|Divinity II: Wyrd Go Round
Author: Guede Mazaka
Lorenzo hung up. He walked away a few paces, then spun around and kicked hard at a rock so it skittered clear across the road to bang against what looked like some old hermit’s shack. It was actually the town grocery, post office, and bar. Even with his experience, he had to say that this place was one of the sorriest towns through which he’d ever gone.
“What’d he say?” asked the slouch on the side of the road. It was a mystery how Fideo had managed to survive before first El and then, because El had wanted it, Lorenzo had started watching over him. The man had the survival instincts of a beer-bottle in a bar-fight. His dream was probably turning into one.
Sighing, Lorenzo gave himself a mental backhand and yanked open the back-door to their car. He dug around in his case till he came up with his other gun, which went into his waistband, and then he started looking for Fideo’s. Better make sure they were loaded for him. “He’s got Sands, but the brothers are on the run. Some guy named Smecker is the crazy one. We’re supposed to stay clear of him and tail the brothers into Culiacan.” A burst of temper suddenly took over and Lorenzo slammed shut the door. //Fuck! Fucking Culiacan! Can you believe it?//
//My friend, I believe whatever buys the next drink.// Fideo rolled over and got to his feet by way of slumping up the side of the car. He almost dropped the guns Lorenzo handed him, but he slid them into their holsters with hands far steadier than any drunk should possess. Then he swayed. Flopped face-first into Lorenzo’s shoulder.
The jackass sot had a head like a rock, and was pretty damn heavy for being almost two feet shorter than Lorenzo. By rights his nose should’ve been hurting pretty badly from the collision, but if it was, he didn’t show any sign of it. “Mary, Mother of God. Don’t you fucking get snot on my jacket.”
“What? ‘s not like you don’t got the money for a new one.” The more Lorenzo tried to tip Fideo against the car, the floppier and more unwieldy the other man got. When Lorenzo pushed right, he slid left. When Lorenzo tried to lift, he dragged. His nose nuzzled up Lorenzo’s front and shoved like a dog into Lorenzo’s neck. Fucking bastard whuffed. “Hey, we got company. Where’d you put the tequila?”
Even when they’d been wolves, they’d had more self-respect for themselves than this. Fideo had been a fucking role model for—wait. “What? Who’s coming? Forget about the goddamned tequila.”
He shoved Fideo back and Fideo fell bonelessly against the car. Held the pose a second before lolling free. For a second it was touch-and-go whether Fideo could stand on his own, but he wasn’t that far gone yet. Fucking close, though.
//And I used to spend nights thinking about how I was going to outrun you, outfight you//, Lorenzo snorted. He blinked hard against the slight sting in his eyes. That got the dust out.
Fideo hadn’t seemed to have heard him. Instead the other man was taking deep, snuffly sniffs at the air. //Smell for yourself.//
So Lorenzo did, and what he smelled was cartel. For once it wasn’t after them, but there were three Hummers and they were chockfull of ammunition, and he and Fideo were going to end up killing them anyway. Not that he minded that part. Fighting was blessedly uncomplicated, and even if it gave El new fodder for nightmares, at least it rousted him from his rut. Once upon a time he’d liked it, too.
//He never blamed you for still getting into it//, Fideo suddenly said. He spun slowly in place, unsteady gaze wandering over the few squatty buildings around them. //It’s how we are.//
//We’re not how we were, and he still kept his distance, didn’t he? Except when he needed some—oh, fuck it.// It was El. He asked and they came, because that had been what they were made to do and they found comfort in it, and who else but him was left to ask?
Well, Loki, but that bastard made Lorenzo’s hackles rise. And he hadn’t even met the Sands version yet.
In the distance the sound of the three great engines was beginning to rumble over the desert. Lorenzo shook off his odd black spell and got down to figuring out how to do this. He wished again that El were here, hand on Lorenzo’s shoulder and half-sullen, half-crazy look in his eyes. For one thing, El knew a lot more about how to ambush cartel gangs than Lorenzo did—Lorenzo’s thing was straightforward streetfights. And for another, everything just felt more solid around El. He was the most grounded legend Lorenzo ever met, and that, Lorenzo trusted more than a fistful of saints.
But he wasn’t here and he was counting on them to make do. Because he trusted that they could. Wry smile on his face, Lorenzo reassessed the situation. It was a shitty place to attack a heavily-armed group of men, but at least it’d be easy to get rid of the bodies afterward. //I guess we don’t have to hide what we are now. Nobody’s going to live to tell about it.//
A clicking sound made Lorenzo jump, but it was only Fideo cocking his pistols. The other man opened the car door again, pulled out his case and shouldered it. He kicked the door shut and gave Lorenzo a lopsided grin. “You want west or east end?”
“East. You’d probably pass out in the middle of chasing them to me.” Lorenzo smacked Fideo upside the head as he went by, heading for an abandoned house at the far end of town. It hadn’t been lived in for a good decade, but it was built of adobe and wouldn’t collapse on him. At least, not till he wanted it to. “Hope you’re hungry, because there’s a lot of them.”
“You know me. I’m always ready to pull up a stool,” Fideo slurred, spreading his arms. The gesture should have looked embracing, or vaguely ridiculous because of how he couldn’t keep straight. But it didn’t. Fideo had—or Lorenzo had made him—gotten a new jacket and it was dusty red, the color of blood pooling in the dust. His back was to the raw red sore of a setting sun and it spilled black over him so his jacket glowed ominously against it.
He looked like a gaping, ravenous maw.
That was about right. Lorenzo felt no fear of the other man, but instead let his jaw drop slightly in a wolf-grin. Time to get busy.
* * *
“Jesus Christ.” In his days on the BPD, Ed had seen some seriously bad shit, but this topped all of them. And nobody had even died.
Three in the morning, his windows had rattled like they were going to fall out of their frames. When Ed had been struggling into his pants, Dandi had assaulted his door again and shouted that a church had blown up and did he know if the Saints had taken up explosives? Or maybe Smecker?
