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It’s in between spaces, he thinks; it has to be.

Has to be in the gaps between Giorno’s fingers when he lays his hands wide against the papers spread in front of him, tense and too still, a lifetime of silence in the way his shoulders hunch; has to be in the space between his jaw and his ear, the stretch of his neck and whisper-light curve of his collarbone; has to be in the pause between words, sentences, the moment of hesitation before an order. It has to be in the ways that he’s careful.

Giorno tucks his hair behind his ear and drums his fingers against his desk and Mista watches from against the wall with an itch in his throat. Silent, and with careful attention, he listens: one tap, two, then three and four and —

He feels something split in the back of his mouth and gags, tilting forward, hand over his lips, a heavy feeling in his gut. Out of the corner of his eye, Giorno turns his head like a bullet, and Mista yanks his hand away, chest heaving.

There’s a long, white petal in the center of his palm.

Giorno’s eyes are still on him, heavy and concerned. “Mista?” he asks, alarm in the back of his voice, and Mista thinks to himself: there’s a meaning in this.

“Don’t worry, boss,” he says, shoving the petal in his pocket, “It’s nothing.”

On his fourth summer, he wanders away from his older sister and gets lost. Even in the blurry-dim fade of old memory, he remembers the way panic had clutched at his heart and clawed up his throat, left him feeling raw and unfinished and alone. There’s a feeling, there: that this is wrong, that something is wrong. That sometimes things are wrong, and there’s no reason you can pinpoint, but it’s a feeling, a certainty, as solid as the weight of something in his hands, as clear as the feel of words in his mouth. There is a right thing, and there is a wrong thing.

His sister finds him curled tight into a bench, staring down at his feet with a pattern in his head, looping endlessly in his ears like a radio channel he can’t turn off: there is a right thing, and there is a wrong thing. He thinks it even with the feeling of his sister’s hand in his. He thinks it all the way home.

Giorno speaks to Trish with a voice made of glass: crystal clear and sharp edges that could bite if you'd let them, all harsh and pretty and bright. He speaks to her with both hands clutched around his phone like if he let it go for just a second, she’d slip through his fingers, hit the floor, and shatter.

But she never does. “Trish says hi,” Giorno tells Mista, sitting across the room with a whisper of a smile in the back of his voice; that bone-deep heavy tension of authority has poured out onto the floor, not an ounce of it in Giorno’s mouth anymore, and Mista realizes that whatever life they lead, when it comes down to it, he will always love Giorno first.

Something burns in his throat like he’s something to say, curls under his tongue like it lives there, thick and bloody and poisonous. This time, it doesn't hurt so much, petals thin and paper-blue: two of them, damp with spit and curling inwards like dried candy. And Mista realizes it, suddenly — a countdown.

“Are you hungry, Gio?” he asks when the other man hangs up, takes note of the way Gold Experience hovers behind him with blank eyes, silent and loyal as a sentinel. Maybe it’s meant to be a reminder for him, but he doesn't need that; he knows it already. Nothing will ever be as important to Giorno as Giorno.

Giorno barely glances up. “I’ll eat when I’m done,” he says, rustling through some papers on his desk, and it’s back again, that authority. “You should go without me.”

His throat burns; there is nothing wrong in it. “It’s alright,” he answers, easing back into place like there is a cutout in Giorno’s office made just for him. Maybe there is. “I’ll wait.”

On his eighth summer, he shepherds his little sisters home with a hand on each of their shoulders, a smile splitting his mouth as he recounts some deed he’d never done, prideful up to his ears. Their oohs and ahhs and sparkling eyes make him feel bigger than himself, and he keeps that inflated self-image warm in his chest until he opens the front door.

It’s never hard to tell when his parents are fighting. Silence fills space and creeps in where it doesn't belong: in his ears, in the floorboards, in the space between him and his sisters. His father doesn't even look up from his seat in front of the television, and as Mista guides his sisters to their room, he thinks to himself: this is wrong.

Later, he helps his mother with dinner and pretends the onions don’t make his eyes sting and tear up, even though they always do. “Your father and I are fine,” she assures even though he doesn't ask, and Mista wonders if his sisters will complain about the cling of onion smell under his fingernails tomorrow. “The family is fine. We only disagree because we love each other so much.”

So to love is to sacrifice and to be constant and to withstand. Mista finishes with the onion and washes his hands of it.

The one screen left on in the empty gym sits in the corner with the volume turned off. Mista watches Giorno’s mouth move, a planned and scheduled public appearance disguised as coincidence, and feels proud at the fact that he doesn't need the hear his words to know them. Every now and then, the him of a few hours ago appears over Giorno’s shoulder, expression set in mortar and stone even with the glare from the open window obscuring part of his face.

Sheila E takes a long drink of her water, eyes on the news, and says, “Man, you’ve got it bad.” Mista has half the mind to be disappointed at the even tone of her voice despite their sparring session, half to be impressed.

He settles on impressed. “I don’t have anything,” he answers seriously, honestly, watching that honesty reflected back at him through his past self’s face. The ache and energy of a good workout feels right under his skin and he itches to get back into it, but Sheila pauses with her bottle pressed cool and steady to the back of her neck.

“Maybe,” she admits, slow and thoughtful, a consideration. Mista watches his own eyes on the television flicker to the back of Giorno’s head and thinks of flowers and of having and of how nothing will ever be as important to Giorno as Giorno.

The Giorno on the screen turns to face the camera directly, and Mista fights back a shiver at the false sensation of their eyes meeting. The feeling in the back of his throat burns him, but it doesn't give.

On his twelfth summer, a girl on his block likes him so, so much, tells him in his front yard, standing over him while he fiddles with the sprinkler, the sun heavy on his back. Mista watches the way her face flushes, the way the summer flowers bloom around her feet, and feels something in his heart sink.

