Chapter 1: Soothing
Don Pedro wanders, unable to stay or move on. It seems to him almost as though now that he has gotten his revenge, he is the one searching for redemption. Sometimes, he sees Juan at the mirror, watching the world below with a sad smile on his face. Pedro doesn’t bother him. Hasn’t spoken to him since that first time they stood side by side. It’s strange, but he can no longer summon any of the hate he felt for Juan, is starting to forget why he ever felt it in the first place.
The one thing that is constant is Maria, still tugging on his soul. He checks on her sometimes, even goes to earth in his terrifying stone-like ghostly form to see how she is doing. She will recover, of that he is certain. Without the curse her heart is free to live again, love again. So far, she has only found the strength for the first, but he hopes that she will also find the second.
There are days when he wishes he was alive, so perhaps he could be the one to help her, but he is content to watch her from the shadows. To keep the nightmares away at night. He is grateful she remade his statue. It stands in the centre of Seville, a monument not only to him, but to all the other fallen soldiers whose loss the town has had to bear. It is different this time, she let him stand on his own two feet, instead of sitting on that horse. She shouldn’t have been able to capture his likeness at all, she has never even seen him, but looking at the statue is just like standing in front of a mirror.
Although he is unable to move on, he isn’t really bothered by that anymore. There is a quiet peace to this existence in between that he doesn’t necessarily dislike. He has found, however, that there are many that do. In his time wandering Seville, he’s encountered numerous lost souls, spirits that – much like him – have been unable to find their way to the next world. One of them is Fernando, a young soldier he finds at the bed of that boy, Raphael, her ex-fiancé.
Fernando recognises him, and he is glad to help the boy leave the realm of the living, glad to be of service to the young soldier in the way he should have been had he been alive. A leader. Protector. Guardian.
The boy follows him. Don Pedro tries to help him move on, but no matter what he does or says, Fernando remains faithfully at his side, as though waiting for orders. Glad to be free of his tethers to the earth, but unwilling to move on completely. Don Pedro doesn’t pretend to understand, but he accepts it. He is grateful for the company.
Chapter 2: Guardian
Fernando feels at peace. He knows there is a next world he could move on to, but he does not feel comfortable getting that far ahead of his twin. What if they can’t find one another, in whatever world comes next? No. He will not let that happen. It had been terribly hard, having to watch his loved ones all the time, but here, in this shadow realm between life and… whatever comes after, here he feels safe.
The commander tried to get him to move on at first, but seems to have accepted now that Fernando prefers to stay. Fernando thinks (hopes) that his captain at least does not mind his presence. They are quiet, mostly. The days go by almost like a dream. He speaks little, and the commander speaks even less. It doesn’t matter. The silence is soothing, the shadows that engulf them make him feel calm and something that approaches happy. The presence of his leader makes him feel at home.
He follows the commander whenever he visits the world of the living, waits patiently in a corner as his captain keeps watch over Maria at night, lays a hand on her forehead and smooths the crease there when she has a nightmare. It always seems to calm her. After a while, the commander seems to remember something, and starts bringing him to Mirabel. He sits with Fernando in the same way Fernando sat with him when he watched Maria. Sometimes they visit his wife and son. That is the hardest, watching his little boy grow faster than he thought was possible and being unable to touch or hold him. The commander never leaves him alone there, but stays close. A comforting presence just behind him, lending him strength he sorely needs.
Some days, they wander the streets, looking for other lost souls. The commander reaches out to them, patiently speaking to them in soft and soothing tones, until he takes their hand and leads them away. It reminds Fernando of when he was younger, when he just joined the army, and he watched the man visit wounded soldiers, always ready with encouraging words.
Fernando watches, and learns. Trying to help his fallen friends as he encounters them. There are so many. And many chose to stay. Soon, their shadowy world is no longer empty, but filled with the hustle and bustle of soldiers. It almost seems ironic to call it a lively atmosphere, but he doesn’t really know how else to describe it.
