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After the Fall

Chapter Text

“Hello!” Carlos practically yelled into the phone when someone finally picked up.  “I need to talk to Carlota.”

“If you’d like to talk to someone here, you can ask politely,” Dona Lola said.

“It’s Carlos Cifuentes, I need to speak to her.”

“Oh, Mr. Cifuentes!  I’m sorry.  Is it something about work?”

“No, it’s Lidia.”

Carlos was near tears.  He had thought in the past few months that he felt the most alone he possible could, but since he left that Francisco in that bar, he felt even more so.  And then, when he saw Lidia….

He couldn’t call Francisco.  He didn’t even know where he was.  He knew he could try the bar or the train station, or even Francisco’s apartment, but he wasn’t ready to call his old friend and not get an answer.  He also, if he was honest, didn’t want to tell Francisco about it.  He knew how much Francisco loved Lidia – Carlos loved her as much.  He knew it was maybe selfish, but Francisco was done with all this.  He wanted out, and Carlos didn’t want to have to tell him this, to have to bring him back in at the worst possible moment.

“What?  What happened to Lidia?”

“She’s in the hospital, she fell,” he said, managing to say the least because when he ran through it again in his head, when he put words to what happened, it made him lose his breath.

“What?  Where?  How?  What hospital?”

“I’m with her, I’m taking care of her,” Carlos said, voice cracking in the slightest.  “Is Angeles there?  Or Marga?”  He didn’t know anything about Lidia’s family, but he felt like someone else who cared about her should know.

“No,” Lola said.  “Where is she?  I’ll come-.”

“No,” Carlos said.  “I’ll call back later, see if they’re home then.  Thank you.”

“Wait-.”

Carlos hung up before he could hear Dona Lola say more.  He didn’t want to hear it.

He leaned forward, his head against the wall, collecting himself.  He was on the verge of breaking down and he didn’t want to feel it.  He was fighting so hard against feeling it.

He grabbed the phone quickly, wanting to do something, wanting to keep busy to keep that feeling away.  He dialed a familiar number.

“Ubalda?  It’s Carlos.  Put Elisa on, please.”

“Carlos?  What, do you want to yell at me again-?”

“Elisa?  I need you.”

Elisa heard her brother’s voice crack.  It reminded her of when they were young, when their father would scream at him and he’d go to her room and have her comfort him. 

It reminded Carlos, too, of that time.  A time before their father died, before Carlos realized how much of a monster his mother was, before either of them met Francisco, before they decided Elisa was sick and needed to be sent away.

“Where are you?” Elisa asked.

-LCDC-

“What the hell did you do?!” Carlos screamed, stomping toward his mother.  Lidia had been rushed into surgery, he had stood in the doorway to the operating room for what felt like ages until finally, a nurse pulled him away.  He snapped out of something, and felt a switch flip inside himself.  He wasn’t going to cry about Lidia, he wasn’t going to be numb, but he wasn’t going to feel that pain he wanted to avoid.

He was going to find his mother, and he truly had no idea what would come next.

“I solved a problem, querido.”

“A problem?  She could die!”

“It’s a more permanent solution than I had in mind, yes.”

“You don’t care?”  He didn’t give her a chance to answer, he could see it on her face.  “You don’t care.  How could you?  You were going to do this to her?  To take her child?  My child?!”

“She signed an agreement.”

“You manipulated her!”

 “Believe it or not, son, I was helping you.  Look how easily she was going to leave you.”  She nodded toward a henchman and he handed her the form Lidia signed, which she then handed to Carlos.

“No,” Carlos said, looking at the paper and seeing it and understanding what it was.  But, still.  He saw Lidia on that damn table, he knew she didn’t want it.  He knew her mother forced her, somehow.  “No.  If she was going to leave, she would’ve done it after we found out about her, all those months ago.  It doesn’t make sense for her to leave now.”

“She signed the papers, she took the money.”

“You forced her here!” Carlos yelled.  He saw the men reach for their guns again, but he didn’t care.  He didn’t care at all.  “They were going to strap her down that table and take our child from her!”

“You’ll have other kids, Carlos,” Dona Carmen said.  “And other women.  This isn’t how your life is supposed to be.  You’re a Cifuentes.  You don’t knock up phone operators.”

“Why not?  Dad did.”

He half expected her to slap him, but she didn’t.

“You were making a mistake.”

“I hate you,” he said, shaking his head.  He remembered saying that to his father, but this was different.  He wasn’t yelling now, he was saying it like he was stating any other fact.  He didn’t know he hated her until he said it, but once he did, he wasn’t sure he’d ever stop hating her.  “I always thought you knew what was good for the company, and for the family, but I was wrong.  You don’t.  You’re a monster.”

“And you’re weak.  You’ll be the downfall of the family.”

“At least I won’t be betraying my children.”  He was looking at her, hoping desperately to see something break or crack.  He wanted any of this to get to her, but as usual, his hurt, his anger, his devastation meant nothing to her.  “You don’t have the company.  Elisa turned on you.  I’ll never trust you again.  I don’t want to see you again.  You have nothing.  You are nothing.”

She slapped him then, and he didn’t even blink.

“I built that company with your father, and you lost it!  You and that girl!”

Carlos felt his heart pounding, he could hear it in his ears.  He took a step back.  He punched the wall. 

“Don’t come near me,” he said.  “Ever again.  I don’t want to see you.”

“I’ll have the doctors stop surgery right now,” Dona Carmen said.  “Don’t test me, Carlos.”

“I’ll block the door myself,” Carlos said.  “You won’t hurt her again, I swear.  Or me.”

A beat passed.  Her usual stoic expression had returned, like she knew everything.  “I’ll be at home when you get over this silly fancy.”

He watched her leave, and when she was out the doors, he started hyperventilating.  He’d never felt so alone.

-LCDC-

He had cried so much he literally couldn’t anymore.  His eyes were dry, his mouth was dry, he was exhausted.  He had a headache.  Elisa made sure he had water, she even tried to get him to eat a bit, but he couldn’t bring himself to.

He sat there on a bench, leaning his head on his older sister’s shoulder, feeling her brush through his hair with her hand and not saying anything.  He’d explained a bit over the phone, and had planned on saying more when she arrived but instead the second he saw his sister, he collapsed into sobs in her arms.

“Thank you for coming,” he said.

Elisa looked down at him, like she was surprised he spoke.

“Of course.”

“No, not of course,” he said.  “I wouldn’t have blamed you if you didn’t come.”

“Carlos, you’re my brother.”

“I’m sorry,” he said.  “Really, for everything.  I won’t let them institutionalize you again, I won’t let Mom get in your way at the company.  I’ll get out of the way of the annulment.  I’ll make sure it goes through.  I’m sorry.”

“Thank you,” Elisa said.

“How did you do it?  Mom and Dad making every decision for you.”

“You think that isn’t how your life’s been?”

Carlos couldn’t help but chuckle a bit.  “Yeah, I guess you’re right.  They did always end up getting their way.”

“Maybe not always,” Elisa said.

Carlos exhaled deeply, trying not to cry.  “I’ve been fighting with everyone I know for six months,” he said.  “I’m so tired.”

“I don’t want to fight with you, either.”

“I am sorry.”

“I know, Carlos.”

So much had changed in a few hours.  Earlier that day, he had been yelling at Elisa and slamming on tables, declaring his allegiance to their mother over her.  And now, he saw that she was right all along.  He had picked the wrong side, but he wasn’t on that side anymore.  His whole world was shaken, but he was glad at least to have his sister again.

-LCDC-

“Hello?”

“Dona Lola?”

“No, it’s Marga.  Do you need her-?”

“No!  No, Marga, it’s Carlos.”

“Carlos?  Carlos Cifuentes?”

“Yes.”

“Lidia’s not here.”

“I know,” Carlos said.  “Listen, there’s been an accident.  I’m with her, she fell, she’s in surgery now.”

“Oh my god.”

“Can you come here?  I need someone to stay with her, I need to get some things in order.  As soon as she’s able, she’s moving to another hospital.”

“What?  Why?”

Carlos was pretty sure Lidia’s friends knew about the baby, since they seemed to know things about her before he did, but he wasn’t about to get into the whole thing.

“It’s just for the best.  Marga, can you come here?”

“Yes, of course.”

-LCDC-

Marga tried to call Angeles, but she didn’t answer.  She called Carlota, and Sara answered.

“Carlota?”

“No, it’s Sara.  Marga?”

“Where’s Carlota?”

Marga heard Sara’s breath catch.  “Miguel’s…he’s gotten worse.  He had another episode, and it’s really bad, Marga.  I just stopped home to grab some things to make him more comfortable.”

“Oh my god,” Marga said.  “I’m sorry.”

Sara sniffled.  “The doctors are doing everything."

Marga didn't know what to say, so she just sort of made a sound of encouragement.

“Anyway,” Sara said.  “I’ll see Carlota when I get back, what did you call for?”

Marga inhaled deeply, not wanting to pile on bad news.  “It’s Lidia.  Apparently she fell, she’s in the hospital.”

“She fell?”

“I don’t know a lot,” Marga said.  “Carlos is with her, he said she’s been in surgery for a few hours.”

“Oh my god.”

“I don’t want to add to your bad news, I’m sorry,” Marga said.  “But I’ll keep you updated.”

“Thank you.”

She tried Angeles again, but she didn’t answer.  Her house was on the way, though, so Marga figured she’d stop in on the way to the hospital.

-LCDC-

Marga got to Angeles’ apartment and was surprised to see policemen going in and out.  And, honestly, she was panicked.

“Excuse me,” she said, stopping one of them.  “I’m a friend of Angeles Vidal’s, is she alright?”

“Your friend is wanted for murdering her husband,” the cop remarked before brushing past her. 

Marga’s eyes widened, and she stepped back.  She ended up rushing away, hoping not to attract enough attention to be stopped, but also wanting to get the hell out of there.

“Hey!” the cop called, stopping her in her tracks.  “What’s your name?”

“Marga.  Maria Inmaculada, I mean.”

“And you’re a friend, you said?”

Marga nodded.  “Yes.  Yes, I am.  I didn’t know you were all here, I knew Mario had died and wanted to see how she was and now she’s not here-.”

