So, I probably shouldn't be doing this since I still have another fic to finish—and I've never done two fics at once before, always making sure to complete one before I start another. But I absolutely love this movie, and I've had this idea since I first saw it when it came out, only just now getting around to writing it. So I couldn't resist, and I'm sorry to those who are waiting for an update on my other story. I just have more inspiration for Coco right now x)
This idea came to me hearing a certain line as Miguel's family is taking him across the bridge for the first time: 'Please remember to return before sunrise.' We know what would have happened to Miguel if he had stayed in the Land of the Dead after sunrise, but what would happen to Héctor or any of the others if they stayed in the Land of the Living after sunrise?
The title comes from the Audiomachine song "Remember Not to Forget." I seem to have a habit of naming my stories after songs xD
I'm not Mexican, so apologies if I get any details or words wrong; I'm going to try and go by what's in the movie to be safe, but will also do research if I need to. Please correct me if you find any mistakes!
Héctor had lost count of the many years he'd attempted to cross the bridge, but every single year that he had failed to see Coco was worth it for the one night he was able to be with his family and daughter, and to be able to hear his great-great grandson play one of the most beautiful songs he'd ever heard.
"In every beat of my proud corazón," the ending lyrics rattle Héctor's bones as he strums along with a glowing guitar of his own, and for the first time they don't fall apart as they once had when they were so fragile. Coco had remembered him and Miguel had put up his photo, passing down his stories from Coco herself, and his mended clothing and new shoes created just for him help keep them together, as well. His bones themselves aren't as faded but a more refined white like Imelda and his family, a sign that he was indeed being remembered.
"I wish I could thank you, Miguel," he whispers as the song ends completely and he stops playing at nearly the same time as Miguel, watching the boy join the rest of his family to eat at the outside table. He rests the same, more physical white instrument by his side and the skeleton smiles, glancing down at his hands that hold the spirit version of the guitar; the instrument glows brightly as Héctor moves forward to put it back in its place. "I wouldn't be here right now if it wasn't for you."
Before he can fully merge the spirit guitar with its physical counterpart, a hand grabs him lightly by the shoulder.
"And I'm glad you're here," a voice just as beautiful as the song says next to him. Héctor turns to see his wife, and Imelda gives him a smile that was becoming more frequent as the days passed by—joy that they were finally together, and that she had forgiven him at last.
Ever since her (surprising) day of forgiveness, Imelda made an effort to let Héctor know he had been missed even amid her anger towards him, and to show love and appreciation as if to make up for the bad times when he had disappeared from her life. Much to Héctor's surprise, she nods down at the spirit guitar he still holds.
"You don't have to put it back," she says with a small smile. "Music is a part of our lives again thanks to that boy, and you shouldn't have to give up your passion for it...or a possession as prized as this one."
Héctor gapes at first, unsure of whether he should agree. But he can tell Imelda is sincere and that she means it; if it was the other way around, she would under no circumstances even suggest keeping a musical instrument, and her hands would be on her hips along with a stern expression—neither of which are present.
If skeletons were allowed to keep foods they brought back from the Land of the Living and offerings from their relatives, then he could surely bring back his beloved guitar. He smiles up at Imelda, holding it closer to his chest. It would be just like old times now when it had been just the two of them and music, and nothing else in the world mattered.
"You're right...if only we could thank him," Papá Julio agrees. "But it's not possible until he..."
Héctor cringes at the thought. Until he dies and joins us.
Well, he was not looking forward to that day at all just so he could say two simple words to the boy.
Héctor turns his gaze back to the living family eating dinner at the table...well, except for his great-great grandson. Miguel stares down at his plate full of countless tamales from his abuelita Elena that she wouldn't allow him to refuse, his expression giving away that he was no longer with the others, but lost in a far off place of his own; perhaps thinking of certain events that had happened only a year earlier on this same night. Héctor wishes more strongly that he could somehow comfort Miguel, but he knows all too well that it's impossible, that the living can't see—much less touch the dead—and his own expression sinks along with his grandson's. Still, he can't help himself and chuckles lightly when he spots Miguel sneaking a certain, hairless spirit guide a tamale or two when Elena isn't looking.
But Miguel's abuelita is smart, and slaps his hand gently away from grabbing another for Dante with a glare.