It is good, to be with his friends once more, but somehow he feels the strongest kinship to the commander, and often remains close at his side while the others laugh and amuse themselves as best they can in the vast nothingness of their underworld. While the others dance, they sit together, watching, waiting, guarding. Fernando has never felt so right.
Chapter 3: Home
Raphael still has nights when he almost cannot resist drinking and going to find Maria. His feelings for her fluctuate between anger, guilt, and the remnants of a love that might have been. He has somehow managed to avoid her completely since the duel, spending most of his time with Elvira and Mirabel, or with his fellow soldiers.
The duel has left him unfit for duty - the wound Juan inflicted on his hip leaving him with a permanent limp. When he wakes up in the morning it is stiff, and he feels like an old man wandering around town with his brand new cane. He is only twenty, but sometimes it feels like triple that.
Part of him knows that now that he is no longer in need of medical care, he should be moving out of Elvira's house. It's not appropriate for an unmarried man and woman to be living together, let alone for him to be living with two of them. He tells himself that it's alright. Elvira worries about him, and really, she can use the help around the house. If she asks him to go, he'll go of course, but he just... never raises the topic, and neither does she.
They settle into a rhythm, the three of them. Elvira wakes him first, in the morning, and then Mirabel. She sits on the edge of his bed, touches his shoulder and calls his name, and it feels like every time he opens his eyes to her face, she grows more beautiful. They eat their breakfast together, and Elvira leads them into prayer. He never used to pray in the morning, but he welcomes it. After breakfast, Mirabel and Elvira either stay in, visit the market, or run other errands. Elvira never goes out alone. Now that he is doing better, he searches for work. His soldiers pay will stop coming soon, since he will no longer be able to fight, and he needs a new job. Cannot let Elvira, and certainly not Mirabel, be responsible for their income. Who knows what she would do (Who is he kidding, he knows exactly what, and he cannot let that happen).
It's difficult. He has no idea what he is good at. He always just expected to be a soldier. After some months of looking, it turns out that his habit to carve small animals and other creatures from wood while travelling has had a use after all. Of all things, and to Elvira's great amusement, he becomes a carpenter. It's good work, fulfilling, and it pays well. Before long, they can fix the leaking roof that Don Juan never helped her with. They get a new table (he made it himself), and replace the creaky door. His things that had remained in the barracks slowly start to move into his room at Elvira's. They don't discuss it.
Mirabel keeps giving them these looks, and he can't help but wonder what she's up to. But there is so much mirth and kindness in her eyes, right there with the mischief, that he cannot truly worry. Whatever it is, he is sure she means it well.
Chapter 4: Stay
Elvira keeps waiting for the day he’ll tell her that he’s leaving. His leg has been getting better, and there really is no reason why he should stay. It’s certainly not appropriate for him to remain, but she cannot get herself to raise the topic and is secretly grateful every day that he does not. At least they are not alone together, with Mirabel sharing the house. Even so, people have enough to talk about regarding her as it is, she really shouldn’t be giving them further ammunition. Every day, she resolves to bring it up, and every day she fails. When she speaks to Mirabel about it, she laughs, and tells Elvira not to be silly. She wishes she could see the world like Mirabel does – simple, uncomplicated… non-judgemental. Or maybe it’s just that Mirabel knows that people are judgemental and simply doesn’t care. Elvira isn’t very good at that. She cares a lot. She always has. And it really is inappropriate.
But the house feels so empty without him, even when he is only out for work. She’s not used to this sort of kindness. Not even the nuns were quite as kind as Raphael and Mirabel are to her, not unconditionally, and it’s very confusing. Confusing and addicting, and with every kind thing he does for her she wishes he could stay even more. She starts to dread the mornings, dread the moments where a conversation about him leaving might come up, but it never comes. Instead, he stays. He fixes her furniture, her doors, her roof, all with a smile on his face and as though it’s no trouble at all, while she knows from the way Don Juan responded to her calls for help that it is in fact a hassle. It has to be. Why else would Juan have refused? Not to mention that it might be a strain on Raphael’s leg! Still, he never complains. He just smiles. Months pass, and he is still there. And one evening, after most of his things have moved into his room here, there is a large bouquet of flowers on her kitchen sink, with a small card attached.
