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Afterlifes

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The Symptoms

It had been half a year since that fateful night. A night where a living child walked the land of the dead.

A child who had discovered more than he ever bargained for. An adventure he would certainly never forget.

The world around him was colorful. That was the first thing he registered. It was colorful, like the colors themselves formed the buildings.

The second, was a distinct scent. The gentle scent of marigold flowers and the feeling of trying to walk through seemingly a sea of the petals.

There were people all around him but it was so different. Skeletons in colorful clothing, chatting up a storm to one another or guiding each other across.

He could see a group coming up to meet him. This should have startled him but it didn't. Because these were people he knew.

He knew them and loved them.

The boy rushed forward to embrace the skeleton of an older woman, who stumbled back a bit in surprise. She relaxed, bringing her arms around him stroking his back. He felt such joy being right here with her… but some sadness as well.

"I missed you." He whispered, burying his face.

"And I've missed you mijo. We all have."

The boy, Miguel looked up at the figures all around him, a grin coming to the living boy's face.

"I know Mama Coco… and I've missed all of you too."

I still miss you.

Miguel sighed a little as he started to awaken from the dream. He hated how it ended every time. Just when he was about to tell them everything about how he's been, he had to wake up.

Not that he ever wanted to stay there forever - he had his whole life to get to that but it still felt so soon. He sat up, slumping over, bringing his hands to his face. He took a shaky breath.

He knew she was where she was supposed to be. With everyone who she missed so dearly.

But it didn't mean he didn't miss her or that now that he knew what they were like, that he didn't miss his relatives either.

Miguel looked up across the room at his desk where his guitar and song notebook rested near. Every time he had the dream, he added to that book. He got up, making his way quietly to it.

The strangest thing he could note was those types of dreams didn't stop. They started long before Coco passed away, the day after his night in the Land of the Dead.

But they hadn't stopped. Even when he was initially dreaming about something else, it always changed to that place.

The boy opened up his song book, picking up his guitar gingerly. He strummed experimentally, playing a few chords.

He sometimes wondered if he was losing his mind.

"They say that I'm crazy…" He sang, more so whispered to himself. "They call me a fool…" He picked up a pencil, jotting down the words.

Miguel picked up the strumming, closing his eyes for a moment as he took in the sound.

"But last night it seemed that I dreamed about you…" He sang softly before putting the guitar away for now, closing his notebook. He would think of more lyrics later - if he had more dreams.

This song was different from the others he was trying to think of. This one just didn't seem to flow when he was trying to actively focus on it.

It just came and went like a whisper in the night.

Miguel yawned, stretching his arms over his head. A glance to the window told him it was around when he normally woke up.

His stomach growled.

There was also the scent of his mother's huevos rancheros cooking.

Music was his everything - but he couldn't play on an empty stomach either.

I'll figure these dreams out. I gotta.

oooooo

"He's back again."

The Rivera compound in the Land of the Dead had noticed something odd as well. A few months after Coco had arrived, they started to see a figure walking in their home.

They would've likened it to a haunting had they not been spirits themselves but it was no spirit. It was someone very much alive and who had no business being there.

Coco sighed as she watched a boy wearing a familiar red hoodie walk through the wall that would've led to his bedroom in the living world. It was concerning all of them.

Miguel had no business being there. He shouldn't have even been able to cross the bridge yet there he was, almost like clockwork every single night. Going about his day as if he was living there. They tried multiple times to get his attention, to guide him from one room to the next but it was like touching and talking to thin air. Nothing.

Right now, she and Hector sat in the kitchen, waiting to see what would happen next.

"Do you think he's alright Papa?" She asked, concern in her eyes. Hector gave her a gentle look, running a hand through her hair.

"I'm sure he is, mi'ja." Hector shrugged a little. "We just don't know what's going on yet. No one's heard of this happening before."

Whatever's happening though, something tells me even Miguel isn't aware of it.

Coco nodded, bringing an arm around him. Even though she was old in form and soul, she was still trying to make up for lost time as best as she could. Hector was more than happy to return the embrace, resting his head against his daughter's.

"I just don't want to lose anyone else."

"And we won't."

They heard Imelda give a yell from her workshop as they jumped.

"WE NEED TO PUT A BELL ON THIS CHILD!"

"... Julio might have one." Coco remarked as their eyes followed Imelda, following the ghostly form of Miguel.

"We're going to find an answer to this. I am not dropping my sewing machine AGAIN!"

Hector cringed, knowing how hard that machine was to repair, even if they could just walk right out and get another, it was the principal of the thing.

If they ever got to tell Miguel about this, he knew the boy was never going to hear about the time he unintentionally made Mama Imelda drop her sewing machine.

"Mi'ja, I'm gonna make sure your Mama doesn't do anything she regrets."

"I'm going to ask Julio about that bell."

Hector hurried after his wife, Coco going to find her husband.

Just what is going on?

oooooo

Miguel normally was the one who made the most conversation during meals. Especially when Mama Coco had been alive. At her former place, sat Socorro's high chair, the infant babbling at her brother whenever he looked up. Miguel gave her strained smiles, trying to avoid eye contact with the rest of his family.

His day had not been a very good one. He had woken up from another strange dream and found himself with a massive headache all day.

He also noted that the town seemed a little bigger than usual. Buildings in previously empty lots, or side streets he knew hadn't been there previously but no one was taking notice so he kept quiet.

"Miguel, you're not eating." Luisa spoke up, concern in her eyes. "Do you feel alright?"

"Hm? Si Mama." He replied, spooning a bit of rice into his mouth. It was a pity his appetite wasn't really there, he decided.

It was Arroz Con Pollo night, one of his favorite meals. He had a whole leg quarter to himself, and he didn't even have the appetite for it. "I have a headache." He replied before his eyes widened in terror as he felt another set of eyes on him.

His cousins gave him looks of pity. They too realized what a mistake he had just made.

"I'll get the vaporu!"

Miguel in what felt like an instant was swept away to his bedroom, tucked into bed and using his pillow as a means of scrubbing off the vaporub that had been slapped onto his forehead.

"GAH!"

The teen flopped back onto his bed, wondering what was wrong with him.

He doubted vaporu would fix crazy.

I'm going pollo loco.

He looked outside to see taller buildings had appeared in wondrous colors, lighting up the town in a bright warm glow.

Miguel scrunched his nose up as he took notice no one had seemed to react at the sudden buildings.

He was convinced he was going insane. There was nothing else he could think of. If this was like what had happened the year prior he would've been more relaxed. Walk to the checkpoint, say he's lost, wait for angry but relieved Riveras and maybe get a hug from Papa Hector and Mama Coco.

But there was no way to go back as far as he knew. Not unless he had taken another item off an ofrenda or a grave.

And he was NOT doing that again.

Miguel laid in his bed, wondering how he was going to fix this. He wanted to ask for help. Go to Luisa and tell her what was really going on.

He didn't even know how to approach such a subject with his mother.

He closed his eyes sighing.

Who would believe him?

Chapter Text

The Sight

Miguel didn't feel better in the morning… Or the day after for that matter.

Or the week after. It felt like everything was just getting worse. The images more and more vivid by the day. The headaches getting worse.

It was a cloudy day, a possibility of rain. He was currently out with his mother and tasked with pushing Socorro around in her stroller.

He didn't want to go shopping, one of his least favorite things but something familiar did feel better at least then sitting at home, wondering what was wrong with his mind.

And he didn't want to give Luisa a reason to worry. So he put on his best "casual" smile and walked along, talking like it was all normal.

"Mira, mira, Miguel!" Luisa pointed out an older looking set of castanets in a small antique shop they were visiting. Her eyes lit up as she took them off the shelf ,looking them over. Miguel gave her a curious look.

"You like castanets Mama?"

"I used to play them when I was a teenager. I had to give them up when I married Enrique."

Miguel frowned a little at that. He knew the reason behind it - and understood it even more now but it still was a surprise to see how much the members of his family actually missed music.

"Why don't you get them then, Mama?"

Luisa smiled softly, shaking her head.

"I couldn't. Not for myself."

Miguel put his hands on his hips, giving his best impression of his father's serious face.

"Mama, por favor, you deserve something for yourself."

She shook her head. "These are antiques. I couldn't. Gracias, mijo."

She went off to another area of the shop, her eye-catching something else. Miguel watched her go before looking down at Socorro.

"I think we need to surprise Mama." He dug through his pockets, finding he had some money leftover from his tips playing in the plaza. He looked to be sure Luisa didn't see before he grabbed the castanets.

It happened as soon as he had them in his hands.

"NO! GET AWAY FROM ME! LEAVE ME ALONE!" A dancer screamed as she banged on a door, trying to leave a building. She kept looking behind her, fear in her eyes. Her castanets were tied to her belt, clacking together as she struggled. "POR FAVOR! SOMEONE HELP ME!"

He saw a glint of something silver in the dark.

"NO! NO!"

Miguel snapped out of it as the images faded from his eyes. He was shaking like crazy as he tried to process what he had just seen.

Someone had just been murdered in front of his eyes. That woman.

The owner of these castanets.

She's dead.

SHE'S DEAD!

He dropped them like he had been burned stumbling back.

"No, no, no…"

Miguel looked around the shop. It was busier than it had been when they walked in. He grabbed his sister's stroller, making his way for the door.

"Mama, I'm waiting outside with Coco!" He called over his shoulder, shuddering as he went over the images in his mind but it didn't seem to help much.

The streets seem more crowded than usual too. He raised an eyebrow, watching the people walk by… until, he got a better look at them.

He saw a flash of snowy white… or hearing something rattle.

Miguel swallowed hard as he realized why it looked so different now.

He was seeing the land of the dead and the living… at the same exact time.

"Have I really lost it?"

No… I can't be.

This was real.

This was all too real.

What do I do? What the heck do I do?

He looked back into the shop. "M-Mama! We need to go!"

"What's wrong, mijo?"

Miguel tried to think of an excuse since it was clear - the only one who could see all of this around him and changing by the minute was him.

Before he could however, Socorro started fussing and crying. Miguel sighed in relief, moving her stroller back and forth a bit to calm her down.

"Coco's getting really fussy."

Luisa sighed, shaking her head, hurrying out with a few small bags.

"Let's get going then mijo."

He nodded, hurrying after her, unable to help himself as he looked around, seeing the town had transformed from what he had known it as.

Wow.

Even though, he was scared, he felt nostalgic and a bit excited as well.

He wanted to explore, see what was real and what was not but first he had to lose Luisa. Luckily for him, he knew exactly what distraction could help.

Abuelita still wasn't completely sold on letting Dante sleep inside the house. So the Xolo dog was still sometimes wandering the streets. Right now he was rummaging around inside a dumpster.

"Ay-yi-yi. Mama mira!"

Luisa looked over sighing. "Is that…?"

"Si. May I?"

"Si. Be home before dinner."

"Gracias!"

Now, to see what's new around here.

And see how much I've really changed. It's me that's messed up, nothing else.

Dante sniffed the air before looking to the boy, giving an excited bark.

Miguel skidded to a stop, trying to get him to stay put before he was tackled to the ground.

"AYE! Not the face! ACK DANTE!"

Dante barked happily, licking the boy until Miguel was able to pull away. He put a finger to his lips, trying to signal him to be quiet.

"C'mon boy. We got some stuff to figure out."

Namely, I gotta make sure I'm not actually losing it. This is too real to be a dream…

But I'm starting to think less and less that I'm losing it.

Not losing his mind was a definite plus but feeling like he had to prove it, felt wrong as well.

And so the child kept walking in a place between two worlds, determined to find answers for what had become of him.

Dante dutifully walked beside him for a rare moment, looking serious, keeping just ahead of the boy. Enough that if he got into trouble, Dante could jump in front of him.

"I've been having weird stuff happen to me for weeks now." Miguel spoke quietly. Part of him was sure Dante didn't completely understand him, even though he was his spirit guide. "I'm always crossing the bridge again. I'm completely alive and there's everyone waiting for me. They're all smiley and happy and Mama Coco is still warm despite being well, dead!"

Dante whined a little as the boy walked through what was the edge of Santa Cecilia. To the normal person it would've looked like he had just walked into the desert.

But it wasn't to him. He could see the buildings stacking and towering over him, he could hear music, he could even SMELL it. Miguel closed his eyes briefly, taking another whiff of the air.

It smelled like fresh baked sweet breads.

His stomach growled loudly ,reminding him he had skipped breakfast.

No, no, FOCUS! Come on, focus on the moment. You can focus on your stomach later.

He could see alebrijes flying over head, some that looked like small versions of dinosaurs he had seen. They were busy trying to gobble up whatever it was the patrons of the restaurant behind him had left behind. He brought his hood up over his head to hide his face a bit, remembering the last time.

It was still as amazing as he remembered. Even if the circumstances weren't ideal. Not that they had been the first time.

He started to hear faint guitar riffs coming from a plaza as he started to make his way over, Dante dutifully following behind.

It wasn't terribly crowded but there was a sizable one. He recognized it now. It used to be De La Cruz plaza.

But it had no sign of Ernesto anywhere. Miguel scanned the area until he found a street sign.

"Rivera Plaza." was what it read now.

The riffs were becoming louder as he heard vocals join it. Miguel broke into a run, Dante right behind him as they got a good look at who was on stage.

"The loco that you make me, is just un poco crazy! The sense that you're not making, the liberties you're taking!" The musician on the stage sang, out twirling as he played his guitar, a look of joy in his eyes.

It was Hector, looking better than he had when Miguel had seen him that night. His bones snowy white and clean, his clothes mended… He even had shoes!

Miguel smiled, feeling his eyes get a little misty as he watched Hector perform before he got an idea. He got down on the ground, sneaking around the stage. Quietly. trying to not make a sound he snuck up on his great-great grandfather, standing off to the side, humming along to the music.

"Un poquititi-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-to loco!" Hector finished.

Miguel ran up behind him, a grin on his face.

"Aaaaye-aaaaay-ay-aaaye-aaaayye!"

Hector jumped, eyes widening as he looked to Miguel who had a look of utter joy in his eyes.

"Mijo!" Hector scooped Miguel up in an instant, the boy letting out a laugh, hugging him in return.

"Papa Hector!"

"Oh Miguelito, look at you!" He laughed, bringing him to arms length a bit, looking him over. "Look at how big you've gotten!"

"Not that much." Miguel chuckled, eyes getting glassy. "I… I really missed you."

Hector's gaze softened, bringing the boy close again, Miguel hiding his face a little.

"I've missed you too mijo. So much."

"I thought I was going crazy." Miguel whispered, sighing shakily.

Hector shook his head, stroking his hair.

"It's okay mijo. It's all okay now. I'm so glad to see you."

"I'm not loco?"

"Not at all." Hector kissed his head, holding him close. "Sorry, sorry, you just had us worried too."

"Huh?" Miguel tilted his head, looking up at him. "Why?"

Hector ruffled up the boy's hair, hoisting him up onto his shoulders.

"We can talk about it on the way back to the house."

They blinked, seeing the crowd had tears coming down their faces or were squealing out right.

"Um… my great great grandson, everyone!"

"Hola!" The boy laughed, waving as Hector gave a bow of his head before they started walking off, the late musician grabbing up his guitar as they went. "Adios!"

Hector chuckled, hearing some of the women chatter about how cute they thought Miguel was.

"Your going to become quite the lady killer someday, Chamaco."

Miguel rolled his eyes.

"I don't even wanna think about girls right now. The last girl I saw was a dead one!"

Hector shook his head.

"You'll understand someday. Now. we have a lot to talk about."

"We do. Who goes first, Papa Hector?"

Hector felt joy swell up every time he heard those two words. It still felt magical to be part of the family again. To be called as such.

"You said you thought you were going loco. Let's hear about that, eh?"

Miguel sighed, burying his face into Hector's hair a little. He was talking to a dead man, hitching a ride on his shoulders. Every part of him should have been scared.

But this was his Papa Hector. Someone who he missed and wanted to see so badly.

"I've been having dreams lately. Every night since last Dias De Muertos." He murmured. "Wherever I am in the dream, doesn't matter, I always get drawn to the Marigold Bridge. Even though I'm alive in all the dreams, I'm walking with my guitar on my back."

Hector felt the boy quiver a little as his voice shook. He frowned, patting his knee comfortingly.

"Easy mijo, easy. You don't have to finish. We can talk about it later-"

"Every time I have that dream you all are right there. Everyone even you and Mama Imelda… and Mama Coco. I run up to her and we hug and it's the best feeling ever." Miguel's voice cracked. "And I'm so excited and you're all so excited and just when I start to talk to you guys… I wake up."

Hector frowned hearing this. Every single night, the same exact dream. Reuniting with family. He could understand how it felt. He hadn't cried as much as when his Coco had come running up to him on that bridge or at least he hadn't since she was born so long ago.

"What happens after you wake up?"

Miguel sniffed, looking up a little, noting they were about to pass the food stand from before. He was silent reaching out for it.

Hector moved faster, knowing full well that as soon as Rosita got a look at the boy she was going to go into a flurry in that kitchen. Miguel might not be happy with him for it but he knew he would be thankful later.

"Noo!"

"C'mon, Rosita will never forgive me if I fill you up on junk."

Miguel scoffed, rolling his eyes. At least it was better than the response his own father gave about this sort of thing.

"We have beans at home."

Yay. Beans.

"Okay, to answer your question, I just play my guitar. Then I see what else is weird." Miguel sighed. "All of this, you, are all totally new. I didn't start seeing dead people until today. Buildings since a few weeks ago."

"Must've been a shock huh? Are you scared?"

"I was scared when I thought I was losing my mind." Miguel hugged his head tightly. "I just wanted you and Mama Imelda and Mama Coco. I wanted to know if I was okay."

"And it is okay." It's going to be okay.

"Promise?"

"I promise on all the shoes your family's ever made."

Miguel laughed at this.

"Careful, you got a big promise then."

"And I intend fully to keep it."

Miguel nodded, closing his eyes. "I'm glad your okay."

"Thanks to you, mijo."

The two fell into silence, Hector wondering how he was going to explain to the family that Miguel was actually fine - if seeing the dead and being able to touch their world without being cursed was fine.

Miguel was giving him a dirty look every time they passed a restaurant.

"Papa…"

I thought Elena was obsessed with feeding this kid.

Good things we have beans at home to hold off while Rosita works her magic.

He opened his mouth to say just that but decided against it. The look Miguel was giving him was enough to make him wonder how many times he had heard just that.

"You'll thank me later."

"Alright." Miguel leaned back a little. "So, what's YOUR half of the story?"

Hector tripped a bit before taking a deep breath.

"You've been appearing like some kind of ghost to us since that day too. Without fail you'll show up at some time, running around, talking to your living family members. Going into your room even though that spot in the house won't build itself until you die-"

"Awww man."

"No! That's good! Don't die young!" Hector scolded him lightly before continuing. "And we couldn't interact. We tried. We really did. Even had your Tia Rosita making Pan De Muertos to try to entice ya with the smell. It didn't work."

Miguel scrunched his nose up. THAT sounded genuinely freaky.

"That's weird, Papa Hector."

"You were super quiet too when you weren't talking to your family members. You gave Imelda a real scare. Then she got real mad."

Miguel tugged at his shirt collar, wondering how fast his room would appear then. If Imelda was mad enough, he could easily see a shoe to some part of his body being his cause of death.

"Don't worry, you're not getting a chancla." Hector assured him, though part of him did wonder if Imelda was going to still be mad over the "Sewing Machine Incident".

"How did I scare Mama Imelda of all people?"

"You were looking for something and walked into her sewing room. She turned around and you were looking at something and it startled her enough to drop her sewing machine."

Miguel wanted to laugh but he knew how hard those things were to fix. He and Enrique spent plenty of time trying to fix the original Rivera sewing machine from way back when. He could picture Imelda's face in his mind's eye, shoe in hand, arm reared back.

Instead, he shuddered, burying his face in his ancestors hair again.

Hector rolled his eyes, patting his knee again.

"We're almost there. Still hungry?"

Miguel sighed a little, feeling nervous now. It had been almost a year since he had seen all of them… and six months since he had seen Coco.

He hoped they had missed him. He hoped they wouldn't be mad.

His stomach was in knots now though as he thought it over.

"No." He whispered. "M'not hungry."

Hector sighed, setting him down as they got to the entrance of the compound. He turned so he was facing Miguel, putting his hands on his shoulders.

"I promise you no one is mad at you for being here, mijo. Imelda's not mad, Victoria is not mad, Rosita, goodness she'll want to make you all kinds of amazing food that she didn't get to do last time, Julio, I know for a fact he won't care and Coco, oh she's missed you so much mijo. She's told me stories y'know."

Miguel looked up a little. Hector smiled gently, tilting his chin up fully.

"All about you. Every little thing you ever did for her. You mean so much to her."

The boy relaxed hearing that, smiling back as he remembered all those times. Even the sillier ones, like when he would pretend they were wrestlers and he'd always let Coco win.

"No one here was ever mad about you being a little ghost boy running around. We were just worried something was going on but I think we'll all feel better now knowing you're safe."

"Right… and I'm not loco?"

"No. Now, come on. Let's get you inside and fed."

Miguel followed him inside, seeing it wasn't the same compound he knew so well but it was similar enough. It's spiritual twin. Bright colors, luscious plants all over.

Even a large fountain in the center.

"Wow…"

Hector ruffled his hair. "You like what you see?"

"Yeah!"

"Good. Just wait til you see the inside."

Miguel bounced a little as he followed after… soon running ahead of Hector, getting an excited look in his eyes.

"Wow…" He whispered. It was huge on the inside, even bigger than he thought it would be. The inside looked like it had from old photographs.

Pictures on the walls of the family, during so many events in life… and death.

"Hey, Papa Hector, when was this one taken? Do ya know?" He asked, pointing to a picture of Imelda rearing back to hit Oscar with her boot. They were alive in the picture and he could see a tiny three year old looking Coco holding onto her Mama's skirts.

"Oh, yes. I took that!" He laughed, throwing his head back. "Oscar had spilled something on Imelda's favorite tablecloth. I got the camera instead of helping."

Miguel snorted.

"Sounds like Abuelita when she's mad at me for playing my music too loud."

"There was an incident like that too. A lot of them." He looked around, listening as he heard Imelda's sewing machine going full throttle. "Stay here, mijo. I'll be back with the others."

"Si Papa." Miguel smiled ,deciding to take stock of what he could see. The photographs were what kept interesting him. Seeing everyone he had heard stories about… but he still wondered how they had all of these.

Maybe it's just the fact this is a world of memories. He thought, taking note there were some of Hector and Imelda when they were newlyweds.

Imelda in a gorgeous long flowing dress, her long hair down and flowing in an unseen wind. Hector with a broad grin on his face in a black suit holding his bride close.

They look so happy.

I need to see if we got that photo somewhere. Probably up in the attic.

Miguel was distracted enough that he didn't hear the footsteps coming down the hall at first.

"MIGUEL!"

The boy turned, eyes widening as he got a good look at his family once more but there was one person who had his attention in particular… and who was making her way right to him.

"Mama Coco!" Miguel got misty eyed seeing her, really seeing her again. He met her halfway, throwing his arms around her. Coco brought him close.

"Oh, Miguel!" She nuzzled him, eliciting a small laugh from her grandson.

"Missed you." Miguel whispered, his voice shaking. This was not a dream. He wasn't going to disappear again from this place. He tightened his hug a little, sniffling.

Coco's gaze softened, stroking his back, humming softly.

"Mijo, it's okay."

Miguel nodded, looking up relief, in his eyes. "I'm just glad to see you. To see all of you." He sighed happily.

"And we're all very happy to see you. Right?"

Miguel grinned sheepishly as his family surrounded him, asking him questions, looking him over, stealing him a few times to get their own hugs and greetings.

It was when Imelda came up to him that he grew a bit nervous. She had a stern look on her face, her arms were crossed.

"Miguel. "

The boy gulped, bracing himself.

"I…" She began before pulling him into a tight hug. "Am so glad your okay mijo! Don't you ever worry your family like that again!"

"UWAH! Si Mama Imelda, si!" Miguel nodded, relieved… until she peppered his head with kisses. "UWAH! Hey!"

"I barely got any last time!"

"Oh, is he hungry?" Rosita asked.

"Starved. He kept asking for sweets the WHOLE way home." Hector retorted, earning a glare from Miguel.

"Traitor." He muttered.

"We'll discuss this over lunch. Rosita, want some help in the kitchen?"

"It's always more fun if there's more to join."

Miguel smiled sheepishly. "I don't need to eat much-"

"You're skin and bones - literally! I'll make you a good feast!"

Miguel shrugged, though he felt relieved. All of this was real. The people around him were real, this place was real. He could touch it, see it, smell it.

It was all real.

I'm not crazy.

Miguel looked around at all the people who cared for him. A family he had helped pull back together, feeling content to just be there. Right in the moment.

He hugged Coco, sighing happily as she ran her hand through his hair.

"It's all okay now, Miguel. We're all here for you."

It really was going to be all okay now.

His stomach growled loudly, eliciting a laugh from everyone around him.

"And soon you have a good meal. Like I promised." Hector smirked.

Miguel got a thoughtful look on his face as he went up to his great great, grandfather tilting his head as he looked at him.

"What?"

And stole his hat, before bolting outside without a single word.

Hector's jaw dropped, his eyes falling with it as he watched his great great, grandchild run off. He looked to Imelda and Coco with this expression before Imelda took her husband's chin righting it.

"Did he just?!"

"Si."

Hector got up, adjusting his vest.

"Oh that's it, Chamaco! C'MERE YOU LITTLE PUNK!"

Miguel let out a shriek that broke off into laughter as Hector chased after him. Around the fountain, twisting around the trees planted in the area. A hand firmly holding the straw hat to his head.

"Never in a million years!"

"We'll see if a million years comes a little fast then!"

Miguel looked back at him, giving him a grin that showed off his lone dimple before a terrified look replaced it.

"Papa Hector, don't give me that look!"

He couldn't dodge as Hector lunged for him, the two tumbling as before Hector wound up upright, holding the boy securely in his arms.

"I win, mijo."

Miguel hugged him tightly, shaking his head.

"I win."

Hector's gaze softened as he rested his head against Miguel's.

"You really have grown kid."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. You're a punk like I was." He deadpanned.

Miguel busted up laughing so hard, Hector could feel his own bones rattle from the force of it.

"DARN RIGHT I AM!"

"And he's proud of it. HE'S PROUD OF IT IMELDA!" He called, hauling the boy over his shoulders, detaching his arm to steal his hat back and place it where it belonged.

Though… I am glad to see my little chamaco again.

You really are one of a kind Miguel. We don't know what kind yet. But we'll learn together.

Just keep being yourself. Please keep being yourself.

Chapter Text

Psychic

Miguel had spent until the early evening with his family. Namely, spending time getting to know them all again and filling them in with everything. He wound up staying well past lunch and into around when they served dinner as well.

From small things like grades, to his sister and how big she had gotten lately. Filling up silences with talking and listening. Sometimes messing with Hector's guitar showing off some new chords he had picked up.

Miguel felt right at home, sitting between his great-grandmother and great-great grandparents. And he would admit, Hector was right.

Rosita made the most amazing food he had ever eaten - only second best to his Mama's.

"Okay, so I was playing soccer in the plaza with two of my friends and I kicked the ball really high like I think as high as Pepita can fly and then I lost track of it and it went right for-" Miguel was talking up a storm temporarily ignoring the food on his plate distracted by his story.

"Oh Miguel you eat like a bird. Eat more!"

