She knew he wouldn’t come to bed that night.
She’d noticed that pretty early on: whenever he was stressed out, insecured, anxious, or even angry, he couldn’t sleep, his brown eyes tired but not able to close.
It even happened the night before Eva’s first day at school, which made her fall even more in love with him, somehow.
So of course, he wouldn’t sleep tonight. Not after what she said.
When she opens the door, Lidia expects to find him at his desk, pretending to be absorbed by the hotel’s bills, or anything that could begin to take his mind off the current situation. But, this time, he doesn’t have the energy to pretend.
Making sure to close behind her, Lidia slowly goes to stand right in front of him, leaning on the other side of the window as the Manhattan lights shine underneath them.
He doesn’t look at her. Not just yet. She doesn’t blame him.
She does need to hold him, though, can’t stand not to, and so, Lidia gently takes the half-burnt cigarette from his lips, and blindly smashes it down in the ashtray, her eyes never leaving his face.
He doesn’t reject her when she closes the space between them and closes her arms around him, her forehand on his chin as she lets his warmth lifts some of the gripping fear that hasn’t left her since this afternoon off.
He breathes her in, then, his fingers making their way to her back and bringing her close, and it’s all the invitation she needs to hold him tighter.
Lidia’s not traveled that much, in her life, but she’s sure this, right here, is her favorite place in the world.
“I can’t lose you,” he breathes at some point, and his voice’s so broken, it makes her insides twist.
Tilting her head up just enough that she can look at him, Lidia does her best to smile at him. “I know. You won’t, my love - I promise.”
“It’s war, Lidia. We know full well what’s going on over there.”
“Which is why I have to bring Sofia back - I have to keep her safe.”
“Then let me go.” His eyes are shining with both determination and despair, now, as he utters the words again, the same ones she knows he wants her to agree to more than anything. “I love her too, Lidia, I’ll bring her back - I swear.”
“I just have to go and find her myself, Francisco. There’s no reason anything will go wrong, and the girls will be with me - “
He snorts at that, drapping a hand on his face as he moves away from her touch, but Lidia catches his other hand with both of hers at the last second.
For a moment, they just - stare at each other.
“She’s there because she wants to fight back. Of course, it will be dangerous - please don’t pretend otherwise.” There’s a hardness in his voice, one she’d rarely gotten to hear, one that’s only soften by the expression on his face.
One which breaks her heart, the distress ingraved in his features, one she wants to make disappear, but - but she can’t. Not just yet.
Her thumb gently running circles on his skin, Lidia takes the two steps that separate them, and stands in front of him once more.
He’s right, of course. He often is.
“I’m sorry - you’re right,” she apologizes softly, not able to meet his stare just yet. “It is dangerous.”
Snorting, she laughs humorlessly, feeling the pain coming to sit on her chest again as she finally confesses everything out loud. “It’s terrifying, in fact. And to be honest, I’m scared - I really am. Because I love you and Eva more than anything, and just the idea of losing you and the life we’ve made here makes me sick,” and damn it, her eyes are burning now.
“You have no idea how much I want you with me for this - how much I need you,” she admits more quietly, her chest tightening again. “But I can’t bring Eva back to Spain, and you’re the only one I trust to look after her - the only one.”
When she looks back at him again, Francisco’s eyes are already fixed on her.
“I promised Angeles I’d look after her little girl, Francisco,” she whispers. “I promised. And I’m promising you now, I’ll come back, because I plan to spend the rest of my life with you.”
That night, he doesn’t let go of her, his arms warm and familiar around her, his lips and skin against hers all she needs.
Lidia can’t seem to bring him close enough, not as much as she wants, not as much as she needs, but she makes her best to remember every one of his curves, every one of his lines that she’s come to know so well over the years.
That night, there’s no sleep for either of them.
She holds Eva tight, as tight as she can, ignoring the way her heart seems to be wrenched out of her chest when her little girl leans away - her eyes immediately looking for Francisco’s.
