|Archetype: Old Man
Author: Guede Mazaka
Sands wakes between moonset and sunrise, when the world is gray with in-between haze. Or so he remembers. When he opens his eyelids now, everything is black except for the shimmering red length lying next to him, huddled under a long coat he knows is there but can't see.
He supposes it was nice of the well to heal him up, so the nerves in his sockets aren't sent reeling with every little breeze. It's an odd feeling, the sensation of air eddying and pooling inside his skull. He thinks he'll grow to like it. He wants to hate it.
Sands wakes because there's a gun jabbing him in the side. After a flash of anger and fear and…hurt…he realizes it's his gun, and it's in his side because he'd fallen asleep on his hand. He pulls it out, bruise-ache flaring just beneath his rib cage as the pressure goes, and runs his fingers lightly over the cool silk metal. He knows, he thinks grimly, that he'll have to relearn most of the world this way, bizarre second-sight notwithstanding. And he's already lost two months.
Two months in a well. Underwater, cradled in what Sands only now remembers was comfortable hotness. Warmth is too cool a term for it, just as hell-bitch is too nice a term for the woman. Who flings her image out of the darkness at Sands, scorching outline calling up soul-shaking echoes in the memory etched into his bones.
He jerks back before he can help it, breath staggering itself. And in protest at the sudden elbow to the head, El stirs and rouses behind him.
It was a telling statement on El's life that having the sucking black hole of a gun barrel be the first thing he saw in the morning didn't even provoke a blink, let alone faze him. "Sands," he mumbled. "So, can you shoot me yet?"
The American held the gun steadily at El's forehead, face whitened like no Mexican's could ever be, dark eyeholes another pair of cocked pistols despite their lack of…well, anything. It'd been disturbing before, but El grew accustomed to gruesomeness very quickly. And then round edges glimmered in the two caverns, and for a moment he lost his heartbeat. And blinked, dismissing the flash.
"Why are you so calm about this?" Sands gritted out, finger snaked around the trigger. "What the hell was your little telepathic trick last night, and since when did you start channeling ghosts, Mariachi Man?"
Ignoring the gun, El levered himself up, rolling cramped joints as he did. "Why shouldn't I be calm?" he responded indifferently. "I never start anything. I can't do anything but wait until someone does something to me. And I told you, I'm not telepathic." Rubbing idly at the spots where his guns and knives had jutted in during the night, El raised himself up on his knees and swiped a half-empty tequila bottle and a cloth-wrapped bundle off the table beside them. "You were speaking," he went on, "But your words stuck in your throat, so the ghosts lifted them the rest of the way. And told them to me."
"What?" The gun dropped a little. "Oh, you mean my vocal chords were moving, but I wasn't actually making any noise, so the spirits decided to steal my breath. Very folkie, El. What the fuck is going on?"
Lifting his eyes to Sands' face, El put two fingers against the cool metal tracking him, tapping out a frivolous little rhythm. "This isn't for me," he said quietly, barely caring. "So move it. I need to piss."
"You…God, you…fuck it," Sands flopped back onto the floor, still tangled in El's coat. "So whip it out and cut loose, already." More softly, he muttered indignantly, "Christ. 'Want eyes?' Stupid handbooks and seminars never mention goddamned soused dicksluts and their big ol' legendary boyfriends."
"You follow rules?" El called from the bathroom.
"No. But it's the principle, y'know. There should always be a handbook. Then I know what to fuck up." Irritated scrabbling. El emerged just in time to see Sands, undone cloth spread out before him, stuff a hunk of the mariachi's breakfast in his mouth. "Hey. Tortillas aren't half-bad."
"Tortillas aren't half-yours," El replied, reluctantly sitting down to properly divide up the food. "Where are we going?"
"Tenochti-Mexico City," Sands corrected himself through a mouthful of food. "The Aztecs were my favorite part of history class. But-shit. How old are the ghosts you hear?"
"Not that old," El reassured, tearing off a bite. "And she wasn't theirs. She belongs to the country."
"Yeah, well, bitch hasn't updated in a while. 's going to be hell figuring out where everything is in this time." The American reached for more tortillas and accidentally swiped up cold refried beans instead. "Ucch. What the hell-"
El handed him a rag. "This isn't what you use to wipe your ass, is it?" Sands asked suspiciously. The mariachi didn't deign to dignify that with an answer, but after a moment, curiosity prompted him to take a look.
