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“Friends will be friends. When you're through with life and all hope is lost, hold out your hand, ‘cause friends will be friends right ‘til the end.” - Friends Will Be Friends, Queen




Bruno knew that Julieta and Pepa would tell Agustín and Félix everything. He was okay with that, honestly. He wasn’t sure he had it in him to explain the whole sorry story again.

 

He saw the surprised looks on the villagers’ faces to see the Madrigal Triplets walking into Casita’s rubble, arm in arm again, for the first time in ten years.

 

Señora Guzman smiled like it was only to be expected and turned back to Alma. Their mother unashamedly stared at them, one hand on her heart as they walked past. She looked relieved.

 

And so did Félix and Agustín when they spotted them. Their relief was so obvious that Bruno could practically feel it in the air.

 

Félix instantly leaped over a small pile of rubble to run to them. Agustín, in a show of restraint, carefully made his way around the wreckage (though he still managed to stub his toe and trip over a bucket that Bruno could have sworn wasn’t there five seconds ago.)

 

“Are you okay?” Félix asked Pepa, taking her free hand.

 

If Pepa still had her Gift, there would have been a rainbow over her head. She was utterly beaming despite the tear-tracks on her cheeks. Julieta still looked flushed from all the sobbing she’d done but she was smiling too.

 

All three of them were. A weight had been lifted.

 

“We’re fine,” Pepa said, kissing Félix’s cheek. “I promise, amor.”

 

And Bruno knew his sisters would tell them everything. It was only to be expected, especially considering Agustín was Mirabel’s father. He deserved to know too. And Félix was Pepa’s other half and…Well…They were Bruno’s friends. He wanted them to know.

 

That didn’t mean he had the energy or strength to do it himself right now, not after spilling his guts to his sisters. Not after those long explanations, not after all that crying. He’d even be surprised if Pepa and Julieta told them today instead of waiting for tomorrow.






Bruno was right, as it turned out. Julieta and Pepa waited until the next day. 

 

He knew as soon as Félix and Agustín had been told, because as he was helping Luisa move some rubble (well, Luisa was doing the heavy lifting and Mirabel was fussing every time she thought Luisa so much as looked tired, bless them both) he heard Agustín call out.

 

“Bruno!”

 

Bruno looked up and winced as Agustín stumbled, but that man was moving with a purpose, determination in his every step and flickering in his eyes. Félix was right behind him, moving at a fast pace.

 

Bruno tried to resist the urge to throw salt over his shoulder for all of five seconds before he gave into the urge and did it anyway. Neither of them looked happy and, for a moment, he expected the worst.

 

“Er, hi?” he said weakly. Luisa and Mirabel were staring in bewilderment.

 

Agustín paused for a moment once he was standing in front of Bruno. He seemed undecided; he opened his mouth, about to say something, and shut it again. He clenched and unclenched his fists and Bruno just felt more and more nervous. To his mounting horror, he saw tears in Agustín’s eyes.

 

Then Agustín seemed to make a decision; that hesitance vanished from his face again, replaced by that unfamiliar determination.

 

He swept Bruno into a bone-crushing hug, squeezing so tightly that Bruno squeaked in surprise. Agustín didn’t seem to notice. He was shaking, his breathing wavered and-

 

“Gracias,” he whispered. “Muchas gracias, mi hermano.”

 

Oh, Bruno thought. Juli told him. 

 

And then Agustín’s words really hit.

 

“You, uh, you really don’t need to thank me,” Bruno muttered, uncertain of how to handle all...this. There’d been a lot of hugging recently. Agustín shook his head in disagreement and didn’t let him go.

 

Perhaps the strangest thing was how quiet Félix was. He stood just behind them, staring, and Bruno had never seen him look so strangely shy…But as soon as Bruno caught his eyes, he grinned and ran to them, hugging them both.

 

“We’re really glad you’re back, bro,” Félix said, still unusually quiet.

 

“What’s going on?” Luisa asked, setting aside one of the beams. Mirabel looked far too knowing, a smile on her face.

 

“Uh…” Bruno wasn’t sure how to explain it at all, actually.

 

“You know, huh?” Mirabel asked.

 

“Know what?” Luisa asked, arms crossed, increasingly frazzled.

 

“We know,” Félix said, squeezing tighter. Bruno’s ribs were starting to hurt. He wasn’t quite sure what to do with his arms. Agustín was hugging him so tightly that Bruno couldn’t even return the hug, he was just pinned to the spot.

 

“That Tio disappeared to protect me,” Mirabel said simply.

 

Luisa’s jaw dropped. Oddly enough, she looked a lot like Julieta right then.

 

“Y-you…You what?”

 

“Um…” God, he wished there was some wood to knock on, but Luisa had set the beam down too far from him. He settled for crossing his fingers.

 

“Julieta and Pepa told us everything,” Félix said, stepping back. Agustín was still clinging to Bruno, still shaking like he was about to fall over. Bruno could feel tears dropping into his hair and his heart just about broke all over again. Great, he was making Agustín cry now too.

 

“Agustín? Gus, please don’t cry, I-”

 

“You haven’t called me Gus in years,” Agustín said, swallowing hard.

 

“Oh, um…Sorry?”

 

“Don’t be.”

 

“I think you’re crushing him, Pá,” Mirabel said. She alone seemed utterly at ease.

 

“I think I’m missing some things,” Luisa said weakly. “Maybe start at the beginning, por favor?”






Little did they know, the exchange was overheard by Señora Guzman. She didn’t stick around to hear the full tale: she immediately rushed away, heart hammering and dozens of ideas springing to life.

 

Señora Guzman, bless her soul, was a gossiping, nosy old busy-body with the best of intentions. She’d seen how relieved Alma was to have her son back and how wary the villagers were; remorseful or suspicious or just outright frightened. Sometimes a curious mix of all three.

 

So she did what she did best: she gossiped.

 

“Bruno disappeared to protect his niece. Which one? Oh, little Mirabel. She was in danger! He had to go into hiding to protect her, poor thing.”

 

What Mirabel was in danger from, no one was sure. But gossip spread fast, as it always did in Encanto. Señora Guzman knew exactly which men and women to bring the tale to first, to ensure it spread far and wide.

 

Within the hour, there were many conflicting tales being whispered: Bruno vanished to protect Mirabel from a murderer. No, it was to find what was causing poor Casita to crack. No, no! He vanished to find a cure for a mystery illness they hadn’t even known she had. Not so, no, no no; he went into isolation to prevent a horrible accident befalling her.

 

How noble, how brave! A martyr like his dear papá before him!

 

Señora Guzman sat on a ruined wall with her dear Mariano and watched her friends and neighbours run around like headless chickens with a content smile.

 

“Abuela?” Mariano peered at her suspiciously. “What did you do?” For all that her grandson could be a bit oblivious (and she’d argue he wasn’t truly, he was just a daydreamer, thank you very much) he knew her too well to be fooled.

 

“Me?” She placed a hand on her heart. “Nothing, néné!”

 

Alma appeared before them, eyebrows raised. “What did you do, amiga?”

 

She sipped her water, smile widening. “I gave them something new to gossip about.”

Chapter Text

“Deep in the meadow, hidden far away; a cloak of green, a moon beam ray. Forget your woes, and let your troubles lay and when again it's morning, they'll wash away. Here it's safe, and here it's warm; here the daisies guard you from every harm. Here your dreams are sweet, and tomorrow brings them true. Here is the place where I love you.” - Deep In The Meadow, Jessie Daniels (cover)




The worst kept secret in Casita: Dolores loved her Tio Bruno very much.

 

The best kept secret in Casita: she knew he never left.

 

Did it really count when she’d tried to tell everyone though? She’d tried again and again and was brushed off, was told We don’t talk about Bruno, don’t upset your madré, don’t say his name, don’t be silly; you’re just overwhelmed, maybe you need to rest in your room.

 

So she stopped. And she kept the secret.

 

But now Bruno was back, really back. He was outside the walls, he was okay- Casita hadn’t crushed him and Dolores could breathe easily again. 

 

She’d been so, so afraid when she realised he could still be in the rubble. She’d started frantically clawing through it, heart pounding, cursing her lack of hearing. For the first time ever, she truly wanted her Gift. At least then she’d know if her uncle was alive.

 

Which he was. Alive and in one piece, he didn’t look injured. Too skinny and too pale and frightened, certainly, but okay. 

 

Dolores could work with that.

 

She’d never seen her mamá so relieved, or Tia Julieta. Tio Agustín was trying to hug all three triplets at once and her papá tackled them all into a hug, nearly knocking them all over.

 

I knew he never left, I heard him every day.

 

She was not looking forward to that conversation, but she was saved by the bell. Or rather, by their neighbours.

 

“What’s that sound?” Abuela asked, turning from Casita’s rubble with a confused frown. 

 

Dolores tilted her head, one hand to her ear on instinct. It sounded like indistinct chatter and footsteps, getting closer.

 

Antonio lit up like the sun, running forward. “I think it’s everyone in town!” he cried.

 

And it was. Their entire town, friends, neighbours, acquaintances, even people Dolores didn’t like very much…All of them, armed with tools, food and water, wheelbarrows and supplies for rebuilding.

 

Leading them was Mariano. She’d be lying if she said her heart didn’t skip a beat.

 

Mariano smiled at Abuela, raising his shovel. 

 

“We may not have Gifts, Abuela Alma,” he said, gesturing to the crowd. “But if we all work together, we can help.”

 

Dolores couldn’t have stopped smiling if she’d been paid to. Her whole family joined the crowd, thanking them, already putting plans together to clear the area.

 

All except her Tio, who hung back. Bruno’s gaze was on the ground, his shoulders hunched. He stepped back until he was right next to Dolores.

 

The rule may have been We Don’t Talk About Bruno but Dolores heard it all, she always had. She heard what they called her Tio: Bad Luck Bruno, el brujo, devil, jinx…

 

Sometimes it was hard not to hate them.

 

Dolores looked at her uncle, outside in the fresh air for the first time in ten years. There was some grey in his hair now and the shadows under his eyes were darker than ever; they looked like bruises. 

 

She was taller than him now. How crazy was that?

 

But he was still her Tio Bruno. 

 

So Dolores did what Bruno had always done for her when she was overwhelmed: she took his hand and squeezed it hard.

 

He jumped, startled, and stared at their joined hands mystified. He looked utterly lost for a moment, before he smiled. His smile was the same as it had always been and he squeezed back, finally meeting her gaze.

 

“Hola, mi luz,” he said quietly, almost shyly.

 

Dolores’s laugh was shaky, almost a sob as she squeezed his hand again. “Hola, Tio.”






It was easy for them to slip into the background. They were experts on doing so.

 

Now, don’t get Dolores wrong, they still helped clear poor Casita’s rubble. They just did their best to avoid the villagers, or at least escape their notice. Bruno kept his hood up and Dolores stuck to his side like glue. When Mirabel shot them concerned glances, Dolores smiled reassuringly and Bruno gave her a thumbs up.

 

And so far, it worked. There’d been no whispers of el brujo, no one blaming her favourite Tio for Casita’s destruction. Dolores was going to make sure it stayed that way, thank you.

 

But then Mariano came over, balancing a tray with glasses of water and juice, prepared by his abuela.

 

“Dolores!” he called. “Would you like some, it’s getting very- oh!” He gaped at Bruno and Dolores tensed, her hands clenching into fists.

 

Please, she thought, suddenly desperate. Please don’t be like them.

 

Bruno swallowed heavily, pushing his hood down. He stood at Dolores’s side, straightening to his full height, almost challengingly. 

 

Mariano smiled.

 

“Hola, Señor Bruno,” he said sweetly. “I’m glad you’re alright.”

 

Oh, Dolores thought, eyes widening.

 

“Oh,” Bruno said blankly and Dolores nearly giggled. “Um, thank you.”

 

Mariano held out the tray. “Would you like a drink? It’s getting very hot out and you’ve all been working hard.”

 

“Thank you,” Bruno repeated, still sounding utterly lost. He took one of the glasses and handed it to Dolores, taking one for himself with stiff movements, like he wasn’t quite sure what was going on. Like he was expecting something to go wrong.

 

But Mariano just kept smiling.

 

“It’s good to see you’re back,” he said. “I know how much your familia must have missed you.”

 

How, how, could Dolores not love this man?

 

“We did,” she said and Mariano nodded in sympathy. With one last cheerful grin he walked away, finding others who needed a break and something cold to drink.

 

She could add this to the list of reasons she loved him: he took care of his mother and made her proud, he took care of his abuela too; he wrote poetry every night, he had a loud, happy voice; he was gentle with children, a gentleman through and through…And he wasn’t scared of her Tio Bruno.

 

She sat on the ruined wall and gulped her water, suddenly weak-kneed with relief.

 

Even if she couldn’t have Mariano, she didn’t want to be angry at him, or hate him. She didn’t want to be turned into someone bitter and harsh.

 

Bruno sat next to her. He threw some salt over his shoulder (typical!) and said, “So that’s Mariano, huh?”

 

“That’s him,” Dolores confirmed, unable to help her small, smitten smile.

 

Bruno looked thoughtful. He looked at her sideways and said, “While you kids are still way too young to be dating-”

 

“Isa and I are twenty-two, Tio!”

 

“I like him.”

 

Dolores smiled. “You do?”

 

“He seems nice.”

 

“He is,” Dolores confirmed.

 

“Hm…Mira called him a big dumb hunk.”

 

“What?”






When Mirabel had started asking about Bruno, Dolores had immediately perked up, her attention caught by the forbidden name. She’d stayed on the landing just outside Mirabel’s room, listening as her parents didn’t give Mirabel much information at all.

 

So as soon as Camilo stopped fooling around (and the villagers unfortunately got their say), Dolores grabbed her baby cousin by the arm before she could go back to the nursery. She was still tightly gripping her bag.

 

Look, Camilo’s little song and dance number was fun (and she knew Bruno thought it was catchy- she had to work hard to make sure Mirabel didn’t spot him bopping along on the landing, subtle Tio, really), but Dolores had meant it; “Do you understand?” 

 

If anyone else was going to understand, she was certain it would be Mirabel. She knew what it was like to have people look at you like you'd done something wrong, just for walking into the room.

 

So Dolores dragged Mirabel to her room and sat Mirabel on her super soft sofa. She went to her bedside table and pulled out her diary. Inside the diary, tucked safely away, was a photo: a photo of Bruno at their lake. He was much younger, somewhere in his thirties. Dolores couldn’t remember who had taken the photo, but it showed herself and Bruno sitting by the lakeshore. Bruno was beaming, laughing about something Dolores could no longer remember. Dolores, only a child, was draped over his back, pointing at the camera with a smile, trying to make him look at it properly.

 

He’d never been comfortable taking photos. Always ducking his head and looking away.

 

But this photo was different. He’d been utterly relaxed and happy.

 

Dolores had hidden it when Abuela started taking his photos off the walls and shelves. She’d demanded that they hand over any photos they had of him and Dolores hid her favourite. She couldn't keep them all, but she could keep this one.

 

Another secret.

 

“I was scared when he stuttered and stumbled around,” Dolores admitted. “That part wasn’t a lie. Because when he got like that, I knew he wasn’t well.”

 

“Wasn’t well?” Mirabel asked, eyebrows furrowed. She peered at the photo closely, holding it up to her face. “He doesn’t look sick.”

 

(“It’s not that kind of illness Lola,” Félix said sadly.)

 

Dolores shook her head. “It wasn’t like that,” she said softly. “I asked mi papá once why Tia Julieta didn’t just heal him if he was sick. He told me it wasn’t that kind of illness.”

 

Mirabel was fifteen, older than Dolores had been when Bruno went into the walls, so Dolores told her the truth. No euphemisms that the adults used on them once upon a time.

 

“He has depression,” Dolores said. “And anxiety. I could tell when he wasn’t feeling well when he closed himself off, when he stuttered over his words or mumbled to himself. I didn’t know exactly what it was back then, no one would tell me. I figured out the rest myself later.”

 

“He doesn’t…Look scary,” Mirabel said slowly. She was still gazing at the photo like it was a confusing puzzle piece. Dolores made a mental note to tell Camilo (again) to tone it down with that terrible impression.

 

“He isn’t,” Dolores said. She stared hard at Mirabel and squeezed her shoulder. “Do you understand?”

 

After a moment, Mirabel nodded. “I think so,” she said and gave the photo back. Dolores put it back in its place, safe and sound.

 

Mirabel paused in the doorway. “Did he call me mariposa?” she asked abruptly and Dolores turned to her shock.

 

“...Sí,” she said quietly.

 

Mirabel was still looking thoughtful, a little confused and very very stubborn.

 

“I think I- no, I know I need to know about him,” Mirabel said.

 

Dolores agreed. She couldn’t quite explain it, but she was sure this would all come down to Mirabel and Bruno in the end.






Well, she’d been right. Frankly she was burning with curiosity to get the full story.

 

For now she was happy to sit with her Tio, taking a much-needed break. Pepa and Julieta kept looking over, or coming over to check on them. Tia Julieta kept trying to smooth Bruno’s hair down, ignoring his protests; she peered into his eyes and pressed her hand to his forehead.

 

“Julieta, I’m fine,” he said. “Seriously, I’m not sick- no migraines, no injuries, I promise.”

 

Julieta glanced at Dolores and Dolores nodded. Julieta sighed in relief; there was a silent understanding that Dolores would surely speak up if Bruno was lying.

 

It was easy to fall into old habits and routines. 

 

There was still a looming sense of worry. The mountains were open, Casita was gone, their Gifts were gone and who knew if any of them would ever come back? They didn’t know where they’d even spend the night yet.

 

But they’d figure it out. They’d figure it all out together.

 

For now, Dolores was happy to sit with Bruno in the sunshine, her arm linked with his.

 

It was her worst kept secret and now the whole village could see it: Dolores loved her Tio Bruno very, very much.

Chapter Text

“Ay, mariposas, don't you hold on too tight. Both of you know it's your time to go, to fly apart, to reunite. Wonders surround you; just let the walls come down. Don't look behind you, fly ‘til you find your way toward tomorrow.” - Dos Oruguitas, Encanto




“She didn’t do this!” a voice screamed, a voice Alma knew; a voice she thought she’d never hear again.

 

She stopped dead, still damp from the river, her eyes widening and her mouth already dropping open in shock. It couldn’t be, could it?

 

It was him.

 

Bruno burst through the treeline on a horse, fury sparkling in his eyes.

 

“She didn’t do this!” he repeated. “I gave her a vision!” He tried to get down, getting himself tangled in the stirrup, the sight alone bringing back so many memories. It had always amused Alma that Bruno could ride a horse better than his sisters, but for the life of him he never managed to dismount gracefully. All that skill failed him and he always fell or got stuck. She could never understand why.

 

“It was me!” he was shouting and all Alma could do was stare. He still wore a green ruana, much too big; it was patched and faded, unraveling in places.

 

Bruno was here. Bruno was alive.

 

Her son was here.

 

“She only wanted to help!”

 

Her son was here and he was yelling at her. Alma took a step forward, unable to look away from him. She blinked and he didn’t disappear. She didn’t wake up. Bruno was still in front of her, still yelling, gesturing wildly with his hands the way he’d always done.

 

“I don’t care what you think of me-

 

Her son was alive.

 

Alma ran.

 

“-but if you’re too stubborn to-! To…” He stammered and fell silent, tense in her arms. Alma clung to him with all her might, the way she wished she had done all those years ago. His heart beat loudly against her ear, thump-thump-thump; he was alive, alive, gloriously alive.

 

“Brunito,” she breathed, her grip tightening. Relief flooded through her; all she could do was cling to him, hold him tightly and make sure he stayed there.

 

Thump-thump-thump.

 

“I…feel…like I missed something important…”

 

Please keep speaking, she thought. He didn’t. He stood there in her arms, not returning the embrace but not pulling away either.

 

“C’mon,” Mirabel said with an amused huff. It took all of Alma’s strength to pull away, but even then she didn’t let him go. She cupped Bruno’s face in her hands (he looked so much like Pedro, he looked so tired, too thin, too pale; her boy, she’d know him anywhere), kissed his cheek and took his hand. Bruno’s hand closed around hers and he looked at their joined hands in confusion, like he wasn’t quite sure what they were, or what to make of it.

 

And if Alma placed her hand on his chest to feel that wonderful thump-thump-thump…Well, who could blame her? Bruno didn’t protest anyway.

 

She held his hand as she walked to the horse and he didn’t pull away. When she helped him up onto the horse, he wrapped his arms around her and Alma took his hand again, squeezing tightly.

 

He’s alive, she thought as they hurried back down the mountain. My son is alive.

 

She’d prayed to her Pedro for help and he’d sent her Mirabel. Their mariposa had opened her eyes, had sworn they’d rebuild together and brought Bruno home to them, to her.

 

It was another kind of a miracle.






During the rebuilding, Alma’s eyes kept seeking Bruno out. She’d look around the growing walls, searching for her son, sighing in relief whenever she spotted him. Sometimes she saw him with a bucket on his head, sometimes with his hood up; other times he was making Antonio laugh or holding a ladder steady for Félix, talking with Mirabel or flanked by his sisters. 

 

He was there. He was twitchy, he was anxious; he stammered more than he had before and Alma, used to a certain pattern, waited with dread for him to turn silent and pull away, to lose sleep and struggle to eat.

 

But he didn’t fall into that dark silence, he didn’t hide; he didn’t snap at people, panic or lie in bed all day. He was still up and about, just…Jumpy.

 

She could handle that. She could work with that. 

 

That was what she told herself anyway.






Alma had never been very good at handling Bruno’s depression or anxiety. She always felt like she was doing the wrong thing, saying the wrong thing. One false step and she’d make it worse; one wrong move and she’d lose her son forever.

 

She’d get frustrated (why wasn’t he happy, why couldn’t he just be happy, why couldn’t he be healthy?) and then Bruno would avoid her. Alma always felt guilty for such thoughts, silently chastising herself- such an attitude wouldn’t fix it! And she needed to fix it. She needed that darkness to leave her Brunito’s eyes forever.

 

She’d pray for a miracle cure, something that would just make it go away so her son could be free of this burden. Bruno had always been a quiet child, shy and sensitive, but so eager to please and smiling for everyone he met. If she could just find the right thing, say the right thing, do the right thing, then surely he’d go back to that? If she could protect a village, she could cure her son.

 

Only, there wasn’t a cure. It came and went and Alma held her breath whenever Bruno’s tics grew worse, when he spent more and more time in his room. There was never telling how long it would last. Sometimes days, sometimes weeks, sometimes months.

 

And then, when he was thirty, he tried to die.

 

Alma had been so sure she was going to faint, that she was going to drop dead herself when Félix gently explained what had happened. 

 

And Alma…Well, she wasn’t proud of it, but she’d lashed out. She wasn’t proud of it, but she wouldn’t lie about how she’d reacted. She’d been scared, so scared, and it seemed like her only options were to break down and cry or shout. When Bruno was finally awake, she screamed at him (“How could you!?”), she screamed at Julieta and Pepa (“Why didn’t you DO something!?”) and then Bruno stood up and screamed right back.

 

“Don’t you DARE blame them! None of this is their fault!” he shouted, the loudest he’d ever been or would ever be. They’d all fallen silent in shock as Bruno stood there with clenched fists and shaking shoulders, darkness in his eyes and shadows to match under his eyes.

 

None of this is their fault. Yes, Alma knew that.

 

What she heard was: This is your fault.

 

She knew that too. She’d been thinking it since Félix told her what happened.

 

This was her fault and she didn’t know how to fix it.

 

She just wanted to fix it. She wished she could wave a magic wand and make it all go away. Wish on a star and it would be gone. 

 

Maybe that kind of miracle just didn’t exist.

 

Alma had apologised to her children the next day, quietly and not managing to look them in the eye. She sat on Bruno’s bed and held onto him for hours, thanking God he was alive, and swearing to never let her son feel such despair again.

 

Only, that hadn’t worked, had it?

 

She’d never really known what to do with him. But that should never have stopped her from trying.

 

Alma had been given a second chance, another miracle. She would not waste it. This time, she would not lose sight of what really mattered.

 

No, she could not magically make Bruno’s depression go away; she couldn’t wish on the candle and make his anxiety disappear (and believe her, she’d tried), but she could still make him happy. She hoped she could.

 

She wanted to make him smile again.






At first, when Bruno smiled at her, it was plainly nervous. He looked at her like he was expecting a lecture, or shouting. 

 

Alma kept checking in on him. She’d smile at him, squeeze his shoulder, quietly remind him to take breaks. She’d listen in on the stories he told Antonio and, when she had a moment alone with him, said, “I forgot how creative you could be, mijo.”

 

“Hm?” Bruno looked up from the bricks he was laying, his hair falling in his eyes. Alma tutted and pushed it back.

 

“Your stories,” she said. “You always had so many. I’d forgotten.” Feeling suddenly and absurdly nervous, she added, “They were always entertaining. Did you ever write them down?”

 

“Uh, not fully,” Bruno said. His smile was more relaxed now, more genuine and Alma relaxed with him. “Just, like, a few scenes. And some of the shorter stuff for the kids, but then Camilo drew all over the copies and I never got around to re-doing them.”

 

“Maybe you could?” Alma suggested. “Tonito seems to enjoy them.”

 

He looked thoughtful, biting his lip and bouncing on his toes. “Maybe,” he said. The suggestion brought a spark back to his eyes, so Alma allowed herself to smile.






It carried on like that for a few weeks: quiet conversations between them, avoiding heavy topics. Practically small talk. 

 

On one hand, Alma was afraid of pushing Bruno away if she brought everything up. On the other hand, her mind kept flashing back to what he’d said at the river; “It was me, she only wanted to help, I don’t care what you think of me…”

 

She was scared to hear the end of that sentence. She was scared to hear what Bruno had to say, but she knew he’d been silent for far too long. They’d all pushed their feelings down and bitten their tongues, ignoring the cracks growing between them all, even as those cracks turned to chasms. 

 

She would not force her family to be silent again. She’d promised to try, to really try, and so she would.

 

Even if it scared her, she needed to hear the truth.

 

Steeling herself, discarding her black shawl, she sought out her son.

 

It was getting easier and easier to find him every day. Today she found him sitting in the grass, one of those little rats on his lap, flattened out like a pancake as he petted it. He looked so relaxed that Alma almost regretted disturbing him.

 

“Brunito?” she called softly.

 

He didn’t startle or yelp this time, only glancing over his shoulder. His smile was easier too.

 

“Hola, Mamá,” he said. “Is break time over?”

 

“No, mijo,” she said. She lowered herself onto the grass and Bruno held out a hand to help her, which she gratefully took.

 

“Is everything okay?” he asked.

 

“Sí,” Alma said. “I just wanted to talk to you.”

 

“Oh.” There was that nervousness creeping back. He continued to pet the rat. “A-about what?”

 

Alma looked him in the eye. “What did you want to say at the river?”

 

Bruno gulped, quickly looking away. “It doesn’t matter,” he muttered. “It’s fine.”

 

“It clearly mattered a lot to you,” Alma said. She resisted the urge to take his hand again. “Whatever it is, Bruno, you can say it. I…” She sighed, smoothing her dress. “I think you should say it. I won’t force you, I promise- but whatever it is, I won’t…” Yell, ignore you, brush it away. “I won’t be angry with you.”

 

He was still petting the rat and that little creature looked at her son like he hung the stars in the sky.

 

Bruno didn’t look at her. He stared straight ahead and took a deep, shuddering breath.

 

And he told her.

 

“I was…I was going to say, you can’t blame Mirabel. It wasn’t her fault, none of it. She just wanted to help and she was helping. The cracks disappeared because of her, they were healing, I saw it. It wasn’t her fault, it was…” He gulped. “It was yours,” he said in a shameful whisper. “And mine, but not hers.”

 

Of course it hurt. But she soldiered on.

 

“Why would you think it’s your fault, Bruno?”

 

Bruno shrugged, giving a shaky laugh. “Ah, c’mon, I was always screwing things up.”

 

“That’s not-”

 

He stared at her then, eyebrows raised. Alma fell silent and squeezed his shoulder. He was only repeating her own words back at her, after all. She could hardly refute him. She could only try to heal that damage.

 

“I was gonna say she’s just a kid,” Bruno continued. His voice was firmer now. He didn’t look away again. “And I’m not gonna let you treat her like me. That I’m not gonna let anyone treat her like me or turn her into the next screw-up. And I don’t…I don’t care what you think of me, but if you’re too stubborn to open your eyes and see the truth, then…” He took a deep breath and looked her in the eye, fists clenched. “Then maybe you don’t deserve that Miracle if you’re going to twist it into a curse.”

 

Alma stared at him, still squeezing his shoulder. It felt like a slap in the face, she wouldn’t lie. It felt like she was falling down a dark tunnel, a frantic fear in her heart; Oh God, please don't let him hate me, please let me fix this.

 

“I’m sorry,” Bruno said, voice wavering. “For disappearing. I just- Mamá, I was scared, I…I wasn’t sure what you’d do and if the town found out…”

 

“I wouldn’t have taken it well,” Alma admitted with a heavy sigh. 

 

“I’m sorry for saying all that,” Bruno added, looking at his rat.

 

“Don’t be,” Alma said firmly. “You needed to say it and…And I needed to hear it.” She gave him a weak smile. “And now here’s what I need to say: I’m sorry.”

 

“Que?”

 

“I’m sorry you couldn’t trust me,” she said. “I’m sorry I pushed you away, I’m sorry that I ever made you feel like you didn’t belong with us. I haven’t always been the mother you and your sisters deserve-”

 

“Mamá, that’s not-”

 

“Ay, it’s true and we both know it. But I want to try again, mijo, if you’ll allow me another chance.”

 

He looked at her, his hair flopping in his eyes, his smile like Pedro’s; less pale and less thin than he’d been when he first reappeared.

 

“Always, Mamá.”

 

Relief washed over her just like it had at the river and Alma took his hand and kissed it, squeezing it between both of her own.

 

“I’m proud of you, néné,” she said and Bruno beamed at her. Alma thought he actually looked quite like her when he did that.

 

They sat in silence for a while, just enjoying the sunshine. The rat looked at her inquisitively and squeaked.

 

“Mamá?” Bruno’s shoulders were hunched in, his head bowed. “I really am sorry for disappearing. I know you all must have thought I was-” He began to run his thumb across his throat and stopped halfway, looking horrified at himself. He squeezed his neck like he was trying to keep his head in place and dug his hands into the grass, pulling up fistfuls of the little green blades and determinedly avoiding her gaze. He was frantically muttering, "Stupid, stupid, stupid, why'd you say that?" like he'd forgotten Alma was there.

 

“I did,” she admitted in a whisper. “Some days. Most days I told myself it wasn’t possible.”

 

“I’m sorry,” he repeated desperately.

 

“I am too,” Alma said.

 

For the first time since his return, Bruno hugged her first. He threw himself into her arms so quickly that he nearly knocked them flat. Alma caught her balance and then held him tightly, listening to that wonderful, beautiful thump-thump-thump.

 

“Please stay,” she whispered. “Don’t leave, that’s all I ask, mí luciérnaga.”

 

“I won’t go,” he promised, clinging to her so tightly it hurt. Alma wouldn’t have pulled away for anything. “I won’t, I swear.”

 

She was sure people must have been staring. Let them. She didn’t care.

 

What she did care about was how skinny he felt under that blasted ruana.

 

“You’re too thin,” she said, finally pulling back. “Haven’t you eaten yet?” It was easy, so easy, to slip into this old habit. She was his mother: it was instinct. 

 

“Oh, Dios mio,” Bruno muttered, sounding like that snarky young man he’d once been.

 

“Don’t Dios mio me, Bruno Madrigal.” Alma stood, pulling her son after her. “For heaven’s sake, a breeze from Pepa could knock you over- and don’t roll your eyes at me.”