“Can I give it to her now?” she beams, excited, her joy only growing when he nods with a smile.
Frowning, Lidia watches as Eva reaches into her pockeT and gently puts a beautiful, silver necklace in her palm. Then, carefully opens it.
“It’s photos of Sofia and I! Daddy said that this way, we’ll be with you while you’re gone.”
For a moment, Lidia doesn’t know what to say.
He has that smile, the small one she loves so much, just like every one of the smiles he gives her, and Lidia thinks she’s never loved him more.
Eva brings her back to reality. “But you won’t be long anyway and you’ll bring her back, so we’ll be together soon. Right, Mama?” She can feel the hesitation, the fear that she’d seen in her daughter’s eyes as soon as they told her yesterday.
So, Lidia smiles, hugging her baby close one more time. “That’s a wonderful present - I love it mi hija, thank you. And no - I won’t be long, honey,” she whispers as reassuringly as she could.
“And in the meantime, you take care of him for me, okay?”
Breathing in, Lidia gets up, her hand finding his immediately, holding on tight.
“How come you’re not in the necklace? I want to bring you with me, too.” It comes out more serious than she intends, and she knows that he hears it too.
But Francisco being Francisco, he smiles, his fingers tight around hers, his eyes reassuring.
“Well, I was planning on giving you a parting kiss so memorable, you won’t even see all the good-looking soldiers all over Madrid,” and she actually laughs at his idiocy. “Think that will work?”
Smiling at the simple sound of his voice, a voice she’s already missing far too much, she realises, Lidia can’t help but to hold down to the phone a little tighter.
“Hello, my love,” and the warmth in her chest only grows when she hears his sigh of relief at the other end of the line. “How are you?”
“Lidia, thank God. I’m fine - how are you? Is everything okay?”
“I’m okay - just a bit tired, but I’m okay.”
“You didn’t have any trouble on the way, right?”
“Mi amor, don’t worry - I promise, I’m fine. I’m with the girls now - I had access to a phone thanks to Marga’s boss. She and Pable lost their jobs as accountants when the war started, but they managed to find something else. ”
“That’s good - I’m glad they’re doing okay. How are Carlota and Oscar?”
“Fine, fine. I didn’t - I didn’t really ask them about what has been happening in their lives, actually,” Lidia painfully realises, now very aware that Sofia had been the first subject she’d brought up when they were all together.
She knows they understand, and that the situation is urgent, but still, that doesn’t stop the pang of guilt in her stomach.
“They understand, Lidia,” he says softly, reading her like a book, even miles away. “And they don’t blame you, I’m sure of it. Plus, soon there’ll be plenty of time for you and Sofia to catch up with them.”
She smiles. “Yes - yes, you’re right. Is Eva doing okay?”
“Well, she’s taking advantage of you being away to try and get a dog again,” and Lidia chuckles, for what seems the first time in forever. “But don’t worry, I’m holding on. I distracted her by telling her you girls will be back with adventures she won’t believe, so you’ll have to deliver.”
“We will,” she promises, the image of the two of them in their New-York apartment giving her strengh. “We’re actually going to talk to a general that might know where Sofia is - Carlota knows a man that may be able to help us with that.”
“That’s great - that sounds like a great first lead.”
“Yes, I hope so,” she sighs. “I thought it would be easier to find her this way. Madrid isn’t the city it used to be. It’s unrecognizable.”
“I can’t even imagine it, Lidia. Please be careful. And if you need me...”
She smiles. “I know. The only thing that calms me down right now is knowing that you and Eva are fine.”
“We’re waiting for you. For both of you.”
And I can’t wait to be back, she doesn’t say. “Francisco, I have to go. They’re waiting for me. Give Eva a kiss for me.”
“I will. We love you.”
“I love you both, too. I’ll call again as soon as I can. Bye.”
As she’s about to leave the room to follow Carlos, the sounds of explosions following Sofia’s voice still in resonating in her head, Lidia thinks about calling Francisco back, if only briefly.