Sands was licking his fingers clean instead, with apparent enjoyment. The little pinkish tongue swirled into every wrinkle and cleaned under every nail, searching out the last trace of food. And then he would put the whole digit into his mouth, pull his lips tight around it, and slowly drag the finger back out.
They were good beans, if cold.
El turned away, a finger and a thumb rubbing the bridge of his nose. Then he cocked his head, hearkening to something. "Hurry up," he ordered.
"Why-" Sands suddenly understood, and crammed his remaining food down before standing. "Don't they have anything better to do?" he complained.
Forcing down his last swallow as well, El hastily began packing up his few belongings. His guitar and its case, unsurprisingly, had come back some time during the night, undamaged. Slinging it over Sands' shoulder, he picked up his other case and took the other man by the elbow, pulling him out of the room. They clattered down the stairs and out to the car, a bent black DeSoto that had done its best years under a cartel assassin. When he had tired of the constant faint gurgling emanating from the back seat, El had persuaded a priest to bless the car, and so now no spirit remained to startle his…partner. Colleague.
Sands certainly didn't hesitate in getting in and slamming the door shut, movements slightly more feverish after he'd glanced behind them and seen-whatever he'd seen. If they weren't answering a question of his, El preferred not to think on the extra noises shuffling around the borders of his hearing. And so he carefully stowed his gear, then slid into the driver's seat and shut the door, his other hand smacking down Sands' jouncing leg. "Are you going to do that the entire way?" El asked with some asperity.
"Just shut up and drive," Sands demanded, scooting over the bench seat to press up against El's side, attention fixed on the passenger window. "Can they come in the car?"
The mariachi turned the key, lips briefly turning upward as the engine growled itself awake. "No. It's been baptized."
"My God," the American snorted, tone still shakier than normal as they pulled out into the road. "Who'd you get for a godfather? El Diablo?"
"You seem to be taking this very badly," El noted offhandedly, shifting gears. Beneath his feet and hands, the car stretched and purred, deep and dark. "The dead frighten you?"
Actually, all considering, Sands was taking his life extremely well. With medal-worthy aplomb, frankly. Once one took into account the fact that the American educational system provided one shitty background for dealing with the supernatural. "Hell no," he declared with only a shade of false bravado, "I can make the ghosts, but they can't make me."
"So?" That just about summed El up, Sands thought. Nothing left to the man but casual murder and apathetic curiosity. Maybe some patriotism, but Sands's gut said otherwise, and lately he'd been listening to that more than his head.
"So I dislike them being the only fucking things I can see. I dislike getting shanghaied into avenging people I really don't give a damn for, in a country I really don't have any attachments to." Settling back on the seat-good buttery leather, surprisingly-Sands tried to ignore the cigarette cravings needling his nerves. "And I really dislike not having eyes. Did I mention that? Because, yeah, that's probably my biggest dislike right yet. Jesus. Who does that?"
"I don't know," El answered placidly. "Why are you still bouncing?"
"Because you don't smoke, you stupid undying holy conquistador-" the mariachi reached a hand over and slapped the dashboard, and something fell down with a jerking thump. Sands cautiously felt in front…and discovered a glove compartment full of cigarettes. And lighters and a few flasks of what was probably tequila. "Okay," he said thoughtfully, eyebrows arching. "So you do indulge?"
"She does," was the terse reply. Sands ruthlessly suppressed the shivering in his spine and shook out one cancer-stick, carefully measuring the end against a finger-length before he lit up. Burnt hands were a bitch in a gunfight.
El, Sands discovered, was a creepily-silent driver. No shifting around, no foot-tapping, not even any whistling. Prop up a cardboard cut-out, and no one would notice. Maybe not a cut-out. The mariachi somehow, even as nothing more than a crimson blob, still managed to have an odd roundness, another dimension. A piñata-man, then. Filled with spent bullet casings and snapped guitar picks, and okay, Mexico, apparently. Perfect guy for possession, come to think of it. But why would the man even put up with it? Well…Catholic. Maybe that was enough to keep El from eating a bullet. God and the Devil knew no one else had managed to feed it to him.