“Beautiful flowers for a beautiful soul. Thank you Elvira.”
Her heart skips a couple of beats and a warm feeling spreads throughout her chest, and after a moment she realises there are tears on her cheeks. Could this be what love truly feels like?
Chapter 5: Breathe
Moving on is difficult, but somehow she does it. With the help of Don Carlos and Don Luis, Maria gets back on her feet, finds her way back to life once again. She spends a lot of time in her workshop, sculpting. It is a lifeline, a way back to normality. When she creates, she doesn’t feel as lost.
Sometimes, Maria talks to Juan as she works. She knows that he isn’t there, honestly she does, but it helps. Somehow, she can say things to him she can’t really say to anyone else, even if he isn’t there to hear them anymore. So she talks. A word every time her chisel strikes the stone, letting go of some of the pain and confusion, putting a bit of her pain into whatever piece she is working on. It goes slowly, but at least she’s talking, setting the words and thoughts free and hoping that they will not return to the confines of her heart and her head. There are days when it works, and days where it doesn’t. And then, there are the days when she could swear someone is listening, and she doesn’t know if it’s Juan or something else or her imagination, but no matter what it is it comforts her. It is a familiar presence, of that she is sure, but it somehow doesn’t feel like Juan. Juan would be… warmer. More fiery, more chaotic. This presence is calm and almost cold, like the stones she works with.
The best part of her day remains dinner. Sharing the table with Don Luis and Don Carlos is more comforting than she could possibly have imagined. While she doesn’t really know Don Carlos, she feels an undeniable kinship with him, recognises the melancholy hiding behind his eyes, the similarity in their sadness. Sometimes, when she looks down at her plate and can’t get herself to take another bite because her throat is closing up and it feels like she can’t breathe, he will put his hand on hers for a moment - without even looking - and squeeze it softly. It always helps, more than she could have predicted it would. What amazes her most is his kindness. He should resent her, for all of this, but somehow he doesn’t. Instead, he tells her stories about Juan. Helps her get to know the person she never got to meet. Sometimes she is jealous of what they must have shared, and it always makes her feel bad. Carlos never seems jealous, just resigned. It makes the broken pieces of her heart break a little more, but this time for him. The more he tells her, the more it feels like what happened between Juan and her was a dream, a break from reality, and she has woken up now. It makes her wonder what happened, how the stars aligned to lead to this result. The more she thinks about it, the more she can’t figure it out. When she asks Carlos for his thoughts, he simply smiles his small, sad, hollow smile at her, and tells her that whatever it was, Don Juan should be grateful for it. That she freed him from the hell of his own making and that, no matter how it ended, at least he finally found peace.
Chapter 6: Closure
It is strange, to see the world move on. Of course, one cannot expect the world to stand still for one loss, but it is peculiar to see your own world stop while everyone else keeps moving on. It is slowly getting better though, step by step he adjusts as well. Luis catches himself, sometimes, wanting to ask Carlos where his son is, automatically assuming the young man will know as he always has.
It is better, with Maria and Carlos in the house. Their presence brings a life, a joy to the place, that there hasn’t been in years. Not even before Juan’s passing. It is like someone opened a door and let the wind blow the house clean, and for the first time since his wife died it is home to music and laughter. It is subdued still, and certainly not constant, but it’s there. Carlos dusts off the piano that stands in the sitting room, and plays for them. The melodies are soft and haunting and familiar, and Don Luis often wonders where he has heard them before. Perhaps it’s just the emotion that he recognises. Sometimes, Maria stands next to the piano and sings, words to songs he doesn’t know, but that comfort him nonetheless. Three lost souls, that’s what they are, but together like this it doesn’t seem as bad. Doesn’t seem as lonely.
He worries for Carlos, most of all. While he can see Maria improving with each passing day, the same cannot be said for Carlos. Instead, it is like he turns inwards more and more. The more everyone else improves, the more Carlos pulls away. He smiles at Maria and Luis, and Luis thinks he’s heard Maria talk to Carlos about a woman called Isabel that he speaks to, but his smiles are few and far between, and his words aren’t much different. The only times he really hears Carlos talk is in subdued conversations with Maria, most of which are about Juan.