She knows how hard that phonecall must have been on him.
To all intent and purposes, Eva’s his child, after all.
He’s watched her grown, raised her, provided for her. He loves her.
And she loves him, too. So much, it’s almost ridiculous.
He’s always been a father to her, and Lidia knows that it was as hard on Francisco as it was on her to have to watch the little girl disappointment every time they tried to contact Carlos and fail, every time she understood that her own father didn’t want to meet her.
She thinks about calling back to explain, if only to rest his mind, if only because she needs to talk to him, to ask him for advice as she always does
But right now, there’s no time. She’ll be back soon anyway - she’ll call him then.
At least, she hopes so.
She misses Eva, she misses Sofia. Her little girls.
She misses Francisco.
She wants to tell him how miserable their country has become, how bittersweet it is to reunite with the girls in those conditions, how disappointing it is to see what Carlos has become. She wants to tell him that this war is crazy, and that’s it’s destroying everyone and everything. She wants him to help her find their daughter, to be at her side in this world that’s falling apart.
She wants him to tell her that she can do this, because as much as she hates it, doubt finds her, sometimes.
As the fields run by before her eyes, Carlos silently driving next to her, Lidia clutches her necklace in her palm, and prays to whoever listens that she can go home soon.
The hotel where they stop that night has a phone. Of course, that’s the first thing she sees.
Again, she wants nothing more than to reach out and call him, to hear his voice. To let him know that she’s fine and that she’ll be home soon, because she knows how worried he must be right now.
There’s no doubt sleep hasn’t been his friend, lately.
But if she calls, she’ll have to tell him the truth, and that’s something that will not put his mind at ease, not in the least. If she calls, she’s not quite sure she won’t break down as well.
Her heart tightening in the same painful way it has for days, Lidia looks away from the phone.
The joy she feels holding Sofia in her arms is as intense as the fear that grips her insides the next day, as the guards point their guns at her and the truck leaves without her, and with her daughter inconscious.
They’ll bring her to a hospital, though. There’s no doubt - she’ll be okay.
Handcuffs are put on her wrists, hands push her forward, but Lidia thanks the skies that even if she dies today, her family’s safe.
The priest is excuted before their eyes. The same fate will meet them the next day.
It’s true, what they say about your life replaying before your eyes before you die.
She heard that it happened very fast, just before the moment you leave this world, but in her case, the memories of a lifetime keep playing in the hours that preceed her end.
The joys, the doubts, the regrets.
Carlos’ silence makes her think maybe she’s not the only one in this situation.
She thinks of her first drink with the girls, one she only attended because it served her agenda, at the time. She thinks of Marga’s smile, of Carlota’s drive, of Oscar’s look when he looks at her. She thinks of Angeles’ courage, now reflected in her daughter.
She remembers Eva’s first time in the snow, her little nose red from a cold she had never experienced before. Her first steps in their New-York appartment.
She thinks of Francisco’s smile, their night walks through the city, her fingers in his hair. She wonders why she didn’t tell him more often that he was the love of her life.
God, how she wishes she could tell him that.
When she sees him, it all feels like one of these movies they go see downtown. Unreal - almost like a dream.
Her brain struggles to catch up with what she sees, but her body seems to move on its own accord.
She hears herself utter his name, and when she hears him, her heart stops for a second. Because somehow, this is real.
“You have no idea how long I’ve been looking for you.”
There’s keys in the lock, the sound of the door opening. Carefully avancing, he glances at Carlos briefly, but then his eyes meet hers, and before she knows it, she’s in his arms.
Given the circumstances, it might seem stupid to say that things suddenly get better, that warmth and hope and love burst out in her chest in a way that make everything around them disappear.
It may seem stupid, but yet, it’s true.
She can’t believe it, but it works - the soldiers agree to their plan, and Lidia’s heart is beating herraticly.
Her happiness quickly comes to an end when they immediately order Francisco to get the hell out of here. His eyes meet hers right away.
