La Muerte hummed contently, stretched and finally sat up on the bed, yawning. Next to her, her husband murmured something that, despite the fact that he was half-buried, half-melted into the pillow and apparently still too sleepy to open his eyes more than a crack, still sounded suspiciously like 'Going so soon?'
"A God's work is never done, love. You know that." she retorted softly, getting to her feet to pick up her dress from the corner of the room where he had tossed it most unceremoniously just hours ago. Despite how they could simply shape-shift out of their clothes, Xibalba still found way too much pleasure on stripping her from her clothes and wrap her in his wings...she shivered slightly, sliding legs and hips into the long, adorned dress, remembering how eager they'd been after all their years of separation, how they'd been inches away from not even caring that her clothes and his armor where still on the way when she'd pulled him down to her and he'd all but crushed her against his chest and...
'No, no, no!' she chatized herself, hurriedly sliding her arms inside the sleeves. If she didn't stop thinking about it, she'd be tossing the dress aside and back into the bed with him in less time than it took to say Tasajo*. La Muerte reached back to do the buttons when a hand -skeletal, cold, and yet so welcome- brushed hers aside.
"Allow me." he was awake now, at least significantly more than he'd been just seconds before. His eyes were still half-lidded and his entire frame seemed slightly droopy, but his fingers were swift and soon the dress was closed and fit against her skin. His breath on her back and neck gave made her feel ready to jump out of her skin with excitement and desire, but she turned to him with a smile and a soft thank you. Whether Xibalba was trying -underhandedly- to get her to stay a while or he was just oblivious to the effect he had on her, she wasn't sure. The latter seemed unlikely, though; how could he not know how much she'd missed him, like a constant ache within her that became almost unbearable on the rare silent hours of her existence? How could he not know how happy she was that they were together again?
"Your hair." Xibalba sleepily mumbled, stiffling a yawn and reaching her a comb "Or do you want me to comb it?"
"No thank you." she hurriedly refused, taking it, allowing her skin to brush his a moment more than it was strictly necessary and then starting to comb her hair. The least she needed was the feeling of his fingers in her hair and that soft tune he always hummed whenever he was at it rumbling within her like a purr.
Xibalba watched her in silence, chin resting on a hand, drifting to sleep every now and then to wake up with a soft start whenever his chin slipped off, and when she was ready to go, placing her trademark sombrero on top of her head, he regaled her with a tiny, unusually tender smile, before realizing what he was doing and regaining pose with a dignified 'Ahem'.
"I should go back to my palace now." he announced, reaching for his crown, also thrown aside hours before "The forgotten have most likely not been properly terrorized in my absence."
La Muerte opted for ignoring that last part as she ran her hands up from his chest, his pulse singing under her touch, to finally come intertwine behind his neck, savoring the helpless little twitches of his body when her lips met his for a quick goodbye kiss.
"I'll meet you there once I am done here, then."
She couldn't quite place her finger on it, but something seemed off.
Despite how long she had been making rounds around the many levels and constructions of the Land of the Remembered, the souls never did get used to seeing La Muerte parading through her domains, proud head high, glowing under the light, spreading her joy wherever she went. Normally, they flocked to her, ecstatic to see her, eager to show her the adoration and praise they felt for her, but today, there was an air of uneasiness and the souls around her seemed rather reluctant to engage her. Not out of rudeness or disgust, mind you, it felt rather as though they were nervous in her presence. People seemed suddenly unable to look at her straight to the face or maintain a conversation with her. A teenage girl who'd passed away from an illness around her fifteenth birthday started giggling hysterically out of the blue while talking to her and more than one man went pink -now that was interesting, she didn't know skeletons could blush- for no reason while trying to answer to her questions about their afterlife.
She would have liked nothing more than to brush it off as a mere product of her imagination, even when the spirit of an old woman, upon meeting her, quickly bowed to her and sputtered something about 'Dejar los frijoles en la lumbre' **before turning on her heels and all but running away, but when one of the policemen she had appointed for guiding newcomers almost swallowed his whistle at her sight, La Muerte had to accept something was definitely off. She even examined herself on a mirror at the first chance, thinking there might be a chance that she'd missed something on her grooming, but no, everything was in place. Confused, she decided to go to those who were most likely to give her a straight answer if she asked, and she headed for the Sanchez family quarters.