The boy had been so happy moments before now that he could play Héctor's guitar without getting in trouble, or getting cursed. The whole family, living and dead, had listened with unbridled joy and pride at Miguel's talent. Now, it was the complete opposite. Héctor suspected that Miguel must be worrying about what had happened after Mamá Coco had remembered her father. Or had he been too late, and had Héctor given into the Final Death? The worry and uncertainty was all too apparent.
"May I be excused?" Miguel asks, his tone soft and polite. But underneath his manners, his Papá Enrique could tell that something was amiss. Dante barks, wagging his tail and hoping for another treat, but Miguel ignores him no matter how adorable the dog tries to act.
"Is something wrong, mijo?" Enrique asks with slight worry. Día de los Muertos was a night to celebrate, after all. Why would there be any room for sadness? He was able to play music in front of everyone now and even Elena, who was more accepting of music than she had ever been before.
"No," Miguel assures with a little smile that make Hector's restored bones want to break again. "I...I just want to be alone for awhile with Mamá Coco and the others."
His mother Luisa smiles softly in understanding while holding his baby sister close to her chest, nodding and allowing her son to leave the table, heading towards the ofrenda room. Héctor stares on, and his nonexistent gut tells him to follow and bring comfort to Miguel. Coco had recently passed away, joining her mother and father in the afterlife, and emotions ran high in the Rivera family as they celebrated her life. But before he can move forward, Héctor feels a small grip on his hand and glances down to see Coco herself smiling up at him, and she points back towards the rest of their deceased, spirit family who stare back at him expectantly.
A few moments of silence pass before Héctor gives in.
"What? Do I have something on my face?" He asks, lifting a hand to try and feel if there was any food stuck to his bones.
"Time to go back...Día de los Muertos is over," Imelda says gently.
Already? It couldn't be! It felt like the night had only just begun. Héctor doesn't want to wait another year that would crawl slowly by, but he knows they have no choice. He stares in the direction where Miguel had gone towards the ofrenda room, wishing more than anything that he could provide his great-great grandson comfort that he had survived the Final Death.
"Just five more minutes?" He pleads with a pouty face and shining, big puppy dog eyes almost as adorable as Dante's.
But Imelda puts her foot down. No matter how much Miguel ached to actually see his family on the other side, it just wasn't possible unless they all wanted to put their afterlives in danger. "You know we can't be out after sunrise."
Héctor sighs, defeated. Once Imelda made up her mind, there was no arguing with her, and he knew that better than anyone.
Please remember to return before sunrise, he could clearly recall the reminder as he had made his way over the bridge for the first time. It wasn't just Imelda and her made up mind, but the fact that they had no choice but to go back or risk facing the consequences...whatever those were. He didn't really have any idea what would happen if they stayed out in the Land of the Living after sunrise, and he didn't want to find out.
"Come on, Dante," Héctor says, his tone dull with disappointment that they had to go. Dante whines, trailing with his ears drooping and tail between his legs as Héctor leaves the Rivera household along with Imelda and the rest of the family. Héctor gives Dante a small smile, understanding passing between the two that neither wanted to leave Miguel so soon, and keeps a good grip on the spirit guitar.
A certain small and gray cat meows and darts ahead of the two, reluctantly leaving Miguel's grandmother scratching her behind the ears. Elena notices Dante and Pepita leaving, but otherwise doesn't see anything out of the ordinary. She faintly wonders why the dog seems so upset, but gives a smile at the cat's proud stance though it seems a bit forced, like she's trying to hold back tears.
"You know, I've only seen that dog once this year," Elena murmurs thoughtfully to herself. While she had grown more accepting of strays since Miguel had come back home, she couldn't say that she would miss Dante if he ended up not returning anytime during the rest of the year.
"What happens if we stay out after sunrise?" Héctor asks, his curiosity getting the better of him as the departed family makes their way back across the bridge. Other families follow their lead, smiling widely after a fun celebration with their relatives. Marigold petals beneath their feet shine brightly with each step taken, and Hector can't help but glance back over his shoulder; night was just about ending, and soon it would be morning—a time that forbid the dead to be outside in the Land of the Living.