“Ma’am,” the cop stopped her.  “If you see her, turn her in.  It’s the best for everyone.”

Marga nodded.  “Y-Yes.  Okay.”

“And Lidia Aguilar, too,” the cop said.  “She’s an accomplice.”

Marga’s jaw tightened.  “Got it.  Thank you, officer.”

-LCDC-

Marga’s hands were still shaking when she got to the hospital.  She got to Carlos and was weirdly glad to see that he was shaken too- she wouldn’t stand out.

“What happened?” she asked.  “Where is she, is she alright?”

“She just got out of surgery, but they won’t let me see her yet,” Carlos said.  “They don’t know when I’ll be able to.”  He ran a hand through his hair, anxious.  All he wanted was to see her, but he knew that the longer he went without tying up loose ends, the more dangerous their situation got.

“I’ll be here,” Marga said.  “I’ll let her know you’ll be back when she wakes up.”

“When she wakes up,” Carlos said, like he needed to hear it.  He couldn’t get the image of her bleeding out of his head.  He nodded.  “Okay.  Okay.  Thank you, Marga.”

She nodded, and also nodded in greeting to Elisa, who followed him out the door.

So, Marga sat on that bench, waiting to be told she could see Lidia.  After a while, she tried Carlota’s phone again.  She figured that they weren’t home, and she was debating calling the hospital.  It was big news that Angeles was wanted for murder and on the run, but everything else was so bad that she couldn’t imagine adding to it.  And, she had told that cop her name and he hadn’t stopped her.  She thought that meant she was safe, and that Carlota was safe, and Sara.

But Lidia wasn’t.

Chapter Text

“Excuse me, are you here for Lidia Aguilar?”

Marga was woken up by someone gently shaking her awake.  She hadn’t realized she’d fallen asleep.

“Yes,” she said, straightening herself up.

“You can see her.”

Marga practically jumped off the bench.  She followed the nurse to Lidia’s room.

Lidia looked worse than Marga had ever seen her.  Worse than all the nights she cried over Carlos and Francisco when she thought no one saw or heard her, than all the days she was hungover after a bit too much fun with Carlota, Sara, and Miguel, worse than anything.

“Lidia…” Marga breathed, not being able to help it.  She’d always thought of Lidia as having some sort of super human strength, what with everything she’d been through.  And this was just one more thing on that list, because she was alive, but she didn’t look the strong, indestructible Lidia that Marga knew.

“Marga?” Lidia was confused to see her.  She looked around, like she wasn’t sure she was in the hospital still.  She was, and it panicked her.  “We need to go.  I can’t be here, they’re going to take my baby.”

“Whoa, hey, no, they won’t,” Marga said, rushing to her side.  “They won’t, I promise.  We won’t let them.”

“I’ll get revenge, Marga, I swear…”

“Lidia,” Marga said, sitting beside her and taking her hand.  “It’s okay.  Everything’s going to be okay.”

“Where’s Carlos?”

“He had to go get things in order,” Marga said.  “As soon as you can, he’s going to get you to a different hospital.”

Lidia nodded, but a tear fell down her cheek.

“Lidia, what happened?” Marga asked delicately.  Carlos hadn’t told her, but she could tell it was bad.  She’d never seen Lidia so openly scared.

Lidia inhaled deeply, but winced like it hurt.  The nurse had told Marga that Lidia had a couple cracked ribs, a broken leg, and some internal bleeding.  She’d hit her head hard; they’d had to cut it open to relieve the swelling.

“Are we alone?”

Marga nodded.

“Dona Carmen wanted me to get an abortion and she offered me money.  I used that money on the witness, and I wasn’t going to do it, Marga, I swear.  Then when I left work, her guys took me and brought me here and they would’ve…” she cut herself off.  “Carlos came just in time, but they were going to shoot him.  I tried to run, and I got caught on a balcony so I tried to go to the next one over and I fell.”

“Lidia…”

“And it probably is all for nothing.”

Marga had been crying pretty much since she’d walked into Lidia’s room, but now she was crying harder.

“Lidia…”  Marga didn’t want to keep repeating herself, she wanted to say something, but she had no idea what.  She wished Carlota were there, or Angeles.  They knew what to say at times like this.

“They said they don’t know anything about the baby,” Lidia said, jaw clenched hard.  Marga had seen shades of this Lidia before: a furious Lidia.  “They said they couldn’t really understand how bad the damage was, so we just have to wait and see.”

“But nothing’s happened yet?” Marga asked, not wanting to ask the question in the bluntest form, both for Lidia’s benefit and her own.  “Lidia, it might be okay.”

“I fell off a building, Marga-.”

“And you survived,” Marga said.  “And that baby’s half you.  It’s a survivor, too.”

That was enough to break Lidia.  She broke down, sobbing as hard as she could and Marga could only imagine how much it hurt, with all her injuries.

Marga moved into the bed more, trying to hold Lidia still.  She was wrapped up pretty well, but still, Marga could see she was still in a lot of pain.  Also, at the base of it, she wanted to hold her friend.

-LCDC-

“You should sleep,” Marga said a little while late.  Carlos still wasn’t back.

Lidia shook her head, though they both could tell she really needed to sleep.  “No, I’m not sleeping here.”

“Lidia, I won’t let them hurt you, I promise.  And Carlos won’t, either, once he gets back.”

“The second he gets back, I’m getting out of here.”

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea…”

“I’ve had some broken bones before, this is nothing.”

“No, uh,” Marga moved a bit closer, dropped her voice a bit lower.  “That’s not why.”

“What?”

“Angeles left,” Marga said.  “They charged her with murder.”

“What?!”

“After Carlos called me, I tried to call her and she didn’t answer so I stopped by her place and the police were there, looking for her.  They told me they’re looking for you, too.”

“Me?  Why?”

“As an accomplice,” Marga said.  “That’s all they said.”

“The witness…”

Marga frowned, agreeing with the line of thinking.  “It must’ve been.  They asked my name and I told them, and they didn’t say they were looking for me.  They told me to keep an eye out for you and Angeles, but not Carlota or Sara.”

“At least you all are safe,” Lidia said, meaning it.

“No one knows you’re here,” Marga said.  “I don’t think Carlos is telling anyone.  I think maybe you should stay here for a while…”

“So I can go straight from here to prison?  Marga, no.”

“Just until we have a plan,” Marga said, a little taken aback that Lidia finally was entertaining the idea that one of them would go to prison.

“Plan for what?” Lidia said.  “He saw me with the car, they probably know I bribed him.  I don’t know how to get out of that.”

“Lidia…” Marga was almost frustrated, more with the situation than with Lidia.  She wanted to be done with it.  Just earlier that day, even, she had yelled at Lidia for trying to talk to her about it.  And, she’d never seen Lidia admit she didn’t have a way out before.  What a difference a day makes.  “We’ll figure it out.”

“Marga-.”

“Go to sleep,” Marga said.  “Seriously.  I’m here, it’s okay. I’ll wake you up when Carlos gets back.”

Lidia looked at her friend.  She’d never seen Marga fight anyone, and Marga was probably one of the most docile people Lidia knew, but she believed that Marga would protect her no matter what.

“Thank you, Marga.”

-LCDC-

“Hey, Lidia,” Marga said, gently brushing her shoulder.  “Sorry to wake you.  Carlos is back.”

Lidia had been waking up, but she really woke up for that.  It took a second for her eyes to adjust, but she saw him in the doorway.

“I’ll leave you two…”

Marga stood and went to pass Carlos.

“Thank you,” he said sincerely as she passed.

She smiled slightly.  “Call me for anything, alright?”

Both Carlos and Lidia nodded.

“Oh, Lidia, I forgot.  Your brother’s at the boarding house.  He was wondering where you were, but I told him you got caught at work.”

“You saw him?” Lidia asked, ignoring Carlos’s look of surprise that she had a brother.

“I went to your room to see if there was anything you might need, and he was there.”

Lidia sighed a bit.  “If you see him again, can you tell him I can’t make it to what he had planned?  Don’t tell him anything else.”

Marga nodded after a moment.  “Sure.”  She left.

Carlos crossed the room, eyes full of more emotion than he knew what to do with.

“Lidia…”

Lidia wanted to say something, but she just cried.

“I’m so sorry,” Carlos said, dropping to his knees beside her bed.  He took her hand and kissed it, then kissed her lips.  “I am so, so sorry.  I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Lidia managed to say.  “I never stopped.  Carlos, I love you.”

“What’d the doctor say?”

Lidia’s eyes widened a bit.  She didn’t even know where to begin.  “I haven’t lost the baby, yet,” she said delicately.

“Yet?”

“They don’t know anything,” Lidia said.  “They don’t know how much damage there was, they said it could just be a matter of time.”

“Or, it could be okay,” Carlos said.  “You’re still pregnant.  That’s good news.”

“Carlos-.”

“No, this baby has made it through so much already,” Carlos said.  “It’s not going anywhere, alright?”  He reached and put a hand carefully on her stomach.  It just made Lidia cry harder, though she was smiling a bit.

“Is that okay?” Carlos asked, immediately backing away when he realized she was crying more. 

It had been a while since he touched her like that.  It’d been so long since they were both comfortable enough with each other.  It was strange and unexpected, but she felt a bit calm for the first time in a long time.

“No, no, it’s fine,” she said.  “I missed you.”  She put her hand over his.  She saw it was bruised and a bit bloody, but didn’t ask.

Carlos smiled a bit.  He felt it too, that weird menagerie of feelings that included calm, but also fear and anger and pain and pretty much more emotions than he knew how to name.

“I want this baby,” Lidia said.  She knew Carlos wanted it, and she knew that the last they talked about it, she seemed unsure.  She wasn’t.  “I do.  I didn’t come here because I didn’t want it, Carlos, your mother-.”

“I know,” Carlos said, wanting to cut her off before she got too worked up.  He exhaled shakily.  “I didn’t think she’d ever go this far.  Lidia, I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“How are you?” Carlos asked after a moment.

“I’ve had worse.”

“Lidia.”

“I’ll be okay,” she said.  “Listen, I know you were trying to get me moved somewhere else, but I can’t leave yet.”