 

“You aren’t even looking at me!” he protested.

 

“I’m your mother,” Alma said with a wry smile. “I know everything.”

 

She didn’t. Most days she felt like she knew nothing, but she was getting there. They both were.

 

Step by step, they’d patch the cracks together.

Chapter Text

“Say that I'm crazy, or call me a fool, but last night it seemed that I dreamed about you. When I opened my mouth what came out was a song, and you knew every word, and we all sang along to a melody played on the strings of our souls; and a rhythm that rattled us down to the bone. Our love for each other will live on forever, in every beat of my proud corazón.” - Proud Corazón, Coco




“You’re the real gift, kid; let us in,” Tio Bruno said with a warm smile, a smile that was very much like Julieta’s.

 

With her whole family watching her with love and pride, Mirabel slid the doorknob into place- her doorknob, they’d actually had it made for her.

 

And then there was a bright wave of golden light. The house, the replica of Casita, was bathed in that shimmering light. The walls changed from a soft beige to green, pink, yellow and some walls stayed the same. The light flew outwards, soaring out over the entire village and…

 

And the door. The front door. It showed the entire family in a glowing golden portrait, all of them together. Isabela in her imperfect dress, Luisa looking relaxed; Papá and Tio Félix were finally depicted. Abuela no longer held the candle. Tio Bruno was there, right behind Mirabel, in between his sisters.

 

The door didn’t show the Gifts. It just showed them: the Madrigals, all together, all smiling.

 

And there was Mirabel herself, front row and centre, a gentle smile on her face. Glowing butterflies were engraved in the doorframe.

 

Oh, Mirabel thought, eyes widening. She didn’t dare blink, afraid this new miracle would vanish if she looked away for even a second.

 

Then the window right above her moved; the shutter waved in greeting.

 

Choking back tears, Mirabel waved.

 

“Hola, Casita,” she said with a little wavering laugh.

 

The front doors opened in welcome, the patio tiles shuddered under her feet and moved in a wave, pulling her into the courtyard. The plain floor tiles had been replaced by the colourful mosaic that Mirabel knew so well. On the second floor, the bedroom doors were glowing, but she couldn’t see any carvings.

 

She giggled helplessly as the tiles jumped up and down in a beat.

 

“Come on!” she shouted to her family, waving them forward. “Get in here!”

 

Casita didn’t waste another second in pulling the rest of them in, bringing them all home.






The party was almost instantly in full swing and Mirabel hurried to Tio Bruno’s side. They’d all learned pretty fast that he wasn’t fond of crowds and, quite frankly, she didn’t trust all of the villagers with him. And with the Gifts back, what if someone bothered him? 

 

Well, Mirabel simply wouldn’t let that happen.

 

At least he didn’t seem too tense. He stuck close to the wall, watching the crowd with wide eyes, but he didn’t try to run and he smiled when Mirabel stood next to him. Abuela joined them not long after, glancing at Bruno out of the corner of her eyes, but mostly watching everyone celebrate.

 

Casita was partying as much as the rest of them. Mirabel saw the stairs turn into a slide every time the town kids tried to go upstairs. The paintings all swayed, the floor rumbled and Mirabel was swept up in a feeling of pure and utter joy.

 

“Yes, amor!” she heard Tio Félix cry. She turned and saw Tia Pepa dancing under a cloud, laughing with Félix even as hail rained down on her.

 

“Go Pepi!” Bruno called with a laugh. Mirabel whooped and Pepa grinned at them, her skirts swishing as she danced.

 

Across the courtyard, Isabela summoned a whole wall of new and strange plants. She threw down fistfuls of pollen and emerged from the colourful cloud in a vibrant blue dress, stained with pollen on the skirt; colourful flowers trailed up her waist and clung to her sleeves, there was a bright blue streak in her hair.

 

And Mirabel loved it. Her sister looked utterly giddy with glee, surrounded by colour and sharp new plants. She looked, quite simply, like herself.

 

Luisa was pushed into a hammock by Casita and she let herself lay there, sipping milk from a coconut. Antonio whispered to a donkey and the donkey went over to guard Luisa, huffing in annoyance and snapping when anyone so much as looked like they were going to bother her.

 

Mirabel made a mental note to herself to make Antonio ten new plushies just for that.

 

All things considered, she shouldn’t have been surprised that the new family photo went the way it did. Of course Casita wanted to join in: Casita was family.

 

“La familia Madrigal!”

 

And the floor rose in a wave, throwing them all together. The camera flashed, capturing the moment. It was the type of photo that never would have been allowed before. Abuela would have insisted they do it again and again until it was perfect. Mirabel would likely have been left to the side. Tio Bruno wouldn’t have been there at all. Casita would have stayed still.

 

Not now. Now the photo showed them all thrown together, half collapsed on top of each other; some of them were laughing, some of them were caught in the moment of surprise.

 

Mirabel took one look, once everything had calmed down, and decided she was going to paint the frame for this one, to make it just as vibrant and perfectly imperfect as the photo.

 

For now, she managed to catch her balance before she fell and stopped Abuela from falling too. Her poor Papá fell flat on his face and Mirabel winced in sympathy as his nose bled. At least Mamá could heal him now.

 

Isabela scooped Antonio off Parce, tossing him in the air and grinning as he shrieked with laughter. Mirabel couldn’t remember the last time she’d been so playful.

 

Tia Pepa landed next to Agustín, but managed to catch herself on her hands with a grunt.

 

Poor Bruno was squished under Camilo and Félix’s combined weight.

 

“Ow,” Camilo said, wheezing.

 

“Sorry, sorry!” Félix scrambled to his feet.

 

“You okay, Tio?” Mirabel asked, bending down to offer a hand.

 

“I think I cracked a rib,” Bruno said with such an earnest look on his face that Mirabel couldn’t tell if he was joking or not.

 

She didn’t get to ask anyway. Julieta heard him and immediately grabbed him, dragging him towards the kitchen with Agustín.

 

“Sorry!” Félix called after them.

 

“I’m okay!” Bruno called back. For all that he hated crowds, this party was the loudest that Mirabel had heard him get. 

 

It suited him.






There were a lot of new, surprising things at this party. 

 

Mirabel stayed with her Tio, drawing herself up to her full height (which wasn’t much) when any villagers got close.

 

When Osvaldo approached, looking uncharacteristically sheepish, she didn’t know what to expect. She just linked her arm with Bruno’s and braced herself for more of Osvaldo’s tactless cheer. He was well-meaning, he usually was, but the man was notorious for his lack of tact. The Not Special-Special? Seriously? Who let this man out unsupervised?

 

“He told me I’d grow a gut and look! Just like he said!”

 

Because you only eat junk, Mirabel thought sourly.

 

Bruno tensed and, like Mirabel, stood at his full height, which also wasn't much. His free hand gripped the hem of his hood as he obviously fought with the urge to pull it up.

 

But Osvaldo surprised them both.

 

“I’m sorry,” he blurted out quickly, like ripping off a band-aid. “For- for what I said before. To both of you. I, uh…Well, it wasn’t the most…Tactful.”

 

Mirabel had to wonder if he’d come to that conclusion on his own or if he’d had help. She’d like to think he figured it out by himself.

 

“That’s okay,” Mirabel said cautiously.

 

“I was rude,” Osvaldo continued, shame-faced, looking at his shoes. He looked a bit like a very tall schoolboy. 

 

“Um…” Bruno blinked. “Okay.”

 

Osvaldo nodded with a relieved smile. “I’m glad you’re not dead!” he said cheerfully and marched away. And, well, that was just typical Osvaldo.

 

Mirabel gave a short bark of laughter, shaking her head.

 

“Well,” she said. “That was actually pretty tactful, coming from him.”

 

Bruno was staring after Osvaldo in utter confusion.

 

“I guess so,” he said and he threw some salt over his shoulder.

 

Mirabel didn’t have to wait long for the next surprising thing to happen. No sooner had Osvaldo left, than Julieta hurried over, her hands held out to her brother.

 

“Come on, you,” she said happily. “We’re dancing.”

 

“Oh, no we’re not,” Bruno said. He turned to run, but Casita pushed him into Julieta’s arms.

 

“Traitor,” Bruno grumbled, kicking at a pillar. The floor rippled in a mocking way and Mirabel ignored her Tio’s pleading puppy-eyes; she just waved at him cheerfully as Julieta dragged him into a dance.

 

And what do you know? Bruno was actually quite a good dancer. Julieta said something that made him laugh and, just like that, he was much more relaxed, dancing along with his sister. If he still noticed people staring, he didn’t give them a glance; he just grinned at Julieta, talking about something as they danced.

 

It made Mirabel endlessly curious; her Tio tripped over his own shadow, he got lost in a daydream and walked into walls and doors. Yet this was the same man who parkoured through the walls each day, moving at a speed Mirabel just couldn’t match. She’d seen him hanging upside down from a tree during the rebuilding, casually talking with Tia Pepa that way.

 

Clumsy as all hell one minute and graceful the next. Mirabel would have to observe some more.

 

The song ended and Julieta released Bruno, but only after kissing his forehead, smiling at him fondly.

 

Just as Bruno reached Mirabel’s side again, Tia Pepa grabbed him.

 

“Oh no you don’t,” she said with a teasing grin. “Juli got a dance, so do I.”

 

“Mierda,” Bruno muttered, but he was smiling and he didn’t put up a fight as Pepa pulled him away.






Her Tio was a man of contradictions: sometimes he was nearly as silent as Dolores, other times he’d talk a mile a minute. He was as mischievous as Camilo and so very shy. Seemingly meek and mild, with a hidden iron-clad will. Self-sacrificing and brave, but with very low self-esteem. This was the man who didn’t hesitate to go into self-isolation for ten years, all to protect Mirabel, yet struggled with eye-contact most days. 

 

And he loved them, he loved them all, with everything he had.

 

“Did he call me mariposa?” Mirabel had asked Dolores, as the memory suddenly hit her. The photo Dolores had shown her jogged her memory and Mirabel faintly remembered a pair of warm, thin arms lifting her up. For a moment, she thought she’d smelled incense and a nearly-forgotten voice fondly calling her mariposa.

 

“Sí,” Dolores had whispered, looking surprised by the question.

 

A simple question, a simple answer, but it had spurred Mirabel on. 

 

Give me the truth and the whole truth, Bruno. I really need to know about Bruno.

 

She’d been sure then, once the memory was confirmed, that her mysterious missing uncle could not be the monster and walking omen of bad luck that had been described.

 

And she’d been right. She’d found a man who was barely taller than her, skinnier than her, with the biggest, saddest eyes she’d ever seen. Someone who flinched at any sudden movement, but who showed flashes of a hidden fierceness. 

 

Someone who encouraged her, who helped her, who knew exactly what to say to help her see what she needed to do. Someone who, despite his own fear, agreed to have a vision for her sake.

 

Open your eyes, Abuela said softly.

 

You’re exactly what this family needs, Bruno said with an earnest smile. You just have to see it.

 

Mirabel had opened her eyes. She did see.

 

Señora Guzman had started it, by beginning the rumour that Bruno had left to protect her (which was true), but Mirabel intended to keep it going. One way or another, she’d make the villagers see her Tio Bruno for who he really was.

 

So when Tia Pepa finally released him after three dances (both of them breathless and giggling like children), Mirabel approached and tugged on his ruana.

 

He pushed his hair out his eyes, grinning at her. His hair immediately fell back into place and there was no sadness in his eyes.

 

“Hey, kid,” he said.

 

Mirabel held out her hand. “Got time for one more?” she asked, smiling hopefully.

 

Bruno’s grin widened. “Always, mariposa,” he said and took her hand.

 

As they spun around, Mirabel made a new, silent promise. Before, she’d promised to bring him home.

 

Now, she promised to make sure he stayed.

Chapter Text

“And I want a moment to be real, wanna touch things I don't feel. Wanna hold on and feel I belong. And how can the world want me to change? They're the ones that stay the same. They can't see me but I'm still here. They can't tell me who to be, ‘cause I'm not what they see.Yeah, the world is still sleepin' while I keep on dreaming for me. And their words are just whispers and lies that I'll never believe.” - I’m Still Here, Treasure Planet




Antonio didn’t notice at first and no one else brought it up, so for a while he thought he might have been worrying about nothing. It was something his mamí said; “Don’t mind me, Tonito, I’m worrying about nothing.” (Which Antonio didn't really get: clearly she was worrying about something when she said that.)

 

They were busy rebuilding Casita, so all of them missed service once or twice, but now Casita was back and it was Sunday.

 

And Tio Bruno didn’t join them.

 

Which- it just didn’t sit right with Antonio, okay? He might have brushed it off as Tio Bruno simply not caring, or maybe it was that “not liking crowds,” thing, but he’d seen Tio Bruno praying before, lots of times now. So maybe it was the crowd, only you couldn’t be loud in church and if anyone stared or disrupted the Mass, they’d surely get told off? Once, when a bunch of older kids kept giggling and whispering, Padré Martinez had said "Hem-hem," and didn't continue until they stopped.

 

So it just didn’t make much sense to Antonio. Abuela never let them miss Mass (she said they needed to be among their community and show their faith), but she didn’t bat an eye when Tio Bruno didn’t join them. 

 

Antonio’s parents, his tia and tio didn’t look surprised either. If his siblings or cousins were confused too, they didn’t show it.

 

Well, not quite. Dolores kept glancing towards Tio Bruno’s tower with an unhappy pout. As they walked towards church, Mirabel glanced back and even Isabela’s steps faltered. 

 

But they didn’t say anything. Maybe this was one of those Adult Topics, the stuff they were meant to be sensitive about in case it upset Bruno.

 

Everyone always said Antonio was sensitive, so as the Mass started, he glanced at his family and decided he’d just ask Tio Bruno about it. If he was scared of the crowd then that was okay, they’d all be there for him. He could borrow Antonio’s plushie again if he needed, it always helped with the nerves. 

 

And if it was simply that Bruno didn’t like church then Antonio could understand that. After all, it could be dreadfully boring sometimes.






“Tio Bruno?” Antonio poked his head around his bedroom door and Bruno looked up from his book. A few of the rats chittered in greeting, running to Antonio to circle his feet.

 

“Hey, Tonito,” Bruno said, marking his page and setting the book aside. “What’s up?”

 

Antonio carefully made his way around the rats and they followed him like he was a tiny Pied Piper (hopefully without the death and vanishing children, thank you very much). His little nephew looked unusually serious as he climbed onto Bruno’s bed and fixed him with a wide-eyed stare.

 

Bruno wasn’t sure what he expected, but it certainly wasn’t for Antonio to ask; “Why don’t you go to church with us?”

 

Even to his own ears, Bruno’s laugh sounded high-pitched and false. He quickly knocked his knuckles against the headboard. Oh dear, he’d been hoping that maybe it just wouldn’t be mentioned. Or at least Pepa and Julieta might come up with something in case any of the younger kids asked. Certainly his mamá would have a line to spin.

 

“Oh, er, well…” His mind had gone blank. He couldn’t think of a lie.

 

“Is it because of the crowds?” Antonio asked, so solemnly. “Everyone has to be quiet in church and they won’t be allowed stare.”

 

“Well, I just-”

 

“If they’re being mean again, I’ll tell Mamá!”

 

“Antonio, it’s not-”

 

“Do you not like church?” Antonio tilted his head. “It’s okay if you don’t believe in God, y’know, Señor Garcia and his family don’t either.”

 

“No, I do, I just- they don’t?” Bruno shook his head. No getting distracted! “Er, okay. I do it’s just that…Eh, I’m not…Exactly…Allowed to go?”

 

Antonio’s frown deepened. “That’s not fair! Why not?” He sounded utterly outraged on Bruno’s behalf, his little cheeks puffed out with anger.

 

“Well…” Oh God help him, how was he supposed to explain it all to a five-year-old? If he remembered right, they’d just distracted the older kids until they dropped the topic- and then Dolores got her Gift and heard everything anyway. 

 

“I, um, gave Padré Martinez a prophecy he…didn’t like,” Bruno began carefully. “Lots of people got prophecies they didn’t like, Tonito. So, um, they asked me to stay home.”

 

Which wasn’t strictly true. He’d been told to stay home. Padré Martinez had complained to Mamá and Mamá had obliged.

 

“It’s for the good of the family,” she’d said. Bruno hadn’t even argued. He’d gone quiet and cold; he’d walked away and didn’t speak to her for a solid two weeks, no matter how much Julieta pleaded otherwise.

 

“But that’s not fair!” Antonio cried, fists clenched. The rats all went very still, their noses twitching.

 

“Hm,” Bruno said, twisting his ruana between his hands. There’d been times (lots of times in fact) where he’d been tempted to just go anyway, but he was already frequently called a witch; the last thing he wanted was to tempt an actual witch hunt. 

 

Maybe he was being dramatic, maybe it was his anxiety talking. And maybe not. Either way, Bruno had his fill of angry crowds.

 

Antonio still looked angry, so strikingly like Pepa in that moment.

 

“If you want to go, they should let you!” he declared, as if giving an order. “Padré Martinez is being stupid.

 

And, look, Bruno knew he shouldn’t encourage his nephew to call a priest stupid, but…

 

“Hm,” he said instead, lips twitching. How many times had he wished he had the nerve to just say, “It’s not my fault the men in your family lose their hair, take it up with your father and grandfather!” The padré had already been losing his hair when he came to Bruno anyway, it had been noticeably thin at the top.

 

Antonio said, “Everyone knows he’s bald anyway,” and it was a struggle not to start laughing. Kids. You had to love their bluntness sometimes. 






Antonio thought about it long and hard when he went to bed. He loved Tio Bruno a lot and it sounded like Bruno wanted to join them. Antonio had liked him before he even met him, scurrying through those hidden hallways after the rats, listening to them praise his mysterious uncle to the skies.

 

“He takes care of us,” the rats said happily. “He loves us and keeps us safe.”

 

“He’s hiding to protect you from the cracks!”

 

“He needs to keep you all safe, little human.”

 

“He saved me from a trap when I was baby!”

 

And Mirabel clearly liked him. That in itself was enough to win Antonio over.

 

Then it turned out that Tio Bruno told really great stories and loved animals as much as Antonio did. He listened to Antonio and took him seriously and didn’t tell Antonio he was getting too big to be carried around now; if Antonio asked, Bruno picked him up, no questions asked.

 

And Antonio had seen him praying before, when he walked into Bruno’s room, forgetting to knock. He’d seen the rosary next to Bruno’s bed.

 

So it wasn’t that Bruno didn’t want to go to church with them, it was that he’d been told no. Which wasn’t fair and seemed completely dumb to Antonio. His Tio didn’t control the future, he only saw it. Even he knew that!

 

Adults were always saying “Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to,” but it seemed like they were really bad at taking their own advice.

 

Tio Bruno wasn’t allowed to go to church because of some silly visions? Fine then. Antonio wasn’t going either. He’d stay home and keep Tio Bruno company instead.






It was Sunday again and Bruno was just fixing himself some more coffee when he heard the commotion in the courtyard. It sounded like Antonio, his voice raising; “I’m not going!”

 

Tantrums were admittedly rare from the little guy. Worried, Bruno abandoned the coffee and hurried from the kitchen.

 

His family were all gathered in their Sunday best, ready to go…Except for Antonio. He was still in his pyjamas, arms crossed defiantly. Parce stood behind him, looking very grumpy.

 

“Antonio, you have to go,” Alma was saying; she didn’t sound quite as stern as she once did, but she certainly wasn’t putting up with it.

 

“If Tio Bruno’s not allowed go then I’m not going!” Antonio declared. He sat down, legs crossed and Parce curled around him protectively.

 

As one, everyone turned to stare at Bruno.

 

“I didn’t do anything!” he said quickly, defensively. “He was just asking why I don’t go with the rest of you and…” He trailed off, wringing his hands together. “Well. Yeah. Guess this is happening now.”

 

Alma sighed and Bruno thought he saw a flicker of regret on her face.

 

“I’m not going.”

 

Stunned, Bruno turned to Pepa. His sister stood next to Antonio, her arms crossed and a truly impressive scowl on her face. Her cloud rumbled ominously.

 

“I’m not going,” she repeated firmly. “If my brother isn’t allowed to attend church because the padré lost his hair- like all the men in his family!- then I’m not going either. It’s ridiculous.”

 

She’d said that before, all those years ago. She hadn’t gone to church for three Sundays before she cracked under pressure from Alma and went again, muttering “Clear skies,” as she left Casita.

 

“Pepa,” Bruno began, but Pepa cut him off.

 

“No,” she said, holding a hand up. “I’m not going.”

 

"I'm not sure that's all it is," Bruno tried to protest anyway, and even he didn't buy it. Padré Martinez's dumb prophecy had been the straw that broke the camel's back...But the man could have always refused to bring such a request to Alma, he could have said something now that Bruno had been back for months...

 

“I'm not goin' either,” Camilo said with a shrug. He smirked at Bruno. “It’s boring anyway.”

 

Mirabel stood next to Pepa, staring Alma down. 

 

“Well,” Julieta said delicately. “He’s certainly not setting a very good example, is he?” And she stood next to Bruno, putting an arm around his shoulders.

 

Dolores simply kicked her best shoes off, immediately making her point. Luisa looked at the door, then stood next to Mirabel. 

 

Isabela stared around at them all then grinned at Bruno. “Looks like Antonio’s started a protest,” she said.

 

Bruno’s heart felt funny, in a good way for once. Like it was doing flips.

 

“Oh,” he said quietly, all he could manage. 

 

Alma was quiet. Julieta held her gaze, her smile gone. Even Casita went utterly still. Parce stopped purring, watching Alma like a hawk. Everyone was watching her and Bruno avoided her gaze.

 

Eventually, Alma sighed and unpinned her best shawl. 

 

“I suppose we are having a day at home then,” she said.

 

As Julieta and Pepa linked their arms with him, dragging him towards the living room, Bruno faintly wondered if he was hallucinating, or if perhaps he’d died of shock. There was no way his mamá had just agreed to this, right?






It worked! No one made Antonio go! They even all stayed home too; Antonio hadn’t expected that.

 

Huh, he’d kind of been hoping to just play with his Tio while they all left. But that was okay, Antonio could still play with him, so long as Camilo didn’t try and hog the attention again.

 

What had Isabela called it? A protest? Yeah, Antonio liked the sound of that.

 

Feeling very proud of himself, he jumped onto Bruno and asked him to continue the story of Tarzan and Jane.






Alma fully expected Padré Martinez to find her the next day. Sure enough, as she was walking with Señora Sofia Guzman, the priest approached, his toupee in place. 

 

Sofia, bless her, had not quizzed Alma on the Madrigals’ absence yesterday, though she was clearly dying to.

 

“Señora Alma!” Padré Martinez called, hurring over. “I was sorry to miss you yesterday.”

 

“Ah, sí,” Alma said, steeling herself. This could go very very poorly. Even as she’d sat and enjoyed a day with her family, the old fear was there; they’re letting the village down, they’re not doing their duties, the Miracle needed to be protected…But so did her son. 

 

“I hope everyone is well?” Padré Martinez asked. He looked genuinely concerned. Did that make things better or worse?

 

“We are,” Alma said, chin up. “But something important was brought to my attention.” She let her voice harden, stepping into her role as the Encanto’s leader. “Until my son is welcome back at church, as any child of God should be, none of us will be attending Mass.”

 

Padré Martinez went very pale. “I-I beg your pardon?”

 

“I will be frank: I should never have agreed to make him stay home.” One more awful regret to add to the pile, one more way she’d let her child down. She hadn’t defended him.

 

That stopped now.

 

“We are all trying to move on,” Alma said firmly. “To begin anew. We all need to do better.”

 

As she walked away with Sofia, Alma had to admit that a part of her was proud of how she’d handled that, even if the rest of her still expected something awful to happen.

 

But no, nothing bad would happen. She’d conquer this fear of hers no matter what.

 

Though, right then, she also understood Bruno’s need to knock on wood.






Bruno did not leave Casita. He knew, he just knew that if he went into town right now, people would stare and whisper and blame him all over again. 

 

Sometimes, growing up, Bruno had wondered if Alma’s steadfast attendance at church was genuine faith, something to do with his father, or a need to project the perfect image to the community. He didn’t dare ask. The thought alone left a sour taste in his mouth.

 

Either way, the Madrigals’ attendance was practically mandatory. He dreaded to think of what people were saying this time.

 

And then there was a polite knock on his bedroom door. Bruno opened it to find Isabela standing there, looking a little bewildered.

 

“Hi, Tio,” she said. “Padré Martinez is here to see you.”

 

Shit.

Chapter Text

“I'm proud of who I am. No more monsters, I can breathe again. And you said that I was done; well, you were wrong and now the best is yet to come. ’Cause I can make it on my own; oh, and I don't need you, I found a strength I've never known. I'll bring thunder, I'll bring rain; oh, when I'm finished, they won't even know your name.” - Praying, Kesha




Dolores was standing at the bottom of the stairs, staring at the living room door. As Bruno passed, she whispered; “I’ll tell Mamá if we need to ask him to leave.”

 

“Gracias, mi luz,” Bruno whispered, squeezing her shoulder. Isabela still looked baffled and more than a little concerned.

 

Bruno took a deep breath and held it; he crossed his fingers and went into the living room, where Padré Martinez was waiting. Once he crossed the threshold, he breathed out, shoulders slumping.

 

Padré Martinez sat on one of the armchairs, looking highly uncomfortable. He wasn’t wearing his toupee and Bruno’s eyebrows rose in surprise.

 

“Hola, Bruno,” Padré Martinez said with a strained smile.

 

“Er, hola, Padré.” Bruno sat on the chair opposite. Julieta must have popped in, because there was a tea-tray on the coffee table and a little plate of biscuits. Typical Juli, he thought fondly.

 

Padré Martinez shifted in his seat, looking increasingly uncomfortable, staring at his clasped hands. Bruno hadn’t seen the man look so unnerved since…Well, since his vision, honestly. 

 

Bruno glanced at the door and wondered if he should make some excuse and just leave. The padré didn’t seem to be in a rush and Bruno was uncomfortable. And, truth be told, he was tired of being made to feel uncomfortable in his own home.

 

Just as the silence was becoming unbearable, just as Bruno was bracing himself to walk away, Padré Martinez spoke up.

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

“I- Pardon?” Bruno picked at a loose thread on his ruana (Mirabel would have a fit) and stared at Padré Martinez in disbelief.

 

“I’m sorry,” he repeated more strongly. “I should never have blamed you for your visions.” He ran a hand over his bald head, sighing heavily. “It wasn’t just this, though I will admit I blamed you for this too. I…I came to believe that you did control the future; that you could…Could choose what to see. That you influenced the outcome. I bought into it all and believed you could curse others.” He looked utterly shame-faced and somehow smaller than before. He fell silent again, glancing away towards the window.

 

“Well, I figured that out,” Bruno said, when it became obvious he was waiting for an answer.

 

Padré Martinez nodded in acknowledgement, turning back to him. “I heard what others called you. A brujo, a bad omen…And I believed it. I listened to them. I didn’t listen to you and for that, I’m so sorry.”

 

And Bruno, he just- he didn’t know what to think or how to feel. 

 

You should have known better! a part of him wanted to scream. You should have known I’m not a witch, I always tried to explain how my Gift works. Why did none of you ever listen to me?

 

He’s apologising, another part of him said. He’s actually acknowledging what he did wrong, it's not a blanket apology. He’s sorry.

 

But was that enough?

 

Out of the triplets, Bruno had been the most religious. There were times when that faith faltered, when he doubted God was listening to him at all; there were times he wondered if God was even there. Bruno knew he wasn’t the first person in the world to ask such questions, nor would he be the last.

 

But he’d still believed, he genuinely had. And church was meant to be a welcoming place. The house of God. A place of acceptance.

 

Bruno hadn’t been accepted by any of them. He'd been actively pushed out.

 

Mirabel had told him what the padré had said, when she went around asking about Bruno: “He told me all my hair would disappear and now look at my head! He left trouble in his wake.”

 

And now Bruno’s eyes narrowed.

 

“I have to ask,” he said slowly. “Is this because my family didn’t attend Mass?”

 

“No,” Padré Martinez said. “I’ve just…” He wrung his hands together, sighing again. “I’ve been given a lot to think about this past week. A lot to reflect on.” His lips quirked in an attempt at a smile. “And for whatever it may be worth, I’m also sorry for blaming you for my hair. Hair doesn’t matter in the end, hm?”

 

“Well, that’s good, because vanity is unbecoming of a man of God anyway.”

 

Padré Martinez gaped at him and Bruno clapped his hands over his mouth as if to force the words back in. He made a choked little squeaking sound, horrified with himself and thought he heard Dolores and Isabela gasping outside.

 

Oh God, oh God, he’d said it, he’d actually said it!

 

They stared at each other in silence. Slowly, Bruno lowered his hands. Padré Martinez didn’t move an inch. He didn’t even blink, he just kept gaping.

 

“Bye,” Bruno blurted out, jumping to his feet.

 

“No, wait, Bruno!” Padré Martinez caught him by the arm before he could run for the door. “I’m sorry,” he repeated. “And you- well, my cousin once said the same thing, actually.”

 

“Oh,” Bruno mumbled, staring at the ground. He reached into his pocket and threw some salt over his shoulder.

 

Okay…He’d just sassed a priest. No big deal, right? 

 

His mamá must never hear of this.

 

Finally, Padré Martinez released him, stepping back.

 

“Sorry,” Bruno said, still firmly looking at the ground. 

 

“It’s, um- it’s fine. But, if I may…” Padré Martinez was smiling when Bruno glanced at him. “I’d be glad to welcome you back to Mass. If you’d like to, that is.” His smile dropped, he looked very small again. “I would understand if you were uncomfortable.”

 

Oh, how the tables turn. 

 

Bruno straightened up, gripping his arm, hardly daring to believe his ears.

 

Of course he wanted to say yes, but what came out instead was; “Can I think about it?”

 

“Of course,” Padré Martinez said. “Take all the time you need.”

 

Bruno nodded. He walked Padré Martinez to the door (ignoring Dolores and Isabela ducking behind a potted plant) and stepped back as Padré Martinez opened the door.

 

But it seemed the priest had one last surprise.

 

“I feared you were dead,” he said quietly, a mere whisper.

 

“Oh?” Bruno’s eyes widened. He knew his family had suspected it (or at least, the adults of the family had), but he hadn’t thought anyone else would.

 

“I thought you may have had an accident in the mountains,” Padré Martinez continued. “That you fell down a ravine and we’d never find you. Other times I thought…I feared you had taken your own life. And the thought that I may have contributed to such despair…Bruno, I can never apologise enough for that. Not truly.”

 

“I didn’t,” Bruno said blankly. “I’m here.”

 

“You are,” Padré Martinez said and he sounded relieved. “Have a good evening.”

 

He walked away without looking back. Quietly, Bruno closed the door and leaned against it, mind reeling.

 

Did that seriously just happen?

 

“Tio Bruno?” Dolores and Isabela peeked out from behind the plant, eyes wide. Dolores ran to him and hugged him tightly (not for the first time, Bruno was suddenly terrified that she might have known), quickly followed by Isabela.

 

“Are you okay?” Isa asked.

 

“I’m fine,” Bruno said. He mostly meant it. “I- yeah. I’m good.”

 

Just like Padré Martinez, he had a lot to think about.






He thought about it. Honestly, he did nothing but think about it. He paced his room, thinking and thinking and thinking. He didn’t desperately pray for a sign that things would be okay, the way he did in his twenties, but he considered it. 

 

No, instead Bruno just thought. 

 

Julieta came and found him two nights later, sitting on the balcony.

 

“Alright, Brunito,” she said, sitting next to him. “What are you thinking?”