"No one knows for sure," Tía Rosita explains with an uneasy shrug. "It's kind of a spontaneous, unpredictable thing. One thing could happen to one person, and another thing could happen to another person."
"There was once a rumor about being turned into alebrijes," Tío Felipe adds in.
Oscar shakes his head at his brother's crazy idea, and Pepita snorts as the cat walks faithfully besides Imelda. Dante barks twice as if in agreement and leaps over the entrance to the Land of the Dead, rainbow wings sprouting as he transforms back into his spirit guide self, and Pepita into her gigantic, colorful winged alebrije form. The group stares at the dog suspiciously, but only until he flaps his wings and attempts to hover in place. Even after a year, he was still—understandably—getting used to flight. Héctor rolls his eyes and the family continues to venture across, but he stops. Gazing back across the Land of the Living again, he can't help but picture Miguel leaving his family at the table to go into the ofrenda room.
"Or it could be similar to what almost happened to Miguel," Tía Victoria says. "All we know is that it's dangerous."
"Héctor?" Papá Julio asks, noticing that he isn't following and turning back around just as they are about to end their journey. Héctor cringes at his name but remains silent, staring at the boundary between life and death.
"I'm going to stay a little longer, if that's alright with you…" Héctor says slowly, knowing that Imelda isn't going to like the idea.
The group gasps, eyes widening, but Imelda sighs as if she already had an idea of what Héctor was planning, her gaze resting on Coco. Her daughter simply smiles, already understanding Héctor's hesitation to come back across the bridge, but Imelda wasn't so sure it was a good idea.
Héctor understands. He'd been gone for so long from Coco's life and now when they had finally been reunited, he was just going to leave her again?
But he wasn't exactly leaving.
"There has to be a way I can tell him," Héctor says, determination beginning to build.
"He can't see or hear us anymore," Papá Julio reminds him gently with slight disappointment running in his tone. Disappointment yet understanding that they were dead, and Miguel was living—the living did not have the ability to see the dead when they visited on this special night, no matter how much they wanted them to, and Héctor was beginning to understand better than anyone.
"I know, I know. But I want to at least...try. He deserves to know; I don't want him to spend the rest of his life worrying and wondering if I made it." It had already been a year!
"You understand that you have to be back before sunrise?" Imelda asks, inwardly scolding herself for starting to give in. But if anyone in the living world deserved to see the dead, it was Miguel. He had brought her husband back into their family as he rightly deserved, and Héctor deserved to at least try and tell Miguel that he had made it, that he had been in time before Coco would have lost her memory of him forever.
Héctor nods more forcefully this time, his excitement obviously getting the better of him, yet still making direct and sincere eye contact with her. His wife was giving in! "Just like Miguel had to be back before sunrise. Don't worry, I got it," Héctor reassures her.
Imelda blinks at the parallel, but her bones relax at his words that showed he did indeed understand. Hesitantly, he reaches his guitar towards his wife for her to take. Imelda stares at the spirit instrument for a moment or two before she sighs and gives in completely, taking the shining guitar from Héctor.
"I'll come back soon," he says to Coco, hugging his daughter with a love that knew no bounds. Coco hugs back with a force just as strong, and Héctor regrets it when he has to let go. "I promise, mija, I will never leave you again. Miguel needs me. He needs to know I'm okay somehow."
"I understand. I trust you, Papa," Coco says in return without any hesitation, much to Imelda's surprise. Though it had taken herself years to overcome her anger and distrust towards her husband, Coco was the complete opposite; she loved her father and that was it. Nothing could untangle that strong love a father gave his daughter, nor the other way around, and a stab of shame shoots through Imelda.
He's still here, Imelda thinks in another attempt to calm herself down. He won't leave again. Not for music—not for anything.
"And Héctor?" Imelda stops him before he can take another step. He turns back around, stopping himself from fidgeting with impatience. He didn't have time for his wife's protests!
"Take Pepita with you," she orders sternly, and the giant alebrije has already transformed back into her normal cat form as she crosses over again. Dante was one thing, but she could trust Pepita to bring her husband back safe and sound; they didn't need too many at risk of getting stuck on the other side. Héctor grins, rushing back towards the Rivera home. Dante barks, tail wagging wildly as he leaps over the boundary as well and also transforming back into his normal, hairless dog form.