“I know, I figured it might take a few days, but as soon as you’re well enough-.”

“No, Carlos, I meant longer.”

“What?  Why would you want to be here longer?”

For so long she thought secrets protected people.  She was so used to keeping so much about her so close to the vest, even after so much time at the Telephone Company, with the people who’d become her friends.  The people that she already risked everything for. 

She’d kept so much from Carlos, and at times her secrets weren’t to protect him, but to take advantage.  She didn’t want to do that anymore, not to someone she loved.  Not to the father of her child.

“There’s something I need to tell you.”

-LCDC-

“Okay,” Carlos said.  By the time Lidia had finished, he was pacing around the room.  “I’ll talk to my friends in the police, I’ll see what exactly they have on you.”

“Carlos, this isn’t some company crime you can cover up,” Lidia said.  She dropped her voice.  “We killed someone and covered it up.”

“I know,“ Carlos said, like it pained him to hear it.  It did.  He understood, though.  He knew Mario was a bad guy and the way she described it, it did sound like an accident that just got out of hand.  He didn’t blame her.  But it was quite the mess.  “But if we know what you’re up against, exactly, we can figure it out.”

“Angeles is still going to go to jail…”

“Someone has to,” Carlos said, though he clearly wasn’t happy with it.

“Carlos, she has a little girl,” Lidia said.  “She did all this to protect her, and protect herself.”

Carlos clenched his jaw.  He knew all this, and he hated the situation.  But still, he’d prefer that over Lidia going to jail, any day.

“We can help the girl,” Carlos said.  “We’ll get Angeles the best lawyers.”

“This country lets men go for crimes against women, not the other way around.”

“It’s not fair,” Carlos agreed.  “The people who deserve most to pay for their crimes get away with it.”

Lidia nodded, and knew they probably both had the same person in mind.

“But sometimes justice comes in unexpected ways.”

Lidia nodded, though she thought he was maybe getting off point a bit.

“And maybe,” Carlos continued.  “If you can’t get justice for a wrong someone did, you can still serve justice in the place of someone else.”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you remember what you said after you fell?” Carlos said.  “On your way into surgery, you were muttering something.”

“I don’t…I don’t know…”

“You said that you’d have revenge on anyone who hurt your child.”

“I said that out loud?”

Carlos nodded.  For a while there, he thought it was going to be the last thing she ever said.  And he had agreed with the sentiment.  “I’m with you.  My mother needs to pay.”

“Carlos…”

Carlos sat next to Lidia, looking at her with determination and clarity and resolve and speaking low.  “Mario stole from the company.  The Uribes made it worse with all the security, and the strike, but it started with Mario stealing.  It hurt the image of the company, and that’s all my mother cared about it.”

“Okay…”

“She cares so much about image that she’d kill over it.”

That one hit a little close to home, but Lidia nodded.  “Right.”

“Like she’d kill someone who hurt the image of the company.”

Lidia’s eyebrows went up.  “You want to frame your mother for Mario’s murder?”

“She should be in jail already,” Carlos said.  “The embezzling from the company, the spying on customers, all of it.”

“Those are different than killing someone,” Lidia said.  “They’re not going to believe someone like your mother killed someone.”

“They will,” Carlos said.  “Once they see all the other illegal stuff she’s done.”

“Carlos…”

“She has a history of forcing people into doing things they don’t want to do,” Carlos said, like it was obvious, because it was.  “She’s done it to you, to Elisa.  We can explain away your involvement, and say she coerced Angeles, and put all the blame on her.”

“We can’t just go to the police and say all this,” Lidia said.  “It’ll look like we’re trying to cover something up.”

“Haven’t you done stuff like this before?”

Lidia gave him a look, but he continued.

“Would you be able to point them in this direction?”

“I don’t know,” Lidia said honestly.  “I don’t know how much they have on Angeles, or on me.  But if they knew about all the other stuff your mother did, they might look at her more closely.”

“And I think that if one person comes out against her, more will.”

Lidia nodded in agreement.

“We have proof of awful things she’s done,” Carlos said.  “She can get the punishment she deserves.”

Lidia saw a resolve she’d never seen before in Carlos’ eyes.  It was more than she’d seen before, like when he was working on the rotary, more than the way he looked at her when they first met.  It was scary to see that determination toward something like this.

“Carlos, this is a really big decision,” Lidia said.  “Being sent to jail wrongfully isn’t really something someone easily forgives, believe me.”

“But that’s it,” Carlos said.  “She should be in jail anyway.  What’s one more charge?”

“The garrote,” Lidia said simply.  “That can be what one more charge means.”

Carlos froze for a split second but ultimately kept his resolve.  “What happens, happens.  You and Angeles don’t deserve to go down for this.”

“Carlos…”

“I think Elisa has something on her,” Carlos said.  “And the Uribes.  Things are okay with Elisa, she can help.”

“If you’re sure about this…”

“I am.”

“Okay.  Thank you.”

“I love you,” Carlos said.

“I love you, too.”

He sat next to her.

“You have a brother?”

Lidia sighed a bit.  She thought back on her newfound resolve to stop lying to Carlos.

“No,” she said.  “He’s someone I used to know.”

“Oh?  From your town?”

“No,” Lidia said.  She shut her eyes a second.  She really didn’t want to get into the long story that was Juan, but, in a cruel twist of irony, she did recognize that she did have a good way of explaining it shortly.  “He’s kind of my Alba.”

“Oh,” Carlos said after a surprised moment.  “You have an Alba.”  He was a little amused by the word choice, but mostly concerned.  This wasn’t sounding like an experience he wanted any of them to relive.

“Kind of,” Lidia corrected.  “He showed up and asked for a favor, and I agreed.  But Marga’s going to send him off, it’s fine.”

“And if he doesn’t go?”

“It doesn’t seem like I’ll be home for a while,” Lidia said.  “And Marga won’t tell him where I am.  He’ll get the message.  He’ll go.”

Carlos nodded.

“It’s a long story,” Lidia said.  “But I can handle him.  Don’t worry about him.”

Carlos nodded.  “I trust you.”

-LCDC-

“Miss Aguilar,” a nurse said, poking her head through the doorway.  She turned the lights on.  It had been hours since Lidia had been out of surgery, and both she and Carlos had fallen asleep.

Though, once he heard the nurse speak and saw that the lights were on, Carlos sprung up in his chair, making himself as alert as possible.  He wasn’t going to let anyone there (or anywhere) hurt Lidia again. 

He looked toward Lidia and saw she was slowly waking up.  She seemed almost tranquil while she was asleep, but as she oriented herself, he could see her register in just a few moments the pain she was in, her surroundings, what she’d been through.  It broke his heart.

“Yes?”

“We have some medicine for you,” the nurse said.  “To help with the pain.  And, we want to take a look at your head.”

“No,” Lidia said.  “Don’t touch me.”

The nurse looked surprised, and looked to Carlos.  Carlos hadn’t seen her before, he guessed that it was probably past time the new shift of nurses came in.  He doubted this nurse knew anything about Lidia aside from her injuries and that she fell.

“Lidia…”

“No, Carlos,” Lidia said.  “I mean it.  They’re not touching me.”

“You’re hurt, let them help.”

Lidia looked like she was going to keep protesting, so Carlos turned to the nurse.

“Nurse, when did your shift start?  When did you get here?”

“About an hour ago,” she replied.

Carlos turned back to Lidia.  “She’s a nurse, a real nurse.  She’s here to help.”

Lidia softened a bit.  She looked from Carlos to the nurse.  “I’m not taking any medicine.”

“Are you sure?  It’s very safe, for you and your baby-.”

“Is it safe if she doesn’t take it?” Carlos asked.  He could tell Lidia wasn’t really interested in talking about her baby with any doctors at that damn hospital.

The nurse nodded, though clearly looked a bit confused still.  “Yes, but it will be painful.  You have several broken bones.”

“It’s fine,” Lidia said.

“Can I take a look at your head?” the nurse asked.  “And the incisions from the surgery to control the internal bleeding.”

“Can he stay?” Lidia asked, referring to Carlos.

The nurse paused for a moment.  She could tell Lidia was really uncomfortable.  It wasn’t usually allowed, but the checks weren’t going to take very long.  “If he doesn’t touch anything and stands back a bit, yes.”

Lidia nodded, and the nurse came over and started examining her.

-LCDC-

Later that morning, Marga tried Carlota’s phone again.

“Come on, pick up,” she muttered, uncharacteristically impatient.

“Hello?”

“Carlota!  How’s Miguel?”

“He made it through the night,” she said.  “The doctors said that if he did that, it was a really good sign.”

“I’m really glad to hear that.”

“Yeah, Sara said you called.  Thank you.  How’s Lidia?”

“She’s okay,” Marga said.  “She’s out of surgery, Carlos is with her.  She broke a few bones, but she’s going to be fine.”

“And the baby?”

“It’s okay.”

Marga could hear Carlota exhale in relief over the phone.  “Good.  What happened?”

“It’s kind of a long story,” Marga said.  “Are you going back to the hospital?”

“No, they made us both leave.  They said they don’t let people stay around the clock, and since he was getting better we had to leave.”

“So you’re not going back now?”

“No, but probably later.  Why?”

“We need to talk.”

-LCDC-

“I brought some bread,” Marga said.  “And some fruit.  I thought you could use some breakfast.”

“Thank you, Marga,” Carlota said, smiling for what felt like the first time in days.  She let Marga in and shut the door behind her.

“Are you two alone here?”

“Yes…”

“They charged Angeles with murder.”

“What?”

“And she ran away.”

Carlota and Sara exchanged a look.

“And Carolina?” Carlota asked.

“They let her go,” Marga said.  “I saw it in the paper this morning.”  She handed the newspaper to Carlota.

“Next to a wanted poster for Angeles,” Carlota muttered, taking a look and holding up the paper so both she and Sara could read it.

“I went by Angeles’ apartment yesterday and police were there, looking for her.  She and Sofia were gone.  They asked me who I was and I told them, and they said to turn in Lidia if I saw her.”

“But you’re okay?  They didn’t want you to turn yourself in?” Carlota asked.

Marga nodded.  “So I think we’re okay.”

