“So, uh…” Miguel began, rubbing at one arm in a nervous gesture Jamie hadn’t seen since Miguel had asked him out. “So, I’m going home for Día de Muertos.” He announced, which was a little surprising, but not anything Jamie thought warranted this level of nervousness.
Before he could ask what was wrong, Hiro leapt in, eyebrows somewhere near his hairline. “You’re going all the way home for just one day?” He cocked his head to one side.
Miguel nodded, perking up as the question distracted him from whatever was worrying him. “Yeah. I know it’s not as big as Christmas here, but it’s a day for family.” He explained with a shrug. “It’s the only night of the year that our dead family can spend time with us. I’m not going to miss it just because the timing is a little inconvenient.” Hiro gave a combination shrug and nod to indicate that sounded fair.
“Couldn’t you just invite your- your dead family here?” Jamie asked. He didn’t know much about Día de Muertos, except that it was a celebration of the dead, it was sort of associated with Halloween, and that it was Miguel’s favourite holiday.
Miguel laughed at him. “Normally, yeah. I could build my own ofrenda, and they’d be able to come see me wherever I was, but…” He trailed off with a grimace. “It’s a day for family, and I don’t really want to make them come all the way out to me special, you know? They’re already coming all the way from the land of the dead, after all. The least I can do is make it a little easier for them.”
Jamie glanced over at Hiro. He could tell, from the faint edge of nervousness creeping back into Miguel’s posture, that he was half expecting to be mocked, for being so considerate to the dead, but Jamie understood the power of belief, and even if Hiro didn’t get it, he was a lot more empathic than he liked to let on. “Makes sense.” Jamie announced, and Hiro nodded his agreement. Miguel beamed.
“When is Dia de Muertos, exactly, anyway?” Hiro asked.
“It’s the night of the 2nd of November.” Miguel told them. “I got lucky this year; it’s on a Saturday. So I’m going to fly home Friday evening, have the whole weekend there, come back Monday, and hope I’m not too exhausted for classes Tuesday.” He rattled off, rapid-fire.
“Okay.” Jamie agreed, feeling a little disappointed that Miguel probably wasn’t going to want in on any Halloween celebrations, if he was going to catch a flight the very next day. He’d been entertaining some half-formed plans for scary movie marathons or maybe an all-night play through of something like Silent Hill with his boyfriends. He and Hiro could still do that, but it wouldn’t be the same without Miguel.
“And, um…” Miguel shuffled, nerves back in full force, and Jamie realised with a jolt that he’d forgotten there had to be more to this than just him going home for a weekend. “Well…” Miguel drew the word out, not quite looking at either of them, and going a bit red in the cheeks. “I was- I was wondering if you two would- would like to come?” He blurted out, and then peeked hopefully at them from under his fringe.
“Huh.” Hiro said, surprised.
Jamie just blinked, too startled for words. On the list of things he’d been expected, that hadn’t even been at the bottom. “Is… Are you sure? Would we be welcome? I- I thought Dia de Muertos was a day for family?” He asked cautiously.
Miguel was blushing harder now. “It is. You would. I mean- That- that’s why I… want you to come?”
Oh. Oh, god. This was one of those big things, wasn’t it? Meeting the family. Only, it was bigger than just meeting Miguel’s family, it was… it was Miguel asking them to be part of his family. It was him saying he wanted this to be more than just a college romance, that maybe it could be a permanent, lifelong sort of thing. Jamie could feel his eyes stinging, but he didn’t let it keep him from grinning ear-to-ear.
“Yeah, sure! I’d love to!” He enthused. Miguel beamed back, lighting up, before nervousness swept back in and he looked to Hiro.
Hiro ducked his head, shoulders up, and for a moment, Jamie was really scared that he didn’t want to, that this thing they had was about to fall apart. Then he glanced up, and Jamie could see that he was blushing almost as hard as Miguel was. Jamie relaxed. This wasn’t Hiro uncomfortable because he didn’t want to, he was just uncomfortable because he felt like he was being over-emotional. “Y-yeah, alright. Sounds- sounds good.” He agreed, without quite looking at either of them.
Miguel let out a delighted grito, punched the air, and then pounced on Hiro, wrapping all of his gangly limbs around him and toppling him over to sprawl sideways across the couch. “Whoa-!” Hiro yelped, but then laughed and returned the hug. Jamie bounced up and added himself to the puppy-pile.
Santa Cecilia was beautiful, Jamie couldn’t help but think as Miguel led them through cobblestone streets, some of them already scattered with marigold petals. Miguel explained that they were used to make paths for the dead to follow home. Without them, they wouldn’t be able to find their way back to their families.