"Dante, get back here!" Imelda shouts to no avail. Dante ignores her, eager to see Miguel one last time before the night ends completely.
"We did it, Papa Héctor," Miguel says quietly to himself in the ofrenda room, standing in front of the ofrenda itself that now has a mini version of Héctor's guitar propped on top. His family is still outside, enjoying what's left of dinner. No matter how much Miguel had wanted to join in on the festivities, it seemed that his spirit wasn't up for any more celebrating other than singing the song he had written for this special occasion. He grips Héctor's real guitar tightly for comfort.
"We made it. We put your photo back up, and you survived the Final Death...at least, I hope you did," Miguel's words slow. Truth be told, he was unsure if Héctor had 'lived' to see another day in the Land of the Dead. Had he been too late to try and make Mamá Coco remember? Miguel had no idea, and the thought of what if he hadn't made it was unsettling, refusing to leave his mind. What if Mamá Coco had passed away with the memory of her father only to find out that he wasn't there because she had almost forgotten him?
Miguel knows that he most likely won't find out until he dies, and the thought makes him sick to his stomach. Would he be left wondering until the end of his days?
The ofrenda room door creaks and Miguel jumps in surprise, but relaxes when a small, black nose peeks into the room.
"Dante!" Miguel laughs, instantly knowing who the nose belongs to. Dante skips towards Miguel and the boy kneels to the floor, hastily but gently setting the guitar down with care and wrapping his arms around the dog tightly in an almost suffocating hug.
"I missed you, Dante," Miguel says, stroking the hairless dog affectionately. "Now that you're a real alebrije, you can only come on Día de los Muertos like them."
Dante whines, pushing his nose into Miguel's chest and closing his eyes, cherishing the short amount of time left that they had together. A little mewl interrupts the moment and Miguel glances back up to see a certain cat peek her head inside along with Dante.
Miguel smiles at the newcomer and gives Pepita a scratch behind her ears, her favorite spot where he knows his grandmother likes to pet her. "I missed you too, Pepita. I never really got a chance to thank you for getting me out of that sinkhole, or rescuing me from De la Cruz."
Pepita purrs in response to Miguel's strokes, arching her back. Little does Miguel know that a third spirit has entered the room.
"Okay, how are we going to make this work?" Héctor asks himself, bringing his hands to his head to help him think harder. Time was running out, and he...had nothing. Absolutely nothing that could possibly help Miguel see him, or at least let him know that he was there.
His guitar is the first thing that comes to mind, and he bends down to try and touch its strings...only for his glowing, bony hands to serve as a reminder that he's not able to touch anything in the Land of the Living, going straight through. He had already taken the guitar's spirit form anyway, so it wasn't like he could try to play it any harder than he already had to get Miguel's attention.
Maybe he should have thought this through better...what if coming here again was just a waste of valuable time?
Pepita moves from Miguel to Héctor, winding around his legs in a figure eight motion. She knows Imelda won't be happy if something happens to Héctor, so she does her best to make him hurry, pawing at his newly mended pants.
The boy tilts his head in confusion at Pepita's actions, almost like she's trying to get someone else's attention. He'd known throughout the night that his spirit relatives must be there with his living family—he'd felt their presence, their love in a way that his other family members couldn't—he knew for sure, as he had been to the Land of the Dead himself. He just hadn't been sure about Héctor.
Héctor himself notices Miguel's confused expression at the way Pepita wraps around his legs, and an idea sparks in his mind. Yes! Why hadn't he thought of it before?! Alebrijes could be seen by both the dead and the living while in their normal animal forms, so why wouldn't he be able to use them to his advantage?
"Dante, come here boy," Héctor says in an excited tone to get the dog's attention. Unsurprisingly it works, and Dante barks with his ears perking straight up. Héctor kneels, allowing him to come closer with Pepita remaining close by. Hesitantly, he reaches a hand down to try and pet the dog, and unlike the guitar...his hand doesn't go through, able to make physical contact in the living world with a spirit guide.
Dante leans into the invisible person's touch and Miguel frowns, confused at the sight of the dog and cat seemingly being pet by someone he couldn't see. Héctor's other hand glides along Pepita's back, and she has no choice but to purr and give into his gentle touches.