Carlota and Sara both looked visibly relieved.  They hugged each other.

“What about Lidia?” Carlota asked, pulling from the hug but keeping a hand in Sara’s hand.  “How is she doing?”

“I haven’t seen her, but Carlos said he’d call if anything changed.”

“Does she know about Angeles?”

“Yeah,” Marga said.  “She’s going to stay at the hospital for a while, since they don’t know she’s there.”

“What happened to her, exactly?” Carlota asked.

Marga inhaled deeply, then started recounting the story.

-LCDC-

“Where did you go last night?” Lidia asked.  The nurse had checked her and said she was healing well so far.  She had managed to sleep more – a lot more.  By the time she woke up, it was afternoon.  Carlos had stayed the whole time.

Carlos exhaled.  He’d had a busy night, in the few hours he spent getting things in order.  He was exhausted, too, and he couldn’t really fight sleep, but he did wake up frequently and make sure Lidia was still in the bed, safe, in front of him.

“I moved my things into my apartment,” Carlos said.  “Or, rather, I paid a servant at the house to do it discreetly.  I know I have a job at the Company, but I wanted to make sure I had everything valuable that I owned safe with me and away from my mother.”

Lidia nodded, understanding.

“And I had to talk to a few doctors I know,” Carlos said.  “And figure out where we can go next, how to make sure you’re taken care of.  It’s hard to find a doctor in this city who doesn’t know my mother, but I have a few ideas on where to go next.”

“Thank you.”

“I’m going to take care of you, Lidia.”

-LCDC-

“Can we talk about this here?” Lidia asked.  It was later that day, and Elisa had come around.

Carlos and Elisa exchanged a look.

“Why not?” Carlos asked.

“Your mother brought me here,” Lidia said.  “The doctors here were going to do what she wanted…”

“I don’t think they’ll spy for her,” Carlos said.  “I don’t think anyone’s listening, that’s not really what she does.”

“But they’ll tell her that I’m still pregnant.”  That wasn’t a question, it was a confirmation of something they all thought.

“The second you’re well enough to leave, we will leave, I promise.”

“I think I should talk to the police sooner rather than later,” Lidia said.  “Even if it means talking to them here.”

“I think that’s a risk…” Carlos trailed, looking to Elisa.

Elisa nodded in agreement.  “If you tell them you came here for an abortion, they’ll arrest you.”

Lidia inhaled sharply.  She knew Elisa could be direct, and she appreciated it, but it could be a lot to hear.  Still, she nodded.  “I know.  But, it didn’t end up happening.  And, I don’t think they’ll arrest me, not like this.”

“You signed the form,” Elisa pointed out, getting a pointed look from her brother.

“I was coerced,” Lidia said.  “I’ll tell them that, that Carmen was so committed to the image of the Company that she was willing to resort to violence for it.”

“And when they ask about the car?” Carlos asked.

“Elisa,” Lidia said.  “If it’s okay with you and the Uribes, if you give me the ledger, I can offer them to the police in exchange for dropping the charges against me and Angeles.”

“How will you get them to think she’s the murderer?” Carlos asked.  He and Lidia agreed to tell Elisa about that, because if they were going to try to get her help framing Dona Carmen for murder, they figured she should know about the actual murder.  “She’s an old woman.”

“With power, money, and motive,” Lidia said.  “But, you’re right.  They won’t think she did it.  But we can get them to think she forced me and Angeles somehow.”

Carlos nodded.  “So…”

“I’ll tell them I got the money for the witness from her,” Lidia said.  “Because I did.  She can’t deny that.  And I’ll say she told me to bribe the witness.  That’ll be my word against hers, she can’t disprove that.”

“Then what?” Elisa asked.

“I’ll offer the ledger,” Lidia said.  She looked between the siblings in front of her, both of whom she’d hurt a lot and both of whom were risking a lot for her.  “They’ll look into you two, as well, since they’ll look into her and the company.”

Carlos nodded.  “I’ll be fine.”

Lidia wasn’t sure if that meant he didn’t have anything to hide, or that he knew how to hide it well enough.  She knew that Carlos wasn’t involved in the spying on customers, but she knew he knew about it.  She guessed he knew about the embezzling.

“Carlos, this is serious…”

“I know,” Carlos said.  Bits of the Carlos that Lidia first met were coming back; he had the confident grin he had when she first spoke with him in his office.  “I’ll be fine, really.”

Lidia accepted that after a moment, and turned to Elisa.

“I am, too,” Elisa said.  “My only involved with the company, really, has been with Uribes.”

“So, it’s all set,” Lidia said.  She sighed shakily, but only slightly.  “So, we can call the police in the morning.”

“Tomorrow?” Carlos asked.  “Lidia-.”

“The longer we wait, the more danger Angeles is in,” Lidia said.  “And it gives your mother more time to realize we’re up to something.”

Carlos exhaled deeply.  He liked the plan, he did.  He knew it was something he wanted to do, and he knew it was the best shot they had for protecting Lidia and getting the revenge they wanted on Dona Carmen.  But every now and then, the risk sunk in, and it gave him chills.

“Okay,” he said.  “I’ll call them tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

“And this group,” Carlota said, pointing to an entry on a rather long list that she held up for Miguel to see.  “Meets Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Apparently, the group meetings like this really help people get better.”

Miguel looked at the list and nodded.  “Thank you, Carlota.”

“Don’t thank me,” Carlota said.  “Sara found most of the places.  I just put the list together.

Miguel looked at Sara, who was on his other side.  “Thank you, Sara.”

“You’ll be better in no time,” Sara said.

“And I’m not doing this again,” Miguel said.  “I promise.”

“Good,” Carlota said.  She looked him up and down.  After he got through that first night, the one the doctors said he needed to get through, he started to look better.  He was starting to act like his old self again, which was great – they’d all missed him.

“I’ll get my job back, too,” Miguel promised.  “I’m sorry for all this.”

Before anyone could respond, a doctor came in.

“Sorry to interrupt,” he said.  “But we need to do some tests.”

“We’ll get out of your way,” Carlota said, looking toward Sara and heading off, but not before each off them gave Miguel’s hand a last touch.

Carlota and Sara headed into the hallway.

“Hey,” Carlota said.  “Remember those places in Berlin I talked about?”

Sara nodded.

“I found a bar like that here, in Madrid, if you’re not busy later.”

“Carlota, it’s a Sunday night, we have work tomorrow,” Sara said.

“That’s never stopped us before,” Carlota said.  She looked at Sara, not quite sure how to best phrase what she was going to say next but really wanting to say it.  “I thought Oscar could use a night out.”

“What?”

“You don’t have to hide in hotels,” Carlota said.  “I want to go out with you as you are.”

She could see Sara’s hesitation.

“And if you’re not ready for that, fine,” Carlota said.  “We can go out like this.  But if you want to be Oscar there, I want that, too.”

“I love you, Carlota.”

Carlota grinned.  “I love you, too.”

-LCDC-

Carlos wasn’t sure what he was expecting, but Lidia seemed to be improving faster than he thought she would.  It was like the sheer will to be better was actually making her better.

She still spent most of her time sleeping, but when she was awake, she was visibly stronger.  The last few days had been stressful, to say the least – not just physically, but there was also the emotional trauma of what had happened, as well as the stress of framing someone for murder.

The nurses woke her up every few hours to check her brain function, and they did the regular examination of her injuries, but she seemed to be healing well.

Late that morning, she woke up and seemed to be ready to be awake for the day.

“What time is it?”

Carlos checked his watch.  “Almost eleven.”

“Okay,” Lidia said.  “Let’s call the police.”

“Right now?” 

"Yes.”

Carlos nodded.  “Okay.”

-LCDC-

Carlos had talked to the police before for various things.  In fact, he’d talked to them about Lidia – after the rotary plans were stolen, his mother called the police and he talked them out of charging her.  He knew Lidia herself had dealt with the police, and he trusted her, but it was still nerve-wracking.  It certainly didn’t help that the police wouldn’t let him be in the room with her.

“So, Miss Aguilar,” Inspector Cuevas began.  “You dropped Mario Perez’s car off a cliff.”

“Yes.”  She was half expecting for him to come in demanding answers about Angeles.  She knew how this worked – when the police had an accomplice but didn’t have the person who did the crime, the person they were after, they went after the accomplice until they got it.  She wasn’t sure how Angeles’ involvement with Cuevas would change the investigation, but she took this as a good sign.  Maybe he wasn’t absolutely set on finding Angeles.  Maybe he could be more easily persuaded into believing that she wasn’t the one he should be after.

“And bribed someone so that we, the police, wouldn’t know you did so.”

“Yes.”

“And, you killed Mario Perez.”

“No.”

Inspector Cuevas looked tired.  He looked like he wanted Lidia to admit she killed Mario, and that he wanted it for more reasons other than to just get a conviction and shut the case. 

Lidia knew there was something between him and Angeles.  She knew that he wouldn’t want to convict Angeles.  But Lidia didn’t know what happened after they arrested Carolina that made the police let her go and accuse Angeles and Lidia, and force Angeles to run.  She guessed that the witness turned on her for some reason, but she also knew that the reason didn’t matter – once that witness said Lidia bribed him, there was no walking that back.

Lidia knew she didn’t have a ton of cards to play, but she did have a few.  And she wasn’t going to give up until she played them all.  She believed in the plan.  She believed in herself to pull off this part of it.

“No?” Cuevas asked.  “You got rid of his car, you tried to keep your involvement quiet, but you didn’t do it?  You didn’t kill him?”

He tried to play it off like he just outright didn’t believe her, like her statements were so ludicrous that they were obviously lies, but Lidia knew better than that tactic.  And, she saw it again.  There was a desperation in his tone. 

“No, I didn’t kill him.”

“But you know who did?”

“Are you asking me who did it?” Lidia asked, implying that she knew he wasn't sure, or at least that he didn't want to be.  She knew she was pushing her luck, but the state she was in was just another card to play – she knew that Cuevas wouldn’t hurt her or press her too hard in her condition.

“Come on, we’ve got proof you tried to cover this up,” Cuevas said.  “Admit it, and we’ll go easier on you.  Admit it and this whole mess can be over.”