Eventually, they came to the Rivera house. Or, well, to Jamie, it looked like it’s own miniature village-within-a-village. The main gate was standing half open, and beyond it he could see a courtyard with several buildings leading off it. “¡Hola, mi familia!” Miguel called, sticking his head around the gate to see if there was anyone nearby. “I’m home!”
Several delighted shouts went up, and a small horde of people appeared to welcome Miguel home. The first to reach him was a little girl, perhaps six or seven, who came pelting out of a doorway and crashed right into Miguel’s legs with a high-pitched shriek of glee. “Hola, Coquito.” Miguel greeted, ducking down to hug her properly. She was followed by an old woman who moved very fast for someone so stooped with age, and she pulled Miguel and Coquito into a hug without care for the fact that Miguel nearly overbalanced.
“Miguelititito! You’ve been gone so long, mijo! And look at you, you’re all skin and bones!”
“Don’t smother him, Mamá.” A middle-aged man chuckled as he reached the knot of people forming by the gate. Jamie recognised him from the pictures Miguel kept as Miguel’s father so the old lady had to be his grandmother. And that was pretty much where Jamie got lost, because then there was a younger man, and two middle-aged ladies, and two more little kids, and a girl around their own age, all talking over one another greeting Miguel, who looked perfectly at home among the chaos.
Then Miguel abruptly squirmed free in order to tackle-hug the last woman to approach, almost lifting her clear off her feet. She was Miguel’s mother, Jamie recognised, and she laughed and swatted at him when he nearly over-balanced them. “It is good to see you again, mijo, but you shouldn’t leave your guests standing outside.” She chided, and turned her smile on Jamie and Hiro. “Introduce us!”
And suddenly, everyone’s attention was on the pair of them by the gate. It was an intimidating experience. “Uh, hi?” Jamie greeted with a little wave. Hiro elbowed him.
“Who is this, mijo?” Miguel’s Abuelita demanded, wide-eyed. “You brought guests for Día de Muertos?”
“You didn’t tell them?” Hiro yelped.
Miguel winced. “I forgot?” He offered sheepishly. “I meant to, but then I got so caught up in planning everything that I…” He trailed off awkwardly and shrugged helplessly. Jamie snorted, shaking his head, but the lack of similar exasperation from Hiro caught his attention. He looked almost as nervous as Miguel did, and, okay, the sheer number of people was a bit intimidating, but it wasn’t actually that scary. They were Miguel’s family, after all.
“Ay, por el amor de Dios.” Miguel’s Abuelita huffed. “Well, Miguel? Who are your friends?”
“Ah…” Miguel laughed awkwardly, and shuffled out of his mother’s embrace to come snag Jamie and Hiro’s hands and tug them through the gate properly. “Guys, this is mi familia. My Mamá and Papá-” He let go of Jamie’s hand to gesture. Jamie waved again. Miguel’s parents smiled back, and his father also waved. “-my little sister, Socorro, but we call her Coco.”
“¡Hola!” Coco chirped.
“My Abuelita, Tío Carmen, Tío Gloria, and Abel and Rosa and Benny and Manny, they’re my cousins.” Miguel finished, pointing to everyone as he went through them. “Everyone, this is Jamie and Hiro. They’re, um-” Miguel stammered to a stop and took a deep breath. “They’re my boyfriends.”
And now Jamie understood why Hiro had been nervous, and why Miguel had forgotten to tell his family he was bringing them. Miguel was pretty good at dodging things he didn’t really want to confront. Most of his family just looked confused, although Rosa looked less surprised than everyone else. In fact, the look on her face was a textbook ‘I knew it’ sort of look.
“¿Cómo? Which one is your boyfriend?” Miguel’s Abuelita asked, frowning.
Miguel swallowed hard. “Both of them, Abuelita.” He found Jamie’s hand again without looking, and Jamie held tight, trying to convey reassurance with just a touch.
Miguel’s Abuelita looked very taken aback by that. “Both of them? At once?” She frowned, starting to look a little indignant. “Miguel…!”
“Yeah, both at once.” Jamie agreed, before anyone else could say anything. “We’ve all talked about it, we know what we’re doing.” He glanced over at Miguel, found him looking back, and grinned. “We’re all in this together, because we love each other.”
“Is that a problem?” Hiro challenged.
“No, no.” Miguel’s Mamá assured them at once. “Just a little bit of a surprise.” She admitted, and gave her son a chiding look. “Miguel! Why didn’t you tell us?”
