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21 Jun. 2012

"I'm tired." Miguel Rivera buries his face in his hand. He's leaning against the wall. He's been fired from his job at the mechanic's. Miguel shakes his head at his friend, the young Japanese-American. He looks like he's about to cry. Hiro Hamada hangs his head. The sun is setting over the City of Angels, and his lover is transforming from angel to devil, in that way he does.

"Me too, man," Hiro admits. He punches the young Mexican immigrant on the bicep. "C’mon, I can't watch you cry."

"Yeah, sorry." Miguel clears his throat and paces around, shaking off his emotions. "I'm going home."


"'S all right." Miguel gulps down the rest of his Coke and chucks it in a recycle bin. He zips up his hoodie. 

Why am I so gay? Hiro thinks. "Please!" His voice raises an octave. Oh God, like a damsel. "Say something."

"Like what?" The young man turns to the other. "I can't give you attention."

"Hey, fuck you," Hiro spits, stung.

"Some other time," Miguel claps back, a bitter grin on his dimpled cheek. He goes to stride away. Hiro does something he's never done before: he grasps the other young man and clocks him. It's not enough to bruise badly, though.

"You hit like a girl!" Miguel clutches his cheek. "No jodas!"

"Done that," Hiro growls, a similar grin on his face, showing the gap in his teeth. He steps back and takes a deep breath. "Look, I'm trying to help you. I don't want you to go get brainwashed and die." Hiro curses himself for the crack in his voice.

"Sorry you feel that way, but that's how it is. Or go back to my shithole." Miguel shakes his head. There's a soothing sense to his darkness. There always has been. He's said the same about Hiro, especially in the little songs he plays and the lyrics about moons on dark nights and love and sacrifice.

"Don't hate me," Hiro pleads. "I can help you, and I'd expect payment back, no pity or romance."

"I'm not going back. You can give me a million dollars or you can give me two. The cops and los mafiosos will know. My whole family is only alive because they're here." Miguel tsk's, dark lashes fluttering as he kicks a piece of gravel. "You don't know my country."

"And you don't know your own brain," Hiro says. "You're just as smart as any of us, you've just let this white-supremacy complex get to you. Go to University here. Live with me. We'll protect your family."

"You're an idealist," Miguel warns.

"You want to go die for a country gone nuts." Hiro scoffs. "Change it from within."

"I want to fight to protect all my loved ones," remarks Miguel, thinking of his great-great-grandfather. He raises his eyes to his friend's. "You're blushing, Señorito Hamada."

"Heh. C'mon." Hiro inches closer, slightly femininely. "Your Abuela's prolly expecting you."

"Y'wanna come?" Miguel brightens up a little. "Or you got a date with Aunt Cass?"

"Ah. Cassie can do without me; I had some of her kimchi casserole earlier... It was..." Hiro winces, rubbing his belly, trying to smile.

"Worse than when she tried to make the mole?" Miguel asked. 

Both boys winced. "Nothing's worse than that," chuckles Hiro.

"Ach, but she makes the best white-people-food I've ever had," admits Miguel. "She's a great lady. Güey. You're lucky. Abuelita's making steak tonight." He sighs and runs a hand through his hair. "It's gonna sit bad with everyone once I tell 'em."

"Play a little guitar first, then hit 'em with the Patrón."

"You like that stuff!" Miguel elbows the other young man. "By the way, that cuff was pathetic - you got to get more strength in you! We gotta wrestle more."

"I could make a joke..."

"Yeah, I know."

The boys saunter down the street. "But, seriously. Live with me." Hiro's tone is soft and low as he sidles up to Miguel. "Pay me back once you start college classes and working."

"Guácala! I'm too macho."

"Do you get it?"

"I thought you believed in my brain." Miguel grins, shaking his head. "I get it." 

"I wouldn't be wearing a white veil in a church, baka, it'd just be in court once you're 18 and they legalize it in California, which is any day now...!"

"I can't believe we're talking about this." Miguel groans frustratedly. Then he drags Hiro down the alleyway and pins him to the wall. "You're breaking my heart," he confesses, eyes lit up. His breath dances along Hiro's delicate mouth. "You think I'd want that for us?" He takes Hiro's chin in his hands, gently but firmly. "For a genius, you sure are dumb. We're brothers first, soulmates. Want to spit on that by giving in to that lifestyle?"

"Who cares?" Hiro breathes, leaning in ever so slightly so they're almost kissing. Their eyes are loving towards each other's. "I don't care, I just want:" he kisses Miguel. Miguel moans and kisses back but soon pulls away. He steps back and runs his hands though his hair.

"I'm sorry," Hiro gasps, also grasping his unruly hair. He rubs at his eyes, trying to shake off the arousal and focus his emotions.

"Ay, Morenita, qué quieres de mí?" Miguel says under his breath. He looks up to dimming sky at his mysterious Guadalupe.

"Senju Kannon," Hiro says softly, his eyes darkening.


Hiro takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. "Tetsudatte kudasai, Senju Kannon. Kannon is like Guadalupe," he explains softly. "I..." He kicks gravel. "You know my scars? I'd stop before they'd get too deep 'cause I'd say, 'help me, Senju Kannon.' Okâ-san left me and Tadashi a statue from many generations ago." Miguel nods, crossing himself and kissing his fingers. "It's funny how the past sticks around," Hiro comments. He tries to smile though he wants to cry in shame, in loss and in pain.

Miguel's heart overflows. "They're on the other side," he says. "They love you." Hiro raises wet eyes to him. Miguel quickly scans to make sure no one's around before walking back and embracing his lover.

"Please tell me how to help you," Hiro murmurs.

"Don't hurt yourself again."

"I'm a selfish person. Selfish people can't help themselves. I only want you to stay here because I need you."

"Nah." Miguel shakes his head, stroking Hiro's cheek. "C'mon, you sound like a girl."

Both boys kiss again, chastely, and make their way to the Rivera's. The Rivera's are not the Rivera's they were in Mexico. There, while Miguel was still young, there was community, fraternity and love. But, the displacement and the flee to America hardened the family. Miguel almost lost faith completely in life and God. The only thing that kept him sane was his little sister Socorro, and the Virgin of Guadalupe. Dante had been shot. That was the most minor of the other offenses committed in Santa Cecilia that night. His cousin Rosa had been raped. She'd survived, though. Others in the town hadn't.

Hiro, Aunt Cass, Baymax and the Big Hero 6 had welcomed the whole family warmly, as they were now living in LA so the group could do research at UCLA and Cass could fulfill her dream of helping immigrants. Cass had met Tío Berto and Carmen's side of the Rivera's, first, actually years before she'd meet Miguel. Cass was the first Rosa had opened up to, and Cass and Baymax were currently working with her at Catholic Charities Los Angeles. Hiro's heart ached every time he'd see her, because there was a brokenness in her that went beyond the brokenness of death. She and her brothers Benny, Abel and Manny, and their parents Tío Berto and Carmen, were living in a separate house, while Tía Gloria lived with Enrique, Luisa, Abuelita Elena and Papá Franco, and Miguel and Socorro. The family knows, but "doesn’t" (for it is never spoken), that Miguel and Hiro are too close for friendship. They've always known Miguel is the sensitive intellectual one, the indigo child. His talent for art, history and music, and his curiosity for magic and the occult are all signs he's curious in sex too. And Hiro is so noble and intelligent himself, that no one bats an eye when a look or a touch between the two young men transcends fraternal intimacy. Aunt Cass openly knows, since they met and became close earlier in the year, and she openly supports them.

Abuela fusses over Hiro, insisting that he's too thin. Papa Franco tells Abuela Elena to go easy. Luisa pinches Hiro's cheek, calling him, "lindo," because in truth he is very beautiful. The family are currently employed in different places. Papa Franco and Enrique work as a chefs at a restaurant called Oaxaca. Luisa and Gloria clean houses six days a week. Abuela helps them three times out of six, bringing along Socorro. And Miguel, up till today, was working at the auto body shop.

During dinner, Hiro waits for Miguel to break the news but Miguel keeps looking at his father and then looking away ashamedly.

"Steak is great, Abuela," says Hiro, savoring the tender seasoned skirt steak.

"Ah, mijo, I'm getting older." Abuela Elena sighs. As she speaks, she pours Tabasco sauce over the steak. "Sometimes I think I make things too insipid." Hiro chuckles through his vegetables.

When the family's finished, Papá Franco turns to Hiro. "The semester's almost over, isn't it, chamaco?" he asks him grinning. He pours out the tequila. "Congratulations!"

"Felicitaciones, mijo!" cries Enrique.

"Epa, ese es nuestro japonés!" Gloria raises her drink. "Toma, toma: drink!"

"Oh no," Hiro says, blushing as red as the Tabasco sauce. Miguel elbows him affectionately and clinks glasses with him. "Uno, dos, tres, amor!" he cries and swigs back the tequila. "¡Híjole, but I love you!" He kisses the burning cheek of his lover.

The shock of what's been said and done leaves the family paralyzed. Miguel pours himself another drink, recklessly, almost bitterly, and downs it. "Me vale madres," he breathes. "OK. So, you want to know what's wrong with me? They fired me from the repair shop today, because they're a bunch of racist jue'putas and they hired some white gay dude. But I'm an illegal Mexican gay dude - or, bisexual, whatever - and that doesn't work for them, even though I work triple what ese maricón would. Ahora estoy jodido and I don't know what to say. I'll join the army and become a citizen."

Franco and Elena get up and shoo away Socorro, who's baffled, while Gloria collects the dishes quickly and makes off to the kitchen, out of respect for Miguel. Miguel doesn't miss the gesture, and thanks them in his heart. His father isn't looking at him, but his mother is.

"What did they say?" she asks concernedly. Miguel shakes his head. "La pendejada esa, Mamá: 'things are getting serious with the ICE raids, and though you've been great, Devon can be on our payroll. Nothing personal, but of course it's personal because we don't give a shit about your family situation and you should probably go back to the land of rapists and murderers.'"

"Migue, tell the truth," Luisa insists, sternly. Her eyes are ablaze like the way her son's get. "What exactly did they say?" Miguel shakes his head and looks at his father, who's still saying nothing.

"Miguel Ángel Enrique Rivera de Ramírez," Luisa says. Something in Miguel makes him straighten up. "The truth."

"They said the first part. I can't be on the payroll and they're worried about ICE. I didn't argue. I prayed in my heart, I thanked them and I left." Luisa nods, face softening toward her baby. She looks over at Hiro, whose head is down; he looks up at her out of respect, and once she sees his somber face she nods gratefully. Then she looks at her husband. Enrique meets her gaze, then turns to Miguel and says, "you'll join the military, mijo. Good for you."

"Enrique!" Luisa cries. Enrique takes the swig of tequila he never took. He turns to Hiro, "I don't blame you, Hiro. But you know as well as we do, the romance will end."

"Please let me talk to him," Miguel intercedes. Under the table he takes Hiro's freezing, trembling hand. Enrique nods, looking once very sternly at Luisa and then back to Hiro and Miguel. "I'm sorry, boys."

Hiro shakes his head. "Please, it's my fault," he breathes, scalding tears beginning to fall down his cheeks. He wipes them away, clears his throat and says with a pained voice, "thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Rivera. And thank you to Papá Franco, Abuelita and Gloria. I won't bother you or Miguel anymore. Please forgive me." He rises and goes to leave. Miguel rises and follows him out of the room as he strolls toward the front door.

"Hiro, please don’t say it's your fault. It's not. It's me." Miguel catches him on the porch.

Hiro turns to him and shakes his head; he says, sadly, "I told you: I'm selfish."

"Maybe, but so am I," says Miguel. "I just outed us, humiliated you while you were being toasted to, and screwed myself and my chances to do what I should." He comes close to Hiro and takes his face again in his hands gently. He wipes away the tears. "Breathe," he tells Hiro, who looks like he's going to collapse. Hiro shakes his head. "Hey," coos Miguel. "I'm sorry. Forgive your guitarrista, eh? I've just had a-" his voice breaks and he finally cracks, "bad day."

Hiro watches and feels Miguel break. Worried, he takes his lover into his arms, but Miguel is beginning to sob and fall to the ground. They collapse together, Hiro holding Miguel's slight frame. "I don't want this," Miguel wails softly. "I want to go home! I want my... I want to go home!" He's trembling uncontrollably, weeping. "I want to kill that savage! The savage that..."

Hiro grips him tighter, wishing with all his might that he could take on Miguel's pain, and the pain of his family. The words pour from his heart, "I love you, Miguel. Your family loves you. You said once that those who aren't honored just go into the void at death. We're the same, my people back home, and we've suffered death. But honor persists. To die without honor is the void, that cycles us back to all the suffering we caused. Look at me, Migue-kun." Hiro presses his forehead to Miguel's. Miguel weeps silently, gaze stubbornly on the ground. "Mírame," Hiro whispers, with a perfect accent, that Miguel can't help but look up at him. "I'll keep my promise: I won't harm myself. But you promise me: you keep going. Keep doing what's right, revenge isn't the answer. But if you truly feel, in here," he pats Miguel's chest by his heart, "that you have to defend this country to the death, that it's justifiable violence, then I won't stop you." Miguel nods soberly.

Enrique is watching them. He turns and goes back into the house. "Luisa," he tells his wife, "I just need time, all right? Can you take care of Migue? Hiro is suffering too. I need time." He kisses his distraught mother and his daughter, says goodnight to his father and Gloria, and goes off to the bedroom to process things. Luisa, meanwhile, attends to the young men, encouraging them to come inside and go to bed. She actually ushers them out of their clothes into their undershirts and boxers and into bed together, as though they were little. "I'll bring you both chocolate, eh?" She goes off in her long skirt to melt the bars and make the hot frothy drink.

Huddled close in bed together, Hiro showers Miguel with relieved kisses, so much as to alarm the other young man. "Mm," Miguel keens, "I'm all right. Hey, hey." He looks at his lover's flushed face. "Hey, Hiro-kun." He brushes back Hiro's soft hair with his fingers, and then Hiro kisses those too. "I meant what I said," Hiro whispers, eyes downcast, lashes fluttering. He mouths the words I love you and kisses him again, languidly. "Don Juan," chides Miguel, smiling his dimpled smile. "I said it too, in front of everyone." He lowers his voice to barely a whisper, "and I also meant it. My Mom's gonna come in, like, thirty seconds, and we're both hard."

Sure enough, Luisa comes in and serves them the chocolate in the old bone china tea-set, handed down from Mama Imelda. She always makes sure to serve Hiro his coffee, tea or chocolate in the set because, "it's from early twentieth-century Japan. Your family may have known the family who made it!" Hiro moans in delight at the taste of the strong hot chocolate, with pepper in it. "The best, thank you, Señora Luisa!"

"Claro. Rest, you two, all right?" She kisses them both again. As she leaves the room, she says mildly, eyes averted, "to the Maya, chocolâtl was an aphrodisiac. Buenas noches, niños."

Miguel closes his opened mouth, then says, "my Mom is starting to channel Aunt Cass."

Hiro bursts out laughing. "I was gonna say it!"

They finish their cocoa in silence, in Miguel's small bedroom with his dim light. A picture of his great-great grandparents, and another of his great-grandma Socorro, are propped on top of his old dresser, along with two candles, a stand-alone crucifix and a small statue of Guadalupe.

"Tell me more about Tokyo," pleads Miguel, trying to distract Hiro.

"Apart from I've told ya? Hm." Hiro sighs. "Did I tell you that last time I was there, I literally spent about eight consecutive hours in the arcade? - I thought I was going to lose my mind, but that's nothing compared to other people."

"How's the bot-fighting compared to San Francisco?"

"Pshh. Not even a comparison. But you know," Hiro shakes his head, "it's all run by yakuza."

"Hm, not surprised."

"You can get some low-level models sold in the stores, but the mafia's got a handle on all the tech. I've told you about Yamaguchi trying to buy me. Son of a bitch, it was hard saying no. Damn it, I'm sorry."

"Nah, it's my fault for asking," says Miguel, grinning. "I was kinda' expecting that."

"I'm the bourgeois enemy," Hiro laments, frowning, causing Miguel to laugh.

"Get over that." Miguel shakes his shoulder. "Your grandparents went through too much for you to complain."

"Migue, while yours were living good lives, my grandfather was assisting in the killing poorly-armed Chinese farmers," murmurs Hiro.

Miguel takes the other young man's chin in his hands. "What's your ancestors' spirituality, huh?" he says. "You told me on the porch: honor and void. Black and white. Your Ojî-san's conscience isn't yours. Plus, you told me that after the war he was haunted till his dying day. He took care of his family the only way he knew how. Damn if it wasn't Hell-on-earth during that War." Miguel softens at Hiro's soft touch on his own cheek, and continues, "we have to see it that way, or we go crazy. Now tell me about the temples and the shrines in Tokyo. C'mon, you're good at this."

Hiro sighs and recites as if by wrote, "The greatest temple in Tokyo is the Meiji Shrine, which is named after Emperor Meiji who is responsible for the industrializing of Japan, abolishing feudalism and rejecting Shinto spirituality by embracing Western culture rather than resisting."

"But Shinto gods are spirits of nature, right?" says Miguel. "Nature created out of the void."

"Nature created out of void," agrees Hiro, "which is a frustrating concept if you're in the STEM field, and if you're gay, which often happens together." Hiro rolls his eyes, sardonically. "But, it helps if... If you've lost..."

Miguel nods. "So, in a way, Shinto and STEM are compatible, right?"

"If you say so," insists Hiro. "You're the spiritual one. But I'm telling you: this project couldn't have gotten done without your help in metaphysics." Hiro leans closer, in his desperate way. "I thought I was going to go nuts till you pointed out the problem with the isotopes. We would've blasted up the entire laboratory to bits." He grins toothily. 

"Pay me in Baymax hugs," says Miguel.

"Baymax isn't equipped for the kinds of hugs I'll give." Hiro leans forward and kisses Miguel.

Please, please, let my body be an offering. Do what's right, Miguel.

"Ven, papi," breathes Miguel. Hiro presses upon him, kissing him. Their erections press together, causing both young men to moan. Hiro is the more feminine, the lither, the more pliant. Arousal runs through him like electric currents. His hips sway in attempt at being like a girl's. Miguel always finds this feminine quality about his lover strange and endearing. Miguel doesn't really care whether he himself is gay or bisexual or even heterosexual but confused. He just knows his feelings for Hiro are powerful. Their hearts and minds are already tightly bound. Hiro straddles him and takes off his undershirt. His skin is soft, white and yet not translucent - rather, he's golden-white. His frame is small, his throat delicate and his cheekbones curved. He has sparse and fine facial hair, but on his head is very thick hair which is pin-straight but always sticking up. He is ambiguous and adaptable, at worst capricious and more quickly-witted than most. He is aesthetic like a good scientist, but quite liberal and atheist. His dark attitude easily turns to loving affection, if he feels secure. He is the more feminine. Miguel on the other hand, is golden-brown, and coarser though also lithe and small-framed. He has thicker facial hair and more sinew; his voice is deeper, though his hands are also delicate, his guitarist's fingers tapered. He is instinctual though stubborn, fun-loving and foolish. He is aesthetic like a good artist, but quite conservative and religious. He is the more masculine. They never sodomize. Hiro pines for it and drives Miguel insane. But Catholicism is strong in Miguel and he never fails to refuse, no matter how Hiro offers himself so temptingly.

Hiro throws his head back, stroking himself, grinding against his lover beneath him. "Touch us," he begs. His body is on fire. Miguel leans up and kisses his exposed throat. Gently, he lines up their exposed erections and grasps them in his hand. Hiro moans, a little too loudly.

"Cállate!" Miguel kisses his mouth, stifling any further moans.

"I'm gonna..." Hiro breaks the kiss, eyes rolling back, cheeks flushed. He grasps Miguel's thick hair as Miguel continues sucking on his throat. Miguel quickens the pace of his stroking their penises, and in one great thrust Hiro climaxes and ejaculates, panting Miguel's name. "Sh, sh." While Hiro's still spilling seed, Miguel pulls him down so he can properly moan into his shoulder. "God," Hiro gasps. "I want you to fuck me."

"Nah, this is better." Miguel strokes himself while Hiro lays collapsed on top of him. He uses Hiro's seed as lubricant. Hiro stops him gently, and kisses him. He begins kissing his way down Miguel's inflamed body, pushing off his undershirt and sucking on his chest, down to his belly, following the dark trail of hair below his belly-button. Then with relish, he takes Miguel's member into his mouth. "Ay, cielo... Sí, así... Diosito." Not thirty seconds after, Miguel's hips convulse and he warns Hiro - Hiro keeps his mouth around him anyway - then comes. His instinct is to shut his eyes tightly, but he forces them open to watch his lover hungrily swallow his seed. Their eyes meet, Hiro's dark with base possessiveness, as if to say, "who else can take care of you like this?" And Miguel realizes he's ejaculating with more force than usual. He grabs his pillow and throws it over his face, biting the material and screaming his lungs out. "HIRO! HIJUE'PUTA! Cómeme, hermano, así... Ay...ay, sí..." He goes unconscious for a few seconds, then recovers, breathing heavily, and dizzy. Hiro is then by his side, having removed the pillow and now stroking back his hair.

"Like that?" he quips, grinning.

"Híjole," Miguel looks desperately at his lover. "You're like an angel or a demon, Hiro Hamada. I can't tell which, yet."

"Ah, I'm just resentful you won't take ride my ass and take us to Hell," Hiro says with a calm logic.

Miguel snickers, shaking his head. "You know, I really love you."

"Taste yourself on me." Hiro offers his mouth, still bitter with semen, to Miguel who reluctantly kisses back.

"Sicko," Miguel murmurs.

"You just said you loved me, yarô."

"That doesn't mean you're not a sicko. C'mere." Miguel pulls Hiro to him and kisses him again, actually relishing the taste of himself on his lover's tongue.

Hiro's hard as steel again, smirking with those gap-teeth, and Miguel begins to harden too.

"If I fucked you," Miguel says gently, "you couldn't walk tomorrow."

"If you fucked me, your dick would hurt so much you wouldn't piss for days." Hiro licks the parting of Miguel's lips, then kisses his beauty mark. "Mm. But it's all right." He lines up their erections again and this time he's the one who grasps them. His pretty eyes flutter. "I'm about to come again, right now..."

"Sixty-nine, then, c'mon."

Thus begins their ouroboros, their serpentine circle that eats itself going round and round. Miguel is glad to be filling his mouth with Hiro, whose taste, smell and feel plunge him into full hypnosis. For, when he sucks on Hiro's precious member, Hiro's own precious mouth sucks his member. When he moans around the hardened flesh, Hiro moans around his hardened flesh; their vibrations send electric waves up and down their spine, awakening a very powerful but dangerous energy. They are engaged in the work of the Devil, Miguel knows. But their ancestors, the Mexica of the Maya/Aztec Empires and the Nihonjin of the Land of the Rising Sun, have been worshipping the Flying Serpent for far longer than modern science or even Christianity. It's in the boys' blood to follow the serpent's trails before achieving salvation. They climax at the same time, keening, out of their minds, grasping each others and sucking out each other's semen. Hiro crawls into Miguel's arms as Miguel kisses his damp skin.

"I could;" Hiro reaches up and desperately kisses Miguel. "I could become a girl. I could change."

"No." Miguel looks away from his lover's eyes. "We've been through this. Eres necio."

Tears well in Hiro's eyes as he leans against Miguel's chest. "We can love as guys," Miguel promises. "Look at me. Yeah. You are worthy of love. Love, love, love. Amor, amor, amor. Hey, I just got inspired! Hand me my guitar." Hiro swings it over to them, rolling his eyes. Miguel sits up and gently checks the tuning. Then he strums it and sings, "Amor, amor, amor - nació de ti, nació de mí, de la esperanza. Amor, amor, amor. Nació de Dios, para los dos. Nació en el alma. D'you understand?"

Hiro nods, blushing. Miguel sways. "Sentir que tus besos se anidaron en mí, igual que palomas mensajeras de luz. Saber que mis besos se quedaron en tí, haciendo en tus labios;" he leans over and kisses Hiro's lips; "la señal de la Cruz. Ay, mi amor, amor, amor! See? You make me un poco loco." He strums his guitar again. "Un poquititito loco! C'mon."

"The way you keep me guessing, I'm nodding and I'm yes-ing. I count it as a blessing," Hiro sings.

"That I'm only un poco loco!" both boys finish.

to be continued...

Amor, Amor, Amor - lyrics by Ricardo Méndez López (1903-1989)
Un Poco Loco - property of Disney, lyrics by Germaine Franco and Adrian Molina

Chapter Text

I'm a Dreamer, Hiro, that's what they've called me.

What do I dream of? I dream nightmares. I dream of waiting for something that will never come. I dream of the smell of blood and gunpowder. Lilies and cempasúchil. Día de los Muertos doesn't exist for us anymore; it's every Day. I dream of my cousin's pallid face and her broken gaze; her screams in the night, and those of widows, orphans and other victims in Santa Cecilia. I dream of my schoolmates wrapping magazine vests around themselves and picking up AK's. The van that took us, with our treasured possessions, the last sight of the graveyard where my Mama Imelda, Papa Héctor, and my relatives lay: I swear, I could almost hear their ghosts wailing. You study the laws of the Universe. What about the laws of politics: are those universal? Natural? Or constructed because the human race is wicked to the core? The police did nothing while the cartel blacklisted our village. The police saw it all when the cartel took revenge out in rape and murder. The law-enforcers watched the law-breakers, and so the roles reversed: law-enforcers became law-breakers, and law-breakers became law-enforcers. That's Quetzalcoatl, still livid, seeking revenge from Cortés. That's the curse that's left to us, in the Azteca Empire. Dreams have become living reality, and living reality has become like a dream; I'd rather close my eyes, and journey into the dreams where there are no laws at all, natural, universal, or man-made.

But I don't choose my sleeping dreams. I choose you, my waking dream: my drug. My cocaína. My opium, opioid, transgender, STEM, high-level IQ little heathen from the falling Empire of the United States. This Empire that has given you everything, because of Pearl Harbor and Nagasaki, turns its back on me because Latin America has not kamikazes or nuclear bombs, just makeshift terrorists. We are both chess-pieces for this Empire, my Hiro.

This must end. The dream must end. The Dreamers need each other's solidarity, and you and I have only been each other's enablers. I want to love you the way we should.

Chapter Text

I see who I really am, in the center of a moonlit labyrinth I must creep my way through cunningly. I find her. Her eyes open to me -- the gentlest being the one in the center of her silk forehead. From her folded hands slowly unfurl one thousand other dove-like hands. I see my true foundation, my dewy, budding lotus, soaked and heavy as it drifts in the pool of dreams.

"I've found you," I hear myself saying. Her face is lovely, mine but female. But the voice I speak with is yours, Miguel. And its words taste like your mouth, Miguel. Your tongue burns of spice, herb and agave, and the fire that breathes from your very core; but you're sweet like the soft cocoa and coffee bean, and the sugar of the isles. Your pulse runs through me. Your hands are mine, your body walks as mine, your spine is mine. And you take me; I'm taken by you. I take you. I take myself. It's not like any other time we've made love because now, finally, you pierce me. Finally, your gentle seed pours into my womb. I cry, not knowing where you end and I begin. Then I feel pain. Loneliness. I face... You're in refractory period. But I'm not. Women have no rest. Women cycle, endlessly. So, I face the dark. I face endlessness.

"I want and wish and will to be you, Miguel," I say but no words come out. No such contradiction can be spoken into the void. We can't clone; we can't fully extract consciousnesses. I would. You know me. I would clone you, extract what's known as my soul and place it in that body. You know the evil Empires of this world. You know they've already tried these things, and failed. You know they're still trying, and financing me to find the formula. You know what Baymax is. Did my brother meet his karma, by his dying, attempting to attain the unattainable? Is that why I suffer, no matter how many Eskalith-tablets Baymax leaves in my medicine tray with a little glass of water and some crackers? To be you is my dream, Miguel, named for the angelic arch-strategist of Christianity. My dream is to eliminate myself and go where my blood-relatives go, into the womb of death and out back into life where I am not me but you who flourish in pain rather than stagnate in it. But, every time I try and self-void, I can't go through with it. So I beg you to punish me by the violating act against nature, which is sodomy, but you don't. That channel is only for living death, you say. You say you want me to live. You wish it, you will it.

You emerge from the refractory, golden, with dark eyes -- beautiful. Kneeling, you reach into your chest and wrench out your beating heart. It bleeds but it burns with the force of the brightest star. The ancient sacrifice. My ancestors' katana appearing in my hand, I place its tip against the manipura, bow my head and thrust fate into my very core. Life-blood bursts from me. Seppuku. From the void where your heart was I see the image of a woman I know, called Kannon, or Guanyin, whose light is like the sun. From the void where my entrails once curled, I see a woman you know, Guadalupe, who blocks the sun's rays and stands upon the moon. They mirror each other. Maybe we do, too.

Dream with me of the womb of the world, and teach me how we may love this woman more than each other.

Chapter Text

13 Feb. 2013

"I have something to ask you, mijo," says Abuela Elena to Hiro. They're sitting by the windowsill, watching the cold February rain fall on Los Angeles, emptying the always-busy streets. "This... relationship you have with Migue. You don't have to lose it. Sometimes, in this life, we become ensnared by some kind of vice, eh? You can call it a demon, even. Some people here get nervous when talking superstition. Oh, I'm sorry. It may be impolite in Japanese culture as well." She laughs self-consciously. "Híjole, I have a big mouth!"

Hiro shakes his head. "Demons in Japan are called yôkai, and most Japanese are very superstitious, even if we don't want to admit it."

"Yôkai?" Abuela tries the word out. "OK. Yôkai." She takes a good look at Hiro's pale face and dark circles, and his lifeless eyes, indicative of being majorly medicated. She prays in her heart, Virgencita, ayúdanos.

"So, back to my question, mijito." She sighs deeply, frowning worriedly. "If you don't have to lose the relationship, it can change. Do you think there is some way to change the relationship, so that you - being the good boy you are, so good and intelligent, handsome, with a future filled with much success - can become a whole person, not just someone attached to one person? Because when we attach to one person, we don't let ourselves be free and be happy; that is only found in here." She points to her heart. "I said the same thing to Miguel. I say this to you because I see in you what is in him. Something beautiful, sensitive, special, a gift. But, listen to me, Hiro: you are both getting sick."

Hiro nods, somberly. He looks like he's about to cry.

"Hiro, Hiro, look at me, please," Elena begs. "Más sabe el diablo por viejo, que por diablo. That means, 'the devil knows more because he's old than because he's the devil.' I know things. And I know you have other good friends, who want to see you, and want to help you. That is invaluable. In this life? Bendita sea! We're lucky if we find one true friend. Your friends besides Miguel are all good. They are very nice young people. Your aunt? We could not find a sweeter lady in this whole country. She is a treasure, she loves you. Hiro: you have many things. Many pains too, yes. But, look." She spreads her arms toward him. "The world is yours. And Miguel?" She shakes her head. "It's not the same for him. He will always feel not good enough, no matter how much we tell him that he is. He needs a true friend, and you are! But, the relationship is one that will make any two people sick. And so, can it change?"

Hiro nods, but tears have already fallen. Elena whimpers in despair, and sighs. "No llores, mijo."

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned," says Miguel in Spanish, in the confessional. "It's been a week since my last confession. These are my sins. I committed sodomy with a man I'm in a relationship with, again, eighteen times, six while drunk - Friday and Saturday. Also, fellatio and mutual masturbation."

A shaky sigh comes from the other side of the confessional screen.

"For how long can this go on, Miguel?" the priest answers, also in Spanish. "How much more can I tell you, to help you stop committing sodomy and homosexual acts three times a day except on Sundays?"

"I don't know, Father."

"How many times in the week did you play guitar?"


"Only once? OK." The priest sighs. "That's all right. What about going to the Encuentro meeting?"

"You didn't see me there, did you, Father?"

"Show me respect. No, I didn't." The priest closes his eyes and prays. "What about going to school, getting everything in?"

"I did everything I was supposed to and got full credit."

"Good; you must keep that up, for the DACA. And work?"

"I didn't miss a day."

"All right. So, you got through the bare minimum this week?"

"Yes, Father."

The priest rubs his eyes. "All right. What about any more thoughts of suicide, or violence, Migue?"

"Sometimes, but they don't stay for long," confesses Miguel.

"Good, good, thank the good Lord. How about any prayer?"

"Only the penances you give me."

"Well, I give you a lot. I need you praying. But I need you not just to say empty words. You need to reflect on them, and I know you know how to. You're incredibly spiritual. You must start talking to Christ and the Virgin again, or the saints, or at the very least your ancestors who are watching over you."

A scowl colors itself on Miguel’s face. "...How can I?"

"There's nothing they haven't seen and wouldn't forgive, hijo mío," the priest insists. "Remember that. Well, let's aim to play the guitar at least once again next week."

"Yes, Father."

"Do you think you can talk to Juana, from the meetings? She's been asking about you. You don't have to go to the Encuentro meetings if it's too painful. But if you talk to her she can tell you what's been planned and discussed, just so that you know what's going on in this good program. You're always welcome, don't ever think you're not. There's people who care, Miguel. Your family too." He pauses "How's that situation?"

Miguel says, "I still haven't spoken to Mamá or Abuela; I can't forgive them for thinking I shouldn't be around my own sister." Venom seethes in Miguel's voice. "What the Hell kind of matriarchs are they? I ask the Lord's forgiveness, but I don't understand."

"We're going on four months not speaking to the women who gave you life and continue to provide you with love, food, shelter and comfort; locking yourself in your room on Christmas. Miguel, Miguel, Miguelito." The priest takes a deep breath, praying that his own despair and frustration be taken. "I'll tell you once again: they come from the old country, hombre, and they have post-traumatic stress disorder too; it manifests in their belief in the demonic, which is from the old world, because they don't know what's happening to you. They aren't saying you shouldn't be around her, they're worried about the things you've said to her, because you've said some things you shouldn't have said, while drunk, and she's only six years old. Prove to them that you're taking my advice: play the guitar and sing if you can, talk to Juana if you can. Maybe Juana can be the instigating force for you to speak to Luisa and Elena. Invite her to the house. She's a very sweet girl, and she would probably know how to handle herself and maybe even ease the tension between you all. Just do your best, all right? Any other sins?"

"I cursed a lot, especially in my head, about Mamá and Abuela, played too many video games, and... spent too much time just laying around with same man I have sex with, fantasizing about other worlds and getting lost in each other's pain. But we still do a lot of research together, and reading up on history and news; it just doesn't go anywhere, and we fall back into depression."

"You've both been traumatized, and he's on strong medication. He's from a different culture, Miguel, with many similarities to ours but also many differences. Perspectives on life, death, emotions and faith are different. It'd be lovely to synchronize you two when you're both healthy, but you're not. The less time you spend together for now, the better; I will keep insisting that." The priest lowers his voice and says, "I was obsessed with a woman before I became ordained. I made her a goddess. But after the painful realization that she wasn't, I realized that the experience was meant to tell me something about myself: that I was called to be 'obsessed,' or shall we say, madly in love, with the Church. And through the priesthood, I could appropriate all that energy, by the working of the Holy Spirit, into ministry and prayer. Do I still desire the woman I once knew? At times. I'm human. But, I've been celibate for a long time and through discipline you learn to appropriate those desires. God makes us all to have a good end: that's the message of salvation. He is with you. On the Cross, he's not overcome by the power of your sin, he is accompanying you in your pain. That's the difference, mijo. Talk to Him. And the Virgin, your Mother."

"Thank you, Father."

"Anything else?"

"No, Father."

"Then, for your penance, say the the Rosary every day as you walk home from school, and on the weekends take a half-hour walk and say it, according to each weekday's set of Mysteries. Reflect on how each Mystery applies to your life. Now, say the Act of Contrition."

Miguel recites, "Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell but mostly because I have offended Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. Therefore, I firmly resolve by the aid of Thy grace to confess my sins, do penance, and to amend my life."

The priest closes his eyes, raises his hand and says earnestly, with all his heart, "God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Step out of the confessional with me for one minute, Miguel, and I'll bless you with holy water before getting to the others."

The priest and Miguel exit the confessional and make their way to the holy water tank, while those waiting in line for confession look on and begin whispering about "that Miguel Rivera, and how he unraveled, pobresito."

21 Jun. 2012

Back on that summer night Miguel'd gotten fired and outed himself and Hiro; and after their virginal play and after a few hours of powerful dreaming; they awakened at the same time. Fingers interlaced. Miguel reached over for one of the strawberry hard-candies he usually kept by his bed (ones Abuelita always seemed to have on her, though Miguel had no idea where she bought them and in so much quantity). He sucked on it then kissed Hiro, passing it over. Their mouths locked, the candy passing along their playing tongues until it dissolved and their mouths had become sweet and their penises rock-hard.

The dreams still haunted whatever sleep remained in their eyes.

"If we stopped," Hiro breathed, taking Miguel's face in his hand and looking lovingly from his lips to his eyes.

"I dreamed it had to end." Miguel remembered his having been fired by the gringos. Miguel remembered dreaming of gunpowder and lilies; of Rosa; of no going back.

"We can stop, if..." Hiro stroked Miguel's hair back. He could tell something was wrong.

Miguel's eyes closed, and he placed his hands over Hiro's soft ones. Makeshift terrorist. Give them the gold, do as you're told; mercilessly tie back your blindfold. He opened his eyes and shakily whispered, "turn over, baby." He licked his lips, eyes narrowing in lust and desperation. He wet his fingertips with Hiro's pre-ejaculation fluid, watching Hiro's eyes widen in shock and arousal. "And bite that pillow, hard, for me."

Hiro went limp and whimpered loudly. He ejaculated at just that, eyes rolling back in ecstasy. Any epiphanic dream of feminine salvation was easily forgotten.

"That's it," Miguel hissed, catching all Hiro's semen in his hand, allowing himself to be hypnotized by the dramatic arch of Hiro's spine, and his exposed throat.

"Don't lie to me," Hiro gasped, body twisting in agony and desire. "Swear you're going to fuck me."

"I swear I’m going to fuck you." Miguel coated his own weeping erection with Hiro's semen. "But let me prepare you, first. Turn over, do as I say; and don't you make a sound unless it's into the pillow." And as if he'd always known how to, Miguel then prepared Hiro with fingers and even his mouth, until the other young man was bucking wildly and moaning about seppuku into the pillow.

Then, with one easy thrust, was the first time Miguel entered Hiro.

Take your revenge out through us, Quetzalcoatl. Look away, Morenita; I'm rejecting your Son, your sunlight's rays and salvation. Everybody, look away.

to be continued...

Those strawberry candies!

Chapter Text

14 Feb. 2013

The 9 a.m. Mass ends and Miguel feels a warm arm wrap around his own.

"I want us to play fútbol," says Rosa, smiling, shaking him. "Against Abel and his friend."

"In church clothes?"

"Yeah, who cares? Don't ever believe the lie that grass and blood stains don't come out. I bought my cleats anyway."

Miguel looks at her skeptically, smiling despite himself. Rosa pokes his dimple. "C'mon," she whines, "they're big fat guys, we can beat 'em!"

Miguel nods somberly. He makes off with Rosa, and Tío Berto and Tía Carmen and Abel and the kids, ignoring his mother and grandmother and Socorro and Gloria, just barely nodding goodbye to his father, who doesn’t acknowledge him, and his grandfather who shakes his head in disappointment.

"All right, grandulones," Rosa calls to her brother and his friend, once they're on the field. The sun is actually shining after days of February rain. "We just came from church, so remember the story of David and Goliath: never underestimate us little scrawny people!" She winks at Miguel, who winks back.

"Tell yourself that to make yourself feel better," teases back Abel. "You're still the one in the dress!" He glances at his friend, who likes Rosa. "From now until lunch?"

"From now until noon. OK, vamos!"

Rosa is actually an excellent soccer player, the sport allowing her healing and enabling her to make girl friends at school. Miguel's pretty good, but very out of practice. He and Rosa make a great team in that they are agile and light on their feet, but Abel and his friend, named José, have the advantage of being taller and stronger. At the end, it's 10-11 with Abel and José in the lead and five minutes till noon.

"Let's go till 12:15!" Rosa insists, laughing, hands her grass-stained knees, catching her breath.

"That's cheating!" says José, also laughing, throwing her the ball. "Us grandulones have to eat!"

"All right, then, Migue, don't let me down!" She passes Miguel the ball and he sprints toward the goalpost and scores. "GOOOOOOL!" He and Rosa cheer, embracing, while Abel and José yell about being caught off guard.

"Fine!" says Abel, pointing accusingly. "But we're still only going till noon, even if it's a tie."

"You can do it, prima," Miguel whispers in his cousin's ear, arm still wrapped around her waist. Rosa then does something unusual, which is turn and kiss Miguel on the cheek. What's unusual isn't that she kisses him, but that the circumstances make it seem more intimate than between cousins. Not only does this throw off Miguel, but Abel and José too and Rosa easily scores another goal. "YES!" She pounds the air and raises her hands for Miguel to clap, which he does but a little hesitantly. "Ok, c'mon, let's keep playing!"

But after that the three other men are slightly dazed, and Rosa actually scores one more goal before noon.

"Well, gentlemen, you got beaten by Migue and the one in the dress!" Rosa announces proudly, crossing her arms and grinning smugly. "Fair 'nuff!" Abel shakes her hand, and so does José whose hand lingers slightly before Rosa pulls back, smiling nervously. "Let's go have lunch, c'mon on over, Migue!"


"Just take a look at the cochinos who are coming into this house," says Tía Carmen, shaking her head. "Stains all over their best clothes." She points to the upstairs bathroom and then to the tiny downstairs one, both of which have showers. "You're all adults by now, really. Benjamín and Manuel act more grown-up than all of you, sometimes."

"I'm sorry, Señora Rivera," says José, looking guilty, and quite silly with sweat stains all over his shirt.

"All right, Mamá, it's OK," says Abel, throwing his mother a look and then very subtly indicating Miguel, who's looking broken and far away again. Tía Carmen nods.

"Miguel and Rosa can use the downstairs bathroom," she says, "you grandulones upstairs."

Rosa takes Miguel's hand and leads him into the bathroom. "Good job today, primo."

"You too."

Rosa closes the bathroom door, sighing. She laughs, a bit sardonically. "It's been a while since we've bathed together, don't you think?"

Miguel looks concernedly at her. He asks the obvious: "The kiss?"

Rosa takes off her glasses and begins to undress, completely unaffected that Miguel is watching. Her expression is stern, however. "What do you think?" she asks in a low voice.

"I don't know, that's why I ask."

Rosa looks at him with tears forming in her eyes. Miguel closes his eyes and feels something sharp in his chest, something he hasn't felt in a while. "You don't want to lead José on?" he asks. Rosa swallows, averting her gaze, and says, "not only that, but... I... honestly felt it was right at the moment." She wipes her eyes. "Dios mío, how embarrassing. I've just been watching you more than you think, primito, and I know what's going on with you and Hiro. I know you're gay. And of my blood, my playmate from when we were babies. And for that I feel safe if it's your arms around me, your cheek I kiss, or even lips, or anything else." She chokes, tears of shame spilling over. "Isn't that sick?" She cries into her palms. She's naked except for her underwear.

"Rosita," Miguel breathes, stepping nearer to her but so afraid to hurt her. That pain in his chest moves up to his throat and tears form in his eyes too. "No llores, mamita. You’ll make me cry too." He finally wraps his arms around her. She leans into his embrace and cries against his chest. He kisses the top of her head, his tears wetting her hair.

"No!" Rosa pulls back. "I'm mortified to have told you."

"Nena, don't think on it," assures Miguel with sincerity. "Me da igual, I only care about your feeling safe. You can tell me anything, it won't surprise or offend me. Te quiero mucho. Come." He opens his arms again to her, to which she accepts. "Do you want to shower?" Rosa nods.

"You trust me?" Miguel takes her chin in his hand and looks into her sad eyes. He wipes away her tears. "It'll be all right," he whispers, leaning forward and kissing her forehead. "I promise. Nobody'll ever hurt you again." Rosa then leans forward, her lips an inch from his. They stare at each other, as if into the void.

"This would hurt you," finally murmurs Miguel, defiantly. "My rejection will hurt way less than if we go further."

"Do you think I'm thinking only of my pain?" Rosa counters, with as much defiance. She pulls back slightly. "I just thought we could help each other, and remind each other of how men and women should love."

All the implications aren't lost on Miguel. He marvels at the power of Rosa, and of women in general, in all their mystery and genius. He grins, sadly. "Rosa, what would I tell Fr. Andrés?" he asks, chuckling with the irony.

"What would you tell Hiro?" asks Rosa quietly, turning the shower knobs. Once the spray comes on, she turns to him, with all gentleness. "I miss you. And I love you."

Miguel strips, steps into the shower with his cousin and very gently washes away all the dirt on her. And he washes away the pain of six years, with soft touches and even softer kisses, in all places where there were stains. He climaxes while on his knees, without her even having to touch him, as she spasms and leaks honey into his mouth in climax. She wobbles and almost slides down the shower wall but Miguel holds her up, kissing her hips and her thighs and the soft skin underneath her belly-button, whispering sweetnesses in Spanish just loud enough for her to hear. She weeps in happiness and strokes back his wet hair. He stands and kisses her cheek and her neck, as she embraces him. "That's how a man should love you," he breathes, still in Spanish, between kisses. "Do you understand? Nothing less." He takes her weeping face in his hands. "You deserve nothing less. Ever."

"Migue, what don't you understand, papi?" she says, also in Spanish, stroking his face, her eyes so bright and honest Miguel can't take it. "That the same goes for you. The same."

"Happy Valentine's Day, tell me how a woman gets pregnant," Hiro asks Go Go. The Korean-American looks at him briefly, sees that he looks as though he hasn't slept in days, decides either he or she is beginning to hear voices in one of their heads, and goes back to her laptop. "Too forward," admits Hiro, smiling ruefully and leaning back. "I just think it's something I want to hear someone talk about it as though it's not just cells and chemicals and membranes."

"Miguel's not good for you," says Go Go bluntly, not looking away from her research. "That's all you're going to get out of me, Hiro. Talk to Honey Lemon about it."

"Hontō ni?" Hiro asks in disgust.

Go Go then looks up. "Hai. You thought that was a racist thing. You never would have, before."

Hiro gets up and dazedly makes to exit the research lab. "Hiro!" Go Go calls him back. Hiro pauses, then keeps going. Go Go catches up to him. "You think I'm heartless?" she says, and it comes out more like a statement than a question. "Come on, I'm gonna drive you to Little Tokyo. There's no traffic at this hour, we'll take Route 10 and be there in 20 minutes."

Go Go walks back and packs up her laptop and things, and Hiro's as well, and ushers him out. They slide into her 2013 Tesla and Hiro wonders about the order of the Universe. The laws of nature. Engines. Combustion. Petroleum. Gas emission. War. Go Go thinks Miguel is a bad influence on him. Go Go got embarrassed when she first met Miguel about a year ago, in early 2012. She'd actually managed to weaken her 2012 Tesla's brakes, and so she'd gone with Hiro to the auto repair shop. And there, Hiro met a skinny boy, about seventeen, with a gap in his very white teeth but not between the two front ones like Hiro's but by the cuspid. He had large brown eyes, a dimple and a beauty mark, and wore a little golden medal on a thin silver chain. The boy crossed his arms as he listened to Go Go and assessed the situation. Finally, he remarked: "Wow, I can't imagine the kind of life where the brakes on a new Tesla would get shot!" He said it with so much bravado, that Go Go turned bright red and Hiro burst out laughing. That was the first time Hiro's and Miguel's eyes met and sparkled with a strange and pleasant recognition. At the time, he didn’t know this boy was Rosa Rivera’s cousin, who was Aunt Cass’ social-work case at the charity organization she worked for.

Go Go parks on one of the side streets off Alameda St.

"You know, I'm glad we came," Hiro remarks, actually feeling a little happy. "I think I'd like some ramen," he continues, eyeing a ramen shop, particularly the pictures on display of the curried dishes.

"Not tonight, Satan," Go Go says. "I'm going to show you something you need to see. Leave your phone in the car, and come on out." Hiro does what she asks, nervously, and exits. "Follow me and don't speak until you need to, and in the way you know how to." She leads them toward a simple entrance, entering and walking up the shaky metal stairs in the dark.

"What the f--"

"Shht. Quiet."

They walk a whole eleven flights, Hiro at this point exhausted but intrigued but also wishing he could leave. Go Go seems unfazed, but Hiro trusts her. She puts her eye up to a retina-recognition lock and the door unbolts and automatically opens to a hall that's actually quite elegant, with Persian carpeting and chandeliers. Hiro immediately takes Go Go's hand out of solidarity, and she squeezes it and looks at him reassuringly.

"C'mon," she whispers. They walk down the hall, its walls lined with beautiful Japanese paintings from the 19th century. Hiro can't believe his eyes. He wishes Miguel were here. At the end of the hall is a mahogany door, which Go Go knocks on three times, then once, then once more. The door's then opened by a young man who seems to recognize Go Go, smiling and greeting her in Korean. Go Go presents Hiro to the young man, who is actually Japanese, named Masahiko Yamaguchi. A Yamaguchi, again. Hiro hides his emotion; he must hide it. He greets him back with the same level of politeness and bows. Go Go then apologizes for intruding but insists Hiro meet the young man's father, Eiji-sensei, because Hiro's having a hard time understanding some conditions about his funding.

They are ushered into a pent-house apartment, styled with the impeccable taste and reminiscence of the yakuza.

"You look tired, Hamada-san," says the benign sensei after their formal introduction, after sitting comfortably on sturdy but antique furniture, "and you are cold; it must mean we're working you too hard!" He smiles and laughs lightly, looking to Go Go and Masahiko, who laugh lightly as well. "You must take plenty of rest. We're sure Baymax-sensei is telling you this, no? What a marvelous invention he is!" More laughing occurs, and Hiro is so frightened he feel he must laugh right along.

"The world is changing, and I believe it is for the good," Eiji continues. Masahiko, Go Go and Hiro all nod. "Yes, and we must all learn to concentrate on the path set out for us. There are people looking for great scientific advancements, to better their lives overall, yes, yes! But, they must be patient." Eiji-sensei leans over slightly. "Patience is a path to itself, to selflessness, to nobility."

"I agree, Yamaguchi-sensei," Hiro replies, the way he's always known to reply to powerful Japanese.

"Surely, you do, for it is evident. We agree to patient findings, and reject impatient Acts that seek nothing but misery. The measure of happiness is the mere acceptance of being. Of simple ontology. Let chaos be, when and where and how it is, and do not add to it! That is foolish!" More laughing. "I am sure you understand, for you are a man of understanding, Hamada-san. You are a man still young, still seeking the enjoyments all brilliant young men seek. Yes, and in that sense there is nothing you lack. You must merely ask, and you shall find diversion, and adventure. That is the kind of young man you are, of ingenuity, and we believe strongly in it."

The mixed-bloods are riddled with disorders. The more that come into this country, under the leadership of one that would see a New Order that is not ordered at all, the more complicated it gets for us to achieve what we must achieve. Their disorders are contagious, and you must rid yourself of such disorder in your aura. You must not care what happens, for it is their karma that they suffer corruption, poverty, sickness and civil war. Do not agonize. Do not invest in emotions. I sense on you one of them. If you need release in such a form, there are beautiful ones of our race that we can give you as further payment.

"Arigatô gozaimashita, Yamaguchi-sensei."

Once they've drank saké and talked briefly about their research, Go Go and Hiro are politely dismissed. Hiro knows enough to say nothing, merely follow Go Go back through the majestic hallway, outside the iron doors and down, down, the eleven flights. Go Go does whisper, "hold on, Hiro-kun. I'm here. I'll stay with you."

They exit through the discreet door no one would ever think to look twice at, for people are far more interested in ramen and boba-tea stalls, in porcelain shops, Hello Kitty, manga, PlayStation, gadgets and geisha's they can take pictures with. Go Go drives off, and not until they're back in the UCLA parking lot and till Go Go disables their smart-phones' microphones, does Hiro break down completely, shrieking in the car, thrashing and crying for his parents, for Tadashi, for Cass and for Miguel. Go Go calms him down, literally grasping at him and making him take deep breaths.

"What the...? Why? WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS?" Hiro pushes her off him.

Go Go says in a voice cracked with fear and sadness, "because they can get us, Hiro, and deep down you know that. They can get Miguel too; in fact, it'd be easier and so very convenient. So, please, for the sake of the one you seem to love, keep away from him." She strokes back his unruly hair. "Accept your fate, let it pierce you. I won't abandon you, and neither will the others. Stay with me." She leans forward and boldly kisses his tear-stained cheek. "Stay with me, and we'll try to take down the system from within, but save Miguel. Get him out of any government program and push him out of the country that's using him."

Hiro lets his head falls back and laughs through his tears. "And just keep taking my lithium, right? Because Miguel's the one riddled with disorder, not me. I haven't brought him low. I haven't sucked him into my manic depression, bred from my ancestors' land that has its own Forest devoted to Suicide." He closes his eyes. "Tetsudatte kudasai, Senju Kannon. Y ayúdanos, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe."

 to be continued...

Chapter Text

It's the following Sunday afternoon, and Cass answers the phone from Catholic Charities Los Angeles. What Eiji-sensei is becoming aware of is that Baymaxes are being sold to these types of organizations, by Alistair Krei, at the behest of the Big Hero Six group at UCLA - who are funded by a variety of benefactors, Krei and Yamaguchi alike.

"Hello, Ruthie, how are things?" she says, sighing. "Yes, yes, I'm just a little, um, just a little under the weather today, which is why I went home early on Friday; I haven't been getting that much sleep ...Thank you. So, what's going on? ...One of my cases? ...Rosa Rivera..." Cass takes a seat at the kitchen table. "She did? ...A-are you sure? Did you speak to the supervising doctor? Who was it, even? ...All right, yes, yes, I trust him. What did her parents say? ...Start her on medication? Same as last? ...Different? All right, and counseling?" Cass sighs and runs a hand through her hair. "If - if that's what the doctor feels is best given the Baymax evaluation, and if her parents consent; yes, of course. ...Right, yes, please send me a copy of the evaluation, and all the insurance paperwork. Thank you for letting me know. ...Yes, I will, that's kind of you. Will you be in tomorrow? ...Then I'll see you ...You too, Ruth, take care."

Cass runs upstairs and opens Hiro's bedroom door. She sits on the bed, upon which Hiro's laying completely prone, on his stomach, head turned to the side, eyes opened but blank. He's been like that for a week, ever since he arrived late last Sunday night with Go Go, who'd said he was just going through some heartache with Miguel, and not to worry too much.

"Hiro, get up." Cass' voice is deep and commanding. "Get up, now." She tugs at his leg. He doesn't move. Cass takes a deep breath, so as not to explode with anger and despair. Then she says, as calmly as possible, "there's something you need to know, and I need to tell it to you when you're sitting up. Then I need to ask you some questions. It's all right. But, please, honey, don't make this more difficult."

"I'm so sorry, Cassie," Hiro whispers. "I'm sorry for Tadashi, and for the pain I've put you through. I'm sorry for this, now. I'm sorry for whatever's happened."

He isn't getting up.

"All right, I accept the apology for the things you think you've done wrong." Cass has learned. "Will you please get up?"

Hiro shakes his head.

"Then, I'll tell you while you're laying down," Cass says. "In the past week Rosa Rivera has had a nervous breakdown, a relapse of the kind she had back when she first arrived in LA and we first met her, and it reached its peak today."

Hiro moans in agony.

"I don't know all the details yet, but Ruth said the Baymax reported all the old symptoms: panic, hysteria, crying, bouts of catatonia. She's refusing to leave her bedroom. Kind of like you. Hiro, I don't know what the hell is going on between you and Miguel, but I wasn't born yesterday. I know about the sex. I know that both of you have changed. But you're my nephew, and I need to take care of you. On the other hand, Rosa is my case at CC and CLINIC. I am also responsible for her well-being, as part of my job, and out of humanitarianism. I've watched her grow and heal for six years. It is no coincidence;" Cass leans over and speaks closer to Hiro, in a low voice; "that you are in an unhealthy relationship with her cousin, have not seen him for the last week and have also relapsed into manic depression, and that she's just relapsed into symptoms from PTSD."

Hiro is crying silently.

"Now, please get up, Hiro." Cass voice shakes. "Please get up and answer my questions as best you can, for your sake, for Rosa's and for mine."

Hiro dazedly sits up. "I think they're gonna kill them, Cass. I think I played with divinity, and disobeyed natural laws. You can put people behind bars for breaking man-made laws like crossing borders and fences, but what about the bars for people who break natural laws? That's where I am, and where I deserve to be. I pulled away from Miguel, because we've been using each other and have developed a sex addiction. I'm worried that all the work you do for immigrants is going to backfire, because there are people with money and power who don't want this. You remember Callaghan. How can I push them out of the US, when they've found healing here? But have they really?" He smiles, his eyes glazed with drugs. "Baymax isn't human, Cass." Tears fall down his cheek, but he laughs, shaking his head. "Not human! How can a robot know how to heal a human!? What have we done!? I don't know what's happened to Rosa, but don't let her near the Baymax!"

"Calm down, honey. Sh." Cass takes his ice-cold hands and squeezes them. "Let me get you water, OK?"

"Yes.." Hiro nods, eyes actually lightening. "You're human - you would do that for me, out of human compassion." He shakes his head. "The machine can't feel that."

Cass runs down the stairs and fills up a glass of water, when she hears the doorbell to their apartment ring. She would have ignored it completely had she not glanced by chance outside and seen Luisa Rivera standing there, waiting, and looking as pale and drawn as a skeleton.

to be continued...

Chapter Text

"Come in, please, Mrs. Rivera."

"Please, Mrs. Cass, I needed to speak with you," says Luisa in a desperate voice, crossing the threshold and politely bowing her head in gratitude. She's wearing a long skirt and a very heavy and beautifully woven shawl. Her hair is tied up, and she has pulled back the mantilla she had worn to Mass. "I'm sorry for coming unannounced, but our church is close by and so I stayed for a bit after and then I walked here. I'd rather that my husband nor my in-laws not know I’m here. I told them I would be in church all day. Miguel is there, too. He is staying there under the charity of a priest, and will not come home." She takes a deep and shaky breath, searching Cass' eyes for a sense of understanding. She sees only confusion. "Do you know what has happened between Miguel and Hiro, and with Rosa? Please forgive me, I am in a very anxious state." Luisa trembles.

"Please sit." Cass pulls out the kitchen chair for Luisa. "I know some of what's happened to Rosa, but not to Miguel. And Hiro is not well. Before we speak, may you excuse me one moment?"

"Of course, yes." Luisa bows her head.

Cass takes the glass of water up, and finds Hiro laying prone again. "Here, baby. Turn over. I need to see you. Hiro, please." Cass is crying now, too. "Hiro, just let me know you haven't overdosed, sweetheart, or cut yourself. Please." Hiro turns over.

"I'm OK," he breathes. "Who's downstairs?"

"Miguel's mother. If she asks, will you come down?"

Hiro nods. Cass takes the opportunity to kiss the top of his head.

"I have a story to tell, so please be patient," says Luisa once Cass comes back. Cass nods and pours her a cup of strong coffee she had brewed before getting the Catholic Charities phone call. She offers her all kinds of milks, sugars and creams, but Luisa would rather drink it black. She does accept a home-made cookie, out of respect for Cass, actually smiling as she tastes it. She looks less skeletal in the winter sunlight coming in through the window.

"Thank you. I say this to you because I know you are a kind and understanding woman, and our family is grateful for all you have done for us. Last Sunday, Carmen and Abel found Miguel and Rosa in the bath together; they were naked and kissing and touching. I don't know why, but Rosa swears she was the one who seduced Miguel. According to Carmen, she and Abel reacted with anguish and threw Miguel out. My husband's brother, Berto, was not in the house when it happened and so he did not see. What's certain is that Miguel has not come home since I saw him a week ago, when he said he was going to Berto's for lunch. But Rosa has told me, my husband, my in-laws and Gloria, that upon seeing them Abel became violent with my son almost to the point of killing him, and that Miguel grabbed his clothes and ran away for his life. She says she has relapsed not because of making love with Miguel, which she says did not cause her any physical or emotional pain, but because of what her brother did and because she believes she was taking advantage of Miguel. Her mother and brother are blaming the post-traumatic-stress-disorder for causing her to lie; they say she cannot face the truth that my son was taking advantage of her, even raping her. Either way, she has fallen back into a state of mental illness, and Berto has told my husband that the Baymax of the doctor at Catholic Charities wants to medicate her, and that she should be taken out of school until further notice.

"In the meantime, Miguel is staying at St. Ignatius of Loyola parish, and the only contact I've had with him is a phone call telling me he's all right and to please leave him be. I did not even see him at the church today, though I waited." Luisa's fingers run along the handle of the coffee cup and she looks into the void with the sadness of a mother losing her child. She breathes, "he has not spoken to me in four months, though I would see him every day. He would not look at me, except sometimes in anger. It was the same with my mother-in-law, who for months I've found secretly weeping to pictures of her mother and grandmother, and Christ and the Virgin, begging them to help Miguel."

Cass shuts her eyes tight to let the most scalding of the tears she's crying fall. They land in her coffee like dewdrops. Then, swallowing, she opens her eyes and rubs the wetness away as best she can. "Have you spoken to the priest?"

"Yes. He says that because Miguel is over eighteen, he is legally not a runaway and that therefore he can't force Miguel to come home." Luisa frowns. "But when I asked him about the state Miguel was in when he came to him, he would not say. He said Miguel told him everything under the oath of confession, which cannot be broken, and that as long as he is in no danger and is not demonstrating signs of endangering himself or anyone else, he can't give details. But he wept, and I know he wishes he could tell me.

"Church is not like government, Mrs. Cass." Luisa glances over to where out of the corner of her eye she sees Hiro sitting on the top stair, almost completely hidden, listening, his head in his hands, covering his face. "In some cases I'm certain its laws are holier, but in other cases they seem crueler."

to be continued...

Chapter Text

"You'll keep going to school. Quit your job at the bar, and in the afternoons you will help keep up the church, the rectory, and its gardens; you'll be guitarist for the young-adult Mass Sunday night and both Spanish Masses. You'll lead the Stations of the Cross for the Spanish group on Fridays, which, by the way, you do not eat on because no one living in this rectory eats on Fridays during Lent. On the other days, you'll help us cook, and keep up your room, as though you were one of us. You're also to get up at dawn and sing Lauds with us, and then Vespers before dinner and Compline at night. You'll help me and Doña Beatriz on Sundays get the kids ready for their First Holy Communion coming up, and be on call for Natalia in the office if she needs translating, which will happen more often during this season. If your family comes looking for you, you will face them and explain yourself. Those are my conditions for living in this rectory indeterminately, Miguel Rivera."

"I accept the conditions, Fr. Andrés."

"Good. Now, go take the Rosary walk I gave you as penance over a week ago, before it gets too dark, and come back and tell me how today's Mysteries -- Joyful, because today is Monday, yes? -- apply to this situation you're in. Just for today. All other times, you keep your contemplations to yourself, or perhaps write them down. But you did accept your penance, and the penance of daily Mass for what you did with your cousin. Now, go on."

Miguel slides into the hoodie Fr. Andrés bought him.

He'd shown up a week and one day ago, wet and bleeding and filthy, with no shoes on, no underwear, just slacks and a shirt. He had barely been able to walk, had had a broken nose and had fractured a wrist, which was now in a cast, which Fr. Andrés also paid for.

"Bless me Father, hear my confession: I committed incest," Miguel had choked, clutching his wrist. "I can't go back to my house. My cousin Abel did this, because I was having sex with his sister, my cousin Rosa. I ask God's forgiveness. Please, help me."

"Cristo y María! What hurts, Miguel? How did you get here?"

Miguel points to his nose and his wrist, then his abdomen but says, "the wind got knocked out of me - he kicked me - but I don't think anything's bleeding and no ribs are broken. I walked all the way here, Padre. This is still my confession."

The priest took him in first, cleaned him and gave him water to drink and ice for his nose and wrist, and with the little knowledge he knew about medicine and anatomy checked his vitals. Then he took him to the clinic, where they waited and waited, the poor Father praying to God there was nothing serious. But Miguel didn't look like he had any fatal injuries. He got fixed up, which cost quite a bit and which Miguel swore he'd pay back, but Fr. Andrés refused. Then, he was bought clothes, and given a week of rest, food and counsel by the Father, until today, in which the conditions were set.

He steps out into the late February afternoon, and begins, "Creo en Dios Padre, Todopoderoso..." He strolls through the streets of Boyle Heights, the orange sunlight playing with shadows against the buildings, bodegas, talleres, taquerías, and houses with iron grates on the lace-curtained windows and potted begonias. A few abuelos, tías, escuincles and perros putter about, or play, smiling to Miguel.

One little girl with a purple-tulle-tutu and a Dora the Explorer shirt calls out from her porch to Miguel, and waves her plastic, sparkly magic wand at him: "Hola, Príncipe Azul!"

"Go put your sweater on, chiquita, it's still winter-time!" calls out Miguel in Spanish, blowing her a kiss. The girl runs inside.

The sun is setting and Miguel's just a block away from St. Ignatius', just saying the Hail Holy Queen to finish the day's Mysteries, when he feels a presence beside him.

"I was going to wait until tomorrow, muchacho, Tuesday," says a husky female voice, "because you know, in my day, long before John Paul the Second, there were no 'Luminous Mysteries,' and ach, I would have liked to have had them to reflect on, and paint some glorious version of the Transfiguration, with me as Christ and Moses and Elijah, of course. Heh heh." Miguel looks into the face of none other than Frida Kahlo in flesh-and-blood, smoking a brown, hand-rolled cigarette, flowers in her hair and wearing her famous long skirt. "But, then, I thought;" she blows out a cloud of smoke, pleasantly, smiling, "true love can't wait. It's been a while, guapo, look how you've grown, though you could be looking better."

Miguel merely stares. He's worried that he's begun to hallucinate.

"Even if you are hallucinating, who cares?" Frida says, reading his mind. She sits on a bench, under a tree. She draws another drag. "No, it's really me. And I've got to sit, because I've been walking with you this whole time, and my leg hurts." She nods her head toward the church, "Íñigo de Loyola would know; his limp is also terrible but he always cheers me up. Won't you sit, and say hello? Your Mother sent me."

"My Mother wouldn't know about you, Fridocha," Miguel says, at this point not caring whether he's talking to thin air or not.

Frida chuckles. "You just spent half an hour speaking to her, asking for her divine intercession, and now you don't think she'd know me? Tch."

Miguel shakes his head. "You mean to say, the Virgin Mary sent you to me?"

"I never liked calling her the Virgin," remarks Frida candidly. "It's been used by evil men this whole time, to shame female sexuality. Qué barbaridad. Not that she isn't a virgin, chamaco. Don't get me wrong. But there's more to virginity than inexperience and sterility." She breathes out smoke and says silkily, "how can María be the Bride of the Spirit, the symbol of the Church who is the Bride of Christ, and the Black Madonna of the Canticle of Canticles - our pregnant Morenita - and not know what it's like to love a Man? Think about it. You're spiritual enough, and I was one of the first to tell you that you had the spirit of an artist. Now, tell me: why have you given up your soul?"

"You should know, comadre," Miguel says sulkily, upset that the focus is on him; he'd rather just admire Frida, "I made a pact with Quetzalcoatl."

Frida shakes her head. "No me lo creo. I don't think it was Quetzalcoatl. I think it's something a little creepier." Frida stamps her foot. "You know this land? Eh?"


"This doesn't belong to these people. Land remembers. Blood remembers. We're the mestizaje of Maya, Azteca, Iberian, Moor and Sephardim, among others; from the Spanish colonization of Mēxihco and Tenōchtitlan, and Yoko'tan and Chichén Itzá. But this California and the other US states belonged to different tribes, different blood. It was rich in gold, which is what all humans search, eh? But there was no mixing, and even if there had been, it's gone by now. We're here. But so are others, who have desecrated it for too long. It's taking its revenge. Silicone Valley. Hollywood. Las Vegas. Santa Monica Boulevard - what do you think Santa Monica thinks about that avenue? She's lovely, by the way. And her son?" Frida laughs softly. "A little obsessive-compulsive. But, a bleeding artist just like we are. His symbol is the flaming heart, after all. Have you read his Confessions? You should."

Miguel blinks. "Are you talking about St. Augustine?"

"Yeah, who else? Anyway, there's people here who shouldn't be, committing atrocities that shouldn't be committed. You, my dear, know one of these little culicagados, and you know his culo very well."

"Frida!" Miguel exclaims, smiling, dimple showing. "Grosera, usted!"

"I knew that bother you! You're still so young, mijito." Frida finishes her cigarette and looks up at the cobalt-colored sky. "Your friend's been corrupted by this piece of shit country, and is robbing humanity of its dignity with his robots and magnets. He doesn't remember his roots. The racists call us crazy because we can't trace back our roots, but look at the fucking mess that is the United States, whose roots lie in slavery and genocide. You know what they're doing in the Middle East right now? It's apocalypse. Now, I'm here because you wouldn't have listened to Héctor, Imelda or even Socorro, but I think you'll listen to me. You think you're like this because you like verga just as much as chocha? Nah. You're fucking too much, that's for sure. I know all about that - you know who I married. You had the right instinct to stick to chupando y jalando with this kid, but sodomy isn't healthy for anyone. But, way more than that, is that the ass you're fucking belongs to someone who's part of something evil. It's taken you away from your roots, your family, and," she points to his heart, "Diosito y Guadalupe."

Miguel peers off to the setting sun.

"Listen, Miguel," urges Frida, "I worked my whole life luchando for the rights of common people, people who live good lives, work hard, and enjoy life. I hid Trotsky; I even loved him. On a bus at seventeen, I had a rod go through my spine, and come out my vagina. My husband was a sex addict; he even fucked my sister. I miscarried many times. I had to have my foot cut off, from gangrene. I was an alcoholic. You know the whole thing. My paintings. My dreams. My pain. But, Migue," she touches his face and he jumps at the contact, "I was human. Nothing controlled me. Nothing could mimic my experience. No synthetic bullshit could be Frida. But, you? What the fuck have you been doing handing yourself and your family over like rats to be experimented on? You've crossed spiritual realms, and have been granted gifts many others haven’t; you should know better."

"Qué sabe usted de los narcos, vieja?" Miguel suddenly growls, turning to face her. "What do you know about narcos with rifles shooting kids because their parents refused to cooperate, eh? What do you know about an 11 year old's vagina bleeding not because of a bus accident but because of a savage raping her who held a knife to her throat before her brother could muster the courage to bludgeon his head in, so they could then hide and wait till the raid was over? You're dead, Frida Kahlo. I'm still alive, and I've been through all that and am still being fucked over. There's nothing I can do. I'm going to leave him alone, all right?"

"What do you know of the motives of the powerful, infante?" Frida spits back, and Miguel backs down. "The narcos began as a ploy of the United States! In Colombia, where the gringos took advantage of the chaos of the armed conflict to entice poor farmers - already displaced by the guerrilla - into making billions of dollars, creating the corruption to have the excuse to fly in there like heroes, kill Escobar, and make Colombia the US's bitch! And the tráfico spread all over our lands, so that the poison could cross the border, where the coca was once a sacred, healing plant of the Inca and the Muisca. Castro and Guevara's bullshit was all a ploy of the Soviets. Grosero, usted! No me hable de esa manera, ingrato! Use your goddamn brain, our whole continent is a tool for the world-powers, and China is coming in next. Go back to our tierra, and fight! Fight for our independence, for our people!"

Miguel drops his head in his hands. After a moment, he asks, shakily, "how do you know the saints? Where are they? In the Land of the Dead?"

"Land of the Dead is Purgatory, mijo," Frida replies, rubbing her leg, the last rays of sun illuminating the detailed embroidery of flowers on the blouse she's wearing, her caramel skin and her dark eyes. "We reach another level, eventually, that I could never describe, for it's too beautiful. Look at my paintings, though. You can see traces of it, if you look at just the right angle, and at the right moment, with the right angel brushing its wing upon your eyes."

Miguel smiles. "Can I tell the world you're a saint?"

"Eh." Frida shrugs. "Eventually they'll figure it out. That's what Hildegard von Bingen, Joan of Arc, Catherine of Siena, Teresa de Jesús, the Little Flower of Lisieux, Juana Inés de la Cruz, Rosa of Lima, and Faustina Kowalska all tell me. And St. Francis. Everyone thought he was more than just un poco loco."

Miguel laughs. "Can I kiss you in reverence, Santa Frida?"

"No, but I can kiss you." She leans forward, stroking his cheek and whispers, "your family on the other side say they love you. Be good, Miguel Rivera; you're my great-great nephew through my husband, you know."

"I know; I wonder how many people caught that in the Disney movie," Miguel whispers back and Frida kisses his lips, causing him to close his eyes and savor her touch and the taste of Heaven. He opens his eyes. He rises from the bench, alone now, and runs back to the church.

"Sinvergüenza," scolds Fr. Andrés, as Miguel comes into the rectory. "You couldn't even control yourself on a Rosary walk? Virgen Santísima..."

Miguel looks in the mirror and sees a stain of crimson lipstick across his mouth.

to be continued...

Chapter Text

"Baymax, I'm not feeling well. Scan me."

The scan streams over Hiro, who's just gotten out of the shower.

"I am detecting low levels of serotonin and high levels of cortisol." The machine then rambles on about low blood sugar, etc.

"I'm so very alarmed," Hiro says, smirking. "Baymax, in that scan, how high were my estrogen levels?"

"Your estrogen levels are slightly higher than what is normal."

"What about my testosterone levels?"

"Your testosterone levels are slightly lower than what is normal."

Hiro closes his eyes and, taking a deep breath, lets his towel fall, and makes his way to the bed, where there lay a silk negligé, size Large so it would fit his shoulders. He slips it on, and looks back at the robot.

"Baymax," he says in a voice that's higher and sweeter than before, "please scan me again and tell me how my serotonin, endorphin and cortisol levels compare to the previous scan."

The screen streams over Hiro.

"Your serotonin and endorphin levels are slightly higher, and your cortisol levels lower, than the last scans."

Remembering all he's learned from the video tutorials online he's studied, Hiro puts Cass' compact mirror up, takes her black-kohl eyeliner she barely uses anymore and lines his eyes very carefully with the pencil. He brushes his upper lashes with her mascara. Then he takes her tinted lip-balm, a soft mauve-nude, and taints his lips with it, then carefully lines them with her lipliner, just enough so that his mouth looks slightly fuller, like a girl's. He spritzes on his hair a keratin-formula, to flatten out the strands that always stick up; his hair is already longer than it normally is, his having avoided a haircut for over a month. Then he combs it down so that it almost reaches his shoulders, and brushes his bangs to the side.

He sits back on to the bed and sighs gently. Besides the usual face and chest, this time in the shower he's shaved his legs and underneath his arms, and he lathers those parts with Cass' body creme to ease the razor-burn and smooth the skin. "Baymax, please scan me again and tell me how my serotonin, endorphin and cortisol levels compare to the previous scan," he says in a gentle, feminine voice.

The screen streams over Hiro.

"Your serotonin and endorphin levels are slightly higher, and your cortisol levels lower, than the last scans."

"And in the same scan, how were my serotonin levels, endorphins and cortisol compared with two scans ago?"

"In the same scan, your serotonin levels and endorphins were significantly higher than two scans ago, and your cortisol was significantly lower."

"Given this information, what would you say I'm experiencing?" Hiro asks.

"I would say you are experiencing gender dysphoria," Baymax replies. "Would you like an official psychological diagnosis?"

"Yes, please."

"Gender dysphoria, borderline personality disorder, sex addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, and manic depression."

Hiro nods, determinedly. "Please report that to my physician immediately, along with all the other health data, and request that no one but me have access to my records or be notified. Inform me the moment he receives them and connect me to him when he calls. I'm satisfied with my care."

"What a pleasure it is to see you again, Hamada-san!"

"Arigatô gozaimasu, Yamaguchi-sensei."

"Tell me, how are you doing? I heard you missed some days of work at the University."

"I'm better, thank you."

"That's wonderful news. Please accept some tea."

Hiro sips the matcha he's offered. "Thank you."

"The weather is getting warmer, isn't it?" Eiji remarks. "So unusual for me, in that in Tokyo, it is still so cold in the beginning of March. However;" he grins; "the sakura blossoms will be emerging there soon, as they are here now."

Hiro smiles languidly, twinkling his eyes at Eiji, and glancing at Masahiko, who blushes momentarily.

"Sakura are truly the most delicate of flowers, Yamaguchi-sensei," Hiro says in that feminine voice he's been practicing. "I can't tell whether they are more beautiful at their death, or their rebirth."

"Yes, I agree!" Eiji perks up, grinning, beginning to make sense of what's going on. He also glances at his son, who glances back neutrally.

"I've pondered your advice over the past two weeks, Yamaguchi-sensei," says Hiro softly, "and I'm finding myself more drawn to your philosophy of patience. I, myself, am learning to be patient. Like the sakura, I will die and be reborn - as we all will, without doubt - but, for me, it will be more noticeable."

Eiji nods, listening carefully. Masahiko is as still as though he were made of stone.

"Another member of the Yamaguchi-gumi - may honor be on the name - offered me a contract in Tokyo three years ago," Hiro continues. "I turned him down. I was quite young and naïve, not aware of myself just yet. But, now, I'm far more willing to make contracts. This is part of the change in me I speak of."

"Who would you be willing to form contracts with, Hamada-san?" asks Eiji, carefully.

Hiro pauses. He hides his emotion. He controls himself. He prays.

He sacrifices himself, in a burst of lifeblood, except instead of from seppuku to the manipura, seppuku to svadhisthana. Castration. "I would offer myself as a bride to any member of your particular line, my dowry including exclusive ownership of all my inventions including, most importantly, my genetic research and discoveries." He hands an envelope to the butler, who passes it to Eiji.

Eiji opens the envelope and reads the documents, with its signatures, and the schedule for Hiro's sex change. He glances back up at Hiro, neutrally. Then he folds the papers, places them back in the envelope and signals to the butler to hand them to Masahiko, who is showing signs of distress, though hiding it rather well.

"That is an offering which requires further payment than the adoption into the clan," Eiji replies in a low voice.

"The payment I seek is twofold," says Hiro. "One, the safeguarding of the Catholic Charities organization in the US, a tradition already established in Japan by various clans, as the yakuza and the Catholic Church ally more than they clash when it comes to defying the Japanese government; the second, the handing over of one illegal immigrant Mexican family to a Cuban syndicate in Miami, for its protection, under the pretext that one of its members become a successful musician under the Sony Latin label: Miguel Rivera, the descendant of Héctor Rivera, composer of all the music sang by Ernesto de la Cruz."

"Hi, Go Go, how's everything?"

"Cass, are you home!?"

"No. Why?" Cass gets up from her desk. "What's happened!? Is it Hiro?"

"Hiro's fine," says Go Go, making a sharp turn in her Tesla. "Just stay put, I'm coming to explain something to you. Don't panic, and if Hiro calls you, which I doubt he will, listen to what he says and keep in mind that I'm doing my best to protect him and get him back to you as soon as I can. He shouldn't be in any danger, he's just being stupid. Please, just stay in the office."

"Go Go, I can't do this anymore!" Cass cries, collapsing back into her chair.

"It's going to be OK, your nephew's just baka. Promise you'll breathe and wait? I'll be there in ten, no;" she hits the accelerator and weaves in and out of LA traffic; "five minutes"

"OK, honey, be careful."

Go Go hangs up and turns to Masahiko, in the passenger's seat. "Lovely woman; I feel terrible for all that this reckless little shit and his artsy boyfriend are putting their families through." She runs a red light. "Drama queens, both of them."

to be continued...

Chapter Text

8 March 2013

Luisa and Elena watch as Miguel ashamedly walks the group through the Stations of the Cross; he hasn't taken notice of them yet, for they're purposefully sitting in the pews in the transept, and listening to his voice. But when it's time to cross in front of the altar, bow, and move to the other side of the nave, he catches a glimpse of them. At first, he looks happy, then afraid, then ashamed, then anxious because the group is watching him impatiently and are already bothered that it's him who's leading them, for there are rumors that this Miguel Rivera was an alcoholic, that he was too close to an Asian boy no one had seen around for weeks, that he ignored his family and that he's finally been kicked out of his house because of some violent altercation no one knows the details of. But Fr. Andrés had assured everyone that Miguel would lead the Stations of the Cross while he and another priest heard confessions.

Miguel averts his eyes, bows to the Tabernacle, crosses himself and walks toward the other side of the nave while the group follows him, now aware of the presence of his mother and grandmother.

"Now, we reach the eighth station, Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem," says Miguel in Spanish, gesturing to the engraved plaque of the station, upon the wall. He reads from the pamphlet the Father has given him, about how the women were weeping, for they had known the Lord was being put to death and lamenting fate. "Pope John Paul II wrote, in Mater Redemptoris, that, 'the Church sees in the face of women the reflection of a beauty which mirrors the loftiest sentiments of which the human heart is capable: the self-offering totality of love; the strength that is capable of bearing the greatest sorrows; limitless fidelity and tireless devotion to work; the ability to combine penetrating intuition with words of support and encouragement.'" Miguel stops, and bows his head, for tears are streaming down his cheeks. He takes a deep ragged breath and remembers that he must be strong. Now is not the time. He wipes his eyes and clears his throat. "Therefore, as we ponder this station, let us recall the love, strength, sorrow, fidelity, intuition and encouragement of the women in our lives and in our hearts, living and passed, and the glory of the Blessed Mother. Let us also remember Christ's words to the weeping women: 'Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children,' as he described the days when sorrow would sweep the earth and people will have wished that wombs were barren. Recall the salvation Christ offers in His Cross, the one carries as he speaks to these weeping women, and let us pray, 'Our Father, who art in Heaven...'"

Miguel walks through the next six Stations somberly, but his tears have moved the group and there is less apprehensive energy toward him and more empathy. By the end, Fr. Andrés appears next to Miguel and greets the group.

"Thank you for coming, brothers and sisters," he says in Spanish. "And now, if you may please sit, your guide Miguel will play and sing 'Ave María,' for myself and you." He hands Miguel his guitar, which Miguel can only assume was given to the priest by his mother. It was tuned well.

Trembling, Miguel takes the guitar, remembering in a flash how similar this felt to the moment he'd had with his great-great grandfather Héctor in the Land of the Dead. All faces are upon him, Fr. Andrés encouraging him, and he knows Luisa and Elena are still in the church. Taking a deep breath, he gently strums the first notes of Schubert's Ave María, and sings, like an angel, the hymn to the Virgin in the language of the Romans. By the end, everyone in the church has gathered, Latinos and non-Latinos, and behind the group, Elena and Luisa, holding on to each other.

Weeping, people cheer and congratulate Miguel and bless him, and Fr. Andrés pulls him into a hug, whispering, "you know what to do."

Miguel rushes past the crowd into the waiting arms of his mother.

"Perdóname, Mami."

"Siempre, mi niño." Luisa kisses his forehead and looks into his eyes, and looking back he understands what Frida meant by, your Mother sent me. "Te amo. Thank God I have you here in my arms, and thank God you're well."

Miguel turns to Elena, who looks drawn and different, but who is still smiling and weeping, opening her arms. Miguel embraces her gently, kissing her cheek. "Perdóname, Abuelita. Disculpa mi negligencia y mi rencor." Forgive my negligence, my resentment.

"Tranquilo, mijo. Tranquilo." She pulls back to admire him. Her eyes don't shine the same, however. There's a fear and a confusion there, beyond the gladness of seeing her grandson. 


"Migue, your Abuelita had a little bit of an episode a few days ago," Luisa intervenes, drawing Miguel's attention to her. She looks drawn, and also worried. "She fell unconscious for a few moments, and wasn't responsive. But, she came out of it. Speaking to the doctor, he thinks it may have been a mild stroke. She's having some trouble processing things."

"Nothing to worry about," Abuela says, shaking her hand, trying to laugh.

"And medication?" Miguel asks.

"We don't know the kind of stroke it was, mijo," Luisa says, "so we can't be sure whether to give her blood thinners or anticoagulants. The CT scan is expensive, even more the MRI, and so is the medication, but we'll make just enough and she can have one by Monday and get medicine. In the meantime, we have to take things day by day."

"Mamá." Hiro looks from his mother to Abuelita, who's now looking confused and worried. "I can get help. Can I come home, please?"

"Yes, yes, sí!" they both say.

"I will make you tamales the way you remember," says Abuela, and Miguel's beginning to tell that her speech is slightly slurred, "with Dante! Dante, el perro."

"Mijo, when you come home stay close to me," says Luisa in a low voice. "Don't address your father just yet. Ten prudencia, be prudent."

Miguel takes a long, deep breath, running his hand over his face. He looks over to Fr. Andrés, who's still dismissing the parishioners with blessings. "If it'll cause stress, it's OK. I can stay here. The less stress, the better. But, I will call who I can and get Abuela to the hospital as soon as possible - tonight, even!"

"My son is crazy to think you were comiéndole la cosita a Rosa!" Abuelita Elena cries, and Luisa reddens and takes her arm, trying to shush her. "Loco, I tell him. How could Miguel ever do a thing like that? You come home, and once he sees you, things will be... things will be fine..."

"Cálmese, Mamá," says Luisa to Elena.

"I'll call Hiro," says Miguel. "Please. Abuelita needs help, as soon as possible!"

"Sh! Calm down, Migue. Abuela Elena will be all right. Just come home tonight and you sleep with me. Your papá's been sleeping in the room with Abuela, and she sleeps with a bell on her wrist, so that if she falls or begins to shake, he can hear."

Miguel processes the gravity of the situation. Ignoring his mother's request, he dials Hiro. No one picks up. Something sharp runs through him, that tells him something's wrong and will continue to be wrong. He dials Aunt Cass.

"Miguel!" she answers. "Miguel, there's no way I can't tell you. Hiro's mixed up with a mobster. If anything, I was going to call you, but Go Go is trying to handle the situation and told me not to bother you, that you'll go and do something that will put yourself and him in danger. I'm sorry, sweetie, but I can't not tell you, if you're the one calling me!"

"What!?" Miguel waves to his mother and grandmother and runs out to the church garden. "Aunt Cass, what are you talking about? What happened?"

"I was at work when Go Go phoned me and then came over to tell me that Hiro'd left home, with a note to me that he loved me and that he'd be OK, to go make a deal with a kumichō of the Yamaguchi who wants his bots and his research. He'd fallen back into manic depression ever since you and him had that fall out two weeks ago."

"Fall out? No, no. I ran away, because of something that happened with my family, but not to do with Hiro. We haven't seen each other because I've run away and I assumed he came looking for me and my family told him and he's stayed away. But the last time we spoke, we kissed goodbye." Miguel's mind races. "Why did he fall back into depression? Hasn't he looked for me?"

"I don't know. Your mother came to see me last Sunday and told me what happened with Rosa, and that you were at St. Ignatius. Hiro hadn't known, which means he hadn't looked for you." Cass sighs, deeply. "I don't know if he's looked for you since. He hasn't said anything since. It's the mob, then."

"I didn't even know he was in touch with them," says Miguel, wracking his brain. "Wait - there was a time he mentioned a Yamaguchi! Yes. He said that in Tokyo, the yakuza - Yamaguchi - tried to buy his bots. But, then, that's all he ever said and I never got a hint he was involved."

"Go Go says he offered himself as a bride, because he's going to have a sex change."


"Mhm. He offered himself to the guy Eiji's son, but the son is secretly plotting against his father and is allied with Go Go, and so he told Go Go and they're trying to maneuver Hiro out of this before he signs anything, and before Eiji gets wind of his own son's betrayal, which'll mean big trouble for everyone."

"Holy..." Miguel falls to his knees and puts his head in the hand that's not holding his phone. "Cass, I had no idea! Jesús y María." Miguel takes a deep breath and does his best to focus. "Aunt Cass, listen, I can't help. I'm sorry. I called because I was going to ask Hiro if he could get my grandmother a cheap or free CT or MRI by tomorrow, or into a hospital. She's had a mild stroke, but we don't know what kind and what medicine to give her. I'm so sorry, I don't know what to do. I have to stay with her, and keep trying to get help for her."

"Hold on, Miguel. Hiro is doing this for you. He loves you. His conditions for giving himself over is that Yamaguchi keep you and your family safe. He was going to have you flown to Miami, to grant you citizenship and get you a record deal with Sony Latin. Honey, listen, I'll get your grandmother into the hospital tonight, tell me where you are. But, in the meantime, please, will you call Go Go? Will you try and help Hiro?"

"Yes." Miguel nods. "I'm not that far away, I'm at St. Ignatius of Loyola in Boyle Heights, with my Mom and Abuela."

"I'll be there as soon as possible."

"Thank you. I'll call Go Go in the meantime." Miguel hangs up. "Pinche chingada," he says to himself. "What the fuck is going on?" He rises and rushes in to his mother and grandmother, who, because of all the agitation, is sitting down claiming a bad headache. Luisa and Fr. Andrés are attending to her. The Father asks Miguel if he was lucky, and Miguel tells him the whole story and the plan.

"Do you trust these people?" the Father asks, seriously, baffled at the complex drama.

"The lady Cass, yes. My boyfriend and his friends, I don't know." He looks to his Abuela, who's trying to shoo away Luisa, holding her head in pain. "But it's our best chance. We can't afford a hospital visit on our own, much less treatment if this gets worse."