Miguel scoots closer to the two, curious as to why Pepita was still purring even though he was no longer petting her. No one was there...yet the closer he looks, Miguel sees Pepita's gray fur somehow being moved slightly back and forth by an invisible hand.
But just because he couldn't see whoever was petting Dante and Pepita, didn't mean that they weren't actually there.
It hits Miguel like a bucket of cold water has been dumped on top of him.
"Dante, Pepita...are you trying to show me that...that he's here? Right now?"
Dante barks and Pepita meows in excitement at Miguel's revelation, and the boy smiles wide. He looks past the two where Héctor is still kneeling, and the skeleton can almost feel a chill pass through his body when their eyes 'meet.'
"Holá, chamaco," he says fondly with a wave. "I'm still here. I survived the Final Death, thanks to you."
"So you're still here, Papa Héctor," Miguel repeats unknowingly with a relieved laugh that echoes around the room, unaware of his similar words and uncaring that it was a bit awkward it seemed no one else was with him. If any of his family stepped in, they'd think he was crazy! But none of that matters. "I wasn't too late!"
Héctor grins, wishing more than anything that he could give Miguel a hug, but touching the living was just as impossible as trying to communicate without an alebrije like Dante or Pepita. The answer to their problem had been a surprisingly simple one that Héctor hadn't realized could work—using alebrijes to get the attention of the living. The downside was that they they still couldn't be seen, but just Miguel's knowledge of his being there was good enough for Héctor. Now Miguel didn't have to worry!
"Mamá Coco remembered you in time," Miguel reassures himself, bright eyes never leaving where he thinks Héctor's are. "I kept my promise."
"I got to give her the biggest hug," Héctor says, wanting to confirm that he had given Coco the big hug he'd wanted—definitely the best part of the night besides actually getting to spend time with his living family for the first time.
But he gasps then as an ominous feeling sweeps through his bones—a feeling of warning that time was running out. Looking down at his hands, Héctor notices that the bright, spirit glow that surrounds the dead in the Land of the Living has dimmed just the slightest bit.
"Dante? Is something wrong? Is he hurt?" Miguel asks when the dog whines in concern, and Pepita hisses unexpectedly to try and make him hurry. The dim glow reminds Héctor all too well of the Final Death, and he doesn't want to stick around any longer to find out if something similar happens past the deadline.
"Not yet chamaco, but I gotta get back and soon," Héctor murmurs to himself. Dante barks again, pointing his nose in the direction of the half-opened door, the sun just beginning to rise, and Miguel's eyes widen in realization.
"You gotta get back!" Miguel says in a rush, wishing he could shove his great-great grandfather out of the room. Still, Héctor hesitates; he doesn't exactly want to leave Miguel when they had just figured out a way to communicate through Dante and Pepita.
"I feel better now that I know you're okay. Don't worry about me," Miguel assures him with a smile. "Go back home."
Héctor blinks, recalling how he'd said the same thing to Miguel upon the sun rising before De la Cruz had almost ruined everything. His hesitation leaves him, and he gives Miguel a sad smile.
But even though their time together had been too short, now he knows his great-great grandfather is okay, and that's enough for them both.
The fading night air is cool and refreshing against his bones, and Héctor walks quickly with Dante and Pepita by his side. He glances every which way at the numerous families and ofrendas still outside. There were fewer now that the night was almost over, but some wanted to stay as long as they could with their loved ones even though they had to cross the bridge. A young skeleton child begs her mother to stay longer with her Papá, but the mother shakes her head and the child bows her head in disappointment; Héctor can't help but empathize with her.
"Almost there," Héctor murmurs to himself as skeleton, dog and cat continue to make their way back to the Land of the Dead. "At least Miguel knows I'm okay, now."
Dante suddenly growls unexpectedly, pinning his ears back against his head. Pepita hisses, the hair on the back of her neck standing up.
"What is it?" Héctor whispers uncertainly, stopping in his tracks. Dante points his nose in the direction of a nearby headstone. He knows it's most likely not a good idea, but Héctor steps forward anyway, wanting to know what had caused Dante to react so viciously when it seemed that nothing was there...
Except a shadow that reminded him of his Frida Kahlo costume.