“I don’t know. I guess I wasn’t sure…”
“Ay, mijo.” His Papá sighed.
Miguel’s Abuelita stepped forward, staring hard at Miguel, hands on her hips. Miguel didn’t quite shrink, but he did tense up, bracing himself. She glared at him for a long moment, while the rest of the family held their breath. Jamie figured that she was the head of the family, and so her opinion carried more weight than most everyone else’s. Then, finally, she clicked her tongue and threw her hands in the air. “I don’t know what we’re going to do with you! At least it’s not as bad as the music.” Miguel laughed, going boneless with relief, and his Abuelita patted his cheek encouragingly with an indulgent smile.
“What?” Jamie asked, bewildered. Since when was music bad?
“Ay! This boy!” Miguel’s Abuelita exclaimed dramatically. “His familia says no music, so he runs away. On Día de Muertos! Ay, ay, ay.” She shook her head, but Miguel was grinning, unabashed. “But, foolish or not, we should have supported him from the start. That is what family is for. Well, I might be old, but I’m not too old to learn my lesson. You’re a silly, reckless boy, but you’ll always be family.”
Miguel threw his arms around his Abuelita. “Gracias, Abuelita.”
“There there, mijo.” His Abuelita patted him on the back, and then disentangled herself to round on Jamie and Hiro. “And as for you two, you had better mean it when you say you love my grandson, because if you break his heart, I will break you!” She declared, driving Jamie back a step by the sheer force of her protective fury, and the- was that her shoe she was waving at them threateningly?
“Yes, ma’am!” Jamie yelped.
Hiro was nodding quickly, equally wide-eyed.
Miguel’s Abuelita glared a moment longer, then beamed, opened her arms, and dragged them both into a crushing hug. She was strong for an old lady. “¡Buena! In that case, welcome to the family, mijos! Come, come, you must be starving. Ay, Miguel! You should have warned us you were bringing guests! What if there’s not enough?!”
“Abuelita, you always make too many tamales anyway.”
“-And this is our ofrenda!” Miguel explained, gesturing proudly to the altar set up with his family’s photographs. It was a lot bigger than Jamie had been expecting, and set up in a room of it’s own, all decked out with marigold bouquets and loose petals scattered everywhere.
“Wow, you have a lot of family.” Hiro commented, eyes flicking from picture to picture.
“Yup.” Miguel agreed brightly. “That’s Papá Héctor and Mamá Imelda at the top with Mamá Coco when she was little. Papá Héctor is my favourite.”
Jamie looked at the old sepia photograph of a family, and smiled a little. Imelda looked so solemn, and the little girl’s expression was equally bland, but Héctor was smiling faintly. “Héctor was a muscian?” Hiro asked, bracing his hands on the table to lean up to get a better look at the picture. “Is that why he’s your favourite?”
Miguel nodded, grinning sheepishly. “Yeah, he- There was kind of this whole thing. Mamá Imelda banned music from the family because she thought he left her, see? But actually he’d died trying to get back to her? Only we didn’t know for the longest time, so music stayed banned, but I… I just… I wanted to play, I needed to play music, and it turned into this whole drama on Día de Muertos when I was twelve, and if it wasn’t for Papá Héctor and Mamá Coco’s stories about him, I don’t think my family would have really understood.”
“Imelda really banned music?” Jamie asked, a little incredulous.
“Yup.” Miguel confirmed. “Even though she used to sing with Papá Héctor, and she was really, really good. I guess… it hurt too much, after he was gone. I can kind of understand, I think.”
Hiro huffed a laugh that was more pain than humour. “Yeah. It makes sense.” He agreed. Jamie stepped up behind him and wrapped his arms around Hiro’s waist, aching a little inside for his boyfriend. Miguel put his hand on Hiro’s shoulder.
“If you want… If you want, we could put Tadashi’s photo on the ofrenda this year?” Miguel offered.
“That- That’d be… really nice.” Hiro said quietly, sniffing and scrubbing under his nose with the back of one hand.
“Then we’ll do that.” Miguel stated firmly. He looked at Jamie. “Is there anyone you want to put on the ofrenda?”
Jamie considered. He could put a picture of Jack up – Caleb had painted pictures of all the Guardians by now, and portraits had to count, right? – but… he could see Jack whenever he wanted, it wasn’t like he was completely dead. “No, I don’t think so, but thanks.”
“Okay.” Miguel agreed. They fetched a photo of Tadashi from among Hiro’s luggage, went on a small adventure to find a frame that fit it, and placed it on the ofrenda next to a photograph of an old woman that turned out to be Mamá Coco not long before she died. It took Jamie a moment before he began to see the similarities between the smiling old lady and the wide-eyed child, but it was there.
