fuckin’ mood to hear that I need to ‘rethink my allegiance’ just because I’m dating a human.”

“Someone said that to you?” Jacob asks, his blood starting to boil.

“Yeah. Some pink-haired asshole who makes the medicine. I hate the bastard.”

“What did you say to him?”

“I said that I’m not dating you, I’m marrying you, and that we’re gonna be happy whether he likes it or not, and that he can go fuck himself.” Jacob smiles.

“That sounds like it was really satisfying to sa- why are you taking your clothes off?”

“Spite,” Black Cat responds matter-of-factly while taking her shirt off. She thinks about her hatred for JQ and Ace of Hearts and kisses Jacob, rather aggressively. “Come on, help me work out my aggression.”

“Well… if I have to…” Jacob says, taking off his jacket and starting to unbutton his shirt. Truth be told, he has some aggression he’d like to work out, too.

“Great, come on,” Black Cat says, grabbing him by the collar and dragging him upstairs.

“Yes, ma’am…”

* * *

It’s almost been an hour since Light A Candle first jumped out of the window.

Jason is wearing a brand new suit, with a black jacket over a white button-up shirt with black pants and a blue tie. He also combed his hair, and shaved and brushed his teeth in a public bathroom. He even painted his nails with a fancy-looking light blue nail polish that he found while he was getting his clothes.

He’s not doing this to try and impress Catherine or anything. Nothing like that. It’s not like this is a date. No, it’s just that he got paid a bunch of money and now he wants to splurge. Plus he’s been wearing the same hoodie and jeans ever since the day he got arrested, so a change of clothes would probably do him some good.

He hopes Catherine likes it, though.

Not because this is a date, but because she’s going to have to be looking at him, and it would be a shame if she didn’t like what she saw.

Not like that.

This isn’t a date.

“We’re here.”

“Thanks,” Jason says, stepping out of the taxi he was riding in and handing the driver some money.

The taxi drives off and Jason walks up to a white house with pink trim and a pink door. He steps on the pink doormat and rings the pink doorbell. Something tells him that he’s definitely in the right place.

The door opens, and in the doorway stands Mew Mew, who waves at Jason before turning her head to speak to someone inside.

“Mew!” she calls.

“Coming!” Catherine responds. A few seconds later, Catherine comes to the door. She smiles when she sees him.

“Hi, Jason.”

“Hi…” he says, turning red immediately. She’s wearing a lightly patterned pink floral dress with high heels of a matching colour. It’s a very simple outfit, but it’s very flattering. “You look really nice…”

“Thanks,” she responds, doing a little twirl, “so do you. Very sharp. That look really… suits you.”

“Mewwwwww…” Mew Mew whines.

“Debatable,” responds Catherine.

“What’d she say?” Jason asks.

“She said that what I just said was lame.”

“I kinda liked it…”

“Thank you Jason,” Catherine responds, shooting Mew Mew a brief glance, “at least someone here has good taste.”

“Oh yeah,” Jason agrees, “I have great taste. If you licked me, you’d find I have a nice, refreshing tang.” Catherine raises an eyebrow. Mew Mew cocks her head. Jason looks down at his feet. “Sorry. That was weird. I don’t know why I said that. I’m bad at socializing. It’s been a while since I… uh… had a friend. I’m just trying to-“

“Jason shut up.”

“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea…”

“Relax.”

“Okay.”

“Don’t worry.”

“Okay.”

“No need to overthink stuff.”

“Okay.”

“We’re gonna have fun.”

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Okay!” They both grin at each other. “Sorry. Yeah. You’re right. It’s gonna be fun.”

“I hope so.”

“So… you ready to go?” Jason asks.

“Whenever you are,” Catherine returns with a smile.

“Right then!” He offers Catherine his hand. “M’lady.”

“How chivalrous.” She takes his hand. “So where are we going?”

“Oh… uh… I don’t know. I just sorta thought we’d drive around and see what looked nice?”

“That sounds fun. Very spontaneous. I like it!”

The two walk down the steps to Catherine’s house and start making their way down her driveway, with Mew Mew following behind them all the while, when Jason stops suddenly.

“Uh… you good?” Catherine asks.

“I don’t have a car,” Jason says, “I came here in a taxi. I just remembered.”

“Oh,” Catherine says with a laugh, “then I guess I’m driving.”