“This is bigger than me and what I did,” Lidia said, playing up how injured she was.  When she heard the cops coming down the hall toward her, she let herself go.  She finally let herself feel the pain she was in, she let herself look as hurt and tired as she felt.  She was in a bad way, and it was Dona Carmen’s fault, and she needed to be sure that Cuevas understood that.

She breathed shakily, keeping up the act outside but inside loving when a plan came together.

“And what Angeles did,” she finished.

That was enough to set Cuevas off.

“Why did she admit to her husband’s murder?” Cuevas asked, and Lidia hoped he missed the bit of surprise that flashed in her eyes.  “Why is she covering for you?”

So, Angeles admitted to the murder, and Cuevas thought Lidia had done it.  She was getting a clearer picture of what must have happened in the past few days, and she was grateful for it, even if she was thrown a little bit.

“It isn’t me she’s covering for,” Lidia said.

“Miss Aguilar, do not play games with me,” Cuevas warned.  “We know what happens here.  We’re not arresting you right now out of courtesy, but if you play games with me I’ll take you in right now.”

“You don’t know what happens here,” Lidia said, again challenging him and again pushing her luck.  Instead of sounding aggressive, like she was obviously challenging him, though, she sounded sad and scared.  She was on the verge of tears and Cuevas was taken aback.  “I didn’t come here by choice, Inspector Cuevas.”

“We saw the medical consent form,” Cuevas said, feeling that the interview was taking a turn he didn’t expect, and he wasn’t sure what to do about it.  He wanted proof, any proof, that meant he wouldn’t have to arrest Angeles, but he wasn’t sure what Lidia was offering.

“I was forced,” Lidia said.  “I was given money to sign that form, and another condition was that I had to give money to the witness.”

“Who gave you the money?  Who forced you?”

“Dona Carmen Cifuentes.”

Cuevas looked to be in disbelief.  “Miss Aguilar…”

“Inspector, it’s true,” Lidia said, again turning up the waterworks.  “I wasn’t going to go through with the procedure, I swear, but she had her men take me here after work.  The took me here, they forced me into the operating room, they strapped me down-.”

“Okay, Miss Aguilar,” Cuevas said, putting a hand up. 

“But I got away,” Lidia said.  “Carlos, my-.  The father,” she corrected, knowing it was definitely the wrong time to get into the messy act of labeling what exactly Carlos was to her.  “He came, he got me out, and we tried to leave but they were going to shoot him.  They chased me to the balcony, and that’s when I fell.”

She knew that she was playing up the crying to better convince Cuevas, but she also knew that by this point, some of the tears were real.  She hated talking about it at all, to anyone, least of all someone who could easily not believe her and throw her in jail anyway.

“This is a big accusation, Miss Aguilar.”

“Carlos can back it up.”

“Carlos Cifuentes?  He’d testify that his own mother did all that?”

“Yes,” Lidia said.  “Because she did.”

She could see that Cuevas believed her, at least about what happened at the hospital.

“Why the rest of it?” Cuevas asked.  “Why kill Mario?  Why frame you and Angeles?”

“I don’t know,” Lidia said.  “I was so scared to ask, she said that if I didn’t do what she said, she’d find a way to remove me from Carlos’s life.”

“She was going to kill you, too?”

“I don’t know, Inspector Cuevas,” Lidia said, again turning up the fear in her tone.  “But I was so scared.  I can’t even imagine what she made Angeles think she’d do to her or her daughter.”

Cuevas had heard stories about the Cifuenteses.  He knew they were ruthless business people.  He knew that they ran in circles with people the police had investigated several times, but to whom charges never seemed to stick.

“Miss Aguilar, we know about your record,” Cuevas said.  “We know you’ve been charged with robbery, with fraud-.”

“I know,” Lidia said.  “But I don’t do that anymore.  I have a new life now, with Carlos, with my work at the Telephone Company.  I never killed anyone, and I never will.”

“But you claim Mrs. Cifuentes did?”

Lidia took a deep breath.  “I know she did this to me because I threatened the image of her family,” she said.  “Don Mario hurt the image of the Company when he stole, and image is everything to Dona Carmen.”

Lidia could see that Cuevas was thinking it through.

“I know she’s a powerful person,” Lidia said.  “Believe me, I know.  But she can’t keep hurting people-.”  She cut herself off, letting herself loudly and obviously, but not in an obviously fake way, cry.

“Okay, okay, Miss Aguilar,” Cuevas said, handing her his handkerchief.  She took it.  He put a hand on her shoulder.  “We’ll get to the bottom of this.”

“Thank you,” Lidia said through tears.

Cuevas closed his notebook and looked to be finishing up, when he spoke once more.  “One more thing.  Why wouldn’t Angeles mention this when she confessed?”  He spoke with a new tone, a tone that said he didn’t fall for her act.

Lidia wasn’t entirely sure that his tone itself wasn’t an act, but she was certainly going to keep her own one going.

“If the police haven’t brought down Carmen Cifuentes yet,” Lidia said, doubling down.  “Why would Angeles think she could?”

Cuevas inhaled deeply, straightening up, and Lidia could see her gamble paying off.

“So why are you trying it?”

“She almost killed my child,” Lidia said.  “And me.  I don’t care what happens to me, but she can’t hurt anyone else again.”

There were few times when Lidia spoke with complete honesty, but that was one of them.

Cuevas nodded.  Again, he was haunted by the woman who had killed herself years earlier due to his insistence on closing a case, no matter the cost.  He cleared his throat, like he was reminding himself of his determination now to make sure that justice prevailed.  He recognized that determination in Lidia.

“Thank you for your time, Miss Aguilar,” he said.  “We’ll be in touch.”

“I thought I was wanted?” Lidia asked.  

“You’re in no state to be arrested,” he admitted.  “You’re in no state to even leave this hospital.  We know where to find you when we want to see you again.”

Lidia nodded.  “Inspector Cuevas,” she said, stopping him as he turned to leave.  “I’m actually transferring out of here as soon as I can.  With everything that happened here…” she frowned, but quickly put it away.  “I just don’t want to be in this place any longer than necessary.”

“I understand,” Cuevas said.  “Let us know when you move and where you go.”

Lidia nodded again, and watched him go.

She could see through the window the two inspectors, Cuevas and one who waited outside the door with Carlos, shake hands with Carlos and talk a bit.  Lidia expected them to leave, but instead, Cuevas and Carlos went off down the hall together and the other inspector stayed outside Lidia’s room.

As Carlos passed by Lidia’s window, he shot her a small reassuring smile, then disappeared down the hall.

Lidia figured they’d talk to Carlos, but for some reason she didn’t think it’d be right then.  So, she felt her heart rate go up a bit when she saw Cuevas and Carlos go away, and it felt like ages before they came back.

-LCDC-

Finally, Carlos came back in to Lidia’s room.

“How did it go?” he asked.  “Are you alright?”

Lidia nodded.  “It went well.  How did it go with you?”

Carlos nodded, too, though his jaw was clenched tight.  “It went well, too.  He mostly asked what happened to you here.”

That explained Carlos’ tension.  She could tell that that place made him antsy, too.  He didn’t want for either of them to be there longer than necessary, and he was also ready to put it all behind them.

“That’s good,” Lidia said.  “With you backing up what happened here, he’ll be more inclined to believe me about all of it.”

Carlos nodded as he went back to his now-usual spot in a chair next to her bed.

“Are you alright?” she asked him.

“You’re asking me?” he said, getting his goofy grin back (but smaller than usual) and gesturing toward her.

“Carlos.”

He sighed.  “It’s tough to see her as she is, you know?”

Lidia nodded.  “Yeah.”

“What about your parents?” Carlos asked.  “What were they like?  What are they like…?”

Carlos knew nothing about Lidia’s parents.  He didn’t even know if Lidia’s parents were alive or not. 

“There’s not much to say about them,” Lidia said.  She looked over at Carlos and saw that that wasn’t a sufficient answer.  “I don’t know what happened to them,” she continued.  “I left with Francisco and I was planning on making money, on making something of myself so that I could help them.  Then everything happened at the train station, and I started working with Victoria, and I told myself that once I stopped there, I’d get in contact with them and tell them I was alright.”

Carlos knew who Victoria was, he knew the sort of work Lidia used to do.  He knew she wasn’t ashamed of it now, and she wishes she hadn’t been ever – she’d done what it took to survive.  But it was a process to come to terms with that, to come to terms with who she was.

“And then the years went on,” she said.  “I don’t think they’d recognize me now.  Hell, they probably think I’m dead.”

“We can go to them,” Carlos said.  “Once the baby’s here, if you want.  We can take it to meet your parents, your siblings…”

Lidia smiled a bit.  “Yeah, I have six younger siblings.  At last count, anyway.  There might be more.”

“We should see them,” Carlos said.  “They’d be proud of you.”

She was still smiling, but it wasn’t just a happy smile.  It was a smile for something that was great, but lost.  Something that was loved and cherished, but couldn’t be had again.

“Maybe,” she said.  “Maybe one day.”

-LCDC-

Marga was chatting with Pablo near his desk, as they usually did on their lunch breaks.

“Marga!”

Marga looked up and almost did a double take.

“Don Francisco?”

“Francisco,” he corrected.  “I’m here to pick up my last paycheck.  Is Lidia upstairs at her desk?”

“No…” Marga said, eyes wide and confused.  “You haven’t heard?” she asked.  Though, she figured he hadn’t.  As soon as she spoke, she wished she hadn’t.  She knew Lidia picked Carlos, she could tell that from the scene at the hospital.  She knew Francisco had left, she knew that Lidia wanted to be past it.  But she couldn’t help herself.

“Heard what?”

-LCDC-

“Hi,” Francisco said to a nurse at the desk in the lobby of the hospital.  Once Marga told him what happened, it didn’t take much to get the address from her.  “I’m looking for Lidia Aguilar, she’s a patient here.”

“What department is she in?”

“I-I don’t know,” Francisco said, a bit frantic.  “She fell.  She-she’s pregnant.”

“What’s your relation to her?”

“Please, just let me see her-.”

“We’re not going to let just anyone walk in off the street and into our patients’ rooms,” the nurse said.  “What’s your relation to Miss Aguilar, sir?”