Miguel started telling them a story about Mamá Coco, and how she’d been his favourite when he was little, because even though she was tired a lot and her memory was going, she always listened to him, no matter what he had to say. Then he begged a story of Tadashi from Hiro. It took a little coaxing, but Miguel was nothing if not persistent, and eventually they got Hiro laughing as he shared tales of mischief from his childhood.
Jamie talked some about his living family, and a little about the research he’d done into his family tree, but mostly he let the other two do the talking. They had suffered loss in a way Jamie hadn’t, and today was a day to remember those lost. Besides, he loved listening to the two of them describe these long lost people, and his fingers near itched to write down the stories they were telling. And Miguel, it turned out, had a lot of stories. A few of the others, as they were passing the ofrenda room, even paused in their work preparing for the celebration to share some of their own stories of the deceased. Abuelita – as she insisted they call her – had some hilarious stories about her sister, Victoria.
Then she dragged them out of the ofrenda room to help decorate and cook and carry things to and fro. It was so easy to get swept up by the infectious joy, that imminent sense of homecoming. They ate lunch all crammed together at a large table, and it was only then that the interrogation that Jamie had been expecting started.
“So, how did you two meet Miguel?” Mamá – like Abuelita, she insisted they call her that, no qualifiers – asked, eyes alight with a joyful, teasing sparkle.
“We go to the same University.” Jamie told her.
“Are you studying music, too?” Rosa demanded, leaning forwards over the table.
“No, I’m studying literature. Analysis, creative writing, and stuff. Hiro’s doing his PhD in Robotics.” Jamie added, unable to help bragging about his boyfriend. Hiro ducked his head, bashful.
“Robotics? Wow.” Tía… Jamie thought that was Tía Gloria? Tía Gloria exclaimed.
“And nano-technology.” Hiro agreed, perking up a little.
“But seriously, how did you meet Miguel if you’re in such different fields?” Abel asked, looking between them all with raised eyebrows.
Jamie snickered. “We literally bumped into each other. Miguel had his nose in a notebook, and I had my head in the clouds, and we just-” He slammed his hands together in front of his face. “Bam! Our stuff went everywhere. It was ridiculous. So we did the whole ‘I’m so sorry, here, let me get that for you’ song and dance, right? And then we went on our way again, thinking we’d never see each other again.”
“But?” Papá prompted, amused.
“But we’d ended up with each other’s notebooks somehow.” Jamie concluded. “I went to write down a new idea for one of my stories, and all I see instead of my notes is scraps of music and crossed out lyrics. So then we had to go looking for each other. All over campus. Do you know who this belongs to? Have you seen the cute tall guy with the really adorable dimple when he smiles? No? What do you mean what does he look like, I just told you!”
The family roared with laughter, and Miguel was blushing, so Jamie considered it a job well done. “Obviously you found him in the end, though.” Tío Berto prompted through his grin.
“Eventually, after much frustration, he found me moping about on the green where we’d bumped into each other, and told me I wrote really amazing stories. So I asked if I could hear some of his songs, since I can’t read sheet music, and I wanted to return the compliment.” Jamie concluded, grinning fit to make his cheeks ache. “He suggested getting hot dogs at the park, and he’d bring his guitar, and when I said yes, he said ‘it’s a date!’, kissed my cheek, and ran off before I’d caught up.”
More laughter. “That sounds like our Miguelito.” Abuelita agreed fondly, making Miguel blush harder and groan.
“What about you, Hiro? Is your story as exciting?” Mamá asked.
“Exciting? Not- not really.” Hiro admitted, rubbing at the back of his neck sheepishly. “I was- I have this workshop on the roof of my building? I’m not really supposed to, but there’s no space anywhere else, and it was a new year, so I had to set everything back up again, and it’s the middle of the night, so the last thing I expect is to hear someone else turn up.”
“It was Miguel?” Tía Gloria asked, even though everyone clearly already knew that it was.
“Miguel! What were you doing up on a roof in the middle of the night?! That’s dangerous!” Abuelita scolded.
“I wanted space to think, Abuelita.” Miguel defended, holding up his hands.
“He started playing the lullaby version of Remember Me.” Hiro went on.
“The original version.” Miguel groused, like he always did.
Hiro grinned. “Yeah, that.” He confirmed. “I’d never heard anyone play it so beautifully before. And then he started working on one of his own songs, going over bits and pieces trying to get them just right, and… I must have sat there for hours, just listening to him play.” Hiro admitted, going a little pink.