Miguel gulped as Rosita started to put another tamale on his plate. Now this was the true test of if he could get away with something.

"No gracias Tia Rosita." He replied giving an innocent look.

Rosita's eyes narrowed into a familiar look as she held up the tamale in question.

"I asked if you wanted more tamales."

Hector elbowed him a little shaking his head. Arguing with Rosita over portions was not going to ever work. Ever. He had tried quite a few times and all failed.

Miguel shrugged. If, it wasn't going to work he could go along with it. The food was good enough to deal with it.

"Si! I don't know what I was thinking! They're so good I can eat twenty!"

"Maybe not twenty." She laughed. "Such a sweet boy."

He still had three more than he wanted. At least it was better than when Abuelita put six on his plate. Miguel shrugged going back to his food.

"Oh! Okay so when the ball got away, I had to go get it! It was going RIGHT for the peleta seller's cart! So I slid, like real cool and all and kicked it away before it could. He didn't think it was as funny as I did." Miguel shrugged dodging a hand that tried to ruffle up his hair. "Hey!"

"You're just like your Papa Hector." Coco told him giving him a gentle smile.

Miguel smiled a happy look in his eyes. Hector closed his own sighing happily at that. He never would get tired of hearing those words.

For all of them it had been so long since they had interacted with a living child. It was nice… But there was more to discuss than soccer balls and ice cream.

"We should head for the Department of Family Reunions after we eat. See if this is breaking any rules of our own."

The tone of the room shifted as Imelda spoke, giving each of her family members a serious gaze.

"Si. Imelda's right." Hector agreed giving his wife a loving look before looking down at his grandchild with a concerned look. "We have a guess of what's going on with Miguel. He can interact with us when before he couldn't."

Miguel gulped.

"Am I gonna be in trouble?" He asked softly worry coming over him again finding he didn't want to finish the food he had been whining for earlier that day.

"No mijo I doubt it." Coco replied. "Right?"

"No, we just need to figure something out. You didn't do anything wrong." Julio agreed from across the table.

"No stealing off graves right?" Victoria asked with a stern look.

Miguel cringed shaking his head. He remembered all too well what that was like.

"NO! Never again!"

Rosita sighed looking at the trays of dough she had resting in the kitchen.

"So I guess this means no time for pan dulce?"

"I doubt everyone needs to come along. Only myself, my husband, Miguel and Coco should be needed." Imelda replied. "Be sure Miguel isn't going to be in any danger from being exposed to this world again."

Miguel at this felt the back of his neck to be sure nothing was turning skeletal on him.

"Well… Let's go then. I'm full. Besides.." He looked at the large clock that sat above the table. "I need to get home soon." Miguel cringed as he remembered something. "Mama is going to be serving dinner herself in two hours."

"All the more reason to get this over with."

"And besides Rosita if it all goes well means you can feed him pan dulce another day."

"Si Papa Hector." Miguel gave him his best innocent look before he lowered his voice so only Hector heard it.

"Besides you owe me."

ooooooooo

The Department of Family Reunions wasn't very busy on this particular day. Imelda knew from experience retrieving family members that some days were better than others. It said more about the other side far more than anything else.

But even with those milling about they recognized Miguel as soon as they got a good look. The living child of legend for the dead. The one who revealed the murder of his great-great grandfather and brought his family together again in life and death.

Miguel wasn't sure what to make the adoring stares or the suspicious whispers however. He didn't have to think about it long when Imelda whipped her head around.

"You get a good look? Take a picture for your ofrenda it'll last longer!" She snapped earning yelps of surprise and scattering those who had been staring.

"Your on fire today mi corazon." Hector whistled in admiration of his wife. Especially since it wasn't directed at him.

"They were staring at our boy." She muttered taking the lead again, tugging on Miguel's arm and keeping him held close to her. She knew she commanded a presence and respect.

If that kept her family safe, she was fine being a jaguar ready to bite whatever harmed her young.

She's scary when she's mad.

"And yet you didn't bring out the shoe!"

Coco muttered something about Imelda being faster than she was with it.

"Like my little girl would EVER use the chancla!"

"Who do you think taught Abuelita?" Miguel retorted as Hector's face turned from a casual smile to one of mild fear as he looked at his daughter.

"Mija… Just remember how much Papa loves you."

"I would never forget that." She assured him patting his arm.

Miguel tuned out most of the banter between his family opting to look around him… Trying not to think about what might happen.

Even though, he knew it was unlikely to happen - especially given who was holding him to her protectively… His mind still conjured up images.

Images of laboratories run by skeletons, who were all too eager to experiment on him. Figure out how he worked.

Maybe yank out my skeleton and make it dance…

Would it have marks on it too?

Miguel absently started rubbing his face as he found himself unable to stop thinking of said images even as they walked into the room. He took a few glances around but his mind just kept conjuring up images he would rather not imagine.

Stop thinking about it. Stop it. STOP IT.

They have swimming pools though. DJ's. I remember even seeing splint shops for broken bones when I was here last.

So why not labs where they experiment on weird kids?

STOP IT!

He had completely tuned out the world until he noted Hector pulling him away from Imelda gently. "W-what? No-"

"You don't want to be in range of her hands when she's talking like loca." He warned him. Hector brought his arms around his great-great grandchild smirking a little. "Just enjoy the show."

"Is she making sure you guys don't sign a "experiment on the boy" card or something?" Miguel blurted out without thinking.

Hector and Coco exchanged alarmed looks. THAT's what made him quiet so quickly?

"... Where did you get that idea?" Hector turned the boy around giving him a serious look. "Was it Oscar? Felipe? They like to play pranks."

"No." He gave a sheepish look fiddling with his finger tips. "I kind of just thought…"

Hector heaved a sigh of relief he wasn't going to have to feed his brothers-in-laws to Pepita.

"Your not going to get experimented on. I promise."

"No doctors either."

"None of that. Aye dios mio you watch too many movies." Hector shook his head hugging the boy a bit tighter. Like Miguel he, too had a knack for graphic images straight from his imagination. Even if he didn't have a brain anymore to make them, he had the memory of a brain that still worked just fine.

And while Miguel's imagination had settled and, he was comfortable… Hector too now had the images of someone trying to hurt his boy in his mind.

Both were startled by it as Imelda waved them over. She looked less than amused. The agent she had been speaking to was looking her with looks of terror.

"R-right this way."

Miguel recognized the agent they had been sent to. The agent looked at him and shook his head. Miguel scrunched his nose up a bit.

"So the Rivera's are at it again. What can I do for you today?"

Imelda thrusted a hand to Miguel, Hector tugging the boy back a bit knowing once Imelda got started there really was no stopping her.

"My great-great grandchild can see dead people. We've brought up his apparition appearing in our home but no one followed up on that. Now he found his way to our home! So what can you tell me about this? Because, he was definitely not cursed." Imelda explained.

The agent got up looking through some files.

"See the dead, interact with this world… And did you touch any objects owned by someone who had a violent death?"

Miguel thought back to the castanets and shuddered.

"I… I don't wanna talk about what it was but yes." He spoke softly looking away. "It was awful."

"I imagine. Most children don't understand it when they see it." The agent looked to the deceased Riveras with a small grin. "Congratulations. He's a Psychic Child."

"Congratu-HE'S SCARED TO DEATH. WHAT DO YOU MEAN CONGRATULATIONS?!"

"Eheh, Senora please hear me out. Psychic Children aren't uncommon - They usually can't interact with our world however outside of Dias De Muertos. One like Miguel here is a bit rarer. Not extremely but a sign he's got abilities he wouldn't have had before. Likely his time here did that - and even the blessing from before he ran off wouldn't have prevented it. He would've developed them anyways."

Imelda took a deep breath as her husband took her hand squeezing it.

"Then what does this mean for Miguel? Is he going to just grow out of it?"

"Oh no. He'll have this as long as he lives. It's a permanent gift. I've seen a few Psychic Children come through here but not in the last eh… 100 years or so give or take a few in Santa Cecilia. But they're like any other child they just have… A special job. If they wish to do so."

"Job?" Miguel asked walking forward. "What job?"

"Well." The agent adjusted his glasses. "There are sometimes cases where spirits don't make it to our side easily. Those with psychic abilities - the same abilities you have now, can cross them over to this side if they refuse to cross. Remove the memory from objects that are haunted by the last experience of the person who owned them."

Miguel rubbed his fingertips together as the image of the dancer being murdered, her castanets on her belt came to mind.

"... And I can help them?"

"Yes. And there is a bonus - Psychic Children go under quite a bit of stress from it all. So they're often assigned guardian spirits who can watch out for them. Usually their family on this side."

Miguel's eyes lit up.

"So… If I say I'll cross over spirits and stuff, my family can cross the bridge any time they want?"

"Is that allowed?!"

"Basically. The Rivera family will now be registered as spirit guardians - not like alebrijes for you'll still have your normal forms - but you can affect things in the living world now. Like you senora - let's say Miguel is climbing something you know he'll fall and probably break his neck from the fall-"

"HEY!"

"And you wanna discourage it. You could grab him or use whatever else you felt needed to make him quit."

Miguel eyed his great-great grandmother's boots and shuddered at the idea of Imelda discouraging any mischief with a shoe to the head.

"So.. I'm a big deal?"

"Eh, your a deal. Not a huge deal but your something this side hasn't seen for a while from your town."

Miguel shrugged, he could accept that. He could totally accept that… Especially if it meant he could see his relatives more often.

Especially if it meant seeing them any time he wanted.

"So how would he summon us if we're not constantly watching him then? We can't always have an eye on him."

The agent smiled.

"He would just have to call your names. Or you would know - the connection is quite strong. If he's in distress and needs you, you'll know in an instant. Your Alebrije could take her natural form as well in these cases."

"Splendid."

"So there really isn't anything else to it. He's just gifted. We often call it The Sight."

Miguel hummed in thought at this. "The Sight." He whispered. "I like it."

The boy was relieved - but was also getting excited about this possibility. Of being someone who could help people find their loved ones and be remembered - like his Papa Hector. So no one didn't have to be forgotten if it could be avoided.

While, the boy started to bounce in place his mind conjuring up images of greatness… His family heaved sighs of relief their boy was just fine. That he wasn't in trouble.

"So wait. Him being like a well… Ghost-"

"Was just him unintentionally astral projecting. His powers are fairly new, but now that he's had them fully awaken that should stop. Well unless he wanted it. Emphasis on should - there might still be incidents."

"Wonderful." Imelda muttered, Hector just hugging his boy tightly relief going through both of them.

"As for our world and the living world - children like him are living essentially on two planes of existence. He sees our world where other people don't and freely interact with it. But it's not a curse."

They sighed in relief, Hector ruffling Miguel's hair up as the boy tried to bat his bony hand away. Miguel was safe. That's all they cared about.

After a few more words and taking a folder for the rest of the family to look at they headed out… Miguel running ahead of them a burst of energy going through him.

"Don't run!" Imelda called, after him. Miguel twirled around a bright grin on his face.

"I'm not crazy! I have…" He held up his hands wiggling his fingers. "The Sight!" He said in a mock whisper a mischievous look coming to his eyes.

"That's right chamaco! And that means we get to visit as often as we want!"

"For as long as you want!"

Imelda sighed trying to hide her smile as Hector scooped up Miguel onto his shoulders, the two both letting out laughs full of joy and relief.

"It really is alright now." Coco sighed in relief smiling fondly at the two.

"It really is. Now. We need to get him home. Best to not make a bad first impression as guardians."

Miguel threw his head back letting out a long high-pitched grito catching the attention of a few passerbys. Hector grinned letting out one of his own.

"Get used to that though. That'll be happening as often as it can now." Coco chuckled.

Imelda smiled softly.

"I can definitely get used to it."

Even as, Miguel was randomly proclaiming his new-found power to those they walked by. She could get used to it. He was happy - and he was not about to die as they had been secretly fearing. He was not sick.

He was just their Miguel.

"Papa, this means I can play in this plaza with you now!"

"We'll need to work on your song book then Chamaco!"

I'm definitely going to get used to it.

Chapter Text

Mischief Not Managed

It was a relief when Miguel saw the compound, Pepita touching down silently and carefully on the old workshop he used to hide in.

"Home." He sighed, looking to his family. "So, am I gonna see you guys soon then?"

"Of course, mijo." Coco cupped his cheek in her hand, stroking it with her thumb, the boy leaning into her touch a bit. "Might not be all at once but we'll be here for you."

Miguel smiled, feeling his eyes get a little misty. It had been such a strange and stressful time. To know there wasn't anything wrong with him. To know everything was alright.

He hugged her tightly. She brought her arms around him, resting her head against his.

Even if it hadn't been that long for either one of them, it still felt like a century had gone by since they had interacted.

"Alright mijo, one for the road."

Miguel chuckled as Coco pulled away, Imelda and Hector bringing him into an embrace.

"Now, be good." Imelda brushed some of his hair aside, trying to make it look neat. Hector ruffled up his hair, thwarting her efforts as she gave him a look.

"Si, si ,I will."

"And for the love of music, don't say "I'm sick" to excuse an appetite if you don't want that vapor-whatever again!"

Miguel laughed, nodding. "I'm not doing it again. Don't worry." He moved to slide down from Pepita's back only to freeze remembering something rather unfortunate…

They had forgotten Dante.

"Em…. Mama Imelda?"

She sighed, putting a hand to her face.

"We'll get the pero."

Miguel gave a grateful look before sliding down, making his way to the cypress tree in the yard, climbing down. He waved to them before heading inside, bracing himself.

It wasn't long before a chancla flew at his head as he ducked, hitting the doorway instead. He gulped, feeling like he just saw the last several hours flash before his eyes.

Luisa was right in front of him, one of her other chanclas in hand, baby Socorro in the other.

"Where have you BEEN!?"

"Dante wouldn't come back!" He exclaimed, giving her an annoyed look. "He ran away and then I couldn't find him and…" His voice cracked, lowering his head.

"Now remember mijo, use the waterworks. Your mama is ready to whip out the shoe? A little bit of the "cute yet sad kid" look should-OW! IMELDA!"

"Don't give him ideas, Hector!"

Luisa was quiet studying him before tipping his chin up.

"Don't. Lie." She was giving him a dead serious look. "I mean it Miguel."

He gulped. He wasn't sure she would believe the real truth. He felt guilt bubbling up, knowing that for now he had to keep this secret.

"Did you find your friends while out?"

Eh? She's giving me an out?

However, knowing that if he said that he was out with friends and she called their mothers - they would all be in trouble.

"Okay, I'm sorry. I was exploring with Dante." That was as best as he could put it. He knew he wasn't crazy. That much he was sure of.

His family, he wasn't entirely sure would be convinced of that.

"And you didn't answer your phone why?"

Miguel fumbled for his phone, praying that the half charge he had on it had already died. He glanced at it seeing it was indeed dead as a doorknob.

"Phone died. I didn't notice. I'm so sorry." He frowned, feeling genuinely bad for lying. He would break it to her later, take the chanclas thrown and hope she didn't think he was nuts.

Luisa sighed, putting her free hand on her hip, giving him a stern look.

"Next time, come and ask before running off. Don't tell me you're getting Dante out of trouble and then not come check in. I mean it Miguel. I don't want a repeat of-"

"Dias De Los Muertos." Both finished.

She sighed, bringing him close, kissing his head. "Don't make me worry. I expect you to check in, okay? I don't mind you running around usually but please tell me if you'll be out late."

"I promise."

"And if you're in that desert take water."

Miguel looked at her stunned. She tapped his shoulder, showing him the dust that had accumulated during the flight home.

"Si, Mama."

"And a stick and a first aid kit. There could be snakes."

"Si, Mama."

She started leading him away. "And..." She lowered her voice. "You are SO lucky the twins broke the sewing machine or it'd be Abuelita here with HER chancla instead of mine. Everyone's been working overtime to get orders done."

Miguel swallowed hard, hugging her tightly.

"Te amo, Mama. Te amo."

She patted his head, smoothing his hair down.

"Te amo. But I mean it, this is your only warning."

"Si, Mama!"

I am SO lucky the whole family wasn't after me...

Dante's bark heard outside alerted him all was well this time.

Now… to talk Abuelita into letting Dante sleep inside.

oooooo

He had gotten up as early as he could for this. Even earlier than he normally did.

He was going to take this as seriously as he could. It was a new job and he wanted to do right by it.

"Hector, come back to bed." Imelda yawned, looking at her husband tiredly. "What are you doing? It's 6 in the morning."

"Getting ready to do my job as a guardian."

"You know we don't have to take shifts, right?"

Hector shrugged, slipping his vest on and running a comb through his hair. "Yes but I'm just… I'm excited." He grinned sheepishly in her direction.

Imelda smiled softly, sitting up a bit. "I know, mi corazon and I love you for it."

"And I love you." He went to her, kissing her head. "Sorry, guess I'm acting like a big kid aren't I?"

"No. I think it's sweet." Imelda brought her arms around her husband as Hector sighed, curling up with her again.

Maybe it could wait a few minutes. Imelda was pretty cuddly when she wanted to be.

He sighed, happily cupping her face in his hands, a loving smile on his face.

"Look at you mi amor. So beautiful."

"Muy guapo."

He chuckled, kissing her head. "Te amo, my love."

"Te amo. Keep out of trouble today."

"I will, I will."

"And keep Miguel out of trouble."

"... That's going to be a bit harder but I'll do my best."

Imelda nodded, hugging him tightly.

"Good."

Hector sighed happily, resting his head against hers.

"One more favor, mi amor."

"Si?"

She held something small and silver on a ribbon up for him to see.

Hector gave her a look.

"I am NOT putting a bell on him."

oooooo

The Rivera compound was quiet for the most part this time of day. The only sounds coming from the kitchen area as Luisa and Elena got the first meal of the day ready.

But the kitchen wasn't what he was concerned with. Though he would be lying if he said he wasn't excited he could walk the Earth without that bridge hindering him even a little.

No bridge today though! Just me because I got a job to do! THAT'S RIGHT! GUARDIAN SPIRIT, COMING THROUGH!

Hector would also be lying if he said he wasn't excited about this. At all. Because he felt like a kid in a candy store looking at everything in the house before he came upon the room he wanted. Phasing through the wall and taking a glance around.

It was a decent sized room, a writing desk, a backpack slung over the chair in front of it, a makeshift bed for Dante who was curled up comfortably. (Elena had caved. Exhaustion from the "incident" the night before won over.)

The boy's guitar case was also leaning against his desk, a song book propped up nearby as well.

"Heh, He really is my great-great grandson."

Hector looked to the bed about to speak up louder to rouse Miguel when he took note of how his descendant was.

Miguel looked completely peaceful, his breathing quiet, still fast asleep and in the world of his dreams.

Hector crossed his arms, feeling a bit bad he would have to tear Miguel from that but, he still had to get up and face the day just like everyone else.

So with much reluctance, Hector started to gently shake the boy.

"Buenos Dias, mijo."

Miguel mumbled, turning away from Hector. "Never, let me sleep forever." He muttered.

"C'mon, it's time to get up."

The boy tiredly shoved Hector's hand, away burying his face into his pillow.

"Go 'way."

I was never this bad.

Hector narrowed his eyes, shaking him more.

"Okay, Chamaco, I was being nice. Now you had your say - now get up."

Miguel let out a loud whine. "Dante, make him leave me alone."

Dante let out a snuff type of snore.

"Traitor."

Miguel normally had no problem getting up - but given the last incredibly long day he had the night before, all he wanted to do was SLEEP. Not go to school. Just. Sleep.

The boy, however, finally did roll over, looking up at Hector with a miserable look.

"I know you're still sleepy but you can't stay in bed all day. Now, come on."

Miguel stuck his tongue out a little.

Hector sighed.

"Alright. I'll just go get Imelda." He said, making his way for the door.

Miguel felt fear go through him. "W-Wait, let's not be brash!"

"No, clearly I'm out of practice with this!" Hector adjusted his straw hat, glancing at his great-great grandson out of the corner of his eye. Miguel was sitting up in bed, a look of terror in his eyes.

"Papa Hector, be reasonable!" Miguel pleaded.

"Are you getting out of that bed?"

The boy scrambled for the other side of the room, standing before his great-great grandfather with a hopeful look.

Hector gave him a look of doubt before he smirked, ruffling his hair.

"Finally. Now, vamonos!"

"This is gonna be a regular thing, isn't it?"

"You could've gotten the chancla from Imelda."

Miguel shuddered. He would rather be annoyed out of his bed then have Imelda's wrath.

"Si?"

"Si."

oooooo

School was not Miguel's favorite place to be. He had a few friends there sure - the ones who would sneak him music players or help him rescue old records from behind the music store in town but for the most part he was a loner at school.

He liked it that way.

But he didn't think that loner status would help when it came to his abilities. Even the way to school seemed to be transformed and no one else but him could see it.

Because while his teacher was droning on about math, his eyes kept going to the window in the room. The one that was right in front of a tree.

He really hoped he wasn't the only one noticing an old noose hanging from it.

Like, is it a spirit thing or is it real?

It was during break that he went to go investigate. The tree was as old as the school was, if not older. He couldn't remember how long it had been there. He just remembered when he was very young that Mama Coco told him how when she attended the school the tree was just a little sapling.

The noose, as far as he could, tell looked real enough but when he took a closer look he saw that it wasn't casting a shadow.

But he was willing to bet he could touch it. Miguel looked for a good foothold, grabbing onto the first low hanging branch he could see.

"NO!"

Only to be dragged down immediately by Hector, who was giving him a stern look. "Do you know how high that is!?"

"Si. I wanna see if that noose means anything recent." He pointed up at it as Hector followed his hand, narrowing his own eyes.

"Mijo, I don't think this is a good first test. You see how high that noose is right?"

"Yeah but if it's a clue to someone who can't leave this world, then I gotta."

Hector sighed, rubbing the back of his neck.

Where does he get this stubborn streak from?

"I still think it's a bad idea."

"Then you'll spot me."

Miguel went to try again, only for Hector to grab him around the waist, pulling him away.

"There is no one here attached to that thing. So it's a memory of the object. As in - YOU'RE NOT GOING UP THERE!"

"Oh come on! I bet Oscar and Filipe would let me."

"And face Imelda's wrath? Reeeal funny, Chamaco."

Miguel scoffed, crossing his arms. "Overprotective much?"

"I call that being a great-great grandpa and your guardian." Hector retorted.

Miguel rolled his eyes, muttering a little.

"It was gonna be cool."

"No, it was not."

"Hmph."

"HECTOR RIVERA GET DOWN FROM THERE!"

"Aw Mama, it's fine."

"I'm getting my shoe!"

"YIPE!"

Guh, he really is my great-great grandkid. Hector shook his head, searching his mind for something to distract Miguel with. "Hey mijo. How about we go over that song you were trying to work on?"

"Sure!" Miguel squirmed free before anyone else saw them, getting his little black songbook out of his jean pocket. "Alright let's see… I hadn't been able to work on this one properly in awhile."

Hector nodded to himself, satisfied as he followed after Miguel as the two began to discuss the music Miguel wanted to create.

He kept him out of the tree. It was a good day.

The bell in his vest pocket rang when he hurried after Miguel, reminding him of something.

Imelda doesn't need to know.

It was a long day after the fact. The powers were proving to be a distraction even if Miguel was normally good about buckling down and focusing. The noose wasn't the only thing distracting him. Due to how the buildings of the dead were constructed, he could hear almost every single thing.

Right above his school was a school for the dead children. He could hear them laughing and playing right above his history and science classes.

Hector felt for the boy, he did. He wished he could make it stop for a little while but it was something he would just have to get used to and learn to manage.

Miguel was very glad when the last bell rang for the day and he was able to leave, deciding he was going to walk home.

"So, how'd it feel being a guardian, huh?" He asked with a grin, taking a drink from his water bottle.

Hector smirked, ruffling his hair up.

"Nothing I couldn't handle."

Miguel chuckled, smoothing his hair down. "Ya sure? I thought I was driving you poco loco earlier with the whole tree thing."

Hector rolled his eyes, knowing full well if he hadn't been there, Miguel would've found a way up there. He had no problem climbing up high places to get to his goals.

"No. I was just like that when I was your age - minus the psychic powers but let's not do it again, okay?"

"I promise!" Miguel hugged the spirit, Hector's gaze softening as he returned the embrace. Miguel soon pulled away, running a little bit ahead, a cheeky grin on his face, holding something shiny and silver up for Hector to see.

Hector's eyes widened as he felt his vest pocket, finding the bell Imelda had given him was gone.

"You think I couldn't hear that all day?" Miguel smirked, reminding Hector far too much of himself at that age. With that said the boy turned tail and ran.

"MIGUEL! GIVE THAT BACK!" Hector called after, giving chase.

You know I'm starting to see the appeal of putting the bell on this kid!

Chapter Text

Catching up with the Times

It was a beautiful day out. It had rained pretty hard the day before but this day was just beautiful. Sun was out but it wasn't too warm or too cold.

Just right… and school was out for the day finally. Miguel nearly bowled over a few of his fellow students, letting out a loud grito as he made it out the door, jumping the last few steps and breaking into a run.

"Oi, Chamaco, if Imelda saw that she'd kill you and cremate us both!"

Miguel turned back, slowing down to a brisk walk as he grinned at Hector. This was getting to be their usual routine. Walking home and talking the whole way. However, this day in particular, Miguel noticed some students at the bus stop watching him.

Hector gave him a concerned look when he noted it. The last thing he wanted was for his descendant to have his peers think he was insane.

Miguel, however, had an easy back up as he took out what looked like to Hector some kind of metallic rectangle. Miguel held it up to his ear, giving him a wink.

"Si, si I know she'd kill us both." He motioned subtly with his head for Hector to follow after him. "But I'm careful, you know this!"

"So, what's that thing?" He asked, getting up beside the boy, looking at the device curiously.

Miguel blinked.

"A phone?"

"... That's no telephone like I ever saw." Hector had a look of utter wonder in his eyes as he tried to get ahold of it. Miguel leaned a bit away, walking ahead.

"When we're out of range I'll show it to ya. I wasn't allowed to have one of these for a good long time."

"Why? Is it dangerous?"

Miguel snickered a little. "No, because it plays music and you can even set songs as your ringtone."

"Ringtone?"

"I'll explain at the Rivera plaza. You promised we could hang out there today riiight? Because even though my new upstairs neighbors." Miguel gestured to the tall spirit world buildings that towered over head. "Kept me up all night, I still got up without you asking twice."

"And you did and I'm very glad about that.." Hector watched over Miguel's shoulder as the boy walked, checking to be sure they weren't being watched. It was then Miguel showed him the screen, deciding now was better than later.

"It's a smart phone. What it does, is it lets you do pretty much anything. You can look up stuff on it, you can watch videos or call people or send messages. You can take pictures. Like this." Miguel tapped on an app that showed some photographs he had taken. A few of Dante, some of a plate of Arroz Con Pollo.

"Kid, what is with you and Arroz Con Pollo? Seriously?"

"I like it. Okay? Oh! Mira, mira, this one's really cute!"

Hector leaned over his shoulder, to look at the picture… and swore if he had a heart it would've skipped a beat.

It was, to Miguel, nothing super special. Just a picture of Socorro in her high chair holding her bottle and a big smile on her face.

"Took me forever to get her to stop trying to throw it - she figured out real fast she has Mama's arm."

"She looks like Coco!" Hector breathed, feeling nostalgic. "They even have the same dimples!"

Miguel smiled gently. "That's right, she looks just like the picture of Mama Coco doesn't she?"

"Oh she does. Is there more?"