 

“I’m thinking too much,” Bruno muttered, knees tucked up to his chest. “That’s what I’m thinking.”

 

She just gave him that look, that Julieta look: infinitely patient and gentle, but with a hint of Know-It-All. 

 

She waited in silence until he broke and started talking. It was a tried and tested method.

 

“I’m angry,” he admitted in a whisper. “I’m so angry, I didn’t think I’d be this angry.”

 

“You deserve to be angry,” she said.

 

“But I don’t want to be angry!” Bruno protested. “I don’t- I don’t want to let anyone turn me into that. What if I can’t stop being angry? What if I can’t forgive them all?”

 

“You don’t have to,” Julieta said firmly. She wrapped an arm around his shoulders, pulling him to her side. Her free hand brushed his wrist, an old habit. “You don’t owe any of them forgiveness, hermanito. Not even the padré. And I know you: you don’t hold grudges. Just because you’re healing doesn’t mean you need to…To let everyone back in. And even if you forgive them, that doesn’t mean that they get to treat you badly. If they do- well, then they never learned and that’s on them, not you. It was never on you, Bruno.” She looked him in the eye, her usually kind eyes shimmering with an anger that took him by surprise. “I’m angry at them too,” Julieta admitted. “You have never been bad luck. You’re my brother; you and Pepa are…Are part of me and I’m so angry they took you from me.”

 

“They…They didn’t…”

 

“They did. At the very least, they pushed you further and further away until I lost you.”

 

“You didn’t,” Bruno said firmly. “You never did.”

 

“And you won’t lose yourself either,” Julieta said, equally as firm, holding him tighter. “Luciérnaga, you know who you are. You’re a forgiving person, but you don’t owe anyone your forgiveness, no one gets to demand it of you, especially not when it comes to this.”

 

Bruno leaned against her, his head on her shoulder.

 

“Know-It-All,” he murmured fondly.

 

Julieta laughed quietly. “Néné,” she teased.

 

“Pepa’s bad enough with that, hermana, don’t you start too.”






In a way, Julieta had only given him even more to think about. And yet, she helped him figure it out too.

 

The next day, Bruno went into the village alone, marching straight for the church. He kept his hood down. He didn’t need to be Hernando for this.

 

He only ever needed to be himself.

 

There were some things only God could forgive; yes, maybe so, but Bruno could forgive too. Not for everyone else, but for himself.

 

Grudges had never been Bruno’s style.

 

He could forgive. That didn’t mean he had to forget. He could find a balance that made him happy.

 

He walked into the church and found Padré Martinez in the front pew, praying quietly.

 

“Um, padré?”

 

His voice was quiet, but he still startled Padré Martinez; the man jumped so badly that Bruno thought he was going to fall over completely.

 

“Bruno!” He looked genuinely relieved as he got to his feet. “What can I do for you?”

 

“I’d like to come back,” Bruno said quickly. “T-to church I mean. If that’s still okay?”

 

Padré Martinez’s smile widened and he squeezed Bruno’s shoulder. “I’d be more than happy to have you,” he said. He seemed to mean it.

 

“Okay,” Bruno said. He turned to go, hesitating. He took a deep breath and...

 

“I forgive you,” he said.

 

There was a stunned pause.

 

“Gracias,” Padré Martinez said softly. 

 

“Hm.”

 

“And not to overstep,” Padré Martinez said, a glint of amusement in his eyes. “But I didn’t realise you could be so…Opinionated.” 

 

Bruno winced, resisting the old urge to pull his hood up.

 

“You should speak with mi hermanas,” he said. “I’m sure they’d be happy to complain about it.”

 

Padré Martinez grinned, chuckling to himself. “Perhaps I shall. Have a good evening, sí?”

 

“You too,” Bruno said. “I suppose I’ll see you on Sunday.”






That Sunday, Bruno went to church with his family. If anyone stared or whispered, he didn’t notice. Antonio took his hand, squeezing tight and said, “Tio Bruno’s sitting next to me!” pulling Bruno along and ignoring the indignant complaints from his siblings and cousins.

 

“I called dibs!” Mirabel protested. 

 

Bruno caught Padré Martinez’s eye, standing by the altar. The priest inclined his head in polite greeting. Bruno raised his hand, a half wave and sat with his baby nephew.

 

He gripped his rosary, hidden under his ruana and waited for Mass to begin.

Chapter Text

“I'll brick by brick, rebuild us, out of how's and why's, not when's. Nothing quite prepared me for when that piano sang again. Tomorrow I'll do things different. Tomorrow I'll be brave. Tomorrow I'll be brave, tomorrow I'll be brave. (You'll make me brave.)” - Ruin, The Amazing Devil




The day after Casita fell, Julieta woke up with Pepa snoring loudly, Bruno held between them. Julieta was draped over Bruno’s back, spooning him, practically on top of him truth be told. Pepa, even in her sleep, had him in a death grip, held against her front. Bruno’s face was pressed against Pepa’s shoulder and all three of them had their legs tangled together. A proper cuddle pile, the likes of which they hadn’t had in years. In even longer than ten years.

 

Julieta blinked, rubbing her eyes and yawning. She was tempted to just close her eyes again, to ignore the world and stay with her siblings.

 

But she quickly became aware of eyes of them.

 

She lifted her head to find Alma and Agustín standing at their feet. Their mamá looked near tears, Agustín looked terribly fond. She glanced around and saw that the children were all still asleep, but Félix sat up, stretching. He caught her gaze and his eyes widened as he looked at the triplets before his face split into a grin and he came over to them.

 

“Good morning,” he said, far too perky, even by Julieta’s standards.

 

“Good morning,” Julieta whispered, careful not to wake Bruno or Pepa- though honestly, if Pepa’s snoring wasn’t going to wake Bruno, nothing was.

 

She looked at Alma, who seemed so much smaller than she had yesterday.

 

“Mamá?”

 

Alma shook her head, her smile a little shaky. “It’s alright,” she said, softer than Julieta had heard her in years. 

 

Félix gently tugged Agustín and Alma’s arms. “How about we get started on some coffee?” he asked. Agustín went easily, but Alma kept glancing back at them as they left, as if afraid Julieta, Bruno and Pepa would be gone when she next looked.

 

Julieta understood. She was afraid Bruno would vanish if she let go of him for even a second.

 

But she had to. Duty called, life wouldn’t stop, even if the world had been thrown off kilter.

 

As she had so many times before, Julieta sat up and gently shook Bruno and Pepa awake.

 

“Hey,” she said softly. “Wake up, you two.”

 

Pepa’s snore abruptly cut off, a clear sign she was awake, even if her eyes stayed closed. Julieta nudged her shoulder and Pepa grumbled, “Oh, bite me, Juli,” holding Bruno even tighter.

 

“Hng,” was Bruno’s only response and Julieta grinned. Some things simply didn’t change.

 

“You two are the bane of my mornings, you know that?” she asked fondly.

 

Pepa, being the mature fifty-year-old woman she was, flipped her off. Julieta slapped her hand and Bruno snickered against Pepa’s shoulder.

 

“Get up,” Julieta said firmly. She climbed to her feet and yanked their blankets away, ignoring her siblings’ protests. “Come on, it’s breakfast time. We’ve got plans to make.”

 

Bruno looked at her with big, sad eyes. She swore they even watered.

 

Oh no, she thought. She could already feel her resolve weakening. Why did this always work? It had worked on her since they were toddlers, for heaven's sake.

 

“Don’t you dare,” she warned.

 

Bruno’s eyes got impossibly wider. He looked at her like she’d just killed his rats.

 

Pepa already looked victorious. Julieta wondered about putting salt in her sister’s coffee instead of sugar.

 

No matter how many times Bruno used those damn eyes, Julieta caved. She always did. She never lasted long against them, despite her best efforts. For the first time, she could see where Antonio got it. It was a jarring realisation. Normally Julieta thought that Camilo’s grin was like Bruno’s, bright and mischievous, even a little sneaky. She’d never really thought that Bruno and Antonio were alike before, besides their affinity for animals. There'd never really been a resemblance, but now...

 

“Okay, okay,” she said, inevitably caving and trying to ignore how the resemblance suddenly jumped out at her. “Five more minutes.”

 

“Bruno, you’re a miracle worker,” she heard Pepa whisper as she walked away.

 

“I can’t believe that still works,” Bruno said.

 

Julieta tried to ignore Félix and Agustín’s knowing smirks when she entered the church’s kitchen. Some things really didn’t change and her weakness for her hermanito’s puppy eyes was one of them. They were lethal weapons. 






Of course, reunions weren’t just about happiness and relief. There were secrets, there was trauma; there was anger, confusion and guilt.

 

So when Bruno told her and Pepa everything, Julieta was swamped with fear. He’d vanished to protect her Mirabel, he’d gone into self-isolation to protect her baby from…From Alma. From the village.

 

From being treated like Bruno.

 

Maybe the prophecy was just the straw that broke the camel’s back, but at the end of the day, Bruno lived in the dark for ten years to keep Julieta’s daughter safe. How in God’s name was she supposed to make up for that? How was she supposed to reassure him that she loved him no matter what? He’d fallen through the cracks before. What if she still couldn’t keep him safe?

 

“Julieta, believe it or not, I’m an adult,” he said gently. “You don’t need to protect me.”

 

Julieta begged to differ.

 

It felt like all her failures were being held up for the world to see. Isabela nearly married a man she didn’t love. Luisa hid her anxiety from everyone, overwhelmed and pushed to her limit, until she broke down. Mirabel nearly died to save a candle. Frankly, Julieta didn’t give a damn if it was a magic candle, she didn’t care about the Miracle or Gifts; she didn’t care that it was a blessing from their papá, surely he’d understand that. She cared about her girls and their happiness.

 

None of them had been happy.

 

Well, Julieta hadn’t exactly been happy either, she may as well admit it now. Everyone in the family had been drowning, breaking under pressure, suffocated, and no one had talked about it. 

 

And, with that realisation, came old memories. Memories of what happened last time a member of their family had broken down and decided to put an end to it all.

 

The first time Bruno said he had a vision migraine after his suicide attempt, Julieta nearly had a full-blown panic attack. She’d insisted on sitting with him, terrified he was lying again, scared that if she left him alone, he’d try again.

 

He didn’t, because he was telling the truth, but it didn’t stop Julieta from sitting next to him, her hands constantly wandering back to his wrists, looking for marks that were long gone, that had only existed until she arrived home; wounds that were gone by the time they’d cleaned the blood away.

 

She’d never really stopped checking his wrists though.

 

The habit came back fast.






The night after he told them everything, Julieta woke up when it was still dark out. She had no idea what time it was. Had she been asleep for hours or minutes? She was tucked under Agustín’s arm and her eyes stubbornly refused to close again. Even blinking felt like too much. She couldn’t understand why she felt so panicked.

 

Pepa’s snoring sounded further away than it had.

 

As carefully as she could, Julieta sat up, peering around the darkened church. Pepa was no longer curled up with Félix.

 

Instead, she found Pepa curled around Bruno, next to Alma’s cot. Julieta couldn’t say she was surprised.

 

Well, it was hardly a Madrigal Triplet cuddle-pile with a triplet missing, was it?

 

She joined them, throwing an arm over them both.

 

Bruno stirred and mumbled, “Juli?”

 

“Go back to sleep,” Julieta whispered, tucking the blankets back around them. Her hand wrapped around his wrist and Bruno was already asleep.

 

Her hand stayed on his wrist the whole night; too thin, thinner than before…But smooth. No scarring. 

 

She could breathe easier.

 

“I love you,” she whispered to them both and could close her eyes again.






Julieta was the first awake. Pepa and Félix were snoring, Alma was still fast asleep; Agustín was spread out like a starfish, as was Luisa. Camilo mumbled something in his sleep and, surprisingly (and what a pleasant surprise), Isabela and Mirabel were close together; they must have rolled closer in their sleep. Dolores made not a peep and Antonio was curled up small.

 

Her hand was still on Bruno’s wrist and she rubbed her thumb back and forth. No scars, she told herself. He’s okay.

 

She didn’t realise Bruno was awake until he wordlessly rolled his sleeve up, baring his forearm. Julieta startled, but Bruno just gazed at her solemnly, knowingly.

 

Julieta swallowed heavily, trying to clear her throat enough to speak against the sudden tightness, against the watering of her eyes.

 

“Gracias,” she whispered. Her thumb traced from his wrist to his sleeve and she sighed in relief, blinking rapidly. She wasn’t going to start her day by crying, or wake everyone up with her tears.

 

“I’m okay,” Bruno whispered. “Lo prometo.” 

 

She hadn’t seen his other arm and, indeed, she knew he could be scarred anywhere. The cold, logical part of her knew it, screamed it.

 

The rest of her believed him. He was okay. As much as he could be.

 

“You didn’t-” She cleared her throat again. “You didn’t hurt yourself?”

 

There, she’d said it, God forgive her. She’d made it real.

 

“I didn’t,” Bruno said. She stared at his arm, the tightness in her throat growing, spreading to her chest. “Julieta? Hermana, look at me.”

 

She did. His smile was shy and crooked as always.

 

“I’m okay,” he repeated. “We’re okay.”

 

She believed him. That was the biggest relief. Julieta believed him.

 

She clutched her brother close and held onto him until her tears dried.






She never really stopped checking. Sometimes she’d glance at his arms, she’d stare out of the corner of her eye, trying to judge how he felt, wishing she could read his mind. 

 

Ten years of isolation. Ten years of darkness, not enough food, with rats for company. 

 

If Bruno thought she wasn’t going to smother him, he’d better think again. She was always reaching out to touch him now; touch his wrist, squeeze his arm, wrap an arm around his shoulders and pull him against her side. Reassuring herself that he was there to stay, reassuring him that she wasn’t going to let him go again.

 

Surely, he knew what she was doing. He never called her out on it. If anything, he seemed as quietly relieved as she was. 

 

Step by step, they’d get back into the swing of things, they’d re-learn how to be triplets again. She and Pepa would gang up on him, teasing him for being the youngest. Bruno would call them a pair of old ladies, or protest that they were all the same age, depending on his mood. They’d argue without panicking afterwards, terrified of ruining everything; they’d laugh and joke, they’d stay up for hours talking, apologising and just…talking about their days. Complaining about aching backs and limbs from a hard days’ work rebuilding their home. Laughing about the kids’ antics. Discussing their mother and the pressure they’d been under, the standards they’d all been terrified of not meeting. 

 

They’d get there. 

 

Bit by bit, step by step, they’d be The Madrigal Triplets again, a title of its own.

 

For now, among all the construction, by the nearly repaired kitchen, Julieta held Bruno close and shook her head over the shadows under his eyes, the thinness of his limbs.

 

“You need to eat,” she ordered. “And don’t roll your eyes at me.”

 

“You’re as bad as Mamá,” he muttered, but accepted the arepa she pushed into his hand and Julieta thought she glimpsed the shadow of a smile and Bruno looked, quite simply, like himself. Not Pedro or Camilo, or Antonio. Just himself.

 

Julieta wouldn't have him any other way.

Chapter Text

“So stand in the rain, stand your ground. Stand up when it's all crashing down. You stand through the pain; you won't drown. And one day, what’s lost can be found. You stand in the rain.” - Stand In The Rain, Superchick 




Once upon a time, when they were only five and their Gifts were brand-new, Pepa couldn’t stop her cloud from raining. The only solution was to stay in her room, so the weather wouldn’t affect the rest of the Encanto.

 

Overhead, on her ceiling, black clouds swirled together, lightning struck and thunder rumbled. The rain never fell more than a few inches but her personal cloud was out of control, lashing rain down on her and soaking her spot on the floor. She'd been too worried about making a mess to sit on any of her chairs or her bed. Pepa sat there crying, unable to stop herself. The more it rained the worse she felt, out of control and out of her depth.

 

Then her door opened, there were hurried footsteps and a small figure crashed into her, hugging her tightly.

 

Pepa hugged her brother on instinct, bawling against Bruno’s skinny shoulder.

 

So many years later, Pepa couldn’t even remember why she’d been so upset, why the cloud had appeared in the first place. She just remembered the frowns of the villagers as the sky turned darker, her mamá hurrying her back to Casita. She remembered feeling scared and helpless. She remembered feeling alone, being forced to leave while Julieta stayed at her new stall with the villagers all smiling at her.

 

But then Bruno came home, defying Mamá’s instructions. He knelt on the floor with her, quickly getting soaked by the rain that she couldn't stop.

 

“Sana sana, colita de rana,” he sang and Pepa shakily joined in past her sobs. Slowly but surely the rain died down to a sprinkle, then a drizzle. Eventually, it stopped.

 

Bruno pulled back, giving her his usual shy, crooked smile.

 

“Are you okay?” he asked.

 

Pepa nodded, wiping her nose and eyes. She flung her arms around him again, holding him close to her.






Bruno never cared about Pepa’s clouds or her rain, or her storms. He’d stand by her, or sit with her. Sometimes he brought an umbrella for them both, sometimes they both just sat there and got soaked together. He’d crack jokes to try and cheer her up (some good, some corny, some downright awful), or come up with stories. When she needed it, Bruno would sit in silence with her.

 

Bruno didn’t judge her. Never, no matter what.

 

How did I forget? Pepa wondered as she braided her hair that morning, after Casita had been rebuilt. How did I ever forget that?

 

She remembered when she was pregnant with Dolores and her emotions sent the weather utterly out of control. Once, she caused it to snow, but the sky was filled with rainbows and the sun was shining. Bruno only laughed, tried to catch a snowflake on his tongue and made snow angels.

 

“Bruno, for heaven’s sake,” Mamá sighed heavily. “You’re twenty-eight.”

 

“So?” Bruno asked. He got up and examined his latest snow angel. “It’s just a bit of fun.”

 

Mamá went back inside, shaking her head and muttering about setting a good example. Bruno just grinned at Pepa.

 

Grinning right back (and causing more rainbows than ever), Pepa lay down and started to make her own snow angel.






All things considered, Pepa couldn’t say she was really surprised to find Bruno outside in the middle of the night, as the rain poured down and a storm raged.

 

It had rained during the time they were rebuilding, of course. Nothing particularly heavy and, with so many people around, all of them sleeping together, perhaps Bruno didn’t want to risk waking anyone or drawing attention.

 

The first time it started to rain, it was during the day. They all ran for shelter, with Julieta grabbing Bruno to pull him along. Their little brother had stopped dead when the rain began, looking up at the sky.

 

In the back of Pepa’s mind, she knew why he’d stopped.

 

It had been two weeks since Casita was restored. This heavy, thundering rain was not of Pepa’s making. It was natural, a force of nature. And, being so late at night, why should Pepa try and stop it?

 

The thunder had woken her and she’d gone downstairs for a midnight snack, a warm drink, something to help her sleep again.

 

As soon as she stepped into the kitchen, Casita rattled the floor, directing her attention to the window. Lightning flashed and she saw her little brother standing outside.

 

“Estúpido,” Pepa hissed. She ran for the backdoors and flung them open. Standing in the doorway, she shouted, “Hey! Tonto! You’re getting soaked!”

 

“I don’t care!” Bruno shouted back. He grinned over his shoulder at her, soaked to the bone. His hair was plastered to his head, his white pyjama shirt nearly see-through from the water and his green pyjama bottoms looked about three shades darker. The idiot’s feet were bare. Pepa was going to kill him.

 

“You’re going to catch your death!” she shrieked, three seconds from stomping over there and dragging him back inside like a sack of potatoes. (A very small, easily carried sack of potatoes at that.)

 

“Juli will heal me!” Bruno tilted his head back; arms thrown out he spun in a circle, laughing. He suddenly seemed so much younger. “Pepi, it’s raining!

 

It hit her like lightning, no pun intended.

 

He sounded so awed, so happy. It was a downright storm and Bruno looked like he’d never seen anything so wonderful in his life.

 

She remembered how he’d frozen when they were rebuilding, staring up at the sky as the rain came down. 

 

Ten years, she thought and tears suddenly filled her eyes, blurring her vision even more than the rain. Her cloud appeared and her emotions added to the storm.

 

Ten years, it’s been ten years since he felt the rain like this.

 

Ten years with no fresh air, no sunlight, no weather at all. Her little brother was like a cat these days, always seeking out patches of sun and happily lounging in them. He smiled at cool breezes and could watch the clouds for hours. 

 

Of course he was delighted by the rain, even such harsh rain. Maybe because it was so harsh.

 

Swallowing the lump in her throat, Pepa went to Bruno’s side and took his hand. She was soaked in seconds, but she didn’t care. So long as she had her brother back, she simply didn’t care.

 

“Sí,” she said, giving him a shaky smile. “Sí, hermanito, it’s…It’s raining.”

 

Her cloud began to rain on them both, spreading out overhead. Pepa’s laugh was almost a sob and Bruno’s sob was almost a laugh. Pepa copied him and tilted her head back, letting the rain beat down on her face.

 

“We’re messes,” Bruno said, squeezing her hand. 

 

“Mamá’s gonna kill us if we track mud in,” Pepa agreed.

 

“Eh, Casita will cover for us. Right, Casita?”

 

The waterspout nodded in agreement and a few roof tiles danced.

 

“Gracias, Casita,” Pepa said fondly. No doubt, Casita actually would get rid of any mud and water. She didn’t move from her spot. She just stayed there in the storm, holding Bruno’s hand. Bruno didn’t move either. When Pepa looked at him, his eyes were closed and there was a smile on his face.

 

She didn’t move until Bruno started to shiver. Then she steered him back inside, one arm around his shoulders. Julieta was always reaching out to touch him these days, always finding an excuse to squeeze his shoulder or pull him into a hug, but Pepa wasn’t far behind.

 

“We’d better get dried off,” Pepa said. “Then how about some tea?”

 

Bruno nodded, still shivering.

 

“It’s your own fault,” Pepa told him, but she pushed him towards the bathroom first anyway.






They ended up in the living room, dry and in fresh pyjamas, and sat together to watch the rain pour down. They just watched the rain and drank their tea, leaning against one another on the sofa.

 

How many nights had they spent like this as children and teenagers? Far too many to count. Just sitting together, watching the rain, listening to the thunder, wind and lightning. Counting the seconds between each thunder crash and lightning strike.

 

Safe and sound. 

 

She nearly said, “I missed you,” again, but couldn’t bring herself to break the silence. Pepa couldn’t shake the feeling she’d just gotten back something very important. 

 

Another crack being patched, another gap being bridged.

 

Another ritual brought back.

 

She had her brother back. Her brother, who cracked corny jokes and told imaginative stories, who sat with her in the rain or snow; who didn’t care what the weather was, so long as Pepa wasn’t suppressing her emotions. He’d always been so bad at taking his own advice.

 

Bruno fell asleep first, his head on her shoulder.

 

We’re too old for this, Pepa thought, blinking drowsily at the ceiling. The storm was beginning to die down. Surely we’re too old for this.

 

Their backs would regret it in the morning (or Pepa’s would at least, she swore Bruno was made of rubber) but Pepa wrapped an arm around her brother and closed her eyes.

 

Love you, she thought and was too tired to be sure if she said it out loud or not.

 

Pepa let herself drift off to the sound of the rain and her brother’s steady, quiet breathing. Safe and sound together. Just like when they were kids.








Julieta found them as the sun rose. Smiling, she covered them with a blanket and crept back out of the room.

 

When Alma came down and saw them missing from the breakfast table, Julieta just shook her head.

 

“Give them a while longer,” she said, glancing towards the living room. Her smile was soft, unbearably fond, infinitely loving. “They need it.”

Chapter Text

“But I keep cruisin’, can't stop, won't stop movin’. It's like I got this music in my mind, sayin’ it's gonna be alright. ‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play, and the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. Baby, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake. I shake it off, I shake it off!” - Shake It Off, Taylor Swift




Camilo was a good kid. Lots of people said so. He liked pranks and jokes, but he wasn’t mean-spirited. If he crossed a line, he’d apologise, no matter how embarrassing he may find it.

 

But right now?

 

All bets were off. It was time to cause unrepentant chaos.

 

Why was that? It was on account of Catalina Arias, still being a massive puta about his Tio Bruno. Twenty-five years later and she was still holding a grudge over Bruno turning her down. She’d called him Bad Luck Bruno only last night, when his Tio had been doing nothing wrong at all; he’d just been out with Camilo’s papá and Tio Agustín. They’d been having fun and Catalina decided to ruin it.

 

Nicknames such as Brujo and Bad Luck Bruno were firmly off limits. Camilo would just have to drive that point home.

 

And call Camilo crazy, but he didn’t think forcing a kiss on someone unwilling was cute behaviour.

 

It may have been twenty-five years ago, but Camilo was his mother’s son: Pepa was about to unleash hell on Catalina and so was Camilo.






When breakfast ended, Pepa strode off into the village with a serene smile on her face and a black cloud over her head. No doubt, she was about to burst Catalina’s eardrums with her furious screams. Isabela followed close behind, sundew appearing with every step.

 

Isabela had been so stuck-up that getting any reaction out of her had been hilarious. She’d been such a prissy little princess that all she really did was give indignant shrieks and throw petals in Camilo’s face. Nowadays, however, Isabela was letting her true temperament shine. Not only was she a surprisingly great partner in crime, it was also downright stupid to get on her bad-side.

 

The villagers had slowly, but surely, been learning to not bemoan how Isa was “so much nicer” before. 

 

When Isabela Madrigal decided she no longer gave a damn, she really no longer gave a damn.

 

Camilo turned to Mirabel, who was furiously scribbling in her bright multi-coloured notebook, muttering to herself.

 

“Wanna get revenge?” Camilo asked her.

 

“Yes,” Mirabel said, pushing her glasses up her nose. Her usually kind face was flushed with anger. “We can let Isa and Tia Pepa handle it first, but then…”

 

“Then I’m gonna train Antonio’s birds to poop all over her,” Camilo said proudly. The mental image was glorious. The shrieks would be delightful.

 

Luisa looked faintly sick at the idea.

 

“You’re disgusting,” Dolores said as she walked past. She squeaked and added, “Just don’t egg her house, her husband did nothing wrong. He used to be genuinely nice to Tio.”

 

“The more I hear, the worse I feel for this guy,” Camilo said, crossing his arms. It was true: under all the annoyance, he felt bad for Catalina’s husband. It didn’t sound like he’d done anything wrong. It wasn’t his fault that his wife was, what Félix called, a shit-stirrer. Not that Camilo would repeat that in his papá’s hearing range.

 

“Gremlins,” Tio Bruno said. He managed to sound loving, awed and horrified. “You’re all evil little gremlins.”

 

“Yes,” Dolores said with that sweet little smile on her face. “We learned from the best.”

 

Bruno poured himself more coffee, looking thoughtful and exhausted.

 

“Yeah,” he eventually said, sighing in defeat. He sipped the coffee and grimaced. “Yeah, guess it’s my own fault.”

 

“We’re all gremlins!” Antonio cheered proudly, little hands in the air. He looked delighted.

 

“No,” Mirabel told him fondly. “You’re really not, Tonito.”

 

He really wasn’t. Everyone knew Antonio was a ray of sunshine. Camilo needed to teach him to weaponize those big eyes one of these days. They’d be unstoppable then.

 

“There’s still hope for him to not be a troublemaker,” Tia Julieta said, though she didn’t look entirely convinced. Surely she knew better by now. She was clearing away the last of the plates and she ruffled Bruno’s hair as she passed, ignoring his protests. “How was Guy Time, hermano?”

 

“I cannot interact with anyone outside this house for at least a week,” Bruno said. “It’s the perils of being an introvert. You can’t cure social hangovers.”

 

Luisa nodded solemnly in agreement. Camilo would never understand introverts.

 

“You just don’t want to go into town,” Tia Julieta accused, smirking.

 

“Yeah. Yes. That too.”






Maybe an hour or so later, Isabela returned to Casita with a satisfied smile on her face. Pepa was nowhere in sight.

 

“Where’s Mamá?” Camilo asked her, peering around his cousin. Sure enough, his mother did not magically appear.

 

“Telling Catalina’s husband everything,” Isa said, flipping her hair back. Smugness radiated from her. There was pollen on her hands, smears of yellow and red. “Someone must have gone to fetch him when I threw a pollen ball.”

 

“You did what?” Mirabel gasped in scandalised delight.

 

“I threw a pollen ball in her face,” Isabela said with a careless shrug. “She called Tio a brujo again. It was either that or lightning. I did her a favour, really.”

 

Did Camilo mention that he loved this new Isa? She was a chaotic delight.

 

Dolores squeaked, looking terribly amused. Luisa seemed as stunned and delighted as Mirabel.

 

“It’s a good start,” Camilo said. “But I promised myself last night to make her entire week hell. You guys in?”

 

“Of course,” Isabela said.

 

“Well…I have a few ideas,” Dolores said. She couldn’t entirely keep the smirk off her face. Camilo wasn’t surprised. If there was one thing he’d quickly learned, it was that his hermana adored their Tio. Now that they were allowed to talk about him, Camilo had heard all about toddler-Dolores following Bruno around like a baby duck when she learned to walk, outright wailing for him when she wanted to be carried, sometimes only falling asleep when he held her.

 

“Can I ask Mariano for help?” Dolores asked.

 

“Uh, sure, I guess,” Camilo said. “Why?”

 

“He likes Tio Bruno,” Dolores explained. “And he’s a good actor.”

 

Fair enough, Camilo supposed. Whatever Dolores had in mind, he’d let her handle it.

 

“So here’s what I’ve gathered so far,” Mirabel said, holding her notebook out, revealing two pages of scribbled notes and crude cartoons. “Catalina cares about appearances and status. Isa, you and Tia have already dealt a good blow by yelling at her in public, especially with the pollen ball. Everyone’s gonna be talking about it. So let’s give them all something to talk about.”

 

“I will make everyone understand that forcing someone to kiss you is a big no, if it kills me,” Luisa said solemnly. Camilo looked at her muscles and wondered if he could convince her to throw Catalina in the river.

 

Another thing Camilo needed to keep in mind: he’d also promised himself to buy his mamá something nice. He could multitask.

 

Catalina was probably the first villager Camilo had come across who wasn’t angry because of a prophecy, but because her own scheming had backfired. 

 

Clearly, she needed a reminder to not mess with the Madrigals. Or ten reminders. Whatever got the point across.

 

“Alright,” Camilo said, clapping his hands together. “Let’s go to my room, we can plan there.”

 

“Can I come?” Antonio asked, eyes big and earnest.

 

“Of course, hermanito,” Camilo said, ruffling his hair and grinning when Antonio giggled. “This is a Madrigal kids bonding experience.”

 

Once they were in Camilo’s room, Mirabel turned to a new page in her notebook. Camilo peered over her shoulder as she wrote, The Bruno Madrigal Protection Squad.

 

You know what? Camilo could get behind that name. 


Screw being a good kid. If a full-grown adult was going to be a petty little baby, then Camilo was free to be as petty as he liked.

Chapter Text

“You think you're right, but you were wrong. You tried to take me, but I knew all along; you can't take me for a ride. I'm not a fool now, so you better run and hide. I got trouble! Yeah, trouble now, I'm trouble y'all. I got trouble in my town!” - Trouble, P!NK




The funny thing was, Camilo hadn’t expected to like Tio Bruno so much. It wasn’t that Camilo expected to dislike him when he came back, he just couldn’t imagine what he and Bruno could have in common. Bruno was so skittish, so anxious and quiet; he flinched at every noise and barely managed eye-contact.

 

At first anyway. That slowly started to improve as they rebuilt Casita. 

 

It wasn’t until their first proper family dinner in their newly restored Casita that Camilo learned that he and Bruno had some things in common after all: they both loved stories and messing about, they loved drama and jokes. They both enjoyed acting and they were both, as Félix fondly said, “little devils.”