But even the Sanchez seemed determined not to stay in the same place as her. Most of them, after having choked on their churros or leaped as thought they'd spotted a cockroach, suddenly remembered having stuff to do somewhere else. Carlos and Carmen had, at the very least, tried to make conversation with her, albeit averting her gaze and seeming increasingly nervous. She had to finally drop al pretenses and ask directly whether there was something wrong. Both of them exchanged a look and quickly assured there was nothing wrong, nothing at all. Everyone was just busy- doing what, exactly? La Muerte wondered out loud. It wasn't as thought people in the Land of the Remembered needed to work. Some did because otherwise they got bored, but it wasn't as though it were urgent, they had all the time in the world. But Carlos and Carmen had remembered they had something to do...somewhere else and bowed respectfully before leaving her alone and more worried than she'd been upon arrival.
Was there something wrong in the Land of the Remembered that she wasn't aware of? Hard as she tried, she couldn't think of anything that could be wrong and people would want to keep secret. Perhaps they had a problem with her? That made a bit more sense...perhaps they were they resentful of her for having lost the throne to Xibalba? Well, she had to admit it wasn't precisely responsible of a God to stake their land in a wager, but the thing with wagers was no one made them thinking 'I probably shouldn't risk this, I could lose'.
Besides, she had gotten it back, so no harm done, right?
She was so unused to uneasiness that she could barely stand it. She needed to talk it out with someone. For a fleeting moment, Xibalba's face floated in her mind, but she quickly realized it would be no good. There was the risk he'd feel the mortals were being disrespectful of his wife and punish them in his cruel and disproportionate ways. She considered her sister too, but La Noche wasn't really interested in humans, she would probably not understand why their opinion worried La Muerte so much. Besides, she could tell her husband, El Chamuco, and if Xibalba was cruel and prone to causing trouble, he was even more so...he'd find her distress funny and perhaps do something to further it. Finally, and because it was the best thing to do, she swirled in a cloud of golden petals and the blink of an eye reappeared in the Cave of Souls.
She looked around, marveled as usual. To her and the rest of the Gods, there were really no discernible differences between the candles that signfied human lives, but the Candlemaker knew them all without any apparent difficulty...what a precious and marvelous gift. It was then that she finally spotted him, focused on the creation between his hands, still ignorant to her presence, humming distractedly.
"I do envy that, you know." she softly said, darting closer in a whirlpool of golden petals to look above his shoulder and at his work, ignoring the positively violent flinch he gave at her voice "The ability to create life."
"You scared me!"
"Asi tendrás la conciencia..."*** she whispered with a laugh.
"You could knock next time! Oh, what am I saying." he chided himself. When had she ever used the entrance? "Did you need something?"
"Now that you mention it, I do." she softly pulled at his shoulder, forcing him to turn to her fully "I want to know what is wrong with the Land of the Remembered today?"
She could have sworn he saw his hand contract around the candle for a moment.
"Wrong? Uh...not that I'm aware of...are- are you having mosquito problems again?" he hadn't even looked up from his handicraft and it made her think that whatever the problem was, he wasn't aware "Because I told you, once they realize no one in there has blood, they'll get a move on-"
"No, it's..." she took a breath and sighed, taking a seat in one of the rare, empty rocky cliffs inside the cave, pouting listlessly "I think the people are angry at me"
This time, he almost dropped the candle.
"Wha-wha-what?!" he staggered, trying to catch hold of it again as it bounced and slipped of his hands. "You're kidding!" he added, once the candle was secure between his fingers again "Why would you say something like that?"
"They've been avoiding me all day."
"It's...probably not what you think." he suggested, with soft shrug, but she shook her head and started explaining what had happened. By the time she'd gotten to what had happened with the Sanchez, Candlemaker had already put down the candle and started pacing around, nervously fidgeting with his fingers. When she finished, his mouth was pursed in a thin line over his beard and he's hands were behind his back, still twitching.
