|The Road II: Horizon
Author: Guede Mazaka
By the time they'd reached the Los Lobos mansion, Seth was about ready to smack Miguel through the windshield. Or slam on the brakes, throw him into the backseat, and screw him all the way to China. "What the fuck does it matter?"
"Well, if you're not staying at the mansion, then one could take it as a sign that you don't intend to be here long. So then I'd have to kill you." Miguel added an extra bite to Seth's restraining hand as emphasis, then laughed when Seth shoved him to the other side of the seat.
Goddamn it, the crazy shit had sharp teeth. "Kill me?"
Large, innocent eyes. "Of course. You think I babble about the family to everyone?"
"Honestly?" Seth snapped, pulling up to the gate. Two men in zoot suits and carrying God knew how much metal came over. One poked his head and the tip of his machine gun through the rolled-down window on Miguel's side, and they had a staccato conversation in Spanish with much waving of hands towards both cars. Some of those must have been the right magic passes, because the gate promptly swung open.
"I'm serious," Miguel said as Seth parked, and for once, the other man looked it. The lengthening shadows of evening shrouded his face in ragged shadows. "And you may have beat me face-to-face, but that's not my specialty, anyway. I'm an assassin. Though you've better not have heard of me that way, or else I've missed a few heads. And I don't think I have."
Assassin…oh, sniper. Fuck-because one thing Los Lobos wasn't famous for was coddling its members, bloodkin or not. They either sent the weak ones away, or found them a usable talent. So if Miguel said he was a fucking great assassin, and he was still connected enough to get into the family mansion, then he was telling the truth. Which meant Seth was a tiny bit screwed.
"Well, fuck you, you little conniving bastard," he hissed as he jerked himself and his bag out of the car. "God, I hate being cornered."
Just how well did Ahmed know his mother's relations? Maybe Seth could borrow a little of that influence; after all, when all was said and done, he and the other man got along pretty damn well. Ahmed was a picky fucker, besides, and he wouldn't want the trouble of breaking in a new partner. Then again, Rainey was…
…Seth halted, looked at the uncaring sky, then turned half-around. Miguel was still standing by the car, fingers wrapped around the top of the door and nervously rippling on the metal. He looked strangely hurt. But also pissed off. Very pissed off. //Fuck you for a dumbass pasty-skinned coward, then. What kind of man does what you do, and then runs off?//
Interestingly, that stung. Seth hadn't known this kid for even a day, yet he was already caring what the shit thought about him. Which was just stupid. "Look, Bain. I'm a bastard, yeah, but I'm not a fucking bastard. You practically had a sign saying, "Screw Me Silly." Christ-what, this happen a lot? You sound like a jilted whore."
"People getting scared and leaving?" As he said that, Miguel bent back inside the car to grab the keys, which Seth had forgotten to take. Defensive as hell. And cute.
Okay, Seth's brain clearly had suffered a malfunction, due to a week of close proximity with one very fucked-up writer. Who was smiling shyly up at Ahmed as the other man eased him out of the second car. Seth closed his eyes and stabbed down the impending migraine. Right. Miguel. To fuck, or not to fuck-damn it, wrong question. To keep, or not to keep?
Then the huffy son of a bitch just brushed right past Seth, as if he didn't even exist. No way he was doing that, the girly fucker. Seth lunged after Miguel and seized his arm. Like a possessed yo-yo, the other man slung back much faster than Seth had expected and wrapped himself around the brutal, lip-mashing kiss. Oh, fuck it. Seth elbowed the bags hanging from his shoulder so they were out of the way, then slid his fingers into Miguel's healthy crop of hair and did his damnedest to lick Miguel's tonsils. Didn't quite manage it, but when he pulled off, the eyes staring up at him were big as eggs, dizzy with bliss.
Miguel didn't say anything. He just gasped for air, tongue running over his bleeding lip, and clamped himself to Seth's hip.
"Are you done?" Ahmed called, almost smirking. "Or do you need another minute?"
Stupid stone-faced Arab smartass. "Yeah, I'm done."
For the present time, at any rate. Miguel was warm and pliable against Seth's side, quietly nuzzling his shoulder, and shit, this meant that Seth had to sit down and think, didn't it?
Some servant opened the front door, and they stepped into one of the most impressively elegant houses Seth had ever seen. It was enough to temporarily distract him from his gloomy thoughts. Also almost enough to throw off his reflexes when a ferociously irate yowl came from the left.
"Bain! You fucking son of shit-covered-" A blind guy stomped out of the room there, swinging cane coming damn close to taking off Seth's head. He ducked just in time to trip Miguel's growling leap and pin the idiot to the ground. At the same time, El's unmistakable form materialized from nowhere to grab the blind man. Who promptly twisted around to bat futilely at El's head and shoulders. "Jangling fuckmook, if you don't put me down now and let me claw out that shithead's fucking eyes-"
//Try that and I'll stuff a shotgun down your throat, you fucking--// Seth shoved his gun crosswise into Miguel's mouth.
"Gecko." El grinned, lopsided and ironic. He paused to savage his prisoner's lips into shutting up, then bundled the thin wrists into one hand and wrapped his other arm around the wriggling waist. The blind man dangled from El's hold like an unhappy cat, feebly struggling so his toes scuffed at the floor. "Nice to see you when you're not drunk."
"El." Miguel nearly flopped free, so Seth readjusted his grip before answering. "You're looking a lot better yourself. And I'm guessing that's the Sands your cousin here kept whining about."
"Whining-that goddamn-" El did something to Sands' belly area, and the blind man abruptly stiffened in a squeak. "Bastard. I am never having sex with you again."
