By now, Amanita was so used to the way Nomi would sometimes shift her attention to an empty corner of the room that she barely looked up from her book. “Who’s there?” she asked.
“It’s Lito,” Nomi answered. “Hi, Lito. Is everything ok?”
She blinked, and when she opened her eyes again she wasn’t reading in bed next to Amanita but standing on Lito’s balcony in Mexico City. He was pacing, the bathrobe thrown on over his pajamas fluttering around his knees.
“I have a favor to ask,” he said.
“I, ah… I wondered if I could talk to Amanita.”
Another blink, and Nomi was back in Amanita’s room. “He wants to talk to you,” she told her.
That was enough to make Amanita set down her book. “Lito does?”
“He didn’t say.” Nomi shrugged. She glanced over at Lito, who’d stopped his pacing to stand anxiously watching them at the foot of the bed, but he didn’t elaborate.
“Um, sure. Do you just…?”
“Yeah.” Nomi said. She tilted her head - an odd little ‘Come on in!’ gesture - and all at once her expression changed. Her eyes widened, and a worried crease appeared between her eyebrows. “Hi. Sorry to bother you like this.”
The voice was still Nomi’s, but the words clearly weren’t. Amanita stared. “It’s fine. Nice to, um, see you.”
Nomi - Lito - gave a flashing grin before settling back into anxiousness. “It’s nice to see you too. I wondered if I could ask you something.”
Nomi pushed the covers off her lap, stood up, and resumed Lito’s pacing. “When Nomi told you about us, about the people in her head. Did you ever just think she might be crazy?”
“I won’t pretend it never crossed my mind,” Amanita said. “But there was so much other crazy stuff going on - that creepy doctor at the hospital, our apartment getting trashed. Something weird was obviously going down. And I trust Nomi.”
Nomi - actually Nomi, Amanita thought - gave her a warm smile between strides of Lito’s pacing.
“Are you thinking of telling Hernando?” Amanita asked.
Nomi sighed enormously and sat on the edge of the bed. “I want to,” Lito said. “He suspects something, I think. Maybe he thinks it’s just stress, I don’t know.”
Amanita nodded. She was already scrambling out from under the covers. She made her way to a stack of library books on the desk, turning between scanning titles and watching Nomi. “Tell me about Hernando. How does he deal with weirdness?”
“Hernando is very…” Lito gestured, broad sweeps that didn’t match Nomi’s usual close, emphatic movements. “Practical. Analytical. He focuses on what makes sense, what he can control.”
“Mm, so not the horoscopes and Ghost Hunters type,” Amanita nodded. “Might have some problems with the psychic thing.”
“It’s not that he’s not intuitive,” Lito stumbled a bit in his rush to speak. “You give him a novel, or a film script, or even a person and he’ll tell you everything about their fears, their desires - but he has to have evidence, you know? It has to be based on something.”
Amanita had moved on from the books, nearly throwing herself into the desk chair and booting up her laptop. “So we’ve been doing a lot of research,” she said. Her foot was twitching impatiently as she waited for the web browser to load. “There’s this one anthropologist who thinks that there have always been people like you guys, the way Neandertals and homo sapiens used to coexist. He’s a little…” She gestured.
“Fringe,” Nomi supplied. “But he’s the kind of fringe that gets tenure at a major research university, so not that fringe.”
“Exactly.” Amanita had turned back to the laptop, and was busily opening a few dozen tabs of bookmarked websites. Lito came behind her desk chair to watch the articles fly open, jumping from one to another so fast that he barely had time to scan titles about “Homo sensorium”.
“So what I’m thinking is,” Amanita continued, spinning around in her chair to meet Lito’s eyes. “You fill him in, and then when he wants to know more have him check his email. I can have his inbox full of articles as soon as you tell me to hit send.”
Lito’s frown, Amanita noticed, was different from Nomi’s, with deep creases between the eyebrows and a cartoonishly downturned mouth. She’d seen him make the same face in the movie they’d seen with Bug.