"Mm-hm. But… plaza first. Fun later. Well, pictures later." Miguel grinned. "For now, c'mon!"

oooooo

Hector strummed his guitar gently, watching over his shoulder at Miguel who was trying to show him how the phone worked.

Though, for Hector, it was just confusing. No one in the Land of the Dead had such things. It just was simply unneeded.

"Alright, this is the best part." Miguel turned up the volume before setting the phone down as music began to play.

Hector was utterly fascinated as he set his instrument aside for the moment, crouching over the screen of the phone. Miguel chuckled, watching him.

"So you… Down-logged it?"

"Downloaded."

"Right. And then it plays?"

"Whenever I want! Oh but you have to pay for the music. When I got the phone, I got a gift card for a site that lets me buy the songs I wanted." Miguel explained, cringing a little. "There's places on the internet - that thing I told you about on the way, that lets you download songs for free - but then the artist doesn't get paid. So I didn't wanna do that."

Hector looked up with a proud look, ruffling his hair. "Good boy!"

"Yeah!" He laughed a little. "So this was just a little free song - it's a movie track. There's a really, really good one though I think you'll like. It's in English though. That okay?"

"Sure, Chamaco. I think I can follow along alright." Hector grinned.

Miguel beamed before setting it up, leaning back against Hector so they sat back to back. Hector closed his eyes, focusing on the music itself. A strong opening of bass and guitar, nice and gentle sounding.

Seemed simple enough to pluck out on his own if he wished.

The song picked up with its vocals at that point, Miguel unable to help himself as he sang along. Proving just how often he listened to it to have it memorized already.

"There were voices down the corridor! Thought I heard them say, welcome to the Hotel California! Such a lovely place, such a lovely place, such a lovely face! Plenty of room at the Hotel California!" Miguel sang out, sighing happily. "Anytime of year, you can find it here!"

Hector bobbed his head along to the music, finding that Miguel was right. It was rather catchy, a dark haunting song of not being allowed to leave a place.

He could relate all too well. Of not being able to leave the Land of the Dead even for five minutes for years and years.

The man would admit - his boy knew what he would be able to listen to and enjoy. Heavy focus on the guitars, the lyrics simple, yet transformative - telling an eerie tale of a place between life and death.

Hector could understand why Miguel would like it. He too could relate, literally living between two worlds. Of being afraid he was losing his mind.

When the song ended, Miguel pressed pause to keep the next song from starting. "Well? What do you think, Papa Hector?"

Hector opened his eyes, looking to him with a smirk. "I think you're going to have to help me get some sheet music for that one, Chamaco."

Miguel's eyes lit up. "You like it?"

"It was good!"

Miguel sighed in relief, part of him had been a little worried that he wouldn't like it. That maybe it hit too close to home.

But he liked it. Which made Miguel happy. "I'm glad Papa Hector… Hey, can I ask something?"

"Hm? Sure, Chamaco." Hector picked up his guitar, plucking out a few notes, trying to decide what he felt like playing now.

"I'm saving up money from playing in the plaza - people give me tips now y'know for music instead of shining shoes."

Hector chuckled. That sounded very familiar. "Ah, I remember those days. What's the money for?"

"Recording equipment."

Hector plucked out a rather flat sounding C chord. Miguel gave him a nervous look.

"What do you want recording equipment for?"

"Well… I was doing some reading. There's this thing called electronic voice phenomenon. It's used by the pros who do ghost hunting."

"They can't talk to them or cross them over I bet."

"Well, even I don't know how to cross spirits over yet, remember?" Miguel retorted. "But the talk part, actually, yeah! They catch voices of people on film and you can hear 'em really well sometimes."

Hector gave him a curious look as he played on, choosing to let Miguel talk on and on about it. If he was doing his research to help himself with his endeavors as he was, that was fine by him.

"And so I wanna get this recording equipment and I'll bring it here, we'll have to like soundproof one of the rooms at the house - yours not mine - and we'll play, you'll sing and…" Miguel's voice faded off as he realized how childish his idea sounded now. "... and I'll always have your music right there. So I can listen to it whenever I want."

That was stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Miguel looked up, seeing Hector was giving him a concerned look.

"Why do you think you need to have my music right there, mijo?"

Does he think I'm too busy to make time to sing for him? Is something wrong?

"I didn't wanna bother you all the time when I wanted to hear a song. Calling you away from doing well whatever it is you did before I came back just to play me songs. That didn't seem fair.. So… I thought if I gave you the equipment and stuff, even if only I could hear it would… would make it easier."

Hector set his guitar down, pulling his grandson into a tight embrace.

"You're a good one, Miguel." He kissed his head before ruffling his hair up. "And you have a big heart but you worry way too much sometimes. I just play in the plaza and make guitars for any musicians wandering. You're not tearing me away from spending time with the family or with Imelda."

Miguel smiled a little. "You promise?" He held out a fist.

It took Hector a moment to remember what a fist bump was before he bumped his fist to Miguel's.

"I promise, mijo. Anytime you want my songs you got them. Now… how about that song you keep being so secretive about, eh?"

Miguel smirked, getting up and grabbing up his own moving, out onto the stage. The plaza was empty now but once the two Riveras got started it wouldn't.

"Nah! I wanna sing something fun! Not a work in progress! You did say anytime I wanted them!"

Hector picked his guitar up, reaching into his vest pocket, pulling out yet another silver bell. It would be so easy while the boy was practicing.

Instead, he put it back and walked out with him, doing some warm up chords.

"Alright, Chamaco. What do you wanna play?"

"I wanna hear your version of The World is Mi Familia."

Hector snorted a little, prompting an annoyed sound from Miguel.

"Miguel, I hate to break it to you - I really do! But that wasn't one I wrote for myself - I lost a bar bet and had to write the cheesiest thing I could come up with."

Miguel's eyes grew wide as his jaw dropped.

"B-But… But…"

"The world is not mi familia." Hector tapped the boy's nose, causing him to jump back a little. "You're mi familia. Remind me to tell you some of the wilder origins of some of my other songs."

"Oh, I'm holding you to that, old man."

Hector laughed as he started to play Un Poco Loco, knowing that would get Miguel to quiet down and join in.

He would tell him all about his antics as a young man later. For now, he could focus on his music…. and his grandson.

And figure out how to work that tiny magic box.

Chapter Text

Return to where it Began

Miguel had been slowly figuring out what he could and could not do as a psychic child. He could wear gloves to keep certain places or items from yanking him into a brief flash of memories that only he could see.

He could talk to spirits freely and move about in his new strange plane of existence as if he owned it. Old burnt down restaurant? Walk right in and order something to eat, the place jumping just as much as it did in the old days.

Climb the stairs to the stacked buildings of the Land of the Dead. That one had been more nerve wracking than anything else.

He could however…

Not avoid a memory flash if he didn't have something to cover his hands with to act as a barrier.

He could never turn off the noise. Which meant at night since the building above his room in particular had large parties every night, the sound would be as loud as possible. Ear plugs deadened it to an extent. He was still working on making his ceiling soundproof. (His Mama was NOT pleased with him when she saw him trying to staple foam usually used for keeping shoe shapes to his ceiling.)

He however did not know how to control astral projection. (Though he hadn't done it since his powers were fully active)

And he did not know how to cross over a spirit.

He had ideas and had done a lot of research but not a lot pertained to what he was. This day in particular he was not happy at all to be once again dragged to the antique shop.

He sighed, looking around the marketplace, uncomfortable as he walked beside Luisa. Socorro was at home with Abuelita so it was just them. Normally he loved moments like this, where he was having time to himself with his mother.

But not right now.

He didn't want to be there. He wanted to be anywhere else but here.

Miguel hesitated to follow his mother as she walked into the antique shop, greeting the owner.

The boy looked inside, shuddering. The room didn't look like it had before that day. Wisps of smoke floating around or going in and out of several items he could see in the immediate area.

Some of these manifested into humanoid shapes. Some, had flashes of snow-white or he saw a bony hand reaching out before fading.

He knew this was just memories or spirits attached to objects but it didn't make Miguel any more comfortable.

There was something he had to do though. So, with much trepidation he donned a pair of leather work gloves, looking around for the item in question.

I really, really hope I can figure out how to remove the memory. If I can't, I'll just find someone who can.

Y'know I would… if it wasn't for the fact I'm the only psychic, let alone psychic kid in the whole town!

It didn't take him long. They were on the same shelf he found them on the first time… The castanets that felt like they started all of this.

He really wished he didn't feel so alone doing this though.

He could call for one of his family members but that could draw unwanted attention to himself - and he really didn't want to worry them.

The red castanets that belonged to a long dead, as far as he knew, dancer. He reached out, hesitating a little before grabbing them.

His gloves kept them from influencing his sight to the past. Miguel took a deep breath, smiling a little.

"I can do this." He whispered.

I can handle it.

Miguel took a deep breath, looking to be sure Luisa couldn't see what he was doing. He approached the register.

"Excuse me, senor?"

"Ah, Miguel! What can I do for you today?"

He held up the castanets.

"I'd like to purchase this, por favor… and I have a question as well."

"Hm? Of course."

"Where did these come from?"

The shop owner got a suspicious look in his eyes.

"Why do you ask?"

"My abuelita is superstitious. You know, it'd be a shame if you didn't disclose anything and a chancla busted that nice window…" Miguel's eyes trailed to the window at the front of the shop.

"Ay, you Rivera's and your shoes. I got it at a police auction in Mexico City. Alright?"

"Alright. Gracias."

A police auction, eh?

Hm… at least it's something.

He paid for the castanets, keeping them hidden. He soon was lead out by Luisa who gave a frustrated sigh.

"I swear Miguel I need to go to one of the places in Mexico City or something. I can never find what I want here!" She sighed once they left the shop. "Did you find something?"

"Si, I did but it's a secret." He grinned nudging her a little. She smiled, bringing an arm around his shoulders.

"You silly boy. Te amo, Miguelito."

"Te amo."

"You wanna watch something tonight with your father and I?"

"Si!" His eyes lit up. "A movie? A musical maybe?"

"Maybe." She winked. "If you're back in time for dinner with an appetite."

"I will! Promise!"

"Good boy."

oooooo

"So, these are what awakened your abilities?"

Miguel now sat in the living room of the dead Rivera compound, the castanets set on the table in front of him. He was curled up as much as he could on the couch away from it. His family looking at them curiously but also to him with concern.

Imelda was examining them, turning them over in her hands.

"Si, Mama Imelda. I didn't wanna go back for them but… I kept feeling like I had to. To at least figure out how to remove memories from objects. These belong to someone or they used to. The shop owner said it was from a police auction." Miguel sighed, leaning against Coco who stroked his back, trying to keep him calm.

"So, there's no way to look further into it. You're a psychic child, yes, and you're supposed to eventually learn how to cross over spirits… but the fact is you're still a boy."

Miguel nodded. He knew this feeling. He knew it all too well. It only took Coco's letters and journal when she was alive to prove Hector's songs were stolen.

It would take things Miguel would normally have no way of knowing to prove the murder of his great-great grandfather. He could blame it on other things over time to throw suspicion off.

But something that might be more recent?

Even he wasn't sure how to clear that one.

It didn't feel good. He knew there were limitations but he didn't expect to run headfirst into one.

He couldn't solve this crime unless he knew exactly what to look for. Even then, he would have to get outside help.

And the idea of trying to go to his family and explaining all of this to him was terrifying.

"Miguelito, don't get so lost in your thoughts."

Miguel looked up. Coco was giving him a gentle look, cupping his cheek in her hand.

"How could ya tell?"

"You get this terrified look in your eyes when you're overthinking something. Yes, it's a big job to undertake but you are not alone."

Miguel nodded, keeping quiet, hugging her as she stroked his back.

"It's okay mijo, it's okay."

"I can't solve it."

"And that's okay. You are just thirteen years old. Yes, you're gifted but you are also ours. We don't expect you to be able to do everything."

Miguel smiled, wiping a quick tear away.

"Si, Mama Coco." He took a deep breath. "Okay… I wanna try."

"And we'll be right here." Imelda reached over, smoothing his hair down. Hector leaned over the couch, giving Miguel an encouraging look.

Miguel looked around the room, seeing everyone was right there with him. From Imelda to Hector and Coco to the twins and even Victoria.

Dante was asleep at his feet and Pepita was right outside.

He took a deep breath, getting up.

"... If I fall over..?"

"We got you, Chamaco. You can do it. Shake out those bones!"

Miguel chuckled a little before getting an idea. He grinned before letting out a loud grito that echoed off the high ceilings back down to him.

"AAAAAYYYEEE-AIIII-AIIII-AAAAAH!"

"That's my boy!"

"No Papa… That's OUR boy."

Miguel smiled before looking at the item on the table where Imelda had left it. He took a deep breath before picking them up.

It happened in an instant. He felt energy charge through his senses as his eyes went wide, unseeing to the world around him but instead to the world of the past.

He could see the dancer again. Once more it played out as she ran, banging on a door before turning to face her attacker.

"NO! GET AWAY FROM ME! LEAVE ME ALONE!" She screamed, banging on the door harder, Miguel could see a glint of silver his eyes, following it, trying to make out the attacker's face. It was too cloaked in darkness to tell.

"POR FAVOR, HELP ME!"

Miguel's grip tightened as the memory continued.

"Por favor. Please… Please no… No…"

He could see the dancer's face full of fear, her eyes wide in terror as she pressed against the door.

"NOOOOO!"

Miguel tried to focus, to tune out the memory even as it replayed. Even as it continued to other memories of this young woman's life.

He could never however see the person who attacked her.

But still, his eyes closed as he saw them in his mind's eye. The wispy spirit energy of memories. He slowly brought both hands apart, the real world object in one hand…

And in the other, the ones from the gruesome past, glowing faintly and slightly transparent in his other hand.

Miguel slowly opened his eyes, looking at his family, seeing looks of shock mixed with concern… and pride. He looked at the two sets of castanets in his hand, Victoria taking the spirit version away from him. He tightened his grip on the psychical object, staying quiet.

"Mijo?" Coco asked, breaking the silence after several moments. Miguel's eyes met hers as he grinned.

"I can't see the memory anymore."

The Riveras cheered, as the boy laughed, falling back onto the couch, his grandparents bringing him into a large group hug.

"THAT'S OUR MIGUELITO!"

"He's growing up so fast!"

"It was just one thing!" Miguel laughed, trying to squirm out of the embrace, laughing, finding it was futile. Like with any member of his family - once you were in a group hug, there was no leaving the hug for a bit.

"Oh chamaco, come on. Give yourself some credit." Hector ruffled, his hair before setting his straw hat on the boy's head, tilting it so it covered his eyes. Miguel adjusted it, giving him a grin.

"Okay. I figured out something new. I can do this."

The Riveras soon parted, Miguel keeping close to Coco, his head on her shoulder. He was happy he was able to at least fix this part.

It's all okay.

I'm not able to solve everything yet but I can at least make sure no one else like me gets a shocking surprise.

Chapter Text

La Llorona

It was quiet in the Rivera compound in the Land of the Dead. Everyone was asleep. Dawn wouldn't come for a few hours.

That wouldn't last for long. There was a figure running through their home. Footsteps hitting the stairs hard as they scrambled up them and down the hall.

On this floor there were only two rooms however. Imelda's sewing room and the master bedroom which belonged to Hector and Imelda.

Imelda swung open the door to give whoever it was a boot to the head… only to gasp.

It was the ghostly form of Miguel, the boy wasn't going through the routine however that he had when he didn't know about his abilities.

This, was a boy who was terrified and backed into a corner, his hand out trying to block something from striking him.

"Get away from me! JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!"

"MIGUEL!"

Hector came running out hearing this, eyes widening in worry. "Mijo!"

Miguel, like all the other times before couldn't hear them, even as they called out to him. He couldn't respond, his back pressed against the corner, trying to push back against an invisible, force holding him where he was.

"We need to go to him now, I'll get Pepita!"

Before they could hurry down to get to him however, Miguel cried out again.

"MAMA IMELDA, PAPA HECTOR!"

With a flash of golden energy, they vanished from their home, reappearing in Miguel's room. The boy was thrashing in his bed, moaning in his sleep, trying to speak.

"Miguel!"

"Miguelito!"

They hurried to his side, shaking him, calling out his name. Miguel gasped, eyes opening after a few minutes, tears running down his face. He looked up at the two before he threw his arms around Imelda, sobbing a little.

"Sorry… Sorry." He sniffled. "M'so sorry..."

Her gaze softened, bringing her arms around him. "Shh… Shh… It's okay mijo, it's okay."

Hector frowned, stroking Miguel's hair. They could both feel how much he was shaking.

"Hey, hey, you're okay mijo. It's okay."

Miguel wiped at his eyes, gazing up at them curiously. "How'd you guys get here so fast?"

Imelda kissed his head, not quite ready to let him go after that. "You were calling out for us."

"That astral projecting trick? Seems it came back for a bit."

Miguel frowned, feeling guilt creep up. He didn't want to worry anyone, especially his family but it seems he did it again unintentionally.

"M'sorry."

"No, no, don't be sorry, Chamaco."

"We're just glad you're safe."

Miguel nodded, laying his head against Imelda's shoulder.

"There was a woman in my dream. She was chasing me and she was screaming."

Imelda and Hector exchanged a worried look. "Screaming?"

"Yeah… She was screaming something about… about something, she did. I don't remember what it was. I just wanted her to stay away from me." Miguel closed his eyes, shuddering. "She was wet and I kept smelling river water on her. Like someone fished her out of a cenote."

Imelda frowned. "You don't have to tell us right now mijo or even at all if it upsets you too much."

Hector stroked his back as Miguel gradually started to stop shaking.

"That's right, we're here just for you. Just worry about getting back to sleep."

Miguel shook his head, though his eyes were already half shut.

"No…"

"We'll be right here. You won't have anything to fear."

Miguel looked at them with a nervous look. "Promise?"

"We promise."

Whoever scared him better hope they never try again.

Or I swear I'll be throwing the shoe first instead of Imelda.

oooooo

Miguel was exhausted the next day at school. He was quiet, just going through the motions. Trying to focus on what was being taught, hoping he would remember enough to do to his homework later on.

He was eating lunch when he noticed some of his school friends gathering around the tree in the schoolyard, whispering something amongst themselves.

Miguel got up, going over to them, curious.

"What are you guys talking about?"

"Miguel, just in time."

What's going on?

"In time for what?"

One of the boys, a young man named Santiago looked around to be sure no one else was listening before he spoke.

"One of the kids who lives next door to me saw her." He narrowed his eyes. "La Llorona."

Miguel couldn't help it as he laughed.

"La Llorona? You mean, like Ay, de mí llorona Llorona de azul celeste?"

"NO!"

Miguel held up his hands in an "I'm unarmed" position. "Alright, who then?" It did sound familiar… He just wasn't sure where, besides Imelda's favorite song.

"La Llorona used to be a woman in a town just like Santa Cecilia. Back then she was known as Maria. The most beautiful woman in town."

Miguel and the others listened as their friend told of the life of Maria… and her jealousy when her husband who had grown tired of her had made a new life for himself.

"So, Maria, after her husband left her, decided she would show him. She took her three children to the river and drowned them one by one… and then herself. But because her children weren't with her, she wasn't allowed into the afterlife. So now, she has to wander looking for them. Forever crying… Forever screaming."

Miguel shuddered.

"That's awful." He narrowed his eyes. "You said your neighbor saw her. What was HE doing?"

"Taking out the garbage. After chasing away your dog from his trash can." They all gave Miguel pointed looks as he rolled his eyes.

"Ay-yai-yai…"

"Mm-hm. Anyways. Beware La Llorona." He grinned, getting up. "There's another part to the legend - she'll take you and use her as her kid instead."

Miguel rolled his eyes, deciding it was time to go inside.

He knew quite a few people in the Land of the Dead who would if they could snatch a human child for a few hours - to dote on them, give them gifts and pass on wisdom. but they couldn't.

Or… can they?

oooooo

These thoughts troubled Miguel as he walked home from school. His mind conjuring images of a horrendous half drowned corpse reaching out at him.

The hazy images of his dream joined in, as he shuddered. He didn't even see Dante trot beside him until he almost tripped over the xolo dog.

"Ay, Dante." He sighed, rubbing behind the dog's ears as Dante gave a sigh of contentment. "I don't have snacks for you… Buuut I bet you're hungry."

Dante's tongue slid out of his mouth as Miguel chuckled, hurrying to get his companion fed. He took note of a grey cat patiently sitting beside a half full bowl. He narrowed his eyes, knowing darn well who it was.

"Pepita, your food bowl is half full." He told the disguised alebrije, while he filled Dante's water dish. "And I know that Mama gives you ice water cause you won't drink anything else."

Pepita just mewed innocently, tilting her head up at him.

"No." He scoffed, scooping some dog food into Dante's bowl, whistling, as his dog came scrambling in. Dante seemed to have a talent for slamming against walls and counters while he sprinted for his food. Something Miguel had been trying to train him out of but some things never changed.

Pepita gave a small hiss at the dog before walking away, opting to find something else to amuse herself while away from Imelda.

It was a Thursday, which meant Miguel spent most of his afternoon fiddling with shoes in the shop while trying to keep images of decaying corpses haunting him from his mind.

That was another thing. While he played in the plaza and made tips doing that he also did learn some things about shoe making.

It was mostly to bond with his father and to spend time with his cousins. What he did look forward to was when his few hours in the shop were over and he could run to go off to see his other side of the family.

Hehe, wait until Papa Hector sees all these pictures of Socorro. He's gonna collapse into a pile of bones!

Miguel couldn't shake the feeling of being watched however. More so than usual... He looked behind him, seeing a glimpse of something moving behind one of his neighbors houses.

Part of him really wondered if he was seeing things. More so than what he usually saw. He turned back, watching the houses for a few minutes, satisfied all he saw was Abuelita sweeping the yard.

It's okay. La Llorona is just a legend. Right?

Miguel went about the rest of the afternoon like he planned. Going to the Rivera plaza, playing music with Hector for a sizable crowd that had showed up.

Though, Miguel had mostly stuck to behind the curtain for most of it, wanting to just sit and listen. He joined in with a few of his personal favorites though.

All the while he still had a feeling something wasn't right. Something felt very, very wrong as he looked around him at the crowd of skeletons out in front of the stage.

He wasn't the only one who could sense it either. Hector noticed it as well. The air felt heavier around them, the music wasn't flowing as naturally as it usually did…

And his grandson was on total edge. He thought Miguel was going to jump off the stage during his turns and go running.

The set didn't last as long as either planned because Hector was more concerned about how Miguel was acting. The looks of worry, sometimes mumbling lyrics versus all out singing.

"Chamaco, tell me what's on your mind." Hector told him after they had finished up. He was planning to walk Miguel home to be sure he got back alright. The initial plan was to go back to the dead Rivera compound for some time with the rest of the family but neither Miguel nor Hector felt up to it. "I know you can sense it too."

Miguel hefted his guitar case higher up on his back, his eyes flicking from one alley they passed to another.

"There's something watching us." He replied, keeping his voice low. "I know something is watching us."

"Then all the more reason for me to stick with you."

Miguel nodded, keeping quiet as they entered the compound. It felt like the surrounding air was buzzing with energy. It didn't feel good either. Not like when Miguel was around the spirits of his family or just taking a walk around Santa Cecilia.

Hector looked around them, hoping that this was just an off day. That there wasn't really anything out there.

oooooo

It wasn't until nightfall that it struck. Miguel had somehow managed to fall asleep, Hector keeping watch over his grandson at his door. He didn't mind it, it was all part of the job.

But it didn't mean he was afraid to leave his post when he saw something white move down the hallway. He followed after it, noting the disguised form of Pepita was chasing after it, hissing up a storm.

"Hey!"

It disappeared around the corner. He could just make out the edges of a dress. The man noted where he was. He was just outside of Socorro's nursery.

That deep feeling of dread washed over him once more. He looked into the room, eyes widening in horror.

Socorro wasn't fast asleep in her crib or awake and playing with one of her toys.

She was gone.

Pepita was giving her best screech to wake up the Rivera parents as Hector rushed into the room hoping, somehow that it wasn't true.

Luisa's horrified scream confirmed it.

Now it's gone too far.

"Mama… what's going on?"

"CALL THE POLICE NOW!"

The next few minutes were chaotic as Hector tugged Miguel away from his family that had been alerted by it. "What happened? Papa Hector where is she!?" Miguel demanded, grabbing up his hoodie, whistling as Dante sprinted after them as they left.

Miguel knew his parents were going to be mad after the fact but they had no choice.

"I don't know. I saw something like a woman's dress going near her room and when I looked in she was gone!"

Miguel growled, breaking into a sprint. There was no doubt in his mind now. La Llorona or something masquerading as her had taken his sister.

And he was not going to let her keep her.

Beside him, the alebrijes transformed, taking to the air, Pepita grabbing up Hector and Miguel as she went.

La Llorona in the legend drowned her three kids. So… if she wanted a child to repeat that act to use it as her ticket into the afterlife…

THE RIVER!

The river was outside of town, too fast for most to even dare attempt to swim or wade into it. Miguel had been told time and time again to stay far away from it.

"Should we invite Mama Imelda to this?" He asked Hector who was eerily silent.

"No." Hector seethed, his voice cold. "This is personal. I love her but I was the one who was two seconds too late."

The sound of a baby crying got Pepita's attention as she landed, the two sliding down. That's when they saw it.

A skeletal woman wearing a long flowing white dress. Her long dark hair was damp and tangled. Her head was down as she gazed at a bundle in her arms who was starting to cry and scream.

"There, there little one. It'll all be over soon. We'll be together on the other side."

The spirit looked up as Hector and Miguel approached. She sneered, her bones a mix of snowy white and an aged tan color. Forgotten as she used to be and remembered only for what she had become.

Miguel narrowed his eyes as he stepped forward. "I'm only going to ask you this once: Give me back my sister. Now." He ordered, his brown eyes blazing with rage. He had been afraid before… but now he was just angry. "I know who you are, La Llorona!"

La Llorona hissed, holding Socorro closer to her, backing up. "You can't have her. She's mine! I need her!"

"She's just a child. Please just give her back." Hector pleaded, his voice calm despite the fear he was feeling.

He was getting flashbacks to when Ernesto had tried to murder Miguel right before their eyes.

She's too young to know death. She's too young. Por favor.

Miguel held up a hand to keep Pepita from attacking La Llorona… At least for now. He wanted to get his sister away from her first.

"I asked nicely. Now you're gonna make us take her."

They didn't get far as the spirit woman shrieked at them, energy surging forth, blasting them backwards.

"AUGH!"

Hector shielded Miguel from another onslaught as the energy, a sharp form of wind. sliced at them, cutting his clothes to shreds.

"SHE'S MINE! YOU CAN'T HAVE HER! I NEED HER!"

Hector prided himself on being the calmer one out of him and Imelda. This time however, he was shaking with rage, so much his bones rattled as he stood.

"Papa-!"

La Llorona hissed at him, backing up, one leg in the river already. "No, no, she's coming with me…! She's mine!"

Hector was still as another wave of energy sliced his vest off completely. He was gazing at the spirit with utter hatred before he did something he never expected to do.

He tore his own leg off, slapping the spirit so hard her skull spun, replacing it in a split second. While she tried to recover from the blow, he took Socorro, part of him afraid she might phase through him.

She didn't however as he bolted away. "MIGUEL!"

The boy met him halfway, taking his sister before his eyes widened. "BEHIND YOU!"

The water was rippling, bubbling as if it was boiling. The spirit woman gave a blood curdling screech as it erupted.

"SHE'S MINE!"