“I was so embarrassed when I noticed him!” Miguel exclaimed, laughing. “I thought I was alone, and then I realised someone had heard all of my awful failures to get this one stupid song right. But then Hiro told me he’d liked it, and we ended up talking for hours, and he showed me his workshop, and then we got breakfast together.” Miguel finished the story.
“I saw the new picture on the ofrenda. He looks like you, Hiro.” Rosa stated, turning it into a question with just the interrogative look on her face.
Hiro nodded. “Yeah, my brother, Tadashi. He, uh, he died when I was fourteen.”
Mamá reached over and patted his head, and Abuelita put more tamales on his plate, despite his attempts to protest, and they ended up talking about their families again. Jamie won more than a few points with Abuelita with his story about digging into his family’s history, and several more tamales than he wanted, too. Miguel laughed at them both without shame.
Sunset only saw an increase in the celebrations. The entire family headed down to the cemetery to put offerings on the graves, and to have a picnic there, along with many, many other families. Having a picnic in a graveyard seemed weird to Jamie, but he couldn’t deny that it was sweet. Miguel got a little distracted as the night wore on, his gaze wandering several times before he excused himself.
Jamie didn’t think much of it until he realised Hiro was watching Miguel’s back with a small frown. He was about to ask when Coco reached over and patted Hiro’s arm in a slightly clumsy but endearing attempt to offer comfort. “He’s always like this on Día de Muertos.” She told him. “Mamá says it’s because he misses Mamá Coco.”
Hiro looked after Miguel again. “It’s not good to be by yourself when you’re grieving.” He said finally, concern bleeding through in his voice.
“He’ll be back soon.” Coco promised without a shred of doubt. And sure enough, after maybe fifteen minutes, he was back, and he looked somehow more vibrant than ever.
“You okay?” Hiro checked, even though the tension had gone out of him already.
“¡Estoy fantastico!” Miguel assured him, leaning in and kissing Hiro in front of god and everyone. There were a few startled laughs from his family, although Jamie did catch a few of them giving him wary, curious looks, like they were half expecting jealousy. Jamie didn’t bother to worry about it. They’d realise sooner or later that they didn’t work like that.
Then Miguel snatched up the guitar he’d brought with him, and launched, unprompted, into an energetic rendition of Un Poco Loco. Jamie couldn’t help but sing along as he watched Miguel play and sing and dance like there was nothing he’d rather be doing. Jamie cocked his head as the song wound up to the finale, because he was also dancing like… he expected someone else to be dancing with him.
He was distracted when Miguel finished with a proud grito, and then flopped down directly into Jamie’s lap, breathing only a little harder than normal, but grinning widely. Every Rivera there applauded, and so did several of the other people around, yelling praise for Miguel and calling for more. “Any requests, mi amor?” He asked, looking sideways at Jamie.
“The one you wrote for us?” Jamie asked, like he always did. It never failed to fill him with warmth, listening to a song that had been crafted with him and Hiro in mind.
Miguel beamed, and wriggled into a more comfortable position on Jamie’s lap before he started playing. Jamie rested his cheek against Miguel’s neck and reached out a hand for Hiro. He took it with a smile that only widened as Miguel sang for them of stars and wonder.
Once he was finished, everyone applauded again and chattered about how good he was and how lovely the song was, and teased him about finally knowing where he got the inspiration for such a soppy song. Jamie couldn’t help but notice, though, that Miguel had flushed red with embarrassment before the teasing started.
It could just have been him anticipating it, Jamie knew, it was no reason for him to get silly ideas in his head, but… Well, Jamie knew how hard it was not to react to things that only you could see. Jack liked to make a game of it, sometimes, trailing Jamie to his classes and on dates and seeing what it would take to make Jamie react and embarrass him. So he couldn’t help but keep an eye on Miguel as the picnic wore on.
There were more moments like that. Moments where Miguel cocked his head like he was listening to something when there was no one talking to him. Where his expression changed with no discernible reason, or he made an aborted gesture, like he wanted to do or say something, and then remembered that he shouldn’t.
Jamie looked around the graveyard, at all the marigold flowers, and the food and trinkets left out for the dead, all of this belief concentrated into one night of the year, and realised… why not?
He couldn’t stop the grin if he tried. He’d never thought – never dreamed – that he might be able to share this with his partners. Oh, he was planning to tell them, eventually, but he’d never thought it would be anything more than something they’d have to accept about him. Not something that was… more than just his weird thing.