The American didn't feel like trying either, despite all his posturing earlier. It was hard remembering whether he had wanted to before; the well and the blinding more or less divided his life into two parts, and the first seemed washed-out and colorless compared to what was happening now. Sands had probably wanted to. El, however, was presently the only other person who understood anything, which ruled out murder now. And then there was that weird little…
Sands scooted to the edge of the seat and concentrated on-fine, call it looking, and fuck but it was all messing with his vocabulary-looking at the space between his and El's feet. And ever-so-gradually, a thin, wavering line of red shimmered out of the black. Then blinked out, as the car swerved and Sands nearly pitched into the dash. "Fuck!"
//Hey!// El barked, arm shooting out to shove Sands back. //What are you doing?//
"Staring at you. What else can I do?" Sands said petulantly, tossing another butt towards the half-cracked window. When he didn't smell burning leather, he laid back on the seat, flopping his head rudely into El's lap. The other man twitched, making Sands grin. Fuckmook was too damn composed all the time.
Then, out of boredom, flippancy became deed, and Sands did begin to study El. Interestingly, the mariachi's blob differed from the other living in more than just color. His outlines were sharper; from this angle, Sands could make out a chin and nose, and if he stared long enough, even little red hairs glowing in the dark. And-
--his feet rattled against the door as he jumped. "Jesus…" Sands gasped-his eyes they're human they're clear they're fire-and then, suddenly aware of reality, jabbed El in the stomach with an elbow. "The road! The road!"
Snapping his gaze away from Sands, El made a slight correction to the wheel. "No one else is out-no other cars are out," he snapped touchily, trying to brush Sands off his lap. Huffing indignantly, the American merely planted his head down more firmly, and let the irritated silence plunk down.
A few minutes later, El asked, a little too-indifferently, "So who does take eyes?"
"Y'know what?" Sands sighed, turning onto his side so his cheek rested on El's thigh. Of hard muscle. At least he had gotten stuck with someone who could watch his own back. "You tell me what I missed, and I'll tell you what you missed," the American offered.
"Fine." Those freakish eyes, white ringing velvet dark brown in the middle of a crimson haze, glanced down, amused. "You start."
"Why-" Sands huffed. "Whatever. So, I had this domino set-"
"Dominos," El repeated blandly. Sands whacked him in the belly again. "Shut up," the American ordered. "It still makes more sense than whatever shit's going down now."
Shrugging, the mariachi waved Sands on. "All right, back to the domino set. El Presidente at one end, the toppling end. The line forks to Marquez and Barillo near the other. You're on one of the toppler ends-you following? Good-you're behind Marquez. Barillo, 'cause he's a much brighter badass, has two behind him. One's a retired FBI agent whose partner got smeared due to Barillo-"
"-a Mexican?" El suddenly asked, sounding thoughtful. "A grizzled fighter, like a lobo that still turns and bites when the hunters have it cornered?"
"Ah. So you and Ramirez met. Lemme guess, he got to live. Anyway, the other domino was for Barillo's organization, to cut down on revenge kills." Pausing, Sands reached underneath himself and pulled out his gun. He started to slip it into his waistband on his other side, then thought better of it and shoved it into the still-open glove compartment. Fatigue was a hump on his back and a gray ache in his bones; El could have any trouble they came across. "I had this contact with the Mexican Feds, lovely little Chicana bitch named Ajedrez. Who, like I said, turned out to be Barillo's daughter."
"She's the one who blinded you?" El sounded sympathetic. The rasp of it shot splinters into Sands' mind.
"Was, dumbshit," Sands muttered angrily. "Past tense. As in, I dragged myself over and blew out her goddamn shit-breeding womb." He waited for the shining armor and white horse, and when all that appeared were scarlet fingers tucking back scarlet hair, floating streaks of blood in his vision, he asked with impatient sarcasm, "What happened to the chivalry, hero? Thought that's all you idiots did, defend the honor of your ladylove. Where's the magic, El?"
"Most of the women I meet can defend themselves," the other man replied, irony parching his voice. "Whoever holds the gun is holding the gun. It makes no difference what they are; it only matters where they're pointing the gun."
"That's…" Sands was, actually, stunned. "That's…practical of you."
"Thank you. I'm making a turn." And with that bit of randomness, El abruptly spun the car about, nearly throwing Sands out the passenger window.