Hector covered the children, bracing for impact… only for it to never come as Pepita lunged in front of them instead. The large alebrije took every blow that was sent her way as she lunged.

La Llorona screeched, thrashing in the jaguar's hold, trying to pull her down under the depths. Pepita was not one to be outdone however. Especially as Dante took up her place, guarding the Riveras.

Miguel was stunned, trying to think straight. His clothes were torn, his great-great grandfather was covering him and his sister was screaming her tiny lungs out, terrified and confused.

I have to make her go away. She has to leave. She can't be in this world anymore.

The boy took a deep breath to still himself, trying to block out the noise around him. He wasn't even sure he could do it yet.

But if there was a time to learn, it was NOW.

"Dante, Papa Hector watch Socorro."

Hector shook his head, trying to hold Miguel back but the boy shrugged him off. going to the river's edge. La Llorona and Pepita were still going at it. "MIGUEL!"

"Pepita, that's enough." He ordered, hoping that she would listen. She had so far but he knew her loyalty was only because she was acting in place of Imelda.

He was pretty sure if Imelda had been involved, La Llorona would've been taken down via a firm boot to the head.

Then again Papa Hector slapped her with his foot and that didn't seem to change anything.

Pepita looked at the boy unamused, holding the spirit in her mouth before spitting her out before Miguel in the dirt. La Llorona growled at him as Miguel could see her face clearly.

It was flickering. A skull one moment with markings that looked like waves to a woman his mother's age with fear and regret in her eyes.

"La Llorona…" Miguel started before shaking his head. "Maria."

Her gaze snapped up, a shocked look in them. Miguel frowned.

"You haven't been called Maria to your face in a long time, haven't you?" He asked, kneeling to her level, deciding if there was a time for a risk it was now.

I'm probably gonna be grounded. So it's worth a shot.

La Llorona… Maria, lowered her head, nodding, her form shaking as it flickered again between a living woman and the spirit of legend children all over in Mexico feared.

"I wasn't thinking…" She spoke, this time quietly. Her voice cracked as she looked up at Miguel. "I was so jealous… so mad…"

Miguel's gaze that was previously blazing with anger now had sympathy in them.

"Did you mean to kill them?"

"I don't even remember doing it." She confessed. "I just remember one minute I was getting them ready for bed, the next… the next…" She lowered her head, a sob escaping her. Her bones rattled as if her whole body was crying. "My baby was dead in my arms. My two older kids… They were gone too. My son, my daughter. I couldn't wake them up. They wouldn't wake up."

Miguel shook his head.

"That was wrong what you did but did you really get sent down here to wander? Or did you just hope you could find your babies?"

Maria looked up at him, shaking her head.

"I just wanted to find a way to get to them. Apologize. Say how sorry their foolish mother was. Hope that somehow they could forgive me."

"I can understand but you can't have my sister. She can't take you where you need to go."

Maria's head snapped up, looking at Miguel briefly with a crazed look. Miguel gave her a warning look in return.

"And you can't drown me either. You can't replace what you lost. You have to face your family. Your husband, your kids, anyone else who might've remembered what you did and got mad." Miguel told her, backing up a few paces.

"They won't forgive me… They won't."

Miguel, this time, smiled. nodding to Hector. "That's what he thought too. But even if they won't - you can't keep wandering and hurting people because you're mad at yourself. That's wrong no matter what."

Maria nodded, sighing as she stood. Miguel didn't move to run.

"I want to leave."

"I can set you free."

Maria looked behind him at Hector, who was holding the baby as close to him as he could. "I'm sorry."

"Your deal's with your family, not me." I'm not going to forgive you though!

She nodded before looking to Miguel. "I'm ready."

It's now or never.

Miguel closed his eyes, imagining the bridge that had carried him during his first trip to the afterlife. He could see it taking shape in his mind's eye.

"Maria… La Llorona. You cannot remain on this side. You need to go where you can rest. It won't be easy and I won't promise it'll be instant but you can leave this world behind for good."

Miguel felt a warm energy coming around him as he opened his eyes, a gentle look in them. Small lights were surrounding Maria as she started to fade away.

"I release you."

She faded away, her living form looking at him for a moment before she was gone, the river going still. The night going quiet.

It was over.

Miguel sighed in relief, feeling a bit lightheaded as he moved back from the river. He shook it off before looking back to Hector, grinning a little.

"Well… how'd I do?"

Hector gave him a proud look as he stood. "You did amazing."

Miguel sighed in relief before hurrying over to look at his sister. "Is she okay?"

Socorro was quiet now, a tired look on her face. She had tired herself out from crying but was otherwise unharmed.

"She's perfect. Just like her big brother."

Miguel smiled sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck.

"Couldn't have done it without you. Let's go home."

As Pepita took to the skies once more, Miguel glanced back at the river.

The first time I cross over a spirit and it's someone from legend.

I'm just glad we got there before she hurt my sister. She would've been regretting that even more.

"So Papa Hector… How'd it feel using the shoe?"

"Powerful." Hector sighed a bit, noting his vest was completely shredded. It was basically just hanging onto his rib cage. "And Imelda's going to cremate me."

"I think saving the baby will prevent that."

"And you know your mama is going to freak."

"Worth it."

So worth it.

Chapter Text

Mending

Hector was relieved when he was able to go back home after the previous night's events. He decided he never wanted to hear anyone scream the way Luisa had again.

It had been a long night, even after the fight. Luisa had almost crushed Miguel, worrying that something had happened to him. All had been forgotten though as soon as she had seen the baby.

I couldn't even enjoy holding my granddaughter cause she ALMOST DIED!

Now, he was heading back into the compound, getting a good look at himself in the fountain, cringing. His pants were torn, his vest was shredded… Even his shoes were damaged.

Imelda is going to CREMATE ME.

Hector sighed, bracing himself for any comments that would be flung his way by anyone who was around.

Just… get it over with.

"Imelda! Mi Amor, I'm home!"

Imelda hurried out of her work room, a worried look on her face.

"There you are! Where were you!?" She came up to him. "Pepita came back this morning looking half drowned. What happened?! And what happened to you?"

"It's a long story." He sighed, bringing his arms around her.

Imelda hugged him tightly before pulling back, looking him over.

"Ay dios mio! Your clothes!"

Hector cringed.

"I know. It's bad. But honestly I would rather have these torn up over Socorro joining us."

Imelda eyes went wide before shaking her head.

"I have so many questions but first, I am fixing you up. This is not a proper look for you."

Imelda took him inside, sitting him down in a chair in her workshop as she started pulling materials together. Hector found it best to remain quiet until she spoke again.

Least she's taking it better than expected.

Imelda looked up now and then from her cutting table, nodding to herself before going to work at her sewing machine.

"I promise I'm not mad. I was worried something had happened because you went off and didn't tell me anything."

"Remember that old legend La Llorona?"

"Yes?"

"She tried to kill Socorro and then when we went after her she tried to get Miguel before he was able to get her to listen to him."

"Goodness…"

"Yeah, it was crazy… and I actually wound up using my shoe… well, leg as a weapon."

Imelda stopped, staring at him in shock.

"Que?"

"I know, I know, crazy but it happened. I just… got so angry at what that woman tried to do to Socorro. She's just a baby for heaven's sake."

Imelda frowned, a sympathetic look in her eyes.

"Too young to know death. Too young to have known life. You did right, my love. I just didn't expect the shoe."

"What can I say? You inspire me even in fighting."

She gave him a sheepish look before going back to work.

"You flatter me. Though at least I know exactly what to make you."

Hector raised an eye ridge.

"Hm? Now you got me curious."

"Let me surprise you."

"Okay, okay." Hector smiled a bit, leaning back in his chair, tugging at his neckerchief a little. "Least I still have this beauty."

Imelda smiled gently before falling quiet, humming a little as she worked.

She's not mad, my family is safe… Whew…

No one said being dead was gonna be this exciting.

Hector fell quiet, content to listen to Imelda work, trying to steal a glance at what she was making every now and then. She only had to raise an unfinished shoe to make him look away.

"Alright, that should do it… and done. You can look now, mi corazon."

Hector took a look, his eyes widening at what Imelda was holding.

"I-Is that…!?"

Imelda smiled, walking closer to him.

"Your old charro suit with a few special touches of my own."

Hector took the outfit into his hands, his eyes misty.

"Oh mi amor…"

"Well…?"

Hector threw his arms around her.

"I love it!"

Imelda grinned, hugging him tightly. "I'm so glad. I thought since your performing more now maybe, you'd want something like it."

"Oh Imelda, this is perfect. Gracias, gracias!" He peppered her head with kisses. "This is wonderful!"

Imelda chuckled, kissing his cheek. "De nada my love. Anything for you."

Hector sighed happily, looking the outfit over. "This is even better than the one I had when I was alive."

"Go try it on. Though I know for a fact it will be a perfect fit." She smirked, nudging him along a little.

He laughed, shaking his head as he left the room, sighing happily as he changed into his new clothes. As always, Imelda's work was perfect. It was comfortable, it didn't get tangled in his bones.

And it was something she made.

I'm so happy right now I could just melt.

Hector made his way back to her, striking a pose. "Well? What do you think?"

Imelda chuckled, going over to him, pulling him into a kiss.

"Muy guapo."

Hector grinned before pulling her into a dip, kissing her again.

"Gracias, mi amor."

Imelda returned it, running her hand through his hair.

Hector pulled back after a moment, touching his forehead to hers.

"You are as amazing as ever."

"I could say the same for you, mi corazon."

Hector kept her close, sighing happily, feeling himself going a little slack against her, exhaustion from the night's excitement setting in.

Imelda kept her arms secure around him, nuzzling him gently.

"You've had a long night." She kissed his head. "Why don't you rest?"

"That sounds really nice right now." He nuzzled her, keeping close. "Really nice."

Imelda kept him close as they made their way to their room, curling up with one another. Hector falling asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.

Imelda stayed awake for a bit longer, running her hand through his hair.

"You're always a good one. Always."

And this is the man I fell in love with. He's perfect.

Chapter Text

Surprise Visit

It had been about two weeks since the "La Llorona" incident. As a result, Miguel had not been able to go to the places he had grown accustomed to visiting while Luisa got past it.

He felt bad for scaring his mother during all that but he would rather be told to come straight home for a couple of weeks versus having his baby sister on the ofrenda.

Which was why he was very relieved when it was lifted. More so because he also was able to take Socorro with him in her stroller.

Even if Luisa did give him what felt like four bags of stuff shoved into one.

"Mama, I promise I'll look after her. You and Papa enjoy the flea market in the plaza."

"Are you sure you can handle her? Maybe your abuelita should-"

"It's fine. I got her."

"Okay, Socorro, when we get there you gotta keep quiet. We're surprising Papa Hector." Miguel told Socorro as he walked, the baby looking up at him with an innocent look, trying to contort to stick her foot in her mouth. "No, shoes aren't for eating."

Socorro gave a squeal in response.

Miguel chuckled, humming a bit as he picked up the pace.

"Let's see… Hey, wanna hear my new song?" He asked, getting a grin on his face, knowing that even if she might not be able to understand the words yet… Socorro loved music. It was every bit apart of her as it was her brother.

"AGUH!" Socorro squealed, clapping her hands. "Aguh, aguh!"

"Alright, listen up." Miguel cleared his throat before starting to sing, softly. "When I opened my mouth, what came out was a song and you knew every word and we all sang along!"

Socorro clapped as Miguel sang on, the boy breaking into a light run, eliciting a laugh from the baby as he went. He was careful to not jostle her but he was excited for this. He was hoping that at least even if she couldn't see the rest of the family, them being able to hold her hadn't been just a one time thing because of La Llorona.

Maria. Her name was Maria. He mentally corrected himself.

Miguel hadn't given any heads up to anyone in his family that he was coming over. That was part of what he hoped would be a good surprise. They had all seen the pictures on his phone once Hector figured out how to go through the thing and had swiped it to show off but they hadn't been able to personally see her yet.

When the compound came into view, Miguel stopped singing, slowing to a walk keeping as quiet as he could.

Even if the person with him was doing all she could to make her own noises.

"Shhh, Coco, c'mon…" He whispered as Socorro looked up at him with an innocent look.

He peered into the compound, seeing Victoria was carrying a basket of food outside to Pepita's resting spot.

I can rope her in.

"Tia Victoria!"

Victoria looked to him, a surprised look coming to her eyes. They had been sure they wouldn't see Miguel unless they went to him directly for a good month at least. Her eyes widened as they went to the stroller, covering her mouth with her hand.

"Mijo! Is that?" She set down the basket, hurrying over to get a good look. "Oh, look at her, she's so tiny!"

"Right? Don't make too much noise. I want it to be a surprise." He explained as Victoria nodded, distracted a bit by the younger child.

"For the whole familia or just one person?" She asked with a knowing look. They all loved him dearly and he loved them but it didn't mean that he didn't have special bonds with some of the family.

Miguel fiddled with his index fingers, giving her a small smile. "Papa Hector helped save her that night. He protected us… He did all that and could've gotten really hurt and busted up just for us. I think he deserves this."

Victoria smiled softly, ruffling his hair up a bit. "You're a good boy, Miguelito."

"Think you could help? Got any idea where he is right now?"

"Mama Imelda sent him out to go get more thread from Ceci. So we got time."

Miguel grinned.

"So… Who wants to play "pass the baby"?"

oooooo

Hector sighed happily as he walked back to the compound. It had taken longer than expected - Ceci had insisted on taking a dozen pictures of his new outfit for later inspiration. He was just glad to get what Imelda wanted and able to go home.

He was looking forward to just spending the day with his family, maybe help a little in the workshop.

Hector slowed down a bit when he heard laughter coming from the main part of the house. He blinked, confusion coming to his eyes. Imelda had made it clear all week that today was one of those: "Fill up all our orders and no nonsense" types of days.

"We need to focus and keep the business in mind- Hector are you listening?"

"Si mi amor. Te amo!"

But it was clear the workshop was very much empty. Pepita was fast asleep in her corner of the yard, not even minding him as he walked by her.

"Hola, mi familia! I'm home!"

The sound quieted before he entered the living room, everyone giving him warm greetings. Coco gave her father a tight hug, Imelda giving him a kiss on the cheek.

"Did you get what I asked for?"

"Only the best. I hope you know Ceci kept me longer than I wanted to be kept."

"You would do it all over again."

"I would. So what's everyone doing here? I thought today was "work, work, work"."

"We had a bit of an unexpected break." Julio explained with a bit of mischief in his eyes.

As he said that, Miguel stepped out from where he had hidden in the kitchen, a casual smile on his face, Socorro held securely in his arms.

"Hola, Papa Hector."

Hector gasped, his eyes falling into his jaw before he righted it. "M-Miguel? And Socorro!?"

Miguel nodded, a smile on his face as he met Hector half-way.

"Yup. I wanted to surprise you guys but when I got here you weren't home." And then Socorro fell asleep as soon as Mama Imelda held her. Weird grandma effect.

Hector felt the memory of his heart melt as he looked at Socorro. The baby girl was still half asleep, looking around blearily. He knew that she probably couldn't see any of them. That part saddened him a bit.

But that feeling left as even if she couldn't see him, he could see her. He could be around her.

Miguel smiled warmly, offering her to him.

"I think it's time you got your turn."

Hector gave him a nervous look. "A-Are you sure?"

"Hector, she won't fall. We promise."

Hector gulped, hoping for the best as he held his arms out for the infant. Miguel placed Socorro in his arms as Hector cradled her close.

He felt nostalgic, gazing down at her. It had been such a long time since he had been around an infant, let alone held one. And he hadn't been able to get a good look at Socorro or even savor the moment from the ordeal they had undergone.

This was his granddaughter. His little baby granddaughter.

"Hola Socorro." He murmured. "I'm…. I'm your Papa Hector." His voice cracked a little. He held her up over where his heart had been. He was very glad he didn't have his old vest right now.

I doubt a baby would find bones super comfy. He thought, swaying a bit as Socorro yawned looking up at him…

Their eyes locking before she squealed a little.

"H-Huh?"

Hector held her up close to his face, their eye contact not breaking in the slightest. Socorro giggled, reaching up and touching his cheekbones, her little hands running over the colorful marks on his face.

"Socorro…" His voice cracked as he smiled warmly at her. She wasn't looking at anything else or distracted. She was looking at him.

Right at him.

"You… You can see me."

"Aguh!" Socorro giggled again, smiling at him. Hector felt his eyes get misty before he held her close, kissing her head gently.

"Oh mija… My little granddaughter."

She can see me… She can see me!

Hector looked up after a moment, seeing everyone was quite surprised.

"I didn't think she could see us." Imelda murmured.

"She's been around Miguel enough."

Miguel rubbed the back of his neck. "I guess all that spirit energy affected her too." He guessed. "Because of what happened from Maria's spirit energy and yours."

Hector rocked her gently, gazing down at her with a warm look. He didn't mind one bit.

"She's just as special as you are then, mijo."

"Two psychic kids in the family. Whoops." Miguel chuckled as Socorro grabbed at Hector's hand that was holding her. "I guess this means she's gonna be in on the secret too."

There was a look of wonder in her eye before trying to put his index finger in her mouth. Hector pulled it away before she could though.

"Ah ah, no mija. You don't want that." He chuckled. Socorro looked up at him with a small pout before she cuddled into his chest, yawning a bit.

This is my granddaughter. MY granddaughter.

Hector rocked her gently, humming a familiar tune, seeing her eyes grow heavy once more.

Miguel grinned before he joined in.

This was a moment he wanted to remember forever. Even long after he was part of this world for good.

With that in mind, he snuck his phone out, hoping that what he was planning would work. He snapped a picture of Hector and Socorro before taking a look.

"Perfect."

It was a little hazy but there was no mistaking who was holding the girl and no mistake of who she was clinging to.

This is a perfect moment.

"I swear I'm going to spoil you like crazy."

"Hey!"

"I already spoil you, mijo!"

Miguel gave a mock offended look before he chuckled. "Enjoy it while it lasts, Papa Hector. Enjoy every minute of it."

Hector kissed Socorro's head before sitting by Imelda, keeping her close. He couldn't describe the joy he was feeling in this moment.

"I will."

I'll always cherish this.

Chapter Text

A/N: Inspiration by Demona-Silverwing on tumblr for this short and also to my co-writer Aileen-Roseven who dared me to write feels. Go check them out.

Past Mistakes

Hector could recall years of falling asleep in an old hammock. All by himself. Nothing but the silence and the memories of what he had before in his mind.

He could recall dreams as well. Sometimes good ones - about life, about music, about his family. Sometimes… rather awful ones. Remembering his death… Dreaming about a funeral (that he now realizes never occurred and likely his body was in some dumpster), wondering if Imelda had moved on…

Now, he wasn't alone. The house was huge and bustling with noise and when it fell quiet at night, it was odd.

But it wasn't as silent as it could be. Imelda always was up to something right until he was able to coax her into lying down.

Right now, Imelda had a sketchbook in her lap, trying to design something. Hector was watching, his head on her shoulder, trying to fight off sleep.

"Imelda, you know she's not going to even be able to walk in those. A baby doesn't need top of the line Rivera boots. She's not gonna be dancing or walking for a good while." Hector yawne,d nuzzling into his wife's night gown sleeve. It was her favorite, a simple white long sleeved gown that Hector remembered her wearing when they were first married. It was still soft and still smelled like her favorite perfume.

Imelda brought an arm around her husband, keeping him close. She sighed, shoving the sketchbook away a bit.

Hector moved it to the night stand, bringing his arms around Imelda.

"You could make her a dress." He suggested mid-yawn. "A little purple one, with black ribbons. Just like yours."

"Hm… Like mine…Though, she does look darling in pink."

"Make it pink and purple then."

Imelda yawned a bit herself as Hector managed to pull her down and beside him. "You always use this trick."

Hector gave a good natured grin, kissing her head.

"And it always works, mi amor."

Imelda nuzzled into his chest, making herself comfortable. Hector smiled softly, keeping her close, bringing their blanket up over them both.

He stayed awake a bit longer then she did, humming softly, stroking her back.

Sometimes, Hector wondered how he could've been so lucky to earn her forgiveness. To be welcomed back into a family he hadn't been there to help her grow.

He sighed, closing his eyes. He still wished he had done things differently back then.

There were still times where all he could think about, even as he laid there with Imelda, was the "what if"?

What if I had stayed?

What if I had been there?

What if…?

Hector buried his face into Imelda's hair. It took longer than he liked but he eventually fell asleep.

The flower bridge was before him. He sighed, looking down at it, standing on the very edge that he could get away with without sinking.

He swore sometimes the golden petals were mocking him. The way a breeze of some kind moved them around and caused them to fly around him.

The way that same breeze brought the scent of marigold to him. A scent so sweet and delicate, it reminded him distinctly of his wife's favorite perfume.

The thought of his wife made him sigh, crossing his arms, hugging himself tightly, trying to hold back the feeling coming from deep within his soul. Something didn't feel right this time. He had wandered by here plenty of times when it wasn't Dias De Muertos and there was no way to cross over to the living world. Security just gave him pitying looks when that happened.

He had stared out so many times, wondering how his girl was doing. How his wife was. If Imelda had moved on and found someone to help her raise their little girl.

"Hello?" A voice called from the other side of the bridge. His eyes widened in alarm as he recognized the voice.

A voice he knew all too well.

The wind picked up, blowing marigold petals aside, showing him a figure standing on the verge edge of the bridge.

Her face was aged and her hair had a few noticeable streaks but those eyes, those deep brown eyes that seemed to always know what he was thinking.

Those eyes that could show exactly what she was thinking and feeling. The same eyes that seemed to change from warm chocolate to molten gold when angered.

As her eyes locked on him, Hector felt dread settle deep within him. She shouldn't be here.

She shouldn't be here at all.

"Hector!?" Imelda cried out in shock before it faded to anger, her eyes narrowing. She took a step forward before taking it back, a growl escaping her.

This was wrong. This wasn't how he wanted to see his dearest Imelda again.

He took a step onto the bridge, feeling a cold chill go through him as his foot started to sink. To warn her to stay back, to keep her from coming any closer.

"WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL THIS TIME!?" She cried out, her voice cracking a bit, her eyes flickering from utter rage to grief.

Hector lowered his head. He had been wondering for years how he would explain himself when she eventually found her way here.

He didn't want it to be like this. Why was she here like this? She shouldn't have even been here.

"Why did you leave us?!"

Hector extended an arm out to the bridge. Didn't she see it? Couldn't she see what was separating them?

"I couldn't…" His voice shook, looking down at the golden petals that now reminded him of the fury in his wife's eyes. "Cross over…"

Imelda gave him a puzzled look, gesturing to the bridge.

"Really? Not even with this bridge here?" She questioned, giving him an irritated look. Her look changed to one of surprise. "Wait… This wasn't here before."

He felt more concerned the more she spoke. The longer she lingered.

She pointed down at the flower bridge.

"Now you have no excuse. Get over here this INSTANT!"

Before he could explain it to her, she gave a frustrated noise.

"Fine, I'll just come over myself."

His eyes widened in alarm. He thrusted both of his arms out.

"NO!" He called out. "STAY THERE! DON'T!"

Imelda's foot sank as the bridge under her started to collapse. Hector rushed out without thinking, struggling as he began to sink, reaching out to her.

A hole opened up under her, swallowing her whole as he reached over the edge, trapped in the petals that kept him from escaping this world.

Imelda's eyes met his as she reached for him.

"IMELDA! IMELDA! IMELDAAAAAAAAAA!"

He saw it for only a second. Only for a brief moment as she disappeared from his view.

A vision of Imelda curled up on the floor, her hands pressed over where her heart was.

Security had run up at this point to drag him away but Hector wasn't going quietly.

"Por favor, listen. You have to listen, my wife she's- NO! IMELDA!"

No, no, NO!

Hector sat up in bed, a sharp gasp escaping him. His bones rattling from the movement, something wet trailing down his cheek.

He looked around before his gaze fell on Imelda who was stirring a bit from the noise he had made. Without even thinking he pulled her upper body into his arms, earning a quiet protest.

"Hector, what's wrong?" She asked quietly, surprised from the sudden jostling. Hector was shaking like crazy, burying his face into her hair.

Hector let out a quiet sob, tightening his arms around her, partially afraid this too was a dream. That she would just disappear again.

Imelda frowned, returning the embrace, stroking his back.

"I'm so sorry." He whispered. "I'm so, so sorry, Imelda…" He cried out, holding her as close to him as he could.

"Shh, shh, Hector, it's okay, it's okay." She murmured, tightening her embrace. "It's okay."

"No, it's NOT! I LEFT YOU! I LEFT YOU TO RAISE HER ALL ALONE! And… And…" He buried his face in her hair, not trusting himself to speak more lest he wake the whole family up.

What happened when he was asleep…?

She frowned, humming softly, trying to calm him down. The only sound in the room was the rattling of his bones and the sound of her voice.

"It's okay, mi amor. It's okay. Te amo, te amo. I'm not mad." She whispered, nuzzling him gently. Hector shook his head, keeping his face hidden.

She pulled back, tilting his chin to her, meeting his gaze. There was a look of utter sadness in his eyes, lingering fear and grief as well.

"Mi corazon what happened?" She asked softly.

Hector looked down, moving back.

"I… Imelda… There's something I never told you."

"What is it?"

Hector looked to her, shaking his head.

She gave him a stern look. "Hector, please, I can't help you if I don't know-"

"I saw you the night before you died." He interrupted, his voice shaking. "You were across the bridge… You were so mad at me. Then you went to go right to me… Imelda. I couldn't do anything to make you stop and then…" He closed his eyes, another sob escaping him. "I… I saw how you would die… because I was on that stupid bridge."

Imelda was mortified as she soaked in what he was telling her. She was quiet, bringing him into her arms again, resting her head against his.

She was quiet as a memory came to her. Of the night before she passed.

She had dreamed about a place with a bridge. A place scented like marigolds and yelling at Hector for leaving her alone.

Then falling…

"Mama Imelda?"

"Mama!"

"Imelda!"

And then I woke up dead…

"I tried… I tried to stop you."

"Hector, I had a heart attack. It wasn't your fault."

"You wouldn't have had to work so hard-"

"Stop apologizing!"

Hector fell quiet, looking at her with a saddened look. Imelda felt heartbroken seeing her husband like this.

"I was rude to you for years. Rejected every advance and attempt to apologize because I was being petty. I didn't even bother to ask what happened because I thought you had just abandoned us."

"And it's okay."

She ran her finger over his cheekbones, tracing the delicate markings he had. Hector leaned into her touch, closing his eyes for a brief moment.

"No it's not. I had no right to treat you like that. I'm the one who should be saying I'm sorry. I'm the one who should be having nightmares.."

Hector cupped her face in his hands.

"We're going to go at this forever, aren't we?"

Imelda kissed his head, keeping close to him.

"Stop apologizing for being murdered. It wasn't your fault."

"I still left when I was still alive-"

"AH! No. Stop picking on my husband."

"Imelda-"

She silenced him with a gentle quick kiss on the mouth. He made a surprised noise, his bones rattling as he looked at her surprised.

"I forgive you."

Hector gave her a tired smile, holding her a bit tighter.

"I forgive you too."

Imelda nuzzled him as she guided him back to lying down beside her. She ran her hand through his hair, humming once more.

"Te amo." He whispered, closing his eyes.

"Te amo, mi corazon." She whispered, kissing his head. "It's my turn to watch out for you."

Hector chuckled a bit before he fell quiet, trying to keep his mind free of those swirling thoughts.