 

It all started with the triplets. They were doing that thing again, finishing each other’s sentences, seemingly reading each other’s minds. They were laughing over some story from their teenage years, about some guy who’d been a jerk about Pepa causing it to rain when she got anxious over a test.

 

“So Bruno-” Tia Julieta sputtered with laughter, nearly knocking over her wine. Camilo couldn’t remember ever seeing her so giddy. “He got a bunch of water balloons.”

 

“Oh God,” Tio Bruno groaned, looking at the ceiling- but he was grinning from ear to ear.

 

“And he filled them with dirty water from cleaning the dishes!” Pepa squealed, bent over as she giggled.

 

Mirabel was gaping at Bruno. Bruno smiled sheepishly, tapping the table. Abuela was giving him a stern look, a look that said, This better not be going where I think it is.

 

“And he dropped them on Ricardo from the school house’s roof!” Julieta finished gleefully. She, Pepa and Bruno cackled so hard there were tears in their eyes. They were gasping for breath, flushed and clutching at each other, as giggly as children.

 

“Bruno Madrigal!” Abuela gasped.

 

“I remember that!” Agustín cried. “They never caught who did it!” He reached over the table to slap Bruno’s arm. “I can’t believe you never told me, you traitor!”

 

“Ay, Gus, you would have fallen off the roof and given it away!” Bruno laughed.

 

“He’s got you there, bro,” Félix laughed, wiping his eyes.

 

Camilo was laughing as hard as his siblings and cousins, the image of their scrawny Tio dumping dirty dish water on some bully stuck in his mind. Abuela had hesitantly shown them the old photos they recovered from Casita’s rubble: it seemed Tio Bruno had always been tiny and in half the photos his smile was painfully shy and anxious. He looked like he wouldn’t (or couldn’t) hurt a fly.

 

As it turned out, he could be downright vicious when he wanted to be.

 

“None of you ever told me he was funny!” Camilo accused, pointing at the adults with his fork. “I’ve been deprived of the perfect partner in crime!”

 

For a moment, he was afraid he’d ruined the mood. Pepa and Félix stopped smiling. In fact, all the adults froze.

 

But then Bruno’s smile turned falsely innocent, his eyes gleaming. Pepa and Félix both groaned and Pepa tugged on Bruno’s hair.

 

“Don’t you dare,” she said. “He’s enough trouble already!”

 

“There’s two of them now,” Félix groaned. “We’re doomed.”

 

Camilo leaned forward to grin at Bruno. Bruno slapped Pepa’s hands away and grinned at Camilo and, for a moment, Camilo could imagine the mischievous teenager he’d been.

 

And that sealed it. From then on, Camilo wanted to know more and, the more he learned, the more he found he had in common with his Tio. Add on that Bruno had disappeared to protect Mirabel and that Antonio adored Bruno…Well, Camilo would simply have to fight anyone who messed with the guy.

 

Catalina Arias, Camilo thought now, as he and the Madrigal kids made their plans. Prepare to meet your doom.

 

Okay, maybe ‘doom’ was a bit harsh, but they were certainly going to give her grey hairs.






It started with Isabela. She called dibs. When Camilo protested she called double dibs and threateningly held up a fistful of pollen.

 

So, yeah, Isabela got to go first.

 

The kids (plus Mariano, who was immediately on board as Dolores had promised) watched from around the corner as Isabela approached Catalina in the town square. They weren’t far from Tia Julieta’s stall, but if Julieta noticed anything (and Camilo was willing to bet she did) then she didn’t even give them a second glance.

 

Catalina was looking at a dress in the window at the dressmakers- a pretty purple dress that Abuela would once have nagged Isabela to wear- when Isabela approached her. Catalina was, Camilo would reluctantly admit, very pretty. Félix had admitted she was considered one of the most beautiful women around back in the day, and still was. She had long wavy dark brown hair (now with some grey streaks) and bright hazel eyes, high cheekbones and a sort of regal bearing. All in all, the type of woman that Camilo was sure Abuela would have been delighted with, once upon a time.

 

“Señora Arias,” Isabela said, hands on her heart. “I would like to apologise for my behaviour the other day. It was most unbecoming of me; I was just so worried about my poor Tio, but that’s not excuse to take it out on you in such a manner. Please forgive me.”

 

Catalina’s eyes widened in surprise. “Isabela,” she said. “Oh, I…Well…”

 

People were turning to watch. For so long, Isabela had been the darling of their village and now she was giving Catalina such a hopeful, teary-eyed smile, the very picture of innocence (despite the coloured streaks in her hair and mismatched painted nails and vines curling around her arms).

 

So, yes, people were watching. They were giving Isabela fond, sympathetic glances and looking at Catalina expectantly.

 

“Oh, alright,” Catalina said with a tired sort of smile. “I appreciate the apology, dear.” Her eyes kept flickering to the crowd and as some of them began to disperse, looking happier, Catalina looked relieved.

 

Mirabel was right: it was definitely all about appearances with this woman.

 

Isabela gave her most graceful curtsy and, with an elegant wave of her hand, summoned a bright yellow flower. Camilo didn’t recognise it but, even from a distance, he could see pollen stick to Isabela’s hand and sprinkle onto her wrist.

 

She tucked it into Catalina’s hair.

 

“There!” she said happily. “It matches your skirt.”

 

“Aww,” some of the crowd cooed. Mirabel pretended to strangle herself and Camilo gagged.

 

“Thank you, dear,” Catalina said, looking more surprised than ever. Isabela smiled and pranced away, towards the rest of their group.

 

“Uh, why the flower?” Luisa asked her.

 

“Wait for it,” Isabela said, her pretty smile transforming into a sneaky little smirk.

 

They watched Catalina as she continued to shop. They watched as she passed a patch of flowers with butterflies and bees.

 

They watched as the bees promptly followed her, swarming around the flower in her hair, getting tangled in her brown locks.

 

She shrieked and ran, more bees following her. Camilo even saw a few leave Tio Agustín alone in order to try and get to the flower in her hair. Yellow pollen was smeared in her hair, more and more bees were following her and there were plenty on the flower and in her hair, trying to reach the pollen.

 

“Oh my goodness,” Mariano whispered. Dolores squeaked.

 

“What kind of flower is that?” Mirabel demanded.

 

Isabela flipped her hair back with a smug grin. “That’s one I made myself,” she said.

 

“You’re a mad scientist,” Luisa said in awe.

 

“You know what? I guess I am.” Isabela seemed delighted with that label.

 

A whole crowd was now trying to help Catalina, until Osvaldo had the good sense (surprisingly) to grab the flower from her hair and trample on it.

 

“She did that on purpose!” Catalina screamed, red-faced. The bees were all leaving and Antonio whispered that the bees were very disappointed.

 

“Oh now don’t be silly,” Señora Guzman tutted. “Isa was trying to be kind.”

 

Julieta turned in their direction, expression deadpan and the kids all ducked around the corner, running for it.






Next up were Dolores and Mariano. 

 

Mariano walked like a man on a mission. He said he was proud to “Defend Señor Bruno’s honour.”

 

(Bruno laughed so hard that he choked and his water came out of his nose when he heard that one. Dolores gave Mariano that hopelessly sappy look again.)

 

It had only been a day so, of course, everyone was still talking about the bees. When Catalina showed her face in town, people watched her and they did a bad job of pretending they weren't. Camilo swore he saw her eyebrow twitch.

 

And Dolores? Oh, she stared. She whispered with Mariano and stared and stared and stared, making her eyes as wide as she could. Mariano kept glancing over his shoulder at Catalina and grimacing, as if he was embarrassed to be near her.

 

Catalina noticed. Of course she did. She tensed up, glancing towards them. Her eyes darted around; people looked away from her, but not Dolores. No, Dolores kept watching, her expression carefully blank but her eyes as wide as can be.

 

Even Camilo would admit it was a little freaky.

 

“She used to do the same thing to mean kids in school,” Isabela said fondly. “It worked every time.”

 

Once more, they followed Catalina around. Dolores and Mariano kept whispering. They giggled. They stared. They nudged each other and looked away. Mariano even pointed directly at Catalina and quickly turned his back when Catalina whirled around. Dolores gave her a pitying smile, looking around the marketplace, humming to herself.

 

It didn’t take long for Catalina to lose her patience.

 

“What?” she demanded, storming over to the pair. “What are you whispering about!?”

 

Dolores made a show of wincing and covering her ears. Mariano wrapped an arm around her, giving Catalina a disapproving frown.

 

Sure enough, Dolores was given sympathetic looks from the watching crowd. Señora Guzman even came over and asked, “Are you okay, mija?”

 

“Well?” Catalina demanded again, hands on her hips. “You keep staring at me!”

 

“It’s nothing Señora Bee- er, Señora Arias,” Mariano said with a false smile. He grimaced and looked away again. Señora Guzman sighed and shook her head, the perfect unknowing ally. 

 

Catalina went very still. “So, um…People are still talking about that?” she asked, trying and failing to sound casual. “It was nothing really.”

 

“Oh, I shouldn’t say,” Dolores said. She squeaked and wouldn’t look at Catalina. With a little smirk, she added, “It’s rude to gossip.”

 

“What do you mean? Are people gossiping?”

 

Señora Guzman was ushering Dolores and Mariano away. “How about we have some coffee and biscuits at home, hm?” she said. “Let Dolores rest her poor ears.”

 

“That would be lovely, Señora, gracias,” Dolores said sweetly. She looked over her shoulder and winked at Camilo, giving Catalina that strained pitying smile again.

 

Catalina was left standing there, looking completely off-balance. She looked around and people did a bad job of pretending they hadn’t been watching the whole exchange.

 

Camilo and Mirabel high-fived. 

 

When Catalina whirled around and spotted their group, they all looked at her for a moment. And perhaps they had a psychic connection after all, because they all immediately continued Dolores and Mariano’s plan: Luisa grimaced, Isabela batted her eyelashes innocently; Antonio waved with no shame. Mirabel adjusted her glasses and made a show of turning her back, though she kept looking over her shoulder at Catalina.

 

And Camilo? He smirked, looking her right in the eye and made his eyes glow green like Tio Bruno’s.

 

Catalina paled drastically and Camilo’s smirk widened to a vicious grin.

 

Bring it on.

Chapter Text

“You think that we should hook up, but I think that we should not. You had me at ‘Hello,’ then you opened up your mouth and that is when it started going south. Oh! Get your hands off my hips, 'fore I'll punch you in the lips, stop your staring at my- hey! Take a hint, take a hint! No you can't buy me a drink, let me tell you what I think: I think you could use a mint. Take a hint, take a hint!” - Take A Hint, Victorious 




Day three began with a sunny sky and mischievous smirks exchanged among the Madrigal grandchildren.

 

Alma levelled them with an unimpressed stare during breakfast.

 

“Alright, out with it,” she said. “What are you all up to?”

 

“Nothing much,” Isabela said.

 

“We’re defending Tio Bruno’s honour!” Antonio declared, one little fist over his heart, mimicking Mariano.

 

Once more, Bruno burst out laughing, his head on the table. Pepa wasn’t far behind and the sun shone brighter as she laughed.

 

“Snitch,” Camilo muttered.

 

Alma sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. “What happened?” she demanded.

 

“Catalina Arias happened,” Mirabel said.

 

Apparently that was enough of an explanation for Alma. She nodded in understanding, though she still didn’t look totally on board. Still, she didn’t push it.

 

And when Félix said, “She called him Bad Luck Bruno,” Alma turned to the children and only said; “No property damage. If you break it, you fix it, understood?”

 

That was the closest thing to permission they were going to get. Camilo would happily take it.






“Hey, Señora Catalina!” Camilo ran up to her, clapping her on the back. “Look, I’m sorry about those bees. Isa didn’t mean anything by it, she’s just been experimenting.”

 

The reminder that people were still talking about it caused Catalina’s eyebrow to twitch. Her husband, a tall broad-shouldered man with black hair, gave Camilo a weary smile.

 

“Right,” Catalina said, just short of impatient.

 

Camilo patted her on the back again, his smile widening. “Thanks for being a good sport,” he said. He walked away whistling, grinning viciously as people turned to stare at Catalina when she walked through the streets, arm in arm with her handsome husband.

 

Why were they staring? Oh, it wasn’t a big deal, really. But it may have had something to do with the sign that read No Means No stuck to her back.

 

No, Camilo had no idea how that ended up there. Honestly. It must have been the wind.

 

The snickers and giggles were glorious. The mounting paranoia on Catalina’s face was even better.

 

According to Dolores, Catalina and her husband made it two streets away before her husband finally noticed the problem and removed the sign. Even Camilo heard Catalina’s furious scream.

 

“Damn,” he laughed, lounging against the dressmaker’s wall. “And that wasn’t even a harsh prank.”

 

“Guess she doesn’t like being called out,” Mirabel said. She crossed Camilo’s idea off her list, smirking all the while. “Next up is Luisa.”






Luisa’s plan was simple. Camilo was willing to bet that most people wouldn’t even realise it was a prank.

 

Luisa simply refused to help Catalina with anything. Oh if there was a problem on her family’s farm, she’d of course be willing to lend a hand; she’d help Catalina’s husband and children, but not Catalina herself.

 

Well, it was a good way to practice her new boundaries. (Camilo was proud of her, honestly. Just don’t tell Luisa he said that.)

 

It first happened when Catalina was coming back from a shopping trip, weighed down with groceries and fabrics. Luisa, Mirabel and Bruno were sitting on a bench enjoying some ice cream. It was a Madrigal Day Off: they were only to be disturbed in case of emergency. 

 

Shopping was most certainly not an emergency.

 

“Luisa!” Catalina called from across the street. “Can you give me a hand with these?”

 

“Oh, sorry,” Luisa said cheerfully. “It’s my day off.”

 

Catalina frowned. She took a deep breath and spoke in sugar-sweet tones; “I could really use your help, dear.”

 

“No can do. Maybe tomorrow.”

 

Mirabel smiled at her proudly. Bruno gave Catalina a look that dared her to utter another word. Catalina glared at him and Mirabel just knew that Catalina was itching to blame her Tio for this.

 

She wouldn’t be entirely wrong.

 

The disapproving looks from the villagers were already starting. Three solid days of nonsense were really starting to make Catalina look bad in their eyes. Padré Martinez walked past, muttering about letting “that poor child get some rest.”

 

“It won’t take long,” Catalina tried again.

 

Luisa had another bite of ice cream. “I think I’ll get strawberry next time,” she said to Mirabel and Bruno. “The mint is too strong.”

 

“You can’t go wrong with strawberry,” Mirabel agreed. Bruno nodded, knocking on the bench. He tilted his head, still staring Catalina down. Mirabel swore she saw his eyes shimmer.

 

“Fine,” Catalina hissed. She began to walk away with her armfuls of purchases; she was certainly looking flustered. Downright stressed in fact.

 

To add insult to injury, Osvaldo came running.

 

“Luisa, I’m so sorry, but the donkeys got out! There’s just one left, but he bit the farm-hand really badly when he tried to catch him.”

 

“Oh, no worries,” Luisa said. She finished her ice cream and stood up, stretching. “I’ll be back in ten minutes, guys.” She followed Osvaldo cheerfully enough. Only a few paces away, Catalina stopped dead.

 

“Are you kidding me!?” she shrieked, strands of her coming loose from her previously immaculate braid. The people around her sighed and rolled her eyes, muttering to themselves about manners.

 

“We couldn’t have planned that if we tried!” Mirabel laughed.

 

Bruno sighed, taking another bite of ice-cream. “I feel like I shouldn’t be encouraging you kids to mess with her,” he said.

 

“You’re not encouraging us, Tio.”

 

“I’m not discouraging you either.”

 

“Do you want us to stop?” Mirabel asked. She was quieter then, more earnest; less amused and feeling a growing concern in her chest. The last thing she wanted was to land her Tio in trouble.

 

But Bruno only had another bite of ice-cream and sighed, “This stuff melts too fast.”

 

Just like with Abuela, that was all the permission Mirabel needed.

 

Message received, Tio Bruno.






The next day, Camilo bought Pepa a golden necklace with a sun pendant to match her earrings. Hey, he’d promised to buy her something nice too; sue him.






That day was also Mirabel’s day, albeit with a hand from Luisa and the town kids. 

 

Camilo watched from Julieta’s stall as Mirabel and Luisa went to the Madrigal mural with the kids following them like a row of baby ducks. Antonio was with them, riding on Parce as usual.

 

The kids all sat in a semi-circle as Mirabel, Antonio and Luisa sat against the wall. Luisa was holding a stack of papers and Camilo strode over to join them, ignoring Julieta’s long-suffering sigh.

 

“Now, what do we do if someone tells us they don’t want us to kiss them?” Mirabel asked the kids, hands on her knees. Luisa held up a large card of paper, showing a cartoon couple kissing.

 

“We don’t kiss them!” Alejandra said with a little decisive nod.

 

“Exactly,” Mirabel said, looking proud. “And what do we do if we kiss someone, but then they tell us they didn’t want us to do that?”

 

“Apologise!” the kids all chorused.

 

“And what do we not do?”

 

“Throw a tantrum!”

 

Luisa held up a card with a frowning face, surrounded by harsh red lines.

 

“And don’t hold stupid grudges!” Juancho said, chugging his coffee. His eyelid was starting to twitch. 

 

Slowly, Mirabel reached out and took the coffee.

 

“And what do we say if someone says they don’t want to date anyone?” Mirabel asked.

 

“We say, You’re valid and we love you,” Cecilia said solemnly. That may or may not have been exactly what Mirabel said to Bruno about his lack of interest in romance. Tio Agustín had been very proud. Bruno had looked suspiciously teary-eyed.

 

Luisa held up another card. This one had a big happy smiling face, coloured in yellow and surrounded by little pink hearts.

 

“What in the world is going on here?” a voice demanded and Camilo lounged back with a grin.

 

Speak of the devil: Catalina Arias was standing over them, hands on her hips and looking mighty ticked off.

 

“I’m teaching the kids about consent,” Mirabel said earnestly. She adjusted her glasses and added, “You’re never too young to start learning!”

 

“Or too old,” Camilo drawled. “Wanna join us?”

 

Catalina was turning a deep shade of red, her eyes sparking with rage and embarrassment. “That uncle of yours-”

 

“Is a wonderful man, you’re so right,” Mirabel said, grinning.

 

“He protected Mirabel from a murderer!” Juancho said.

 

“No he didn’t,” Alejandra sighed. “He was finding a miracle cure because she was sick.”

 

“Nuh-uh,” Cecilia said with a pout. “Papí says he was trying to fix Casita.”

 

“But Casita is fixed.”

 

“No, the first Casita.”

 

“...Señora Guzman works hard, huh?” Camilo said, watching the kids with raised eyebrows.

 

“It’s impressive,” Luisa said.

 

“Should we tell them?” Antonio whispered. Camilo shook his head and Antonio settled back down.

 

Mirabel was looking at Catalina, blatantly unimpressed. “Unless you’re going to join the class,” she said. “You should go. I’m imparting important life lessons here.”

 

Catalina’s fists actually trembled in rage. She turned towards Casita with a shriek of, “BRUNO!” and stormed off in the direction of la casa Madrigal.

 

“...Uh oh,” Luisa whispered.

 

They all sprinted after her. Even the town kids.







It turned out that Bruno and Isabela were having their own bonding day. Bruno was helping Isabela garden the normal way. She was weeding and he was watering some of the flowers when Catalina descended on them like a dark cloud.

 

“What the hell have you been telling those kids!?” she screamed the second she was within earshot. Isabela straightened up, eyes narrowing. A nearby bush grew thorns.

 

“Don’t talk to my Tio like that!” Mirabel snapped, but Bruno waved her down. He looked at Catalina, expression deadpan. He looked a lot like Abuela then.

 

“Hm, let’s see…I’ve told them about the lifespan of rats, about some future-slang I’ve seen in visions and why too much sugar is bad for your teeth,” Bruno said, listing them off on his fingers. “Oh, and that the boogeyman isn’t real, but that was ten years ago.”

 

“What,” Catalina hissed. “Have you been telling them about me?

 

“He hasn’t told us anything,” Camilo scoffed. “Get over yourself.”

 

“Hm, what Camilo said.” Bruno gave a careless shrug and Camilo had to wonder if he was pretending to be Hernando or if he actually didn’t care. “It’s not my fault if you’ve been making a fool of yourself, Catalina.”

 

“Oooh,” Antonio whispered. 

 

Bruno waved Catalina away, somehow managing to look even more unimpressed and weirdly like Isabela. “Now get away from my home. The last time I checked, you weren’t invited.”

 

He began to turn away, but that was when Catalina did something she really shouldn’t have done.

 

She raised her hand, bringing it down in a sharp arch. Mirabel and Cecilia screamed, Luisa darted forward-

 

And a vine wrapped firmly around Catalina’s wrist, stopping the slap just inches from Bruno’s face.

 

Isabela stood at her full height, practically growling. Thorny vines crept around her feet. 

 

“You really don’t want to do that,” she snarled.

 

For the first time, Catalina had the good sense to look afraid. Perhaps she finally realised a line had been crossed.

 

Tio Bruno stared at her. He looked around at all the kids and something in his expression hardened.

 

“Right,” he said softly. Somehow, that freaked Camilo out the most. Tio Bruno stepped closer to Catalina, smoothing down his shirt; it was an old thing, mainly worn for lounging around, too big and a very dark green. He looked even smaller without his ruana and yet he somehow managed to look intimidating in that moment.

 

“You can’t curse me,” Catalina said quickly. “No one will stand for it!”

 

“You’re right, I can’t curse you,” Bruno said flatly. “Because that was never my Gift.” Slowly, he started to smirk. “But I can act.” He turned to them all with a smile. “Kids, allow me to demonstrate the power of youngest siblings.”

 

“Huh?” Camilo asked, arms folded. He scowled at Catalina, wishing Isabela would just throw the trash out already.

 

“Hold her there, Isa,” Bruno said. Isabela nodded, making no move to release Catalina. Camilo was pretty sure the vine actually tightened its grip.

 

And then Tio Bruno slapped himself in the face so hard that his head jerked to the side.

 

“Tio!” Mirabel and Luisa screamed, running to him. Antonio let out a startled yelp, jumping off Parce and sprinting to Bruno.

 

But Bruno only held a finger up, gently brushing his sobrinos away. There was a red mark on his face and Catalina’s eyes widened.

 

“You’re mad,” she spat.

 

“Hm, maybe.” Bruno took a deep breath, closing his eyes. When he opened them again, his eyes were big and tearful, his expression anxious; his whole demeanour shifted and he looked very much like the anxious mess that Camilo had first been introduced to.

 

“Tio?” Camilo stepped forward, worried.

 

Bruno screamed, “PEPA!” and ran inside Casita. His voice even broke as if he was trying not to sob.

 

“...Oh,” Camilo said. That…Well, that was unexpected.

 

Alejandra, a youngest child herself, turned to Catalina. “Oh,” she said sadly. “You’re really in trouble.”

 

Mirabel looked somewhere between mystified and impressed.

 

Isabela laughed outright.

 

“Can I do that?” Antonio asked.

 

“I’m begging you not to,” Camilo said.

 

Thunder rumbled. Dark clouds appeared overhead and Camilo heard his Mamá before he saw her.

 

“ARIAS!” she shrieked.

 

“Antonio, kids, get out of here,” Luisa said. When they didn’t move, she scooped them all up and ran with them.

 

Not a moment too soon, because Pepa appeared in the doorway, literally storming. A mini hurricane swirled around her; her cloud was pitch black and crackling with lightning. Lightning struck out inches from Catalina’s feet.

 

Bruno stood just behind her, still looking horribly woebegone, but when he caught Catalina’s eyes he smirked and waved his fingers at her.

 

Isabela smirked at Catalina and let her go.

 

Perhaps Catalina wasn’t totally stupid: she immediately ran as fast as she could. Pepa went after her and dark clouds were soon covering the entire Encanto.

 

“Tio Bruno,” Mirabel said slowly. “I say this with love: what was that?

 

“That, mariposa, was the power of being the youngest sibling,” Bruno said with a grin. “You really should learn to use it.”

 

“Don’t,” Isabela warned her.

 

Laughing, Camilo went to Bruno and flung his arms around him, hanging off his tio’s neck in a loose hug. “Tio,” he said. “I love you, you know that?”

 

“Aw, I love you too,” Bruno said, looking as delighted as he always did.

 

“Is it safe now?” Luisa called, peeking out from behind a tree.

 

“All good!” Isabela said, waving her over. Luisa carried the kids back. Parce followed, looking just as lost as Luisa.

 

“I, uh, I didn’t know you had that in you, Tio,” she said.

 

Bruno just shrugged and ruffled Camilo’s hair. “I always said my real Gift was acting.”






All in all, it only took five days to break Catalina Arias. When word swiftly got out that she (supposedly) stormed into Casita and slapped Bruno in his own home…Well, her reputation really died then. No one wanted anything to do with her.

 

Word had it that her husband was furious with her for angering the Madrigals.

 

Alma forbid her from coming near Casita ever again and the family were on strict orders to only help her in a life or death situation. She spent the rest of the evening fussing over Tio Bruno, smoothing his hair and kissing his forehead like he was a child. Although Bruno struggled in her grasp and complained, Camilo saw the smile on his face.

 

“Are you kids gonna tell on me?” Bruno asked them that night. They were all hanging out in the garden, looking at the stars. Antonio was fast asleep on Bruno’s lap.

 

“Absolutely not,” Isabela said, who was clearly delighted with the whole situation.

 

“Hm, what’s one more secret?” Dolores asked, leaning against Bruno’s side. Mirabel, her head in Dolores’s lap, only gave a thumbs up as she yawned.

 

“You should work that into your next telenovela,” Camilo told him with a grin. He lay down, flopping across Bruno’s legs. Although his Tio gave an exaggerated “Oof!” and groaned, he didn’t try to move him.

 

“We still have two days worth of pranking material,” Camilo said with a theatrical wave of his hand. “If she ever acts up again, we’ll remind her not to mess with us.”

 

“La familia Madrigal,” Mirabel mumbled, eyes closed.

 

La familia Madrigal indeed. Maybe Bruno had a point when he called them all gremlins, but it was for a good cause.

 

No one, absolutely no one, got to mess with Camilo’s family.

Chapter Text

“A hurricane of jacarandas (Woo)! Strangling figs (Go), hanging vines (Grow). Palma de cera fills the air as I climb and I push through. (What else, what else?) What can you do when you are deeply, madly, truly in the moment? (Seize the moment, keep goin'!) What can you do when you know who you wanna be is imperfect? But I'll still be okay. Hey, everybody clear the way!” - What Else Can I Do? Encanto




You’re a mad scientist, Luisa said and the label seemed to stick in Isabela’s mind, almost like it was a challenge. She seemed to be making every effort to live up to that label. 

 

All sorts of incredible plants could be found around Casita, inside and outside. They climbed up the walls and grew from the bricks; they hung from the ceiling, curled around the furniture and sprouted from the floor.

 

“Just keep the carnivorous ones to your room,” Abuela said, looking tired as Camilo nearly sat on another miniature cactus. 

 

“Of course, Abuela,” Isabela said. She’d come home with a brand new pair of dungarees and that, more than anything, seemed to shock her abuela the most. A woman wearing ‘men’s clothes,’ baffled her, but the creeping-crawling vines were…tolerable. 

 

She was trying. Isa knew she was trying. She still found herself getting tense and standing up straighter sometimes, her heart pounding as Abuela’s gaze roamed over her cacti, her ferns and snapdragons. 

 

There were some plants she simply could not name in front of Antonio. Or indeed in front of her parents and Abuela: Hooker’s Lips and Naked Man Orchids for instance. Mirabel and Luisa certainly got a hoot out of it anyway.

 

Isabela was growing new things every day, staying up all night reading about every plant, flower, tree and bush she could find. Anything and everything, even the gross stuff (she really regretted growing that corpse flower- never again), and the more she learned the more curious she felt. She didn’t feel satiated; she wanted to know more, to do more. She wanted to grow everything.

 

So she started to experiment. Was it possible to invent something new? 

 

It started small as she messed around with pollen levels, colours and textures; eventually she ended up with the bright yellow flower so chock-full of pollen that it instantly attracted bees. Watching those little guys swarm Catalina Arias had been the highlight of Isabela’s day.

 

It was that very incident that made Luisa call her a mad scientist. 

 

And that got Isabela wondering: what else could she do?

 

Then she borrowed Bruno’s copy of Frankenstein and she felt like she’d been zapped by Pepa’s lightning.

 

Isa had an idea.






The whole family knew that Isa was up to something. They could hear her cursing in her room; she walked around smeared with dirt and pollen, with leaves stuck in her hair. Once, she worryingly emerged with a black-eye and waved away Julieta’s concern as she ate and the injury faded.

 

“I’m experimenting,” she said and wouldn’t elaborate further. Mirabel and Camilo’s attempts to sneak into her room for answers were quickly stopped: they opened the door only to find their way blocked by a thick wall of thorny vines.

 

“Rude,” Camilo snarked and he ended up with a mouthful of petals for his troubles.

 

“It’s not anything dangerous, is it, amor?” Julieta asked.

 

“No, Mamá,” Isabela said. She was reading through a thick book about edible plants, fruits and vegetables. “It’s fun.”






It took two months before they got any answers. 

 

There was nothing about the day to suggest impending mayhem. It was a nice warm day with a mild, pleasant breeze. Bruno and the other kids were all in the garden, watching as the rats acted out the various tricks Bruno had taught them: stand, dance, play dead, sing, villain stance, hero stance. According to Antonio, Fidel’s favourite trick was dance. 

 

“I did it!” Isabela ran into the garden, dirt on her hands and cheering her head off. Bruno hadn’t heard her be so loud since she was five. Maybe even longer, come to think of it. She ran towards them at top speed, eyes shining and screaming happily. Her smile was downright manic and Mirabel stepped back sharply.

 

“Did what, Isa?” Bruno asked. It was a fatal question, because Isabela instantly used her vines to round everyone up, dragging them to her room.

 

“Isa!” Mirabel protested immediately, struggling in vain against the vines. “What are you doing!?”

 

“You’ll see!” Isabela practically sang.

 

She dragged them all to her room, lassoed in her vines. Camilo sighed theatrically, rolling his eyes.

 

“Oh, can we finally know the secret now?” he asked, his voice drawling and heavily sarcastic. “Why, I’m honoured.

 

There seemed to be more and more new specimens each time Bruno came into Isabela’s room these days. He could see roses and orchids, of course, but such a wide variety; especially the orchids, he couldn’t possibly name them all. They were a riot of colour, closest to the door. There were palm trees, which some of Antonio’s birds hung around and a particularly bright plant that Isabela had told him was called a protea pinwheel. There was the passion flower blue velvet she’d shown him before they went to the lake, a small patch of daisies, voodoo lilies and cacti galore. Some cacti were tiny little things, others were as tall as Luisa. 

 

Isabela only released them when they reached her bed.

 

Curled up in the middle of her bed on a thick blanket and wriggling were five little brown lumps.

 

“What are those things?” Luisa squealed, jumping back.

 

Isabela scooped up the little…creatures…and cradled them to her chest. “These are my children,” she said proudly.

 

“...Those are potatoes,” Camilo said flatly. A vine slapped him.

 

Indeed they were. They were five little potatoes with little indents on them, making it look like they had faces; big round eyes and little mouths. They even had purplish arms and legs.

 

“Aww,” Bruno cooed. As if summoned by the sense of competition, he felt his rats scurry up his legs and settle on his shoulders and in his pockets and hair.

 

“Isa,” Mirabel said slowly. “You…You animated them?”

 

“I did!” Isabela was practically vibrating in glee. Her smile faltered for a moment. “I don’t know how long they’ll last, but…” She shrugged and beamed down at the little potatoes. “But I think it’s pretty amazing.”

 

“They’re adorable,” Bruno said earnestly.