"Barillo and Marquez are both dead, along with their best men," El said loudly, drowning out Sands' cursing. The other man sounded…pleased, about more than just the death of his enemies. Bastard had probably swerved on purpose. Bastard was saying, "The President is still alive, and he knows a little about the CIA's plot, but not any names. The FBI-Ramirez, you said?-is alive. Cucuy and his men are dead; they also betrayed you. And I remember a rumor about the beautiful female agent who tried to assassinate the President and died, so Ajedrez, like you said, is dead."
The American seemed to be doing better; Sands took the list of kills he'd missed with relative serenity. El felt somewhat relieved. He disliked working with most people, and especially with confused people. They tended to hesitate too much.
"And that takes us up to now?" Sands asked, drumming fingers along El's leg.
"Yes," El answered. "Now, and then to Mexico City, where…"
For a long time, the other man didn't speak, choosing instead to dangle an arm over the seat and toy with the cuff of El's pants. Like a distracted kitten. Except with rather sharper claws, El reminded himself.
It was like that first night after he had killed his brother, when he and Carolina had driven for hours and hours under the coal sky. There hadn't been a moon, and blood from the boy caught in the crossfire had still been flaking off their hands. And blood from the other men, as well. El had known Carolina was no innocent, wasn't lacking in jadedness, but it was one thing to know and another to realize: to watch as she drove over men as if they were insects, to remember what kind of glint her eyes had when she shot a man. He hadn't cared. 'Thou shalt not murder,' but he'd seen so much death in so many ways that he could no longer draw the lines between right and wrong.
He'd cared for what he cared about: Carolina. His daughter. His friends. And then he'd lost the first two, and drifted from the third. Until he'd gotten leashed in again. Bound to a dying land, dead man pledged to a dead nation.
Something twinged. Brow furrowing, El retraced his thoughts. Something was not quite-
"We're going to deliver a message," Sands abruptly said. "I have-well, when we get there and look around, I'll have an address and a name. Of someone we can't kill, because then…nobody to sign for the package. But you can massacre anyone else. You'll probably have to; the place looked slightly less than pretty."
Dead men standing over a grave, dead words of an dead language calling the spirit back. Another dream, El recalled. Two men.
"El? You hear me?"
"Yes," the mariachi replied. "Was there a date?"
In his lap, Sands tossed about restlessly. "Dunno," he mumbled. "'m just the eyes."
"I haven't heard anything," El said, and only afterwards realized. He opened his mouth, but the American had already twisted up, rattlesnake coiling, between El's arms. "I wasn't talking just now," Sands grated. "No, wait-" he pinched El's lips together. "I wanna try something."
Awkwardly peering around the other man, El slowed the car. Clusters of firefly lights marked out a town ahead, its buildings slowly crawling up against the sky's graying tile. Dawn birthing itself, already looking faded and old. And then:
"Holy fucking hell, I can see your eyes."
El snapped his attention back to Sands' unmoving, slightly-parted lips, and then he heard: "I really can. Like if I were seeing with normal eyes, and shit! Does this mean you're dead?"
That made the mariachi smile. "I was dead and buried when you met me," he told the other man.
"Wha-oh." Shaking his head, Sands sank back a little, which allowed El to narrowly avoid a gap-mouthed pothole in the road. "So you were right," the American said, tone having a surprising amount of wonder in it. "Subvocalizing. I'm subvocalizing, and the ghosts are picking up on it for you." A satisfied grin suddenly spread across his face. "'Cause they're aborted words," Sands smirked. "Of course. That's why you can hear them. It makes sense."
El supposed so. He actually hoped so. Sands smelled of flame and river, and the scent was inexplicably tingling El's mind. The American was entirely too close.
The American was suddenly looking disconcerted himself, hands digging into El's hipbones. "Watch the road," Sands hissed, but he didn't turn his own head from El. Or move his lips back from the hand-span that separated the two men.
Red and white flashed in those scarred holes. Swearing violently, El jerked away, stiff-arming Sands off of him as he fish-tailed the car over the village's outskirts.