It wasn't hard with Imelda right there. Her fingers tangled in his hair, her voice echoing through his mind.

Sometimes, it was easy to forget in the dark of the night how much he was loved.

 

Chapter Text

Clear as a Bell

"Hector, let me take Miguel to school today. Por favor."

Hector looked at his wife, mid getting dressed blinking slowly.

"Eh?" He chuckled. "Why now?"

Imelda gave him a flat look holding up three silver bells on strings. Hector gave her a flat look.

"You are NOT putting those on Miguel. He's figuring it out."

"I'm less obvious than you are my dearest."

"I sense a challenge."

Imelda smirked shaking the bells. "How about a wager hm? If I can't get the bell on him from the time he gets up for school to the time he leaves here after you're little private lessons… I'll restring and tune your guitar."

Hector grinned. "And what about if I can't?"

"You give me a back rub. And a foot rub. And clean the workshop."

He sputtered as she dropped her share of the bells in his hands walking off to get ready herself.

"I… Imelda! That's not a fair trade off! Oscar and Felipe HATE it when I clean it! I don't do it right!"

"I can't hear you my ears are ringing."

"You don't HAVE ears anymore!"

This banter continued as they hurried downstairs to eat a fast breakfast before Imelda could hurry off.

Coco and Julio rolled their eyes as they looked over from their food.

"Mama, Papa leave Miguel alone." Coco told them shaking her fork at them. "He doesn't need a bell."

"It's a wager now." Hector told her, kissing her head before picking up a piece of bread and sliding his eggs onto it. "Since your Mama is convinced she'll have better luck Miguel wrangling."

"Good luck." Was all she and Julio said knowing it was a futile battle. When Imelda and Hector were being stubborn it was like reasoning with a brick wall.

As they disappeared, Julio looked to Coco concern in his eyes.

"Coco, I feel like Miguel is going to be a part of something he shouldn't. Remember when she had that bet with Oscar and Felipe?"

Coco groaned putting her face in her hands. She wished she could forget the "shoe polish incident" as it was referred to. One of the few times Imelda showed a playful side was involved in wagers.

She was a sore loser and never backed down.

"We were finding those little jars everywhere for months."

oooooooooooo

"You know, you being here defeats the purpose of me taking him to school." Imelda told Hector as they made their way into the compound.

"I'm not going with you two. I'm going to spend the day watching over Socorro." Hector grinned. "And her room just so happens to be near Miguel's."

Imelda smirked shoving him playfully as they phased through the wall into the hallway leading to the children's rooms.

Hector kissed her cheek giving a broad smirk as he walked down to Socorro's room. "May the best grandparent win."

"I will."

Miguel was unaware of the antics going on outside as he slept on. Content to be right where he was.

It wasn't until he felt a bony hand shake him that he started to come to. He sighed rolling over knowing this was beginning again.

"Go away." He mumbled covering his head more with his blanket. "I have an hour…"

Imelda gave him a look that went unseen. She shook him again as Miguel whined.

"Miguel, it is time to wake up!"

At the sound of her voice Miguel shot up giving her a mortified look. "Mama Imelda!?"

"Si."

"W-where's Papa Hector?"

"With the baby. I'm taking his shift today."

Grrreeeaaaat.

She's gonna throw a shoe at me at some point. I just know it.

Imelda put her hands on her hips giving him a stern look.

"Get dressed, go get ready for breakfast."

"I have an hour before that."

"Go help then! You think you're huevos rancheros and horchata appear out of thin air?"

Miguel stared at her before getting up hurrying to do as asked. As he went to the bathroom to change into his uniform, he heard his sister squeal.

"Whose Papa Hector's little princesa? You are!"

The boy seeing Imelda wasn't behind him took his chance and leaned into the room.

Socorro was sitting in her crib giggling as Hector made faces at her.

"UWAH!" She squealed clapping her little hands.

"That's right Princesa Socorro! The cutest in the land!"

"I hope you know you're a traitor."

"Love you too Chamaco. Buenos Dias by the way."

Hector chuckled a bit as Miguel stormed off grumbling. He leaned over the crib more giving Socorro a light tap on her nose.

"Boop."

She squealed giggling more.

Ah. I'm in heaven.

Socorro held up her hands giving Hector a puppy eyed look. He scooped her up rocking her humming as he went.

This brought back so many memories. Of holding his daughter as a newborn, of looking after her like this.

Utter, heaven.

"Who is the cutest?"

"Who's the biggest traitor?" Miguel called passing by. They both heard Luisa ask Miguel to fetch his sister.

"I'm not a traitor, I'm just taking turns."

Miguel rolled his eyes holding his arms out for Socorro. He loved his family, he did. This was just one occasion where he wasn't sure where this day was going to go.

"Hey Papa Hector. Did I do something to make Mama Imelda mad or something?"

"Que? No! She's just a little… High strung in the morning. She does this to me all the time."

"Got ya. Well c'mon. Mama knows we're up so no use hiding. Right Socorro?"

She just put her thumb in her mouth giving him an innocent smile.

Hector felt his memory of a heart melt at this. Miguel smiled patting her back.

"C'mon let's see if Mama Imelda will calm down a bit with this little one."

oooooooo

He felt quite nervous when they left the compound and Imelda was still hot on his heels. Hector was all too happy to bid them farewell settling in to keep an eye on Socorro.

He swore that baby was going to be spoiled as she grew but in a good way.

Lucky she's so cute.

"Did you brush your teeth?"

"Si."

"Did you remember to grab your lunch?"

"Si Mama Imelda."

"Did you do ALL of your homework?"

Miguel put his phone to his ear as they passed a crowd of students all heading in the same direction he was. Imelda went silent giving the device the same look Hector gave it. Miguel gave her a wary look moving a bit faster to put some distance between them.

"What are you doing with your future camera?"

Miguel snickered a little.

"Pfft! No, no it's not just a camera. It's a phone."

"A phone? No."

"Yes."

"Let me see that tiny devil box."

"Later!"

Miguel broke into a jog, forcing Imelda to chase after him.

"COME BACK HERE!"

"I can't hear you with my tiny devil box!"

Oh he did NOT!

oooooo

Imelda watched her grandchild keeping quiet as she took note of how focused he was.

Pop quizzes were never fun. But it did give her a chance as she pulled out her first silver bell sneaking up behind the boy.

If, she could just sneakily attach it to the collar of his shirt she would have won. Unfortunately for Imelda, Miguel got up having completed his work already

The bell got knocked out of her hand as he moved walking briskly to the front of the room. He saw the irritated look in her eyes when he glanced back.

Miguel stopped for a moment just long enough to give her a smirk.

He knew something was up. He wasn't quite sure what yet, but he was going to get an answer.

Imelda gave him a neutral expression in response.

She would win that back rub and cleaned work room. Hector was going to have a long chore day ahead of him if she had a say.

ooooooo

One thing Miguel loved about his phone. He had access to music from everywhere in the world and from all eras. Currently he was enjoying his personal library from the 1980s as he stood in the music room with one of the guitars in there.

Imelda was watching him, a nostalgic look on her face. Even if she didn't recognize the music, or even knew the words.

She could still see her husband in her grandchild. His passion for any kind of music that came his way, the way his body just glided across the floor when he danced along playing his guitar. Careful but fast steps, always coming back down to the ground safely.

It almost made her forget what she was intending to do until she heard the bells ring from her bobbing along to the music.

She snuck up on him, the boy completely distracted by the earbuds blaring out the song he was playing.

Just tie it to the back of his shirt, or to his hand. Not that hard!

She thought the chord playing hand would be the easiest target. Miguel glanced to her briefly seeing a glint of silver dancing away from her a mischievous look on his face.

"Miguel! Take out those devil speakers!"

"I can't hear you over my devil box!" He called out tapping his earbuds.

Any other moment, he would have been fearing the shoe. In fact part of him was fearing that was going to come next.

He saw her look down at her boot, a thoughtful look on her face.

"... Mama Imelda?" He asked taking one of his earbuds out.

"... Miguel, how would you like to mess with your Papa Hector?"

Hector doesn't need to know.

"Why?"

She held up the silver bell.

"You wear this home and I get a cleaned work room."

Miguel gave her a suspicious look taking out his other earbud, so he could hear her better. He leaned on the desk in the room, raising an eyebrow.

"Well that benefits you Mama Imelda. How does that benefit me?"

Imelda crossed her arms giving him a similar look.

"What do you want in exchange?"

"Two things." Miguel held up his fingers to emphasize that. He pointed to her boots. "I don't get smacked with that any time today."

"Deal."

"AND." He grinned. "I want a new charro suit too."

"You know your parents will question where it came from. I'm not having you accused of stealing."

Miguel's face fell into a puppy eyed look sticking his lip out a little.

"You want me to get Papa Hector into chores."

"Something a little more realistic mijo."

"Fiiiine. I want boots with little metal plates on them like for dance shoes."

"Deal."

Miguel held out his wrist as Imelda gleefully tied the bell on. He had a different plan though.

Much different.

oooooo

Later that day, Miguel headed off for the dead Rivera compound after Imelda had gone off to fill her end of the deal he had made with her.

He had a different idea though entirely. He had managed to damage the bell enough that it wouldn't make noise and tucked it under the string keeping it hidden with his sleeve.

When he saw the plaza, he could see Hector waiting for him a bit impatiently.

"What's up with you?"

"You know your Mama Imelda came home dancing and getting that smug grin of hers on her face right!?"

Miguel stifled a laugh. "No manches! Mama Imelda being smug?"

Hector looked behind him to be sure no one was listening in.

"We have this bet okay? I get a restrung guitar and a freshly tuned restrung guitar at that if I tie a bell on you by sundown. You wanna help a great-great grandpa out?"

"What do I get out of it?"

Hector gave him a suspicious look. "The satisfaction of helping pull one over on Imelda?"

"Hm, tempting but not quite."

"What then?"

"Conchas."

"Conchas-Rosita practically fills your bag with them on a DAILY BASIS! Why do you want more!?"

"Okay, okay you drive a hard bargain Papa Hector. I'll take six coconut paletas."

"PALETAS?"

Miguel gave his best frustrated sigh holding his hands up.

"Alright you got me. I'll do it for the low, low price of a solo show in the plaza. No help just all Miguel!"

"DEAL!"

They shook hands before Hector pulled a bell out of his pocket tying it to Miguel's other wrist. "Ha! I WIN!"

"You better go tell the familia." Miguel told him as Hector adjusted his suit going in to do just that.

Miguel rolled up his sleeves strolling casually behind him humming a little.

"I HAVE AN ANNOUNCEMENT TO MAKE!" Imelda and Hector exclaimed at the same time giving each other a questioning look.

"What announcement?" Imelda asked crossing her arms.

"That's what I was going to ask." Hector retorted putting his hands on his hips.

The rest of the family started laughing as Miguel darted around them before Felipe and Oscar lifted him up, so he rested on their shoulders comfortably.

"The announcement…" Miguel started grinning as he held up both wrists. "Is that we won!"

The couple stared at the family in shock. They all had looks of amusement or pride on their faces.

And in the case of Coco and Julio, shaking so hard with laughter their bones rattled.

Hector and Imelda were silent looking to one another stunned. How had he found out? How had ANY of them besides Julio and Coco found out?

"That, is our doing Papa." Coco laughed swiping at her eye with a playful look. "We thought the bet was just silly and decided we wanted in too."

"So since Mama Imelda never takes me to school and was acting super weird - no offense." Miguel explained flicking his wrist a little as the first bell rang. "I wanted to get an answer, so I went to the boys room and called for Papa Julio."

"And I told him everything."

"Then I just did whatever it took. Congrats - you both have to clean the storeroom AND you both have to give each other back rubs and tune instruments!" Miguel crossed his arms with a big grin on his face. "Isn't this better?"

"NO!" Both exclaimed.

"We had a deal Miguel!" They spat before falling quiet pointing to one another.

"You…?" Imelda started.

"Cheated on the bet?!" Hector finished both of their jaws falling open though this time their eyes stayed put.

"Well, he's slippery! He wouldn't let me!"

"And he never stays still long enough for me."

Imelda and Hector fell quiet before they busted up laughing, bones rattling as they held onto one another. "You are so my husband! I can't believe you!"

"And I can't believe you'd do that for a bet!"

"Oh mi corazon I've done worse for a bet!"

Hector spun Imelda around before bringing her in for a kiss as she ran her hand through his hair. They sighed a bit keeping close.

"Maybe we should put this nonsense to bed."

"Maybe. There is still mischief to be managed." Hector nodded his head to Miguel. The boy's confidant smirk faded into a look of deep concern as he slowly started backing up.

"Don't be too harsh on him." Felipe spoke up.

"We encouraged it. Sass included." Oscar finished. "Well namely Julio did."

Hector looked to his son-in-law with a glare gesturing to Miguel. "Really?"

"How about as a family we ALL clean the workshop AND then listen to some music played by our favorite musicians?" Victoria suggested.

"Sure, I'll go get my guitar and run home real fast-" Miguel went to go right out the door thinking he had gotten off scot-free until he bumped into Hector's rib cage. "Oof."

"And you're helping."

I don't know if this was worth it! Miguel thought as he swept up the shop not five minutes later.

"Hey Miguel." Oscar whispered in his direction.

"Wanna see our new exploding shoe polish?" Felipe added.

The boy grinned.

"Si!"

Maybe it was!

He darted off to their work desk, glancing up to see Hector was twirling Imelda singing softly.

Yeah. It so was.

Chapter Text

Anniversary

Miguel loved learning further from Hector regarding music. In between everything Miguel had to put up with lately, it was nice to just have an easy thing to do. Music was everything to him. Music was him.

There was however something that nagged at the back of his mind. They were currently in the room Hector used as his makeshift studio, Miguel watching as Hector's bony fingers danced across the strings. Even though Miguel had seen it many times now, it was still magical to see it. To hear Hector's music - his real music being charmed out of the guitar.

"I thought you wrote that song because of a bar bet." Miguel broke Hector's focus as the man strummed a flat chord.

"Si, I did. It doesn't mean I didn't have my OWN touches."

Miguel rolled his eyes adjusting his guitar, so he was holding it properly.

"After learning what made you write that, makes me really not like it much."

Hector raised an eyeridge at him giving him a suspicious look.

"Alright alec inteligente you pick a song."

Miguel grinned before starting to play, his fingers dancing upon the strings, plucking out the opening chords to "Poco Loco."

Hector gave him a nervous look confusing the boy as the man looked outside. Imelda was walking past Pepita right behind her.

"Ay!" He placed his hand over Miguel's silencing his playing until she had walked by the skeleton heaving a sigh of relief.

Miguel was baffled. He thought Imelda was fine with music now, heck he had heard her sing on more than one occasion.

"Que? Papa Hector what's the matter?"

"Not that song when your Mama Imelda is around okay?"

Miguel wanted to prod but the look on Hector's face told him it was best to keep quiet. So they played on, Miguel deciding to go for a different song.

"... What is that?"

"Man in Motion."

"Huh."

ooooooo

It was a few days later when once more Hector stopped him from playing Poco Loco that Miguel started to ask around.

First place he decided to go, was Oscar and Felipe. Given they had known Hector in life and were Imelda's brothers it seemed like a good place to start.

"So… Mama Imelda likes it when Papa Hector plays his music and sings right?" He asked helping them arrange some of the shoes they had for an order.

"Likes it? Mijo she can't get enough of it!" Felipe retorted.

Oscar nodded as he threaded the laces through a pair of boots. "In life and in death."

Miguel hummed in thought as he pondered this.

"So, why does she hate un poco loco?" He asked as Felipe's grip slid on a shoe he was sanding the edge of as it flew up into the air embedding itself in the ceiling. "Wow Abel does that too!"

Oscar cringed. "That's going to leave a mark. Like all the others."

Miguel snickered walking around them surveying the damage. At least most of the ceiling above the machine had a shoe in it. Just like back home.

"Yeah, exactly like Abel. So anyways what's the story?" Miguel bounced a bit in place giving them an expectant look.

The twins exchanged a look of dismay.

"What?"

"We really shouldn't be the ones telling it."

"We were witnesses but… Hector should be the one to explain it."

Miguel groaned in dismay.

"No manches! Just tell me por favor!"

"Hey we have to sleep with him in the room above ours. It'd be all too convenient for him to decide to have some impromptu practice right above our heads."

"We're still his in laws."

Miguel raised an eyebrow at this but shook his head.

"Alright then!" He walked off before pausing as he made it mostly out the door. "By the way, shoes with lights would sell really well!" He called before running off.

"Shoes with lights… Let's try it."

"What if it explodes?"

"How can a shoe explode-Good point."

Miguel rolled his eyes looking around for Hector seeing the man was tuning his guitar sitting on the edge of the fountain.

"Papa Hector!"

Hector looked up grinning as he ruffled up the boy's hair. "Hey mijo where'd you disappear off to?"

"Talking to Tio Oscar and Felipe."

"Oh yeah? What have they put in your head this time?"

Miguel saw a glint of mischief as he backed up but Hector was faster, setting his guitar aside, pulling Miguel into a tight embrace.

"UWAH!"

"Let's see now!"

Hector started to ruffle up Miguel's hair as the boy started laughing.

"AAAHHH! PAPA HECTOR!"

"Hm, don't see anything on THIS side of your head! How about here?"

Miguel laughed harder trying to squirm out of the hold. "Noo!"

Hector kept it up for a few minutes before releasing him as Miguel bolted to the other side of the fountain trying to smooth his hair down.

"Gah it's gonna look like yours!"

"Good!" He snickered. "So why have you been sneaking around?"

Miguel froze.

"... How did you?"

"I'm a grandpa. Kind of my job."

He didn't miss the glint of pride in Hector's eyes as he said those words. Miguel made his way back over sitting beside him.

"I wanna know something but… You can't get mad at me. Okay?"

"Why would I get mad at you Miguel?"

"Good point." Miguel looked at him. "Why does Mama Imelda hate that song?"

Hector cringed. Memories flooded back with that question, and they were not fun memories.

"Miguel, I wrote that song for Imelda. I wrote it because when we met as teenagers she was just… Amazing. I was some lanky nobody who trailed behind Ernesto whenever possible." He explained, venom in his voice when he said his killer's name. "Imelda, was a willowy beauty who no one could fall for safely. Especially if Oscar and Felipe were involved. You know how they do all kinds of weird inventions in that shop?"

"Si?"

"They would throw the rejects at possible suitors." Hector took off his hat and hair showing Miguel his bare skull. He pointed to a small dent in the back of it. "You see this?"

Miguel grimaced. "Si…"

"Felipe tried to brain me with some idea for an automatic coffee pot."

"Ay dios mio."

"Obviously didn't work." Hector rolled his eyes sighing. His gaze fell to the ground. "... I'll be honest. She hates that song because I left her. I left her alone to raise a little girl. I left her to grow old alone as those she loved died around her eventually. I… I couldn't stop the inevitable."

Miguel frowned touching his arm. Hector took a deep breath letting it out as his bones rattled softly.

"When she arrived here, I wanted to be right there. I was there… I didn't even think about how mad she'd be. I ran up to her and started fretting over her… And she yelled at me." He frowned. "I thought if I sang to her."

"Oh no." Miguel whispered.

Hector watched her start to storm off with the twins who were giving him angry looks. He just wanted to make things right.

At the very least try to apologize to her. He had been so worried about her the night before…

He just wanted to see her again. To have a chance to go to some kind of home with her.

Hector couldn't just let her walk away. He rushed after her calling out to her only to have her curse him out.

"She'll listen to music…" He whispered. Before he could think about it, he gave a loud and powerful sounding grito that caught her attention. Her eyes were a molten gold of pure anger as she looked at him.

"What color is the sky, ay mi amor, ay mi amor! You say that it is-"

Hector didn't see how fast she was in her new form yanking off her boot.

He also didn't realize how good she was at throwing them still when it collided with his head. Hector gave a very different kind of grito - a very high-pitched scream filled with shock as his head soared over the crowd in the building before landing in a waste-basket filled with paper.

"AND STAY THERE!"

"She… She didn't."

"She did."

Miguel looked at Hector dumbfounded, feeling guilt crop up as he saw the saddened look in his eyes.

"Which is why whenever we're at the plaza and playing together Imelda is never there. I don't want to upset her more."

"Well that's no good reason!"

Hector gave Miguel a flat look as the boy jumped up. "Miguelito-"

"You can't give up. She's open to so much more now."

He shook his head.

"I can let this one go mijo. It's not more important than her happiness."

"Yours is important too. I bet if she gave it another chance she'd fall in love with it all over!" Miguel insisted giving his best pout.

Hector groaned trying to not make eye contact… Which, proved to be difficult as Miguel moved around him making eye contact.

"Ay-yai-yai alright. But ONLY if you help me."

"Of course! Leave it to me! Have I ever steered you wrong?"

Hector held up his index finger.

"Don't answer that." Miguel added. "When's your wedding anniversary?"

Hector sighed hoping this wasn't a bad idea.

"... Three days from today. We haven't celebrated it in years. Not since Coo was three… Ernesto guaranteed I missed what wound up being our last one together thanks to the "final tour"..."

Miguel stood up straight giving his best serious look.

"Then it's my job to make sure you have the best one ever."

oooooooooooo

Imelda was content sitting in her workroom, sewing. She had finally settled on a dress she wanted to make for Socorro, so she was all too glad to get a chance to work on it.

There was part of her that felt a bit guilty she hadn't brought up her wedding anniversary. Hector and her hadn't celebrated it in so long…

She wasn't sure if he would even want to celebrate it.

Imelda sighed opening the large french style doors that lead to her balcony. She sat down her sewing basket beside her as she settled into her favorite chair. She could remember all too clearly every single try. Every time Hector would try to serenade her or chat her up in the plaza.

"You are just un poco loco!"

And he would grito at any given hour. He just didn't give up…

He hasn't played that song for me in ages… Imelda's hand holding the sewing needle moved faster as she tried to shake off thoughts. Memories of every single time she rejected her husband over the last century alone.

She wished she could take every last one of them back. Heard him out and listened.

Though, I didn't take it seriously then. I was more than willing to believe the rumors about him choking to death on a chorizo… Guh how did I even fall for that?

Admittedly I thought a lot of things that he hadn't even done. He was so young…

We were so young…

Beneath the balcony Hector and Miguel were getting into position. Both had their guitars ready and knew very well there was a fair chance Imelda would be cross.

It was worth it.

Hector himself wasn't entirely sure if it would be. He kept repeating to himself that it would be.

"Are you scared?" Miguel asked quietly.

"No!"

"Loosen up, c'mon!" Slinging his guitar over his shoulder Miguel spun around before giving his great-great grandfather an expectant look.

Hector took a deep breath before shaking his bones out as he started to relax.

It seemed simple enough to perform for crowds of dead people. How hard would it be just for one person?

The two stepped out being bathed in the light that came down from the moon above.

Miguel was the first to make noise, as he let out a long and loud grito that echoed across the courtyard, startling Imelda from her sewing up above. She looked down at the two a puzzled look on her face.

The duo started playing, swaying to the music.

"What color is the sky, ay mi amor, ay mi amor?" Miguel sang spinning on his heel.

"You tell me that it's red ay mi amor, ay mi amor. Where should I put my shoes? Ay mi amor, ay mi amor!" Hector joined the beat picking up as they danced around each other. "You say put them on your head ay, mi amor ay mi amor!"

The two leaned against each other.

"Make me un poco loco, Un poquiti-ti-to loco! The way you keep me guessing, I'm nodding and I'm yessing, now count it as a blessing, that I'm only un poco loco!"

Miguel and Hector gave loud powerful grito's that echoed and bounced off the courtyard. Hector was feeling much more relaxed as he performed this routine he had gotten used to. This little duet he and his grandchild would do together in the plaza whenever the mood struck.

They played on, not seeing Imelda had gestured for Pepita to come close, so she could use her as a means of getting down from the balcony.

"The loco that you make me-"

"It's just too coco crazy! The sense that your not making, the liberties your taking! Leaves my cabeza shaking!"

Hector nodded his head to Miguel as they spun.

"You are just un poco loco!"

Imelda felt nostalgic watching them, seeing once again how similar Miguel and Hector were, even being in perfect sync with their dance steps or their playing.

The look of total joy in Hector's eyes as he played on.

This is the man I fell in love with…

The singing soon came to a stop. Hector looked at Imelda hopefully, his eyes full of excitement. And some worry.

Imelda kept quiet as she walked up to him, cupping his face in her hands.

"W-was that okay Imelda?"

She smiled kissing him quickly.

"More than okay." She whispered pressing her head against his, Hector sighing in relief. He pulled back for a second setting his guitar aside. "You haven't played that in so long."

"I didn't know if you'd like it after what… 112 tries over the years?"

"I missed it admittedly." Imelda gave him a knowing look. "And you didn't play it around me because you wanted to respect me."

"Always." Hector held out his arms as she jumped into them laughing. He spun her around before peppering her with kisses.

"Hector!"

"Te amo mi amor!"

She grinned hugging him tightly as he rested his head against hers.

"... Happy anniversary." She whispered softly, only meant for his ears.

Hector kissed her head burying his face in her hair.

"Happy anniversary Imelda."

Miguel smiled watching for a moment. He was glad to see his plan had worked out, especially given how much it took to even get Hector to try it.

My job is done. Now… His eyes trailed to the main entrance to the house. He had smelled Rosita baking something earlier. I earned myself a concha or two.

He walked on in, taking one more glance back. Imelda and Hector were still in their embrace, whispering to one another.

He couldn't hear it, but he could see the look in their eyes. A look of a love that would always be eternal.

This, would make a great picture.

Happy Anniversary you two.

Chapter Text

Enjoying the Quiet

There was two places Miguel loved to play music in. The Rivera plaza, where souls of all kind would stop to listen to him and his great-great grandfather's music, and Mariachi Plaza… Where it still depended on the day and time he could get out there to set up and play for a few hours for tips.

Right now, he was running to set up at Mariachi plaza his guitar case hefted over his shoulder. He still didn't have a charro suit but that was okay. His mama had promised to make or buy him one before next Dias De Muertos.

Dante barked as he ran by his master's side tongue hanging out part of his mouth. "Good boy Dante, good boy. Go get me a spot!" Miguel told him pointing ahead as the dog rushed forward.

Dante likely would get distracted by something and Miguel didn't mind. It made the dog feel like he was helping and that's all that mattered.

Hector wasn't with him today, he still had other things besides his descendants to worry over.

Boy was Mama Imelda mad yesterday when she realized we hadn't cleaned the attic like she wanted!

The attic in the Land of the Dead compound was full of old EVERYTHING, some things Imelda wasn't even sure belonged to their family's recent line and some things she was sure Oscar and Felipe had been hording for possible inventions. She had sent up her husband and great-great grandson to go clean it deciding she didn't want to deal with spider alebrijes.

She hadn't warned them of that one either.

"Mira, mira Papa Hector check this out!"

"What is it chama-AAAAHHH! GET IT AWAY!"

"It's just a spider!"

"NO!"

Miguel snickered, they had spent more time goofing around then actually cleaning which made Imelda rather cross when she had come upstairs a couple of hours later.

"HECTOR, MIGUEL WHAT ARE YOU TWO DOING?!"

Hector poked his head out of a pile of fake flower petals - from someone's wedding they had to guess and grinned. "Having fun mi amor!"

"Cleaning!" Miguel had answered at the same time.

The grins on their faces fell as she reached for the boot.

"RUN CHAMACO RUN!"

"Oh she was mad." He whispered slowing to a stop looking around for his dog. If Dante had decided this was the day he was going to get Miguel the perfect spot then that would be nice.