“Sorry… I’m kind of a mess right now…” Jason says, once again turning his eyes toward the ground.

“Dude.” He looks up at her.

“Yeah?”

“Chill. Remember? We’re chilling?”

“Ah… haha… yeah. Okay. Sorry. I’m just a little-”

“Nervous?”

“Yeah…”

“Why?” she asks, “It’s just me.” Jason rubs the back of his neck awkwardly.

“You’re right… sorry…”

“Seriously, I’m not planning on looking after two children tonight,” Catherine says with a smile.

“Mewwwww…” Mew Mew whines, making a pouting face. The three of them turn around and start walking back toward Catherine’s house so she can grab her car keys.

“Okay, okay. Sorry. I can do this. I am a functional human being who can be in society.”

“That sounds very convincing.”

“Thanks, I try my best.” Jason chuckles a little. “I’m sure I’ll be fine once I have a couple of drinks…”

“Now that’s a plan I can get behind!” Catherine says. They reach her door and she opens it, starting to head inside. “I’ll be riiiiiight back.”

“Oh, uh, if we’re gonna be drinking, wouldn’t it be better to just get a taxi or an Uber or something?”

“Oh… yeah… you’re right…” Catherine exits her house and locks the door once more. “I guess I don’t need my keys then.” She pulls out a phone and dials a number for a taxi service.

“This is off to a really great start…” Jason mutters. Catherine smiles.

“I think so.”

Chapter 23 - It's Not A Date

“So… what are you in the mood for?” Jason asks, getting out of the taxi and looking around at the numerous different restaurants lining the road. The streets are bustling, with cars driving by, people making their way to wherever they may be going on the crowded sidewalks.

“These places look pretty… uh… expensive…” Catherine comments, getting out as well. Jason shrugs.

“I guess. But I have money. Pay day, remember?”

“I guess so… uh… well… I don’t really have a preference,” she responds.

“You got your eye on anything, Mew Mew?” Jason asks. Mew Mew looks at him, and then Catherine.

“Mew?” she asks, her screen displaying an inquisitive face.

“I dunno,” Catherine says, starting to smile, “Just pick one.”

“What’d she say?”

“She wanted to know why you were letting her pick.”

“Oh, uh, I don’t know. You said you didn’t have a preference. She seemed like the logical next person to ask.”

“You think she’s a person?” Catherine asks. Jason freezes. Is this a trick question or something…?

“Uh…” he stammers, “…yes…? She is… right…?”

“No one ever says that, you know.”

“Huh?”

“No one ever wants to talk to Mew Mew. Even the people that can see her. I’m the only one they’re ever interested in, it seems. It makes her feel kinda left out, and… well… that’s no good. It’s hard to explain I guess, but-”

“…But she’s a part of you,” Jason finishes, “You’re not truly happy unless she is.” Catherine smiles.

“Exactly. You’re a pretty cool dude, Jason.”

“Haha… I try my best…” Mew Mew smiles and throws her arms around Jason, giving him a hug from behind.

“Mew!”

“She says she also thinks you’re very cool.”

“Ah… haha… thanks, ladies.” Jason and Catherine’s eyes meet before he quickly once again looks down at the ground to hide his beet-red face. He doesn’t notice Catherine also blushing. “So… uh… you wanna go anywhere in particular, Mew Mew?”

“Nyah!” she exclaims, pointing at a place with a sign labeled “The Azure Dragon”, featuring a picture of an azure dragon emerging from a body of water, hanging above a red awning.

“Alright, then that’s where we’re going, I guess,” Jason says, starting to walk toward it.

“Mrow,” Mew Mew whispers to Catherine, nudging her in the side.

“Yes, yes, well done,” Catherine responds.

“What?”

“She said that since you’re buying, she might as well take us to the most expensive-looking place, get the most bang for our buck, you know?” Jason laughs.

“Ah, I see. I never pegged you for that kinda girl, Mew Mew.” A smiling face with a halo above it appears on her screen.

“Yeah, she gives off a very different vibe when you can understand her,” Catherine says with a laugh, “you’d be shocked at the horror that she talks about sometimes. Something straight out of Lovecraft.”

“Oh yeah, I’m sure.”

“So… are eating, or what? I’m starving!”

“Mew!!” agrees Mew Mew.

“Right. Let’s get this night a-started!”