"It's only Frida, you two," Héctor says to try and calm Dante and Pepita. They don't let up their growling and hissing in the slightest, and Héctor instantly brings his head back up to get a closer look at who he thought was Frida in the dress. Now that he thinks about it, the real Frida hardly ever had any time to see family in the Land of the Living.
"Wait...hey, you stole my idea," he accuses sharply to who he now knows is definitely an imposter. "How come it worked for you and not for me?" That bridge must still hate him!
Dante growls again more loudly this time, and Héctor has to hold him back from lunging right at the Frida imposter. He's too slow and Dante takes hold of one of 'her' arms, and to Héctor's surprise and unease, it breaks in the dog's grip all too easily. He steps back, eyes widening as 'Frida' comes into full view from the shadows, forcing 'her' arm back into its rightful place. Now that the imposter is standing out of the shadows, what little is left of the moon's glow reveals an enemy that Héctor had never wanted to see ever again—his murderer.
"It's good to see you, old friend," an all-too familiar voice says. "I see you survived the Final Death, unfortunately."
Pepita attempts to make a run for it now that danger is all too palpable, to try and warn Imelda and the others—when a separate pair of hands grabs her by the scruff of her neck, lifting her away from her captor's body so she's not able to scratch his bones and break free. Dante yelps, whining as yet another pair of hands grabs him forcefully around his waist to stop him from attacking again.
"Ernesto!" Héctor shouts when it becomes clear, taking a step back. "But the bell...h-how did you—"
How did he even cross the bridge? But Héctor realizes that Ernesto is still well-remembered by the world, thus enabling him to cross over. How he'd gotten past security was another question entirely; there was no way that the police would have simply let him cross the bridge after what he'd admitted on camera to the audience. The bell had taken care of imprisoning the man so the police didn't really have to do anything, but now he was here...
Héctor feels cruel for even thinking it no matter if it was his worst enemy...but Ernesto should have been crushed and stayed that way. His bones are stuck together with who knows how many pieces of duct tape so he doesn't fall apart, and while he was still remembered, they were slowly beginning to dull over. Ernesto's stare shoots straight through Héctor like he's a ghost, and he can't help but gulp nervously.
"Let's just say that there were a few willing fans who would do anything for me, even after what I'd done. You know, the die-hard fans that could never admit their idol had done something...wrong," he says with a grin, nodding towards a group of extra skeletons emerging from the shadows and taking off his Frida costume with relief to reveal familiar, white musician's clothes underneath.
The hairless spirit guide growls and snaps to no avail, and yelps sharply when he's squeezed tighter. Pepita's struggles cease as she realizes that while in her normal cat form, it's useless to try and fight back, let alone against such a large group of people that would only stop her escape.
Héctor's face crumples in astonishment. How dare he take advantage of fans so loyal to him like that? But then again, he's not surprised Ernesto would sink so low if he was a man willing to murder his best friend.
"You don't even have any proof of what you said he did," the unknown man says in defense of his idol. Héctor realizes that this man—and any others that Ernesto may have dragged into this mess—must not have been at the foiled De la Cruz concert when Ernesto had spilled the beans about his murder. Either that, or they actually had but as Ernesto said, did not want to believe that the person they so admired could do something so horrible.
"H-he said he did those things," Héctor sputters, "he admitted it! Why did you wait until now?" He questions sharply to Ernesto, realizing that the man must have been in hiding for an entire year. Why did he have to choose Día de los Muertos of all nights?
"Any other time of the year would not have had as much meaning as tonight, no matter how much I wanted to pay a little visit earlier," Ernesto explains with a grin that he can't help. The night he had waited so long for was finally here and it was almost over, the time he had been waiting for the most. "Besides, it did take some time to get out from under that bell."
"You deserved it for taking me away from my family. For stealing my songs," Héctor grunts, not caring how much more angry his words will make the former greatest musician. "Miguel made sure that Santa Cecilia knows, and soon the whole world will know, too."
"And you deserve something much worse," Ernesto growls back, his tone becoming darker by the second.
"Take him," he says harshly to his group of fans, shoving Héctor into their arms. They gladly do the dirty work that Ernesto is unable to in his broken state from the bell. They grab hold of his joints so he can't try to fall apart and come back together to escape, and Héctor can only manage small, insignificant struggles that won't help his situation.
