Death was funny.
Miguel has this thought slumped against the brick wall of an alleyway, bleeding out. How many people were allowed the time to have the conscious thought 'this is the end?' He wonders this, and then wonders how many had far too much time knowing that death was drawing nearer and nearer.
Victims of car crashes were pulled from the world harshly and quickly while some wasted away in hospital beds, longing and fearing their death that lingered outside the door.
He is too young to die, he knows this. He is too young, and his youth is proclaimed in his appearance. From his bright jaket to his school backpack, lying discarded on the ground in the scuffle. He thinks to call for help, but somehow knows it will do no good. The crazed vagrant-reeking of booze and looking at him with wild, shifty eyes-who had attacked him had gotten lucky with his careless stabbing.
Miguel had done nothing to provoke the man besides go past him, taking the alley as a shortcut. Demons must have made the man's mind a battle ground, because he lurched forward to snag Miguel's ankle. The teenager had struggled, been too shocked to call out as he scrambled back. The man dove, knife gleaming in his withered hand. He brought it down on Miguel's thigh, hitting the femoral artery. And then the man had run off, as if he hadn't just condemned a fourteen year old child for deaths arms.
He bleeds out quickly, darkness fringing his vision. His time dwindles, and the last thoughts on his mind are that he hopes his sister will be alright without him. He wants her to remember him without the pain of losing her brother.
This, he knows, is not possible.
In his last moments he prefers not to think about his abuelita, who loved him from before his birth and would love him long after his death. He thinks of his father and his dark eyes, understanding despite the fact he is the disciplinarian, and he doesn't want to picture those eyes brimming with tears. His mama… he had thought he would live to see her become the matriarch of the family.
As the blackness crawls over him like a shawl he thinks that he will see Papa Héctor again. That thought is a comfort as he is carried away on a sea of night.
Miguel's eyes pop open. His head snaps left and right, taking in the room in glimpses. Brick walls, stacks of papers and overflowing file cabinets, floor to ceiling windows that overlooked a city of fantastical lights. Small pools of warm, yellow light are given off from bare, skull shaped bulbs.
He has been here before, with his deceased relatives.
Behind him he hears the click of a door being opened and the short man who had tried to help his family before scurries in frantically. He hurries to his paper covered desk, muttering to himself. Miguel coughs awkwardly and the man jolts, a yelp escaping his mouth.
"Hola." Miguel says lamely.
"H-hola, forgive me, por favor. I didn't know I had a new arrival. Our system crashed this morning." The man explains, voice taking a frantic pitch. "I hope you weren't here long."
"N-no, I just got here."
"Well," he claps and sits in his comically large swivel chair. "I'm sure you have some questions. Por favor, ask, ask away."
Miguel's mouth falls open, silence coming out. He shrinks in his seat.
The man squints at him, pushing up his taped glasses. "Do I know you?"
"I'm Miguel Rivera."
The social worker sputters. "The living boy?!"
Miguel winces and the man realizes his error. "Ah, lo siento. We weren't… expecting you. Not for a long time." He pauses and then launches into a prepared speech. "Transition is different for everyone, some experience different things at different times. Feelings, phantom pains from your living body. It will all seem very alien. But everyone goes through it. Let's call your familia to Family Reunions, in the meantime we can get your papers settled."
"Oh, yes, death is a bureaucrats dream." He chuckles and goes through a drawer, pulling out a form. "Normally we'd do this on the computer, but with the system down we'll get it on paper and transfer it later." He looks at Miguel and his expression softens. "If you'd rather wait until your family gets here that'd be fine."
Miguel shakes his head. "I'd… rather get it over with."
The man nods and crosses the room, poking his head out into the hall. "June, por favor call the Rivera's to Family Reunions."
He sits again and presses his pen to the paper. "Full name?"
"Fourteen." The man shudders, a subdued reaction that Miguel almost misses. He can tell the man is thinking that fourteen is far too young for death.
He agrees with him.
They go through many mundane questions and the man looks up at him, uncertain.
"Cause of death?"
Miguel's brain stalls, blank, and he thinks about how he wants to answer. "I… A man stabbed me. I bled out."
The man dutifully writes the information down. "June!" He yells. "Are the Rivera's on their way?"
A skeleton wearing a violet skirt steps into the room, her heels clacking on the polished floor.
"No one is answering the phone, sir. I've called four times."
The man pinches the space above his nose holes. "Perfecto."