* * *

Having been seated at their table, Jason and Catherine in seats and Mew Mew sitting cross-legged on the floor with her hands on the ground in front of her, the two in chairs begin to look through their menus before Jason glances down at Mew Mew.

“Does she want a chair?” he asks, “Because I’m sure we could get another one… although people might look at us kinda weird…”

“Nah, she prefers the floor, honestly,” Catherine responds, “if she wants to join us, she’ll just-” Mew Mew interrupts her by jumping up onto the table, landing on all fours before sitting back down. Curiously, from the way she lands and the lack of any noise, it seems like she’s completely weightless, which, given her nature, she probably is.

“Jesus Christ!” exclaims Jason, surprised by the sudden movement.

“Yeah, she’ll just do that.” Mew Mew starts rubbing behind her ear with the back of her hand. “She’s not bothering you, is she?”

“Uh… no. Not at all…”

“Okay, good.” She resumes looking through the menu. “Seems like this place really specializes in seafood.” She smiles. “I frickin’ love seafood.”

“Yeah, me too,” Jason agrees, “Surf and turf is, like, my favourite thing ever. ’Course, I’ve only had it, like, twice ever. Once to celebrate me getting my first part-time job, and again when I got accepted into university. I guess it’s sorta like my celebration food. I suppose that’s what I’m gonna order… seems like the right time for it.” Catherine raises an eyebrow at him briefly, but dismisses her thought.

“Yeah, good idea. And I guess I’ll get… oh damn, you know, I really can’t get enough of seafood pasta…”

“Oh, hell yeah.” He keeps looking through the menu. “And, we should probably get a bottle of wine, right?”

“Of course. What kind do you want?” He briefly reads over the options.

“I don’t know… I know that you’re supposed to pair certain wines with certain foods… like… red wine goes with fish… or was that white?” Catherine just shrugs.

“Don’t ask me.”

“Yeah…” He keeps reading. “What’s rosé?”

“That’s that not-quite-white, not-quite-red stuff, right?”

“Yeah, I think so. But, like, is it a mixture of a red wine and a white wine? Because… that’s what I’ve always thought, but that can’t be right… right? I guess I’m just too poor to understand wine.” He pauses. “Well, I guess we should get it, right? That’s what tonight’s about, right? Doing rich people stuff?”

“I’m down,” Catherine says with a grin.

“Great, you ready to order? Uh… does Mew Mew want anything? Uh… can she eat?” Catherine laughs.

“That’s kind, but no, she doesn’t eat. She doesn’t really have a digestive system… or a mouth. But yes, I am ready to order.”

* * *

“Holy shit…” Jason mutters, cutting off a piece of his steak, “this is the greatest thing I’ve ever tasted…” It’s just the right amount of tender and juicy, cooked and seasoned to absolute perfection. If that hotel bed was what angels sleep on, this has to be what they eat.

“I feel the same way about this…” Catherine responds, stabbing a shrimp with her fork and twirling some noodles around it before bringing it to her mouth, “I already know that all food going forward is gonna taste like shit…”

“Haha… that’s for sure.” Jason takes his knife and stabs it into his lobster tail and starts to jimmy it around, getting some of the meat out of it. There’s definitely a better, more table-polite way to do it, but this is the way he feels like doing it. Catherine smiles watching him for a second, but then puts her fork down.

“Hey… uh… Jason?”

“Yeah?”

“Can I… uh… ask you something…?”

“Huh? Yeah, sure.”

“Why didn’t you become a doctor?” Jason immediately stops eating. He just kinda freezes. “I mean… you said you were studying to be a doctor… and just now, you said you got accepted into university. So… what happened?” Jason doesn’t respond. “Sorry, I realize I may be overstepping… you don’t have to tell me if you don’t-“

“No,” Jason interrupts, putting his fork and knife down. “uh… I can tell you if you want…” He takes his glass of wine and finishes the entire thing. “It’s actually kind of a funny story…”

“Seriously, I’m sorry, you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”

“Nah, nah, it’s good… it’s good.” He takes a deep breath. “So… a little bit of background info… my mom died of cancer when I was four.” Catherine’s eyes widen a little. Oh. So direct.