Now it was close to eight at night and Ed still didn’t have an answer. He just stood in the middle of the debris and couldn’t see a piece of wood still standing upright. Whatever had happened here had completely leveled the church. The explosives experts crawling over the pretty colored glass shards and the hunks of carved saints were still at a loss to explain what kind of bomb could do that and not also take down the buildings around it, which were damn near kissing up to it. Or had been kissing up to it.
The shockwave, or whatever the labbies were calling it, had left behind plenty of wounded, and the priest who’d been just inside a back-door was still touch-and-go, but so far Smecker—or the twins—hadn’t yet started to rack up a Mexican body count. That should’ve made Ed feel a lot better than it did.
Well, Duffy had just called and confirmed that the body found in a Boston slum was indeed Il Duce. Guy had been shot five times by one gun, then finished off with another. No word yet on who the hell had had the balls, but Ed had a sick feeling in his stomach and the splintered head of Christ that he was staring at wasn’t helping. Yeah, the death of their father could’ve sent the MacManuses around the bend, but more likely that whoever’d killed Il Duce had also done this church.
Catholic nuts don’t lose their faith, dickhead. They go too far the other way.
“Never even figured out whether you were Protestant or Catholic or what,” Ed softly muttered. The words came out like swears. Good.
“Greenly?” Vera carefully picked her away across the rubble. Her professional ponytail was starting to fall down and she looked like she needed to be stuffed and then sent to bed. But something about the way her jaw was set said that she’d punch anyone who tried to do that.
Damn good thing that Ed wasn’t inclined to, then. He wanted her to fuck off and let him figure this out. For once he wanted to figure it out.
No, he didn’t. He wanted to close his eyes and open them to find that this whole shitfest had never happened. “Yeah?”
“Word’s in. On the twins, not Smecker.” Her face was friendly enough, but the way her eyes watched him gave Ed the creeps. It was like she was watching a rat and just waiting for it to run back to its hole and show her where that was before she killed it. “They’ve blown town, heading for Culiacan.”
“So what are we waiting here for? Smecker’s gone, too.” Yeah, if they left now then Ed didn’t have to stand here and think about the possibility that Paul was going on the rampage. That he’d gone too damned far.
Goddamn bastard. He was always pushing—everything, from Ed’s buttons to the FBI’s regulations to the strength of his own mind. He was the smartest, cleverest guy Ed had ever met and he had been so far ahead of everyone else that he could’ve been phoning it in and they still wouldn’t have caught up, and he still hadn’t been content. Maybe it finally broke him.
Vera bit her lip, but her hair was in the way so Ed couldn’t tell whether it was because she was hiding irritation or something else. Worry, maybe. “Because of this. This is big. This might mean we’ve got to wait for back-up. Neither the Saints nor Smecker have ever shown any interest in explosives before…correct?”
“Far as I know.” Once upon a time Ed would’ve just said ‘yes,’ but Paul had nearly broken him of that habit. That—fucking--queer. He’d fucking near gotten Ed house-trained when Ed had made a career out of telling everyone to move aside least they got squashed, and now he was running off to have a break-down? Like hell. He couldn’t just drop things like that. He just couldn’t. “The Saints…they like to give a personal touch, you know? And yeah, they were breaking the law anyway, but they were always real worried about just killing the guilty—who they thought was guilty.”
“Bombs just hit everyone.” She tapped a finger against her lip and peered around. One of the Mexican agents poking around hailed her and they rattled back and forth in Spanish for a couple seconds. “This one was damned precise, though. I did a stint on an antiterrorist team, learned a bit about explosives, and I can tell you that whoever did this is possibly one of the best pros out there.”
Someone else called for Vera and she turned so the light dropped from half her face. For a moment, it did something funny—she looked different. But she turned back and she was all there.
Still, Ed couldn’t help remembering the weird moment when the lightning had flashed, and it made him a little more wary. “Yeah, well, I never saw Smecker studying up on explosives. I think—yeah, he said once that he couldn’t stand ‘C-4 nutjobs.’ Something about making it too easy to destroy history and art and civilization, whatever the hell that meant.”
“He’s known for cordially hating anyone who’s got to do with bombs,” Vera dryly said. “But still, he’s an extremely intelligent man. Are you absolutely certain he never studied the subject? You knew him well, didn’t you?”
Ed froze. Mostly out of instinct because of the way she was eying him, a tiny indulgent smile on her face. Like she was trying to say it was okay, she knew and it could be their little secret. Well, fuck her. He wasn’t that stupid. “He liked to pick on me, if that’s what you mean. So yeah, I went around on more cases with him than anybody else, but I don’t know what’s on his bookshelves. Didn’t you guys go through his apartment?”
And that actually wasn’t a lie. He’d dropped Paul off in front of the building plenty of times, but he’d never been inside the man’s apartment. Paul always came to Ed’s place, the rare times that he felt nice enough to; the idea probably had been that it wasn’t good to take slumming back home. Too fucking bad for him that Ed wasn’t about to let himself be written off that easily.
After a moment, Vera smiled again, but this time it was the kind a teacher would give a good student. A lot like Smecker’s, and it irritated Ed the same way. “Yes, we did. He’d cleaned it out, and from the thoroughness I’d say that he’d been planning at least a week ahead.”
“Fuck.” A week. As far as Ed knew, that was how long Paul had thought the Saints had been in Boston. They’d really been in slightly longer, but no one had known that till everything had blown wide-open and called down the powers-that-be.
Ed thought that, anyway. He was increasingly beginning to wonder if he’d ever really known anything about Paul Smecker.
“I’ll need another hour to wrap up here, and then we’ll head out.” Vera nodded at a tallish but otherwise nondescript AFN agent. “He’s driving us.”
Sixty minutes. Considering the state of the church, that wasn’t nearly enough time, but Ed couldn’t argue for more without looking suspicious. Anyway, what was he going to use it far? What had he been doing here all day?