"Miguel!" Abuelita moans. "Don't be an idiota, mijo! Bring me home, and come home with me, and if I die, I die happy! Tell your Mamá! Quítese, Luisa, y cálmese. Miguel, ven, come!" Miguel goes over to his grandmother, who's in pain. "Just something for the pain, mijo," she pleads. "I heard your Ave María, that's what I wanted." She touches his cheek in tenderness. "Don't put me in one of those hospital beds for days. I have a secret." She trembles in fear, "I don't like this América. I don't want the machine."

Miguel closes his eyes, and prays, Tetsudatte kudasai, Senju Kannon. Y ayúdanos, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.

His phone rings and it's Cass. "I'm here, Miguel. Did you call Go Go?"

Miguel looks back into his grandmother's wizened yet panicked face, and remembers Frida saying, But I was human.

to be continued...

Chapter Text

"Go Go, all I need to know is where Hiro is right now, and where he would be going," says Miguel into his phone. "I can save him, in a way that's too difficult to explain, just suffice that I'm Mexican and there's a malicia we're famous for; this phone is even pre-paid so no one can track me. My grandmother's dying so you better tell me now if you want to see your friend again. Remember, he's doing all this for me."

Miguel can sense Go Go's feminism rage from within her, in her moment of silence. Then, she gives him the address of the pent-house and says that if Hiro's not there he would be at an exclusive opium den, hidden within the bowels of Little Tokyo, and she tells him how to get there and that she'll be on guard if he needs her.

"Gracias. I'll get him back."

"You two are made for each other, a pair of narcissistic-" Miguel hangs up.

He turns to Fr. Andrés. "I need a relicario! A relic, Padre."


"I'm going to pass into another realm and orient something that's been disoriented, by the aid of the Virgin." Hiro looks to the chapel of La Dolorosa, with seven swords through her heart. Seven swords, seven levels of the Sephiroth, seven chakras, seven deadly sins within man, and according to Dante Alighieri seven layers of Purgatory, which I've visited before... Miguel trails off. "A relic, quick! Trust me. Santas Hildegarda de Bingen, Juana de Arco, Catalina de Siena, Teresa de Jesús, Teresa de Lisieux, Juana Inés de la Cruz, Rosa de Lima, Faustina Kowalska, and Santos Iñigo de Loyola y Francisco de Asís, along with Juan Diego and la Guadalupana herself, tell me it's right. Today's Mysteries were the Sorrowful ones, and I realized that all life comes from death, hence why from Christ's side bursts blood and water, like in birth."

"How did you learn the names of some of those saints?" Fr. Andrés looks stunned.

"Never mind." Miguel looks to where his grandmother sits, suffering.

"Niño, you just spoke profound things," Fr Andrés says. He sighs, a believer in divine inspiration, through and through.

A white woman suddenly comes into the church, whom he could only assume is the Cass that Miguel has mentioned.

"Please make sure Doña Cass only takes Abuela home, not to the hospital," Miguel tells the Father. "My grandmother will suffer in a hospital. Please go with them, Padre, and I'll come back with a balm to eliminate the pain. Please give her the last rites if and when it's her time."

"You know the teaching of the Church is that we must try and save the life."

"Exactly, and putting her in that place will kill her," insists Miguel, defiantly. "You must understand. One day I'll explain the mysteries I've seen, and right now you may be able to witness them if all goes right. Do you promise you'll take her home?"

The Father is in shock, but nods. He rushes to the sacristy and takes out a vial of blood. "It was brought from Spain," he explains, handling it reverently, "originally to Perú, then it made its way here: it is the blood of St. Francis Xavier."

"This is more than powerful enough, then, along with it being the Feast of St. John of God, and the Church of St. Ignatius. Thank you. Tell them I'm bringing Hiro back, and I'll be home as soon as I can with a balm!" Miguel rushes to the chapel of La Dolorosa while Fr. Andrés intercepts Cass; he climbs over the iron gate and hops down to where he may stand before the statue.

"Miguel, what are you doing?" he hears his mother yell.

"Everyone must calm down!" Fr. Andrés insists, and Miguel thanks him in his heart, for believing in the spiritual and the divine.

Gazing up at María, Miguel holds the vial of blood and shows it to her, then he kisses it and begs in Spanish, "San Francisco Javier, brother in heart of San Ignacio de Loyola and a pillar for his Compañía de Jesús, brave venturer to the East where you evangelized the Buddhists such as San Pablo Miki and the Twenty-Six Martyrs of Japan, as did San Ignacio's other brothers venture West and evangelize us the Maya, Aztec, Inca and others: I beseech you, and I find it no coincidence that this be your very relic for this petition - for my love is Japanese - to aid me in the crossing of realms. I ask you and San Juan de Dios, patron of hospitals who began his ministry in the very city from which all Spanish missions began, Granada, on his feast day today - March 8 - to petition to Nuestra Señora de los Dolores to allow me to traverse the seven layers of earth and reach Purgatory, so I may travel hidden and rescue a son of yours. San Francisco Javier, I believe Hiro Hamada would have heard you in Nagasaki in the sixteenth century, and have no doubt he'd have been martyred. San Francisco Javier, by your blood, San Ignacio by your mission to my people and whose name this church I stand in bears, and San Juan de Dios by your compassion for the sick and your loyalty to Spain: I ask that you pray to Our Lady!"

In a flash of light, Miguel's back in the state between life and death, as if he could cross into the Land of the Dead. He kisses the vial of blood. "Gracias." He pockets it, for it crosses the realm with Miguel.

Dante comes bounding toward him. Weeping briefly in joy, he embraces his old friend and tells him the plan. They must find Hiro, and communicate with him.

"First, to the sakura blossom tree in the garden. Thank God they're in bloom in LA. Then, to Hiro. Help me, Dante!"

With a branch of sakura, which like cempasúchil is a magical flower that transcends worlds, Miguel slips into taxi after taxi, for about ten minutes, till he's able to reach that little street off Alameda. He enters the door Go Go indicated, climbs the eleven flights with Dante, transcends the bolted door and runs down the Persian-carpeted hall with chandeliers. Realizing the yakuza have their own ways of detecting the spiritual, he whispers instructions to Dante to cross the mahogany door first and investigate the situation. Dante goes and returns within minutes, pulling Miguel away and back toward the exit.

"Not here?" Miguel asks.

Dante shakes his silly head and pulls Miguel. They fly down the stairs and back out to the street.

"All right, then, the opium den." He sighs, fretful. "OK, piensa, Miguel." He looks around, then sees the ramen shop with the curry dishes that had attracted Hiro. "Hey, Dante, what cures the worst agave borrachera imaginable, what soaks up at least some of the toxin of drug, whether it's peyote, coca, marijuana, cacao, ayahuasca or the opium and heroin of amapola?" He chuckles as his dog runs into the ramen shop. "Jalapeño!"

Dante steals some of the potent peppers, also magical, from the restaurant's kitchen for Miguel and together they run down Alameda St. searching for the other hidden avenue in which Miguel will have to pass through all kinds of restaurants and back rooms and apartments and climb high, high up to another lofty pent-house hallway, this time lined in rich black velvet and stunning floral embroidery, with 19th-century lanterns lit.

The living guards can't see him, but there are guards for the dead here. They do not let Miguel get very far before attacking him, cursing him, sending down black shadows and fire and filth, but Miguel exposes the vial of St. Francis Xavier's blood and they retreat, sulkily, back either into the empty void or into the shadows to slowly suck the life out of the living guards. Miguel touches his golden Miraculous Medal, and his tiny crucifix and says a Hail Mary. He transcends another mahogany door and enters what he realizes is an enormous floor of many halls of chambers, some small and private, other large with windows and high ceilings, where as he strolls he sees people sprawled in fine silks, smoking, drinking, eating, staring at virtual-reality screens, chattering in Japanese, groping their women (or their men). He can smell cooking and hear clinking; sure enough, waiters scurry back and forth, weighed down with plates smelling of garlic, bamboo, curry, sentcha, octopus, ginger, citrus, and balancing trays of saké. The air is clouded with the smoke of opium.

"Hiro," Miguel whispers. "Dante, where is he?"

Dante merely whines and stays by Miguel's side. "No, I need you to find him, even if it hurts me." Dante skulks and scurries down several halls, some surprisingly bright, some utterly dark, before reaching a tiny room that is lit by violet lanterns, and in which Hiro Hamada lays, eyes closed and darkened by kohl, in a beautiful light-blue yukata with wisteria blossoms embroidered onto it.

Hiro's almost entirely unconscious with opium. Miguel briefly examines the stuff; it passes through his fingers, which means its pure and transcends realms, a magical formula. He's found his balm for Abuelita. Then, gently, Miguel curls a jalapeño into Hiro's cold hand. Hiro responds by moaning and turning, squeezing the jalapeño. But Hiro must be sober before Miguel can touch him with the sakura so they may see and hear each other.

"Dante, fly off and find Tadashi in the Land of the Dead," Miguel instructs his alebrije, placing St. Francis Xavier's relic carefully in his mouth for Tadashi to use when he arrives. "Hurry; tell his alebrije that there's a way for him to see him now, and that he needs him!"

Dante scurries off.

"C'mon Hiro." Miguel curls another jalapeño into Hiro's hand. Hiro stirs, looks at the jalapeños and lets them go. Miguel places them back in his hand. Curiosity taking over, Hiro puts one up to his lips and gently sucks, then bites. Then the experience begins that all who consume jalapeños go through. The choking, the shaking, the spitting.

"Good," whispers Miguel. "Wake up. See where you are and realize you've got to sober up."

Hiro whines and moans and falls back, head lolling in agony. "Kill me, already," he says to no one.

"No." Miguel curls another jalapeño. Hiro looks down at it, wondering why they keep appearing in his hand. He sniffs this one, then bites it, this time not so hard, and shivers and shakes and moans out in pain. Miguel's heart breaks. But it's working. Hiro doesn't fall back this time. He rubs his eyes and looks around. He moans again, in sorrow, and takes a long sip of tea. Miguel curls another jalapeño in his hand. Then, because they are soulmates and there is more to this life than what it seems, Hiro whispers, "Miguel?" He bites his third jalapeño, hard, sucking the juices out of it.

"ARGH!" Hiro cries, jolting up and awake, pouring out the cold tea from its cast-iron pot and drinking it, shivering. It's then that Miguel touches the soft sakura to Hiro's hand, blessing him.

Hiro falls back onto the sofa, breathing heavily, now in the same state between life and death that Miguel is in. A little fluorescent salamander can now be seen scurrying up to sit on his shoulder: his own alebrije, spirit-guide. He looks glazedly at his beloved. "Miguel?"

Miguel reaches over, and kisses Hiro softly on his lips. Hiro whimpers in delight. "This feels so real," Hiro breathes, stroking Miguel's jaw with one hand, brushing his hair back with the other, looking lovingly into his eyes.

"That's because it is," replies Miguel. "Hamada, you're a tonto unlike any tonto I think I've ever met in my life - more than my dog, even. What did you get yourself into?"

Hiro shakes his head, his eyes sad now. "You're not supposed to be here."

"You're not a martyr," says Miguel, somberly. "Not yet, anyway, not like this. Someone's coming to meet you, and I think he can convince you better."

At that moment, Tadashi shows up with Dante, a little monkey on his shoulder, looking back and forth from Miguel to his brother. "How?" he asks Miguel.

"It's the mysticism of my people, not too unlike that of yours, though there's bridging to be done," explains Miguel, gripping Hiro's hand, who's looking panickedly between him and Tadashi. "Please, do you know what's happened to Hiro?"

"Yes, but I never thought I could speak to - and touch..." Tadashi walks over to his brother in wonder, in tenderness, apprehensively, and with concern. "Hiro-kun, can you hear me? Can you see me?"

"Nî-san?" Hiro closes his eyes and shakes his head in agony. "What am I experiencing?"

"Go to him," Miguel encourages Tadashi, releasing Miguel's hand and giving the other man space. "We're all in a state where we can touch and communicate."

"Hiro-kun!" Tadashi goes over and kneels and strokes his little brother's pale face. He weeps. "Please, Hiro, get up. It's not a dream, it's really me!" Hiro sits up weakly and also touches Tadashi's weeping face. He can feel his tears.

"Tadashi, I can't go on," Hiro says, falling back.

Tadashi catches him and props him up. "Yes, you can," he says in a low, serious voice filled with authority. "And you will. I've been watching you this whole time, wishing I could tell you this. You are the person I loved more than anyone while I was alive, and I suffer watching you suffer. It's real, Hiro. There is another side. You can study all you want, metaphysics, black holes, and quantum mechanics: the truth remains that the human soul is immortal, and as cheesy as it sounds love never dies. If you give up, though, you go to Mu, and you're forgotten and must start a new cycle of suffering." He shakes his head. "You're so close, otôto. You're living a full life though you don't know it. I'm so sorry for all your pain, but you can't kill yourself and you can't sell your soul. Fight to live."

"Okâ-san and Otô-san?" Hiro asks mildly.

"They love you, so much. They smile when you smile, laugh when you laugh, cry when you cry. They pray for you, and Cass. All our ancestors do. Have you forgotten us so quickly? Why don't you light our candles anymore? Where is your statue of Kannon? Will you believe now?" Tadashi grips his hand. "Will you live so you can come to us?"

Hiro nods. He bursts into tears, and cries, "Gomen ne! Nî-san!" Tadashi grips him in his arms.

"You've got to go," Tadashi says, pulling back. "You've got to find a way out of here and let Go Go and her boyfriend take care of Eiji. Go with your love." He indicates Miguel. "Promise?" Hiro nods.

"One last thing." Tadashi looks to both of them, taking a deep breath. "Creating Baymax was one of the biggest mistakes anyone could have ever made in this world, and you don't know the torture I experience. Watching my little brother take lithium, and get convinced he needs a sex change. Watching Rosa get pumped with medication when what she needed was more time with Cass, and counseling groups in Spanish, which there aren't enough of in the US. Both of you: put faith back into helping humans by being human." He turns to his little brother. "Don't castrate yourself, Hiro. Please. Light the candles to us again, and go to Temple. Speak to any of the priests there, like Miguel does in his place of worship. Pray to Senju Kannon. Be good to Cass, bake and garden with her. She loves you. Promise me?" Hiro nods again, weeping silently. "One last hug."

After their embrace, Tadashi stands and says to Miguel, "how can I thank you?"

"His pain is my pain," Miguel replies softly, honestly. "I'm the one to thank you."

Tadashi pulls him into a fierce embrace.

"If you and your family ever need help in the Land of the Dead," Miguel says, when they pull apart, "look for Héctor and Imelda Rivera, or any of their relatives, including Frida Kahlo. Tell them you come on behalf of Miguelito, and you'll find family in them."

"Your people are truly honorable, Miguel Rivera," says Tadashi, bowing and handing him back St. Francis Xavier's relic. "I hope our peoples will recognize each other's dedication to honor and virtue, and work together for peace."

"May the One I call God hear you, Tadashi Hamada," replies Miguel, also bowing. "I'll bring your brother to safety."

"Go to your grandmother, and may she arrive in the Land of the Dead peacefully if it be her time," says Tadashi. He gestures to the pot on the table. "Take the opium."

"That was my plan," replies Miguel, grinning his impish, dimpled grin.

to be continued...

Chapter Text

"Migue, I don't understand." Hiro looks concernedly Miguel. "Why not take her to the hospital?" They're slipping in and out of taxis, invisible, in the same way Miguel had arrived, and each carrying two stolen pots of opium, and an elaborately carved pipe.

"She doesn't want to," Miguel explains, agitated. "She said, 'I want to go home and die, I don't want the machine.'"

Hiro bows his head. "How was her state when you left her?" he asks solemnly.

"She had a headache, but she was coherent - my Mom said she had an episode a few days ago." Miguel swallows. "She could have another one, a fatal one, at any moment." He looks at Hiro's pale, broken face. "Or she could not."

"I'm sorry," Hiro whispers, slipping his hand into Miguel's, who grips it.

Once they're close enough, they slip out of the taxi, bless each other at the same time with the sakura, and come back to their physical bodies. The sensation is overwhelming. They embrace and then bound toward Miguel's house. Hiro is still wearing a yukata, and has no shoes on.

"Honestly, I think if she was able to speak and think clearly when I saw her a few hours ago," Miguel says while running, "then it means she's OK."

"You said she said she wanted to go home and die, though!" says Hiro, dreading what they'll find.

"You know how dramatic Abuelita is!" Miguel tries to laugh, but his stomach is in his throat.

But as they turn the corner, they stop and see Aunt Cass on the porch with her head in her hand, weeping. Miguel grips Hiro's hand so tight it hurts. "Stay with me, no matter what," he pleads. "Please."

"I will," Hiro swears, gripping back Miguel's hand. They walk toward Cass, who raises her head and wipes her tears. She's completely overwhelmed, torn between utter relief at seeing Hiro and sadness at seeing Miguel. She opts for getting up and calling into the house, "Luisa!"

Luisa comes bounding out of the house, spotting her son and weeping, shaking her head. She goes toward him, arms open, crying out, "tu Abuelita ha muerto, Miguel - que Dios la tenga en la gloria!" She's gone. Miguel backs away from her, shaking his head in denial, not letting go of Hiro's hand. He hands Luisa the opium pots. He shakes his head, but he can only deny it for so long while looking into the face of his mother. Hiro takes the pots from Luisa's hands and lets go of Miguel so that Luisa can embrace Miguel's immobile figure. “El Padre ya le dio la extremaunción.” Fr. Andrés gave her the last rites.

"I bought her;" Miguel breathes, eyes wide and in shock; he's not responding to Luisa's embrace; "opium. She asked for something for the pain, not three hours ago. How? No... No, no, let me go. Déjame, Mami." Luisa lets him go and he wobbles on the spot. Hiro and Luisa hold him steady. "No puede ser," he says more to himself than anyone. He keeps shaking his head and smiling sadly, staring into space. "It can't be. I was going to help her. I had to make up for the negligence of the past year." He walks determinately toward the house.

In the meantime, Cass runs toward Hiro and tries to pull him away and start walking toward her car, but Hiro masterfully maneuvers out of her grip.

"Cassie, I swore I'd stay with him,” he tells her.

“There’s a fight among the Yamaguchi over you,” Cass says in a low voice. “There’s protection around us all, including Catholic Charities and St. Ignatius Church, but you should come back with me.”

”I can’t. I’m sorry.” He strokes her cheek.

Hiro runs into the house and finds Miguel's striding figure. He follows him into the bedroom where Miguel's family is collected around the bedside of Abuela Elena, cold and unmoving, with a Rosary that's been placed in her folded hands.

Miguel looks to his both his father and grandfather, neither of whom looks back; but it's Franco who can't look back because of sorrow, and Enrique who can't look back because of anger. He looks to Socorro, who's crying by Enrique's side and is held back from going to Miguel. He looks to Berto, who doesn't look back, as he holds his weeping younger sons, to Gloria, who looks back sadly but with a hint of resentment. To Carmen and Abel, who don't look back, then to Rosa, who's the only one besides his mother who shows him tenderness, who mouths, Lo siento, Migue, and blows him a kiss, though her eyes are funny with medication and Miguel's not even sure she's fully aware of what's going on. He looks back to the cadaver of Abuela Elena and finds he can't breathe.

"You were supposed to wait," he tells the body, in Spanish, going over to it. "You were going to make tamales, you said: with Dante, and hear me sing Ave María again, and all of Papa Héctor's songs!" he cries. "You sent me to get you something for the pain: you said, 'come home!' How could you leave me!?" He drops to his knees, not believing how many tears are falling that they're soaking his face, neck, shirt, hands, pants, dripping onto the floor, even.

"You were supposed to let me say goodbye!" he yells despairingly at his deceased Abuela, and his father whacks him across the face.

"Enrique!" Luisa yells and goes over to Miguel, who's sprawled on the floor. "What's wrong with this family!? Someone help me!"

But no one except Hiro does. Between him and Luisa, they pick Miguel up and drag him out, as he moans and weeps in the same way the little ones Socorro, Manuel and Benjamín do, in an innocent reaction to the frightening void that is sudden death.

In his room, Hiro calms him with soft kisses and broken Spanish, he and Luisa helping him out of his tear-soaked clothes and into dry ones. Luisa applies Vicks Vapo Rub to Miguel’s cheek. She tells Miguel that Abuela had spoken to Hiro a few weeks ago and asked him to change the relationship from unhealthy back to healthy, and that Abuelita always believed in their bond. Miguel smiles, kissing his mother. He embraces her and thanks her. Though in shock and mourning, he helps Luisa do the same for Hiro, attempting to remove the complicatedly-tied yukata so he could put on pajamas. Hiro laughs softly, in gratitude, undoing the yukata himself and pulling on a T-shirt and pajama pants. "Come to the bathtub, to soak your feet," insists Miguel. "We'll be back, Mamá." Luisa nods. They go to the bathroom and Miguel runs the bathwater and washes Hiro's feet for him, dries them, then brings him socks and his own slippers.

"Lay down, amor," Luisa says, pulling Miguel and Hiro to his bedroom. "Hiro, could you please get some water and sleeping pills from the kitchen? And for yourself as well? You both need rest. Here, Migue, I know you carry your Rosary all the time." She reaches into the hoodie Miguel had been wearing and pulls out the beads; she places them in Miguel's hands. She also finds St. Francis Xavier’s relic, and holds it for a moment, wondering.

Luisa looks to Hiro. ”Thank you,” she says. “Cass told me what you tried to do for us.”

"Miguel saved me, Doña Luisa," Hiro says. "I promise you and him and Cass it won't be in vain. Abuela did speak to me about a month ago; she loves Miguel so much, so deeply, and she forgave him. She held nothing against him." He looks to Miguel. "Do you believe me?" he asks him.

Miguel nods and lays down on his bed, and closes his weeping eyes. Hiro runs and gets a glass of water and a sleeping pill, from where he knows the Rivera's keep them. He also extracts a pack of frozen vegetables from the freezer and wraps it in a wet paper towel, for Miguel’s cheek where his father hit him. But on his way back to Miguel's room, he's intercepted by Enrique.

"Why are you here?" the man asks Hiro. 

Hiro swallows nervously and replies, "Miguel asked me to promise to stay with him."

"This is not Miguel's house. Please leave. Your Aunt is still outside."

A streak of pain runs through Hiro, and tears fall from his eyes. He bows his head and nods.

"Then I’m leaving, again," Miguel says. He strides into the kitchen and stands by Hiro's side, facing his father. "He’s the love of my life. Abuelita knew it, God rest her soul. We may have hurt each other and caused each other sickness, but love won out."

"Does one's love of his life suck the life from him, inspiring addiction in him, causing him to hurt him family, to rape his cousin, to abandon his grandmother as she's dying because the love of his life needs to be dragged out from an opium den?" Enrique's tone is venom.

Franco looks at his son ashamedly, but still stays neutral. His heart is too broken.

Miguel grips Hiro's hand and his Rosary. He smirks in disgust at Enrique's cheap shots. "He sold himself to the Yamaguchi-gumi mafia to grant us all citizenship. He guaranteed we all be flown to Miami and that I get a record deal with Sony Latin and protection by the Cuban mafia for the rest of our lives. And those sins you listed are mine, they were choices I made; I am responsible for my actions, and I alone, and Abuelita said she forgave me. She put her trust in Hiro weeks ago, and since then he’s left me alone so we could heal. How dare you blame another for your son's downfall; how dare you betray me like that. I forgive you easily in this moment because your mother has passed, but under any other condition I'd be ashamed to call you Father."

He turns from his stunned father, and the rest of his stunned family, to Hiro and kisses both his cheeks and then his lips. "Thank you," he tells him.

Luisa comes forward with a suitcase filled with clothes and toiletries. She exits the house momentarily, then returns and hands it to Miguel. "Aunt Cass will protect you. Go on. I'll come to you tomorrow."

Miguel kisses her cheek and Hiro embraces her tightly, thanking Kannon out loud in Japanese for Luisa's love, like Aunt Cass'.

"I'm sorry, Papa Franco, and I love you," Miguel says with dignity to his grandfather, who weeps and nods in pride at his grandson. Miguel calls sadly to his sister and his cousins: "I love you, Socorro, Manuel and Benjamín. And I adore you, Rosa." Rosa runs forward and embraces him, whispering, desperately, "forgive me, Migue, please, it was my fault."

"It was both our faults, but there are so many worse things families can do to each other than demonstrate acts of romantic love;" he glares at the rest of his family; "but, fine, I accept the resentment, with dignity, and in remembrance of Elena, daughter of Socorro, daughter of Imelda who resented her innocent husband my great-great grandfather Héctor and lost time that only now is being made up for, in death. I honor my family on the other side, and pray for the ones on this side, for most of them need someone to pray for them."

He runs out of the house with Hiro before Enrique, Berto and Abel can catch him, and he slides into Aunt Cass’ car with Hiro.

“Fr. Andrés, Luisa and I agreed it would be better for either of you to stay in the rectory if something like this were to happen,” Aunt Cass says solemnly. “I don’t know if he’ll allow both of you, though.” She looks back at Hiro, who’s holding Miguel as he weeps into his chest.

Then begins the drive to St. Ignatius of Loyola Church's rectory. When they reach Fr. Andrés, he welcomes Cass and Hiro and expresses his relief at their safety. He embraces Miguel and gives him condolences, telling him he'll be overseeing the wake and the funeral. He brings them water and some bread and fruit, and an ice-pack for Miguel’s cheek.

“They can both stay,” he tells Cass. He looks at Hiro and Miguel, and says, in a low voice, "I've already seen that you both have strong consciences. Please, for your sakes and out of respect for the Church who will always grant sanctuary to the marginalized, do not use each other. Rather," he sighs, "console each other.”

Aunt Cass thanks the Father and, like Luisa, promises to come tomorrow. Both Miguel and Hiro embrace her and thank her.

Fr. Andrés leads them to the bedroom where Miguel had been sleeping. “Goodnight, God bless, and continue to pray for the soul of Elena Rivera - may God take her to glory."

Hiro and Miguel nod, and the Father closes the door.

The next morning, at dawn, the Father opens the door and sees them sleeping peacefully together, close in the narrow bed, with no sign of there having been any concupiscent activity. Then again, the Father wonders, it will always be a mystery just where concupiscence starts and love ends. He can't assume there weren't kisses, embraces, even touches; the two had been sexually addicted to each other after all, and had had a traumatic previous night. But, there's something about the way in which their faces are turned to each other, sleeping expressions painted with tenderness; something about the way their bodies lay side-by-side, that signals not lust but reverence. Something there signals not an enabling relationship, but rather a friendship built on respect, love and support. Socorro. Who knows? The Rosary is curled around their entwined hands.

The Father closes the door and goes off to pray Lauds with his brothers in faith.

to be continued...

Chapter Text

It's the following Thursday, one week before Holy Thursday, in fact. It’s been two days since Elena’s funeral. Juana sighs and looks longingly at Miguel's empty gaze. "Hey, Migue, I know you can come up with something to play us, eh?" She tells the Encuento group: "Miguel's a talented musician - un músico de primera. La trae en su sangre; he has it in his blood." She smiles at Miguel. "Play what's in your heart, Miguel, a song from your heart to Nuestro Buen Señor, to inspire us in our love for Him and in our gratitude for his salvation in the Cross: aplauso!" She claps and encourages the others, who also clap, though some not at all. The whole parish has heard of what's happened.

Miguel looks with flaming eyes at Juana. He's not angry with her. He just know that all he can give will be too much. Juana doesn't break his gaze, saying to him with it: pour it out, for those on your side and also for those who would judge you. Pour it out, I know you can.

"Bueno," says Miguel, picking up his guitar. "This is a song by una diosa española, Lola Flores, who my Abuelita - que en paz descanse - used to love to watch once she began to love music again. It's from an old film - I pirated a DVD of it for her, after she saw it one night on Univision as a special - and in the scene before the song, Lola's character recites a poem from Rafael de León. The song doesn't seem complete without the poem so, I'll follow Lola's pattern:

"Estoy muerto de amor, Señor," he murmurs, strumming a bit of Spanish guitar. "Muerto de amor. No lo sabe mi pulso, ni mi pierna, ni el eco de mi voz, ni mi cintura, ni lo sabe la luna que está interna en mi jardín de amor y calentura." He glances up at the group. They are all silent, waiting, some concerned, others already hypnotized.

My love is death, Lord. Death. My pulse knows it not, nor do my limbs, nor the echo of my voice nor my lips, nor does the hidden moon within the garden of my swaying hips.

Miguel continues, his voice slightly louder, his strumming more intense: "Estoy muerto de amor, Señor, como una rosa tierna o una gacela en la llanura, como una agua redonda en la cisterna o un perro de amarilla dentadura." 

My love is death, Lord, like a fair rose, or a gazelle’s gentle horn-tips, like the cyclical cistern from which the old dog sips.

His fingers trickle over the strings of his guitar, like the gypsies of old, with that mysterious melismatic tone left over from the Moors. His Spanish even sounds more Andalusian, more Arabic, and more guttural: "Muerto de amor, Señor; hoy que es Corpus Christi y he paseado mi cadáver, de amor iluminado, como un espantapájaro siniestro!"

My love is death, Lord, today being Corpus Christi and my cadaver I’ve turned, made of light spurned, into a puppet with which no one gives a bother!

He cries the truth: "La gente, sin asombro, me ha mirado y ninguno el sombrero se ha quitado para rezarme un triste Padrenuestro."

Bystanders, the ignorant and learned, see my cross without surprise, without concern, without giving thought to saying an Our Father.

He then wails out a haunting lament, the song called "Pena, Penita, Pena," his fingers practically bleeding on his guitar.

Shame, Tender Shame, Shame.

Once done, he allows the crowd - made up of the young and old - to cheer at him and weep, for none could deny the gift this young man has. He becomes empty again, bowing his head slightly, and then puts down his guitar and looks back to Juana, who is stunned, to continue in what she had planned for the Encuentro Meeting. Fr. Andrés looks over to the chapel of La Dolorosa and prays for Miguel.

to be continued...

Muerto de Amor - written by Rafael de León (1908-1982); English translation by me
Pena, Penita, Pena - written by Antonio Quintero Ramírez (1895-1977), Manuel Quiroga (1899-1988), and Rafael de León (1908-1982)

Chapter Text

The week after - Holy Thursday for Miguel - Hiro's flown to Tokyo by the help of Masahiko, to meet with Ryota-sensei, Eiji's rival, and the original man to have offered him to buy his bots. It's a blur for Hiro, who merely holds to the statue of Kannon and speaks and prays as though the Bodhisattva of Compassion can hear.

The following day, he sits with Ryota-sensei. "The offer to buy your robotics three years ago, Hamada-san, was to keep a handle on things, not to own them and advance them for the sake of some kind of world-conspiracy, or even to dismantle it. Have you been so Americanized as not to trust those who disseminate doubt and maintain the balance between humanity and politics? That is the nature of our clan, based on what was always the nature of the people of the Land of the Rising Sun, and has been, though some stray. We'd all be curious to hear what you think of laws..."

"Have you all day to speak, Yamaguchi-sensei?" Hiro replies, with a sad laugh.

"No. But I have some time. Then you should leave; there's a place I think you should visit." He writes an address down for Hiro; a Shinto shrine. "You'll be safe."

The sakura are just budding, and Hiro can't help feel like he's in a land that cleaves to his body, and desires it. This is the place his ancestors have been living in for hundreds - thousands of years - its sun, its moon, its scents, its salt. They're his. The animals seem more fecund, the sea tasting more like human sweat after labor or love-making. The rain drops seem thicker. When the pines shiver, so does Hiro. The void within his soul moistens in arousal. Blood rushes quicker through his veins, and he runs, endorphins high and cortisol low, to where Ryota-sensei wants him to go.

Then he's distracted by a wooden gate, and a pathway leading to a house with several domes, and a crescent moon on top, almost like a mosque. Without even realizing it, he's entered, because it seems the spring daffodils call to him and he swears he can see two little girls - one with pale blue hair and the other pale pink - standing on the porch waving him over. But they're not real. Are they?

"S-sumimasen?" he asks, once he's on the porch and peers into the dark hallway, that seems even more to draw him in. What's confusing him is the sense that he should be here, and not where he was originally supposed to go.

A young man just about his age - maybe a year or two younger - slips around a beautiful screen, and stops short at seeing Hiro. He's wearing a scarf around his head and an apron, and carrying a tray of what looks like whiskey with two glasses.

"Oh, hajimemashite!" the young man says, and continues in Japanese: "I'm sorry, I guess I'm not used to..." He comes closer to Hiro, who's frozen on the spot, and looks at him carefully. This young man has unusual eyes - one blue and one golden. His gaze is deep and curious, and there's an aura of mystery about him though he otherwise looks lanky, clumsy and foolish. "I'm not used to seeing men come in here. Much less one as young as you, except for Syaor- Oh, forgive me." He scoffs at his own carelessness. "I'm sure you'd like to see Yûko-san right away."

Hiro blinks. "Yûko-san?"

The other young man sighs. "Oh, you're one of those, then? Let me guess." He puts one hand on his hip. "You were going to go somewhere, and something drew you into this house, and you're not sure but it feels right that you're here but you don't know who Yûko is. Am I right?"

Hiro nods.

"Yeah, she gets those more often when it's springtime and the sakura come out. Just wait a sec, she'll probably come out any second and make it known that she was listening this whole time and knows exactly who you are..."

"Watanuki-kun," says a silky yet amused voice from behind the screen. "You're taking all the fun out of it."

"Yeah, April Fool, and we would have been close by anyway!" A strange black creature that looks like a rabbit, a cat and a guinea-pig comes bounding out from behind the screen and lands on the boy named Watanuki's head. It speaks. "You were taking too long with that whiskey!"

Oh, man, they slipped something really strong in my tea, Hiro thinks. What should I do?

"You should come in," says the same silky voice. Then emerges a beautiful woman in a white kimono with plumerias embroidered onto it. She's tall and elegant, and Hiro suddenly feels like nothing else matters but engaging with her. "Hiro Hamada. I've been wondering when you'd finally show up."

Hiro trembles. The woman named Yûko laughs jovially. "Don't be afraid! Watanuki will be by your side;" she turns to Watanuki, "I don't bite, do I?"

Watanuki scowls, but shakes his head and whispers to Hiro, "she really doesn't. Trust me, nothing bad will happen. You're meant to be here, I know it feels weird." But Hiro's rooted at the spot. Watanuki's heart is moved and he whispers softly, "c'mon - Hamada, is it? It's just the mysticism of our people."

That phrase sparks the vivid memory of Miguel, and Hiro looks to Watanuki in wonder. Watanuki smiles back. Hiro follows him past the screens and into a beautiful room with sliding doors to the back porch, where the woman named Yûko sits, sipping her whiskey. Her hair is long, and silky, like a veil, and through it she looks sideways at Hiro and grins affectionately. "Please sit. Watanuki, bring some tea. I think whiskey would be a little too strong right now for Hamada-kun."

Hiro kneels on a pillow and admires the beautiful room and the beautiful budding garden it opens to.

"It's still a bit chilly, but tomorrow will be warmer," Yûko remarks.

"Are you...?" Hiro goes to say Kannon, but Yûko remarks, before he can say it, "you're quicker than Watanuki."

"Quicker than Watanuki, quicker than Watanuki!" the little girls with the pink and blue hair chant together.

"Then again, it's vital that Watanuki go through a much longer process of discernment and realization than you, which doesn't detract from the value of your life. All is in balance, after all. All is hitsuzen. You may call me Yûko. Watanuki is my part-time assistant, and my companion here is Mokona Modoki."

"Yo!" says the black creature, pouring himself alcohol.

"Before you go wondering and asking: Mokona is Mokona," explains Yûko. "The plural is also Mokona: you would count them one Mokona and two Mokona, and then you'd stop because there are only two."

Hiro takes a breath (because he understands) and goes to ask, but Yûko speaks before he can and says, "Yes. This one is black, and the other is white; white Mokona is traveling with a particular group of four right now: two virgins - a young architect and a broken princess - and a warrior and a magician. It's an old story they're weaving, one I'm sure you've heard before." She breathes out smoke from a long, elaborate pipe. "Every people has its own version. The girls are Maru and Moro, but those are not their true names."

"Mistress speaks the truth!" chant the girls.

Watanuki comes in and serves Hiro tea.

The term "truth" rings in the air.

"The truth is I'm sad," says Hiro in a low, cracked voice.

"All people who enter this place - my shop - have a wish in their heart," says Yûko softly. "I can fulfill any wish, given that payment be made in full, without any exception."

Hiro looks sadly out to the garden.

"What is your wish, Hiro Hamada?" asks Yûko plainly, inhaling smoke.

Hiro makes a decision; something slides easily into place for him. He looks into Yûko's calm eyes and begins the ancient Zen formula: "I wish to know: if all things return to the One, to what does the One return?"

Yûko smiles serenely. "I will tell you the answer when you have drank all the waters of the West River in one gulp."

Hiro replies, without flinching, "I have already drank all the waters of the West River in one gulp."

"Then I have already granted your wish."

They sit in silence, Watanuki befuddled.

to be continued...

Characters belonging to CLAMP manga artists, from the series xxxHoLic (2003-ongoing) - Yûko Ichihara, Kimihiro Watanuki, Maru and Moro, and Mokona Modoki.

Chapter Text

t h e   t r e e   o f   b o d h i


t h e   t r e e   a t   g o l g o t h a


Chapter Text

21 Jun. 2023

Ten years later, on a summer night, Fr. Miguel Rivera S.J. unlocks the old-fashioned European door to his hotel room in Rome. He enters tiredly with his briefcase and freezes in shock at one Hiro Hamada laying comfortably upon the silk coverlet of his bed (a luxury, by the way, he's not very fond of, but, hey, aggiornamento is a key part in understanding the 'Roman' in Roman Catholicism and the theology of the Second Vatican Council). And Italian silk is also what Hiro Hamada is wearing - a tailored Giorgio Armani suit, in particular, though Armani is Milanese not Roman. Valentino is Roman. His shoes are leather and his hair is slicked back. He’s masculine now, but still mild, and beautiful.

"I've become a nicotine addict, but I swear, I only smoked on the balcony," says Hiro, and he grins with that gap in his teeth Miguel remembers running his tongue over when they were teenage lovers. "Forgive me, Fr. Rivera." He sits up.

"Why are you here?" Miguel's voice sounds more pained than he would have ever meant it to.

Hiro shakes his head. "Not to hurt you. I just wanted to see you again. I'm here for the same event you are."

Miguel glares. "Yeah, to spy and report, or to copy?" he says venomously. He is completely overwhelmed.

"I felt that." Hiro grips his torso and winces. "C'mon. Forgive me, Miguel. It's not what you think. I'll leave, then. If you change your mind and want to see me, I left my number written on the notepad on your night-table. Pre-paid phone, so no one can track me. A cute and tough Mexican boy I was close with would have appreciated that."

He strides by Miguel, but Miguel can't risk anything. He grabs Hiro by his ridiculously-expensive suit and swivels him.

"Hey, no jodas!" Hiro quips, laughing, struggling in Miguel's grip.

Miguel lets him go and weeps openly into his hands.

"You're supposed to say, 'I've already done that,' but you can take your time," says Hiro affectionately.

"First, we all thought you were dead," Miguel whispers, wiping his tears. "Then, we find out what you became part of. And that isn't what hurt me as much as what you did to your aunt. You owed her everything."

"Baka," Hiro says softly, incredulously. "I've been protecting her this whole time. Did you have no faith in me?"

Miguel shakes his head in honesty.

Hiro lowers his eyes, nodding. "I guess I didn't deserve it at the time, did I?"

"No, you did," Miguel struggles. "Jesús y María, Hiro, you always mix me up inside. And you pierce me through the heart. But, no, please don't leave." He stops Hiro from exiting.

"So, you're a masochist?" Hiro smirks. "Sounds right for a Catholic priest, though I thought you being a Jesuit you'd be less dramatic. Let me go, papi. I shouldn't have shocked you. I didn't even ask you how you were feeling; you look tired."

Miguel pulls him close and kisses him as though it were the last thing he'd ever do, on the lips, and it's as though Nero had re-lit all of Rome on fire. They're fully men, now, nothing of the androgynous tenderness remaining, no baby-fat, no sweet flirtation and certainly no question about their gender identity. When they finally part, their testosterone rages, and they look angrily at each other, more likely to knock each other out than make love.

"Remember the night Abuelita passed (que en paz descanse)?" asks Miguel in a low voice.

"How could I ever forget?" murmurs Hiro.

"Before going to sleep, you whispered your future into my ear," says Miguel.

"As did you, into mine," responds Hiro.

Suddenly, they grin together, and laugh.

"And has it come true, Hamada-sensei?" Miguel asks, his laughter tinged with sadness.

Hiro gazes at him lovingly. "Have I beat the machine, and have you become a saint? I'm a member of the Yamaguchi-gumi who still takes revenge by violent means, and you a Jesuit priest in Mexico City supporting the narcos who would take down the US." He pulls out another cigarette, from an expensive-looking silver case. "You tell me, Father."

"Have we voided the system," continues Miguel, raising his hands in defeat, "using its own strategy against it by becoming criminals?"

"If your family is well, and if Cassie is well, which I know they all are," Hiro takes out an expensive lighter, "what more can Kami-sama ask from us?"

"You converted?" Miguel breathes in wonder.

Hiro grins. "Of course." He reaches into his fine shirt and pulls out a silver crucifix. "I didn't have to change all that much, except now say, 'Tetsudatte kudasai, Maria Kannon,' like the Kakure Kirishitan. You know as well as I that the clans will ally with the Church far more than not, when it comes to resisting the government. Our Lady of Akita's, the foster home in Tokyo that was on the news a few years ago, was one of the first projects I worked on. I was an orphan, too, after all. There's been too many of us among my people, and we end up on the street." He ushers Miguel out onto the balcony so he can light his cigarette. "And you?" he asks, looking Miguel up and down, thinking how beautiful he looks in his long jet-black cassock, and how pure his face still is, his thick hair also slicked back, his jaw more chiseled, his posture sturdy and dignified. "I know a little of the dealings you've had with narcos, the Mexican government, and the US government, alike. You still cause escándalo wherever you go, and now even the Pope wants to see you."

"Not me, specifically, ángel; c'mon," says Miguel, looking out to the lush Roman night. "It's because I'm a voice for climate change and renewable energy, and it's the anniversary of Laudato Si. Everyone's here - even you, and your brain."

"It's the only thing scientists should do: protect what's natural in the world and the body." Hiro drags on his cigarette. "But Zionism continues, anata. And yours and my clans and societies pose problems, while giving those assassins the model from which to mimic. So people get sucked into their agenda and go soft in the brain." He taps his ashes. "Hey, we do the best we can, right?"

Miguel confesses, "I train them to make like they'll distribute the poison, then know where to hide and who with, to get rid of that shit, then band together all along the West Coast and the Southwest with our Society, who I ultimately believe will break the evangelicals. We’re the only non-Zionist group that could, even among the Catholics. Do you think a Syrian refugee will find aid in the arms of the Dominicans, the Carmelites, even the Franciscans (great shame on them)? The Europeans made their own evil mafia's out of those Orders: the Knights of Malta here, the Knights of Columbus in the US. Bullshit. Slowly, we're getting to the USCCB, but it takes time."

"How well is Archbishop Gómez managing LA?"

"Well enough, but not without constant stress. He knows what I do." Miguel averts his eyes. "And he knows it fails, many times, hit or miss. Some go through it, some double-cross me and report me to the narcos there. That's why I'm better protected than the Pope. Only you could kill me now, Hamada-san. Will you?"

"What a drama queen, my guitarrista," Hiro says softly, marveling at his Miguel. "Just like me. If I had orders to shoot you, I'd make sure the same bullet went through me as well, but I think I'm better than that." Hiro pauses. "We have to run."

Miguel sighs worriedly. "Where?"

"You know. The place where it all started. They don't have a handle on it yet, the Zionists, the evil side of the yakuza, nor the evil side of the Church. I learned something from an old Buddhist-turned-Catholic during my conversion process. He said there are two Churches within the one. Do you know which they would be?"

"The one of St. Peter and the one of St. John," whispers Miguel, knowingly, nodding his head.

Hiro drags on his cigarette. "It's the same with the nation of Japan. There are two: one of Zen and one of the Meiji." He turns to Miguel, again, lovingly. "Will you tell me about light and dark like when we were teenagers?"

"Zen and the Church of St. John are the Darkness," murmurs Miguel, inching closer to his old lover, and swooning at the sight of St. Peter's Basilica. "Hence why Zen is void, and why Juan de Yepes y Álvarez changed his name to Juan de la Cruz and wrote the Dark Night of the Soul. For the Zen void leads to essence, and the Dark Night leads to the tomb of the Resurrection at dawn." He looks to Hiro with a look of vulnerability.

Hiro gestures discreetly to a Tesla that waits for them down on a side-street of the Via del Corso. He looks back at Miguel and goes to speak, but the words can't come out. They're too sacred. Instead, he kisses his cheek - oh, that skin, again - he's longed for all these years.

Miguel's dimple shows. "I do, too, Hiro Hamada."

Hiro leans forward and embraces - and lets himself be embraced by - Miguel, who kisses his neck.

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned," Hiro breathes into Miguel's ear, "it's been a few months since my last confession: my plan was for us to make love, one last time, then kill you and myself."

"You use the past tense," Miguel whispers back, "so have you changed your mind?"

Hiro laughs and nods.

"Then, your sin has not been committed and God has already forgiven you for imagining it," says Miguel simply.

In the same tone Yûko had used.

to be continued...

Vatican's Migrant and Refugee Office:
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Office of Migration and Refugee Services:
Jesuit Refugee Service International:
Jesuit Refugee Service USA:
Kino Border Initiative:
International Catholic Migration Commission:
Ignatian Solidarity Network:
Laudato Si:

Chapter Text

"Te debo unos besos, cariño," Miguel whispers, "para que jamás entretengas ideas, otra vez, de mutilarte." He doesn't care if Hiro understands, though he's almost certain he does. He kisses his lips softly. "Para que sepas que eres hermoso, como Dios te hizo."

"No peques por mí," Hiro replies mildly, confirming he'd understood.

"How is kissing a sin?" Miguel has already masterfully undone Hiro's silk tie and removed his jacket. "Remember: First Peter, chapter five, verse fourteen, and all the others about the kiss of peace."

"Remember the kiss in Luke, chapter twenty-two, verse forty-eight, Father," replies Hiro instantly. Miguel again marvels at his first love, while Hiro smirks.

They kiss fervently, tides of memories tumbling forth: memories not just of the mind, but of the body. Familiarity. The same skin, the same scents, the same tongues feeling the same teeth, the same hands. But their bodies are harder, their muscles taut, their hands more weary and worn, their spirits older. Eighteen and twenty don't compare to twenty-eight and thirty.

Hiro masterfully undoes the Jesuit cassock, sash and all, in a matter of seconds, which leaves Miguel to wonder. "You look beautiful in this," Hiro confesses, as he slips it off to reveal a simple shirt and slacks.

"It's not that different than the robes of the East," Miguel whispers, kissing Hiro's neck, undoing his belt. They kick their shoes off. Hiro undoes some of Miguel's shirt, kissing his angular shoulder, getting a better opportunity to breathe in his natural scent.

"Though," Miguel smiles, "you wear Italy quite well." He runs his fingers along the collar of Hiro's silk shirt, then down to where he slides Hiro's fine slacks down and off him.

They lean their foreheads together for a moment, merely breathing each other in.

"I've been keeping up with your family, Migue," confesses Hiro, lightly caressing Miguel's cheek. "I'm sorry about Papá Franco."

"It was his time, but thank you," Miguel replies. "I've also been keeping up with Cass. She was so frightened." Miguel pulls back, a storm of emotions and hormones running through him. He shakes them off. He's a priest, he's practiced.

He remembers what he must do. "Lie down, Hiro. Come."

Hiro obeys, as pliant as he was when he was nineteen. Miguel crawls over him, still dressed in his shirt and slacks. It's Hiro he's stripped down to his undershirt and boxers.

"Nothing less than Calvin Klein;" Miguel laughs, admiring Hiro; "if I didn't know any better, I'd call you bourgeois."

"Not a gangster?" Hiro scowls. "You insult me, Rivera-sensei."

"You're unarmed," Miguel replies, and gently pulls up Hiro's undershirt to kiss the soft skin above his navel, to feel the taut abdomen muscles beneath his lips. There's little femininity left in Hiro, he realizes, and he wonders about Hiro's living in Japan. "A gangster is never unarmed."

"Honestly, I expected you to be the one with the pistol," Hiro says, smiling. "Liberation theology, and all."

In a flash, Miguel rises and nips Hiro's bottom lip a little too hard, causing the other man to moan in ecstasy. "They'll hear you," Miguel warns. He breathes in his ear, "only I know where my Beretta is. As do you, yours, though I can't imagine where you've hidden it in here."

"Same place as yours, anata; what, do you think I'm so second-rate?"

Hiro pushes up, grasping Miguel by the hair and kissing him.

"No," Miguel mumbles, pulling away. "Es para tí." He caresses Hiro's flushed cheek. "This is for you." Then, so softly it barely leaves his lips, he says, "I love you, still." He reverently kisses a path from Hiro's throat to his chest, meeting the small silver crucifix on the way and winking to it, and down to his hips, running his hands over his lithe figure. Hiro brushes Miguel's hair back. Miguel pulls off the labeled underwear and catches his breath at the sight of his old lover's secret stalk, engorged with blood and slick with pre-ejaculation fluid. His mouth waters. It's been so long.

Hiro is the only man Miguel has ever been with, but he has been with a woman besides Rosa. He loved the sway of that woman, her sweet-ocean taste, her belly-laugh of wisdom, her sheer power when she pulled him in and climaxed in the dance of life. He loved her melodic voice, high and low, her sweet smile and her tender heart. Her sharp-wit and her moon-magic. He loved her like Guadalupe. He was almost ready to marry this woman, Juana, before finally and painfully discerning his calling to go into the seminary in Mexico City. He loved Juana, very deeply, but differently than he loved Hiro. He was her loyal lover for a year. Like many celibate religious and like many artists, Miguel is a true bisexual and romantic, and is offended by the youth who play around with those labels; for, the truth is there are very few true bisexuals and romantics, and their fates are usually always fraught with suffering and ecstasies and art, sacrifice and passion, and violence and tenderness. Though they share no blood, he is Frida's great-great-nephew, undoubtedly.

Miguel is the only person Hiro's allowed himself to be in a romantic relationship with, for he dreads the idea of anyone severing the bond he has with Miguel. He has never truly felt arousal in his heart for anyone else, no matter how many beautiful men and women he's met and has had offers of. Hiro has only ever dreamed of Miguel, though not obsessively. He never planned to meet him again, necessarily. In this sense, it's as if he's asexual with the exception of his teenage love. But he is romantic. Undoubtedly. And there are women who have taught him of the erotic, women who are his sisters in soul though Hiro will wait to explain them to Miguel.

"I've missed you," Miguel breathes, his voice lowering. Then he very gently lets the saliva that's collected in his mouth stream out along the length of Hiro's erection, from wet tip to base; as soon as it drips on the base, by the testicles, Miguel's tongue makes contact with the flushed flesh, and then he runs his tongue slowly and delightfully up along the path of saliva, from base to tip. Hiro throws his head back.

"How dare you have threatened to cut this," Miguel hisses, eyes blazing up at Hiro's desperate ones. "I hated you when I heard what you offered. You hear me? I'd have rather been thrown into a van and sent back to Santa Cecilia than know you would mutilate this part of you in savagery." He wraps his mouth around the tip of Hiro's member and sucks gently while Hiro cries raggedly to the ceiling, hands reaching for Miguel's hair.

"I never thought I'd feel you again," says Hiro, and he actually weeps.

"A ver, mi amor," coos Miguel, kissing his hipbone, and begins to slowly, reverently, suck more and more of Hiro's cock into his mouth, being careful not to choke and being aware of the pulses of the penis itself. Hiro's going to come.

Miguel removes his mouth, and crawls up to kiss his lover, so he can taste himself, like that night so many years ago. Hiro whimpers and strains his hips up, hands around Miguel's neck, kissing him as though his life depended on it, relishing the taste of his own member on his lover's tongue. He hasn't ejaculated semen yet, though.

"This is all I could ever give you," breathes Miguel, cupping Hiro's delicate face. "I'm bound by my calling. This is the loophole. I can only kiss you intimately." He leans his forehead against Hiro's, who kisses his jaw and his lips and his cheek. "But I can do it. Forever! Only this, but I will do it, because I love you. I'm so sorry, Hiro, mi vida." He kisses his lips.

"Can I do it to you?" whispers Hiro, touching Miguel's cheek.

Miguel nods. "But I can't climax. Forgive me. I can't climax for you. It can never reach that point. If you must bring yourself to climax, by all means that is your will. The same with me. But I can't catch your seed in any way, or spill mine if I can help it." He averts his eyes. "I swore myself to Kami-sama. Though sometimes I wish I could have just told you I'd marry you in California once it became legal, that afternoon when I got fired from the mechanics." Miguel frowns angrily. "We can't use one another, but Lord help me, I needed to kiss you there to know you were still whole."

Hiro nods and kisses Miguel's hand. "I understand more than you think. I've confused you more than consoled you. I'm sorry, Miguel." He kisses Miguel's lips, gently opening them with his own, and pressing forward till they're locked. Their arms wrap around each other.

"Miguel," Hiro breathes and it's like silk and serpent, Quetzalcoatl and Yamata No Orochi. "My shining Huitzilopochtli, my vicar of Christ who is Light of the World, and my son of Guadalupe María-Tonāntzin." Hiro looks into Miguel's eyes and the latter is actually frightened by such calm certainty. "Has Karl Marx frightened you so much that you forget we're all images of the One? As though we can't reach the heights of ecstasy together without spilling seed?" Hiro tsk's and frowns, shaking his head. "You've spent too much time away from women, whose very bodies are the map to the secrets of the homoerotic. No seed may be spilled, and no sodomy committed. Our sisters spill no seed and commit no sodomy, and if and when they make love together they honor God's design. For what other use is the clitoris than pleasure? So we must be like them, with our own members. I can teach you."

"Y-you know how to climax without ejaculation?" Miguel asks in wonder.

Hiro leans forward and says against Miguel's lips, "I just did, before, with these lips of yours around me;" he pulls back to see Miguel's shocked expression; "and you were none the wiser. Now, let me teach you how we may kiss each other to our little deaths - our climax - without betraying God. Will you?"

"In Rome, on the night before we leave for Damascus?" asks Miguel softly, smiling at the irony. "That is where we're going, isn't it?"

Hiro nods. "Shame: it would be even more magical and ironic if we were taking the road to Damascus from Jerusalem, not Rome." He looks off, fiddling idly with the little crucifix on his chain. "We're going in the opposite direction than that of the New Testament."

"That's because you're the Devil," Miguel says, with utter certainty, and yet baffled at the circumstances he's found himself in. "I have no doubt."

"If you say so, Miguel Ángel. Now, lay down, and do as I say." Hiro kisses Miguel's wrist and licks his lips at the taste. "And don't make a sound unless it's into that pillow."

to be continued...

Perfidia - written by Alberto Domínguez (1911–1975)
Bésame Mucho - written by Consuelo Velázquez (1916-2005)
1 Pet. 5:14 RSVCE - "Greet one another with a kiss of love."
Lk. 22:48 RSVCE - "But Jesus said to him, 'Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?'"

Chapter Text

"You've been with another woman besides Rosa," Hiro comments, planting a kiss on Miguel's erection. "Up, up, up! Don't struggle; the bonds'll only get tighter. There. I didn't mean to demonstrate a sense of jealousy or anger."

"How could you tell I was with a woman?" breathes Miguel, his hands grasping the ties that bind his wrists to the bars of the bed's headboard, so his arms stretch above his head. "The blindfold's coming off, by the way. See?"

"No it's not. You just want me to come up there and convince me through kisses to let you go. You don't like not being the man of the pairing. Machista." Hiro slides his fingers gently over Miguel's ribcage, soft skin stretching too thin over bones. He thinks of Abuelita Elena. "I can tell because of your hips." He takes said trembling hips in his hands and caresses them once, twice. "There's a sway to them that's in men who are with women, versus men who are with men." He applies a little pressure with his thumbs to the hipbones, causing Miguel's hips to buck. "It wasn't there when we were together."

"And you've never been with anyone else," says Miguel. "I could tell. I could even feel you pulsing and thought for sure you'd come; I'm glad you did." He sighs, arching himself toward his lover, head back, allowing his blindedness to bring out his trust. "Baby - where did you learn that?"

"It's the mysticism of my people," Hiro whispers jokingly. "No. But, truly, it's discipline of the mind. And I'll tell you in a parable." He very gently grasps Miguel's weeping erection, causing the other man to let out a moan. Hiro leans up and whispers into Miguel's ear, "only you know his name. Keep that in your mind. Do you have it?"

Miguel chuckles. "His name? You mean, my cock?"

Hiro twists his palm and fingers in a way he used to when they were teenagers, that he knew drove Miguel insane and would sometimes be the catalyst for orgasm.

"Ay," Miguel huffs, his voice deeper than ever, his jaw slackened, his back arched like a bow.

"Whatever that was," Hiro says silkily, "is his name. Whatever name breathed in that sacred cry - is his name. No one can know it but you."

Miguel nods. He doesn't know how, but now he knows what Hiro means. He mouths, like Yahweh. Hiro kisses his lips fervently, smiling, feeling Miguel's tongue slip out and try to meet his, but he pulls away before he can.

"Yes, love of my life," Hiro says. "Now, are you ready for my parable?"

Miguel nods, turning his head to the side to rest against his arm. Hiro looks down and admires how beautiful he looks in such vulnerability.

"There once was a young and beautiful woman named Otsû who lived in Kyoto," Hiro begins. "Her husband was the renowned rōnin Miyamoto Musashi. He'd just defeated the clan-leader Tsujikaze Tenma, a not so simple task. He returned home but refused to enter his house, for he'd become used to sleeping on stones. He kept to himself and spent days and nights in the forest outside Kyoto.

"Otsû was excited at Musashi's return. She cooked tofu, three kinds of fish, three kinds of seaweed, and rice with red pepper and prawns. But when she carried these out and knelt beside her beloved with the offering, Musashi sprang to his feet and kicked at it. He roared at her to leave him alone. His rage terrified her. This happened again and again until finally, in desperation, Otsû found her way to the small house of an old-woman healer.

"'My husband has been injured in a duel, not only in body but in his heart,' Otsû told the old woman. 'His rage has consumed him, and he doesn't eat. He only stays outside. Can you help me help him?'

"The healer assured her, 'Yes, but I need something from the realm of the spirits. Something in particular - you must climb Mount Atago, find the great crescent-moon bear, and bring back a single white hair from his throat.'

"Otsû agreed. The next morning she went out and faced Mt. Atago. And she greeted it, calling, 'Arigatô zaishö,' which is something like, 'Thank you for letting me climb.' She climbed into the foothills and upon boulders. She ascended to a plateau thick with forest. 'Arigatô zaishö,' she sang, thanking the trees when they lifted their boughs, with star-shaped leaves, so she could pass. Closer to the mountain-peak she felt the winds stir. A hail-storm began but she persisted, hiding beneath the rocks, till it stopped, and then she called out, "Arigatô zaishö," to the winds for calming.

"She searched all day. Then at twilight a great black bear leaped across the hail-frost. The crescent-moon bear roared mightily and then entered its den. Otsû reached into her bundle and placed the food she'd brought into a bowl, and then set the bowl outside the den. Then she returned to her shelter. The bear smelled the food, emerged from its den, roared lightly, circled the food and then devoured it. The next evening Otsû did the same, but this time she retreated only halfway. Suspicious, the bear tested the air with its sensitive nose, but finally ate again. This continued for many nights until Otsû was brave enough to stand right before the den. When the crescent-moon bear smelled food and emerged, it saw not only the usual bowl but also a lithe, frightened woman.

"The bear roared so majestically it rattled Otsû's very bones. But she stood her ground. The bear hauled itself onto its hind legs, snapped its jaws, and roared so that Otsû could see up into the roof of its mouth. But, she didn't run away. The bear roared again, and put out its arms as though to seize her, its claws hanging like talons over her head, its eyes flashing. The woman shook till her teeth chattered, but remained.

"'Please, great bear," she pleaded with a courage she didn't know she had. 'I’ve come all this way because I need a cure for my husband - a warrior, but a friend of nature.' The bear slammed its front paws to earth and peered into Otsû’s face. For a moment, the woman felt she could see mountains, valleys, rivers, and villages reflected in the bear’s old eyes. Peace settled in her, and her trembling ceased.

"'Please,' she continued, 'I’ve been the one feeding you all these nights. Could I have one of the hairs from the crescent-moon on your throat?'

The bear admired Otsû's courage and took pity on her. 'It's true," he said, 'you’ve been good to me. You may have one of my hairs. Take it, quickly, then go back to your own.' The bear raised its snout so the white moon on its throat showed. Quickly, Otsû pulled out a hair.

"'Arigatô gozaimasu, crescent-moon bear.' Otsû bowed. The bear roared. Otsû turned and fled. She ran under the trees with leaves shaped like stars, and all the way through she cried 'Arigatô zaishö!' She stumbled over the boulders, crying, 'Arigatô zaishö!' thanking the mountain for letting her climb.

"Though she was worn and weary, Otsû ran down the stone stairs that led to the city, down the road and through Kyoto into the hovel where the old healer sat tending a fire. 'I claimed it,' she exclaimed, 'a white hair of the crescent-moon bear.'

"'Good,' said the healer with a smile. She took note of Otsû's state, then took the hair and held it out toward the light. She weighed it, and measured it. Then she proclaimed its authenticity. Otsû sighed in relief. But then the old woman-healer turned and threw the hair deep into the fire, where it popped and crackled and was consumed in a bright orange flame.

"'What have you done!?' cried Otsû.

"'Be calm, all is well,' said the healer sternly. 'Do you remember each step you took to climb the mountain?'

"'Yes,' replied Otsû.

"'Do you remember each step you took to gain the trust of the crescent-moon bear?'

"'Yes, of course.'

"'Do you remember what you saw, what you heard, and what you felt?' asked the old woman in a low voice.

"'Yes,' said the young woman Otsû, wife of Miyamoto Musashi, wearily, 'I remember it all, very well.'

"The old healer smiled serenely, and said, 'Then, daughter, go home now with your wisdom and proceed in the same ways with your husband.'"

"And that is what we learn to do with the rage at our base, between our legs, that explosive roar and the weeping of our semen. Step by step, in gratitude, we come closer to the true nature of the erotic. For many, unfortunately, it stays at piercing and expulsion, and sorrow. But for others, it becomes tenderness and sacrifice, encounter, and vertical illumination and bliss." Hiro kisses Miguel's lips sweetly. "So our heads," he kisses Miguel's forehead, "and our hearts," his chest, "can meet our passion-filled members," his erection, "and be nourished. No seed needs to spill."

"How I missed you," Miguel breathes. Hiro realizes the blindfold is wet. "And I'm happy you found peace. Mi amor."

Hiro bends down and kisses Miguel's erection. Miguel inhales sharply, gripping the silken ties, moving his hips; "Arigatô zaishö," he murmurs, smiling. Hiro smiles and breathes in his lover's heady scent. He kisses the erection again, and again, up to the tip where he can lick up a little of the pre-ejaculation fluid.

"Hiro," Miguel moans. "I don't know if I can hold back."

"It's not about holding back, anata, it's gratitude," Hiro insists. "Slow. Step by step. Remember the mystery, the sacred, and how tentatively we approach the divine. Let the wrath building in your base transform to love." He laves at Miguel's weeping tip. "I'll help you."

"Mm," Miguel groans, in agony.

"I'll suck ten times, then stop," Hiro says. "Breathe deeply, and admit how you truly feel, to yourself. To that name." He wraps his mouth around Miguel's cock and gently brings it down to surround it, to deep-throat it, then slowly back up. Miguel moans in abandon. "Shh," Hiro says. He does it again, even more slowly. Miguel sighs and whimpers. His face is flushed. "You're very passionate," Hiro comments, stroking Miguel's hipbone with affection. He does it once more, and Miguel's spine arches, his head thrown back and his hands tearing at the fabric of the ties.

Hiro tsks. "You're a horrible priest. I thought you'd be better at this."

"There's so much emotion around us, idiota!" Miguel growls. He's shaking with desire.

"Then drop the emotion," Hiro says, with such command it leaves Miguel cold. For a moment there is only silence, and they both know Hiro is the one in control now. "Rage and emotion is what drove us each to madness, ten years ago," continues Hiro, softly.

Miguel nods, slackened. His guerrilla-liberación guitarrista-rebel ego-construct quells.

"I'm so scared, Hiro," he admits, weeping. "I'm so scared they're going to hunt me or my family down. I'm double-crossing the narcos, for the sake of the Jesuit mission. You're in the yakuza. How did we get like this?"

"I just told you how," Hiro replies. "Now, focus. Pray. You're a priest, for goodness' sake."

Miguel nods, and takes a deep breath. His erection has softened a bit, but Hiro's hands and mouth bring it back to life, except now Miguel is calmer, his arousal more interior and tender.

"There," Hiro whispers, kissing the inside of his thighs. "Now, again: ten times."

Once, twice, three times. Four, five, six. Miguel cries out raggedly but doesn't ejaculate. He says, "I feel something in my chest, something opening me. And I see lights."

"What kind of lights?" Hiro asks evenly.

"Like the mandalas, endless ovals, opening and opening."

Hiro holds back from smirking. Success. "Then we're doing something right," he says. "Don't resist." Hiro leans up and kisses Miguel's chest where his heart chakra is. "Aishiteru. Ei en ni." I love you. Forever.




"Háblame de los Cantares," Hiro breathes, his own arousal painful between his legs. If this works, Miguel will achieve the bliss up his spine, bursting through his heart and up though his brain to the crown of his head and be lost in the ecstasy of the saints.

"Ay, si me besaras con los besos de tu boca!" cries Miguel, and sure enough, his erect member pulses, with only a little dribble of pre-ejaculation fluid emitting. "¡Grato en verdad es tu amor, más que el vino!" His chest rises as though invisible hands were lifting him from above. "Ay! Grata es también, de tus perfumes, la fragancia." His head falls back and his hips also rise and it's also as though they were being elevated invisibly. "Tú mismo eres bálsamo fragante. Ay. ¡Con razón te aman las doncellas!" He sighs in bliss and in love, laughing, weeping. "¡Hazme del todo tuya!" he cries. "¡Date prisa! ¡Llévame, oh rey, oh rey, a tu alcoba!"

Then he gently comes down and lays completely slackened and still, just softly breathing. Not a muscle of his moves and his erection softens. Hiro very gently unties the silk ties and massages the blood back to Miguel's wrists. He undoes his blindfold, soaked in tears. Miguel still hasn't woken. He's completely unconscious, breathing deeply. With his eyes closed, he looks more like he did when he was seventeen, though the shadows around his eyes are new. He even has a white hair or two, Hiro notices.

Hiro gently shifts him so his head may rest on a pillow and pulls the covers over him. He kisses his cheek. He goes and uses the bathroom and comes back with water in case Miguel wakes. Before shutting off the light, he looks to a little image on one corner of the ceiling of a Rococo-style cherub with an arrow, winks at it, and makes a pistol-sign with his hand aiming at it. Then he lies down next to Miguel and falls asleep with him.

to be continued...

Crescent Moon Bear based on the version by Clarissa Pinkola Estés in Women Who Run with the Wolves (1995).

Vagabond manga character Otsû by Takehiko Inoue, based on the life of Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645).

Cantares (Canticle of Canticles): Cant. 1:1-4 NVI.

Chapter Text

Hiro awakens with a peace he hasn't felt since he was little. First, he thought he'd heard angels singing. Now, the sweet and nutty scent of coffee fills the warm Roman summer air. He opens his eyes to the filtered morning sunlight, and immediately remembers his night with Miguel. He sighs in love and relief, pulling Miguel's pillow to him and breathing in his scent, feeling himself become erect again.

Before Hiro can search for Miguel, he hears his voice echoing from the balcony:

"Buongiorno, Monsignore! Come stai?" Miguel laughs into what is apparently his phone and continues the conversation in a blend of Spanish and Italian: "Yes, yes. No, I just sang Lauds and was having some espresso I made from the machine here in the hotel room, very fancy... Eh? Ah, it's not so bad... No, forgive me, I must stay true to the Américas and say Colombian coffee is better... Yes, everything in Colombia is very fine... Colombian women? Well, regrettably, I never had the pleasure... I'm sure I'd love to hear those details one day, Monsignore. Now, how can I help you this morning? ...Ah, yes." He clears his throat and takes a sip of his coffee. "My Japanese friend, from childhood. ...Yes, I had a sure feeling you all had the room wiretapped and filmed. ...Yes, I understand it doesn't help the cause, forgive me, and yes, I know it was for my protection and I’m grateful; I trust the audio and visual will be discarded quickly after it's collected, no? ...I'm not sure whether to take that as a compliment, but thank you. ...Yes, of course, I know. ...I'm glad you were in touch. ...Yes, I also assumed he'd put his own wiretaps and cameras in too. So both you and the yakuza can see and hear our night." Miguel tsks and groans. "...No, Monsignore, being watched is not a fetish of mine. ...Yes, I will make confession." Miguel sighs and takes another sip of espresso. "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It's been three days since my last confession, this is my sin: I performed questionably homosexual acts with a dear friend last night. ...I'm glad you found our discussion about spirituality and the divine erotic fruitful for theology. ...I accept that penance. ...Yes, I also don't feel like saying the Act of Contrition over the phone to you; I will make it here when I hang up. ...Good, I will see you at fifteen-hours, then, at the airport. ...Yes, of course I'll stop into one of the churches here. ...My friend too? I'll tell him. ...Thank you, you too. Ciao."

Hiro gets up completely naked, grabs his cigarette case and lighter, and walks out to Miguel, who's dressed in a bathrobe, praying with his eyes closed. In the morning light, Hiro can take a better look at him: he's thinner than he was at eighteen, but still emanates healthy, pure spirituality. He is a good priest.

Miguel crosses himself, then opens his eyes to see his naked companion. "Sinvergüenza," he scolds with a smirk, and receives a kiss on his lightly-bearded cheek from Hiro.

Hiro takes what's left of Miguel's espresso and sips it, to rid himself of any morning breath and then kisses Miguel's sweetened lips.

"Forgive me the surveillance," he murmurs, planting one final kiss against Miguel's beauty-mark. He admires his golden skin beneath the morning sun and the light in his widened, pretty eyes. "But I was also sure that you knew, anyway. Isn't the Panopticon the grandest of tortures?"

"I don't know, we've got some pretty brutal methods back home and I know all about yours." Miguel hands Hiro a cup of espresso he'd been saving for him, briefly looking over the balcony to see whether people can see his naked lover. "One thing I'll never ask, Hiro, is whether there's blood on your hands. I could never believe you to have taken innocent blood, but guilty blood? - I'd rather not know."

Hiro shakes his head, his expression very neutral. "Thank you." He sips, and then clears his throat. "You've seen things too, Migue. When you were too young, and now even more. I know." He lights a cigarette.

They stand together in silence a moment, looking out to the blue Roman morning, whose white sun shines on the begonias that stream down the walls of the hotel and along the railings of the balcony. The bells of all the hundreds of churches of Rome sound 7 a.m.

Hiro leans against the balcony with his head thrown back, eyes closed, exhaling smoke languidly, letting that sun touch his face and his lean, beautiful naked body. He's like porcelain, and Miguel thinks to the countless marble and ivory statues this very city holds. Here he has his own, for a glorious moment, one Michelangelo himself, or Bernini, would have wanted as a muse.

"Laudato sie, mi Signore cum tucte le Tue creature," Hiro recites, breathing out his cloud of smoke, "spetialmente messor lo frate Sole," he gestures with his head over to the Campus Agrippae, within which is Aurelius' Temple of the Sun, "lo qual è iorno, et allumini noi per lui. Et ellu è bellu e radiante cum grande splendore: de Te, Altissimo, porta significatione." He looks with desire to Miguel, who flutters his lashes coquettishly and blushes. Hiro laughs in love, at that remainder of innocence in his Miguel. "Laudato si, mi Signore, per sora Luna e le stelle: in celu l'ài formate clarite et pretiose et belle."

"Listen to my precious Franciscan," breathes Miguel, marveling at Hiro, fingering his Rosary.

"It's the Franciscans who are evangelizing the East now," remarks Hiro, "not to criticize St. Ignatius' Society, Padre."

"No, it's true," admits Miguel, leaning over the balcony and checking again whether or not pedestrians can see Hiro's backside. He's disappointed more people aren't out in the early morning to attend church. "Blessed John Duns Scotus and William of Ockham would have done well in the Far East. The Immaculate Conception dogma and Ockham's Razor seem better suited within a Confucian, Taoist or Zen frame. Raw nature." Miguel flutters his eyes only a little at Hiro's exposed member, admiring it.

"I agree," Hiro says, smiling. "You know, last night, the twenty-first, was the shortest night of the year in the northern hemisphere."

"Hm, the Inti Raymi festival will be held soon in Cusco," Miguel says, picking up the room-service menu. "The longest night in the southern hemisphere, and the shortest day with the sun at its zenith." He looks out to the cerulean sky. "And, for the Spaniards, it was easy to explain the Feast of Corpus Christi to the Inca, synchronized with their feast of the sun-god." Miguel looks at Hiro. "You've been to Peru."

Hiro nods, tapping his ashes. "To Lima, of course. Ach, the shame;" Hiro turns so that he's also leaning over the balcony and gazes sadly back at Miguel; "Juárez, Tijuana, Cali, Medellín, Lima. For us, the Golden Triangle and Crescent: Myanmar, Bangkok, and Kabul and Karachi. Who fuels war, but starved people selling and taking drugs; and who fuels drugs and starvation but those engaged in war? And it's Spain who's the biggest consumer of the motherfucking powder, still using its former colonies." He drags his cigarette. "And in my country, shit, everything is MDMA and the Baymax, Migue." He gulps down the rest of his espresso. "Nobody falls in love; my people don't even know what love is, they have robots and amphetamines to drown away their consciences. That was my fault. That was me." He puts out his cigarette furiously, in a way reminiscent of his angsty teenage days. "I'm quitting this."

Miguel absently caresses his cheek. "You forgot nuclear development."

Hiro glances with fear at Miguel for an instant but Miguel has already gone back to looking at the menu.

"You want a continental breakfast from this expensive place?" Miguel asks. "Or eggs? I'll have a croissant and an orange on the street."

Hiro clears his throat and regains his calm demeanor. "The Monsignore is paying for your stay," he says. "Order. Do they have anchovies?"

Miguel scowls at him. "Guácala! For breakfast - you crazy?"

"No, I'm Japanese. Let me see." Hiro looks over the menu. "Yeah, here."

Back inside, Hiro picks up the room-service line. "Buongiorno," he says in a fairly decent accent. "Eh, un cornetto con un arancio, favore, e un piatto de acciughe. ...Si. Si, acciughe. Con riso - mai senza l'olio. ...Si. ...Cosa? Parli inglese? ...Rice without oil. Steamed! ...Extra? Fine."

Hiro hangs up and begins moving around the room removing the cameras and wiretaps.

"Now I call you gangster," Miguel comments, sitting in the plush chair inside, chuckling at all this irony. He takes one of Hiro's cigarettes for himself and lights it. "And you snuck all your clothes in here and everything?" he asks, exhaling smoke, turning the television on to see the news. The horrible news. Nothing new. He turns it off.

"Mhm." Hiro grins toothily.

"The flight's at three," says Miguel, pondering. "We should eat, shower, then head to Mass and then the airport in that Tesla you've got waiting. Apparently, you and yours worked all this out with Monsignore." He wags his finger at Hiro like a priest would a naughty child. "All I have to say is, if you were serious about what you said in confession last night, Hamada, you had no right to say I'm the emotional one." He takes a long drag and holds his head in his hand, considering his new circumstances. "Jesús y María, voy hacia Damasco con Hiro..."

"I was serious." Hiro turns and flashes a dangerous look at Miguel. "They knew." His eyes become worried, suddenly. Then he remarks, indicating the surveillance equipment, "I've gotten rid of all of mine, and should be getting my own call now. Why don't you shower first, quick?" Don't worry, he mouths, and touches his little silver crucifix. Miguel does worry, but merely nods, puts out his cigarette in a tray, and slips into the bathroom. Hiro lets out a shaky sigh, and surely enough, his own pre-paid phone rings.

The conversation between him and Ryota-sensei is much shorter and less affectionate. Hiro hangs up, and the attendant knocks with breakfast. Hiro puts his shirt on, and opens the door.

"Buongiorno," says the young woman, admiring Hiro's half-naked self. Hiro admires her back.

"Ciao, bella. Over there, on the balcony, si prega. Here you go." He hands her five Euro.

"Grazie, signore! Con piacere!"

As soon as she sets the breakfast down and leaves, Hiro slips into the bathroom, and into the shower, grasping Miguel to himself beneath the warm spray.

"What is it?" Miguel whispers, stroking his back. "Tell me."

"I trust only you, Miguel," Hiro breathes back, trembling. "Remember that, no matter what."

"OK," coos Miguel, shampooing Hiro's hair for him. Hiro soaps Miguel up, running fingers again over that caramel skin. They wash each other like brothers and Miguel helps Hiro shave. It's been so long.

They stride out of the shower, dress, eat a little, brush their teeth, gather their suitcases and leave the hotel. Miguel insists they enter Santa Maria in Montesanto, for Mass.

"Ah." Miguel stops Hiro before they enter the great Baroque church. "Make confession, Hiro."

Hiro rolls his eyes and he and Miguel saunter off to a shadowed corner. "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned," Hiro recites, impatiently, "it's been..." he looks at his Patek Philippe, "ten hours, just about, since my last confession. This is my sin: I committed questionably homosexual acts with a dear friend of mine last night."

"How were they questionable?" Miguel asks evenly, smiling slightly.

"No seed was spilled, no sodomy committed; we merely kissed intimately." Hiro leans forward, lips dangerously close to Miguel's, in this public place while Miguel is wearing his Jesuit cassock.

"Any other sin, my son?" Miguel demands, eyes deep, amused but darkened.

"The worst sin, Father: the sin of pride," admits Hiro.

Miguel nods. "Then, for your penance, say a Hail Mary and also continue to reflect on intimate kissing. Say the Act later." He raises his hand over Hiro and prays the absolution and makes the sign of the Cross.

Before Miguel strides back to the entrance, Hiro pulls at him. "Migue, come here." He pulls him close. Miguel sighs but concedes.

"There's dried sakura petals folded and kept in my crucifix," Hiro breathes, and it's spoken so low it could have been the wind that said it.

"There's cempasúchil in my Rosary," Miguel says, and boldly kisses his lips. "And I know there's a reason there weren't any people walking around beneath our hotel balcony. I trust you more than anyone, too, Hiro. I do. But, I think..." He closes his eyes. "I think we should trust God even more."

The bells sound for 8:15 a.m. Mass.

to be continued...

Canticle of the Sun, in Umbrian dialect - written by St. Francis of Assisi (Giovanni di Bernardone) (1181/82 - 1226)

Chapter Text

"Miguel," breathes her sweet melodic voice. He can feel her beneath him, soft and supple. Her delicate hands come up and comb his hair back. He looks into her mahogany eyes, which she knows to line with kohl and shadow to make them more alluring. Her full lips part as she sighs, reaching for him to kiss her, which he does. She tastes of strawberry candy (from that night!) and her natural scent is feminine, of sea-shore and flowers and milk and honey. Her long, silky hair is perfumed. She moves his hand to her erect breast, and keens when he handles it, causing her nipple to harden. He kisses her long, ivory throat, feeling the pulse of her heart. Her skin is soft and smooth and warm, her cheeks blushed.

"Come inside me," she whimpers, running her hands down his back. He kisses her breasts and positions himself. Then, slowly, agonizingly, he enters her weeping opening, as she flutters her eyes closed and cries out in bliss. "Yes! Please."

"I love you," he whispers, gazing down at his maiden, the love of his life, as the tip of his member touches her cervix - the model of the beatific vision, for the eye of the penis must see the eye of the cervix in order to create new life. He buries his face in her neck. Then, with steady ease, aware of her every reaction, he begins moving his hips. He moves himself inside of her, little by little. Then, he rocks his hips a little more, allowing his member to slide out and back in with more force. She smiles up at him as she gasps, nodding that she's happy and feeling pleasure. He smiles back, the emotion in him raging. He buries deeper into her, whispering nonsense endearments in Spanish to her, and she responds in Japanese, kissing his cheeks, his jaw, his neck, crying out her ecstasy, "harder! Miguel! Ah, Miguel. Migue. MIGUEL!"

"Miguel," Hiro says, elbowing his partner off his shoulder.

Miguel startles awake.

They're on their flight. Miguel gasps, running a hand through his hair, looking to Hiro.

"I know what you were dreaming," Hiro murmurs, his eyes - her eyes - tender but a little sad. "It's part of our bound-magic."

Miguel wipes away stubborn tears. 

"I know," Hiro says sympathetically. "She's so real sometimes."

"She is real," Miguel insists, pressing on his crotch to calm himself, and opening the elegant shade - they're in first-class, no doubt - to see out to the sunset. The orange light pours in and illuminates their faces. "She just happens to be wearing your face, but she is Guanyin, Guadalupe, Shakti, Shekinah. The Church, my Bride." Miguel swallows and averts his eyes, dark lashes like butterflies against his cheeks. "Don't you know?"

"I do, very well," Hiro replies. "But I don't dare stare at her too long, nor make love to her too often in dreams, for then I desire to become her." He leans over Miguel and also looks out to the red sun melting down into the indigo cloud-cover, as they're a dozen kilometers above the ground. "That stare of envy at her, and wanting to be her, was my Cross when you knew me as a teenager. Think of all the boys and men who do the same, and sacrifice their members."

Hiro and Miguel exchange a subtle glance.

"And to those infants who have no choice but have their members cut," breathes Miguel, eyes now dark.

Hiro nods, his own eyes illuminated by the sunlight, making them golden, defining his straight brows. He gestures toward Miguel's touch-screen. "Practice your Arabic, habibi."

 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" He asked, "Who are you, Lord?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do." The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.

Acts. 9:1-8 RSVCE

to be continued...

Chapter Text

A man in a long white robe and a taqiyah points to the small octagonal table Miguel and Hiro were instructed to wait at, in the cool corner of the crowded tea-house, by a small ceramic-tiled fountain painted with calligraphy. He says something to the owner. He gestures to Hiro and Miguel to wait, while two women appear at his side with a hookah basin and three pipes. They make their way to the table and the man sits upon one of the small plush stools. The women place the basin down, and connect the pipes.

"Three pots of tea," says the man in Arabic to one of the women, and they leave.

"Salaam. Which one is the Roman Catholic priest?" he says in English. Miguel isn't wearing any indication of being a priest, except a ring on his left hand, which could be mistaken for wedding band, but this man is sharp. "You;" the man points with his hookah mouthpiece to him. "And you're the scientist;" he points to Hiro.

Hiro and Miguel nod.

"Both mafia-criminals, though, I’ve been told." The man says it with such honesty as he inhales deeply from the pot, it causes both Hiro and Miguel to shift their eyes and look toward the window at the opposite wall. The air inside the tea-house is thick with smoke and incense, but the narrow street outside is bustling with sellers and police, and flute music streams through the chatter. Endless alcoves of handicrafts, lamps, rugs, clothing, and dozens of other tea-shops line the street in the borough of Bab Touma, by one of the Seven Gates of Damascus. This is the predominantly Christian area of the city, and particularly dangerous. The man they're meeting is a Christian, a priest of the Syriac Orthodox Church and a resident at the Cathedral of St. George nearby.

"Go on, go on, smoke the arghilah; you think you can beat the system," continues the man, smirking. "Haven't you read the Roman Virgil's Aeneid? 'The descent to Hell is easy.' Or, Bernard of Clairvaux." He gestures to Miguel; "you would know."

"St. Bernard famously wrote, 'L'enfer est plein de bonnes volontés ou désirs,'" Miguel says in a low, slightly perturbed voice, picking up his mouthpiece. "Better known as, 'the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.'"

One of the women returns with three small silver kettles of mint tea, with tiny gold-filigree glasses.

"Your Bernard got it from Virgil, who helped Dante Alighieri down Purgatory into the Inferno, eh? I can tell somehow that you know all about this, Father." He extends his hand. "Forgive my brusque manners. I'm always criticized for them. I am Fr. Khaled Hosain."

"Miguel Ángel Rivera."

"Hiro Hamada."

"The pleasure is mine." Fr. Khaled serves his tea in his little glass, and looks expectantly at the other two men, who follow suit. "Alḥamdulillāh." Thanks be to God. They all drink. "Fr. Rivera and Mr. Hamada, you're in the old part of a very old city, and I've been instructed to protect you for some days while you meet a few others, and to grant you access to some documents. I wouldn't do this for just anybody, but the truth is I don't want to know much about you. The less I know, the better protected we are. I just need to know how much knowledge you possess." Fr. Khaled asks Miguel, "how much does Mr. Hamada know of Mani and Nestorius?"

"Why don't you ask him yourself, Father?" Miguel takes a sip of tea, smiling without bitterness.

"Heh, heh, you've caught on to my prejudice against know-it-all atheists." Fr. Khaled turns to Hiro and says, exhaling smoke, "you're wearing a crucifix, Mr. Hamada; I was told you were both Roman Catholic. That would make you Kakure Kirishitan, in the yakuza! I can imagine you know the whole history of the Eastern schism. One personal question, I swear: what is your Confirmation name?"


"Of course it is. Like St. Paulo Miki. And do you know the city of Zayton?"

"I do, and we call it Shanju," says Hiro, evenly, placing his filigree tea-glass down. He sighs, and Miguel knows how humiliated he must feel. Hiro recites, "The Manichaean controversy begins in the late third century. The religion of Zarathustra - Zoroastrianism - was flourishing in the Persian Empire, what's now Iran. Upon the beginning of the Sassanian kingships, these Zoroastrian kings turned against the Assyrian prophet Mani who taught a dualist Christianity, but who'd found favor in the Persian court. Bahram I crucified him, in the late third century. Under Bahram II, Rome under Emperor Carus seized the Sassanian capital, Ctesiphon, near Baghdad. A few generations of these Zoroastrian Sassanian kings passed while Rome still held its grip, and during the early years of Sapor II, Christianity received its formal recognition from Constantine, under the 313 Edict of Milan. The identification of Christianity with Rome only fueled Sassanian Zoroastrian hatred for what it believed to be Christianity. Manichaeaism had spread widely in the Persian dominions, especially in North Africa, and every so-called Christian was suspected of disaffection towards the Persian king and secret attachment to the Roman Empire. After all, Persian Christians employed the Syriac language in their worship and Constantine himself had written to Sapor asking for their protection. When Constantine died, and the Sassanian Magi ascended over any Persian king, their persecution of the Manichaeans ensued. It was just as brutal as that of Diocletian’s, except that the Manichaeans tended to seek out martyrdom like suicide, rather than the Greek and Roman Christians who'd been given the Pauline legacy and accepted martyrdom with dignity. The Manichaeans headed West into Spain and France, were even less successful, and then headed East, to China, where the religion took deep root with Buddhism. They even tried to associate the lure of the darkness into Light - "qaryā" - with our Bodhisattva of Compassion, Guanyin."

Hiro blows out a thick, silky cloud of smoke from the hookah, and shares an intimate look with Miguel.

"Now, nearly fifteen-hundred years later, the Empire of the inheritors of Manichaeans, children of the dualist English Puritans and equally of the French Enlightened ones - the United States - take revenge on the same Empire of the Zoroastrians, traitors to Islam: Iran. And Christians all throughout the world, whether Sudanese or Syrian, Iraqi or Egyptian, North Korean or Palestinian, Saudi or Ethiopian, Nigerian or Afghan, Pakistani or Vietnamese, still remain persecuted and martyred. In Syria, however, the issue was with Nestorius, who in the fifth century in the Antioch school confused the Christological communication of the idioms, "splitting" the person of Christ into two - human and divine - and eventually forming what's known as the ideology Miaphysitism. Because of its similarity to Mani’s teachings, though they couldn’t be more different, Nestorius' teachings were deemed heretical at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 and he and his followers moved into Assyria. Now, as we all know, it was an Assyrian Nestorian monk who prophecied to the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, that he would receive the ultimate truth from God. This took place here in this very land, about a century after Chalcedon. And we still don't know whether Nestorius is responsible for the formation of Islam, or if he was even a Nestorian. The monk certainly was.”

Hiro lowers his voice to a dangerous murmur. “Now, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant refuses to give up its Syrian territory no matter what the government, Russia or the United States bomb innocent people with, believing itself to be the true inheritors of Islam and the redeemers of the once-great system of the Caliphate, unlike the Zoroastrians, and in defiance of Islam’s greatest enemy the Zionists who are in league with the modern-day Manichaeans to capture Jerusalem.”

”The custodians of which, from the part of the Latin Rite, are the Franciscans,” comments Miguel to Fr. Khaled, exhaling smoke.

”And Shanju?” asks Fr. Khaled.

"The Chinese epicenter of the worship of Mani?" replies Hiro, pouring more tea for himself. "It's a friend of Taiwan, a friend of Meiji Japan, a friend of the United States." He meditatively stirs some sugar in. "Manichaean. Though when put to the test Japan allied itself with the evils of Zarathustra, Nietzsche, the Nazis, and paid the price, ironically in the same area as that of my patron Paulo Miki's crucifixion, Nagasaki;" Hiro scowls, eyes still on his glass; "during the Second World War."