"It's...uh...it's kinda fishy, I'll give you that..." he mumbled, as if reluctant.
"I think it's obvious they have a problem with me." La Muerte interjected somehow harshly. She realized that she was more affected by it than she'd thought initially and rested her back on the wall of the cave, careful not to tip or squash any of the candles "I just wish I knew why."
"Listen, you're being ridiculous!" Candlemaker softly chided her "The people love you, you know it!"
"Then why are they avoiding me? Haven't I served them well?"
"No- it's nothing bad, really!"
She straightened up, shooting him a suspicious glance.
"How are you so sure?"
He smiled and shrugged, as if saying it was merely a thought, but the nervous movement of his fingers behind his back betrayed him.
"I just do. It's nothing bad...and it'll probably wear out in a couple of days." he hurriedly added, turning to study his creation "Nothing to worry about..."
"You know what happened!" she pressed, appearing before him in a blink; it wasn't a question. His eyes flashed around, nervously, not unlike Carlos's had.
"Dunno what you're talking ab-"
"You. Know. It." she snarled, hands on her hips, eyes narrowed. He hesitated one second longer, before giving up with a sigh.
"Fireworks." he mumbled.
She blinked. Was he pulling her leg?
The Candlemaker was blushing furiously and looked as though he would have rather not continued, but she crossed her arms and he took it as enough warning that her patience was all but gone.
"There was a...um...a lot of 'em on the sky last night."
"What has that got to do with anything?" she snapped. He was almost purple from blushing at this point, and cleared his throat several times before even trying to talk again.
"You and Xibalba wouldn't have happened to...to be..." he hesitated, the wax from his beard looked as though it were melting on the heat of his blushing face "...you know...together, last night?"
La Muerte's face went very hot and she wondered whether she was blushing too. Could sugar even blush? Her mouth opened twice but nothing came out, and she couldn't decide whether she felt more appalled that Candlemaker dared make such a personal question or alarmed about the unknown reason why he'd done so. He must have noticed the whirlwind of emotion inside her because he raised both his palms appeasingly.
"I'm going somewhere with this, I swear!"
"Then. Out with it! she managed, through gritted teeth.
"You forgot to take off the sombrero." he finished with a grimace.
She froze, stared, and then her jaw dropped, realization washing in.
"You must have left it on while you were..." Candlemaker turned overwhelmingly red for a moment and changed the sentence "Everyone's seen those fireworks take off from your sombrero candles when you guys kiss, but last night we had...well, we had loads of them and a lot bigger so...so it was obvious you guys were..."
He couldn't finish, so he just motioned frantically. He didn't need to, La Muerte knew very well what he meant.
No, no, that couldn't be right. She would have noticed if something on top of her head had started shooting pyrotechnics, right? All the more because it had been inside her bedroom... oh, but her attention had been elsewhere, and she knew full well she wouldn't have noticed the world ending with Xibalba kissing her and running his hands over her skin...she remembered clearly the moment when his hands had fumbled with the buttons at the back of her dress -and he was so good with buttons, she always spent way too long trying to get him out of that armor of his with far less satisfactory results, he always ended up smirking and taking it off by his own hand- she remembered when he undid the tie of her hair and pulled her to him, laying on his back, his wings spreading on the bed covers, hurrying her onto his lap.
And boy, did she remember what came next. Her lower abdomen jolted in excitement just thinking of it.
But she couldn't remember taking off the sombrero.
No, but she must have taken off the sombrero! She'd put it on after waking up, therefore, she must have removed it at some point of the ordeal, except...
Except the sombrero had been almost next to the bed and chances were it had fallen off as she lied down next to her husband, heart still racing in her chest and breath deliciously shallow.
After they were done.
"No biggie, though!" the Candlemaker was hurriedly adding "A little uncomfortable- OK, very uncomfortable, for...for all of us, and the mortals too, I guess, but, ehhh -it was a little slip! So what if the fireworks made it all the way to the Land of the Unknown? Could have happened to anyone..."