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John Candotti is returned home by the Vatican just as the nights are drawing in, shadows of winter falling over that Mediterranean city in a way a Midwestern boy can't quite understand, and soon after that a giant lake-effect weather system or whatever they call it straightens up and yawns and dumps twelve feet of snow all over Chicago. The aircraft circles O'Hare with care, wings tipping and straightening in clean angles. John touches the glass with reverence, then Emilio's shoulder. "Look," he says.

Emilio follows his gaze through the porthole window at the city below, softened with snow in the golden hour. He says nothing, but he looks at the beautiful view all the way down, even as they hit the ground with a thump and the city's horizons disappear.

"John!" his mother says, after they've fought his way through the drifts and the snowploughs and what passes for Chicagoan tact and decorum and walked into his family's home to find the front door left open and three cousins perilously slinging strings of lights around the stairwell bannisters. More than one person on their way here has recognised the man with him from the newscasts, his hands covered and eyes shadowed, and reached out, hands open in instinctive recognition - and then let them pass. "You're home in time!"

Christmas was four days ago. John's kid brother decided to get married between Christmas and New Year because, "Ma, I don't want a fuss, we don't want a fuss, just forget about it, okay?" - and now there are four people at least to every bed and five more on the living room couches and all the kids clamouring to camp out in the yard and Uncle Gabriel in the bathtub.

"He put pillows in it first," advises Lucian, John's prospective brother-in-law, who seems unfazed by what he's about to marry into. "So it's really quite comfortable. Just kinda rough if you get up in the middle of night and have to pee."

Emilio laughs, and John, who's looking out the kitchen window at the kids trying to put a tent up beneath the old sycamore, stops stock still, his hands on the glass, something tight beneath his ribs at the sound.

"Aren't you going to introduce me to your friend?" asks his mother, and it's only then that John turns around to look, at the smile not quite dropping away from Emilio's face, and a sudden shadow on Lucian's. He's an educated man, John knows, from his brother's letters; Lucian knows who this is, standing in his in-laws' kitchen the night before his wedding, with his hands gloved and something unspeakable hidden in them.

"Hi, Ma," John says. "This is Emilio Sandoz."

"Welcome, Emilio," she says. "It's wonderful that you could make it. Let me introduce you to people."

"Thank you," he says, his eyes on John, "for your hospitality" - and John has that tightness under his ribs again, so he has to look back out at the children playing, throwing old sycamore keys in the air and spinning in echo of their fall.

Later, out in the yard, when the porch lights are scattering over the untouched snow and the kids are lighting sparklers, drawing their names in the sky, John's mother catches his elbow and says, "John..."

John is watching Emilio with the children, who have learned, somehow, that he speaks a number of Earth languages, and want him to teach them the cuss words. "What's wrong with buenos dias?" Lucian asks, with resignation; John remembers he's a language teacher, like John's brother.

"Ma," he says, firm, "I know what you might have - what you might have heard about him. He's my friend, and he needs a friend. That's why I brought him here."

His mother looks at him in surprise. "John, of course you had to bring him here. I just thought..." She pauses, and when she speaks again it's with a familiar wistfulness. "I thought you might say you were leaving the priesthood," she says, "and meet someone, and settle down..."

"I'm sorry," he says, and puts an arm around her shoulders.

"Buenos dias," Lucian says again. "And then, after dark: buenas noches."

"Buenas noches," Emilio repeats, correcting one of the children's pronunciation. "Buenas noches. That's right." He rises to his feet out of the drifts. "Buenas noches nos dé Dios," he adds, to John, crossing the yard leaving unevenly-spaced footprints, and John has to look away from him, and catch his breath, and tell himself it is the sparkler light, reflected by the snow, that blurs his eyes.

They go in when it's too late to stay out any longer; there's a wedding in the morning, and a long line for the bathroom.