Being an idiot, looking for some sign like a desperate sap on a televangelist infomercial. He scuffed a foot through the wreckage and snorted at himself. It would be a lot easier if he just gave up…yeah, and then he really would be every fucking name that Smecker had ever called him.
Something shimmered. Frowning, Ed crouched down. He belatedly looked around, but Vera was off chatting with the forensics people and none of the AFN agents were paying attention to him. He tucked his sleeve over his fingers and carefully swept away the broken glass and splintered wood fragments until he could draw out the small scrap. It was silk, about two inches by one, and double-sided. The background was black and green lines traced Celtic knots over it.
Paul had always worn this tie when he was going to meet up with his superiors and wanted to remind them that they were fucking up with the Saints case.
Ed looked around again, then hastily shoved the scrap into his pocket. He ambled aimlessly around the space, thinking hard.
Tie. Funny that Paul would still bother getting formally dressed, if he was going crazy. Of course crazy people did crazy things, but still…whenever Paul was throwing a fit at a crime scene, the tie was first to go. Everyone knew it was safe to talk to him again when he started to retie it.
Something bumped against Ed’s foot and he stopped to see what it was: the head of Christ. One eye had been completely shattered, but the other one was relatively whole and its painted pupil stared mournfully up at him.
He’d never been much of a religious type, but Ed picked up the head and dusted it off as best he could with the corner of his jacket. He looked around, spotted a windowsill on the building across the alley and walked over to set the head on it. “Jesus Christ, Paul,” he murmured. “Don’t let them get you that much. They’re guys, just like you said. Guys, not saints.”
The son of God stared crookedly past Ed at the remains of His house. Feeling a little stupid, Ed shoved his hands into his pockets and walked back to the others. He thought he saw Vera watching again, but when he looked at her, she had her back to him.
* * *
Thanks to the fucking shitbag cars that were all there’d been on the street outside the church, Sands and El had taken a while to shake Smecker. And even then Sands had the feeling that Smecker had peeled away more because he’d decided to chase someone else than because El was that good of a driver.
Fucking mariachi. He hadn’t even had the brains to get a good look at Smecker before they’d done their happy car chase sequence straight out of town, and now all he could say was that the man was white, had angry eyes and was driving a nice Lincoln. Oh, and no, he had no idea who he’d been before. Just that he was strong enough to shut out El, and didn’t that make Sands feel better.
“Not for much longer, he isn’t. He’s got some brains. After that mess back there he’ll dump the car and get a new one.” Sands thumped his cane against the dash and the engine and El both hissed reprovingly at him. “Fuck. He’s got the right idea. What time is it?”
“Nearly dawn. So you know this man?” El downshifted and the grinding of the gears made Sands grit his teeth.
So they’d been running all night. Now that Sands thought about it, he had a killer crick in his neck and he really needed a piss. He poked El in the arm, and when he didn’t get a response, poked even harder.
His wrist was in El’s grip before he even saw it. “Don’t,” El softly said.
Then he let go of Sands, who promptly sulked in the corner. “I need to pee. Empty my bladder. Do my business. Mark my fucking territory, as if this hunk of rusty shit was worth it—”
The glowing man sitting in the driver’s seat wasn’t very clear—El still didn’t trust him, and hmm, jangle-fuck had gotten preservation instincts somewhere along the line—but nevertheless Sands could make out an annoyed twist to El’s mouth. “The sign says there’s a town up ahead. We’ll stop there and get a new car. Are you happy now?”
“El, if a new car was all it took to make me happy, I’d have died of joy by now.” All the running and being scared shitless of the new player had kept them from doing much talking, but now that they had a chance to try out civil manners, Sands was remembering exactly how much El pissed him off. The fucker always thought he was right. He judged everybody but himself. He had no sense of fun. He was loud and obnoxious.
Somewhere outside was a coyote. Sands distinctly heard its yelping, and it sounded like it was giggling at him.
Okay, so El had lost some of his annoying habits. On the other hand, Sands thought he might have preferred loud and obnoxious. This meaningful silence was worse because he knew El was amused and he didn’t know why and he was dying to ask. But if he did ask, then he was in effect surrendering, because what a meaningful silence really was…was a pissing contest.
Sands kicked at the underside of the dashboard and said to hell with it. “No, for your information, I don’t know him. Not personally. I’ve heard of him, seen one bad photo that’d be about ten years old now. And since I have no eyes, it’s not like I can update the description. Fuckmook.”
“Thank you,” El said. He lifted a half-curled hand to his mouth and was doing something…lighting himself a smoke. It smelled like a cigarillo—strong stuff.
Good stuff. It figured that while Sands would lose his pack in their little backalley scuffle, El would still have his. That was another thing that was annoying—how El had always won, though he’d been a stone-brained moron back then. Occasionally he showed a little potential for becoming interesting, but a busty woman with a jug of mead would swing back and whoops, couldn’t start being more than muscle, could he? Otherwise he might start wondering whether it was really a good idea to do whatever Sky-Daddy told him to do.
“You heard about my eyes already, sounds like.” Well, there went the fun in seeing that reaction. And Sands had been looking forward to taking advantage of El’s shocked pity and whomping the fucker upside the head.
“No, I saw.” El took something out of his sleeve—it was vaguely creepy how much stuff he seemed to have up those—and handed it to Sands. Sunglasses. With one broken arm.
Sands belatedly put a hand up to his face, realizing that he’d been going around with eyeholes in full view for the whole night. He started to straighten the arms of his shades, then thought about how goddamn pointless that would be. He ended up tossing them in the back. “Well, I bet you were happy. I can’t heal them. No matter what happens, I’ll still be permanently blind and scary as fuck to look at.”
“I can’t heal my hand.” The body part in question lifted from the wheel and flexed; El looked as if he wasn’t doing it consciously. He pulled air from his lips—took out his cigarillo—and blew out. Suddenly the smoke was thick and maddeningly good to smell. “Barillo?”