“Was it something I did wrong?” he asks his mother later, a sting in his cheek and an uncertainty in his head. For the first time in a long time, he feels his values wavering.

Against his sore face, the ice pack in his mother’s hand wavers. “No, baby,” she assures, “It’s not your fault for not liking someone back.” Her eyes are dark and worried, but there’s warmth in her voice when she adds, “You could learn some tact before you go breaking girls’ hearts, though.”

Mista sits and thinks about broken hearts and summer flowers. “Was it something she did wrong?” he wonders aloud.

His mother hesitates. “No,” she says, “Her reaction was wrong, but there is nothing wrong in loving. It is only that she liked you too much.”

Mista coughs up three wide blooms of purple and pale red. Giorno, half asleep at his desk, doesn't notice at all. Hands on Giorno’s shoulders, Gold Experience stares at Mista with blank eyes.

On his sixteenth summer, his older sister moves out, leaves him standing shock-still in the open doorway to their house with their parents and sisters at his back. She leaves with a bag in one hand and their mother’s favorite rosary in the other, and Mista has the distinct feeling that he will never see her again.

In mass that Sunday, he sits next to his mother in the pew and they teach it to him again: that to love is to sacrifice and to be constant and to withstand. He moves his lips to the Apostles’ Creed and picks at the skin around his nails and thinks about right things and wrong things.

When the fourth petal comes, he feels ready, coughs hunched over with the sharp tang of iron in his throat, tells himself that it barely even hurts this time. Giorno turns his head up to watch him again, caution in his eyes, and Mista feels the certainty in his gut before he even straightens out to look, hand halfway to his pocket before his eyes catch a glimpse of green. With a frown, he turns discreetly away from Giorno and opens his hand.

In the center of his palm, small and dainty and flecked in blood, is a four-leafed clover.

He feels his brain crash down around his ears in a mass of flesh and framework as he works through processing this. The end of a countdown is a spell for disaster, and he knew it was leading to this, but this isn't disaster except in the ways that it is; Giorno calls out “Mista?” with a wobble at the end, but Mista can’t even stop to acknowledge it. He stares down at the clover and feels the disconnect, message sent but not received, listens intently for the righteous and the answer, but it gets drowned out in the anxious tap of Giorno’s pen on his desk: one tap, two, then three and four and —

“Mista,” Giorno says, more strangled and insistent, and Mista thinks, this isn't right. There is a right and a wrong thing; this isn't right, so it must be wrong. This isn't how it was supposed to go; there isn't a pattern for this; he doesn't know where he’s meant to put this.

But Giorno has always existed in between the spaces.

Giorno’s voice shakes around the edges, “I’m sorry,” hands reaching out, and it is at this point that Mista realizes he is in front of him. The other man has this wide-eyed look of horror on his face, pale and unsure, chest barely moving, like he isn't breathing at all. Mista thinks, first, that he seems so small like this; second, that he’s never seen him like this before. Third, that he will withstand this, too.

But Giorno breaks that apart, eyes shutting, breath hissed in tight between his teeth, opens his eyes again full of fire and desperation and such palpable fear that it washes out the taste of blood on Mista’s tongue. Giorno reaches out a hand to hover over Mista’s chest, directly over his heart, and whispers, again, “I’m sorry,” and then, “You weren't supposed to know.”

The ache of his confusion feels right under his skin, and his brain kicks back on in a flutter of circuits, spinning slowly, slowly, slowly. Behind the desk, as silent as a sentinel, Gold Experience stares at Mista with blank eyes.

Realization hits him like a punch in the gut. “I wasn't supposed to know what?” Mista asks, lungs empty, and he’s never felt so unsure on his feet, in his ideals; there is a right and a wrong and this isn't right, couldn't be right — but Giorno’s eyes are wide and his hand is small.

“You weren't supposed to know,” he says again, gaze flickering desperately between each of Mista’s eyes, like one could see him more clearly than the other. “Gold Experience — I didn't realize — I thought I had this, and I apologize for my lack of self-control; I never meant for this to happen, and you are under no obligation, and if you wish to leave, I — ”

It’s a slow come-down to the space in between, but when he gets there, he sees it. In this life, Giorno’d loved him first.

His compass turns back on; with rightness in his bones, he places a hand over Giorno’s and guides it to rest over his heart. Giorno’s breath hitches, and Mista pauses but doesn't hesitate, leans his forehead to rest against Giorno’s.

“It’s okay,” he says first, because it is, and because Giorno needs to hear it, and when some of the tension bleeds out of Giorno and his eyes flutter closed, Mista risks a glance back toward his desk to find that Gold Experience is gone. Slowly, he tilts his head to press a kiss to Giorno’s forehead, pauses with his mouth on the other man’s skin when he tenses up at the touch.

“I don’t know anything about this,” Giorno confesses, words even but too quiet, coming a second too slow. The clover burns in Mista’s palm.

“I know,” he answers, surprised by the raw edge to his own voice, and then, “That’s okay. I’ll wait for you.”

Giorno is golden in the afternoon light, slides his hand to Mista’s shoulder and leans up toward him on his toes. “You don’t have to,” he promises, shaky touches and quiet certainties, and Mista remembers that Giorno has been waiting for him, too.

Mista lifts his hand and tucks the clover behind Giorno’s ear; a trace of blood smudges on his cheekbone. “Alright,” he agrees easily, and feels a weight lift from his shoulders or his throat or his heart at the way Giorno’s expression opens and his eyes close like a dream or an invitation.

His hands find Giorno’s waist; his lips brush against his. Illuminated by the open window, they fall into each other.