Sixty-Five - Ira

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Coming back to Mexico was like coming back home. The streets were alive with lively shouts and beeps, and not every building looked like it belonged in a framed photograph. It was something I sorely missed spending the past few months in France. We were out of the bubble of safety now, we weren't sitting our lives away in a town full of tourists. I was almost excited, but I wasn't as excited as Thierry, who had been grinning strangely all day.

We'd taken turns driving from the airport to Miguel's, with Linkin acting as either a very cranky GPS or the rudest driver on the planet. She didn't need to tell us that she was stressed. Every pedestrian that jumped out behind a parked car earned a beep and a swear, and eventually, Thierry had to convince us to put the windows back up even though the air conditioning was broken.

"Stop making people look at us, Linkin," Stuart finally broke his silence. Despite reassuring him that we had a good enough plan and that all of this would be over soon, I was sure that Stuart was still thinking about the fact that Celestia had said that Doctor A had eyes everywhere. I decided that he was doing well for what he was going through.

"I can do whatever I want, Stewie," Linkin sang, but shut up when Thierry gave her a solemn look. It was a pressure cooker in here, and we were literally getting cooked in the Mexican weather. Linkin parked the car on the side of the street and put the blinkers on, sighing. She looked back over her seat. "Ira, are you okay to go again?"

I'd been the go-to changeover today, maybe because the stress didn't show on my face, and I didn't look so ready to run someone over like Thierry. "Sure." I smiled, noticing the dark circles under my grey eyes in the rear-view mirror. None of us had been sleeping, I heard, but we had to push through. Any time we prolonged the attack would be time we allowed for unexpected surprises to creep up. I looked at the unfamiliar landscape in front of me. "Have we got long left?"

"Not really," Linkin grumbled, "but could be faster."

"Great." I ignored her complaints, aware of a slight distaste towards me left over from when Thierry and I had interrogated Celestia. I gave Stuart's hand a final squeeze and opened the door, my boot anchoring to the dusty ground.

󠁌♟♙♟♙

"Hello, friends!" Miguel welcomed us in his thick accent, his chapped lips stretched to the point where it hurt to look at them. He was wearing a blue t-shirt, not the dirty worktop that I last saw him in. He hugged every single one of us, including Thierry after being introduced to him, and managed to make Stuart smile. I was the last to come in, and Miguel made sure that it was me before he clapped me hard on the back. "Different again!"

I'd dyed my hair back to brown in Italy, and although it was still a few shades lighter than my natural colour, I welcomed finally not being blonde. It was now long enough to pull back into a little ponytail, and even I looked at myself strangely whenever I saw my reflection. I adjusted the hidden belt of knives uncomfortably against my torso when Miguel invited us to sit down and brought over a jug of iced hibiscus tea - where I suspected Linkin's fascination with tea started.

"Miguel," Stuart said, his spirits lifting, "we just needed somewhere to stay. You didn't have to do all this." The house had been cleaned up considerably, and the smell of beans was in the air. We told Miguel about our trip at the last minute, to make sure that he didn't overprepare, but he still managed to go all the way.

Miguel replied in a chain of fast Spanish, laughing, and when Stuart didn't understand, Miguel patted him on the shoulder and laughed some more. It was impossible to dislike the man. He was the most hospitable person I knew, and from day one he was like a father to us. He didn't have to, but when he was resting from his hard labour, he would come up to where I was recovering and give me soup. It would be a shame if this would be the last time we ever saw him again.

"He said he can't help it," Linkin translated for us, "it's always a pleasure to have us around. Aw, Miguel, you're the best."

"The man," Thierry concurred, taking a sip of the tea and trying to come up with an expression that wasn't strange. Miguel sat down with us, looking curiously at the big man. Linkin blushed when Miguel asked her a question that no one else could understand. She answered sweetly in Spanish, put an arm around Thierry and planted a kiss on his cheek.

"Happy, for you." Miguel gave them the thumbs up.

"Stuart and Ira too," Linkin announced in English, smirking knowingly.

Stuart looked caught off guard and smiled a little. "Hmm?" It made me laugh. He was precious.

"I said you're both happy too." Linkin winked.

"Not bad," Stuart said with a chuckle. When I ruffled his hair with a smile, Miguel looked shocked.

"That's my reaction, Miguel," Thierry said. I wondered if I was that unlikeable because Stuart sure wasn't.

"But great, I like!" The Mexican man stood up and hugged each and every one of us in turn again.

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