“Him and Guevara and his peachy daughter. I killed her, so that’s a third settled. But I guess you took the other two. Fucking poacher,” Sands grumbled, twisting the sunglasses in his hands. This was not going even remotely like he’d intended, and the more he tried to pull the conversation back on track, the more it got away from him.
El did a verbal eye-roll. “Not only me. There was also—”
Oh, Christ, it just kept getting better and better. “Ramirez? This isn’t a prophecy. It’s a fucking soap opera.”
The other man did that weird head-tilt he’d picked up, as if he were a bird eying a worm. In the background, thunder grouched on cue. “You don’t look that bad.”
“Yeah? Yeah? Well, you can fucking say that, can’t you? You don’t have to put up with it. You weren’t the Fair Brother, you didn’t get into the gate on the basis of your looks, you didn’t fucking have to rely on it! You—” Sands was up on one knee on the car seat and had a hand wrenching at the passenger-grip above the door before he came to himself. His voice kept on soaring and broke into something that sounded so fucking close to a wretched sob that he damn near shot himself then and there.
God, that was pathetic. And in front of El, of all people.
At least the seat was well-padded so when Sands let himself fall back, he wasn’t further insulted by getting a sore ass. He pressed his face against the seat back and wondered how much skin he could claw off himself before it got too serious to heal in a few minutes.
Something poked at his mouth: a cigarillo. Before he could stop El, the other man had it between Sands’ lips. He let Sands light it—blessed, blessed nicotine. Best goddamned substitute for mead on earth.
“No, I…relied on my ability to kill.” El laughed blackly around his cigarillo. “It’s funny, you know…I was happy then with just that. But you were right. I grew up here, I learned to play the guitar, and now I think back then is all a pile of shit.”
“What, you want to be Kvasir or Bragi?” Sands sucked his cigarillo like it was a candycane. Out of the corner of his eyesocket, he saw the dull orange figure that was El twitch and couldn’t help grinning. “You know that’s not allowed if all goes as planned.”
“Somehow I don’t think all is going as planned as it is.” The car slowed, pulled over to the curb. For a moment El had Sands fooled into thinking he was going to get out, but Sands caught on in time to scoot back from the man leaning over him. “Do you?”
It wasn’t like the thought had never occurred to Sands. But Thor had been straight as lightning was bent, so that idea had always gotten filed away as impossible.
Apparently, a lot had changed.
Fingers slowly crept over Sands’ wrist, squeezing it till he had to drop his cane. He grinned, but didn’t hesitate to blow a lungful of smoke in El’s face. “I told you, I’m not going along with anyone’s dastardly plan anymore. I’m in this out of spite.”
El blew the smoke back at him, and when Sands had finished coughing, the other man was so close that Sands didn’t need to look for the glowing form. He could feel the heat rising off of El’s skin. Sweat was dripping from El’s face onto Sands’ own. “You expect me to believe that?”
“Your father had my ass first,” Sands-Loki smirked. He slid his free hand behind his back so El couldn’t see how it was starting to tremble. Goddamn it, but the man smelled like…it was sharp, electric, addictive. Ozone, nicotine, everything that was going to be very, very bad for Sands. According to the old rules, anyway. “You screwed everything with breasts even after you got a wife. You expect me to believe you’re gonna try this now, with something that’s already been used?”
“I am not…not Thor.” The name came from El’s lips with equal parts awkwardness and disgust. “You never met my father—my father here. You never met Lorenzo either, or else you wouldn’t think I’m trying this. And I’m more used up than you are.”
Okay. Okay, now Sands was starting to feel a little panicky. “You know, this isn’t some romance novel. You can’t just screw me and think hey, I’m going to be down with the saving kittens and ending world hunger and shit because I got la—”
Fuck. El had a mouth.
He had a mouth and he knew how to use it. The tongue that came with it was pretty good, too. And when Sands grabbed him by the hair and yanked, El didn’t whine about the pain. Just…kind of slurped Sands’ brains out by way of Sands’ molars. Unfortunately…
They pulled apart to breathe—fine, gasp. Sands gulped enough air to speak. “That was fucking better than Woden.”
Well, Sands had warned him there weren’t going to be any conversions. “Also, I still need to piss, there’s a great car nine yards away, and you are not fucking me in the backseat.”
He held his breath and groped for his cane, but El restrained himself. The other man levered himself off and snaked out the door on Sands’ side. He ducked back to get his…had to be the guitar case…from the back, then yanked Sands out. “Lorenzo and Fideo are tracking the twins. They can handle any cartel that come their way, but not this Agent Smecker. What else do you know about him?”
“You know, I meant I wanted a bed, not that we couldn’t fuck at all,” Sands muttered. He jerked hard at his arm.
And El let him, only to turn his own balance against him and yank him back. Teeth sank into Sands’ ear and he hissed between his teeth. The no-eyes part still bit like a hell-devil, but the new and improved arch-nemesis was turning out to be goddamned fun. “First, we make sure there’s a world so there will be beds.”
“I hate you.”
“I know. Did you mean the Cadillac or the Buick?”
El nodded and gave Sands’ arm a sharp tug. Sands thought about getting out his gun, but a rumble from El told him waiting would be a better idea. “Buick,” El said. “You can piss while I’m wiring it.”
Sands could’ve started it without El having to bother with that, but to hell with being that helpful. He stomped over a few feet and yanked open his zipper. Then he sneaked a look at the glowing form hunched beside where the car should have been, if Sands could’ve seen that too.
Fucker wasn’t even peeking.
* * *
The goddamned roads here were nothing but holes, and one always showed up the moment Ed began to doze off. He was tired as fuck, and more than likely when they finally got to Culiacan, he’d be no more rested. “Why can’t we fly?”
Sharing the backseat with him was Vera. Her hair was melting in the heat, but surprisingly enough, she was looking better and better as time went on. In the beginning Smecker had been a little bit like that; he would walk far younger detectives into the ground and then stand over them, cracking lewd jokes about stamina.