Héctor can only stare into the many unforgiving eyes as Ernesto orders them to drag him through the Land of the Living, back towards the bridge.
"He should have been back by now," Imelda says, worry deepening across her features. The family waits for Héctor to return by the edge of the bridge, but still there's no sign of him and Imelda wants to hit him with a shoe when he gets back for making her worry once more. Then again, maybe the spirit guitar that he'd left behind with her would do a better job.
"Look!" Tía Rosita suddenly gasps, pointing ahead. Oscar and Felipe squint to see two shapes struggling, and Tía Victoria frowns deeply when she spots an odd and startling sight—a mob holding none other than their family member they had been waiting for.
"It's him," she seethes as Ernesto comes into view at the front of the group. Imelda finally notices as well, her unconscious breathing picking up speed.
"How did he get past us without us noticing?" Papá Julio asks in distress, but his question is answered when a different group of skeletons approach from behind. There's too many to fight off like they had before Imelda was lifted on top of the stage, and security was only down at the end of the bridge to help those returning.
"Stay where you are," Ernesto growls.
Imelda attempts to step forward anyway, but Héctor shakes his head, desperate not to have any harm come to her. "N-no," he manages to get out. He'd fallen limp in the group's tight grip, knowing that it was useless to fight back. His wife stares on, horrified at the man gripping Pepita by her neck.
Horror changes to anger and in a split second she raises the spirit guitar Héctor left behind to try and whack the man on his head, but before she can even lift her arm, another hand grabs hold and forces it out of her grip as she's distracted by Pepita's struggles.
Ernesto smiles at the small cat's strained yowls, creeping forward past the boundary into the Land of the Dead. The others in the group stay behind, and Héctor has a sickening feeling what Ernesto's plan is, the other man holding Dante following his lead. The poor dog is forced to transform back into his colorful, shining alebrije self. The second man holding Pepita lifts her just over the boundary to stop her from changing back into her larger form, knowing that if she changes back their plan will be ruined.
"There is one other reason why I chose tonight out of any other day of the year," Ernesto explains eagerly, and the helpless family gasps. "It has to do with sunrise, similar to what would have happened to that mocoso malcriado if he had stayed any longer than after sunrise. Except this time, no one knows for sure what will happen...which makes it more exciting. But I have a pretty good idea."
Everything had been going so well. Héctor had gotten to cross the bridge with Coco to see their family. He'd helped Miguel know that he was safe and sound, though now that was far from the truth. Why Ernesto had ordered the group to drag him all the way back to the bridge was all too clear by the horrified expressions on his family's faces that told him one thing: Ernesto wanted Imelda to watch as he forced his former best friend to face the sunrise that was creeping closer by the minute.
"Let him go, you monster," Imelda demands, refusing to plea to a man who would revel in her fear if she even thought of showing it. "Haven't you done enough damage already?"
Ernesto's expression darkens, and the single word he says next almost makes Imelda feel like her nonexistent heart has skipped several beats.
"No," the single word leaves his mouth.
The group releases Héctor and rushes forward where they will be safe, across the boundary between the living and the dead. Ernesto smiles widely as Héctor drops helplessly from their grip, barely having enough time to try and run forward along with the others.
"No!" Imelda repeats Ernesto's single word in a panicked scream, reaching out her arms as if to try and grab her husband. The die-hard fans of Ernesto hold her back, overwhelming the family and she kicks out to no avail.
The man holding Dante makes the mistake of letting the dog go now that he thinks his task is complete, and the dog focuses his sights on the monster ahead.
"Stay back! Get away!" Dante ignores Ernesto's command and growls, the alebrije leaping forward directly towards Ernesto. Howling in anger and despair, he pumps his wings fast enough before they disappear to catapult the man over the boundary in the same direction as Héctor. Furious, the former greatest musician of all time takes the opportunity to kick Dante directly in his side.
"Dante!" Héctor calls in distress as the dog is flown farther from the bridge, but the alebrije turned regular dog doesn't get up. He sees Imelda wrestling with the decision to try and save the dog, to try and bring him back over the boundary. Héctor shakes his head frantically, not wanting her to risk her own afterlife. She can't do anything anyway with Ernesto's fans holding her back; any attempt to save either of them is futile!