As he kisses her, Lidia tries not crumble, tries to hold on for a few moments longer, only a few moments.
“It’s almost over, my love,” he whispers, his lips close, so close to hers. “Tomorrow, this will all be over.”
As impossible as it seems just days ago, Carlos and her clear the air.
It feels like a weigh has been lifted from her chest, somehow.
It all goes fast. So, so fast.
One moment, despite knowing what she does, Lidia thinks she’s going to die, shot to death in that empty prison court. The other, she sees Francisco, feels her heart speed at this reachable freedom, only to be restrained again.
Another moment, and she’s being driven God knows where, the fear in both Francisco’s and Carlos’ eyes as they’re all separated engraved in her memory.
In no time, she’s faced with an enemy from another decade, another life. Back from the dead, somehow.
She’s in hell.
Wishing that Carmen wouldn’t know she’s here would have been delusionnal, of course. Still, maybe a small part of her had.
But, without surprise, things don’t go her way.
When have they ever, in this country?
So, Lidia tries to think of another - of that life in the United States that she loves so much, of all those years where she’s experienced a hapiness she’d never experienced before. Thanks to them, of course. To him.
Through the days of isolation, she thinks of his laugh, of the way his fingers always love to travel on her skin, of his frown when he wakes up still tired on the morning, of the kisses she puts on his neck to make it disappear.
Through the endless hours of anger, she thinks of the way Eva always manage to make him do whatever she wants with just a smile, of the way she and Sofia fall asleep late chatting, even on school nights.
Among the name-calling, the violence, the sleepless nights, she thinks of their faces. She thinks maybe, it’s the only thing keeping her going.
She knows he’s coming, of course, knows the girls and him would never let her die in here.
Still, Lidia prays that they arrive soon, because as much as she tries, she hasn’t found a way to get out of there herself, and she’s not sure how long she’ll be able to hold on.
The days pass.
It doesn’t get any better.
And then, one day, it happens.
She’d hope she wouldn’t die here, wouldn’t die because of that war, of that woman. She’d hope she wouldn’t die with prison walls and Carmen Cifuentes as her last memories and yet, here she is.
Her time has come. She knows it.
When the guards come to get her, she understands instantly. Someone says something about Madrid calling for specific prisoners to be made examples of, a public punishment, but she can barely make sense of anything.
She sees another woman being dragged outside, too. The woman’s crying, screaming, so much that it starts waking up the other women, but when she gets a glimpse of her, Lidia can see that Carmen isn’t really bothered by it.
In fact, she’s smiling.
It’s cold, really cold outside, but Lidia feels like this has nothing to do with the numbness she feels. A sharp strike in her back, and she’s pushed even faster, but before she gets in the truck, the Cifuentes matriarch stop them.
“You know, I’m glad I couldn’t kill you, all those years ago. In fact, I’m even glad you didn’t die from the...special treatments I’ve been giving you.”
She runs her wrinkled, cold fingers on her cheek, and Lidia feels like throwing up. “After all, knowing you’ll die like this is just so, so much better.”
On the broken road, the truck moves violently from right to left before the driver finally finds a more soothen path.
It’s dark, pitch black dark in there. The only thing Lidia can hear is the sobs and ragged breath coming from the other woman next to her. Julia, she thinks.
Her chest tightening painfully, Lidia tries to breath.
But then, the car stops, and with it, her heart. Despite her will, she feels her fingers starting to shake. When the doors open, she jumps on her feet, on instinct.
Lidia is at the back of the truck, but still, she understands right away that’s something is wrong.
Or, precisely, maybe not that wrong.
There’s silence, first. Even Julia, upfront, stops even breathing for a second, too stuned by whatever she sees. Lidia can’t see much herself, too far away and blinded by the lamps from outside, but then Julia fall to her knees, and before she can’t do anything, someone comes to help her on feet.
A man. A man who’s not wearing a uniform, a man who’s now holding Julia against him, his arms protecting her body as he whispers words Lidia can’t hear gently.