“Oh…”

“Yeah. So for basically my whole life, it was just me and dear old dad. We were real tight. Beeeeeeeest of friends.” He pours himself another glass of wine and takes a sip. “Of course, we didn’t have a whole lot of money, but, you know, we were happy. It was nothin’ but good times with him and I.” He takes another sip of wine. “Anyway, around the fifth grade, I started getting really into science… you know, especially the whole ‘doctor’ thing. I kinda figured that if I could become a doctor, then maybe I’d be able to help children like me to not lose their mothers to cancer.”

“Ah…” Catherine feels kinda bad about her rather lacklustre responses, but there’s just a lot that’s coming at her, and in so little time.

“Yeah. Sweet, I know. So, anyway, I ended up telling my dad that I wanted to be a doctor, and he was soooooo supportive. He insisted on helping, so together we started pooling all our money to save up. And then, after a while, we were able to afford the first couple of semesters. So I started going to university. It was awesome. I was so happy. I was so sure that I’d one day be able to help people. And believe me, I worked my ass off.” He smiles a big, goofy grin. “Then my dad got cancer.” He takes another drink. “It wasn’t the same cancer as my mom had… but still. Cancer. And of course, losing my mom kinda fucked me up, but that… that was a whole ’nother story.” His smile slowly fades. “Anyway, I immediately dropped out. Obviously, all the money we had had to go to his treatment. Of course, I didn’t tell him I dropped out. He insisted that he was gonna be fie and that he didn’t need any help, and that I should just focus on my schooling. What a good dad…” He pushes his empty wine glass away from him. “But, anyway, I wasn’t taking that for an answer. I was getting him that treatment, whether he liked it or not. But on a part-time fast food worker’s salary… well… let’s just say that chemotherapy was a little out of my grasp.” He sighs. “So… uh… well… I turned to my Stand for help. I knew about chemicals. I knew about how the human body worked. I knew exactly how to make the perfect drug.” He grins. “And so that’s just what I did. Turns out, dealing drugs pays better than flippin’ burgers. So after a while, I said that I could afford to pay for the first little bit of his treatment. He wanted to know where the money came from. I said ‘don’t worry’.” He grins once again. “Believe it or not, he didn’t like that answer. He kept askin’. So I told him.” He absentmindedly stabs his fork into his steak. “He said that he was disappointed. Well, not exactly. He said that he was ashamed to be my father, and that my mother would have been, too, and threw me out. I tried to tell him that this was the only way that we’d be able to afford his treatment… he said that if that was the only way, he’d rather die. Oh, dad… always wanted to do the right thing. Haha…” his expression darkens. “Then one day, I got a phone call. It was him. I was over the fuckin’ moon. I missed him like crazy. Up until then, he hadn’t been returning any of my calls or anything like that.” He pauses. “He got right to the point… no ‘hello’ or anything. He said that he was going to be euthanized later that day, and told me that he didn’t want me at his funeral.” He pauses again, this time for a good while longer. In his silence, Catherine doesn’t say anything, neither does Mew Mew. “Anyway, that’s the Jason Paige Story. I got fucked by fate, made a lot of bad decisions, and now I’m here. Pretty cool, right? Uplifting, I know.”

“Shit… I… I’m sorry…” Catherine mutters, “I shouldn’t have brought that up…”

“Eh, don’t worry about it. The past is the past. But yeah… I woulda loved to be a doctor. But that didn’t work out. Now I sell drugs. Not that I like doing it, but… that’s what’s happened.” Jason smiles thoughtfully. “But, whatever. At least thanks to that Jacob guy I’m not gonna have to do it for a little while.” Jason sighs. “What a weird guy. I like him, though.”

“Haha… yeah, the boss is… well, he’s got his… quirks… but he’s a good guy.” Jason leans forward.

“Okay, now it’s my turn. I wanna ask you a question.”

“Alright… I guess that’s only fair.”

“What’s up with you guys and Jacob? It seems like all you guys just call him “the boss”… but you guys do know his name, right? Something tells me that me being the only one to know it is… a little far-fetched.”

“Yeah… yeah, of course I know his name. It’s just that… I dunno… saying it feels almost wrong. A lot of us… we’ve got a lot of respect for him. Truth be told… I don’t know where I’d be without him.”

“So… does that mean that you have a tragic backstory too?” Catherine smiles a wry smile.

“Oh, you have no idea.”

“Well, you don’t gotta tell me if you don’t want to.”

