Hernando’s heart stops.
Lito’s on the floor, his head covered in blood, and just for a moment Hernando feels his entire world end.
But Lito is conscious, and even as Hernando is yelling for Dani to call for help, Lito is talking, Lito is saying he’s okay, telling him not to call an ambulance.
Lito, for whom a torn fingernail is guaranteed two hours of anguish.
Hernando doesn’t know whether to be reassured or even more terrified.
Dani is there now. She helps Hernando get Lito to his feet and together they stagger over to the bed and get him sitting down. Lito is talking nonsense about going to London of all places.
London! Lito has never so much as mentioned wanting to visit the UK.
Hernando takes a deep breath. Now is not the time to panic. It is probably just a bit of concussion, not brain damage or anything.
While Hernando definitely wasn’t panicking, Dani has gone and got a damp cloth and is gently cleaning the wound on Lito’s forehead. Hernando gets the first aid box from the bathroom cupboard and gently places an adhesive bandage over the wound, relieved to see that it is actually quite a small cut now that the blood has been wiped away. He’d heard head wounds bled a lot.
“We can’t just up and go to London, Lito,” Dani is saying, in a tone that suggests she’s pointed this out several times already. “We have to finish packing and getting organised to go to LA. You’re shooting a movie, remember?”
“No, I have to go to London. A friend of mine is in trouble – I have to help them.”
“What friend? Lito, what are you talking about?”
“I didn’t know you knew anyone in London.” Hernando racks his brains, but can’t think of any friends of Lito’s who live in Europe. “Who is this person for whom you would jeopardise your dream of starring in a Hollywood movie?”
“He?” Hernando regrets the edge in his voice immediately. He’s never had reason to doubt Lito’s love, his fidelity.
“It’s not like that.” Lito looks up at Hernando, catches at his hand. “Wolfgang is like a brother to me.”
“I know it's not.” Hernando clasps his hand. “But I’m coming too.”
Dani clears her throat pointedly. “We’re coming.”
Lito's eyes turn to Dani. “No, I cannot allow it. It’s too dangerous.”
Dani’s eyes widen. “It’s dangerous?”
“Lito, I am coming with you, and that is that,” Hernando says firmly.
Lito's shoulders slump, his hands falling to his lap. “Okay, if you insist. But you must promise to do as I say, I do not want to put you in danger too.”
Hernando looks at Dani and she gives him a tiny nod over the top of Lito’s head. They’ll do whatever they need to. “We agree,” Dani says, still holding Hernando’s eyes.
“What about plane tickets?” Hernando asks. “Don’t we need visas?”
“It has all been arranged. Everything we need will be waiting for us at the airport.”
“Even for Dani and me? Lito, this is a fantasy. I think we should have a doctor check you for a brain injury. I am worried about you.”
Lito holds out a hand to each of them. Hernando takes one and Dani the other. He clasps their hands against his chest. “My darlings, I understand that this sounds mad to you. My life has been pretty crazy lately, and I’m not talking about my career. I should have told you what is going on with me sooner, and I will, when we are on the plane. Our boarding passes have just been sent to my phone.”
Lito pauses and his phone pings its ‘message received’ tone. He opens the app and there they are, just as he said, boarding passes for all of them, for a flight leaving in less than three hours.
Lito can be overwhelming on occasion, sweeping Hernando up in one of his enthusiasms. But Hernando has never seen him like this. Determined. Deadly serious.
They’re doing this. Misgivings already crowding his mind, Hernando gets up to find their passports.
On the plane, once the handful of other passengers in business class are asleep or watching the screens in front of them, headphones in their ears, Lito tells them a crazy story of soulmates, conspiracies, secret organisations, and mind-controlled zombies that has Dani staring at Hernando in horror and has Hernando wondering frantically how soon he can get Lito to a doctor in London.
Lito reminds them of times recently when he hasn’t exactly been himself: the Korean crying lady, his newfound expert fighting skills. “Come on,” he whispers, sounding amused. “You don’t really believe I learned to disarm alarm systems for a movie, do you?”