Francisco wasn’t sure what to say.  “I’m her brother-in-law,” he decided on finally.  And he knew that that was probably the closest thing to true there was, and that was how things were for them.

-LCDC-

Francisco had been in a rush since he left the Telephone Company, but once he turned that last corner and saw that he was close to her room, he felt his legs slow down without him really telling them to.  His legs felt heavy, his head felt heavy on his shoulders, his heart felt heavy in his chest.

He didn’t know what he was going to walk up to see.  He didn’t know what he’d say, who’d he say it to.  He’d said his goodbyes to Lidia and to Carlos.  There wasn’t anything left between any of them, not anything that could be changed, anyway.  He was always going to be Lidia’s first great love, he was always going to be a brother to Carlos, even if he wasn’t around.  Even if he never saw either of them again.

He noticed that he had stopped.  He didn’t know when, but the rooms had stopped slowly blurring by him in his peripheral vision. 

He looked at the room numbers, and saw that he was standing in front of the one next to Lidia’s.  If he stretched a bit, he could see in her window.

He took a step forward – just one.  He could see Lidia – Alba – and she looked worse than he’d ever seen her.  Worse than when she had a fever so bad she wasn’t allowed outside for a month when she was nine, worse than when they first started jumping trains together and she fell off one, when she was thirteen.

But she was there.  She was alive.  She looked like she was in pain, sure, and she was certainly in rough shape, but she didn’t look scared (though he wasn’t sure he’d ever really seen her be scared). 

He stretched a bit in a different way and saw Carlos sitting with her.  He had a book open, and it seemed like he was reading to her.

Lidia’s eyes wandered a bit as she listened, and she ended up looking out the window.  Francisco knew he should move, but he was frozen.  He saw her mouth move, he saw Carlos’s head snap up and soon find him through the window.

Francisco stepped back and out of sight before he could see either of their expressions once they processed that they were really seeing him.  He rushed off down the hall, and he wasn’t sure if he actually heard the door to Lidia’s room burst open and slam shut, and Carlos call his name, or if he just imagined it.

-LCDC-

“How can I help you?” Carlota asked into her phone.  It was strange being at work without Lidia and without Angeles, but it was still a bit nice to be somewhere she was comfortable, somewhere she liked being after the intense weekend she’d had.

“Carlota?” the voice on the call said.

“Angeles?”

Chapter Text

 “Angeles!  How are you?  Are you alright?  Where are you?”

“I’m okay, Sofia’s okay.  We’re-.”

“Wait!” Carlota interjected, remembering that calls at the Telephone Company weren’t always exactly private.  “Don’t answer that.”

“Okay…” Angeles sighed.  “I shouldn’t have called…”

“No, you should’ve,” Carlota said.  “I’m glad you did.  Just give me one second, do not hang up.”

Angeles didn’t answer immediately.  After a few moments, Carlota was relieved to hear her friend say “Okay.”  Angeles knew she could trust Carlota, so even though Angeles had planned to go away for good, had planned on not talking to anyone she knew in Madrid ever again because she knew how dangerous it would be for them, she knew that Carlota knew the danger, too.  So, if Carlota wanted to be in on that, Angeles was inclined to let her.  She was grateful to let her.

“Sara,” Carlota said, walking right up to her and actually interrupting a conversation she was having with another operator.  “Do you have a moment?”

Sara could see that Carlota was serious and that what she had to say, it wasn’t something that could wait.

“Yes, a moment,” she said, giving an apologetic glance to the operator.

Sara led Carlota to a corner where they wouldn’t be heard.  “What is it?”

“Angeles is on my line,” Carlota said.  “Do we still have people listening in on calls?”

“No,” Sara said.  “They would’ve told me if there were.”

Carlota nodded her appreciation then practically ran back to her station, not wanting to attract attention but also not wanting to keep Angeles waiting.

“We’re safe,” Carlota said, dropping her voice and turning away from the operator next to her.  “I mean, the line is safe but also we’re safe.  Me, Sara, Marga.  We’re okay.”

“I saw in the paper that they wanted to talk to Lidia,” Angeles said.  “Is she alright?  I was thinking about calling her, but I thought it might be too dangerous…”

Carlota wasn’t sure what to say.  Last she heard, Lidia was still recovering.  She, Sara, and Marga were going to go see her after work – Carlos had called and said that she wanted to see them and that she was getting better.  He wasn’t able to put Lidia on the phone, but he said she wanted them to know that things were going to work out, that she’d explain how when she saw them.

“She’s figuring it out,” Carlota said.  “You know her, she doesn’t say what she’s doing until someone’s already caught her doing it.”

Angeles chuckled a bit, and Carlota knew it had only been a few days since they’d last seen each other, but it was still nice to hear her friend laugh.

“She’s in Madrid still?” Angeles continued.  “She didn’t end up running?”

“She’s in the hospital,” Carlota said finally, not sure how to dance around it for any longer.  “There was an accident, and she’s going to be okay, and the baby’s going to be okay, but she…she’s really not going to be running anywhere anytime soon, from what I’ve heard.”

“Oh my god…”

“You should be here.”

“Carlota…”

“No, Angeles,” Carlota said.  “I know we didn’t plan for what happened to happen, but it did happen, and it was supposed to be a ticket to a new life for you.  You deserve that.”

“I confessed, Carlota,” Angeles said.  “Cuevas thought Lidia did it and he was going to go after her, so I told him it was me.”

“And he didn’t arrest you right then?”

“He gave me a head start,” Angeles said, like she was admitting it.  “But if I come back to Madrid, he will arrest me, Carlota.”  She sighed.  “I can have a new life here.  I’m safe, Sofia’s safe.  It’ll be alright.”

“Where are you?” Carlota asked.  “If you can’t come here, maybe we can see you one day, or send you things you need, or-.”

“Carlota,” Angeles cut her off.  “I shouldn’t have called.”

“Give me a way to reach you, at least,” Carlota said.  “After we talk to Lidia tonight, I’ll let you know what we’re going to do.”

“There’s nothing else to do, Carlota,” Angeles said.  “I hope you all find a way to get Lidia out from under this.  None of you deserve to go down for this.”

“The best way for us to protect ourselves is to have all the information,” Carlota said.  “You know things we don’t.  We need you, Angeles.”

There was silence on the line.  At least, Angeles didn’t speak.  Carlota could hear the familiar crackle of the connection, the slight static over the line, and for the first time since her first day, it made her the slightest bit nervous.

“I’ll call you tonight,” Angeles said.  “Late.”

“Thank you.”

-LCDC-

Marga had seen Lidia right after the accident, and seeing her then a few days later, she could really see how her friend had improved.  She had a bit more color on her cheeks, a bit more light in her eyes, she look a bit more comfortable.

Carlota and Sara hadn’t seen Lidia at all, though.  Carlota actually gasped a bit when she saw her – she’d never seen Lidia look so vulnerable.  She knew that Lidia had fallen off the building, and Carlota couldn’t help but look up at the ledges when she was walking in.  It was a hell of a drop; she couldn’t believe Lidia and her baby had survived it.

Lidia saw her friends walk in and her face lit up.

“Girls!” she said warmly, smiling.

“How are you?” Marga asked.

“I’m okay,” Lidia said.  “Better, now.  I spoke to Cuevas today.”

All three people standing in front of Lidia looked surprised to varying degrees.

“Oh?” Carlota asked.

“What happened?” Sara asked.  Both Lidia and Carlos looked at her as she spoke, and she hadn’t realized until they did that she was holding Carlota’s hand.  She must’ve grabbed it when they walked into the room, but she wasn’t sure – it felt like she’d been holding Carlota’s hand forever.  Neither of them were about to let go.

“I called him,” Lidia said.  She could see the panic again on her friend’s faces.  “There’s a plan.  It’s going to be okay.”

“He didn’t arrest you?” Carlota asked.

“My mother,” Carlos said, and it was clear that it still pained him a bit to say it, though he was entirely committed to the plan.  “Did this to Lidia.  She’s done so many awful things, from this to killing Mario Perez.”

Carlota and Sara’s eyebrow shot up, and Marga spoke.

“But she didn’t-.”

“Marga,” Lidia cut her off, and in an instant they all understood the rules of talking about it.  Lidia figured that after the police came and spoke to her, they might have some people around keeping an ear out for anything in Lidia’s room.  There wasn’t any obvious policeman around, but Lidia also knew that people in this hospital could be paid to do just about anything.  So, from then on, it was talked about like it was a certainty that Carmen is the responsible party for Mario’s death.

“I know, it’s a lot to believe,” Lidia said.  “But, we all know how violent she can be, how the appearance of the company was everything to her.  Mario hurt the image of the company, I hurt the image of the company, we both had to pay.”

“So,” Carlota said, picking it up.  “She forced you?  And Angeles?”

Lidia nodded.  “She gave me the money to give to the witness.  She somehow got Angeles to be involved.”

“And the police know all this?” Sara asked.

Lidia nodded.  “Yes, and it seems like Cuevas believes me, thankfully.”

The visitors all nodded.  This was a lot to take in, and there was some mental acrobatics involved in understanding the plan as it was explained to them.

“So, what next?” Marga asked.

“They arrest Dona Carmen, once they investigate further,” Lidia said.  “As for me and Angeles, I don’t know.”

“You could still go to jail?” Marga asked.

“No-,” Carlos tried to insist, but was cut off.

“Maybe,” Lidia said, giving him a look like they both knew it was true.  “But for less than she’ll get for all these charges.  A lot less.”

“And Angeles?” Carlota asked.  “If they find her?”

Lidia looked at her in a new way.  Lidia hadn’t had any contact with Angeles, obviously.  She figured that if Angeles did ever call anyone, it would be to her, and if she couldn’t get her, it’d be Carlota.  Lidia didn’t know if Carlota would feel comfortable enough to say she’d spoken to Angeles, now that they’ve established that maybe they were being listened to, but Lidia trusted Carlota to make the truth of the situation known in some way.

“I wish she were here,” Lidia said.  “If she were around, she could explain her side of things, what Dona Carmen did to her.”

“Who knows,” Carlota replied.  “If she saw in the paper that Dona Carmen was arrested, maybe she’d come back and speak to the police.”