It doesn’t make sense. None of this makes sense.
Someone suddenly shouts out for them to hurry up, and then a new weight makes the truck tremble, and just like that, Francisco is standing in front of her.
And she - she doesn’t understand.
It’s just not possible.
Lidia’s mind goes completely blank as he approaches her, slowly, as if afraid he’ll scare her. His eyes are kind, so kind, and worried, and soft.
Briefly looking behind him, any last trace of doubt disappears from Francisco’s face, and he closes the last steps between them. Before she can say anything, he’s sweeping her off her feet and getting them outside the truck.
“We have to go,” he whispers hurriedly in her ear. “Now.”
Her arms tightly closed around his neck, all Lidia can do is burry her face against it, still not able to process what’s happening. She can see Julia being dragged away by the man, but before she can make out anything else in the dark night, they’re getting into another vehicule.
A car, this time.
Setting her down on the back seat, Francisco then sits next to her and utters words she can’t quite make out to the driver.
Whzn she looks up to the beautiful, worried faces of Carlota and Marga, Lidia almost thinks she’s gone mad.
“My God, Lidia, are you alright?”, and it occurs to her that somewhere deep down, she thought she’d never hear those voices again.
“I think she’s in shock,” Francisco says, and she missed that voice too, so much. “Come on Carlota, drive - Marga, the key?”
“Yes, of course - here. Oh God, Lidia, are you okay?”
The car comes to life underneath them. She meets her friend’s kind eyes, then feels Francisco’s fingers on her neck, and she realizes she’s crying.
The look in his eyes isn’t helping, of course, and soon, she’s almost sobbing, her breathing raged.
He brings his forehead to hers, then, his thumb running slow circles on one cheek, his lips grazing the other. “It’s alright, my love,” he whispers, his breath tickling her skin. “It’s alright. We’re going home, you’re safe.”
And that’s the thing, really. Here with them, for the first time since she can’t remember, suddenly, unexpectantly - Lidia feels safe.
“But there’s one more thing you have to do, okay?”
Her eyes are question enough for him. “There’s control at every corner, and chances are, the prison may realize this was all a trick at some point. So our story is, you and I have just burried our child, we’re on on way home, and the girls are driving us. That’s why we’re all in black, and that’s why you have to change. And then if they do arrest us, you can just say nothing and hide in my arms - it won’t look suspiscious, and they won’t even see you. Alright?”
And so, that’s what they do.
From what she understands, they can thank Victoria for the key tool that breaks her away from her chains. He takes her uniform off, then, carefully, and his face instantly turns white when he sees the dark shades of blue on her arms.
“I’m fine.” Her words are barely a whisper, but his eyes meet hers, distressed, angry, and she knows he’s heard her. “Let’s keep going.”
As the girls keep chatting animately, he does, and then gently helps her put the black dress on, and fix her hair.
Her eyes never leave him, not once, and, as the adrenaline slowly comes down, second by second, it finally sinks in that all of this isn’t a dream.
It’s the sun that wakes her up. Gently tickling her skin, it warms it slightly, too.
She can hear muffled noices from outside, as if coming from dowstairs. The sheets are soft against her skin, and it crosses her mind that she hasn’t been comfortable in a long time.
And then, she remembers why.
With a gasp, Lidia straigtens up, suddenly wide awake. She’s fine - everything from last night comes back to her, and she knows she’s fine, but she doesn’t recognizes the room, and she doesn’t understand where is -
Curls loose, feet bare, dressed in only pants and a white shirt, he stands there, at the entrance of what seems to be a bathroom, more handsome that he’s ever been.
“Francisco.” She can feel herself smile, smile so much it hurts, and then he’s grinning too, and she’s across the room and into his arms, her own arms around his neck and her legs around his body.
“You smell really good,” she mumbles, face buried into his neck, and she can feel his chuckle against her own chest.