"What's their address? I can get there, after all this isn't my first... time in town." Miguel tries weakly to joke, and it tastes like ash in his mouth.
They don't like it, but in the end they give him a scrap of paper with Mama Imelda's address and enough money for a trolley ride. He pretends he doesn't see the pity in their eyes.
He sets off, hood drawn over his head, hands shoved in his pockets. Being a skeleton feels odd, light and loose. He worries he'll lose a bone, but then remembers how Héctor had fallen apart and reassembled at will. The memory of his grandfather, goofy and kind, combats the coldness that has settled in his bones.
He walks aimlessly, not ready to face his dead family members. He does not want to cause them pain. Passing was supposed to be a joyous occasion, someone who had lived a long life and was ready to be reunited with departed family. His family surely wasn't expecting to see him again until the next dia de los Muertos, taller then they remembered and strumming his Papa Hector's guitar, singing with the breeze and marigold petals.
They wouldn't be expecting to see him turn up on their doorstep, clothes torn and blood soaked. The boy exhales, his head tipping back. The sky is an expanse of azure, almost indiscernible from the sky he was accustomed to aside from purple undertones. A golden sun hangs high, casting light that makes the wisps of clouds glow pink. It's mid-day and the world around him bustles, not knowing his inner turmoil. He's now just another face in the crowd, another dead soul.
Miguel wanders, passing through markets and cart lined streets, colorful awnings fluttering in the breeze. People around him shout, music blares, dogs bark. Life after death is as busy as it was on the other side. He walks until he finds a secluded courtyard, a fountain bubbling in the center of it. A small collection of people and alejibre are stopped there, and he sees why moments later.
Sitting on the ledge of the fountain is Héctor, eyes closed as his fingers dance over his guitar strings. The melody is gentle and slow, and Miguel is enchanted by the fluid movements of his grandfathers fingers. The song fades too soon, and the people applaud before dispersing.
Héctor has not looked up yet, and Miguel feels a surge of confidence. He is determined to put on a brave face, to be strong so his family doesn't have to. He claps with gusto.
"Bravo, Papa Héctor!"
Héctor's head whips up, shock instantly turning to joy. In one motion he sets his guitar on the cobblestone ground and runs to his grandson, sweeping him into a hug.
It takes a few moments for the realization to hit him. He withdraws as if Miguel's body has burned him. He holds the boy at arms length, and in his eyes Miguel sees heartbreak. He shrugs and tries to smile. What more can he do? He wishes he can say this is a mistake, a mixup or a strange curse. But it isn't.
Héctor's fingers gently cup his cheek and trail down to his shoulders, where they grip him tightly. He can see the bone of his boy's clavicle and his previous elation turns to dread. He has not had a stomach for decades and yet he can feel phantom bile rise in his throat. He draws Miguel into his arms again, holding him with a tangible desperation. His hand presses Miguel's head to his chest, and he recalls that the last time he'd been able to hold the boy Miguel had only come up to his ribcage.
Miguel feels the man shaking and he returns the hug fiercely, burrowing his face in the fabric of Héctor's vest and wetting it with tears. Héctor cries too, unashamed. They weep for Miguel's life, cut short. The older skeleton pulls back and looks at Miguel again, an anguished tenderness twisting his features.
"How, mijo?" He does not want to ask. He hates himself for asking, but he needs to know what has brought his boy back to him so soon.
Miguel turns his head, unable to meet his grandfather's gaze.
"I-" the words catch. "A man… crazy, stabbed me." He feels the need to say more, to assure his friend that it was not a painfully long death. "It was over rápidamente."
Héctor shakes again, this time in rage. He is in death as he'd been in life, a gentle soul. He does not often use his fists to express his anger. He is too kind hearted to be violent. And the moment he hears Miguel tell him of his demise, sees the blood dirtied and ripped clothes, he wishes the final death on the man who did this to his grandson.
Miguel hugs him again, firm and grounding. He whispers something that shatters Héctor's heart.
"I missed you, Papa Héctor."
Héctor stifles a sob. "I missed you too, mijo."
A/N Jumping on the Coco train and loving it. I don't speak Spanish, any Spanish bits sprinkled in are direct translations from Google Translate, so I apologize it anything is butchered. I absolutely adore Héctor's and Miguel's relationship in the movie. Seriously, I can't get enough of these boys. This will be a multi-chapter fic, not too long though, I think. The world needs more Hector and Miguel feels.
If you liked it please let me know :)