Expression extremely bemused, Ahmed stepped forward and raised a hand in greeting while Rainey peered out from behind him, squinting because his glasses had vanished somewhere along the way. "Cousin."
El's eyes briefly narrowed before recognition sparked. He relaxed, his hand still doing-Seth craned his head-rubbing Sands' stomach. "Ahmed," he replied in a friendly tone, raising his voice to be heard over the…yeah, the purring. //Time's been very good to you.//
//Likewise. You've grown up.// And Ahmed actually sounded impressed at something. Damn. Seth was going to have to bug Miguel for details about that later.
Make that a double damn. It looked like Seth wasn't leaving anytime soon, so Miguel could fucking well stop grumbling around the gun. Annoying little shit was going to ruin it, at this rate, and…okay, licking. At Seth's fingers, to be precise, and yes, it would be a bad idea to get hard right here.
As if reading Seth's mind, El coughed and jerked his chin at Sands, who was now wriggling in an entirely different manner. //Ah…sorry, but can we discuss things tomorrow morning? You're early, and I've got to take care of…//
Sands hopefully butted his face into El's neck. "Fuck?"
On the other hand, Seth obviously could have it much worse than he actually did. "Just show us which way to the shower and the bed. I'm fucking exhausted."
Considering how much matters had altered since Ahmed had rung up his cousins, a short rest break before business seemed eminently reasonable. //Of course. Miguel…the other one, he doesn't seem to be in, anyway.//
//No, he's down in San Francisco for a meeting. He'll be back up in a few days//, El answered, a little more wary as he glanced at Ahmed again. Dark shaded dark, gliding along edges and testing borders.
At Ahmed's back, Mort suddenly jerked and pressed closer. "What the fuck was that?"
"Nothing. Relax." Ahmed pulled out a cigarette and calmly lighted up while El and Los Diablos finished their examination. //I should have stopped by before this. The last time I was in this city, you were barely up to my ribs, and skinny as a stick. And when we talked in Mexico, you weren't much better.//
//What?// A beautiful woman, all curves and pride, and an equally appealing man, rather sleepy-eyed, strolled into the hall and took up places by El's side. //Who are…you look familiar. And Mother of God, Brat. What the hell did you do now?//
On the floor, Miguel made muffled insulting noises. Seth rolled his eyes and dragged the other man to his feet, carefully keeping the gun in Miguel's mouth, while El muttered something to-
"Carolina? You're Carolina?" Ahmed blinked and looked again. //No wonder I didn't recognize you…you were only six or seven, and…wait. You're the one that threw up on my shoes.//
//I did not!// she reflexively snapped, offended. When El started to laugh, she glared at him. //What? Who is he?//
//Ahmed…the Arabian cousin who visited the year I and Bucho walked here.// He started to walk off, pushing her along with a protesting Sands. "Fred, can you show them to their rooms? I'll be right back."
Fred lifted a hand in acknowledgment, then took a drag off the cigarette hanging from his lip. He glanced from Ahmed and Mort to Seth and Miguel with barely suppressed amusement, but somehow managed to combine that with a placatory air of politeness. "Well, we did make up two rooms, but Miguel already has his own…"
Frustration, followed closely by a kind of irritated resignation, flashed across Seth's face, but he held his tongue and gave Ahmed a mildly questioningly look. "You mind?"
"It's your bed." And while Ahmed was a little concerned about how much Miguel seemed to be affecting his partner, he knew Seth could hold his own for the moment. There were slightly more pressing issues at hand. Such as what he was going to do with the man shivering into his back. "Lead the way, Mr…"
"Abberline." Light British accent to go with the name. Clearly, Ahmed had missed some major changes in the Los Lobos household. "I'm one of El's consorts. It's always nice to meet another relative of his; he doesn't talk much about them until they show up."
Ahmed knew a conversational opening when he saw one, and he was very grateful to have an opportunity to find out more about what had been going on with his family. While Seth went off with Miguel, Fred showed Ahmed and Mort to their room, and Ahmed had a pleasant chat about the various recent affairs of his Los Lobos relatives. In return, Fred seemed extremely interested in any details Ahmed had on El's childhood.
But even the most convoluted hallway had its end, and very soon Fred was courteously but firmly excusing himself. Which left Ahmed and Mort alone in a very large bedroom.
"Wow. I thought that my house was…but this is just incredible." Mort slowly edged into the center of the room, staring in wonder at the elegantly sumptuous furnishings. His arms, which Ahmed had untied, were clasped tightly in front of him, and he didn't seem to notice the slight but constant shudder that he'd developed.
It was a rather cool night, and it would be too ridiculous for the man to die of a cold, after everything else that had happened. Despite all the objective reasons that presented themselves, Ahmed was still hesitant as he took off his coat and studied it. Even a fool could see how the gesture could be interpreted…
"At least, I think it is. Shit." With his uninjured hand, Mort rubbed at his eyes, then at his temples. "Fucking eye strain."
The other man stumbled back a little, dangerously near to falling over a chair, and Ahmed gave up. He dropped his bag in a corner, then took Mort by the elbow and steadied him while draping the coat over his shoulders. Mort instinctively inhaled the smoke residue from a sleeve, then sighed and leaned into Ahmed's chest. He rested there a moment before twining his fingers in Ahmed's shirt and straightening up to peck at the corner of Ahmed's mouth.
"There are some old enemies of mine in town," Ahmed said, the words like lead clumps on his tongue. When his lips moved to push them out, he could feel a little of Mort's breath float in to take their place. "I intend to kill them tonight."