When he had a moment of relative privacy, he elbowed Miguel gently to get his attention, and when Miguel looked at him, still alive with that secret delight, Jamie gave him a knowing smile. “So what does Papá Héctor think of us?” He asked.
Miguel started guiltily, and then stared. Jamie just waited. “I… don’t know?” Miguel tried, not very convincingly at all. “He’s dead.” He added, like Jamie might have missed that fact. And then his eyes skidded sideways for half a heartbeat, like someone standing not too far away was talking, even though Jamie heard nothing.
“What’s he saying?” Jamie asked, and Miguel gave another guilty flinch.
There was a frozen second where he clearly debated trying to lie again, and then he slumped. “He’s telling me I’m busted.” He groaned, and then gave up any attempt at pretence, and glowered at empty air. “But it’s not my fault! You’re the one who keeps talking to me when I’m in the middle of a crowd!” His expression shifted from offence to rueful agreement, to bashful pleasure. He caught Jamie’s eye, and then blushed darker. “And he wants me to tell you that he’s- he’s never seen me so happy, so he definitely approves. And that Mamá Imelda thinks it’s scandalous, but that she said it in a way that Papá Héctor says means she secretly thinks it’s great.”
Well, now Jamie was feeling pretty bashful, too. “I’m glad. I’d hate to think your favourite relative didn’t like us.” He added.
Miguel gave him a dirty look. “Did you have to say that in front of him?!”
“Yup.” Jamie confirmed brightly. And then he faltered a little, a touch nervous to be asking, but needing to anyway. “Hey, is Tadashi here, too?”
Miguel seemed to fill with joy in an instant. “¡Sí! He came with everyone else across the bridge. He said there was a lot of confusion about which afterlife he belonged in once we put his photo up, but he wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to visit his brother, and then Tía Rosita overheard the officials say that his photo was on the Rivera ofrenda and Mamá Imelda bet that it had something to do with me, because ‘every crazy thing that happens to us has something to do with that boy!’” Miguel quoted, and then snickered in pure, delighted mischief.
“Does he have any messages for Hiro?” Jamie asked hopefully.
Miguel nodded, sobering a little. “Of course. They all have things they want to say to people, I’m just never sure how to actually deliver them. It’s not like I can tell anyone ‘oh, hey, your late Mamá wants me to tell you she loves you’, they’d think I’m crazy!” He paused, and squinted at Jamie. “Why don’t you think I’m crazy?”
Jamie shrugged, smiling a little wistfully. “You’re not the only one who sees spirits.”
“Spirits?” Miguel asked, eyebrows flying up.
Jamie nodded. “Mine are a bit more… whimsical, though. Childish.” He added dryly.
Miguel froze, gaping, as realisation dawned. “Your stories…” He breathed.
“Not fiction.” Jamie confirmed. “Well, mostly not fiction. I do give them a bit of flair. Creative licence, and all.” He paused as realisation smacked him full in the face. “Oh- Oh, if you believe me about this, then you’ll be able to see them, too.” He realised, staring at Miguel with hope blooming to life inside him.
“Believe you? Of course I believe you.” Miguel replied.
Joy and adoration had Jamie leaning in to steal a kiss before he remembered that they had an invisible audience. Not that it bothered Miguel any, and before Jamie could back off, he was already kissing Jamie back with enthusiasm. “Next time Jack drops by, we should give him the shock of his life.” Jamie declared when they finally parted for breath.
Realisation dawned on Miguel. “Is that why you’re sometimes so twitchy?”
“Yeah. He’s a pest.” Jamie complained fondly. “He’ll say stupid, outrageous things just to see if I react in front of people.”
Miguel laughed with him, but then his grin started to fade a little. “We should tell Hiro.” He decided. Jamie blinked, startled at what felt like an abrupt shift in the conversation. “It’s one thing for us each to keep a secret, but… it would be cruel to share this with each other and not- not him.” Miguel explained, even though he didn’t need to.
“Yeah.” Jamie agreed.
Finding a moment to talk to Hiro was a little more difficult than Jamie had anticipated. He was just as much a showman as Miguel, if not more-so. Jack had once said that he thought Hiro would make an excellent con-man, and even though Jamie didn’t think Hiro was quite malicious enough for that, he certainly had the flair and charisma for it. And if the purpose behind Día de Muertos made him a little more melancholy than usual, it only encouraged him to stay in the thick of things, distracting himself.
It wasn’t until the early hours of the morning, when the kids were conked out and a few of the adults were taking them off to bed that there was a moment quiet enough that Miguel and Jamie could steal Hiro away to the roof. Miguel, of course, brought his guitar, and settled down at the edge of the corrugated iron roofing and strummed a sweet little melody while he waited for the other two to join him. “Okay, what are we doing up here?” Hiro asked, eyeing them both as he flopped down with enough carelessness that Jamie winced, and took more care settling down on Hiro’s other side.