“Nah, nah, nah. I’m not letting you beat me. No one’s better than Catherine Happenstance at anything, not even being sad.”

“Mew!”

“Except Mew Mew. Mew Mew’s the best at everything.”

“Mew,” affirms Mew Mew. This time it’s Catherine who finishes her drink.

“You’re about to regret challenging me to a sad-off,” she says smugly and slightly not-soberly, “’Cuz you see, mine starts with an abusive father. Yep. He beat me and my mom and my sister pretty much every day.” Just like Jason did, she pours herself another drink and downs it. “It was great. So much fun. Really cool. Some days were worse than others. It drove my mom a liiiiiiiittle bit off the deep end. You know… understandably so. So most of the time, it was just me and my little sister, good ol’ Brook. Oh, we were just the best of friends… it was pretty much me and her against the world. Of course, one day, dad got drunk and hit a little harder than usual… and she didn’t end up getting back up.” She says that in the most unflinching way, not pausing for even a moment, just continuing with her story. “So, yeah, he went to jail. Which is good, because now he was out of our life. The downside was… well… you know.” Catherine pauses only to take a brief drink, before continuing her story rapid-fire. “Of course, without my sister I was pretty devastated.”

“Of course…”

“Of course. And I was lonely as hell, which was no fun. But then one day, I was looking at my favourite board game, wishing I had someone to play with. Then Mew Mew appeared. And I was a little confused, but hey, she was someone to play with. So we played. It was pretty fun. Then my mom came down into the basement and saw us, and she was overjoyed. Apparently, she thought that Mew Mew was Brook reincarnated or something. Instantly, Mew Mew was treated as part of the family. I don’t think she ever really knew what Mew Mew was. I mean… I didn’t either. But yeah… like I said, she’d start to go a little crazy. I think she maybe didn’t even really see Mew Mew when she looked at her… she probably just saw Brook. Which I guess was why she started to get angry when Mew Mew wouldn’t eat her meals or ‘use her words’. It seemed like she was constantly yelling, and Mew Mew was always punished for “misbehaving”. It made her kinda miserable… and that made me miserable.” Catherine finishes her drink again and reaches for the bottle and finds it practically empty. “Oops. Sorry Jason…”

“It’s fine, I can get another one if you want… or… maybe not…”

“Great. So… anyway, we ended up running away, because Mew Mew was scared and unhappy and so was I.” She smiles. “And then we met him, the boss. He looked down at me and asked what was wrong. So I said that we were running away, and he told me he’d help me out. So he put me up in a hotel for a while, and explained to me what Stands were and all that. It was pretty cool. He kept visiting me, too… to make sure that I was okay… he even gave me some money every now and again so that I could pay for stuff… you know, like food and shit.” She smiles as she looks off thoughtfully at nothing in particular. “I’m also pretty sure that I only got into university because of him… he definitely bribed some people… but he denies it. He said that school was important. So I didn’t think about it, I worked hard, and I graduated. And then once I did, I sought him out. He seemed happy enough to see me, he asked me how I was doing, and I got right to the point, I said I was gonna work for him.” She laughs a little as she recollects. “He didn’t like that. He said there was no way, that his life wasn’t suited for someone like me. Of course, I’m stubborn as hell, so I didn’t care.” She brings her wine glass up to her mouth, forgetting that it’s empty, before continuing. “I said that I didn’t care, and that if I didn’t devote my life to paying him back, then that was no life for me. And oh boy, he did not back down. He said that if I didn’t leave and forget that ‘silly little notion’, then he was going to kill me. That was when I saw Ace of Hearts for the first time. He transformed right in front of me… and threatened me with that glowy finger thing. It was a little surprising, but I’m a big strong girl, so I wasn’t scared. I said that he might as well do it. And then he just smiled and said that he didn’t want me to have any regrets. I said that I wouldn’t. So he let me come work for him. And I don’t have any regrets to this day.” She smiles at Jason. “What was the point of this story?”

“I… uh… asked why you never called Jacob by his name.”

“Oh yeah. Yeah, it’s basically for that reason. I feel like saying his name would be wrong. It’s a respect thing. It’s like calling your mom or dad by their first name. You just wouldn’t do it. Of course, I don’t respect either of my parents. Fuckin’ Frank and Helen. Actually, I kinda respect my mom. She was a victim of circumstance, I suppose. Sorry, Helen. I mean mom.”