“Because firstly, they’re still rebuilding the airport in Culiacan. It was damaged during the attempted coup d’état. And secondly, we just might have a chance at intercepting Smecker before then.” She suddenly looked up, her clear eyes boring deep, ragged holes into Ed. The papers between her fingers slowly folded downwards so all of her face was visible. “Do you think it was the Saints? Those murders, I mean?”
“Doesn’t matter, does it?” Ed shifted in his seat. The fake leather creaked and soaked up heat so it burned even through his pants, and the next hole they hit was deep enough to make him crack his head against the window. He cursed and rubbed at the spot.
Vera shrugged and went back to her perusing. Good. Because her stares creeped him out—it was like she kept wondering what kind of bait he’d make. “Well, if they didn’t, we’d have a lot better of a chance at getting through to Smecker.”
“And what happens if we do get through to him?” Ed asked, mouth suddenly dry. Christ, he hadn’t been thinking. And now that he was, all his mind would throw up was worst-case Revelations-style scenarios and ridiculously happy endings.
He wished he could say that only one of the two groups was never gonna happen, but when Paul wanted to take a dive, he took it.
“Worry about one thing at a time, all right?” She quirked an eyebrow at him in way too cool a manner to be reassuring. “First, we have to see if it’s even possible to get through to him.”
Ed had to bite on his tongue not to answer her, or to do anything…stupid, said the voice in his head that had Smecker’s drawl. He put his head in his hand and leaned against the window, and the next time a jolt banged him against the glass, he hardly noticed.
* * *
Connor had a whole library of looks for Murphy, but lately only two had been showing up, and those two were ones that Murphy had never suspected Connor had had. Either his brother watched him like he wanted to snatch Murphy up and go hide—which they never did; they were Irish and they kicked the shit out of whatever came at them—or like he…like he was scared of Murphy. Like right now, slumped in the seat of the car that weird eyeless guy had gotten them and squeezing at his side. Mexico was shite for him. That wound wasn’t healing like it should’ve been, and they couldn’t stop long enough to see to it properly. Not with Smecker tailing him. “Jesus Christ, the church.”
“Aye. Saw the fucking bell-tower shoot right off.” The shadows half-covered Connor’s solemn face as he stared out the window. His lips twitched. He slanted a look at Murphy.
And then he was laughing, deep and rusty-like so Murphy knew it had to be hurting, but he himself was too busy trying not to drive off the road with his snickering to say anything about it. They sounded like a pair of dying men toasting the last walk to the gallows, but at least they were doing it together.
At last Connor started to settle down. He let off a few last chuckles before wiping roughly at the tears. “Reminded me of the time I walked in on you wanking. Just before Communion, remember? You had no fecking stay at all.”
“Oh, to hell with you. You couldn’t even get inside me the first time we tried it—you went and fucking jizzed all over my arse instead of in it,” Murphy snorted. His last laugh dribbled into a hoarse cough brought on by the dust. The car ran all right, but it didn’t have much else going with it. No air conditioning, so they could either roll down the windows and let in the dirt, or keep them up and have Connor wilt into the ripped seats. “Hey, you all right? You want me to pull over a second—”
“No. No, keep going.” And there was that flash of confused fear, like Connor wasn’t sure what he was seeing.
Me, you’re seeing me like you always did, Murphy wanted to cry. Scream, sob, what-have-you, but he didn’t because it would do fuck all for them. He clamped down on it and hunched over the wheel, watching the long winding road ahead of them. It wasn’t that busy, aside from the occasional truck, but for some reason he had a feeling like someone was following close all the way.
“How the fuck do you know where to go?” Connor suddenly asked. He hooked his arm over the seat and started to pull himself up, grunting in pain. But when Murphy reached out, Connor batted his hand away and mumbled to watch the fucking pissant road.
Murphy told himself they were on edge. Da dead. Smecker crazy. And…and they were turning into something, and he was fucking terrified that it’d be something that would finally split them. “I just…do. It’s like I’ve been here before—it’s in my head. Somehow. It wasn’t before, you know, but now it is. I’m not asking how if it gets us away from Smecker.”
He sounded sharp, jittery. Well, he fucking wasn’t feeling calm right now; Murphy tightened his grip on the wheel and sped up. The faster they got to Culiacan…fuck, fuck, fuck. He didn’t know what would come.
“Murph?” Connor sat all the way up and laid a hand on Murphy’s shoulder. It felt like he was shoving a poker through it.
“Fucking—” Before he knew what he was doing, Murphy had jerked away so hard that he banged himself hard against the door. He cursed as the car swerved and yanked the wheel around just in time to avoid going off the road, and that was a good thing since he didn’t think the car’s wheels could take the dirt for more than a couple seconds. His arm had flown up and whacked the rearview mirror askew, so he reached to adjust it. Only he went too far and tilted it so he could see Connor’s shocked face.
For a moment they just sat there, more lost than they’d ever been since the first time Connor had put his hand on Murphy’s prick and done something with that.
No. Not Connor. Da Murphy could do without—had done without—and Ma he could, and—and even God. But not…he abruptly yanked the car onto the shoulder and screeched to a stop. Dust billowed up all around them, enshrouding the car and pouring in through the cracked windows so they nearly choked.
“Sorry. Connor, I’m sor—I don’t know, you just touched me and it hurt, and I don’t know how I’m doing this, I don’t know why, I don’t—”
He breathed in Connor’s sweat and blood, and even though the second one made his gut cramp, it was still Connor. Connor who’d grabbed him and pressed his head down against a warm chest where Murphy could still hear the heart beating, still feel that they were brothers. Fingers moved slowly through his hair, caressing it like Ma had done, once upon a time when they’d been too small to remind her of Da. They slid softly down his neck and fluttered along the collar of his t-shirt as his eyes started to drift shut, and then they went lower—
“Fuck.” Murphy jerked up, jerked back down. Gritted his teeth against it and crooked his fingers through Connor’s belt-loops because goddamn it, this was Connor and Connor didn’t hurt him. Connor shouldn’t hurt him.