“Obviously you know the whole point of Día de Muertos is that it’s the only day the dead can come visit us.” Miguel began, not looking up from his guitar.
“Yeah?” Hiro prompted warily, but Miguel faltered, and didn’t seem to be able to find any more words.
“Miguel can see them.” Jamie said for him.
Hiro whipped around to stare at him, before grinning. “Okay.” He agreed, in a tone that made it clear he thought it was another one of Jamie’s tall tales.
“It’s true.” Miguel confirmed. “When I was twelve, I- Ay, I don’t know where to start. I stole a guitar from a tomb on Día de Muertos because I wanted to play it, and… got myself cursed. I spent basically the whole night in the land of the dead before I managed to get my family’s blessing to go home.” He explained, and strummed the opening bars of Un Poco Loco, before switching to one of his newer songs, one of the ones he claimed wasn’t right yet. “So now, I can see them. Every Día de Muertos.”
Hiro leaned back a little, eyes darting between them, and smile faltering. “Okay, not funny, guys.” He stated.
“It’s not a joke.” Miguel insisted.
“It’s never been just a joke.” Jamie added quietly, looking down at his hands.
“You really think-” Hiro began, sounding so painfully bewildered, and just a touch scared, that it broke Jamie’s heart.
“Tadashi says you used to hustle bot-fights, and you kept the money in the back of your sock drawer.” Miguel interrupted. Jamie looked up in time to see Hiro whip around, lose his balance and land hard on his elbow on the metal roof. Miguel startled, and then looked guilty, reaching out to steady Hiro before he could slip right off the edge of the roof. “¡Lo siento! Hiro, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to- Are you okay?”
“How did you know that?” Hiro demanded, righting himself without paying the nearby drop any heed at all. “I know I told you about the bot-fights, but I never-”
“I told you. Tadashi told me.” Miguel insisted. “He thinks your piercings are cool, by the way, and he got a good laugh about how much your Aunt Cass must have freaked out.” He added with that endearingly sheepish grin of his.
Hiro just stared. “Wait. Wait, wait, wait!” He yelped, lifting his hands and waving them about as if that might emphasise the ‘stop’ gesture. “Are you saying that- that every time you-” He pointed at Jamie. “-came up with some fairytale from out of nowhere, it was real?”
“Most of them.” Jamie confirmed, watching Hiro carefully. “I don’t think I’ve ever made anything up wholesale.”
“If they’re really there, shouldn’t I be able to see them, too?” Hiro demanded, looking almost indignant. It was kind of cute.
“I don’t know about the spirits of the dead, or whatever, but, well… you never believed me.” Jamie pointed out ruefully. “I mean, it’s harder for adults. Kids, they just believe, and so they can see them all, but with adults, it usually takes, you know, prolonged exposure, first. But Jack’s been hanging around you two on and off for almost a year, so…” Jamie trailed off with a shrug.
“And I guess you could try stealing something off an ofrenda tonight, if you wanted?” Miguel offered, and then winced. “We’d put it right back! Hiro’s family is right here, Mamá Imelda, he’d be fine.” Miguel protested in answer to someone neither Hiro nor Jamie could hear, and then scowled. “Well, that was because you tried to make me give up music.” He muttered petulantly.
“This is so weird.” Hiro announced, staring wide-eyed at Miguel. “What- what’s she saying?”
Miguel sighed. “She told me off for considering stealing from an ofrenda, and then pointed out that I nearly died because I only barely managed to get their blessing in time, even though I’d been with my family most of the night. And now Papá Héctor is trying to calm her down and Tadashi is, um…”
“Is he fretting?” Hiro asked, smirking.
Miguel snorted. “Yes, although he says not.”
Hiro’s expression crumpled, and Jamie slid over to wrap an arm around him at once. Hiro turned into him, pressing his face against Jamie’s shoulder. “Fuck.” Hiro swore, with emphasis. “I miss him.” He confessed, and then, voice wavering; “Tadashi? I miss you so much.”
“He knows.” Miguel told him after a moment. “He says he misses you too, but he doesn’t want you to risk dying just to see him once a year.” Hiro’s head snapped up, a belligerent scowl on his face, and then he scrambled to his feet, and clambered off the roof. “Hiro!” Miguel yelped, diving after him, and Jamie laughed nervously to himself before following, a little more carefully.