There’s a silence between the Jason and Catherine for the next couple of seconds, before Catherine pipes up again.

“You know, this wasn’t as fun as I thought. Now things are just awkward. But hey, now at least we know each other a little better.”

“Uh… yeah… I guess you’re right,” Jason responds, “I suppose that this coulda gone worse… in theory…”

“That’s the spirit!” Catherine leans over and boops Jason on the nose. “Now, if you’ll excuse me,” she continues, standing up, “I’m gonna go throw up.” Mew Mew jumps off the table and follows after her user as she turns and heads toward the bathroom.

Chapter 24 - Låt Det Brinna

“Eeeeeever so sorry,” Catherine says, sitting back down and taking a sip of water to get a recently-acquired nasty taste out of her mouth.

“Uh… all good…” Jason responds, “you good…?”

“Way better now.”

“Mew!” agrees Mew Mew.

“That’s good.”

“Yeah… I don’t drink super often… and when I do, I get sorta… uh… rambly and… overshare-y…” Catherine says apologetically, looking down at her lap.

“No, uh… don’t worry about it… it’s all good. We both got sad and introspective… I’m, uh, more so just happy that you’re not too sick or anything…” Jason responds awkwardly.

The two resume eating and do so in silence for a good thirty seconds.

“Uh…” Jason finally pipes up, “do you, uh… wanna try some of my lobster? It’s really good… like, best I’ve ever had…”

“Oh, sure,” Catherine responds. Jason jimmies some of the meat out of the shell with his knife, getting a nice, big juicy piece, and dips it in butter before holding out his hand to pass it to her. She stands up and leans over the table, giving Jason an excellent view right down her dress – which he promptly looks away from, the gentleman that he is – and, instead of taking it with her own hand, instead eats the lobster right out of his, which catches him a little off-guard to say the least, but she seems kinda drunk, so he doesn’t think much more of it. “Oh shit, that is really good…”

“Right? It’s fuckin’ heavenly,” he responds, wiping pink lipstick off of his fingers on his napkin, “Now that I’m rich I think I’m gonna eat like this every day… you know… until I blow all my money…” He grins. “But hey, what’s the fun in having money and not doing something with it?”

“That’s the spirit! Reckless spending forever! Woooooooo!” Catherine exclaims excitedly and maybe a little too loudly, which she promptly realizes before lowering her voice. “Sorry… uh… do you wanna try some of my pasta, then?”

“Sure!” She picks up her plate and holds it out to him, and he stabs a mussel with his fork and twirls some noodles around it. It tastes really frickin’ good.

“It’s good, right?”

“Amazing… I can see why you love this stuff.”

“Yep, I swear by it.”

“Alright, I’ve got a very important question for you.”

“Okay?”

“What in there is your favourite?” he asks, gesturing to her meal. “Answer carefully now, this will greatly influence my opinion of you going forward,” he jokes.

“Oh boy, this is important…”

“Oh, you bet.”

“Well,” she responds in a serious tone, “it’s the shrimp, to be honest.”

“Wait, really?”

“What? You got a problem with shrimp?”

“No, no problem. It’s just that shrimp is so… ordinary. Like, it’s so much more common, you know? I was definitely expecting you to say the calamari or something.” Catherine shrugs.

“Eh, I’m a simple woman with simple tastes. I’m sure that a distinguished big shot like yourself prefers calamari, but this is enough for me,” she says, leaning forward to give Jason a playful poke on the shoulder.

“Haha, yep, that’s me. Mr. Moneybags over here.” They both laugh before Jason follows up with, “So, are we getting dessert?” Catherine grins eagerly.

“Oh, hell yeah.”

“That’s what I like to hear.”

Catherine picks up a dessert menu and starts looking through it, before pausing and raising an eyebrow.

“What the hell’s a ‘croquembouche’?” Jason looks equally confused.

“I have never heard that word in my life. But it sounds like something that I don’t know how to spell, which means it’s fancy, which means that, in the spirit of the night, we’re gonna get it.”

“Makes sense to me,” Catherine says with a smile.

“Mew!” agrees Mew Mew.

* * *

With the dinner over, Catherine and Jason are once again in the back of a cab, with Jason sitting on the left, Catherine in the middle, and Mew Mew on the right. Catherine leans on Jason’s shoulder.