“Wait,” Connor was saying, thoughtful-like. When Murphy looked up, he glimpsed just a hint of pain before Connor folded it away and started thinking on the matter, trying to figure out how to fix it. His brow furrowed, then smoothed. His eyes went glassy for a moment, the way Murphy felt whenever he had one of those…times when he just knew something.
Murphy rubbed his cheek against Connor, feeling the damp cotton of Connor’s shirt ride up beneath his head. He got himself a mild smack for it. “Wasn’t even touching your cock, was I?”
“I’ll not be touching yours if you don’t stop and let me work on this. I think…” Connor frowned “…I think I’m remembering something. Or maybe…Murph, you remember anything? Anything at all? Think. Think as hard as you can.”
What was in Murphy’s head was mostly nothing interspersed with worries that were all here and now, and whatever was going on with them was not of that. It was…it felt like it was of the dark tales of pookas and the Kindly Ones Ma would tell them on stormy nights, like the dark inside a church empty of believers. Like the dark of Da’s eyes when he was looking over their work and silently measuring it against some—a stab of pain went through Murphy’s head.
“Oh,” Connor said softly, face suddenly slack. But his fingers tightened on Murphy’s shoulder till Murphy couldn’t keep from hissing, even for Connor. That brought Connor’s attention back to the present. He looked down at Murphy, biting at his lip. “Murph? D’you trust me?”
“Like you did back in the church?” Murphy tried to smile, but he had a feeling he only managed to look ill. “Always.”
His word drained the color from Connor’s face, but the other man didn’t hesitate to lift his hand. With his other hand, he cradled Murphy’s chin. “Just don’t…” Connor’s hand moved behind, stopped short of Murphy’s shoulderblade “…relax. We fell out of that loft, remember?”
“No, we flew,” mumbled Murphy. The softness of Connor’s voice curled around him, lulled him nearly to sleep…and then his eyes flew open when he realized what Connor was doing. That—that Connor had his hand floating above Murphy’s back but that Murphy could feel it, feel it like he had some part of him sticking out and Christ, what was happening—
--he didn’t move himself, but the thing sticking from him did and it was too big for the car. It was panicking and it struck out, beating at the air. It hit the rearview mirror and spun it around while hot pain suddenly slashed down through Murphy’s shoulderblade and then it hit the seat-back.
He started to rise up, but Connor yanked at him and shook him, mouth opening and closing. At first Murphy couldn’t understand, but then sound snapped back.
“…you fucking gob-shite, I told you not to—calm down. Calm the fuck down, Murph. Murphy?”
“I’m—I’ve got it.” Murphy flailed from the sudden loss of balance and caught himself on the top of the seat. “I’m okay.”
Connor needed another second to believe him, but finally he gave Murphy a short, tight nod and slumped back into the corner. His hand stole to his hurt side and pressed at the bandages. “You better be, you dumb-shite. What were you trying to do, beat me senseless with your wing?”
“Wing?” Openmouthed, Murphy just sat and thought crazily about angels and Da’s last words. Then he thought hard enough to find his reason again and laughed. “We’re not bloody angels.”
“No.” Before Murphy could react, Connor reached out and stroked Murphy’s shoulderblade. This time it didn’t hurt at all, but when Connor did it again, saying “Think” and Murphy thought about…it felt like Connor was trying to shove his fingers through Murphy’s flesh. “Ow! Fucking bastard!”
“Fucking idiot, I was just showing you—” Connor flopped back again, his head tilting up so the light caught the exhaustion lurking in every line of his face. He closed his eyes and rubbed at his temple. “That man back at the church. He called us birdies.”
That wasn’t the right word. “Ravens,” Murphy said. And then he wondered why he’d said it. “Connor. Connor, what the hell is going on?”
* * *
The way Murph was looking at him, eyes big with pleas, hurt worse than the goddamned gash in Connor’s side. All he wanted to do was take his brother by the shoulders and hold him, and tell him that it was all right, they’d get through it. But Murphy could always tell when Connor was lying.
“I think maybe we should’ve stuck with that blind man—what’s his name—Sands. He called us something else, too…” Connor shifted, peeled himself off the sticky seat-cover. It was barely day and already the heat was smothering. He missed Boston and the breezes that rolled in off the water.
“Huginn and Munin,” Murphy muttered.
The names rang in Connor’s bones the same way the weighty words of Mass did, and if it was possible, that disturbed him even more than feeling an invisible, feathered slope coming out of his brother’s back did. “Our Father who art thou in heaven…”
“Hallowed by thy…” Murphy suddenly moved, eeling over Connor’s knees into the footspace. He was folded up so tight that his knees were going to break his chin, but that didn’t seem to hinder him any when he put his hands on Connor’s legs and pushed them apart.
Connor cursed and grabbed for Murph’s hair, but his side twisted out an ache and instead his hand ended up melding to the door handle. He heard the snaky clicks of his zipper going down, and this was neither the time or the place so he tried again to get Murphy to stop. Smecker was still coming for them, for one thing. For the other, the few times they’d stopped for gas and food, they’d gotten calculating stares from the natives. After so long on the run, Connor could spot someone that was about to phone them in and he hadn’t stopped seeing those kinds of people since they’d crossed the border. Somehow he didn’t think it was law enforcement they were calling, either.
He braced himself with a heel dug into the ground and his grip on the door-handle before reaching again, but no sooner had he touched Murphy’s hair than the other man had his prick out and into a hot, wet mouth that knew everything Connor liked before he even knew it. Murphy was fast, so fast that Connor hadn’t even felt air on his skin. Just rough of the denim of the jeans since they’d torn up the last of their underwear for bandages, and then Murphy’s soft lips. Soft hot tongue, stroking and tracing the veins that were in Connor’s prick but that Connor could feel throbbing against his eyelids.