After dinner, the two of them tend to wander through the courtyard, as Maria asks Carlos questions about Juan. Luis, realising he too wants to hear more about his son’s day to day life, takes to sitting on a balcony, and simply listening to them talk. As Carlos relates a story about the two of them getting in trouble with a warm fondness in his tone that can only remind Luis of the way he himself speaks of his wife, it all finally clicks in Luis’ mind. The way Carlos is speaking, and has always spoken, of Juan. His endless patience and willingness to put up with it all… Luis wonders how he never saw it before…
Chapter 7: Dear
It feels almost wrong to be happy, and yet these days Mirabel finds herself smiling more often than she ever has before. Living with Elvira and Raphael is both the most comfortable and amusing living arrangement she has ever had. Elvira is kind to her in a manner she didn’t think possible, and she finds herself trying to coax a smile on the other woman’s face as often as she can, and Raphael is both an annoying little brother and an actually quite great protector and provider.
On top of that, their awkward not-quite-flirting might be the most adorable thing she has ever seen, and she both wants to watch it forever and lock them in a room until they figure out they like each other and just kiss. That emotion is especially strong on those moments she sees Elvira stare out of the window, almost wistful, while she cooks, waiting for Raphael to return. Or when she sees Raphael pick a large bouquet of flowers and put it on the kitchen counter while Elvira isn’t there. It’s utterly adorable, but she just wishes Elvira wasn’t so afraid all the time, afraid of being left alone. If only the poor thing would trust that Raphael does not want to leave any more than she wants him to go…
One night, after having watched them fumble through dinner small talk awkwardly while stealing glances at one another and giggling a lot, Mirabel decides to do something about it. She grabs a quill and two pieces of paper, and starts writing, carefully mimicking Elvira’s handwriting:
Chapter 8: Abandon
The tables turn, slowly. As Maria and Don Luis start to do better, Carlos starts to do worse. You can't put all your energy into keeping others together if they're doing fine. The moments that he is with them, he can keep up a pretence. Sometimes he even believes it. Playing the piano for Don Luis and Maria is soothing, being with them lends him strength. But his façade is starting to crack.
Looking at the bottle in his hand, he notes the terrible irony, or poetry perhaps. Years and years of trying to convince Juan not to drink, getting Mirabel home these last months... and now here he is. Drinking had never been his vice. And neither had women.
Isabel takes the chair next to his and lays her hand on his arm, and he raises the bottle at her slightly before taking a large gulp. Isn't alcohol supposed to dull the things you don't want to feel? If so it isn't working. And yet he can't seem to stop... He’s grateful for the near-constant company he has at daytime, preventing him from doing this. He still spends it mostly with Maria, helping her get to know Juan the way that he did. She lost him before she had a chance to, and he wants to give her as much of Juan as he is capable of. As much as he can stand to share. Taking another gulp of wine, Carlos looks up at Isabel and scowls at the undeniable pity written all over her face. He never asked for pity.
“Stop looking at me like that!” he snaps, getting up from his chair. Isabel visibly startles, and he pushes the instant flash of guilt down violently. He thinks he hears her apologise, but he doesn’t pay attention. He has no use for pity. It won’t bring Juan back to him.
He wanders over to the other side of the tavern, where various men and women are swaying to the music, and pulls Juanita into a dance. He’s never been that good at dancing and he can feel that he’s unsteady on his feet, but who cares if he falls, really. He certainly doesn’t. The night passes in a whirl of colours, sounds, and movement. It’s hard to pay attention. He hasn’t been this drunk - hasn’t been drunk at all - in years, if ever. He dances, drinks, and even flirts (sort of) with a few women. They all let him, sometimes even flirting back. He’s not sure if it’s pity or if they like him, but at this point he doesn’t care.