By the time they land at Heathrow, after a mostly unsuccessful attempt on all their parts to get some sleep ahead of the next day, Dani’s convinced and seems to be vacillating between wonder and fear. Hernando feels guilty because he doesn’t want to believe Lito. He’d rather Lito was suffering from a brain injury than for there to exist a terrifying shadowy organisation hell-bent on turning his lover into an actual zombie.
At least with a physical cause, Lito could get better, Hernando could look after him. They would still have a life together. But if everything Lito has told them is real, he could lose him. His lover could die. Hernando could bear to live without Lito as long as Lito is alive—he’s done it before. He’s not entirely sure he could bear to live in a world without his Lito in it at all.
They get through customs easily enough. They only have a few necessities packed in carry-ons, so they make their way quickly through the crowd. Lito seems to know exactly where he’s going. Dani has to half jog to keep up with his long strides. Once, he stops and his eyes unfocus for a moment, and then he pivots and sets off in another direction. Hernando’s stomach drops as he realises just how often he’s seen that look in the last few months and not thought anything of it.
Outside, the air is chilly enough that Dani shivers and reaches into her bag for a sweater. Lito stops. His head turns and Hernando follows his gaze to see a grey van approaching. It stops in front of them, and before Lito even steps forward the side door is opening and there’s a woman with white and blue hair leaping out and throwing her arms around him. Lito’s lifting her off her feet and swinging her around and they are laughing and crying and then a handsome all-American-looking man climbs out and puts his arms around them both. They stand there silently for long enough that the driver, an African man, leans out of the window. “Lito, it is very good to see you,” he says in English, “and your friends, but we cannot stop here.”
The three of them step apart and the American nods. “The last thing we need is to attract attention.”
Inside the van, an Asian woman and an Indian woman are leaning heavily against each other. They both look exhausted. Next to them, a blonde woman is tapping away on a laptop, a black woman with colourful dreads watching the screen intently over her shoulder. The blonde woman looks up briefly and smiles a greeting. Hernando watches her eyes soften as she looks at Lito, but she glances down again immediately, absorbed in her work. Lito takes the seat opposite the other two woman and Hernando sits beside him. He watches as Lito reaches out and clasps each of their hands, just like he had with Hernando and Dani, God, not quite 15 hours ago.
Hernando knows them all, from Lito’s descriptions; he knows their personalities, their likes, their dislikes… their loves. Capheus and Kala and Sun and Riley and Nomi and Will.
Capheus weaves them quickly and expertly through London traffic. They all sit silently at first, staring at each other. Hernando wonders if Lito’s soulmates, his ‘cluster’ as he calls them, are having one of their silent conversations, wonders what they are talking about. To Hernando it is obvious that Lito is torn between elation to see them and worry for his kidnapped friend, and he knows it’s petty of him, but he’s jealous at the thought that these other people know his lover as well as he does—maybe even more intimately than he does.
The blue-haired woman smiles at Hernando and Dani. “Hello, I’m Riley. Lito told us he tried to talk you out of coming but that you insisted.”
“That’s right,” Dani says.
“We are very glad that Lito has people who love him so much,” Riley says, and Hernando finds himself bridling at the implication that these new people are Lito’s family and Hernando and Dani are the... outsiders.
Then Lito takes his hand and smiles at him, the smile he only ever gives Hernando, the one full of wonder and disbelief and joy. As if he can’t believe that Hernando is his, that Hernando loves him. And he remembers Lito’s desperation when Hernando left him, he remembers that Lito gave up his career—his dream—to be with him. Lito’s endured scorn and disgust and humiliation and he’s come through, he’s come out, and they are stronger than ever together.
These people, these strangers, were there for Lito when he couldn’t be, and they helped Lito find his way back to Hernando. They’re Lito’s family too. His jealousy of them drains away as if it had never been, and he finds he’s grateful to them. Now they need Lito.
They are all solemn again, worried. The hacker, Nomi, is talking about entry and exit points and security systems and the others are all listening intently, even Lito. Lito looks worried. Hernando squeezes his hand gently, not to distract him, just a gentle reminder of his presence, a reassurance. Lito returns the gesture, still intent on the discussion.
Hernando’s not sure what help he can be, or Dani for that matter. But when he glances over at Dani to give her a reassuring smile, and sees the way she returns his smile, nervous and so brave, their Dani, he knows that whatever assistance they can provide, Lito’s family can count on them.