Fr. Khaled nods, impressed.

to be continued...

The Caliph, by Al-Jazeera:

Chapter Text

"You should know by now that the Japanese government wants me," says Hiro softly, gazing out their hotel window.

Miguel nods, reading a plastic-bound document. He sighs and merely says, "you know, they say Arabic ice-cream is better than gelato."

Hiro chuckles. The afternoon sun is turning golden. Miguel had just having finished singing None prayers, and is reading through a binder of manuscripts in Syriac, translated roughly into Arabic and English.

"Go to the House of St. Ananias," Hiro insists. "Or St. Paul's Chapel, or both."

"Not without you."

"How romantic," comments Hiro. "I think."

"Yeah, that's how I meant it," Miguel says, laughing into his fist. "Romantic."

"Fuck you."

"Jamás me lo has hecho, corazón!" Miguel exclaims, grinning impishly with that gap in his teeth by the cuspid. He puts his finger on one page of the document. Nestorius writing on Psalm 110. "Come. I need you to read this."

Hiro comes over and reads the page carefully. Then he writes some notes in a booklet he carries and takes a picture of the page.

"This Khaled doesn't trust me," Hiro remarks, uploading the picture onto his laptop. "He trusts you, though."

"People like him are purposefully idiosyncratic, Hiro, you know that." Miguel leans down off the bed and shuffles through his suitcase. He pulls out his Beretta. "I don't know if I trust him. Keep yours by you."

"I have it." Hiro gestures to one of the pillows. He leans over and pulls it out. "C'mon, let's see the Chapel, at least. Then maybe on the way there or back we'll see that woman-server who kept coming over to listen to us."

They walk close together, somberly, along the Via Recta of Old Damascus from Bab Touma to Bab Sharqi- one of the most endangered ancient areas in the world, for its neglect. The sun is still strong, and there are still white people who visit this city despite it being the capital of the country with the most dangerous civil war in centuries. There they are with their fanny-packs and sun-tan lotion. 

"Syria and Colombia have the highest number of internally-displaced persons," comments Miguel evenly, looking up through the sun glittering through the almond trees. "Close to 8 million, each."

"Tourism is good for the city, then," says Hiro, gently.

Once they visit both the the Chapel of St. Paul and then the House of St. Ananias, Miguel stops a moment to gaze at a boy - on the cusp of manhood, maybe twelve or thirteen years old - sitting against the wall of the House. He's playing the guitar, and all of a sudden he begins to sing a melody in Arabic. He has a tin-can before him, where one can place money. A dog - a hairy mutt - sits by his side.

Hiro sees him too, and his eyes turn softly to Miguel, who stares as though hypnotized, frozen.

"Will you help me talk to him, and translate?" Miguel murmurs to Hiro. Hiro nods.

"Salaam," Hiro says to the boy, and sits down next to him casually. He says in Arabic, "my friend wants to hear a particular song. He hasn't heard it in a while, he says, and he thinks you can play it really well. Do you take requests?"

"What's the song?" asks the boy, eyes bright with curiosity at this Far-Eastern Asian man speaking Arabic so well.

"It's in Spanish - do you know any Spanish?"

"Hola, como estás! Gracias!" exclaims the boy, and he glances over to Miguel, who smiles tenderly and nods.

Hiro quips, "Any more?"

The boy shrugs, frowning.

"Ah, well, he's a musician, so why don't you let him sit next to you and teach you?" Hiro slips a few bills in the tin. "Here's two-thousand pounds."

"Shukran! I'll learn."

Hiro rises and sits on the other side of the boy while Miguel inches a bit closer.

"Can you ask him what his dog's name is?" Miguel asks Hiro.

Before Hiro can translate, the boy says, in English, "I know little English! Dog is my. My dog is Khalil!"


The boy nods and says to Khalil in Arabic, "be nice, boy!" Khalil wags his tail and licks at Miguel's hand.

"He friends you. OK, what play me? Español?"

"Así," says Miguel, and hums and trills a melody for the guitar. The boy catches on quickly, adding his own melismatic Damascan twist which Hiro and Miguel both smile affectionately at.

"OK. Hiro, tell him to keep that, to accompany my vocals. Tell him..." Miguel looks off, listening to the boy play on his heart-strings, looks off into the old streets of the capital of a land that's been razed, raped, destroyed, desecrated, left for dead. "Tell him it's the song I'd sing after the love of my life left me, and when I thought I'd never see that love again."

Hiro translates, his heart in his throat. The boy nods and remarks back, "I don't know anything about love, but one day I want to marry my neighbor. She's the most beautiful girl I have ever seen, and I've seen many girls."

"Ya no estás más a mi lado, corazón - en el alma sólo tengo soledad," sings Miguel in his rich voice, making strangers stop and listen.

The boy looks to Miguel, excitedly. "I know this!" he exclaims. "I know this in Arabic!"

Miguel nods, having known there was a Lebanese Arabic version. The boy then eases comfortably into the accompaniment.

"Y si ya no puedo verte," continues Miguel, laden with emotion, "por qué Dios me hizo quererte? Para hacerme sufrir más?"

No longer by my side, my love, my life - in my soul, only solitude, and strife. And if we never meet again, what did God make me for, then? I have no gratitude.

"Siempre fuiste la razón de mi existir," sings Miguel, closing his eyes as more people gather and as the boy strums hauntingly. "Adorarte para mi fue religión - en tus besos yo encontraba el calor que me brindaba el amor y la pasión."

You were the reason for my pulse, eternal. Your love, my glory divine; on your lips, in your breath, I felt my life and death, my very heart I knew I'd find.

The coins tinkle in the boy's tin can. Miguel's head is against the wall, and turns and looks over the boy who's hunched over his guitar, to his other side, where Hiro looks back, pain and love in his eyes.

"Es la historia de un amor, como no hay otro igual, que me hizo comprender todo el bien, todo el mal - que le dio luz a mi vida, apagándola después." Miguel can taste his own tears as he confesses to Hiro. "Ay, qué noche tan obscura; sin tu amor no viviré."

It's a tale of love, unlike any other, that brought me to a bond closer than my father, than my mother - with good and evil, light and dark, it pierced me through. And my light in the dark night is knowing I could never live away from you.

"Canta, chamaco," tells Miguel to the boy, gesturing to him, wiping his tears. "Sing in Arabic, adelante!"

The boy nods, and strums and sings in Arabic, like an angel in the sunlight. Like Miguel in the square of Santa Cecilia. By the time he's done, the two mysterious men - one Eastern Asian and the other some kind of Latin-American - are gone, and he's left merely with a crowd applauding him, a great deal more money than he's used to, and a deep-red rose that's been tucked behind his ear without him having realized.

When Hiro and Miguel open the door to their hotel room, arms around each others' waists, they find one of the women who'd served them tea and hookah the day before, pointing a Glock at them and holding a cyanide pill between her teeth that's hanging from a chain around her chest.

"Damn it," Hiro huffs, "I just wanted to finish this and kiss." He stuffs the rest of his ice-cream cone in his mouth, wincing at the burst of cold.

Within a minute, they have her sitting in and handcuffed to the desk-chair, mouth duct-taped, cyanide pill torn away, and Glock resting on the bed.

to be continued...

Historia de un Amor - written by Carlos Eleta Almarán, covered often but first appearing in the 1956 Mexican film of the same name; English translation by me
Arabic version انتي والرقص وانا محمد جمال by Mohammed Jamal (1980)

Chapter Text

"You should know that whoever you think you're doing this for, cares nothing for you," remarks Hiro in Arabic. "That much is obvious. I'm sorry we can't take the tape off, unless you'd like us to call in our people and make this more complicated for you. We wanted to be private here, so there's no surveillance. Otherwise they'd have come and taken you away the moment you came in. I'd think you don't want that, fatah."

The young woman's eyes blaze hatred at Hiro.

"Fine," Hiro continues. "But, we can see you're doing this on your own - all the signs are here of you having snuck in by yourself and picked the lock. We saw you coming since yesterday, you're not good at this. So you have nothing to lose. We're not going to hurt you."

The woman gestures her head toward Miguel.

"Take the tape off and see what she says," says Miguel softly to Hiro, in Spanish.

Hiro gently removes half the tape, just enough so that the woman can spit curses in Arabic at Miguel, with an expression of revulsion: "Half-breed! Plague-ridden mongrel, no better than a dog! A curse upon all your filthy people, inhabiting this earth and causing chaos among the races, and curse your heathen, cannibal religion - infidel! Priest of Satan! He inhabits all of you, which is why you live like animals! There is no god but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God."

Hiro slides the tape back over her mouth and gently runs the tip of his Beretta - with a silencer on it - along her jawline. He whispers, "you like provoking men? It turn you on?

"Hiro," breathes Miguel, and continues in Spanish: "She's mentally ill."

"She's used to this, it would seem," Hiro replies, also in Spanish.

"Still doesn't make it right," says Miguel. "Just scare her more, if you can, and we can get more information."

"No threats, right?" Hiro asks.

"No threats," agrees Miguel.

Hiro kneels down so he can whisper in the girl's ear, in Arabic. "That man you call a mongrel has Iberian blood; the Iberians were traders and kept peace when they could, unlike your suicidal conquering race. Their Christian Kingdoms rightfully won their land back from your original Umayyad conquest of Iberia, to drive out what was left of Caliphate of Córdoba in al-Andalus, Boabdil of Granada surrendering like a coward to the Catholic Monarchs. That means your blood and the blood of the Saracens and the Berbers, runs through him too. Maybe it's that part of his mixture which brings out any violence in his people; could you imagine? The blood of the chosen people of Israel runs through him too — the Sephardim, who inherited the secrets of the Cabbala. And most importantly, that of the Aztec and Maya, who were also peaceful and brilliant, who built magnificent temples that coordinate with the stars and whose land both flourishes like Eden in some parts and burns with the desert in others. His language is like a song, derived from the language of the Romans and has Arabic in it, ignorant woman. You;" Hiro points his gun at the girl's heart; "should apologize to him in his language, and acknowledge his powerful lineage, have compassion on his people who just like yours are fighting for their freedom and independence from evil world powers, and pay him respect for being a priest of a religion of love and forgiveness - a God who sacrifices Himself rather than demands that women be property and be stoned to death should they break His commandments. Do that now. I will help you."

She bursts into tears. Hiro and Miguel exchange relieved glances. This girl is harmless.

Hiro tells her, "Say, 'Padre, perdóname por haberte faltado respeto.'"

Hiro pulls back the tape and repeats, "Padre, perdóname por haberte faltado respeto."

The girl struggles, expression now frightened and vulnerable.

"With an Andalusian accent, it's easier," says Miguel, turning to her. "Pah're, pehr'dónameh por averte faltao el rehth'pehto."

"Pah're, pehr'dónameh por averte faltao el rehth'pehto," says the girl.

"Bien." Miguel nods. "Perdonada. Now what motivated you?"

The girl is silent.

"What else but amor, amor, amor?" says Hiro. He asks the girl in Arabic, "what's his name, your Arabian raj who will fly you to the ecstasies of Eden, for a thousand and one nights?"

The girl seems concerned at how quickly these men got to the root of her pain. She decides to tell the truth, "Sharif."

"Sharif!" Hiro lifts up his hand. "The great Sharif."

"Is there a photo?" Miguel asks, bringing over his laptop. They have the girl direct them to a profile of a very handsome man in his twenties, with a beautiful body and very well-dressed, claiming to be requesting admission into ISIL.

"Híjole, what a papi," Miguel says quite honestly in Spanish to Hiro; "I don't blame her." He says to her in English, "You must speak some English to have understood us. Tell us as best you can who you are and why shooting us or committing suicide was your goal."

The girl sighs and says in perfect English, indicating that she's well-educated, "You do not understand Islam. You are Christian. I was Christian. But Christianity is wrong. It is from the Devil, and I cannot convince you. It's too late." She shakes her head. "I saw you were engaged with the Father Khaled in secret activities, I knew you were important spies. If I killed you and fled, it would ensure my and Sharif's place within the Caliphate."

"The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is not a Caliphate," says Miguel. "You're the one who doesn't understand. Are you Syriac Orthodox? You can't think you're Muslim just by declaring shahada and still be living here with your Christian family, waiting to escape with a lover. In that sense, you're still Christian."

The girl becomes even more perturbed.

"And the suicide?" continues Miguel. "Did you think we would rape you? If you were paying attention, you'd know we're double-agents for mafias, working for peace in our respective countries. As it is, we don't like the idea of having you handcuffed but you gave us no choice. Who gave you the idea that we'd harm you?"

"Sharif," replies Hiro.

The girl hangs her head. Tears roll down her cheek. She looks about twenty.

"What's your name?" asks Miguel, softly.

The girl swallows. "Fatimah."

"Have you met Sharif in person, Fatimah?" asks Miguel.

Fatimah shakes her head.

"What contact have you had?"

"Phone and text-chat."

"So, don't you know what he feels like standing before you?" Miguel asks, "gazing at you, walking by your side? - As if that's even permitted under sharia law." He laughs at his own mistake. "Do you know if you become his bride, you'll be hidden away and all those promises he's made will only exist in your mind? You haven't even seen him in the flesh, not seen him look at you with love, not heard his voice as he responds to your smile, not read his body-language. You just have words on a screen and a voice. What has he even said to you? Where does he live?"

"Somewhere in the north of the city," replies Fatimah, getting frightened and uncomfortable now. This seemed much more exciting in its certainty, an hour ago.

"Don't you know where he lives?" says Miguel. "Does he know where you live?"

Fatimah shakes her head. "He knows many things. He's not like any man I know. He's so different. He wouldn't break his promises! And I'm happy to be protected if it means staying home and raising children. He says we're soul-mates: the way he describes our love, I know it's true. You wouldn't understand. You're both criminals! You're Western Christians. What do you know about love and soulmates, and living and dying for each other? What do you know of the mechanisms of this world? We're going to purify the world, under true love that is known only through the genius and mercy of Allah's will to return all to His true worship. Christianity and the West have soiled everything. And I say: down with the United States of Depravity, down with Europe and its debased society run by homosexuals and whores. Glory to God who saves through the Law!"

Hiro and Miguel burst out laughing, actually holding each other up from falling over in mirth.

"Migue, should we tell her?" Hiro asks in Spanish, his hand over his mouth to try to stop his laughter.

"It'll shatter so much in her head," replies Miguel, still shaking, tongue between his teeth as he chortles.

"A good shattering may do her good." Hiro clears his throat and says to Fatimah in English, "you're a very spoiled and sheltered girl, but we're impressed by your effort. Where did you get the cyanide pill?"

"Sharif had it sent to me through a chain of people, till it got to the tea-shop."

Miguel looks to Hiro and says in Spanish, "and Khaled wouldn't have realized?"

"I know." Hiro nods, but continues talking to Fatimah, asking her, "and the gun? Baba?"

Fatimah nods. Hiro reaches over and examines it. "It's an old model, but a good one. Your Baba wants to protect you, obviously. What's your family like? Do you have siblings?"

"I have an older sister who is married, and two younger brothers."

"What is your brother-in-law like?"

Fatimah doesn't respond.

"She may not know what the word means," says Miguel to Hiro, "but ask in Arabic if she knows where her clitoris is."

Hiro bursts into laughter again. "Why!?"

"It's important. Trust me."

Hiro asks her. Fatimah recoils and looks to Miguel and back at Hiro.

"Could you imagine Sharif dedicating himself to finding this holy part of you, and treating it as though he were treating his own soul?" asks Miguel. "Can you imagine him linking himself to you in such a way? You speak of God's Law. God made such a thing, and it's against His law to mutilate it in any form. But, its purpose is pleasure. To make you happy, and shudder with the power of life."

Miguel's words are hypnotizing Fatimah. Hiro smiles, knowing where Miguel is going with this.

"Warriors are not savages," Miguel continues. "A warrior slays evil cleanly, in defense, with sadness, gazing upon the toil of justice given to mankind because of Adam and Eve. A warrior also gazes with sadness at the toil of love-making, in order to create new life. It's painful, which is why he must find that holy part in his wife and bestow as much soothing balm and pleasure on her. And when they become parents, they must both sacrifice so much." Miguel leans forward - almost seductively, Hiro swears - toward Fatimah. "Could you see that in Sharif, Fatimah, or do you see more of a savage?" He then says in Arabic, the few phrases he knows for clerical purposes, "tell the truth."

He leans forward even more, so that their lips are almost touching.

"How do you know to do this?" asks Fatimah quietly, shifting in equal shame and arousal. "How can you see into me?"

"I love Maryam," confesses Miguel, eyes dewy and downcast. "I see her everywhere, and she is always teaching me things. You..." He looks up into her eyes and strokes the same side of her jaw Hiro had caressed her with. "Your name is the name of one of her manifestations. Our Lady appeared in Fátima, Portugal, in 1917 to three little ones, bestowing secrets. Your name is powerful."

"It was the name of Muhammad's daughter before the name of the area in Portugal," says Fatimah softly.

"Nothing is a coincidence," Miguel says. "Everything is destined in its own mysterious way - hitsuzen, in Japanese, no?" He turns to Hiro, who marvels at him. Miguel winks. He turns back to Fatimah and asks in a husky whisper, eyes downcast, "do you know where it is?"

Fatimah can't help breathe Miguel in, for Miguel is a master of emitting irresistible sexuality and just the right amount, under any given circumstances, and to anyone.

She nods. Miguel pulls away, then, and very gently touches his palms to Fatimah's knees. Her thighs open as if by magic. "Don't be afraid," Miguel assures, gently gesturing to Hiro that he come kneel beside him. "This is to show you that my partner and I do know of those things you said we don't."

Miguel turns with intimacy to Hiro, who laughs softly. "And you called me the Devil," Hiro says, bumping noses with Miguel. "Is it time to shatter her?"

They kiss, tenderly and affectionately at first so as to ease the shock for Fatimah. Then the kiss grows steadily more erotic, to being open-mouthed, while remaining slow, and languid. They can see the girl's expression of fear and arousal, of wonder and fascination, and most importantly a hint of envy. Miguel gently takes Hiro's face in his hands and deepens the kiss. Hiro wraps one arm around Miguel's waist, and buries his other hand in Miguel's hair. "This is a good kiss," Hiro confesses breathily, when Miguel breaks away momentarily to kiss his cheek, his jaw, the side of his mouth, and then his lips again. Then they forget about Fatimah for a glorious moment until the point where they both feel they have to pull away. They soften up the kiss, smiling into it, even blushing slightly, until finally closing it with a few brushes against each other's lips. Then they shift apart.

"You're the one who knows nothing," Hiro tells Fatimah, voice still deepened with leftover arousal, eyes gentle and hazy but filled with something Fatimah has never seen before.

Without her realizing, Miguel has unlocked her cuffs and brought around her arms, rubbing her wrists and encouraging her to do so to herself. She reaches up and touches Miguel's face, and he looks up into her yearning eyes with surprise. He looks to Hiro, who smirks and nods, rolling his eyes.

"You're going to go home, Fatimah," Miguel breathes, leaning in toward her, "and put your father's gun away. You're going to stop talking to Sharif. And you're going to look for a man - Christian, Muslim, Jew, anything - who loves God and womankind." He bumps noses with her, his fingers on her delicate cheek. "Let this kiss be your reminder, always." He captures her virgin's lips with his, and bestows on her the kiss of her life.

Hiro commits the grave error of looking away momentarily when he sees Fatimah undo her jeans and reach into her underwear, while Miguel remains blissfully kissing her; for in that moment, Fatimah pulls out another chain with a cyanide pill attached, and as soon as her romantic kiss with Miguel is finished, she breathes a thank you from the heart, weeping, and slips it in her mouth.

Hiro looks back at hearing the thank you and sees the pill in her mouth, chain hanging. "MIGUEL!" he shouts to which Miguel opens his eyes and sees Fatimah bite the pill hard and swallow.

"NO! Hiro!" Miguel squeezes Fatimah's wet cheeks and tries prying her mouth open but it's too late. The girl goes limp in Miguel's arms, while Miguel trembles and makes the sign of the Cross on her forehead, giving her the last rites and praying that God have mercy on her soul.

to be continued...

Chapter Text

Hiro kisses his crucifix and breaks it open, while Miguel breaks open the cross on his wooden Rosary. Together, they bless each other with the petals - marigold and cherry-blossom - and touch Fatimah's body. Suddenly, they're in the realm of spirits, able to cross to the Land of the Dead, and see Fatimah's soul sitting on the bed weeping.

"Why, Fatimah?" Miguel cries, and Fatimah's soul looks up.

"You're not supposed to be here," she says, and in a way it's true.

Miguel shakes his head. "Never mind. Why did you do it?"

"Because I couldn't bear to have married Sharif after kissing you," she admits. "I couldn't bear to live after kissing you; your kiss was Heaven in Hell and I preferred to leave this place and protect my honor."

Hiro and Miguel look at each other and back at Fatimah's soul. Miguel sits down, shocked, staring at her. He shakes his head in disbelief.

"Why didn't you believe me?" Fatimah says, with such sorrow. "I loved Sharif."

"That wasn't love," insists Miguel.

"Like I said: what would you know!?" Fatimah yells. "How dare you! How dare you kiss him!" She points to Hiro. "How dare you speak to me of a man truly loving a woman when you're a sodomite! A sodomite priest, even the most depraved Christian knows that's wrong."

"I'm not a sodomite." But Miguel's eyes are tearing up, for Fatimah's words are piercing his heart.

"He's not a sodomite," confirms Hiro in a somber tone. "And if he ever was, it was because of me. I seduced him when we were teenagers. You have no idea, fatah. I will live with the regret my whole life. I am the sodomite. But, please, Fatimah, forgive us. We're trying to pay for our sins. We're lost."

Fatimah nods.

"Does Sharif love you?" Miguel asks, voice broken.

"He says he does," replies Fatimah. She closes her eyes. "It was a nice dream."

"We'll find a way to protect him, then," promises Miguel, "so he won't be blamed for your death."

"Thank you." Fatimah opens her sad eyes. "Please don't blame yourselves. It was my choice. Thank you for the beautiful kiss, and for praying for my soul. Pray for my family, that they find peace once they discover I'm gone. Especially my Baba, he will not understand. You'll have to leave the city quickly."

"Who is your Baba?" Hiro asks breathlessly, expression pained by what he senses he already knows.

"Khaled Hosain, the man helping you."

Miguel grips Hiro, who tries to stay as even-tempered as possible.

"We'll pray," promises Hiro. "Do you want us to tell him what happened?"

"The surveillance will show," Fatimah said. "I installed it. So, I tell you now: flee. I don't know what method you're using to come to this realm, but stay in it and go far away. Don't look back. Don't blame yourself for my death: the sun did dance in this Fatimah you met, but she must retreat into darkness now. Salaam. Allahu Akbar."

And with that, she disappears.

"Hell?" Hiro asks, looking at Miguel.

Miguel shakes his head, looking as lost as a little boy. "I don't know, amigo."

"She's right, we have to leave," Hiro insists, tugging at Miguel, knowing his beloved has gone into a stupor of remorse, of darkness. He's been there, he knows. They have to move. "C'mon." He pulls him up by the arm. "C'mon, Miguel Ángel, hazlo por la Virgen. No fue tu culpa - it wasn't your fault, believe Fatimah."

"We needed more documents; we needed to work more;" Miguel drops his head in his hands.

"If Fatimah's telling the truth, then all this will have been caught on tape," Hiro says, looking around. "Help me find the cameras; they're probably easy."

Sure enough, they find the surveillance equipment easily and plan to remove it once they become substantial.

Hiro handles the original Syriac manuscripts, beneath the plastic. They're solid beneath his fingers, which means they transcend realms. "Help me take them all," he orders Miguel and they slip every original document out, equaling to about one hundred. "Don't think about thievery right now, just trust in our mission."

Once they've gathered their documents, Miguel realizes that the marigold and cherry-blossom petals are scattered on the ground, and grey. "They've lost their magic," he breathes. "Probably because they were dried - they only had one turn left in them." He looks up at his companion. "Hiro, we can't get back to the living world, unless we touch living petals."

"The roses?" Hiro asks. "Or, jasmine?"

"Both, but jasmine is probably more powerful, since Damascus is the City of Jasmine." Miguel looks around. They must become substantial again before they can pack everything and flee. "And the flowers aren't enough, because even when we return to being substantial we'll have to disappear again. And to disappear we need a relic. We can't use Fatimah again. The ashes of the head of St. John the Baptist are said to be at the Umayyad Mosque."

"Do you actually believe that legend?" Hiro says, then repents and says, "never mind. At this point, anata, I've seen too many strange things not to believe in all of this." He sighs. "All right, we get flowers and then come back here and become substantial, pack up, escape, place our things in a place someone trustworthy can eventually get them and bring to us, then head to the Mosque and then God knows where but we'll be invisible."

Hiro and Miguel pick up their crosses and transcend the door, running down the steps of the hotel and out into the cool night of Damascus, date palms swaying in the desert breeze.

"The most beautiful roses were by the House of Ananias, where I placed one behind the ear of that kid," says Miguel. "I'm surprised there even were any left, because of the summer heat. And jasmine? Jasmine will have dried up."

"Let's just try," Hiro insists.

They run again along the Via Recta, from Bab Touma to Bab Sharqi, past tourists and traders, past tea-shops and cafés, through narrow alleys, where the walls are thousands of years old, till they reach the House again.

The twelve-year-old boy playing the guitar is there, the shadows of the street-lamps playing on his silhouette. He's sitting with his dog Khalil. He looks up at them, and greets, "Hola, cómo están?"

"Who are you?" asks Hiro in Arabic, shocked the boy can see them.

"Don't you know?" the boy asks, eyes twinkling with mirth. He strums a few strings. "I've been waiting for you! Either way, inside the House," he points to the entrance, "on the altar, you'll find a whole bunch of fresh roses, and I even found some jasmine for you that haven't dried yet. Go on, get them and then back to the hotel, quickly! Then return here with your things. Like you said, someone trustworthy will come and take care of them while you hide, and send them to you as you leave the city and enter Jaffa. You'll be protected this whole time. Do as I say."

Hiro looks to Miguel in shock, pallid. Miguel looks back and says, "didn't you understand him? It was Spanish! He said -"

"Spanish?" Hiro exclaims. "I heard Japanese!"

They both turn back to the boy to see he's gone, while the dog remains. Holding on to each other, they slowly make their way to the entrance, transcend the door, and sure enough find two large bouquets placed on the altar: one of deep-red roses and one of fragrant and living jasmine.

"Don't ask questions, just go with it!" Miguel calls as they bolt, each holding a bouquet, back to the hotel. 

"My serpentine-scientist brain has spun itself void by now," replies Hiro. "I hope you know."

Once they're back in the room, they bless each other with the flowers. They come back to their substantial selves in a flash, and find themselves exhausted from the running and emotion. Fatimah's corpse still lays on the bed beneath a blanket.

They pack everything, including all the surveillance, quickly, and leave out the fire-escape. Then they truly stay among the shadows as they walk back to the House of Ananias.

They halt before a young Roman Catholic priest, who waits for them, dressed in a Franciscan robe. The priest puts up a hand, signifying to wait, then draws an arc in the dirt with a walking-stick he holds. He looks up to Miguel, expectantly. Praying, Miguel leans down and, with his fingers, draws his own arc to complete the ICHTHYS symbol. The priest comes close and kisses Miguel's lips, and says, in Spanish, "peace be with you, brother." Then he draws a cross-shape in the dirt before Hiro. Hiro releases a deep, heavy sigh, leans down and with his fingers and draws one more cross, with its point crossing upon the original's point, and then a circle around it. Next to this eight-spoked wheel he writes the Greek letters which are superimposed upon the wheel: Ι Χ Θ Υ Σ

Hiro's was the harder code, undoubtedly. The priest smiles, touched, and leans over and kisses Hiro, and says in Japanese, "peace be with you, brother."

He takes their suitcases, leaving them only with their flowers. No cell-phones, no money, no weapons, nothing but the clothes on their backs and flowers, so as to head to the Umayyad Mosque, to touch the sacred relic of St. John the Baptist, and become invisible.

Because you have made the LORD your refuge, the Most High your habitation, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. For he will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

Ps. 91:9-13 RSVCE

to be continued...

Chapter Text

2 Nov. 2012, 3:33

Miguel gets up, head still spinning with tequila. His bladder is about to burst. He moans, and the thin body next to him shifts slightly away from him.

"So private and delicate, eh?" Miguel mocks in Spanish at the sleeping Hiro, lip curled, heart sour. "I'm the one with your shit on my dick. Hijue'puta vida mía."

He heaves his naked bag of bones out of bed and has enough sense to put Hiro's pajama pants on. Then he stumbles around his room until he finds the door, and stumbles through the hallway to the bathroom. He empties himself and moans gratefully. He doesn't flush, because it'll wake everyone. Then he meanders into the kitchen and drinks three whole glasses of water, which he knows he'll regret later when he has to piss again. Tomorrow is another full day of school and work. He sits at the kitchen table with the dim light hanging overhead, wondering. Wondering how no one is punishing him. Wondering why Hiro is with him. Wondering what the fuck he's doing in the United States, going to high school with a pack of malcriados and working at a bar as a busboy.

Normally he would leave drinking till Fridays and Saturdays but yesterday was the first of November: All Saint's Day, which means in the morning, it'll be All Soul's Day.

Día de los Muertos.

"A toast!" Miguel raises a new bottle of Patrón to no one. He uncorks it. "I would move Heaven and Earth for you, mi amigo! Why, you ask? Because we're all in Hell! Hahaha!" He pours alcohol down his throat, letting the agave soothe away the gore and gunpowder. The skinned skulls. The bodies hanging from the trees. The bits of body-parts found: picar para tamal, as learned from the Colombians during their Violencia period in the 1950's. Sure, Enrique and Luisa had covered his and Socorro's eyes as they'd fled, with Abel carrying a bleeding Rosa, and Carmen holding her two little ones. But, Miguel had snuck back the next morning to see the result of all the carnage.

"Remember meeeee; though I have to say gooodbyeeee, remember me! Don't ever fucking cry!" Miguel drawls, voice cracking, and downs that tequila. He drinks enough to plan in his head how he'll wake Hiro up and begin sodomizing again. Hiro is always ready. Last night's fucks had been so good. Hiro likes it when Miguel is emotional, and last night Miguel almost ripped his lover's hair out from pulling it so hard; it had only resulted in Hiro coming harder and talking dirtier. Last night was rough.

"A ver," Miguel breathes. He reaches into the pajama pants and strokes himself, reveling in the feeling. "Sí..." Once he's rock-hard, he corks the Patrón, puts it away and literally falls back into the hallway, holding on to whatever he can grab.

Until he sees Socorro standing in his doorway, looking at him in fear.

"Go t'bed, Coco," Miguel slurs in Spanish, waving his hand toward the room she and Gloria share.

"What are you and Hiro doing?" she asks mildly, and she notices her brother's erection through the thinly-clothed pajama pants.

Miguel laughs wheezily in his drunken haze, and puts his finger to his lips. "You can't know, mijita."

"You can tell me," Socorro says and her innocent trust in him reminds Miguel of his ugliness. He hates her, right then.

He falls to his knees before her and takes her pigtails in his hands. "Linda, mi niña, mi preciosa hermanita;" he kisses her silken cheek, and he whispers in her ear in Spanish; "you know what your brother has in him? The Devil." He pulls back and looks at her deer-in-the-headlights expression. "You know that little angelito in your room, with the halo? Mhm. I have one." He points to the top of his head, "mine is a black snake that spins round and round, and all that spinning creates a tornado in my brain and runs all down by body into my pipí." He grips his erection so violently hard so it'll soften. Keening in pain, he leans forward and talks into the beautiful and terrified face of his five-year-old sister. "And it makes me do things I don't want to, with Hiro. And I don't want you to... know that..." He's weeping at the traumatized face of his sister, who's struggling in his grip - when did he even grip her? Miguel panics and grips tighter, insisting with fury, "don't tell Mami and Papi! Don't tell anyone I said this! Shit." Socorro yanks away and runs right into her parents' room, and Miguel listens but no sound is made. No sound. Just silence. Just him and the Devil.

"Socorro." Miguel sniffs and tastes the tears from his eyes and the mucus from his nose, coming down his face. "Socorro!" He ducks his head, and presses the palms of his hands over his bloodshot eyes, the alcohol creating a white blinding effect.

He sobs and lifts his head up to look at the ceiling through his tears, his hands outstretched, and he whimpers to the silence: "Virgencita del Perpetuo Socorro?"

to be continued...

Chapter Text

17 Sept. 2018

"The girl is very odd, Hamada-san. I would;" the agent Kôsuke tips his head in pity; "be cautious. Ryota-sensei said only you could handle her."

Hiro lets a frown pass over his face, and puts out his cigarette. He rides his Toyota 86 to the prep-school and waits for a very beautiful girl in her school-uniform with a suitcase to stroll up and enter the backseat.

"Hamada Hiro, my name is Akemi Homura," she says in a cold and yet gentle voice, shutting the door cautiously. "It's nice to meet you. Thank you for picking me up."

"It's a pleasure, Akemi-san," Hiro murmurs, looking through the rear-view mirror at the girl. "You can sit in the front if you like."

"That's all right. Thank you."

Hiro drives off, deftly weaving through Tokyo traffic. When he arrives at his apartment in Meguro, he opens the car door for Homura and ushers her out. Once inside his place, he shows her the guest bedroom and makes tea while she unpacks. Hiro senses what his friend had mentioned about her oddity: she has a maturity that far surpasses eighteen. If he didn't know any better, he'd say she was thirty.

As they sit to tea together, they conduct the formal conversation about weather, politics and the like. All the while, they size each other up, Hiro immediately noticing that she's not the least bit interested in sex with him, which is relieving. Likewise, Homura finds it relieving to speak to Hiro, who at this point is twenty-five and very attractive, not finding any sexual interest in her.

"It's impressive to know that while still in school, you've already caught our attention with your projects, and shown interest in us," Hiro comments. "I think I may have been a little like you when I was younger."

"Forgive my rudeness, but I hardly think you were like me." Homura says it in a way that doesn't seem cruel, but self-deprecating.

"You hardly know me," Hiro replies, smiling a little. “How can you be sure?”

Homura sips her tea and contemplates Hiro for a little longer than is appropriate, then nods. "Perhaps I'm mistaken, then. Forgive me."

"If I may ask, what piqued your interest in quantum mechanics?" Hiro asks lightly.

Homura replies with one simple word, said like a prayer, "Madoka." She doesn't look at Hiro when she says it.

Hiro waits for an explanation, and Homura waits for Hiro to ask her for one. Neither makes the first move.

"I was informed that you've had involvement with a particular clan at an earlier time in your life," Hiro says carefully, in an attempt to ease the tension. "I wasn't told details, but I imagine that the experience gave you some insight into some of our operations."

Homura nods, and comments, "yes, I was granted a heart-surgery at fourteen by a low-rank Yamaguchi-gumi who kept me; I had been abandoned by my parents as a child and taken in by this man, who raised me and put me in Catholic school along with his son, but once I became sick he put me in public school. It was around that time he began to molest me, and in my trauma I turned to my friends at school, one in particular, who gave me a reason to live. As for the man, I'm sure you were told I killed him."

Hiro pours Homura more tea, which she accepts.

"I was also deprived of the company of my parents, and at a young age," Hiro says, not reacting at all to Homura's declaration about murder. "They passed away in a car accident. I was raised from boyhood by their good friend, a white woman, in the West Coast of the United States, who took my brother and me in. She worked at a café, called the Lucky Cat. My brother was murdered by an American scientist when he was twenty. In my trauma, I also turned to my friends, and to bot-fighting and creating killer AI healthcare-companions. But, all these still didn't give me the reason to live."

Hiro raises knowing eyes to Homura's, whose expression actually shifts to cautious sympathy. She flutters her lashes and sips her tea, and daringly asks, "what was your reason?"


Homura looks away sadly. After some time, she says, "I still have my reason, by my side, and everything I do is for her." She looks down. "I hope you still continue to find reasons for living, Hamada-san, though I see you live alone."

"Everything I do is for him," replies Hiro in the same way Homura had. He swallows down his pain. "Your offer to help me in my research is well-appreciated, Akemi-san; I also appreciate your honesty and what character you've already shown. I hope you may feel safe living here with me for as much time as needed, and that you not hesitate to ask for what you need. Expect no judgment from me, for anything you've done, or;" Hiro softens his tone; "whoever you've done it for."

Homura bows in gratitude and asks the most intimate question, "Should we pretend to be lovers, subtly, in public?"

"That would be safest, for both of us, yes," admits Hiro. "However;" he clears his throat; "you should know to protect your friends by making sure they have no connection to any of our rivals."

Then begins the friendship between Hiro and Homura, who keep a healthy distance from each other at home, working hard on their research for Ryota-sensei. Hiro knows Homura is in love with her classmate, Madoka.

31 Oct. 2018

A little over a month after Homura moving in, Hiro needs her to help him data-mine a particular problem. It happens to be Halloween. He calls her to ask if she's seen anything like it before, only to hear the sly voice of a young woman. "Ya know, your girlfriend's busy at her friend Sayaka's house eating strawberry-shortcake all the way to the creme center. Heh heh. Bet ya wish you were here, don'tcha, sensei?"

“Kyôko, you-!" There's a shuffle on the other end and then another young woman's voice says, "please forgive my, uh, sister! Sensei. Um. A-are you looking for Akemi-san? She's here! I can get her."

Hiro sighs, remembering youth. "No, that's all right."

"Sensei, please don't believe my sister-"

"I ain't your sister!" yells the original girl, in the background.

"She's not that mentally stable. OW! You-" More shuffling. "OK, just hold on a second, uh-" Sayaka looks at Homura's phone and sees Hamada-san on the caller ID, "Hamada-san." She calls, "Homura! Kyōko, get off of me."

"We're lesbian mahô shôjo, sensei," says Kyōko into the phone. "Just thought I'd let ya know, so you don't get any ideas about Homura marryin' ya or anything." She sounds like she's chewing some kind of bubble-gum. "I ain't ever seen no chick obsess over another bitch like Homura with Madoka. And don't let her deny we're mahô shôjo, 'cept this ain't no Sailor-Moon. We're the real deal! Bet you'd want to see us 'transform' in our Lolita Harajuku looks, but ya can't 'cause we're even more vigilante and more badass than your yakuza gang-"

Hiro hears the sound of a loud thump and the girl called Sayaka laughing hysterically, and then he hears Homura's even tone say, "yes, Hamada-san? Is there something you need?"

Hiro can't help laughing. "No, Akemi-san, that's all right."

"Call her Homura-chan, sensei!" Sayaka calls.

"You may use whatever diminutive you wish, Hamada-san," Homura says to Hiro very seriously. Kyôko quips in the background, "c'mon!" She continues, "ask him to use your name and 'chan,' Homu. He's keepin' ya safe! And don't ever pull my hair again, you-"

"Would you please call me Homura-chan, Hamada-san?" Homura tells Hiro, in the same even tone she uses.

Hiro, Sayaka and Kyôko all laugh at the same time, which only makes Homura's teeth grit more. She'd been a little busy before all this.

"All right, Homura-chan," Hiro says. "There's nothing I need, except for you to have a good time with your friends. I'm sorry I interrupted your slumber-party."

"Ooh, he sounds sexy!" Sayaka says in the background. "Please let us meet him, Homu-chan!"

"Or put him on Face Time," says Kyôko, and all of a sudden Hiro receives a video of a rapscallion-looking, albeit beautiful, girl with long dyed-red hair in a ponytail, blowing kisses at the screen, then giving the middle finger - nails painted with glitter - and blowing a gum-bubble. Another beautiful girl with short dyed-aqua hair grabs the phone from the red-head and hands it to Homura, who's looking neutral but slightly perturbed.

"Please forgive all this, Hamada-san," says Homura. Hiro can see she's only wearing a shirt - no bra - and underwear. Her usually-silky-straight hair looks slightly mussed and knotted, as though fingers had been gripping it.

Sayaka takes the phone. "You can see us, sensei, but we can't see you!" she says to Hiro. "You'd have to turn on your camera;" she bats her mascara-ed lashes; "if you want."

"She's really gonna like guys her whole life, huh, Homu?" Kyôko says to Homura, who says nothing.

"I haven't shaved, so I'm going to have to decline," says Hiro, shaking his head, marveling at the magical lure of teenage girls. "Have fun, girls."

"Aw, but ya gotta meet us one day!" says Kyôko, scratching her armpit. "With or without shaving."

"Yeah, and Madoka and Mami and even;" Sakura winces; "Hitomi. We really are mahô shôjo! It's a long story, but ask Homura about soul-gems."

Homura glares fire at Sayaka, who glares back, smirking. Kyôko wraps her arms around Sayaka from behind and waves at the camera to Hiro, making a peace-sign.

"Sayonara, oyasuminasai!" Hiro calls.

"Oyasuminasai, Hamada-sensei!" the girls chant.

1 Nov. 2018

Homura calls Hiro as he's having breakfast and asks if she can bring over Madoka one of these days, so she can formally introduce her partner. Hiro assents, and suggests they come today. Homura takes a shaky breath and agrees, insisting she and Madoka make Hiro dinner.

In the afternoon, Homura arrives after her classes with a lovely young woman - Madoka Kaname - with white-pink hair pulled up in an elegant bun. Her eyes are soft as she introduces herself to Hiro, and she - like Homura had - peers a little longer than would be considered appropriate, with curious sympathy. They've brought fresh fish, rice, vegetables, and all kinds of spices and sauces, and refuse to let Hiro help them cook.

"Be careful," warns Hiro, grinning sadly, "with so much attention, who knows? You may turn me onto women."

Madoka's eyes twinkle as she laughs in fondness, grateful for Hiro's honesty, and Homura blushes, nodding in a moment of tenderness. They make an excellent supper, and serve a very fine saké. Madoka had spent a few years in California herself, and she and Hiro speak about some distinctly American customs and laugh over some very obvious and embarrassing differences in cultures. Hiro can see how much she and Homura love each other, in their eyes and in their body-language, and his heart swells in a way it hadn't in years.

After dessert, Madoka thanks Hiro for keeping Homura safe, and congratulates them both on their work. She looks questioningly at Homura, who nods, and then she takes a deep breath. "Hamada-san," Madoka begins, "there's something you should know about Homura and me, which you may have already sensed. For, I sense it in you, if I may be so bold as to say. And it seems you should hear the story from me, as I am the submissive of a tightly-knotted soul-pairing, as you are." She smiles slightly deviously, "and, after all;" she giggles; "as above, so below: it's usually the more feminine whom fate favors in the end and are the true dominants."

Hiro smiles back, nodding. He listens carefully.

"We've jokingly called ourselves mahô shôjo - or 'puella magi' for the West - since we were in middle-school and first met, as a way to relate it to the manga genre. But the truth is we and the other girls I've been told you spoke briefly with over the phone - Sayaka and Kyôko, and one other, Mami - did engage in the magical arts and were able to discover very ancient secrets, in particular about energy and entropy, and about cellular memory and artificial intelligence. Homura, who's the genius of the group, found a way to transform our mobile-phones into such advanced AI, that they learned things about ourselves we didn't even want to know. They listened and absorbed and trapped us in an agonizing mind-game for over two years, spiraling us all into severe mental illness. We used to call the devices 'soul-gems' and we made up the theory that there existed some higher-order creatures - a cat type, which as you know is usually linked somehow to the occult - who would want to store our souls in devices so as to eventually drive us to madness and hold up the entire global medical field. We became full dualists, and consumed hallucinogenics so as to amplify the sensation that we were mahô shôjoWe also made up the concept that we would eventually turn into the dark forces we fought, like the ouroboros, or, more dangerously, like Nietzsche's Übermensch." Madoka looks to Homura.

"There's a reason Japan allied with the Nazi's in the War, as you know, Hamada-san," Homura says softly.

Hiro nods. "There's a reason I was funded for STEM research while my soulmate's whole continent has suffered domination, manipulation, and been fed and funded by the white powder they say was the very basis of Hitler's madness. It also, like our continent, has had communism and dictatorship pushed onto several of its countries."

"Which country is Miguel from?" asks Homura.

"Mexico," Hiro replies.

Both girls nod somberly.

"Our country's youth is failing, by death of the soul and subsequently the body," says Homura. "And it begins with the obsession we have with nuclear development and technology. It fits within the Zen frame in a sense - the famous 20th-century Zen master Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki's philosophy was used by the army to justify the invasion and slaughter of the Chinese. But, there's something more ancient in Zen, and we've learned that everything that has failed Japan has been the vacillation between dualism and nihilism."

"Dualism as in Manichaeism?" Hiro asks. "And nihilism as in Zoroastrianism?"

Both girls nod.

"We turned ourselves into God and the Devil, a true narcissistic relationship," admits Madoka. She shakes her head. "It was terrible. But, Zen released us when we began to grow older and learn to let each other go. And we also learned Hinduism and the sacred homoerotic, which is, like I said, when I discovered that I had dominating power though I'm the submissive."

"And I learned how weak I was in my will-worship. In the end I wasn't toying with the time-space continuum for the sake of Madoka and who she really is, but merely for myself." Homura tucks a long strand of hair back, reflectively. "Once the self-will is sacrificed, one can live freely."

"The reason we decided to speak to you about this, Hamada-san, is because Homura trusts you," Madoka explains. "And as I said earlier, I sense you could also have been considered mahô shônen, or 'puer magi.'"

"That's very insightful, Kaname-san," says Hiro.

"Please call me Madoka, or Madoka-chan," says Madoka.

Hiro nods. "Likewise, please, both of you, call me Hiro, or even Hiro-kun, for I'm not that much older than you. And yes, my teenage-love Miguel and I could have been considered mahô shônen or puer magi, at the time. He, especially, taught me the ability to transcend dimensions using Aztec-Christian methods of magic - something he learned when he was, like you were, in middle-school at that pubescent age, in Mexico before the drug-traffickers raided his village and he immigrated illegally to the US."

"The karmic threads around Miguel, then, are strong," says Madoka. "Did he ever mention the concept of a contract?"

Hiro sighs. "It's the Christian concept of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, he always spoke of. He used to link it to the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, who he swore was the Devil that ran through the race of the Aztec; he suffered complexes about his racial identity, because his race is so new and difficult to trace, and his Catholicism is also different than that of the Europeans'. The White Anglo-Saxon Protestants who run the United States, hate Catholics of any kind, but especially Latin-American ones. So, yes, he always believed he made a deal with the Devil, and it involved -" Hiro swallows, unsure whether to share such intimacies with these young women. "It involved me."

"Do you believe you're the Devil?" asks Homura. She and Hiro share a look. Homura cocks her eyebrow in a way that makes Hiro laugh in disbelief.

"Hiro-kun, forgive the shock, but you've been housing and working alongside the Devil for the past few weeks," Madoka confesses, giggling and blushing.

"I know exactly what you mean," admits Hiro. "And yes, I was and am the Devil within the narcissistic bond. He, the God. His name is even Miguel Ángel, after the archangel who struck down Lucifer."

Homura and Madoka nod. "We have a joke about that concept," Madoka says, in solidarity. "Our friends call us Madokami and Homucifer."

Hiro says, "that's cute."

"We also believed that a contract was involved in gaining magical knowledge and power," explains Homura, "which is why we created the concept of the male Incubator, who harvested our despair so as to collect energy for what it perceived as a dying Universe."

"That would make sense, given you were girls at the brink of womanhood, beginning menstruation," says Hiro. "But that wouldn't work with the male body."

"No," agrees Homura. "Masculinity is entirely expulsive. Therefore, if you were spilling seed, and worse, if you were sodomizing, then you made the contract, with the Incubator's female equivalent - call her the Succubus."

"That's exactly what happened," says Hiro, gazing off, breathless.

"I won't ask why you're not with Miguel," says Homura softly. "But, if you don't already know: it's possible to be together without falling into despair."

Hiro looks at this dark and mysterious young woman, and at her sparkling companion who emanates virtue.

Madoka turns to Homura and looks questionably into her eyes, to which Homura nods. Madoka then says to Hiro, "we can teach you, if you're willing to undergo the discipline, and willing to learn from women who are younger than you."

The girls spend the night teaching Hiro, demonstrating their love in front of him, every so often bestowing soothing kisses and caresses on him when he weeps in agony, missing Miguel so much. They teach him levitation during lovemaking, Homura holding up her Madoka with mere fingertips as Madoka's graceful body arches up defying gravity, Madoka gasping in bliss. They show him the acupressure points, the chakras, and how the orgasm - male or female - may richot from the genitals up to the third-eye and cause one to see colors and shapes. They teach him the power of mere touch upon the hips, that can cause greater pleasure than orgasm. They teach him equally of dark and light halos and of the evils of prongs upon the male and female prostate, which like sodomy are a disgrace against nature. Even lesbians who employ any kind of penetrative force, are still guilty of the equivalent of sodomy. True homoeroticism is not penetrative in any way. The most erotic of acts anyway, in fact, is a kiss - breath to breath.

At the end, Hiro transcends homosexuality and shyly enters the realm of Senju Kannon: he's erect and willing to make love to these women, feeling as though he's never been so aroused in his life. They rub themselves up against his member, murmuring words of consolation and encouragement. But there is no penetration. Madoka opens herself first to Hiro, who slides his fingers along her wetness, marveling at the beauty of her flower - why had he been so terrified before? But there's no penetration. He merely rubs her, wonderstruck, cock weeping, while Homura helps him understand. Madoka leans forward and brushes her lips against his, and he tastes female honey on her tongue - Homura's own sea-salt secretions. He handles her breasts and feels her peaked nipples in his palm. She smells like flowers and ocean. Between the three of them, they bring Madoka to climax, her leaking sex rubbing against Hiro's erection, but not letting him enter. She falls against Hiro and kisses him again, while he kisses her, reveling in her sweet warmth. She whispers to him, "you love her, I can feel it; don't be afraid." Nobody asks who 'she' is. Next Homura kisses him, and oh, she reminds Hiro of Miguel. She knows it, too, and breathes, "don't despair." She kisses down his heated body to his member and kisses it, once, twice, while Madoka stays laying next to him, kissing his stubble-roughened cheek and letting him kiss her.

2 Nov. 2019, 0:00

"I'm going to teach you to climax without ejaculation," says Homura. "My soulmate will help. You must focus on the sensation, and trust me; where your mind wanders, I will too. I can sense you. Therefore, stay focused and open. I won't let you spill seed." She caresses his hips, hushing him and soothing his raging testosterone. She takes his member into her mouth, agonizingly slow: once, twice, three times. Hiro cries out at the engulfment, while Madoka turns his head and kisses his lips, whispering again, "don't be afraid of her; she calls to you - answer. She gives life and opens your heart towards a gentle death."

Four, five, six. "Good," Homura breathes, blowing a little on his member. Seven. Eight.

"No, Miguel - forgive me!" Hiro cries, eyes closed. "I'm so sorry. I'm sorry, Migue."

Homura has elevated his hips without him realizing, Madoka holding his hand. He is flying, only a little. He throws his head back. Homura bestows all her love and power into the last two sucks on his member, until she feels the climax shudder through him, though he spills no seed. It causes his hips to rise and his spine to arch so he is elevated as if one hand were holding him at the base of his spine.

We can rise or we can fall! His eyes are shut and mouth open. Tell them! Tell him and her: they can rise and fall, equally, up to the existence of Heaven, down to the essence of the Kingdom. He gasps, tears falling down his cheek, smiling in revelry. With the opening of breath and thought, to the closing of breath and thought. Seventy-two names linearly, four letters in the cruciform (the Tetragrammaton) and in the true Swastika. Woman holds all the power. No masculine weapon can compare to the female fusion based on fission, which destroys and creates, and this life is handed over freely to that power. Kami-sama, I believe in you, and hear me: through Our Lady, you exist. Through all her manifestations, from Guadalupe around the globe to Guanyin. I love you, and her. I love you. And forgive me.

Homura and Madoka watch this beautiful man in his moment of divine ecstasy. Then, when his spine softens and he comes down, they lay him under his covers and lay by his side, till he awakens and turns to Homura, who is surprised.

He also turns to Madoka. "Can I kiss the void?" he asks breathily, a little frightened. Homura and Madoka exchange trusting looks and then nod. Since he hadn't made Homura climax yet, he gently takes her in his arms and kisses her, tasting himself and Madoka on her tongue. Then he kisses down her body, reveling in her femininity, thanking Madoka for letting him do to her beloved what she normally does. Then he reaches her opening, dusted with a little bit of hair, clitoris still slightly erect and gash still moist. His eyes go to Madoka's, who comes down and joins him, and together they gaze up at Homura, who's a little flushed.

Madoka whispers secrets in Hiro's ear, as how to use his mouth to bestow pleasure, and assures him he'll help her. "Aishiteru, Homura-chan," she assures, kissing Homura's thighs, while Homura runs a hand through her hair. "I'll guide him."

And Hiro takes his first taste of a woman's flower, delicious and virginal, Homura keening and gasping femininely. Madoka helps too, showing him with her tongue just what to do and getting caught up, until Homura reminds her reluctantly that they're supposed to be teaching Hiro. Hiro laughs and dedicates himself to savoring and relishing Homura's sex, her opening and her clitoris, until she climaxes, to which he immediately pulls away so that Madoka can be there at that point of love.

The next weekend, Madoka returns with Sayaka, who blushes deeply at Hiro, Kyôko, who punches his arm in solidarity, and a busty blonde called Mami, who brings an array of cakes and sweets. They spend the weekend with Hiro, teaching him even more than Madoka and Homura had, loving him as if he was their husband and they his young brides. Mami teaches him sensory-deprivation and reward-and-punishment, for she is a master at ropes and ribbons and ties, and has a gentle soul. He and Kyôko speak of the Canticle of Canticles in the Bible, she having been a deacon's daughter, and play back and forth with the roles of Bride and Bridegroom; she's the one who refers his ecstasy back to the Catholic saints, and reminds him as they romp that with all pleasure comes pain, for she bites him in her rapscallion way. And Sayaka is a musician, like Miguel, and teaches him that lovemaking is like a symphony, she herself having loved a violinist; Sayaka is the most attracted to Hiro, and therefore the most vulnerable, which is why he treats her very gently.

Hiro climaxes and climaxes, without spilling any seed or penetrating these virgins. He learns to love them each very much; and for more time than he'll ever admit to Miguel, they were his friends, his confidantes, and yes, his harem. Though he was under their spell, he was their student, he was their boy-toy. Such is the magic of mahō shōjo - puella magi - and it's through them, especially Homura, that he learned about nuclear energy, which the girls said they'd used to call "witches' labyrinths."

to be continued...

Characters belonging to Gen Urobuchi, from the anime series Mahô Shôjo Madoka Magika / Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011-2013): Homura Akemi, Madoka Kaname, Sayaka Miki, Kyôko Sakura, Mami Tomoe, and the Incubator (Kyûbei).

Chapter Text

13 Feb. 2012

"Allá, abajo, en el hueco en el boquete, nacen flore' por ramillete'," Hiro hears the melody, seeing only jeans on skinny legs and unlaced leather booths, while the rest of the body that's singing lays upon a sliding platform beneath a BMW, fixing some part. "Casita' de colore' con la ventana abierta, vecina' de la playa - puelta con puelta..." The feet tap a perfect rhythm. "Aquí yo tengo de to', no me falta na'! [Jeje, que bonito el acento puertorriqueño] Tengo la noche que me sirve de sábana!" The voice lowers to a silly, happy rap: "Tengo los mejore' paisaje' del cielo; tengo una neverita repleta de cerveza..." The torso, in a white wife-beater with the gold medal, with lean sinewed dark arms with hair in their pits, and a handsome face with a dusted seventeen-year-old’s beard, big golden eyes, and a dimpled smile, appear as Miguel slides himself out beneath the car. "...Con hielo. Oh!" He gasps at seeing Hiro and sits up, flushed and happy, taking off his black-stained gloves, stroking back his thick messy black hair. "Hello again! Can I help you?"

Hiro merely stares. He doesn't know what to say.

"You OK?" Miguel says, blushing slightly at the beautiful Eastern Asian man before him, with delicate features and silky hair, dressed in a loose T-shirt and skinny jeans with Vans.

Hiro exhales. He's forgotten everything. "Yeah," he replies, voice squeaky.

Miguel smiles and bites his bottom lip, averting his eyes. He understands, and feels a stirring in his loins. He's always known he likes men as much as women, having come to terms with it a while ago. But, this other man seems not to, quite yet. So, it'll be up to Miguel to do this.

"How's your friend's car?" Miguel asks lightly.

"Great! She, uh, she's happy with it," Hiro replies, trying to get his breath back. "So, um, how long have you worked here?"

Miguel shrugs, thinking back. "It's gonna be about two years," he replies. "I used to be a shoe-maker, back in Mexico, but you know." He stands up and goes to grab two Cokes from the mini-fridge. "No one really bothers with handmade shoes and shoe-repair, here. What nationality did you say you were?" He hands Hiro a Coke, though he already knows he's Japanese; he can tell.

"Japanese," Hiro replies. He grins a little, revealing a sweet gap in his two front teeth, making Miguel's heart skip a beat. "Were you gonna insult China?"

"How'd ya guess?" Grinning, Miguel taps Hiro's shoulder with his Coke bottle, immediately easing the physical tension between them.

Hiro remembers how to breathe, but is now overly excited. "I came here, because I was really impressed that you knew all about the Tesla," he admits, watching Miguel's throat arch as he takes a long drink of Coke, staring at his jawline.

Miguel grins, knowing without looking that Hiro's checking him out and he gives him a show on purpose. "I'm a Dreamer, in more ways than one," he admits, sighing in relief after hydrating, and wiping some sweat off his brow. "And one of my dreams would be to drag race, especially to drift. So, I like cars. Good thing I work here, huh? What about you?"

"I'm a total nerd," confesses Hiro, cute and feminine face frowning apologetically. "That's my only reason for knowing about cars."

"Nerd-power rules, man," says Miguel offering his fist to bump. Hiro responds, laughing. He explains how he and Tadashi used to fist-bump and make an explosion by waving their fingertips. Miguel asks him to teach him; he then mentions how he used to fist-bump his dog, Dante.

"Do ya still have him?" asks Hiro, curiously.

Miguel shakes his head, a lump forming in his throat though he stays smiling. He looks off for a moment, sighs and then says, "so what do you do with your nerd-power... uh... what's your name, sorry?"

"Oh! Hiro Hamada."

"Hiro Hamada," says Miguel. "Pleasure, man. I'm Miguel Rivera."

"You said my name perfectly," says Hiro, in wonder, lashes fluttering. "Miguel Rivera."

"Ha ha!" Miguel clinks his Coke bottle with Hiro's. "You did, too! We can make the same sounds with our tongues. So, were you born in Japan? And what do you do with your nerd-power?"

"Oh, sorry." Hiro blushes, averting his eyes flirtatiously, as he and Miguel shift closer to one another. "Yeah, I was born in Kyoto, and then my, uh, parents passed away in an accident." He clears his throat. "So, their friend adopted my brother and me and we moved to San Francisco. I was about four, he ten. I still live with my aunt, here in LA now, and I'm a researcher at UCLA for bio-engineering."

"Wow, and do you speak fluent Japanese?" Miguel takes another swig of soda.

"Yeah, Aunt Cass made sure we practiced, and Tadashi was the one to always speak to me in Japanese, till we got older."

"Where's Tadashi, now?"

"He..." Hiro swallows and looks away. "He died, too." He bites his lip hard to stop any tears. "Five years ago."

"I'm sorry," Miguel says softly and with astonishing tenderness, rubbing Hiro's back. Hiro comes out of his funk at the beauty of such affection. Miguel instantly pulls away, swallowing nervously and averting his eyes. "Sorry. We're really affectionate in a lot of Latin American countries. The transition to the American 'safe-space' is tough, sometimes."

"Don't apologize," Hiro insists. "Think of all the assholes who wouldn't be assholes if they were shown more humanity, every so often."

Miguel cracks up, laughing. "I'll drink to that, hermano. It's good to meet you."

"You too," says Hiro, blushing, coming closer, enjoying Miguel's musky scent and the heat emanating from him. "I just thought I'd stop by and talk, 'cause I loved the way you embarrassed Go Go. Not just anybody can do that," he takes a drink of Coke and also shows his porcelain throat off to Miguel, "and so skillfully."

"Ah, I have a way with feminists," says Miguel, cocking an eyebrow. "I'm from a very matriarchal family, so we men in the family learn quickly how to navigate around their fury and accept their strength."

"You should meet my Aunt," says Hiro. "I mean, you could. Anytime!"

Miguel nods, looking Hiro up and down favorably. "Yeah. Well, listen, I got to get back to work, but;" he looks back to the Beamer, "tomorrow's a full moon, and I usually like to go watch it and sing to it. My guitar is my current girlfriend. If you're free, you can come around sunset and we'll grab food. Mexican or Japanese, whichever you prefer."

"Have you heard of 'Suchi Sánchez'?" asks Hiro, grinning stupidly. "It's a stand over on Santa Monica that serves Mexican-style sushi."

Miguel makes a face. "Guácala! Sounds bourgeois. No?"

"Nah, it's not, I swear," Hiro insists, nodding in solidarity. "I can show you bourgeois, I mean, look at me." He rolls his eyes, self-deprecatingly. "But, this place is just a stand."

"Sounds good, comrade Hiro Hamada," says Miguel, grinning, glancing briefly at Hiro's lips with desire, then back up at his eyes. "I'll treat you."

"Naw, c'mon," Hiro scoffs, blushing.

"Yeah." Miguel tenderly taps Hiro's chin with his tapered guitarist's fingers. "Let me."

"OK," Hiro breathes.

14 Feb. 2012

The next afternoon Hiro shows up at sunset and the boys walk over to Suchi Sánchez, Miguel's guitar strapped to his back. They glow in the setting sun, talking about their childhoods - Miguel purposefully leaving out his trauma and Hiro leaving the immigration subject alone - and their day-to-day routines. Under the moonlight, sitting at the stand which had both Japanese and Mexican chefs taking orders from a long line of people, they have chipotle-flavored California rolls and Philadelphia rolls with crema fresca instead of cream cheese, and instead of wasabi, habanero, which Hiro nearly chokes on.

"Hey, papi, you gotta teach your trade to get a better gag-reflex!" says a drag-queen standing nearby, standing in a group of four.

Another says, "Yeah, I bet there's a lot he'll have to swallow later on." She looks at Miguel's crotch and winks.

Miguel laughs amicably, enthralled by the queens, while Hiro's face looks like he's seen a ghost.

"Oh, look at him, papi chulo, look!" the original queen says to Miguel.

Miguel shakes Hiro and taps his cheek, while his laughter augments. "Lighten up, Hiro, they're harmless!"

Hiro blushes and covers his face in embarrassment, but does smile.

"Good luck later, girl," the second queen whispers to Miguel. "Porque si lo alcanzas a agarrar, uysh, madre mía, tendrás una noche inolvidable con ese virgencito, chinito lindo. Y tú siendo tan guapo, hombre; ojalá fuera que lo grabaran y lo pusieran en el PornHub punto com."

"Sinvergüenza usted, chica," Miguel whispers back, so that Hiro can't hear. "Pero, gracias." And he blows her a kiss.

As they're having dulce-de-leche kakigôri, Miguel realizes something and asks, "what did you say your aunt did, again?"

"Mm, she works at Catholic Charities, with immigrants." Hiro stays very neutral.

Miguel nods. "Well, I'm an immigrant, along with my family. Illy-girl," he remarks. "And, you know, my uncle's family has been helped by Catholic Charities. You don't think your aunt would know them?"

Hiro's brain explodes, and it's not because of the cold and the sweet of the kakigôri. "Rivera." He looks wide-eyed at Miguel. "Do you have a cousin named Rosa Rivera?"

Miguel inhales sharply. He nods, expression sad but also hopeful.

Hiro smiles and sighs relievedly, and also in wonder. "Rosa Rivera? She's one of my Aunt Cass' cases! Miguel..." Suddenly, his expression turns to one of darkness, fear, even shame. "Rosa Rivera," he repeats, suddenly understanding everything that's happened to Miguel and his family.

Miguel places his hand on Hiro's, which startles Hiro. "Your Aunt saved my cousin, and helped my entire family," he says somberly. "We don't have to talk about it. Just know that we've been praying that God bless your Aunt, for many years now. And I can't believe that you're her nephew, though, really, I'm not surprised." He laces their fingers together. "I don't believe in coincidences."

When they leave, each having had a shot of saké - and another of tequila - Miguel's phone suddenly rings. He looks at it, crestfallen, remembering that his Mom had wanted him to come for moonlight dinner with the neighborhood.

"D'you have to go?" Hiro asks, frowning sadly.

"Yeah, I forgot," Miguel mumbles angrily. "Another time, I'll bring you over and introduce you to Rosa and the rest of my family, who'd love you. But, tonight, I have to go alone. Abuelita gets nervous when I spring surprises on her. I'm sorry. However, there's something I want to show you. Let's go back to the shop."

"I can give you a ride to your house," offers Hiro, swaying slightly with love and alcohol.

"Nah, don't worry about it." Miguel comes closer, close enough that they can feel each others' breath. "I paid for dinner," he murmurs, "I should be taking you home. Too bad that Beamer isn't mine."

Hiro nods, understanding the implication and Miguel's pride. They jog back to the shop, and Miguel unlocks the door, ushering Hiro inside.

"C'mon, get in," whispers Miguel, unlocking the BMW, whose doors open horizontally, and automatically.

"Damn." Hiro gets into the passenger's seat, Miguel in the driver's.

"Can you see me, crossing the Sonoran border in this motherfucker;" Miguel extends his hand; "drifting into California? Or you," he tips his head to Hiro, "up in those mountains in Japan, like in Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift?"

"That's not me," Hiro laughs, "but go ahead, Miguel, have your fantasy."

"Call me Migue," says Miguel, smiling, tongue between his teeth; Hiro notices again his beauty-mark above his lip; "and I'll have my fantasy."

A moment passes in which they both acknowledge that their mutual attraction can't be ignored.

"Have you ever done this before?" Hiro asks, his voice having lowered, and his breath a little shallow.

"Not with a guy," whispers back Miguel, honestly. "Not outside my fantasies, at least. You?"

"Not with anyone."

They look at each other, and Hiro immediately acknowledges his own submissiveness, fluttering his dark lashes and letting Miguel's scent of stronger testosterone overcome him. He is the more feminine. His mouth waters as Miguel turns toward him, leaning over slightly. Hiro shifts closer and leans slightly, too, eyes still averted. He can't believe this is happening.

"C'mon." Miguel gently touches Hiro's right cheek and turns his pretty face toward him. "It's not that hard. Well, maybe a little. Heh heh, you know."

Hiro laughs lightly and lets his gaze go to Miguel's, whose face is closer than he expected, caramel-eyes wide with desire and curiosity.

"Do I have bad breath?" Miguel asks.

Hiro shakes his head. "The habanero killed any possibility of that."

They both laugh, and in one easy motion, as easily as falling asleep, or even breathing, their lips touch, once, twice, ten times, softly and lovingly. It feels strange, and within each of them a man roars at the frustration of such a mystery as homoeroticism.

"You're really beautiful," Hiro admits, gentle eyes laden with love. He's shocked at his own boldness.

"You should see yourself," Miguel replies in a low voice. He kisses Hiro again, and strokes his blushing cheek. "More beautiful than any girl I've thought I was in love with. Are you OK?"

Hiro nods. He reaches over and gently runs his fingertips over the wisps of hair on Miguel’s jaw, and then down to his sinewed throat. Facial hair and an Adam's apple. Yes, Miguel is definitely a man. Miguel takes Hiro’s same hand and softly kisses the knuckles. As delicate as they are, they're still the hands of a man. Hiro takes Miguel's other hand and places it on his own heart-thumping flat chest, and Miguel follows suit. So, that they both acknowledge their manhood, without a doubt.

"Is that OK?" Miguel asks.

Hiro nods. "Is it OK for you? ...After being with women?"

Miguel shakes his head, "forget that. It's just you and me. I'm OK. OK?"

Hiro nods and leans forward, yearning to taste Miguel's lips again. They kiss languidly this time, taking their time, exploring each others' mouths, tongue, and teeth. They marvel at how easily they fit together.

"Hiro, I have to go," Miguel finally says breathlessly, pulling away. "I'm sorry, baby."

Hiro blushes at the term of endearment.

"Too much?" asks Miguel, wincing.

"Not at all," confesses Hiro, almost girlishly. "I like it."

"Remember what I said about Latino's," says Miguel. He takes a deep breath, becoming aware of his arousal and trying to control it. "OK. Can I open the car?"

Hiro takes a deep breath too, shifting slightly, clearing his throat and closing his eyes. He nods, having calmed down his erection. Miguel opens the car and they both emerge, and when they meet each other in front of the BMW, they embrace. They hold each other for a moment, inhaling each other and kissing cheeks, neck, hair, and finally, lips again.

"Come again tomorrow, please?" begs Miguel, holding Hiro's face in his hands.

"Of course." Hiro kisses him again, hands on his waist. "You sure about not getting a ride?"

Miguel nods.

"OK," Hiro says, grinning sweetly. "Hasta mañana, Migue-kun."

Miguel kisses him softly for the last time that night. "Hasta mañana, corazón."

Once he's home, Miguel enters the house like a hurricane, grabbing the attention of Luisa and Gloria, and making Socorro run after him gleefully. In his room, Miguel picks up his sister and kisses her cheek, murmuring, "linda, mi niña, mi preciosa hermanita!" Socorro giggles and plays with the medal on Miguel's chain. "You know what your brother has in him?" Miguel asks in Spanish. "What?" Socorro looks up curiously. "It's a secret," Miguel replies, and whispers in her ear, "a heart pierced by love. But don't tell anyone, OK? Promise?"

"I don't even know what that means!" exclaims Socorro frustratedly.

"All right, I'll explain when you're older," says Miguel, putting her down, and grabbing his guitar. "C'mon, I'm going to sing for the neighbors, and for the moon. Ven con migo!" 

He and Coco go out to the porch, and wave hello to all those sitting on their porches and stoops on this cool, lovely February night, having arroz con pollo, or tamales oaxaqueños, or enchiladas huastecas, tacos de carne al carbón with queso fresco, Corona or Jarritos or Coca Cola, jugo de fruta or horchata for the kids.

He begins to strum his guitar and the neighbors turn and cheer him on, for it's always a treat when Miguel plays. "I'm going to play a somewhat modern one, but an appropriate one," he calls in Spanish, "for the moon tonight!"

"Adelante, Migue!"

Miguel begins the instrumentals and sings, "Luna de tantos amores, luna viva, luna hermosa, dime si ella es la reina y la dueña de todo, mi amor." He smiles at his little sister, clapping along. "Luna de noches en grima, luna de la nochecita - dime si ella es la reina y la dueña de todo, mi amor!" He closes his eyes, heart pounding, fingers strumming. Abuelita comes out with horchata for Miguel, laughing. "Y dime si ella es de mi voz, la piel, y dime si ella es mi razón de ser... Canten con migo, si la saben!" Sing with me!

Some who do know the 2002 song sing along, others clap the beat for Miguel: "Yo te doy todo, mi amor, luna de mi corazón. Yo te doy todo, mi amor, si tú me lo cuentas todo. Así es!" Miguel encourages. "Luna, yo todo te doy, luna de mi corazón. Yo te doy todo, mi amor, si tú me lo cuentas todo!"

Abuelita, Luisa and Gloria begin setting supper out on the porch, giving each other knowing and happy looks, hoping that Miguel's found a girl.

"Luna, luna, lunita, lunera cascabelera: bendita sea!" he cries to the moon, just tapping on his guitar, no longer strumming. "Vení, alumbrá este andaluz, que viene cargando esta cruz!" He taps his heart. "Y dime de una vez si es;" he winks deviously at the moon, and looks over at the matriarchs of his family, who have no idea he'd be singing this about a man; "ella la quien yo quiero. Luna, luna, lunita, lunera: dime todos tus secreeeeetooooos," and strums a beautiful melody on the guitar that leaves everyone cheering.

Moon of love, life and beauty, tell me if she rules my heart and owns my love. Moon of agonizing nights, moon of nights of light, tell me if she rules my heart, tell me from above. And tell me if she runs through my veins, and my voice, and if to fall in love I even have a choice.

Oh, my moon, my moon, my twinkling moon, glory to you! Come and tell this desert-wanderer, with this cross, the truth! And tell me once and for all, if with her in love I'll fall.

C'mon, tell me all your secrets.

to be continued...

La Perla (2008) - written by Residente Calle 13 (René Pérez Joglar) and Rubén Blades
Luna (2002) - written by Juanes (Juan Esteban Aristizábal Vásquez)

Chapter Text

24 Jun. 2023

"This building has been many things," Miguel remarks, gently stroking one of the many pillars within the Ummayad Mosque. Because of its holiness, it’s solid beneath his touch, though he’s crossed into the spiritual realm. "First, a Temple to Jupiter, the Roman sun god; then, the seat of the Syriac Christian Patriarchs of Antioch, about whom we were here to study; then the mosque of the Ummayad Caliphate. And in the twelfth century it was a stronghold against the Christian Crusaders. It's here that Muslims believe Jesus - their Jesus, Isa - will return." Miguel gestures upward and continues, "the tallest of the three minarets is where they believe Isa will descend to battle the Antichrist. By the way," he calls to Hiro, who's gazing out the door to the magnificent courtyard and up to the starlit sky, "thanks for making my blood so diverse. I didn't know I was Saracen and Berber."

Hiro chuckles, turning to him. "You could be." He shrugs. "You could be Romani gypsy, Sephardic; definitely Arab - hardly any Spanish blood doesn't carry Andalusian genes. You could be Celtic, as many Iberians have Celt in them; Galicians even play bagpipes and wear kilts. You could be Basque. You could be Yoruba, from the Nigerian slave-trade to the Americas. And, of course, Aztec and Maya, and maybe even Asian. Can we believe that so much time passed on earth and no one from my lands or yours crossed the Pacific to intermingle? There's lots of Eastern Asian DNA in Peruvians, for example." Hiro gasps in mock surprise. "We may be related, hermano. Heh heh."

Miguel grins. "I wish more Latino's thought of themselves that way," he says, sighing, "after all the racism that's been set against us. Even among us there's rivalry, as if the world doesn't hate us enough. In that sense, I pray that Che rest in peace; he wanted us to see each other as siblings, and cut the nationalist bullshit out. Why shouldn't an Argentinean feel solidarity and brotherhood with a Cuban, or a Mexican, or a Chilean or a Salvadorean? We're so shitty and petty to each other."

"You don't have to tell me," says Hiro, shaking his head and gazing back at the stars. "Look at my continent."

"I'm not comparing."

"I know. But Go Go is the only Korean who's ever been decent to me. We're all ruthless and savage; at least you're Christian and speak the same language and are jovial people."

"Homicidal criminals," comments Miguel, "but, yes, jovial."

They pause, reflecting on so much they haven't told one another yet. They’re waiting till the dawnlight breaks, which were the instructions St. John the Baptist gave when they blessed each other, touched his relic, became spiritual and witnessed the saint- Christ’s own cousin and the true last Prophet - appear before them. Given that it’s the eve of his Feast Day, June twenty-third into the twenty-fourth, he confided to them that they should stay close to his relic and watch the Christian pilgrims come in the daytime, and to leave with them as refugees.

"So, the Christian Crusaders came here, right?" Hiro comments, also now walking among the columns in the dim lamplight. "What a time in Europe! In France, to be a young idealistic man taking up his father's sword to go fight the infidels. And, of course, the elite: the nobles who sent their knights. The Church;" he glances at Miguel; "who also sent her Knights."

Miguel bites his lip, smiling enigmatically, not looking at Hiro.

"You heard the Child," continues Hiro, coming closer to Miguel, "we travel to Jaffa next; the city at which Christian pilgrims were often killed by Muslim bandits during the Christian occupation of Jerusalem and for which Rome created an elite order of protection, supported strongly by your Bernard of Clairvaux, whom you quoted perfectly. They were called?"

"The Knights Templar," Miguel breathes, like a keyword opening up the gates of Hell.

Hiro challenges Miguel to look at him, but Miguel won't.

Miguel sighs, smiling ashamedly, and asks Hiro; "have you found me out?"

"If you're hiding in Michoacán with a cartel by that name, said to have been dismantled a few years ago but is still alive and even leaning towards becoming a paramilitary death squad, then yes," replies Hiro, neutrally.

Miguel clenches his jaw, still not looking at Hiro. "It was Los Zetas who did what they did to Santa Cecilia; I'm a priest destined for strange, mystical things; why shouldn't I fit in to Los Caballeros Templarios? We're no death squad, the civilian militia after us are the ones who'll end up paramilitaries, and make up filthy lies that we rape and torture the indigenous."

"I never said you didn't fit in," assures Hiro. "I know members of the Sinaloa; I was in Lima, like I told you. I don't mistrust the Sinaloa; I don't mistrust their allies. I love you and hate those who harmed you and yours." He shrugs. "No shame. You thought I'd judge you? I want to know how you've managed to get rid of the drugs and get the mules safely to the Jesuits of the Southwest US, without having been caught this entire time. It can't just be cempasúchil."

"Well, PAN and the Vatican have a lot to do with my protection; but as for getting rid of the actual drugs?" Miguel looks up into Hiro's eyes. "We export more minerals to China - forgive me - than drugs to the US, but I found a way."

2 Nov. 2020, 0:03


Miguel buried his face in his hands, kneeling on the cemetery's ground. "Please! Please, Nanita, it's not what you think! Papá, help me;" he begged Héctor; "you have to have seen what I've been trying to do!"

"We haven't figured that out, Miguel, but we don't like it," scolded Héctor, holding Imelda, who was now crying into his shoulder.

Miguel had traveled to the remains of Santa Cecilia, having just joined the Knights Templar Cartél, after working for a year to sidle his way in, through various clerics and insiders. He had begun study at a seminary in Mexico City years earlier, at age nineteen, through the support and the connections of Fr. Andrés. He’d been ordained a priest by twenty-five and was initiated into the Society of Jesus. But, Miguel had known he needed to link himself to the cartel, to get revenge on those who'd hurt his family and to rescue people from corruption. The Knights Templar had seemed a double-edged sword, in Miguel's mind, for though he planned to double-cross them, he also learned that they weren't all that bad especially in the sense that they rivaled Los Zetas and the newer and more insane Jalisco New Generation. And, of course, it helped that they were Catholic.

"What are you thinking, Miguel?" scolded Papá Julio.

"He's not thinking!" cried Tía Victoria.

"Please, everyone, don't shout," moaned Tía Rosita, crying into her pañuelo. "I can't stand this."

Only Mamá Coco and Tíos Óscar and Felipe seemed to want to take pity on Miguel. He explained to them, "I've prayed so much to the Virgin that her Son forgive me. Now, though it may look like I've gone to the side of evil it's because I believe I can re-direct the flow of people from our country to the US: rather than riding over there to poison the gringos, they can find refuge in the Church and build a better society in that rotten United States. But I need help from mi familia."

"We saw you neglect your poor grandmother, mi nieta Elena, for the last months of her life!" cried Imelda. "We knew what that porquería japonés was doing to you, and you to him, drawing you away from Enrique, Luisa and Socorro; we saw you in the shower with Rosa, we saw you drinking and dealing with the Devil, and now you expect us to help you?"

"You also saw what happened here in 2007," said Miguel in a low voice, lip curling. "And like I told Frida Kahlo, unless you've experienced it, you can never know."

He looked at all his dead relatives, in this abandoned cemetery, at twilight on November first. He was dressed in his Jesuit cassock, and had bought a mochila. In it had been packed eight candles and eight photos, and each candle was now lit to each photo of these eight relatives; and he'd also bought Mama Imelda's Japanese tea-set with a vasija to make hot-chocolate in, using a small fire, with the chocolate bars, milk, canela and cayenne pepper. "And here I was thinking all of you would embrace me and tell me how you wept when we all left. How I wept when Elena passed, and burying her in a cemetery where she knew no one, in a land that was not hers, far away from you. Do you think we chose to go to the US?" Miguel's tears burned down his cheek. "How can you still be so rancorous?" he breathed to his great-great-grandmother.

Mamá Coco went over and stroked away Miguel's tears. "No llores, mijo. Te queremos, siempre."

Miguel broke down then, at that show of sympathy from his bisabuela he'd forgotten he missed so much; grabbing handfuls of the hallowed earth and wailing his trauma to the ground. Héctor let go of Imelda and ran to him, taking him in his arms. "It's OK, mijo. It's OK. We don't understand. We just don't understand. Everything seems to have been lost." His voice was low and laden with sorrow, as he continued, "and there was nothing we could do but watch. I'm sorry, Miguelito."

"I'm so alone," lamented Miguel. "I miss my Mamá and my Papá Franco, and my Abuela - que en paz descanse. I miss Socorro. But, I can't see them again. I'm severed, I took the vows. It'll never be the same." He looked into the hallowed eyes of his great-great-grandfather. He said, "I'm tired, though I'm still young. But I'm so old. I just wanted to see you again."

Imelda had begun to weep, having fallen to the ground as well.

"Not all is lost," assured Héctor, looking up the rest of the family, then back at Miguel. "You made us a promise, remember? That you would never forget how much your family loves you. So, if you need us, we're here."

The Tías had calmed down, by the help of Papá Julio, and now all members were listening to Miguel.

"My plan, as loco as it is, is to void the drug," explained Miguel, sniffing away his tears. "The Knights aren't like Los Zetas. They're rivals. The Knights are Catholic, anti-communist, and still loyal to the mission to evangelize the indigenous. But we still export the drug, the sacred coca turned into poison. It needs to be voided somehow, and the only thing I can think is pouring it into the Zacatón Cenote. Those blessed by the cempasúchil must deliver it to the Dead. So, the mule would cross the border, be blessed by the cempasúchil and deliver it to someone in the Land of the Dead, and have it come back to Mexico invisibly and finally be thrown into the Cenote: the new sacrifice, unlike that of the human sacrifices at the cenotes of Yoko'tan and Chichén Itzá. The coca still remaining in the cocaína will allow it to traverse the realms. It could be done, if people just had faith. And faith and religion is, after all," Miguel winced in concession, at the mystery revealed, "the opium of the poor, according to Marx. Our people are not unfamiliar with magic. I can convince them. It'll be dangerous. But, I would ask that you begin the initiative in the Land of the Dead, from here and all throughout Mexico, and up into Arizona, to Nogales, to Tucson, Phoenix, San Antonio, Los Angeles, and to the cities further away: Chicago, Miami, New York, and to Europe, especially Spain, and to Asia. Anywhere there are syndicates."

The family looked at each other in fear and awe.

"It must return to Tamaulipas, and be thrown by the Dead into the deepest sinkhole in the world: Zacatón. The Universe will void it, accepting the sacrifice." Miguel swallowed, grasping his Rosary, gazing at his Mamá Coco, who understood, and continued, "La Guadalupana will void it."

to be continued...

Chapter Text

24 Jun. 2023

The Girl hands them their suitcases, as soon as the sun sets on the Feast of St. John the Baptist. While they check their things, and seeing their phones uncharged, she gazes infinitely at them.

"There's a vial of blood in his suitcase," she remarks to Miguel, in English, gesturing with her veiled head toward Hiro.

"Francis Xavier," says Hiro very evenly to Miguel. "From Luisa. I was saving it, but then I learned relics can only be used once; you already used it once."

Miguel says nothing as they close up their suitcases, looking back to the Girl.

The Girl enigmatically smiles, lips painted red. She turns, her black chador billowing in the breeze, and leads them away from the gates of Damascus and into the desert wilderness. They have no choice but to follow. A car, a 1957 Ford Thunderbird, waits on a foresty hilltop. When they arrive, she extends her hand, offering each of them the opportunity to drive. Hiro turns to Miguel. Surprisingly the latter shakes his head and gestures that Hiro drive.

The Girl slips into the middle of the long, wide seat.

"You're not Syrian, nor Christian," Miguel remarks as he sits next to her, on the passenger's side.

"Were you told to follow the Christian refugees?" the Girl asks. "I am Persian, and godless."

"You dodged the Land of the Dead, and have lingered here long," says Miguel softly, almost sympathetically, as Hiro turns on the engine and flicks on the lights, taking one last look at Damascus and a sky with endless stars.

"I'm sure you wondered when the day would come when you'd meet the living dead," says the Girl by way of reply, looking at him knowingly.

Hiro glances at her through the rear-view mirror. "This is a man's car. I can smell his sweat and cologne. I can even smell his love for you, if you know what I mean."

"He has moved on, like you," comments the Girl. "I will be hidden from light by the time the sun rises. Your silky neck knows that."

Hiro hits the accelerator. The Girl will take them to Jaffa. Hiro follows her directions. By the time it gets to be 3 a.m., their being in Israel, she indicates that they stop by a series of boulders, about two kilometers from an unknown but small town. Miguel opens his door and exits, and she glides out after him and away, not looking back, but merely commenting to him, "I will see you some hours after nightfall tomorrow, and bring you another relic. Be wise; sleep."

"The hell do we do now?" breathes Miguel, sliding back in.

"Park somewhere hidden and sleep," says Hiro, sighing. "Who knows where we fucking are? We need to drink. And have some food, at least."

"The desert will take its toll on us, Hiro," warns Miguel. He's more frightened than his companion. 

Hiro nods.

"Use the vial as the relic, and see what food and drink can transcend into the spiritual realm, and bring it back," orders Miguel. He blesses Hiro with the roses, which are starting to die, and Hiro then does as he says, walking invisibly toward the village in the dark.

Remember the desert? Remember their faces? Remember the smell of fear, and the taste of terror? Remember the nightmares and the muffled shouts in the night?

"God," laments Miguel, gazing at the starlight of the desert of the Holy Land, "help me." He lays his forehead on the steering wheel. "Help these people. What am I doing?" He sings Lauds the way it used to be sung in Europe in the Middle Ages: at 3 a.m.

Hiro returns about an hour later with some dates and a loaf of bread he stole from someone's home, and two clay jugs filled with water. He tells Miguel of a corner of the completely rural village where they can park, but insists on its danger.

"Let's go into the boulders with her, then," Miguel says.

Hiro agrees. "The town is like from another world," he says. "It's all stone houses and huts, and there's no power cables, or police. We'd stand out. It doesn't seem right."

"The company we're keeping doesn’t seem right, either," remarks Miguel as he exits the car. "But, c'mon."

"What about the car?"

"I have a feeling no one's going to take it."

They spend the long day, from 4 a.m till midnight, in the cave, Miguel softly singing the Liturgy of the Hours from his small Bible, when he's awake. They don't see the Girl anywhere, and don't ask each other where she is or even who she is; for it's unclear as to why she's the one destined to help them. They take turns sleeping, Miguel letting Hiro sleep more because he drove. The cave is dark and silent, and cool. By the time the Girl returns, at around midnight - both Hiro and Miguel have slept in intervals, fitfully, have eaten and drank only a little and are weakened by heat, discomfort and exhaustion. They're also filthy.

The Girl offers them two human fingers in a plastic bag, recently severed. "For future relics. Don't worry, the man was old and poor; he was good, he was holy. It was his time. I needed to feed. Come on. We should be at Jaffa in an hour or so."

Miguel thanks her. He and Hiro get to their feet, holding each other up. The desert is getting to them.

"Let me drive," whispers Miguel to Hiro.

Hiro shakes his head.

"Why not?" Miguel challenges.

"I have better control of my emotions," Hiro says. "Don't try and argue."

Miguel's pride stings, and the serpent in him arches. He nods. They drive into the night again, and yes, they pass strange things. Strange people. People who aren't really people. Signs that don't make sense, in any known language.

At one point Girl directs them to turn in a perfect arch, which Hiro argues with her about until she becomes silent.

"If we take this, we'll be going backwards," Hiro growls in frustration.

"Do it your way, then," says the Girl.

Hiro keeps going straight, trying to follow the signs to head toward Jaffa, but again, the signs begin not to make sense and direct him down all different kinds of roads and past strange towns that seem familiar. Time passes too quickly.

By 4 a.m. they're back in the unnamed little village they began at. "No," breathes Hiro, mouth open, eyes wide and bloodshot. "This can't be. Why!?" He strikes the wheel in fury.

Miguel snickers from the other side of the Girl, having been awfully quiet in the last four hours. "You should have done what she said," he says deprecatingly, glaring at Hiro with a hatred Hiro had never seen before, eyes glassy and with circles underneath. Reflexively and childishly, Hiro leans over the Girl and backhands him in the jaw, to which Miguel strikes back. The Girl stays perfectly still, merely peering at their interaction.

"Be careful," Miguel warns, smiling strangely though his teeth are gritted. "You said you had control of your emotions." He reverts to his eighteen-year-old voice, with unsettling accuracy: "You hit like a girl."

"Jesus," Hiro breathes, running a hand through his dusty, dirty hair. 

"Make confession," Miguel demands in a low voice. Hiro looks at him in disbelief. Miguel's expression of hatred doesn't change; he merely says in a low voice, "now."

Hiro rubs his eyes and says softly, "Bless me Father, for I have sinned, it's been about three (?) days since my last confession; these are my sins: I struck the person dearest to me, and wish I wouldn't have. I was terrified by the look on his face and his tone;" he glares at Miguel; "and at the situation we were in."

"What else?" Miguel breathes, looking subtly at the Girl. "What other sin?"

"Nothing less than the sin of pride, Father, for not having listened to the unnamed woman." Hiro swallows, feeling nauseous and dehydrated. "I ask God's forgiveness."