Hours later, he wakes up briefly. He is in a bed, a soft warm presence besides him that after a moment he recognises as Isabel. Looking up, he meets her gentle eyes and looks away, ashamed. She doesn’t make a sound, but simply pulls him closer, softly stroking his hair. He goes willingly, resting his head against her shoulder. He wonders how often Juan stayed with her like this, and how he would laugh if he could see Carlos in this state. He imagines Juan’s mocking laugh, and a tear rolls down his cheek. He misses even that.
Chapter 9: Silence
Isabel's first instinct waking up against a warm body is to assume it is Juan’s, but that of course is impossible. Instead, she often wakes up to see Carlos’ sleeping face, peaceful only when he doesn’t have to think of the world and all that has happened in it. While he technically lives with Don Tenorio at the moment, he often spends his nights with her. It is the familiarity, she supposes. And possibly the fact that she, much like Juan, was never very kind to him. She regrets that, now, her scorn of his loyalty and kindness to both Juan and Elvira. She used to think that even his actions carried ulterior motives, that he was doing what he did out of spite or out of a wish that he might end up with Elvira (oh how wrong she had been about that). She had realised only the night before the duel that he truly just desired to help. He expected nothing, just wanted to care for his friend, and she had mocked him for that and implied that Juan didn’t care about him.
Thinking about it now, Isabel is fairly sure that in his own way, Juan had in fact cared about Carlos, but that he had simply been incapable of showing it in anything but his usual cruelty. For all the jokes at Carlos’ expense, he had always returned to his friend, and surprisingly usually listened. When Don Tenorio wanted to speak to his son, it was Carlos that he sent. And it was Carlos that was able to get the rebellious young man to come home. Nights like these, when she woke up to Carlos’ sleeping face and had the time to ponder, had slowly made her realise how honestly good Carlos was. How much of his life was devoted to the wellbeing and happiness of others, and how little attention had been paid to him. Because, really, if he had anywhere else to go, why on earth would he be here…
Chapter 10: Reflection
At some point, perhaps a few months after his death, Juan realises that he does not need to watch the world through a mirror, but can in fact visit it. Don Pedro does so, and he brings that other young soldier (at some point Juan must have known his name). For the first time since he found the mirror, he turns his gaze from Carlos, and follows them around Seville instead, watching, waiting, hoping to learn how to get to earth. He dares not ask, would not dare to speak to Don Pedro now unless he is spoken to. But he can safely watch, through the mirror, from a distance.
It is harder than it seems, to get to earth, and when he sees himself reflected in a puddle of water he nearly trips and falls because for a second he thinks he’s looking at Don Pedro. His face is grey and cracked, like stone. His movements are disjointed, and his clothes have lost all of their colour but for the bright red stain in the centre of his chest. He moves around slowly, trying to get the hang of this shape. It’s like there is a disconnect between him and the world. As though he is seeing it through a pane of glass. Everything, sounds, colour, movement, light, is somehow dimmed. Even so, it’s better than nothing, and he sets out to find Carlos.
He finds him in the least likely of places – the tavern. As he watches – stares – dumbfounded, Carlos empties half a bottle of wine. He looks terrible. Juan thought he looked bad yesterday through the mirror, but up close he can see the lines on Carlos’ face, the loose fit of his clothes, the empty look in his normally so caring eyes. He watches as Carlos snaps – snaps! – at Isabel, stumbles into Juanita’s arms, and realises with dawning horror that this is what he must once have looked like. Understands so starkly what Carlos must have felt whenever he saw Juan lose himself in the tavern.
The worst part is knowing that he caused this. Carlos, ever kind, ever gentle, ever patient Carlos, always trying to take care of everyone but himself, has finally collapsed. And it’s his fault. All he can do now is watch, wait, and pray there are others to catch Carlos the way Carlos always caught him. So he does. He stands in a corner of the tavern, invisible to the world, and keeps watch as Carlos attempts to dance (attempts being the operative term). At some point, for a moment, their eyes lock and he could swear there is a spark of recognition and emotion in Carlos’ eye. Carlos looks away, pulling Juanita along, but before he is gone Juan can just see a tear glisten on his cheek. He disappears back to the underworld. Perhaps watching from this close was a bad idea…