They couldn’t. They never could, but their first time Connor had looked from the reproaching steeple in the town below to the peaceful face of his brother and he just hadn’t been able to think it was a could-not. The first time Da had caught them at it, his face had collapsed—only moment of weakness, maybe, that Connor had ever seen him have. Then it had stiffened and he had swelled, ready to give them a blasting and they would’ve deserved it, too. Only Murphy had squeezed Connor’s hand, and Connor had been ready to defend his could-not anyway. And Da had looked longer, and his face had turned inward again.
He’d shut the door, and when Connor had found him later Da had looked…almost sad. But then he had turned, and spoken of their next target, and they had never discussed it again. Murphy had been even more careful than Connor in making sure that there was no chance to.
They couldn’t now. They needed to flee and then to learn, to understand what was changing their world, but Murphy’s hand was simply lying on Connor’s thigh and the curve of its warmth killed Connor’s will even as it rose. He clutched at his brother’s hair and squeezed his eyes shut because he couldn’t bear the obscene beauty of his flushed flesh slipping in and out of Murphy’s mouth. His breathing came in gasps that broke every time Murphy insisted on swallowing him down, squeezing him till he started to shatter in the cradle of Murphy’s hands, Murphy’s lips. His knees shook hard enough to rattle against Murphy’s shoulders, but Murphy only rose a little and took him deeper, let the whole underside of Connor’s cock feel the rough flat of a tongue. The tip of Connor’s prick was pressing into softer flesh, flesh that yielded and made Murphy swallow faster and faster, and Connor knew it was because the other man did not want to choke.
He didn’t want Murphy to choke either, but the more he pulled at Murphy’s hair, the more his brother refused to heed him. And Connor opened his mouth to say they could not—
--but he couldn’t. His teeth snapped together and his soul clattered in his brain, his side burned and his body convulsed into Murphy’s willing hands. He came, and as always, Murphy was waiting for him.
Connor sagged against the seat, air rasping through his mouth that was dry as bone and sore, though he hadn’t been the one working it. He found that he’d let go of the door-handle in favor of trying to hold the pain into his side. If—when his wings came, one would be broken, he thought. “Y’dumb little…got everyone trying to kill us, and you pull over and you…”
“So that’s how you’d be thanking me, then?” Murphy playfully said. As they’d always played this, but this time his hands were shaking as he smoothed them over Connor’s thighs. He laid his cheek against Connor’s knee and half-closed his eyes. “Shut it, Connor. You needed it.”
No, Murph had, and that was why Connor didn’t insist on them moving when he should have.
There was a screeching sound that was distorted as hell because Connor was trying to do up his jeans and shove Murphy down on the floor at the same time, but nevertheless he recognized them as brakes. This far into Mexico, it’d long since become obvious that half the drivers were under the age of fifteen and they were shite with brakes, but this was different. And what told Connor that wasn’t what was telling him that Smecker was still after them.
It was experience as…as a human before they’d started turning into whatever the fuck they were. Those weren’t cheap brakes. Expensive brakes weren’t found on cheap cars. And expensive cars weren’t driven by people who wanted him and Murph alive.
“You fucker!” Murphy snarled. He shoved and elbowed at Connor’s chest so that Connor banged his head on the underside of the dash. Goddamned knee took Connor in the belly, and while Murphy was apologizing for hitting so near the stitches, he was also trying to squeeze over on top of Connor. “The guns are in the back! The duffel—”
“Stay down, you daft piece of shite—” Connor whacked his brother one on the head. Murphy promptly retaliated by slamming them both upwards; Connor’s back hit the bottom of the dash and he swore with the pain that ricocheted through his ribs. He had just enough time to see Murphy look sorry before they went down again, before the first bullet winged through their lousy car and burned the air just above Connor’s back.
Now Murphy was clutching at Connor like he wanted them to merge together and that wasn’t much less painful. His fingers were digging in just on the edge of Connor’s wound and it fucking hurt. But when Connor raised himself just a little, he nearly got the tip of his ear clipped off by a bullet. “Fuck.”
“Mexican,” Murphy said. Needlessly, since Connor could hear the shouting in Spanish just as well. “Fuck. Wish we’d picked that up.”
“Well, their fucking food gives you indigestion, so not like there was much cause to in Boston.” They weren’t shooting to kill, Connor suddenly realized. After that second bullet, there was no more gunfire, and nobody was good enough to think they could only fire two into a car and expect to kill cleanly. “Murph. Is that extra still in the dash?”
He said it right in Murphy’s ear, since Murphy had tangled up with the side of his face pressed to the underside of the dash. The other man cursed. “Should be. Move and don’t lick my bloody ear like that and I…might…” he stretched and fumbled with the edge of the glove compartment, which had been knocked open by Connor “…be able to…”
There was another shot. Connor reflexively yanked Murphy down, and Murphy yanked Connor down, and for a moment they were too busy trying to sort out their limbs to realize. Then they heard the quiet, and Connor…Connor thought he knew the men standing outside. Two of them, anyway.
The area around the car exploded with gunfire. The windows shattered and sprayed glass shards all over the seats. All over Murphy, so when Connor grabbed for his brother again he got an armful of cuts. He jerked back his arm, whacked it on the dash and swore.
More glass came down. One bullet went through the driver’s side, somehow bounced off the top edge of the front passenger window and drove into the passenger seat, throwing up a puff of foam. Murphy hissed and burrowed deep into Connor at the same time that he—Connor suddenly found himself being crushed by a Murphy that seemed twice as big, but the Murphy that he saw was still the same size and there was a beating sound and something feathery crushed against the arm Connor had over Murphy—“Shite! Pull them back in! Pull them—”
“Got it,” Murph rasped. What Connor could see of his face was grey with pain. “Fuck. Hurts to have them half-out.”
Connor laughed, just a step to the left of hysterical. Only what came out of his mouth into the sudden dead silence was, unmistakably, a raven’s cawing. And it meant something to him. It was telling somebody I’m here.