 

Camilo didn’t look convinced. Luisa was still gaping. Antonio lightly stroked one as if it was a cat.

 

Dolores squeaked. “That explains all those noises,” she said and seemed to accept the situation. 

 

“How smart are they?” Bruno asked. He held out a finger and one latched on with its little veiny arm. Camilo shuddered, but Bruno thought it was endearing.

 

What was even more endearing was Isabela’s utter excitement.

 

“I’m not sure,” she said. “They respond to my voice and they can move on their own, but not much. So far they just kind of wriggle, but they’re learning to sit up.”

 

“This is weird even for us,” Camilo said bluntly. Another vine promptly wrapped around his mouth and he huffed in annoyance, crossing his arms.

 

Mirabel tilted her head, peering at the potatoes. “Can I make them little outfits?” she asked and Bruno could have sworn that one of the potatoes leaned towards her.






Pepa kept staring at them. Bruno wasn’t sure if she’d even blinked.

 

“We’re not eating those ones, huh?” Agustín tried to joke and Isabela clutched the little guys close with a horrified gasp.

 

“Ay, Agustín,” Julieta sighed. She looked at the potatoes with a confused sort of smile. “Though I was wondering why you were suddenly so interested in fruits and vegetables,” she added.

 

Alma looked completely lost. “Do they…eat?” she asked hesitantly. 

 

“Dirt,” Isabela said happily.

 

“Just dirt?”

 

“Well, they’ll need water too. But yes. Dirt.”

 

That seemed to baffle Alma even more. 

 

“Can I help feed them?” Antonio asked. He seemed completely won over, treating the potatoes like they were puppies. 

 

“Living potatoes,” Alma muttered to herself. “Living potatoes. What’s next, talking carrots?”

 

“Mamá, she’s happy,” Bruno said softly. Was it bizarre? Oh, yes! But Bruno always had a soft spot for the bizarre and confusing. 

 

Alma watched Isabela proudly showing off the little potato creatures, showing Antonio how to feed them, and something in her eyes softened a little, even if she still looked strained.

 

“Sí,” she sighed. “She’s happy.”

 

“I don’t think I’ll be eating any potatoes for a while,” Félix muttered.

 

Yeah, Bruno wasn’t so sure he’d be able to either.






The Little Guys, as the potatoes had affectionately (well, mostly affectionately) been dubbed, didn’t get any bigger, but they got more mobile and more aware as the weeks went on. They could toddle after Isa on their own now, swaying slightly as they walked. They were incapable of any sort of speech, but were learning how to express themselves. They even understood basic commands.

 

Maybe Antonio had a point; they kind of were like puppies.

 

“I need to give them proper names,” Isabela said, tapping her chin thoughtfully.

 

“I’ve named dozens of rats,” Bruno said. “I can help if you need.”

 

She smiled at him, twisting the new streak of green in her hair around her hand. “Gracias, Tio.”

 

Bruno watched The Little Guys trying to follow his rats. His rats were much faster, but they sometimes slowed down, stopping and waiting for their new companions to catch up.

 

Mirabel had made them the promised outfits; little jackets, skirts, shirts and dresses. Dolores even gave one a little yellow bow, though she smirked at Isabela and said, “Five babies.”

 

Flowers popped up in Isabela’s hair as a flush crept up her cheeks. “Shut up,” she said briskly. Bruno had no idea what that was about.

 

His attention was drawn back to The Little Guys as one picked up the pace, scurrying past the others and nearly catching up to Rosita and Victoria. 

 

It gave him an idea.

 

“Isa,” he said. “You’re training them, right?”

 

“Hm? Sí.”

 

Bruno started to grin. “Think they could work in a telenovela?”

 

Dolores immediately looked up in interest. Even Camilo looked intrigued and less creeped out. 

 

Isabela lit up. “Yes!” she said quickly. She turned and called, “Come here, Little Guys!” and her potatoes toddled towards her, their little arms reaching out for her. Isabela picked them up and settled them on her lap.

 

“You’re going to be Mamá’s little stars,” she cooed.

 

“You did not just call yourself their mamá,” Camilo said.

 

Isabela huffed. “So? Tio Bruno calls himself the rats’ papá.”

 

“He’s also their mamá,” Antonio added. “Depending on which rat you ask.” Apparently Alfonso was very vocal about Bruno being his mamá. 

 

Honestly, Bruno found it downright adorable. He didn’t mind, so long as the rats knew he loved them.

 

Maybe it was the same for The Little Guys. They certainly seemed to understand that Isabela loved them, and they were clearly attached to her. They actively sought her out and, though they couldn’t make facial expressions, Bruno swore he could see when they got upset trying to find her.

 

His niece had made five little critters that plainly adored her. Weird or not, Bruno couldn’t have been prouder.

 

When he told her so, her eyes sparkled.

 

What was the harm in encouraging her to explore her Gift? She wasn’t hurting anyone. Just, as Alma said, keep the carnivorous ones away from the rest of the house.






Isabela didn’t know how long it would last. Maybe it was a bad idea to get so attached to The Little Guys; she could wake up tomorrow and find them back to normal potatoes, no spark of life to be found. They could wither and die in the night for all she knew.

 

But she couldn’t shake that pride. She’d actually done it, she’d animated something. 

 

Maybe it was only temporary, but she was going to make the most of it.

 

Señorita Perfecta was gone and she was never coming back. Good riddance, Isa thought.

 

But speaking of coming back…

 

She watched her Tio Bruno teaching The Little Guys to strike poses like his rats and her heart swelled. She couldn’t believe how much she’d missed him, now that she was finally allowed to acknowledge it.

 

Would it be completely cheesy to name one of them Brunito? Maybe. She’d bring it up later.

 

For now, Isabela was happy to spend time with her Tio and her little creations, and all the while she wondered what she’d manage to do next.

 

She couldn’t wait to find out.

Chapter Text

“I remember you said, ‘Don't leave me here alone.’ But all that's dead and gone, and passed tonight. Just close your eyes, the sun is going down. You'll be alright, no one can hurt you now. Come morning light, you and I'll be safe and sound.” - Safe And Sound, Taylor Swift




If there was one thing that always stuck out in Luisa's memories of Tio Bruno, it was this: he was the only adult who never got embarrassed when she lifted him up.

 

When she first got her Gift, she'd been so excited. She'd lifted anything she could get her hands on. When she'd hugged her papá, she'd accidentally lifted him right into the air and everyone had laughed, egging her on to lift the others. Even Abuela had allowed herself to be carried for a few steps.

 

But eventually, the novelty wore off. Adults didn't want to be picked up by a little girl. They'd wave her away, gently telling her no.

 

All except Tio Bruno. He laughed every time, like it was the most fun he'd ever had. Even when he was sad and quiet, he'd manage a chuckle when Luisa insisted on lifting him up.

 

He called her princesa. Even when she got her super-strength, he still called her princesa. 

 

The adults in town started calling her a hard-worker, a little mountain; some even called her a little donkey and Luisa hated that one. When she said so, Abuela said they were being kind. Mamá and Papá tried to quietly discourage the donkey nickname, seeing how much it upset her, but some people persisted.

 

Luisa liked donkeys, don’t get her wrong. They were hard-workers like her and she thought they were pretty cute once you got used to them. But she didn’t want to be called a donkey. 

 

Her parents still called her amor and corazón like they did for her sisters and that always made her feel better.

 

And her designated Tio Bruno Nickname of princesa always made her smile and run to hug her uncle. It made her feel pretty, almost as pretty as Isabela. He still told her fairytales and even came up with a story about a super-strong princess who saved a kingdom, just for her. 

 

They had a big, loud, busy family. They had Responsibilities and Duties. It was easy to slip through the cracks; it was easy to feel like you couldn’t talk about feeling upset. After all, Luisa saw how Abuela frowned at Tio Bruno so often and heard, “Pepa, you have a cloud!” every day. 

 

So when Luisa, only a child, needed a distraction, she’d seek out her Tio Bruno and ask for a story. To his credit, he never turned her away. Looking back, Luisa could see how exhausted he’d been, how drained and sad…But he always indulged them. He still did his best to smile at her and he’d tell her any story she pleased, and Luisa would lean against him, pushing all her worries to the back of her mind as she got lost in the world of fairytales and myths.







It felt like a fairytale when Tio Bruno returned. Luisa had watched in amazement as her Mamá and Tia Pepa rushed to hug him, and her Papá and Tio Félix. Abuela looked relieved, somehow…lighter than before. Softer. Mirabel was grinning from ear to ear.

 

And then she found out why Tio Bruno vanished. He’d hidden away to protect her baby sister.

 

Luisa, as she’d done all those years ago, ran to Bruno and scooped him up into a hug. Even without her Gift she was strong (Mirabel was right) and he’d never been a big man; it was easy to lift him up and squeeze him tight.

 

It was like the clock reversed, because Tio Bruno laughed and hugged her, patting her on the back. Luisa felt like she was nine again.

 

“Same old princesa,” he said and Luisa held him tighter. She thought she’d never hear that nickname again.

 

“I missed you,” she whispered, feeling oddly shy. It had only been a few days; she still needed to get used to actually voicing her feelings out loud.

 

“I missed you too, kid.”

 

It was a relief. Until he said it, Luisa didn’t realise how scared she’d been that he wouldn’t miss her. Luisa was always the first to leave Casita and the last to return, unless it was a special occasion like a birthday, or Isabela and Mariano’s failed proposal. Sometimes it felt like no one missed her; like they took her absence as a given. Something they were all used to. And Tio Bruno had always had Dolores following after him and he’d vanished to protect Mirabel, so…so…

 

It was just good to hear that she’d been missed as well. 

 

It was like Tio Bruno could read her mind because, when Luisa finally put him back down, he smiled up at her, his hands still on her shoulders and said, “I love you, Luisa.”

 

Luisa, as she so often had the last few days, burst into tears and let him comfort her. She was so much taller than him now, even her hands were bigger than his, but she felt safe when Bruno hugged her. The song he hummed was still the same and Luisa let him usher her towards one of the shattered walls and she sat down, bent over to bawl against her uncle’s skinny shoulder.

 

“You’re okay,” he said quietly. “Don’t worry, princesa, you’re okay.”

 

She didn’t feel okay, not really. She hadn’t felt okay in a long time.

 

But maybe she would. 







Even after Casita was rebuilt, relaxing felt weird. Although she was urged again and again during the rebuilding to take breaks, Luisa still felt off-balance. She hadn’t gotten a true break since she was five. The older she got, the harder she worked.

 

Having free time was new. It was a little frightening. 

 

“You could try to find a hobby,” Mirabel suggested. “What do you like to do?”

 

That was the problem: Luisa didn’t know what she liked to do.

 

She tried embroidery with Mirabel, but her attempts were so embarrassingly bad that she quickly stopped. She tried gardening the normal way with Isabela and, honestly, she quite liked planting flowers and trimming hedges…But it still felt a little too much like work for her to truly relax. A part of her mind was terrified of making a mess or ruining Isa’s hard work. 

 

Luisa didn’t know the first thing about cooking and, although she saw Julieta’s pride in her work, she’d also seen how exhausted her mother got over the years and Luisa was afraid that a cooking hobby would also start to feel like work.

 

Honestly, she was also worried about copying her family. She knew it was possible for more than one person to have the same hobby (obviously), but still…Was it over-stepping? What if she did it wrong and ruined it for them?

 

But then Agustín had a suggestion of his own, and a change occurred. 

 

Luisa still remembered some basics on piano and Agustín encouraged her to try and get back into it. Honestly, at first it was just nice to spend time with her papá as he guided her through the steps, jogging her memory. Slowly but surely, Luisa got back into the swing of things; she learned more keys, more songs. Soon, she could play songs by herself.

 

And she loved it. She saw the pride in her papá’s eyes, she saw Dolores cock her head to listen with a smile. Mirabel would poke her head around the door to tell Luisa, “You sound great!” 

 

For once, Luisa didn’t define herself by her strength. Now she took pride in her piano skills as well.

 

A few months after Casita was restored, Agustín and Luisa even played a song together for the family after dinner one evening, and Julieta gave her a big hug and kiss on the cheek. Abuela clapped and told her she was wonderful. Mirabel, Bruno, Pepa and Camilo whooped loudly, like it was a concert, which made Luisa laugh. Agustín bowed theatrically and nearly tripped over his shoelaces.

 

So maybe music could be her new hobby.

 

Luisa liked the sound of that.








“I haven’t got the first clue about music,” Tio Bruno said cheerfully, later that week. Luisa was practicing piano in the courtyard when he arrived home from the library. He was carrying a new stack of books. He seemed to have new books every day. “Dancing’s fun, but I can’t sing.”

 

“Yes you can,” Luisa said, remembering the lullaby he used to sing for them all. 

 

Bruno shook his head with a rueful smile. “Not like Juli and Pepa,” he said. 

 

It occurred to Luisa then, that she and Bruno had something in common.




“I can’t dance,” Luisa said shyly at Antonio’s Gift ceremony.

 

Julieta gave her a bemused smile. “Of course you can, amor. I’ve seen you.”

 

Luisa could feel how stiff her smile was as her eyes flickered to her perfect, graceful sister and Mariano. “Not like Isabela,” she said softly. Julieta’s smile faltered, but before she could say anything Abuela was calling for a family photo.




“You used to sing,” Luisa said, shyly but stubbornly. “I remember.”

 

“That was just a lullaby,” Bruno said. He spread his new books out on the side-table, studying the covers, running his finger over them as he tried to choose which one he’d read first.

 

“I liked it.”

 

She caught the ghost of a smile on his face. “Gracias, princesa.” 

 

In the back of Luisa’s mind, the beginnings of an idea sparked to life.

 

“Tio,” she said slowly. “Do you remember the story about the super-strong princess?”

 

“Hm? Of course.” He chose a book and smiled at her. 

 

“Can you tell it to me again?”

 

For a moment, he looked stunned, but very pleased. His smile and eyes softened into a look Luisa remembered so well. 

 

“Sure, kid,” he said, as shy as Luisa herself. “I can.”







Tio Bruno was hardly a super-strong princess (that was more fitting for Mirabel) and Casita was not a kingdom, nor was Encanto, even if Abuela felt like a Queen to them all. Luisa knew Bruno would brush off his role as unimportant; after all, Luisa so often did the same with herself.

 

But they were important, and not for their Gifts.

 

Bruno had been secretly patching the cracks, he’d stayed all alone to keep Mirabel safe; he loved them all, no matter what.

 

Luisa thought that made a good story too.

 

And good stories, she knew, often made good songs.

 

Luisa had an idea. Hopefully a less chaotic idea than Isabela and her Little Guys.






Luisa finished her song in two weeks, the fastest she’d ever written, and the first one she’d done all by herself as inspiration took over. She could honestly say she’d never been so creatively inspired in her life. It was like her hand had a mind of its own as it wrote notes and lyrics; the melody she wanted echoed in her head and Luisa found herself humming as she worked.

 

“It sounds pretty,” Dolores said one day from across the landing as Luisa left her room.

 

“It’s for Tio Bruno,” Luisa said. Dolores pressed her finger to her lips with a smile and Luisa was content that her cousin would keep the secret.

 

Only a few days later, Luisa shyly announced she had a song she wanted to play after dinner.






She felt horribly nervous as she went to the piano. Her family followed her. Bruno had his nose buried in one of his new books, The Bell Jar, and Pepa had to yank him close to her so he wouldn’t walk into one of the pillars, and Félix started to gather chairs for everyone. 

 

Once her family was seated, Luisa sat at the piano and tried not to fidget. 

 

She took a deep breath and kept her eyes on her lap as she said, “I guess this is a ‘welcome back’ present for Tio Bruno. Because- because you always wrote us stories, so…I wanted to write you one too.”

 

She didn’t give anyone a chance to respond beyond some surprised murmurs and shifting. Luisa started to play, her voice shy and quiet at first, but gaining volume as she began to relax.

 

“I remember tears streaming down your face when I said, ‘I’ll never let you go.’ When all those shadows almost killed your light…”

 

How often had he sat with her, with her sisters and cousins, after a nightmare? After a long, hard day? The designated babysitter, who wasn’t afraid to be seen as weird or goofy, so long as it made them laugh.

 

“Just close your eyes, the sun is going down. You’ll be alright, no one can hurt you now. Come morning light, you and I’ll be safe and sound.”

 

Sometimes, when Luisa was particularly stressed, she’d hum Dos Oruguitas to herself. The last song Abuelo Pedro wrote, the song only Tio Bruno ever sang. 

 

For all that Bruno was small and anxious, he made Luisa feel safe. He did years ago and he did now. 

 

And she was so glad to have him back.

 

He’d protected her baby sister. He’d tried to protect them all. Of course Luisa had to say thank you.

 

At the end of the song, Antonio clapped first. When Luisa dared to look up, her mamá had tears in her eyes and Abuela had her hand on her heart, smiling softly.

 

Bruno was a green blur as he jumped up and hugged her tightly, his arms not quite managing to wrap around her. Mirabel was close behind, clinging to Luisa and sniffling. Slowly, the rest of their family began to clap.

 

“You’re amazing, princesa,” Bruno said hoarsely. “Absolutely amazing.”

 

“So are you,” Luisa said, hugging her uncle and sister with ease. “We all are.”

 

She’d hardly call either of them out for crying. After all, she was too. 

 

Like Mirabel and Isabela said though, that was okay. Everyone cried sometimes and these were happy tears. 

 

Bruno pulled back to grin at her, eyes shining. For just a moment, he looked younger, more like the funny uncle that Luisa remembered. 

 

“You’ll be touring the world one day,” Julieta said, coming over to kiss her cheek. “And you’ll forget all about your poor old mamí, surrounded by stars and fame-”

 

“Mamá,” Luisa groaned, rolling her eyes.

 

“Mí pequeña estrella,” Julieta cooed, squishing Luisa’s cheeks. “Mí chica bonita, my talented little musician-”

 

“Oh my God, Mamá!”

 

“A musical genius!” Bruno joined in dramatically. “Alas, we are mere untalented peasants-”

 

“Speak for yourself!” Camilo called.

 

“We cannot possibly match such talent in our old age-”

 

“Who’re you calling old, Bruno?” Pepa demanded, a gust of wind whipping around her.

 

Luisa groaned again, blushing terribly, while Mirabel and Isabela cackled. Traitors, she thought with a fond smile.

 

Bruno’s smile went back from mischievous to infinitely loving, weirdly like Julieta’s. 

 

“You are brilliant,” he said softly. “I mean that.”

 

While her mamá still cooed and fussed, Luisa smiled at her uncle. “I love you,” she said, no longer shy about it.

 

“I love you too, kid.”






Something of a new tradition started then. While Luisa wrote new songs, Bruno would sit on a comfortable chair or lounge in the hammock, drawing or reading. If he was reading, he’d read her his favourite quotes, or particularly interesting lines. If he was drawing, he’d show her his progress. While she wrote, she’d often ask for his input, playing a few notes or verses and watching his reactions. Truth be told, he was a good audience.

 

In some ways, it felt like nothing had changed; her Tio Bruno was still indulging her, still sitting with her when she needed a break. He didn’t judge her for crying, he still told stories. He still laughed when Luisa lifted him up, like it was the funniest thing in the world. 

 

Luisa still felt safe, listened to and understood. She was still princesa. 

 

Only this time, she could tell stories of her own. No one was going to drag her away, back to work. She could actually relax now.

 

And the company was always appreciated. 

 

Bruno caught her eye as she played the next line and smiled. Luisa was helpless not to smile back.

 

She was okay. They were both okay. And they’d keep being okay.

 

No, they weren’t in a fairytale, but Luisa was sure they’d gotten their happy ending.

Chapter Text

“So how do I apologise and put the tears back in your eyes, when every canvas that I paint is a masterpiece made of my mistakes? Outlined in guilt, my portrait stares in a gallery where the walls lie bare. As I modernise my antique ways, true colours can't escape the brush of fate.” - Masterpiece, Motionless In White




I am, I am, I am.

 

It was quite a short novel, all things considered. The type of book Bruno could get through in a day, and he did. 

 

And then he re-read it.

 

And again.

 

I am, I am, I am.

 

The Bell Jar was the first book he’d ever read that discussed depression so openly and in such blunt terms.

 

“I knew something was wrong with me that summer.”

 

“I felt very still and very empty.”

 

“Jay Cee wanted to teach me something, all the old ladies I ever knew wanted to teach me something, but I suddenly didn’t think they had anything to teach me.”

 

“I didn’t know why I was going to cry, but I knew that if anybody spoke to me or looked at me too closely the tears would fly out of my eyes and the sobs would fly out of my throat and I’d cry for a week.”

 

“I am, I am, I am.”

 

The loss of appetite, not being able to sleep; not being able to make even the simplest of decisions, frozen in place. The suffocating feeling, like you were trapped in a glass case and everyone else was outside it, enjoying life. Even the struggle to read, the loss of interest in hobbies. 

 

When Esther Greenwood went and wept at her father’s grave, Bruno distinctly remembered bawling his eyes out in front of Pedro’s empty grave in the middle of the night when he was a teenager, when he was twenty-nine and again in his thirties. He remembered mourning what could have been, everything he wished they had, even as his mind tore itself apart, screaming at him that it wouldn’t make a difference if Pedro had lived, because Pedro would be disappointed in him too, Pedro would hate him too.

 

The initial description of the electrotherapy terrified him. Bruno couldn’t imagine how zapping someone’s brain would help them; it sounded like torture. Even when it was done right, he couldn’t imagine it. 

 

But there was one thing: the awareness that there was help to be had.

 

He read that one little phrase again and again: I am, I am, I am.






“You’re still reading that one?” Isabela asked.

 

“Hm?” Bruno snapped back to reality, looking up to find that Isabela and Dolores had returned from their shopping spree. “Oh, uh, I’m re-reading it,” he said.

 

His nieces glanced at each other. “Again?” Isa asked, eyebrows raised. “Don’t you have five new ones?”

 

“Uh, yeah.”

 

“It must be a good one.”

 

How to explain that it felt like opening his eyes for the first time? That he’d never really felt like anyone else got it until now. 

 

“It is,” Bruno settled for saying.

 

“What’s it about?” Dolores asked, looking curious. She set her bags down and peered at the book’s cover.

 

“Oh, well basically this girl has depression, the first half is about her struggling with it. She tries to kill herself and gets sent to an asylum, the second half is about trying to recover and…What? What’s wrong?” Dolores’s eyes had gotten progressively wider and Isabela went still as a statue as he spoke. “Ay, sorry, that’s probably too dark, huh?” Bruno asked, marking his place and putting the book down.

 

“It’s about suicide?” Isabela sounded strangled.

 

“Well, not just that, it’s-”

 

“Should you be reading that?” Dolores whispered. Her hands were fisted in her skirt and her lip trembled. “I just…Is that okay?”

 

Bruno gave her a bemused, concerned smile. “Of course it is, mi luz, why wouldn’t it be?”

 

They glanced at each other guiltily. Dolores looked like she was going to burst into tears. Isabela looked sick. Neither of them said anything. They wouldn’t look at him.

 

Just like that, all the old fears came rushing back. Not for the first time, Bruno felt like he was standing on the edge of a cliff, about to fall. His heart sank and he felt sick to his stomach, he felt cold with dread.

 

“You know,” he realised with horror. All those times he’d worried that Dolores knew, but he’d never thought that Isabela would know too.

 

He bent over with a pained noise, his face hidden in his hands. He was going to throw up, he was going to faint, he was going to drop dead right here and now.

 

They knew. How did they know? Who told them? Julieta, Pepa? Agustín, Félix? His mother? God knew Bruno wasn’t a fighting man but if any of them had told his nieces about his attempt, he’d rain hell down on them, consequences be damned, he’d-

 

“I figured it out.” Dolores’s voice was still so quiet, just barely above a whisper, but it cut through the roaring in Bruno’s head. Slowly, still terrified, Bruno lowered his hands and looked at her. She was shaking and Bruno wanted to scream. “W-When we were thirteen, I…I figured it out. Put the pieces together from things I remembered and things I heard, and…And…”

 

“And she came to me,” Isabela finished, head lowered. Bruno saw a tear trail down her cheek.

 

“I’m so sorry,” he said and his voice broke. He pressed one hand to his mouth and held his free arm out to them. They both ran to him, clinging to him like they were afraid he’d disappear. Or like he’d die. 

 

He held them both tightly and Isabela started sobbing.

 

“I’m so, so sorry,” Bruno said. “You never should have known that.”

 

“You don’t still feel like that, right?” Dolores asked quickly, desperately. “That’s not what this is all about, right?

 

“Ay, mi luz, no, I promise. I just…” Bruno sighed and, despite his stinging eyes, no tears came. “It’s…The first story I’ve ever seen that understands it. That’s all. It means a lot to see people talking about it.”

 

Isabela sagged against him in relief. She was taller than him, they both were, but Bruno suddenly had a flash of Isa as a very small child, clinging to him because there was a monster under her bed, she swore there was, make it go away! 

 

Bruno remembered thinking that the monster was really in his head.

 

Dolores still clung to him, but Isabela twisted around to stare at The Bell Jar, sitting on the coffee table.

 

“You never talked about it, did you?” she asked, sighing heavily. She sounded like she knew the answer.

 

“Not really, no,” Bruno admitted.

 

For ten years it was We don’t talk about Bruno. But for ten years before that, and every year since, it was We don’t talk about It. 

 

That was all they ever called Bruno’s attempt. It. 

 

He stated it bluntly only once, a week after it happened: “I tried to kill myself,” and Pepa had burst into hysterical tears, clinging to Bruno like she was drowning, the worst panic attack he’d ever seen her have. She stormed for three days straight.

 

Bruno had never said it again.

 

“Maybe you should?” Isabela looked and sounded hesitant. She wiped at her eyes and tried to smile. “Isn’t that what we do now?”

 

“Maybe…” Bruno wasn’t so sure about that. What he did know was that he’d be telling his sisters and cuñados that their daughters knew. They needed to talk about that much at least.






In the end, the three of them ended up in Bruno’s room, listening to the sand waterfall and watching the rats put on a show. All the while, Bruno’s mind raced. Dolores even nodded off, still clinging to him, but Bruno’s mind wouldn’t shut up. It was a feeling he knew well.

 

They never talked about It.

 

I am, I am, I am.

 

We don’t talk about It.

 

We don’t talk about Bruno.

 

We don’t talk about It.

 

I am, I am, I am.

 

Maybe it was time to.

 

Maybe they should have all along.

 

Bruno wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to talk about It; truth be told, he didn’t even want to really think about It. A part of him would always be afraid of ending back up there, seeing no way out and trying to end it all. 

 

It wasn’t just that the others didn’t talk about It, Bruno didn’t either.

 

He was still scared. He wasn’t sure how his sisters would react if he brought It up.

 

But…

 

But maybe it was time to try.







Just before dinner, Bruno lightly took Julieta by the arm and quietly asked, “Can I talk to you guys later? The four of us?”

 

Julieta smiled sweetly as always. “Of course,” she said. She took in his exhausted expression, the stoop of his shoulders, and her smile faltered. He knew that concerned look all too well. “Hermanito, is everything okay?”

 

Bruno’s lips twitched in a tiny, tired smile. “I’ll let you know when I figure it out. But it’s important.”

 

“Okay,” Julieta said. She squeezed his hand. “We’ll talk after dinner then.”

Chapter Text

“Every little thing that I've known is everything I need to let go. You're so much bigger than the world I've made. So I surrender my soul, I'm reaching out for your hope. I lay my weapons down, I'm ready for you now. Bring me out. Come and find me in the dark now. Every day by myself I'm breaking down. I don't wanna fight alone anymore.” - On My Own, Ashes Remain




“So, what’s up?” Pepa asked. It was just the three of them in the kitchen, the triplets, all clutching mugs of coffee.

 

Bruno wasn’t looking at them. He’d been withdrawn all evening, barely saying a word at dinner and Julieta’s concern only continued to grow.

 

“Isa and Lola know,” he muttered. He tapped the table and knocked on his own head, and scratched at his arm.

 

Pepa glanced at Julieta uncertainly, but Julieta felt just as lost as her sister.

 

“Know about what, Bruno?” she asked.

 

“It,” Bruno said, still staring at the table like it was the most fascinating thing in the world. “Y’know- It. Dolores figured it out years ago and went to Isabela and they both know.

 

Julieta’s blood ran cold. If she hadn’t already been sitting, she would have fallen over.

 

In seconds, a black cloud covered the kitchen ceiling.

 

It. The biggest secret they had. The one thing absolutely none of them ever acknowledged. 

 

Her little girl knew. Pepa’s little girl knew too. Their daughters knew.

 

They’d known for years. 

 

They were too young to know.

 

None of the children were ever meant to know. They didn’t talk about It. It was twenty years ago now; Isa and Dolores had only been toddlers, they surely had no memory of It. They may have been napping, safe and sound in the nursery when It happened, but the aftermath…The screaming matches, the long bouts of silence, the unshakeable fear…Did they remember that? 

 

Julieta swallowed, trying to speak past the lump in her throat. “W-what did they say?” she asked, her heart beating faster and faster. Pepa was clutching the edge of the table, bent over and breathing deeply like she was about to get sick.

 

“They panicked when I told them what I was reading,” Bruno explained. “Um, The Bell Jar…Well, the protagonist tries to kill herself.”

 

Lightning flashed as Pepa made a choked gasp. Julieta had the sudden urge to burn that book.

 

There’d been so much blood…

 

“They made a good point though,” Bruno muttered, scratching at his arm again. “We never talked about It.” It, the unmentionable, the darkest secret any of them had ever kept. “I m-mean, it's not...Not like we ignored It, really, but…” He was scratching more, harder and faster, and Julieta grabbed his hand, pulling it away from his skin. There were long, angry red scratches up and down his forearm and Bruno seemed surprised to realise they were there.

 

Julieta hadn't seen him do that in a long time. She wanted to cry. She wanted to hold onto her brother, keep him safe in her arms and cry for a week straight.

 

But what he said, they didn’t ignore It… That wasn’t quite right, was it?

 

They didn’t talk about It. They swept It under the rug. One more secret to add to the pile, one more horrible, traumatic event they didn’t acknowledge. A secret that only Doctor Ortega knew; no one else in the village had a clue. They’d wanted to keep it that way, to protect Bruno (“It’s for the best,” Alma said, her eyes dead as she stared straight ahead, looking out at the village) and then they never wanted their children to know. Because what good would it do, to frighten their children like that?

 

Bruno never said a word about those decisions. He’d hardly seemed to even hear their mamá when she announced the plan.

 

The plan he hadn’t been a part of making.

 

“Do you...Do you want to talk about It?” Julieta asked hesitantly. Pepa's cloud thundered and flickered with lightning. She stroked her braid again and again, shuddering.

 

“I don't know," Bruno admitted in a whisper. “I...I don't even think about It. Not if I can help it.” He was staring at the ground now, his hair blocking his eyes. “I don't want to feel like that again, y'know?” He shuddered and looked up, his eyes dark. “B-but we never talked about It and every time I tried it just upset everyone more, so I stopped, but I...I still felt like that.”

 

"I WISH I WAS DEAD,"  he’d screamed at Mamá, only a few weeks before Mirabel’s ceremony, before he vanished in the dead of night. Julieta had been drawn into the courtyard by the sound of their raised voices and she’d seen Bruno standing at the top of the stairs, leaning over the bannister to glare down at Alma.

 

Alma had been standing at the bottom of the stairs, wrapped in her black shawl and she’d gone completely still and silent when Bruno screamed those damning words; she’d turned bone pale, staring at him in horror like he was a ghost.

 

Julieta didn’t remember making a noise, but she must have because they both turned towards her. Bruno’s expression had turned from furious and hurt to just hurt, completely agonised, and he’d run to his tower.