Miguel had two objectives when it came to coming to the plaza today though. Finding a good spot to practice some of his songs and some new ones he had come to enjoy….

And cross over a few wandering spirits if they needed his help. The boy slowed to a walk looking around. He had to be careful to not seem too obvious.

There wasn't thankfully. Not this time. A few wandering alebrijes, but that was par for the course. So with a grin coming back to his face Miguel hurried over to the first empty spot he could find.

And bumped into another person who was going for that same spot.

"OOF!"

"Ay!"

Miguel looked down to see who he had bumped into, grimacing. "Sorry, sorry." He offered a hand to the person, a young girl his age helping her up.

"It's okay." She grinned dusting off her dress. "I thought I was being clever going for the-"

"Best spot?" Miguel finished as they shared a small laugh.

It was the only naturally shaded part in the plaza. Most everyone wanted this particular spot if it wasn't cloudy out.

"Si, I was hoping I could get set up here." She winked. "Looks like I got beaten by La Rivera."

"Sorry Acacia." He said genuinely backing up to give her room. The girl grinned taking a place standing a few paces away from him.

"All good… You want me to leave this spot?"

"Nah you can stay. Maybe a duet?"

Acacia smiled humming a bit as Miguel got out his guitar, plucking out a few experimental notes. The girl beside him was one of his friends, not usually up for putting up with Santiago's antics in the schoolyard, but in the music room and with the other girls? She was just fine.

Not to mention she was more than glad to jump head first into a pile of old antiques to find anything worth fixing up and keeping, or vinyl records for Miguel back during the music ban.

"I'd really like that Miguel." She grinned taking sides of her skirt into her hand twirling as the fabric swished swirling around her.

The boy grinned starting to play waiting to see if she could catch onto what he was playing.

Acacia smirked before starting to sway to the music, the tempo upbeat and light.

"Solitaria, camina la bikina! Y la gente se pone a murmurar… Dicen que tiene una pena, Dicen que tiene una pena, que la hace llorar!" She sang twirling her skirt fluttering a bit as she did.

Miguel nodded swaying along, spinning on his heel with his guitar.

"Altanera, preciosa y orgullosa! No permite la quieran consolar! Pasa luciendo su real majestad, Pasa, camina y nos mira sin vernos jamas!" He sang, giving a loud grito that echoed across the plaza.

The two teenagers danced and sang on, both trying to outdo the other getting into the rhythm of the music Miguel was creating. Nothing intense, just having a good time and performing for the people in the plaza.

Miguel smiled looking out and around him. While the girl beside him only saw the plaza for how it was usually… He saw buildings made of color, towering overhead, almost as if they were trying to touch the sky. Figures made of snowy white bone walking about carrying on with their day around them.

This was the life… Or the afterlife.

Right now all he cared about was feeling the music that seemed to flow right from his very soul and channelled into his guitar.

He had his guitar, his friend and his alebrije.

What else could he hope for?

ooooooo

Afterwards when they were too tired to keep performing, Miguel lead the girl off deciding he was going to treat her with some of his tips to a paleta or two. Ice cream in hand they walked behind a few of the buildings at a leisurely pace. Miguel keeping his eyes out for anything that might be out.

"So, you don't like antique digging with me anymore?" Acacia asked playfully elbowing him, frowning as she noticed the way he flinched.

That was still a very sore topic. He refused to go back to excise the other items because of the remnants. It had helped prepare him for releasing Maria when she was attacking, but he didn't want to relive that.

Not for a while.

"Nah." He responded keeping a good-natured grin on his face. "I got no need for that fake's records anyways."

Acacia nodded a little, taking a bite out of her paleta before she yelped bringing a hand to her head.

"Ay, ay brain freeze!"

Miguel busted out laughing until the same thing happened to him no less than two seconds later.

"Oooowww! Gah that's as bad as a chancla!"

"I don't know Miguel. La Chancla is still pretty bad."

Miguel cringed. "You know what, your right. A-anyways… What do you wanna do now?"

He didn't want to go home just yet. He had a few hours before he was expected back he could burn a few.

Besides, if I show up at the other compound Mama Imelda's gonna throw me in that attic with Papa Hector until it's clean!

Acacia put a finger to her chin humming in thought.

"Hm… Well what do you wanna do besides snack? I think if I got anymore sweets my Mama is going to flip out. Tonights when she's making pollo guisado and rellanos de papa." She sighed a bit. "Ay dios mio I can't wait."

Miguel's stomach growled as he nudged her. "Don't make me hungry! You and your Puerto Rican food!"

Acacia giggled giving a wink, leaning forward a bit.

"You know you liked it when you had it last time."

"I did. But MY Mama is making arroz con pollo and tamales." Miguel smirked crossing his arms… Giving a dismayed noise as Dante leaned up taking the paleta right from his hand and running off with it. "DANTE!"

She busted up laughing.

"He's as bad as Sombrita!" She nudged him as they walked out and by her house. There was the sound of small hooves on the road as a bleating was heard.

Miguel looked down to see a small black goat with a red collar… And he tried to fight down a smirk at the sight of a very familiar silver bell. "Speak of your shadow."

"Ay, Sombrita did you chew through the gate again!?"

The small goat bleated leaning up on the girl's leg trying to get access to her paleta. Acacia rolled her eyes looking to Miguel.

"Your pet started it."

"Yours clearly wants to finish it."

"Ay-yai-yai." She giggled kneeling down so her pet had more access to it. "There we go niña."

Sombrita took the paleta into her mouth, staring at the two teens before quickly eating it up… And attempting to eat the stick as well.

"Oh no. No, bad not food!"

"She's a goat! She'll eat anything!"

"Maybe we should invite her to your place for dinner."

Miguel scoffed but had a grin on his face. This felt right… Being able to be normal for a bit and pretend things weren't changing so fast. Pretend he didn't see skeletons walking the streets or live under towering spirit buildings.

"Maybe…" His gaze softened. "Hey Acacia… Can I ask you something?"

She glanced up, trying to keep Sombrita from getting ice cream on her skirt. "Si?"

"You… Wanna hang out tomorrow? In the music room at school?"

"Ooo si, si! You mind if I bring…?"

"You can bring your goat." He retorted as she smacked his ankle playfully. "I mean she has the PERFECT vocals!"

Sombrita gave a loud bleat, hopping into Acacia's arms as she stood. She smirked holding the goat closer to Miguel's face.

"I'm sure she agrees."

He leaned away. "What are you doing?"

Sombrita leaned forward licking his cheek as the boy recoiled in mock horror.

"NOOO!" Miguel called out dropping to his knees, throwing his hands skyward. "I'VE BEEN CURSED! I'M GOING TO TURN INTO A GOATMAN!"

Acacia grinned.

"Bwehehe si, behold my evil dark power! You shall bow down to the root of all evil!" She held up Sombrita higher. "THE GOAT WOMAN!"

Sombrita wiggled bleating louder.

"Baaaaah!"

Miguel and Acacia laughed the boy getting up. "Well that happened."

"You big dork."

"Musical dork to you."

They grinned before Miguel took note of how late in the day it was getting. "Gotta get home… See you tomorrow?"

"See you, be safe."

He nodded waving as he and Dante ran off. Acacia waved holding Sombrita close to her.

Miguel sighed happily taking note of someone waiting for him at the gate. "Papa Hector? What are you doing here?"

Hector looked a bit disheveled as he leaned against the gateway. "Your Mama Imelda happened to me. I spent the whole day fighting off spider alebrijes! ALEBRIJE SPIDERS!"

Miguel stifled a laugh covering his mouth.

"Pfft what's so bad about spiders?"

"Evverrrrything." Hector rolled his eyes. "Thanks for leaving me high and dry chamaco."

"Hey, I was socializing. Making sure I can still draw a living audience!"

"Mm-hm. With whom?"

Miguel shrugged. "Acacia? Puerto Rican girl in my class, with the dark red hair and the green eyes?"

Hector snapped his fingers as recognition came to his eyes.

"Ah that muchacha!" He grinned. "So you had a little day out huh?"

"Mm-hm! It was fun, we just hung out and caught up with each other." Miguel walked inside the compound, his ancestor following him. "Dante ate my ice cream and her goat ate hers."

"Goat eh? We sure it wasn't Elena?"

Miguel snorted. "You are so lucky she can't hear you, you know."

Hector just reached over shoving Miguel playfully.

"Oh go stuff your face full of your precious Arroz Con Pollo."

"I will!"

Though… Glad this hasn't completely taken over his life.

He deserves to have his childhood.

Chapter Text

The Dark One

There were skeletons all over. They were listening to him. Really listening to him! The boy picked up his stride, the music coming from his guitar getting stronger. Louder.

He was really going to do this. No one was going to get in his way or stopping him. It was just like in the movies! People were parting just for him!

He could see the person he was looking for, right in front of him, just a few paces away. A tall skeletal figure in a stark white suit.

He grinned, singing on, before something interrupted him. He had failed to take notice of the pool's edge and no one had tried to warn him. He fell downward, straight down, struggling to get loose but the guitar strap was tangled around him.

He faintly saw something come close to him before he sunk to the bottom of the pool, staring upward as a boy his exact image was pulled away. The guitar settled at the bottom once enough water had filled it.

Was he always this tired?

It was dark and it was cold. He wasn't sure how long he had been down there but he was terrified of moving from where he had settled at the bottom. He just kept staring upward, hoping for some sign of movement.

He wasn't entirely sure what to make of what had happened. Was what happened before the dream or was this the dream?

I was… I was running away from Hector cause that rat wanted to sell me out to Mama Imelda and ruin my career...

The boy growled as the memory formed in his mind.

"You lied to me!"

"Oh, you're one to talk!"

Selfish, stupid skeleton. Whoever was forgetting him probably had good reason to. He thought before guilt washed over him at the thought.

No… He was a rat and a liar but… no one deserves to be forgotten. right?

Right now, however, he felt like he was forgotten. He couldn't remember anything after he had fallen. He was about to go talk to his great-great grandfather but…

Then he fell.

He growled a bit, forcing himself to his feet. Well, he still had a few hours left before sunrise, he was sure. He could get out there.

Something didn't feel right though. He grabbed the waterlogged guitar that was beside him before finding the steps to the pool. stepping out.

Realizing just how long it had been. The room was completely dark and empty. No projectors playing old movies like before. He gulped, looking around him more backing up into the water a bit before moving forward.

This had to be a mistake. It had to.

The party just moved across town. That's what happened. Everyone was getting ready for the Sunrise Spectacular.

He picked up his pace, trying not to slide in the water he had brought with him on his shoes. Before he knew it he had burst through the doors of the mansion stumbling out….

Into sunlight.

Pure sunlight that to anyone else in this place, was a welcomed sign of the day ahead of them but for the boy, he recoiled as if he had just been burned, giving out a cry of horror.

NO, NO, NO! HOW LONG WAS I OUT!?

He looked around him, seeing skeletons walking around like it was a normal day. He swallowed hard as he thought about what he had remembered before.

Did… they just stop looking for me…?

Instead of running back inside, he pulled up his hood, taking note his hands weren't skeletal. He wasn't sure if that was a good sign or a bad sign as he started to walk off, lugging the waterlogged guitar on his back.

He didn't know where he was going, he just followed wherever he felt he should go. It was hard to keep out of sight though.

Daylight seemed to have so much more energy than the night before… or at least he thought it was the night before.

Did they just stop because they knew they were wrong? Or…

He stopped as a thought flickered through his mind.

"It's my life, you already had yours!"

"You go home my way or no way."

Would… they have just left him to die?

He broke into a run, looking around for anything familiar. The plaza, train station, something. There had to be something familiar.

Buildings that even in daylight seemed to glow with color, snowy white bones everywhere. Sounds of music, smells of fresh baked bread when he bolted passed a bakery.

Where was he?

He heard a very familiar grito as he rushed down an alley coming out into what he thought was El Plaza de la Cruz.

Hector was there, talking to someone as he set something up. Even with the anger he felt for a moment, the boy felt relief go over him as he made a move to go to him.

"Papa Hector!"

He stopped short as he saw… himself, rush up behind Hector, throwing his arms around the skeleton's bony frame.

"Hey, Chamaco, you get the stuff like I asked?"

His double gave an annoyed look as his hair was ruffled.

"Si, I got the tamales and the horchata. You know you could've come home to eat lunch."

"I'm trying to set up Miguel." Hector chuckled. "Did you skip breakfast?"

"No, I-Okay, I may have because there's always too much food!"

"Miguel!"

No… He's not Miguel.. I'm Miguel…

Aren't I?

And why is he calling him "Papa Hector"? He's not family!

He backed up, pulling his hood up higher before bolting away, looking back for only a moment, seeing "Miguel" swipe Hector's straw hat, causing the skeleton to chase him around the stage as if they owned it.

What's going on?

The places stopped looking familiar the farther he ran. Farther than he had ever remembered being capable of running.

That's not me! I'm me!

I'M THE REAL MIGUEL!

He kept running, trying to find some way out of this place. The Land of the Dead compiled with a desert he had never walked before all merged together, creating illusions that he wasn't quite ready to handle.

He didn't think about how fast he was moving or the fact he wasn't even tired. All he knew was that he had to find a way home. Go back to where his proper place was. See his Mama and hug her tightly.

If Abuelita just hadn't broken my guitar this wouldn't have happened!

If Mama Imelda wasn't so stubborn.

I wanna go home! Just let me go home!

He wasn't watching where he was going, his thoughts swirling his panic growing. The colorful buildings started to feel as if they were closing in around him.

He needed to get back to his family, get back and explain what happened or at least promise to never run off like he had.

If he could still go home.

When he finally came to a stop he couldn't recognize where he was. He couldn't recognize anything where he was in this massive and strange world.

He took note of a small fire coming out of a barrel. Maybe someone could tell him where he was or at the least tell him how to get out of there. He picked up his pace, a feeling of dread settling in his stomach.

I don't feel right…

There was the noise of growling. Quiet high pitched growling as he approached the area - what looked like an abandoned music studio. He gulped, clenching his fists tightly, hoping this wasn't going to be a fight.

He walked right up to the fire, peering into the open door… the actual door missing from its hinges, the building looking blurry and faded like he was looking at an old photograph.

As soon as he did, the barking started as he stumbled back. Four colorful, LOUD, chihuahua alebrijes scampering out. One started howling while the boy tried to keep the other three from biting his ankles.

"Ay-ay, leave me alone you devil dogs!" He snapped, yelping as one darted around him and clamped down on his ankle. "OW!"

He was too preoccupied with the pint sized hellhounds to notice a figure in the doorway.

"What are you four going on about now-"

He looked up, his eyes locking with eyes he was familiar with. A face partially covered by a cloak but he recognized it nonetheless.

The skeleton looked at him with a dark look, not pleased to see him at all while the boy gazed at him in relief.

"You…"

"It's you… It's really you! Ay dios mio!" The boy got around the dogs, running right up to him, an overjoyed looked in his eyes. "Ernesto de la Cruz!"

Ernesto gave him a warning look, holding out a hand to keep him from getting any closer. He knew who this boy was. He was still bitter about the last time they had been in the same vicinity.

Even out in the most remote spot of the Land of the Dead's slums he could find to lie low, Ernesto had heard of Miguel's return to the place between life and death.

A Psychic Child with gifts and abilities one could only dream of. Especially after word got out that La Llorona had finally been crossed over by the boy himself.

The boy in front of him, didn't match what he could recall, however. He was clad in damp clothes, a waterlogged guitar hung over his back and the remains of face paint drying on his face in uneven streaks…

There was also the eyes. A bright golden yellow color that looked… inhuman.

He would admit, he didn't know what changes a child underwent when they became psychic. For all he knew, this was standard.

All he knew, was that the last thing he wanted was to have Hector's grandchild on his doorstep and acting like it was their first meeting.

"And you're the brat who ruined everything for me! I don't know what you want or why your here but leave! And if you took Imelda's horrid alebrije I suggest you go back to it right now!"

Miguel took a step back in shock at Ernesto's harshness. This wasn't what he was expecting at all. Wasn't family supposed to hear him out at least?

"N-No! I didn't do anything!" He held out his hands, eyes going wide. "Por favor, Senor de La Cruz-"

Ernesto grabbed him firmly by the shoulder, shoving him outside. He doubted the kid was truly alone and the last thing he wanted was to get smacked around and eaten by Pepita if she was hanging around.

"I have no need to hear anything from Hector's grandchild!"

Miguel looked at him confused.

"What…?" He stumbled, righting himself as he nearly tripped. "No, I'm your great-great-grandson! Not his! You gotta listen to me. I need to get out of here!" How does he know Hector? Was… Oh, Hector wasn't serious, was he!?

"You are either extremely forgetful or a good actor. If you need to leave so badly call on Hector or your dear "Mama Imelda" to come get you!"

Miguel whirled around, anger flashing in his eyes.

"Hector is off in the plaza with a FAKE me running around!" He shouted, the wind picking up around him. "I've been running for who knows how long trying to find someway home to fix this mess because HE left me high and dry! And then Mama Imelda? She ABANDONED me here to die!"

Ernesto grabbed onto the doorway as the wind rushed into his meager abode and caused his cloak to flutter in it. His alebrijes whimpered as the boy brushed passed them - not hurting them just getting out of their way. His presence was darker now.

When he had first met the boy, Ernesto had for a time believed they were related. Maybe not as directly as Hector was to the boy but he would've been willing to let him down later as a grand-uncle or something. Long after he was gone to maintain the image he had gotten from it.

But there were things even he had noticed. Like the boy's eyes which back then were the deep chocolate brown of the Riveras.

Not this inhuman golden color that was getting closer the more Miguel moved.

"And YOU, I finally get here and… and you just get mad at me!" The boy's shoulders shook, as he stared at Ernesto, hurt in his eyes. "You won't listen to me just like that… That… That witch I call my great-great grandma!"

Oh, he did not.

There were many things Ernesto could've done to the boy… but one of them he knew was off limits.

Whoever this was, it was not Miguel. He could've spotted the boy's lying because much like his former friend, the boy wore his heart on his sleeve for all the world to see.

But this was too much to be fake. There was, in truth, no reason for the Riveras to hunt him down and bring Miguel so close to the person who had been nearly successful in murdering him too.

And absolutely no reason for the boy to outright run up to him happy and then upset the next.

The boy was looking at him with a look of utter hatred in his eyes, energy coming off of him in waves.

The Riveras still had much to answer for as far as Ernesto was concerned. Everything was ruined and he was living in squalor with his alebrijes.

But if he had someone who could traverse the land of the living and cause some waves…

Yes. That will do just fine. He doesn't know the truth or just simply can't believe it.

This will do nicely.

Now, to see if I can get him to stop throwing his energy about. He's going to attract other alebrijes here.

Ernesto strode up to him, moving between the waves that the child kept letting loose.

He silently hoped Miguel was not as unstable as his copy was. It wouldn't help him at all if Miguel's abilities were exactly like this. Even if it would be amusing to watch Hector get scattered across seventeen districts from the blast that would result.

"Cálmese Miguel, cálmese. I'll hear you out. You don't have to go back to that awful woman."

"Miguel" looked at him with narrowed eyes before his shoulders relaxed a bit.

Ernesto kept a calm look in his eyes.

"You know, you won't solve anything standing here and yelling at me."

The boy gave him an irritated look. A look Ernesto recognized all too well as Hector's signature "I'm hungry and sleep deprived and about to shriek like a harpy." look that he had at that age and they were two hungry teens trying to make it big in Santa Cecilia.

The boy opened his mouth, inhaling deeply before he let out a frustrated cry. Ernesto kept his composure, waiting for him to basically shake out his frustration.

"I woke up in that… that dumb pool! And everyone was gone! And I thought "Maybe they moved across to the big show!" so I went outside and got my guitar - which by the way is now water logged and the strings are gonna rust and GAAAAAAH-"

"Cálmese."

The boy deflated visibly before he sunk to his knees, bringing his hands to his face.

"I'm ready to go home. I just wanna go home. I don't wanna die."

Ernesto knelt to his level, bringing the boy close, stroking his hair humming softly.

"Remember me, though I have to say goodbye. Remember me, don't let it make you cry."

He hiccuped a little, burying his face a bit.

"Papa Ernesto…" He whispered, the exhaustion of his whole ordeal catching up to him. "M'sorry I freaked."

"I know mijo, it's alright. You were upset. Understandably so. I would be upset too."

The boy relaxed more, his golden eyes sliding shut.

"Help me? I… I'm not ready to die."

"And you're far from death my child. You, are a de la Cruz."

He opened his eyes a little. "Huh? But… I go by Rivera."

Ernesto smirked, prompting a small smile from him.

"Not if you're going to be calling yourself my great-great grandson. A de la Cruz is born to be a musician. To seize their moment! Not…"

"To be a shoemaker?"

"Si!"

The boy moved away a bit, sitting in front of Ernesto, an eager look coming to his eyes.

"Miguel de la Cruz…" He scrunched his nose up. "Bleh, that doesn't sound right together. But… I'm still me."

Ernesto stood up, dusting himself off.

"And you still are. But perhaps it's time to embrace your heritage, hm? Even take on a new name."

"Miguel" looked down, frowning a little.

"But… my Mama Coco named me…"

"And you can take back that name someday. Maybe when there isn't two of you anymore." Ernesto remarked casually as he went to grab a bottle of water he had managed to steal from a stand.

He took a glance behind him to see anger in the boy's eyes again. He grinned a bit, keeping it hidden.

"And if it helps… I could give you a new name."

He perked up.

"Really?!" He jumped up, exhaustion momentarily forgotten. "What is it?"

Ernesto gave what the boy thought was a warm look.

"You will be known for now as… Marco."

Chapter Text

Double Walker

That time of year was coming. It was fall and the town was buzzing with activity. It was the month of October and with it, counted down the days until Días De Los Muertos once more. A night where the dead will walk amongst the living although invisible to their eyes.

Music was in the air, families were getting their ofrenda's cleaned up or set up.

For the Rivera's it was a month of tidying up the compound and planning what they would do that day both the living and the dead. Especially after the previous year when no one had been able to spend the holiday doing what they initially expected. Both the living and deceased family members looking for Miguel during his otherworldly adventure.

An otherworldly adventure that unwittingly opened his eyes to the world beyond the living even after the fact.

Miguel felt excited about it… But it was also a bittersweet excitement at times. The Rivera's continued on, as always but it was always a comment or a remark… Or a story that would cause them to pause.

It would be the first Dias De Los Muertos without Coco. At least to their eyes.

Miguel knew he would be seeing her amongst their family during the celebrations. He was looking forward to performing his song for his relatives.

It had been hard to find time to work on it at times. Especially since he had tried his hardest to keep it secret from Hector and even Coco despite the fact he literally told her everything.

He knew what he wanted to do though, he was going to get his cousins to play with him and turn the old well into a small stage.

It would be wonderful. Miguel sighed a bit leaning back in his desk chair looking down at the furry lump in his lap.

"Pepita. I need to get up. You can't keep doing this."

"She'll keep doing whatever she likes nino."

Miguel jumped a little looking behind him to see Imelda in his doorway. He grinned. "Hola, what brings you here? You said you were busy decorating."

Imelda smirked holding up a small bag.

"I finished your sister's new outfit. I'm going to leave it in her dresser."

Miguel smirked.

"I thought you said you weren't going to make us clothes so Mama doesn't think we stole 'em."

"Ha! I think with all the clothes that girl has she'll just be glad something fits the baby." Imelda scoffed. "And… There might be some little boots."

His smirk faded to a warm smile. "And she'll look super cute. You know Papa Hector might cry seeing her look like a mini you." He teased a little.

"Heh… We're still figuring out that whole bridge nonsense you know. Have to be sure guardian spirits aren't suddenly prohibited or something." Imelda's gaze softened fiddling with the bag a bit. "Especially since. I want Hector to have that experience. He's been waiting so long to have it."

"And I'm sure it'll work out." Miguel bit his lip a little getting up and walking with her to his sister's room.

Imelda was quiet as she went about setting the gifts where they belonged… Unable to help herself gazing down into Socorro's crib. The baby girl was fast asleep in the middle of her afternoon nap, her little body tangled a bit in the sheets.

"You know, she reminds me of Elena like that." Imelda whispered carefully moving her and tucking her in once more. Socorro never even stirring just nuzzling Imelda's hand where it rested atop her head. "She would always toss and turn in her sleep even as a baby."

"Socorro does it sometimes. She usually sleeps like a rock. One time, Mama was giving her dinner, and she just kept falling asleep in her high chair. She was so tired but wouldn't give in, kept trying to keep her eyes open."

"Also like your abuelita. So stubborn."

"And like Mama. And Mama Coco… And you and Papa Hector." Miguel grinned.

Imelda nodded bringing a finger to her lips before they quietly left the room.

"Now… How about I show you where I kept some embarrassing pictures of the twins for the ofrenda offerings?"

Miguel rubbed his hands together.

"Oooo this is gonna be fun!"

ooooooooo

Miguel yawned a bit stretching his arms over his head, making his way for the school. He had been up late organizing all the pictures he had found with Imelda's help.

He hadn't shown them to the rest of the living family yet, that was going to be a surprise for later in the month. But it was tiring work regardless.

"You gonna be able to stay awake Chamaco?"

"Si Papa... " He rubbed one of his eyes. "Can we watch a movie when I go to your house later?"

"You'll have to bring your traveling magic box."

"At least that's better than." Miguel stood up straight, hands on his hips Hector doing the same.

"That traveling devil box is distracting you!" They both recited before busting up laughing.

Miguel and Hector kept goofing around a bit until they got close enough that the spirit became quiet. Miguel perked up seeing some of his friends as he hurried to join up with them.

"Hola! Sorry about yesterday, I had chores to do." He laughed a little but paused seeing Santiago and their other friend Luis were giving him annoyed looks. "What?"

"You got us in so much trouble. Chores? What chores!" Luis had exclaimed. "You were out and you kicked my ball into Senora Torres' garden! She hit me with her shoe!"

"Wait what? No manches! I was up to my elbows in food!"

Santiago rolled his eyes. "Mm-hm."

"Like, was I playing with you and did it or just run?"

"Well… Just ran."

"Then it wasn't me." Miguel retorted pulling out his phone. "What time was it?"

"Four thirty."

"Here."

Miguel held up his phone, a picture Luisa had taken of the Rivera cousins being directed by Elena in the kitchen.

"See?"

The two boys leaned, in looking before looking up at Miguel.

"Sorry amigo."

"It's okay."

"Just… That jerk looked so much like you. Probably was nothing." Santiago shrugged. "C'mon, or we'll be late."

"Right!"

The day went on as normal. Paying attention in class, spending time in the music room… Spending too much time trading around food and spending the last five minutes of lunch trying to eat it all.

Then it was finally time to head home. Hector was quiet keeping up with Miguel, the boy keeping next to Acacia on this day the two having a similar way home.

"And then I have to keep an eye out for her. Otherwise, who knows what she'll do." Acacia sighed explaining why she was a bit late to school due to her goat getting into trouble.

"Sombrita just loves causing you problems eh?" Miguel asked with a small grin.

"Si she does but I love her anyways. She's my girl. Just like how you keep Dante out of trouble." She smiled.

Miguel laughed throwing his head back.

"Dante is more like a trouble magnet sometimes. One time last Dias De Muertos, I was just heading to Mariachi plaza to shine shoes-" At the amused look she gave him he scoffed a bit. "I mean it!"

"Sure Miguel."

"Anyways, I was just goofing around and I tap on a garbage can lid… And out pops Dante."