And in even such dark times, Sands snarked to himself, good bootleg could still be found. He thought he was outside a café. At the very least, the chair upon which he was kicking his heels definitely had that vague uncomfortable icky quality that only cheap vinyl and feeble aluminum frames could ooze. He knew he had a bunch of plastic bags at his feet, because he'd been around when El, jingling furiously around town, had stuffed said bags full of food, bullets and black-market American clothing for Sands. It seemed that their pit-stop was also a layover for backtrail smuggling, and thus despite the nonexistent population, on any given day anything a pair of supernaturally-hijacked killers would ever need was sold somewhere in town.
He was sitting alone, watching the groceries like some toothless coot waiting for wifey to croak in the dressing rooms, because El had suddenly gotten religion. The mariachi had bought supplies, bought them breakfast, and then the next thing Sands had heard was the screech of metal as El had tried to get up, breaking the chair in the process. And after that, the damn MexiCAN had just tossed down a few more pesos--his pesos, Sands abruptly realized-and growled something about going to confession. So maybe Sands might've been complaining a little. Didn't he have a right? God, the ball-less choirboy had had two months to get used to this shit-but no, sainted patron of musical destruction had to get all offended and glare at Sands.
El had weird eyes. Like the ghosts, they were clear and distinct and colored true-to-life; unlike the ghosts, they were fresh and alive and…smoldering. Since Sands didn't have much of a choice, he'd decided he might as well embrace the opportunity and become a connoisseur of spirits, just as he was already one of criminals. And, gazing out into what El said was a dusty courtyard, Sands had no shortage of specimens. It'd helped his pride immensely once he'd figured out that most of the ghosts were that-ghosts. Overexposed photographs still blowing around the world, crisp and brightly-colored and flat. Only a few, like that hag back in Mazatlan, were anything resembling what they once were.
So far, his survey indicated that El was a freak.
Well, yeah. Didn't have to be said, really. But as self-delusional as Sands wanted to be, his instinct wouldn't let him pretend his inkblot wasn't the same. Though the more Sands stared at himself and at El, the clearer his-fuck it, he used semantics; they didn't use him-his sight of them became. Sands suspected that if he bothered to find a mirror, he'd see eyes reflected back at him. But…judging by El's reactions, Sands was willing to ignore that investigation for a while.
El, El, El. If Sands closed his eyelids, he saw that goddamned red polka-dot moving through his head. If he kept his eyelids open, he either had to put up with the appalled whispering or wear sunglasses. The asswipe shitsmoking obscenely-curved sunglasses El had slipped into Sands' hand before the bootlicking stringsucker had left.
He'd made a very nice pillow for Sands the night before.
"Shit," Sands breathed, slumping down. Just how many more ways could he get screwed, anyway?
As chapels went, it was incredibly dilapidated. Even considering the wrecks El had seen. It was more a broken-faced hovel than a house of His Lord on High. Bits of glass from the windows, jewel shards of a murdered rainbow, crunched beneath El's cautious feet as he made his way among the splintered pews. At first, he hadn't believed that a priest would even bother with such a place anymore, but as he had turned to leave, a yellow glimmer had caught his eye. A few candles, uneven and humped over with drippings on their sides, burned on the altar.
So someone was still caring for the church. Teeth set on edge, fingers slowly curling and uncurling, El approached a confessional-the only one still intact-and knocked lightly on the side. He wasn't expecting the reedy, //Good evening, my son.//
//Gah-um, good evening, father//, he replied, recovering from his stumble. //Are you…//
//Worry and fear have no timetable, and so neither do I//, the priest said, voice the tranquil shrill chirp of the evening crickets. //Come in and chat.//
Shoulders still tensing, El carefully scooted behind the curtain and put down his guitar case. It was too dark to make out any features, but the priest's breathing was even, despite the wheezing age had inflicted on it. //So, what seems to be the problem, my son?//
That should have been funny. Well, which should I start with, father? The killings, the ungodly possession, the man waiting for me? Sands, Sheldon Jeffrey, with the beautiful hollow eyes/no eyes and the viper tongue. Christ Jesus. It wasn't funny. It was-it made El's lip twist, his fingers pull back into claws. He wanted to slaughter. //I'm beginning to feel angry, father//, El said instead. //Wait-you have to understand. I lost my beloveds, and it cut something out of me. It took all my-my passions. My heat. It-it's like a story I heard once, from a man who'd lived in the mountains. In the fall, the ground froze solid and they had to hack out the graves. In winter, the dirt was too hard, and they couldn't even bury the bodies. They just piled them in sheds until the ground thawed in the spring.//
//Ah//, the priest sighed soothingly, knowingly, //You're afraid you've found something good again.//
fresh and alive and smoldering. El silently cursed. Sands never seemed to shut up, even when he wasn't actually voicing his words, and the spirits never seemed to tire of letting El know exactly what those words were. //I haven't found anything good, father//, El replied tightly. //I haven't found anything. It's all found me.//
//Evil is not always clear, but neither is good or happiness//, the priest said reprovingly, but gently. //Our Lord created this earth for us to rejoice in and to care for. His Will works through all things, and if we choose to fight it, if we reject it, then we reject Him.//
El had to agree with that. //It's not God that is driving me. I'm sure//, he retorted moodily.