Mort went rigid, but didn't let go. After a moment, he nodded and slowly untensed. "Yeah. Okay. You did say you weren't going to stop."
His hair smelled of cold sweats and cheap soap, and he was thin-so thin he should have broken long ago. Battered and out of his depth, yet here he was, accepting in a day what had taken Ahmed six months and many long talks with Jorge Ramirez. Broken bird, spun into desperation by the hurricane. And what the hell was Ahmed doing?
Lifting his hand and feeling the texture of Mort's hair, rough and oily since it hadn't been washed in two days. But still having traces of silkiness, and when Ahmed feathered out a lock so the light caught it, he could see strands of brown and gold and red.
"So…that means you need to leave, I'm guessing. And you're trying to find a way to tell me without hurting my feelings, because whenever that happens, I develop extra personalities." Mort was trying to be sarcastic, but failing into fearful whenever he took a shaky breath. "Right. Well, I suppose I can be a big boy and take care-"
Before he could think about it, Ahmed tugged back the other man's head and kissed him. He caught Mort in the middle of speaking a word, and the half-shaped puff of air shot into Ahmed's mouth. Dissolved into bittersweet on Ahmed's tongue, which went out and searched for more. Found it, found a trail of scorched sugar from Mort's lips to the inside of his mouth.
A hand flailed at Ahmed's back, then clutched at his shoulder. Its wounded counterpart pressed across his spine, digging the splint into the muscles there, and Mort pushed up on his toes so his teeth clacked against Ahmed's. Accidentally pinched Ahmed's lip in doing so, but then Mort was moaning, low and intense, and Ahmed forgot about that.
But the other man was wincing and flinching as well, testimony to the running fight Ahmed had had with Mort's Southern side over the past few days. So Ahmed skated a hand under the coat and untucked shirt to try soothing the sore spots with some judicious rubbing.
Mort instantly arched up, whimpering, and crushed his mouth to Ahmed's. Sweet lemonade, laced with violent tang. John Shooter hadn't gone very far, after all.
So Mort really had done it for Ahmed. Because all of the other man was in the kiss, psychosis and sanity and shadowy meeting ground of the two, and all of it was directed at Ahmed.
He squeezed his eyes shut till he saw white and memorized the taste, then gently eased off. When he pulled at Mort's arms, the other man's eyelids slowly fluttered open to disclose dazed wonder, a spiral just waiting to suck Ahmed in. "I think I'm in love with you."
And that shouldn't strike as deeply as it did, cutting bone and flesh to engrave itself on Ahmed's soul. As if he wasn't already scarred.
"You still sound tired," Ahmed noted. Trying to distract himself, yes, but Mort's voice was slurring with fatigue. He tugged the other man's hands off, but was curiously reluctant to completely release them.
Not so curiously, Ahmed berated himself. He knew damn well what was going on in his head and heart; he simply didn't want to deal with it this suddenly. "And I need to-I'll be back in four or five hours. Take a shower and get to bed."
"You're coming back?" Mort echoed, curling the fingers of his good hand around Ahmed's. They clenched till Ahmed's hands numbed, then abruptly let go. "I'll…um…see you then."
Ahmed bit the side of his mouth till the blood flooded out, then spun on his heel and walked out.
Mort got as far as half-dressed and undoing the bandages from his wrist before the disappointment became too great for him to take lying down. So he sat on the toilet and cursed. "Fuck. Fuck. Well, that went very well, didn't it?"
In the dank, mucky part of his mind, some vaguely drawling noise started up, and Mort irritably smacked it back into its cesspool. "Don't even think about it, Shooter. I'm not in the mood to put up with you again."
Though he was beginning to see why half of him had found homicide so attractive…and fuck, there went that weird slithering lurch into himself. Ever since that moment in the hallway where Ahmed's cousin El had been…probing, or God knew what…Mort had become increasingly aware of the odd flitterings and intermixings on the very borders of his senses. Probably that psychic stuff Ahmed had been trying to explain to him.
Okay. He had a sixth sense or second sight or whatever people called it nowadays. If he could handle a secondary personality, then he could definitely handle that. And his morals weren't what the majority of humanity said they should be. Which, frankly, didn't matter to him very much as long as he got what he needed from society, and it stayed the hell away from his doorstep. He'd had enough of its condescending pity and gossipy ridicule when he'd divorced Amy.
Amy. "I love her," he muttered, putting his head in his hands. But he'd forgotten about the injury, and fuck, that hurt. Mort hastily laid his wrist on the toilet's water tank and stared at the splint. "But not as much as I love Ahmed, it looks like. Have no idea what he thinks of me."
From this angle, Mort could get a reasonably good look at himself in the mirror if he strained his eyes. Skinny face, huge hollows all over the place so people probably figured him for a rather chubby skeleton. Bruises and tiny cuts, with one huge, swollen splotch of black over his temple, and red webs in the whites of his eyes. And his hair was like a moth-eaten coonskin hat onto which someone had splashed bleach. No wonder Ahmed kept turning him down. At least with Amy, Mort had known that he was better-looking than goddamn Ted. He just hadn't paid enough attention to her-and what had she thought she was? A plant? Couldn't fucking well mention to him that she wanted-
Oh, no. Before the wave of anger could crest and break apart into another round of shittiness, Mort quickly flicked at his hurt wrist. Then choked back a scream. "Oh, fuck!"
He took a deep breath, and then repeated that until he didn't feel like passing out. "Okay. Okay. Stay away from Amy. Bad topic. Think about something bits of you don't disagree on."