"For your penance, apologize to the woman and then say;" Miguel swallows, breathing laboriously, shaking his head as though he's trying to rid himself of thoughts and emotions. "I don't even know. I don't know what penance there is."

"Don't lose it," Hiro urges. He looks to the Girl, who merely has her eyes closed the way vampires do when they're bored and don't want to see what's around them.

"Say a Hail Mary," Miguel begs, listlessly. "Say the Rosary."

Hiro nods and apologizes sincerely to the Girl, who says nothing. He then recites the Act of Contrition, which soothes him and Miguel a bit. Miguel recites the absolution.

"What do we do?" Hiro asks Miguel and the Girl.

"Stay here again," Miguel says, his face in his dirty hands. "Dawn will come soon. Hey, I'm sorry, too, hombre."

Hiro shakes his head. "I hit you first."

"It's fine."

"It's not."

"It was like when we were teenagers."

"We're not teenagers anymore." Hiro leans his head back.

"We need good sleep," insists Miguel. "Should we go back to the cave and just sleep invisibly?" he asks the Girl

"That wouldn't be prudent," says the Girl, eyes open now. Since her having told Hiro to do what he wanted, three hours earlier, she had said nothing.

"What do you mean?" Miguel asks her, not impolitely.

"You can't sleep in the same place two nights in a row; there are forces who will be waiting for you to return, who will not mean you well. You must find another place."

"I'm a little tired of this magical-world," laments Hiro. Miguel notices he's trembling from nicotine withdrawal.

"Is the town so strange?" Miguel asks him gently.

Hiro nods. "There's something strange about it, I don't know," he admits. "We can park by the boulders, then, and just sleep in the car. Is that all right?" he asks the Girl. She says nothing.

"Forgive us, for our rudeness and ingratitude," Miguel says to the Girl. "We should have listened to you."

The Girl motions for Miguel to let her exit the car, and then goes off into the night.

"What is she?" Hiro demands when Miguel gets back in, still shaking. "A vampire?"

Miguel shakes his head wearily. "I guess you could call her that, or even a devil. It's OK, though." Then he says, offhandedly, "haven't you ever met a Magical Girl, before?"

Hiro stares at Miguel in surprise, wondering. "What do you mean?" he asks.

"A girl with powers," says Miguel, unaware of Hiro's thoughts and experiences. "A girl who, I don't know, has power. Female power. To do all sorts of things to us poor, foolish men who think we run the world. You were the one who said I was away from women for too long, heh." He yawns, covering his mouth. "C'mon, let's use the relics and go get food again." He opens the car door, and calls back to Hiro, "start on that penance, to María."

Hiro leads Miguel into the village, while it's still pre-dawn. Hiro was right, Miguel notices; the people here are all dressed in hand-woven clothes and veils, and there's nothing modern - there seems not even to be electricity in this village. The two men steal some figs and more bread from a seller, and fill more jars with water from the well, when no one is looking, before heading back.

"God knows where we are," murmurs Miguel, washing his hands and face, shaken by the village. After eating a little, they drive to the shadow of the boulder-cave and park.

They lay down pressed closely together, arms around each other, the seat being long and wide enough as a single bed.

"I have met magical girls," Hiro admits, resting his head beneath Miguel's chin. "Just so you know."

Miguel grins, for the first time in days. "That's nice. Go to sleep, amor."

But the desert doesn't let them sleep well. They toss and turn in discomfort and nightmares.

Then Miguel wakes Hiro, arching against him. He kisses his neck and behind his ear. It's the middle of the day, the sun blazing in the cobalt sky. Miguel sits Hiro up, as Hiro yawns and protests. Then he shifts onto Hiro's lap. Drowsily, the latter gives in. Miguel's grown thin. He's the more emotional, Hiro's right. This is the first time where they use this position and where Hiro seems the more masculine. Hiro can immediately tell, and there's something of Homura in Miguel. Maybe there had been something in Homura that always reminded Hiro of Miguel. Either way, there's a femininity to Miguel now that is new and frightening, but still hypnotic at this strange moment in this strange desert under strange circumstances.

Miguel removes his shirt and undoes Hiro's. His hips grind upon his companion's. He kisses his companion's skin wherever he can find it, breath labored.

"Sh," Hiro soothes.

But the more he tries to calm Miguel down the more aroused Miguel becomes, which arouses Hiro in a new way. Things are beginning to fall into place. Miguel maneuvers his trousers off, deftly, and his underwear. He doesn't give Hiro a chance to be shocked before kissing him as if his life depended on it.

"Wha-?" Hiro tries to ask; but his hands on Miguel's thin hips, which are swaying beneath his touch, the look in Miguel's eyes, which look large and dewy, and the way Miguel bites his bottom lip, like a woman, silence Hiro. Suddenly, he understands. They've switched places. He kisses Miguel's throat, which causes Miguel to throw back his head the way Hiro always would. He handles Miguel the way Miguel used to handle him, when they were teenagers.

"Please," Miguel breathes into Hiro's ear. They stroke their erections together. "Fuck me. Please, fuck me once, Hiro."

"What?" Hiro looks into Miguel's eyes desperately and sees something he's never seen: total submission.

"Please." Miguel has never looked so vulnerable; he doesn't even look twenty-eight, he looks eighteen. "Just this once, while God isn't looking." He smiles, blushing, a strange look in his eyes. "Nobody's looking. No one will know. No one;" he arches, toward anal sex, and Hiro shudders with equal pleasure and terror; "but us."

"What if we don't want to know?" Hiro asks, honestly.

"I want to know," Miguel admits, licking his partner's ear. "I want to be her. Why were you always her, every time? Why not me?" He grits his teeth. "Why not once? Why?"

"I..." Hiro trembles.

"What does it feel like?" Miguel maneuvers to his knees on the floor of the car. He grasps Hiro's erection and presses kisses to it. "To have someone's heart inside you? Pulsing with you? Filling you?" He puts Hiro's member in his mouth and sucks hard and slow.

Hiro loses grip. "No," he moans in protest. "Homura!"

"You can call me whatever you want," promises Miguel. "Just, please: sodomize me."

Hiro pulls him up. Gently, while Miguel shouts in pain, he impales his lover on his cock.

"Yes." Miguel calls to the ceiling of the car, hands on Hiro's shoulders, while Hiro trembles with sensation: "It hurts! It hurts with you inside me, I don't care! Ah, Dios!" Miguel begins to move, slowly, face screwed up in agony, Hiro completely overcome.

"Miguel," Hiro groans, eyes shut. "Miguel, I never knew."

Miguel laughs enigmatically and says in Spanish, "everybody, look! Look what I did! Look what I've become!" And he fucks himself so hard and so expertly on Hiro's member till they both climax, yelling swears and endearments in their respective native languages. Miguel's seed spurts up as if from a fountain and Hiro's fills Miguel and consequently leaks out.

And Hiro wakes suddenly from the dream. He's wet between his legs with his own semen, and his hips are still swaying. "Fuck." He rubs the sweat from his brow; he's drenched in sweat. He's also dizzy. He sits up, because Miguel is gone.

Hiro tears out of the car and looks around calling to him, and then runs into the cave. "What in the...? Jesus Christ. Miguel!"

Miguel is on the floor of the cave, weeping, lashing his own back with a cattailed whip Hiro wouldn't have ever dreamed Miguel owned. Hiro runs to him and shoves him over, yelling, "what are you doing!?"

Miguel sobs, clearly out of his mind and unaware of his surroundings, while Hiro gets his first glance at his gory back.

"I am the sodomite!" Miguel cries. "Fatimah was right."

"Holy fuck, you're killing yourself." Hiro trembles in fear. He grabs the whip and throws it to the side and turns Miguel onto his front. The wounds aren't very deep, but they're deep enough to become infected.

"There's no first-aid," Hiro says to himself. "For how long have you been doing this?" He shakes Miguel.

"Since we stopped," breathes Miguel, with some sense of lucidity.

"We didn't do anything, you idiot!" Hiro yells desperately. "It was a dream; I had the same one!"

Miguel shakes his head. "Liar!" he yells back, nails digging into the earth. "It was no dream: I begged you to sodomize me and you did!"

Hiro yanks Miguel's arm and forces Miguel's hand to touch his own anal opening. "There's nothing there!" Hiro shouts to Miguel, weeping in fear at this point, trying to determine how many lashes are on his companion's blood-soaked back. "You're a virgin there, and there's no blood or semen; you fool, you stupid fool. What do I do? Miguel, it's OK. Please tell me it was a dream. Touch yourself again, here; it was a dream."

Miguel is sobbing, shaking his head.

Hiro crosses himself and does what gangsters, Scouts, and those from the hard-knocks-school learn: he gets up, undoes his trousers and pulls out his member, then he urinates all over Miguel's wounds, sterilizing them. Miguel screams in horror.

"It's to sterilize you," Hiro shouts over Miguel's cries, pressing his companion's backside down with his foot to keep him in place. "It's not what you think; you've lost your senses, but I'll bring them back. Forgive me."

Miguel faints from pain, blood-loss and fear. Hiro checks his vitals, blood and urine everywhere. He runs to the car and gets the little water they had saved and a clean undershirt. With the water, Miguel comes to and drinks. Hiro gasps in relief. Then, Miguel retches at the smell and the pain.

"It was a dream," Hiro whispers, gently patting the wounds with the cotton undershirt, while Miguel weeps. "It's OK. You'll scar, but you'll be OK. We have to get to the village and ask for help."

"That won't be necessary," the Girl's voice says from the shadows. "I told you not to come into this cave. Your friend will be all right with you having sterilized the wounds; just make sure to get him more water. Take the car, and head to Jaffa using the route I taught you, though you may think you're going backwards; it'll take an hour if you go quickly. Then get him to a modern clinic there and make all the calls you need. I'll get Arash's Thunderbird back, eventually."

"Why did you help us?" Hiro asks honestly, into the darkness of the cave, for he can't see the Girl.

"You're good boys," she says simply. "Now, go."

Hiro thanks her and helps Miguel to his feet and puts him in the passenger's seat. Miguel merely rests his head back with his eyes closed, Hiro having made a series of cushions for his stinging back, out of undershirts. Hiro drives off, from zero to one-hundred kms in seconds, and gets on the mysterious road, which in the daylight seems much clearer. At the first stand, he stops for water, which he makes Miguel keep drinking. When he reaches the point when the Girl had said to turn, he turns. Then, the signs are clear: in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

They had been in Beit Lahm, also known as Bethlehem, in the West Bank.

Not asking God nor any saints, angels, demons, nor Miguel, any questions, Hiro arrives in Jaffa, Tel Aviv, in an hour. He searches out the hospital and gets Miguel admitted, Miguel managing to communicate what he'd done, knowing Hebrew from Biblical study. After connecting his phone and calling his people to come help them, Hiro steps outside onto the street and gazes up at the Israeli sky, which at this point is dark blue and heading into sunset. A woman nearby is smoking a cigarette, and Hiro can't help but stare at the smoke she exhales, wondering what reality is. The woman takes pity on Hiro, pale, covered in blood, and looking traumatized, and offers him a cigarette and a light, which he accepts.

"Do you need help?" she asks in English. "Do you need to use the bathroom, at least?"

Hiro exhales smoke and shakes his head.

Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, " Did God say, 'You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?'" And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'"

But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

Gen. 3:1-5 RSVCE

to be continued...

Characters belonging to Ana Lily Amirpour, from the film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014): The Girl, and Arash.

Chapter Text

"I remember when Tadashi went to show me the internment camp in Tule Lake, to see where the War Relocation Authority had put all the Japanese," says Hiro to Miguel, who's laying in the hospital bed dazed with morphine. "Because, you know, at the time an infant was considered a potential threat to American homeland security. Ha, and remember the Trump administration? I was already in Tokyo. Were you in Mexico City?"

Miguel nods. "Why are you chatty when I'm on dope?" he asks, grinning.

"Because it's contagious," Hiro admits. He checks his phone. "You know why it's come to my mind," he tells Miguel in Spanish.

"Yeah, of course," Miguel replies in English, taking another long sip of water. "I've forgotten to say, your Spanish is excellent."

"En serio? I've never known a language to need so many verb conjugations."

"Well, I can't master Japanese at this point," laments Miguel. "Even if I listen to Japanese soap operas or anime every night while I sleep. And I did, for a while in seminary, you know! For years. I can understand it! Responding’s a little hard, though."

"Hontô ni? Sugoi ne!" Hiro grins at his soulmate, who grins back dazedly.

Hiro sighs, looking around. "You know, at this point I wish we could just live like the gays in San Francisco when I lived there." He sits back in his chair. "I could have planted a garden. You could have studied at UCLA, and gone into business law or something. We'd have gay friends over and drink rosé and make Asian-style tapas and have some kind of noisy little dog and some fag-hags hanging around us to go to the bars with. Maybe we'd own a boat."

"Stop." Miguel looks nauseous.

"After the last couple of nights, yarô, all I want is just to be a fag," says Hiro, shaking his head. He laughs softly. "Hate me all you want."

Miguel smiles, despite the pain. "What was Tule Lake like; did it have any kind of monument?"

Hiro nods. "Dubya actually signed a grant to make sure all of it was preserved."

"No maames, güey! Qué chiinga!" Miguel purposefully mocks his own Mexican accent.

"No te estoy mamando, güey, quiero trabaaajo!" Hiro says, mocking along. "No platiquemos tantoo!"

Miguel makes a drunken face. "Well, ERF YOU SEE KAY!"

"Kira, kira, killa!" Hiro puts up the peace signs and smiles stupidly. "Ruki, ruki, ruki!"

"Dokidokidoki, fall in rabu!" Miguel puts up the heart symbol with his fingers.

After cackling with Hiro, Miguel says, in mock seriousness, "No, really, I got a boner when you pissed on me."

"Good. That's how it's gonna be from now on;" Hiro raises an eyebrow, smirking; "get ready."

"We were initiated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn," says Miguel pragmatically, "and now to that of the Golden Shower."

The two men laugh uncontrollably. "Fuck, I couldn't have come up with that one!" cries Hiro in mirth, fist bumping Miguel.

"It's the morphine," Miguel insists, running a hand across his face, now groaning in agony at reality. "I don't even know where I am, chino."

"That's probably better," says Hiro hopelessly. "We may not even survive here. A few hours ago there was a suicide bombing on a bus about forty kilometers out of town."

"Christ, have mercy," Miguel breathes, frowning in pain. "Please talk about the dog and the boat, again."

Hiro remarks sadly, "twelve dead, six injured."

Miguel crosses himself. "What did your people say?" he asks, gesturing toward Hiro's phone.

"They've got a hotel," Hiro assures. "We're supposed to meet a rabbi. I didn't tell them about this." He slips his fingers along Miguel's. "Migue, anata: we're both mentally ill;" Hiro frowns concernedly; "what you did would have been considered murder, not mortification of the flesh."

"I'll ask the nurse if there's a resident Catholic priest," says Miguel. "But, it's Israel, I don't know. Hombre;" he leans forward, agitated now; "I swear I thought we sodomized. It was so real. I don't even know how I got out and went into that cave. A cave near Bethlehem, hermano, that wasn't even modern. Bethlehem today is modern; it has power and people walk around normally. Where were we? What happened?"

"I don't know." Hiro averts his eyes. He's cleaned up and put on a clean shirt, and he plays with his visitor’s wrist band. "I can't explain any of it. You're the priest, sweetheart."

Miguel sighs, tightening his grip on Hiro's hand. "Thank you for saving me." He closes his eyes, trying to focus. "Hey, I think I know why you thought of the camps. I'm going to be released once the morphine wears off. Tell me in here. Tell me about Tadashi-kun."

Hiro glances warningly at Miguel, who nods insistently.

"My brother," Hiro begins, "God rest his soul, was a staunch atheist, and hated that our grandfather was a doctor in the War, on the side of... you know. It was something he adopted: this sense of wanting to redeem our family's honor, somehow, by going into bio-engineering to design healthcare tech, to make up for our ancestor's brutality. I remember him being obsessed with the War. He'd be happy I were here, though furious at what I've become. He was... He drank the Kool-Aid; I don't know how else to put it. He didn't get it. He dealt with the trauma of losing our parents that way. I became gay."

"What would he have thought of you at UCLA?" Miguel asks.

Hiro shakes his head. "He'd have been cool with it. He'd have been Antifa, for sure." Hiro chuckles unhappily. "When we were at the camp, he made such a thing out of distinguishing Japanese from Japanese-Americans. He hated Japan. He loved the US. He believed in all the apple-pie crap. We were upper-middle class, bourgeoisie, Migue. You know that. Cassandra is a stereotypical white woman with all the best intentions. God bless her. But, what did I know of war and genocide? What did Tadashi know? Books. You can have all the knowledge in the world and not know a thing about how it applies to real life. Our grandfather was the one who saw the savagery. The people in the camps were the victims of racism and paranoia, and subject to human rights violations. About two and a half million Chinese were killed just by Japanese; overall, about twenty million Chinese died in the War. We got microwaved by the US in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, if you'll excuse the crude term. And it's been a downward spiral since, I don't care what anybody says. Communism? Total bullshit. Capitalism? The ouroboros. Socialism? What the hell? Us criminals? Robin Hoods." He softly kisses Miguel's lips; Miguel is hygiene-conscious enough that in his delirium he asked that the nurses give him the opportunity to brush his teeth. "But we're going to pay, somehow. I don't know how. Anyway, this all goes back to us being in Israel, right?" He clears his throat and says, "Tell me if you can understand, OK?"

Miguel nods.

Hiro says in Japanese, "This is riskier than being in the last country we were in."

Miguel says, "Wakari ma shita."

Hiro continues, "The man who killed my brother is anti-Semitic, and would have done anything to keep my and my brother's technology away from the man who was funding me at UCLA, who's Jewish. I won't say their names, but you know the story. Neither of the men are good people. But the latter is the one who ended up funding my friends and me and the Baymax. The organization I'm in now;" he winks subtly; "would have me double-cross him. So, like you, I also don't think so badly about my evil mafia. It's complicated, no?"

Miguel nods, knowingly. "Boku no deben ha? Soshite boku no kuni?"

"That sounds sexy coming from you, why didn't you tell me you knew my language?" Hiro says in Spanish, leaning closer to Miguel, eyes averted.


"Î-yo!" Hiro laughs, playing with Miguel's fingers. He continues in Japanese, "your country is the one that could stop the agenda, geographically, logistically. Your people. Your religion. For now, at least. But don't think my organization is Catholic, or not racist. It just has the same enemy that most from your country does. And it hates China, Marx, communism, neo-liberalism, all that good stuff that comes along with... you know."

"Hai. Now you know I've gone from Zapatero to Zapatista, right?" Miguel grins with his tongue between his teeth.

"Kawaî!" Hiro exlaims. "Clever."

"There's no womb in their Tree, and so the agenda will never allow spiration," Miguel says in Spanish. "It's in this city that the cedars were brought, from Trees in Lebanon for both constructions of Jerusalem’s Temple - however you want to interpret that. And, so I'm assuming we're not seeing any worshipper of that Tree and that Temple that finds the roots of the Kingdom in the place of waste, but rather of the Church whose roots are in the womb in blood and water. The blood sacrifice in birth and menstruation, not circumcision - or, mutilation. We're going to see someone who can show us the works of the Sephardic Maimonides of Córdoba, aren't we?"

Hiro nods. "Still your blood - you have Sephardim in you. Don't ask how I know." He leans forward and kisses Miguel's cheek. "But you're not that close to Christ yet, sinner,” he whispers. “Lash your heart with the whip of Hell, not your flesh. Make confession the moment you're able to search out a priest." He pulls away. "The dream wasn't nearly as bad as your pride. In fact, I think it pointed to something much deeper than sodomy. What do you remember saying?"

"That I wanted to be her, just once," admits Miguel.

Hiro nods. "I haven't gotten my tattoo yet," he comments. "Eventually, we all must. Mine will be on my back - of her, held up by the moon, unraveling the serpent, with the starry sky as her veil. And she’ll be dark, for she hides the sun behind her, and the Son within her. Be her son." He kisses Miguel's hand. "Your scars will be your marking, they will turn from dark red to moonlit white, and they will become just as beautiful and indicative of her as the image on my back. But, endure. You must endure."

Miguel leans forward now, and caresses Hiro's cheek. "Fusion based in fission; you understand, Hiro, and what you’ve discovered is your payment for your sins. Don't be afraid to proclaim it. Don't be afraid of the nucleus, of power, of energy and entropy, of spiraling the world into the completion of its infinite dimensions: that paradox. You aren't God, either. But you feel like a saint, or an angel. I swear."

Hiro shakes his head. "We're mere gardeners, and if we promise each other: we can help entwine the Tree of Bodhi with the Tree at Golgotha, and graft it into that Tree of Sephiroth they all drool at the mouth about." He whispers in Miguel's ear, "the Zionists."

Miguel kisses him in love and in fear that they're being heard, being watched, for the eye is sharp.

to be continued...

Muhammad, My Friend - written by Tori Amos (1996)
Kira Kira Killer - by Yasutaka Nakata, performed by Kyari Pamyu Pamyu (2014)

Chapter Text

28 Jan. 2019

"Maybe you really are a stuck-up son of a bitch, you know that?" Pablo remarks to Miguel, looking at him disgustingly.

"That means nothing coming from you," remarks Miguel neutrally, not pausing in his typing a paper on Aquinas. "Leave me alone."

The door slams as Pablo, Miguel's roommate in seminary, leaves. Miguel weeps, tears dropping on his keyboard.

The day before, he and the other seminarians had to gather together to listen to a Venezuelan woman named María Esperanza who had a rose growing out of her heart. No one, no doctor, could explain how her skin had formed tissue that created delicate petals of silky skin to emerge from her chest and be plucked off, or how there seemed to be some kind of bone that resembled a stem lodged in her heart. Miguel took everything in stride and merely listened to the woman speak of her visions of Mary. He listened intently, with his whole being, formulas synthesizing in his mind, like symphonies. A certain light emanated from this woman, and it was as though he'd heard her words before in a dream. A very real dream, not so long ago but older than himself. Her eyes went to his when speaking of the Canticle of Canticles, and how it was essentially written to be sung and played on the harp.

When she was finished speaking and all the priests and seminarians applauded, she asked the viceregent, Fr. Ildefonso, of the seminary to speak to Miguel. Fr. Ildefonso picked Miguel out, who sighed, and said a prayer; he was always being picked out for his intelligence and spirituality, and had no friends in this place because of it. Envy truly is the worst sin after pride.

He was led to a sitting room, to be alone with the woman.

"Your name is Miguel Ángel," she said. She reached into her delicate flesh-rose and brought out a rose petal. "And you are familiar with Purgatory. Why are you not a Carmelite?"

Miguel stared at her in shock for a moment, and at the petal, before confessing, "I should probably be, señora. It's true. But, I have the pride of Íñigo; I am a fighter in the dirt like Íñigo. It's what's kept me away from and overwhelmed by Juan de la Cruz and Teresa de Ávila. I believe the Exercises are the most practical for our people, and just as mystical. I was a chamaco running through the alleys of some rural village in Tamaulipas, disobeying my family. I don't belong in a monastery."

"You are very proud," affirmed the woman, offering him the petal. "Keep this with you today." She took off her Brown Scapular and placed it around Miguel's neck. "Keep this is as well, hidden beneath your cassock. You will be swarmed by darkness and unholy spirits. Keep your Rosary close, and hold it by the crucifix."

"This is too much, with all due respect;" insists Miguel. "I am not worthy, Doña María."

"It will be enough. Pray to your patron."

Surely enough, after supper, Fr. Ildefonso declared that it was time they engaged in an experiment that is rarely done anymore, but that must be done given the times and because he believed María Esperanza's visit had brought with it a holy protection. Miguel had kept his mouth shut about her having given him a rose petal and the scapular. He held to his wooden Rosary, from his childhood in Santa Cecilia, and wore the Scapular that the woman had just given him, and the Miraculous Medal that had been handed down to him by Luisa and which was the medal that Hiro had been impressed with when they first met.

"You'll each be whispered the name of a demon," announced Fr. Ildefonso. "That demon will speak through you, and will tempt one chosen among you. Miguel Ángel Rivera."

Miguel wanted to lose faith in humanity at such a cruel display of mockery and envy. But he didn't.

"Come, Miguel." The viceregent summoned Miguel to sit in a chair in the middle of the room. "You will be tempted by the devils to do heinous things. Reflect on how these temptations make you feel, and what prayers and recourses you must take to handle them. Clearly;" he smirked just slightly; "María Esperanza seemed to think you were special."

Miguel sat in the chair, mute. The other twenty-three seminarians sat in a circle around him. Fr. Ildefonso, along with another priest, sat outside the circle, praying.

There was silence, until Pablo suddenly said, "Drive past the speed limit; lose control."

Miguel kept his expression neutral.

Another moment of silence went by, then Jorge said, "harbor hatred in your heart for Fr. Guillermo, who isn't gentle with you like the other Fathers are."

"Yeah, and revel in the fact that you're so eloquent and learned," said Marco.

"Smirk at us like you want to, because you think you're better than us," added Antonio.

"Deny that you think you're better than us; the truth is that you do think that way, but keep lying to yourself," said Manuel.

"Watch more movies, Miguel, listen to outdated songs and be lazy."

"Dream your silly dreams, when you know that the world is cruel," said Diego.

"Be cruel back!"

"Drink tequila, Migue," said Ricardo. "We know you like it."

"Drink and lament your worst regret. What could it be?"

"Think that you shouldn't be here, the sinner that you are," remarked Armando.

"Yeah, think on all the awful things you've done, and lie to yourself thinking we can't see it," hissed Carlos.

"We can see right through you, Miguel Ángel."

"We can see your depravity," said Fernando, mockingly. "We know your perversities."

"Wallow in the fact that you'll always be a good-for-nothing, who probably hit or abused someone very important to him."

"He definitely did; or, at the very least, neglected or tormented. Why did he leave his family in the US for?"

"Stroke your erection when you see what you like," said Pablo, grinning. "We know what you like."

"Or do we? What if what you like is so disgusting, you'd be kicked out of here if anyone found out?" said Juan de Jesús. "Like you were probably kicked out of your house."

"Admit you're a feminist, and a godless communist," said Dario. "The US twisted you, didn't it?"

"Yeah, how'd you even make it in here?" said Francisco. "Were you close to some priest who pulled strings?"

"Watch your favorite pornography, Miguel," breathed Pablo. "Or, remember the best time you had with someone... male or female. Young or old."

Miguel was biting his lip so hard it was starting to bleed.

"Make that deal with a sicario, and snort cocaína," insisted Santiago. "Get into the mafia, indio."

"Hit your mother, or your grandmother!"

"Spit on your family members' graves!"

"Curse the life you have!"

"Leave the seminary - become a criminal, which is your destiny. Atheist."

"Your past can never be erased - you're destined for Hell; why prolong the torture?"

"Yes, kill yourself."

"Fuck me," said Pablo. "Crawl into my bed at night and suck my dick and fuck my ass, like you did with some other guy, as if we can't tell you're like that."

"Fuck your siblings or your cousins, or have you already?" said Daniel. "Fuck your mother."

"Break, Miguel! Break down and scream and cry and whine!"

"Yeah, why hold back?" Felipe laughed. "I told you: you think you're better than us! So, cry!"

"Tell yourself you're like Jesus, enduring all these temptations, begging, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,' as if you could ever be anything like Christ, you miserable jerk."




"Get up and hit us, Miguel! Get up and scream and cry and tell us to fuck ourselves, and tell us the truth, so we take pity on you."

"Poor indio from some shithole town in Tamaulipas. What happened? Why'd you go to the US? Illegally..."

"Always a criminal; your family raised you to be a criminal."

"Get out of here."

"Kill yourself."

"God will never forgive you."

"God saw everything."

"He sees you now."

"Do it."

"Enough," said Fr. Ildefonso. With the aspergillum, he wet Miguel with holy water, then turned and shot it at all twenty-three men sitting in the circle, also brandishing a large crucifix. "Vade retro, Satanás!" he yelled. He called each devil by name and commanded that it leave each man, in the name of Jesus Christ on the Cross. One by one, each of the young men slumped in his chair and fell unconscious for a moment.

Then he placed his hand on Miguel's wet hair atop his head, and said a prayer that all temptation be gone. Then he said an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a Glory Be, and called on St. Michael the Archangel to protect his son and name-bearer. He made the sign of the Cross and helped Miguel to his feet, and led him to the small dimly lit chapel with the Tabernacle, candle burning softly by it, and an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He told Miguel to stay in the chapel as long as he needed, and that he'd have someone guarding him outside. Then he left Miguel alone to fall to the floor and sob in agony, holding the petal to his heart, mumbling babyish petitions to Guadalupe and forgiveness to the Sacrament.

Miguel stayed in there for the rest of the night, actually falling asleep until one of the kind Fathers came in and woke him and encouraged him to go rest in a private room, away from Pablo. Miguel stayed in bed the whole next day, and the Fathers brought him his meals, his books and some of his clothes. Then, when he was up working on a project, Pablo knocked on his door.

Miguel trembled at seeing his roommate, normally so kind and sympathetic, more than any of the other seminarians, now having seen such darkness in him. Pablo looked haunted and upset, with circles under his eyes.

"Migue, I wanted to apologize," Pablo said mildly.

Miguel only nodded, and went back to his typing.

"I don't exactly know why... I was so cruel. Maybe it's because we're close." Pablo sighed, looking ashamedly at the floor. "I don't even know what I said. Please forgive me. I didn't mean any of it."

Miguel ignored him, typing.


Miguel finally snapped: "Liar. Don't take pity on me. It makes you look like the sodomite, as if you aren't. I at least like women, a lot. You're just pathetic, that's the only reason you're here. You know nothing about me, so just go about your business and know that I've seen who you truly are."

"Carajo, Migue." Pablo put a hand over his heart. "Don't you believe in devils? I told you I didn't know what I said. I don't think you know what you're saying either."

"Fuck that, I don't believe in anything, and I know exactly what I'm saying." Miguel typed a sentence. "I'm fucked up. You were all right about me."

"No." Pablo shook his head desperately. "We weren't. It was a collective scapegoating - didn't Fr. Ildefonso explain to you after?"

"No, he didn't." Miguel curled his lip, still typing the words of St. Thomas Aquinas. "I don't believe devils make anyone do anything. They're certainly not making me tell you to get the hell away from me. Now, stupid."

"Maybe you really are a stuck-up son of a bitch, you know that?" Pablo remarks to Miguel, looking at him disgustingly.

"That means nothing coming from you," remarks Miguel neutrally, not pausing in his typing a paper on Aquinas. "Leave me alone."

The door slams as Pablo, Miguel's roommate in seminary, leaves. Miguel weeps, tears dropping on his keyboard. He looks at what he's written and it has to do with virtue ethics and telos. He slams his laptop closed and remembers that Thomas Aquinas quit writing the Summa Theologica on the Eucharist, after a vision of Christ, claiming, "compared to what I've seen, all that I've written is mere straw."

He takes the skin-rose petal in his fingertips and examines it carefully. It has the same feel as a rose petal, but is still flesh. He brings it to his nose. It smells like a rose. He tastes it. It tastes of flesh. He puts it to his chest, by his heart and suddenly feels as though he's being punctured, as the petal attaches itself to his skin and slips beneath it, past muscle and into his heart. He faints and doesn't wake till morning, when he decides it's time to make connections to the mafia.

to be continued...

María Esperanza is based on (but is not actually, for logistic purposes) the actual Venezuelan mystic and Servant of God (Sierva de Dios, title) María Esperanza Medrano de Bianchini (1928-2004).

"María was the subject of many miraculous happenings including the stigmata and exuding sweet aromas. The Eucharist has appeared in her mouth and she allegedly displayed gifts of healing, levitation, bilocation, and prophecy. One of the most remarkable phenomena is the rose that spontaneously burst forth from her chest, having done so 16 times."

Chapter title and opening dialogue from the film "Simón del Desierto" (1970) directed by Luis Buñuel and starring Claudio Brook as Simón and Silvia Pinal as The Devil.

Chapter Text

1 Apr. 2012

"MIGUEL! I was starving, dude, what took so long?"

"I dunno, I was talking to some girl." Miguel winks and tosses his companion, Devon, his bag filled with chips and a burrito wrapped in foil.

"Not some boy?" Devon says, carelessly, half-smirking. "Some Asian boy."

"Nah, dude, cut that out." Miguel scowls.

"All right, whatever you say." Devon rolls his eyes. "I'm going to eat this inside, 'cause it's hot as balls out here. Why don't you finish up the Chevelle?"

Miguel smiles patronizingly and nods. Once Devon's gone inside, Miguel goes to the boss' laptop and pulls up YouTube, muttering, "maricón baboso. It's only May." He pulls up his mix.

"You ready for me, Chevy?" he yells to the car, throwing a towel over his shoulder, sliding on his gloves. "Óyeme cachita! Tengo una rumbita! Pa' que tú la bailes como bailo yo!" He croons to the car, moving his hips: "Muchacha bonita, mi linda cachita, la Rumba Caliente es mejor que el Son! Mira que se rompen ya de gusto las maracas - shake, shake! - y él de los timbales ya se quiere alborotar!"

He opens up the hood. Chevrolet Chevelle SS, 1969. Red. "Your battery's dead, baby! What the hell's your owner done?"

"Se divierte así el francés," Miguel continues, dancing cha cha while detaching things, "y también el alemán, y se alegra el irlandés, y hasta el musulmán!" He turns momentarily to the door, wishing Hiro would come visit him today. "En la rumba no hay fronteras, pues se baila hasta en el polo; yo la quiero bailar solo," he blows a kiss toward the outside, "con mi japonés!"

By the time he's on "María Cristina Me Quiere Gobernar," a pretty blonde enters the shop, wearing weird clothes.

"No, no, no, no, María Cristina!" sings Miguel bent over the hood of the Chevrolet still, making a face of mock disgust. "Que no, que no, que no, que noo!"

"Ay!" sings the blonde. "Por qué!?"

Miguel jumps. He turns around, clutching his heart, laughing when he sees the girl, who blushes. "You scared me! Can I help you?"

"Are you Miguel Rivera?"

Miguel opens his mouth to say yes, but his instincts take over and he says, "who wants to know, sorry?"

"Oh, I'm Hiro's friend!" says the girl brightly. "My name is Génesis, but everyone calls me Honey Lemon!"

"OK." Miguel pauses. "I'm Miguel, yes, uh, Hunny Lemen. It's nice to meet you, sorry." He takes off his glove and walks over to shake her hand.

Honey Lemon laughs, shaking his hand back and shaking her head. "I'm Cuban! Es 'Honey Lemon,' como 'miel con limón'!"

"What!?" Miguel laughs too and says in Spanish, "what's that supposed to mean, eh? Sweet like honey but tart like lemon?" He raises an eyebrow and scruffs his hair.

Honey Lemon blushes even more deeply, if that's possible at this point. "All the guys say that!" She buries her face in her hands.

"Well, you make it easy!" Miguel insists, throwing up his hands.

"My brother nicknamed me that because I tend to make sour things sweet by being overly friendly," Honey Lemon explains.

"Ah," says Miguel, nodding. "I like that. You make things sweet." He rubs the sweat on his forehead with his towel. "OK. Well, what's up, Dulcera? What brings you here?"

"Um, I just wanted to finally meet you!" Honey Lemon says in that excited way of hers. "And break the ice!"

"OK, sure," says Miguel, with wide, trusting eyes. "I was just finishing up this car and then I was gonna wash up and have some food. If you wait five minutes, we can hang out; we can walk to the place, I'll buy you tacos."

"Aw, that's really sweet. I can wait, but I already ate, and I don't mind if you eat. But, I'd like to walk with you, if that's OK."

Miguel ponders her momentarily, especially the funny way she's dressed. He devises that she means him no harm, and he'd already heard good things from Hiro about her, anyway. "Sí. Espérame un momento."

Once they begin their walk, Miguel notices that Honey Lemon's high energy is hiding something.

"Do you speak fluent Spanish?" he asks her.

"For the most part, yes," replies Honey Lemon, hands in her pockets, the sun illuminating her green eyes. "But it's easier for me to understand it than to speak it, much less write it. I was raised by my Mom, who was born and raised in Cuba, and came here with my brother before I was born. She's a single mom, and she raised us by herself in Miami. Even though she spoke Spanish to us a lot, she really wanted us to master English, so I speak better English. But, I get by with Spanish. There's even some words that I know better in Spanish than English; for example, sometimes I still can't remember that 'manguera' in English is 'hose' and that 'cortaúñas' is 'nail-clipper.' Things like that. Has that happened to you, in reverse?"

Miguel laughs softly, warming up to this strange but very jovial young woman. "Nah. It's been so difficult just learning English as it is. Though, you know, we say 'champú' like 'shampoo' and 'líder' like 'leader,' and all over Univision they're always saying 'chequear' like 'to check.' Like, 'chequeen el nuevo capítulo de Destilando Amor, esta noche a las ocho, nuevo centro, sólo en Univision,' or whatever novela is playing. Things like that. Woah, you OK?"

Honey Lemon has doubled-over with laughter. "You said that Univision thing perfectly!"

"I hear it every night, chava!" exclaims Miguel. "And when is Don Francisco ever going to retire? C'mon."

Honey Lemon wipes away tears of mirth.

Miguel grins and says, "your Mom must be a really strong woman to have raised you and your brother alone in another country. Do you get to see her often, or is she still in Miami?"

"She moved here with me," says Honey Lemon. "I don't know what I'd do without her. But, you know, she gets homesick for her parents - my grandparents - in Cuba. But, hombre, there was no way she could live there anymore. She grew up practically starved."

Miguel nods, knowingly. "Castro."

"My brother stayed in Miami, though. He's..." Honey Lemon sighs, kicking sand and gravel. "He's a bit of a black sheep. Sensitive. Independent. Artistic; he paints." She looks at Miguel. "He's gotten into trouble, though. I don't know, I trust him, but I worry for him."

Miguel cocks his head, in fairness. "I can be like that. We can't help being black sheep, or indigo children, you know? I just hope he doesn't get into drugs."

"Too late," Honey Lemon says, frowning. "It's not so bad, though. He was with some guy who led him astray for a while, but that ended - he's bisexual, I think, or maybe fully gay." She winces. "I'm not sure."

"Most of us are complicated in that way," admits Miguel guiltily.

"Oh, you too?" Honey Lemon says, eyes wide. "I thought you were just gay." She looks immediately like she regrets her words.

"Do I seem 'just gay'?" Miguel asks humbly. Honey Lemon freezes. Miguel laughs and says in a low voice, "answer honestly, guapa."

"OK, no," Honey Lemon says quickly, blushing again. "Sorry!" She clears her throat, while Miguel grins with his tongue between his teeth.

"So, is your brother in a safer place now?" Miguel continues, neutral again.

Honey Lemon nods fervently. "We're opposites. He's more creative, and I'm just this nerd."

Miguel sighs. "I see no problem with this nerd thing. I don't know why Hiro goes on about it."

"We're socially awkward!" Honey Lemon insists. They've arrived at the taco stand already. Miguel orders steak tacos and a side of guacamole.

"You just need to let go more," says Miguel, handing Honey Lemon a taco. "Trust in the body. Enjoy sex and food and music; have random conversations, do cheesy things, open your heart to the possibility that you don't have to overthink everything." He grabs lots of napkins and hands her a Lemon Fanta. "You Catholic?"

Honey Lemon accepts the Fanta gratefully, then shakes her head at the question, frowning. "You?"

Miguel nods. "¡Buen provecho, Dulcera!" He crosses himself then takes a bite of his taco.

"Communism knocks that out of you," comments Honey Lemon, taking her own bite. "Though I like Latin American Catholicism, depending on the parish. The churches tend to be really ornate, and everyone's enthusiastic. At least here in LA. In Cuba and Miami, there's una cantidad de santería." She shakes her head disappointingly.

"In LA and Mexico, too!" insists Miguel. "But, it's a little different. I don't know. I've-" He opens his Fanta. "I've had experiences with the dead, and with spiritual things. It's hard to explain."

"Well, yeah, Día de los Muertos, right?" Honey Lemon takes another bites of her taco, savoring the sauce and the spice of the beef.

Miguel nods, and looks off as though remembering something very vividly. "They've marketed that a lot, but it's actually Catholic, with a touch of Azteca."

"On the other hand, santería is African-Yoruba espiritismo with a touch of Catholic," comments Honey Lemon. "My brother knows more about it than me; maybe that's why I'm a scientist." She dabs herself with a napkin. "I love nature, and I think the answers lie there. I'm not that keen on thinking about the spiritual as separate from nature. Nature is good, right? And most people think 'God' is good, right? So, why can't they be one? When things go wrong in nature, in people's health and well-being, why should we pray to something invisible, when we can actually do something about it?"

"I feel you," says Miguel. "But, hey, Copernicus was a Catholic priest. St. Albertus Magnus was an alchemist, a scientist, a biologist, and a geologist; he mentored Aquinas. They both studied the philosophy and the science of the Samanid Muslims in Persia: Avicenna, Averroes, and the Sephardic Maimonides. Most recently in the twentieth century, Fr. Teilhard de Chardin discovered Peking Man and formed theories on the Omega Point and an evolutionary theory that respects Darwin's. Catholicism's no enemy of science, despite what many people think."

Honey Lemon nods, impressed. "You'd make a great evangelizer. You're a musician, right?"

"I'm everything," Miguel says, wrinkling his nose in affection and sipping his Fanta.

Honey Lemon chuckles. The sun is setting. At this point, they're sitting on a hill overlooking LA. "If you weren't dating Hiro, I'd introduce you to my brother, Rubén."

"I'm sure we'd get along," Miguel agrees. He looks over to her with soft eyes. "If I wasn't dating Hiro, I'd get a little closer to you."

Honey Lemon scoffs, "I've given up on men, sorry!"

"Oh, so are you like your brother and me, too, then?" Miguel says, cocking an eyebrow.

"No." Honey Lemon shakes her head. "I think I'll always like men. I just want to be alone, honestly." She sighs. "Science can become like a lover, believe it or not. I'm sure you've seen it with Hiro. Did he tell you about how Baymax became Baymax?"

Miguel nods. "I know about his mental illness, too. And I try to make him as happy as I can, but the rest is up to him."

Honey Lemon nods. "You make him happy, I think. I can see he's changed, but what's funny is that he's become less interested in his work now."

"Is that why you came to talk to me?" Miguel asks lightly.

"Yes and no," replies Honey Lemon, honestly. "We were all really concerned when Tadashi passed, and we saw Hiro turn science into something that harms people, including himself. I think he's the most gifted of all of us, and the most passionate. I love him like a brother or a cousin. So, I just wanted to meet you and talk. I'm sorry none of us have approached you before. We're preparing for the end of the semester, and it took a lot for Hiro to admit he was with you, and that he was gay." Honey Lemon pauses. "He's gay, right?"

Miguel shrugs. "Sexuality is fluid. We're pretty happy sharing our bodies and souls together, but, hermana, the woman's body will always call to man - as gay as he may convince himself he is. You women are beautiful, God damn." He closes his eyes and groans in pleasure and wistfulness.

"Do you miss us so much?" Honey Lemon asks, fascinated.

"Without being too inappropriate - perdóname if I am - I haven't made full love to any woman," confesses Miguel. "But you know;" he smirks his dimpled smirk; "my fingers have stroked more than just guitar strings, and the poetry from my lips I've bestowed upon more than just spoken words. If you know what I mean." He winks.

"Caramba, that's sexy!" Honey Lemon exclaims, blushing and covering her mouth after. Miguel laughs. Honey Lemon asks, wildly, "that's one of the most erotic ways of saying you've had sexual experiences, I've ever heard."

"Make sure your brother knows that you appreciate art," Miguel insists, reaching over and wiping some guacamole off the side of Honey Lemon's mouth. "C'mon, let's get something sweet, Dulcera. Though compared to you, that's gonna be tough."

to be continued...

Cachita - written by Rafael Hernández Marín (1892-1965)
María Cristina Me Quiere Gobernar - written by Ñico Saquito (1901-1982)

Chapter Text

8 Mar. 2014

"Hamada-san!" says Kôsuke, picking Hiro up in his Subaru BRZ. "Please come in. How are you?"

"I'm well, Tsuji-san. You?"

"Here and there. You know. Get ready." Kôsuke lights his cigarette and offers one to Hiro, who has just recently picked up the habit.

Hiro's been told he's going to be put through a rite of initiation, with the consolation that everyone must go through it, at some point. That there's always an opportunity, each one suited for the right person. He's learned to stay quiet and do as he's told.

"Don't worry so much," Kôsuke tells him as they drive through Tokyo. "You're a scientist. Remember that." He makes a sharp turn down a narrow street. "Remember that the whole way through, and you'll be fine. Keep your back straight, breathe, and stay centered. Nothing will harm you. It's all in your head. Emotions are fucking annoying, aren't they?" He grins. "So, just be Hamada Hiro: sensei. It'll be over in a few hours and it'll just be something you saw and something you did. And your having done it will have been good. OK?"

Hiro merely nods, inhaling smoke. He'd gotten off of lithium, slowly, by the help of doctors here in Tokyo. He lived alone, privately, in a nice apartment with a garden. He was well-funded. He mingled with the families of the clan. Most of all, he devoted himself to his research, being brilliant at it, and always remembering that this was Miguel, for Cass, for his friends, and to honor his parents and Tadashi. The world couldn't go on being so wretched when he already knew too much about the abuse of power. The yakuza offered him something ancient and secret, something that kept him going. Some savagery that kept him going. Rather than cutting himself, or creating robots, or feeding off of Miguel's happiness, he could do this. There was no other way, in his mind, frankly.

"All right, here we are," Kôsuke comments. "Strong stomach." As they exit the car and enter a building, he pats Hiro's back encouragingly.

They ride the elevator to the twelfth floor and meet an older gentleman Hiro's already familiar with, Satoru-san, who looks grim.

After mutual bowing, Satoru-san thanks Hiro for coming and explains the situation briefly: "A woman who was protecting some very important information for us has been killed, by one of our members, who is currently being interrogated. Ryota-sensei believed this would be an opportune moment for you to aid us in understanding what may have happened in the technical sense, and then to handle the situation with the traitor, personally. So, if you'll please, step into the room and tell us what you perceived to have happened, we'd greatly appreciate it. Oh, and, we'll have sterilization for you to use after, just in case, though I wouldn't recommend touching the body or any of its parts too much. In fact, gloves and a mask would be prudent for you to use." Satoru asks one of his men to hand Hiro latex gloves, and a surgical mask. "Don't tremble, Hamada-san!" Satoru-san laughs jovially. "We'll have some tea after this; I could use some right now, and a nice pipeful of tobacco. Please step into the room."

Kōsuke pats him on the back once more. Hiro has always know his people's relationship with death; the West recoils at it, the rest of the world takes it in stride. Hiro's been around death his entire life.

Still, when he opens the door to the room and sees the woman's body, his stomach does wrench itself and indicate it wants to void up, and vomit up whatever's in there. But Hiro breathes and detaches. He detaches from that, and merely looks at the dead creature before him. For, humans are creatures.

"Poor creature," he finds himself saying.

"Yes," Satoru comments.

Hiro walks over, pulling on his mask and gloves, and taking note of the blood that's also smeared along the knocked-over furniture. He kneels down and examines the young woman. He takes another look around the room. He sighs, and coughs a little at the smell of corpse and at the sight, but takes Kōsuke's advice.

In fact, there's something beautiful about all this.

Hiro rises to his feet and turns to Satoru-san, pulls down his mask and says calmly, "it seems like this woman was hit repeatedly, and very hard, by steel knuckles that caused her eye to pop out of its socket. Then her head was smashed against the side of the table and she died from brain injury and loss of blood. There's also plenty of evidence that there were two others involved in this altercation, and both got away, one more quickly than the other; the latter seems to have been wounded, though not fatally, for the trail of blood he or she left;" Hiro indicates the trail; "isn't very strong. This seems all to have happened about two hours ago."

Satoru nods approvingly, and grins. "That's accurate, Hamada-san. Thank you. Now, let's have that tea, come." Satoru leads him away and orders his men to take care of all evidence. For an eternal moment, Hiro feels he wants once again to vomit, or at least scream, but it passes. And he grins back at Kōsuke and nods calmly at Satoru and goes to peel off his gloves and remove the mask, wash his hands and join the men for some tea and tobacco.

Two hours later, after sundown, he's driven by Kôsuke to a bridge.

"Hamada-san, just step into the void," Kôsuke assures as he leads him under the bridge and into a long tunnel that comes out to an abandoned parking garage. "Do as you did before; exactly the same. It's all the same. It's an illusion." He exhales smoke and smiles enigmatically at Hiro. "It's just an illusion."

They arrive at a scene in which a man a little older than Hiro is laying in a body-bag with his stomach sliced open and his entrails pulled out. He's alive, and able to speak, awaiting his death and using the last amounts of energy - for it'll take him a few hours to die - spitting curses at those standing around him. Hiro halts breathing and shifts backwards, feet wanting to turn: every instinct in him tells him to turn away. But, Kōsuke pats his back very hard, a little too hard, reminding him he can't turn back. There's no turning back.

"Remember, Satoru-san is named after satori," Kôsuke mentions in a whisper. "You spent the afternoon and evening with Satoru, now meet satori and fulfill destiny. There's nothing to be scared of."

Hiro walks forward, and his senses dull. He detaches again (how easy it can be, when you learn how to do it). Ryota-sensei is there to greet him. They bow.

"Thank you for coming, Hamada-sensei. I trust you're well. Be calm."

Hiro says, "thank you," and bows once more, submissively.

"The man on the verge of death you see, killed the woman I was informed you examined earlier this afternoon. He's betrayed us. We've extracted all the information we can, and are frankly satisfied. I'd like for you to witness the way in which we handled this betrayal; it's methodical. I'd ask that you explain what you perceive. Please step forward."

"The human body, in life and death, is beautiful," Hiro remarks, almost dreamily. "Wouldn't you say so, with all due respect, Ryota-sensei?"

"I couldn't agree more, Hamada-san," Ryota replies, smiling serenely.

The dying man cackles and weeps at seeing Hiro. "Look at this faggot they've brought! Look at how they want me to die at the hands of a faggot! Brilliant! You cunts are brilliant."

Ryota-sensei orders one of his men to dig his foot against the entrails of the man.

Hiro stares at this man, not that much older than himself, who looks back at him without fear but with mockery. It's as if death is mocking him. Hiro hates this man, yet admires his nihilism. Hiro hates him because Hiro's terrified; Hiro admires him because Hiro's brave.

"I perceive the paradox of pain and irony," Hiro responds to Ryota. "Irony shouldn't cause tears, but laughter. But in this cyclical world of suffering, we weep when we should laugh, and laugh when we should weep. What must die stays alive, and what must stay alive dies. This man should die, and the woman dead still be alive."

"Should we leave him be, if there is no more use for him in his last dying hours?" Ryota asks carefully.

Hiro pauses. "No," he replies. "No, that would be cruel."

Ryota opens up the case to a pistol; Hiro bows and takes it. It's not the first time Hiro's held arms and shot one, for he's been trained. But, this is not a shooting range.

Hiro approaches the man who spits a string of very clever curses which actually make Hiro smile a bit. Then he asks the man, not without tenderness, "do you wish to die?"

The man nods sincerely.

Hiro thinks to Yûko. "Then I have already granted your wish." He aims at the opposite eye of the one that had been dislodged in the woman, and shoots him dead.

"We will keep you updated on the case, and are very grateful for your sharp perception and for demonstrating your loyalty," Ryota-sensei says later as they drink fine warm saké in his limosine. "The Beretta is yours to keep, Hamada-san."

"Arigatô gozaimasu, sensei." Hiro bows and accepts the case.

Ryota has his driver drive Hiro to his apartment.

In the sweltering night, as the cicadas and the crickets chirp loudly and monotonously (for that is their existence), Hiro screams for hours into his pillows, weeping for his mother, his father, Tadashi, and Cass, weeping for salvation. He weeps and yearns for Miguel and holds the vial of St. Francis Xavier's blood that Luisa had given him secretly. He can't cut. He can't kill himself. He can't drug himself.

The next morning, Kōsuke calls to check up on him. Without having slept, Hiro asks him as lightly and neutrally as he can, whether he knows of a Catholic priest within the circle of the Yamaguchi-gumi. Kōsuke does.

to be continued...

Chapter Text

08 Dec. 2022

"Pablito! It's good to see you, cabrón, and on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception!" Miguel rubs his nose as he feels the cocaine slip through his sinuses. He turns from the mirror to see his old roommate from the seminary. "What brings you to this lonely bathroom in this bar in Michoacán? Don't tell me you've tracked me down 'cause you're still pillado;" he grins amicably. "We're wedded to the Church now."

"Don't fuck around, Miguel." Pablo looks at him coldly. "What the hell have you done?"

"Who ever gave you jurisdiction over me?" Miguel says, raising his hands in mock wonder. "What the fuck's it to ya?"

"You know what I've been sent here to do, so just get out of here and go back to the City," insists Pablo, jaw twitching. "I don't want to kill you."

"I don't want you to kill me, either." Miguel sighs. "You don't have to. You can just admit you've become a chess-piece: a nobody with no backbone following orders from the New World agenda that will sink us all. And you guys called me the atheist back then, ha." Miguel unravels his packet of powder and offers it as truce. "Let's just agree we're enemies, and that this cursed poison is sinking our country and our continent, whether we're on the left or the right, whether we're aristocracia, bourgeois, pobre diablos, mafia or revolucionarios. Polvo blanco - bandera blanca." White powder - white flag. He smiles sadly. "Hermanos?"

Pablo stares at the cocaine and back up to Miguel. Miguel's sincerity was something Pablo could never live up to. It was why he harbored hatred for him, and lusted after him. For, there had been no devils making any of those seminarians say what they had said years before - just the psychological freedom to collectively scapegoat Miguel, whom they had all envied or overly admired, but who'd always remained aloof. Pablo had always known there was someone in Miguel's heart. Someone, man or woman. Pablo could never have been that person. Like many men, Pablo had run into the seminary to have sex with other men his age. To feel protected. Miguel had always seemed to understand the spiritual, in a way none of the others could. He'd been poor, unlike the other seminarians, who'd come from aristocracy. He'd lived in the US, and was hardened with determination, but was soft in his devotion. Artistic and beautiful, sacred and dangerous; like draping a Rosary over an open pair of scissors, Miguel being the type to let it be and not cut.

Pablo had to cut the Rosary with scissors.

"Don't think I can't get my own, mariquita," he growls and shoves the powdered paper into Miguel's face. "Que viva López-Obrador, and may he continue breaking up all your shitty syndicates. Fuck you, faggot."

Miguel takes a deep breath, wiping the powder off himself, and prepares himself for what he knows he must do.

"Half-faggot, yes," he admits, coming closer, "and, Pablo, papito, if you'd only known I liked it rough like that." He presses himself against Pablo's body and brings their mouths close, one hand on the other man's hips. "I'd have let you do anything to me during any of those nights together." He kisses him softly. "Tonto, majadero. Ahora, dame los besos que me debes. Y empálame con tu navaja carnal - not any steel knife, baby. You know we know what you like."

Miguel deftly presses the tip of his Beretta against Pablo's side and pulls the trigger. Pablo drops like a ragdoll and looks up at Miguel with shock and regret.

"Carajo, Pabi, don't you believe in devils?" Miguel puts his hand to his heart. An ironic smile graces his face. "I didn't even know what I did, there. You know who made me do it? Satanás."

Pablo keens in pain and terror.

"Sa-" Miguel shoots him once again; "-ta-" twice; "-nás;" and a third and final time.

"Satanás, so that you know," Miguel tells the corpse.

He exhales and sways for a moment, letting the cocaine give him the energy to navigate through this dream-like scene. He wipes his face again, puts away his pistol and deftly climbs through the bathroom window, striding away into the night and calling his people to come pick him up on the main road. Behind him, he can hear the commotion in the bar. He crosses himself and grips his Rosary.

to be continued...

I based this loosely on that scene in the bathroom from Rosario Tijeras (the 2005 Colombian film, directed by Emilio Maillé; not the 2016 Mexican telenovela).

Chapter Text

26 Jun. 2023

"The trees of Lebanon." Hiro ponders.

"Cedars," remarks Miguel.

"Cedars of Lebanon," confirms Hiro. "Traveling. So much time ago. As if time were something we could track with all precision." He smiles at his own weakness. "So much time ago," he breathes, again.

Miguel's eyes flutter shut. He's laying on his front, in bed, head turned. He's naked except for a soft blanket. His back is bandaged.

"Kodesh ha-Kodashim," whispers Hiro, gazing at him. "The Holy of Holies, lined with cedars from Lebanon, which passed through this portal city." He looks out to the balcony of their hotel room, to the dusk of Jaffa. "To Jerusalem. You've been lashed, Miguel. Now, take your cedar cross to Jerusalem. To the place of the skulls. Latin or Hebrew?"

Miguel smiles, eyes still closed. "Hebrew."

"The place of skulls, Golgotha," says Hiro. "Calvary in Latin. To meet abandonment. Psalm twenty-two. 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' And the rest of the psalm?"

"A hymn of worship and a promise of deliverance," murmurs Miguel, sighing softly, yearning to sleep. "Total self-giving - kenosis - emptying."

"Satori," murmurs Hiro.

Miguel elaborates, "to conquer death by sacrifice. To destroy the Temple, by means of cedars which cross in four-dimensional paradox, with a male virgin pinned to them."

"I meant what I said," says Hiro, softly, still looking to the setting sun upon the Mediterranean. "You're a virgin. Unless I don't know you at all."

"I've never been penetrated, Hiro," Miguel confesses, eyes now open and honest.

Hiro nods, looking to Miguel with assurance that he always believed him. "Isn't it unfair?" he asks sadly. "It's easier for us men to die virgins, for there are so many men who are never penetrated, and yet few women die virgins."

Miguel winces.

"I'm not being Manichaean," Hiro assures, smiling. "But, honey, sing the Canticles again, like in Rome." He leans forward, very gently kissing his companion's lips. "Trust me."

"Morena soy," Miguel says, very honestly and appropriately, "pero hermosa;" Hiro wrinkles his nose in affection at him; he continues, "hijas de Jerusalén; morena como las carpas de Cedar, hermosa como los pabellones de Salmá. No se fijen en mi tez morena, ni en que el sol me bronceó la piel. Mis hermanos se enfadaron contra mí, y me obligaron a cuidar las viñas; ¡y mi propia viña descuidé!" Miguel and Hiro laugh innocently. "Cuéntame, amor de mi vida," continues Miguel, as if he were addressing his companion, "¿dónde apacientas tus rebaños? ¿dónde a la hora de la siesta los haces reposar? ¿Por qué he de andar vagando entre los rebaños de tus amigos?"

I am very dark, but comely, O daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon. Do not gaze at me because I am swarthy, because the sun has scorched me. My mother’s sons were angry with me, they made me keeper of the vineyards; but, my own vineyard I have not kept! Tell me, you whom my soul loves, where you pasture your flock, where you make it lie down at noon; for why should I be like one who wanders beside the flocks of your companions?

"They're the ones who wouldn't stop bothering me and sending me videos about hugs," Hiro replies, and the two men laugh and kiss affectionately.

Hiro then actually recites the Bridegroom's reply, in Japanese, the way Kyōko had taught him. Miguel can't believe it. He turns, with the help of Hiro, onto his back, and makes room for his companion to lay next to him so they may sleep.

"I have known mahō shōjo," Hiro confesses, then laughs at Miguel's face that looks up at him like he's crazy; "that's the silly name they decided on, for lacking a better term: little-sister mystics, on the edge of seventeen toward eighteen. They taught me things."

Miguel raises his brows, not having missed the implications. Hiro nods.

"That's how you learned," comments Miguel, realizing.

"We can void the contract," whispers Hiro, so softly it's as if he were merely mouthing the words. He strokes Miguel's concerned face. "Just like the sinkhole in Zacatón."

Miguel shakes his head sadly. "You know better than me that it's going to backfire. Whatever the Cenote breaks up, will eventually come back."

"You just recited the Canticle that might as well be the Guadalupana's - and Guanyin's." Hiro frowns. “I study black holes; it doesn't come back."

"I'm scared it will," Miguel confesses. "People have died at my hands."

Hiro grips Miguel's hands meaningfully, and looks down at both pairs of their hands. He closes his eyes. "It's all right. It's the analogy. We'll die, too, analogically, and what is there to fear if you believe in a saving God?"

"You heretic! - like me," laments Miguel, head turning on the pillow, despondently, away from Hiro. "We believe there's salvation for the Devil; the great heresy of Origen, of apokatastasis. Aren't some just going to burn in Hell?" He takes Hiro's hand and places it above his own heart.

"What would Frida Kahlo, who you love so much, have to say about Hell?" Hiro asks.

"..." Miguel opens and shut his mouth. He lets Hiro's hands go and turns his head back towards him. "I actually know that."

"Do you?"

"She's my great-great aunt-in-law, and came to me one afternoon  in LA to talk."

"Oh." Hiro exhales. Sometimes the magical realism is overwhelming. "What did she say?"

"Just that it's all Purgatory and then that we reach an unspeakable place," replies Miguel, reaching for water.

Hiro hands Miguel a glass of water, and then raises his hands in concession. "I'm with Aunt Frida. She may have been a puella magi." Ah, that's why Homura reminds me of Miguel - Frida Kahlo is his family. "What's your favorite painting of hers?" Hiro asks.

Miguel sighs after drinking, and thinks. "Probably, 'Moses'." He shrugs, wincing as his healing-shoulders move. "She said she regretted not painting one of the Transfiguration, but that one's very mystical. Or, 'Without Hope.' And, the famous 'Broken Column.'" He tsks sadly. "My poor aunt."

Hiro reaches over to his laptop and begins looking up the paintings online. "You should meet Homura and the others," he tells Miguel, browsing through Kahlo's work. "These look like what the girls called 'labyrinths.' And while your aunt depicted them in a creative way, they point to something very cold and scientific."

"Can we do it tomorrow?" Miguel says. "My back hurts."

"No one told you to flagellate yourself as though you were Anthony of the Desert." Hiro shakes his head at him, not disaffectionately, stripping his own shirt off and shrugging off his pants. "Yes. But, tomorrow we have to see Rabbi - oh, get ready, Migue;" Hiro smiles, pulling off his underwear; "Naomi."

"A female rabbi?" Miguel's mouth opens in surprise.

Hiro nods. "Make sure to tone down the machismo," he orders to him, saving the tabs of Frida's paintings on his browser, and closing his laptop.

"Am I that macho?" Miguel asks, sincerely, self-consciously. "I cry a whole lot in this story, you know. In almost in every chapter."

"Doesn't mean you're not macho," counters Hiro. He crawls next to Miguel and kisses him playfully.

"I don't always want to be," confesses Miguel, eyes averted, lashes fluttering. "At confession today at St. Peter's Church, to the Franciscan priest, I swore I’d check my pride." He and Hiro play with each other's hands, stroking each other's fingers carelessly as the balmy night begins to fall on their dimly-lit room. "In the car in the desert, I dreamed I was the girl."

"I know."

Their faces are close to one another's, eyes looking at each others', and at lips and fingers.

Miguel lays back, wincing slightly. He takes a short frightened breath and says, a little desperately, "let me be the girl."

Hiro merely peers at him. Something shifts in Miguel, as he lays his head to the side, black hair spilling across the pillow, expression worn with pain and pondering. Something neutralizes, and Hiro realizes he's pressing his fingers very expertly against the pressure points in Miguel's palms. He presses himself up against his lover's body, careful not to put that much weight on him. Miguel shudders and looks up with doe-eyes.

"Morena," Hiro whispers reverently, running his fingers along Miguel's throat, like the first time they kissed, then down to his chest, pressing against his solar plexus, down further, to his taut but overly lean pelvis. His hand hovers there, and he watches Miguel's member begin to harden slightly. He leans forward and kisses Miguel's eyes shut, then kisses his forehead, and then just under his lips on his chin. Miguel's lips open.

Then it washes over Hiro like a tidal wave along the port of this ancient city. They have switched. He's the man, now. Or, maybe he always was. Or, maybe it doesn't matter. They've changed. Miguel flutters his eyelashes open and for a moment does look like a woman.

Hiro leans down, wrapping his arms around Miguel, and kisses his throat, and across to the soft part of his neck. Hiro breathes another line of the Canticle, "you've ravished my heart, my sister, my bride." Miguel whimpers in a high tone, hands coming gently up Hiro's back to his shoulders. Hiro says, "you have ravished my heart with a glance of your eyes."

And when he pulls back to gaze down at his beloved, Miguel is a woman.

Hiro merely stares. He stares and breathes and realizes that a woman's body is beneath him, her thighs having opened to accommodate his hips and pelvis. Her breasts press against his chest. Her hands rest gently against his back. She has a soft, delicate neck with no hair or protruding Adam's apple. Her jawline is fine. Her coral mouth is full, her cheekbones high. Her caramel eyes are wide, her dark eyebrows soft and gently arching, and uniting a little in the middle - less than Frida's, but still enough that the resemblance is there. Her thick black hair is shoulder-length, sprawled out against the pillow. A blush tinges her cheeks, and she bites her full bottom lip, revealing soft, smaller white teeth. The scent that comes from her is sweet and watery and herbal like the puella magi.

"Hiro?" Miguel says with a woman's voice, in Miguel's tone. She blinks concernedly. They're Miguel's eyes, only larger and softer, with thick and longer lashes.

Hiro merely shakes his head, and leans down and kisses her lips. It tastes like Miguel, as a woman. The arms that wrap around him, the thin legs that open, feel like Miguel's, as a woman. They're softer, and suppler.

"Miguel, you-" Hiro pauses, suddenly unable to breathe.

"Hiro." The woman who is Miguel's eyes widen and stare into Hiro's eyes with that same determined look Miguel's always had. "Don't panic. Don't-don't think on it." Miguel-as-a-woman swallows nervously. "I sound like a woman, too. And, if- if you speak, you'll also realize... that we... that you-"

"-have changed, too?" Hiro's sweet voice says, as a woman.

Miguel nods.

"Is this bad?" Hiro asks, trembling slightly, as he - she - looks down at her own breasts, which are pressed against her companion's breasts, for they're still in each other's arms. "Y-you're the magical one. Is this bad?" Her voice goes a little hysterical.

Miguel shakes her head reassuringly. "No," she replies. "It would feel wrong, I think. A-and it doesn't. Not at all." She laughs breathily, as if enjoying the sound of her own voice. Her smile is like the sun, with the same dimple, the same beauty-mark.

"Oh, you're so beautiful," confesses Hiro in a high voice, feeling her own face conform in feminine affection, feeling herself blush much more than she would as a man.

Miguel puts her hands on Hiro's cheek and giggles, eyes sparkling. "You should see yourself!"

Hiro takes her hand and admires how thin and delicate their hands are, with skin as soft as velvet, and hairless arms. She realizes that her own hair is spilling down like a curtain, meeting Miguel's on the pillow. Miguel reaches and strokes it back, and it's as if it were like silk. Hiro's skin is porcelain white and petal-soft, with the most beautiful of cherry-pink on her high cheeks and a few freckles on the bridge of her nose. Her little mouth smiles and the gap in her teeth is still there. Her eyes are also wider, a lighter golden, lined with long and fine eyelashes, and with the most beautiful brushing of straight feather-like brows.

Then the obvious becomes more obvious; they're naked in each others' arms, breasts pressed against each other and more importantly, sex resting against sex. Hiro looks into Miguel's eyes. Miguel looks back.

"I-I think we're supposed to..."

Hiro nods, girlishly. "Yeah. Me too."

"Just be careful with my back, please," Miguel says, moving her shoulder a bit to assure that the wounds are still there.

"Does it hurt more now than before?" Hiro asks, her voice naturally sounding more soothing and concerned, from the surge of estrogen. She shifts accommodatingly, taking note of Miguel's gentler shoulders.

"No, no, I'll be fine," Miguel assures, stroking Hiro's arm, like a woman does. Women are always fine; they tend to be stronger and able to endure pain much more than men. "It hurts less. Just be careful."

"The rumors are true, then," Hiro says, laughing lightly and enjoying it. "The woman endures more pain." She blinks her lashes at Miguel in feminine love and desire, and her two fingers brush the tip of Miguel's delicate chin.

In wonder, Miguel reaches up and strokes Hiro's cheek, running her fingers along her rosy lips, feeling the soft warm breath behind them. Though she be a woman, her love endures. Their bond remains. Their bodies don't forget that. She feels a curling somewhere in her womb, that's unlike anything she's ever felt, for it's entirely internal. It feels like her heart's about to burst. The curl becomes stronger, pushing and pulling between her legs as she suddenly realizes her own opening - her own walls, her own power! And something else, something that feels like a penis, but so small and hidden and devious, as if it's purposefully hiding so as to make the chase for it exciting. The female clitoris.

Hiro looks into Miguel's eyes and knows exactly what she's feeling, because she's feeling it too. Their legs have unconsciously shifted so that their sexes align. Naturally, they've begun rocking them together ever so slightly, in curious fun, and in love.

"This feels really good," Hiro confesses, blushing red again and actually covering her smile with her fist like a pretty Japanese girl would.

"You look so cute doing that." Miguel reaches up to kiss her cheek. "You're so beautiful," she confesses passionately, "I love you." She kisses her cheek repeatedly, and brushes her long hair back.

Hiro gently makes sure to avoid touching Miguel's bandages, but manages to find a patch of skin on her velvet back to place her hand on as she brings Miguel to sit up. "I think I love you more," she whispers, cradling Miguel's pretty little face. "My heart is pounding!" Hiro exclaims, bringing her hands to her own chest, between her small breasts, and raising her shoulders. "I feel like - like I want to tell you how much I love you."

She pulls Miguel close, embracing her tightly, hand in her thick glossy hair, being careful with her back. Miguel grips her close, and together they begin weeping and laughing. "What's happening?" Hiro asks, frightened.

"I think women are more emotional than we can understand," Miguel explains, wiping her eyes and her nose. She pulls back and wipes away Hiro's tears as Hiro strokes her cheek and gazes softly at her.

"Yes, arousal is tied very much in with emotions and romance," Hiro says, remembering what she knows from biology and psychology, and then she thinks to the puella magi. "My friends - they, oh, Miguel, I did make love to them, I'm sorry!" Hiro bursts into tears and covers her face in her hands, sobbing.

Miguel feels a little pang of jealousy in her heart, until she realizes that Hiro is supposed to be a gay man. Everything is really strange right now.

"They taught me the sacred;" Hiro sniffs, while Miguel passes her tissues; "the sacred homoerotic. So, when I was a man, I never penetrated them. Never, Migue, I swear!" She grips Miguel's hands.

"It's OK, I understand now," Miguel promises, squeezing her hands in reassurance.

"No, it's not OK," whimpers Hiro. "I left you! How could I have left you? My heart was broken. I cried every day and night, when no one was looking!" Hiro is growing hysterical. "I just wanted you to be happy, when I knew I was making you miserable, and making you sick!"

"Sh, you've got to calm down. C'mon. Sh." Miguel tries soothing her, bring her close and stroking her hair and her back. "I don't know what's going on, and why we're women, but, we have to be strong like them and learn to handle the emotions."

"How long do you think this will last?" Hiro asks, after a moment.

Miguel shakes her head. "I don't know. Maybe till we make love?"

Hiro nods. "OK. I know how lesbians make love; I watched them." She frowns, pink mouth pouting. "That sounds perverted."

"Don't worry, I understand," Miguel assures, nodding, expression gentle. "If we were our male selves, I'd be patting your back and suggesting we go out drinking, and cursing you out of envy for having a lesbian harem of magical girls."

Hiro laughs again like a polite well-educated Japanese girl, and Miguel grins at how cute she looks.

"Wait, I just realized!" Miguel's dark-lashed eyes widen. "We should look in the mirror."

Hiro winces. "I think it would break the illusion, or the dream - whatever this is. We wouldn't have gotten the chance to make love. Please." She blushes deeply.

"That's true, OK." Miguel blushes, also. "How do we start? You're really beautiful as a woman. Oh, I wish I could marry you." She grows sad now, too, large eyes downcast, full mouth frowning.

"Oh, Miguel, don't break our hearts!" warns Hiro, touching her chest where her heart is. "Say other kinds of romantic things. Oh! Sing a song, Migue!"

Miguel's eyes suddenly brighten. "Selena! Hiro, I get to be Selena like this!" She bounces in excitement, laughing at the sensation of her full breasts bouncing along with her. Hiro admires them and compliments her.

"OK, OK. Ahem." Miguel clears her throat, and then searches around for the bottle of ointment she's supposed to use for her wounds once the bandages come off, to use as a microphone.

"Very accurate," compliments Hiro, sitting cross-legged, and waiting.

"This is for you." Miguel blows her a kiss. She sings: "Late at night when all the world is sleeping, I stay up and think of you." Miguel marvels at her own voice, which is just as rich and beautiful, but feminine. "And I still can't believe that you came up to me and said, 'I love you.'" She reaches over and takes Hiro's hand, and Hiro nods encouragingly, sighing. "I love you, too!" Miguel smiles her dimpled smile, and croons, "Now, I'm dreaming with you, tonight, till tomorrow, and for all of my life! And there's nowhere in the world I'd rather be, than here in my room, dreaming with you endlessly! With you, tonight!"

Miguel reaches over and kisses Hiro's cheek, who kisses her back and praises her, swearing her undying love.

"I wish we could stay like this, forever," says Miguel, twirling a strand of Hiro's hair in her fingers.

"Is that really what you want, Miguel Rivera?" says a strange high-pitched voice. Hiro and Miguel jump and hold each other, looking desperately around till they see a white cat-like creature sitting on the window-sill. It has long ears with gravitation-less rings around it, pink eyes, magenta markings, and a long full tail, which it wags excitedly. "Would you trade your soul to have a wish like that granted? If so, I could make that possible. Just make a contract with me."

Miguel feels Hiro trembling uncontrollably, and whispering, "no, no, don't listen to it," as she looks away. "Miguel, don't listen to it!"

"Just make a contract with me," the creature chirps to Miguel, "and become a magical girl!"


"HIRO!" Miguel shakes him awake. "Hiro, Jesus! Hiro, it's OK, you're OK. It's me!"

Hiro looks wildly around. "Where is it?" He looks to Miguel, who's a man. "What happened? How'd we turn back?"

Miguel swallows. "Did you dream that we changed into women?"

Hiro nods.

"So did I," says Miguel, a little shaken.

Hiro shakes his head skeptically. "That wasn't a dream," he insists, feeling his own face and his body. "That felt too real. Did you dream about the Incubator?"

Miguel frowns, looking confused. "No, what's the Incubator?"

Hiro sighs. "I'll tell you in a second, but how did your dream end?"

Miguel actually blushes and grins despite himself. "Happy. I was wondering if you'd had the same one, and if you were going to wake up and reminisce about it with me. Why? Did we make love in yours? And what's the Incubator?"

Hiro's mind races. "No, I didn't dream we made love. We had turned into women, and became really romantic, and then you sang a song by Selena. Then you made a wish that we could stay like this, and this thing called the Incubator that the mahô shôjo. Shit, I haven't told you everything about them, have I? Did I tell you in the dream about them mentoring me?"

"About making love to the mahô shôjo?" asks Miguel. Hiro nods. "Yes," replies Miguel. "Did I tell you I understood and that it was OK?"

Hiro nods, gratefully. "Did you sing?"

"Yeah, 'Dreaming of You.'"

"Then what?"

"Then, I kissed your cheek and you kissed my lips and we touched and kissed romantically, to climax;" Miguel blushes again. "It felt very real." He runs his hands through his hair, then reaches down and realizes he's still somewhat erect. "I'm still feeling it. Didn't you feel it?"

Hiro nods. "For a little, before you sang, then the Incubator showed up. I yelled and you woke me up."

"What’s the Incubator, Hiro?"

"It's this thing that the mahô shôjo made up." Hiro lights a cigarette. "Sorry, I need one. Homura, the girl who lived with me and worked with me, had made up this concept of an alien creature that was basically an incubus, like in the Western Latin tradition," he explains.

"A demon," says Miguel.

"Yes, but an alien. We're Eastern, remember. To her, it was something that wasn't from earth, so it wouldn't be considered a demon in the Eastern traditions; it's not yōkai." Hiro drags on his cigarette, pondering. "So, this alien, which wasn't real, would offer a contract to pubescent girls, to grant them any wish they want in exchange for becoming part of a cycle of despair in which they all fought and killed each other and harvested human emotion to use as an energy source for a dying universe. For entropy."

"Creative girls," comments Miguel. "Are you sure it was all in their heads? I had wild shit happen to me when I was pubescent, and it wasn't in my head, unless I'm psychotic. Which could be. But, then you'd be too, 'cause look at all the magic we've performed."

"I know," says Hiro, in solidarity. "No, it wasn't all in their heads; they messed around with the occult, and connected to something. Homura altered their cell phones, and gave them such sophisticated algorithms to the point where the girls honestly believed their souls were trapped in their cell phones. It was a hysteria between these five young women, that ended up with all of them having to be taken out of school and separated for a time, with therapy. They're OK, now, though. Though Homura insists her and her beloved are similar to us - I told her about us - in that we've made contracts with something, in a sense. She mentioned a succubus."

"I'd thought of that before with regards to us," says Miguel, pondering. "Can you just brew me some herbal tea in that machine, quick, baby? Thank you. My back hurts." Hiro turns and examines the coffee-maker and the teas. "Anyway, it sounds like two things," Miguel continues. "One, the collective hysteria sounds like something old in the Latin tradition, called an egregore. I'd have to talk to them and see. It's a collective idol. Welcome to being an Aztec, ha." Miguel scowls. "Every Aztec god was considered an egregore by the Spanish missionaries, to which the people sacrificed young male virgins to. And two, the incubi and succubi are real according to Catholicism, but it's hard to determine when it's really that and not some kind of mental illness. Does Homura and her beloved - sorry, what's her lover's name?"

"Madoka," Hiro remarks, brewing the tea.

"Do Homura and Madoka make love?"

Hiro nods. "Magic love. They levitate, even more so than how you did in Rome. But there's no penetration. And, in fact;" he turns to look poignantly at Miguel; "they said spilling seed and sodomy - which was always your concern when we were eighteen - is making the contract with the equivalent to the Incubator."

"A succubus," says Miguel, accepting the tea and two Ibuprofen tablets from Hiro. "Smart girl. When was the last time you spoke to Homura?"

"Before I left for Rome, to meet you," says Hiro.

"And how long have you known that the Japanese government wants you?" asks Miguel, softly, concernedly.

Hiro sighs. "Since just before I left for Rome, to meet you."

to be continued...

Dreaming of You - performed by Selena (1971-1995), written by Franne Gold and Tom Snow.
Cantares (Canticle of Canticles, or Song of Solomon): Cant. 1:5-7 NVI; Cant. 4:9 RSVCE.

Chapter Text

frida moses
by Frida Kahlo (1945)

 "We don't want to talk about death; talk about Beverly Hills. The worst thing they could do to you is make you irrelevant. What experience are we allowed to share from these places? You've got access to a microphone? Please use to it say something. We're used as a scapegoat,

to build a wall

but, people have always




and  i n t e r e s t i n g  things
happen because of it."

M.I.A. (Maya Mathangi Arulpragasam)
rapper, musician, visual artist, activist, journalist, photographer

Chapter Text

12 Dic. 2022

"Aquí te traigo rosas, Madrecita," le dice Miguel a la imagen de la Virgen. "De esas que quisiste que tuviera Juan Diego en su tilma, no?" Él sonríe. Está en una iglesia pequeña en un pueblo pequeño en camino hacia México. Es el amanecer del doce de diciembre. Sin embargo hay gente ya acumulándose, trayendo sus pesares, peticiones y agradecimientos a la patrona de las Américas con su rostro español-azteca.

Con suavidad y reverencia, el joven sacerdote le mete a un florero doce rosas frescas que compró afuera. También alumbra una vela y se la pone al lado del florero. Se para, y se santigua. "Bueno, Morenita, Virgen María," Miguel murmura. "Hoy te doy las gracias por mi vida y por mi salud. Por todo lo que Dios, tu Hijo, me ha dado. Por mi alegría y mi sufrimiento. Y por la salvación que nos entrega Jesucristo." Miguel recita bajo su aliento el Magníficat, un Ave María, un Memorare y una Salve. "Y también, como siempre, Madre, te ruego que me cuides a mi familia."

Él mira hacia la muchedumbre que está entrando a la iglesia, y acercándose poquito a poco a la capilla de la Guadalupana.

"Por mi familia, Virgencita," continúa Miguel, bajo su aliento, dando campo para que entren más personas. "Por mi Mamá, mi Papá, y mi hermana Socorro. Dios mío, como debe estar de grande." Mira hacia la imagen, con ternura, viendo a la muchacha mestiza con su faz pacífica. "Asegúrame, Mamita, de que me la estás cuidando. De que me la tienes bien protegida. Concédeme la paz de saber que está lejos del peligro y contenta. Ruégale a tu Hijo que jamás tenga ella que aguantar los horrores que a mí me tocó aguantar. Ten piedad, Reina.

"Sé que... he desviado del camino. Es costumbre mía. Pero, la verdad, Niña, es que... ya no me quedan muchas opciones. Me he metido en un lío, y de él no sé cómo salir. Me he creído superior a los demás." Miguel frunce su frente, sintiendo lágrimas formar. Su garganta se aprieta. Está él recostado contra la pared, observando como la gente lleva su ofrendas a la Virgen. "Y por ese pecado, yo ya no veo la gloria de Dios. Veo solamente oscuridad. Siento miedo. Es cómo si la muerte eterna estuviera jalándome hacia ella. Estoy vacío. Y estoy cansado.

"Qué gente tan bonita, entrando a saludarte, Morenita linda. Me acuerdo de mi Abuela, que en paz descanse. También de mi Abuelo - que Dios a los dos los tenga en Su gloria. Quisiera nada más sino ser como aquella gente, motivado por fé y por esperanza, a pesar de que viva una vida dura. Pero, estoy metido en un lío." Miguel tuerce la cabeza, apartándose de los demás. Deja sus lagrimas derramar. "Y solo. Qué soledad, aunque yo hable todos los días con personas." Suspira. "Cómo esperas que yo pueda acordarme de alguna época de mi vida cuando era inocente? Eh, Señora?" Dice Miguel suavemente, para que nadie lo oiga: "soy un delincuente. Un asesino. Un infiel. Me he vuelto un fariseo, vestido en traje de cura. Ten piedad en mí, por favor. Ayúdame, por favor. No me abandones, Mamá. Tengo miedo." Miguel cubre los ojos con sus puños. "Y no tengo a nadie más. No sé qué estoy haciendo, y la muerte me jala. Cúbreme con tu manto, por favor. Déjame oír el latido del corazón de tu Niño, dentro de tu vientre. Porque yo ya no tengo corazón." Él niega con la cabeza. "No, Señora. Eso me lo he sacrificado. Me lo he dejado por allí abandonado en algún rincón, no sé donde ni cuando exactamente fuese a ocurrir. Pero si me dejas a tí acercar, y a sentir la vida eterna aunque sea por sólo un momento, pudiese ser que cambiaré? Y volverme bueno? Pudiese ser que yo pueda empezar de nuevo? Será que Dios me pueda perdonar y volver a entregarme la fuerza para hacer Su voluntad?

A Sus brazos abiertos en la Cruz, podrá yo volver?"

to be continued...

Volver (1934) - written by Carlos Gardel (1890-1935) and Alfredo La Pera (1900-1935).

Chapter Text

13 Mar. 2011

I'm writing this on a piece of paper, because I can't handle the machine anymore.

I'm not sure what I want to say.

I miss my brother.

My friends can't seem to fill that void.

I love my Aunt, but I'm starting to see her as white.

All my friends are awesome. They make me feel like time disappears, as we research and work with Krei and the profs at UCLA, and for all the times we hang out. No one's really attracted to anyone else, so there's no worries there. I almost feel like we're superheroes. Like we could do anything. But it's almost movie-like. It's like a Disney movie when we're all together, and while I think that's a good thing it still ends at some point or another. And they're OK with it ending. I'm not. I don't want to be alone.

When I'm alone, I'm alone with my thoughts. I don't have Fred's wit in the background, or Wasabi's energy, or Honey's heart or Go Go's determination. When I'm alone, it seems like I can just peel the film off their personalities and they'll just become memories of a great dream I had, or a movie or a videogame. I'm not... normal.

I'm Japanese.

And yeah, Go Go's Korean and awesome, and Wasabi's black and Honey's Cuban and Fred's the token rich white dude who'd rather be a poor slob. But, I'm still different. I don't feel right. I feel empty at night.

Maybe it started when I learned that the Baymax was really just a machine, after reading this book. How did I even get my hands on it? Don't get me wrong, I'm sane and have always known that Baymax is a machine, but... not "really." He'd always seemed real, in an immature way to me. So had video games and bot fighting and magnets. They're real, but. Not.

Last time I was in Tokyo, for a week to pick up some tech we needed, I found myself in Akihabara. Leave it to the human instinct, right? Being a dude sucks sometimes. I don't want to think about sitting there for eight hours playing Super Street Fighter IV. Not my proudest moment.

Nah, but. You know what was even worse. Dôjinshi.


It's just a stupid phase, though.

Anyway, so, I used to fiddle around with the hōchō that Cass inherited from my parents. That's the part they'll never tell you. Big Hero Six is PG. Hugs are great, and yeah, I moped around. But, really? I took that hōchō and pressed it against my ribs, pretending I was Bruce Lee or something (Bruce Lee's been the only one to beat Chuck Norris, by the way. Fact). And I'd let it cut me, and didn't give a shit. Now there's all this awareness about self-harm and all that, but how effective has that been when we in San Francisco grew up listening to 94.9 WILD and in the era of the emo-shit? When I was 14 and lost my brother, my only living relative and best friend, who kept me out of manic depression, what else did you think I was going to do?

Anyway, being in Tokyo, I could see where I got it from. There's something in our culture that's drawn to the technological, and the hypnotic, and the violent.

Violent. OK. How the hell are we supposed to explain guro and tentacle-rape-porn to average people? We're a death-obsessed culture, and it's always been like that. I don't know what else to say. I don't know why I was born this race, but it's weird. I have no other Japanese friends. I met this dude in Tokyo, but he... He wanted more than friendship. I need time to grow out of this phase. Or maybe I'll just stay single for the rest of my life.

Being away from San Francisco helps with the memories. One thing I was able to get there because I knew the streets were amphetamines, which only augmented the whole cutting thing. But it ended up with me walking downstairs one night with the hôchô sticking out of my chest, grinning like an idiot and then Cass taking me to the hospital and getting major stitches and psychiatric help. Then began the lithium. It helps, I'm not saying it doesn't. Here in LA, the streets are tough. I'm sitting here in my bourgeois house with my white step-mom and my robot. But I have manic depression. And it's starting to give me paranoia. So. I'm writing. On paper.

The Internet is changing. It's going corporate. Social media. It's all happening, quickly. And here I am with a health-care robot.

In this book I picked up in some used-bookstore, the author talks about the machine as though it were doing to the mind what Narcissus did: reflect ourselves back onto ourselves, and then back onto ourselves, and then back onto ourselves. You get it. Tadashi is not in Baymax. Tadashi's body was burned to ashes, probably along with two or three other bodies, so we've got him and two or three other strangers in an urn downstairs with a candle, with the Senju Kannon statue, his picture and sandalwood incense; also, there's the picture of my parents and their own respective candles. They were doctors; my dad was a neurosurgeon, my mom was a general physician. I have vague memories of them, but mostly of me just lighting candles and incense and talking to their pictures as if they could hear me. The Mexicans apparently do something similar, like in their Day of the Dead around Halloween, which is cool. But, I haven't really had that good of experiences with the Mexicans I've run into. Aunt Cass is the one who works with immigrants; who knew she had a degree in social work and just spent ten years working as a café shop owner so she could take care of us? She meets all kinds of people. I'm not a people person, obviously. I'm probably being a little racist, but I stay away from Mexicans because of an experience I had being made fun of and propositioned by some thugs. I mean, it happens: I've come to terms with the fact that I can look like a girl. But there was something that hit too close to home when these guys messed with me on my way home from Fred's. They seemed like they didn't need explanations for guro and eight hours of Street Fighter IV, except that they commit it in real life where I just know it digitally. They were some badass fuckers, and while I hated them at the time and consoled myself by feeling sorry for their poor asses, I also began to wonder what kind of streak runs through race.

Blood, bone, flesh and meat and muscle. Breath. Cellular memory: each cell in our body carries memories of everything that's ever happened to us, and the DNA we've been given carries the data of the memories our parents had, and so on and so forth.

See why Artificial Intelligence is so appealing? You can just nix all that nasty stuff and have "pure consciousness." But, something's wrong, and I don't believe in it anymore. But I also don't have the strength to leave it, and I don't trust my own brain and my own body. The body betrays itself. Right? Why do kids get cancer? Why do some adults just drop dead of a heart attack when they live a perfectly healthy life? Then what? Was all our research, all our efforts and our good intentions, for nothing? I want to know the body. I'm curious. I'm also scared shitless. Holy fuck am I scared. You would be too, if you knew as much as me. You ever read or watch, Fullmetal Alchemist? I don't even know who I'm talking to. But, whatever. Fullmetal Alchemist is just a manga that deals with the whole issue of homunculi and human transmutation, and bodies on the other side of death while the soul remains on this plane - based in this alternative universe that looks way too much like Nazi Germany. And every Japanese kid has read it.