"PffftAahahaha! Ay dios mio!" She laughed. "How?"

"I have no idea he was in there for hours I guess!"

Hector smiled looking around at the small town. It had been a long time since he had seen it getting ready for the holiday. He was excited, part of him feeling almost like a child at the idea of having a full holiday with his family.

He would get to spend a full Dias De Muertos with Coco.

Coco, Imelda, everyone…

It's going to be perfect.

oooooooo

In the Land of the Dead prepping for the holiday was going underway as well. Many places already putting out goods, promising celebrations for those who chose to not cross over that night.

Some people were already having pre-parties. Some, were cooking up feasts to share with their large families.

It was the first time that Hector felt like he could look forward to it. That this holiday wasn't a symbol of trials and attempts to make it across the bridge. It wasn't a sign he was being slowly forgotten.

Instead, he could look forward to walking across the bridge with his family. With his wife and his daughter.

He could cross over to the living world frequently now because of his status as a guardian. But there were still things to consider.

"I can't believe we have to do this." Victoria muttered to Hector as they sat in the waiting area of the Department of Family reunions. "We have to actually check. We didn't before, just walk up look at the stupid blinky thingy-"

"Hey you're talking like me." He grinned.

"And walk on through-"

"Yeah I did that every year!" Hector exclaimed a devious look coming to his eyes.

"Oh you are bad."

"And I apologize for that."

Victoria elbowed him as Hector feigned pain even going as far as to let his head fall off his shoulders and into his lap.

"AY! Oh the pain, the PAAAIIIIN! It's too much… Tell… Imelda… I… I love her!"

Victoria put her face in her hands trying to hide her laughter. It was hard to sometimes imagine what early married life must've been like for Imelda with how animated Hector was. He acted like a big kid sometimes. Able to be firm and stern but also kick back and embrace fun.

"Ay-yai-yai Abuelo!"

"Que?"

"You are unbelievable."

Hector chuckled before righting, himself looking around surveying the area. Just people watching… Until, something caught his eyes… Or rather his and Victoria's ears.

And to Hector… Much dismay. His cheerful easy going expression faded into a disgruntled one, eyes narrowing.

It was someone playing Ernesto's butchering of Remember Me. He wasn't sure who, and he wasn't sure where it was coming from. But it was there.

"Ay dios mio I thought that would stop." He muttered running a hand down his face. Victoria frowned getting up.

"You want me to-"

"No, no mija. It's fine… Probably some kid…" He tried to brush it off, visibly trying to not show how much it bothered him. "We'll go in soon, they'll get bored or change songs."

Victoria looked at the agents at their desks and her eyes trailed to her boots. She really didn't want to do this.

But, a Rivera had to do what a Rivera had to do.

And it bothered her to see Hector looking so shaken. So with much trepidation, Victoria walked over pulling one out of Hector's book and disconnecting her own leg.

Hector put his face in his hands watching between his fingers.

"Ay dios mio VICTORIA! You don't have to-"

There was no stopping Victoria. She was a quiet storm, her disembodied leg being a silent threat while she discussed moving up, so they can just hurry home.

"R-Rivera's!" One of the agents called from her desk. A computer that looked like it had seen better days upon it.

Victoria looked nostalgic while Hector looked concerned… Though he also recognized the agent as having to deal with him his first few years being dead.

"Ah! Sofia!" Hector exclaimed perking up.

"Hector!" She gave a relieved look. "Finally going to cross the bridge huh?"

"Si, with my whole familia!" Hector rubbed the back of his neck sitting down in front of her. "Well, gotta check first. We weren't given anything when my grandson started seeing us…?"

"I can check that for you." Sofia replied typing on her computer… Having to smack it a few times a sad sigh leaving her.

"... What happened to your blinky thing?" Hector asked.

"Your wife happened."

"... THAT WAS YOUR BLINKY THING SHE WRECKED?!"

Sofia nodded grinning as she found the information she was looking for. "And it'll get fixed eventually. But… Looks like guardians can still walk on the bridge. But!" She held up a finger. "You need to remember to wrap up all duties for the daytime before night falls. You will return to the Land of the Dead before the end of the night and when Dias De Muertos is over you are free to go to and from your familia as guardians do."

Victoria hummed in thought.

"So just as normal?"

"With added exceptions to course such as protecting your loved ones and of course needing to be there during difficult crossovers."

Hector grimaced.

"I swear we're never gonna live down that first time huh?"

"Sorry Hector. But congrats!"

Hector grinned relief and excitement going through him. He jumped up on his chair giving out a loud grito.

"I'M GOING TO GET ACROSS THAT DUMB FLOWER BRIDGE!" He cheered jumping off the chair. "Toria c'mon we got planning to do!" He gave a loud grito that drew several sets of eyes his way, but he didn't care. He was finally going to get to have a proper Dias De Muertos!

Sofia giggled.

"I'm so glad for him."

"I am too." Victoria reached into her bag she had with her taking out a small note book. She jotted something down before handing it over. "Por favor, consider this a coupon for a custom pair of shoes for my abuela's actions last year. With everything happening with my nephew-"

"It's fine. I had my typewriter smashed about fifty years ago too. At least this still works."

"Por favor."

"... If, you insist."

"I do."

"MIJA!"

"Coming abuelo!"

Hector was moving so fast he almost bumped into the offender with the guitar. He glanced back seeing their head was down, he couldn't make out their face.

All he could see was that it was a child with a guitar.

Hector sighed shaking his head. No matter what, seeing a child in this world was never easy at all.

Never at all.

Victoria caught up to him glancing behind her as well. They both felt a chill go through their bones.

Something, didn't feel right. Hector gently tugged on Victoria's wrist to lead her away, glancing over his shoulder as they headed for the trolley.

He couldn't place it. This didn't feel like when the incident involving Socorro and La Llorona. This felt familiar and yet dangerous at the same time.

So even with Victoria reminding him she didn't need him to keep making her walk, he just kept moving.

ooooooooo

The rest of the Rivera's in the Land of the Living were still busy. Shoe orders were still piling up, and they still had work to do.

Miguel's hands were sore, but he still kept quiet wanting to help his father and mother instead of going off to play football with his friends in the plaza, or go see the other side of the family.

"So, Papa I was thinking… Can I borrow your work bench on Dias De Muertos?" He asked giving Enrique a hopeful look.

The man glanced up from his work giving an amused one in return.

"Why do you need it?"

Miguel grinned bouncing in place a bit. "I was thinking I could use it as a stage for when I play for everyone and I could get up next to the tree-"

"No!" He replied a stern look in his eyes. "I don't want you standing on that thing Miguel, it's too rickety to hold your weight. You could get hurt."

"What if I put something under it to hold its weight?"

Luisa grasped her son's shoulder gently and sat down what she was working on beside him.

It was a chancla freshly made and unused.

The message to Miguel was very, very clear what would befall him if he did it anyway.

"On second thought, I'm good. I'll use the well. That's still safe right?"

"Yeah we just boarded it up again yesterday. Good for standing on." Enrique snuck a glance to Berto. "It even held Berto!"

"OY!"

Enrique ducked as a wingtip firmly lodged into the wall behind him. "NICE TRY HERMANO!"

Miguel chuckled wincing as he felt his hands act up. He really needed to rest them.

"Mama pardoname?"

"Si mijo, go take fifteen. Go eat a snack."

He kissed her cheek before hurrying off.

But he came back in five minutes later, an annoyed look on his face. Luisa frowned looking to her boy. "Mijo what's wrong-"

He stormed over to Enrique's personal workbench and shoved everything off of it.

"MIGUEL! What are you-" Enrique growled standing up. "You clean that up right now!"

Miguel gave an innocent look.

"It's not my problem." He grinned before a hurt look came to his eyes. "This is yours." He whispered before hurrying from the workroom before Luisa could get to him. He got his running speed from her and whenever he got into trouble Luisa usually caught him somehow if it wasn't Elena.

The boy… Marco sighed as he rushed through the home. This wasn't what he wanted. He just wanted to expose the fake right then and there.

Right now….

Marco skidded to a stop hearing quiet singing coming from his room. The room the copy was residing in.

He growled his hands curling into fists.

It was one thing to play on a corner until it was clear he made Hector uncomfortable. It was another to have to make himself look bad to make the 'bad' Miguel disappear without them being missed.

He grasped the doorknob about to open it when he heard Enrique shout for him, and he bolted out another entrance. He did hear the door open and hear his copy take his fall though.

"YOU! GO IN THERE AND CLEAN UP THAT MESS! And I want an apology!"

"Que!? Papa, Mama, I-I don't understand-!"

Soon you will…

Soon…

Chapter Text

Appearances

He couldn't believe his luck. First his friends got mad at him for something he didn't do. Then when he thought things were fine, he was suddenly in trouble.

The story his parents told didn't make sense to him at all. He didn't even go near the workshop after he had left, he was in his room the whole time with his guitar.

Miguel had tried to deny it but the story didn't line up at all. But instead of risking getting grounded with protests, he apologized and resorted to cleaning up the mess 'he' had apparently made.

He was made to run errands for a bit before coming back, no Mariachi Plaza for the day. It still puzzled him.

He didn't remember being mad when Enrique had told him no. He was fine with it and knew he was likely going to get the answer he got.

So why would they think he did it?

Was I… Oh no…

Miguel still had a hard time managing his astral projection. He hadn't quite gotten it yet and it still seemed to elude him when he was actively going for it. But passed out asleep, he sometimes still wound up projecting miles away…

Especially in the middle of his dead family's compound and startling Pepita once.

Miguel put his head in his hands.

Did he mess with Luis and Santiago too?

Was that him?

Por favor no. I'm not out of control…

I'm not…

He looked at his hands, his fingers trembling. He thought he was used to these powers. Were they still that unstable? Was there something wrong with him?

oooooooo

Marco wasn't sure how he felt about his recent actions. There was this sense of guilt… And a sense of time wasted.

Ernesto had praised him for his boldness.

"Going right to his room and about to seize your chance. Very inspired even if dangerous. Soon you'll be back with them like you belong."

"But why mess with Hector then?"

Ernesto had looked visibly uncomfortable at this questioning. Marco had noticed it before when he asked about Imelda or Coco. Ernesto would get quiet or change the subject as smoothly as he could change a chord on a guitar.

"You know, why don't you go take the dogs out? They need the air."

"They're dead. They literally don't need it."

"And you do. Now, go."

Marco admittedly worried he might be too trusting. Ernesto was irritable with him at times, nothing like the movies he remembered seeing or the interviews.

There were moments of warmth. Assuring him he would be alright and it would be over soon. Airing out his guitar and helping him figure out how to restring it.

But there was one thing he couldn't deny…

They were living in squalor. It was nothing like the comfort of the compound he grew up in. It was nothing like anything if he had to be honest.

It had a table and two chairs. A worn down bed, another mattress on the floor and a small fridge.

That was about it. There were candles for light and a basin outside with water that never seemed to evaporate or even be affected by tossing dirty clothes into it. Just forever the same as it was always remembered.

However, the lack of distractions did wonders for one other thing…

Marco's powers were coming under a slow control. He wasn't sure the extent of it yet. But he wasn't making massive waves of energy when upset anymore. And he figured out how to astral project his form for a bit before it had to stop.

The projection came in handy with his 'errands' he was sent out on… But he would admit, he was growing tired of the games. He was so close. And yet it also felt so wrong.

The boy growled in frustration throwing one of the chairs down to the floor with a clatter. The alebrijes started yapping up a storm aside from one.

"You're going to get us unwanted attention." He was warned from outside. Ernesto had his own issue with the situation at hand, but he was doing his best to keep it together. To keep the facade alive long enough to render the Rivera's one dead son and one very confused doppelganger when the truth came to light. He was never one for raising kids. That had been the last thing on his mind. His career came first.

He had acted with a few child stars and had been fond of them but… Raising a child for a time, was not his cup of tea.

Especially one like Marco who reminded Ernesto more of Hector at that age then the boy he was copying.

Only Hector's mood swings were brought on by just growing up and being in a state where he was eating seemingly every five seconds.

Marco's was partially fueled by a need to eat but it was literal hunger. Ernesto didn't feel the same pangs, loss of energy yes but Marco was still a child. He was very much some kind of entity but one that was mimicking everything about what he sought to destroy. Including that need for food that wouldn't go away.

He would be lying to himself if he hadn't thought about just knocking him out and abandoning him near the station or some place. Let him be someone else's problem.

But then he would say something that would remind him too much of him… Too much of both the real Miguel and Hector and Ernesto's rage would come back anew.

This wasn't going to go on for much longer he told himself. Keep the kid from running off or killing Miguel before Dias De Muertos and then the problem would at least come to a close.

His reputation was ruined. But at least he could drag Hector down with him one last time.

"You know the day's coming." He reminded him. "And then you'll be able to fix everything."

"Si…" Marco picked up one of the dogs going to him. Ernesto had him go to Santa Cecilia to steal extra clothes because his were going to get too worn down in time.

Stealing had felt very strange and wrong. Scoping out the store, going in and taking what he needed. But it meant he had clean laundry at least.

But something was still bothering him. Why was he like this? Did Imelda really not want to hear out his plight? Was she that bitter?

"Papa Ernesto?"

There was also another matter.

"Hm? What is it?"

"Why do you want me to harass Hector?" He asked simply as the skeleton went quiet. The only sound being the quiet wind that blew through the slums.

Ernesto looked pained… And if he was being honest, he was dreading giving that answer. Because it meant he would have to convince the kid of something that once it came to light, would guarantee Hector himself would come after him.

But there were still things to be done. Once the job was done, he could get away before the Rivera's alebrijes caught up to him again.

"Because, nino… He ruined our familia." Ernesto's bones shuddered involuntarily. But it got the effect he wanted. Marco's eyes were wide in horror and fixated on Ernesto.

"What did he do?" Marco asked softly.

"He… Ay dios mio, I shouldn't be telling you this. This is between adults." Ernesto looked away, keeping an eye on Marco out of the corner of his eyes.

"Tell me! Come on I'm old enough!" Marco pleaded hopping a bit in place.

Ernesto kept his back to Marco, trying not to shudder at the mere thought of HIM, Ernesto de la Cruz falling for Imelda.

But, he had an audience and the audience wanted the crescendo of 'truth'.

"We were best friends you know. He and I were like brothers. He was my daughter's godfather even… But while we were touring in Mexico City, he ran back and decided to steal something precious."

Marco was shaking his head as Ernesto turned his.

"No, no, no he didn't… She didn't… Is that why you thought I was HIS grand kid!?"

"Oh yes. Imelda doesn't like to talk about musicians because Hector… Tch… That traitor, that… That rat! He took everything from me!"

"YOU RAT! YOU TOOK EVERYTHING FROM ME!"

"Why? Why would she do that? A-and… and how come Hector's not on our ofrenda then?"

"Some things are buried Marco. Many things are. The truth especially when someone doesn't want to hear it. Think about it."

Marco looked down shuddering. This was hard to imagine. That Hector, the skeleton who watched over him for a good time, even taught him a few important lessons… Even if he was being selfish over his picture, would be a homewrecker.

And… He wanted to send me back to someone who was gonna make me give up music forever…

Marco gritted his teeth.

"That… That…"

"I know… Now you see why I resent him so?"

"I do... " Marco looked up, his eyes narrowed in a glare. "And I'm gonna make it right."

"And how shall you do that?"

"Seizing my moment."

ooooooo

The time was drawing near. It was going to be a few days still but the excitement was building…

As for Miguel, hoping that a plan of his would work out for the best. He had been saving his tips from the plaza aside for this as well. His recording equipment could wait.

Though, he would have to admit his shopping companion wasn't helping much.

"Socorro your not supposed to nibble on the sugar skulls!" He chided softly at his sister. She looked up at him before going back to trying to eat the sugar skull she had been handed to hold. Miguel shrugged.

"Okay, that's Papa Hector's then."

Miguel looked at his list. "Alright that's six skulls for six people in Shantytown, then I need six prayer candles and I gotta get some pictures." That would be the hard part. He was pretty sure he could just use a camera in the Land of the Dead and make those ofrenda's.

Socorro babbled on as if agreeing with him before squealing as she shook the sugar skull in her hands furiously.

"Right, make that five skulls and one that needs to be replaced." He chuckled.

Miguel had been hoping to find some way to at least ensure the others in Shantytown wouldn't disappear so easily. Hector still spent time with them, and he had been tagging along lately to hear their stories.

He thought, if he jotted them down, he could read them out to Socorro, so she could learn about them as she got older.

Since if someone speaks of them while they're still alive, they're still remembered. I'll pass down their stories, even if it's to my sister. No more forgotten souls.

He couldn't put it with the main ofrenda, but he had been clearing out his old hideaway. Namely, taking his old Ernesto merchandise and burning it.

He was just getting supplies now.

"Miguel!"

He looked up to see Acacia and Sombrita hurrying over to them. "Acacia!"

"Bwah!" Socorro squealed.

"Busy getting things for Dias De Muertos huh?"

"Yep, just doing some extra shopping. Socorro's helping."

Acacia knelt a bit offering her finger to the baby who grasped it tightly. "I see that. She's being super helpful isn't she?"

"Yeah, taste testing to be sure the sugar skulls are tasty enough." He laughed.

Sombrita sniffed at the sugar skull, hopping up a bit on the stroller before leaning in to take a bite out of it.

Acacia quickly nudged her down. "No!" She picked her up stepping back a bit. Sombrita bleated licking Acacia's arm instead before settling down.

Miguel smirked. "So now you've been cursed by the goat woman!"

"It's true." Acacia looked around as if she was trying to appear shifty. "I've always been cursed. It's been my secret since I got her." She held up Sombrita a bit over her head. "BAAAAAAAH!"

Miguel had to clamp a hand over his mouth to keep from laughing, Acacia had a mock crazy look and Sombrita just bleated while moving her hooves trying to walk midair.

"Pfft… Pfft… BAAAAHAHAHAHAHA!" He threw his head back unable to keep holding it in. His shoulders shook as Acacia brought Sombrita back close to her.

"So any way we can help?"

"Si, por favor." Miguel pleaded giving a sheepish look. "Besides, might help plead my case." He rolled his eyes as he pushed Socorro's stroller along, Acacia falling into step beside him.

"What do you mean by that?"

Miguel sighed lowering his head a little. "I got in trouble the other night for something I didn't even do."

"What? Oh Miguel." Acacia frowned. "What was it?"

"I don't wanna talk about it."

Acacia looked ahead holding Sombrita close. He fell quiet looking down at his sister.

There was shouting coming from another area in town. The commotion was getting louder.

"OY! YOU GET BACK HERE RIVERA!"

They didn't have a chance to react as the person they were shouting at bolted past… Slowing long enough for them to get a good look at him.

Miguel felt his breath hitch in his throat as he took in the image before him.

The boy was his complete mirror. The same red, well-loved hoodie, the same worn jeans, the same Rivera size seven and a half boots.

And the same lone dimple on the side of his face as he sneered at Miguel.

Acacia looked startled as she stepped back. But before they could move faster, there was a blast of spirit energy sent their way as Miguel and Acacia were knocked backwards.

Miguel hit the ground hard before hearing Socorro start to cry. He forced himself up, just in time to see his doppelganger fading away like smoke…

The last thing he saw, was his yellow eyes.

He…

He's a spirit.

That thing's a spirit…

He hurried over to the stroller to see if Socorro was hurt. She was crying, her little hands reaching out for her brother. Miguel scooped her up, trying to calm her down.

"You saw it too hermanita?"

Socorro pointed to where it had been, confusion and fear in her eyes. Miguel held her tighter. "Shh…"

"Miguel… What was that?"

He turned, newfound fear going through him as Acacia stared at him stunned.

"Acacia." He sighed rocking his sister. "We… We got a lot to talk about."

She got up, dusting herself off.

"You can tell me."

The shouting got louder as they hurried off to avoid Miguel getting into further trouble. The two teens dashed down an alleyway, to the Rivera home.

"Meet me in my hideout. I'll tell you everything." He promised as he went to go give Socorro back to his mother.

As he walked, he closed his eyes.

"Mama Coco, I need you." He whispered, feeling warmth beside him materialize.

"Always here."

Miguel smiled a little. "I'll explain when I'm done but I gotta take care of something important… I need help. Besides… You need to know about this too."

Coco frowned, concern going through her. Her family had been through so much in the last year… From how this all began, to now…

And she would be lying if she said she didn't feel like the compound was being watched. Or that there wasn't some type of energy hanging around.

It wasn't long before Miguel joined her side once more as they made their way to his hideout… And her former hiding place.

"You know, when I was a little girl this was where I would hide too." She told him as he climbed up.

"You did?" He blinked.

"Si, I would go up there with my Papa's old record player and dance with my slippers I'd hide from my mama." She grinned a mischievous look crossing her gaze. "And she never knew wiser."

Miguel grinned.

"You're so cool." He told her before heading inside, Coco following suit.

Acacia was already waiting for him, Sombrita in her lap the girl idly petting her pets head.

"You brought the goat up here?"

"Why not?"

Miguel shook his head before sitting in front of her, glancing behind him at Coco who gave him an encouraging look.

He thought the first people he would be breaking this to, would be Luisa and Enrique.

Not one of his closest friends, but life liked to surprise him… As well as the afterlife. So he figured now, he just had to roll with it.

"So that thing… I still don't know what it is. I need you're help figuring that out, we'll have to get books or go on the internet and stuff." He waved it off for now.

Acacia grew concerned, she wasn't about to deny what had happened… But it stunned her how calm he seemed.

Miguel's gaze became serious. "Acacia, what do you know about what happened to me last Dias De Muertos?"

Acacia frowned as she thought back to it.

"You disappeared without a trace. Everyone in your family was looking for you, so were a bunch of other people. Then, someone stole de la-You're family's guitar and then it somehow appeared on the floor." She replied. She remembered that night. Her family was visiting her great-aunt and uncle who had left them their home, which they moved into back when she was grade school still. It had been crazy with how many people had flocked to the tomb of de la Cruz and were shouting.

Miguel gave a sheepish grin.

"I stole that guitar." He replied simply with a shrug. "I apologize for that."

Coco had to stifle her laughter at the way he said it. It reminded her so much of her father, it was uncanny. The boy had definitely been learning from him.

Acacia's eyes were wide as both hands flew to her mouth. Sombrita bleated angrily at having her pets interrupted.

"You did that!?"

"I did. But that darn guitar doesn't like me or something." Miguel rolled his eyes. "It was a total curse. I stole it off of de la Falso's tomb, climbed up onto his coffin and all." At Acacia's mortified look he grinned. "I know."

He knew he shouldn't be acting so casual about it, but the fact was if he hadn't done that, Hector would've died the final death alone with no one there in his last moments. Hector was doing better than ever and back with those who loved him dearly… And in Miguel's case, still needed him too.

So in a morbid way, he was proud of it. But he hadn't gotten to that just yet as Acacia looked utterly mortified. Even if she had agreed that de la Cruz deserved it, she just had a hard time picturing Miguel doing it.

"S-so how-?"

"Getting there. So, I was there in the tomb, all the people possible looking in at what I thought was me. But I wasn't in this world anymore…"

He told her everything, his voice lowering or making itself sound higher depending on what he was talking of.

Miguel felt like a release had just happened… He knew he wouldn't be called crazy.

They had witnessed the same thing in the market. She couldn't deny it.

"And after all that… I discovered I live between this world and the next. So… I'm psychic. It's my job in this world to cross people over to that side if they're wandering." He finished heaving a sigh. Coco laid a hand on his shoulder squeezing it gently.

Acacia was silent before she leaned over, laying her hand over his. There was a look of amazement in her eyes as well as determination.

"I believe you."

Miguel smiled, relief going through him. Even though, she couldn't deny it… It still felt good to hear those three words.

"Gracias."

"So… A-are they all around here?"

"Just Mama Coco."

Coco made her way over to a dusty old mirror, writing in the dust.

"Hola."

Acacia let out a tiny noise. "H-hola."

"She likes you no worries. She remembers that time you helped me push her into the shade that one summer."

"G-great." She cleared her throat. "Well… Count me in, in finding out about all this weird stuff. What do I do now to help?"

"We figure out what HE is and what he wants."

"Great. Also,… You are just as insane as your great-great grandpa."

"Gracias!" He chirped.

Chapter Text

For Whom the Bell Tolls

It was Dias De Muertos. It was early in the day, the festivities hadn't quite yet started but people were getting ready. Going to the cemetery to clean up the graves of their loved ones. Cars arriving in town from other places.

Miguel and Acacia wanted to enjoy the day with their families… But currently, that was the last thing on their minds.

They had spent the last two days researching what they had seen… And Miguel had done some asking around with his family at the Department of Family reunions.

Everything was pointing to one thing and one thing only.

That boy's form fading away was astral projection. Something Miguel couldn't control.

And it was a doppelganger. A spirit being that was meant to copy Miguel in every way and seek out a way to end his life and replace him.

Everything added up. It was the copy who got Luis and Santiago into trouble. It was the copy who had knocked over Enrique's tools and got Miguel in trouble.

It was the copy who was astral projecting. Which meant this wasn't like other doppelgangers either.

The Department of Family Reunions couldn't help them with this particular event. Psychic Children having doppelgangers were unheard-of, almost never occurring normally. There was nothing they could give them except a wish for the best.

"It wants to replace him. Which, means it wants everything it doesn't have currently. Be very cautious."

They didn't know when… But it was inevitable that the doppelganger would appear once more.

Miguel just hoped he would be ready.

"Miguel?" Acacia whispered breaking him out of his thoughts. He looked to her, worry in his eyes.

They were sitting under the cypress tree, Acacia with her computer in her lap, Miguel had his knees drawn up tightly to his chest.

He wanted this day to be just fun. Just enjoy himself, enjoy his family being around. Not worry about something coming for him.

Acacia looked to him concerned. "I'll ask my family if I can stay with you guys during your-"

"We know that won't happen. Your abuela is friends with mine." Miguel sighed. "We just… Gotta be ready."

She nodded bringing an arm around him, ruffling up his hair a bit.

"And when you need me, I'm here."

She looked to where Dante and Sombrita were laying, the small goat curled up atop the dogs back fast asleep.

"So will they."

Miguel snorted a bit.

"Sombrita going against an evil version of me. Yeah. I could see it."

Unless, she was an alebrije.

"Acacia!" Elena called from the kitchen area. "Your mama just called, she wants you home in ten minutes!"

Both teenagers sighed unable to fight off the feeling of unease. Acacia put her computer away, Miguel helping her to her feet.

"Promise you'll be okay?" She asked grasping both of his hands tightly.

Miguel gave her his best reassuring look squeezing her hands gently. "I promise. And when this is all over, I wanna do what we did last year."

"Meet up with leftovers and have a picnic listening to music?" She smiled a little.

"Darn right." Miguel hugged her quickly. "Be careful walking home. If you see him-"

Acacia pointed down to her sandals a grin on her face.

"My chanclas will have a word or two with him."

"Yeah. Mama Imelda would like you." He laughed.

She picked up Sombrita, the little goat cuddling into her as she walked.

"I hope so. It's still weird to think they're all really out there… Y'know?"

"I know right? I thought it was something like vitamins."

They both laughed as she waved before heading off.

Miguel sighed leaning against the entrance. He glanced behind him to be sure no one was nearby yet before he closed his eyes.

"Mama Coco." He whispered his voice shaking. "I could really use a hug."

He felt warmth around him, arms coming around him in a protective but gentle embrace. Miguel looked up to see Coco beside him, a gentle gaze in her eyes.