In other words: Ahmed.
"He said he was coming back," Mort whispered to himself, the bottom of his stomach slowly dissolving so the aching emptiness in it had room to grow. "He's going to come back. Because he's like that. He's some bizarre modern-day version of…of…actually, he is a warrior-poet. I think. Does he write poetry anymore?"
He shook his head, now trying to strangle the hysterical laughter that was bubbling up. "Never mind. What matters is that he's too smart to get himself killed off. And he's the kind that keeps his promises."
Of course, the question following that was: would he promise to stay? Because recent events basically proved that Mort was in desperate need of stabilizing company. Warm, strong, nice-smelling…and that wasn't going anywhere. He wasn't going anywhere. If he did, then Ahmed couldn't come back to h-
--"Damn it." Mort got off the toilet, gingerly finished undressing, then took an even more careful shower. Still managed to jar his wrist God knew how many times. He awkwardly toweled himself off, then borrowed a huge fluffy bathrobe from the small linen cabinet in the corner and padded out to find some fresh bandages. So he could fuck up while trying to put the splint back on.
At least they had great bathrobes. He probably could live in this one, and be perfectly happy-aside from the lack of Ahmed. And boy, Mort was just loopy. That single word covered everything.
Seth closed his eye and stared into the beer bottle, hoping the secrets of the universe would pop out. Or the secret of why the hell he'd tied Miguel to the shower head, fucked out his brains, and then left the licking, cuddling psycho neatly tucked in bed to come down here. And swipe beer from El's kitchen.
Click. Click. Clatterscuffleyelp.
Gun ready, Seth looked up from his slump against the wall and waited.
"Ow. Fred, you're an ass." Sands huffily walked into the room, rubbing his cane arm as he did. "Did you have to knock me sideways? You could've just told me not to boobytrap the-"
"And you would've told me to go fuck the guitar," Fred amiably rejoined. He spotted Seth in the corner and waved. "Mr. Gecko? Why are you still up?"
"Gecko?" Having plopped himself in the chair with the biggest cushion, Sands proceeded to prop his elbows up on the table and turn his head until he was facing Seth. Fucking eerie.
Nevertheless, wouldn't do to insult the bedmates of the resident go-to guy. Seth made a feeble salute with his bottle, and muttered an even feebler excuse. "I was thirsty. Hope you don't mind."
"No. You're a guest." Fred flicked out cigarillo and lighter, and in a second oddly-scented smoke was wafting through the kitchen. It was vaguely reminiscent of Ahmed's varied supply of medicinal and recreational cigarettes, but not quite. "And if I'm not being offensive, it looks like you'll be in the family soon."
Snickering from Sands, who was playing with his cane. "About time someone adopted the mangy fucker. He may be one of the best covert assassins in the world, but he's fucking annoying when he's in between assignments. Leaves bodies all over the place."
Before Seth could even think about coming up with a suitable reply to that, the back door creaked and the metallic smell of blood stained the air. Ahmed came in, apparently clean, but halted when he saw the other occupants of the kitchen. "Am…I interrupting something?"
"Nah. We were just going to bug Lizard Boy for details about El," Sands said, lounging provocatively in the chair. Christ, what was with him? It wasn't like anyone in the room was stupid enough to cross El.
And hey. Name-calling. "Why? I never slept with him, so I can't possibly know anything you don't," Seth snapped, getting up and preparing to leave. But Ahmed caught his eye and surreptitiously flicked a finger at the ground.
Great. Discussion time. Had to get rid of the other two first, though; Sands, Seth would gladly toss the little feline bastard out the door. Fred seemed nice enough, but there was something off about him, too. The way he was so fucking still and steady-eyed, like he was sizing up Seth for some crap job…or seeing something Seth didn't want to know about.
"So…Fred mentioned something interesting to me. You knew El when he was a child?" Sands was asking Ahmed.
"I stayed here for a while the year he came-that was when he was thirteen or so." Ahmed shrugged as he went over to the sink and washed his hands.
The atmosphere in the room was colder all of a sudden, and the hairs on the back of Seth's neck were standing up. Psychic shit starting, damn it, and handling that was not in Seth's job description. Ahmed could talk to him later.
"Hey, where are you going?" Sands demanded as Seth made for the door. "You never answered my question."
"Look, why don't you three just work out whatever the fuck you magicians do, and I'll just wait in the next room." Seth turned to go, but Ahmed's voice stopped him.
"You'll have to learn to deal with this some time, if you keep Miguel."
Keep? What the hell was this place, some big pet shop?
"Stop worrying. I don't have any call on him," Ahmed said to Sands and Fred. They startled, obviously surprised by that, and Seth hesitated. Mentally threw up his hands and surrendered to his curiosity; he slouched against the door and waited for his partner to do the whole wise-man-fucks-with-too-clever-kids routine. "We were friends-we still are friends, and sometimes we get together and talk, consult with each other about problems. Talk. He has his battles, I have mine, and they don't cross. Nor will they."
"Oh. Oh, well…" Sands opened and closed his mouth, clearly wanting to recover some points by coming up with some snappy remark. A little more sensible, Fred simply thanked Ahmed and backed his companion out of the room.
As they passed him, Seth slipped back into the room and took up a spot next to Ahmed, who was now fixing himself a sandwich. He hadn't slept in a day, and before that Seth knew just how little rest the other man had gotten, yet the only signs of fatigue were slight shadows beneath each eye and a minute tremble in the other man's hands. "So what was that about? And hey, is it because I knew El that you picked me as a partner?"