Pepita flails her claws in another attempt to fight back, but her captor only holds her farther away from himself to avoid being scratched and holds onto her neck tighter.
Héctor glances behind Ernesto the best that he can, and his eyes widen when he sees the bright, golden sun beginning to peek out. No, no, no. We can't be outside!
The man yelps when the glow of the sun just barely touches his bones, and he has no choice but to drop Pepita in the Land of the Dead. Gray fur changes into green, gold and red, and the man knows he's made a horrible mistake when he's faced with a set of large teeth and a roar that sends him running in the other direction, but not for long before he's caught by security and rightfully apprehended.
The last thing Héctor sees when he barely has enough strength to lift his head is his daughter—his sweet, precious daughter Coco—looking onwards with the most horrified, heartbreaking expression he'd ever seen as police surround his family and the group of loyal De la Cruz fans.
Pained screams cause him to look over his shoulder in the other direction.
Gray dust surrounds Ernesto's body and enfolds his bones completely. It's like the complete opposite of the Final Death with no golden light to surround him, and was anything but peaceful as his screams of terror rattle the early morning.
"W-what's happening?!" Ernesto yells, his face crumpling from anger and hate into what seemed like blinding agony as his bones begin to dissolve.
"Staying out after sunrise can have unpredictable consequences," Héctor explains without sympathy, and Ernesto glares in response despite his fear as the dust continues to relentlessly consume him...
Until there's nothing left of the man who had taken Héctor away from his family.
"Dante," Héctor says gently, crawling towards the limp canine. He raises his head slightly to let Héctor know that he heard, and that he's okay with a lick to the face. Héctor laughs weakly, assuming that the worst is over. Ernesto had gotten what he deserved, but the sun had spared them. They'd made it!
But his relief is cut short, and he knows he's assumed too soon. Dante whines when, like Ernesto, his body begins to disappear as well.
Glancing up to face the sun that has nearly completed its course, Héctor can only watch in despair as Dante fades, the dog whining and biting at his paws as if to try and stop the vanishing. But it's no use, and soon Dante is gone just like Ernesto, the only difference being that there wasn't any dust—one of the unpredictable consequences of staying out after sunrise.
"Papá!" Héctor hears the sweet, panicked voice of Coco yell.
He gasps, reluctantly getting up from the spot where Dante had disappeared. Pushing his legs to go as fast as they can, he rushes back towards the bridge when he suddenly looks up—and the horrible realization comes to light that the bridge is gone. He can't see the orange-glowing marigold petals anywhere!
"Imelda? Coco?" Héctor tries desperately. But no matter where he looks—left, right, straight ahead where the bridge had once been—his wife and daughter are nowhere to be seen.
No one is there, and Héctor feels like a fish out of water when he realizes that he's still a skeleton in the Land of the Living. No, this can't be possible...he can't be out after sunrise, or else...what if someone saw him? But the living did not seem to take notice of the single skeleton in distress.
"I-I can't see you. I can't hear you!" He cries, reaching his bony arms forward as if to try and touch the invisible—but what good would touching the invisible do if he couldn't even see where the bridge was?!
He suddenly feels a sharp pain in his side and he takes a deep breath that he's not supposed to. A stinging sensation pokes and prods, akin to that of what he'd felt when he thought he had been poisoned by chorizo. But he's not supposed to feel pain…not like this. Skeletons in the Land of the Dead reacted subconsciously in situations where they could be hurt, like Imelda slapping Ernesto with a shoe or the bell falling on top of him. They couldn't breathe, yet continued to do so subconsciously even in the afterlife.
It was all supposed to be a subconscious thing, or so he'd thought…not real. But the harsh and fast-pounding sensation in his chest proves otherwise.
"Papa Héctor?!" He thinks he can hear Miguel's voice close by, or is it far off in the distance...? But it's not possible, because Miguel can't see the dead in the Land of the Living.
He's not sure about anything anymore as his insides twist and turn, causing his entire being to burst aflame. Unable to fight the agonizing, burning torture worse than poison any longer, he feels himself falling face-first to the ground like the night he had been murdered.
What's happening to me? Héctor manages to question in his racing mind before everything goes black.