Murphy twisted around to stare at Connor. His face was frozen between wanting to know and hating what he’d have to know, and he didn’t breathe while Connor was watching him. Only when Connor blinked did he hear the sound of air rasping across Murphy’s teeth.
Someone walked up to the car; Connor could see their long shadow falling across Murphy’s back. He started to push himself up by the elbow, to sling Murphy beneath him, but whoever was outside growled. Lazily, amusedly. And that noise meant something to Connor, too.
“He’s my brother,” Murphy suddenly hissed, glaring up at whoever was looking in on them.
“Yeah, he is,” said a man with a Mexican accent. “And I’m happy to let you have each other, you fuckheads. Always looking down on us because we got fed goddamn table scraps. Well, overfed pets couldn’t have just saved your asses.”
Someone else walked up, and this time Connor noticed the footsteps were accompanied by a jingling. “Lorenzo, leave it. That was ages ago.”
Connor wriggled around till he could see who was talking. By now the sun was well up and the yellow glare meant he needed a moment for his eyes to adjust, but he squinted till they did. He saw two men, not much older than him and Connor. One looked pretty tall and thin—he was the one called Lorenzo, and he looked at Connor as if they were his personal pain in the arse. The other one was shorter, and stood as drunkenly as he sounded. He nudged Lorenzo out of the way and jerked open the door. “Fideo,” he said. “Time to switch cars.”
Very carefully, Connor helped Murphy get unwedged. Then he crawled out himself, doing his best not to catch himself on any of the broken glass. He grabbed the pistol from the glove compartment while he was at it.
Outside looked like a warzone. Men in bloody suits sprawled all over the road and sprinkled around them were enough handguns and assault rifles for an army. Whereas Lorenzo and Fideo had a couple guns each and looked a bit exasperated, like someone had pissed on their jackets instead of like they’d just done some impressive fucking-up of people. Murphy whistled.
For a moment, Lorenzo looked as smug as Murph did after catching Connor off-guard, but he reverted to scowling in a heartbeat. He kicked at the nearest body. “The Fuentes and the Cali. Fuck. You got the cartels working together to run down your asses.”
“Because we’re killing off their American friends,” Connor muttered. “Ah, well, this we know about.”
“But Smecker…” Murphy stiffened for a second, recollecting something. Then he straightened and eyed Lorenzo just as warily as Lorenzo was eying him. His gaze darted behind the man, then found Connor.
Connor looked and saw the car that Lorenzo and Fideo must be using. On the hood were…guitar cases. “You two musicians?”
“Mariachis,” Fideo corrected. He grinned at them like he knew what was coming next. He probably did, or at least he knew more than Connor did.
“Sands told us not to ride with mariachis.” Murphy edged back towards Connor and dug their duffel out of the car through the broken window.
Lorenzo went stiff. Then he slowly slumped against their bullet-riddled car and laughed till it looked like he might fall over. The sound of his laughing reminded Connor a lot of a dog barking in joy, and while Fideo wasn’t chuckling, he was smiling like a wolf. A drunk wolf.
“Sands. Oh, man. He would fucking know…” With a last choked snicker, Lorenzo pushed himself off the car. He wiped at his face, then looked at his hand and noticed a couple blood splatters on it. A pause, and then he absentmindedly licked it clean. Not to show he was a badass or even to get any kind of reaction—he was staring at the horizon while he did it. When Fideo cleared his throat, Lorenzo jumped a good six inches in surprise, like he’d forgotten they were around. “Come on. We have to watch your asses, we might as well drive you the rest of the way to Culiacan while we’re at it. Makes it easier if you’re going to have that many people trying to kill you.”
“Not like we were asking them to,” Murphy snorted. His hand slithered behind himself, between him and Connor and hooked over Connor’s waistband. “And we’re not going fucking anywhere with you till—”
Connor coughed. He reached behind himself and squeezed Murph’s wrist. Wasn’t much of an advance apology, but it was all he was able to do right now. “All right.”
“All right?” Murphy indignantly repeated.
“But you’re telling us what the fuck’s going on.” Fideo glanced at Connor and Connor lifted his lip in a snarl. The other man chuckled indulgently and began to stumble back to his car.
Halfway there, he turned around and he snarled. And even though he was drunk enough to catch fire from fucking static energy and even though it wasn’t even serious but only a mocking of Connor’s own, his snarl rattled Connor in a way Connor knew he could never manage. He just wasn’t made for it.
Made for it…the phrase rang something inside of Connor.
“I’m working on that.” A flash of something angry went over Lorenzo’s face, and he shot a look over his shoulder. Somebody was in that direction, Connor suddenly know. But he couldn’t feel—
--what? What was he supposed to be feeling? Christ, couldn’t they get it all at once?
“You know what? You tell me who’s Smecker and how you two ended up like this—” Lorenzo made a face, like a nun who’d expected her sweet little bastards of students to do better “—and we’ll tell you what we know.”
Connor looked at Murphy, and Murphy was fucking unhappy about it, but he agreed.
* * *
Paul logged off the computer a few seconds before his time ran out. Then he moved himself to the bar and ordered a nice cool margarita. It wouldn’t help cool his fever that throbbed and pulsed through his body, but maybe the saccharine taste would distract him a moment so he could think. Only he couldn’t think too much, else he’d have to deal with Il Duce and the church that someone had blown up earlier, and if he thought about that he’d lose his temper. And that, he couldn’t afford to do.
Every nine days for a month, a family killed. Well, it’d been ten since the last one, and no Saints-like killings reported in Boston.
The Saints were in Mexico.
So was he. And as he sucked at his disgusting, over-flavored drink, it came to Paul where he had to go next—Culiacan. Who he had to avoid—those two in the car that’d felt so…familiar.
Who he had to kill. Lex talionis. An eye for an eye, a faith for a faith. They’d taken his faith, so he would take theirs, even if it meant ripping them apart for it. He would have it.
His margarita was starting to boil, Paul idly noted. It wasn’t cold enough—not cold like home, his true home, had been.