I know all the conspiracy theories. I know about WikiLeaks. But, I'm Japanese. And I'm fucked up, and lonely, and I wish I had a fucking hōchō to stick myself with, or some MDMA, or could watch gay porn without torturing myself afterwards.

Oh, there's been a magnitude-9 earthquake and subsequent tsunami off the coast of Tōhoku, with my poor people dying and maimed by the tens of thousands and losing everything. And then some fuckers online get pissed off because the broadcasting of some crazy genre-deconstructing magical girl anime called Mahô Shôjo Madoka Magika is being delayed. People want to see magical girls' heads being eaten off by giant serpents rather than pay attention to the tsunami in their own country.

Though one thing that's curious is that besides government aid, the yakuza of all organizations was one of the first responders, sending hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of supplies right away.

All right. Well. It's good to have ink stains on my hands again. You know, samurai training wasn't really ever complete without mastering calligraphy, and the subtlety of our kanji characters. One little stroke may imply a thousand different things. One intention, one movement. One mistake. And there's your path.

飛呂 浜田
Hamada Hiro

to be continued...


Saint Sebastian
by Takato Yamamoto (2005)

Chapter Text

27 Jun. 2023

"Ah, welcome, Mister Hamada and Father Rivera," says a tall, thin woman dressed elegantly, with dark hair and dark eyes, and with a warm smile. "Please, eh, veuillez entrer, s'il vous plait. Enter. Thank you." She stands back and beckons Hiro and Miguel into an apartment.

"Merci," says Miguel, smiling, stepping in first. "Parlez-vous anglais?"

"Oui, yes! I'm sorry," says the woman. "Time has passed since I've spoken it, but I get by. It's good to meet you. I am Michelle."

"Michelle, I am Miguel, we rhyme!"

"Joli! It's a pleasure, Miguel." Michelle leans forward and kisses Miguel on both cheeks, which he responds to with equal sensuality.

"The pleasure is mine, chérie," he assures.

"Your accent is good," notes Michelle, raising her brows playfully. "Be careful, Père, you are a priest."

"What do you mean?" Miguel asks with mock innocence. "There's a reason they're called the Romance languages, besides the basis in Rome."

"Ah, so you're just honoring the Romans through Romantic French and Spanish, eh?" Michelle laughs jovially and winks, to which Miguel winks back.

Michelle turns to Hiro, who introduces himself very politely.

"Hiro is like 'hero!'" Michelle remarks, with affection. "I like it. Welcome."

"Thank you."

Michelle kisses Hiro carefully, to which Hiro responds to more reverently than sensually.

"I hope the journey here was not very difficult," says Michelle.

"It was terrible," Miguel confesses. "But, we made it."

"Oh, I'm sorry. Yes, we're glad you're here. Please sit. Oh, here is Naomi!"

Another beautiful woman comes around the corner and forward to greet them. She has wide green eyes with dramatic brows, and very fair skin, and thick strawberry-blonde hair she has wrapped in an elegant bun. She is also dressed very tastefully, but she is more curvaceous and feminine than Michelle.

"Hello," she says mildly, coming forward. Her accent is not French, but Hebrew. "Thank you very much for coming. I am Rabbi Noemi Hess. Blessings to you."

"To you, Rabbi, for your hospitality." Miguel extends his hand. "I am Father Miguel Rivera."

Naomi tentatively takes his hand, then squeezes it gratefully at sensing the Catholic priest's solidarity and respect, and affection. She is menstruating, and according to Rabbinic law would not be deemed clean to be touched by a man much less a man of holy orders.

"Don't expect a kiss, Père," says Michelle, chuckling.

Naomi rolls her eyes and laughs along with Miguel, who wants very much to gain her trust. She turns to Hiro, who extends his hand, again, with more reverence than warmth and Naomi accepts the sentiment gratefully.

"Don't expect a kiss, Rabbi," says Miguel and Michelle stifles her laughter into her fist.

"Would either of you care for some tea?" asks Michelle, placing her arm intimately around Naomi, who blushes, which leave Hiro and Miguel to wonder.

Both men accept the offer and are left alone with Naomi, who insists they sit.

"Welcome to Israel," says Naomi in a soft voice. "I'm very grateful that I can assist you both, Fr. Rivera and Mr. Hamada. May you find what you seek, if it be the will of Ha-Shem."

"Thank you, Rabbi Noemi," says Miguel. "To you as well, may this encounter be grace-filled."

Naomi nods gratefully. "I must admit, I was surprised to hear your backgrounds. I have never been to the United States, or, to Mexico;" she nods to Miguel; "nor to Japan;" she nods at Hiro.

"That may not necessarily be unfortunate, Rabbi," Hiro says mildly. Naomi looks to him with a natural sense that they are similar.

"All right, here is Nana mint tea, and some pastries." Michelle sets down a tray with two teapots and a plateful of rugelach and hamantash. "We can't call ourselves true Hebrew women if we don't offer gentlemen sweets. And, please, stay for dinner if you can."

"Yes, we would appreciate it, if you can," insists Naomi sincerely.

Hiro and Miguel nod their consent, and for some time sit with the two women enjoying tea and cakes, lightly discussing the history of Jaffa and the day-to-day life within the city. Michelle lives in Paris with her sister, being originally from Lyon, and talks of France; Miguel and Hiro can relate for they’ve both respectively been to Paris and Miguel also to Lourdes in the Pyrénées to see the healing Virgin. The pleasant conversation is a relief after days of trauma. It gives the two men the chance to learn more about each other. They gently flirt with each other and with the beautiful women, who seem just a little older than they are. Naomi and Michelle can sense their bond, and Hiro and Miguel can sense theirs. All four begin to understand that time has passed for all of them without being together. Naomi and Michelle also seem to have been apart for some time.

Finally, Naomi explains that she and Michelle - who's actual name is Michal - had met in seminary in Safed, where they studied as teenagers.

"Safed?" Miguel remarks, impressed.

"Do you know much about Safed?" Naomi asks both him and Hiro.

Miguel gently turns to Hiro and allows him to reveal what he knows. Hiro remarks, "Safed, from what I know, is said to be the first place in which the Israelites worshiped Ha-Shem, after 'Noah's Ark' landed on dry land. It's also where Isaac Ben Luria in the sixteenth century studied and taught what we know today as modern Cabbalah, mostly to Jewish refugees from Spain who were fleeing the Inquisition or had been expelled by the Alhambra Decree of the Catholic Monarchs of Granada." He glances to Miguel.

"The same Monarchs who sent Columbus over to discover my lands to call it the New World," remarks Miguel, though not bitterly.

Both Michelle and Naomi look to each other and back at the men with wonder.

"What is Safed like?" Miguel asks softly.

"All the history you both described can be felt there, along with something else," remarks Michelle. "I cannot explain it. It holds a powerful energy. It changed us both very much."

"We were not able to both graduate from the seminary there, though," adds Naomi, and Michelle looks to her surprisedly.

To make up for the lack of explanation, Michelle says, "we were bad girls."

"We've been bad boys," says Hiro, quite neutrally though sympathetically.

Michelle grins. "We began aiding a sick and dying Catholic woman, and Naomi was able to link several Tikkuns from her knowledge of the Cabbalah to form a purification ritual for her," she says. "The woman believed Ha-Shem was punishing her not only with bodily illness but illness of the soul. She was French; I warmed up to her first, out of the desire to connect. But it took the genius of the Rabbi you see here to formulate the rite. Actually, it wasn't very different than some of the Catholic sacraments;" she looks pointedly at Miguel. "In particular, Anointing of the Sick, Confession, and because we fed her out of charity I suppose it could be compared somewhat to the Eucharist. We also performed a kind of Last Rites when she finally passed away."

Miguel nods impressively at both women. "Thank you for making the comparison. I'm sure you aided the woman toward her journey into the Lord’s glory, consoling her greatly. May the Almighty bless you for that."

"Thank you, Father, but we were caught and expelled," says Naomi. "Though I was ultimately able to return;" she sighs with despondency, and a little exasperation; "after Michelle decided to marry."

Michelle looks frustratedly at Naomi, who says nothing and merely sips her tea quietly.

Turning to Hiro and Miguel, Michelle explains, blushing very deeply, "please, forgive us our candidness and please try not to judge us, for we were young - but we became lovers in the seminary. And it's not technically forbidden between women. It is only against the Law for sex between men, for the reason of sodomy - like the commandments in Sefer Vayikra - and spilling seed - like in Sefer Bereishyt with Onan. But it's still something that haunts us for its mystery, and we must admit that there is still love between us, if you're able to understand."

Miguel and Hiro glance at one another and praise God and magic through their eyes.

"Expect no judgment, ma chére, and perhaps more solidarity," Miguel says turning to Michelle, smiling enigmatically, the brightness of Michael the Archangel of the Abrahamic faiths, lightening his expression; "for, we're very able to understand. Certainement, without a doubt."

to be continued...

Characters belonging to Avi Nesher, from the film The Secrets (Ha-Sodot) (2007): Naomi (Noemi) and Michelle (Michal).

Sefer Vayikra - Book of Leviticus (Lev. 18:22; 20:13)
Sefer Bereishyt - Book of Genesis (Gen. 38:8-10)

Chapter Text

"Forgive my impertinence, but you don't seem like a priest," comments Michelle, smoking with relish as she and Miguel walk through the streets of Jaffa.

"I don't even know what a priest is supposed to be like, these days," confesses Miguel. "May I take that as a compliment?"

"I meant it as one, so go ahead."

Miguel nods. "Forgive me any impertinence, but what was it like being Hassidic and growing up in Lyon?"

Michelle shrugs, tapping her ashes. Hiro and Naomi have stayed behind at the apartment, poring over books on ancient medicine. Miguel's back is still hurting and itching, so Michelle thought it prudent to take a stroll with him through the Old City, which is similar to that of Damascus' except with more of an attempt to synchronize Judaism, Christianity and Islam. For example, Miguel wishes to visit St. Peter's Church, built on Crusader fortresses - Jaffa is supposedly where St. Peter was given the revelation to "kill and eat" animals that would have been considered unclean in Hebrew Law; it's also where the saint performed a miracle of resurrecting St. Tabitha from the dead. There's also the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. Michael the Archangel. The Crusaders possessed the city from 1099 to 1268, during which even Saladin wasn't able to reclaim it for Muslims. But it has always technically been Jewish since David and Solomon, as Kings, had conquered it from the Canaanites, as an important port. And since there are no longer any Phoenicians, Canaanites, Romans, or ancient Greeks, the city rightfully belongs to Jews.

"I went to school with other Hassidic girls, so it didn't make that much of a difference to me," comments Michelle. "My father was a successful business man until his death. My grandfather saw France taken over by the Germans. But, because Lyon was under the Italian occupation zone up until the very end, he was able to keep my family from being deported to camps. Not many others were so lucky."

Miguel nods.

"I definitely feel more French than Israeli," continues Michelle, "though I've lived in Safed for seventeen years with my husband, since right after Naomi and I were expelled for helping the Gentile - forgive me, the Catholic - woman. But now I'm back in France, and well, my husband is still in Safed." She averts her eyes and drags on her cigarette. "I needed to be with Naomi for a little bit. But, I miss my children."

"You have children?"

"Yes, three," Michelle responds, smiling. "My two boys are sixteen and thirteen, and my girl is nine years old. I wish they were with me. But, their father is a good man." She sighs. "We are not like Roman Catholics, Père. As good and understanding as my husband is, he is governed by the Law. And I'll never forget the woman we helped, whose name was Anouk, saying, 'the body has a will of its own.'" She looks off at the ocean, as though reminiscing. "You know, she had left her family in Paris to be with a lover in Safed; then, she went back to Paris to redeem herself, leaving her lover but he followed her. He tried to kill her out of jealousy, but she killed him first. She was sent to prison for fifteen years, and her husband never forgave her. So, she came back to Safed to try to find Elohim and found instead two teenage know-it-all Cabbalists having a mystical lesbian affair in Da'at Seminary." Michelle grins fondly, as does Miguel. "We did our best to guide her through a ritual that would purify her soul. There was nothing we could do for her body, for it had developed heart-disease and then bone-cancer. She still smoked, though, Ha-Shem keep her. One thing she didn't regret was her passion for the man she killed. He was a painter, and had painted her in very erotic ways when they lived in Safed; it seemed she wanted to be hurt by him, consensually. We didn't understand at the time, but her words, 'the body has a will of its own,' remain with me."

"How important are God's Laws to you, Michelle?" Miguel asks quietly, after a moment. "So much, that you'd never break them to follow your heart?"

Michelle shakes her head, grinning. "You Catholics and your Sacré-Coeur. Your bleeding, flaming hearts. Doesn't even your St. Paul warn against trusting the heart? What do hearts know?"

"Yes, my obedient chére," agrees Miguel, accepting a cigarette from Michelle and a light, "but he also says: 'When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them.’" He exhales smoke and glances at Michelle's impressed expression. "Romans, chapter two, verses fourteen and fifteen."

"You would have made a perfect match for my Naomi." Michelle laughs into her fist. "You sound just like her, reciting Scripture."

"I'm not her match," Miguel insists. "But, you may be. I'm also a murderer, you know, and I lie under the pretext of good intentions."

Michelle frowns.

Miguel nods. "I'm a mafioso. I look for redemption, as well, like Anouk. My body has a will of its own, though I try and discipline it, as you know by learning of my self-flagellation."

Michelle nods. "I understand. One of the Tikkuns we performed for Anouk was for her to wear a burlap sack. Naomi also did, looking to atone for the sin of pride. I'll never forget the welts on her beautiful body, when I finally took it off her one night as I heard her moaning in pain. Why the mafia, though?" Michelle comes close to Miguel, as the ocean breeze sends shivers though them. "Is it Zionism?"

"Of course," replies Miguel. "My whole three continents: North, Central and South America. The New World. And not all mafias are anti-Zionist. The one who captured my town and killed my friends and raped my cousin; they're part of the agenda."

"I know why you are here," whispers Michelle, intimately stroking Miguel's hand. "But, you cannot go up against this by yourself. I know your Society of Jesus and the Hasidim are allies. You can trust us. You know, Naomi spent some time in Buenos Aires with the Hasidim community there, who were very accepting of her. You must speak with her about it. You are like her; you are blazing trails for religious leaders."

"May the Lord hear you, but I'm merely a sinner." Miguel ponders. "I look forward to speaking with her, once I can separate the two geniuses from their studies. I've also been to Buenos Aires."

"There's an Argentinean place here the tourists go a lot to," says Michelle, trying to lighten the conversation. "It's Kosher, which is nice. They host milongas in the square."

"Do they?" Miguel's artist's eyes lighten. "I'm a musician, you know - my tango is rusty, but it's one of my favorite styles."

"It's a few blocks away," says Michelle suggestively, gesturing toward one of the steep, old cobblestone streets. "I know how to tango. Yaki - my husband - is also a musician, a professional klezmer, and he's often asked to play tango's. So, I've learned, but only basics."

The pair look at each other in wonder then burst out laughing.

"Vamos?" invites Miguel.

"If your back is up for it, Père!"

They arrive at the square where a band is playing "A Media Luz," and two other couples are dancing, while others sit sipping wine and talking.

"Ah, how appropriate," comments Miguel, looking to Michelle. "Do you understand?"

Michelle nods, blushing. "All at half-light, kisses and the both of us."

"That's right," agrees Miguel. "The Lord reveals His Light often through the darkness, no?"

Michelle nods reflectively. "The veil is always placed over the Kodesh ha-Kodashim, so as to make the blinding invisible become visible. Never revealing His full light."

Miguel cocks his head in disagreement. "'Never' is an eternity." He looks meaningfully into Michelle's soft, profound eyes. "Haven't you ever experienced an eternity of 'Always'?"

Michelle nods. She smirks and says, "you are going to turn me Catholic, Père Miguel, with your Christian hope and your Jesus who 'always' forgives."

Miguel shrugs, in all fairness, commenting, "it's the New Covenant, madame." He strokes under her chin. "I'm going to have a chat with my brothers over there, who I'm pretty sure are Argentinean, or Uruguayan. Let's see. One moment." He walks over and whispers to the accordion player. Walking back, he winks at Michelle.

"All settled?" Michelle asks.

"Argentinean. And handsome, no?" Miguel raises an eyebrow, grinning devilishly.

"I am considering conversion, merely due to your honesty and joie-de-vivre, cher ami."

"A Media Luz" finishes and the singer announces in English and Hebrew that the next song be dedicated especially to those who have been far from their 'alma-gemelas' (soul-mates) for any unsupportable amount of time.

Michelle blushes and allows Miguel to grasp her hand in his, and carefully place his hand around her waist.

"Fais-tu confiance dans ton coeur," whispers Miguel. Have faith in your own heart.

"Hoy que la lluvia entristeciendo está la noche y las nubes en derroche tristemente veo pasar," sings the young Argentinean, winking at Miguel; "viene a mi mente la que lejos de mi lado el cruel destino ha posado solo por verme llorar."

Tango is the dance of eternity. The pair who dances it is trapped within the tension created by the bond. Though the submissive is given the illusion that she (or he, for tango was often danced as a dance between two men in early-twentieth-century Buenos Aires) may escape at particular points, it's only a fleeting sensation. For the submissive is pulled back, by the contract he or she made with the other, to dance this dance. It is a dance of polarity, finding freedom in being bound.

Miguel is gentle in his way, and loosens Michelle so that she follow his lead. They dance close. He's better than she is, but her trust and hidden passion make up for her lacking skill. Miguel guides her through every step, and encourages her natural rhythm. She opens to him, grinning in happiness and lethargy.

"Go on, move this leg. There. Good. Trust me." He grasps her thigh and pulls her by the hips towards his own hips, a common move but only for true dancers of tango. "Bien. Now, when I bring you back, swing it, naturellement; I'll be there. Good!" He whispers, as he maneuvers her thin waist in his hands.

"Y a veces pienso que es tal vez mi desventura la causa de esta amargura que no puedo soportar," continues the singer, clapping along with the rest of the crowd at the pairing. "Quiero estar al lado de ella para decirle que es bella, para decirle que nunca podré dejarla de amar."

"God's Light is never far from you," whispers Miguel, as the crowd applauds and Michelle weeps at the emotions running through her. "Even and especially in darkness. Jamais c'est loin. Jamás está muy lejos de tí."

to be continued...

Lejos de Tí (1948) - written by Julio Erazo Cuevas (1929-2013)

Chapter Text

The Night Before

"Where are you now?"


"How did you get there?"

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."


"A Persian woman - neither living, nor dead - lent us a car, from Damascus. I also travelled through time."

"I don't disbelieve you. What kind of woman is neither living nor dead?"

"I don't know. She did no harm, so I assume she's no succubus. She helped us."

"How did the time-travel occur? What are the details?"

"Some kind of a cave near Beit Lahm, must've had some plutonium and other radioactive elements. I haven't been able to find anything online from the Israeli government, or the US. My partner is too dazed right now, but I'll ask him whether the Jesuits know. I'll talk to Fr. Tetsuya." Hiro pauses. "How are you, Homura?"

"Protecting you. They want your files. I can only lie so much to them."

"Are you and Mado-chan safe? I wish I were there."

"We're fine, and will be. But you - you're in the most dangerous of places."

"I've been sent to see a Hasidic rabbi, who studied in Safed. I'm going to meet her tomorrow."

"Oh." Homura pauses.

"Ryota didn't send me," Hiro explains. "A nameless Franciscan in front of the House of Ananias, who asked us for the old Christian codes, got us out of Damascus. I called the Franciscans when we got here, while hearing nothing from Ryota and Miguel hearing nothing from Rome, nor Mexico, nor the Southwest."

Homura sighs.

"There was no other option," Hiro continues. "Ryota still thinks I'm in Damascus. Doesn't he?"

"I wouldn't count on it. You're in Israeli territory. Everyone knows where everyone is. Have you met the Franciscans there?"

"Miguel has. At St. Peter's Church, in confession. I haven't asked what they spoke of yet. We were at the hospital. He hallucinated and almost killed himself in that plutonium cave."

"Call Tetsuya-sama and ask what he knows. I don't have to tell you it's delicate. A Jesuit missionary from Kerala was poisoned last week, in Pyongyang. It's been covered up well. He'll merely be considered a P.O.W. or M.I.A."

"God rest his soul. No, Miguel would have told me about anything strange. There's something else, Homura-chan. A girl in Damascus killed herself trying to kill us; from what she said, she and her online lover were looking to be adopted by the new Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. She was the daughter of the Syriac Orthodox priest who was handing us documents. She bit a cyanide pill, but before that she showed us the profile of the man. He'll be looking for her, and maybe for us. According to her, her father has no idea of her connection with this man or the State. I'm going to contact him. But I must also contact this lover of hers."

"Be strong."

"I also dreamed of the Incubator."

"What did it say?" Homura asks in a low voice, after a pause.

"Miguel and I shared a dream that we were women. In my dream it asked Miguel if he wished to be a woman, that it could grant that wish if he became a mahô shôjo. Miguel didn't dream of that, though; he dreamed instead of love."

Homura pauses again. "What was the last thing you studied?"

"Nestorius. We took documents as well; they're incorruptible and traverse realms."

"Ah. Was the girl's name Fatimah, by any chance?"


"Was it, Hiro-kun?"

"Yes. How did you know, my love?" Hiro grins.

"The dream was your subconscious working out the mysticism of Islam and the contracts that religion has within its theological framework," explains Homura. "The original Fatimah - the Prophet's daughter - was something of a mahô shôjo. If you dream of being a woman again and the Incubator appears, trick it by using its own command of the space-time continuum against it. Like I did; remember, you and I are the Devils of the relationships. Then, you'll find safety in your conscious existence. Pay attention to the rabbi tomorrow, and whether she's a mahô shôjo in the same sense we were. Whether she made some kind of contract, and whether her soul is tied to another's. I'm sure that's the situation, if the Franciscans sent you to her. Investigate Maimonides. She may resist, but insist on it. Contact Fatimah's ambitious lover, and be prepared for the stubbornness of Mohammad and Mani. Pray for her family, and for the welfare of the Persian vampiress who aided you. Was she nameless?"

"Of course," Hiro replies. "Death is nameless."


"Hiro-kun," Madoka's voice then says.

"Ohaiyo, Madoka-chan!" Hiro says with more sweetness than when he talked to Homura.

"Please don't take dreams lightly."

Hiro sighs. "I won't."

"We're having breakfast. I miss you."

"I miss you, too."

"Homura can tell me the rest of what you both spoke of, but be careful." Madoka sounds concerned. She says softly and intimately, "even with Migue-kun. Don't break every rule and principle just to follow your heart." She sighs. "Sometimes a principle has to pierce your heart and set it ablaze, so your conscience can become pure. Don't trust the heart completely."

Step into the void.

"I won't," promises Hiro. "I remember what you've been through."

"Have you been enjoying Migue-kun's company, at least?" Madoka asks, more brightly.

"Yes, Mado-chan, thank you."

"Here's a kiss. Bai bai, anata!"

Suddenly, a strawberry-scented glittery imprint of lips appears on Hiro, as if by magic.

"Arigatô, sweetheart," Hiro replies, affectionately touching it. "Kisses for Mami, Sayaka and Kyōko if she'll let you."

Madoka laughs. "OK!"

"Be well, Hiro," says Homura's voice. "Keep us updated."

"Thank you, with all sincerity. Oh, and Homura. Frida Kahlo?"

Homura chuckles softly, which Hiro has only experienced a few rare times since he's known her. "She voided the contract by revealing the witches' labyrinths in paintings for the world to see. We'll talk more, soon. Sayonara."

Hiro finds Sharif on the website Fatimah had directed him toward.

"OK, you want to peacock yourself, huh, you idiot?" he mutters under his breath. "Let's talk, Sharif."

Hiro expertly creates an account, using coding so as to make it look as though he's had it for a while, and falsifies the identity with pictures he obtains from hacking a young Syrian man's profile on Facebook. The process takes about a half-hour with Hiro's expertise. Meanwhile he listens to Miguel's soft breathing in the background as he sleeps, occasionally moaning.

"I'm here, Migue, go back to sleep," Hiro says at one point.

"Mhm. Ay, carajo." Miguel winces in pain.

Hiro crawls up next to him with water and more Ibuprofen tablets.

"I'm going to talk to Sharif, OK?" he whispers. "Rest. Trust me."

Miguel nods, stroking Hiro's cheek tenderly before closing his eyes again. Hiro kisses his bandaged back once and returns to his laptop, with a mint tea he's brewed from the coffee-maker.

Hello, and God's blessings. It's important that I contact you. I was there when Fatimah died. Please respond. Hiro writes in Arabic, under his fake account.

Who are you? he receives in reply.

Not an enemy. Hiro replies. He makes a bold move: Is there some way I can prove it to you?

Meet me in Damascus, on my terms. Sharif writes.

I can't. I'm no longer in Damascus. Anything else?

He receives no reply.

"C'mon," Hiro mutters angrily. Anything else? He repeats.


"Son of a bitch." Hiro sighs and runs a hand through his hair. Most everything of what Fatimah had told him and Miguel about this man was already on his profile.

Hiro has to reveal more of himself. She held her father's Glock at the agents and threatened to bite the cyanide pill. Talk to me.

Why were you there? Sharif asks.

I was her friend. Hiro isn't lying. I learned about the plan. It backfired. The agents held her and tried to convince her to go back to her family. But in the end, she managed to slip the pill and died. I'm sorry. What can I say or do to prove I'm not an enemy? I need your cooperation, and am willing to compensate you if that's what you need.

Cooperation for what?

Hiro sips his tea. Cooperate in two ways: keep out of contact with Fatimah's family, and tell me what you know about the Islamic State and why you and Fatimah thought that killing those Catholic agents would solidify membership. The agents took the surveillance Fatimah planted, and I'm able to get access to it. They can make life difficult for you, as Fatimah incriminates you to them. She shows them who you are, exactly.

How do you know I even am who I am on this profile? Sharif replies.

Good one. Hiro smiles. But, I'm good at spotting fakes. You're who you are on your profile. And if you cared anything about Fatimah, you should talk to me.

You're one of the agents.

Maybe. Hiro takes another sip. It's your choice. I can be Ali Mansour. You won't know unless you judge for yourself.

What do you want?

I want to protect Fatimah's family, who's done no harm and deserves to know what happened.

Sharif says nothing.

I believe in God, just like you. Hiro writes, and he's not lying. I believe in His mercy. I can see that the world is disordered. You and I aren't so different. I'm not an infidel, and I don't think you are, either.

Sharif says nothing.

I'm sorry about Fatimah. Hiro tries. She swore she loved you.

Sharif says nothing. Hiro waits half an hour, smoking a cigarette and drinking two more teas, then says, I share in the fight against the infidels, against Zion. I've seen evil, and committed evil you can't imagine. Crimes against God. I should be punished. You should probably behead me, yes. My head has caused nothing but evil in this world, it seems. But I turned back to God, to the One to whom all is restored. If you change your mind about talking to me, I'm here. Peace be upon you. Allahu Akbar.

Hiro dials Fr. Tetsuya.

"Hello, Father, it's Hiro Hamada," he says in Japanese.

"I know, son," says Tetsuya. "How are you?"

"Getting into trouble," confesses Hiro, lighting another cigarette. "You?"

"I'm well, thanks be to God."

"I'm in Jaffa," says Hiro. "I was led here by the Franciscans. On the way, I had an inexplicable experience near Bethlehem. A kind of space-time vacuum sucked me and my companion in. I wondered if you knew anything, besides the cliché of thinking we were in the cave where Christ was born, and went back to that time."

"Heaven forbid the genius Hamada-san conform to any clichés," chuckles Fr. Tetsuya. "Yes, there's plutonium in that area, which has absorbed many memories throughout the millennia. Whoever brought you near that cave was very clued-in. Who was it?"

"A Girl Who Walks Alone at Night," replies Hiro, without other means to explain. "Persian and self-proclaimedly godless."

"Ah, Azrael. That could have been Azrael. He or she doesn't often show itself."

"She was wearing a chador, and driving a 1950's Ford Thunderbird," offers Hiro.

The Father chuckles again. "How very Milton's Paradise Lost."

"I saw St. John the Baptist on his feast day, Father," says Hiro, exhaling smoke. "It was beautiful. I can't explain. I'm a scientist."

"I don't doubt it. Ponder the experience in your heart. Induce reality while in the Holy Land, Hamada-san. And remember that our Father St. Francis threw himself before Sultan Malik al-Kamil."

"I've thrown myself before a radical young man who wants to join ISIL," says Hiro. "In an attempt to speak to his soul and show him the glory of salvation, that he repent and cause no further harm."

"Have you, truly? Or are your intentions selfish?"

Hiro pauses. "You know me too well."

"You've grown since that spring day in 2014, when you came to me," says Fr. Tetsuya, "but sometimes you still resemble that proud, trembling, sneaky little 21-year-old with a brain too big for his own good."

"I still carry your crucifix from that day," confesses Hiro softly, finishing his cigarette pensively.

"Do you still carry that cross, though? Especially now that you've reunited with your lost soulmate? A Jesuit priest, I hear!"

Hiro grins. "We don't envy each other, nor desire to be women; we kiss intimately, keeping to God's law. He's celibate, then, in that sense. And we don't commit the sin of sodomy, nor the sin of Onan."

"God bless you, and may He pass judgment on those who pervert holiness," comments Tetsuya. "Also, on those who hate those whose souls happen to be tied to members of the same sex and express their love without compromising chastity and celibacy."

"If there is a Hell, Father, I'd like for pedophiles and sodomite priests to go to the rung lower than that of the yakuza."

"They surely will," assures Tetsuya. "Therefore, be prepared for Satan's assault, that you be tempted to tempt your companion."

"I already dreamed that Miguel tempted me," says Hiro in a whisper, "and that we committed it."

"Did you dream it by the cave near Bethlehem?"

"Yes! How did you kno-"

"You met the Devil in the desert, after encountering John the Baptist - and didn't Christ meet the Devil after John Baptized Him, during his forty days in the desert?" says Tetsuya. "See it positively. Pray, Hiro, and go to the Sacraments daily."

"I will."

"Trust the Franciscans in Jaffa. They are less those of the Church of St. John the Beloved, than that of St. Peter, for obvious reasons. Be aware of that."

Hiro assents, remembering Tetsuya's lesson about the two different Churches. "My companion lashed himself the way the saints do, in the cave, after the nameless girl told us not to go back in there. After we shared a dream that we devolved into depravity."

"That lashing was a mortal sin. The dream was not."

"I thought so," replies Hiro softly. "I encouraged him to confess, and he has - here, with the Franciscans."

"Poor son," comments Tetsuya, tsking with tenderness. "The roles may have reversed, would you say, Hamada-san? It may be time for you to rescue him from the lure toward death and sadness."

"The roles have reversed," agrees Hiro, closing his eyes. "May God have mercy on both of us, because Miguel keeps speaking of being damned forever."

"Damned forever, or never seeing the glory of God? There's a difference."

Hiro ponders this. "Damned forever," he says.

"Then he has certainly been in Hell," remarks Fr. Tetsuya. "Because 'forever,' and 'always,' are instances, where 'never' is an eternity. And God is 'never' merciless so as to condemn any of us to Hell 'forever.'"

When Hiro hangs up and after brushing his teeth, he looks up and reads the Spanish St. Juan de la Cruz's Dark Night of the Soul, curling up next to his companion. Miguel turns over and wraps an arm around him, in childish innocence. They sleep peacefully and dream together of the Los Angeles sun setting to the Los Angeles moon.

"St. Peter's feast day is in two days," Miguel mumbles at one point, in sleep. "But he denied God, three times before sunrise. It was St. John the Beloved who followed the Lord to Calvary," he yawns, "and to whom the Blessed Mother was given at that point."

Hiro kisses him softly back to sleep.

"Where are Judas and the Bad Thief now, and will they ever have Eternal Life?" whispers Hiro to himself, thinking Miguel can't hear.

"With the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolators, and liars," replies Miguel unhesitatingly. "Revelation, chapter twenty-one;" he mumbles, "verse eight."

Hiro feels something pierce his heart, and wants to weep. He holds Miguel close.

to be continued...

The Rise and Fall of ISIL by Al Jazeera:

Chapter Text

1 Abr. 2008

Un joven de por allí catorce años lleva en sus brazos un cajón, y en su espalda una guitarra. Deja caer el cajón bajo la ventana de una pequeña casa en Boyle Heights - una ventana abierta y con las cortinas de encaje soplando en el viento. Es una hermosa tarde de abril.

"Ejem," dice el muchacho a nadie en particular, sentándose en el cajón. "Bueno, amado público:" levanta sus brazos como si estuviera hablándole a una multitud; "les aviso que anoche antes de dormir, me visitó un ángel! Sí, sí, es cierto. Créanme. Este ángel me solicitó dedicarle una canción a una muy linda muchacha. Y, claro, siendo un buen cristiano, a él no le pude negar." Él se sonríe, mirando hacia la ventana.

"Esta canción está escrita en un estilo de cual a penas me lo estoy aprendiendo. Entonces, por favor, mis amados fans, traten de no juzgarme duramente, eh?"

Empieza el chico a tocar unas notitas en sus cuerdas. "Vale, desde México, hasta los Estados Unidos, los llevo hacia España." Rasguea un acorde melismático. "Al viejo Madrid. Con sus calles pobladas de galanes y doncellas, algunos con faces bien blanca-blanquitas y otras morena-morenitas, sean de aristocracia o de gitano - todas faces Madrileñas son bellas, olé! Ahora, en abril y mayo empiezan a florecer las famosas rosas de Madrid. Acompañadas, por supuesto, por las violetas. Valencia tiene sus naranjeros, Granada su jazmín. Pero en Madrid, ah, las rosas se desarrollan con todo esplendor. Y, muy apropiadamente, la bella niña a quien le dedico esta canción se llama..." Rasguea otra vez. "Rosa! Y es la más guapa; dicen que su belleza corre en sus genes, y que su primo es el más guapo en todo Los Angeles - es lo que dicen las chicas. Y las Mamás y las Abuelas. Jeje."

Una risita femenina se escapa del otro lado de la ventana.

"Nacido en el Madrid de Las Vistillas," canta el joven, tocando una melodía bonita, "de Embajadores, y de la Cava, yo fui el pinturero modestillo, que baile el 'chotis' como él que lava!"

Aparece en la ventana la cara de una muchacha más o menos de la misma edad, pero con ojeras, y un rostro gris. Aún, está sonriéndose un poco. El chico se anima.

"Era mi novia, mi pasión, mi vida. Era mi alegría. Era el mundo entero." Él no mira hacia la muchacha, a propósito, pero sonríe. "Era esa prima que jamás se olvida. Era mi cariño, mi querer sincero."

La joven está llorando. Su primo lo sabe, y trata con todo su corazón de decirle con música lo que no le puede decir con palabras o gestos. Su lengua es música.

"Le decían al mirarla tan dichosa, 'es Rosa de Madrid, es Rosa de Madrid!' Madrileña, la más Barbie primorosa - la flor de Chamberí, la flor de Chamberí. La mocita más juncal y más hermosa - de labios de rubí, de labios de rubí. La que va por esas calles, tan marchosa!"

Al fin, la mira, sus ojos llenos de tristeza.

"Por eso," le asegura, voz rota, "digo que es la Rosa de Madrid."

27 Jun. 2023

"Are you all right?" asks Michelle to Miguel, on their way back to Naomi's.

Miguel nods, two or three tears falling stubbornly. He looks out to the ocean. The night has made the city cooler, and even windy. "I'm just tired."

Michelle says nothing.

"I understand Anouk," Miguel confesses, "and her desire to be harmed willingly."

Michelle looks at him.

"It's the ultimate self-defense," murmurs Miguel, head bowed. "To will pain for yourself before anyone else can will it and inflict it. And usually, it's those who've experienced tremendous harm who begin to desire pain. Once it's happened, you believe there's nothing left that could possibly make you forget. It's funny, my great-great grandfather wrote this song that became famous in Mexico, called 'Remember Me,' for his daughter, my great-grandmother Socorro. But, you know, the older I become, the more it haunts me. For all I wish is to forget. And there are people I know whose memories I wish I could erase. People who've had terrible things happen." He sighs, more tears falling and looks to the neighborhood, with its streets and windows. He gestures toward them.

Michelle shakes her head. "Non, you have it wrong. Forgive me, with all respect."

Miguel says nothing.

"We say, 'you don't have to forget,'" Michelle says softly, "'but you must forgive.' Isn't that what your Jesus does? Isn't that what he teaches? Anouk's family may have never forgiven her, but she asked God for forgiveness. And receiving it, she was able to forgive herself. My people? How many were lost, or treated with less sympathy than rabid dogs? How many people looked away, and did nothing? Including, forgive me, your Church in Rome. Though I know there are those true Christians who gave their lives, like Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein. But if we were to hold on to that terror and sadness, and to anger and vengeance, and not use suffering to flourish like we always have, we would no longer exist. And I know the world is angry with us. They don't understand. But, maybe you do. Maybe your people do. Maybe your people have their own Babylon and ancient Rome, and we are not so different, n'est pas? Maybe you have your Prophets, like we have ours. And perhaps the Zionists have grown into something so huge and hideous they cannot see they've become Babylon or ancient Rome. You know, in France, no one can escape the image of the Virgin Mary. It's everywhere, and even though we consider it idolatry, we can't help but see Maryam bat Yoachim and her Little Son. But the image that always frightened me and drew me, was the one where she holds him, dead, in her arms. La Vierge de Pitié."

Miguel nods.

"Now, tell me, Father of Christ's Church: how could you believe in a God who dies blameless while forgiving his murderers, and in a Mother who endures holding him once dead, if you say you wish you could forget suffering?" Michelle shakes her head. "You Christians always perplex and fascinate me."

to be continued...

Rosa de Madrid - written by José Soriano and Luis Barta (1887-1978)

Chapter Text

"I think Maimonides' rule is the tension between positive and negative, almost like Plato and Aristotle in the painting by Raphael at the Vatican, but leaning more toward Aristotle, obviously. Because, as we know, once you fall into the hands of Plato, heh heh;" Hiro shakes his hand as though it were burning; "there's no escaping."

"I know that too well," murmurs Naomi, shaking her head. "And yes, I agree. It's the analogy of being."

Hiro nods. They're sitting in Naomi's quaint study, after Hiro having admired her library. Biting his lip, he wonders aloud, looking at Naomi's pretty profile in the dim light created by the reading lamp, "how comfortable would you be if I demonstrated something scientific, versus something alchemic?"

Naomi raises her brows. "I'm bound to condemn alchemy but not necessarily science," she says.

"Why?" asks Hiro carefully, tongue peeking out the side of his mouth slightly.

"We condemn all forms of sorcery," explains Naomi. She adjusts her reading glasses, and flips open her Bible, "here, Malachi chapter three, verse five: 'Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says Ha-Shem of hosts.'" She flips to another page, swiftly, as though she's explored this very topic before. "Here, in Second Chronicles chapter thirty-three, Manasseh the son Hezekiah who had at least tried to reinstall worship in Judah after Assyria decimated the northern tribe of Israel, 'burned his sons as an offering in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and practiced soothsaying and augury and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with wizards. He did much evil in the sight of Ha-Shem, provoking him to anger.' He 'seduced Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that they did more evil than the nations whom Ha-Shem destroyed before the people of Israel.' And here;" she flips to the Pentateuch, becoming more agitated as she watches Hiro's neutral expression. "Deuteronomy, chapter eighteen, verses ten through twelve: 'There shall not be found among you any one who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, any one who practices divination, a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For whoever does these things is an abomination to Ha-Shem; and because of these abominable practices Ha-Shem your God is driving them out before you.'"

Hiro wrinkles his nose pensively. "Well," he says, smiling slightly, "what about women?"

Naomi swallows, understanding that Hiro is no idiot - far from it. She flips to Exodus, chapter twenty-two and merely reads out, "you shall not permit a sorceress to live."

"And yet, you created a ritual tying four different Cabbalist magical formulas, to aid the salvation of a sick Gentile woman, so that she be spared Gehenna. And you live."

"I did no such thing, Mr. Hamada." Naomi's green eyes are wide and frightened. "It is the Lord's business whether she suffered Gehenna or entered the gates of Heaven."

"If it's His business, why did you do it?" Hiro asks.

Naomi sighs. "I know what you're trying to say, but it's complicated." She looks into Hiro's eyes. "People with minds like yours and mine, are besieged with temptations to pervert holiness and take the Lord's business into our hands."

"Don't forget Miguel's Spanish Jesuits and Dominican Inquisitors," adds Hiro. "Melting American gold into inglots to bring back, to the 'España' that had just been reconquered completely from the Moors, and especially in Andalucía where our Maimonides here once lived - centuries before."

Naomi nods. "Yes, then. And now, nuclear physicists would contain the Lord - as if they could - and clone and create artificial intelligence, Lord help us. That is our temptation."

"Undoubtedly," agrees Hiro, thinking about Baymax, "and to become gods and live forever." He fiddles with Fr. Tetsuya's crucifix, which is gold. "I believe, frankly, that between my friends in California, you, and Miguel, we could make the Philosopher's Stone," he says, casually. "In fact, I have no doubt."

"We would die," responds Naomi immediately.

"Would we?" Hiro raises his eyebrow. "I believed it was the opposite; we'd find eternal life."

"Eternal life surrounded with gold? That is the curse of the infidel Jews, the Spaniards and their old colonies, the British and their colonies (some of which are still theirs), the New World and the Chinese."

"That, Rabbi, is what my partner and I are working to decimate," Hiro says with conviction. He smiles tenderly at Naomi. "I don't believe you're a sorceress. I believe that what you did was the will of Ha-Shem. Do you know the story of Scheherazade in One-Thousand and One Nights?"

Naomi rolls her eyes. "Yes, of course, but that's a fairytale."

"Ah ah ah," Hiro says, shaking his head. "Forgive me, but I think it's more an allegory. The reason I ask is because there's a Chinese legend that's similar to Scheherazade's. A concubine like her manages to trick the Emperor. And it has to do with gold and elements, and the genius of Shekinah - though we call Shekinah 'Guanyin' in the East, or 'Kannon' in Japanese. Can I tell it to you?"

Naomi nods, listening, impressed Hiro knows about the Shekinah - the female Wisdom within Judaism.

"The Emperor had brought before him the most beautiful maiden in all China, named Xiao Mei," begins Hiro. "He quickly took her and realized she wasn't a virgin, for she and her childhood sweetheart had already given themselves to each other and were planning a secret marriage - there'd been no way the young man, Jin, could protest the Royal Guards when they came to collect Xiao Mei and take her to the Imperial City. Jin was actually the son of Xiao Mei's family's servants. He'd grown up beside Xiao Mei, as her best friend till they were old enough to realize their love. Anyway, the Emperor, though narcissistic, took pity on Xiao Mei and admired her beauty, despite her having been already taken by another. He compromised to have her for seventy nights, and if she could please him she would be released. For seventy nights, Xiao Mei - like Scheherazade in One Thousand and One Nights - entertained the Emperor by telling stories, embroidering him clothes, singing, learning to play the Zheng lute, making him meals, arranging flowers, painting and writing calligraphy, and of course adhering to his sexual fantasies without ever complaining. The Emperor was enthralled until the seventieth night, when Xiao Mei couldn't help herself and began to sing a song Jin had taught her; there was no hiding the love in her eyes, and when the Emperor went to take her, she pulled away instinctively. The Emperor commanded she be imprisoned. Xiao Mei spent three months in prison, eating practically nothing and finally resigning herself to starvation. For, even if by some miracle she escaped, how could she return to Jin? But something kept her eating the little food she was given. Then the Emperor came and lamented that he was burning for her. Upon seeing her filthy and half-starved, with no more light in her eyes, he lamented even more.

'Please release me,' begged Xiao Mei, with some hope in her heart.

'No, I'll keep you and have you occasionally,' replied the Emperor, jealousy still stinging his heart. Regardless, Xiao Mei attempted to escape, but was caught by the guards, who brought her reluctantly back to the harem - for they pitied her state. Most of the women of the harem took pity on her, and the eunuchs. Even some of the Emperor's wives. They had never known true love, and were entranced by Xiao Mei's description of her and Jin's childhood and how they grew from playmates to lovers.

"The happier Xiao Mei became within the harem as she built friendships, and as the spring blossomed, the more she regained her beauty, which made the Emperor desire her. When he asked for her, she told him how happy she was and asked him if there were anything she could do for a wish granted, 'for you are able to grant any wish, Highness.' The Emperor shrugged, looked over and gestured toward an earthen jug of water. 'If you could turn that earthen jug of water into gold, you may have whatever you wish.'

'How long would the Emperor give me to perform such a feat?' Xiao Mei asked carefully. 'Seventy days,' replied the Emperor. For seventy days, Xiao Mei with the help of the palace scholars tried desperately to study alchemy, from Aristotle to Zhang Guolao to Ibn Sīnā. On the journey, she learned that in the perfect combination of mercury and sulfur, which can be found within man and woman, respectively, the most precious of metals may be made." Hiro winks. "That's really true, you know, in a mystical way - Migue could probably talk to you more about it. Anyway, Xiao Mei peeked in on the Emperor, who took his concubines and wives with lust and sweat, like an animal. There was nothing precious about it. She hated his body when he took her, huffing above her. Breath. Then, it occurred to her, and she asked those wives and concubines and eunuchs and guards she trusted the most to help her with a plan.

"On the day in which she was to demonstrate her alchemy, seventy days after that spring day, the sun blazed in the sky, and a haze set all around the City. But within the Palace, there was no water, for the pipes had been drained the night before. The Emperor didn't realize until mid-day, and then became agitated. No matter how many times he was fanned, he was too agitated. He felt he couldn't breathe. There was no ice left to melt, there was merely liquor and milk. The Emperor wanted water.

"The men he'd sent into the City weren't back yet when Xiao Mei approached him with a large tablet, a calligraphy brush, and ink, and the earthen jug of water. The Emperor was shocked and demanded that Xiao Mei give him the water.

'But, Highness, how would I be able to demonstrate the transmutation? You swore if I could, I would be given a wish. My wish is to be rich by keeping this earthen jug which will become gold, if you have enough patience to wait and see, and to be free.' Xiao Mei turned to the board and began drawing a circle with seventy squares, so as to write the seventy elements required.

'Be rich and be free!' cried the Emperor, unable to believe that Xiao Mei could ever accomplish such magic - no one could, in his mind - and unwilling to wait till she failed over and over. 'There's no need to turn that jug to gold, take this emerald ring, which is also golden. Take this golden chain, with pearls. Take my vizier's rings, my wife's golden earrings with sapphire. Give me the water!'

Xiao Mei accepted the rings, the earrings and the necklace, and handed over the only clean water in all the palace to the Emperor, who drank it all.

'And that,' she told the court, displaying the riches in her hands, 'is how I am able to turn an earthen jug of water into pure gold and even more.'

She was granted her freedom, under law, and went back to Jin who was overjoyed that she was alive and free. She then gave him the riches to sell so they could escape to far away, which they did, and lived together happily."

Hiro points to the page upon which Exodus, chapter twenty-two verse eighteen, is written, and looks up into Naomi's startled eyes.

"Should she have been permitted to live?" he asks.

to be continued...

Chapter Text

By the time Michelle and Miguel arrive back to Naomi's, Hiro and Naomi have already begun linking the Syriac documents on Nestorius to different theories by Maimonides. But, Miguel isn't well, and admits to dizziness and vertigo.

"It may be morphine withdrawal," comments Hiro, feeling Miguel's forehead, then his cheek and looking into his tired eyes. "You haven't taken the pain killers, just Ibuprofen." He turns to Naomi and Michelle and asks, "it's much easier getting opioids here than in the U.S., isn't it? He got prescribed a whole one-hundred-eighty pills."

Naomi and Michelle wince.

"I've had enough drugs in my life, believe me," comments Miguel, gratefully accepting a mint tea from Naomi. "The Sinaloa are the main illegal exporters of opioids to the U.S." He sips and takes a deep breath. "I've tried it all. If I had coca leaf in its pure form, now, that may help. But I'm not taking Percocet."

"I've got a pomade for lacerations," says Naomi, getting up and going to the bathroom to look.

"She's a witch," says Michelle.

"Healer," calls Naomi. "Father Rivera would know, about Hildegard of Bingen."

Miguel nods, smiling. "St. Hildegard von Bingen, from the twelfth century, was the foundress of German scientific natural history, a botanist, a mystic, and a brilliant musician. She was a friend of St. Bernard, as well - he petitioned for her to the Pope. At the time, some people may have thought her a witch, yeah. But remember, it was Protestants who did most of the witch-burnings in history, many of the so-called witches being Catholic women. I'd say Hildegard was more a nuisance for the Benedictine monks, from whom she finally broke away."

"A Gentile woman after my own heart," says Naomi, handing Miguel a jar of strong-smelling ointment. "It's yarrow and aloe. Also, I'll give you some valerian root to brew before you go to sleep; mix it with chamomile so it won't give you nausea. Also, I'll give you a lavender packet, to use on your forehead and to inhale, to calm the dizziness." She strides again down the hall into her bedroom.

"Let me help her, excuse me," says Michelle, patting the table and rising to her feet.

Hiro takes Miguel's hand and squeezes it, to calm him.

Miguel groans a little. "You were right," he tells Hiro. "I've spent too much time away from women. You know, I haven't seen Coco since I left Los Angeles. My Mother and Rosa tell me about her. She's doing well, thanks be to God."

"I know," says Hiro. "Cass keeps me updated. Hey, Migue;" he shakes Miguel's hand and lowers his voice; "she wouldn't reject you."

Miguel scoffs. He looks so sad, and Hiro strokes his fingers, trying to get him animated.

"You want me to tell you what the Franciscan priest here said?" Miguel says, in a way that's more a statement than a question.

Hiro blinks a few times, unsure whether to push his companion.

The women return and, with much gratitude, Hiro and Miguel bid farewell and depart with the promise of meeting again the following day, this time with them inviting Naomi and Michelle somewhere.

"He was from Warsaw, Fr. Tomasz," Miguel tells Hiro as they walk back to their hotel. "Very charming. We spoke of our respective missions. He won't be convinced I'm not a Zionist but he said he liked my fighting spirit. 'Nothing worse than mild-mannered, civilized priests,' he said; 'those are usually the pedophiles.' I told him I thought twentieth-century Poland was a microcosm for all small countries who can't help but be overcome by the mercilessness of the world powers. He told me he preferred the Nazi's to the Soviet's, and I almost tore out of the confessional before he put it into philosophical terms. Zarathustra, he said. He warned me that you and I are in more danger here than in Syria."

Hiro whispers into his ear that that was what Homura had said. Miguel pulls him close and kisses his cheek, calling him "muñeco," while Hiro pushes him away, blushing. 

"Son of a bitch," Hiro mumbles, but he links arms with his companion.

"Nasty, are we?" quips Miguel. "Is it that time of the month, chava?"

Hiro turns and gently grabs Miguel by the balls, threateningly, while Miguel cackles; the latter doesn't flinch, for he has complete trust. Hiro lets him go and kisses his cheek.

"I hope we dream again of being girls," Hiro admits as they finally reach their room. "I'd like to have lesbian sex with you."

"It was great," comments Miguel. "You were perfect."

Hiro pauses as he hangs up his jacket. "I topped," he says, smiling slyly. He looks over to Miguel.

"Of course," Miguel replies, undoing his shirt, winking back.

"I was going to tell you about Homura," says Hiro, sitting on the bed. "Need help?" he offers Miguel.

"Yeah." Miguel exposes his bandaged back.

Hiro gently takes the strips off, examining the lacerations.  "They're scarring well," he comments. He brings a wet towel from the bathroom and wipes away the film from the ointment he'd applied in the morning. "Want to try Naomi's?"

Miguel nods. Hiro opens up the little bottle and applies the yarrow-aloe pomade to the scars. Miguel hisses.

"Rivera-san, where in the fuck did you get a cattailed whip - from the Caballeros or the Church?"

"Ach, pues, both," replies Miguel. "I got it from another priest I met who knew a Venezuelan mystic, whom I actually met when I was in seminary. A rose grew out of her heart; it was neither an actual rose, nor skin and bone and blood, it was something entirely different. That sounds crazy, right?"

Hiro smirks and kisses Miguel's ear.

"Anyway," Miguel says, laughing at the tickling sensation, "her name was María Esperanza and she gave me a petal and I fused it to my own heart. I don't know how. One of the seminarians who was there with me, Carlos, later got in touch with me and said he'd followed María. He said he knew that she and I had shared some kind of bond. He and I met up then, in Mexico City, and had a three-hour long coffee. Intense and half-crazy. He said María sent him to give me the whip. That I would need it one day."

Hiro ponders and asks, "How long did you live in Mexico City, versus Ciudad Victoria?"

"Mexico City is just where I go - and always escorted, in an armored car - to meet with PAN, who still can't figure out the Cenote. But, yeah," Miguel clears his throat, "I've lived in Ciudad Victoria for the last three years. From nineteen to twenty-five, I was in Mexico City at seminary. It was horrible. I can't even describe. But God help me, it was better than the wrath of my father. And it was getting to be 2015 and Trump began campaigning. I got out of LA and begged my Mom to come but she wouldn't. So Andrés got me into the seminary, and you saved my family." He turns to Hiro. "Thank you."

Hiro shakes his head. "I left you."

"I understand why." Miguel swallows. "What about Tokyo?"

"Well, I live in Meguro, in a quaint apartment with Homura," confesses Hiro. "She'll never replace you in my heart, but she's been my confidante and my best friend for five years. We look out for each other." Hiro applies new bandage strips to Miguel's wounds.

"You make love to her?" Miguel asks in barely a whisper.

"Sometimes," Hiro admits gently, smoothing out the bandage and also Miguel's hair. "But never penetratively, and always with the knowledge that we're not each other's soulmates. She has Madoka. I've always been yours."

"And you do this with the five women?" Miguel asks.

"Yes. It's difficult to explain." Hiro puts on the last bandage. "We love each other, as a man and several women, but we're not in love. Though I try to be careful with Saya-chan."

"Which one is she?"

"She had short blue hair for some time," says Hiro. "I showed you pictures of her. She's the musician. She's more drawn to men than the others, though she loves Kyōko."

Miguel shakes his head, chuckling. "I can't believe you have a harem of lesbian-witches who are in love with each other."

"They're not my harem, and I wouldn't call them lesbian-witches," insists Hiro. "I'm their student. They're mystics, and their sexuality is fluid. We draw positive energy from each other, and let nature take its course. I developed my masculinity through them, and my gender dysphoria healed by their love; they turn to me for a strength only men seem to have. And we enjoy each others' individuality, as human beings, as friends and companions. I trust them, and I love them."

"Uy, uy, perdone." Miguel grins with his tongue between his teeth.

Hiro rolls his eyes. "Come, let's brush our teeth. Tell me more about María Esperanza. Then I want to tell you about Sharif."

"I don't know that much, she passed away not that long after I met her." Miguel sighs as they walk toward the bathroom. "Carlos went on and on about stuff that sounded Rosicrucian."

"Oh, really?" Hiro wets his toothbrush and squeezes out toothpaste, then brushes.

"Yeah." Miguel also wets his brush and applies the paste. "But María didn't seem like she was part of that."

Hiro sighs, toothbrush in his mouth. "Can you shtop being a Jeshuit for five minutesh?" he mumbles, then begins to brush again.

Miguel smiles self-consciously, watching Hiro brush his tongue. "OK."

"What did Carlos say?" Hiro washes his toothbrush and his mouth out, then dries.

"Apocalyptic things, in the Carmelite way." Miguel points up with his toothbrush. "Elijah rising to Heaven via chariot;" he points down with his other hand; "the Law coming down to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The Transfiguration." He sticks his toothbrush in his mouth and brushes, and says through his brushing, "the sheven hills of Revelation being the sheven hills in Rome; that Rome is Babylon, blah blah. Down with Rome, that Vatican II revealed Rome's Shatanic nature, and that Guadalupe is shtill just Tonāntzin and an egregore. Hiro, it's bullshit - María Eshperanza washn't like that, I don't think. I dunno. I dunno what she put in me, hombre. What I put into myshelf."

"Describe it the best way you can," insists Hiro, brows furrowed.

"I told you." Miguel brushes his tongue, then spits out his toothpaste. "It was a petal she took from this rose she had growing out of her." He washes his mouth, then wipes with the same towel Hiro used. "It looked like an actual rose, but it had something of skin and bone in it." He rinses his brush and looks at Hiro's skeptical reflection in the mirror. "I wish you'd have been there, because sometimes I think I hallucinated it."

Hiro shrugs and smiles. "Hypnosis is totally possible."


"What did this guy say about her wanting you to have a cattailed whip to self-flagellate?"

"He said that even he was perplexed," replies Miguel as they walk back to their bed. "Self-flagellation isn't for punishment, but that's what I used it for."

"I know." Hiro makes a face. "What did our Polish Franciscan Fr. Tomasz say?"

"He said not to give up on the whip but on the pride," Miguel says. "And the sadness. And to trust your Ryota. And to trust Monsignore Vincenzo, because it turns out Khaled Hosain has a shady past and we were supposed to find that out." He sits and leans toward Hiro. "Now, guapo, tell me about Sharif."

Hiro's eyes sparkle and he kisses Miguel's lips. "He's playing coy and hard to get."

Miguel rolls his eyes. 

"I left it open for him to write to me and make the connection, though," says Hiro, tapping Miguel's chin. "What about Khaled Hosain?"

"Heh, wait for it:" Miguel says, grinning, shaking his head; "his family had ties with Saddam Hussein."

Hiro pales. "When were you going to tell me, asshole!?"

"I'm sorry." Miguel strokes Hiro's cheek. "I haven't been feeling well."

Hiro pushes him, playfully. "What kind of ties?"

"The names sound similar, no?"

"Holy..." Hiro covers his open mouth with his hand. "The Sunni connection, and Fatimah."

Miguel nods, knowingly. "We're totally fucked, amigo," he remarks, taking out Naomi's tea leaves. He shakes his head, sighing. "This whole thing in Syria was set up for us, and we played it right but all we got were two dead girls, God forgive me - one who moved on, and the other who didn't and drives around the Levant in a Thunderbird."

"Do you want me to talk to Khaled?" Hiro asks carefully as Miguel brews tea.

"Nah, I will." Miguel gestures to the machine. "Want some?"

"A mint one," Hiro replies, nodding. "Are you sure? How much had Vincenzo told you beforehand?"

"Nothing, he was in Roman fiesta mode," says Miguel. "Everyone was drunk off Montepulciano and he was babbling in my face in Italian about the mission, the mission, that someone would come get me in the morning, and that if he could he'd send cannoli to the Caballero's for doing God's work."

"How 'Godfather,'" chuckles Hiro, accepting the mint tea from Miguel, who laughs in agreement.

"He really did make me an offer I couldn't refuse," admits Miguel. "Then I went back to my hotel on Via del Corso and found you on my bed. How much did Ryota tell you?"

"Just to get you in Rome and head to Damascus, and to let you make the Christian connection with Khaled."

Miguel frowns. "Do you doubt Khaled's Christianity?" he asks.

"No," replies Hiro. "But I understand Fatimah better, now. Poor girl."

Miguel sips the valerian and chamomile tea.

"Don't blame yourself," Hiro says, arching his brow at Miguel. "C'mon. We're here with these girls, now."

"They're great," says Miguel, nodding. "How was the time spent with Rabbi Noemi?"

"She's a genius," comments Hiro, sipping his own tea. "She'll help us link up some stuff that we can hand over. She and Michelle get it."

Miguel nods in agreement. "Coincidence that they're soulmates and believe the same as we do, right?"

Hiro shakes his head. "Not a coincidence." His face softens, and he says, "Smile, please?"

"It's been so long, I'm still in shock," Miguel murmurs, voice slightly broken, stirring his tea. "I never thought I'd see you again."

"Me neither," admits Hiro right away. He swallows and sighs. "Miguel, they know I'll do anything for you. Remember what I said in the shower in Rome."

Miguel nods. "Remember our first kiss?" he asks, still looking at his tea, but grinning.

Hiro laughs at the abrupt change of subject. "Yeah," he admits. "Mm, but, I liked the night after better."

Miguel hums, closing his eyes, reminiscing. "The first time we touched? That was amazing. I can still see the look in your eyes when..." He laughs, and glances lovingly at his companion.

"Nobody had ever touched me before," Hiro admits; "we were beautiful," he remarks wistfully, looking off.

"Hell, Hiro, we were seventeen and nineteen." Miguel tsks and sips. "Despite the trauma, we were innocent."

"Tell me about the other woman?" Hiro asks.

"Juana," says Miguel, looking at him. "She was pretty, and sweet and very cool. I even proposed to her. But I couldn't go through with it. Poor kid. She got over it, though. But, I..." He sighs. "I regret hurting her. I regret so much."

Hiro bites his lip in concern. "I think you need sleep," he says. "Good sleep. Come here?"

Miguel allows himself to be pulled into bed by his companion, who gets out the lavender packet and then turns the lights off. Hiro presses the packet to Miguel's forehead, the latter weeping.

"Sana, sana, colita de rana," Hiro sings, laughing, "si no sana esta noche, sanará mañana!" He kisses Miguel's wet cheek as Miguel laughs. "Remember that night you took me to see the moon, cielito lindo?"

Miguel nods. His and Hiro's fingers link as they breathe together in the dark. "Remember me?" he asks.

"I remember every kiss, every touch, every word," whispers Hiro. "Well, almost. You know." He's running his hand along Miguel's arm. "You were the brightest star I'd ever met. I didn't know what I'd done to deserve someone as bright as you liking someone as dark as me."

"I loved you," corrects Miguel. "I still do. I shone, anata, to hide the pain I was feeling. I smiled but I wanted to die. Do you understand now?"

"I do," admits Hiro. "We're a threesome, really - you, me, and Death. I love you too. Don't be scared."

"I'm just so tired, of sinning."

"Miguel." Hiro takes his face in his hands. "Mírame. Naomi told me about the ritual she made up for the woman she and Michelle saved." He strokes at Miguel's tears. "Migue, they can do it. We can do it. God is great."

Miguel nods.

"Sing Compline," Hiro whispers, "I'll sing it with you."

"O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me," they both say to the darkness. "Glory Be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Alleluia."

"We examine our conscience," Miguel whispers and waits. He continues, under his breath in a haunting melody, the Latin hymn: "Christe qui lux es et dies, noctis tenebras detegis, lucisque lumen crederis, lumen beatum praedicans. Precamur Sancte Domine, defende nos in hac nocte, sit nobis in te requies, quietam noctem tribue. Ne gravis somnus irruat, nec hostis nos surripiat, nec caro illi consentiens nos tibi reos statuat. Oculi somnum capiant, cor ad te semper vigilet, dextera tua protegat famulos qui te diligunt. Defensor noster aspice, insidiantes reprime, guberna tuos famulos, quos sanguine mercatus es. Memento nostri Domine in gravi isto corpore, qui es defensor animae, adesto nobis Domine. Deo Patri sit gloria, eiusque soli Filio, cum Spiritu Paraclito, et nunc et in perpetuum. Amen. Psalm 90 and 91 can be used for any weekday when we don't know the exact psalm. I only have them memorized in Spanish, though."

"Adelante," says Hiro, pressing his forehead to his companion's, eyes closed.

Miguel recites it, then asks Hiro, "Do you have any Scripture passages memorized? Something short."

Hiro smiles and recites, "First Corinthians, chapter three, verses twelve to twenty: Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble— each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are. Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, 'He catches the wise in their craftiness,' and again, 'The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.'"

"In manus tuas, Domine," Miguel responds with vigor, proud and impressed. He kisses Hiro. "Do you know the Song of Simeon, by any chance? I know it in English."

Hiro nods.

"OK." Miguel says, "Save us, Lord, while we are awake; protect us while we sleep; that we may keep watch with Christ and rest with him in peace. Now, recite with me the Song, the Glory Be and the Salva Nos again." They say, "Now, Master, you let your servant go in peace. You have fulfilled your promise. My own eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all peoples. A light to bring the Gentiles from darkness; the glory of your people Israel. Glory Be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Save us, Lord, while we are awake; protect us while we sleep; that we may keep watch with Christ and rest with him in peace."

"Let us pray," says Miguel. "Give us grace, almighty God, so to unite ourselves in faith with your only Son, who underwent death and lay buried in the tomb, that we may rise again in newness of life with him, who lives and reigns for ever and ever."


"Noctem quietam et finem perfectum concedat nobis Dominus omnipotens."


"Do you know Ave Maria?" asks Miguel, almost asleep.

"Mhm," replies Hiro.

"OK, that's the last part. Sing with me." They sing quietly,  "Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus et benedictus fructus ventris tuis, Jesu. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus - nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen."

They doze together until Miguel whispers, "Hiro, can Naomi's ritual help? Am I possessed?"

Hiro grins, shaking his head. "You're just un poco loco. Sleep. We'll ask the Rabbi to help. And if we dream, stay close to me and trust me."

Miguel nods.

Hiro watches him fall asleep and murmurs, "I remember you."

to be continued...

Chapter Text

I'm going to show you what I don't consciously know.

Thank you, Miguel.

It's dark. I'm in a sparse bedroom, with white-washed walls. It's cold. There's a crucifix hanging on the wall between two beds. There's a young man sitting up in one looking over at the young man sleeping in the other one.

The latter is you.

I know.

The other guy is staring at you. He's jerking off.

. . .

You're crying in your sleep. You're crying for Abuelita! He's getting up. He's coming toward you and leaning over you. He's making all these weird moves over you, making fun of you. He's jerking off. God, he's wiping your tears and using them to wet his dick. He has a pair of underwear he's putting up to his face as he watches you.

Those are mine. From my drawer.

He's mocking you as he comes. Who the fuck is this?

His name was Pablo.

It's daylight now. He's sitting next to you in class. He's writing furiously in his notebook, but he keeps looking over at yours. He's writing gibberish. You turn to him and he smiles like he's normal. He asks you if you want to have lunch. You nod. He's drawing penises and tanks and aliens devouring humans. He's drawing an alien devouring you - decapitating you, with the beauty-mark above your lip and your dimple.

You're having lunch with him, but you don't seem to realize he's baiting you, asking you questions about your childhood and your family as if he can't wait to hold information and power over you. You look like your mind's somewhere else.

I was thinking of you. And my schoolwork.

He shovels food in his mouth and talks through it, unaware of how inappropriate it looks.

I think he was autistic. I'm not sure exactly what kind of illness he had. He had a roving eye.

I see that.

I pointed it out one time in good nature because I'd never seen anything like it before, and he freaked out and said I was crazy.

He finds you everywhere. He waits for you in your room. He knows your schedule. I can see him pretending he wasn't watching you as he greets you. You don't care enough to notice, though.

Now you're in your room and talking about theology, and he's adulating you. It's like he worships you. But he still tests you; it's like he hates you but would rather love you. Where's he from?

Mexico City. He came from an abusive family, semi-poor but still urban. Not from the pueblo, like me.

I'm in the room at night again. He gets up and goes to the bathroom. He's vomiting. A lot. You're sleeping. He's having an asthma attack too. You wake up and ask if he's OK. He whimpers yes and orders you to go back to sleep. He's muttering gibberish. Was he schizophrenic?

I don't know. One time he said he hallucinated little people, after not sleeping for three nights. I wasn't paying enough attention, and I ignored very important clues like that. I was traumatized already, and I'd never met anyone like this before. Remember, I grew up in a small, quaint village and then I moved to LA and made friends with the kids on my block, who were refugees like me. We and our families stuck together. Then I met you. And after you left, I had Juana. But Mexico City is something very different, and I didn't know shit about being in a seminary and why most young men go in there in the first place. I was very naïve.

I can tell. You're still sweet. This guy hates you. But he wants you.

There's María Esperanza. Ah, OK. I see the flower. It's not really a flower, Migue-kun, I'm sorry. It looks like a rare skin condition. But she's hypnotized all of you. Now she's talking to you only. She has something special about her. I don't know why she'd need to hypnotize people - and you, especially - into thinking that condition is a rose. I see her give you a piece of her skin. She knows something bad's going to happen.

Like I said, I'm showing you what my consciousness doesn't realize but what my subconscious does.

Now, what just happened? Why were you scapegoated by everyone like that?

I still don't know. It's a practice they've used around the world, in seminaries. Plus, it's very Aztec, no? All they needed to do was wrench out my heart, offer it to Huitzilpochtli and throw me off the pyramid at Chichen Itza.

Yes. Christ. Look what envy does. Ah, now I see you seeing who Pablo really is.

He's going to become one of those nationalists who gets behind López Obrador, and who thinks Mexico is the King of Latin America, the greatest thing to happen to all the Americas. Viva nationalized oil, socialized education, tortillas and charro's, güey. And a new airport and the Maya train. Nice dream, right? Until it failed and the economy fell.

Hey, be nice to your own. Viva México.

Now, he has you pinned to the bedroom wall and you look like you're wasted. He's touching your face. He's testing to see how drunk you really are. He's groping you and you can't tell. You're telling him you just want to be friends. He's insulting you. You're crying. He's taking his cock out, shit. He's telling you you're a manipulative son of a bitch, having teased him for six years. He's jerking himself off with your hand, and you're just crying. He's coming at the sight of you, weak and broken. You clock him - God bless you. He wrestles you, and because he's sober he subdues you and drags you into your bed.

You're shouting that he fuck himself, that he get out. He's not leaving. You're going unconscious, you're stumbling to the bathroom to wash your hand. You're yelling that he get the fuck out. He says there's no where for him to go, that no one will believe you, and he insults you again. You drop onto your bed and scream into your pillow till you go unconscious. He watches you, all night.

In the morning, he denies it.

So, it did happen. I never knew if it really did. I couldn't face the truth I knew. That's why... Come with me to Morelia, the capital of Michoacán, last year. I was there for a week with the Caballeros. I was scared shitless, because they and the Sinaloa had just made a kidnap in Mexico City that involved this creep's people. I had a feeling he'd find me, but I couldn't imagine it'd be in Morelia. He took a huge risk, looking back. It's almost as if he were looking to be killed in one form or another. Shit, maybe he was. 

Oh, Miguel. You murdered him.

Was he going to murder me? Hiro?

Undoubtedly. I mean, with a ninety-five percent chance. He had the look of murder in his eye, and he had a knife. If he was going to kill you, he was going to stab you. He wanted one of you to die. He didn't seem capable of accepting the peace offering, and he provoked you.

Say it again, Hiro.

Ninety-five percent?

No. What I did.

You committed murder, in self-defense according to your judgment. You didn't take the risk. He didn't have the knife out, but he looked ready. He might not have. But you acted. You didn't give him a chance. And you did it cruelly and vengefully, and intoxicated with cocaine.

Miguel brings Hiro out of their shared dream. He's holding Hiro's hand with his own cold and clammy one. He spread his fingers against his companion's, who looks pale and frightened.

"I broke the Fifth Commandment," Miguel whispers, indicating his five fingers. "Now, do I merit the right to call myself a man of God?"

Hiro admits, "I don't know."

"Did the Devil make me do it?" hisses Miguel.

Hiro shakes his head. "You were right when you told Pablo, devil's don't make anyone do anything."

"What about addicts, schizophrenics, and others with illnesses like that?"

Hiro sighs. "No."

"Then what are devils!?" Miguel cries. "I've studied for ten years and I still don't know!"

Hiro pauses, then replies in a low voice, "thoughts that impede good conscience, thoughts that divert responsibility, thoughts that prevent charity and encourage harm and division, and insult and doubt."

"Just thoughts?" Miguel asks.

"You're a bad priest," Hiro says, laughing. He kisses Miguel's forehead and whispers, "yes, just thoughts." He taps his own temple. "If you trace the calls, they're all coming from inside the house."

Miguel winces.

Hiro kisses him again and assures, "but thank God, you don't have to answer them. Miguel Ángel. How many times have you asked forgiveness for murder?"

"Every time I go for confession."

"Which is every few days?"

Miguel nods.

"How many times have you punished yourself, and tried to convince yourself you're not truly sorry and / or that you're not forgiven?" Hiro asks.

"Nearly every time, that I'm not truly sorry and that I haven't been forgiven," admits Miguel.

Hiro shakes his head. "You've created your own Hell. Now, follow Dante and de la Cruz - not your dog and the narcissistic singer; the poet and the saint - and go through the darkness so as to know the light. Forgive yourself. The cross you're carrying's been lifted and it's no longer yours."

"That's the advice I give people," says Miguel, with an ironic smile.

"Take it," breathes Hiro. He presses his forehead to his companion's. "You don't know what was in Pablo's heart, and you had no right to take his life, but you did what you thought was right. Does it balance out? Did he have such murderous intent, that he needed to die without being given more of a chance to calm down? I don't know. Pray for his soul. Do you?"

Miguel nods. "Every night. I'm tempted this year to cross the bridge to the Land of the Dead and find him, and beg forgiveness."

"I wouldn't," says Hiro. "You may not like what you find. Like you told me many years ago on the night we saw the moon, don't go waking up the dead with so much vigor. Let them go. Ask him for forgiveness here. And hope that he's not suffering wherever he is. Because you never know: he might still be."

to be continued...

Chapter Text

1 Apr. 2012

"Hey, Hiro Hamada!" Miguel pulls him close as they walk, and smiles. "Tch, why you so sad, c'mon?" He kisses Hiro against his hair.

It's a balmy April dusk.

"Did the cherry blossoms bloom in Tokyo yet? Ah, what I wouldn't give to go." Miguel shakes his companion, whose face is turned away and embarrassed. "C'mon, muñequito de japón. Just forget about everything, everything-" he swings their arms "-with me tonight, OK?"

Hiro nods.

"Let's run," exclaims Miguel, pulling Hiro by the hand. "Trust me, hermano!"

Hiro can't help but be pulled by Miguel down the streets of Boyle Heights, passing graffiti walls and houses with bars on the windows, and excited dogs. The smells of spiced beef and onions and cumin and everything Goya (porque si es Goya, tiene que ser bueno!) meet the florally air. His companion's hand is secure around his, and he can feel his passion in his grip.

"I'm going to take you to that hill I never took you," calls back Miguel, "to see the moon!"

"You're going to pull his arm off, chamaco!" yells a lady from her porch to Miguel, in Spanish.

"He'll know how to fix it, the know-it-all!" Miguel calls back.

Hiro doesn't know whether to be offended or amused, but either way it makes him laugh and catch up to Miguel so they run hand in hand.

"Eso! There you are!"

Miguel takes him past a park that looks a little dangerous in the dusk, and gestures to a very steep hill.

"All right, once we get to the top, we can see all of LA, and you may not believe me but there's a whole field of flowers tumbling down the other side."

Hiro highly doubts that. He grins skeptically. Miguel steals a kiss to the corner of his mouth. "Let's go. Ah, what?" He laughs jovially. "You still blush when I kiss you?"

"Shut up," Hiro mutters playfully, letting his cheek get pinched by his lover, "let's go to your magical hill."

They climb the hill and can surely see the indigo moon hanging like a lantern, over the miles of dappled lights and towers of Los Angeles.

But there are no flowers. Only weeds.

"Look how nice they are, the yellow flowers. I love when they turn into those puffy balls." Miguel sighs.

Hiro doesn't have the heart to tell him they're weeds. But, Miguel whispers, "I know they're weeds, tonto. But, go with it, OK?"

"They're actually considered a flower, in all fairness," Hiro says. "They're called dandelions."

Miguel pauses and tries very hard to determine what Hiro just said. "Damn the lions?"

Hiro bursts out laughing, apologizing while Miguel frowns and swears in Spanish about how ridiculous English often is.

"No, no, listen:" Hiro says very clearly, "dan-de-li-on."



"That sounds a lot like 'damn the lion,' I was close."

Hiro giggles again and turns girlishly into Miguel's shoulder. He blushes as the latter takes him in his arms and kisses his cheek once-twice-three-four times and groans delightfully. "Your skin tastes really good tonight, for some reason," Miguel whispers, "maybe I just like the salt of sweat, I dunno."

"I love you, Miguel," Hiro breathes, so low it could be the wind, as he's held by his companion. "Aishiteru."

"Yeah, I know," Miguel mumbles, rolling his eyes and rocking them back and forth as though they were dancing. "Did you touch that hôchô, Hamada?"

Hiro tightens his grip on his companion, childishly.

"Let me see," implores Miguel. He releases Hiro, who gingerly tugs up his shirt.

"Carajo, Hiro." Miguel touches the new gash, healing with the balm Hiro's placed on it.

"It's been five years today since Tadashi passed," Hiro explains in a broken voice.

Miguel kneels down, his hands gently holding Hiro's torso. He leans in and kisses the wound. Hiro trembles at the sensation, and the pain.

"This isn't how we mourn," murmurs Miguel, leaning his head against Hiro's heartbeat. "I understand. I know it hurts." He rises to his feet again and takes his lover's face in his hands.

"Let me be a girl," mouths Hiro, sadly. "Just tonight."

Miguel sighs and nods. "All right. For tonight. You can be my princesa. But once the clock strikes midnight, Cenicienta - Cinderella, you turn into a pumpkin. Or, whatever."

Hiro laughs, face-palming himself. "No, it's... She rides the pumpkin!"

"Oh. I didn't grow up watching Disney, OK?" Miguel counters, raising his arms and laughing along. "I was a poor kid in Tamaulipas worshipping some idiot named Ernesto de la Cruz, not watching cartoons riding pumpkins."

The boys laugh until their sides hurt, and sit down on the grass. Hiro's laughter turns to tears, as he releases the flood of emotions, and memories of his brother invade him.

Miguel strokes his back and his hair, cooing at him. "Sana, sana, colita de rana. Si no sana esta noche, sanará mañana."

"I'm sorry."

"It's OK. It gives me an excuse to sing." Miguel clears his throat and sings softly, "ay, ay, ay, ay, canta y no llores! Porque cantando se alegran, cielito lindo;" he kisses Hiro's hand and brings it to his own heart; "los corazones."

Hiro turns so he may face him, though his head is bowed in shame. He brings his hand up to Miguel's neck and runs along till he's holding his jaw. Then he looks up femininely, dark lashes fluttering.

Miguel leans in a little bit, touching Hiro's hand and moving it to his mouth. "Este lunar que tengo, cielito lindo, junto a mi boca;" he moves Hiro's thumb toward the beauty mark he has above his own lip; "no se lo daré a nadie más, cielito lindo, porque a tí te toca."

Hiro is entranced by Miguel, who is entranced by him too. This erotic exploration between them had begun back in February and each touch and every kiss revealed something new, every time.

"Bésame," Miguel pleads, now with his eyes averted as Hiro admires him and strokes his lips. Miguel takes his hand away and pleads again, in song, "bésame muuucho, cómo si fuera esta noche la última vez."

And Hiro does; he kisses him though it were the last night of his life. The masculine roars within them in protest, that they're both men and that the other should be a woman. But, the love within the kiss is strong enough that they overcome it.

Hiro sacrifices his masculinity easily. He whimpers like a girl, drapes his arms around Miguel like a girl, tilts his head back like a girl so that Miguel can kiss his throat.

"Eres bello," whispers Miguel, "I mean, bella." He looks into Hiro's tender eyes and says, "you're so beautiful. Marry me here and now?"

Hiro smiles, lost in the dream. He nods.

"OK." Miguel thinks he probably has to keep this gender-switch up to get Hiro through the night whole. He's planning on going back to Aunt Cass' and sleeping next to Hiro all night, to console him. "Will you be with me, forever?" He curls their fingers together. "Will you be my doncella, mi reina? Will you let me rescue you?"

Hiro nods sadly. He knows how much Miguel loves him, to be doing this. "I need this, Migue-kun."

"It's OK," assures Miguel. "This is OK. Don't worry. We'll dream together, and it'll never end. You'll never have to worry. Eternity waits for us; I'd live a thousand lives each one with you right by my side."

"That's from a Jennifer Lopez song," says Hiro.

"Damn it." Miguel sighs, frustrated. "How would you even know that? You listen to JLo?"

"I heard that the guy in the video was guapo, and, heh heh, he was." Hiro deviously smiles.

Miguel makes that same face we see in the film when he sees Ernesto kiss a woman. The disgusted look. "You're my type when it comes to guys," he confesses. "Oh, sorry, girls."

Hiro waves his hand nonchalantly. "'S all right, the illusion's broken now."

Miguel gazes at him. "I love you, Hiro. Promise me under the stars and the moon, that you'll honor my love and not hurt yourself. Because you're going to shatter me. I can't see any more signs of mutilation, because I feel them inside. And I've had enough pain in my life, hermano. I'm saying this because I know you can handle it. You're strong."

"Not like you," assures Hiro. He reaches over and strokes Miguel's chin, feeling the stubble of a seventeen/eighteen-year-old there. "But I promise."

Miguel blows him a kiss. "So, have the cherry blossoms bloomed in Tokyo?"

"Yes, and now's the time for festivals and ceremonies, as we wait for their death," Hiro replies, picking up a dandelion. "Around now, funnily enough, people start telling ghost stories."

"Ghost stories, eh?" Miguel asks carefully, picking his own puffy dandelion.

"Yeah, but you know me;" Hiro shrugs. "I don't believe in that stuff." He narrows his eyes at Miguel. "Do you?"

"In ghosts?" Miguel grins as though reminiscing. He blows the dandelion seeds to the wind and watches them float away. "Well..." He chuckles. "Have you got all night to hear a story? It starts in a cemetery, in a town called Santa Cecilia."

By the time they're back at Aunt Cass' house, Hiro stands before Miguel and is able to see spirits all around him - he can't explain how. They're merely meandering about, semi-translucent, from many different generations. Miguel is grinning at him.

"Close your eyes," Miguel whispers. "Trust me."

Hiro in his insatiable curiosity doesn't want to, but he does. He feels a brushing of flowers against his cheek and Miguel murmuring a prayer in Spanish. "Now, open them."

Hiro opens his eyes and the spirits are gone.


Miguel shakes his head. He shakes a branch of cherry-blossoms in his hand. "I purposefully took us on a long route, where I knew we'd pass by a sakura tree," he explains. "Good thing this one branch still has a little life in it. In Mexico we use cempasúchil, or marigold. We also passed a cemetery, which was how I was able to connect. Notice I touched a grave?"

Hiro is still dazed.

Miguel continues, "I can't bring Tadashi to see you unless it's the night of All Saints' Day and at midnight when it turns to All Souls' Day - November first into November second. The reason is because he's still in Purgatory - or, the Land of the Dead - while the spirits you saw don't want to even go there. During the eve of All Saints' Day it's possible to cross over, like I did. It can be tricky, though. And sometimes you don't necessarily want to bother calling back the dead so much. This pagan habit we have can be selfish. We can't be holding on to our loved ones; we must let them work out what they need to work out and feel comfortable moving on into the void. To God, to the sky - el cielo!"

"Is the Land of the Dead, Hell, then?" asks Hiro.

Miguel shrugs. "I've always wondered. Maybe one day I'll find out." He smiles. "Will you come with me on the adventure, Hiro Hamada, the genius that you are?"

Hiro grins, his old spark back, his scientist's mind synthesizing beautiful possibilities and dreams. He offers Miguel his left pinky, as an old Japanese promise. "Hai, Rivera-san. The sky's the limit. And I don't fear Hell."

Miguel winces. "I know, but I do. Which means we're the perfect pair." He links their pinkies, sealing their fate. "Sky's the limit."

They look up to the full moon, to the stars and planets, to the atmosphere. Destiny looks back. Heaven looks back. And the red string of fate from their left pinkies - which are directly connected to their hearts - binds the pair, like in the old legends of Nihon.

For when it comes to legends and magic, and mystery and myth, people everywhere are not all that different.

to be continued...

Cielito Lindo - written by Quirino Mendoza y Cortés (1862-1957)
Bésame Mucho - written by Consuelo Velázquez (1916-2005)
Ain't It Funny (2001) - written by Jennifer Lopez and Cory Rooney

Lean y aprendan: Read and learn: 

Graulich, Michel. "Aztec Human Sacrifice As Expiation." History of Religions 39, no. 4 (2000): 352-71.

Kelly, B.D. "Self-Immolation, Suicide and Self-Harm in Buddhist and Western Traditions." Transcultural Psychiatry 48, no. 3 (2011): 299-317.
There's no link for this one, unless you go through an institution's (university, publisher, etc.) subscription. Good luck.

Parkes, Graham. "Nuclear Power after Fukushima 2011: Buddhist and Promethean Perspectives." Buddhist-Christian Studies 32 (2012): 89-108.

Chapter Text

28 Jun. 2023

"Che! Cómo andas, eh?"

"Buenos días, hermano," replies Miguel, leaning casually back in his seat. "Bien, gracias a Dios. Te presento a mi colega, el Padre Leonardo Satoshi Ogata." 

"Cómo estás?" Hiro says and shakes hands with the Argentinean singer.

"Ah, it's nice to hear Spanish," the singer says, in Spanish. "It's a pleasure, Father, with respect. I'm Rafael Naveira."

"I'm Santiago Jiménez," says Miguel, accepting Rafael's hand. "Forgive me for not telling you my name last night, Rafael."

"I understand," the newcomer insists, "you were with quite a lovely companion."

Miguel raises a mischievous brow at him.

"Why don't you sit with us?" Hiro says, offering the third seat at the table at the café. "We just ordered some coffee."

"Thank you, Father, just for a little while, eh?" Rafael sits.

"Rafael sang one of my favorite tango's last night, upon request," Miguel explains to Hiro. "It's an obscure one, and I was happy he knew it. My partner for the night got the message."

Rafael chuckles. Hiro nods, and says to him, "my colleague and I are here for some meetings, having come from Rome." He takes out his cigarette case and offers one to Rafael, who accepts gratefully and to Miguel who declines.

Their coffee arrives and Miguel requests one more, for their companion.

"Rome, eh?" Rafael says. 

"Mm, yes," says Miguel, stirring cinnamon into his coffee, a habit from drinking hot chocolate with cinnamon. "Fr. Leonardo here is a Franciscan missionary in Akita, and I'm a professor at La Universidad Iberoamericana. Since there's going to be a meeting this October in Tel Aviv of the International Catholic Jewish Liaison Committee, we were selected to go and speak to some professionals there to help organize. We both conduct research on interreligious dialogue. We met - what was it? About five years ago, in Salamanca?" Hiro nods, blushing slightly. Miguel sips his black, spicy coffee. "And since Jaffa is so close to Tel Aviv, we decided to stop by for a few days."

"Is this either of your first times here?" Rafael asks Hiro and Miguel. He accepts the coffee that's just arrived.

"No," says Hiro, shaking his head, "I've been here several times to see my Order. But, I think it's Santiago's first time, no?"

Miguel nods. "First time, and I have to admit, I was nervous. But, I live in Ciudad de México, so I said to myself, what the fuck are you afraid of?"

Rafael laughs. "Well, welcome to Israel!"

"I love it, thank you," says Miguel.

"Which hotel are you staying at?" Rafael asks.

"I forgot, hold on." Miguel searches his jacket. "Do you remember?" he asks Hiro.

Hiro rolls his eyes. "Hotel Ariadna."

"That's the one!" Miguel exclaims.

"Ah, that's a good one," says Rafael. 

"How long have you been singing tango's, hombre?" Miguel asks Rafael. "You were great."

"Ever since I was a kid, in old Buenos Aires," replies Rafael. "My first love actually taught me. You know, tango used to be danced by two men, right?"

"Yeah, I know," says Miguel, and looks at Hiro, who looks down and shifts uncomfortably. "Father," he chides, winking at Rafael. "Gays are human, too."

"Don't paint me with homophobia," scolds Hiro, frowning at Miguel. He nods awkwardly at Rafael, saying, "go on."

Rafael laughs. He can't read them. He doesn't know what to make of them. "Well, anyway, he taught me, being a member of the Naveira tango clan, and as you can see I'm part of it too, now."

"You two married?" Miguel asks, with sincere curiosity. Hiro looks away.

Rafael nods.

"Congratulations," says Miguel.

"Thank you." Rafael glances at Hiro, who sighs. 

"I remain faithful to the Church's teachings," Hiro confesses. "But, I also wonder about whether or not two people who love each other should be married. It's confused. Confusing? Ach. Forgive my bad Spanish;" he downs the rest of his coffee and puts out his cigarette; "I falter when I'm nervous. But, congratulations."

Rafael waves his hand, also finishing his cigarette. "I appreciate it."

"Hey, do you book events?" asks Miguel. "The woman I was with last night - Michelle, is her name - thought you were great, and she mentioned she'd be here for some time with a friend. As you could tell, she loves the dance, and she said she wants to throw a birthday party for her friend next month."

"Yeah, of course," replies Rafael. "Just tell her to come by, I'll remember her."

"Mm, maybe you can sing at Santiago's and her wedding," says Hiro. 

"First, I'd have to convert to Judaism," says Miguel. He turns to Rafael. "She said she's very serious about raising her family Jewish."

"Well, we can be like that, you know?" says Rafael, declining another cigarette from Hiro. "But, Judaism's not so bad. You'd just have to give up Jesus and bacon."

Miguel winces, while Hiro laughs. "I don't know, Chuchito y Chorizo for a woman?" says Miguel. "I'm Catholic to the bone. If only you knew the things I've done to try and atone for my sins. You wouldn't believe me. Eh, Father?" He gestures that Hiro give him a cigarette. "Then again, I'll have to wait and see. She may want to convert to Christianity."

Hiro struggles opening the case, and asks Rafael to help him. As both men work to get it open, Rafael pinches it by accident on Hiro's finger. 