“I’m not sure they’ll arrest her without Angeles saying something first,” Lidia said.

Carlota nodded.  Lidia had made herself clear – if there’s a way for Angeles to come back, it needs to happen.  It was a risk, sure, but if she didn’t come back, she was going to spend the rest of her life running from murder chargers, and that was just as risky, if not more.

“I hope she comes back, then,” Carlota said.  “No more running, right?”

Lidia smiled a bit.  “No more running.”

-LCDC-

“Angeles, you can come back,” Carlota said into the phone after explaining the plan.  “You can be completely free of the charges, you can come back to the Company, you can live the life you wanted to here.”

“Carlota, I don’t know,” Angeles said.  “It’s a really big risk.”

“The alternative is to live your life on the run,” Carlota said, getting right to the point.

Angeles exhaled sharply.  “I know.”

“I know it’s your choice, but, for what it’s worth, I think it’d be best to come back,” Carlota said.  “Lidia has a plan, and it’s a good plan.”

“This is framing someone for murder,” Angeles said.

“Someone who should be in prison anyway,” Carlota said.  “Someone who almost killed Lidia, someone who has been abusing her power for years.  This is different than Carolina, Carolina was bad but she didn’t deserve this.  Dona Carmen does.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t be deciding that.”

“Cuevas gave you a head start for a reason,” Carlota said.  “He doesn’t want to arrest you.  We’re just giving him more of a reason not to.”

Carlota knew it was maybe a low blow to bring up Cuevas, but she really did believe it was best for Angeles to come back.

“You called me for a reason, right?” Carlota asked.  “To find a way out of this mess?  We have a way, don’t turn it down.”

Again, the dead air over the line made Carlota more nervous than she’d care to admit.

“I’ll be in touch,” Angeles said.  “I have to go.”

-LCDC-

“Thank you for staying, Marga,” Lidia said.  After they had all chatted for a while, both about the plan but also just about themselves and their lives, Carlota and Sara left.  Marga volunteered to stay the night, letting Carlos have a bit of a break.  He was hesitant to go, but Lidia insisted – he had spent days at her side, sleeping in very uncomfortable chairs, keeping an eye open at all times in case anyone came for Lidia.

Lidia told him to go home, to sleep in his bed, the bed he said would be theirs once she was allowed out of the hospital.  He agreed, finally, though said he’d be back early the next morning.

“Not a problem,” Marga said.  And it was true – she was happy to be there for Lidia.  And, at the base of it, she was scared for her friend, still.  She didn’t want to think about it, she didn’t want to talk about it, but she couldn’t always avoid the thought that when she first came to the hospital a few days prior and heard everything that happened and saw Lidia, she wasn’t sure she was going to make it.

And Lidia meant a lot to Marga.  She was the one who got Angeles to convince Sara to let her take the operator’s test, way back on her first day in Madrid.  Marga had meant what she said when she thought Lidia was going to leave – she didn’t want this to be goodbye forever.  She wanted to keep her relationship with Lidia, she wanted to be Aunt Marga, and she wanted someday for Lidia to be Aunt Lidia.

“How’s the wedding planning going?”

Marga exhaled deeply, but her eyes were bright.  “I can’t wait to be married to him, Lidia,” Marga said, smiling.  “I could do without the planning, though, it is…it is a lot.”

“So, skip the planning,” Lidia said.

“What?”

“Just marry him,” Lidia said.  “It’s a wedding whether there’s three people there or three hundred.  And, if you keep trying to make it perfect you’re never going to stop.  So, just do it.”

“Just marry him?” Marga asked.  “Just…just like that?”

“You could do it this weekend,” Lidia said.  She was smiling a bit too, like she knew Marga probably wouldn’t go for this but it was fun to keep the joke going.

“We could…”  Marga seemed to be actually considering it.

“Is your grandmother still in town?” Lidia asked.

Marga nodded.  “She and Pablo have really hit if off.  They had dinner together tonight.”

“Do it while she’s here,” Lidia said.  “I mean, unless Pablo wants a big wedding…”

Marga made a face, remembering how often Marisol got in the way of their big plans, and how much it frustrated both Pablo and herself.

“No,” she said.  “I think he just wants to be married.”

“So, do it,” Lidia said.

Marga waved her hand and giggled a bit.  It was a big idea, and though she really liked the idea of it, she’d have to talk to Pablo about it – though she thought he might agree, too.  It was funny; when Marga first came to Madrid all those months ago, she never would have considered marrying someone without her entire family there.  But now, she was ready to jump in.

“How are you doing?” Marga asked.  “Have you just been in here the whole time?”

“I’ve been able to get into a wheelchair,” Lidia said, a little bit proud of the accomplishment.  “It’s nice to get out of the room, but also, this whole place is awful.”

Marga nodded.  She knew she didn’t like looking at the outside of the building, she could guess how much more Lidia hated it.

“I’ll be out of here soon, though,” Lidia said.  “I stood on my good leg earlier, that’s a good sign.”

“Really?  Wow, that’s great!”

“I should be able to leave here in a few days,” Lidia said.  “I’ll have to be in an another hospital for a little while, but at least it’s not here.”

“Yeah,” Marga said.  She took her friend’s hand and smiled.  “That’s really great, Lidia.”

Lidia agreed.  It was weird to be in a place where she was simultaneously planning to frame the most powerful person she knew for murder, and also consider getting out of bed an accomplishment, but that’s where she was.  And, it was an accomplishment. 

“Hey,” she said after a moment.  “Have you seen Francisco around anywhere?”

Marga’s face fell.

“Yeah, I’m sorry, he came to the Company for his last paycheck and he asked me if you were around, and I ended up just telling him about this,” Marga said quickly.  “I’m sorry-.”

“It’s okay,” Lidia said.  “I’m glad he knows.”  Lidia wasn’t sure how he’d heard or who he heard it from, and she was glad it was from someone like Marga.  Though, she guessed he didn’t ask about her because he wanted to see her; she figured he asked so he could avoid her.  And, he still did end up avoiding her, in a way.

She cleared her throat.  “Yeah, he stopped by,” she said.  “He didn’t come in, but I think he wanted to see that I was okay.”

“Oh, I’m sorry…”

“No, no, it’s alright,” Lidia said, though she could feel tears pricking her eyes.  “Carlos called after him but he left anyway, but I think it’s for the best.  We all said our goodbyes.  He doesn’t need to stay if he wants to go.”

Marga had that face on that Lidia had seen more times that she cared to count.  It was that face she made when Marga felt bad for her, usually for her boy troubles.  It wasn’t a pitying look, either, it was just Marga showing that she cared for her but it still made Lidia feel a bit uncomfortable.  And it wasn’t that Lidia really talked about her situations with Carlos or Francisco a lot, but Marga could tell during all those months when Carlos and Francisco wouldn’t talk to her, when Lidia would go to Carlos’ apartment and even the Cifuentes family house after work, trying to talk to him for days on end and she’d come home and lock herself in her room.  And then during the days after when she eventually stopped trying to talk to Carlos, when she just went to work and back, and didn’t talk about herself at all.  Still, Marga could tell she was hurting.  And Lidia knew that she had a whole lot of walls up, but if there were anyone she put them down for in the slightest, it was usually Marga.

“He wanted to go,” Lidia repeated.  “And I thanked him for it.  If we’re meant to see each other again, we will.  If not, we won’t.”

Marga nodded.  “Right.”

“Anyway,” Lidia said.  “Tell me more about you and Pablo.”

-LCDC-

The next couple of days carried on in that new normal they had established – Marga, Carlota, and Sara all went to work.  Lidia did end up transferring to a different hospital, incidentally on the same day that Miguel got out.

Angeles hadn’t shown up, and she hadn’t called Carlota again, either.  Carlota wanted to think that Angeles was coming back, that it just was taking a little while to find a way back safely, but as the days went on, she found herself losing the faith a little bit.

Still, she carried on.  She went to that bar she knew of with Oscar again.  They felt free in a way they never had been before, and it finally started to feel like they were moving past that night on the roof. 

One night, there was a knock on Carlota’s door.  It was late and she was the only one still awake, so she answered it.

And in front of her in that doorway stood Angeles and Sofia.

“No more running,” Angeles said.

Carlota hugged her.  “No more running.”

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe it’s your last day at the Company,” Marga said to Lidia as she helped Lidia pack up her office.

Lidia exhaled deeply, a cross between a chuckle and an attempt not to cry.  It’d been a hell of a ride, the past six years.  “Yeah,” she said.  “It’s unbelievable.”

She looked around the office, the office that she’d spent so much time in.  The office that had been hers for almost five years.

It was like she could see everything that happened there – she laughed at the memory of sitting across from Carlos at the desk that was now hers, telling him she wanted his job.  She remembered getting her own projects approved, and then approving projects of her employees.  She remembered navigating negotiations with businessmen who thought they could fool her. She remembered the interviews of all the women she hired.

She remembered the day-to-day banalities, the way she’d stand in front of the window and look out at the city and drink her morning coffee. 

She remembered the first time she brought her daughter to the office, and how it felt like something had come full circle, and something else had just begun.  She remembered more recently seeing her daughter play under her desk, or sit in her chair and seem so small in comparison.

She remembered some things she'd done with Carlos in that office, and wondered for a moment how she didn't have more kids.

She remembered sitting behind that desk, possibly having returned to work a bit too soon after her accident but being damned if she was going to let someone else fill the Director spot she earned, and Cuevas telling her that they finally had enough to convict Dona Carmen, that she was safe.  That Angeles was safe.

She remembered the first time she tried to rob the Company.  And the second time.  And the third.

She remembered Francisco.  She wondered about Francisco.

“Everything must end, right?” Lidia said, getting back to packing things up. 

“Still,” Marga said.  “I don’t know, did you ever feel like this was never going to end?  I did.”

“Yeah,” Lidia admitted.  “Things change.  I didn’t think I’d ever leave Madrid.”

“Me neither.”

Lidia nodded in agreement as she packed.  Things had changed so much not only in the past six years, but in the past months.  The Spain they were living in, the Madrid they were living in, was very different than the one they knew.  Carlos’ friends in government thought that a civil war was coming, and they were all inclined to agree.