 

And they didn’t talk about that either. She’d left a cup of tea by his bed and sat by him later that evening, staring at the ceiling of Bruno’s room. Julieta had felt frozen, her mind constantly skipping back to It. 

 

She’d promised to speak to Bruno about what he’d said, to find out if he really meant it, to make sure he was okay…But then, as usual, her duties had overwhelmed her. Her little brother had fallen through the cracks.

 

And then he was gone.

 

Julieta was not going to lose him again. Never again.

 

“Then let’s talk,” she said, reaching across the table to take his hands. “Okay? We’ll talk about It. About everything if you want.”

 

Pepa nodded. The cloud decreased a little and she laid her hands on top of Julieta and Bruno’s. The Madrigal Triplets, clinging to each other again, the way they’d always done.

 

“Okay,” Pepa whispered. She looked even more frightened than Julieta, even more frightened than Bruno. “Let’s do it.”

 

Hesitantly, Bruno nodded. “Okay,” he echoed.

 

A secret that was twenty years old. Their daughters had a point, Bruno had a point; it was long past time for them to talk.






Agustín had been feeling oddly lightheaded since Julieta quietly told him what they needed to discuss.

 

It, That Day, The Incident That Must Not Be Spoken Of.

 

God help him, Isa knew. They’d have to talk to her about that too, make sure she was okay. She’d known for so long and kept quiet.

 

A bitter part of Agustín noted that she was only following their example.

 

We don’t talk about It, we don’t talk about Bruno, we don’t talk about Alma’s expectations; we don’t about negative feelings, we don’t talk about stress, we don’t complain; we are the happy, perfect Madrigals, we are the example for the community…

 

It was all a pack of lies. Agustín had known it wasn’t a healthy attitude, a part of him always knew that, but he’d gone along with it until, finally, it seemed the only natural response. To just…Not talk about difficult topics. To pretend everything was fine.

 

Alma had summed it up well: “Everything is fine. The magic is strong. We are the Madrigals!”

 

Lies, lies and more lies. Did keeping quiet count as another lie? Lying by omission perhaps? 

 

Agustín had been so scared, back then, of bringing It up and making everything worse; what if he made Bruno feel cornered and it all happened again? What if he said the wrong thing and ruined everything?

 

But silence hadn’t helped. No, silence had made it all worse.

 

So here they were. They were going to talk at last.

 

He didn’t blame Félix for grabbing a large bottle of wine from the kitchen on their way outside.

 

It was the middle of the night, nearly eleven o’clock; they’d waited until they were absolutely sure that everyone else was asleep. 

 

The sight that greeted him in the garden threw him back by decades; he remembered being a teenager with a massive crush on Julieta, too shy to say anything about it. He’d brought her a bag of treats after a particularly harsh exam and found the triplets in the garden, fast asleep together in the sunshine.

 

Here they were again, the three of them crowded together on the grass. Julieta lay flat on her back, her hair fanned out around her, an arm around each of her siblings. Pepa’s head was on Julieta’s shoulder, one hand reaching down to grasp Bruno’s hand. Bruno was curled up in a small ball, a familiar sight, his head on Julieta’s stomach and holding onto Pepa’s hand like a lifeline.

 

Just like they'd been as teenagers.

 

Agustín was so, so glad that Julieta, Pepa and Bruno had this back.

 

Julieta turned her head slightly at the sound of their footsteps, giving Agustín and Félix a tired smile. “Hola,” she whispered, as she’d done all those decades ago.

 

Sometimes Agustín still felt like that love-struck teenager. He smiled at her, perhaps a little dopily. Félix held up the bottle of wine in greeting, his concerned eyes darting over the triplets.

 

“Come on,” Julieta whispered to her siblings as he and Félix sat on the grass. Reluctantly, Pepa and Bruno sat up. Julieta pushed herself up, smoothing down her nightdress, fussing with her hair. Moments like these, Agustín could clearly see Isabela’s resemblance to her mother.

 

“Right then,” Félix said, looking over them all. “Are we doing this?”

 

“Looks like it,” Bruno said. His pyjama top was too big for him, practically as baggy as his ruana and Agustín’s inner tailor despaired. 

 

“You’re okay?” he asked.

 

“Hm…” Bruno was fidgeting, rubbing his fingers together, not looking at any of them. “Okay. Okay.” He took a deep breath, eyes closed. “I tried to-”

 

“Wait.” Pepa’s voice was hoarse. She held her arms out, a cloud beginning to form and a cold breeze made Agustín shiver. “Bruno, come here.”

 

Bruno scooted closer and she pulled him into her arms, holding on tight. Her face was pressed against his hair, her hand on his heart. Bruno’s hand rested on top of hers and she shivered, the cloud already beginning to drizzle.

 

Julieta went to her siblings and joined the hug. Agustín could see her two of her fingers pressed against Bruno’s neck, against his pulse.

 

Without a word, Agustín put his arm around his wife, trying to keep calm as he gazed at the stars, which were rapidly being blocked by new clouds. He heard a shuffle and knew that Félix had gone to Pepa.

 

“Okay,” Pepa said quietly. “Go ahead.”

 

There was a brief pause. Even the wind stopped, as if the world was holding its breath.

 

And then, Bruno’s quiet, anxious voice; “I tried to kill myself.”

 

He felt Julieta shudder, he heard Félix’s tiny, pained sound. Agustín had to take his glasses off to wipe his eyes and Pepa’s breath heaved; she sobbed and it began to rain in earnest.

 

Agustín didn’t care. A little rain would not break them. Not the five of them. 

 

“Sorry,” Pepa gasped. “Dios, sorry-”

 

“Let it out, Pep,” Bruno said, and she did. She clung to him, sobbing, rocking back and forth as if in terrible pain. The rain was quickly coming down, Agustín shivered in the cold and didn’t move an inch. As if he’d ever leave them now. Not his family.

 

He felt rooted to the spot but, twenty years ago, he’d paced with nervous energy. He’d paced up and down his and Julieta’s room, unable to stand still, unable to even imagine sitting down. He knew it made no sense but a part of him felt like he’d make things worse if he sat down; he felt like he needed to be up and doing something. 

 

Julieta had been sitting on their bed, curled over her unconcious brother, quietly crying. At first, she’d held Bruno on her lap as if he was as small as Isabela. As Félix ran to find Pepa, Agustín finally coaxed Julieta into lying Bruno down properly. She’d still cradled his head on her lap, running her hand through his hair. At one point, Agustín heard her whisper, “Don’t leave me, don’t you dare leave me.”

 

He remembered that he and Félix had to usher Alma into a chair as Félix gently broke the news to her. He remembered Pepa flinging herself into Julieta’s arm, clinging to Bruno’s hand. He remembered feeling dazed and lost as he looked after Isa and Dolores. 

 

And God, how he remembered Dolores looking at Félix and chirping, “Mamí?”

 

Félix tried to smile and kissed her forehead. “She’s resting, baby,” he said.

 

Dolores hummed. And then she lisped, “Tio B’uno?” 

 

Agustín had to step out of the room, finally breaking down and crying. He’d held it together until then; past all the horror and shock, he’d managed to keep himself in one piece. But that earnest little question from his niece had broken him at last, and he’d sobbed until his voice was gone, until his head throbbed and his eyes felt like they were on fire.

 

Ten years ago, he’d been so afraid that Bruno had actually done it. That he’d run off in the night and found somewhere quiet to die. Somewhere they couldn’t find him and stop him on time.

 

“Please tell me you don’t want to now.” Félix sounded so solemn.

 

“I don’t,” Bruno said and Agustín forced himself to look away from the sky, to look at his family. “But…But ten years ago, I…I wanted…”

 

Félix slouched over, rubbing his forehead. He opened the wine and took a swig, wiping his mouth.

 

“Fuck,” he said. Which rather summed up Agustín’s feelings on the matter.

 

They’d known Bruno wasn’t okay. His bouts of depression were getting longer and longer, his panic attacks more frequent; he’d been sleeping and eating less and hiding away more than ever. By the end, their relationships with each other had strained so badly that Agustín sometimes felt he was speaking to a vaguely familiar acquaintance, not one of his oldest friends. And Bruno had looked at Agustín with dark sad eyes, completely lost, as if he wasn’t quite sure who Agustín even was.

 

Bruno gave a mirthless laugh, his hands pressed against his eyes. “I even- I screamed it at Mamá, you know? I doubt she ever said it to anyone, but I screamed at her. I wish I was dead. And…Nothing happened.”

 

“I should have said something,” Julieta said in a guilty little whisper. “I should have talked to you but I kept putting it off and then…”

 

“Then I was gone.”

 

“Sí.”

 

“We thought you were dead,” Agustín admitted. “Alma said you ran off, insisted you ran away but…” He shook his head and took the bottle from Félix, though he didn’t drink any. In the end, he placed the bottle down with a sigh. “The thought was there. We all pretended it wasn’t, but it was.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Bruno said.

 

Agustín shook his head. “I’m sorry, hermano,” he said firmly. “I knew you weren’t okay. I knew that ten years ago and I knew it twenty years ago. And what happened before should have taught me not to avoid it, but I still didn’t say anything.”

 

Surprisingly, it was Julieta who took a swig of wine instead. Bruno looked at the label and turned to Félix.

 

“You couldn’t have gotten the good stuff?” he asked.

 

Félix held his hands up in surrender, his smile weak. “Next time I’ll bring tequila,” he promised and Pepa gave an equally weak little giggle but Félix and Bruno both looked relieved.

 

They were all soaked and the rain only continued to pour. But they weren’t done. Far from it.

 

“You found me,” Bruno said. He and Félix didn’t look away from each other. “And I- Félix, I’m sorry you saw that.”

 

“I’m not,” Félix said. “I’ve never been so scared in my life, but I am so happy I found you on time.” He reached over and squeezed Bruno’s shoulder. “I was terrified, I won’t lie, bro. I completely panicked, I didn’t know if I was helping or making things worse, I was second-guessing every move I made…But I’ll never regret it either. How could I? You lived. That makes it all worth it. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

 

Without a word, Pepa let Bruno go. Maybe it really was some mystical triplet connection. In a flash, Bruno and Félix were hugging and Agustín leaned against Julieta with a soft, tired sigh.

 

“I can never thank you enough for that, amor,” Pepa said. She looked at Agustín and wiped her eyes. “Either of you. Gus, you got Doctor Ortega and Juli on time, Félix, you…You found him, you kept him alive until they got there.”

 

Agustín had fallen over so many times during that frantic sprint into the village; he’d tripped so often that he’d been sure he’d slowed himself down too much, that he’d come home to find their family completely shattered.

 

Instead, they’d gotten there on time. Doctor Ortega had stopped the bleeding and, when Julieta arrived, her healing did the rest.

 

“What did you do with it all?” Bruno asked. He pulled away from Félix, letting his sisters tug him back in between them. 

 

“With what?” Julieta asked.

 

“Well, y’know…” Bruno rubbed his arm, shivering as the rain finally lessened somewhat. “The, uh, the sheets, my clothes- Félix’s shirt, even.”

 

“Burned it,” Félix said simply. He took the bottle from Julieta, taking another gulp. “Gus and I burned the whole lot. Cleaned your room, scrubbed the mattress, flipped it for good measure and burned the rest.”




It was just Félix and Agustín, in a clearing in the jungle. They lit the fire and threw the bundles of fabric on. They watched the flames rise higher, the smoke rising into the sky and Agustín felt relieved to see all that bloodstained cloth crumbling to ash, floating away on the wind.

 

The relief left him feeling dizzy and he only really felt like he could breathe again when it was all gone.




“Promise you’ll tell us if it happens again.” Pepa held Bruno’s face in her hands and she looked so much younger. “Please, hermanito. Any of us, just tell us. Promise me.”

 

Typical Bruno, he even crossed his heart, not breaking Pepa’s gaze. “I promise,” he said and Agustín could see how Pepa and Julieta breathed easier then, and how their grip on their brother was less desperate. 

 

Finally, Bruno said what Agustín waited twenty years to hear.

 

“I don’t want to die,” he said, his voice breaking at last. “I don’t. I want to live.”

 

Félix bent over with a heavy sigh, his hands over his mouth as he sobbed in relief. Julieta kept muttering, “Thank God, thank God,” against Bruno’s shoulder. Even in the dark, Pepa shimmered with light as Bruno finally, finally let himself sob against her.

 

“You’re okay,” Pepa said softly and it didn’t just sound like a promise; it sounded like a realisation. “You’re okay, we’ve got you.”

 

Agustín felt almost boneless, still leaning against Julieta, sheer relief making him shiver, the cold forgotten.

 

The rain finally stopped.

 

The clouds slowly but surely cleared, revealing the stars again.






Despite the wet grass and the fact that they were all soaked, they still stayed where they were. They even ended up lying down, all five of them tangled together. 

 

Pepa watched the night sky, her ear pressed against her brother’s chest, listening to the thump-thump-thump of his heart. For the first time, her hand closed around his wrist, free of scars or blood. If Bruno was surprised, he didn’t comment and she was thankful for that.

 

“Y’know when I was eight I was so annoyed when Mamá told me that shooting stars weren’t part of the weather,” she said. “I wanted to make shooting stars for our birthday. It felt like she was telling me El Ratoncito Pérez wasn’t real.”

 

Julieta groaned but suddenly laughed. “Ay, you cried so much when she told us he wasn’t!”

 

Bruno, in an unfairly accurate imitation of Pepa, whined, “Are you sure he’s not real, Mamí?”

 

“Laugh it up!” Pepa snapped. “Remember how Juli asked her if she kept all our baby teeth?”

 

“Ay, Dios,” Julieta muttered.

 

Bruno sputtered with laughter. Félix was curled around Pepa and she could feel the rumble of his laughter against her back. 

 

“I seem to recall a certain sister asking our dear mother if she made necklaces out of our teeth!” Bruno cackled. Agustín choked on his laughter, his hand pressed over his mouth.

 

“I didn’t mean to sound creepy!” Julieta protested. “I just wanted to know what she did with them!”

 

“So your mind jumped to jewellery?” Pepa demanded, giggling. 

 

“Oh yeah, well how about the first time Brunito brought his rats home? She was way more horrified then!”

 

“I really thought she was going to kill me,” Bruno mused. “Or that I’d killed her from shock.”

 

“One just popped out of your hood and she screamed,” Agustín said, still snickering. “I thought she’d kill me for encouraging you!”

 

“Maybe that’s the real reason she didn’t like you at first, hermano!” Félix said. 

 

“Oh no, no one’s good enough for Mamá’s little princesa,” Pepa cooed. Julieta reached over to slap her arm, trying and failing to give her a stern glare.

 

“I am so glad I’m not interested in any of this,” Bruno sighed. “It sounds like more trouble than it’s worth.”

 

“Mamá may have nagged you about settling down,” Julieta said, poking his cheek. “But can you imagine how much she’d judge anyone you brought home, Brunito? She’d terrorise them.”

 

“Tch, she terrorised me enough, muchas gracias.”

 

“At least she likes me,” Félix practically sang, and even Pepa had to laugh at how unbearably smug her husband sounded. She would admit there was a slightly hysterical edge to all their laughter, but she felt so light, like a huge weight had been taken off her chest.

 

“Yes, yes, lord it over me,” Agustín sighed. “Message received.”

 

“Don’t worry, amor,” Julieta said, twisting around to kiss his cheek. “I like you.” Agustín gave her a hopelessly sappy smile and Pepa barely bit back the old instinct to roll her eyes or gag.

 

Bruno had no such qualms.

 

“I’d certainly hope you like him,” Bruno said flatly. “That seems like the bare minimum.”

 

Julieta, Agustín and Pepa slapped him. 






“We should really get up,” Agustín eventually said. Bruno wondered what time it was.

 

“We’re gonna catch the flu,” he agreed.

 

“I’ll heal us,” Julieta said.

 

“Gus will trip in the mud and break his leg,” Félix said with a grin.

 

Julieta gave a soft giggle. “I’ll heal that too.”

 

“Your food is useless when you’re sick, hermana,” Pepa snarked. That seemed to be the signal for them all to finally get up, stretching sore limbs, yawning and wiping tear-stained faces. Poor Félix’s back cracked as he stretched, groaning. 

 

The night was silent. The sky was clear again. 

 

And they were all soaking wet, muddy messes. They almost looked like kids again.

 

In tandem, Julieta and Pepa turned to him and Bruno linked his arms with his sisters. Agustín took Julieta’s free hand and Félix took Pepa’s. Together, quietly, they made their way inside.

 

Bruno was cold and shivery; he was worn out, exhausted, hurting and healing. He was sure he’d sleep for a month straight and also sure that he’d never sleep again.

 

Casita opened the back door for them, silently ushering them in.

 

As they reached the threshold, Bruno whispered, “I am, I am, I am.”

 

“Hm? Did you say something, hermanito?” Julieta asked.

 

Bruno smiled at her. “Just something I read,” he said. “It helps.”

 

I am, I am, I am.

 

They are, they are, they are.

 

There was surely more that they needed to discuss. Bruno doubted the conversations would ever really stop; hurts that needed to heal, secrets that needed to be told.

 

But they’d handle it together. That was what mattered. 

 

We are, we are, are are.

Chapter Text

“He told me my fish would die; the next day: dead! (No, no!) He told me I'd grow a gut and just like he said! (No, no!) He said that all my hair would disappear, now look at my head! (No, no! Hey!) Your fate is sealed when your prophecy is read!” - We Don’t Talk About Bruno, Encanto




The Madrigals had barely sat down to dinner when Dolores dropped her fork with a clatter. She squeaked, turning towards the window.

 

“Mija?” Pepa leaned forward in her seat, peering past Félix. “Are you okay?”

 

Dolores, ironically enough, hardly seemed to hear her mother. She was staring at the window, in the direction of the village, with a sort of horrified awe.

 

“Dios mio,” she whispered. “It’s happening.”

 

“Because that’s not alarming at all,” Camilo muttered, shaking Dolores by the shoulder. “What’s happening?”

 

That seemed to be the signal for the rest of the family to chime in.

 

“Lola, are you okay?”

 

“What do you mean? What’s going on?”

 

“Is it something bad?”

 

“The Delgados aren’t- uh- experimenting again, right?”

 

Dolores finally faced them, her eyes wide. She looked like she was experiencing the apocalypse. 

 

“Fish Lady’s boyfriend is proposing,” she said with a wince. “And it’s so bad.

 

Perhaps they should have expected this at some point. After all, during their day out at the lake, Bruno had an involuntary vision of Señora Osma Pezmuerto’s boyfriend proposing. As far as “surprise visions” went, it had been quite long: five minutes in total. Bruno had later told Mirabel that the vision didn’t even seem to be a complete one; it had sort of jumped around, like it was fast-forwarding.

 

“Sparing me the gross details,” Bruno joked. Well, mostly joking. He hadn’t heard anything in the vision either, not properly; only a few clear words here and there. The rest had sounded very far away.

 

Even though they knew they wouldn’t be able to hear, Mirabel, Isabela and Luisa immediately raced to the window and threw it open, leaning out as if that would somehow grant them Dolores’s Gift. Pepa gaped (perhaps in shock that the proposal was truly going ahead- God knew she wasn’t fond of Osma Pezmeurto) but stayed seated.

 

Bruno leaned back in his seat, arms folded and had the look he got when he was about to kill off a beloved character. In other words, he looked like he was enjoying their suffering.

 

Even Alma set her knife and fork down. She primly clasped her hands, angling herself towards the window. No, no, of course Doña Alma Madrigal did not partake in gossip. But if said gossip just so happened to be unfolding before her, who was she to interrupt? It would be rude.

 

“So, how bad are we talking?” Camilo demanded eagerly. “Like, Isabela and Mariano bad?” 

 

“Camilo!” Félix groaned.

 

A vine slapped Camilo on the back of the head. Camilo did the mature thing and blew a raspberry at Isabela.

 

Dolores tapped her fingers against her glass, a glazed look in her eyes.

 

“Oh,” she said softly. “Oh dear. He’s talking about all her dead fish.”

 

Silence reigned.

 

“Rest in peace,” Bruno said, crossing himself.

 

Dolores shook her head, looking pained. “She thinks it’s romantic, because he’s listing all their names. He’s listing them in chronological order.

 

Mirabel laughed so hard she fell off the windowsill. Luisa had to jump to catch her.

 

“...That…That is a lot of fish to remember,” Agustín eventually said.

 

“I suppose if they’re happy,” Alma said, sounding slightly strangled. She looked bewildered, but there was a gleam of amusement in her eyes.

 

In the end, the proposal took twenty minutes. According to Dolores, Osma’s sister left the dining room at one point to feed her baby and the couple didn’t notice. 

 

Osma’s boyfriend, Salvador, spoke at length about Osma’s fish, her passion for fish, her passion for wildlife in general (Julieta said that part, at least, was sweet); he said he loved her dedication (“Stubbornness,” Bruno said, popping a cocada in his mouth, looking terribly bored) and her creativity (“She’s creative?” Luisa asked, sincerely lost. “I didn’t know that. Good for her.”) and her kindness.

 

Even Alma looked doubtful then. 

 

Apparently there was crying from Osma and Salvador. At least it was joyful crying.

 

The proposal was happily accepted. No one’s nose looked like a smashed papaya.

 

Dolores sighed and knocked her head against the table.

 

“They want a fish themed wedding reception,” she muttered and Camilo declared that he was “Officially done with life, goodbye.”

 

Apparently, Salvador also really loved fish. Osma had a (well known) tendency to go for goldfish, but Salvador just loved fish of any kind, be they freshwater or saltwater. The wackier and weirder, the better.

 

Well, at least no one could accuse them of picking an overdone theme.






News of the proposal had spread throughout the village by the next afternoon. 

 

That’s when things took a turn.

 

Isabela and Dolores were enjoying a girls’ day. Ever since Casita’s collapse and rebuild, they made a point to spend at least one day a week together, usually just walking around and talking (about everything from the clouds in the sky, to Dolores and Mariano’s courtship, to the family’s struggles) but often shopping, getting lunch, or even going to the lake themselves.

 

Osma approached them as they left their favourite café, with some little cakes in a bag to bring home to their parents.

 

“Isabela!” Osma cried, hurrying across the road. “Can I ask a favour?”

 

“Depends on the favour,” Isabela asked. She was serious, but Osma laughed. Maybe it was less trouble if she thought Isa was joking.

 

“I’m sure you’ve heard,” Osma said, eyes flickering to Dolores. “But I got engaged last night!” She held out her hand, showing off the ring. The diamond glittered in the sun and Isabela didn’t have to fake her smile; it was, sincerely, a very pretty ring and Osma looked ecstatic. Sure, Osma was…eccentric. And still weird about Tio Bruno. But everyone deserved love and happiness, right?

 

“Congratulations,” Isabela said, echoed by Dolores.

 

“I was wondering if you could help with flower arrangements?” Osma asked Isabela. “We’ll be inviting your family too, of course!”

 

A part of Isabela wanted to declare that she would never decorate for another wedding ever again. Well, unless it was a family member’s. But, really, what was the harm?

 

“I’d be happy to,” Isa said. Osma beamed at her. Isabela thought that was the end of it.

 

But as Osma turned to go, she made a mistake.

 

“Just keep that fish killing brujo away from my wedding,” she muttered. Even Isabela heard her loud and clear.

 

Sundew appeared in a circle around her feet as anger washed over her, but it was Dolores who snapped first. She whirled around, face contorted with rage, fists clenched and cheeks flushed. Dolores looked so much like Pepa that Isabela looked up for a cloud on instinct.

 

What did you just call my Tio!?” Dolores shouted- actually shouted. 

 

It was enough of a shock that Isabela’s sundew disappeared. It certainly grabbed everyone’s attention.

 

And there, only a few paces away with Señora Guzman, was Abuela. She didn't look pleased.

 

Uh oh.

Chapter Text

“Are you recounting all my faults? And are you racking your brain just to find them all? Could it be that I've changed? Or did you? Stop asking why, why we had to waste so much time. Well, we just pick up, pick up and start again ‘cause we can't keep holding on to grudges.” - Grudges, Paramore 




Seeing the thunderous look on Alma’s face, Isabela had no qualms about cheerfully telling Osma, “You just lost your decorator.”

 

Osma hardly seemed to hear her. Her wide-eyed gaze was locked on Alma, who stalked over with Sofia Guzman at her side.

 

“What,” Alma said quietly, dangerously. “Did you just call my son?”

 

“I-I- I didn’t mean- I…Er, I just…” Osma looked more panicked by the minute and utterly stunned. Isabela knew that, once upon a time, Osma would never have been called out so publicly or bluntly, let alone by her abuela. No one would have called her out like this at all. That was the problem.

 

“I believe the exact term was fish killing brujo,” Dolores said coldly. Once more, Isabela braced herself for a thunderclap that never came; Dolores’s resemblance to Pepa was downright eerie in that moment.

 

“I see,” Alma said. She drew herself up, anger burning in her eyes. Sofia sighed heavily, giving Osma an impatient, disappointed frown.

 

“And you wanted my nieta to help you?” Alma continued.

 

Glancing at Isabela, Osma nodded nervously.

 

“Again: not happening,” Isabela said, hands on her hips.

 

“I don’t believe any of us shall help,” Alma continued. “Congratulations on your engagement, Señora Pezmeurto. Truly, I am happy for you. But if you think it fit to insult mi familia, you will receive no help from us.”

 

“But it was just Bruno,” Osma protested weakly.

 

Isabela wondered about throwing her into a giant Venus fly trap. Or covering her home in sundew. 

 

Dolores looked murderous. She stalked forward, standing between Alma and Osma before Alma could do more than open her mouth, no doubt to verbally tear Osma to shreds. Dolores jabbed her finger against Osma’s chest and hissed, “Tio Bruno is our family, idiota.”

 

Osma looked more stunned than ever. She gaped like- well, like a fish (and Isabela had to laugh at the comparison). Dolores was always so quiet, so mild-mannered. No wonder they were drawing shocked stares. 

 

But given what happened with Catalina Arias, no one seemed in any hurry to defend Osma. Besides, Tio Bruno’s reputation had certainly improved; everyone knew he’d been off trying to protect Mirabel from something (thank you, Señora Guzman) and most people finally seemed to realise that Bruno was…Well, just Bruno. Shy, quiet and funny. 

 

“Quite right, Dolores,” Alma said. She stalked past Osma (who was still gaping) with her usual regal gait. “Come along, girls.”

 

Isabela flicked her hair back, shooting Osma her best haughty frown and marched away with her head held high. Dolores didn’t even bother to look at her.

 

Señora Guzman gave Osma that disappointed frown again and followed them.






“Where is everyone?” Alma asked as they reached Casita. “I believe this calls for a family meeting.”

 

“I’ll leave you to it,” Sofia said, patting Alma’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, dear, I’ll make sure everyone knows what really happened today.” She adjusted her shawl and marched back towards the village like she was heading for a battle. In a way, Dolores supposed she was. 

 

“Tio Bruno’s napping in the garden,” Dolores said, tilting her head. “Mamá y Papá are with Antonio in his room. Luisa is practising piano in her room. Camilo and Mirabel are at the park. Tia Julieta is in the kitchen and Tio Agustín is with his parents.”

 

“I’ll fetch them from the village,” Isa offered and hurried away. 

 

“I’ll get Tio,” Dolores said. Alma nodded and went inside. Her lips were pressed together in a thin line and Dolores knew that look of suppressed anger all too well. Her abuela was close to well and truly snapping.

 

Sure enough, Tio Bruno was napping. He’d spread out a picnic blanket and Dolores could see an empty plate next to it. He’d curled up in a small ball, his ruana acting as a pillow; a book was still open next to him, so she guessed the nap hadn’t been planned. As usual, a few rats were close at hand, also dozing on the blanket.

 

“Tio Bruno?” Dolores knelt down and gently shook him. “Wake up.”

 

She had to shake him a few more times before he reacted at all and her concern grew; usually Bruno was a very poor sleeper. He finally stirred slightly, eyes opening a crack. They were shining a vivid emerald green.

 

Ah. That explained the lack of response: sleep visions.

 

“Oh dear,” Dolores said. “Tio?” She shook him again, harder. “Tio!”

 

All at once, his eyes snapped open and he sat up straight, staring right ahead with a terrible blank look on his face. His eyes shone brighter, a light wind stirred his hair…

 

And then it was gone. The glow faded, the tension left him and he nearly fell backwards, but Dolores caught him.

 

“Tio? Are you okay?”

 

“Hm…” He rubbed his forehead, gasping for breath. “That was a weird one.”

 

“Oh? What was it about?”

 

“Uh…” Bruno sat up properly, nose scrunched up in confusion. His rats squeaked in concern as he continued to gasp. “Something about a future show I think? The main character’s called…Blorbo?” He didn’t sound completely certain. “Something like that anyway. Whatever his show is, he’s really gonna be popular.”

 

“Funny name,” Dolores hummed. Bruno nodded in agreement.

 

“And his show has such a plain name,” he said. “It’s just called My Shows.” Sighing as his breathing returned to normal, he petted his rats and they calmed down, their little noses twitching.

 

Apparently future people had weird ideas about entertainment. Well, Dolores was obsessed with her uncle’s rat telenovelas. Who was she to judge?

 

“We have a family meeting,” Dolores told him.

 

“Hm? What about?”

 

“Fish Lady,” Dolores said.

 

Bruno, being the mature adult he was, blew a raspberry and gave a thumbs-down. “Aw man, what did she do now?” he asked, already sounding fed-up.

 

“Um…She may have called you a brujo,” Dolores squeaked. “And Abuela…May have heard…And I might have yelled.”

 

Groaning, Bruno lay down again. “I’ll stay here, thanks.”

 

“I’ll fetch Luisa to drag you in. Or Mamá.

 

“Okay, okay, I’m up!”






By the end of Alma’s explanation, Pepa’s cloud was pitch-black, Luisa was cracking her knuckles and Félix was stone-faced. Bruno shifted uncomfortably until Julieta put a hand on his shoulder, but even she was plainly furious. Even Agustín looked ready to snap.

 

“She’s insane!” Mirabel finally blurted out. “It was a fish and she never takes care of them even now!”

 

“Not to mention it was nearly twenty years ago,” Félix added, arms crossed.

 

“And it wasn’t even a prophecy,” Bruno reminded them. “Everyone had been telling her the fish looked unwell. Just my luck he died the next day.” He shrugged and added, “Easy scapegoat.” While plainly uncomfortable with all the attention, Dolores noted he didn’t sound too upset about Pezmeurto herself. He just sounded tired. For all her uncle’s low self-esteem, Dolores hoped he knew and understood just how ridiculous this grudge of Osma’s was. He seemed to anyway.

 

“Maybe I’ll get her a book on proper pet-care after all,” Camilo grumbled. Dolores was certainly tempted to do so. She hummed in agreement.

 

“She doesn’t get to ask for my help then insult my uncle because she’s a lousy pet owner,” Isabela said. Her foot was tapping impatiently; her Little Guys sat by her feet and kept petting her foot or ankle, trying to comfort her. Isabela looked down and smiled at them fondly, instantly softening.

 

“I’m not helping her either,” Luisa declared. She looked nervous, but when no one told her off, she relaxed a little.

 

“I don’t think any of us should help,” Alma said, hands folded primly on her lap. Dolores tried not to gape. Camilo openly did and Pepa did a double-take.

 

“Mamá,” Bruno began nervously, but Alma held up a hand to silence him.

 

“No, Brunito. I have let people insult and belittle you for too long. It’s long past time to set consequences,” she said. Bruno slouched in his seat, biting his lip. Julieta nodded approvingly at Alma.

 

“I don’t like her,” Antonio said, cuddling Parce. “She’s mean!”

 

“She is,” Mirabel agreed.