“That was really good,” she says.

“Yeah, I couldn’t agree more,” Jason responds, “I can see why people speak so highly of being rich.”

“Oh yeah, I always thought it seemed overrated… boy, was I wrong…” She pauses briefly. “Jason, do you wanna have sex with me?” Jason’s taken aback by that question, widening his eyes and almost choking on a bit of saliva out of surprise.

“Uh… pardon?” Catherine sits up straight and turns to face him.

“Like, was that your goal for the night? Impress me, show me a good time, and then take me to bed?”

“What? N-no! No, of course not! I… I just met you, I’m not really… like that…”

“It’s fine,” she responds, “you don’t have to try and be such a gentleman…” She takes his wrist in her hand and puts his hand on one of her breast, but he hurriedly pulls it away.

“Uh… no, Catherine…”

“Oh…”

“Sorry, but-“

“N-no, it’s fine… it’s fine… I’m sorry…” She resumes leaning on his shoulder. “I guess it’s just what I’ve come to expect when people take me out… not that that’s an excuse… I guess I just have a habit of ruining good things that happen to me…”

“Catherine, you don’t ruin things.”

“Yes I do. I’m the one that brought up the stuff that made you sad tonight… we were having a good time, I think…”

“Hey, I did have a good time,” Jason insists, “besides, I’m always a little sad… at least I finally get to be friends with someone just as messed up as me.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s true.” A couple minutes later, Catherine looks up at him. “Hey, do you wanna see a movie?”

“Hm?”

“You know, dinner and a show, that’s a thing that fancy rich people do, right?” Jason grins.

“I like the way you think, girl.”

And so, the next stop is outside the cinema. Jason, Catherine, and Mew Mew walk inside and look around briefly before getting in line.

“So… do either of you have anything in particular that you wanna see?” Jason asks. Catherine looks around briefly at the movie posters before seeing something she likes and grinning.

“How about Sonic The Hedgehog 2?” she asks. He raises an eyebrow and grins a little.

“You wanna watch… Sonic The Hedgehog 2…?”

“What? Is that not your thing?”

“Uh, no, actually, it’s exactly my thing. I guess I’m just a little surprised that it’s yours,” Jason says, “Have you seen the first one?”

“Of course I have!” she responds, sounding almost offended. “It was so good!” Jason grins full-on now.

“Right? It was!!”

“Nyah…” Mew Mew interjects.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Catherine responds, “It’s gonna be fun.” She sees Jason’s look of confusion and translates before he has to ask what she said. “She says we’re a couple of big dumb nerds.”

“Hey, I’ll have you know that I take ‘nerd’ as a compliment,” Jason informs Mew Mew. The screen on her chest displays a pair of eyes rolling.

“Hey, I think it’s our turn,” Catherine points out. Jason looks ahead and, indeed, they are at the front of the line.

“Ah, right. My bad.” He turns to the lady working at the counter. “Three tickets for Sonic 2, please.” The clerk looks at the two of them that she can see and raises an eyebrow, but nonetheless, prepares three tickets. Jason pays, and into the theatre they go.

He’s having a good time. The movie’s good, maybe even better than the first one.

Mew Mew seems to be enjoying herself. At the very least, she’s smiling. Then again, Jason doesn’t really know how that screen on her chest works, or whether she has to manually make it display things, or if it just automatically makes faces in conjunction with her emotions. Regardless, she’s not complaining, and that’s good.

Catherine’s laugh is really cute. It’s light and giggly and carefree, it makes Jason smile.

When the movie finishes, the three walk out, more than content with their choice, and climb into yet another taxi.

“That was so goooood!” Catherine exclaims.

“It was!!” Jason agrees excitedly, “And that post-credits scene… oh my God!!!”

“Mew…”

“Oh, don’t act like you didn’t enjoy it,” Catherine responds, “I saw you smiling.”

“Nyah…”

“Of course it was childish! It was a children’s movie! You don’t gotta act so mature all the time, you know.”

“Mewww…”

“See? I knew it.” She turns to Jason. “She liked the movie too. Thanks, Jason. This was a fun night.”

“I’m glad you had a fun time,” he responds, smiling at her.

“Hey, so, where are you staying?”

“Oh, uh… I think it’s called… Sugar White?” Catherine smiles.