"They were wondering about the men I killed tonight. And partially. I don't know of very many that met him in Mexico and lived to drunkenly slur about it." There was a very small uptilt to the corners of Ahmed's mouth, which was the equivalent of a roaring laugh for any other man.
"Fuck you," Seth snorted, not really meaning it. "Sometimes I wonder I'd rather you didn't have a sense of humor, instead of this freaky one you've got now."
"Thank you," Ahmed replied dryly, just before biting into his sandwich. And at the end of the day, he was a good partner. Probably better for Seth than Richie had been, for all that blood ties meant.
Ah, Christ. Seth sat himself on the countertop and covered his face with his hands. "Jesus, Ahmed. What am I doing? With Miguel-with a fucking nutcase Los Lobos whatever?"
"Enjoying yourself?" When Seth glowered at him, Ahmed put down the food and ran a hand over the side of his face. "My apologies. That was insensitive. Especially since you haven't said anything about Mort for the past few days."
"Yeah…about that. What's going on there?" Because really, that whole situation was too complicated for Seth to figure out on his own. There was too much shit that he knew was going on, but couldn't see.
And goddamn. Uncertain Ahmed. Too bad there wasn't a calendar around for Seth to mark. "Honestly, I don't know. No…I do know. But I haven't decided."
"Yeah, well, mental illness isn't something you should take lightly. Hell, Ahmed, does this shit just run in the family, or what?" Except finding a scapegoat still wasn't going to solve things, Seth morosely acknowledged. It all came down to whether Seth thought enough of this mess to keep at it and work things out. If he, God help him, had already gotten fond of Miguel.
Craziest fuck ever. Also the best-and by that, Seth meant the other man could read him like a fucking book. Knew what pushed his buttons…though creepily enough, Seth also seemed to have an instinct for what set off Miguel. Man, reality just took a nosedive around here.
"Yeah?" He shook himself back to attention and blinked at Ahmed's impression of a Grand Inquisitor. "Christ, what's with the face? Someone just die?"
"Think very carefully before you answer me. If someone were to say you had to leave Miguel, right now, without any delay, would you-and not could you-do it?"
"Well…" memory flashing drowsy kisses and grinning violence and holy fuck, trust in a simple curve of neck. That was what. He hadn't had anyone just believe in him like that since…and lately, everything seemed to come back to Richie's death. And Seth's sneaky guilt, skulking in the corners and secretly fucking up his life every chance it got.
Not any more, goddamn it. He couldn't live like that. "Okay, see your point. I'm guessing you don't mind if I screw your cousin?"
Ahmed winced a little, but shook his head. And suddenly, the world was simple again. It was a great feeling. "You know, you should take your own advice," Seth dared to say as he hopped off the counter. "Might do you some good to have a bit of company. Get used to, I don't know, actually interacting with people again. And hey, insanity goes pretty well with what we do anyway, so it's not like you have to worry about scaring him off, or anything-and why are you laughing?"
Because Ahmed was. Real, honest-to-God laughing, even if it was quiet and restrained. He pushed Seth out the door and barred the way so Seth couldn't get back in. "Nothing, nothing. You just remind me of an old friend of mine. Now go already. Go."
Well, Seth couldn't disagree with that. So he did.
Pretending not to hear Carolina, he shoved his head under the pillow.
//Miguel! I know you're awake. Now look at me, damn it.//
//What do you want?// he growled, pointedly not turning. //El's home. Shouldn't you be frolicking in his bed like a good girl?//
She produced her own snarl, which even he had to admit wasn't bad, and bounced the bed so his very sore ass complained. Miguel grudgingly sat up and raked the hair out of his face. //All right, all right. You happy?//
//Not really, but you're my half-brother so I have to do this anyway. You really like Gecko?// Her face was scrunched up, as if she'd just downed pure lemon juice. //And don't start. You don't like me, and I don't care because most of the time I want to wring your neck, but you're family.//
Wasn't that sweet-and true, fuck it. Like Miguel had told Seth, he didn't just discuss Los Lobos with anyone. Blood was blood, and it took care of its own. Which was aggravating as hell sometimes, but unavoidable.
Now, an answer for her question. Seth was…amazingly in tune with him. Rumors about that younger brother of his had hinted that he'd know how to handle Miguel, but fuck, he was so much better than any of Miguel's predictions. Perfect, really, and unlike he'd feared, Miguel didn't even mind the thought of not being in control when Gecko was putting hands all over him.
He did mind the thought of Gecko deciding to walk off, to the point that he either wanted to throw up or slaughter something when he considered it, but he wasn't going to tell Carolina that. Anyway, it was irrelevant to her inquiry. //Yeah, I like him. So fuck off. This one's mine.//
//Not arguing//, she singsonged as she stood up. //Well, have fun with that, I guess. And if you ever fuck with Sands or Fred again, I'll cut off your balls and use them for castanets.//
A minute after she left, Seth came in, an odd look on his face. He stopped by the bed and took off his shoes and vest, then sat down by Miguel. "Caprizzo's going to be a little awkward to handle. He's pretty fond of me."
"You're coming here?" Miguel crawled onto the other man's legs and nestled into Seth's chest, contently murmuring when hands started stroking his bruises.
"Ah…well, it sort of depends on Ahmed. He's got some things going…but don't even think of biting, fucker. Whatever happens, I'm not letting you get out of my sight. God knows you'd probably screw with my car brakes like my ex-wife, or-" Seth snapped back into the kiss and rolled them over, sinking his teeth into Miguel's throat. And everything was right with Miguel's world.