"I'm sorry!" Rafael exclaims, offering him a napkin.

"No worries." Hiro sucks on the little bit of blood that drew. Then he cleans it with the napkin, which he then leaves on the table. He offers the case to Miguel, who accepts a cigarette and the lighter. 

Miguel casually checks his watch. "Se nos hizo tarde. Forgive us, Rafael, we better get going. Please, stay if you're comfortable. I have a tab from last night; please order whatever you like, and we'll see each other again soon."

"Are you sure?" Rafael asks, brows raised.

"Yes, yes, no worries." Miguel vigorously shakes his hand. "Ciao, man, it was great talking to you." 

"Yes, thank you for joining us," says Hiro, still drawing blood but offering his other hand. 

"To you both as well, enjoy your time here, and yes, hopefully we'll meet up again!"

Miguel tells the waitress about the tab, and he and Hiro leave. Rafael sits for a little while watching them walk casually down the street, turn the corner and go out of sight. He makes a phone call, and says he got audio and visual, and a blood sample from the Japanese suspect. He asks if the blood sample from the Mexican one, from the hospital, was verified. Yes, it was. The DNA checked out as: Santiago Jiménez, residence Mexico City, age twenty-eight, single, Biblical studies professor at La Universidad Iberoamericana, all degrees from universities in Mexico. Rafael confirms he'll bring in the surveillance and the other blood sample. And that, no, there seemed nothing suspicious about them except a great chance they had had a romantic and / or sexual affair at some point. It could be seen in the body language. Did he get the sense that Santiago would be the type admitted to the hospital for self-flagellation? Yes.

What were the chances that they were Miguel Ángel Rivera and Hiro Hamada? Too ambiguous to know, the ages and the nationalities matched, but the DNA would have been nearly impossible to falsify. Did he know that Hiro Hamada was a genetic engineer, and a genius? Yes.

So, it's a fifty percent chance.

Los domingos, tés danzantes; los lunes, desolación.
Hay de todo en la casita: almohadones y divanes;
como en botica, cocó; alfombras que no hacen ruido
y mesa puesta al amor.

Y todo a media luz, que es un brujo el amor,
a media luz los besos, a media luz los dos.
Y todo a media luz, crepúsculo interior.
Qué suave terciopelo la media luz de amor.

to be continued...

"A Media Luz" (1924) - written by Edgardo Donato and Carlos Lenzi

Chapter Text

"I love you," whispers Miguel in Hiro's ear, with admiration, right before they enter St. Peter's Church.

"You kidding?" replies Hiro, turning and kissing Miguel chastely. "I couldn't have done it without you."

Slipping inside, they see Naomi and Michelle waiting. Naomi has her books, and Michelle is holding lilies.

Miguel nods to the women as they all embrace.

He and Hiro had received a call from Naomi first thing in the morning, saying she had figured an alchemic formula out, and that she needed the Syrian documents to confirm; she said that Michelle had told her about the tango that night, and that it was the worst thing Miguel and Michelle could've done. "The KGB would be working with the Argentineans, you fools!" she'd told Miguel. "Don't you know how important Buenos Aires was, and still is? Don't you know your own Pope?"

And surely enough, Hiro and Miguel had seen Rafael cleverly place the surveillance on their table. Hiro purposefully left him blood.

Hiro had, before he left for Rome, created false identities for himself and Miguel, and infiltrated all of the global networks that would have had his and Miguel's DNA on file. He changed each file, including their numbers, wherever they had been, of Miguel Ángel Enrique Rivera de Ramírez to Santiago Jiménez de León, and Hiro Hamada to Satoshi "Leonardo" Ogata, O.F.M. He had new identification cards, including passports, made for them. So, when the hospital at Jaffa received Miguel, he registered as Santiago. When they took the plane from Rome to Damascus, they'd used their false aliases. They hadn't been using any smart phone, only prepaid. But, they were still at risk. And, apparently, someone was on to them.

"It's good in a way, though," Miguel had argued to Naomi on the phone, "because it's better to know your enemies. We'll test him. Then, if he checks out, we can disappear. I know ways, trust me. This is a good thing. We'd need to go to Safed, to the pool where you said you submerged and healed the Gentile woman."


"Yes," Miguel had said; "if you say you discovered the alchemic formula Hiro and you spoke about, between mercury and sulfur, then I know what must be done so we can open a portal and see the past so we understand the present, and perhaps even the future. You and I would have to act as Hierophant and High Priestess, around the water, while Hiro and Michelle act as Emperor and Empress and transcend. Don't you know your gematria and your Cabbalist Tarot, my buena bruja?"

"You're crazy if you think we would get involved in this sorcery," Naomi had said.

"You have no choice at this point," Miguel had insisted; "your lives are at risk, too. You know what I mean, Rabbi. Believe me. If the Argentinean checks out, we go to Safed, with your formula and Nestorius' secret, and we cross dimensions. Then we'll know how to take care of Buenos Aires on our tail, and Buenos Aires sitting on the throne of St. Peter."

"You Catholic priests are so arrogant," Naomi had huffed. "Fine. Go, and be careful. The Lord keep you safe."

"We got the flowers you requested," says Michelle. "Lilies."

"Thank you," says Miguel, caressing one of the Madonna lilies. "We'll pray to St. Gabriel who gave them to the Virgin at the Annunciation - ha, and the Argentinean called himself Rafael, you know. Miguel, Rafael, Gabriel. We're just missing Uriel. Anyway, where's Fr. Tomasz?"

"In the sacristy," replies Naomi. "With the relic."

They enter the sacristy and Fr. Tomasz is there with a relic supposedly of St. Peter himself. Naomi rolls her eyes. Tomasz chides her and asks her to suspend disbelief.

"We have to make confession," Hiro tells him.

"Quickly, you first," says Tomasz to Miguel. Miguel crosses himself and they quickly recite the opening prayer. Miguel then tells him he lied about his identity, in an attempt to protect himself and his companion. Fr. Tomasz warns him to avoid this, and stay as anonymous as possible - the less lying, the better, even if it's "for good." A Hail Mary as penance, and an Act of Contrition. Tomasz absolves Miguel through the ministry of the Church. Hiro says the same, and also admits to wanting to dream of lesbianism. Tomasz smiles a little at his candidness. They repeat the same process.

Naomi and Michelle watch, fascinated and a little put off. Catholicism is sinfully bold, in the frame of mind they were raised in.

"I know what kind of magic you're about to perform," says Fr. Tomasz to the four of them. "It's extremely dangerous, but I have it on good word that you;" he indicates Miguel; "and you;" he indicated Naomi; "have had profound experiences, as priests, with the supernatural. Remember virtue. Act in praise of the Almighty. You both know this well, 'For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, But the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before Him, strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.' Psalm chapter and verses?"

"Ninety-six, verses four through nine," say Miguel and Naomi at the same time.

"And, 'Not to us, O LORD, not to us, But to Your name give glory Because of Your loving-kindness, because of Your truth?'"

"One-hundred-fifteen, first verse," they again say.

"God bless." Fr. Tomasz sprinkles Holy Water on all of them.

"Thank you, Father," says Miguel. "Now, you three;" he indicates Hiro, Naomi and Michelle; "with me: touch the lily petals. Close your eyes. Virgen de Guadalupe, Madre de Dios, from the virginal flowers grant us strength to transcend from the material to the spiritual, all in praise of your Son, the Almighty, our one Lord, Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and reigns victorious over death. MEMORARE, O piissima Virgo Maria, non esse auditum a saeculo, quemquam ad tua currentem praesidia, tua implorantem auxilia, tua petentem suffragia, esse derelictum. Ego tali animatus confidentia, ad te, Virgo Virginum, Mater, curro, ad te venio, coram te gemens peccator assisto. Noli, Mater Verbi, verba mea despicere; sed audi propitia et exaudi. Amen! Now, open your eyes. You're in between the material and the spiritual; you're neither completely alive nor completely dead. Be aware that you may transcend some material, but some material is so weighed down with power that it's solid to us in our state. Can you see us, Fr. Tomasz?"

"I can see you," confirms the Father.

"I thought as much," says Miguel, bowing his head respectfully to the priest. "You are a holy man. Thank you for your help." He orders the others, "we head to Safed, on the bus, and wait till sunset to perform the ritual."

Naomi is trembling, and Michelle holds her.

"Don't be afraid," Hiro consoles. "The Lord purposefully keeps Himself invisible, lest we die witnessing Him. Only in the mystery can we see His splendor. Now, our being invisible to most is in imitation of Him - we're made in His image, aren't we?"

Naomi shakes her head. "You remind me too much of me," she tells Hiro.

Turning to Miguel, Michelle says jovially, "I can see why you love him."

to be continued...

Chapter Text

The bus rattles through the desert. The expanse of aridity, and the blazing sun, is too close to Miguel's heart.

"See all the Maryam bat Yoachim's, Michelle?" Miguel says, gesturing toward the many veiled women on board.

"Heading to Jerusalem, to watch their sons die," confirms Michelle softly, then looking out to the desert.

"I got drunk off tequila for the first time on a bus just like this," says Miguel, playing with his Rosary as the bus bumps. "We'd had to travel from Santa Cecilia in Tamaulipas up to Chihuahua, then to Nogales, to the Jesuits. The whole way, they kept giving me and my cousins tequila to ease the trauma and put us to sleep. The truth was, I have a high tolerance and I didn't sleep; I pretended to. I was a drunk thirteen year old, and with agave in my veins those coyotes screaming at the stars put me in a trance. I wrote my first song in English.

"I'm traveling aboard the sands: 
Traveling, trying just to understand... 
Wishing I could read aloud Almighty's plan 
Like an angel-Mayan would, from mortal hands.
Hear the empires of the world in fright, 
"God, show us mercy before might!" 
Who lights the oil in darkest night, 
What spark could make evil take flight? 
There's too much terror, too much pain, 
Don't want to pulpit-preach ever again, 
What shred of comprehension can I claim? 
The need to know is just my stain.

"I thought I was so deep, at thirteen." Miguel chuckles sadly.

With astonishing tenderness, Hiro tilts his head to kiss Miguel's cheek, moving his lips against his warm skin. Miguel shifts and accepts the gesture, but doesn't reciprocate. It would be inappropriate to, anyway, as Naomi and Michelle are sitting next to them, on the floor, at the very back of the bus.

"How did you manage it, Rabbi?" Miguel asks Naomi, who's pensive. "And why did you show us your hair last night?"

Naomi's pretty eyes flutter and she gestures to Miguel's hand in which he holds his Rosary. "Hand them over?" she asks.

Miguel hands them over and Naomi examines them with respectful curiosity. "How long have you had them?"

Miguel smiles. "They were my great-great grandmother's."

Naomi's eyes widen. "Yet they still smell of rosewood," she remarks. Miguel nods.

"Shekinah, in response to your question, Father," Naomi says, handing the beads back. "Or;" she turns to Hiro, "your Guanyin, you said it was?" Hiro nods. Naomi turns back to Miguel; "and your Maryam bat Yoachim you call Guadalupe."

Now it's Michelle who kisses Naomi's cheek, at which the blonde jumps in surprise. The other three laugh like children.

They arrive in Safed by mid-afternoon. The city looks as though it were medieval. Michelle and Naomi keep forgetting they're in spirit form, and so stay very close to Hiro and Miguel.

"When we entered, we didn't have this luxury," explains Michelle. "We had to go in the middle of the night, and bribe the guard."

"It's up this way," Naomi pulls Miguel.

"What are the chances that there'll be people there?" Miguel asks her. "Shouldn't we wait till the middle of the night?"

"Well, how long can we stay like this?" she counters.

Miguel smiles ashamedly and glances at Hiro, who shrugs. "Honestly, I don't know," Miguel admits.

"Can we die like this?" asks Michelle.

Miguel bites his lip. "We can die like this if we're in the Land of the Dead. I would say to turn back to the material, except we only have one relic. And as far as waiting till midnight, I think we must, in order that no one be present."

"We should go look now, just in case," suggests Naomi.

Miguel turns to the other two, who nod, and says, "all right."

By the time they arrive at the Bath of Holy Ari, they find the entrance closed. "It's the Sabbath," says Michelle, nodding. "We're forbidden even to heal."

"Miguel will know every single Gospel verse in which Jesus heals on the Sabbath, to the chagrin of the Pharisees," Hiro warns her. "So, I wouldn't argue."

Naomi buries her face in her hands. "This seems so evil to us," she moans.

"So would the idea of a female rabbi, Noemi, and two girls kissing and climaxing together," says Michelle, to the surprise of the men. Michelle looks at Hiro and Miguel, a little warily, then back at Naomi. "The Lord sent these men, like He sent angels to Abraham; we must attend to them. We can't be enemies. We can't disobey."

"We're becoming Christian," Naomi whispers to her.

"So be it, then," counters Michelle, dark eyes burning. " 'Amen.' "

Naomi looks at her with a look that Hiro and Miguel have only seen each other give one another. Then Michelle leans forward and undoes Naomi's veil, letting her long and beautiful hair loose. She curls a strand between her fingers, then caresses her blushing cheek. She turns to the two men.

"Let's enter," she says.

They transcend the doorway and enter complete darkness. Hiro lights his lighter, which can transcend to the spiritual because of its oil, and Naomi leads them down very old stone hallways and down steps till they reach a cavern with a natural spring pool in the center.

"Light the candles in the alcoves," whispers Michelle to Hiro, who wanders about finding said candles. After he's finished, the four marvel at the mysterious place they've found themselves in, illuminated by candlelight, and very cold. Hiro and Miguel brush each other with the lilies, then brush Michelle and Naomi. They're material once more.

Miguel nods at Naomi, encouraging her, saying, "go on." His voice echoes.

Naomi opens her book for reference, but tells the others, "The alchemic formula that can create gold, also known as the Philosopher's Stone, is the point at which the human Adam Kadmon is conceived - when the perfect amalgamation of mercury in man and sulfur in woman encounter each other. This is confirmed by Adam Kadmon preceding the four realms of reality (Atziluth, Briah, Yetzirah and Assiyah) as represented by the Tetragrammaton, the unspeakable name of Ha-Shem, which is equivalent to breath. The inhalation is the opening of thought, represented by the first two letters Yōd and Hē which correspond to Atziluth and Briah, respectively; the exhalation is the close of thought, represented by the last two letters, Vav and Hē, which correspond to Yetzirah and Assyiah respectively. Since the Creator created light out of darkness - Sefer Bereshyt, or Genesis, chapter one, verses one through four - which already possessed wind blowing out upon water, we consider wind and water as dark, while earth and fire as light." She clears her throat, looking down at her book. "Adam Kadmon was conceived first by contraction, called tzimtzum. This is why he is truly defined by the letter Yōd, which curls, like the spiral of creation and like wind upon water. Breath to breath is the holiest of encounters, as it is how the Creator gave life to Adam - again, Genesis, chapter two, verse seven. Therefore, man and woman kiss and share breath (wind), which is darkness, and then submerge into further darkness, which is water, while Shekinah (or Malkuth) and Keter hold together the analogy. We;" Naomi indicates herself and Miguel, "being priests, will form the analogy and therefore represent the female Shekinah or base and the male Keter or crown, also considered the High Priestess and the Hierophant. The others will represent Adam Kadmon - the Emperor and Empress, both crowned with life - while they kiss and submerge in the water."

Michelle sighs heavily.

Naomi looks at her, at Hiro, and then to Miguel, all of whom are listening. She nods to Miguel.

Miguel explains his and Hiro's findings, "Nestorius famously referred to the Virgin not as Theotokos which means Mother of God, but Christotokos which means Mother of Christ, because to Nestorius divinity and humanity had an analogical relationship that could not be contained, and to say God has a 'Mother' is a paradox too easily contained. Nestorius argues that Christ's name signifies an essence that is capable of human emotion - let's say suffering, which is the base emotion in Buddhist terms - and a nature incapable of such emotion. To Nestorius, 'Christ' is like Adam Kadmon. Christ signifies human essence as the ability (or subsistent potential) to suffer, while Christ also signifies that divine nature is the inability (or the void potential, in terms of habit) to suffer. But the distinction and attribution don't imply the inverse." He sighs. "Saying this could have me excommunicated. Christ doesn't signify that divine essence is the inability (voided subsistent-potential) to suffer, and doesn't signify that human nature is the ability (subsistent-potential in terms of habit) to suffer. There's apophaticism, right? Describing the divine by terms of negation; like Juan de la Cruz and Maimonides. The West since the Council of Chalcedon has considered that Nestorius was implying that the distinctions and attributions could be inverted, but no one could really be sure, until we found his writing on Psalm 110 in Damascus. He clarifies in that document that he's been speaking only of human essence and divine nature, and 'not' divine essence and human nature. If this had been brought to light at the Council, Cyril of Alexandria would have had no right to call Nestorius a heretic. Nestorius' theories were sound with what had already been accepted philosophically. Rabbi Noemi, please sing or recite Psalm 110."

Naomi recites, "The Lord says to my lord, 'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.' The Lord sends out from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your foes. Your people will offer themselves willingly on the day you lead your forces on the holy mountains. From the womb of the morning, like dew, your youth will come to you. The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, 'You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.' The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter heads over the wide earth. He will drink from the stream by the path; therefore he will lift up his head."

"The left side of the Lord represents his divinity, the right side his humanity," insists Miguel, while Naomi stares at the pool contemplating. "What Sephiroth is on Adam Kadmon's left hand?"

"Gevurah, or Severity," replies Naomi softly, still contemplating.

"And, in the Psalm, where does the Lord sit in relation to his lord, David?"

"On the left, David being on his right," Naomi says, looking up at Miguel.

"And what's the Sephiroth on Adam Kadmon's right hand?" asks Miguel, nodding at her.

"Chessed, or Mercy."

"Why are there two lords in the Psalm, and why is there only mention of a right hand?"

"Because one Lord's right hand is the other Lord's left, as if they were mirroring each other, analogically, like Maimonides' golden mean," breathes Naomi, nodding back. "The human lord is David, through whose line must come the Messiah - the Messiah who, also according to Maimonides, is the world to come and entirely spiritual."

Miguel smiles and says, "we call the Church the Body of Christ. We've been taught, to put it another way, that Nestorius thinks 'divine essence' can be 'unable' of something, therefore taking quantity and magnitude - severity! - from divinity; also, we've thought that Nestorius considers 'human nature' as 'able' in subsistency to do what the divine can't, he's made humanity equally dignified - or merciful - as the divine. This is the Nestorian heresy, a serpent that eats its own tail, and it's the basis of Islam;" he pauses, biting his bottom lip nervously; "as you know."

Naomi swallows and nods.

"Now, with this knowledge, what can we say?" asks Miguel.

Hiro leans close to his partner, so as to wrap an arm around his slender waist. "Why, Nietzsche, we can say we've killed God by becoming Him."

Michelle chuckles and nods vigorously.

Miguel sighs and pulls away from Hiro.

"Padre Miguel Rivera." Hiro says it with such command; Miguel looks back to him.

Hiro looks at Michelle and Naomi and asks, "are you both willing to go through with this, knowing we'll end up in a different time and place? Maybe to Paris in the thirteenth century with Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas, maybe to China with Lao Tzu two-thousand five-hundred years ago, probably in Buenos Aires with hidden Nazi's." He looks to Michelle and says, "I won't lie and say that's probably not where we'll end up, and they'll ask us questions. We must pretend to be their allies, and glean as much information as possible. I'll talk, in Japanese, if you feel unable to. It wouldn't be the first time I talk with Nazi's."

"I'll go with you," says Michelle, taking a deep breath.

Naomi is still in shock, but she looks desperately at Hiro and says, "so much can go wrong."

"You're Israeli, Rabbi," Hiro says. "Being on the bus we were on is just as dangerous; it's just a matter of perception. Nothing went wrong becoming spiritually transcendental, did it? And would you ever believe that the relic of the Gentile Simon Peter and some lilies could transform your body and soul the way it did?"

"No, this must be the will of the Lord." Naomi shuts her eyes tight and leans over to embrace Michelle and sob into her shoulder. Hiro and Miguel hear her tell Michelle, "if we fail, know that I loved you most of all in this life, and knew the Lord through you." Michelle nods and kisses her.

"Don't say goodbye, Miguel," Hiro says, voice cracking. He looks at his trembling companion. "Don't, because I'm coming back. It's not my time to die." He grasps Miguel's jaw, not unaffectionately. "Not yet."

He pulls away and begins taking his clothes off. He calls to Michelle, "we're coming back. Now, remove your clothes; they've got to start drawing the circle and the symbols. Then we step into the water, and don't let me go. Empress."

to be continued...

NOTE: Nestorius, as to my knowledge, did not write on Psalm 110. I made that up. Wishful thinking. Maybe there's a hidden document of his in Syria, which clears some things up. Who knows? If any certain universities want to fund me to research it, I'll get back to you. Everything else mentioned, attributed to Nestorius, Cyril, Maimonides, the Tarot and the Cabbala (from what I know) should be accurate.

Names of G-d:

Chapter Text

What he strokes always, before and after love, is her throat. To feel the soft skin, the wiry muscles, and that delicate dip between her clavicles. To feel her heart pulsing, and her breath, and her swallow. To feel her as she whimpers and sighs in delight. He wraps his hand around to the back of her neck, leans down and presses kisses to her throat. She smiles. Her hand is in his thick hair, her fingers gently grazing his scalp. He moves his hand from her neck to her hair, and buries his nose in it, inhaling camellia oil. She rests against the space between his shoulder and his neck. She can feel him growing inside her again. The sun is rising, and will soon burst its light onto the freshly fallen snow. Fire roaring in the hearth, they'd stayed up all night watching the storm. He'd never seen a phenomenon so incredible.

In the quiet, in the dark, in the death. The stars fade; all that's left is one. The cold moon retreats. His lips on her eyes, her cheek, lips, jaw. Playfully, she shifts, so gravity can bury him deeper. He groans. His eyes question hers. She nods, blushing, dark eyes sparkling. He curls his arm around her waist and pulls her up, her back arching, while sliding a cushion beneath her. He places her back down. She falls back, closing her eyes. Her hair spills around her head like a black aura. Her body is a swan, hips raised and spine curved, and her arms raised so she may grasp the edge of the futon if need be.

She swipes one hand over the dark hair on his pelvis, then down to place it over her own womb. She feels his member pulse within her. With one arm supporting him, he places his own hand over hers. Breathe. The snow drips. She does, too. The frosted cherries shiver. He bites his lip. He moves his hand to the fold between her legs. Salt water melts the ice. His thumb coaxes the blood collected at her pleasure-pearl.

Crash against the jet black rocks, and the sea foam dissolves the glassy hard surface of ice threatening to overcome the shore. He withdraws slowly then snaps his hips forward and hits a place so secret. Oh. Now he knows.

Now he knows.

"Little foxes can't destroy a frozen garden, Zashiki-warashi," says Kannon to the house-sprite, sweeping it out, she herself disappearing into the white expanse in the dawn.

The goddess can hear the woman's cries of ecstasy ringing from the tiny house on the shore, through the forest. The sacred fawn in its den, next to his mother, raises its head with its large ears. The owl huddles, pelicans flutter. The island of the Rising Sun awakens.

The sky isn't indigo. But it's too deep to be blue, or black, nor any color of the ostentatious cocoxochitl dahlia. It is a color entirely its own.

He knows she believes that all souls are conceived as sac nikte, the white plumeria. From the legend of the Princess of Mayapán, Sac Nicté, who falls in love with Prince Canek who steals her from Prince Ulil. And why shouldn't she believe? She responds to his smiling kisses. Her caramel eyes follow his, curious and bright. She savors his body, tasting sea-salt. When her lips meet his member, it's as though she's known him for lifetimes. She rubs her excited sex. She's delighted when he shimmies down to devour it. This part of her never feels shameful, though the Spaniards warn against it. His fingers press against tender points in her small, strong body. She whispers trust by means of a kiss. A full kiss, of honeyed agave and guanábana.

The toznene outside her window chuckles at the orange sun melting on the horizon. She laughs. Such a bird is the bisexual god Ometecuhtli's. She nudges him onto his back and sits upon his lap. Oh. She shines. He runs his hands reverently from her hips up to her full breasts. Her head tilts back. Then he runs fingers upon her neck. He takes her face in his hands. She leans down, hair spilling, and kisses him. Very naturally, they guide their sexes to join. He penetrates her while she lays upon him. Slowly. She keens in pleasure. In pain. Her eyes roll up slightly, her breath quickens. He salivates. It's as though an entirely New World were coming. Finally, he takes her in his arms, one hand pressed to the small of her back. He strokes her hair. He kisses her passionately, igniting her, reminding her of the dark night.

The violet-black sky, whitening the moon-kissed desert. Whitening the houses. Their union is white-hot, he impaling her from underneath. He grasps her hips. He licks his lips. She thrusts, lubricated. He nods, eyes smoldering. He licks a path from her clavicle up to her neck to her ear, and bites. He grasps her thick hair. He reaches between them and strokes her treasure. He looks like he's going to die. Like only she can give him life. She moves. She thrusts like a man. His member pulses. He holds back climax. She's heated and half-savage above him. He grits his teeth, half-smiling, half-challenging. She submits and falls and is limp as he turns them. His eyes question hers. She nods.

He curls his arm around her waist and pulls her up, her back arching, while sliding a cushion beneath her. He places her back down. She falls back, closing her eyes. Her hair spills around her head like a black aura. He slides into her again. She swipes one hand over the dark hair on his pelvis, then down to place it over her own womb. She feels his member within her, wondering about the precious plumeria with gold in its center. He withdraws slowly then snaps his hips forward and hits a place so secret. Oh. Now he knows.

Now he knows.

"ME MUERO!" she sings, like a coyote.

to be continued...

Chapter Text

15 Feb. 2012, 0:23

I feel his warmth. You know, his heart. My own is racing. I've never come so hard in my life. I've never felt this way before. I can't even concentrate on work. It feels so useless. It's empty, synthetic fractals that go on endlessly. I've known an unrepeatable man of flesh and blood, with a voice, and bones that glow. I want to jump on my - our - bed and tear open my roof and let the Los Angeles night sky pour inside.

Miguel gave me a little potted orchid. He said it reminded him of me - "elegant, white, Japanese. Though this one is from Colombia, said the guy selling them. I was just in the bodega. They had bamboo. But, I wanted flowers for my novio, you know? Oh, sorry, can I call you that? It means, like, 'boyfriend' in Spanish. Hiro? Chinga, I'm bad at this."

I took him here. I showed him my titanium, latex, silicone, lithium. Read into that, all you want. No, he wasn't inside me. I don't know if I want that. I just want to be close to him, so close. And we were. And my kingdom fell. He used my laptop screen as a mirror when I said I'd never been attracted to anyone before him. "It works better as a mirror," he'd said. "A black mirror." He'd never seen a flat-screen TV before. He said he'd have never left his house as a kid if he'd had that. "I had the biggest crush on this movie star who ended up being the murderer of my great-great grandfather," he remarked. "What's wrong? Oh. Sorry. Talking about death and murder casually is just part of being Hispanic. I think. You know, we all know someone who's been robbed, captured, murdered. It's part of life."

I confessed death was my greatest fear.

He sat on my bed, and with his guitar improvised a song for Calavera Catrina. "Pagan thing," he said. "But Guadalupe's the real thing. Catrina's a bitch. Listen."

I've memorized it, and I write it here:

It was your perfume
that made me want you.
Why can't I leave you? Why can't I go?
I love you so...

You told me, "sweetie, this love ain't easy,"
but, you dealt the cards to satisfy your pride.
So, tell me, mi amor, say we're meant to be:
From me you can't hide.

Your skin would glisten,
and I would listen...
Why did you leave me? Where did you go?
Your mouth I'm missing.

You told me, "darling, my heart won't ever harden,"
but you turned the board, to say you never tried.
You know, it's crazy, but I've been feeling lately
that I'm losing my mind!

- And here he trilled a line from another song he said was called "Poco Loco."

From me you can't hide
your sweet scent of
and formaldehyde.

And he plucked a strange melody that was both pleasant and haunting, his eyes half-closed as though he were in a trance. Then Aunt Cass came up, just as I was about to pull him into bed. She praised his talent and they talked. He seemed charmed by her, I think. She says she loves him.

He found Baymax. I told him about my manic depression, then opened the door for him to leave. He shook his head. "Unbelievable," he called me. He touched my forehead and looked into my eyes. He felt my pulse in my neck. He put his hand to my chest. He took my icy hand. I told him about my gender dysphoria and told him to leave. He pulled me into his arms and kissed my throat. He swore he'd take away the smell of fear.

"I know magic," he whispered, cradling my face. He kissed my lips so gently enough that he could inhale the sigh I let out. Then he gestured toward my desk with its gadgets and books, toward my touch-screens, my titanium, latex, silicone, lithium. "So do you," he continued, "just a different kind. It's electric. Mine is liquid. I believe that we're born, and die, and born again, constantly, every time the sun and moon rise, turning the tides of the oceans."

"I've wanted to commit suicide," I confessed. "I've stuck knives in my chest."

"How mystical," he said, brown eyes wide. "Have you heard of Our Lady of Sorrows, 'La Dolorosa'? She's got seven knives going through her heart. Google her, pull up her image, commit idolatry with your electricity. But, you know her when you close your eyes, in your damp dreams. When you - how do you say it? Ejaculate at night. You know her in the beat of your frightened heart pumping blood through you."

"Where did you come from?" I was afraid.

"Mexico." He smiled. "The New World."

I'm from the old. I write in calligraphy.

El único poeta que podrá explicar lo que siento, es Pablo Neruda. Lo conozco por Papá Franco; a él le encanta leer, tú sabes. Imagínate él, pobrecito, teniendo que aguantar a mi Abuela mientras que ella regañaba a cualquier tipo por allí simplemente tarareando. De todos modos, Virgen, a la cuestión: este niño japonés me tiene cautivado. Caramba. La cosa se va poner dificil. Nunca creí que mi alma gemela iba ser un hombre. Mucho menos uno de una raza distinta a la mía. Tú sabes, Madre, que a mí me gusta el cuerpo masculino: la voz masculina, la risa masculina, el olor de los hombres, y que muchas veces en mis sueños han aparecido dioses masculinos moviendo encima o debajo de mí. Pero aquellas eran sueños y fantasías!

Lo que ocurrió esta noche no fue fantasía. Y no me arrepiento. Pero no sé lo que siento. Este hombre es como una joya enterrada en una ruma de basura. Qué pinche cosa es "gender dysphoria"? Ay, Mamita, perdóname. Quizás he visto mucho en esta vida y juzgo de manera demasiado rápida.

Sin duda, Hiro es un genio. Eso hasta la Loca Margarita lo podría notar. Pero, pobrecito - está sufriendo. Y es que en semejante recámara tan moderna, con esa cantidad de tecnología. Guadalupe! El muchacho bebió de mis labios como si mi boca hubiera sido un oasis en el desierto. Es como si mis caricias hubieran sido aquellas de las manos de tu Hijo, sanándole a él las heridas - la ceguera, la posesión, la mudez. Sí, le curé la mudez, Virgen. Oigo todavía sus gemidos en mis oídos. Lo que le falta es el toque humano.

No puedo ser su fuente de vida. Pero, cómo saben tú y Diosito, más que ningunos otros, la muerte a mí me atrae. He encontrado vida en esta sucia ciudad gringa. Mis heridas han sanado un poco. No quiero arriesgar que se me abran otra vez. Hiro tiene vida. Aunque no aparezca, la tiene. Hay algo tan hipnotizante en su mirada, y en la manera en que piensa y responde. Bueno, sólo lo conocí la noche antepasada. Hay una vida entera que él lleva en su cuerpo y alma, de diecinueve años. Me creerás si te cuento que probé algo íntimo en él? Sí, sí, le probé lo "más íntimo," jeje - perdona, Señora. Pero, hablo de algo un poco mas profundo. Le probé en su piel alguna sal de mar. Miedo. Miedo de vivir la vida que le va tocar vivir. Ese chico va a vivir una vida muy interesante. Va a tener que enfrentar a ésos demonios cuáles lo plagan.

Y, bueno, quisiera saber, Morena: seré yo parte de esa vida? Seré yo algún catalizador?

Quiero que sepas
una cosa.

Tú sabes cómo es esto:
si miro
la luna de cristal, la rama roja
del lento otoño en mi ventana,
si toco
junto al fuego
la impalpable ceniza
o el arrugado cuerpo de la leña,
todo me lleva a ti,
como si todo lo que existe,
aromas, luz, metales,
fueran pequeños barcos que navegan
hacia las islas tuyas que me aguardan.

Ahora bien,
si poco a poco dejas de quererme
dejaré de quererte poco a poco.

Si de pronto
me olvidas
no me busques,
que ya te habré olvidado.

Si consideras largo y loco
el viento de banderas
que pasa por mi vida
y te decides
a dejarme a la orilla
del corazón en que tengo raíces,
que en ese día,
a esa hora
levantaré los brazos
y saldrán mis raíces
a buscar otra tierra.

si cada día,
cada hora
sientes que a mí estás destinada
con dulzura implacable.
Si cada día sube
una flor a tus labios a buscarme,
ay amor mío, ay mía,
en mí todo ese fuego se repite,
en mí nada se apaga ni se olvida,
mi amor se nutre de tu amor, amada,
y mientras vivas estará en tus brazos
sin salir de los míos.

P. Neruda, "Si Tú Me Olvidas" (1952), parte de colección Los Versos del Capitán.

Pues, así es, María. Cuidanos, por favor. En el nombre del Padre...

to be continued...

Chapter Text

28 Jun. 2023

"...y del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo." Miguel crosses himself. "Jesucristo y María Santa, les ruego: estén con nosotros. Amén. Michelle, I just realized: is there any chance of you being pregnant?"

Michelle shakes her head. She's completely naked, but not as ashamed as it seems she should be. "No, Father."

"Are you sure?" he presses, concernedly.

"Absolutely," says Michelle, nodding.

"Naomi?" Miguel asks.

"Father!" Naomi's mouth opens in scandal.

"Wouldn't you be more offended if I presumed?" Miguel says. "I'm sorry. But, it would kill an unborn child to make such a journey. Now;" he addresses the three; "Naomi and I must draw a series of seven rings around this pool. We'll draw perpendicular lines as well, so that the outer ring have twenty-two spaces, then next, ten. Then another ten. Then five, four, three and finally two in the innermost ring." He turns to Hiro. "How much do the numbers add up to?"

"Fifty-six," replies Hiro, also naked.

"What's the most relevant gematria for fifty-six, Rabbi Noemi?" Miguel asks.

Naomi sighs. "Yom; it means an undefined, indefinite period of time," she explains. "For example, we believe Satan accuses mankind three-hundred and sixty-four days a year, with only one time, or 'yom,' in which we're free to atone for our sins: so, this 'day' is called Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement."

Miguel nods and looks at Hiro and Michelle.

"Is the twenty-two for the Tarot cards?" Michelle asks. Miguel and Naomi nod.

"Call them 'arcana,' Michal, it sounds less like sorcery," pleads Naomi.

Hiro understands in a flash. "Of course," he breathes, gazing at the pool, the numbers illuminating his mind. "Of course. You're creating a time-space continuum." He looks up to Miguel, grinning slightly. "Is it the twenty-two arcana, cut in half but minus one because of the zero-value Fool to ten, then another ten for its finality and for The Wheel, then half of ten which is five and five being The Hierophant, four The Emperor, three The Empress, and two The High Priestess? Going the other way, then, eighteen would be The Moon, nineteen The Sun, twenty Judgment and interchangeably twenty-one is either The World or The Fool. Those will be our roles on the way back. One as The Magician and twenty-two as The World; those are at the polar ends. The twelve in the middle missing are..."

"Six as The Lovers, up till seventeen as The Star," finishes Miguel, nodding at his partner. "Those in any given arrangement determine what happens while you're in the other time and place. Those are in your hands. You can play any of the roles and have it give you power over enemies if it's enemies you end up facing. Just step into their respective spaces. You got it." He winks.

He turns to Michelle. "Are you all right? Have you heard of this before?"

Michelle nods. "Of course, but I never dared touch the Tarot. What are the arcana in between?"

Miguel looks to Naomi, who turns to Michelle and recites, "remember: six The Lovers, seven The Chariot, eight Justice, nine The Hermit, ten The Wheel, eleven Force, twelve The Hanged Man, thirteen Death, fourteen Temperance, fifteen The Devil, sixteen The Tower, and seventeen The Star."

"Death and The Devil?" ask Michelle, brows raised.

Naomi shakes her head; "they're not sinister, they just represent thought-forms. Their values are like this: if Death is the thirteenth arcanum its letter is Mem - value forty, right? The symbol of water, or baptism as the Christians like to think." She gives Miguel a love-hate glance. "And if The Devil is the fifteenth, its letter is samekh."

"Value sixty, with the symbol of the triple-bar-cross," says Michelle, nodding, remembering her days in the seminary. "I get it now." She asks Hiro, "did you say The Fool has zero value?"

Hiro bites his lip, looking to Miguel. They blink at each other, because explaining eternity and the void is difficult. Hiro looks to Naomi, who nods. Back to Michelle he replies, "in Zen, zero and one have the same value. It's something like that. Which would make The Magician's value a kind of unity in duality: one with the value of two." He looks at both girls, then back at Miguel. "Does that make sense?"

"Yes," all three reply.

Miguel swallows hard. "Rabbi, let's begin. Michelle and Hiro: do not, under any circumstance - any circumstance - leave the outer rings once they're drawn - here and wherever you end up. Otherwise, you will enter a no-space labyrinth that will be nearly impossible to pull you out of. We will draw you into each of the rings till you reach the water. You must step on the appropriate spaces. You must convince those on the other side to do the same, and act as though you're allies."

"We go clockwise," continues Naomi. "Therefore, the first space for The Magician will be unoccupied, the next occupied by me, then Michal, then Hiro, then Miguel. Once you return to us we will go counter-clockwise: Miguel will stand in the space of The World, Hiro in Judgment, Michelle in The Sun, and myself in The Moon. The Fool and The Magician must always be unoccupied, here. You both have twelve arcana to use for yourselves, from The Lovers to The Star. Whichever portal you end up in, they will have analogical rings and spaces set up for you. There you will emerge as The Magician and The Fool. Which one is The Magician and which is The Fool, will be determined depending on who you meet. You'll know when you get there. Keep in mind the similarities and correspondence of the arcana. For example, The Lovers and The Devil look very similar, except The Lovers features Adam and Eve before the Fall with an Angel, where The Devil features Adam and Eve after the Fall chained to Satan. The Hermit and Death are both solitary wanderers. Force and The Star are both powerful female virgins. The Chariot and The Wheel both feature sphinxes, The Hanged Man and The Tower both feature people upside-down, and Justice and Temperance both depict balance. They're just abstract archetypes that aid you in understanding what you should do and say. Like Miguel said, they can give you power. Just take their place on their spaces when given the opportunity."

"You can't bring anything back with you," insists Miguel. "You must come back the way you went it, naked, and breath to breath. No matter what you find or what you're told or presented with, you can't bring it back. No exceptions. You can't leave the outer ring - under any circumstance, as I said. Like Naomi said, your first step when you arrive is to stand as The Magician and The Fool in the two spaces set out for you in the innermost ring. You'll also stand as them on the outer ring when you're ready to return. Then, when you get to the inner ring there to return, your roles will be: eleven Force, Michelle, and twelve The Hanged Man, Hiro. Those are the two that split the Major Arcana. Those roles will redirect you here, and you'll appear here once more as Emperor and Empress."

Naomi says what Miguel can't: "If you die there, your body can't be returned to this time and place. If only one of you dies, the other may still come back, for the Lord's mercy is so great that an angel will take the other's place. And if something happens to one of us here, you will never be able to return. This ritual can't be broken."

Miguel shivers. "Have faith," he breathes. "Also remember: the first of the Minor Arcana suits, the one after the last of the Major - number twenty-two The World - is the Golden Pentacle. Everyone is looking for gold. Everyone who performs this magic is motivated to find it. Acknowledge that in whomever you find-" he looks at Hiro, with all his heart and soul, "-and even your worst enemy can become your ally. Stay no longer than an hour. Listen. And pray."

to be continued...

NOTE: This is not a formula for the Philosopher's Stone, not a formula to actually enter another dimension, and is not real magic. I made it all up, with some limited esoteric knowledge I have. The Tarot, however, and its corresponding Hebrew letters and gematria, are real; however, I would advise against using it without the aid of a benevolent and holy guide.

Chapter Text

"Don't be afraid." Hiro leans in, and Michelle closes her eyes and accepts his kiss, in the freezing water. Naked.

"W'aTäh Koh-ämar y'hwäh Boraákhä yaáqov w'yotzer'khä yis'räël al-Tiyrä Kiy g'al'Tiykhä qärätiy v'shim'khä liy-äTäh," Miguel and Naomi begin, reading from Naomi's book. Isaiah, chapter forty-three. The promise of deliverance by a Savior. They are standing in the inner ring, with only two spaces - standing on either side of the line that divides. They continue in Hebrew: "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you."

Breathe. Hiro pulls Michelle slightly closer. The latter is trembling.

"For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Sheba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life."

Michelle actually melts into Hiro's kiss, savoring his mouth as though she hadn't ever kissed a man before. Hiro smiles, and pulls her even closer, securing his arms around her waist. They must be as close as possible.

"Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, 'Give them up,' and to the south, 'Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth - everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.' Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears! Let all the nations gather together, and let the peoples assemble. Who among them declared this, and foretold to us the former things? Let them bring their witnesses to justify them, and let them hear and say, 'It is true.'"

Miguel grips Naomi's freezing hand. He strokes it, keeping her steady.

"You are my witnesses, says the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior."

Miguel smiles at Naomi, who calms at his ministrations.

"I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses, says the Lord. I am God, and also henceforth I am He; there is no one who can deliver from my hand; I work and who can hinder it?"

Michelle is weeping in fear into their kiss, while Hiro is too.

"Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: For your sake I will send to Babylon and break down all the bars, and the shouting of the Chaldeans will be turned to lamentation." Naomi looks to Miguel in fear, wanting to break. Miguel shakes his head, still grinning. He taps the Bible. They continue, "I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King." Tears flow down Naomi's cheeks.

"Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert."

New. I will do something new. Naomi and Michelle go numb at the holy words spoken by the prophet, and find strength only women possess.

This is it. Naomi's voice overpowers Miguel's, and Michelle synchs perfectly with Hiro and begins to pull him down into the water.

"T'khaB'dëniy chaYat haSädeh TaNiym ûv'nôt yaánäh Kiy-nätaTiy vaMid'Bär mayim n'härôt Biyshiymon l'hash'qôt aMiy v'chiyriy." To my people, my chosen. And as Miguel and Naomi say the final words, Hiro and Michelle submerge completely: "Am-zû yätzar'Tiy liy T'hiLätiy y'šaPërû!"

This, my people, have I formed for myself, so that they may declare my praise.

"Nihon desu ka?" asks a short ("Who you calling SHORT!?") man with a blond braid, once Hiro and Michelle come up gasping.

Hiro holds Michelle close as she trembles, and answers the man, "Hai! Hai. Nihonjindesu." He looks over and sees Mami Tomoe, with her usual blonde hair falling loose; she is the only one of the five puella magi who is Caucasian.

It can't be. Mami is looking at him neutrally but gives him a ghost of a wink and a purse of her lips indicating he say nothing and play dumb. She and the man are alone, and wearing simple black. It's impossible to tell what time they're in. They're also in a candlelit cave, so it's impossible to know where they are.

"Soshite kanojo?" asks the man, pointing at Michelle with a gloved hand.

"Furansujin," replies Hiro, shielding her.

"Where are you from and what are you looking for?" the man asks a little more gently, still in Japanese.

Hiro swallows, trying to look subtly at Mami to get a clue as to what he should say. Mami stays very neutral. He says, in Japanese, "Tokyo, originally. And I'm looking, with my partner, for information on someone, that will help the world we come from. Where are we?"

The man looks at Mami for reference, and Mami merely nods. She says, "we're in Buenos Aires. Were you intending that destination?"

"Yes," replies Hiro. "Do you speak English? My partner doesn't speak Japanese."

"Yes," the man replies, in English. "Though I prefer German; more tough on the tongue, you know. Why do you speak it? Who are you both?"

Hiro has to find a way to communicate to Michelle that they're safe as long as Mami is there. He affectionately scratches the small of her back and whispers, "en sécurité."

"He is The Fool, and I am The Magician," replies Michelle. "Who are you?"

The man raises his brows at her boldness. Mami smiles. "Edward Elric, and they used to call me the Fullmetal Alchemist," says the man, smirking, "but right now I'm in the role of The Hierophant. My companion here is Mami. Quite fitting a name for someone playing The High Priestess, huh? Mami Tomoe."

Mami rolls her eyes a little and then nods patronizingly.

"As you can see, she doesn't appreciate my humor," says Edward. "Now, would you mind giving us your real names and specifics, please? It'll make this a little easier. We've got to trust each other, no?"

"We're naked in a pool, in another dimension from our own," argues Hiro coldly. "Forgive us the initial anonymity."

"You remind me of someone I know, who I really don't want to think about right now," says Edward, adjusting his gloves. "Arrogant and cold-hearted though his power is fire. Your names?"

"Hiro and Michelle Hamada," says Hiro, squeezing Michelle's hand, encouraging her to play along.

The corners of Mami's lips twitch. Edward doesn't miss it.

"Do you know them?" Edward asks Mami.

"No, I just I wonder what their relationship is like," says Mami, shaking her head. "Anyway, what exactly did you say you were searching for? You've obviously found the Philosopher's Stone."

"We used Cabala and the Tarot to get here, as you obviously know," says Michelle, "so we're looking to find what connection Buenos Aires has with Israel - particularly the Hasidim. We got a clue in Jaffa about Buenos Aires. What year is this?"

Edward and Mami look at each other. "1950," replies Edward. "And where's Israel? Unless - hey, do you know Amestris?"

Hiro and Michelle shake their heads.

"They're not from this universe, then," says Mami, crossing her arms. "What do you call the continent that's north-east of here, where many people have blond hair and blue eyes like we do?"

"Europe," answers Michelle. "I'm from there. From France. And obviously, there's an England and a Germany here, which you've mentioned."

Mami shakes her head. "We call the continent Amestris."

"But, there's a Buenos Aires? And Argentina?" asks Hiro.

"Apparently," says Edward. "Is there a Mitakihara where you're from? That's where my companion is from, but there's no such place here."

Mami looks with wide eyes at Hiro. "Yes," Hiro answers unhesitatingly, though it's a lie.

Mitakihara is the made-up city Mami, Homura, Madoka, Sayaka and Kyôko played with, when they played with algorithms and nuclear energy.

"What is the area further east of Amestris called, in which there was a war over?" Hiro asks Edward.

"Ishbal," replies Edward, frowning. "It's where the Rebellion occurred a few years back."

"That's our Israel," replies Hiro.

"And was your Europe dominated by a homunculus, a Führer who was ultimately defeated by any powerful Ishbalan, or 'Israeli' as you'd call them?" asks Edward, with bitterness.

"You could say something like that," says Hiro, carefully. "But, in fact... well..." Damn it, Hamada, you're in the yakuza! Act like it. "Yes."

Michelle squeezes his hand in solidarity. "An Israeli power, but not any Hebrew," she remarks.

"All right, Magician," says Edward, stepping back into the second ring, with Mami following suit. "You may want to explain that. Please step on the appropriate space. Do you know which one that would be?"

"The one Mami was just in," Michelle replies.

Edward nods, impressed. Mami smiles, bends down and helps her out and into a towel, blowing a subtle kiss to Hiro, who's shaking a bit.

"That means you come with me, Fool," says Edward, extending his hand to Hiro. "Don't be offended, it's what we become when our hearts go too hard, right?"

to be continued...

Characters belonging to Hiromu Arakawa, from Fullmetal Alchemist (2001-2010): Edward Elric, Roy Mustang (mentioned), Führer Bradley (mentioned).

Chapter Text

t w e n t y   t w o   m a j o r

a r c a n a

f i f t y   s i x   m i n o r

22 gematria: hazi -
(twenty-two letters in hebrew alphabet)

56 gematria: yom -











hanged man




the tower






the world

to be continued...

Deck (1978) by Domenico Balbi, following the patterns of the MARSEILLE deck (the closest to the medieval deck) and disregarding many of the secular and frankly strange symbols in the Rider Waite deck.

Chapter Text

31 Oct. 2012

Miguel starts, Socorro on his lap in her Cleopatra costume, and his guitar ready: "All the old paintings on the tomb, they do the sand-dance, don't you know? If they move too quick -"

"OH EY OH," sing Hiro and Coco.

"They're falling down like a domino." He winks at Hiro. "All the bazaar-men by the Nile, they got the money on a bet. Gold crocodiles -"


"They snap their teeth on your cigarette!" He points to Hiro. "Foreign types with their hookah pipes say?"

"WEY OH WEY OH WEEY OH WEEY OH!" sing Hiro and Coco, bending their arms and flattening their hands. "Walk like an Egyptian."

Miguel trills a little on the guitar.

Hiro continues, "The blonde waitresses take their trays, they spin around, and they cross the floor." Coco goes over to sit on his lap. "They've got the moves -"

"OH EY OH!" Miguel and Coco sing.

"You drop your drink then they bring you more." He plays with Coco's braid as she giggles. "All the school-kids so sick of books, they like the punk and the metal bands. When the buzzer rings -"


"They're walking like an Egyptian." He winks at Miguel. "All the kids in the marketplace say?"

"WEY OH WEY OH WEEY OH WEEY OH!" Miguel and Coco raise up their arms, palms flattened. "Walk like an Egyptian."

Miguel says to Coco as he plays the interlude, "Your turn's coming up, chiquita, ready?"

Coco gets up and flattens her dress. She has a black pyramidal wig on with a diadem, and she convinced Miguel to line her eyes with their mother's black eyeliner, with extended wings.

"Slide your feet up the street, bend your back, shift your arm then you pull it back," Coco sings, posing as the Egyptian. "Life is hard, you know?"

"OH EY OH!" Miguel and Hiro sing, smiling affectionately at Coco.

"So strike a pose on a Cadillac!" She points to Miguel and continues, "If you want to find all the cops, they're hanging out in the Doughnut Shop! They sing and dance -"


"They spin the clubs, cruise down the block."

She points to Hiro and continues, "All the Japanese got their yen, the party-boys called the Kremlin! And the Chinese know -"


"They walked the line like Egyptian." She raises one arm up, hand flattened; and the other arm down, hand also flattened. "All the cops in the Doughnut Shop say?"

"WEY OH WEY OH WEEY OH WEEY OH!" all the three sing and laugh.

28 Jun. 2023

"Tell me the truth, Rabbi Noemi," says Miguel as he and she stare into the empty pool. The candle lights flicker. "The Tarot is ancient Egyptian. Tell me what's real about the enslavement in Egypt."

Naomi sighs. "Why do you assume I would know?" she asks.

Miguel shrugs. "I just do."

"Do you want me to tell you it's real in the way that modern philosophers, historians and scientists think of reality?" asks Naomi. "In the way that your Mr. Hamada would think of reality? I don't think it's that kind of reality, forgive me."

"I come from a legacy of people who live in what's magical reality," says Miguel, "from the tip of Patagonia all the way up through the Andes, around the Caribbean, and up to the deserts of the Sonoran Border. We have, unlike Jews, lost all sense for our ancestry and created an entirely new race of mixed people. We have little record of our ancestors who lived in these lands before the Spaniards, and we still don't fully understand what the Spanish wanted from these lands anyway. Just gold? If you know about the Reconquista from the Moors, the Expulsion of the Jews, and the Inquisition, you'll know it was far more than gold they were after." He shakes his head somberly. "They were after a hidden Kingdom that holds the secrets of the Universe, and which paves the way to Bombay. And so I understand Scripture, and the Jewish rejection of a King who would replace the Lord. I understand captivity. I understand enslavement, plagues, idolatry, war and displacement. I know that Egypt's secrets have never faded: it was what the ancients intended, with their pyramids. I understand pyramids as well, my land has its own. So, I ask you: what does the enslavement of the Hebrews by the Egyptians truly mean?"

Naomi looks into the pool and asks, "do you know of the Tabula Smaragdina?"

"The Emerald Tablet?"

"Yes," replies Naomi.

"I do," confesses Miguel.

"It is here in this very city, and in fact here in this Synagogue of the Holy Ari, that it is said a particular race of people descended from Canaanites, who were meant to keep secret the Tabula Smaragdina, began to worship the One: the Hebrews, and their one Lord," says Naomi. "Unraveling the Egyptian magic that held them bound."

"But the Tablet itself wasn't written until at least the sixth century," argues Miguel.

Naomi shakes her head, huffing in frustration. "Think in your magical realism - must everything be written for it to 'be written'?"

"Ah," says Miguel, nodding. "How Aristotelian. How Arabic."

"The Tablet as we know it is written in Arabic," comments Naomi. "But, don't you know it was composed by the ancient Hermes Trismegistus?"

Miguel nods, saying, "said to be the contemporary of Abraham - that Abraham himself received knowledge from Trismegistus, High Priest of the Egyptian god Thoth and the Greek god Hermes." His mind has the first of three epiphanies that afternoon. "Naomi." He looks at her. "Is Trismegistus - Melchizidek?"

Naomi smiles. Rather than reply, she asks, "what material is the 'Tablet' made of, Padre Miguel Ángel Rivera, and where can it be found in ancient artifacts?"

"Jade," breathes Miguel, stunned, "used by the ancient Maya, and also the Far East: China, and Southeast Asia."

Naomi points one arm up and the other down, like The Magician, like Baphomet on The Devil arcanum, and says, "from your Guadalupe to your beloved's Guanyin, then."

Miguel blinks in shock. "Did you know Baphomet is the god that the medieval Knights Templar were accused of worshipping?"

Naomi nods. "But tell me, Father: is it the god of the millennial Knights Templar? You being one yourself?"

to be continued...

Chapter Text

"Man, we were so badass at fourteen," yammers Kyôko, looking around Homura's - Homulilly's, to be precise - labyrinth. "Now I feel old."

"Which makes you even more disgusting," remarks Sayaka, smirking. She ducks Kyôko's fist.

"Says the bitch who sold her soul for some violinist faggot," spits Kyôko, grinning.

She dodges Sayaka's kick to the shin. "You have no right to talk about faggots, you faggot!"

"Shut up," says Homura in her neutral tone. "Mami, do you remember where we set up the pentagram table?"

"How do ya stand living with her?" Kyôko murmurs to Madoka.

"Hm, well, it was Sayaka who threw the cutlasses, wasn't it?" Mami says, looking around at the familiar and dark, dark, very dark labyrinth.

"Yeah, you witch," Sayaka says to Homura. "I had the answer. Don't tell us to shut up, again, or we won't let you in our house."

"It wouldn't be that great a loss," says Homura listlessly. "Where did you throw the cutlasses?"

Sayaka doesn't drop her confrontational expression, but admits, "I don't remember."

Madoka and Kyôko giggle.

"We should have brought Bebe, then, I knew it," says Madoka.

"We couldn't have, the circumstances were different when we were younger and in my labyrinth with her," says Homura. "She was acting like a familiar, and that's what gave her the power to transform to her serpent-witch form. And besides, she doesn't have anything to do with Hiro, and I wouldn't want to drag her into this darkness." Homura looks at Mami, to whom Bebe is like a big sister.

Mami nods gratefully. "It must have been on the hill. I have a feeling we should go there."

Homura and Madoka look at each other meaningfully. The hill overlooking "Mitakihara" was always a place of great mysticism for them; it was the catalyst for bringing them out of the pretend-world and into the real one - into Tokyo. To go there with the other three girls would be highly intimate.

"Ooh, I dunno if Shortcake and Homes want us to go there, heh heh," says Kyôko, linking arms with her Sayaka. "I bet you it's where Homura used to bury herself in Madoka's underwear!"

Madoka reddens and covers her face while Homura glares hatred at Kyôko.

"She's giving you the face," Sayaka whispers to Kyôko. "Ignore her, Homu. Is it really that bad if we go to the hill? Is it bad karma?"

Homura turns away slightly, shifting closer to Madoka.

"How about my apartment, then?" Mami offers.

Homura sighs. Madoka whispers to her, "the hill's where we did capture Hitomi's Nightmare, Homura-chan. I think it's where we're meant to go. For Hiro."


"Yo, not for nothin', but your head was messed up," comments Kyôko to Homura, looking around at the strange creatures creeping in and out of the bourgeois-city's shadows, and the deformed figures meandering about the streets, and all the odd shapes and lights. "Thank God we got out of this."

"Thanks, Godoka," says Sayaka, punching Madoka's bicep. Homura smiles, and gives Madoka's strand of hair a twirl. "Oh, yeah, and Homucifer. You were so weird."

"I get it, OK?" Homura snaps back. Mami puts an arm around her.

"You guys realize we haven't changed that much, right?" Mami comments as she leads the way to the hill. "We're still spoiled little girls living in dreams so as to avoid the pain of the bourgeois lifestyle no Tokyo-shôjo can avoid. I think Hiro's in love with someone different."

"He's as cute as Hiro, right?" Sayaka replies to Mami, as they pass by a candy-shop filled with Homulilly's teeth-familiars bouncing around inside.

Mami chuckles. "We're going to be jealous of Miguel. That's for sure."

"He likes girls, too," Madoka looks back at Sayaka and Kyôko and winks.

"Never, Shortcake," Kyôko comments before Sayaka can say anything. "Why you messin' with Sayaka's head? Worry about your own relationship, got it?"

"You jealous dyke," Sayaka snaps at Kyôko, chuckling. She maneuvers away from her lover to grab Madoka's hand and pull her away from Homura. "Remember when I said you could only marry me, Madoka-chan?"

"You were my very first love," Madoka says, mimicking her high-pitched voice from adolescence. She and Sayaka laugh.

"I have long, beautiful hair, and wear more dresses than you," Kyôko calls angrily to Sayaka; "who you callin' a dyke?"

"Homura has long beautiful hair and wears dresses too, and she's quite, um, assertive," Mami says. She bites her lip, knowing Homura's heard.

"Nothing anyone can say will ever affect me," says Homura, "- unless you hurt Madoka!"

Mami and Kyôko hold each other up, laughing. "It's good you can make fun of yourself," Mami says. "You have to know how scary you were!"

"Psycho stalker Devils always are," remarks Homura, flipping her long hair the way she always would. Kyoko, a survivor like Homura, sidles up to her and links arms with her, snickering.

When they make it to the hill overlooking labyrinth-Mitakihara, they pause.

"Mami, are you sure?" Sayaka asks the blonde.

Mami nods somberly. "How could it be any other way? The Elrics from that dimension would be my cousins, even though they don't know it. I learned the hard way." It's true - Mami, through the witchcraft of Bebe was able to see the dimension the Elrics were in - it was why she'd been chosen by Kyûbei to be a magical girl when she got into that car crash. Magic and alchemy were in her family, in this dimension and others. "I have a feeling they'll understand. Alphonse more than Edward, though Edward is the one we need."

"And you're sure Hiro said Buenos Aires?" Sayaka asks Madoka.

"Yes," Madoka replies.

"I bet ya you'll meet the Jesuits there," remarks Kyôko, crossing her arms. "If I know my Christianity."

"I would think so, too," says Mami. "I'll remember everything I can," she tells Kyôko, who'd given her a crash-course on the Society before entering the labyrinth.

"All psychology, politics, history and esotericism," says Kyôko. "Don't worry about knowing any novena's or saints' days or prayers in Latin. Not with the Jesuits. But remember Francis Xavier and Paulo Miki."

"Here comes the dragon," Homura breathes, looking at the serpent flying toward them.

"I didn't think it'd show up like this," remarks Kyôko. Sayaka grips her hand in anxiety.

"Be brave, Mami," encourages Madoka, embracing the blonde.

Mami sighs, and turns to her best friends. "All right. For Hiro. Let's go to work, ladies," she orders.

"OK!" the other four reply.

They transform. Mami links Homura and Madoka to her with ribbons. Homura stops time before the serpent can come sweeping at them. Madoka and Mami, tied to Homura, shoot at it. Time begins again. Sayaka throws cutlasses to the top of the hill where the serpent will land, and Kyôko puts up a lattice-work barrier so that the swords can pass through her hypnotic magic.

They've trapped it.

"Like we did before!" Mami calls.

They each fall upon a cutlass, and suddenly find themselves sitting on tall and dainty café chairs, with a pentagram table before them. They're spinning with the table, and the serpent has formed an ouroboros on the table.

"Garden-party, garden-party," they chant in sing-song. "Where ever could it be? Who's the host? Why, could it be it's me? Is it Sayaka?"

"No, it's not me!" sings Sayaka, placing an elbow on the table so as to stretch the serpent's circle toward her. "Mine's full of herbs, the flowers are like weeds. Flowers need the sun, to grow. Is it held at Kyôko's?" She points.

"No, not by me!" Kyôko sings. She also places her elbow so as to drag the serpent's circle; with her and Sayaka pulling, the ouroboros becomes an oval. "My last name says which are my fragile trees. My last name is Sakura. I think it's held at Madoka's!" She points.

"No, not by me," sings Madoka. She places her elbow within the oval and drags the serpent's spine over, causing it now to move in a triangular shape upon the table, upon the pentagram. "My garden's full of bees! Honeysuckle's what they love. Maybe it's my own love, Homura!"

"No, not me," Homura sings, and her elbow on the table creates the square. "In my garden grow spider-lillies. They mean death, from life they flee. So, it must be hosted by Mami!"

"Yes, it's true, it's me." Mami places her elbow until the serpent begins to tremble. It can't swallow itself upon five corners. Mami will be the one to unravel it. "I'm the one with sunflower seeds! And with roses, chamomile and minty-leaves - I'm the one who makes the tea!"

"So the daughter of Eve's garden which thrives," they all chant, "is the one where the serpent can't survive. But there must always be a sacrifice, so into Eden she'll arrive!"

The serpent unravels, shoots up to the sky as a dragon and then swoops down to come up underneath Mami. Riding the dragon, she plunges into the illuminated pentagram upon the table and enters the Elrics' dimension, to enable Hiro to reach the same dimension as well.

The four girls remaining wait a moment to take in all that's happened, and to realize that they themselves are still in a strange dimension that shouldn't really exist, but for Homura's mastery over energy and the time-space continuum, and because they know actual magic.

"I'm hungry," admits Kyôko. "And I say we go back to reality, to Tokyo, right now. We can raid Mami's kitchen."

"Are you ever going to grow up?" asks Homura.

"You're just jealous because if you ate as much as I do your ass would be jiggly."

"I have no comment to that," says Homura, looking around at her old labyrinth.

"I can't see Homura like that, Kyôko," Sayaka argues, in all fairness. "Even if she binge-ate like you do."

"I've gotten better," Kyôko insists, with a pout. "Wait - you ain't callin' me fat, are ya?"

"We share clothes, idiot, how could I think you're fat?" counters Sayaka.

"Well, maybe you think you're fat."

"Um, guys?" Madoka says meekly. "Maybe we should go? There's a giant blimp on fire that's headed right toward us. I don't know if that's cause to worry, but I would feel more comfortable leaving till we get the signal from Mami."

In a great whoosh, they're back in Tokyo, nauseous from the dimension-travel.

"I just hope they figure it out," breathes Homura, frowning in worry.

to be continued...

Chapter Text

21 Dec. 2012

"Come on," Hiro whispers. "Come on, you gotta..." He yawns. "You gotta shower. We should shower. I definitely have to shower."

Miguel shakes his head, eyes wide open. They're laying on his bed. It's nine in the morning.

"Estoy muerto," Miguel says.

Hiro rolls his eyes.

"No," replies Miguel. He shakes his head again and turns shadowed eyes to Hiro; eyes too old for him. "Today's my day to die."

"D'you need the bucket?" Hiro asks, reaching over for the plastic bin Miguel sometimes needs because he's drank too much.

But Miguel gets up and takes his bottle of Cuervo and downs most of what's left.

Hiro wrestles it from him and hits him. "The fuck is wrong with you?" he yells.

Miguel grabs his jaw, eyes wide, and screams, "HOY PAGARÁN!" He lets him go. "Pagaremos todos."

Hiro freezes, afraid.

"Estás tan lejos," Miguel laments, suddenly vulnerable. You're so far away. "I can't feel you. Come with me, please?" Tears form in his eyes.

"I go everywhere with you now," Hiro says with such a heavy note of shame.

Lo siento, Miguel mouths, crying. He listlessly finds his clothes from the day before and pulls them on, while Hiro does the same. Hiro actually gargles a little with the little tequila that's left, then swallows it. He coughs.

Pulling on their sweatshirts, Miguel grabbing his guitar, they jump out the window. Hiro halts Miguel and insists on peeing in the bush. Miguel realizes he probably should too, and does.

The air is crisp, but the morning sun is blazing in the cobalt sky.

"I'm going to do something you'll think is bad," Miguel confesses, his head against the side of his house, his member still out.

Hiro actually helps him tuck himself back in and zip up his jeans. "Why?" he asks, shaking him.

"I don't know," Miguel confesses. "I don't know why I can't feel anything."

"It's mental illness," insists Hiro, weary. "Please talk to Cass."

"Don't you know what today is?" Miguel keens in panic. "I have to go where... where los malos go. I have to go - to the other realm."

"Día de los Muertos?" Hiro asks, confused.

Miguel shakes his head, laughing. "Nah." He waves his hand. "You're supposed to be the smart one."

"The winter solstice? You're kidding." Hiro's mouth falls open for a moment, until laughter overcomes him.

"Te ríes ahora pero verás lo que pasará, malcriado," Miguel spits. You'll see.

"What you gonna do to us now, High Priest of the Maya, huh?" Hiro mocks. He raises a tired hand. "Cut out our hearts before the Apocalypse begins?"

"I'm going to stick heroin in my vein and drink up the entire sun, and if you're willing to let me, I'll fuck you till you bleed enough it'd be as though I cut you open." Miguel hiccups. "You can be my offering."

Hiro's now the one who starts weeping, into his hands. "Do you realize how fucked up we are?"


"Where you gonna get that shit from?" Hiro whispers.

"Some guys from the restaurant," Miguel replies. His dazed eyes narrow. "Why? Do you know anyone?"

Hiro nods, wiping his tears. "It's good. It's pure, I've tried it. Have you ever tried it?"


"If you have to get it, come with me," Hiro says somberly. "We may die, Migue-kun. You're right, today might be your day, and if it is I'm going with you."

Once they've got it from the Koreans, Hiro tastes it and confirms it's good. Back at Cass', in Hiro's sunlit bedroom, Hiro expertly spills out the heroin powder onto a spoon and adds citric acid and water. He lights underneath the spoon till the substance becomes liquid, which he pours carefully into the syringe. Miguel's tied a belt around his arm as a tourniquet.

"It has to follow the bloodstream to the heart," comments Hiro, maneuvering around his partner. Miguel crosses himself. "Plunge the needle gently into this vein, going toward you. Then push the syringe. Here." Hiro helps him.

Once the liquid disappears into Miguel and Hiro quickly takes out the needle, Miguel falls over limp into Hiro's arms.

"Sh, sh, easy." Hiro lays him down on his bed. "Talk to me."

"Hiro..." Miguel's entire body, and expression, is calm and blissful. His eyes are half-closed and he smiles. The sunlight through the window blesses him as though it knows he's the one.

"Feels nice, huh?" Hiro shakes his head, wishing once and for all that he could just die and go to Hell already. He reaches over to get some for himself but Miguel actually stops him.

"No," Miguel murmurs. "No, mi amor. Just lay with me? Don't do it."


Miguel pulls Hiro close and holds him tight. Hiro can't stop the silent tears leaking, and Miguel can feel them.

"No llores," Miguel pleads. "It's OK." He kisses Hiro's forehead. "It's OK. We're just dreaming. We're gonna wake up, and we'll realize it's all just an amazing, painful, joyous dream. You'll see. Nothing will hurt us. I... I promise."

Hiro bites his lip until the skin tears and he's numb. He wants to say, I wish I could believe you.

"I'm so happy I found you," Miguel whispers, eyes closed in bliss. He strokes Hiro's hair. "I'm so happy I have you. We're going to get out of this, you'll see. We'll wake up, and we'll be whole. And we'll go on to save the world. We'll have all the means and the knowledge, and we'll be together every day. And we'll meet people, good and bad, and we'll go places, beautiful and frightening and sad. Nothing will hurt us. We'll never die. As long as we're together, we'll never die."

"Gomen ne," Hiro says, and it comes out like a whine from all the tears he's spilled.

"No, no aguanto que el amor de mi vida llore," Miguel says, opening his eyes and stroking away Hiro's tears. The love of my life can't cry. His eyes turn golden in the light. "You're a good person. Yes. Don't shake your head. We're going to get out of this."

Hiro kisses him very gently.

"Que ricos esos besitos." Miguel smiles and kisses back. "I love you so much."

Hiro shouts and sobs into Miguel's shoulder, insisting he's killing him. Swearing he's killing him. "I'm killing you!" He pulls away and screams agonizingly to his ceiling.

Cass comes running up the stairs and bursts into his bedroom.

"I did it!" Hiro yells, sobbing, running over to his step-mother before she can see Miguel and the powder and syringe. "I did this to him, please, Cass. Don't blame him. I gave it to him, ah! No!" He falls to the floor in despair, while Cass runs over and sees everything, and from whom Miguel covers his face.

"Don't be ashamed," Cass insists gently, taking Miguel's arm, pulling it so his hand will leave his face. "Come on, Migue. It's OK. Let me just see that you're OK. I love you like a nephew, come on, sweetheart."

Miguel allows her to pull his arm away, but says, drunkenly, "make sure he doesn't get to the hôchô, Cass."

"He's right, I'd cut myself open and rip out my heart," breathes Hiro.

28 Jun. 2023 / 1950

"Do you know all the rules?" Edward asks Hiro as he hands him a brown robe and receives the towel back.

"We come in as The Magician and The Fool, we'd left as Emperor and Empress, we return from the outer ring here as Magician and Fool until we get to the inner ring in which we play Force and The Hanged Man," Hiro replies, shimmying into the robe. "Once we're back on our side, the four of us play The World, Judgment, The Sun and The Moon. While we're here learning from you, and you from us, we may play any of the twelve arcana in between, given no one else has occupied that space."

"Pretty much," confirms Edward. "So, you play The Sun, Michelle Judgment, and whichever other man on your side will play The World and the woman The Moon, right?"

"Why do you assume that?" Hiro asks innocently, then instantly regrets his question.

Edward looks to Mami, who looks pale, then to Michelle, who's standing neutral in her brown robe with her hair hanging wet. Then he looks back to Hiro.

"It's true, but I wonder why you seem so ready to ask me if that's how it'll be," says Hiro, so convincingly that it may fool the Fullmetal Alchemist.

"You that much of a rookie not to know?" Edward asks.

"I know, but things are different in my time and world," Hiro says offhandedly. "It's 2023. People get used to things that would seem strange in 1950, and wouldn't assume so much."

"Well, here it'd mean you're in love with that man, and that your wife and the other woman were in love too, heh heh!' Edward claps Hiro's back, which Hiro makes sure to flex so as to withstand.

"Like I said, people in my time and world are used to that," Hiro says, with just the right hint of a scowl. "But, it's as you said. Though we're in Buenos Aires; ever see two men tango? It wouldn't be that scandalous."

Edward makes a face. "Anyway, we're obviously meant to garner information from your world to help ours. Within each arcanum, we can ask one question to each of the two others, and vice versa. It seems we've already asked each other several questions while we were like this." He looks around. "I'm the Emperor now, and Mami the Empress, with the High Priestess open if Michelle wants to occupy it; then she and Mami can ask."

Hiro looks to Michelle, who nods. It's to their benefit that Michelle take on the role. She moves into the third space of the second inner ring, Mami and Edward next to her.

"I have a question for you, as the Empress to the High Priestess," says Mami. She chooses her words very carefully, "in this world, the powerful elite occultists take very seriously the prophecy of an Apocalypse to come on the winter solstice of the year 2012, said to have been made by an ancient race called the Indus. They were the race before the British colonized their land and mixed with them, creating an entirely new race. Therefore, much of their knowledge and wisdom is hidden, or has been lost with their legacy, except this prophecy. The elite wonder whether or not this Apocalypse will be the physical destruction of the planet or the mere illusion of it. The Indus had a word for 'the illusion of the world,' which in their language was called Maya. So, my question is: when the winter solstice passed in your dimension in the year 2012, was there some kind of Maya or 'illusion' that shattered, enlightening the human race? Or was there indeed a disintegration for the worst?"

Michelle waits very patiently, gazing down at her space, contemplating the number value of the High Priestess.

"Both, of course," she answers after a while, with a smile. "And more."

to be continued...

Mâyâ, in Sanskrit and in various forms of Hinduism and Buddhism, really does mean "illusion."

Hola, Alejandro Jodorowsky! /\/\ /\ Y /\

Chapter Text

1 Nov. 201223:21

All he can see are shoulder blades protruding like wings. The abandonment he's given himself to, the thrusting into essential, empty void, without escape, can't make him see anything else.

Si pudiera arrancarle esas alas.
i f   i   c o u l d   t e a r   o f f   t h o s e   w i n g s .
So I bite one, hearing a song-scream against my pillow, and I taste mortality.

His Abuelita taught him, "no seas bestia." But you can't teach an old dog new tricks, and he thinks his soul's as old as the devil. So, the beast in him crosses eyes in scrutiny, aiming at prey. Aiming at something sterile and reverse.

"Get up," the other orders (remember Madoka's words of wisdom: the feminine always dominates). And the other pushes back and back, elegant spine coming up to arch against his chest, forcing him to sit. He's impaling it more, now. He's kissing it more now. He's murdering more. It speaks. Now, all that exists are my openings, conquistador, but will you ever find the treasure in me? I can tear you in half with my gaze, and I will. That's what the mysterious creature's kiss says, as it guides his hand to its weeping member. Now will your Apocalyptic quartet - ox with its eyes on each side of its head, lion of nobility, eagle of scrutiny and deftness, and angel of man - defeat the dragon? I have you ensnared.

"But I have you impaled, cocksucker, mff-" he's interrupted by the other sticking two fingers in his mouth and ordering to drool.

"Shut up." And its soaked hand goes to its own member and it brings itself to its own climax and laughs at the fool it found.

"You're really something tonight, huh, bitch?" hisses Miguel as he rips Hiro off him and throws him on his back. He leans over him.

"You have no idea, ingrate," murmurs back Hiro, pink still tinging his cheeks from climax. "I'm giving you more than you deserve, and you'll never probably understand."

Miguel's hand goes to Hiro's hair, while Hiro's hand goes to Miguel's throat.

Pull. Tighten. Pull harder. Tighten.

i   c a n ' t   k i s s

 y o u r   t h r o a t   l i k e   t h i s,

s n o w   w h i t e
p l u m e r i a

And if only either of them had a womb and monthly bleeding, this would have force. Miguel's semen pours out onto his companion.

Hiro lets go, because Miguel will die of asphyxiation, and because Miguel is going to rip out his hair while dazed in post-orgasmic bliss, and Hiro is still vain and wouldn't want to lose hair. The eighteen-year-old ravages his throat then makes his way hungrily toward his torso where he devours up all their mixed semen. Hiro laughs softly, eyes closed. His hand is now in the other's hair. "Go lower, go baser."

Down. Kiss. Lower. Lowest.

"You'd be scared out of your mind if I went baser than this." Miguel sneers.

"Don't test me," Hiro warns.

Miguel bites his ass hard enough to draw blood.

"All right, you half-savage illegal, you curious? Come here. Yeah, come here. Dismember me, slowly. Limb by limb. Slow enough that it's divinely romantic; Jesus will be jealous. Make me come over and over as you do it, until finally you swear your everlasting love and slit my throat as my semen shoots up like a fountain. Then, decapitate me. Do it carefully. It's harder than it seems. Cut upon my torso, remove my organs. Cook those first, fresh. Then remove chunks of my cheeks, that meat is tender. Then the rest of my body like you would a cow or a pig. You know. All in a soup. Add my and your favorite vegetables, but not broccoli. Add some bok choi, carrots, celery, cilantro, corn from your land. Rice, of course. Oh, make sure to add my eyes, toward the end but don't overcook them. Then, devour me whole. Savor me. I will be in you. I will responsible for your nourishment, my body a cause of the sparkle in your eye, and the sheen in your hair, and the strength of your fingernails, and the density of your bones that I love. Of these veins and muscles I worship. Of the blood I wish I could run through right now. I will run through you to your heart. And I will have had purpose. And once your body gets rid of the waste caused by your consumption of me, it will fill the sewers and be food for rats. There will be no corpse, no casket, no grave, and no way for you to call me back on Día de los Muertos, which is right now." Hiro checks the clock that reads 0:23, November the second: All Souls' Day. "I will have been absorbed by you, and live in you as long as you live."

Miguel bestows the softest kisses to Hiro's forehead. He looks at his lover's neutral face. He strokes his throat. To feel the soft skin, the wiry muscles, and that delicate dip between his clavicles. To feel his heart pulsing, and his breath, and his swallow. To feel him as he whimpers and sighs in delight. Miguel wraps his hand around to the back of Hiro's neck, leans down and presses kisses to his throat. Hiro smiles. His hand is in Miguel's thick hair, fingers gently grazing his scalp. He knows Miguel believes that all souls are conceived as sac nikte, the white plumeria. From the legend of the Princess of Mayapán, Sac Nicté, who falls in love with Prince Canek who steals her from Prince Ulil. From the Book of Genesis, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish in the sea and over the birds in the air and over every living thing that moves upon this earth." And why shouldn't he believe? 

"If one of us were the woman, how beautiful would our children be?" A whisper, and tears raining down upon a virgin throat like a strand of pearls.

2 Nov. 2012, 3:33

Miguel gets up, head still spinning with tequila. His bladder is about to burst. He moans, and the thin body next to him shifts slightly away from him.

"So private and delicate, eh?" Miguel mocks in Spanish at the sleeping Hiro, lip curled, heart sour. "I'm the one with your shit on my dick. Hijue'puta vida mía."

He heaves his naked bag of bones out of bed and has enough sense to put Hiro's pajama pants on. Then he stumbles around his room until he finds the door, and stumbles through the hallway to the bathroom. He empties himself and moans gratefully. He doesn't flush, because it'll wake everyone. Then he meanders into the kitchen and drinks three whole glasses of water, which he knows he'll regret later when he has to piss again. Tomorrow is another full day of school and work. He sits at the kitchen table with the dim light hanging overhead, wondering. Wondering how no one is punishing him. Wondering why Hiro is with him. Wondering what the fuck he's doing in the United States, going to high school with a pack of malcriados and working at a bar as a busboy.

Normally he would leave drinking till Fridays and Saturdays but yesterday was the first of November: All Saint's Day, which means in the morning, it'll be All Soul's Day.

Día de los Muertos.

"A toast!" Miguel raises a new bottle of Patrón to no one. He uncorks it. "I would move Heaven and Earth for you, mi amigo! Why, you ask? Because we're all in Hell! Hahaha!" He pours alcohol down his throat, letting the agave soothe away the gore and gunpowder. The skinned skulls. The bodies hanging from the trees. The bits of body-parts found: picar para tamal, as learned from the Colombians during their Violencia period in the 1950's. Sure, Enrique and Luisa had covered his and Socorro's eyes as they'd fled, with Abel carrying a bleeding Rosa, and Carmen holding her two little ones. But, Miguel had snuck back the next morning to see the result of all the carnage.

"Remember meeeee; though I have to say gooodbyeeee, remember me! Don't ever fucking cry!" Miguel drawls, voice cracking, and downs that tequila. He drinks enough to plan in his head how he'll wake Hiro up and begin sodomizing again. Hiro is always ready. Last night's fucks had been so good. Hiro likes it when Miguel is emotional, and last night Miguel almost ripped his lover's hair out from pulling it so hard; it had only resulted in Hiro coming harder and talking dirtier. Last night was rough.

"A ver," Miguel breathes. He reaches into the pajama pants and strokes himself, reveling in the feeling. "Sí..." Once he's rock-hard, he corks the Patrón, puts it away and literally falls back into the hallway, holding on to whatever he can grab.

Until he sees Socorro standing in his doorway, looking at him in fear.

"Go t'bed, Coco," Miguel slurs in Spanish, waving his hand toward the room she and Gloria share.

"What are you and Hiro doing?" she asks mildly, and she notices her brother's erection through the thinly-clothed pajama pants.

Miguel laughs wheezily in his drunken haze, and puts his finger to his lips. "You can't know, mijita."

"You can tell me," Socorro says and her innocent trust in him reminds Miguel of his ugliness. He hates her, right then.

He falls to his knees before her and takes her pigtails in his hands. "Linda, mi niña, mi preciosa hermanita;" he kisses her silken cheek, and he whispers in her ear in Spanish; "you know what your brother has in him? The Devil." He pulls back and looks at her deer-in-the-headlights expression. "You know that little angelito in your room, with the halo? Mhm. I have one." He points to the top of his head, "mine is a black snake that spins round and round, and all that spinning creates a tornado in my brain and runs all down by body into my pipí." He grips his erection so violently hard so it'll soften. Keening in pain, he leans forward and talks into the beautiful and terrified face of his five-year-old sister. "And it makes me do things I don't want to, with Hiro. And I don't want you to... know that..." He's weeping at the traumatized face of his sister, who's struggling in his grip - when did he even grip her? Miguel panics and grips tighter, insisting with fury, "don't tell Mami and Papi! Don't tell anyone I said this! Shit." Socorro yanks away and runs right into her parents' room, and Miguel listens but no sound is made. No sound. Just silence. Just him and the Devil.

"Socorro." Miguel sniffs and tastes the tears from his eyes and the mucus from his nose, coming down his face. "Socorro!" He ducks his head, and presses the palms of his hands over his bloodshot eyes, the alcohol creating a white blinding effect.

He sobs and lifts his head up to look at the ceiling through his tears, his hands outstretched, and he whimpers to the silence: "Virgencita del Perpetuo Socorro?"

to be continued...

Chapter Text

1 Nov. 2018, 23:21

Mexico City - Zona Rosa, Colonia Juárez, Cuauhtémoc, D.F.

"Ey, Jesús, business is terrible tonight," she calls. "You sure you don't want to experience a little Heaven? Adelante! No one will know." She pouts. "And we're bored of you coming here just to talk. We want more. Is that so bad?"

"Malinche, cooperate," says Miguel, sighing in despondency. "I want to see the two little boys."

"Joder! I got to tell Lulu, Nena, and Kandy." She gestures to her friends on the corner. "Jesús wants Cuco and Paco." She looks with revulsion and a bit of admiration to Miguel. "It's so true about you priests and seminarians."

"Fuchi!" Miguel looks disgusted. "It's to help them."

"Oh, yeah, OK."

"I keep telling you that if you keep your mind in the gutter, your whole being will remain in there, but do you listen?" Miguel scoffs and hands her two full shopping bag full of groceries and toiletries for herself and the others. "Nah. You've got me coming to give you food, to hear your complaints, to hear your sins, to offer you jobs wherever I can find them around here. I've spoiled you, and it's made you worse."

"Uy, uy, no one asked you to come here and rescue me." Malinche looks him up and down as she takes the bags. "You're never going to get me into one of those strip-joints, Miguelito, I prefer the street. Look," she points, "this one is called 'Tokio,' so I can pretend I'm a geisha. You think those clubs on Genova or Florencia are going to protect me? Heh. The worst thing this fucking country ever did was make the shit I do legal - anything legal here means it's corrupt. I'll take my chances working illegally. And who knows?" She grins and it lights up her eyes for a moment. "Maybe you'll fall in love with me and take me to the US and ditch the priest idea."

"I already love you; you're going to find some place safe to work, and eventually get an education." Miguel frowns. "Now, help me help these boys. I've seen them coming out of the rectory of the Cathedral, several times, Malín, and I can't take it anymore."

"They're over on Amberes, hombre, and I'm not going there with you." Malinche shakes her head. "I'm not facing the gays. Their envy scares me."

"Who's in charge of the boys?" Miguel asks.

"I don't know."

Miguel sighs and clenches his jaw.

"I don't!" insists Malinche. "Maybe I'd remember if you were sweeter."

"If I make love to you tonight, all night, with all my heart, will you promise you'll become a nun?" Miguel offers with all sincerity and Malinche howls in laughter.

"Not even for one night with you, cariño, though it's tempting! All right, I'll go to Amberes. I really think you're serious. Let me just give these packages to las niñas. Wait here."

When she returns, Miguel shows her a parked Lincoln Town Car, to which Malinche gasps. Miguel tells her the plan for her to drive it up to the place and pretend to be the chauffeur, while he convinces whoever has the boys that he's rich and powerful. The truth is, he'd borrowed the Town Car from one of the many friends he has in the body shop by the seminary. Malinche is a terrible driver, but she makes it to Calle Amberes, reveling in the feel of the luxury car.

"They're in there, I think, last I heard," Malinche says, gesturing to a bar.

"Malín, if I go in there and pay for them, they'll remember my face," Miguel remarks from the backseat. "Could you go in with my cash and say you're picking them up for someone?"

Malinche chuckles, "I'll be lucky if I make it out of there alive; they're so evil in there. If you can go in there and be gay... You know?"

"I haven't told you about Hiro, have I?" Miguel says offhandedly.

"Hiro?" Malinche looks back at Miguel in shock. "No, güey! No, no, no mames. You've been with a man?"

"Shh, don't yell it in my face. All right, I'll go in, but I need to know which mafia runs this place to know who to hide from."

"You? With a man? I don't believe it." Malinche has her head against the steering wheel with laughter.

"Cállate! Who runs this place?"

"I don't know, maricón, why don't you offer a kiss to one of them and find out?"

"I'm not going to take offense to that, low-life," hisses Miguel.

"Ay, Migue, Padre, perdona!" Malinche blows a kiss to Miguel. "I just never thought you had it in you. I think it's a little sexy. Can you tell me about him sometime, hm?"

"Yes, but just let me do this now, all right?"

"Suerte, amigo."

Miguel gets out of the car and walks toward the bar, and, taking a deep breath, channels something in him he'd learned to domesticate and even despise. He believes it's useless and the product of trauma and illness coupled with a curious disposition. But, still. He has it: the homosexual aura. And the bouncer senses it. The men sense it the moment he walks in, and they know that it's been a while for this newcomer; there's something awfully virginal about him that suggests he hasn't done this in a while, but misses it very much. He ignores the right glances, and accepts the right glances, and makes the right glances. His jaw slackens, his pupils dilate, and his groin tightens as his gait changes into a kind of crotch-first swagger, and suddenly: he's accepted.

Got them.

He moistens his lips in just the right manner as he asks the bartender where he can find "the business." The other man chafes a little at Miguel's forwardness until Miguel leans forward across the table and murmurs, "forgive me, I beg you," with his eyes downcast. The silky skin between his shirt and his jeans show.

"OK, lindo," says the bartender, smirking, "upstairs to the third-floor, second door on the left. But you better have a name on you to prove you're trustworthy for business."

"Gracias." Miguel gives a shadow of a wink and slips away.

Carlos. He'll use Carlos' name.

"So, you want to indulge in the pleasure of the ancient Greeks?" says the mafioso. "Who are you?"

"Carlos Villarojas de Guzmán," Miguel lies. "I'm at the Seminary of the Assumption, and yes, I'd rather engage in the temptation now and then punish myself so as to never do it again, than to wait till I'm older and more perverted. I'll be gentle, I'm only ten to twelve more years older than them after all."

"Villarojas de Guzmán." The man nods. "We'll find out who you are. But, I believe you. They're expensive."

"Ten-thousand pesos for each, from now until tomorrow at sunrise," offers Miguel.

"Sounds fair." The mafioso smiles. "Where will you take them?"

"To my home, while my family visits the graves of my ancestors," says Miguel innocently. "I'll give you my address as collateral. They can eat and play. It'll be nice. If I enjoy myself enough I'll come back often."

"Fine. Let's do business."

The transaction is completed. Miguel had had to pawn his gold chain of the Miraculous Medal to come up with such money. The two boys are brought in, one about fourteen, the other hardly twelve. They have fine features, and have very light golden-brown skin. They're both lithe, and their hair is combed elegantly. Miguel's hand shakes but he bites his lip so hard and prays over and over for the strength to endure this, to play along and to get the children out of here with the least suspicion. He digs his fingernails into the palms of his hands so hard it leaves marks. He bends down and sits on his haunches. He strokes their faces.

"You're going to be with me tonight, and play," he tells them softly. When he looks up at the boss, he must burden his eyes with fake lust and gratitude. Who could this be? Who is this?

Miguel rises to his feet, each of his hands cupping the boys' chins. "You take care of them, Señor. What you're doing is a benefit to all society, and the wellbeing of these little treasures. Imagine them on the street. Lord save us. Thank you."

"I'm glad you feel that way, Señor Villarojas. They're well-behaved and very obedient. Greet your master for the night, señoritos. His name is Carlos Villarojas de Guzmán."

"Buenas noches, Señor," the boys say at the same time and kiss Miguel's hand.

I'm not going to get anything out of this bastard, thinks Miguel. But maybe the boys will tell me. Time to move.

"Well, if you'd be so kind as to show me the back-entrance, I'd appreciate it," Miguel says.

"Right this way, and I'll be here at dawn to receive them back."

Miguel exits holding each of the boys' hands and ushers them into the backseat of the Town Car and follows after. He shuts the door and tells Malinche to drive away, "carefully, chava, they're watching!"

"Ya, I'm not used to driving, OK?" Maliche drives slowly away and asks, "to where?"