"You're going to be okay. We're not going to let anyone hurt you."

Miguel nodded burying his face into her shoulder, as she rubbed his back.

"Te amo Mama Coco."

"Te amo Miguelito." She kissed his head. "Your family will be here no matter what."

"But… When night comes-"

"When night comes, we'll be here. And you know if it's an emergency we'll come when you cry out for us. No matter what."

He smiled keeping close shuddering a bit as he felt a chill go through him… Coco's arms tightened around him as she looked around.

She felt the same chill.

"Go inside." She told Miguel firmly. "Keep Dante close. Pepita too."

"S-si!" He broke away from her bolting inside as fast as he could.

She stayed where she was, her eyes narrowed trying to spot anything out of place.

Coco couldn't spot him… But like many wayward spirits, it could still be sensed.

It faded after a moment… But it did nothing to calm her fears.

Please… Don't let our boy die tonight.

ooooooooo

Marco was distraught as he bolted from the living Rivera compound. He couldn't believe what he had seen.

Ernesto had never told him about that. He had never told him about it at all. He was under the impression Coco was still alive.

She was so old though, he should've known. He should've checked the ofrenda room or something. Or at least spent more time tailing the other dead Rivera's.

BUT THAT'S HER FATHER ISN't IT!? HE SHOULD'VE TOLD ME! HE DIDN't EVEN BRING IT UP!

He could feel the rage bubbling up, tears welling up in his eyes. He had half a mind to not come back to that hovel he got to share with his ancestor.

He couldn't attack, it was too easy to get caught. It was broad daylight. He did that twice and had stirred up plenty of trouble, but around another Rivera spirit didn't bode well.

He would have to garner attention in front of them though. At least that's what his plan was. He refused to tell Ernesto that part, since he didn't want to hear a lecture about being too obvious.

He wouldn't kill the fake in front of them. That would just ruin everything… But he could at least start up a fight and get the fake to chase after him.

The more that idea settled in his head the more he wanted to go back and just get it over with.

But, there was a part of him that said to slow down, to think about what he was even considering. Marco was no fool, no matter how much Ernesto riled him up and got him plotting, he was very aware of the permanent result that would happen.

Someone, was going to die. That was quite obvious… And he would admit he wasn't too keen on doing it anymore either even though part of his mind was screaming at him to get it over with.

Stop it, stop it, stop it…

A shriek was building up at the back of his throat. He opened his mouth ready to let it out when a loud yapping met his ears.

Marco's eyes fell to a chihuahua alebrije sitting beside him. One of Ernesto's that as of late had been attaching itself to him more often. She answered to Blanca having been a pale color in life, even if now it didn't match her colorful form.

"Blanca?" He whispered biting down the shriek. Blanca wagged her tail, jumping up a little whining.

As much as he wanted to be angry, Blanca always got him to calm down when he was ready to lose it. He knelt down scooping her up.

Blanca licked at his cheek eliciting a sigh as his anger faded away. Tears slowly made their way down his face as he walked staring straight ahead.

"Blanca what am I gonna do?" He whispered. "I don't even know what's the right choice. I… I don't think I can do it."

She nuzzled him whining louder.

Marco sighed. "Maybe I can just beat him up and dump him into a truck heading out of town?" He mused.

Blanca's ears pricked as she growled when they came closer to the slums. She wriggled trying to get out of Marco's arms.

"H-hey Blanca stop! It's just Papa Ernesto's place-"

Blanca yowled as if she was in pain jumping out of his arms. Marco frowned worry in his eyes. "What's wrong with you? C'mon, this isn't funny."

Blanca growled, clamping her jaws around his pant leg digging in hard trying to pull him along.

"Ay! You gotta calm down…"

Marco knelt down petting her until she reluctantly let him carry her into the hovel he called his temporary home.

Night was coming soon… And he was starting to wonder what he needed.

All the boy knew was, he was not going to be happy regardless of what he chose. Despite what he wanted… Despite what that part of him wanted the fact the day had arrived was making him fear of what he would choose.

"Papa Ernesto?"

Marco looked around until his eyes landed on Ernesto, the man was sat at their table looking at a clear glass bottle with some kind of fluid inside it.

"Welcome home Marco. You found Blanca I see… I don't know why she ran off." Ernesto gave her a look of disappointment. "She knows better."

Marco didn't respond to that choosing to sit down with the little spirit guide situated in his lap.

"What is this stuff?" He asked instead.

"This… Is quite the hard item to get in this world. We have no real need for it the dead. But… Sometimes we get lucky. Morticians cross over too and their tools of trade get put on ofrendas." Ernesto was utterly elated at the plan he had hatched. It would've been satisfying to sic Marco on Miguel and have the other boy killed by someone with his own face. But, the brutality of it and the guarantee it would come back to him didn't seem worth it.

Marco frowned as Blanca's ears moved back baring her teeth. He didn't like where this was going… The look Ernesto had in his eyes, that same look he got back when he had gotten Marco good and riled up over Hector ruining his family.

"Why do you need that?"

Ernesto shoved the bottle in Marco's direction giving a smirk. "Not me. It is you who will be using it."

Marco gave him a puzzled look, reaching for the bottle his fingertips brushing against Ernesto's as he did…. The boy's eyes getting a glazed over look.

While, it wasn't the same bottle… The same negative intents were infused within.

The room was quiet, the mood was tense… He could see two men, one he could recognize as Ernesto back when he was alive…

The other, was a tall thin man with messy dark hair in a pink charro suit. He was packing up his suitcase, looking at a red notebook… Before he threw it in as well.

"You want to give up now? When we're this close to reaching our dream!?" Ernesto asked getting up with a furious look in his eyes.

The man was making his way for the door with his bags, an unamused look in his eyes.

"This was your dream, you'll manage."

Marco could feel Ernesto's rage and desperation as the man lunged grabbing onto the suitcase tightly.

"I can't do this without your songs Hector!"

Hector… That was Hector!? And what songs?!

Hector tore it out of Ernesto's grip an annoyed look in his eyes.

"I'm going home Ernesto!" He told him harshly. "Hate me if you want but my mind is made up!"

Hector turned away not seeing the infuriated look Ernesto was giving him before a serene look came to his eyes.

He stood up straight a warm smile on his face.

"Oh I could never hate you." He told him. "If you must go, then I'm sending you off with a toast!" He said going over to the mini bar in the room.

Hector looked out the door and sighed.

Ernesto took a glance over his shoulder while he had done so, adding something else to one of the shot glasses.

"To our friendship." He said turning to face Hector. "I would move Heaven and Earth for you amigo! Salud!"

The scene flashed to the two walking to the train station… Hector stumbling, gasping in pain as he gripped at his stomach.

"Augh…" He groaned.

Ernesto smiled patting his shoulder. "Perhaps it was that chorizo my friend." He suggested taking Hector's guitar case.

Hector dropped his suitcase, trying to regain his balance… Before, he fell forward slamming onto the ground.

Dead.

Marco blinked slowly feeling sick as he came to. His hand was still gripping both the bottle and Ernesto's hand tightly, so tight his knuckles were turning white. There was a dark look in the skeleton's eyes. "Marco… Are you alright?" He asked quietly.

You poisoned him…

Marco gulped recoiling as if he had been burned.

"Si… I'm fine…" He murmured. Blanca was growling again, the other alebrijes starting up as well. "So… This stuff… Why do you want me to use it?"

"Don't try to play dumb." Ernesto leaned over the table giving the boy a glare. "I know what psychic children can do… You saw something."

"S-si but. J-just a mortician using it." He lied. "Gross stuff honestly."

Ernesto leaned back raising an eye ridge. He could read the boy as well as he could read Miguel.

He wasn't telling him what he really saw.

"Marco. Tell me what you saw."

Marco's eyes went to the doorway before flickering back to Ernesto. It all was adding up. All too much.

All the things he had been whispering in his ear. All the means of hiding his copy's body… Trying to rile him up the closer it came to Dias De Muertos.

He wants me to poison that kid… He's not going to let me go without doing it. I need to get out of here. I need to get going.

Marco looked at his hand seeing how badly it was shaking. He glanced back to Ernesto before making a break for it.

Ernesto growled giving chase as the table was knocked over, the bottle shattering as it collided with the floor.

"STAY AWAY FROM ME!" Marco cried out, trying not to slip in the sand. He had to get away, he couldn't trust him.

If he caught him, he knew he was in danger.

Screw the stupid plan, screw all the mind games! I HAVE TO LEAVE THIS PLACE! I NEED TO GO HOME!

One minute he was running, scrambling to get to the nearest area with people… The next he was being yanked back by his hood, gagging as it cut off his air supply.

Marco tried to elbow him but even being what he was, Ernesto still had the strength of being a full-grown adult. Ernesto had him by the arms now, lifting him up rage in his eyes.

"You had one job. All I asked was one little favor but no… You just had to figure it out again didn't you Miguel!?"

Marco struggled kicking at him trying to get free. He let out an inhuman shriek that echoed through the slums.

"PUT ME DOWN!" He kicked him hard in the ribs but even that didn't phase Ernesto.

"You may be stronger than the boy but you're alone. No one will want you or take you in when they know the truth!" Ernesto spat holding him higher so they made eye contact. "You still think you're human!?"

"I AM!" He shouted struggling. "EVEN IF I'M NOT NORMAL I'M MORE HUMAN THAN YOU!" He kicked at him again. "I DIDN't KILL SOMEONE FOR STUPID SONGS!"

Ernesto growled. "And yet you're going to kill just to live in that little family. Don't act like you're better than me boy. YOU are a hypocrite if you think that!"

Marco froze his eyes wide before shame filled them. He knew it had been wrong. He didn't want to go through with it though. Not anymore…

And he knew deep down, he never truly wanted to in the first place.

"Going home… Isn't worth it if I have to do that to get there."

Ernesto growled lifting him up higher opening his mouth to tell him exactly what he was… Before, he gasped feeling energy rush through his very bones.

He heard barking, as his spirit guides rushed out lunging up at him, trying to bite him… His own spirit guides trying to attack him.

"You… Get off!" He dropped Marco as he felt another shock of energy stumbling away from them.

His alebrijes were looking at him with disappointment. True, utter disappointment.

Marco was staring at him in horror, before he picked up Blanca… A third shock of energy leaving Ernesto dizzy as his vision blurred.

"Come on… L-let's go!" The boy called to the three on the ground before they started to leave…

Ernesto reached out to them, unable to comprehend this hollowness he felt… Like he had lost something he could never obtain again.

Even his alebrijes couldn't stand by and watch him try to corrupt another spirit.

You traitors…

Marco and the alebrijes kept running, not slowing down even as they got out of the slums. Marco knew Ernesto wouldn't come after them around people. He just had to keep moving.

Hood up, head down, quiet. He couldn't stop moving now….

Not until he could at least see it.

I'm going home…

I'm not a de la Cruz.

I'M A RIVERA!

ooooooo

The Rivera compound was abuzz with activity, loud noise as they laughed and told stories of people long gone… Or at least supposedly.

"A-and then when I lost that shoe, Mama Imelda chased me with her chancla for a whole hour!" Enrique laughed slamming his hand on the table. "She was like 74, ay dios mio she could move like no tomorrow though!"

"That was Abuelita alright." Elena snickered. "Where do you think I get that strength from?" She boasted.

"Because Mama Coco also chased YOU with La Chancla that time when we were kids and you decided to bring that desert snake home to torment Victoria-" Franco spoke up smirking at his wife.

Miguel was trying his hardest to not laugh at the look on Elena's face, even more so when he could see Hector fall over from right behind her laughing. His bones rattled as he pointed up at Imelda.

"You corrupted our grandkids!" He cackled.

"I did not corrupt them! It was tradition!" Imelda scoffed.

"Sure it was Mama." Coco snickered helping her father to his feet.

"Oy, Queque how about that journal huh?"

Enrique looked to Miguel who nodded. The boy pulled out Coco's old journals thumbing through them gently. The copies of the letters on display were scans, the real thing was still safe.

"Dear Diosa…" Miguel started, doing his best "Hector" impression. "Today, I saw the most beautiful thing… I dreamed about you. Well, you and everyone else. We…" He frowned a little. "We were walking Coco down the aisle. Imelda she looked so much like you… I don't want that day to come too fast though! She's still my little girl! I'll be home soon… Te Amo."

Berto held up his glass.

"For Papa Hector, who hopefully made it home tonight."

They held up their glasses in a toast.

"Salud!"

Imelda smiled softly, bringing her arm around her husband. "How's it feel to finally be here?"

"Amazing… Still, a little worried but… I'm actually here. I'm really here."

"And I'm glad."

The celebrations were in full swing, from eating together to eventually making their way across town to leave specific offerings on the graves as well.

Miguel was picking up the rear taking the time to enjoy the presence of his entire family, all around.

There was still the presences of other skeletons but unlike the previous year it was welcomed. He even saw some folks he recognized from ShantyTown leave his little hideaway with their offerings he had left for them.

"I'm nodding and I'm yessing now count it as a blessing." Miguel hummed softly dancing a little as he walked.

"Miguelito be careful."

"I am Tia Rosita-"

Oscar reached forward grasping his arm to keep him from losing his footing near an open grave. "And none of that for you this year."

"Gracias Tio Oscar." He dusted himself off, looking to where his living family was. He would catch up in a few minutes, he wanted to enjoy this time for a bit… And hoping that this night would continue to be peaceful.

He didn't feel afraid, surrounded by his family. This was HIS place, even if someone else might've been wandering.

One second he was joking around with Hector, the man having him halfway over his shoulder… The next he saw Dante who had been sniffing around a grave, bolt out of view barking like crazy.

"DANTE!" He called squirming out of Hector's hold. "Come back!"

Hector grasped the boy's arm tightly to hold him in place. "No you don't mijo. You know he's fine."

"Mira!" He nodded to where Dante had run off to.

Hector followed Miguel's gaze, seeing a figure standing near one of the graves. The sound of Dante's bark increased as several high-pitched ones joined in.

"You, are staying RIGHT here Chamaco!"

Miguel frowned but crossed his arms, doing as told. Hector exchanged a concerned look with his family.

"We don't know what powers he has and what he doesn't. I'd rather get scattered than you guys. Be careful."

"That's what I should be saying to you mi corazon." Imelda retorted but still brought her arms around Miguel.

Hector gave a reassuring look before breaking into a run.

Dante was crouched low, the barking fading into a growl as Hector moved to his side.

The dogs barking at the boy's side didn't stop. He looked startled upon seeing Hector before shame filled his eyes looking away.

Hector knew what he had been expecting but it was still chilling. A boy who looked exactly like Miguel wearing clothes that looked like his.

But there were still differences, even throwing the eye color out the window. The posture was more timid as he took a few steps backwards. He looked exhausted at that dark circles under his eyes.

Hector put an arm in front of Dante. "Quiet." He told him with a stern look prompting the xolo to go silent but still stayed in his crouched position. "Ay, can you quiet those hell hounds?"

In all honesty, a fight was the last thing he wanted. This wasn't the place for it, nor the time… And he didn't want to fight off a kid of all things. Even if that kid was posed as currently the worst danger to Miguel.

The boy gulped hugging himself tightly, taking another step backwards. Marco in truth hadn't thought about anything past getting to the compound and at least taking a twenty-minute snooze in what he thought was his bed.

"I… I don't know. What're you gonna do to me if I can't?"

Because even though, Marco wanted to believe Hector wasn't violent, he knew what led to the man being how he was. He knew Ernesto's worst secret, and he had been manipulated into almost doing the same thing.

"I just wanna talk." Hector responded. "I know what you are."

The boy flinched.

"And I just wanna ask "why"?"

Marco closed his eyes tightly lowering his head. He felt his throat tighten his breath hitching.

Hector braced himself, but instead of a wave of energy or outright lunging him, the boy looked up tears in his eyes.

"I JUST WANTED TO GO HOME!" He cried out, his voice fading into a loud sob. "I…" He sucked in a shaky breath. "I just wanna go home…"

Now it was Hector's turn to flinch… He didn't see Miguel at all in the boy at this moment. It was something more familiar, more familiar than he wanted to admit.

"What do you mean there's a problem?"

"Well senor… It appears no one has put up your photo. Which, means sadly you can't cross over this year. Maybe next year."

"No, no that can't be. I have a wife and daughter, they had to put up my picture. They wouldn't!"

"Senor p-por favor calm down."

"I HAVE TO GO HOME TO THEM, YOU HAVE TO LET ME GO THROUGH!"

Hector frowned, he knew all too well that feeling.

'You don't even know what's happened the last year do you?"

Marco shook his head biting his lip to keep from crying out again.

"He… He told me so much but I don't know what's real. I… I don't know anymore." He sobbed.

He?

"Who did?" Hector moved closer, still keeping a fair bit of distance.

Marco lowered his head. He felt ashamed he had believed the words of a killer for so long.

"Ernesto de la Cruz." He said softly.

Hector hadn't thought about that man in months. He shuddered, his bones rattling as the memories of their last encounter came to mind. "That rat."

"He is a rat." Marco agreed, sighing. "He lied to me so much… Said stuff that I didn't think about and kept getting me good and mad and tried to keep me that way."

And he emotionally abused this kid until we took notice. Ay dios mio Ernesto you just wanted to pull me down with you didn't you?

"Oh Chico… I know. Never honest, then when you think he's got your back…" Hector trailed off looking away.

"He tries to hurt you again." Marco finished. "I… I have the same powers as your Miguel. Tonight he…" Marco shuddered covering his face with his hands, trying to fight off the flashes he got to seeing Hector's death. "He wanted me to do something really, really bad. He's wanted to get me to do it for a while now but it got worse."

Hector felt his memory of a heart break, without hesitating he walked up to Marco kneeling to his level.

"I'm not angry, I promise. Like I said I just wanna talk."

"I saw it…" Marco whispered. "I saw what he did. I know what he did."

"You saw it.?" Hector shuddered as Marco's hands lowered revealing his eyes that held pain in them.

"I came home tonight and he had this bottle… Said weird stuff about how I'd need it… He wants me to kill Miguel. He… He said I'd need the bottle to do it. I didn't wanna hurt him honest!" Marco tried to explain, his voice getting higher the more anxious he felt.

"Shh, shh, shh. Easy, easy. Deep breath." Hector inhaled, as Marco mimicked him. "Exhale."

He slowly released the breath, looking at his hand seeing how bad it was shaking.

"You don't have to tell me anymore right now. Do you want to harm Miguel?"

"No." He looked Hector in the eyes. "I don't. I didn't even wanna really hurt him. Ernesto kept… Kept making me think I had to, to go home but going home isn't worth it if I have to be like THAT!" He cried out, a screech exiting his mouth. "I JUST WANTED TO LIVE!"

Hector's memory of a heart broke hearing that. He understood all too well that level of desperation, that desire to be home where you felt like you belonged only to have obstacles keeping you from it.

In this case, knowing there was no way to go home and be accepted as he was. No way to ensure he was who he thought he was.

"Miguel-"

"Marco." He interrupted. "The one thing he ever did for me that was decent. He gave me a name."

Ernesto what have you done?

Hector opened his arm, as the boy fell into his embrace crying out. Hector stroked his hair keeping quiet… Letting him have the moment he needed.

He didn't even want to ask what kind of lies Ernesto fed him. Whatever it was, it was all coming undone right there before his eyes.

Internally Hector was both livid and saddened. Livid his former friend had once again found a Rivera to harm and once again saddened that it had gone too far once more.

All he knew was, that this boy didn't have anyone it seemed.

"I got you, I got you…" Hector held him tighter. He didn't know the extent of Marco's memories of last Dias De Muertos. He didn't need to know he decided.

Not yet. He could find out later.

Marco hiccuped, burying his face into Hector's suit. Hector tightened his embrace, resting his head against Marco's.

"It's okay Chico. You don't have to go back to that monster."

Marco nodded, shuddering.

"You're gonna be okay." Hector whispered. "Your not gonna be alone… I'm not letting you be alone."

"I'm sorry." He blurted out. "I'm sorry for getting Luis and Santiago in trouble. I'm sorry for stealing that stuff from the market, I'm sorry I messed up Papa's work bench-"

"I know, I know. And those things were wrong."

"And I won't do it again."

Hector nodded, sitting down keeping him close. Dante was giving him a confused look, as were the chihuahua's.

"... Hey Chico? I know I wasn't gonna ask but… Are hose your alebrijes?"

"I guess? They hate Ernesto now too. They ditched him."

"Good." Hector sighed looking up at the night sky, seeing the fireworks starting off. It was getting late… They had to get home at some point.

He wasn't sure how he was going to sell it to the others but… He had an idea what he needed to do with this boy.

"Marco, I'm gonna talk with the others… And I want you to be there okay? We're gonna talk this out together. No fighting, no huge brawls."

"Okay…" Marco hiccuped. "Do I gotta right now?"

"Take a few minutes. I'm not rushing… We got hours before dawn."

Marco sniffled nodding, Hector continued to stroke his back.

"Technically I'm… I'm your great-great grandson right?"

"That's right. Ernesto is not related to us at all."

"Thank goodness." Marco sighed a little, slumping a bit against Hector. "Sorry… I just… He said weird stuff. I'm looking back on it and wondering why I fell for it."

"He's a good actor. Scarily good."

"Yeah… Do. Do I really have to be there? What if Mama Imelda's alebrije eats me?"

Hector stroked his hair. "Pepita will not eat you, I promise."

"You sure?"

"I mean it Chico - that okay if I call you that?"

"I like it… It's mine?"

"Si."

"Then I like it." Marco smiled a little, glancing up at Hector. "Chico…"

"There's a smile." Hector smiled softly.

Now to face the familia… And if he doesn't feel like he can we'll take it slow.

"Hector? I… I think I'm ready now."

"Alright Chico." Hector helped him to his feet, offering him a hand as they started walking. Dante fell into step behind him as Marco's alebrijes tried to keep up.

The Rivera's were waiting, curiosity coming to their faces as they saw them. Marco holding tightly onto Hector's left hand and upper arm. Hector looking down at the boy in concern.

Hector looked up a serious look coming to his eyes. "Mi familia… We need to have a discussion."

"Yeah." Miguel darted forward out of Imelda's hold stopping right in front of Marco.

Marco gulped ducking behind Hector. "I don't wanna kill you. Just getting that out there."

Miguel looked up at Hector.

"He's not lying mijo."

Miguel nodded walking back a few paces. "That's good… Hah… I should be all freaked out right?"

Marco shrugged keeping quiet. He didn't want any part of this discussion right now, he knew Hector believed him but would the other Rivera's?

"Mi familia, this is Marco. He's a doppelganger yes… But, he has no desire to harm anyone." Hector explained. "And, I'll come right out and say it, Ernesto found him. He's been manipulating him and trying to get him to harm Miguel when all he wanted was to go home where he thought he was supposed to be."

Marco nodded.

Imelda sighed. "Alright we have time. Let's hear the whole story."

Hector nodded, starting to explain what he knew, with Marco chiming in quietly with more specifics.

In the end, they were all disturbed. The worst enemy of their family had found someone who didn't even really know who he was, attempted to turn him into his own personal attack dog.

Miguel gave Marco a look of sympathy. He knew that feeling all too well with believing Ernesto was nothing but a "good guy."

Didn't mean he was. It just meant he was good at hiding his true colors.

Marco was hiding behind Hector clinging to his suit tightly.

"And that's the last of it. Si Chico?"

"Si… I… I'm really sorry Miguel. I didn't wanna hurt you, I mean it. I… I didn't even know what was right anymore."

Miguel nodded. "I get it."

"G-gracias."

Hector ruffled up the boy's hair. "There's a good boy."

"Hey!"

Miguel smirked. "Welcome to my world. He does it ALL the time."

Marco chuckled a little trying to smooth his hair down. "I don't mind." He looked Miguel over. ". It's weird to finally be able to talk together. Y'know?"

"Right? You still like music or…?"

"I do! I had to leave my guitar behind though." He sighed. "I can't go back for it, it was a good guitar too."

"Ay I get ya." Miguel sighed. "And oh boy remember that one made out of scraps?"

"You know out of all the stuff that didn't make it to my memory, that was one I wish hadn't gotten through!" Marco rubbed the back of his neck. "I mean it was hideous let's be honest."

"But oh gosh did it play so good."

Hector chuckled, bringing an arm around Imelda. "So, you all think it'd go like this?"

"Honestly no." Imelda brought her arms around him.

Rosita sighed. "He's too skinny. What was de la Cruz feeding him?"

"And so scared… Poor boy." Coco sighed, looking him over. "He's going to need someone."

"Which side then?" Victoria spoke up. "He's a Rivera."

Marco pulled his hood up feeling nervous, not used to getting this kind of attention. Miguel leaned on him a little.

"Get used to it primo. This is the usual."

"You actually wanna call me primo?" Marco whispered raising an eyebrow.

Miguel grinned. "Your psychic and got better control of some stuff than I do. Can you cross stuff over yet?"

"I… I actually don't know." Marco blinked. "Can't you astral project?"

"Only in his sleep!" The twins shouted as Miguel turned red.

"So I made her drop the sewing machine twice!"

Marco covered his mouth trying not to laugh. "So that's one I got."

"Yeah, show me sometime?"

Marco lowered his hand shaking his head. "You make it sound like I'm gonna be around."

"Why? You in a rush?"

"You need a good meal or two too! Or several!" Rosita chirped.

"We have a spare room at home." Julio pointed out as Coco nodded a warm smile on her face.

"And plenty of love to give too."

Oscar and Felipe looked him over, eyes straying to his boots, taking note of how scuffed up and worn out they looked. "Those cannot be comfortable."

"Not anymore." He shrugged. "I make do though."

"No, no that will not do. No Rivera will ever have shoes that aren't perfect!"

Victoria took a bit of his hoodie into her fingers lifting the fabric up. "And you'll need more clothes than this."

"And… Hector and I did want more children someday." Imelda smiled warmly.

Marco looked to Miguel. "They're… They're serious? And you're okay with this?"

"Well yeah. You're a Rivera, still makes you family."

Marco lowered his hood running a hand through his hair. He looked up gazing at them before his eyes getting a little misty.

"... Then… Can I have one request?" He asked.

"Si, of course!"

He pointed to Imelda and Hector. "Can I call you two "Mama" and "Papa"?"

"Of course! You'd be ours after all!"

Miguel nudged him a bit. "Go, you know you wanna."

Marco broke into a run, right into their arms hugging them tightly… A laugh escaping him.

"See Chico? I said you weren't going to be alone."

Marco closed his eyes, nodding savoring the moment… It wasn't what he expected, not at all. This was going to take some getting used to, but he was more than ready to handle it.

I'm really home…

"Alright HUG THE NEW KID!"

"UWAH!" He laughed as he was swept into a group embrace. This was still his family, these were still people who loved him.

I really am home…

Miguel ruffled up his hair. "Yeah, welcome to the family Marco!"

"HEY! QUIT IT!"

"NEVER!"

No fighting, no having to cross him over. He's just family.

Yeah… I think I like the sound of that.

He could hear Luisa calling for him from across the cemetery. He looked to the others. "You guys good if I run?"

"I think we got a few arrangements to make mijo. Go right ahead." hector ruffled his hair up. "Go."

Miguel smiled before running off to be with the rest of the family, grabbing up Socorro out of Luisa's arms.

"C'mere hermanita!"

Socorro squealed cuddling close to her brother.

"Someone's in a good mood, what kept you?" Luisa asked bringing an arm around her children.

"Had to take care of something."

Our family got a little bigger.

This was a WAY better Dias De Muertos than before.

Way better.