Ahmed came into the room and prepared for bed as quietly as he could, but the effort was wasted; as soon as he got onto the mattress, the fuzzy lump in the corner unwound into Mort, who'd obviously been waiting instead of sleeping.
Due to the dark, Ahmed at first thought the other man had been half-eaten by a gigantic cottonball. Then he clicked on the light and realized two things: one, Mort was pitifully small in the borrowed terrycloth robe, and two, Ahmed's previous assumption was in fact a partial recollection of the ravings from the last time Seth had gone on a serious drinking binge.
Perhaps sleep would be a good idea. Ahmed had been rather bad about issuing advice and then not following it himself, these last few days.
"You're okay?" Mort was tentatively patting his hand over Ahmed's chest and sides. He looked relieved when he didn't find any blood. "Hey. Did you actually kill any…no, I know you did. I can smell it."
"They were wendol." It still surprised Ahmed how well the other man was adjusting. Then again, Shooter had had an uncommon amount of stamina and tenacity, as well as a striking disregard for human life, and as Mort had reintegrated himself, those traits should be showing up in more dilute form. As they were. Which…
…didn't precisely worry Ahmed. More like he wanted to be worried about it, because then he could treat Mort like he had Shooter. Like he would any other opponent, and damn it, he was the blind one now.
And he was making the already anxious Mort visibly nerve-wracked. Ahmed mentally slapped himself, like Herger would have done in truth if his old friend had still been alive, and reached into his pocket for the case. "I bought new glasses for you."
Blinking owlishly, Mort took the proffered object, cracked it open, and slipped on the glasses. He stared off for a moment, then returned his gaze to Ahmed and smiled. "Just like the old ones. Only lighter, and they don't pinch…uh…they're much better, actually. Thanks."
"You're welcome." Ahmed laid back on the bed, the fatigue that he'd been suppressing suddenly bursting free. He automatically flicked his eyes over Mort and noticed the mess that was the splint. That took a few minutes to fix, but then they were back to strained silence.
After a little while, Mort took off his glasses and carefully set them on the side table. The he crept up and nestled into Ahmed's side, now smelling mostly of lavender, with faint traces of roast chicken. "Did you eat dinner?" Ahmed absently asked, lifting his hand and running his fingers through Mort's hair.
"Yeah." The other man let out a little sigh, lips working at Ahmed's neck.
::Allah give me the strength to see this through.:: Ahmed closed his eyes and collected his thoughts. "Mort. When I told you about my uncle-the one I killed, back in Europe-I didn't tell you the entire truth. He had allies in the north, called wendols. They're men. People. But they're a strange tribe, very primitive and very good killers. Once they vow vengeance on a man, they will chase him to the ends of the earth."
"So those men you killed tonight…" Mort paused to work his splinted wrist from between them. He stretched it out over Ahmed's breast, fingers curling to play with the loose fabric of Ahmed's shirt.
"Yes. There are very few left now; my friends slaughtered most of them to protect me from my uncle's wrath. And died in the doing of it. But occasionally I have to go out and fight the wendol that remain." Warm, lithe body by his own was a sensation that Ahmed had almost forgotten; he hadn't been celibate by any stretch of the imagination, but he certainly hadn't indulged in this kind of simple space-sharing for years. This one had too little flesh on it for true comfort, bones poking into him at every bend, but that could be fixed. If he had a mind to. "I have interests in many different countries, so I have to travel, too. Soon I'll need to go back to Europe and see to business there."
Nodding, Mort raised his head to look down on Ahmed. His face was serious, but the fluffed locks falling about its sides softened its razor angles, gauntness. "Whatever you have to do, that's fine. I…well, I'm selfish, I guess. Doesn't matter to me as long as it helps. Fuck morality."
"You sound like Seth." Ahmed skated his fingers along the turn of Mort's cheek, careful of the bruising. "Would you like to come with me?"
Mort's eyes went very wide, very deep, as he stared down at Ahmed. Then he sucked in air, face hardening with determination, and dove into Ahmed's neck. His mouth was like a storm, striking lightning into nerves and washing the tingling skin with hot rain, sweeping it clean. Before Ahmed could catch his breath, it had already ravaged down his steadily-unbuttoning shirt: Mort's good hand was even busier than his lips, while his hurt one had hooked around Ahmed's neck the moment Ahmed had begun to sit up.
Then the fingers reached the front of his trousers, and he was gasping into Mort's shoulder, grabbing the other man to him. Somewhere in his mind was the reminder that he should watch for the sore spots, but the rest of Ahmed was far, far too overwhelmed to listen. His fingers simply seized whatever part they could and dug in; Mort flinched and hissed a few times, but didn't stop. He wriggled and nudged until Ahmed had gotten all the way onto the bed, and then he was lying across Ahmed's legs, stroking Ahmed's growing erection out of undone trousers.
Swearing and cursing in three languages, Ahmed struggled free of his pants and tried not to tear out Mort's hair when he pushed at the other man's head, which had paused an inch away so moist gasping exhales blew over extremely sensitive skin. Heavenly torture, a not-quite touch, and Ahmed needed more. ::Come on, teasing devil, or Allah help me, I'll-oh, damn. Need to make prayers longer tomorrow…::
"What?" Before the yell lodged in the back of Ahmed's throat could break free, Mort shook himself and grinned. "Right. Learn Arabic."
"Later," Ahmed hissed, molding his hand to Mort's nape and insistently pressing it downward. "Could you-"
Mort did. With an odd hesitancy that jabbed at Ahmed's rapidly disintegrating reason, but tongue and wet heat and mouth. The other man slowly took Ahmed in, then closed his lips around the burning flesh and sucked. Drew himself down till only the tip of Ahmed's cock had the privilege of being surrounded in electrifying fire, then worked back up.