"Any four-hundred-pesos motel," replies Miguel. "But far enough away that no one will notice."

"That's complicated."

"Just drive, please? C'mon, Mali!"

"I think you owe me for this, güey."


Miguel turns to the two boys sitting quietly together to the left of him. Their gazes are directed downwards. Miguel sighs.

"What happened to your parents?" Miguel asks them, softly.

"They died," one says immediately.

"Mine too," the other one says.

"You've been taught to say that, but I need you to tell me the truth so I can help you," Miguel insists.

Both boys look up at him with sincere confusion.

"When was the last time you saw them?" Miguel presses.

The boys don't reply.

"Have you always lived here, in Mexico City? Do you remember if you came from someplace else, and took a journey to this city?"

"I took a journey," says one, "from a faraway land of magic and mystery, and have many secrets that perhaps only you can unveil."

"Yes, and I come from the sea, where I was granted legs to replace my tail, and now I have parts that only you may discover."

Malinche chuckles from the driver's seat.

"Carajo," Miguel murmurs, rubbing his face in frustration. "All right, it's OK. I'm going to take care of you, all right?"

Malinche stops in front of a seedy motel. "This one good, Don Miguel?"

"Yes, but don't just stop in the middle of the street, pull into the lot!" Miguel cries.

"Look what we have here," says the concierge when they enter, eyeing Miguel, the scantily dressed Malinche and the two boys with expressions indicating they're knowledgeable beyond their years, without any luggage. "Heh heh, all kinds, we see all kinds here. Each to his own, I say, and I stay out of people's business. Just so long as you pay the fees." He leads them to a single-bed room and offers bottles for sale. Malinche asks for champagne before Miguel can say no.

In the room, Miguel asks the boys a series of questions about their lifestyles, who they interact with, where they go, how they sleep and what they eat. The boys merely give vague and sometimes fantastical responses. Malinche enjoys her bottle of champagne while flicking channels until she exclaims, "Ey, 'The Book of Life' is on! Have you two seen it?"

The boys don't acknowledge her, but merely look at Miguel expectantly.

"Have you seen 'The Book of Life'?" Miguel asks softly, sadly.

The boys shake their heads.

Miguel steadies his breath and asks, as stoically as he can: "What are the things most people want you to do?"

"Kiss and touch," says the younger one, Cuco.

"The more drool between us, the better," says Paco, the older one, laughing slightly. "We do it really well, want to see?"

"No." Miguel clamps hands on either of their wrists. "Please, no. Do you like it?"

The boys look at each other as though it's a question they never considered. They shrug with equal apathy.

"Has anyone told you it's wrong?" Miguel asks.

They shake their heads.

Miguel swallows hard, holding back tears of anger and despair, "what else do they want you to do? Describe as best you can."

"Why don't we just show you, Señor?" asks Paco, holding Cuco back. "We've never had someone ask so many questions, forgive me."

"I don't want any of that from you," replies Miguel. "I want you to describe it. Come on."

"They touch us, they play with our members, they make us lick each other everywhere, and then make us do the same to them. Then they fill us up. You know. And most times are gentle but some times really hurt."

Miguel convulses and releases a shaky breath, controlling his nausea. "You too?" he asks the little one. Cuco nods, wide eyes sad but curious about Miguel.

Miguel puts his hand over his mouth and takes deep breaths. Tears fall. He wipes them away, then looks into the faces of these two boys, who are frightened by him. "Do they ever hit you?"

Cuco shakes his head, Paco doesn't.

"Call you names?"

"Sweet ones," says Cuco.

Paco says nothing.

"What do they do?" Miguel asks Paco. "Francisco. That's your name, isn't it? You were named after a very holy saint. And you," he says to Cuco, "are named Refugio, aren't you?"

"With all respect, Señor, please just do with our bodies what you'd like," says Paco, looking at the ground. "There are some things better left silent."

Miguel takes Paco's face in his hands and shakes it. "No!" he yells, then shoves the boy. "No, chamaco. I've come to take you out of this. The people who you think are protecting you are not. Everything you think is true about these acts is a lie. Your bodies, souls and minds have been used in ways worse than animals, experiencing things no child should experience. These acts are for adults who love each other, who take care of each other, who have families together. Anyone who uses children in this way has done the most harm in the world; it'd have been better if they killed you. You don't know this." Miguel takes a deep breath. "But, I and most everyone else does. And I'm going to get you out of this. I'm going to give you enough money and a safe travel route north, and you're going to cross the border into the United States, to a city called Nogales. I'll tell the people there that you're coming and they'll keep you safe and give you all the care you need, including the healing. Then you tell them the names of the people here who keep you, and the priests here who have done these things to you."

The boys stare at him, underwhelmed.

"The United States?" Cuco asks.

"We're not going there, Señor, please excuse us," Paco says. "And we can't tell anyone any names."

"You must," insists Miguel, in desperation. Things are not going as he imagined, at all. "You must do as I say. You're not free. You're trapped."

"You're trapping them, Jesús," says Malinche, in the background. She scoffs, turning the film on mute. "You're hurting them by telling them something they don't understand. And they'll never follow your advice."

"No one asked you!" Miguel shouts to her. "Why don't you shut up?"

"Oh, forgive me, Lord and Savior?" she says, mockingly, folding her hands. Then she laughs, shaking her head. "Who do you think you are? Keep talking to them, you'll see."

"Don't listen to her," Miguel insists, angrily, to the boys. "Do you think you deserve to be treated the way those men treat you? Can you imagine a life in which you can choose who you share your body with, and choose whether you even want it? Eh? A life where people respect you, and don't order you around? A life where," he looks at Paco, "you can defend yourself when men attack your body or your dignity? Where you can make true friends and work hard and get compensated fairly?"

"With all respect, Señor, we don't know anyone in the United States and we'd be risking our lives going there," says Paco in fairness. "And, forgive me, but we are compensated, and we do have dignity. We're cared for, and not on the street. We're always accounted for. We play, and eat what we like, and sleep well. And once we're older we can begin to take other boys off the streets and care for them, too. Forgive me, but I don't agree with your ideas. I'd rather a few slaps now and then by some overly-excited men, and some name-calling, to starving and dying crossing the border, or even working all day just to have barely enough to eat. But, thank you anyway."

Miguel is too shocked to breathe, but out of the corner of his eye he sees Malinche raise her hands like a prophetess. "You made them miss the first third of the film," she accuses. "C'mon, niños, Jesucristo doesn't want to play with you, so we get to watch the movie. It's good, it's funny. It's about Día de los Muertos, which is tonight. It's a Disney movie, I think. Something like that. There's another one like it, too, I don't remember the name, but come!"

Once he's given the boys back in the morning, Miguel sits with Malinche.

"Have you heard of Gabriel García Márquez?" he asks, the dawn light playing with the shadows underneath his eyes.

"Isn't he in telenovelas?"

Miguel shakes his head. "He was a Colombian author who ended up living here in Mexico City for almost half of his long life; he wrote books describing the sadness and loneliness we feel in these countries. When he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, he gave a speech, in which he said, 'On a day like today, my master William Faulkner said, 'I decline to accept the end of man.' I would fall unworthy of standing in this place that was his, if I were not fully aware that the colossal tragedy he refused to recognize thirty-two years ago is now, for the first time since the beginning of humanity, nothing more than a simple scientific possibility. Faced with this awesome reality that must have seemed a mere utopia through all of human time, we, the inventors of tales, who will believe anything, feel entitled to believe that it is not yet too late to engage in the creation of the opposite utopia. A new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.' I didn't understand what one hundred years of solitude meant until tonight. And I don't think I believe in Faulkner, or even in old Gabo's dream of our races finding happiness and freedom. I don't know what I believe."

Malinche leans over and gives Miguel's cheek a sensual kiss. "You did what you could, hombre. Now get out of these streets and back to your enclosed priestly world. You may have been victim to the narcos' raid on your nice village, but it led you to América, where the gringos showed you their famous freedom. That doesn't exist here. Don't take it personally, but don't come back." She opens the door to the Town Car. "They'll eat you alive. Thank you for everything, Jesús, for your friendship and generosity. Eres bueno. Dios te bendiga."

Miguel drives the Town Car back to the shop, then walks back to the seminary, remembering his Mamá Coco on the morning of Día de los Muertos, when he was twelve years old, and her remembering Papá Héctor. He prays for their souls. He prays for Paco and Cuco, and all children like them. He prays for Malinche and her companions.

"You're going to miss Mass if you don't hurry," Pablo warns as Miguel slips into their room.

"I don't feel well," says Miguel.

"Where were you last night?" queries Pablo. "I thought you didn't have any relatives buried here."

Miguel shakes his head. "I'll go to the chapel and pray by myself. Thanks, Pabi." He takes a shower, in which he sobs quietly under the warm spray. When he comes out, Pablo is still there.

"You sure you're not coming?"

Miguel sighs. "You know Ernesto Che Guevara?"

"The maniac terrorist?" Pablo scowls.

"Yeah, but the one your beloved López Obrador adores so much he named his son after. Didn't you see the interview with Jorge Ramos? Anyway, Che said that we Mexicans are

 una banda de indios iletrados."

"Where's the proof of that?" Pablo spits. "And what did he know anyway?"

"He was a genius gone to the dark side, but he had a point. Now, excuse me, Pablo, I'll see you later."

Miguel slips into the chapel with the Crucifix and the portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He walks up to Guadalupe and places his head against hers. He kisses her lips and lets his body slide down along her image, his arms reaching up to the sash around her waist, then down along her skirt. She's dancing on the moon.

"I did what I could, Madre," he whispers. Then he turns to the feet of Christ crucified. He kisses the wounded feet, then moves his way up, kissing the wound on the right side, then to each of the pierced hands, and finally up to his face.

"All right, I'll die," he whispers. "Just watch me die, see how I die." He leans against Christ's head. "Your will be done, take me as Your son. I'll drink Your cup of poison - nail me to Your cross and break me, bleed me, beat me, kill me. Take me." He kisses Christ's mouth. "Now, before I change my mind."

to be continued...

Miguel's words to Christ at the end are from "Gethsemane" (1970) written by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, from Jesus Christ Superstar.

Gabriel García Márquez's full Nobel Prize speech in English and Spanish (1982):

Mexico ranks second in the world in terms of prostitution of under-age persons:
Acharya, Arun Kumar (June 2016). "Trafficking of Women and Children in Mexico: An Assessment of Anti-trafficking Laws". RCIS. 53: 5–21.

Chapter Text

21 Dec. 2018

We prayed for hope, embraced curses and protected boys like you from the dark, she thinks as she watches Hiro run toward her. We were puella magi. We traded our souls for our powers and a destiny of battle: a destiny which ended in oblivion, for the only way we were able to escape our despair was to wake from that fevered dream. The end finally came for us. We continued our fight until reality led us away. But in that broken world of girlish fantasies, doomed to repeat its cycle of hope and despair, I dreamed up someone I thought I knew, and saw her shining smile every day. Yet now, though I see it every day, I wonder whether I'm still dreaming.

"Hey, Homura-chan," Hiro says, nose pink from the cold, when he reaches her.

"Hello, Hiro-kun," replies Homura, hands deep in her coat pockets to keep them warm. "How was your day?"

"I'd rather not talk about it." Hiro grimaces. Homura offers a shadow of a smile, lightened by the indigo sunset in the grey sky. "You ready?"

Homura nods.

They walk from their apartment in Meguro to catch the Yamanote Line up to Shibuya. They decided that for Christmas, they'd adopt a kitten and between themselves and Madoka take care of it. But, the surprise would be for Madoka, who wanted a pet more than Homura or Hiro, both of whom would have been content without any hair or litter to worry about. Hiro had assured Homura that cats were easy and lovable, and told her about Mochi. He said it might be nice to find one that wouldn't turn into a giant lump of fur, "maybe something a little sleeker."

"A black cat?" Homura offered.

"A witch is never complete without one," Hiro comments, with just enough affection not to offend.

But before they reach the station, Hiro pauses.

"What's wrong?" Homura asks.

Hiro's looking at the shops and buildings along the Meguro Cherry Blossom River, twinkling now in the dusk. "I thought I saw... Nevermind."

"No," Homura presses. She links arms with him and says, "what did you see?"

"Shops and buildings, but, it seemed like for a moment there was a wooden fence here," Hiro explains. "But, just for a moment. And it reminded me of..."

"Of what?"

Hiro looks into Homura's eyes and realizes that he loves her. He loves her in a way that's different than his love for Miguel. But, he does love her. And with love comes trust.

"I once visited a woman in a wish-granting shop, and I'm not sure if she was human. She understood my pain. She understood my wish. And she helped me understand how to grant wishes for myself without needing an outside force. Somehow, along with Miguel, you remind me of her," Hiro confesses.

Homura blinks and blushes.

"Her name was," Hiro leans forward and whispers into Homura's ear, lifting her earmuff, "Yûko Ichihara, but that was an alias. Still, I haven't spoken her name since."

Something reverberates in Homura. She takes Hiro's hand and leads him closer to the edges of the shops and buildings. "See them as illusions," she remarks as they walk. "Even the people around us. Understand they're merely constructs able to be flattened and flipped, and even voided. I'll focus on my wish, and maybe we'll see the shop."

"Your wish?" Hiro asks mildly.

"All girls and women have a wish, at all times," Homura remarks. She looks into Hiro's eyes, her ebony hair caught in the wintry wind. "Remember that."

That's right, Akemi Homura, says a silky young male voice from the ether. You have a wish.

A wish.





"Who else was with this woman?" Homura asks Hiro.

"A boy who was my age at the time - um, " he leans forward again, "Kimihiro Watanuki."

"How is his name written?" Homura asks, brows furrowed.

Hiro goes to say he doesn't know, then remembers the furry creature calling Watanuki "April Fool," and suddenly realizes it can be written with the characters for April First. He tells Homura so.

"I have a wish," Homura says to the rising moon.

I can grant that wish, says the voice. With a price.

"I've already paid a price larger than can be imagined by any foolish magician," Homura whispers.

Well, it just so happens you can be a fool and a magician at once; in fact, that's the only way to perform magic. Why don't you come in? I'm no incubus, or - what did you call it? "Incubator"? I will tell you the price before you choose to pay it, with full disclosure.

Then, appears before Hiro and Homura the wooden gate, with a rounded entrance and beyond it a great house with domed roofs, like a mosque or basilica. The house is surrounded by an engawa. The house is well-lit and inviting.

But it wasn't there a moment ago.

Homura seems drawn to it as though by spell. Hiro grasps her wrist. "Wait," he insists. "Homura-chan." He turns her so she may look at him. "This is what happened to me," he confesses, "back in 2013. You may not want to enter there. What's your wish?"

"You'll see," Homura replies, face set in determination. "Please trust me."

As though in a trance, both Hiro and Homura enter the gate and are taken in by the beautiful frozen garden along the path toward the house. The lanterns are lit, creating a soft and ethereal glow. Snow has begun to fall.

The girls Maru and Moro greet the two with the same enthusiasm as ever, singing, "The Master has two guests, the Master has two guests!"

"Master?" asks Hiro. "What do you mean? We're looking for Yûko-san."

"She's no longer the owner of this shop," says Homura, with alarming certainty. "Isn't that right?" she asks Maru and Moro.

"Yes, and we miss the Mistress very much," says Maru, with a downward glance.

"Every day we remember her, and her presence lingers," says Moro.

"Please invite us in," insists Homura. "We can't enter a magician's shop without an invitation."

"Come right this way!" say the girls, with renewed joy.

Hiro and Homura enter the old house, which smells of wood and herbs and spices and flowers and incense. They remove their shoes. They see the old screen, of painted cranes and gardenias, then look at each other. Hiro steps up the few steps and walks toward the screen. Gently, he opens it enough so he can fit through. He gestures to Homura to follow him. Homura takes a deep breath and catches up to him. Together, they walk behind the screen and enter a long hallway. At the end of the hallway is a doorway with silk and velvet curtains. Maru and Moro stand on either side of the doorway.

"Please enter, and greet the Master," they say.

Hiro enters first, then Homura. Together they see, beyond a haze of smoke, a figure of a man who's about nineteen years old, draped upon a chaise lounge, wearing a woman's kimono and smoking a long rosewood pipe of what seems to be opium.

"I must appear so very old-world and cliché," says the young man, exhaling listlessly, setting bi-colored eyes on the pair, "next to the likes of the two of you. Well well." He sits up slightly. He grins. It's Watanuki. "I didn't expect both of you to come together, but I can't say I don't like the pairing. It's been quite some time, Hamada Hiro, hello - oh, but I expect time crawls on differently for both of us."

"I'm sure it does, hello," says Hiro, bowing. He's overwhelmed by the change in the awkward boy he'd met only four years ago. "Watanuki-san."

Watanuki waves a bored hand. "No need for formalities. You look quite well with the years that have passed. How are you?"

"Fine, thank you."

"Very good. And you," Watanuki turns to Homura and takes a deep inhalation from his pipe, "Akemi Homura. I'm Watanuki Kimihiro. It's a pleasure to finally meet you, magician to magician. How are you?"

"Fine, thank you," says Homura, also bowing. "It's a pleasure as well. Thank you for your hospitality."

"Did you appreciate my telepathy?" Watanuki taps out some ashes. "It used to upset me when my former Mistress did it, but I've learned it's actually pretty handy. I hope it didn't upset you."

"Not at all," replies Homura.

"Let's have some tea," says Watanuki, sliding off his lounge and putting out his pipe. He pauses, eyes curious. "Or would either of you prefer whiskey?"

Hiro and Homura look at each other.

"Fine, tea it is," Watanuki says, smirking, before they can answer. "Mr. Potter, please go make tea and don't make it boiling hot this time," he calls in English. "Remember what I taught you about green camellia. Two minutes. And please add some peppermint. It goes with the season."

A Caucasian boy around thirteen years old, with messy black hair and large green eyes, appears. He bows to Watanuki and then to Hiro and Homura.

"These are my guests, Hamada Hiro and Akemi Homura," says Watanuki to the boy, in Japanese. To Hiro and Homura he says, "This is my assistant, all the way from London on his holiday break from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Albus Severus Potter."

"Hajimemashite," says Albus, bowing again. He continues, nervously but in fairly good Japanese, "Was that... three teas with peppermint, Watanuki-san, or two?"

"Three," says Watanuki.

"All right, one moment. Excuse me." Albus dashes off.

"Please come into the sitting room," offers Watanuki to Homura and Hiro, gesturing toward another room with an elegant table and cushions in the center. "I was expecting you, in a way, just not quite like this; and as I said, not together. But, tonight is a good night. Winter solstice. Welcome."

"Thank you again for your hospitality," says Hiro, trying not be too rude and stare at Watanuki. He wants to know what happened to Yûko, and what Homura wants from all this.

Albus returns with a tray of an iron-cast tea pot, three cups, peppermint stems, a series of towels, a bowl, and a silver pot.

"Potter-kun's been teaching me a little about the West," remarks Watanuki as the boy sets down the tray and arranges the objects. "The reason he's here now and during summers is to learn and practice Eastern magic. His father, Harry, is a friend of mine. His Japanese has also improved very much since last summer. And I've learned some things. Wands, Latin incantations, broomsticks. Interestingly, the academy I mentioned he's in - Hogwarts - sorts students into one of four different creature-symbol-houses based on personality. I found that very intriguing. Curiously, the serpent in the West carries negative connotations, versus here where we perceive it as powerful, lucky and benevolent." He eyes Albus with encouragement and a wink.

Albus nods his head, self-conscious.

"Would you mind if I spoke to him in English?" Hiro asks Watanuki and Watanuki humbly gestures to go ahead. "I speak English," Hiro tells the boy. "I spent most of my life in the United States. I've never traveled to England, though. It's nice to meet you, Mr. Potter."

"Oh, thank you," replies Albus, blushing. "You as well, Mr. Hamada. You're welcome to London; it's quite dreary compared to Tokyo, but it has its charm I suppose. I also haven't been to the US, but I would like to. We've a sister-school there in Salem, Massachusetts."

"Nothing is a coincidence," Watanuki comments to Homura, who still looks forlorn.

"Salem? I'm not surprised." Hiro grins formidably. "I don't know anyone around the New England area. But if you'd ever like to visit Los Angeles and the West Coast, you're perfectly welcome to stay with my step-mom. She's awfully lonely these days, with just her cat as company. I've got some friends there too who could show you around."

"Thank you so much, Mr. Hamada! Arigatô gozaimasu! Well, I won't keep you." Albus bows. "Watanuki-san," he says, and then in Japanese: "Please call if you need anything else."

"Yes, thank you," replies Watanuki. "I'm glad you made a friend - Hamada's esteemed, and he's very intelligent. More than me. Take him up on his offer while it lasts. I can be your go-between."

Once Albus is gone and Watanuki performs the ritual of serving tea in the old tradition, the three settle in to their circumstances.

"As Hamada already learned, everyone who enters this shop has a wish," Watanuki explains. The snow falls gently outside, and the dim lanterns coupled with the warm tea has soothed Hiro and Homura's nerves. Watanuki continues, "I can grant any wish, given that equal payment be made. Payment must be equivalent to the wish, nothing less and nothing more. This way, the universe maintains balance. My Mistress taught me this, before she moved along the time-space continuum." He looks up to Hiro, "if that's what you're wondering."

Hiro nods. Watanuki drinks some tea and Homura keeps her eyes locked on him, curious and gentle.

"Now, you wouldn't be in my shop if you didn't have a wish," continued Watanuki. "Both of you."

Hiro and Homura say nothing. They sense that Albus is outside spying.

Watanuki smiles a little. "I know some things about each of you," he says. "So, shall I reveal a bit more about myself? This shop is outside the time-space continuum of any dimension, and I'm tied to it. I can't leave it; even if I physically leave it for any length of time, I must return. That enough should suffice." He pours himself more tea.

"Why?" asks Hiro, boldly.

Watanuki cocks his head. "The wish to know why comes with a price. That would require me asking you: why did you leave Los Angeles, your step-mother, and Miguel Ángel Rivera?"

Hiro inhales sharply. "Because of love," he confesses, voice hoarser than he would have expected. "I didn't want to hurt them anymore."

Watanuki nods and looks out to the falling snow. A pair of cardinals flutter in the pine.

"We aren't that different," he remarks after a moment. "I stay because of love. I made a promise that I would live, and this is the only way I can."

"Did you love her?" Hiro asks.

"Do you love him?" Watanuki counters.

"Yes," they both reply at the same time.

"And yet the possibility of your acting on love exists, and you choose not to," says Watanuki. "I have no ability to act on love. I merely wait for the possibility that I may grant my love her wish."

Hiro winces. "Is the one we love and the one we're fated for always the same person?"

"A good question," remarks Watanuki, nodding. "One that you'll have to pay with the taking on of responsibility. In the West, they call it 'conscience.' We call it śūnyatā. What is your essential burden?"

"I ran away from my beloved and never looked back," confesses Hiro, in a flood of emotion. "I love him both because I want to love him and because I know I'm destined to love him."

"Why aren't you with him?"

"Utter terror," whispers Hiro.

Watanuki lights his pipe, nonchalantly. "Any more wishes?"

Hiro shakes his head. "No, but thank you. Have I paid with my pride?"

Watanuki nods. "Something like that." His eyes turn to Homura.

"Why can't I grant wishes?" Homura asks, eyes averted.

"That's like asking why there are four seasons," says Watanuki, exhaling smoke. "All you do is wish. How can you grant existential fulfillment to anyone, when you're in constant need of something that doesn't exist?"

"Have I done so much wrong?" Homura asks, gaze turning up.

"Now you sound Western," says Watanuki. "You spun an entire new Universe, one in which you had ultimate control. Right and wrong are values you invented. You believe you're right in doing what you perceive is wrong, but what of the universals? What about Madoka?"

"Madoka is all universals," confesses Homura, fists clenched. "All principles. I longed for her to long, so much so that I made it come true and she longed to cease existing as herself. Yet, still, I wasn't happy. Longing is suffering. I suffered so that Madoka would suffer, yet she still one-upped me and stopped existing so as not to suffer. Now I've one-upped her. But I will never grant wishes the way she can. She makes whoever she meets happy with one of her precious smiles. So, she always has the upper hand."

"You granted your own wish," comments Watanuki. "Is there more?"

Homura sighs. "I wish that myself and Madoka, and Hiro and Miguel Ángel Rivera, meet in the void, for one night. What is the price for that?"

"Your wish involves three people who don't necessarily wish the thing for themselves," Watanuki says.

"How do you know that?" Homura asks.

"I don't," Watanuki says, grinning. "But I don't presume to know others' wishes."

"Then you're like Hiro in more ways that one: terrified. Isn't the void the end of all wishes, the point of all existence?" Homura counters. "Why would you think the three others I mentioned wouldn't want that, and why wouldn't you wish that they encounter it?"

Watanuki chuckles and pours his guests more tea. He smokes his pipe, pensively gazing at Homura.

"You really are quite a magician, Homura Akemi," he says. "You figured it out." He sighs and looks to Hiro, who's frozen in shock. "Magic is best left to women and their intuition," Watanuki remarks, grinning in affection, shaking his head, "in most cases."

"What is the price for that?" Homura presses, unfazed.

"Merely the witnessing of what you can't control," says Watanuki. "Do you think you could stand it?"

to be continued...

Characters belonging to J.K. Rowling from the Harry Potter series (1997-2007) and Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (2016): Albus Severus Potter and Harry Potter (mentioned).

Spoilers, spoilers, for Harry:

Chapter Text

She glides out onto the white expanse of the dawn snow, dressed in the black gown Homulilly - her witch form - wears, with a black lace veil draped over her head. She heads into the waking forest. She can hear the woman's cries of ecstasy ringing from the tiny house on the shore. The sacred fawn in its den, next to his mother, raises its head with its large ears. The owl huddles, pelicans flutter. The island of the Rising Sun awakens.

"Homura," says Madoka's sweet voice from beside her. Homura turns and looks into the eyes of her beloved, dressed in white with her own lace veil, like a bride.

The two women gaze at each other as the morning sun dares to peek through the frozen trees.

"Is this the world in which you can be happy?" Homura asks in a breath.

Madoka lifts her veil. She nods. "This is a primordial world," she says. "This is what we're meant to be, isn't it?"

"I'm not sure," confesses Homura. "I wished to enter a place with no wishes."

"Why are you sad?" asks Madoka.

"That's just who I am," says Homura, softly.

Madoka smiles and walks to Homura. She kisses her lips through black lace. "The snow will melt and run back into its current, if we watch carefully enough. We'll return too, to the current. I find your sadness the most beautiful thing; for when it turns, it becomes the greatest happiness and you live up to your name. You flare into fire and light the dark sky, like an eternal series of falling stars."

"You flatter me," Homura insists, shyly taking Madoka's hands in hers, and looking down at them. "I find your joy the most beautiful thing, for it's like this fragile pond of ice. It dissipates with the heat of the sun, and becomes a safe, dark pool where I may drown and rid myself of pain. You run through me like clean water. I love you."

"For all eternity." Madoka lifts their hands so they may touch palm-to-palm.

"For as long as there's life and death." Homura smiles and links their fingers, and their magic crackles through their being and skips along the glassy woods and virgin pines. The blue-jays sing and chase each other through the glittering snow.

Then, a very strange looking dog comes bounding toward them and stops before their feet. It isn't a dog they're in any way familiar with; in fact, it's more than a dog.

It's a spirit.

"These have been our woods for a long, long time," Homura tells it, stoically. "Where do you come from, and how did you find your way here?"

The dog whines pleadingly, and drags its tail between its legs. Madoka squeezes Homura's hand.

"What's your name?" Madoka asks it.

Dante! it tells them, and its tail wags again and it rubs itself against the snow and shows them its belly. It's happy and hopeful.

"Please answer my questions," Homura insists, more gently.

I'm from a land that has never seen such phenomenon as this! Solid water, falling from the clouds! Forming mountains of powder that will eventually turn back into clean water. How do the creatures survive? Do they hide for many months?

Madoka laughs and bends down to address Dante. "Yes! What's your land like?"

Dry in some places and wet in others, but very hot, with deeply colored flowers and fierce creatures. Creatures that light up the night, some that scurry, others that fly, even birds that speak like you do. Houses that resemble yours. Nothing so delicate as the creatures and flowers here could survive in my lands. Even the vegetables that grow there are coarse and burn the tongues of humans, or make their teeth strong. The humans' skins are dark and thick to withstand such harshness, but there is softness too. There are warm hands, warm sounds, warm rain, warm smiles. People don't have much, but they are very happy. They're also very quick in being able to judge human emotions. My land is also very old, and it happily rolls along, but it's becoming sick.

"Ours is, too," Madoka laments and pets Dante, who responds lovingly and excitingly. "My name is Madoka, and this is Homura. It's nice to meet you, Dante. Will you please tell us why you're here?"

Of course, Madoka and Homura! I am the manifestation of the primal instinct of the human man in the house on the shore. Frankly, I don't know what I'm doing here. I just know I'm very happy, more happy than I've ever been, and am running through these lands to discover them. I hope it doesn't upset you.

"Not at all! I'm just worried that you're cold," says Madoka. She pats Dante's back. "You have no hair! Forgive me, but I've never seen a dog without hair. Are there others like you?"

Yes! We're considered a kind of magical creature that communicates with all beings - human, animal, plant, spirit. We used to be worshipped. I am a Xoloitzcuintli.

"You're from Mexico, from the lands of the Mêxihcah!" says Homura. She also kneels to address Dante. "You belong to Miguel Ángel Rivera, don't you?"

Yes, Homura! Dante leaps in the air in joy, and somersaults. I do! Do you know my master? I don't recall ever meeting you, and yet you seem very familiar.

"We're in a primordial place, because of a wish I made, for myself, for Madoka and for your Miguel and for Hiro Hamada. I'm sure you know Hiro Hamada."

Dante looks sad. I thought I did. Now, I'm not sure.

"Hiro's the woman your Miguel is making love to in the house on the shore," says Homura, and even Madoka looks at her confusedly.

Dante shakes his head. That's not a possibility. That's an illusion. I'm not exactly sure who that woman is, but I know she's making my master very happy. It's not Hiro Hamada. Hiro Hamada is a man.

Homura explains what she saw in the little house, to Madoka.

"But, the woman looked just like Hiro, except as a woman," she argues.

No, I know Hiro. I love Hiro. That's not Hiro.

"Then who is it?"

A woman.

Madoka continues petting Dante, and looks to Homura. "Is Hiro supposed to be here?"

"Yes, which makes me worry." Homura frowns. "Dante, can you help us make a connection to Miguel, so we can build trust and understand what's going on?"

I'll do my best. I can bark and drag him out.

"Yes, please. Bring him here. In the meantime, I'll talk to Madoka."

Dante runs off and Homura explains what happened at Watanuki's shop with Hiro.

"Are you sleeping there?" Madoka asks, concernedly. "Where are your bodies?"

"I don't know," confesses Homura. "I don't remember. What do you remember?"

"I think I'm asleep in my apartment," says Madoka. She nods. "I'm asleep. Should I wake up, and go help you? You said the shop was along the Meguro Cherry Blossom River?"

Homura shakes her head. "It's an invisible shop that can appear anywhere, to the right person, who's wishing for the right thing. Hiro had gone in once before this, but in a different location. Let's wait, and then see whether you should wake - or if you even can. I'm sorry, Madoka, I shouldn't have dragged you into this!"

Madoka embraces her. "It's OK, Homura-chan. We've been through worse. Promise you won't worry?" Homura nods and Madoka kisses her cheek. "I must tell you something, though," Madoka whispers. "It's very mysterious-"

"Homura-chan! Madoka-chan!"


Hiro comes toward them, looking different, with long hair in a topknot. He's soaking wet. "I didn't-" he receives their relieved embraces, one after the other. "I was in the ocean, I was... Where are we?" He looks dazed and confused.

"In the ocean?" Madoka asks, brows knit in concern.

"I was looking, for what seemed like forever, for any algae or creature that would have survived this snow," remarks Hiro, "and all of a sudden I realized I was freezing! Then I came to shore and wandered through here, and remembered Watanuki," he looks to Homura, "and your wish."

"What do you remember from being in the shop?" Homura asks.

"Just your wish, then nothing."

Homura turns to Madoka. Madoka says to her in a low voice, "I remember dreaming I was in a man's arms, before I woke up and found myself beside you."

Homura frowns. "Not Hiro?"

Both women look at Hiro, who looks back innocently.

Madoka shakes her head, blushing. "I'm sorry, no."

"I just saw a man I'm pretty sure is Miguel making love to a woman who looked exactly like you, in a house not far from here, on the shore," Homura tells Hiro. She looks to Madoka, "could it have been you?"

"I don't know," confesses Madoka, self-consciously. "I don't remember, I just know it was a man and he was familiar, but it wasn't Hiro." She turns to Hiro. "I'm sorry, anata," she says and embraces him again. Hiro strokes her hair and insists she not worry.

"How did you end up in the forest?" Hiro asks Homura.

"Once I shooed away a Zashiki-warashi out of the house, I walked across the expanse of a field to here, where Madoka appeared beside me."

Hiro frowns. "Are you all right? Are both of you all right?"

Both women nod. "Are you, Hiro-kun?" Madoka asks, still in his arms. She touches his face. "You're freezing. We have to get inside that house."

"We also met Miguel's spirit-dog," Homura tells Hiro. "Do you know him? He spoke to us; his name is Dante."

Hiro shakes his head. "How did you know it was Miguel's spirit-dog?"

"It told us!" insists Homura.

"Are you sure who you saw in the house was Miguel?" Hiro looks around the still, crystal forest. "You've never seen him before Homura-chan. Why would he be in a house with a female version of me?"

Dante comes running back.

"Good boy!" cries Madoka, leaning down to pet the Xoloitzcuintli. "This is him, Hiro-kun! He'll tell us! Dante, where's Miguel? Is he still in the house?"

Dante merely barks like a dog, excitedly. Homura and Madoka look at each other in alarm.

"Dante?" Madoka wiggles his ears. "Dante, please talk to us like you did before!"

Dante barks again, happily, and then sees Hiro. Suddenly, the dog whimpers as if in pain, and turns in a circle. Then it trots away, tail between its legs, whining in sadness.

"No, Dante, wait!" Homura calls. She picks up her skirts and runs after it.

"Have you never seen that dog before?" Madoka asks Hiro as they follow.

"Never, Mado-chan!"

They reach the house, and Dante turns and circles Hiro. He grips his shirt in his teeth and pulls at him to enter. Hiro looks to Homura and Madoka, who gesture that he enter and that they'll follow.

Cautiously, Hiro climbs the steps of the house to the engawa and follows Dante into the front room.

Madoka and Homura wait, hand in hand. "I think it was Miguel," whispers Madoka, turning with wide eyes to her companion. "I think I'm that woman. I don't know why."

She looks back to the field with the footprints of herself, Homura, Hiro and Dante. The wind catches them by surprise and pulls off the girls' veils. They catch them.

"It didn't look like you," insists Homura.

"Maybe you couldn't have handled it if you'd seen me," says Madoka, putting on her veil. She drapes Homura's black veil over her head. "And maybe Hiro can't handle it, either."

"Watanuki did ask whether I could stand it..."


Homura tells Madoka, "the magician asked if I could stand reality, a reality I couldn't control."

"Can you?" Madoka asks. She pulls Homura's hand, leading her to the entrance Hiro and Dante disappeared through.

The Land of the Rising Sun leaves them behind, and Madoka steps out, alone, into a sun-scorched courtyard with parakeets chattering.

"Homura-chan?" she calls softly. She looks around, through her white lace. Nothing seems familiar. It's unbearably hot. There's a soursop tree in the middle of the courtyard providing some shade, and Madoka goes toward it, curious.

"Virgen Santísima, un ángel!" she hears, and turns to see a handsome man in his twenties, with large brown eyes and a beauty-mark above his lip. He's just risen from his corner, leaving his guitar. He's crossed himself, and is approaching her in wonder.

It's Miguel. Madoka knows it's Miguel. It has to be Miguel. But she doesn't speak Spanish. She'd rather not speak any English to him until she's found Hiro or Homura. Miguel seems unafraid of her, and rather curious so she plays along and stands very still under the tree.

"Usted es hermoso, su merced," he breathes. "Estoy muerto? Me tiene algún mensaje de Dios o de la Virgen?" He freezes, suddenly terrified. "O es usted del diablo?"

Madoka knows enough Latin to make out what Miguel said and figures out that he's asking her whether she's an angel of God or from Hell, and whether he's dead. She extends her hand, smiling through her veil.

Apprehensively, but still in awe, Miguel takes her hand. Madoka blushes at his touch and realizes it was him whose arms she was in, in her dream. She looks around, for Hiro and Homura. There's sighs and moans coming from one wrought-iron window and Madoka pulls Miguel in that direction. She looks in through the slight opening of the door and sees Hiro laying sprawled out alone in an old-fashioned four-poster bed with netting around it. Putting two and two together, understanding that Homura's not in sight and what's most likely is that she was with Hiro, Madoka turns and embraces Miguel and pushes him away. She leads him to the kitchen, from where they may exit the house.

"Nuestro Señor, ayúdame!" Miguel cries as he follows Madoka out of the hacienda and onto the main dirt road. There, in the brilliant noonday sun, they may see the shining cornfields go on and on to the edge of the mountains. The stable with magnificent horses is to their right. To their left is the village, with the white church steeple rising high and the bell tolling the hour.

"Parece como si estuviéramos en una novela," Miguel remarks. It's as if we were in a soap-opera. He's grinning, accepting the unusual circumstances.

Madoka boldly kisses his cheek and leads him to town. There, in the empty town with its white-washed houses and its red tiled roofs, they walk through the narrow cobblestone streets until reaching the brilliant plaza, where a fountain of painted ceramic overflows with water. Where there are hibiscus, dahlias, cempasúchil, jasmine and plumerias bursting from the Spanish balconies. Madoka leads Miguel into the church, pushing open its great doors.

Kneeling at the altar rail, before the altarpiece and the Monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament within, is Homura. She immediately rises and turns to them. She's overjoyed at seeing Madoka but frightened of Miguel. Slowly, she walks down the nave toward them, the sun pouring in from the outside, making her look otherworldly with her black gown and lace veil. Miguel swallows nervously and turns to Madoka, who squeezes his hand in assurance.

Homura kisses Madoka and then circles Miguel, in wonder. He is equally in wonder of her, though he can't see her face well. She touches his face and looks into his eyes and sees what Hiro loves so much about him. She takes Madoka's hand and they stand like saints or angels guarding the entrance of the church.

Miguel drops to one knee and bows his head, his hand on his heart. Madoka and Homura look at each other. Madoka gestures that she'll speak. She says, "Miguel Ángel Rivera."

Miguel looks up, and says, "esa voz." That voice.

"What were you doing before you found yourself in the courtyard where I was?" Madoka asks.

Miguel blinks several times in surprise at the English.

"I was..." He struggles. "Forgive me, I was dreaming that I was with you. It had to be you, it was your voice! And your touch... No, forgive me!" He puts up a hand in plea of forgiveness. "I was with a woman. I was..."

Homura looks shockingly to Madoka. Madoka nods. "Aishiteru," Madoka assures her, squeezing her hand. I love you. Homura nods. "Watashimo." Me too.

"We are going to show you the one you love," Homura tells Miguel. "He's here."

Miguel's lip trembles as his mouth falls open. He puts a hand over his mouth, his eyes widen in shock and tenderness, hope and fear. They fill with tears. "Hiro?"

Both women nod.

Miguel nods, wiping his tears. "Thank you." He looks up to the sky, then past the women to the Monstrance on the altar, and crosses himself, "gracias, Dios y María."

Madoka and Homura lead him back to the hacienda, and they make sure to step into the room Hiro's sleeping in before Miguel does. Homura whispers to Madoka that the same happened as in Japan only in reverse, that it was she and Hiro together.

There lays their friend, basking in the ray of sunlight shining through the window, deep in peaceful sleep. Miguel comes in and catches his breath in affection at the sight before him. Madoka and Homura stand on either side of the bed posts at the foot of the bed, while Miguel goes over and looks down at Hiro.

"Welcome to my land, in my dream," Miguel whispers and leans down, pressing a very gentle kiss on Hiro's forehead. "I miss you."

Hiro opens his eyes and he's in his bed in his apartment in Meguro, and Homura is by his side, blinking her own eyes awake. Hiro blinks tears away. Homura turns her face in shame, and slips off his bed - she's dressed in her nightgown and her hair is sleek, with no signs of there having been any romantic activity between herself and Hiro. She slips out of his room. Hiro can hear her door shut softly.

to be continued...

Chapter Text

28 Jun. 2023 / 1950

"2012 marked a beginning of a New World that had been in the making since the end of the Middle Ages," Michelle insists. "It occurred around the Americas, the newest and most childlike part of the world. That year, around the winter solstice, the communist leader of the United States - the most volatile country in the whole world - was re-elected, which prompted the buildup of a four-year digital resistance that instigated the election of the fascist leader in 2016 which would plunge the country into a civil war. There was mass hysteria and brainwashing from 2012 on, and our whole world hasn't recovered, politically or economically. We're all torn between fascism and communism, two political systems which are both lethal and may bring the world to a violent end."

Edward, Mami and Hiro listen carefully.

"On the other hand," Michelle continues, aware of her audience, "it did awaken and prompt many people to a consciousness of the planet: of the similarity of people suffering, of lands, of poverty, of the beauty and dangers of technology. We're already eleven years past 2012, and the polarities only seem to become more extreme. As far as Maya, well, it's a little different. In our world, a few hundred years back, the British did colonize a people called similarly to 'Indus,' but there was no other race created. The people of India have never lost their identity nor their religion - and they do refer to illusion as 'Mâyâ' in their ancient language, which is called Sanskrit. However, they gained back their independence from Britain. The people who were colonized and formed a new race with their colonizers, were the tribes of the Americas: the Spanish in the 1500's colonized tribes such as the Aztec, the Inca, and coincidentally an ancient tribe called the Maya. And it was the Maya who'd created a calendar indicating that a shift would occur around the winter solstice of 2012. But most of the Mayan culture has disappeared or has been absorbed with that of the Spaniards. Today their country is called Mexico. It lies beneath the United States, and is also at an economic war with it - the two countries have been using their border to trade illegal toxic drugs made from a very unique leaf down in the jungles. The United States is very wealthy and powerful, while Mexico and the other countries south of it, the ones of the new races, are poor and underdeveloped, and people don't have the necessary means to protect and defend themselves against other powerful nations. In natural resources, they're one of the richest places on earth. In fact, the Spaniards were seeking the riches of India and instead found these lands."

Mami nods.

"May I ask you a question?" Michelle asks Edward. "As High Priestess to The Emperor, what spiritual role did alchemy play in your Führer's quest for world domination?"

Edward scoffs. "As The Emperor to The High Priestess, there was nothing spiritual about it, sorry to say. It was pure impulse for power, but I can't blame the guy. Führer Bradley had been a homunculus, created by a shadowy creature we called merely 'Homunculus' or 'Father.' This creature was in search of infinite knowledge and wanted to devour God. There had been a series of boys being trained to become Amestris' ideal leader; they'd all been injected by Homunculus with the liquid form of the Philosopher's Stone and good ol' Bradley was the only one to survive, dwindling all the trapped souls in the Stone down to one - though he might as well not have possessed any soul at all. Anyway, Bradley was just the pawn of Homunculus, and there's your spirituality. As I said, this shadowy creature had been created for the sole purpose of obtaining infinite knowledge; therefore he plotted for the whole of Amestris to serve as a transmutation circle with all its citizens as sacrificial material, all around the solstices like you mentioned also play important roles in your world. He inhabited my own father - Van Hohenheim - for a time at the beginning of his existence. My father's blood had been used to help make him. Van Hohenheim had been a mere slave, caught up in the mad dreaming of kings - one king in particular, of Cselkcess. Homunculus and Van Hohenheim were each granted the Philosopher's Stone made of the sacrificed souls of Cselkcess, back before we learned the secrets of Ishbal and realized there was another way to make a Stone besides human sacrifice. While Homunculus yearned for more, as was his nature, Von Hohenheim tried to free the souls within him. He lived a tortured life. He met my mother in Amestris, where they had my brother Alphonse and me. Though I didn't know I had a cousin from his side in another dimension." He looks to Mami. "That one I didn't see coming. You've got your own story about a force that seeks control over the Universe."

"Homura as Faust," Mami whispers.

"Krishna," Hiro whispers at the same time.

"Adam," Michelle at the same time.

"Huh." Edward crosses his arms, with a surprised little smirk. "Seems you each have your own versions of Homunculus."

"I have to stay The Fool until the end," Hiro suddenly says, looking at the other three. "You each move, but I can't. Only I can occupy this spot, or we risk the portal closing."

"Why?" Edward demands.

"Because I think I know everything," Hiro says simply. He shrugs. "That's how I've always been."

Before Edward can protest, Mami moves into the space of The Lovers. Then, Michelle moves to The Chariot, and Edward moves to The High Priestess.

"As The Fool to The Lover, how did you discover your relation to the Elrics?" Hiro asks, attempting to mask his familiarity to Mami.

"As The Lover to The Fool, I visited a magician named Kimihiro Watanuki that would be happy with a genius playing The Fool," Mami says, trying not to grin. "This magician has been helping redirect a power my good friends and I had misused when we were adolescents. So I was able to see different possibilities in the various dimensions, and traced my lineage to Van Hohenheim. I was also looking for the Red String of Fate, and discovered a possible link in this dimension. The most vulnerable of my friends, named Bebe, had visited Kimihiro Watanuki's teacher, Yûko, when she was a very young girl; she had been warned by Yûko that she would become sick, but didn't listen. Because of Bebe, and other circumstances, we all became sick. We became obsessed with technology. Eventually, we recovered and began searching for true magic. Bebe remains ill, though. Then, in 2018 a young Japanese-American man came into our lives, whom we all love. He helped us in many ways, and in particular introduced us to Kimihiro Watanuki, whom he also knew." She turns to Edward. "You remind me of him, Edward, believe it or not." Mami smiles.

Edward frowns.

"I think there's something you haven't told me, dear cousin," he comments. "But in the position of The High Priestess - keeper of sacred magic - I can say you've used authentic power, something that's been brought back into secrecy here thanks to the Ishbalans. Though I wonder about your worlds." He turns to Michelle and asks, "As The High Priestess to The Chariot, what's the difference you mentioned between a Hebrew and an 'Israeli,' as you called it?"

Michelle takes a deep breath. "In the position of The Chariot to The High Priestess," she says carefully, going over the gematria in her mind, and what she can remember of the brief glances she's had of the cards, "I can only speak in terms of dualism. It's a question of every individual's blood, and whether or not that individual may represent the race in and of him or herself, or if he or she is only part of a collective. If it's the former, that person is a Hebrew, if it's the latter, he or she is an Israeli. The god we worship - we don't speak His name, unless we call Him 'Ha-Shem' which means 'The Name' - is said to have abandoned Israel the people and nation for its treachery and treason. That's what our Prophets have said. To put it another way, no people with any hint of Jewish blood in their genes has the right to claim an actual territory or claim to be part of a collective; that's worshipping politics over Ha-Shem, and is why Israel would be cursed. On the other hand, Israel has been prophesied to have been saved, and the Hebrew will interpret that as 'every man for himself.' After all, Ha-Shem judges the heart of the individual before the collective. To force millions of people into and out of lands to try and claim that Israel's salvation lies in politics is an abomination to the true Hebrew. They will have considered the Israelis to have broken every Commandment. The Hebrew, on the other hand, obeys the Law wherever he or she may be. But the Hebrew is also arrogant in that sense, wouldn't you say? After all, the religion is based on race. If we don't ally to form a nation, and play along with politics, we would not be identified by others and therefore not allow others to wish to become like us. There would be no more conversion and no more new genes added. As it is, our race suffers many physical illnesses because of centuries of inbreeding." She looks up to Edward. "That's one of many reasons the 'Führer' of our world, like the one in yours, also collected us from all places in the world, and offered up our lives as sacrifice, or conducted experiments on our bodies."

"What do you consider yourself?" Edward asks softly.

Michelle averts her eyes. "At this point, a Gentile."

"Sorry, what does that mean?"

"Neither Hebrew, nor Israeli, nor 'Jew' as most of the world knows us as," replies Michelle, sadly. "I can't speak for myself when it comes to identifying my own genetics, history, my upbringing, even my beliefs and my prayers. I believe only Ha-Shem knows me, and I'm content with that."

"Isn't that obeying the First - and most important - Commandment in your religion?" Mami asks gently.

Michelle looks up in surprise. She laughs sardonically. "I suppose. Are there Jews in your world?"

Mami sighs. "Yes. I can't continue without telling the truth." She looks to Hiro. "I have to tell them."

Hiro nods, understanding.

"I'm from Hiro and Michelle's world," she tells Edward. "Though my friends and I did create a world that almost became a new dimension, and a city called Mitakihara. But, I didn't want to overwhelm you. And to be honest, I still believe I am from Mitakihira, as a mahō shōjo. As you said, I can perform magic, but a playful state of consciousness called Mitakihara was invented by Bebe by a wish from Yūko, and our other friend Homura augmented the sensation with radioactive materials she obtained because of her being raised by the Japanese mafia. And I know Hiro very well." She turns to Hiro. "In fact, I directed him here without him realizing. I directed him unconsciously to a Buenos Aires I knew the Elrics would be in." She looks back to Edward. "The Red String of Fate has linked myself and Alphonse," she confesses, blushing.

Edward takes a minute to absorb all this. Then he shouts like a boy, "WHY DIDN'T YOU JUST TELL ME IN THE FIRST PLACE!?"

Mami raises an eyebrow. "I was afraid of your reaction. I heard you were a little hot-headed."

Edward's eye twitches in anger and frustration, and his knuckles are clenched. "And just who said that?"

"Your brother."

"AL!" Edward yells to the sky.

"Can we continue?" Mami insists in her scolding tone, hand on her hip. "There's a lot we have to cover."

"Fine," says Edward, calming down.

"Thank you." Mami smiles.

"Boy, I wish my wife were a little more like you," Edward says, grinning self-consciously and rubbing the back of his head. "I'd have gotten a wrench to the head if it'd have been her."

"I have the power to bind you in ropes in about a second, and then aim a rifle at you," Mami comments nonchalantly, "and do it with a cup of tea in one hand."

Edward looks at her skeptically, but Mami doesn't flinch. "Huh, well, poor Al, then. Or, maybe lucky Al. I never liked Mei for him, anyway. I hope he can handle you. Anyway, are we really related?"

Mami blushes. "Yes. We're cousins twice-removed."

"I guess that isn't so bad, talking about in-breeding," Edward remarks. "Thanks for telling the truth, though. What about you guys?" He looks to Hiro and Michelle.

"We also lied," confesses Hiro. "We're not married. But, other than that, we are who we say we are. I've known Mami since 2018, I'm the young man she mentioned. I'm also in the Japanese mafia. And Michelle is an esotericist who's working with myself, another man my age, and a very skilled Rabbi in Israel to help our respective vigilante groups stop the New World and Zionism - which is the gathering of the Israeli's. We also believe and have enough proof that there's a plan to move and displace people on purpose, so as to collect them and kill them, as a sacrifice for some very strange purposes only the elite occultists know. We were given a lead to head to Buenos Aires, but we weren't expecting to necessarily end up in another dimension - just to go back in time, and get clues."

"Any time you go back in time, you create another dimension," argues Edward.

Hiro blinks. "True, but this dimension hasn't been formed around my and Michelle's coming."

Edward shrugs. "Still creating another dimension."

Hiro curls his wrist in frustration, then remembers he's The Fool. "OK, fine."

"I get what you're saying, Hiro, but with all due respect acknowledge the difference you make in every action you perform, even in every thought you think," Edward says.

Immediately, both Mami and Michelle move spaces - Mami to Justice and Michelle to The Hermit.

"Girls are always quicker, eh?" Edward laughs. He moves into the space of The Magician, and claps Hiro's back again. "So you can have all your questions about this world answered."

"As Justice to The Magician, why are you in Buenos Aires?" Mami asks Edward.

"That requires me to explain my world," says Edward. "It's the reverse of what Michelle said, very curiously. The Spanish have colonized the people of this continent for the last three hundred years or so, from Argentina to Mexico, but they haven't mixed. The people still have their religions, their customs, their races are for the most part in tact. We were talking about it before, but I guess you want the others to know." He turns to Hiro and Michelle. "Spain can't control its colonies anymore and a brilliant and very young leader - twenty-one only - is gathering the nations to peacefully protest, and wouldn't ya know it? It's working. He's from here, he was a medical student from Buenos Aires, and now he's going back and forth to Cuba."

"What's his name?" asks Michelle, with wide eyes.

"Ernesto Guevara, but everyone calls him 'Che,'" Edward replies. He looks at the three stunned faces. "Is there an equivalent in your world?"

Mami and Michelle look to Hiro. "Um, well, yes, there was a peaceful protester but he was from British-occupied India. His name was Mahatma Gandhi."

"Gandhi?" Edward interrupts, scowling. "Here, he's a maniac terrorist trying to unite Southeast Asia with some crazy theories."

"That's what Guevara was in our world," counters Hiro. "I think. Then again, some would argue no."

"What happened to Guevara?" Edward asks.

"He was shot by American spies - called the CIA - in Bolivia," replies Hiro. "In 1967. What's happened to Gandhi?"

"Still alive," remarks Edward. "Though now I wonder what'll happen to him. Anyway, I'm a former State Alchemist for Amestris, but now the land has been brought back to small countries. Though I was supposed to be in the East - in a country called Xing - for a while, I was summoned here to investigate Guevara's background and make sure he stays safe."

Hiro exhales. "Wow. All right." He turns to Michelle. He needs her to say what he and Mami already know, but to Edward. It must come from her. "As The Fool to The Hermit, have you come across any classified information about Nazi's in Buenos Aires?" He turns to Edward. "A Nazi is anyone who belonged to the fascist party of the Führer, from our world."

"Yes," remarks Michelle. "As The Hermit, I can say that the Nazi's hid well in Buenos Aires, and were protected by the Peronistas, and they were funded to continue conducting experiments, in eugenics in particular."

"What kind of experiments?" Edward asks Michelle, very curiously and even apprehensively. "I ask as The Magician to The Hermit."

Michelle narrows her eyes at him. "As The Hermit to The Magician, I can say the kind where the body is treated as mere fodder - experiments with altering genes, testing twins, monitoring reproduction and fertility; transplanting; testing time-travel; testing vaccines, purposefully instigating malaria, typhus, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, yellow fever, and infectious hepatitis so as to find the cure, and letting those who didn't recover die; all forms of abortion; the cruelest psychological testing, torture, rape, all forms of drug-testing; human cloning; and of course murdering people so as to dissect them. The most famous of these experimenters was a doctor named Josef Mengele, who in 1950 was residing in Buenos Aires." She swallows. "Hidden."

"Like Tucker with his chimeras," Edward whispers, staring in horror and compassion at Michelle, mind racing. "What happened to those who survived?"

"You can imagine the kinds of lives they led," says Michelle somberly. "Though by now they've all passed, this having happened several generations ago, and frankly we're all beginning to forget the atrocities of what's been called 'the Holocaust.'"

to be continued...

Characters belonging to Hiromu Arakawa, from Fullmetal Alchemist (2001-2010): Homunculus/Father (mentioned), Van Hohenheim (mentioned), Winry Rockbell (mentioned), Mei Chang (mentioned), Shô Tucker (mentioned).

Character belonging to Gen Urobuchi, from Mahô Shôjo Madoka Magika / Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011-13): Bebe/Charlotte (mentioned).

Chapter Text

14 Mar. 2019

"What's wrong?" Hiro twirls one of Mami’s blonde curls.

Mami sighs, smiling, and shakes her head.

"These are your favorite," Hiro remarks, indicating the creme puffs before them. It's the afternoon of White Day, and they're on a date at a café on Takeshita Street.

Hiro picks one up and puts it up to Mami's lips, with affection. Mami shakes her head. Hiro rolls his eyes, sighing but chuckling, and puts it into his own mouth. "I can't have all of them!" he exclaims through chewing.

"Take them home to Homura-chan," says Mami, stirring her tea.

Hiro scowls and swallows. "I'm still mad at her for forcing me to go searching for Tsuki, when it was her fault he got out in the first place. I spent three hours in the rain searching all over Meguro, and the little shit was hiding in the bush in front of the house the whole time. And Akemi-san says she insisted I search there first, but I don't remember her saying that." Hiro mumbles the last part.

"Really?" Mami raises an eyebrow.

Hiro bristles and huffs. "Maybe she did, but Mochi used to travel all around San Francisco and LA, so I assumed Tsuki would also wander. Imagine three hours in the dark, in the rain, looking for a black kitten."

"At least you found him!"

"...Actually, Homura-chan found him."

Mami giggles and finally takes a dessert. Hiro pulls her close and kisses her cheek. She kisses back.

"Why do you seem sad?" Hiro whispers. "Is it Bebe-chan?"

Mami sighs. "No, she was fine the last time we saw her. Remember? It's just... I'm having a hard time in classes. I - I've - this semester just seems harder than the last ones as far as relating to my peers." She leans closer to Hiro. "I'm happy I have you and the girls, though."

Hiro pauses, while Mami lays her head on his shoulder. He takes her hand.

"If you want to leave university, no one would judge you," Hiro assures.

"That's not true. I live alone, Hiro-kun. I need an education to make enough money to support myself in Tokyo." Mami frowns and turns her face away from the crowded café and deeper against Hiro's shoulder. "My parents' inheritance won't last forever."

Hiro swallows and feels his heart swell. "Homura has Madoka, Sayaka and Kyôko have each other." He takes Mami's chin in his hand and looks at her in the eyes. "I love you, as much as I love them. I'll be with you and only you."

Mami shakes her head vigorously. "You have Miguel."

"I'll never see him again, Mami-chan," Hiro says with a tight throat, gaze askance, "we both know that."

"It doesn't matter. I love you too, but your heart already belongs to someone who's still alive. It'd be cruel for both of us to try and change that. Besides, you've already expressed that you aren't meant to raise children because of the trauma of your own childhood and adolescence. I..." Mami shifts. "I would want children."

"I..." Hiro falters. "That's true, I can't be a father to anyone. I'm too- I'm in the yakuza. But, Mami, follow your heart. If you'd like to find someone, don't let anything stop you - including me. Always tell me what you need and what makes you comfortable. If you need to be distant from me, I understand."

"Ah, but I'm not done schooling you in the art of love quite yet," murmurs Mami, fluttering her lashes. The two share an intimate kiss until Mami pulls away, blushing.

Later on in the night, Hiro thanks Mami for her schooling. "I've never had such brilliant teachers," he murmurs against the skin of her torso; "and you," he looks up to her darkened eyes, "you hold the most power. Your body is as graceful and generous as your heart." He reaches up and kisses her lips. "You're the most skilled lover, and the others know it. Nobody else could tie me up, and switch effortlessly from dominant to submissive; and you love men."

"My body has always been different than the girls around me," Mami confesses, running hands through Hiro's hair. "You make it feel beautiful."

"How could you ever think it's not?" Hiro breathes in shock. He kisses a trail from her ear, down her neck and to her angular shoulders. She's Germanic: long-torsoed, with high cheekbones and light eyes, with strong and long limbs, and with full breasts that lie high on her chest. She's not like the other girls, who are small, slight, with glossy black hair and tiny frames, with small swells as breasts, and tiny faces. Mami's hinted before that she's self-conscious of her race, living in Japan, dealing with prejudice and envy or with over-admiration.

Hiro skillfully wraps one of Mami's wrists to one of his bed-posts, tight enough that she's locked but loose enough not to hurt; and then the other, quickly but gently, making sure Mami's head is pillowed.

"Good," Mami congratulates. "You're getting better."

Hiro grins and runs his hands along her arms down to her chest, feeling the muscles stretched out. He kisses the center of her chest. Then he kisses down to her breasts and presses his elbows against the inside of her thighs so they they open to him - again, with enough pressure that she's locked but not painfully. He wraps a silk rope around one thigh, brings it around Mami's waist and around to her other thigh. Then he criss-crosses the ends and binds each of Mami's ankles with an end to its respective thigh, so that her legs are completely locked in a frog position, thighs open.

"Yes!" Mami giggles. Hiro reaches up and kisses her, whispering if she's OK. Mami merely kisses him in reply, and Hiro takes the signal to proceed. He savors every inch of her he can reach - even places he thought he couldn't. Her body is a marvel, her moans like a song.

And he could. He could do it. They could. He can see himself with Mami, waking next to her in the middle of the night while their baby cries.

"Mami-chan," Hiro moans against her shoulder, once he's released one of her hands and she's shifted onto her front. He kisses her skin, down her ivory back. He runs his hands along her hips, which raise. He maneuvers himself onto his back, and slides underneath her so that she can lower her sex onto his mouth at her pace, his arms holding her bound legs. Mami climaxes languidly, her muscles contracting with impressive control. It sends a shiver down Hiro's spine and he moans along with his lover. Mami shifts so as to lift herself off Hiro, but her lover grasps her hips and pulls her sex down onto his mouth again.

"Hiro?" Mami twists to see behind her and sees Hiro's body, member erect. She tries again to lift herself from him.

"Marry me, Tomoe-san, please," Hiro pleads from between her legs.

Mami frowns. In one quick motion she uses her free hand to unbind her ankle from her thigh. She flips over and away from Hiro. Then in two motions, she frees her other hand from the bedpost. Hiro looks up at her, desperate.

"No," Mami says with a slight tremble. "I'll give you what you need. Sit up and kneel."

Quicker than Hiro could have ever expected, Mami has his arms tied behind him, and his feet bound. She rises from his bed, and goes to his secret closet of ammunition he uses for hits. She takes out handcuffs, a ball and chain, and a panel gag.

"Here you are." Mami cuffs his wrists, connects them to the ropes that tie his feet, and to the ball-and-chain. Then, before he can utter a word she gags him.

"For White Day," Mami remarks, "since you've entertained thoughts that you're a girl. You're not. Be bound and find freedom, Hamada-san. Don't ever ask me to marry you again."

She pulls slightly on the golden crucifix that hangs from his chest and looks away from his wide, terrified, tear-filled eyes. She puts on her nightgown and exits the room.

Madoka is at the kitchen table, having some of the chocolate Homura made for her, and looking over her classwork. "Mami-chan!" she exclaims as Mami comes in. "I had a feeling you were here with Hiro-kun. Mami-" Madoka frowns at seeing Mami's face. "Are you OK?"

Mami sighs and puts her hands over her eyes to stop the tears.

"Mami-chan?" Madoka goes over and tries pulling Mami's hands away, and tries embracing her.

Mami shakes away her sadness and confusion. She smiles gratefully at Madoka. "I'm fine."

"What about Hiro-kun?"

Mami looks down. "He's learning," she says in a low voice.

Madoka's no idiot, despite what people think at first blush. "The hard way?" she asks.

"The only way," Mami replies. She looks up into Madoka's worried face. "After all this time, Madoka-chan, haven't you realized what makes Hiro happiest in his soul?"

Madoka exhales slowly, nods and invites Mami to sit and share some chocolate. They try their best to shut out the muffled shouts, sobs and moans coming from Hiro's bedroom. Homura wanders into the kitchen some time later. She asks no questions at all. She does, however, suggest they open a bottle of tequila.

to be continued...

Chapter Text

"We had a shared dream a few months ago," says Homura. She's taken out Hiro's tobacco and paper and with them has hand-rolled a cigarette, which she, Madoka, Mami, Sayaka and Kyôko are sharing. She takes a drag of it. Upon exhaling, she looks to Madoka and says, "the four of us."

Madoka inhales some smoke, then tells the others, "she means us, Hiro and Miguel Ángel Rivera."

"Through Watanuki-san," Homura says before anyone can ask how.

Between the five of them, they've already gone through a bottle and a half of tequila. There's no more noise coming from Hiro's room.

Sayaka takes a deep drag of the cigarette, petting Tsuki, who’s asleep on her lap. "So, you met the famous Miguel?"

Homura looks to Madoka, who blushes. "Heh, we met him, and I met him particularly," hiccup, "well."

"Oh," says Sayaka, nodding, trying to decipher what that means. Madoka nods, smiling a little mischievously. "Oh! Wow." Sayaka takes another drag. "And just how was that?"

"I don't really remember," Madoka confesses, "but I know it was very nice. Homura said I looked and sounded happy."

"You watched, perv?" Kyôko asks Homura, dragging on the cigarette Sayaka's passed her.

"It didn't look like Mado-chan," argues Homura. "The woman looked like Hiro. It's one of those surreal things."

"Oh, we're not used to that at all," says Mami very seriously, and Madoka, Sayaka and Kyôko double over with laughter. Tsuki wakes and nudges for Sayaka to keep petting him.

Homura can't help smiling, and she asks, "just how bound is he, Mami?"

"Enough that it may be time to unbind him soon," replies Mami, exhaling smoke, expression softening. "Can I leave it to the four of you?"

"You don't want to see Hiro-kun?" Madoka asks and hiccups again.

Mami shakes her head. Sayaka and Kyôko were already told what was going on, when they came over.

"Hey, Mami," Kyôko says, "you sure? You, me and Homu are orphans like Hiro." She bows her head in solidarity at Sayaka and Madoka. "There's some things only orphans understand, ya know?" She turns again to Mami and Homura.

Homura looks to Mami, who sighs and gives in.

"No, Mami, if you're still upset then you shouldn't," insists Homura. "But, we just need to know what this is supposed to teach him."

"Hard knocks?" Kyôko offers, taking one last sip of liquor.

Mami nods. "Something like that. I'll go in."

"Stay here," Homura insists to Madoka and Sayaka. "And eat, or you may feel too tipsy."

"Thanks, Okâ-san," Sayaka says, sneering and finishing the cigarette. Kyôko throws them a box of cookies.

Homura enters first, and she softens in woe at the sight she sees. Hiro's asleep on his side, the awful gag still around his mouth, and bound up to a ball and chain. His face is contorted into pain and sadness.

Mami enters and releases a sob. Kyôko comes in last, and strides forward to Hiro.

"Hey, anata," she whispers. In truth Kyôko is tender though she acts brazen. She strokes Hiro's bangs, and unclasps the gag. Hiro awakens to her. "Hey, Hiro-kun," she coos. "We're gonna get ya outta this, all right? You have the right to be mad at Mami, but she did have the right to put you in your place. Don't fuck with her head again - she's got the softest heart of any of us. Got it?" She undoes the handcuffs and begins to untie the silk ropes around his wrists; they're blue and purple with bruises.

"I'm sorry, Kyôko-chan," Hiro breathes.

Kyôko sweetly kisses the corner of his mouth. "Did you pray?" she says so low the others can't hear.

Hiro nods and smiles at his only Catholic girlfriend.

"I'll go to Mass with ya tomorrow." Kyôko motions for Homura, and between the both of them they undo Mami's handiwork of rope-binding and ball-and-chain around Hiro's ankles. Hiro keens in pain. He twists and turns and wriggles the blood back into his limbs as best he can.

Homura looks to Mami and gestures that she come over. She does and looks at the weakened man before her, who was trying to bring her pleasure in a selfish, infantile, reckless way, the way narcissists do.

"Thank you," Hiro tells her, looking up with mournful eyes. But there's a purity in his look that's unexpected.

Mami understands, and immediately forgives him.

"I love you, Mami-chan," Hiro breathes, sitting up, trying not to wince, "and I'm sorry."

Mami nods and takes his face in her hands. "The phase change between our hope and despair is greater than you can imagine," she tells him. "We're not Miguel. We're women. Take care with our deep and wounded hearts. You have an effect on others, one you can't control. Learn how profound our pain is, and how precious our hopes are. You're not the only one who's seen death and suffered mental illness, and been abandoned by parents and gods." She looks to Homura and Kyôko, then back at Hiro. She strokes his cheeks. "We try and understand your pain as best we can; we know you're strong. But be gentle."

"You're meant for Miguel," Homura adds. "Don't try and hide from it, and certainly not behind Mami or any of us."

Hiro nods, tears falling again. His eyes are puffy from weeping, and his wrists and ankles are swollen with bruises. He looks worn.

Mami kisses him goodbye, to which he responds with implacable sweetness. Kyôko also kisses his lips, and then his wrists, and winks. They leave, closing the door behind them, but Homura stays.

Homura lays beside Hiro and pulls up the covers. "I met Miguel," she confesses. "In the dream we shared. You know it." She strokes Hiro's tear-stained face. "We've become so hardened by the mafia, haven't we? We see and hear of people dying - some we know fairly well, others strangers - as if it's nothing. You've killed. I've killed. We operate with evil and immorality, believing the ends justify the means. I believe I've been punished, and continue to deserve punishment. I played God. Can you understand me, Hamada Hiro?"

"Yes," Hiro replies. He offers Homura a loving, languid kiss. "I taste agave," he remarks.

Homura nods. "I'll get you some tequila, and something to eat."

"Homura." Hiro brings her close. "It was you in that sunlit room, wasn't it? It was Miguel, but really you. That's the truth, isn't it?"

Homura swallows. She closes her eyes. She nods.

"Are we destined for eternal punishment?" Hiro asks, then, despondently. "Are we destined to keep harming, to keep wanting, to keep taking karma and justice into our hands? Who are we fighting, and why?" He goes to grasp Homura's shoulders, but realizes his wrists are too weak. "Is there a way out? Is it through the both of us, man and woman, united?"

Homura sighs, she herself now dizzy from the alcohol. "There are moments with Mado-chan in which I experience a glimpse of divinity," she confesses. "Sometimes in her smile, her touch, a look between us, a response, or when our bodies give in to the erotic and we share pleasure with each others' bodies." She looks expectantly at Hiro.

Hiro shakes his head. "Sodomy isn't divine," he insists, voice hoarse. "I understand love, and I love Miguel. But, not through a violating act against nature. Though there were times after, or during, when I did experience the divine. I felt him running through my veins. I felt his sin and redemption, his hope and breath and agony and he was so close. That tension, that spark between two hearts that indicates there's something more than the prison of my ego."

Homura nods. She adds, "that tender ache, when someone knows your heart and you don't need to say you love them. Hiro." She gently handles Hiro's wrists, and, like Kyôko, kisses them. "You and I made love like soulmates in that void."

"As did our soulmates, to each other," confirms Hiro. He nods. "Strange, wonderful adventures await us, Homura-chan. But, for now, we hand our brains over to the vigilantes, and let them work out their nuclear physics. Do you trust in that?"

"My step-father who molested me was a yakuza member, and I was praised by the Yamaguchi for murdering him," Homura says simply. "I trust in it."

She leans down and kisses her way down Hiro's lean and exhausted body. By the time she reaches his hips, she grasps his firm member, looking into his loving eyes, letting his hand stroke her cheek. She sucks him off, with more passion and relish than any time before. In the meantime she removes her underwear. She rubs her sex while she relishes in bestowing all her mouth's wonders on Hiro.

Hiro moans with abandon. "You're doing it like Miguel!" he calls. "Migue... Ah... my soul!..."

"Yes," Homura murmurs, looking up at him with fire. Her fingers open herself up.

"I'm gonna ejaculate!" Hiro warns, with alarm in his eyes.

Homura, however, merely, shifts upwards and positions her sex above his, still stroking his member. "It won't fall on infertile ground," she swears. "Trust me."

And she uses the tip of his penis to stroke her swollen clitoris and along her dripping opening. "Come, Hiro, anata, I won't let you pierce me, trust me."

Hiro's member jolts and he ejaculates just as Homura places the tip of it within her, just barely inside her vaginal walls. Homura orgasms too, looking into Hiro's eyes of wonder. Seed does spill out of her, but it also becomes absorbed by her.

"Me muero," she breathes against Hiro's lips as he holds her face in his hands. "You'll find him. In time." She kisses his forehead and then gets up, puts on her underwear and runs out to Madoka and Tsuki.

Madoka and Homura come back in and attend to Hiro all night, giving him tea and some food, and then leading him into an epsom-salt bath for the bruises and soreness, and massaging him till he falls asleep with their black kitten curled next to him, absorbing the negative energy.

His seed from before remains in Homura.

Once Hiro is fast asleep, Homura sings to her Madoka, "I'm the pumpkin, full of seeds."

"And I'm the melon, don't you see?" sings back Madoka. They’re pressed together, so that their wombs are lined against each other’s, legs entangled. "When you slice the melon," she says sadly, bringing Homura's hand to her heart, "it will bring you sweet dreams."

to be continued...

Chapter Text

28 Jun. 2023 (28 Jun. 1950)

"As The Hermit to Justice," says Michelle to Mami, "are you Japanese? What does it mean to be Japanese? I also wonder what Japan is like in this world." She looks to Edward.

Mami looks to Hiro, who shrugs his shoulders in a gesture of trust.

"As Justice, I'm Japanese by culture, not race," replies Mami. "Our culture is very old, and known throughout history for being particularly war-like. We don't claim any religion, but Buddhism developed as part of people's lifestyle. Zen and Shinto, in particular, in which spirits inhabit individual entities, including and especially nature. Overall, politeness is valued, and honor is the equivalent of the West's concept of virtue - ethics are based in honor. The island has always suffered from natural disasters, and has a peculiar relationship with death. But its location allows it to trade with all the other Asian countries. Japan and China despise each other, in general, and have always been looking to control Korea. However, most of the politics, law, philosophy, art and even the writing system and language of Japan were influenced by China, throughout the last thousand years or so. China is now communist and has bought up many countries' debt, while Japan remains democratic (with an Emperor as a figure, and an elected parliament) and capitalist - though it has the greatest public debt of any nation. It, along with China, has one of the largest economies in the world. During the Second World War, Japan allied with Germany and Italy for practical purposes - it had plans to dominate the Pacific and become independent of any Western power, forming the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. But China had allied with the United States, for aid in getting Japan out of its territories. Once Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in the States, China along with the US and Britain declared war on Japan. But Japanese forces killed about two and a half-million Chinese from 1941 to 45. Then the US attacked Hiroshima and Nagasaki using the hydrogen bomb, and it all stopped. We haven't wanted to stop studying it, and building up nuclear weapons. Hiro-kun knows a lot about that."

Edward frowns. He moves to the Wheel of Fortune.

"China sounds an awful lot like Xing," he confesses. "Would I be on target if I suggested China has ancient medicinal practices based in flows within the body? We call it alkahestry."

"You'd be on target," confirms Mami. "In China, it's called Zhôngyî."

Edward nods, then follows up, to Mami: "Is Japan caught between fascism and communism?"

Mami shakes her head. "It would have been considered fascist during the War, for its ultranationalism in political and economic relations, and the belief that it was the superior country in the Far East and a colonizer: that sentiment had been building since the Meiji Restoration of the mid 1800's. But now it's no longer a colonizer, and follows a system of collective capitalism, the only country that has truly employed it. It's a strange balance, in which the 'commune' exists in private corporations. In that sense, we're caught between communism and fascism in economic matters. Money rules, but The Wheel of Fortune determines the distribution; it's why the mafia is such an accepted part of the culture. All corporations could be called mafia's, or even the equivalent of the guilds of the European Middle Ages."

Edward moves to Death, Mami to Force and Michelle to The Hanged Man.

Edward asks Michelle, "As Death to The Hanged Man, is Israel also caught?"

Michelle shakes her head. "Not at all. It began as socialist, but is now completely capitalist. Its economy is highly developed. Trade is mainly in diamonds and technology. I would even call it fascist with that maniac Netanyahu running it, with his racism, nationalism, and the colonizing power over the Palestinians; it's the bully of the Middle East. The tables turned completely since the end of the War, in which the idea was to give the victims of the Western war, the Jews, a 'homeland.' But this is a farce many fell for, and the table turned from peace to war, with Israel possessing one of the most powerful and ruthless armies. It will stay that way, unless there are enough pacifists to protest. But, the Israeli loves his money. Heh, it’s what Jews were always accused of throughout history and you’d think we’d learn."

She asks Edward, "from The Hanged Man to Death, what are some of the peaceful ideas of this world's Ernesto 'Che' Guevara?"

Edward replies, "it's mainly based on using Spain's religion, Christianity, against itself: peace through asceticism and purposeful poverty, through 'turning the other cheek,' through forgiving all the wrongdoings on Spain's part and thinking the best of its citizens: beseeching the colonizer to show humanity, by demonstrating the best of humanity I suppose. It's a stubborn kind of non-violent, almost suicidal way of resistance. Death of the ego, may be the best way to put it. After all, it's the basis of the Incan and Mayan religions: peace through self-sacrifice. The Inca, Aztec and Maya humbly offer themselves to die, so that their society can rid itself of the cycle of despair: it's considered the ultimate form of connecting with the divine."

Michelle grins and moves to Temperance. "As Temperance to Force," she says to Mami, "what were some of Mahatma Gandhi's peaceful ideas, in our world?"

Mami nods respectfully and merely replies, "practically the same ones Edward just described, Temperance."

"Unbelievable," Edward breathes, shaking his head at the irony.

"As The Fool to The Hanged Man," Hiro calls to Edward, taking in all that's being presented, "what are some of Mahatma Gandhi's radical ideas in this world?"

"As repulsed as I am at him, I can't help but admire his guts," Edward remarks, stretching his arms. "But they're basically along the lines of 'kill or be killed.' Dog eats dog, and if we just acknowledge that fact we can rid ourselves of any guilt associated with violence and brutality. All is justified in war, so why not go all out? The enemy will always want to trick you; trick them before they trick you. Think the worst. And through it all, you find some kind of peace and reason for living. And you know what's interesting? We consider it a product of the buried Indus philosophy, that he thinks this way. If anything, Gandhi insists he researched the lost philosophies - he's acquired knowledge of the Indus' terms, in which Mokṣa, or the goal, is to rid yourself of any dualism and realize that all is 'one' and that the individual is divine and immortal. To break from Saṃsâra, or the endless cycle of suffering. To dissolve Avidyâ or ignorance, and to actualize Mâyâ or magic. He's reminding people of the lost civilizations, that were once great and brilliant."

"In our world, the two are completely reversed, and yet I would say that Guevara was quite Eastern - even Zen - in his thinking;" Mami comments, pensive; "Zen Buddhism was used to inspire the Force needed for the Japanese to murder so coldly and ruthlessly the Chinese. And Mahatma Gandhi was inspired not only by Eastern religion and philosophy but by Western Christianity and Tolstoy, introduced to him by the British colonizers during his time in Africa."

Edward moves again, to The Devil. "As The Devil, I have something to say to Temperance." He turns to Michelle. "I don't completely trust my Guevara. Would you play My Advocate, and try and see why?"

Michelle looks to Hiro, then to Mami. "I suppose I can answer because I was raised to perceive a kind of bold suicidal tendency in turning the other cheek, Devil. But, that's because I was presented with a biased and negative view of Christianity. Does your Guevara claim to be Christian?"

Edward shakes his head. "No. He claims he's above religion, but is for a pluralistic society. And something in me just doesn't believe him. Something in me wishes he would get angry, either at God or those who believe in Him. I'm certainly angry at God; it's how I know I'm alive."

Michelle moves to The Tower and Mami to The Star. Edward moves to The Sun. Hiro stubbornly stays The Fool.

"As The Fool to The Tower," says Hiro to Michelle, "what would you say the Eiffel Tower represents, being from France, in relation to Judaism and the history of the West?"

Michelle's lips twitch. "Masonry, the reminder of the French Enlightenment and the end of Christian domination of Europe, progress in science and philosophy as moving away from faith and toward reason, and an homage by the designers to the Egyptian pyramids - to mark Paris as the new Alexandria, dwarfing the medieval steeples of the Cathedral of Notre Dame."

"There's an Eiffel Tower in Tokyo," remarks Hiro, smirking, "and all it means is that we want to be just like the West, copy, copy, copy. And to admire the machinery of the Industrial Revolution and technology. My own inventions, my own designs of Artificial Intelligence, which can and will replace human conscience. Vive la liberté." He turns to Edward. "As The Fool, am I right to think Dr. Guevara has his own laboratory? Here in Buenos Aires?"

"As The Sun, I say you're a Fool to even have to question it."

Something formulating in Hiro's mind becomes clearer, more elaborate.

"And you've got a friend whose alchemic power works on the basis of fire, you said?"

Edward wrinkles his nose. "Yeah. General Roy Mustang."

"Is he here?"

"Yeah, you got lucky. Why?"

"There's no such thing as luck or coincidence, only fate," Hiro says, remembering his friend, Watanuki-san and hoping Yûko returns soon. "I'm going to step out of this circle by the time we're done, because I'm meant to do something here." Edward balks and goes to argue. "No, you'll see," continues Hiro, "and I'm meant to go back by a means other than water. But it's contingent on the day; it must be done today before midnight. In the meantime, let's continue. There's another individual I'm wondering about - he'd be a young and very brilliant Jesuit priest around this time, here in Buenos Aires."

Hiro looks to the space of the Hierophant, but holds back from stepping there.

"The Hierophant is also called the Pope," he reminds the others.

to be continued...

n a m a s t e   g a n d h i

e n   p a z   d e s c a n s e   g u e v a r a

Chapter Text

12 Dec. 2014

"We have to get up tomorrow morning, and everyone else has already gone home," she insists.

"Ay, ay, ay, Juanita!" Miguel scowls. "It's the Evening of Our Lady! Lucero just sang to her; you want me to sing 'Sabes Una Cosa'? I can sing it under the stars!" He takes her hand and kisses it, then sings to her in his vibrato: "Doy gracias al Cielo por haberte conocido, por haberte conocido doy gracias al Cielo! Y le cuento a las estrellas lo bonito que sentí;" he twirls her, ignoring her frown; "lo bonito que sentí cuando te conocí! Sabeeeees, sabes una cosa - que yo te quierooo, que sin ti me mueroooo, si estoy lejos!"

He takes her in his arms, and she smiles.

"Hey, vamos, morra." Miguel's smile lightens his whole face. "I got you a gift, but I want to give it to you by the image of La Guadalupana, let's go in to the church, c'mon!"

Juana follows Miguel to St. Ignatius' reluctantly, heart breaking at what she knows she has to do.

"Ah, look at her, Juanis." Miguel sighs. He pulls his girlfriend close and kisses her temple, as he admires the way in which the chapel to Our Lady of Guadalupe has been embellished and adorned with flowers and Christmas lights and a multitude of candles. And all between the candles are little pieces of paper with petitions and thanks.

"Can you imagine Juan Diego?" Miguel asks, eyes ablaze. He walks toward the image. "Just a peasant, an Aztec, seeing the very Boast of Humankind? The Virgin herself, in splendor, with a face that was neither Aztec or Spanish, but both." He raises his arms to her. "And on his tilma, filled with the roses she bestowed, do you think it truly captured what he saw? Her splendor?" He looks back to Juana, excitedly. "She's blocking the sun! And yet, look;" he points to the rays emanating from the Virgin; "it's as though we see the sun's rays because of her. And are they emanating from behind her, Juana, or are they being absorbed by her? And here, here, oh, here, in her precious womb symbolized by this sash." Miguel cradles his hands as though he were holding something precious. "The sash was an Aztec sign of fertility. She's the only pregnant Madonna. Her standing on the moon is both pagan and Christian - the Immaculate Conception, which hadn't technically become dogma yet, and the symbol of the woman's monthly cycle according to the moon. She is blessed among all women. Oh, I love her." He sighs. "And her mantle."

Miguel turns with tenderness to Juana, who looks frightened. "Ey, chava, I love you," Miguel assures. From his mochila, he takes out a package wrapped in tissue paper and bound with ribbon. "This is for you. Open it."

Juana gently opens the package to reveal a deep blue silk shawl, with a pattern of golden stars and a border of golden filigree. She winces in profound guilt.

"Do you like it, linda?" Miguel comes up to her and takes the shawl, unraveling it. "It's like the veil La Morenita wears, with all the constellations of the sky around her head. I wish for the sky of stars, of angels, and all God's and the Virgin's blessings, to be upon you." He places it on her head, and ties it.

"What's wrong?" Miguel asks, cradling her chin.

"Migue, you know that stupid song on the radio, 'What Makes You Beautiful,' where the lyrics say that what makes the girl so beautiful is that she doesn't know it? That's you." Juana closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. Mournfully, she unties the shawl and lets it drop into her hands. "I can never be Guadalupe."

Miguel frowns. After a moment's silence, he says, nervously, "I- I'm not asking you to be."

Juana looks into his large eyes with sincerity, and Miguel realizes that something has been lost. Something in Juana is hidden, or has disappeared, or perhaps... Perhaps it was never there, he just imagined it.

"Juana?" Miguel's voice breaks.

"Listen closely as I say it again," pleads Juana, one or two tears falling: "I can't be Guadalupe. I could never live up to what you need." She gestures to the Virgin. "You see and feel things in ways that very few people do. You aren't afraid. I admire you, please, believe me." Juana sighs heavily, and shakes her head. "But I can't pretend anymore. I don't think you know me."

"What are you talking about?" Miguel's voice goes up an octave in shock.

"I am no goddess, I'm no genius, I'm no artist, I'm no rebel." Juana smiles, her heart aching. "I'm just Juana Alejandra Ortega. And I think you need more; but to be most sincere, I know that I need less. I'm tired. That's a sign I'm not meant for you. I'm not Hiro."

Miguel clenches his jaw and exhales in fury.

"I know you don't like when I say that," Juana insists, lifting her hands in plea. "Please don't think I'm accusing you of treating me as though I were Hiro. But acknowledge that I'm pointing out that you treat me as if I can keep up with you, as though my interests are yours, as though my thoughts and dreams and emotions could be as intense and heart-wrenching as yours. You breathe art and passion and intelligence, in and out, all the time. You want to know everything, let everything go through you. For you, it's as though the world were a fruit you want to sink your teeth into and savor. I could never do the things you do. Don't you know?"

Miguel merely stares, not sure of anything. What Juana's saying he knows in some deep, receded part of himself but he hates hearing it. At the same time, it presents a freedom. The problem is he's scared of such freedom.

"Have I hurt you?" Miguel asks, voice trembling.

Juana winces. "Not really. But I'm so overwhelmed. I'm tired, Migue. And I don't want to grow to resent you. You're too special, you shine so brilliantly. I limit you, and I feel dwarfed by you even though I don't believe you mean to. You've been so kind and good."

She steps forward. She kisses the silk shawl, then hands it back to Miguel.

"I don't deserve this, but thank you," she says. Tears rain down her cheeks, and she struggles to contain them. "Thank you for being so kind. I hope all your dreams come true - you deserve it, more than anyone else I know. And I do love you, Miguel Ángel. How could I not?" She smiles truthfully.

Juana looks to the chapel of Guadalupe, and then to the chapel on the other side of the nave, of the Sacred Heart. She squeezes Miguel's cold hands, lets them go and gestures to both chapels. "I leave you in good company. They may be your destiny. Your heart is on fire, and you've got the sun shining out from you. Let the world see it. Matthew, five, thirteen to sixteen: 'You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.' God bless you." She turns and runs out of the church before she changes her mind at the look of sadness and despair on her ex-boyfriend's face.

Miguel falls to the ground and buries his face in the shawl. After a while, he looks back up at the image of Guadalupe and begs, "what do I do?"

21 Dec. 2014

A week and a half later, Fr. Andrés knocks on Miguel's door - since Miguel is renting his room in the rectory (he never went back home, and sees his family on weekends and holidays). Miguel hasn't left the room all week, except to buy groceries for himself and the other priests. But, he hasn't worked - he's been the office manager of the parish, for over a year.

"Miguel Ángel," Andrés calls. "We need to talk. Please come to Confession if and when you can. I don't want to fire you. Natalia can't possibly fill in for you another day."

That night, the darkest night of the year, Miguel meanders into the Confessional with Andrés.

"She left me, Padre," Miguel says in Spanish.

"I know."

Miguel takes a deep breath. "I don't know if I used her or not. I thought I loved her. I'm in a dark place. Different than the place I went to with Hiro, and when he left. I feel as though someone's taken all my feelings away, and my conscience. I don't know whether I hurt Juana or not. I can't stop thinking about it. I can't accept her having left me. She's so good. She's so... Padre Andrés, what do I do? I was going to marry her."

"Did she know that?"

"I would tell her," Miguel replies.

"How and when?"

"In moments of passion," Miguel confesses.

"That's selfish." Andrés shakes his head. "Juana deserved better than that."

"But that's when I felt it most, and when I thought she felt it, too. And she seemed happy. I... Am I capable of feeling for other people? Of acknowledging others' emotions?"

Andrés pauses. "If I may say, your relationship with Juana began awfully soon after Hiro left. I'd say too soon, and I would fault you both. I think you're capable of feeling for others. I think you have a good conscience. But, you're wounded, and Juana couldn't handle that. You probably couldn't accept Juana's trying to heal you. In all fairness, it wouldn't have been her role, anyway. Don't be hard on yourself."

Miguel laments, "I miss her."

"Really?" Fr. Andrés counters. "Or do you miss someone who went along with you on your journey through being a tortured artist?"

Miguel feels the sting of that implication, and actually appreciates it. "I understand. I think it's both."

"I would think so, too. Now, have you been drinking, or latching on to anything to try and numb the pain? What are you doing in your room?"

"Mostly reading Scripture and the lives of the saints, writing songs and poetry and writing letters to Hiro that I'll never send," confesses Miguel. "Some self-mutilation by means of masturbating and denying myself orgasm as punishment for having been intimate with Juana, when the likelihood is that we didn't love each other."

"Did you ever force yourself on her, or try and blackmail her to perform sexual acts?"