“What if he thinks I’ve gone crazy, and just found this online to support my delusions?” Lito’s voice was racing. “What if…”
“Hey.” It was profoundly weird, hearing Nomi interrupt herself, seeing Lito’s anxious movements settle for just a moment while Nomi broke in. She - he? - sat back down on the edge of the bed. “Slow down, Lito.”
Amanita couldn’t take her eyes off Nomi’s face, watching their competing expressions play out on the same features. She wondered what this looked like to Nomi, and thought she might be able to picture it - perhaps Nomi saw her hand on Lito’s shoulder, or his knee. She knew that tone well enough to know the gestures that went with it.
She was so taken in that it took her a moment to realize that Nomi - actually Nomi - was shooting her a look, and another second to realize what it meant. She stood up from the desk and joined Lito on the foot of the bed, hoping that it wasn’t the side a psychic projection was sitting on. She reached over and took his hands.
“The articles are a safety net. He’ll believe you because he loves you, Lito,” she said. It felt bizarre and even a bit silly to meet Nomi’s eyes - like she was playing the part of a gay Mexican action movie star, rather than actually being one. But she trusted that this was real.
Nomi didn’t cry easily, but Amanita had a feeling that Lito might: Nomi’s eyes were watering.
“He’ll have questions, because lord knows we all do. Nomi and I can help with that, at least what we’ve been able to piece together. And it might take some getting used to. But you guys love each other, and you can figure all the rest of it out from there.”
“And if all else fails, you can just start speaking Swahili or cracking safes,” Nomi cut in.
Lito laughed, and rubbed his eye with the heel of his hand. “Thank you. Both of you.”
“You’re welcome,” Amanita said. “Let us know how it goes, ok?”
Lito nodded. “I will,” he said - and then Nomi’s expression shifted, almost imperceptibly, and Amanita was suddenly sure that she was sitting next to her partner, not Lito Rodriguez. She bit her lip, then tested the theory by leaning in for a kiss. She knew she was right when she felt how Nomi kissed back.
“He’s gone, then?” she checked when they stopped.
Nomi nodded. “He’s gone. Thank you, for that. I think hearing from you really helped.”
“It was really weird. Seeing you be him. And be you,” Amanita said.
“Not too weird, I hope?” Nomi was frowning, and it was entirely her frown this time.
Amanita leaned in to kiss her again. “Never too weird,” she promised, and the two of them crawled back into bed, the books they’d been reading altogether forgotten.
Lito was shaving and rehearsing what he’d say to Hernando in his head when the pain ripped through him.
It was lighting, it was a firestorm, it was an earthquake; it defied metaphor. And then he was gasping on the bathroom floor, and he didn’t know how much time has passed, but Dani was calling an ambulance and he knew he couldn’t let her.
“No - no,” he coughed, pushing himself up on his elbows. “No ambulance. I need to go to London.”
“What are you talking about?” Hernando demanded, putting a steadying hand on Lito’s back. “You’re sick, you… you hit your head, maybe. What happened?”
Lito forced himself to sit up. The pain had vanished as immediate as it’d arrived, but his head was still swimming. The edges of the room blurred when he moved. “There’s no time to explain,” he said. “I have to get to London.”
“Lito, you’re not making sense,” Dani said gently.
Anger and terror clawed up inside Lito as he pushed himself up to his feet. The only thing that stopped them from exploding out was that he was still confused; all he understood was that Wolfgang was in trouble and needed help. He put his hand on the sink to steady himself.
Even without visiting, he could imagine or maybe sense that everyone else was doing exactly what he was, trying to find what to do. He could hear Nomi’s rapid cadence when she was talking through a plan. Will’s clipped insight, Sun’s cool reasoning. He closed his eyes, took a breath.
He needed Hernando and Dani.
“I will explain everything,” he said. “I just need you to trust me. Please.”
They settled in the living room, Hernando and Dani on the couch, Lito pacing. He kept picking up and putting down the glass of water Hernando had insisted on fetching him.
“What I am about to say will sound crazy,” he said.