It wasn't the most skilled experience Ahmed had ever had, by any means, but that didn't matter at all. He was calling out and gasping as if it were, and in the end, twisting and coming, he felt as if he'd learned to live all over again.
Afterward, he dragged off his sweat-soaked shirt and tossed it aside, then slumped against the headboard. Hooked an arm about Mort, beneath the robe, and pulled the other man up so Mort's back fit against his chest.
"Ah…that was good?" Mort queried, furiously blushing as he craned around. The terrycloth had slid off his shoulders, revealing fine pale skin.
Ahmed dotted kisses over it, humming an old childhood song as he did. "Very."
"Oh. Great." With a relieved sigh, Mort turned back, head drooping forward so Ahmed could swirl his tongue over the dark red spots scattered over the back of Mort's neck. "Never tried that before…"
And rational thought abruptly shocked back to the forefront of Ahmed's mind. "Pardon me?"
"Um. Uh." Mort nervously fiddled with Ahmed's fingers, which were trying to unknot the robe's cord. "I…well…didn't get out much…Amy was the only…and…um…so how does this go?"
All things holy and right-Ahmed was not ever letting this man get away from him. That was all. That wasn't what he should be thinking, but forget that. Thought wasn't necessary with this.
"Lie back," he whispered into Mort's ear, allowing his lips to ghost over the spiral of the delicate flesh. He sucked the lobe between his teeth, feeling the tremble go through Mort, then released it and worked his mouth down the side of the stretching throat, groans vibrating against his teeth. Overlaid some of the harsher bruises with new, kinder ones as his hands got rid of the robe, stroked long and firm along the length of the other man's body.
He traced muscles and bones, drifting his fingers along the grooves of the ribs, then drawing them down the middle to feel the heartbeat fluttering ever faster against his fingertips. Filled his mouth with the taste of honeyed skin, followed the traces of citric fruit in it till Mort was writhing and spreading his legs, bucking back against Ahmed. "Oh, my God. Please. More?"
As if Ahmed could refuse that. Though he did have to be a little more mindful of the other man's less-than-stellar condition. He skimmed his palms along the inside of each thigh, then curved up his one hand to tightly encircle Mort's erection. Nails dug into his forearm, little bites, and Mort's head fell back against his shoulder, eyes squeezed shut. Ahmed fumbled in the drawer of the side-table, certain that his hosts couldn't have missed-and they hadn't.
Sometimes it was nice to be too old to be embarrassed. That ability certainly made for less interruptions.
When he trailed the first oil-slicked finger up and back, Mort stiffened and reflexively began to draw his knees together. But rubbing a thumb over the top of Mort's cock swiftly persuaded him to relax, and Ahmed sneaked in two almost before Mort realized.
"Christ-okay, that's-ow-wait, not ow-no, is ow." Clenching and struggling, though it was impossible to tell whether that was toward or away.
"Wait a moment," Ahmed urged, speeding up the movements of his hand on Mort's stiff cock. And after a few seconds, the other man did manage to relax enough for Ahmed to probe around.
"Fuck!" Mort nearly jerked off Ahmed's fingers, then came down at the same angle. His words plummeted into incoherency, and he started a tiny, strained mewl that came very close to making Ahmed lose control and simply ravish the hell out of the other man.
No. Not doing that, because of injuries. Ahmed gritted his teeth and edged in a third finger, which was about all Mort seemed able to take at the present. He waited until the other man had sufficiently adjusted, then worked both hands at once, in rhythm.
Which combination brought Mort to a thin, high scream mere minutes later. Warm whiteness splattered over Ahmed's hand as the other man violently twisted into his climax. Then Mort went limp, rolling on his side and pressing slack-mouthed kisses to Ahmed's collarbone. When Ahmed went to clean off his hand, however, the other man roused long enough to intervene and lick off all the droplets.
Holy…very fast at adapting now, Ahmed blindly noted. Very frustrating that he was simply too tired to properly exploit that right now. And Gecko's influence was apparently a little greater than Ahmed had previously believed.
"I do love you," Mort murmured, voice only a little ragged, as Ahmed got them to the dry side of the bed and beneath the blankets. He grinned, lazy and satisfied, and neatly tucked himself beneath Ahmed's chin. "And…Ahmed Ibn Fadhlan Ibn Al Abbas Ibn Rashid Ibn Hamad," he added, careful to correctly pronounce each syllable."
"I think," Ahmed replied slowly, hiding his own smile in Mort's hair, "That I will love you. Soon."
While Sands and Dean Corso, who Mort gathered was one of the other, saner Miguel's consorts, snarked their way through a conversation, El rapidly flipped through several books of parchment and bizarre engravings. Corso kept shooting El dirty looks, but every time he tried to actually say something, Sands distracted him with another verbal jab.
Seth was off in another corner of the library, probably mauling his Miguel over a convenient table. That was an explosion waiting to happen, but Mort wasn't willing to stick his neck into it. Not when it seemed like every single member of the household put prickles up his spine the moment they got near him.
As if reading his mind, Ahmed put a palm on the small of his back, protective and possessive. Mort untensed and turned into the other man, leaning in to sniff the strange, wild, ever-changing aroma that always clung to Ahmed's clothing.
"Here it is." El tapped his finger on the page, then furrowed his brow. //Damn. My Latin is getting rusty.//
"Didn't even know you could read Latin," Sands muttered, looking rather sulky about that as he sidled up next to El.