She looked up when she heard Marga sniffle a bit.

“Hey, no,” Lidia said, dropping everything and going to her friend.  “This is for the best, for everyone.”

“I know,” Marga said.  “I just…it’s so sad.”

Lidia hugged her.  “No matter what happens, we’ll still have everything we did here,” she said.  “Everything we accomplished, everything we fought for, everything we found.  Everything we earned.”  She smiled a bit.  “So, stop crying.  Jimena’s just learning to read and she won’t be able to read letters from her Aunt Marga if they’re all tear-stained.”

Marga laughed.  “You’ll write?”  There was a hopefulness to her tone, and a bit of doubt.

“Of course I will,” Lidia said, and she meant it.

-LCDC-

Lidia walked down the street with Carlos the next afternoon, picking up a few last minute things before they left for the port the next day.  Lidia looked around at the buildings, knowing it was probably the last time she’d seen them, and definitely the last time she’d see them for a while.  They did want to come back to Madrid when they could, but they had no idea when that would be.

They’d sent money to her family.  They'd sent a lot of money to her family.  Lidia never was able to bring herself to go see them, but she did finally make good on the promise to send them money.  She remembered the day she sent a courier to deliver the thick envelopes, along with a simple note saying “From a friend of Alba.”

She looked over and saw her daughter, with one hand in Lidia’s own hand and one in Carlos’, walking down the streets like nothing mattered.  She was happy and, most importantly, she was okay.  Lidia had sobbed when she was born and the doctors told her that she was alright.

She looked up at Carlos.  Her husband, the person she loved in ways she didn’t think was possible.  He was looking around, too, but Lidia knew it was different.  He was from Madrid, it was his home in a way it was never Lidia’s.  Aside from his stints in boarding school, he had never lived anywhere else.  It was where his family was, as Elisa and Uribe were taking full control of the Company and staying in Madrid.  It was where his father was buried, it was where his mother would be released to.  And he was fine with leaving all of that behind; he wanted to finally take Lidia to Argentina. 

But Madrid was home, for all of them, and though they looked excitedly to the future, they still were leaving something behind.

“Alba!”

Lidia hadn’t heard the name in years, so she didn’t respond to it anymore.  Even from a voice that sounded familiar, a voice that she really thought she’d heard for the last time.

“Lidia!”

The voice was louder this time, more sure.  The first call seemed like an instinct, the second like a choice.

Lidia, and Carlos, too, turned, looking for it.  They both recognized the voice.

“Francisco.”

They watched as Francisco crossed the street toward them, looking not that different from the last time they saw him in terms of clothing and appearance, but at the same time looking very different.  He didn’t look so tired, so tortured, so pained like he did the last few months they were all together.  He looked content.  He looked happy.

He had a baby in his arms.

“Francisco,” Lidia repeated.  “Hi.  What are you doing here?”  She was almost breathless.  She hadn’t expected to see him.

“My wife’s in the store across the street,” he said, and it was clear that he spoke differently than he did the last time they saw him.  He’d never said “wife” so confidently to Lidia as he did just then.  “She’s picking out some things I’m not allowed to see.”

Lidia inhaled deeply, realization hitting her at the same time as it hit Carlos.  “It’s your birthday, right.”

“Yeah, it is.”  He looked between Lidia and Carlos.

“Happy birthday,” Lidia said.

Carlos nodded.  “Happy birthday, Francisco.”

“Thank you,” he said.  He was smiling; he was smiling way more than Carlos and Lidia were.  Lidia and Carlos were tense, a bit; they felt unsure of what to do in this interaction.  Francisco was just happy.

It made Lidia and Carlos happy.  It made them loosen up a bit.  This was a good reunion.

“Who’s this?” Lidia asked, nodding towards the baby he was holding.

Francisco smiled even wider.  “This is my son,” he said, holding him in a way that they could get a better view of him.  “Antonio.”

Lidia smiled.  “Hi, Antonio.”

“Do you want to hold him?” Francisco asked.

Lidia looked a bit taken aback by that.  That wasn’t really an offer she expected to ever get – to hold Francisco’s baby with someone else.

Still, there was that unusual happiness, for Francisco in particular, but also for the situation.  She was glad that she could meet his son, that he could meet her and Carlos’ daughter.

“Sure,” she said, gladly taking him.

“And this must be…” Francisco said, looking down at Jimena.

“Jimena,” Lidia said.  “Our daughter.”

Francisco dropped down to her level and stuck a hand out.  “Francisco Gomez.  Pleasure to meet you.”

Jimena shook his hand and looked up at Carlos.  “Daddy, is this Uncle Francisco?”

Francisco looked up at Carlos and his smile was gone.  There was something in his eyes, something beyond the surprise of being called that by this child.

“Yes, it is, sweetheart,” Carlos said.

Francisco blinked a bit, pulling himself together.  “You know who I am?”

Jimena nodded.  “Mommy and Daddy told me about you.”

Francisco looked back up at them.

“We told her,” Lidia said.  “How when I first came to Madrid, it was with you.  How you and Carlos became friends.”

“Why?”

“She wanted to know how we met,” Carlos said.  “And how Lidia got to Madrid.  You’ll see, kids are like little question machines.”

Francisco inhaled deeply as he stood.  He wiped his eyes.  He hugged Carlos, tight. 

“Thank you.”

Their hug ended and Lidia looked toward Carlos.  She looked at Carlos and nodded a bit toward Antonio, telling Carlos to take the baby.  He did, and Lidia hugged Francisco.

“I’m glad you’re alright,” Lidia said.

“You too,” Francisco said.  “All of you.”

They held each other for one second longer, then both pulled back.

“How are you?” Lidia asked.

“Good,” Francisco said.  “We’re only in Madrid to visit Pilar’s sister, then we’re catching a train back to Barcelona tomorrow.”

“Pilar, that’s your wife?” Lidia asked.

Francisco nodded.  “Yes.  Why don’t you guys come meet her?”

There was a pride on Francisco’s face, in addition to the happiness.  Lidia and Carlos never talked about it, but they both knew that they weren’t sure if Francisco would really be alright.  Francisco knew that when he left, he wasn’t sure if he’d find love like Lidia did with Carlos.  But he found love, and it was a great one, and maybe the point of all this was that he didn’t need to compare it to Alba.

Lidia and Carlos exchanged a glance.

“Why not?” Carlos said.

“Sure, if you have time,” Lidia said.

“Of course we do,” Francisco said, taking Antonio back from Carlos.  “She knows about you all, too.”

-LCDC-

“Come with us,” Lidia said, looking around the table at her friends, at the people who had become her family over the past six years, people who now had their own families.  “I know it’s a lot, but we can get you to Argentina, all of you.”

Carlota was the first to answer.  “No,” she said confidently, holding Oscar’s hand on the table.  “We’re not going anywhere.”

She shared a smile with Oscar.  Lidia knew that it’d be hard to convince them to leave Madrid, let alone leave Spain.  But it was a dangerous time.

“Come on, you should leave Madrid,” Marga said.  She and Pablo already had made arrangements to leave; they were going back to Marga’s town and living with her grandmother, at least until things calmed down in Madrid.

“It’s our home,” Carlota said.  “We’re not going anywhere.”

She was bold and confident as ever, but everyone there at the table could feel the tension underneath.  Carlota, Oscar, and Miguel had all sort of dreamed of going to Berlin at some point, but it was very rapidly becoming clear that Berlin was not a safe place for people like them (and most other kinds of people).

So, staying in Madrid was the next best thing.  Carlota was not going to be forced out of her home by anything, she was going to be forced away from the independence she’d worked so hard for, the family she, Oscar, and Miguel spent so much time building and upholding. 

Angeles and Cuevas had already agreed to go to Argentina with Lidia and Carlos.  Lidia was the director of the Telephone Company, and a letter of recommendation from her was powerful.  She already had herself and Carlos set up with jobs in Argentina, as well as Angeles, and they figured Cuevas would be able to get work soon enough.

“Well, you’re always welcome with me and Pablo,” Marga said.

“Yeah, you could use some adults to outnumber all those kids you’ve got running around,” Carlota laughed.  She was laughing, but she also loved the three kids Marga and Pablo had, plus the one more on the way.

Marga laughed, too, but her face fell.  “We’re all going our separate ways…”

The tone shifted.  It was true, they were all going their separate ways, and it wasn’t just because of the political turmoil in Spain, and Europe in general.  It was 1935, the onset of the rotary had long been inevitable.  Lidia tried her hardest to keep jobs for the operators as long as she could, and she succeeded.  But the time of the telephone operator had past.

Oscar had a job higher up in the company.  Lidia had gotten him a spot in lower management with a ton of potential for advancement.  She’d also made damn sure that no one gave him any trouble for being who he was.  Carlota also stayed at the Company.  She didn’t have as fancy a title as Lidia, obviously, or even Oscar, but she did have a couple men who worked just for her.

Marga and Pablo had spent the last few months travelling back and forth from her village to Madrid, getting themselves set up to work their permanently.  Pablo got a job at a bank that wasn’t too far away, and Marga was working, as well.

Things were changing.  It was probably the last time all five of them would be all together.

Lidia held up her glass of vermouth.  She thought about the first time she ever drank with these people, her first night at the Company.  They drank vermouth, they learned a bit about each other, Lidia tried to get enough information out of Angeles so that she could rob the company.  Things were very different than they used to be.

“I’m going to miss Madrid,” she said, and it was true.  She had a complicated history with the city and her time there, but she did love it.  “But I’ll miss you all most of all.  Thank you for being my friends.”

“Thank you all for being there,” Angeles said, raising her own glass.  “I love you.”

“Thank you for making me feel welcome in Madrid,” Marga said, adding her glass to Lidia and Angeles’.  “You all are the reason I stayed, when I first got here.”

“You were always causing trouble,” Oscar said, and they all laughed as he raised his glass.  They certainly sometimes made it hard for Oscar to do his job.  “But I’m glad to know you all.”

“To us,” Carlota said, adding her glass with her usual confidence and determination.  “To our friendships.  To the telephone operators of the Telephone Company.”

“Salud!”