"No, no, nothing like that; Heaven forbid. But my sexuality causes me so much pain, while it brings on much pleasure and inspiration."

Fr. Andrés says nothing.

"You know what I want to ask you, Padre," says Miguel softly, looking at the Father through the lattice. "I've brought it up before, as an alternative, as something to consider. As something that I'm both drawn to and terrified of."

"You say it," insists the Father.

"The consecrated life," says Miguel. He puts his fingers up to curl around the iron lattice. "Am I called to give all my passions, my emotions, my art, my curiosity, and my sexuality, up to the Lord, and become his vicar? Or a monk?"

Andrés sighs.

"Tell me, please," asks Miguel.

"I can't say for sure, Miguel, discernment is different for each person, and arduous. Yes, you possess ideal qualities for the consecrated life, but there's also major problems. Then again, we're all human. I must tell you, though, that even if you go through the discernment process, neither you nor I nor any seminary you apply to, nor Order you join, can ignore your homosexuality - more than problems with alcoholism, and depression and post-traumatic-stress."

"I'm not homosexual," Miguel replies, repulsed.

"Oh yes you are, according to the Church," counters Fr. Andrés, warningly. "I've had testimony from you, and have seen with my own eyes that you were in a romantic relationship with another man, and that you committed sodomy and many other sexual acts with him, and often."

"I made love with Juana too, and I haven't been attracted to another man since," argues Miguel, now desperate.

"Ah, you 'made love' with Juana: that is a possibility. But, making love to a woman, and committing sodomy with a man, are very different. By default, the Church would categorize you as a sodomite. It'd have been different if you had mixed feelings for another man, and performed questionably sexual acts with him, even to the extreme of occasional oral sex. But consistent and repeated sodomy? No man who isn't homosexual would do that."

"I'm not homosexual!" Miguel bangs his hands angrily against the lattice. "My circumstances were different than other people's! What exists between me and Hiro is different; it's profound and fecund and a love that required us to delve into the deepest perversities so as to understand the opposing sacredness."

Andrés chuckles. "How dualist. You'd do better as a Buddhist, or even a Devil worshipper."

"Not a Carmelite?" Miguel spits. "What about the Dark Night, or Teresa's Ecstasy? Even a Jesuit! Didn't Ignatius write horrific thoughts down in a diary while in the cave at Manresa?"

"Comparing your experience with Hiro Hamada to the spiritual torments of those saints is highly bold, Señor Rivera." Andrés eyes Miguel through the lattice. "Check yourself, joven."

"If you're afraid that I would ever touch a child, Padre, you know nothing about me after all this time," remarks Miguel with disdain.

"I don't think you would touch a child," assures Andrés. "But homosexuality in the consecrated life is just as worrisome as pedophilia."


"Yes, my naïve son." Andrés rubs his eyes in frustration. "You're pure of heart. I do know you, and you are profound and conscientious and spiritual and strong. You've borne much pain with great faith, and are healing from wounds many others wouldn't have the strength to begin to. But, there are bad people. You know this. Just the same as they would hurt others, being members of gangs and mafia's, they'd sneak into the seminary or the monastery not because they're called to but because they want to live out some sick fantasy of being enclosed among members of their own sex, suddenly requiring everyone to become friends and get along, and to begin to seduce fellow seminarians and older priests."

"I know that," Miguel says, even though it's not really sinking in. "But I think I have enough defenses against that. I don't fear the Devil."

"The Devil is certainly what you'd encounter in people like the ones I just mentioned, yes, son," insists Andrés, nodding. "And I admire you saying you don't fear Satan, but the subtleties he uses within the consecrated life is something no one is prepared for until they experience it. I say that out of experience. You will be assaulted, in ways you couldn't imagine in your most reckless imagination. Not just for sex and base things, but for power and knowledge. You'll be following a different rhythm than the rest of the public, you'd be praying constantly, and placing all your trust in your superiors. You'll feel a profound loneliness, as you'll have to detach from all individuals. You can dream of a family and luxury and solidarity, while you minister to weddings and baptisms and funerals. But you'll be apart from them. You can never call a place your home. You can't own anything. Your mind must be totally focused on the Lord and your will must bow to His very drastically. But you will also find profound peace through prayer and through your community."

Andrés sighs, and looks at Miguel's wide determined eyes through the lattice. The nineteen-year-old reminds him of how he'd always pictured St. Francis, or St. Ignatius.

"If I didn't know your heart the way I know it, and have seen miracles around you which indicate your mysterious bond to the supernatural, and if I mostly only knew of your homosexual past, I would steer you away without question. But;" he eyes Miguel; "I'll say give it till May. I'll continue being your spiritual director, and we'll be in touch with different seminaries. You may just change your mind if and when you meet another good woman; or you may want to take theology or philosophy at university, first."

"With all due respect, Padre, if I go into a seminary I'd want to go to one in Mexico," says Miguel.

Andrés, himself a Spaniard, balks. "But you left for a reason! I could help you get in touch with ones here, or in Spain, or even Rome."

Miguel shakes his head. "I'm very grateful for that, thank you. But, please, I feel the need to go back to the land that shaped my childhood."


Miguel bites his lip. "I don't know how to explain it without sounding insane, but I love Our Lady of Guadalupe, in so many ways that each time I consider her I realize something new about Our Savior, about the Church, about my own life." He closes his eyes and looks as though he were contemplating something utterly precious and intimate. "I want to be close to her, as though she's my mother, my sister, my friend and my bride. She's dark, like me, burned by the sun and yet shining with it. And within her body, within her temple, is occulted the Sun - her son, Our Lord. Let me be near her. And I will be a Jesuit, who accepts life's difficulties and the world as it is."

to be continued...

"Sabes Una Cosa" by Rúben Fuentes and Manuel Lozano.

Chapter Text

09 Mar. 2014

"Thank you for meeting with me, Father." Hiro's hand is unsteady as he picks up his teacup.

Fr. Tetsuya nods. He remains silent, but aware.

"I killed a man yesterday," Hiro confesses. He's sitting in the rectory office at the Franciscan Chapel Center in Meguro, at one side of the main desk, Tetsuya on the other. "I'm not Catholic. I just love someone who is. Forgive my impertinence." Hiro bows his head, blushing.

Tetsuya raises a hand, indicating his acceptance. "You must respect this individual you say you love, very much, to rely on his or her Catholicism," he remarks.

"Yes," agrees Hiro, bowing his head again.

"What are you looking for from me, or from the Church?" asks Tetsuya, curiously.

"I'm not sure, forgive me," replies Hiro. "I didn't sleep last night. I'm plagued. I could have sought out others, but all I could think was to go to a Catholic priest, like my friend would."

Tetsuya nods and says carefully, "does your friend know you're here?"

"No," replies Hiro. "I don't know where he is. I'm very lost. Please help."

Tetsuya sits in silence for a moment, contemplating. "I understand from our conversation on the phone that you heard of me through Tsuji Kôsuke."

"That's correct," says Hiro, taking another shaky sip of tea. His eyes are bloodshot, and have dark shadows beneath them.

"You have an interesting accent, Hamada-san," comments Fr. Tetsuya. "Did you always live here in Japan?"

"No, sensei, I was born in Kyoto but spent most of my life in the United States."

Tetsuya nods. "I see. A Puritan country."

Hiro frowns slightly, unsure of what to say, and merely nods.

"Is your Catholic friend Japanese?"

"No, sensei, he's Mexican."

"Ah. Mexico." Tetsuya folds his hands and contemplates something that seems important. "Have you visited Mexico?"

Hiro shakes his head. "No, Tetsuya-sama. I grew up in California. My friend is the only Mexican I ever really became close with."

Tetsuya doesn't miss the deeply ashamed look and the hint of blush across Hiro's face at the term "close with."

"Do you know if your friend has ever committed murder before?" asks the Father.

Hiro can't mask his offense very well. "I would never imagine so," he remarks. Then he clears his throat and attempts neutrality again.

"I ask because I wondered if it factored in any way into your not seeking out your friend, who you mentioned is a man."

Hiro blinks, unsure what the other man is thinking.

Tetsuya says nothing for several minutes.

Hiro can't take it anymore and pours out his heart, "he was my lover. We met when he was seventeen and I was nineteen, back in 2012; he was an illegal immigrant. I'm an orphan and had lost my brother at fourteen years old. I have gender dysphoria, borderline personality disorder, sex addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, and manic depression. Now that I've accepted to be used by the yakuza, and have coldly killed a man I had no proof was guilty of anything, I wonder if I'm also a psychopath. Do you know who I am? I'm a child prodigy. I was mastering calculus while other children were still wetting their pants. I could probably predict the stock market for tomorrow if I felt like dedicating myself to it. I have numbers and formulas running through my head, always: information, data, figures, shapes, rhythmic sounds. I could do anything. I took a model my brother invented of a healthcare robot and turned it into a killing machine. I traversed into another dimension. I could have come up with the Large Hadron Collider by myself if given the chance! If you give me a textbook on neurosurgery, and a good solid four hours to study it, I could perform neurosurgery better than the highest paid surgeons in this city. God? Who needs God? I am God!" Hiro laughs maniacally. Somewhere in his speech so far, he's stood up. He takes out his new Beretta and aims it at Fr. Tetsuya, who merely blinks. "What would happen if I shot you right through the eyes, huh? I would know how to cover it all up, neatly - I'd just need to keep my emotions steady while lying to the police. What would it matter, in the end? One less priest to molest children and to convince people of some all-powerful omniscient being that allows war and famine and endless suffering in order to fulfill some impossible plan. But what a bore it would be! You know what'd be more interesting?" Hiro turns the gun on himself and points the muzzle at his temple. "If I pulled the trigger right now, like this, and saw what was on the other side of this mysterious phenomenon we call death! I don't believe in Hell, and so, by logic, I don't believe in God. I'm not frightened! And if I were, all the more reason to go! So what would you say? Huh? Don't you have a myriad of arguments against my atheism? Yes, but you know none of them could compete with the grey matter I possess in this skull of mine, priest, and so that’s why you sit there quietly! Isn't it!?"

Tetsuya smiles a little and then rises to his feet. He walks calmly over to Hiro. He presses his thumb against a nerve in Hiro's wrist that's holding the gun and Hiro's wrist weakens. Tetsuya easily takes the gun out of the twenty-one-year-old's hand and places it on the desk.

Then he turns back to Hiro, and with warmth and affection, takes him in his arms in an embrace.

Hiro sobs. He sobs so much that he loses consciousness. Tetsuya sits his limp body down in the chair and is able to resuscitate him with some water from the cooler in the hall.

to be continued...

Chapter Text

28 Jun. 2023

"I keep wondering if this is a mistake," Homura laments. "When we were experiencing this strange part of our story, when we thought the Incubator had taken my soul gem away from my body, when I was creating the labyrinth inside the soul gem, we were already so deep into despair. We were young. I didn't know I could remember it so well."

"The labyrinth was exactly how we made it to be, back then," agrees Kyôko. "But that was the price of our wish to send Mami, Homu."

Madoka nods. "The price to have sent Mami-chan to the Elrics' dimension directly through Watanuki-san was too heavy. Our price to do it ourselves was to have all these memories return, of our teenage despair."

"And you two had never turned to witches," says Sayaka to Madoka and Kyôko, shivering though the summer night is balmy. She looks meaningfully at Homura.

The four puella magi are sitting in the shadows of the setting sun outside the Meiji Shrine, which is where they would usually go as teenagers, intoxicated, and huddle in corners to discuss their "world." It's where Watanuki-san instructed they return to, this time to bring fantasy into reality and actually create a labyrinth like that of Homulilly's, and to perform the magic they only pretended to perform as girls.

"Are you OK?" Homura murmurs to her friend. Sayaka shakes her head. Kyôko kisses her cheek.

"This time it was real, Akemi-san," Sayaka insists to Homura, eyes smoldering. "This wasn't in our imaginations, or the product of drugs or your altering the algorithms or even your manipulation over time: those things are all real, yes, you have real magical abilities, and whether it's scientific or not only you and Hamada-san seem to understand. But, back then it was raw. We created this kind of demonic;" Sayaka turns her hand, round and round; "collective mind, in which we all thought we were mahō shōjo or witches. Sakura-san had been the one to suggest the possibility of a real incubus." She turns to Kyôko. "Have you ever talked to Hiro-kun about it?"

"Akemi-san has," Kyôko remarks, gesturing toward Homura.

"You and he are Catholic," Homura says to Kyôko. "I refuse to accept the existence of a spirit that would be so cruel as to collect energy from pubescent girls. And did you both know;" she addresses Madoka and Sayaka; "that a 'real' incubus would have gotten us pregnant?" She looks back to Kyôko. "That is the belief, isn't it? That a succubus collects spilled semen from vulnerable young men, transfers it to the incubus - upon which the semen becomes demonic - and then the incubus impregnates vulnerable young women? None of us became pregnant with demonic spawn, unless we haven't told each other everything."

"Does it have to be right away?" Sayaka asks. "What if one of these days we all result pregnant?"

Kyôko winces. "C'mon, that's gonna lead to bad thoughts about being drugged and raped." She turns to Homura, "and yeah, that's what's said dogmatically but then think about it, girl, our sexuality saved us! We were too bonded, the four of us, and so if it were a real incubus it wouldn't stand a chance 'cause we've been all over each others' pussies for a while now."

Madoka and Sayaka bury their bright red faces into their hands.

"It's true, prudes!" Kyôko accuses, laughing. "However, I think you two;" she points to Homura and Madoka with her lollipop, "are still hot over that Hamada-san and Rivera-san dream from 2018. Who knows? Maybe they worked with a succubus who worked with an incubus. Do you really believe you'll end up with them? I know that's what you both believe. It's what you felt and saw, in a void that was half-dream, half-not."

"You suck Hiro's cock, too, princess," Sayaka accuses, careful of Homura's and Madoka's shock at Kyôko's accusation. "As Devil's advocate. We all still do! We're not lesbians, I've said this the whole time. Especially not me and Tomoe-san."

"Really?" Homura says, arching a brow. "You've been in my arms, Miki Sayaka, even if it was while Hamada-san was there, and I've felt your arousal because of it. And you and Sakura-san are always all over each other. I'm always the one telling you to be discreet."

"You always think you know everything," spits Sayaka to Homura. "I'm try'na stick up for you!"

"Sayaka-chan!" cries Madoka. "Please. I'm sorry this has brought back so much pain."

"No, she's right," Homura tells Madoka. "And Kyôko's onto something, too." She glares at Kyôko. "You could be a little nicer about it."

Kyôko shrugs. "Sorry. Hey, you know I love ya. But I know what makes you hot too. 'S OK. Hiro-kun always makes us come, that's why I love him." She sucks on her lollipop. "Damn, I miss that idiot-genius."

"Could there be a reason, besides Miguel, that he hasn't wanted to penetrate us, impregnate us, and that we also haven't wanted it?" Sayaka asks, warming her arms up with her hands.

All four puella magi look at one another.

"Maybe Hiro-kun is in fact the tool of an incubus and succubus," Madoka argues, in fairness. "But even if he is, he doesn't know it! He's so sweet, and he's protected us this entire time and treated us like wives."

"Maybe all five of us combined equal a kind of perfect alternative for one Rivera-san," Sayaka suggests, shrugging. "But, according to Hamada-san, their relationship was messed up."

"So were all of ours," Kyôko says, grinning. She sticks her lollipop in Sayaka's mouth, and when Sayaka frustratedly removes it she's met with Kyôko's kiss.

"If Mami hadn't gone with Bebe to Watanuki-san first, on their own, and wished to see their soulmates, and Mami have found out that it was a man named Alphonse Elric, to whom she's related but lives in another dimension, I would have insisted that we direct Hiro to go with the Israeli mahô shôjo to Mexico City between 1937 and 1939, to Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky," remarks Homura. "Though Buenos Aires in 1950, in any dimension, holds more information in general, I still think the other side needs investigating: whereas Buenos Aires in 1950 was fascist and hiding Nazi's, Kahlo and Trotsky represent a different kind of communism than the Stalinists of the U.S.S.R. And, besides, we know Kahlo-san experienced very similar things to us. I, myself, would want to speak to her."

"Yeah, it's funny that Kyôko and Madoka were inspired by Kahlo-Rivera, and that Hiro's soulmate is also an artist from Mexico with the same last name," Sayaka says, looking to Kyôko, who’s huddled next to her.

"I painted from pain," insists Kyôko. "I guess having a rod go through your spine and having your husband be a sex-addict somehow levels out, pain-wise, to having your dad go crazy and kill your whole family except you. I'd also want to talk to Kahlo-san. What about you, Shortcake?" she asks Madoka.

"I just drew what Homura-chan impressed on me when she'd tell the stories of agony and time-travel and witches and existentialism," admits Madoka. She looks tenderly at Homura, who looks back with guilt and sorrow. "I thought you were so beautiful, even in pain," Madoka confesses.

"Hey, I was the first one to say she was super-gorgeous!" Sayaka quips.

"She is; she reminds me of me," says a stranger's silky voice from behind them.

All four girls jump up and reach for the guns the yakuza has provided each of them. Homura's the quickest and already has it cocked and aimed.

Frida Kahlo's ghost cackles in good humor. "It's good to see such strong young women, who know how to defend themselves! Who are also beautiful and love one another." Ignoring Homura's Beretta, she looks up at the Meiji Shrine. "You know, I always wanted to come to Japan. Even though I knew the Japanese during my time were all a bunch of stuck-up bourgeois racist nationalists, I still would have liked to - forgive my arrogance - mentor Yayoi Kusama. I like her work very much."

None of the girls say anything, merely stare. Homura lowers her gun.

"I didn't mean to frighten you, forgive me," says Frida. She sits on the grass where the girls had been sitting, with some difficulty. "Do you mind if I smoke? People here do it way more than in the U.S." She lights a cigarette. "Anyway, I'm worried about my nephew and his very handsome lover - who's also all of yours' lover too! How erotic." Frida breathes out smoke languidly. "I never really told Diego, but I thought sex with women was very comforting. It's like floating along land and sea - and we generally smell better than men, no?" She grins up at the blush on each of the girls' cheeks. "We know instinctively what we like, right? But my husband, unlike your man, never wanted to share women with me." Frida still can't calm the puella magi. "Sit, relax! I'm just a ghost. Japan is somewhat like Mexico, there's legends. Just go with it. puella magi like you."

"With all due respect, Kahlo-san, we're just a little startled; forgive us," says Madoka, bowing her respectfully. The other three follow suit and also offer apologies.

"How polite!" Frida exclaims. "How bourgeois. But I like it, coming from you. You're incredible girls. Will you sit with me, please?"

The girls look at each other and back at Frida and nod. They sit by her side, but still nervously.

"Thank you for your compliment earlier, Kahlo-san," says Homura.

"Don't take it as one, guapa," Frida remarks. "I meant it more as a way to compliment myself. So." She exhales smoke. "You all made a contract at some point to give up your souls to something dark, selfish, unfeeling and brilliant?"

"Hai," all four girls respond in unison.

Frida chuckles. "And you've just come back from an immersion into a labyrinth. I saw it."

"You could see my labyrinth?" Homura asks in shock. She ponders. "I suppose that would make sense; this one was real; the ones in our teenage drama were semi-real."

"When you say semi-real, what do you mean?" Frida asks.

"It means it was in our heads," Homura replies, looking to her companions, who nod. "They were drawn by Kaname-san and Sakura-san;" Homura gestures politely to Madoka and Kyôko, who introduce themselves; "and the music was written by Miki-san;" she gestures to Sayaka. "Our other friend is missing at the moment, Tomoe-san, but she came up with the details of the enemies and battles."

Frida nods and ponders as she finishes her cigarette. "I understand. But, just because something is in your head, can it not be something real?"

Homura blinks and looks to the others.

Kyôko is bold enough to reply, "I wouldn't say so, Kahlo-san. There should be a balance between what's in our heads and what's outside, ya know?"

"Yes, true," remarks Frida. "But, from what I know, these labyrinths and these states of mind where you were mahō shōjo were real enough that though they were in your minds the effects were still evident externally - drastically so. Have you heard of magical realism?"

"Hai, sensei," all four respond.

"We study all forms of world literature in high-school and university, Kahlo-san," Madoka explains.

"That's wonderful, I wish Mexico and the rest of Latin America would encourage more of that," says Frida, grimacing. "Then again, poverty teaches you street-skills, which are just as valuable as book-learning. Anyway, so, if you know magical realism, would you say that's what you were experiencing?"

Sayaka meekly responds, "I would suppose so, Kahlo-san. If it helps, we've seen your paintings! They're remarkable."

All four young women nod.

Frida feigns picking her nose. "They weren't that great. But, thank you. Your experiments were far more interesting. The entire city of Mitakihara was beautifully designed. Everything about your story was haunting and impressionable. Your transformations, the battles with witches and one another, the music. The style - entirely original, from mixing old bourgeois Europe with 21st century post-modern Far East. The twist of time-traveling. The ways you all fell in love: 'the pinnacle of all human emotion - more passionate than hope, much deeper than despair.' Cracking the soul-gem with your teeth to have an entirely new universe come from your mouth, Homura. The Incubator shaped like a womb, its terrifying cheeriness. Brilliant." She shakes her head and clutches her heart. "Simply brilliant."

Homura, Madoka, Sayaka and Kyôko bow their heads and thank Frida.

"So, Señoritas Homura Akemi and Madoka Kaname are the Devil and God?" Frida remarks. She looks to Sayaka and Kyôko, "and what about you two hermosas, and Señorita Tomoe?"

"At the end, Kahlo-san, my parents already had me and Sakura-san pulled out of school and sent to rehab; the same with Tomoe-san," admit Sayaka. "Akemi-san and Kaname-san were alone for a few months, ill together, till Kaname-san's parents were informed by the school. And Akemi-san..." Sayaka looks hesitantly to Homura.

Homura flips her hair nonchalantly. "I murdered my step-father, one night when he was assaulting me. It was the same night I used one of Miki-san's musical pieces to invent the last scene of our story, where I fall off the hill with the half-moon in the sky, the Incubator overcome."

"A poignant ending," Frida compliments. "I'm glad you killed a child-molester, Señorita Akemi, if I may say. And my sympathies to you for enduring him as long as you did."

"With all due respect, Kahlo-san, I regret murder very much," Homura admits, gaze averted.

"Murder or self-defense?" Frida asks softly.

Madoka slips her hand into Homura's and squeezes. A tear falls from Homura's cheek.

"Between the five of us, we've taken comfort in your art, Kahlo-san," says Madoka by way of shifting the focus. "Kyôko-chan and I had been studying your art, and that of other surrealists and impressionists, while we designed, and in fact Homura-chan's witch design - Homulilly - is inspired by La Calavera Catrina!"

Frida grins, "I know. I appreciate it."

"Excuse me, Kahlo-san, but did you come to see us because Akemi-san mentioned she would have sent Tomoe-san to you and Leon Trotsky?" Kyôko asks.

"Something like that," says Frida, nodding; "I've been wondering when the right time would be, in this strange story of Hiro Hamada and my nephew, to tell the truth about the Russians. Now and to you girls, is the right time."

"Oh," all four girls say.

"Why don't we get some chocolate?" Frida suggests with a mischievous smile, "and I'll tell you about Lenin and Stalin, about Dostoevsky, about Tolstoy and Trotsky, and Khrushchev and even good old Vladimir of the 21st century." She rises to her feet and the girls follow suit. "Do you like cinnamon and pepper? That's what we add to our hot chocolate in Mexico."

The puella magi nod respectfully. Frida leads them all the way through the park out to Harajuku, her elegant boots poking out from her long skirt as she slightly limps.

"Kahlo-san, you should know we've been taught to despise most of the men whose names you just mentioned," explains Sayaka, self-conscious.

"Yeah, especially the first two," comments Kyôko, who's the most enthusiastic about having chocolate with Frida Kahlo in Harajuku.

Frida tsk's. "No one's as truly bad as we think they are," she remarks, looking around the fantastical and busy streets of Harajuku for a chocolate shop. "The men I mentioned," she turns back to the girls, "were trapped just as much in magical realism, and torturous labyrinths, as you. Russia is a place of great mystery and magic. At some point in their young lives, they were mahô shônen and puer magi. They merely became warlocks of sorts, and I sympathize. You should, too."

Homura and Madoka frown.

"I guess it's easy when you've slept with those types of guys, like you did," says Kyôko, sighing, causing Sayaka to wish she could have a muzzle for her. "I speak from experience, too, ya know? Hiro's pretty tortured. I wouldn't call him Trotsky, though. If you'll excuse my bitchiness, I'd say he's probably a lot smarter. Imagine if he and Homura had a child, ha! That kid, boy or girl, would have enough brain power to take over the world."

"You're not bitchy, comadre," laughs Frida, "everyone should speak as frankly as you."

She glances at Homura, who out of politeness averts her eyes.

"Ah, here's a place that looks nice," cries Frida with gusto. "'The Lucky Cat.' Have you entered before?"

The four shake their heads no. Homura scans the place and wonders. "We can't be that long, with all due respect, Kahlo-san," she says. "We're waiting for the signal from Tomoe-san. We've assumed it may take a while, but it might not."

"Don't worry, the time will fly," assures Frida and enters.

A lithe, beautiful young woman, about fifteen years old, gets up from sitting and contemplating. She's wearing an apron, and her long silky black hair is braided. She's not Japanese. Nor is she even Asian.

She's Latin-American.

"Hello, welcome!" she exclaims, smiling with a little gap in her teeth by the cuspid. Her light brown eyes sparkle and widen as she sees Frida. "Hola, Frida! Wow, you look great! Rosa," she calls over her shoulder, "ven, you gotta see this! It's Frida Kahlo, she looks amazing!" The girl turns back to Frida and gives an enthusiastic thumbs up. "Best one I've ever seen."

"Gracias," replies Frida, unfazed. "Five just for some hot chocolate, eh, bonita?"

"Sure! Are any of you ladies allergic to anything? Do you prefer soy milk or almond milk?" The girl points to the display by the register. "We have vegan pastries as well as what's on the regular menu. Sandwiches - um - we're out of tuna salad today, sorry. But we have everything else."

Rosa Rivera comes out from the kitchen and glances over at the group. "Hello, welcome! Oh, you do look beautiful, Frida! Has Coco told you all about our options, and about the tuna salad?" She gestures to Socorro, "give them the menus, tonta."

"Yes, thank you," says Frida, who along with the cautious puella magi, take a menu from Socorro.

"Please take a seat wherever you'd like; my name is Socorro, but you can call me Coco. So, if you're up for hot chocolate, you'd be getting cocoa from Coco!" Socorro laughs at her own joke. "Is the music too loud?"

Frida looks at her younger companions, who shake their heads politely.

"If it is, please let us know," insists Rosa. She sighs at Socorro, "my little cousin likes loud music, all the time."

"I also play music here on Friday nights," says Socorro, blushing slightly. "I play the piano and I sing..."

"Leave them alone!" Rosa yells as she lowers the speakers playing ambient music. "Please, sit and relax."

"Hey, I don't even know where I am, but d'you got any churro's?" Kyôko whispers to Socorro. "I love those things, and I'd like to try really authentic ones."

"You've come to the right place," Socorro whispers back, conspiratorially, and she and Kyōko giggle together, almost flirtatiously. "What you really gotta try them with is homemade chocolate dipping sauce."

"I'd like to stay here forever," Kyôko tells Sayaka in Japanese.

Frida and the four puella magi sit in a corner of the café and order their Mexican-style hot chocolates and churro's from Socorro, who grins and runs back to the bar to make them.

"With all due respect, Kahlo-san," Sayaka asks, desperately, "where are we?"

"We're in San Francisco," replies Homura coldly, before Frida can say anything. "And this has to do with our man, and his man, and girls who wish for things when they're fourteen or fifteen - at the peak of their emotional capabilities - like our server Coco, whose older brother is closer to us than we realize."


On this planet, you call


who have yet to become

a d u l t s


-it makes sense, then, that since you'll eventually become witches,

 ☆ you should be called magical girls


Kyûbei and Homulilly (Homura Akemi),
character designs by Ume Aoki, design adaptation by Takahiro Kishida,

to be continued...

Chapter Text

"What kind of country lies in the East but adheres to Christianity, an enormous frigid area whose culture is entirely collective, with a brutal history?" Hiro asks Edward. "Fool to The Sun."

"Not Xing?" Edward replies. "No other such one, at least not in this world."

"No Russia," Hiro whispers to himself, thinking.

Edward asks Mami, "Sun to Star, what's a Pope?"

Mami frowns. "It's difficult to explain, if there's no Catholic Church in this world. Is there?"

Edward stares blankly and shakes his head.

"It claims to be the original source of Christianity," Mami explains. "From the Christ himself."

"As though Christ were actually a person?" Edward asks, disbelievingly.

"Yes," Mami replies. She looks to Hiro. "As The Sun to The Fool, please explain our Christianity."

Hiro sighs. "You two have to help me out. Yes;" he addresses Edward; "we believe in a 'person' but it's complicated. I don't know what kind of Christianity exists here, but in our world a man who lived a thousand years ago in Israel - a Jew, like Michelle - was both God and human in equal measure. He was scapegoated and killed, for the sake of humanity's redemption, then came back to life so as to conquer eternal death. He's promised to return to install the Kingdom of Heaven; that's been interpreted in too many ways to keep track of. The Catholic Church, which is called Catholic from the Greek meaning 'universal,' claims to have succession from Christ's own disciple St. Peter, whose feast day happens to be tomorrow, and that's what I'm counting on (I'll explain eventually). St. Peter was the first 'Pope,' or 'Father,' meaning he stands in Christ's place on earth till all is accomplished. All the Popes can be traced back to Peter himself, in the year 33. The boast of the Catholic Church is that it's the only Christian denomination to honor this papal primacy, and to honor a celibate priesthood and a hierarchy. The Pope is considered infallible. Though this became officially declared only about one-hundred-fifty years ago, the belief is that it's always been like that. His position gives him ultimate power in decision-making.

"Nothing in any Catholic doctrines can contradict one another. There are sacraments, which can be traced to the Scriptures. The Scriptures consists of gospels or 'good news' and letters; sacraments make people holy. People who are understood to have achieved holiness in life are called 'saints,' and are believed to be witnessing God Himself face-to-face. Every other dead person is in Purgatory, or everlasting separation from God (called Hell), which many people struggle believing in. The Catholic Church claims to be separate from any state, but it holds tremendous influence around our world. The Order I mentioned earlier, the Jesuits, or The Society of Jesus, is an example of a community - one of many - within the Church that hold to certain methods of prayer and study and action and perspective. Our current Pope is the first Jesuit, though the Order itself is young compared to some from twelve-hundred years ago: it's from the sixteenth century, and begun by a Basque named Iñigo of Loyola. It's an Order with much political power, especially in education and evangelization. Our Pope would have joined the Order as a young priest here, in Buenos Aires, in this world, though perhaps a decade later than where we are. Still, the Church has become divided because of him, and his having come from this Order. People accuse him of being a false Pope, one who is in league with the New World Order and the Zionsists because he's Jesuit. My companion back in my world, who's actually holding the place of the Hierophant in the transmutation circle, is a relatively young Jesuit priest, from Latin America.

"There are hideous crimes coming to light about priests molesting children, around the world, and being protected by their superiors. Many people have no faith in the Catholic Church; I certainly didn't, until I met a Japanese priest who was able to, with patience and resilience, answer all the questions and doubts I had, and lead me to understand the unique supernatural element the Church has. But, there are other Christian Churches which also hold power, specifically ones in what's called the 'Byzantine' tradition, which include the Orthodox Churches of Greece, Syria, Ethiopia, and certainly Russia. They split from the Catholic Church in the eleventh century, due to disputes about the very issue of papal primacy, the celibate priesthood and general views on the Sonship of Christ to God. Also, the West spoke Latin while the East utilized Greek in its liturgy. Currently, the two traditions are attempting some kind of reconciliation, and not without difficulty because of the sheer number of centuries that have passed where both developed distinctly. It happens that we were able to discover a particular method to create this portal and become the Stone;" he looks to Michelle; "through a combination of alchemy and a discovery of a document from a Byzantine-minded Bishop, named Nestorius, all the way back from the fifth century. It's all mysterious."

Hiro looks to Mami and Michelle and asks, "did I leave anything out?"

"The whole business of bread and wine?" Michelle suggests. "The cannibalistic kind of ritual." She shivers.

"Right, well;" Hiro turns back to Edward, whose overwhelmed expression is priceless; "the Catholic Church holds that its heart lies in the priests' ability to actually transubstantiate (not transmutate) unleavened bread and red wine, into the actual body and blood of the man Christ. Though, the appearance of the bread and wine don't change - their essence remains - they exist as flesh; we just don't experience it with our senses, in the same way we can say that a branch falling in the woods with no living thing capable of hearing it still makes a noise, existentially. Does that make sense?"

"Yes, but, why?" Edward asks, with almost a pained expression.

"It fulfills a prophecy, no?" says Michelle to Hiro. She turns to Edward. "As The Tower to the Sun, it's based in one of our Jewish rituals of remembering a time of mercy, when our God;" she winces at saying the term; "passed over the Jews and cursed the Egyptians who did not place a virgin lamb's blood on their door, and God killed their firstborn. This is called Passover, and it is what 'Christ' claims to be fulfilling, even going so far as to say he is the Lamb of God, sacrificed."

"So, does that mean that those who don't partake in this existential cannibalism will experience ultimate separation from God once dead?" Edward asks, scowling, looking to Hiro.

"The Eucharist is one sacrament; there are six others, not all of which are necessarily required by everyone. The first required one is Baptism through water, to be cleansed of an inheritance of sin and disorder. But, yes, the doctrine holds that Christ instilled this sacrament of Eucharist in order that we be nourished body and soul. It seems strange, I would say, but I'm curious as to what you mentioned about Christ not being 'an actual person.' Actuality and reality are complicated things, and I would also question how 'actual' and 'real' people think of Christ's humanity. I have my particular views and beliefs and love, which don't compromise my science at all; in fact, they augment my scientific research and help me grow both in faith and reason. But many people see faith and reason as either incompatible or in direct contrast to one another. I believe that faith leads to understanding, and such understanding only deepens faith. I owe my intelligence that everyone praises me for, to that. Otherwise, I would have killed myself in 2014."

"I get what you're saying," murmurs Edward, mind whirring. He nods. "Yeah. But, Christianity here is just based in symbols and concepts, and the Scripture isn't about 'good news' necessarily, but rather an exclusive codex on how to behave. There's priests here too, but no rituals nor nothing like what you described. And what you called transubstantiation I understand, but that would require belief in some kind of existential void in which new things emerge. We don't hold to that. Energy is energy, and it's always balancing itself when it's expended, by transmuting and transforming; even with those who have passed. How do you live in such existential mystery? Can you be certain of anything?"

"Yes," replies Hiro, smiling in solidarity. "That's why we hope and believe."

"Well, our void is essential," explains Edward. "I've seen it; I've been to the doors and seen the Tree of Sephiroth."

Michelle looks to Hiro, who looks back at Edward. Hiro says, "please explain, Fool to Sun."

"It's the opposite of your existentialism," says Edward simply. "Why; what's yours like?"

Hiro and Mami turn to Michelle, who says, "the Tree is analogical, between essence and existence, I would say. Tower to Sun."

"From The Star to The Sun," says Mami, addressing Edward, "isn't our experience here proof of an analogy? All three of us came from the existential void, didn't we? And yet we're essential in the sense that you are experiencing our presence by virtue of being who you are." She turns to Hiro and Michelle, grinning amicably. "It's like we're the Three Magi, no?"

"From the East," Hiro confirms, grinning back at his girlfriend. "Which is why I'm curious as to why there's no equivalent to Russia here."

Edward, perplexed and curious, skillfully moves to Judgment. Mami moves to The Moon and Michelle to The Sun.

It's time for Hiro to move.

Onto each space.

I. The Magician
No Christianity divided between East and West,
between Byzantium and Rome.

II. The High Priestess
Sacred magic comes only from an essential void, and is called either
alchemy or alkahestry.

III. The Empress
A reverse of the Trinity, similar to that of Islam,
where the Holy Spirit would be "Father" / "Homunculus."

IV. The Emperor
The sword here rules, not the scepter,
therefore law precedes order.

V. The Hierophant
Chastity, poverty and obedience aren't valued,
so rather than a Pope, it's the pentagram in alchemy that holds spiritual authority.

VI. The Lovers
The Maya race exist, and the doctrine of Māyā to the Hindus is being uncovered;
which one leads toward eternal life, or do they both not?

VII. The Chariot
Couldn't a megalomaniac, in this world,
achieve divinity?

VIII. Justice
Science is religion, here. Antinomy is balance.

IX. The Hermit
Dualism with no prism to refract light;
no three times three, no wandering into the mystery of that which is beyond visible color.

X. The Wheel
The ouroboros' seal appears on homunculi;
does the draw toward humanity ever push back enough against animality and chimeras?

XI. Force
Is there pristine nature, an unfallen world?
What's immaculate here, with the strength to bear the holy and human?

XII. The Hanged Man
Where's the inheritance of humility, of the formula 'as above, so below,' of St. Peter hanging upside down nailed to a cross?
No Moscow or St. Petersburg. No United States, nor slavery.

XIII. Nameless (Death)
The scapegoating rituals, the human sacrifice of the Americas;
humility, or fascination with death?

XIV. Temperance
Britain learned to love India,
and its thirty-three million gods, and yet a revolutionary would disrupt it.

XV. The Devil
Che Guevara, Mahatma Gandhi, and perhaps even the Peróns,
in this world, creating collective mind-forms that hypnotize masses.

XVI. The Tower
Cabbala has reached here, with its seven points, seven days, even its seven sins against mankind;
but all is masonry rising skyward to astrology rather than tending to a Sephiroth Tree.

XVII. The Star
This is the world of Zarathustra, of Buddha and even Mani;
a world of "yes" and "no," but not "both-and."

XVIII. The Moon
The Eastern Byzantine tradition is everything to our world;
regardless of whether or not the Pope is the Antichrist, what's revealed through our occult is the triple-cross.

XIX. The Sun
The Moon, the Eastern Byzantine tradition - the Church of St. John, not Peter -
bowed with humility and gave its light to Rome, to the sun symbol of the Monstrance and the Jesuits.

XX. Judgment
Karma's the Book of Life, the third chronicle of the Hindu Ākāśa;
which is why no one can ever return from the dead here, lest they be written in the Book of the Dead.

XXI (0). The Fool
The Elrics, for attempting to fuse life with death.

XXII. The World
Their world, analogous to ours.

"I'll step out of the circle," Hiro says as calmly as he can. He looks at Edward frustrated face, and at Mami and Michelle's shocked and frightened expressions. "And prove that no matter the world, our essence doesn't change. I'll find the equivalent to the Jesuits and Mario Bergoglio; I'll search the equivalent to Russia here; and I'll discover why the British mixed with the Indus, and why the Spaniards let the American Empires' race and religions continue - whether it's based in the worship of gold. And it can all be done by visiting Dr. Guevara's laboratory, and acting the fool, so as to be arrested, tried, and ultimately electrocuted in a transmutation circle that will bring me back to my world as The Hanged Man. Tomorrow, on the day of St. Peter, who was crucified and hung upside-down, and whose Church we've been paying far too much attention to."

He addresses Michelle, "convince Migue and Naomi to get to Caesarea Philippi, the place of Peter's Confession and of the installation of the succession of Popes, and to expect water's antinomy: flame."

to be continued 11:11

Chapter Text

"Do you know what it's like to kill someone?" Miguel asks Naomi.

The blonde shakes her head, eyes large and fearful as she acknowledges Miguel.

Miguel nods. "A woman lived under the great fear and pressure of her husband: a symptom of our cultures in Latin America. He knew all she ever did, all she read, all she watched, all she spoke to, and what they spoke of. He knew what she would wear on Wednesdays when she went to the market: a polka-dotted bra that slightly showed itself through her blouse. He knew she liked to take baths instead of showers Sunday nights. He even knew she didn't like asparagus. Therefore, the woman found an outlet. Once her husband shifted his turns as policeman to the night, she would sneak out, cross the river on the only ferry, and find erotic pleasure in various lonely men. She did this, routinely, for three years if you can imagine, as was never caught. Until one night, she forgot to save enough for the ferry fee, on return. She was stuck on the other side of the river, where the ferryman had no pity for her. She went back to every lover she had ever had in three years, begging for change. None of them pitied her, especially not those who had moved on. Not even the lover she'd just seen was willing to help her; he merely suggested that fate had destined her to be caught tonight. After all, what she was doing was wrong. Wasn't it? However, he said, she could go through town and find the bridge. But, he said, it was risky because it was criminal territory. Far better to be caught by her husband.

"The woman disagreed. She didn't want to lose the only thing she had for herself, the only indulgence she could say was hers. She ran through the barrio, frightened but deluded that all would be well. She slowed down half a mile from the bridge, exhausted. A car came by and a man asked if she was all right. She said yes. The man asked if she could use a lift. In that moment, our heroine put trust in a man with a nice smile and a decent car, and slipped into the passenger's seat. She had chloroform put up to her nose and mouth, was driven off the side of the road, murdered and buried. The man was a hired assassin that her husband had paid to 'take care of her,' if he found her to be unfaithful. He had already discovered that she had been taking the ferry and knew a day would come when she'd make a mistake and be caught; when that day came she would get what she deserved.

"Now, who was responsible for her death?

Naomi shakes her head, smiling. "The man who captured and killed her."

Miguel nods. "Yes. Do you know how many men I've told this story who responded that the woman got what was coming to her?"

Naomi says nothing.

Miguel swallows. "The law in the cartel is that all justice is visible, therefore you must always know what's coming to you. The Devil runs the world. If you're bad, you're asking for an equal amount of harm. There's no forgiveness, no void. There's just the muzzle of a gun, and what your basest self wants to believe. 'The woman was on a suicide mission to have wanted to escape the good life her husband had provided her. Punish her and put her out of misery.'"

"That's psychopathic," remarks Naomi, grimacing.

Miguel shrugs and gestures kindly to her, saying, "you can acknowledge that. Most criminals have traded the ability to acknowledge. How can you possibly carry out justice if you have a forgiving heart? You become your own Jesus, your own Jehovah, your own Allah - though Islam as a religion usually ends in psychosis. That's just my opinion. I killed one person. I made the contract. And when you kill one person, you begin to believe you can kill millions. Even better, you can get others to do it for you. Why? Because those who stand in the way of your godhood must be eliminated. They're asking for it. Don't they know you hold the scales, that you see all? This is our state. In Mexico, and the rest of Latin America, some slightly worse than others. We've always been like this. Pablo was going to kill me; that's just a likelihood; I didn't know it for sure. I took everything you can ever take from a person. Shouldn't I have died instead? Isn't that what a priest of God would do? Please tell me, Naomi." He's stoic, but tears slip down his cheek.

"Well, between you and this man you killed, who was more like the woman and who was more like the killer, from the story?" Naomi asks. "Were you more like the man in the car, or were you more like the woman? If the woman were to have gone limp sooner than expected, like we're taught to do in these situations to trick the abuser, so that the man's grip on her naturally loosened, and she was able to kick the man in the groin and escape, would you fault her for harming him? Or is killing by far the worst thing you can do when your life is at risk?"

"I understand, but I should have been more willing to die than to kill in defense," insists Miguel. "I wasn't. And I harbored a strange hatred for this man anyway, and the past sins against me he'd committed. In that moment when it seemed he would kill me, and when my conscience had already been given to criminality - and under the influence of drugs - I broke the fifth commandment of the God I believe died innocently so that sinners could be spared. Should I be a priest of that same God?"

Naomi shakes her head. "Forgive me, but I would say not."

Miguel nods in gratitude. "You're the first to tell me. Thank you."

Naomi grins. For the first time, she feels an attraction. Naomi buries her head in her hands, wondering how she ended up once more in Safed performing possibly profane magic. How Michelle had just happened to be visiting; how they had writhed together once more, except this time with the additional sin of Michelle committing adultery against her husband. How she was helping Gentile sodomites against a Zionism she had to admit she wasn't as angry at as she should be.

From across the line of The Hierophant, to The High Priestess, Miguel places a hand on her shoulder. Naomi jumps.

"I'm sorry," confesses Miguel. "Are you all right?"

Naomi shakes her head. "No."

Miguel averts his eyes. He takes a deep breath, murmuring a prayer in Spanish.

"For how long did you plunge into the most profane?" asks Naomi boldly.

Miguel laughs. "For a little over a year. Why do you ask?"

"It would be inappropriate to say why," remarks Naomi.

Miguel nods. "OK. I won't ask you about profanity because frankly I don't believe anything you would have done with Michelle or any woman is profane."

"You're arrogant," marvels Naomi. Her green eyes fix on Miguel's surprised ones. The latter laughs once more and nods.

"Yes, I am. I'm sorry."

"You can murder without shooting or stabbing or burying someone alive, or any other method like that," says Naomi. "You can murder slowly by intentionally tricking someone into a slow death, into insanity, addiction, and sin. So, maybe I've lied when I said I don't know what it's like to kill someone. After all, Michelle and Hiro may never come back."

"That's true, that's possible," says Miguel. He strokes Naomi's hand. "Do you think we're spiraling into death, and that we secretly know it in our hearts? Or at least;" he taps his own temple; "in our psyche?"

Naomi recites: "And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, 'There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his morsel, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb, and prepared it for the man who had come to him.' Then David's anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, 'As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.'

"Nathan said to David, 'You are the man. Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, "I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul; and I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have smitten Uri'ah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have slain him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uri'ah the Hittite to be your wife." Thus says the Lord, "Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun."' David said to Nathan, 'I have sinned against the Lord.' And Nathan said to David, 'The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.' Second Samuel, chapter twelve, verses one through fourteen."

Miguel stares into the water. He turns back to look upon the labyrinth he and Naomi created with fifty-six squares and coordinating numbers and symbols. He looks to the woman at his side, firelight creating shadows on her face. Testily, he dips three fingers into the water. With the water, he crosses himself.

"If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness," he says. "First Letter of John, chapter one, verse nineteen."

"Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy!" Naomi counters. "Who can forgive sins but God alone? I forgot the reference - is it Mark?"

Miguel nods, covering his face with his hand.

"Why do you wear a ring?" Naomi asks curiously.

"As I grew older I learned more about mental illness," admits Miguel, looking at the ring that resembles a wedding band, "and I learned that it's impossible to be married to the Church or married to Christ as we're taught. I learned it's impossible to be 'influenced by demons,' or even possessed. That's just archaic language that augments psychosis. I also learned that if I wear a ring I can make an excuse not to sleep with people, because I can say I'm married. Saying I'm a Catholic priest tends to attract more unwell people than saying I'm married. Frankly, I'm tired. I don't care anymore."

Naomi bites her lip. "Do you also suffer from satyromania?"

"Not anymore," replies Miguel. "Thank God. Hiro and I used to during our relationship. It seems we worked it out. Lots of men who engage in homosexuality together develop sex addiction. It's sad."

"What do you think of women's 'hysteria' as a need for sex, or a symptom of nymphomania?" Naomi asks.

Miguel shakes his head. "That's a twisted idea. That's believing that a woman only needs to be calmed down by a sex-toy or a man's fingers or member. Don't tell me you believe in that, Rabbi, please."

"I was brought up to believe the only worth of a woman is to have children," remarks Naomi. "A Hasidic woman can be divorced and shunned by her entire community if she fails to produce children, even if it's her husband who's impotent; you should know that."

"Only the more reason, I'd say, to be exactly who you are in every sense, having faith that it's all the Lord can ask of you," argues Miguel. "A woman suffering from nymphomania deserves even more care and respect than a man. I think women are more intuitive than men. To develop a sex addiction means a woman's in terrible pain. I don't know. Maybe I'm sexist."

"I don't think so, but many feminists would say you are," Naomi says, grinning. "And you may be tired, but you're no atheist."

Miguel nods and says, "thank you."

A moment passes and then Miguel softly asks, "do you think we worship the same God? Or at least a God who's good and leads us toward the good? As we sit here waiting for what we believe to be sacred magic to work itself out?"

"The key is whether the magic is sacred or not," replies Naomi, looking into the pool. "I do believe in a Lord, who's good, and leads us toward good. I believe magic is sacred precisely because it comes from the Lord, who sanctifies in this way - much like your transubstantiation, right, Father? Except I don't believe bread and wine turn into His body. I believe in the Law."

"The natural law?"

"Yes." Naomi shrugs and chuckles. "And yet no. Adam and Eve can't be ignored. But I won't deny to testify to miracles, wherein sinners who should never be able to see His face have seen it. Is it because I'm a woman? The Hebrew Law would say so: how many passages can we glean from Scripture, including your own Paul of Tarsus' Letters, that would prove women's uncleanliness and inherent deceitfulness? By the way, is your story in any way inspired by Numbers, chapter five, verses eleven through thirty-one?"

"Very much so," replies Miguel.

"Hm, and Jeshua ben Josef would forgive a woman who has been unfaithful, and urge her to repent and follow him?"

Miguel nods.

"Imagine if hitmen were more like Jesus," says Naomi.

"Imagine, indeed," breathes Miguel, sadly, looking off.

"Are you looking to be judged and condemned for what you've done?" Naomi asks, taking Miguel's hand again.

"I'm looking for the truth, if judgment and condemnation go along with truth and justice."

"Well, we've used the medieval Tarot deck in which Justice stands in the place of eight." Naomi spreads Miguel's five fingers and then three from his other hand. "Rather than the Zionist's deck, which would have Force as eight and Justice at eleven. We know the truth." She spreads both of Miguel's hands so as to indicate ten, then places her fingertip in the center of Miguel's palm. "Justice comes right after the completeness of seven, and certainly before the completeness of ten. Force comes right after ten at eleven."

"The Lord is my strength and my shield," whispers Miguel, raising his hand so he may spread Naomi's, "in him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him."

"The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed. O save your people, and bless your heritage; be their shepherd, and carry them forever." Naomi finishes. "Says the same David who was later cursed for betraying the Lord, correct?"

"The same one," confirms Miguel.

"The one whose Star identifies us," remarks Naomi. "Especially in the case of Cabbalists and victims of the Holocaust."

"To what awful extent have Zionists abused the Cabbala?"

Naomi raises her hands at the cave they're in. "Isaac ben Luria reacted to the Alhambra Decree too quickly, and somehow this holy site became a place to learn a kind of elitist Jewish spirituality. Then the fact that there's even a women's seminary here is just a reaction to that. It all comes down to rationalism and polemics. If you're tired of your priesthood, I'm tired of polemics. Doesn't truth transcend polemics?"

"How Platonic." Miguel grins. "Yes. How Gentile of you to say that. Can't you also believe the 'transcendentals' - truth being one - are also present in and of subjects within the time-space continuum, while at the same time existing 'transcendentally'?"

"If I were to say yes, I'd be agreeing to your concept of a Holy Ghost, or Spirit, or whatever it is." Naomi tilts her head, considering. "I'm more a Gentile than a Jew now, I suppose. Or at least a true Medieval Cabbalist, interchangeable with philosophers like Maimonides."

"I would say you're a better priest than me," says Miguel, scoffing. "And who would tell you otherwise? The Rabbi's, the Catholic priesthood, the patriarchy?"

"Don't become polemical, Micha-el! 'One who is like Elohim.'"

"I'm angry. Did you know my full first name is Miguel Ángel?"

Naomi chuckles, shaking her head. "Latin America is surely a place of great mystery and magic. What a name."

"What about yours?" Miguel queries. "You said your true name is Noemi, the Spanish version of Naomi."

Naomi nods. "My race is Sephardic."

"Hiro swears I have Sephardim in me, too," remarks Miguel. "How have you managed as a rabbi? What are your students like?"

"Female," replies Naomi. "I love them all, but no man will come near me with respect. Except for you and Mr. Hamada. And Michal's husband, Ha-Shem bless him. I'm menstruating, and was when you met me."

Miguel nods. "That's considered a time when a woman would be unclean. But, don't you know I would see it rather as a time of great cleansing? If anything, the idea is that the man shouldn't touch a menstruating woman because it may interfere with the natural cycle of her genius body eliminating what it no longer needs. As a kind of respect that a woman is closer to the good earth and follows the moon and the ocean's tides."

Naomi smiles, blushing. "That's very beautiful. That's the original idea, more or less. But 'unclean' takes on such horrific meanings to egomaniacal minds."

Miguel nods. "Have you taught this to your students?"

"I confer with their parents on many topics before I begin teaching. I haven't had any families say no to my particular teaching on menstruation. Families who tend to come to me are very unorthodox. Sometimes they confuse me. They want me to be less orthodox and spiritual and more political and practical."

"Do you believe faith in the Lord is incompatible with a deep sense for politics?"

"No, but in this world to mention the Lord many people panic as to where to place Him in the political realm, not realizing He's far more instilled in it than it seems. I would say faith is polar to politics. Therefore, not only are they not incompatible, they're quite necessary for balance."

There's a moment of great pause and then Naomi asks, "isn't it somewhat like a syndicate? Can you call your group criminals or 'Robin Hoods'?"

Miguel laughs, eyes lightening. "We can fall into Hegelianism with a question like that. They like to think they're the continuation of the Knights Templar of the Middle Ages, who we mentioned were accused of worshiping Baphomet, among other grave sins such as sorcery and homosexuality." He winks. "Trust me, if the Medieval Knights protecting Jaffa were truly idol-worshiping, sodomites and sorcerers, I'd say my Caballeros aren't quite that different in the mere example of allowing me in. And you know, John the Baptist did appear to Hiro and me in Damascus, on his feast day by the relic said to be his head. The Medieval Knights worshiped that very same head. An angel told us to head to Jaffa. Here we are in Safed, mystics following the love song of Solomon, believing it the basis of the soul's journey to the Lord. Are our bodies the Temple? The Knights' full title was The Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon. You say you don't believe in the bread and wine; consider that a Christian has been taught that Christ would tear down the Temple and rebuild it in three days, to the shock of the Pharisees. Link it to the Last Supper and Christ's discourse as High Priest right before he's betrayed, arrested and then killed only to rise in three days, and you believe Christ's body is the Temple, and that the only way to commune with that body and become holy is to eat. We have no dietary restrictions. We may eat whatever as long as it nourishes our bodies and brings us good health. The Eucharist, we believe, gives us spiritual nourishment. We take very seriously the idea of the destruction of the Temple. Only liberation theologians - rationalists and polemicists - believe that the actual destruction of the Temple by the Romans in the year 70 was what Christ was predicting."

"Solomon's Temple must never be rebuilt," says Naomi warningly. "The bloodshed already caused by the taking of Israel from Palestine has been enough of a blood sacrifice. I'd rather believe in your harmless bread and wine. Only stop molesting children and committing sodomy."

"I've stopped the latter, and never repeated it after Hiro left. I never considered the former to have any place in my world," assures Miguel. "Though I've known priests and seminarians who have. But who would believe me? Anyway, as I said, you're a far more noble priestess than me. I always believed that while Catholic priests should all be men, Catholic deacons should all be women. No one should hear our homilies. We have nothing more to say. Women have been silenced and shamed, at varying degrees, in a religion in which Christ himself praised women far more than he did men. But, I'm happy you're able to hold the title, 'Master,' within Judaism. You can make changes in the Spirit of the Lord, especially by your story and your example. You're truly a genius."

Naomi doesn't reply. She sighs and shivers.

"Where are they?" she breathes in fear. "Have they really left and gone to another time? Will this universe rupture?"

"Not as long as they do what we told them," replies Miguel. "I trust them."

The pool glitters and glows. Miguel and Naomi grip hands and stand together, trembling.

From the dark water emerges Michelle and only Michelle, gasping.

Miguel's knees weaken and he falls to the ground, staring at the woman in the pool without Hiro by her side. No breath seems able to pass through his lungs. He feels faint.

"Miguel! He's all right!" Michelle cries. "He stayed behind because of a discovery. He told me to tell you to go to Caesarea Philippi, and to wait till tomorrow, St. Peter's feast day, and to expect water's antinomy: fire. He mentioned something to the people we met about getting arrested on purpose and electrocuted. He seemed so sure of himself, and of you. I'm not sure what it all means."

Miguel buries his face in his hands. Naomi helps Michelle out of the pool, embraces her, and both women try to console Miguel.

As Naomi dries Michelle off with her veil, and begins to dress her, swiftly, Michelle tells Miguel, "do you know anything about the Elrics in another dimension, where there's an Amestris acting as Europe? Where Che Guevara and Mahatma Gandhi have switched philosophies on liberation and peace? Do you know Mami Tomoe? She was there, and a close friend of Hiro's."

"No, I know nothing of any of this," says Miguel, now weeping. "Please, take me to that dimension. I need to get him back!"

"I tried," insists Michelle, hands folded in plea. "But he seemed so sure that a circle tomorrow at Caesarea Philippi will allow him to come back, and through flame rather than water. It wasn't our dimension. It was another, though Mami is also from this world. An alchemist named Edward Elric was there, who explained his world. Hiro believed he was meant to do something there, as the Hanged Man related to St. Peter hanging upside down?"

Miguel nods. "St. Peter was crucified upside-down in humility, refusing to die in the same way as Christ. Oh, God. Hiro..." He wipes away tears, and looks up. "Who's the greater fool, between you and me? All right." He looks at the two girls. "Will you travel with me to Caesarea Philippi?"

Both women nod.

to be continued...

Chapter Text

"Good thing you two wore boots," says Miguel. Michelle, now dressed and dried, has explained all the details of what she and Hiro experienced, to the best of her abilities. Miguel picks up Hiro's clothes, gasping a little at his scent, in love and longing, praying for him. "As soon as the sun sets, we're going to have to run down into the valley, and wait to see if my friend shows up in a vintage muscle car. She's the only one I trust to go to Caesarea Philippi."

"What!?" Naomi exclaims.

"Yes," confirms Miguel, looking to all the alcoves to see how many candles they must put out. "She's a Persian vampiress; I'm not even sure how it works or whether I believe it, but it's true. She's real. She helped Hiro and me before, and when we least expected her. I'm hoping she can help us now."

Naomi and Michelle look at one another, puzzled.

"How do you know she's not just a spy?" Michelle asks.

"Please take seriously what I've said: she's a vampiress, she's lived a long time, and I can't imagine her taking orders from anyone except maybe the supernatural." Miguel begins blowing out the candles.

"You just said you didn't believe in demons!" Naomi argues to Miguel.

"I don't believe demons have any power, just like our own doubts are fueled merely by our will," replies Miguel. "And besides, the Girl is benevolent; she feeds only on the wicked and the dying."

"You hypocrite!" Naomi accuses, jaw tight with anger. Her voice echoes in the cave. "You just finished telling me how criminals trade their consciences to coordinate visible justice. Now you defend the bloodthirsty undead because it feeds on the 'wicked' and 'dying,' taking justice into its hands against the Lord?"

Miguel buries his face in Hiro's shirt, in frustration, fear and despair. "It sounds bad, Naomi, I understand. Forgive me. It's not quite that simple; please listen. If she were wicked, wouldn't she be unable to stand a Catholic priest? I administered a Sacrament with Hiro, in her presence, and she was fine. A bloodthirsty undead would revile against that."

"Two things," scolds Naomi as Miguel finishes blowing out the candles. "You may not be a true Catholic priest, the Lord Himself may have stripped you of power and authority long ago; and your Catholic sacraments may be just as evil as vampires. Ever consider that Dracula was conveniently written by Bram Stoker to inspire the belief that only Catholicism could kill or fend off those creatures? It could be a great farce. Or the woman could be insane!"

"We obviously can testify to magic and the supernatural," argues Miguel, letting the deep accusations slide off him. He gestures to Michelle, and addresses her, "do you, Michelle, think you're insane after what you just experienced?"

"I can't lie, unfortunately," admits Michelle. "I'm starting to question my sanity. If this is all in my head, I must be in a sanatorium somewhere, unaware of anything but my dreams and fantasies."

"I understand," says Miguel. He's extinguished all candles except one, so they may leave the cave. "But, how could you know? How could Naomi or I prove to you you're not hallucinating or dreaming?"

"You can't," assures Michelle. "But I have faith in the realness." She looks to Naomi, to which Miguel also looks.

"And so?" asks Miguel to her.

"I don't question what Michal and Mr. Hamada have been through, and what Mr. Hamada is still going through," insists Naomi. "But I question a Persian vampiress in a muscle car, if you'll pardon the line I draw."

"You didn't have to be so harsh to Miguel," Michelle says softly.

"I'm sorry I was harsh," Naomi says to Miguel.

Miguel shrugs. "You could be right. I won't take that from you. But can you still trust me? Please tell me, because I must return my friend from the other realm. I trust you, but do you trust me?"

"Think if it were me," Michelle beseeches her companion.

"Can't we take a bus!?" asks Naomi, raising her arms.

"We can't become invisible again, unless we find a relic in the town," insists Miguel. "We have to walk among the shadows, quickly, and trust in the Girl who Walks - and Drives - Alone at Night." He turns to Michelle. "You must be exhausted, and hungry," he tells her. "Can you hide your faces with veils, and act unrecognizable, while you get something to eat? We have till midnight to arrive at Caesarea Philippi. It's only five."

"Nothing public is open," laments Michelle. Miguel sighs in disappointment. "It's the Sabbath till sundown, but that's when we must leave so as to meet the vampire."

"We can go to the seminary, as alumni," suggests Naomi, haphazardly, wincing.

"Alumni who were expelled for breaking more rules than we were even aware of at the time," confirms Michelle. "But, if you think we'd be welcome... I don't know. How would we explain Miguel?" She turns to him. "You wouldn't be allowed in, forgive me. We can try and beg for food, but our faces will probably be well-remembered. You can try to beg, given you're unknown. But, like you said, there's a risk. Many people come to Safed, not only Hasidim. Many people watch Safed. Many people get questioned in Safed. If you haven't noticed, Israel is a police-state where eighteen-year-olds walk about with rifles bullying whoever looks like they don't belong."

"Are you sure there's no relic of Isaac ben Luria, no cemetery?" asks Miguel, desperate.

"There's a cemetery," says Naomi. "There's also the tomb itself of Isaac ben Luria."

"Why didn't you say so?" Miguel sighs in relief. "That's perfect, then."

"We can't open the tomb of the Holy Ari!" cries Naomi, scandalized.

"We have no choice, if we want to eat," assures Miguel. "It would only be to touch his corpse."

Michelle shakes her head. "We would be arrested in a heartbeat."

Miguel sits down and holds back his tears. He touches the lilies. Dios te salve, Maria...

"Why don't I go to the seminary, then?" he suggests. "I can play the lost tourist - I even have a false alias - who thought I was supposed to meet someone today."

Both women nod. "We'd be grateful, Father," says Naomi softly. "Whatever you can spare."

Miguel shakes his head. "I would insist on not staying, and taking all the food back for you two."

"Whatever Rabbi is there wouldn't accept that," says Michelle. "She would invite you in and made sure you ate as much as possible and wait till sundown when she'd call a taxi for you and make you leave."

"I don't need food and drink as much as you," Miguel insists to Michelle. "You traveled dimensions; it's thanks to the Lord and a testament to your strength you haven't fainted. Come with me, then. How could they hold so much resentment for you there, after a decade?"

"Sixteen years," corrects Naomi.

"Thank you for thinking we were younger, though," says Michelle, smiling.

"You look my age," Miguel says, grinning.

"How old are you, thirty?" asks Naomi.

"Twenty-eight. I'll be twenty-nine in August."

"We're in between five and ten years older," says Naomi. "Not five, but not ten. Closer to five."

"Please come with me to the seminary," Miguel pleads. "I can't think there'd be a safer option to get some food and maybe some com...fort... Naomi, Michelle." Footsteps are coming from above, light and quick. Whoever it is should be here in about five minutes.

Miguel asks the women, in a whisper desperately, "what do we say?"

"I'll speak," assures Naomi. "I'll say we thought we had special permission to come in here today, for some Catholic thing you have to do, and were waiting for an official to show up, and that we were just thinking it was a scam and were about to leave. What's your alias?"

"Santiago Jiménez de León," whispers Miguel as the sound of the footsteps grows. "I'm a professor at La Universidad Iberoamericana, in Mexico City, where I grew up. I'm here with Satoshi Leonardo Ogata, a Franciscan monk from Akita, Japan. We were visiting Jaffa then heard about this place, Safed, because we met you two. We'll be back in October for the International Jewish Catholic Liaison Committee meeting in Tel Aviv."

"Got it," assures Naomi. "Santiago Jiménez de León. La Universidad Iberoamericana. Franciscan monk, Satoshi Leonardo Ogata from Akita. International Catholic Jewish Liaison Committee meeting in Tel Aviv in October. You met us in Jaffa, and we got you in contact with someone whom we thought would give you a special pass to enter the Holy Ari's Bath on the Sabbath, but we've realized it's fraud."

"The Lord bless your memory," Miguel whispers. "Thank you." He looks at Hiro's clothes in his hands. "I have to hide these."

"Give them to us to place in our handbags," Michelle says, reaching for them. "If we end up being brought in for questioning and they search us, we'll figure out something to say."

Swiftly and with great skill, with Miguel's candlelight, Naomi and Michelle manage to stuff the clothing and shoes into their purses.

Frida Kahlo enters the cave, looking around. She snaps her fingers and all the candles re-ignite. In the light, now, she nods respectfully to the women, whose expressions are frozen in shock. Then she sets eyes on Miguel.

"This one was difficult, guapo," she says in her deep voice. "But I knew my companions and I could do it. Good thing they ate beforehand." She indicates the pool. "Travel through water is excellent. I prefer doorways; that way you don't have to show up wherever you go naked and wet. But water is a smoother travel, I'll admit. Hola, Miguel." She winks at her nephew, smiling. "I have with me a young woman who'd trade her soul just to hold you in her arms. And some other friends and family, too." She looks again to Naomi and Michelle. "I'll introduce myself and the others to your lovely companions." She looks back to Miguel, lovingly looking him up and down. "You're handsome and strong now, mi amado sobrino nieto. Mi artista. I'll help you. I'm dead, remember?" She turns around and whispers, "ven, niña, tu hermano te espera; te ama. No tengas miedo."

From behind Frida's colorful dress and tall frame, emerges fifteen-year old Socorro María Elena Rivera de Ramírez, whose caramel eyes find her brother's ones.

Miguel covers his open mouth, his heart jumps in his chest. There she is. His Coco. Beautiful like La Morena.

Socorro looks frightened. But, plucking up courage, she walks toward Miguel. She glances over at Naomi and Michelle, nodding, and back to her brother, who's weeping. He looks different than she remembers him. But, undoubtedly, her presence is having a profound impact on him. She can see they have the same hands, the same eyes and eyebrows, the same mouth, the same skin tone. The same thick black hair that curls very slightly at the ends.

"Mi niña," Miguel manages to choke out between sobs. He stretches his arms out to her, tenderly. "Dime que no estoy soñando, Dios, por favor. Mi hermanita."

And it's as though a dam bursts in Socorro. She can remember Miguel's arms holding her as a baby, a toddler, a little girl. She can remember when he said goodbye and gave her his guitar and whispered the secret meaning of 'a heart pierced by love:' it's when I could look at you, my little one, my angel, forever; don't ever forget I love you.

Socorro falls into her Miguel's arms. Miguel holds her closer than she can remember even her father holding her. He smells the same, feels the same, sounds the same. He kisses her cheek the same way she remembers, and realizes that her very same cheek is also stained with tears. Miguel strokes her long hair, mumbling prayers in Spanish. He questions: How, how? How are you here?

"Socorro." Miguel takes her shining face in his hands, stroking her cheeks with his thumbs. "Te han besado ya, chiquita?" Have you been kissed yet?

Socorro laughs through her tears and shakes her head no. Miguel sweetly kisses her on the lips, savoring her. "That's my honor," he confesses, and embraces her once more, rocking to and fro with her. "Te quiero mucho. Estás linda. Te ves contenta." I love you, you're beautiful, you're happy. "Perdóname, Coco. Por favor." Please forgive me. "Perdóname, princesa. No he dejado de pensar en, y rezar, por tí. Todos los días le pido a Dios y la Virgen que me la tengan bien cuidada, y que estés feliz." I haven't stopped thinking and praying for you. Every day I pray that God and the Virgin protect you and bring you joy.

"Yo también, Migue," assures Socorro and confesses how much she's missed him and let go of any resentment. "Te he extrañado con toda mi alma. Te perdoné hace mucho tiempo."

"Me tienes para siempre." You have me forever. Miguel kisses her forehead, and promises he'll never abandon her again. "Jamás te dejaré otra vez; fue un acto de extrema arrogancia."

Socorro kisses Miguel. "No te preocupes. Rosa's here!"

Miguel looks up and gasps. His cousin is standing a little behind his sister. She looks so beautiful, and graceful. Miguel stumbles to her and also embraces her as if his life depended on it.

"I could die happy, mi Rosa de Madrid, de Santa Cecilia, y de Los Ángeles," he whispers in her ear. "Prima preciosa. Tell me you're happy, please. Forgive me."

"We always forgive first loves, Migue," Rosa whispers back. "Quién sino tú habría podido sanar mi cuerpo y corazón?" Who else could have healed my brokenness?

"Mi gemela, mi amor." Miguel holds her more closely and also kisses her cheek. He confesses he loved her more than Juana, but because of the shame that fell on them, and from fear of pain, he neglected her. There was no other alternative than to leave. "Perdóname. No vi ningún otro alternativo sino el de irme. Pero, dime, por favor, que estás feliz."

"Lo estoy," whispers Rosa, confirming she's happy. "Ahora viéndote." She pulls back and looks into his eyes. Miguel looks into hers, and a love that was always reserved for her comes shining through. Rosa tells him, "Reality seems to have turned upside-down. You and I and Coco aren't dreaming. That's what we have to remember, when it seems so. Frida told us you met Hiro again, and are traveling the world by odd orders from each of your superiors. Engaging in magic. I'd say you went insane if someone other than the ghost of Frida Kahlo told me and pulled me into a void out of which I could come to Israel and see you. And the four Japanese girls. The puella magi."

Miguel pulls Socorro close, and holds her as he holds Rosa.

"La cosa está tan complicada, que no sabré como empezar a contarles todo," Miguel breathes. I wouldn't even know how to begin to explain this whole thing. "Woah, I'm dizzy." He buckles a little, and his sister and cousin help keep him steady himself. "What about puella magi? That's Hiro's thing. Aren't they his companions? There's women here helping us, too. They need to eat, though." He looks over to where semi-ghost Frida is conducting a kind of social meet-and-greet between herself, Naomi and Michelle who look pale, and four Japanese women who look about twenty-five who keep glancing curiously over at him.

"Where did you meet?" Miguel asks Rosa and Socorro. "And how? Ugh." He buckles again.

"Frida!" Rosa calls. "The sandwiches! And the women he's with also need to eat." She then says to Naomi and Michelle, who are now close to Miguel, "forgive us coming in like this. We were told some of what's been going on here in the Middle East and together with Miguel's friend's friends, went along with Frida to end up here. I'm Rosa Rivera, Miguel's cousin."

Frida's come over to Miguel, who's sitting, leaning against Socorro who's smoothing his hair back.

"Michelle and Naomi need to eat, Tía Frida," he tells her.

"I've brought from Rosa's and Socorro's café some churro's, some herbal tea, and some grilled vegetable panini's, whatever those are," says Frida, looking wearily but also affectionately at her great-great nieces. "They look and sound bourgeois, but I thought it would be the most convenient thing. You need to eat as well. Then you go rescue Hiro, I'm assuming. His charming self isn't here, though his companions are quite lovely."

"Fridocha, I have to get him back," whimpers Miguel, still holding his sister, holding her hand and kissing it.

"Eat first, with your friends," insists Frida. "They told me you should be at Caesarea Philippi by midnight. We can use my doorway method of transcending space, in a matter of minutes."

Miguel reaches for Michelle and Naomi. "Eat," he urges them. "Please."

Rosa and Socorro take from their mochilas two insulated lunchbags each.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, on behalf of both of us," Michelle tells Rosa. "Thank you for coming to help Miguel and us." She turns to Socorro and says, in the friendliest way given her weak state, "I'm Michelle, and my companion is Naomi. We're helping Miguel and Hiro traverse dimensions. They've been kind to us, and we share the same mission. It's a pleasure to meet you."

"I'm Socorro, Miguel's little sister, and the pleasure's mine." Socorro hands the women her lunchbags. "Please help yourselves; you deserve it. Thank you so much for helping Miguel and Hiro. When you come to San Francisco, please stay with us!"

Naomi and Michelle grin, remembering their own youth with all its vitality and hope. "Thank you," says Naomi. "Likewise, you and Rosa may stay with me in Jaffa whenever you like, if you don't mind not having me cook bacon or pork."

Socorro grins and waves her hand to indicate it's not a problem. Miguel's heart skips a beat; she has the same gap in her teeth as him. Rosa hands him her lunchbags and insists he eats. When he bites into the sandwich, he actually moans in relief. "Gracias, Rosita."

While Miguel, Naomi and Michelle eat and drink gratefully they begin to become aware of the strangeness of the situation. And those who've stayed silent and wary are the four puella magi, who are politely standing away and waiting for the opportunity to be presented and explain themselves, and to listen to Miguel.

But Miguel sees Madoka and Homura, who are looking away with more determination than Sayaka and Kyôko. The girls from the dream! Miguel looks more closely. There's no mistaking it. Those women were in a deeply realistic dream he had in 2018 on the winter solstice. Homura and Madoka. Why, when Hiro told him about them, and even showed him pictures, didn't he remember that he'd dreamed of them? - Of their names, even!

"Madoka," Miguel calls. And Madoka looks up with wonder at him. She comes nearer to him. Miguel stands.

"I know you," he whispers to Madoka, the angel of his dream, watching her blush and bite her lip.

"I'm not surprised," says Madoka. "I also know you, Rivera-san, and I'm glad for it. We met in what's maybe an unfair circumstance in a dream born of someone else's wish."


Madoka nods.

Miguel makes his way over to the other three girls, finishing his sandwich. He sees Homura.

He bows. "Hiro Hamada loves all of you, and Mami Tomoe, wherever she is," he tells them. "I love him. We're far more alike than different. I'm very glad for your presence."

"Thank you; it's because of Mami that we were even able to arrive here," confesses Madoka. She looks to her companions and back at Miguel. "Mami is currently with Hiro. She went to the same dimension, to help him, and to discover a mystery about her soulmate. She's related to the Elrics, if you've already heard the story from one of your very kind friends."

"We received a signal from Mami while speaking with your aunt Frida at your sister's and cousin's café, Rivera-san," Homura says in her hypnotic tone. Her lashes flutter in modesty. Miguel can see her dark beauty. "We learned that Hiro had a plan in the other dimension, that Mami would be staying to protect him, and that Michelle would be the one to return to you and tell you about it. We learned from your Israeli friends that you must now travel to Caesarea Philippi and await Hiro's return through flame. We'd like to help as much as possible. I'm Homura Akemi, though I believe we've met before. My companion is Miss Madoka Kaname, who I also think you've met. And this is Miss Sayaka Miki, and Miss Kyôko Sakura."

All four young women bow respectfully. Sayaka and Kyôko seem star-struck by Miguel, and curious.

"The honor's mine," insists Miguel. "Anything and everything you've done for Hiro is appreciated from the bottom of my heart. He holds all of you close. Thank you for coming."

"Trust me, we've been waiting years to meet ya, Rivera-san." Kyôko snickers despite her nerves. "C'mon, baby, didj'a grow hard as soon as you saw Hiro-kun? That'd have been so hot. He was still kind'a nerdy and awkward when we met him, but he's grown out nicely, eh? You can thank us for-"

Sayaka clamps a hand over Kyôko's mouth, blushing. She says, "what she means, Rivera-san, is that we've done our best to aid Hiro-kun - sorry - Hiro in his mission. Homura's also in the yakuza. Hiro briefed us a little before he left about what you do. We'd like to help as much as possible, especially now. I'm pretty sure Hiro didn't know Mami would be in the dimension he arrived. The only reason we knew about it was because Mami learned about the dimension from a magician in Tokyo we all know, and then that magician predicted that Hiro would be traveling there on this day. So, it was fate that Mami should go. Did you and Hiro know what dimension you'd open up to through this Tarot labyrinth?"

"We had a feeling it would be in mid-century Buenos Aires, but we didn't know it would be in a different space continuum altogether," replies Miguel, shaking his head. "But, apparently, this other world uses alchemy as its major power source. I'm no trained metaphysician, but I would say there's a possibility that Mami needed to be there in order to draw Hiro and Michelle to that dimension. Would you agree?"

"Well, we've been told over and over by this magician - Kimihiro Watanuki is his name, but it's an alias - that nothing is a coincidence," says Homura. "I've relied too much in my life on metaphysics, and I feel optimistic enough to believe in the magician's philosophy. As teenagers we were inspired to make up our own distorted world, which ended up breaking through into reality, and your aunt Frida Kahlo was an important inspiration for us. Meeting Hiro when we did and the similarities we shared, as well as our goals and independent research, wasn't a coincidence."

"Even this moment seems quite magical, doesn't it?" says Miguel, nodding in agreement. "You'll have to excuse me, I'm a little overwhelmed. I imagine you are, too." He addresses all four women, and asks, "how did you meet my great-great aunt, my sister and my cousin?"

"Kahlo-san lured us with food when she appeared in Tokyo," Kyôko explains, coming closer to Miguel, enjoying his aura and seeing what Hiro sees in him. "Then she took us through some kind of void where we ended up in San Francisco at a café called The Lucky Cat, where we met Coco and Rosa. They're great. I wish I could move to San Francisco and own a café like that. Who knows if my partner would follow me?" She looks with affectionate accusation at Sayaka.

Sayaka rolls her eyes. "We also just met your friends Naomi and Michelle. Naomi sounds and seems a lot like Hiro, and is a priest like you, right? A Rabbi?"

"Yes, and there's a lot of similarity between them and Hiro and myself." Miguel smiles and winks. Kyôko bursts out laughing.

"Hear that Homu?" Kyôko throws an arm around Homura, who looks as though she'd rather not be embraced right now. "We've all got a little of the Homo! Oh, but hey, hey." She looks at Madoka and then back to Homura, and then to Miguel. "There's a famous dream we all found out about a few years back." She addresses Miguel, playfully, "were you there? Did you meet Homura and Madoka?"

Miguel looks to Madoka who blushes and averts her eyes, then nods at Kyôko. The corners of his mouth twitch.

Socorro shows up at Miguel's side, linking arms with him and resting her head on his shoulders. "Aren't the puella magi cool, hermano?" she asks Miguel. "Don't worry." She says in a low voice, "we'll get him back. Even if I have to make a deal with the Incubator."

"What?" The four women and Miguel exclaim.

"Woah." Coco laughs nervously, tucking her long hair behind her ear self-consciously. "I was just kidding, relax."

"We've told Rosa and Socorro a synopsis of our story," explains Madoka. "We were talking about the Incubator, incubi and succubi before we came here."

"I told them I always wondered whether you'd encountered any demons or hellish things while being a priest," confesses Socorro to Miguel.

"Ah, well, one day I'll tell you." Miguel strokes her hair and places a kiss on the top of her head. "For now, I need you safe." He looks at the puella magi, specifically at Homura and Madoka. "You should speak more with Naomi and Michelle. They studied here in Safed to learn the mysticism of the Cabbala, and broke many rules; their struggle is inspiring. You may find common ground. But, the most pressing thing is to get Hiro back, and Mami if she wants to come back."

"Homura would know gematria if she's an expert on numbers," Frida says, her proximity unnoticeable until now. Naomi, Michelle and Rosa are behind her. "Why don't we give Naomi and Michelle some rest in their old city? Would you;" she looks with her profound eyes, who've seen death, at Madoka; "given you've got one hundred karmic threads tied to you, play the High Priestess with Miguel as Hierophant, at Caesarea Philippi? And you;" she looks at Homura; "would invert spiration with your rounded sceptre representing the world, and your simple starry diadem rather than crown. You're not the Devil. Will you play the Empress and enter the void so as to lure Hiro and possibly Mami back?"

Homura averts her eyes, nodding. "Yes, Kahlo-san. Madoka is no goddess, no matter what I've wished for."

Madoka slips her hand into Homura's. "Let's go with Migue-kun."

Homura looks to Naomi and Michelle, bowing, then to Frida Kahlo who seems to see right through her, to Madoka whose gentle and intelligent eyes hold all her heart's secrets, and then to Miguel.

"We'll go," she affirms, eyes upon his, stricken by his beauty.

to be continued...

Yû Koito and Tôko Nanami from Bloom Into You (Yagate Kimi ni Naru) (2015-present) are literally Madoka and Homura in a different and considerably more peaceful universe ♥

(Don't get me wrong; it's also a narcissistic relationship; but obviously I believe those can be overcome, and that healthy ones can develop in their place.)

Chapter Text

"What is your wish?" Frida asks, swigging saké.

"Clow would always ask me that," replies Yûko, wistfully. She swigs back the tequila Black Mokona hands her, and shakes her head. "It's a joke."

Frida chortles. She gets it. "Ah. The answer's the questioner, no?"

Yûko wriggles her nose mischievously, grinning. "I'm glad you've come to visit," she says. A droplet of rain falls from her eye.

"It's not easy being the wife of the sun." Frida sighs, feeling comfortable enough to undo her braid and let her long ebony hair down. She emits the heady scent of tuberose, or as it's called in Mexico, vara de San José. "Is it easy to be husband to the moon? Ven, mujer, don't believe for a moment that he doesn't love you." She holds up Yûko's chin. "That he won't return, or even," she leans closer and whispers, her eyes holding all the light of the world behind them, "that he's already returned to you."

Yûko sheds another tear, this one hopeful. Frida wishes she had her easel. But she supposes the gods have painted this scene already, from various angles. She can only fill in what they've missed.

"I don't paint dreams or nightmares, I paint my own reality."


En cuyos brazos el Niño parece buscar seguro refugio.

Socorro blinks awake and lifts her head.


She rips out of her bed, flies out of her room and across the hall to where her cousin-aunt sleeps, in the apartment they share in San Francisco.

"Rosa!" she calls. "Despierta!"

"AH! NO! Me está matando!"

"Tía Rosa, por favor!" Socorro shakes Rosa, but the latter can't seem to wake from a nightmare. She moans and howls and kicks and sobs. All Rosa can do is watch with fear, and weep.

In the morning, Rosa's surprised to find Coco's bedroom open and empty. She walks into the kitchen and finds her cousin-niece sitting at the table, staring out the window. Coco turns and looks at her with bloodshot and shadowed eyes.

"What's wrong, Coco?" she asks, worriedly. "Qué pasó?"

Socorro's eyes widen in shock.

Twenty-year-old Michelle can't believe what she's hearing. How could Naomi be doing such a thing? And in the room they're sharing, with Sheine and Sigi.


It's not pleasure.

She blinks her eyes open and sits up. The moonlight is pouring in, and from the shadows she can see Naomi writhing in her own bed beneath its light. She arises and goes to her.

"Are you OK?" She looks into her friend's light eyes, laden with agony. "Are you upset with me?" Michelle touches her shoulder and Naomi whimpers.

"What-?" Michelle feels her fingertips sting. Naomi is wearing a burlap sack under a fleece jacket. The kind they'd just made for Anouk for the next part of the cleansing ritual. "What are you wearing?" She sits her up. "Are you insane? Take this off!"

Michelle begins to undo the jacket, and Naomi weakly explains, "it's for me."

"What do you mean?"

"How can you purify someone when you're... ah, ah..." Naomi winces as Michelle removes the jacket and sees the bloodied sack.

"Sit up, up. Lift your hands." As gently and quickly as possible, Michelle lifts up the hideous thing. "You must be out of your mind," she mutters, scared and overwhelmed, as Naomi's moans of pain grow sharper. Finally, it's off, and for a moment under moonlight Naomi's beautiful naked torso is shown to be marred with fresh welts. "What's it for?" Michelle asks with as much tenderness possible.

"I'm a horrible person," confesses Naomi in a hiss, folding her arms over her breasts and bowing her head in shame. "Selfish."


"I realized it in the Holy Ari's bath with Anouk." Naomi's voice shakes as she trembles in pain. "I didn't even cry at my mother's funeral."

Michelle closes her eyes and sighs. "I have some pomade."

As Michelle rises to go get whatever she has, Naomi thinks, yarrow and aloeI would use yarrow and aloe. Hildegard von Bingen.

" weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, for they are not."
Jer. 31:15

"And when I awoke, I was alone. This bird had flown."

"Why do you always have to act so cold?"

"Maybe it's because I'm not..." human anymore, either. "I'm not well."

Madoka leans her forehead against Homura's. "I once had a girl, or should I say," Madoka sings in English, smiling, lacing her finger's with her girlfriend's, "she once had me."

"She showed me her room, isn't it good?" Homura sings along, sadly, softly. "Norwegian Wood."

The pair sing along, and dance together under their umbrellas, but skip the ending: "She asked me to stay and she told me to sit anywhere. So, I looked around and I noticed there wasn't a chair. I sat on her rug, biding my time, drinking her wine. We talked until two, and then she said, 'it's time for bed.' She told me she worked in the morning and started to laugh. I told her I didn't, and crawled off to sleep in the bath!"

"You choose life like Watanabe-kun in Murakami-san's book, right?" Madoka Eskimo-kisses Homura, shivering at her cold nose. "You'll be well."

Homura collapses against Madoka, who can't support her because of the suddenness of the drop. So, Homura falls onto the wet street, sobbing. "I don't know that!" she cries.


Madoka whispers her love, holding her umbrella over Homura, until the rain stops.

"What did Naoko ask of Watanabe as they sat in the fields?" Homura asks, voice low, as they walk home. Her dress and shoes are filthy, and her hair is soaked. "That he remember her just like this?"

"Homura-chan, that's just a magical realism novel," argues Madoka, stroking Homura's hand gently.

"That's the worst part," confesses Homura, "that it be called magical. The real part will always be real. I'd rather still believe that magic is part of reality. I can't face what I've done."

So I lit a fire. Isn't it good? Norwegian Wood.

sayaka impaled
¿Si ya te he dado la vida, Llorona, qué más quieres...?
¿¡ Q U I E R E S  M Á S !?

Sayaka watches all the usual people come out of church. It's Christmas Eve. All the pines around the church glitter with lights. She wonders why Kyôko hasn't slipped out yet. She's usually one of the first. Then she comes bounding down the steps with a furious face. She runs up to Sayaka and in front of the milled crowd, kisses her lips. It's almost lurid.

A poison runs through the kiss and makes Sayaka feel sick. She pushes Kyôko away, with the sense she's being used. And sure enough, everyone's watching.

Kyôko isn't looking at her but at the staring, frightened, scandalized, angry, enthralled faces, waiting. Sayaka wants no part of a spectacle, shoves Kyôko again and runs.

Behind her, she can hear Kyôko screaming with all the power she can muster - but her voice falters in the middle, with a sob - "You all killed my father! My father, my mother, my sister, you sons of bitches! You- you bastards! All of ya... Fuck you! Fuck you! I hope you kill yourselves this season. Hear me!? Dammit. Sayaka, wait!"

Sayaka stops, unable to endure her breaking heart that yearns for her companion, and that forgives her.

"I know, Kyôko, it sucks to be alone," Sayaka assures once Kyôko's caught up with her and is in her arms. "Believe me, I know. But, it's OK now, 'cause I'm here with you." She pulls back and whispers Kyôko's name like a psalm. She kisses her tear-stained lips.

Luisa Rivera doesn't look good.

Cass says so, in that bold North American way.

"That's just part of life," murmurs Luisa at the kitchen table, trying to make herself believe it. "It's just la vida, as we say. It's OK. Everything will be fine."

"You don't have to work so much, Luisa," says Cass, softly and insistently.

Luisa shakes her head. "That's the thing that keeps me forgetting my worries. That's what it is. It's OK, Mrs. Cass. I've been through worse. It'll be over soon." She folds her hands and smiles. "Praise be to God I have the insurance. I always pray for Hiro." She looks to a photo of Cass with Tadashi and Hiro when they were still children, at the beach. They were shiny from all the suntan lotion Cass put on them. "He will bless Hiro. He will bless you. Those are my prayers. I like to work."

Cass begins to cry.

"No, no, no, Mrs. Cass." Luisa rubs her back. "There's nothing to be sad for. All this will pass, you'll see. Do you pray? I find the prayers very good. With prayers and work, we don't have to worry about anything. God is protecting Hiro. He protects Migue and Coco. I know this. I know in my heart. Please don't tell Hiro what's unnecessary for him to know. Migue doesn't know. Coco doesn't know. Because it will pass, it's nothing. And if it doesn't, it will still be OK."

She insists Cass drink some more tea. "The Lord has a good plan. Our sons are safe, right? No bad son calls their mother weekly." She shakes her head with confidence. "You can hear it in their voices when they hear our voices. Isn't it true? They still love their mothers. No bad man loves his mother."

Cass marvels at the woman before her, who knows her son is a criminal and that Hiro is too.

Next week Luisa will have a cancerous tumor removed from her breast.

And somehow, it still seems like everything's all right.

to be continued...

"Norwegian Wood" (1965) written by John Lennon (1940-1980) and Paul McCartney (1942-).

Characters from Norwegian Wood (ノルウェイの森, Noruwei no Mori) (1987) by Haruhi Murakami: Tôru Watanabe (mentioned) and Naoko (mentioned).

Chapter Text

Put away your past,
love will never last
if you're holding on
to a dream that's gone.

Connect to the sky, future lovers - ride! Their ambition's high;
would you like to try?

to be continued




In the Evidence of Its Brilliance