From another aisle, Carolina and Fred emerged, their clothes somewhat rumpled. El raised an eyebrow, whereupon they shrugged a little too innocently and muttered about woodcuts suggesting things they should all try later. Mort determinedly did not think about the implications of that; he was already having enough trouble remembering that Miguel was related to Ahmed and therefore wasn't on the permissible-kill list.
Yeah, his formerly-Shooter side was very much liking the Los Lobos lifestyle they'd been living for the past few weeks, while his wrist healed and Ahmed caught up on family. Not that he cared, since Ahmed didn't mind. Actually gave him tips, in point of fact.
"My father had an interesting idea of what a boy's education should be. And later, I had a lot of free time in Mexico." El scanned over the lines, then closed the book and set it back on the shelf, his movements exaggeratedly careful. In response, Dean snorted and stalked off. "Mr. Rainey, you're a dowser," El announced.
"What? You mean the-" Mort made vague gestures "-Y-shaped stick thing, and the…um…"
"No. You won't need the sticks. And it means that you should be able to find anything buried underground, once you have a trace for it," Ahmed explained. He pursed his lips, thinking. "That'll help in Europe."
Thank God. The more useful he was, the better his chances were of staying with Ahmed. It wasn't that he doubted the other man's fidelity-complete opposite, and God, Mort was so happy about that. But, having seen more and more of what Ahmed actually did for a living, he'd been worried about his ability to keep up. And the last thing he wanted to be was a slice in the other man's hamstrings.
Huh. That was a good line. Ahmed's relatives had somehow gotten all Mort's assets and a lot of his personal belongings down here from New York, so maybe he might try writing again. Send out stories from the road. And maybe…get Ahmed to show him the poetry the other man still scribbled down, once in a while.
A burst of shouting rudely crashed into his train of thought. Dean catching Seth, most likely. "Should we stop them?" Mort wondered.
"Yes. Or else I'll have to find another working partner, and I'm getting too old for that," Ahmed resignedly said as he began to walk toward the racket. "Probably the oldest in the house right now, in fact."
"And you're…" Carolina suggestively began. She and the rest also followed along, apparently curious to see what was going on.
Ahmed favored her with a deceptively placid look, which Mort recognized as the calm before the bombshell. "Thirty-five. Seth's three years younger, and then El…seven years last Friday."
Mass choking. "You're what?" Sands sounded like he was about to either faint, or implode. "That's only a year older than me!"
"Are you saying that I look old?" El retorted, a dangerous edge to his tone.
//He knows when your birthday is?// Carolina demanded, whirling around. //I didn't know that.//
Snickering, Mort grabbed Ahmed's arm, and together they escaped before the storm broke behind them.
Two Months Later: Rural Spain
The door swung open to display a blinking, rumple-haired man in a too-large bathrobe. "Can I…help you?"
::We're here to discuss something with Ahmed:: After a pause, the leader had shrugged off the surprise of an extra occupant of the target house, as he didn't seem threatening in the least. He leveled his gun at the other man, who flinched and clapped his mouth shut. ::Please cooperate.::
"I…um…sorry, my Arabic's kind of lousy. What?" But he seemed to understand the gist of the demand, since he was slowly backing into the room, hands held where the leader could see them.
"Do as you're told, and you won't be hurt." Still aiming at the other man, the leader jerked his head at his men, silently gesturing for them to go in. He momentarily lost sight of the other man as he did, and then he permanently lost his vision.
"Yuck. Jerks. I was going to use those screwdrivers to fix the window later." Mort distastefully regarded the mess in the front room and on the porch, then grimaced as his bloody hands flapped into view. He mentally bucked himself up and started to haul the first corpse into the back garden.
An hour and a half later, he was trying to work the old-fashioned outdoor water pump so he could wash his hands, but it wasn't going very well. Either the handle got stuck, forcing him to whack down on it with his elbows and thus hurting himself, or it went but his glasses slid down his nose, making him stop to nudge them back. Whereupon the handle grated to a stop. "Piece of shit."
"Seth promised to fix it after lunch, and since Miguel won't return from Madrid till tomorrow, it should get done." Ahmed smoothed a hand down Mort's startled jerk, caressing his back, then pulled him up against a warm chest. Mouth nipped at his ear in greeting so his eyelids drifted shut, and water suddenly rushed over his hands as Ahmed worked the pump for him.
"Seven of them. By the tomatoes…left, please?" Mort murmured blissfully and rubbed his buttocks into the cradle of Ahmed's hips. His now-clean hands dropped back to grab handfuls of Ahmed's trousers, soaking them. "It's a really nice day out…and I finished my story this morning…"
"Oh?" Ahmed was slowly maneuvering them toward a convenient bench. "Suppose that deserves celebration. And I did finish my business early, so we can stay here till Monday."
The buttons on Mort's shirt were popping off under rough fingers, and his robe had dropped off somewhere near the fountain. He twisted around and licked up Ahmed's neck, with just enough teeth to draw a hiss from the other man. "Where to after that?"
"Appear to be between jobs." Fingers creeping down Mort's pants, the slight rasp of their calluses laying tingles into his rocking hips. "So there's no set place for…a month."
"Well, always wanted to see Rome," Mort breathlessly suggested. The backs of his knees hit the edge of the bench, and then he didn't have time to talk.
Ribbons of black and gray, brown and tan and white. They come from everywhere, cross from land to flesh, a maze of tracks within the white dome of every person's skull.
And they go everywhere, too. Mapping all the myriad ways to the horizon.