He reached the ofrenda room just in time to see Hiro disappear into thin air, sending the marigold petals swirling around the newly empty space. Miguel groaned dramatically and thumped his head on a small clear space on the ofrenda. “He’ll get back just fine.” Jamie assured him, coming to stand with him and wrap an arm around him.
“He’d better.” Miguel huffed, glowering into what looked like empty space to Jamie. “Please tell me you’re not going to up and steal something off the ofrenda, too?” He begged, ducking his head in order to peer up at Jamie through his lashes. It was a little comical, given that Miguel was taller than Jamie by an inch or two.
“No. I’ve got enough trouble with my own dead relatives. I don’t need to worry about seeing anyone else’s.” Jamie assured him. Maybe one day, he’d feel left-out enough that he’d throw caution to the winds and try it, but right now, he didn’t care that much. It was a strange little delight to stand there with Miguel and watch him watching something that Jamie couldn’t see. For so long, he’d resigned himself to always being the weird one, the delusional one who saw things that weren’t there, that being on the outside of that for once was making him a little giddy.
Hiro reappeared in the ofrenda room several hours later, when the sky was only just starting to lighten with pre-dawn light. Jamie and Miguel had settled down against the wall to chat away the wait and let Hiro have time with Tadashi uninterrupted. The long night was beginning to catch up to Jamie, and even Hiro suddenly reappearing right where he’d left couldn’t startle him out of the slightly bleary haze of an all-nighter without coffee. Hiro, too, looked exhausted, although Jamie figured it was more than just the long night that had worn him out. He stood there for a long moment, eyes glazed and expression drawn, and then he sighed, focused, and slunk over to collapse on top of them, legs curled over Miguel’s and head dropping onto Jamie’s shoulder.
“Thanks.” He blurted out, and Jamie didn’t need to ask what for.
“Our pleasure.” Miguel replied easily.
Hiro smiled bashfully at that, but then his smile slipped sideways into something approaching a wince, and he flicked his gaze up to Jamie. “And… you know, sorry for… not believing you.”
Jamie shook his head, smiling so wide his cheeks hurt. The fact that Hiro had even thought to apologise for that was more than he could ever have thought to dream of. He waved it off. “I know exactly how insane I sound, and you stuck around anyway.” He half-joked. When Hiro gave him a sceptical look, Jamie sobered up a little, although his smile didn’t fade. “You’ve got nothing to apologise for. I never gave you a reason to think I was doing more than making up stories. On purpose. I’m sorry I didn’t have more faith in you.”
Hiro scoffed at that.
“How about we all just agree that everything worked out just fine in the end, and we’re happy, so all apologies are unnecessary?” Miguel suggested, before Jamie and Hiro could start debating it.
“Works for me.” Jamie agreed, beaming.
“Yeah, okay.” Hiro agreed, settling against them in a more comfortable slouch. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and started fiddling with it in a way that Jamie read as a distraction rather than any sort of focus or intent. His gaze was sharp, but he seemed to be looking through the screen rather than at it. “So how does it even work, anyway?” He demanded abruptly. “And don’t say magic! Magic is just a word for something you can’t explain.”
“Well, then it’s something I can’t explain.” Miguel retorted cheekily.
Hiro glowered at him. “No, but really. There has to be a scientific explanation for it, we just haven’t got close enough to see it yet. But I will.” He insisted fiercely.
“Well, I’m no expert. The technicalities are a bit beyond me, honestly, but since you believe me, I can probably introduce you to North. He’s studied magic for, like, hundreds of years, so if anyone will know, it’ll be him. No, wait. Bunny.” He looked down at Hiro with a gleeful grin splitting his face. “How would you like to talk science with the last of a race that had space-ships, lightsabers, and terraforming?”
Hiro’s answer was to try and stick his tongue down Jamie’s throat. He took that as an enthusiastic agreement, and did his best to kiss him back through the grin. Miguel’s laughter wasn’t helping in that regard. “Best.” Hiro declared in between enthusiastic kisses. “Day. Ever.”
“I’m glad.” Miguel interjected, snuggling up closer against Jamie’s side. “Tell us about them? Your spirit friends? Properly, this time, now that we know they’re real.” Jamie looked between Miguel’s earnest, hopeful gaze, and Hiro’s intent, determined stare, and loved them both so much he felt like he might burst with it. So he launched into the story of how he’d met them, without any creative embellishment this time, all the while basking in just how good he felt, right here and now, in this moment, with these two amazing people. His heart felt magnitudes too big for his ribcage, and he desperately hoped – believed – that this was going to last, well, maybe not forever, but his whole life, at least.