She can also feel his fingers on her side and on the back of her neck, too, his breath on her skin. He holds her tight, so tight, and she would never have it any other way. His lips find the sensitive flesh of her neck, and Lidia has to hold back her tears.
Of hapiness, this time. Relief. It’s been a while.
Far too soon for her liking, Francisco pulls away slightly, just enough that their foreheads are touching, and then he’s kissing her, and - well.
Sometimes words fail you, don’t they?
She’s not sure at one point they stop, but she can hear her own moan of disapproval when he leans away again - even if, admitly, she is out of breath.
He keeps peperring kisses on her cheeks, on her neck to make amends, and, as Lidia gets her feet back on the ground, she hugs him tightly one more time before leaning away herself, her hands moving to his face.
“Are you alright? How did you do that without getting caught?,” and her blood freezes in her veins for a second. “You could have been killed, Francisco. The three of you.”
“But we haven’t,” he says simply, stealing another long kiss she can’t really deny him.
Doesn’t want to, really.
Sighing against his lips, she shakes her head. “I’m serious, Francisco.”
“So am I - we’re fine, Lidia. And we couldn’t let you in there a minute longer.”
He drops her gaze for a second, and she can feel his hold on her hips getting slightly tighter. When he looks back at her, his eyes are full of pain. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re - what are you talking about?” Suddenly, panic makes her whole body tense. “Is Eva okay? Is - ”
“Yes, Eva’s fine - they’re both fine,” and just like that, Lidia can breathe again. “I’m just...I’m sorry I left you there, Lidia. I left you with her, I -”
And that’s when it hits her. Of course, he would blame himself.
“Francisco, I’m fine -”
“No, you’re not,” he cuts her, and she’s almost taken Aback by the conviction in his voice.
He softens almost immediately, though, and she can feel the muscles in his arms tense under her fingertips. “We’ve heard about what she did to you, Lidia. And God, you’ve lost so much weight, and when I saw the look in your eyes yesterday...”
He sighs again, then looks away. It’s only when his fingers come to gently graze the blue marks on her right arm that she understands what he’s looking at.
That she understands the look on his face.
She gets it. She’d probably hurt too, if someone ever harm him.
She had, really.
Tilting his face up with her fingers, Lidia smiles at him, kissing his chin before pulling gently on his hands. “Come on,” and she drags him towards the bed.
She sits as close to him as she can, her whole body warming up when she can see he seeks contact as much as she does, one of his hands bringing her leg over his.
Her own fingers travel on his neck, his stomach where she grips the fabric of his shirt tightly, keeping him close. When she speaks, her eyes are looking straight into his.
“You, Francisco Gomez, flew halfway across the world to save me - and you did.” He’s about to protest, but she doesn’t leave him a chance to. “And that day, you did exactly what I wanted you to - what I needed you to. What was right - and you know that,” she says more softly, the tip of her fingertips finding the hair on his chest.
She gives him a smile, as soft as she can. “They would have killed you, or put you in another prison, and if that alone didn’t kill me, the idea that our daughters would now be without the both of us would have.”
Lidia can see him struggle with himself, with his guilt, misplaced as it is. His frowns deepens as his eyes follow the small movements of his fingers on her knee.
“Eva asks about you everyday, you know,” and his eyes meet hers again. “She’s going to be so happy... I - I didn’t tell her about Carlos, though.” He’s careful, trying to read on her face whether she knows or not.
Of course she does. Carmen made sure of that.
“Between that and your absence, I thought it would be too much. And I thought she deserved to hear it from you.”
Her chest tightens at the thought of Carlos. At the end he didn’t deserve, at Eva, who would never get to know her biological father. At his last words.
“We made peace, you know.”
“You did?”, and his voice is as soft as his hand coming to rest on hers. She smiles.
“He told me I was the love of his life. He told me that even though you were mine, he was happy knowing Eva would have the best family he could hope for.”
Letting herself fall into his arms once again - because she wants to, because she can, because she’s been denied of it for far too long - Lidia tugs her head between his chin,and holds on.