He’d rehearsed and rehearsed this, but the script had flown out of his head. “About two years ago,” he began, “I… discovered that I had a connection to seven other people, all around the world. We can talk to each other, we share each other’s skills. One of us is very good at picking locks.”
Dani was staring. Hernando’s draw had dropped, but as Lito watched he recovered himself, lips pursing and eyebrows drawing together in intense concern.
“Lito, what are you talking about?” Hernando asked carefully, like Lito might spook or collapse again. Before Lito could try to explain, Dani interrupted.
“Is one of the people you’re connected with German?” she asked.
Lito and Hernando turned in unison to look at her, eyes wide. “Yes,” Lito said finally. “His name is Wolfgang. How did you know?”
“A while ago I heard you talking to yourself in a language I didn’t recognize,” Dani said, “So I put a few words in Google Translate. I thought it must be for an audition or something, but you never mentioned it.”
Lito almost laughed, but Hernando was putting his head in his hands.
“Lito, I…” He looked up at Lito, wringing his hands together. “I still think you should see a doctor. It looked like you were having some kind of seizure, and you’ve been under so much stress…”
Lito felt fear rising again, watching Hernando’s worry play across his face. He squeezed his eyes shut, and opened them next to Nomi, who was filling a suitcase at the houseboat.
“Kinda busy here, Lito,” she said, but then softened and looked up. “Are you okay?”
“I’m telling Hernando, but he doesn’t believe me,” Lito said, panic edging his voice. “Please help.”
Nomi nodded. “What’s his phone number?”
Lito was aware as he spoke of Hernando staring at him from the couch. As he left Nomi, Hernando’s phone started to buzz in his pocket.
“Answer it, Hernando,” Lito begged.
Hernando took his phone out of his pocket, eyebrow furrowed. “It’s an American number,” he said.
He answered, and in a blink Nomi was standing beside Lito, phone to her ear, meeting Hernando’s eyes, though of course he didn’t know. “Hi, Hernando,” Nomi said. “I’m Nomi. I’m one of the people Lito’s connected to. It’s nice to meet you.”
Dani looked between Lito and Hernando. “What’s going on?” she demanded.
“She says she’s one of the people in Lito’s head. She’s American,” Hernando repeated. He looked dumbstruck.
“She’s a good friend,” Lito said, because he didn’t know what else to say. Nomi looked over at him and smiled.
“I know this is a lot to take in,” she said, turning back to Hernando. “Lito is what’s called a sensate. There are hundreds of us, maybe thousands. My girlfriend can put together some articles for you to read, but right now one of our cluster needs our help.”
“She says someone needs help,” Hernando repeated, looking up at Lito.
Lito nodded. “Wolfgang. The German,” he added, to Dani. “That’s why I fell down, in the bathroom. Wolfgang’s been kidnapped, and someone is hurting him terribly. All of us feel it.”
“Then we have to go help him.” Dani’s reply was so instant and so certain that Lito and Hernando both turned to look at her for a second time.
“He’s in London, right?” Dani continued. “Is everyone in your group going? Do you have a plan?”
“I’ll see you soon,” Nomi said, putting a hand on Lito’s shoulder, and was gone. Lito’s eyes were welling, watching Hernando, who was staring at his hands.
Lito knelt in front of Hernando, taking both of his hands. “I’m sorry for not telling you sooner,” he said. “I did not know how to say it. Please believe me.”
“I believe you,” Hernando said, and relief crested through Lito’s body like a wave. “I just... don’t know how I could have not seen this. I knew you were acting strangely, but our lives have been so unsettled, I just thought…” He trailed off. Lito was already shaking his head.
“You couldn’t have know,” Lito said. He laughed. “How could you? It’s crazy. But these people are my family too.”
Hernando nodded. “Then Dani’s right. We have to help them.” He let go of one of Lito’s hands to take Dani’s, and Lito did the same. “I’ll start looking for plane tickets.”
But none of them moved right away; they stayed, hands clasped, and Lito felt like he could breathe for the first time since the pain had hit him.
“Thank you, family.”