“Ooooh… fancy place. That’s where the boss put me up,” she says, “how are you liking it?”

“Oh, it’s amazing. The bed is so soft…”

“Like being cradled by angels,” Catherine recounts fondly.

“Exactly! God, it’s so nice… like… I didn’t even know how mankind can achieve that kinda luxury…”

“Trust me, it ruined me for every other bed for, like, three months.”

“Yeah, well, that’s future Jason’s problem.” Mew Mew taps Catherine on the shoulder a couple of times and then whispers something in her ear, a gesture that’s completely unnecessary given the language barrier.

“What? No, Mew Mew, that’s not a good idea…” She says it like she’s trying to be convincing, but she’s giggling a little as she responds.

“What?” Jason asks, “What did she say?”

“Nothing, nothing…”

“No, what? Come on, tell meeeeeee…”

“She said she wants to see your hotel room… you know… for old times’ sake.”

“…Oh.”

“Yeah, like I said, it was a bad id-“

“We could do that.” She looks at him. “You know, if you want. It’s just a visit, right? Just to see the room? Nothing wrong with that…”

“Oh… uh… sure. If you’re okay with it…”

“Yeah, I’m fine with that. After all, I saw where you live…”

“Okay… then… yeah, let’s go…”

They’re both beet-red as they say those last few sentences, but Mew Mew is smiling.

* * *

The elevator opens and Catherine and Jason walk through the hall toward Jason’s room. He opens the door and holds it open for Catherine and Mew Mew.

“Thank you, Jason.”

“Mew!”

“My pleasure.” They walk into his room with Jason close behind, and look around. “So… uh… this is it… it’s my room…” He looks around. It’s largely untouched. “Uh… there’s a bed… and a TV… pretty cool stuff…”

“Nice choice of furniture,” Catherine remarks, gesturing to the sweater and jeans he was wearing earlier that day, thrown haphazardly on the ground.

“Oops, my bad.” He walks over to them and throws them into the closet. “So… yeah… more or less, that’s… uh… it…” He walks over to the bed and sits down. “This is the legendary, mythical bed I mentioned…”

“Ah, yes, I remember you,” Catherine says to it, sitting down next to Jason. Mew Mew leaps up onto it and starts rolling around and making purring noises. “Haha… yeah, I’m with you, Mew Mew… so soft… so wonderful…”

“Yeah…”

Jason looks at Catherine. She looks at him.

He leans closer. So does she. Their eyes close as their lips meet. A few seconds later, they pull apart. Jason smiles a goofy grin before going in for more. After the second time, Catherine speaks.

“Um… so… does this mean that now… you wanna…?”

“Uh…” is the only response Jason can muster, his heart racing. He wasn't lying when he said that he wasn't usually like that… but… there's no harm in two consenting adults doing… that…

“If you don’t want to, then-“

“Uh, no… no, it’s fine… uh… yeah… we can… uh…” At that, Catherine stands up and repositions herself on Jason’s lap, with her body facing his, and kisses him again. She smiles at him, but he just seems kinda wide-eyed.

“Is everything okay, Jason?”

“Uh… yeah… everything’s fine, I just… uh…” He pauses. “So… uh… haha… confession time…” He looks down. “I… uh… may or may not have… uh… never done this before…?”

“Oh.”

“Yeah…”

“Well… I’ll take care of you,” she says, breathing down his neck as she gingerly unbuttons his suit jacket and takes it off, throwing it on the floor. “This is how you start,” she explains, “you get niiiiice and comfy.” She kisses him before pulling back and smiling. “You wanna get under the covers?” Jason, seemingly unable to speak, just nods. So they do. They get in bed. And then they pause. They lock eyes. Finally, Jason speaks.

“So… uh…” He pauses again. “…what’s your favourite vegetable…?” Catherine smiles, and then laughs.

* * *

Cut to a few hours later. Jason and Catherine are asleep in the ridiculously comfortable bed, and Mew Mew is curled up by their feet.

They didn’t have sex, if that’s what you’re wondering. They just ended up talking about random things until they fell asleep. Maybe next time.

But unfortunately, being asleep, they would be completely unaware if something that some might perceive as a threat were to enter the room.

Like, for example, the cream-coloured, seemingly wax-like liquid creeping under the door and forming into a humanoid shape, obscured by the darkness of the room, standing over Jason as he sleeps.

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