 

“Her poor fish…” Antonio was looking increasingly distressed, until Camilo reached out to scoop their baby brother onto his lap.

 

“Is Salvador any good at taking care of them at least?” Félix asked with a sigh.

 

“I think so,” Julieta said. “Some of his fish have lasted a very long time.”

 

“Too bad he’s got bad taste in women,” Pepa snarked. She waved her cloud away with an impatient huff.

 

“Yeah,” Camilo said with a smirk. “Apparently he likes crazy people.”

 

“This is the weirdest grudge I’ve ever heard,” Mirabel said. “And I heard some weird grudges when I was asking about Tio Bruno.”

 

“Eh, what can you do?” Bruno said, leaning against Julieta.

 

“We can set boundaries and consequences,” Julieta said firmly. “That’s what we can do.”






And that was precisely what they did.

 

But it wasn’t the consequences or boundaries that seemed to get through to Osma. No, no: the much-needed wake-up call came from Antonio.

 

Antonio Madrigal was a sweet little kid who didn’t hold grudges. But people who didn’t look after their pets who, on top of it all, were mean to his family?

 

Oh no. No, Antonio did not like Osma Pezmuerto at all.

 

And it was time for her to find out.

Chapter Text

“You held me down, but I got up. Get ready, ‘cause I've had enough. I see it all, I see it now. I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire; ‘cause I am a champion and you're gonna hear me roar. Louder, louder than a lion, ‘cause I am a champion and you're gonna hear me roar.” - Roar, Katy Perry




There was a knock on the door just before dinner. Casita swung the doors open before anyone could reach them, allowing Mariano inside.

 

“Oh, hey, Mariano,” Camilo said, eyebrows rising in surprise. “What’s up?”

 

Mariano didn’t seem to hear. He swept past and hurried to Dolores, pulling her into his arms. He outright lifted her up, spinning in a circle as she giggled.

 

“I hear you were utterly fierce today, amor!” he cooed, pride in his eyes. “I only wish I could have seen it! I’m sure it was worthy of a poem!”

 

Camilo pretended to choke himself as Dolores kissed Mariano, making exaggerated gagging noises. Isabela pressed her hands over her mouth to muffle her giggles, ducking past her parents into the dining room. Luisa gave a quiet, “Aww.”

 

Félix nodded in approval, his smile wide. 

 

Bruno and Mirabel glanced between Félix and Mariano and opted to not say a word. Bruno led Mirabel back to the dining room, looking exhausted already. No doubt, Mariano would be staying for dinner; they’d better set an extra place.

 

“There’s two of them now,” Mirabel whispered in growing horror.

 

“Yeah, let’s ignore that for now,” Bruno sighed. “For the sake of our ears.”

 

“Who do you think is worse?” Mirabel asked curiously as she set a place for Mariano. “Mariano or Tio Félix?”

 

“Oh, definitely Félix. He’s much louder.”

 

“Hm, I’ll take that bet,” Isa said, leaning against the table. “I think Mariano’s poems are way sappier.”

 

Antonio meanwhile, looked at his sister and her boyfriend and turned to Pepa with big, fed-up eyes.

 

“Mamá,” he said tiredly. “Grown-ups are weird.”

 

He looked affronted as the adults laughed at him. Even Abuela was laughing at him! It only proved his points that grown-ups were very weird indeed.






Osma was at her wits end. Three whole days had passed and the Madrigals were still angry at her. It wasn’t like she was the only one around who had a problem with Bruno! They may as well punish the whole town!

 

(Except, if she took the time to look around, she’d see how much Bruno’s reputation had improved.)

 

When she vented to Osvaldo, he laughed uncomfortably and hurried away. His wife, Ofelia, only sighed at her.

 

“Perhaps if you apologise to Doña Alma,” Salvador suggested gently. He had brought home different swatches of blue fabrics to review for the fish-themed wedding reception. “Surely she will relent and allow the other Madrigals to help then.”

 

Reluctantly, Osma admitted he had a point. She’d offended the leader of the Encanto, even if she was just being honest. So she’d apologise.

 

And she did! She honestly did apologise! She even brought a tray of freshly baked biscuits as a peace offering. She made sure they were Alma’s favourites.

 

Doña Alma had been nothing but gracious as she accepted Osma’s apology…But none of the Madrigals would help. They still refused.

 

Osma didn’t get it.

 

She approached Julieta first- she’d always been such a lovely woman- politely asking for help with the wedding dinner. It wasn’t like they expected to need healing food (though it never hurt to have some around) but everyone knew what a wonderful cook Julieta Madrigal was. She could always be counted on to prepare something for big events.

 

Smiling sweetly, Julieta refused.

 

Osma had been so stunned that she didn’t even call after Julieta or protest as she walked away.

 

Okay…Okay, it was a slight hiccup. An unexpected bump in the road. Maybe Julieta would change her mind? 

 

She tried Isabela next, to ask about flowers and decorations. Isabela may not have been a sweet little angel anymore (a loss many were still mourning) but she was still kind, still helpful. Surely now that Osma had apologised, Isabela would agree to be her decorator again?

 

She was in for another shock: Isabela laughed at her.

 

“No,” she said cheerfully, flicking her hair back. There were some streaks of purple among all the blue and green today. “No, I don’t think so.”

 

“B-But-”

 

“No,” Isabela repeated firmly, holding up a hand to silence Osma’s stutters. “I know you apologised and, quite frankly, I don’t care. I doubt you know what you’re even really apologising for.”

 

Of course she knew why she had apologised! Osma had offended Alma which, in turn, offended the Madrigals. But she was sorry, so why wouldn’t they help?

 

Approaching Luisa was a bust as well: her eyelid twitched as Osma asked for her help, and she ran away without a word.

 

She didn’t dare go near Pepa or Dolores. Pepa would surely zap her and Dolores had actually shouted at her! She didn’t trust Camilo either, God knew that boy was much too fond of mischief. Osma imagined asking for his help and ending up with a glitter-bomb to the face. Or worse. She’d rather not tempt him.

 

Which also meant she was afraid to ask Félix to mediate. He’d always take Pepa’s side and everyone knew it. And right now, Pepa thundered at the mere sight of Osma.

 

Hypocrite, Osma thought, but didn’t dare say. It wasn’t as if Pepa liked Bruno either.

 

(If she’d taken the time to stop and think, she’d have seen how protective Pepa was and always had been of her brother. She’d have seen how Pepa grinned whenever she caught sight of Bruno. She’d have seen how both his sisters were always finding excuses to hug him.)

 

As a last ditch effort, Osma went to Mirabel and Agustín. She was increasingly desperate and feeling the strain. The Madrigals always helped and it wasn’t like she was the first person to call Bruno what he was, so why was she the only one they wouldn’t help?

 

Agustín sighed at her. He was only five years older than her, but he looked so parental that Osma fell silent.

 

“You just don’t get it,” he said, sounding so very disappointed.

 

Mirabel didn’t often look much like Agustín, but Osma saw the resemblance then: they had the same disappointed frown, the same way of sighing and shaking their head.

 

“Plan your own wedding,” Mirabel said with a touch of impatience. And she was always so sweet! “Y’know, like everyone else on the planet.”

 

“And leave my brother alone,” Agustín added firmly, leading his daughter away.

 

A part of Osma wanted to protest that Bruno wasn’t even Agustín’s brother in the first place. She felt close to tearing her hair out. She couldn’t imagine going home and telling poor Salvador that she’d let him down like this. She’d apologised, but it still wasn’t good enough. The blessed, amazing Madrigals still wouldn’t help them.

 

She was out of Madrigals to ask. No way was she going near Bruno, Agustín didn’t need to worry about that. He’d probably curse poor Bubbles The Fifth out of sheer spite.






Osma could tell Salvador was disappointed, but he did his best to smile valiantly. 

 

“Don’t you worry, amor,” he said cheerfully. “I’ll approach Doña Alma myself tomorrow.”

 

Indeed, the next morning he set out in search of the matriarch. Osma made her way to the bakery; every wedding needed the perfect cake after all.

 

She was nearing Julieta’s stall when she spotted Antonio nearby with some of his animals. The jaguar was napping like a big cat- which she supposed it was. 

 

And maybe it was a little mean….Maybe it was a little manipulative…But Antonio was a Madrigal and the sweetest little kid around. If she could convince him to talk to his parents, maybe that would fix things?

 

Osma glanced around nervously. Julieta was busy with a line of injured people. There was Bruno, unfortunately, right by Julieta’s stall with Camilo by his side. Bruno and Camilo were huddled together over some pages in Camilo’s hands. Maybe another of Camilo’s scripts?

 

None of them were looking at her. With any luck, Dolores was distracted with Mariano somewhere. Thankfully, there was no sign of Pepa or Félix at all.

 

Taking a deep breath, Osma put a smile on her face and called, “Hola, Antonio!”






Antonio didn’t like Señora Pezmuerto, and Antonio usually liked people. He didn’t like being angry at people, it made his chest feel tight and it often made him want to cry when he got really angry. Camilo called him an “angry crier,” which only confused him, until Dolores explained meant he was more likely to cry than shout when he got angry.

 

Antonio wasn’t sure if anyone else in his family was an “angry crier.” It was hard to make much of his family angry. Even Abuela didn’t shout much; when she was angry, she got quiet. 

 

So Antonio didn’t like how he felt when Osma came over. He was sitting on the curb with some of his favourite friends and they all stared at Osma. Parce woke up from his nap, yawning. Osma glanced nervously at his big teeth.

 

Antonio would normally tell her she didn’t need to worry, Parce wouldn’t bite…But honestly, he didn’t want to talk to her at all.

 

“Hola,” she said again.

 

“Hola,” Antonio mumbled. He felt very shy all of a sudden. Nervous.

 

And annoyed.

 

He didn’t want to talk to her.

 

“Are you playing?” Osma asked, using that overly-bright tone that adults used on him sometimes, when they thought he was even younger than his actual age. 

 

“Uh, not really.” It was true, he wasn’t. He’d just been talking to his animals and sitting around. 

 

Osma nodded. She was smiling, but she still looked nervous. 

 

“Y’know, I’m getting married,” she said, still bright and cheery.

 

Antonio nodded, huddling closer to Parce. 

 

“I’ll be having a fish-themed party afterwards!”

 

That, admittedly, caught his attention. Dolores had mentioned it too, but Antonio hadn’t realised you could have animal-themed weddings. Well, fish-themed weddings. He hadn’t been to many, but the ones he saw were always covered in Isabela’s flowers and had pretty lights, not fish.

 

She must have caught his curiosity, because Osma continued; “They’re going to be the centre-pieces, in the flower vases!”

 

Antonio frowned. “But then where will the flowers be?”

 

“In the vases too.”

 

“But…” But there wouldn’t be enough room for the fish to swim properly. His frown deepened and, biting his lip, he spoke up; “But will the fish be able to swim?”

 

“Of course!”

 

He wasn’t so sure. Osma’s fish bowls were always too small.

 

His eyes were starting to hurt.

 

“And some of them will be in proper fish bowls,” Osma added with a smile. “And there will be candles floating on top. It’ll be so pretty!”

 

The candles would make it too hot for the fish, especially if the bowls were too small.

 

The fish wouldn’t be able to swim. They wouldn’t have enough room. It would be too hot.

 

Which meant that they’d all…

 

In horror, Antonio burst into tears.

 

“Y-you’re horrible!” He didn’t mean to scream and all his animals jumped up, howling, growling, screaming and yelping. His chest heaved as he sobbed and he was so angry. “You- you- you’re gonna kill them!”

 

She looked horrified, stumbling back as all his friends turned their angry eyes to her.

 

Antonio didn’t mean to be so loud, but he was glad he was, because a well-loved voice called, “Tonito!” and then Tio Bruno was there with Camilo, scooping Antonio up into his arms, balancing him on his hip.

 

“What the hell is your problem!?” Camilo demanded, standing between Antonio, Bruno and Osma. Tia Julieta came running and she looked angry and worried.

 

Sobbing against his uncle’s shoulder, Antonio said something he’d never said before: “I hate her!”

 

Even his animals went quiet then.

 

Tio Bruno was gently shushing him, rubbing his back. He smelled like incense and tea, and he hugged almost as good as Papá did. 

 

“I…I didn’t mean…” Osma sounded scared.

 

“What did you do to him?” Camilo was still loud and angry.

 

“I didn’t do anything, I swear! I was just telling him about the wedding!”

 

“Enough with the stupid wedding!”

 

Antonio looked up in shock. He’d never heard Tio Bruno shout before. Even Camilo was gaping at him.

 

“Brunito,” Tia Julieta said softly, putting a hand on Bruno’s shoulder. Bruno was glaring at Osma. His eyes were dark and furious, his glare was actually a little scary, a lot like Mamá’s.

 

“Let me guess,” Bruno hissed. “You were telling him about those stupid little bowls you put fish in with the flowers and candles, right? Well, here’s a shocker for you: that’s not safe for the fish.

 

Osma drew herself up with an offended gasp, fists clenched. “Is that a-?”

 

“No, it’s not a prophecy, it’s a fact! Just like it’s a fact that you’re a lousy pet-owner.

 

Camilo let out a low, impressed whistle. Sniffling, Antonio clung to Bruno, hiding his face against his uncle’s shoulder. He could hear some of the rats whispering worriedly in Bruno’s pockets; “Papá’s angry, so angry, she made the baby human cry, is she a threat, oh no, oh no!”

 

“I’m not a-!”

 

Yes you are. I never gave you a prophecy, I was just telling you what everyone else had already told you! You keep them in tiny bowls, you feed them too much! You don’t look after them and that is your fault.” Bruno stepped closer to her, but Antonio didn’t look up. “I don’t care what issues you think you have with me or my family, but you will leave my nephew alone, God help me.”

 

Antonio didn’t know Tio Bruno could talk like that. His voice was always quiet and warm, but now he was loud and cold.

 

“Good luck when Mamá and Papá hear about this,” Camilo said, sounding smug. Antonio almost giggled. Almost. Mostly he just felt upset and tired.

 

“Come on.” Tia Julieta stroked Antonio’s hair and then Bruno was carrying him away. “Wait at my stall, hermanito.”

 

When Antonio dared to look up again, Tia Julieta was saying something to Osma; she pointed at her angrily, but she was too quiet for Antonio to hear.

 

Osma’s mouth was hanging open. Her eyes were big and watery. She looked scared, like she was about to cry.

 

She looked sorry, but Antonio wasn’t sure if she really was. After all, she hadn’t really been sorry for calling Tio Bruno names; she’d just wanted his family to help her again.

 

“Are you okay, Tonito?” Bruno asked softly.

 

“Don’t worry about her,” Camilo added quietly, fiercely. “She’s a stupid jerk.”

 

“I hate her,” Antonio said and he just felt sad now. “She’s so mean.”

 

Antonio didn’t like hating people, it made him feel tired and sick, like his skin was too tight and his lungs didn’t want to work.

 

But Osma never looked after her fish and she was mean to his uncle. She just wanted them to do jobs for her, she wasn’t sorry at all! 

 

Those poor fish would die and she didn’t even care!

 

Antonio hated her. He hoped none of them would have to go to her awful wedding.

Chapter Text

“And I ain't trying to mess with your self-expression, but I've learned the lesson that stressin' and obsessin' 'bout somebody else is no fun. And snakes and stones never broke my bones so- oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh! You need to calm down! You're being too loud. And I'm just like oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh. You need to just stop! Like, can you just not step on my gown? You need to calm down.” - You Need To Calm Down, Taylor Swift




Antonio had definitely never seen his whole family so angry. Even just before Casita fell, everyone had just been scared or confused; Mirabel and Abuela had been the only angry ones. 

 

He’d seen everyone get angry before, at least a few times. But not like this.

 

His mamá and papá had stormed out of Casita to go find Osma and her fiancé. Dolores was leaning against the wall, tapping her foot, eyes narrowed. Camilo kept grumbling under his breath, using words Antonio wasn’t supposed to repeat.

 

Abuela paced up and down, hands behind her back, frowning the way she used to do. She looked like she was about to lecture. Who exactly she would lecture, Antonio wasn’t sure, but that was definitely Abuela’s “Disappointed And Annoyed Lecture Face.” 

 

Even Tia Julieta and Tio Agustín were angry! Even Luisa was angry. 

 

“She made Antonio cry?” Luisa demanded as soon as she walked into Casita. “What’s wrong with her!?”

 

Tio Bruno, unusually harsh, scoffed. “You want the long list or the short list, kid?” he asked. He looked a lot like Mamá right then with his arms folded, throwing his hair out of his eyes; even his scowl was a lot like Pepa’s. It almost made Antonio want to giggle.

 

But mostly, Antonio was still angry as well.

 

“I hate her,” he said again, safe and sound in Mirabel’s arms. Mira gave some of the very best cuddles around.

 

“Now that is how you know she sucks,” Camilo said. Isabela snorted; she kept making a bunch of small prickly cacti appear and reappear and she looked like she wanted to shout. Her Little Guys sat on the coffee table, swinging their little purple legs.

 

One of Tio Bruno’s rats, Alphonso, crawled onto Antonio’s lap.

 

“Are you okay?” he asked. 

 

“I’m okay,” Antonio told him.

 

“Mamá was very angry.”

 

That was the funny thing about Alphonso: he always called Tio Bruno ‘Mamá,’ not ‘Papá,’ like most of the other rats.

 

“Yeah,” Antonio agreed, glancing at his uncle. Bruno caught his eyes and smiled, looking more like his usual funny self. That was better. Antonio didn’t like being angry, so he was sure everyone else didn’t like being angry either.







Pepa and Félix returned looking both furious and triumphant. It was an odd sight, especially with Pepa’s cloud still thundering, but she was smirking widely. Bruno knew that look in her eyes all too well.

 

So did Julieta. Their big sister crossed her arms and asked, “Alright, what did you do?”

 

Pepa’s smirk widened to a grin. Félix chuckled to himself, hurrying to Antonio’s side to hug him.

 

“I bought a book on pet-care on the way to her house,” Pepa said, making a show of examining her nails and adjusting her headband. “Specifically, fish-care.”

 

“Mamá!” Camilo gasped with a wide, viciously delighted grin. He had that familiar look of hero worship on his face.

 

“Hm, well someone has to teach her,” Pepa said with a shrug. “Throwing it in her face means she won’t forget in a hurry.”

 

Camilo, Mirabel and Isabela burst out laughing. Camilo even high-fived Pepa. Félix’s grin grew as he cradled Antonio, who giggled and gape at Pepa in astonishment.

 

Luisa proved to be Julieta’s daughter; she looked just as gobsmacked as her mother.

 

Dolores smiled and didn’t make a sound. Agustín snorted and tried to wipe the smile off his face when Julieta and Alma turned to him.

 

“Pepa,” Alma sighed.

 

“It didn’t hit her,” Pepa said. “She ducked.”

 

It was a testament to Alma’s anger at Osma that she didn’t press the matter. She shot Antonio another concerned look, hands folded before her.

 

“And what did she say?” Alma asked.

 

“That she’s sorry.” Pepa didn’t look or sound impressed. Her cloud darkened and grew, flashing with lightning. “She said she didn’t mean to upset Antonio, she just wanted our help.” She scoffed, a look of utter disgust on her face. “As if that’s all that matters! She wouldn’t take no for an answer, she pushed it, she’s the one who called Bruno a brujo and she thinks we’ll help her after that!?” A harsh, cold wind rushed through the courtyard and Bruno, even with his ruana, shivered as it persisted. 

 

Pepa began to pace, grumbling angrily. “Well, I gave her a piece of my mind! She can count herself lucky if I don’t decide to rain on her wedding!”

 

“Pepa!” Alma gasped, looking truly stunned then. Most of them did. Honestly, even Bruno had to do a double-take. Even with everything cleared up between them, he never thought he’d hear Pepa think about raining on someone else’s wedding day; it was a topic she avoided like the plague. Besides, she never rained at a wedding before (except her own). Such days always had to be clear and sunny.

 

“I told her off too,” Félix said. “Then Salvador arrived and I told him what happened. Have to admit, he looked pretty mortified.”

 

“And we told them their fish idea was stupid,” Pepa added, her cloud shrinking a little. “Félix told them exactly what would happen. Here’s hoping Salvador has some sense and listens; God knows Osma never does!”






But here’s the surprising thing: this time, Osma listened.

 

She stayed up late, reading through the book Pepa Madrigal had flung at her head. She’d fully expected to be zapped, blown to pieces, thrown over the mountains in a gale force wind. Pepa’s rage had been terrifying to behold.

 

And Osma was guiltily starting to feel she would have deserved it.

 

She hadn’t meant to upset Antonio. Honestly, she hadn’t! He was such a sweet little kid, why would she ever want to scare him? She knew trying to use him to get to his parents wasn’t the most…gracious of moves, but she’d been desperate and…

 

She hadn’t really thought it through.

 

Osma hadn’t meant to make him cry like that.

 

She thought the fish themed centre-pieces were a good idea. She’d heard about it from some of the new merchants, she’d even seen pictures in a magazine she’d bought from them. It looked so beautiful and colourful, and so perfect for her and Salvador. Fish were their favourite animal. Osma would always have a soft-spot for goldfish in particular. What could be more fitting than a fish-themed wedding reception? 

 

But what Antonio said…

 

“Y-you’re horrible! You- you- you’re gonna kill them!”

 

Even Bruno’s words were stuck in her mind.

 

“You were telling him about those stupid little bowls you put fish in with the flowers and candles, right? Well, here’s a shocker for you: that’s not safe for the fish.

 

“No, it’s not a prophecy, it’s a fact! Just like it’s a fact that you’re a lousy pet-owner.

 

All these years, she’d never heard Bruno Madrigal raise his voice like that. For the first time, she saw something like power in his normally wary eyes. 

 

Salvador had been stricken as Félix laid out the cold hard facts: if they stuck with their plan, a lot of fish would die.

 

You, at least, know how to care for your pets,” Félix said to Salvador, clenched fists shaking with suppressed anger. “So maybe you’ll actually listen, Salvador.”

 

They spoke to Osma like she was crazy, like she was stupid, like she couldn’t be trusted.

 

And why should they trust me? The thought came unbidden, but she couldn’t push it away.

 

She’d made Antonio cry. 

 

It wasn’t the first time Bruno insisted he hadn’t given her a prophecy, but it was the first time she’d seen him well and truly furious. 

 

She’d only wanted their help. They were the amazing Madrigals! They always helped. La familia Madrigal with their blessings and magic, always helping the community.

 

Only, that wasn’t quite the case anymore. Now they took days off. Now they turned down requests. And although some people complained, the majority were okay with it; heck, they were even happy for the Madrigals to take time off and not run the show. 

 

“Everyone needs breaks,” Cecilia’s mother said a few months ago. “We’re all only human.”

 

Something had shifted during the rebuilding of Casita. The Madrigals seemed happier than ever. 

 

It was a change that Osma hadn’t really paid attention to, not until it was (literally) thrown in her face.

 

Once upon a time, insulting Bruno may have earned her a warning from Alma and disappointed frowns from Julieta, but the entire family would never have turned their backs on her in such a manner.

 

It was jarring.

 

And by upsetting Antonio, she’d only made it worse. She hadn’t wanted to let Salvador down; she’d wanted to fix things and she’d ruined them further. 

 

She stared at the book in her lap, at the instructions for properly caring for fish. It gave a list of all their needs in terms of food, how often the water needed to be changed, how big their tanks should be- their tanks, not their little bowls.

 

It said how to spot an ill fish, how to help make it better. It said exactly how much room a healthy fish needed to swim around and breathe.

 

Antonio and Bruno were right. Pepa and Félix were right. Her fishy centre-pieces would kill the poor fish.

 

That was the last thing she wanted.

 

It was nearly midnight when Osma marked her page, turned her light off and finally laid down. Even then, she stayed awake, staring at the ceiling.

 

She needed to apologise for scaring Antonio. And…

 

And maybe she needed to apologise to Bruno too.

 

She sighed and wondered if Pepa would zap her after all.






The next day was Madrigal Day Off, so everyone was doing their own thing. Julieta and Agustín had gone for a picnic by the lake, Camilo was out with friends. Luisa was practising piano upstairs and Dolores had a date with Mariano. Mirabel was hanging out with Luisa (according to Luisa she made a good test audience), Antonio had shyly agreed to hang out with that trio of kids who liked to follow Mirabel around, and Pepa and Félix were visiting Félix’s parents. If Bruno remembered correctly, his mamá was visiting Señora Guzman, likely to gossip about discuss Dolores and Mariano. 

 

That left Isabela and Bruno in Casita. Right now, they were occupied with building a new set for the next telenovela. With the Little Guys joining the cast at last, they needed a bigger setting. 

 

Isa was adding tiny bouquets of daisies to equally tiny plastic vases when there was a knock on the door.

 

They paused in their tasks and the knock came again. It was a strangely hesitant sort of knock, as if whoever was outside wasn’t sure they should be there. If it was an emergency, surely they’d be pounding on the door and calling for help?

 

“Oh, this better be good,” Isabela groaned as she and Bruno stood.

 

The second Bruno opened the door and saw Osma standing there, holding a big dish of polvorosas he flatly said, “Nope,” and Casita closed the door for him.

 

There was a brief pause and he swore he heard a tiny, defeated sigh. ‘Defeat’ was not a word he'd normally associate with Osma.

 

She knocked again.

 

Isabela stomped forward and jerked the door open. She raised her hand and a pollen ball appeared. Big vines crossed the open doorway in an X shape.

 

“Get away from our house,” Isabela snapped. “You've done enough damage.”

 

Osma looked oddly small, biting her lip and staring at her feet.

 

“I wanted to apologise,” she said.

 

“Antonio doesn’t want to see you,” Bruno said firmly. “And you’re not allowed near him anyway.”

 

“It’s not just that,” Osma said. “I, um…W-well…I wanted to apologise to you.

 

Say what?

 

Stunned, Isabela lowered her hand and the pollen vanished. The vines remained though, still blocking Osma’s entry. 

 

“I’ve been awful to you,” Osma said, the most ashamed Bruno had ever seen her in his life. “You…You were just trying to help. I dismissed everyone else, but I blamed you.”

 

It took you twenty-five years to figure that out? Bruno crossed his arms, eyebrows raised. 

 

“I read the book,” Osma said, speaking more quickly. “The one Pepa, um- threw. And you were right. Antonio was right. Everyone’s been right when they said the bowls were too small or I needed to be more careful when I fed them, I just…” Her eyes watered to Bruno’s horror. “I love my pets, I’d never hurt them on purpose, I swear. I thought I was taking good care of them, I- I didn’t want anyone saying otherwise. I thought they were being nosey, or acting like I didn’t know what I was doing, only…Only it turned out I didn’t know.”

 

It was probably the most insightful thing he’d ever heard Osma say. 

 

She’d always been defensive and stubborn. Osvaldo was thoughtless in a well-meaning kind of way, fumbling and a little ridiculous; Osma was thoughtless in a more self-absorbed kind of way. “I’m right, you’re wrong,” had practically been her motto in her twenties. It was damn-near impossible to get through to her. Once she made up her mind, there was no changing it.

 

Bruno had never seen her change her opinion on someone before. The only people he’d ever heard her apologise to had been her parents, her sister and Salvador. Occasionally to Alma too, when Osma annoyed her. But that was it. 

 

“I’m really sorry,” Osma said, finally looking at him. “I never should have called you a witch.”

 

Bruno had forgiven far worse than being blamed for a dead fish. Osma was one of the few people who didn’t make him anxious; mostly, she just annoyed him. He’d found her exhausting years ago and a mild annoyance nowadays. 

 

For the first time, that obnoxious attitude was nowhere to be found. She looked smaller, younger; she even looked frightened.

 

She held the polvorosas out with a surprisingly shy smile.

 

Sighing, Bruno nodded at Isa and the vines vanished.

 

He took the dish. It had little blue fish painted on it.

 

“Alright,” he said. “I forgive you. At least, for all the fish-killing brujo stuff. I’ve had worse.”

 

Isabela winced at the reminder. Osma shuffled awkwardly.

 

“Gracias,” she said. “I-”

 

“But,” Bruno held his hand up. “I don’t forgive you for upsetting Tonito like that. That is going to take some work, Osma.”

 

She nodded. She certainly looked understanding. 

 

“I’ll try,” she said. “I will, honestly.”

 

He’d hold her to that, because if she ever so much as made Antonio frown again, Bruno would find the most awful vision he could and show it to her. 

 

Messing with him was one thing. He’d had much worse. He’d never blamed himself for the fish, it wasn’t even a prophecy in the first place; he hadn’t been the first, or even the last person to tell her that her fish looked ill and maybe needed more space. 

 

But upsetting one of the kids? That wasn’t going to fly. 

 

If Bruno could finally stand up to his mother, he could certainly tell someone he wasn’t even afraid of to shove it.

 

But he was still Bruno; he simply wasn’t an angry person, so he extended an olive branch of his own.

 

“Y’know, if you want fish themed centre-pieces, why not just get a bunch of plastic fish?” he asked, before closing the door.

 

As he and Isa walked away, he heard Osma’s delighted squeal through the door. 

 

Maybe she really was doing some proper thinking after all.

 

He’d have to wait and see.







To Bruno’s increasing surprise, Osma apologised to everyone in the family. When she approached Alma, she did so hand in hand with Salvador, and apologised again and again.

 

Alma was, as ever, gracious as she accepted the apology, but Bruno saw the surprise in his mother’s eyes.

 

“That was unexpected,” she admitted quietly, as they walked back to Casita. “She’s never been one to apologise.”

 

Bruno could have made a joke about how Alma was new to apologies too, but he figured now probably wasn’t the time. It would definitely fall flat.

 

Instead, he settled for; “Eh, she’s always been weird.”

 

“Bruno.” Alma’s voice was stern, but there was a small smile on her face.

 

“It’s not always a bad thing,” Bruno said with a shrug. “I’m weird.”






It took an entire week for Osma to work up the nerve to approach Pepa, Félix and Antonio. During that week, the entire village saw a change: she left the pet store with much bigger bowls, even tanks for her fish. She bought more decorations for the tank; instead of just the little colourful pebbles to cover the bottom of the tank, she also bought little “ruined” castles, sunken ships and treasure chests and little bundles of fake seaweed. 

 

Whenever she sat on a bench to read, it seemed to be a book about caring for fish, or magazines about weddings. 

 

The village watched with bated breath.

 

Her current two fish did not die.

 

(There was a collective sigh of relief.)

 

Finally, Osma walked up to Julieta’s stall, where most of the Madrigals had gathered as midday approached. There was a plushie tucked under her arm; it wasn’t homemade like Mirabel’s, but from Encanto’s small toy store: a soft, almost-round fish with silvery scales and big blue eyes. The scales had a rainbow shimmer as the sunshine hit them.

 

Pepa took one look at her and scowled. There was a crack of thunder in the distance.

 

Antonio watched her warily, clinging to Pepa’s legs.

 

Gulping, Osma held the plushie out.

 

“I’m really sorry for upsetting you, Antonio,” she said. “I didn’t mean to scare you and I didn’t mean to hurt any fish. You were right, it was a bad idea, so I’m going to use plastic fish instead at the wedding. No live ones, I promise.”

 

Slowly, hesitantly, Antonio took the plushie. He examined it carefully with a slight pout.

 

“It was a really dangerous idea,” he told her.

 

“I know that now,” Osma said, wringing her hands. “I’ve um, I’ve read a lot of books about it lately.”

 

“That’s good,” Antonio said. 

 

Pepa only gave her a single, brisk nod.

 

It would do. It certainly wasn’t perfect, but it was a good start.






A year later, the Madrigals would attend Osma and Salvador’s wedding, along with the majority of the village.

 

As promised, there were no live fish in the centre-pieces. Instead, there were colourful plastic fish; a few, unfortunately, floated on the surface of the fishbowls as if they were belly up. A few got tangled among the stems of the flowers.

 

It was actually quite cute.

 

There were bright blue streamers hanging from the ceiling; banners in various shades of blue, green and white hung from the walls, shimmering and bringing the ocean to mind. There were even big cut-outs of fish hanging from the ceiling among the banners.

 

The band sang jaunty tunes about the ocean, about rivers and about sailors.

 

Salvador wore fish cufflinks and a fish pin on his tie. There were little silver fish embroidered on the hem of Osma’s gown and on her veil. 

 

A fishy wedding indeed.

 

And no fish were harmed.

 

Osma caught Antonio and Bruno’s eyes towards the end of the night. Antonio was starting to doze off and, as he usually did when sleepy, he crawled right onto his uncle’s lap, half-asleep against Bruno’s shoulder, watching his parents dance.

 

Somewhat shyly, a little awkwardly, Osma smiled and waved.

 

Exhausted himself, Bruno gave a tired smile and waved back.

 

And, for the first time in a year, Antonio smiled at her.

Chapter Text

“That's life in the family Madrigal! (Whoa) Now you know the family Madrigal. (Whoa) Where all the people are fantastical and magical, that's who we are in the family Madrigal!” - The Family Madrigal, Encanto




It started as a normal day and quickly got weird. Story of Bruno’s life, right?

 

He’d gone down to the book shop (happily finding three new books for himself and two for Pepa), completely none the wiser about the impending noise and chaos coming his way.

 

It was a nice, sunny day. Peaceful.

 

Apparently the universe decided it was too peaceful.

 

Bruno turned away from the book shop and yelped, a hand pressed to his heart.

 

Three little kids stood before him, uncomfortably close, staring up at him with big eyes and curious expressions.

 

He recognised them as three of the kids who always followed Mirabel around. They were friendly with Antonio. For the life of him, he couldn't remember their names. But who didn't know the little kid with the coffee addiction? 

 

“Did you really save Mira from a murderer?” the little girl with a dahlia in her braid demanded.

 

“Were you fixing Casita? Papí said you were fixing Casita,” the other little girl asked. What was her name again? Celene? Celeste...No, Cecilia, that was it! She was at Julieta's stall yesterday with a sprained wrist, poor kid.

 

“Uh…” Bruno's grip on his new books tightened nervously. What in the world were they talking about?

 

Oh right, Señora Guzman started a bunch of rumours…Normally, the family danced around giving straight answers, letting the villagers think whatever they wanted. Bruno had to admit, some theories were pretty creative. 

 

But that was dealing with adults. These were three excitable little kids, who were really in his personal space.

 

The coffee kid was bouncing on the spot. That eyelid twitch could not be healthy.

 

“Was Mirabel super sick? Were you finding a magic cure?” he asked, far too loudly.

 

They were looking at him expectantly. On one hand, Sofia's rumours had been very handy. On the other hand, Bruno had no idea how to answer.

 

God help him, they were as loud as three little Camilos combined. It was enough to make him shudder.

 

But they were still staring, expecting an answer.

 

“...Sí,” Bruno eventually said.

 

“Which one?” Coffee Kid practically yelled.

 

The dahlia girl (Alejandra?) gasped, eyes wide and hands pressed to her cheeks. “Was it all three!?” she screamed.

 

Bruno's ears hurt. 

 

Slowly, he nodded. “Sí,” he said flatly, awkwardly.

 

The kids gasped loudly, so loudly that it was a little ridiculous, and he found himself trying not to laugh at their over-the-top enthusiasm.

 

“Well, uh...I gotta go,” Bruno said, turning for Casita and hurrying away.

 

Just his luck, the kids hurried after him, all three of them still shouting questions.

 

“Do your eyes really glow?”

 

“Why aren’t you seven feet tall? Camilo said you’re seven feet tall! That’s false advertising, y’know!”

 

“Antonio said you have pet rats!?”

 

“Uh, sí I have pet rats,” Bruno said, not turning around. Three lots of little footsteps picked up the pace and he just knew they were right behind him. “And my eyes glow when I have visions. And, um…I was never seven feet tall. Call it artistic licence.”

 

“What’s that?” Cecilia asked.

 

“Well, it’s…” Jeez, how to explain it to a bunch of five-year-olds? “Basically it’s when you’re telling a story but you, um, change some facts or exaggerate to make it more interesting.”

 

“So lying?” The Coffee Kid asked. Juan? Juancho? Bruno was pretty sure he was called Juancho. He’d have to ask Mirabel or Antonio.

 

He winced at the question. “Hm, not really. It’s just for story-telling.”

 

They didn’t look convinced.

 

“Can we see your eyes glow?” Alejandra asked, widening her own eyes. “It sounds cool.”

 

Nope, nope, no, not today!

 

“Er, well…” Bruno could only imagine the chaos agreeing would bring. He’d avoided giving any visions since he got back, except the unavoidable involuntary visions or sleep visions. He was not open for business, thank you. It had been a nice, peaceful few months. Probably the most peaceful of his life; no nasty rumours, no name-calling, no threats; no one hit him or threw things or followed him. Catalina and Osma caused the most trouble, and Catalina had firmly been put in her place while Osma actually learned her lesson on caring for her pets.

 

And maybe Bruno should have just told them it would make him tired and dizzy, they’d surely leave it be, but instead he pointed across the road and cried, “Oh, hey, Mirabel!”

 

The kids turned around, looking for Mirabel, who was not there.

 

Bruno did the mature thing and booked it.






“Your fanclub is nosey,” Bruno informed Mirabel.

 

“Fanclub?” she repeated, mystified, but quickly grinned. “Oh you mean the town kids?” 

 

Bruno was pretty sure it was a testament to Mirabel’s new confidence that she didn’t downplay the kids’ adoration for her, or play dumb. It was sweet and he was proud of her.

 

That didn’t change the fact those kids were nosey.

 

“Yup,” he said. “It was the usual three. I think Antonio hung out with them last week?”

 

“That would be Cecilia, Juancho and Alejandra then,” Mirabel said. “They can be a lot, but they’re sweet kids.”

 

Huh, Bruno was right about their names after all.

 

“Hm, they wanted to see my eyes glow.

 

Mirabel winced. “Okay,” she said. “Point proven. But don’t worry, they’ll find something new to obsess over by tomorrow.”






Spoiler alert: they didn’t.

 

“Can we see the rats now?”

 

Bruno yelped and fell back against Casita’s front door. Next to him, Mirabel started to giggle like the little traitor she was. Antonio gave such a world-weary sigh that he could have passed for Alma’s age.

 

The kids were back: Juancho, Cecilia and Alejandra. And they’d brought friends. There was a boy in a poncho, a boy with a sombrero, a boy with wild curly hair and a girl dressed all in yellow with a sunhat.

 

All of them were staring and smiling, and crowding in way too close.

 

“What is this, an ambush?” Mirabel laughed.

 

“Yes,” Alejandra said solemnly. She looked at Bruno. “Can we see your pet rats?”

 

Maybe it was old instinct from helping to look after so many kids years ago (despite what Alma liked to think, Isabela had been a terror and Camilo was in a league of his own), but Bruno’s anxiety melted away. He stood up straight, arms folded and raised an eyebrow.

 

It was just a bunch of kids. They were loud and had no sense of personal space, but they were kids. He could handle kids. It was adults that were the problem.

 

“Ay, and what’s the magic word, niños?” Bruno asked.

 

The kids all looked at each other. They turned back to him with oddly angelic smiles.

 

“Pppplllleeeeaaasssseee?” they chorused.

 

“Antonio said they’re super clever!” the boy in the poncho added.

 

“And really sweet,” the girl in yellow said.

 

“Is that meant to be flattery?” Bruno asked, trying not to smirk too obviously.

 

“Is it working?” the yellow girl asked earnestly. Mirabel started to laugh again.

 

“They can be a lot,” Antonio whispered to him. “But they’re nice, I promise. They won’t scare the rats or anything.”

 

Well, if they had Antonio’s seal of approval…

 

“Alright, alright.” Bruno held his hands up in a show of surrender. “You can see ‘em.”

 

He headed back inside to find them, letting himself grin at the loud cheers that followed, along with Mirabel and Antonio’s laughter.






Turns out, Antonio was right: the kids were really gentle with the rats. Even the shyest, Ada, soon warmed up to them all.

 

“So, who was the murderer?” Pasqual, the boy in the poncho asked.

 

“Eh?” Bruno was once again lost. These kids jumped from one topic to the next faster than Camilo ever did.

 

“The murderer you saved Mira from!”

 

Uh oh.

 

“Have you kids met Gabriella?” Mirabel asked, somewhat desperately. She held out the chubby white rat. Cecilia and the girl in yellow, Sierra, cooed at her but the rest weren’t distracted. They were staring expectantly.

 

“Was it really scary?” Juancho asked, still a little too loud. Seriously, where did he keep getting that coffee from and did his parents know he had it?

 

“Well…Yeah…” Bruno said awkwardly. “Pretty scary.” It wasn't a complete lie, really. Those cracks did scare him. Casita crumbling terrified him.

 

“Was that before or after you found the magic cure to make her illness go away?” Benito, the boy with curly hair asked, patting one of the rats.

 

“...After,” Bruno said. “It was after. I found the magic cure, then the murderer showed up, so I had to stay away longer.”

 

“And then Casita started to break?” Cecilia asked, eyes wide.

 

“Yup.”

 

“Wow,” Alejandra said. “You were busy.

 

“Super busy,” Bruno agreed.

 

“Super-duper busy,” Mirabel said with a nod.

 

“The murderer won’t come here, will he?” Cecilia asked in a frightened whisper. Once she said it, the other kids looked frightened.

 

Well, that wouldn’t do.

 

It was story time. Bruno was well accustomed to making up stories on the spot. Having a group of chaotic kids around all day every day would do that to you.

 

“Oh, no,” Bruno said. He sat up straighter, lightly scratching Victoria behind the ear while she squeaked. “No. I, um- I trapped him!”

 

“How?” the kids chorused.

 

“Well, when I was trying to help Mirabel, I met a witch,” Bruno said, waving his fingers at the kids with a grin. “She’s the one who gave me the magic cure. Y’see, he’d been following us once he realised who the witch was. He wanted to take the magic cure for himself.”

 

“Was he sick too?” the kid with the sombrero, Damian asked, eyes wider than ever.

 

“No,” Bruno said. “He was just greedy. A real bad guy.”

 

“Wow,” the kids whispered. Antonio, who knew the whole thing was a lie, scooted closer to Bruno. He looked oddly invested. Mirabel couldn’t seem to stop smiling.

 

“So we had to trap him,” Bruno said. He pointed to the mountains. “We found a whole bunch of spooky caves and I had to run inside holding the magic cure so he’d chase me. The witch stayed outside to get her magic ready.”

 

“And he chased you?” Alejandra asked.

 

“And he chased me,” Bruno confirmed. “For ages. I’m not good at running y’know.”

 

“Liar,” Mirabel said fondly. “You’re fast.”

 

“And he was faster, Mira!” Bruno said with a wink. “But luckily it was dark in there, so I hid behind a bunch of rocks. He ran right past me and I ran back outside. Then the witch finished her spell and poof! The cave closed!”

 

“And he’s trapped forever?” Cecilia gasped.

 

“Forever and ever,” Bruno said. “And I took the magic cure home for Mirabel. Only, Casita was breaking when I came back, so I had to hide some more to try and help fix them. That part isn't as exciting: I just patched a bunch of cracks, and…”

 

“And told Abuela!” Mirabel added quickly. “So she could help.”

 

“Yup,” Bruno said. “I tried to fix the cracks the normal way, and my mamá tried to use the magic in the candle to fix the cracks. It…worked for a while, but it wore off.”

 

“‘Cause the candle was so old?” Sierra asked.

 

Bruno gave her a deadpan stare. “Hey now, it’s as old as me.”

 

“Are you old?”

 

“I’m not answering that, kid. If I say I am, my sisters will hit me; they’re the same age.”

 

“Are they old?”

 

“Mamí says you’re as old as you feel,” Antonio chimed in. “And that she feels thirty.”

 

“But thirty is old!” Sierra protested.

 

Bruno and Mirabel laughed so hard they had to lean on each other for support. The rats scampered back inside, letting out indignant little squeaks and squeals all the while.

 

Cecilia tugged on his arm. “Was the witch nice?” she asked. “Will she visit?”

 

“She was very nice,” Bruno said, trying to stop giggling. Mirabel snickered some more which nearly set him off again. “But she’s super shy and only comes around when people need help. So, uh, no promises.”

 

“I like her,” Cecilia said. 

 

“What was her name!?” Juancho shouted, chugging more coffee. Mirabel snatched his cup, sighing when she saw how little was left.

 

Bruno probably should have thought of that. And he probably should have thought of a name.

 

“Pedra,” he blurted out.

 

The kids accepted it. Mirabel started giggling again.

 

Bruno, like the mature, caring uncle he was, pushed her over.






By the end of the week, that group of kids had spread the story to every other kid their age. And they told their siblings and cousins, and parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles.

 

The adults, at least, seemed to realise most of it was bullsh- er, lies. But with Señora Guzman’s rumours floating around, the Madrigals keeping hush-hush and the fact that they’d been saved by magic in the first place…Well, it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. 

 

“I liked that story,” Antonio said. “Can you tell it again?”

 

“But you know it’s not true, Tonito,” Bruno said with a bemused smile.

 

“I know,” Antonio said. “But I still liked it.”

 

“Then sure,” Bruno said. “I’ll tell it whenever you want.”

 

“Maybe we can write it down!” Antonio said, eyes shining. “We can make it a picture book!”

 

Well, Alma had asked if he’d ever written any of his stories down…

 

“Sure,” Bruno said and Antonio cheered, racing off to find Mirabel.

 

It turned out Antonio wasn’t the only one who liked the story. When Bruno left Casita the next morning, the kids were all lounging around on the lawn.

 

“Hola, Señor Bruno!” Pasqual called, racing over. Juancho had an even bigger mug of coffee than before.

 

“Do you have any more stories?” Alejandra asked, bouncing on her toes. “Antonio said you have more! Can we hear them? Pretty please?”

 

“Well…” Bruno hesitated but they were all smiling, and they weren’t right up in his face this time. 

 

And they were sweet kids. Loud and boisterous, but if Bruno could survive the combined terror of Mirabel and Camilo, he could survive some of Antonio’s new friends, Mirabel’s little fanclub.

 

“Okay,” he said. “Sure, why not?”

 

Their cheers were deafening and weirdly endearing. It wasn’t like they even knew if it would be a good story, but their excitement was genuine.

 

Kids, it had to be said, were always easier to handle than adults.

 

“And then can we see your eyes glow?” Benito asked.

 

“That,” Bruno said, sitting on the grass. “Is not gonna happen. Now, any story requests?”

 

They all immediately began to talk over each other, arguing over what type of story they wanted first. Bruno leaned back on his hands, settling in for a long wait.

 

When Mirabel joined only a few minutes later, Bruno only shrugged at her.

 

“You’re right,” he said. “They’re good kids.”

Chapter Text

“Dancing bears, painted wings; things I almost remember. And a song someone sings, ‘Once upon a December.’ Someone holds me safe and warm, horses prance through a silver storm. Figures dancing gracefully across my memory.” - Once Upon A December, Anastasia




The first time Bruno woke up that night, it wasn’t even because of a vision or a nightmare. It was good old fashioned anxiety.

 

He woke up frozen stiff, his heart pounding and unable to breathe. Panic overwhelmed him and, with hindsight, he’d have to wonder if it was some sort of warning. He felt like crying and couldn’t even say why; he wanted to scream but couldn’t get enough air.

 

It took maybe fifteen minutes to pass. When it did, Bruno was left feeling exhausted, as if he hadn’t slept at all. Then again, he wasn’t sure how long he’d slept.

 

Sighing, Bruno rolled over, pulling the covers up over his head. Anxiety was surely designed by the devil himself, by some cosmic force that liked to point and laugh as humans were left floundering in the dark.

 

At least it wore him out enough to sleep again.

 

That was when the sleep visions started.

 

He wasn’t even sure how many he had in total; they all bled together in one big confusing mess, jumping from a single year to decades ahead. He saw the Encanto, he saw outside the Encanto, everything in shades of green and skipping around so fast that Bruno felt lost even in his sleep.




There was a massive boat leaving a port, with passengers waving from the deck.

 

An old man died peacefully in his sleep, a photo of a wedding (his own perhaps?) on the table next to his bed.

 

Luisa helped to herd donkeys and horses, a young farmhand by her side.

 

There was a massive screen showing a movie and Bruno heard someone in the crowd murmur about “technicolour.”

 

There were cars unlike any other vehicle Bruno had ever seen, going faster than he could have believed.

 

A massive forest fire raged out of control; animals and people alike fled and many were not fast enough.

 

Antonio was older, much older, gently soothing an injured cat as Julieta peered at its bleeding leg.

 

Someone was shot in an alleyway, someone was run over with a car; a ship sank, a building collapsed, a great sickness spread, a young couple peered worriedly at their newborn as it struggled for breath. 

 

Dolores walked down the aisle, radiant, arm in arm with Félix. She cooed to a pair of newborn twins, leaning against Mariano. Alma sat with Mirabel, holding the girl’s hand, both of them quietly talking and watching a party in Casita’s courtyard. Julieta and Agustín had a date night. Luisa came home looking flushed and giddy, holding a note in her hand. Camilo knelt in front of the twins, toddlers now, shape-shifting to make them laugh.




Bruno woke up, disoriented and dizzy. He felt like he’d swallowed a mouthful of sand. He shakily managed to sit up, chest heaving as he fought for air. 

 

That had been a lot. That had been far too much.

 

There was still a green shimmer at the edges of his vision. He shivered, clutching the edge of the bed; he closed his eyes and forced himself to hold his breath, slowly breathing out.

 

His head still hurt, pounding like someone was punching at his brain. His eyes felt like they were on fire. 

 

Some of the rats chittered at him and Bruno gave them a tired thumbs up. Through a gap in the shutters, a thin stream of sunlight was creeping into the room.

 

Julieta’s food wouldn’t help. It never made vision migraines go away. But this wasn’t quite a vision migraine yet. If Bruno just took things slowly, maybe it would fade soon. He could always lie down after breakfast, right?

 

He knocked on the headboard and the bedside table, muttering, “Knock-knock-knock-knock-knock, knock on wood!”

 

He didn’t hit his head this time. That could only end badly.







Alma was, unfortunately, used to her son looking exhausted. He was yawning as he came downstairs, the shadows under his eyes looked more pronounced and there was a weary slump to his shoulders.

 

Julieta winced in sympathy. “Bad night?” she asked.

 

“Sleep visions,” Bruno mumbled, practically collapsing into his seat. He looked like he was about to fall back asleep.

 

Julieta patted his shoulder, sighing. Her Gift couldn’t heal the side-effects of other Gifts, they’d all learned that the hard way throughout the years.

 

“Perhaps you should rest after eating, mijo,” Alma said. Once upon a time, she wouldn’t have made such a suggestion; she would have told him to perk up, get some good food in him, hydrate and stop slouching.

 

Bruno hummed in agreement. “Was planning to,” he said, yawning again and rubbing his forehead.

 

When everyone else arrived, he winced at the noise. He barely joined in any conversation, managing a tired smile whenever one of the children spoke to him. 

 

“You look like death,” Camilo said bluntly. Félix sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.

 

Bruno scoffed, pushing his food around his plate. “Ay, what else is new?” he said. There was a faint smirk on his face, a hint of his usual sass in his voice.

 

It was quickly replaced by a horrible, blank stare as his eyes glowed green.

 

He would have hit the floor if it hadn’t been for Luisa leaping to catch him.

 

Just like that, the entire family was huddled around Bruno and Luisa. Alma knelt with Agustín’s help, brushing her son’s hair out of his eyes. He stared unblinkingly at the ceiling, as limp as a rag doll.

 

“That was fast,” Pepa said worriedly, stroking her braid. “Really fast.”

 

Usually Bruno got at least a minute or two of warning that a vision was coming. But other times (though rarely) they hit completely from nowhere. And if he was already worn out from sleep visions, perhaps he simply didn’t notice the warning signs.

 

“It will pass in a moment,” Alma said. They always did.

 

Well, not always. The longest an involuntary vision had ever lasted was a solid twenty minutes. Alma had counted every second, every minute, her panic rising the longer it went on. She’d held onto Bruno, praying to God and to Pedro that it would stop soon, that he’d come back to her.

 

Bruno had only been twelve. He’d been bedridden for days afterwards.

 

This vision lasted nearly ten minutes. Once more, as she always did, Alma counted every passing second. Even as she kept her expression calm, she counted.

 

The green glow flickered. Bruno blinked, then blinked again and it was gone.

 

He came back to the present, gasping for breath as if he’d run a marathon and squeezed his eyes shut with a pained noise. Julieta was holding his hand, and she and Luisa helped him sit up. He was shaking all over, far too pale and he didn’t open his eyes again.

 

“Bruno?” Julieta asked. “Are you okay?”

 

Even that quiet question made him wince, bent over even with her arm around him. 

 

A vision migraine. 

 

Alma hated the blasted things.

 

“Come on,” Julieta murmured. “You need to lie down.”

 

“I’ll help!” Mirabel said quickly.

 

“I can carry you,” Luisa offered.

 

“I’ll get some tea ready,” Félix said.

 

But this time, Alma took charge. She could admit that, when it came to the migraines, it was usually Julieta who knew what to do. It was so often Julieta who sat with Bruno, telling the injured folk of Encanto to come see her at Casita instead of in town. When she couldn’t, Agustín or Félix did. When they couldn’t, Pepa would run home from the fields and stubbornly ignore any further requests, no matter how often Alma nagged her.

 

Alma was ashamed of how rarely she took charge of such moments, allowing her children to look after themselves, instead of doing it herself.

 

Council meetings, helping people in town with their various tasks, overseeing construction projects, reassuring people going through hard times…She’d allowed her duties as a leader to overtake everything else.

 

But Alma was trying to do better.

 

So, this time, she gently took her son by his hands and helped him stand. The entire time, he kept his eyes closed.

 

“It’s okay, mija,” she said quietly to Julieta. “I’ll look after him.”

 

The brief flicker of surprise on Julieta’s face was a stab to the heart. A well earned one, but a wound nonetheless. 

 

Alma couldn’t even blame her.

 

“Are you sure, Mamá?” Julieta asked.

 

“Yes,” Alma said firmly, leading Bruno away.

 

She didn’t doubt the others would check in to make sure Bruno remained in one piece, or perhaps to convince Alma to take a break (God knew Agustín had to outright plead with Julieta when Bruno finally fell into a restless sleep), but this time Alma would look after him.

 

She was his mother. She was trying to be a good one. She may not have sat with him all day since he was a teenager, but she’d still pop in, still sit with him a while. It wasn’t as if she was going in blind.

 

Still, the sight of her son in pain was never easy. It was even worse knowing she couldn’t make it go away.

 

There were many things that pained her son, which Alma could not magically make go away.






Curled up in his bed, Bruno seemed younger. For a moment, Alma wished he was. She wished she could turn back time and look after him properly. She wished she hadn’t left it to Julieta so often. She wished she made her apologies to the council and town, and stayed with her children.

 

But there was no turning back time. That ability was beyond even their Miracle.

 

Julieta brought a pitcher of cold water and two glasses (“One for you, Mamá,” she said), a smaller bowl of water and a cloth.

 

“Chamomile tea helps and so does ginger,” Julieta said, keeping her voice at a whisper. She glanced at the shutters, which Casita dutifully closed when she did. Julieta nodded in approval, patting the wall fondly. “But he prefers-”

 

“Ginger,” Alma interrupted quietly. She raised her eyebrows, giving a wan smile. “I do know, amor.”

 

Julieta’s smile was strained and embarrassed. She wiped her hands on her apron. “Lo siento, Mamá,” she said, lowering her head. “I just…”

 

“You worry,” Alma finished.

 

Julieta nodded. “Always,” she said.

 

As Julieta left, giving her brother one last worried look, Alma felt her heart crack. 

 

Her babies were triplets. The same age. Yes, Julieta was the eldest, but they were the same age. Yet Julieta acted as if she was ten years older than her siblings. Even now, Pepa and Bruno followed her lead when she gave a command. They still looked to her for help and she still fretted over them.

 

“She’s a mini mother!” the villagers used to laugh fondly, when the triplets were children. Alma remembered Julieta fussing when Bruno fell, scraping his knees and hands. Even when her food healed him, she insisted on giving him a big hug, gently telling him to be careful.

 

At the time, Alma had been so proud of the villagers’ comments. Her Julieta was so mature, so grown-up for her age; such a helpful little lady.

 

It was too much responsibility for a little girl. Healing the town, looking after her siblings.

 

They were all grown up now. Many people would argue they hardly needed Alma to protect them anymore. 

 

They could take those arguments and jump in the river for all Alma cared. She’d promised to do better, and she would.

 

Starting with making sure her Brunito was comfortable. She’d see him through this.

 

And then she needed to apologise to Julieta and Pepa again.






Bruno was awake, but that didn’t mean much when he was like this. It wasn’t as if they could have a conversation.

 

Eventually, feeling strangely shy about it, Alma shifted her position on the bed, gently resting Bruno’s head on her lap. She half-expected him to push her away, to angrily tell her to get out and leave him alone. 

 

He didn’t. He opened his eyes a crack, curiously, and didn’t protest. 

 

Alma may have shown her girls how to brew tea and prepare cool damp cloths, but this was a trick Pepa had figured out by herself. Slowly, cautiously, Alma gently ran her thumbs in small circles over Bruno’s temples.

 

Some of the tension left him. He unclenched his jaw, still shivering.

 

“You’re okay, mijo,” Alma whispered. She swallowed down the lump in her throat. “I...I’m here.”

 

I’m here. I’m not leaving you this time. 






The day passed slowly, but that was only to be expected. Félix brought a lunch tray, including a pot of ginger tea.

 

Bruno didn’t eat, but he drank two cups of the tea, sighing in relief. His temperature was a little cooler; his eyes were half-lidded and dim.

 

“Sana sana, colita de rana,” he mumbled.

 

“Si no sanas hoy sanarás mañana,” Alma said softly. Bruno gave a quiet hum of what might have been agreement, sounding so much like Dolores that Alma had to smile.

 

Her own mother used to hum in such a similar way.

 

When Bruno leaned against her, Alma wrapped her arm around him, holding her close. His head rested on her shoulder and Alma ran a hand through his perpetually tangled hair. Honestly, even when he was sitting still it ended up in tangles. She used to wonder if it was because he tugged on it, or ran his hands through it when he was anxious, but there were so many times when he didn’t touch his hair and it still stuck out at odd angles. 

 

Well, unlike poor Padré Martinez, her Bruno wasn’t lacking in hair to tug on. It always ended up tangled, but it was thicker than it had been when Casita collapsed; shinier, healthier. 

 

He looked so much like his papá. Though, truth be told, that sweet-tooth of his came from Alma. Pedro had preferred savoury snacks, like Pepa. 

 

Alma sighed, feeling his temperature again. Bruno looked up at her, exhausted and pale, still in pain.

 

“Ay, Brunito,” she said quietly, sadly. “I’m sorry.”

 

“Eh?” He rubbed his forehead, closing his eyes again. “Wha’ for?”

 

She hesitated, but pushed past her fear and said it; “I can’t make it better.”

 

To her delighted surprise, he took her hand. “Sure you are,” he said, voice too hoarse. He knocked on the headboard with his free hand, wincing at the noise. Sighing, Alma pushed his hand down.

 

“That can wait until later,” she said. “Try to get some more rest.”






Thankfully, he did sleep. He slept most of the afternoon away.

 

Alma read, always watching her son from the corner of her eye. She ate the last of her lunch and checked his temperature again: nearly normal. The shivering and jerky movements had stopped.

 

Even asleep, he didn’t look well. But he looked better. Much better than he had that morning.

 

It wasn’t perfect, but Alma didn’t need perfect. Not anymore. 

 

It was better. Clearly she was doing something right.

 

And Bruno hadn’t turned away, hadn’t asked for his sisters instead. He’d been okay with Alma’s presence. 

 

He’d wanted her here.

 

So Alma would stay. For as long as he needed, she’d stay.






She must have dozed off. She didn’t mean to, but sitting in one position didn’t help matters.

 

She woke to Bruno gently shaking her shoulder and saying, “Mamá? Mamá, you’re gonna mess with your back sleeping like that.”

 

“Implying something about my age, Brunito?” Alma asked, cracking an eye open. The shutters were open, letting in the light of the sunset. 

 

And Bruno was sitting up, the blanket tangled on his lap. He was still pale, he still looked tired, but he was awake and aware, some light back in his eyes.

 

She pushed his hair back, taking the opportunity to feel his forehead. He made a show of rolling his eyes and huffing, but stayed still for her.

 

His temperature was normal. His eyes were still a little bleary, but much better than before, almost normal. They were open, and Alma would take it.

 

“Good,” she sighed in relief. “That was a short one.” She smiled tentatively. “How are you feeling?”

 

“Eh, still kinda dizzy,” Bruno admitted, rubbing his arm. “Like…Things are a bit fuzzy at the edges? But not literally, I can see fine. I mean- er…” He huffed again, puffing out his cheeks (oh, that never changed) and shrugged. “Floaty,” he decided. “That’s the word.”

 

Floaty, fuzzy. For someone who wrote so often, Bruno was never the most eloquent at describing how he felt.

 

She held his face in her hands and he looked at her curiously. That look had never changed, like he was trying to read her mind.

 

“I’ll bring you some dinner,” she said. “I’ll be right back.”

 

“Oh, I can-”

 

“Do you want to be swarmed by screaming niños?” Alma asked, eyebrows raised.

 

“Y’know what, I’ll stay here,” Bruno said quickly. 

 

Her smile grew, a quiet chuckle escaped her. She paused in the doorway to see Bruno leaning over the edge of the bed, gesturing his rats over. Squeaking joyfully, they ran to him, climbing up his arm or the bed posts, settling on his lap.

 

Bruno caught her eye and grinned sheepishly. He still seemed pleasantly surprised when she didn’t tell him, “Don’t let those creatures on your bed!”

 

Instead, Alma only shook her head and went downstairs.

 

“Mamá!” Julieta paused in making dinner, Pepa by her side. “Is Bruno okay?”

 

Pepa stroked her braid, a cloud over her head. Julieta clasped her hands together, eyes wary.

 

“He’s fine, mija,” Alma said gently. “Wide awake and much better. Could I get some food for him?”

 

Both of her girls sighed in relief. Pepa set his plate aside, and Alma’s too. Julieta made another pot of tea.

 

Alma watched them, how they moved together, knowing exactly what to do. It was always like that with the three of them.

 

Well, no; not always. But they certainly had their own little bubble, a bond that no one, not even Alma, had ever quite managed to figure out.

 

The Madrigal Triplets. A title in its own right.

 

Her daughters. Her son. Alma still had so much making up to do.

 

She hoped this was a step forward. 






Bruno didn’t question her return at least, though Alma could see that familiar curiosity swimming in his eyes. She passed the plate to him and he picked at his food, but drank more tea with no problems or protests.

 

“You need to eat,” Alma said, making her way through her own meal. She wondered how long it would be before Julieta or Pepa came and insisted she go rest.

 

“I’m not hungry,” Bruno said apologetically. He set the plate aside and leaned against her again.

 

Alma wouldn’t have moved for all the money in the world.

 

She never said it enough, she never could say it enough but she spoke anyway; “I love you, Bruno.”

 

“Hm?” He stroked one of the rats behind the ear, still tired, still limp and pale, but no longer in pain. “Love you too, Mamá.”


Alma wasn’t sure she could ever hear that enough either.