//And how long have you been thinking such thoughts?// his confessor asked, disapproval lacing whips through his voice.
//How long…//. El rolled his shoulders, moved his head back-and-forth, as if he could scan the interweaving latticework for a suitable reply. Crib notes chalked up by a previous sinner, perhaps. But nothing. //It's only been two days//, he breathed to himself. //Two, and already I'm…// Shaking his head vigorously, El slapped an open palm against the side, its hollow smack ringing distortions through the decrepit chapel. //No//, he corrected himself, reluctant and frustratingly honest. //It started before that. It started with the…the-the digging-up. You know, the…when someone's dead but they want to check--//
//--the exhumation//, the priest interjected.
//Yes! That. That…// Trailing off on the last, repeated word, El put a hand to his forehead. It felt as if he were touching himself with a hot iron. //That. Holy Mot-sorry. I…didn't need the money. Or the life. I was living simply because I couldn't die, but when someone offered me a choice between giving away the burden and taking on another duty, I chose…I chose the duty.//
//Then whoever it was, I most heartily thank them,// the priest said strongly. //You remember that suicide is a sin, my son, but so is neglecting the spirit. No soul should be crippled.//
//This isn't much of a healing, father//, El chuckled bleakly. //I don't even recognize myself anymore. I don't want to. I've just been ignoring it all, but now I don't think I can.//
On the other side of the screen, the priest hmm'd thoughtfully. //Because of this…other? They grab your attention?//
//They…it's only been a few days//, the mariachi murmured to himself. //Two days against two months.//
//Most of the important things follow no timeline.// The priest stopped for a moment, and then inquired earnestly, //Tell me, my son. Before everything changed, what kept you on your feet?//
Breathing in and out deeply, El mulled over the question for several minutes. //I was curious//, he finally answered, voice weighty with drowned wishes. //I wanted to see what happened next, even though I didn't really care.//
//And now?// the other man asked gently.
//And now…// Each word dragged itself inevitably from El's throat. //And now…I'm more than curious. I'm annoyed, I'm irritated, I-//
//Care enough to have an emotion about it?// the priest finished, a little smugly. //Well, I don't believe that's your problem after all. What has happened, has happened, and you know it. The real difficulty then is whether it's something you can live with, or something you want to live with.//
Chopping his hands through the air, nearly choking on unexpected rage, El watched his sight waver and shade to blood. //I'm always living with something//, he hissed. //Always living with some wound, some scar, some wide-open hole just asking to be filled with hate, Father. And now you're telling me to let it go, to accept it and suffer?// Hand sweeping a ferocious arc, he struck out at the cross-shaped holes in the lattice, empty signs of an empty faith. //I'm not a saint! And--//
The priest was laughing. Goddamn it, the fat soft-assed holy flea was laughing at him. And El could hear it.
//It's a man!// the mariachi roared. //A man! A sinful, unrepentant man! You still want me to agree to it? You want me to go out and kill, and kill, and then fuck him into the ground? Take him up against the shit-plastered walls of your shitty church?//
//Well, why not?// came the mild reply. //It was a good reason for which to die.//
//You-you're not a priest!// El yelled. And then a moment after, when it had sunk into his spine and chilled it to winter, he repeated more quietly, much more quietly, //You're not a priest.//
//I was//, the other…the other chortled. //Still am. They never got around to excommunicating me before I died, and you know, rites done after-the-fact matter only to the living; they can't touch the dead.//
Not really thinking anymore, El snatched up his case and flung himself out of the booth, then forced himself to a walk. Though he steadfastly refused to look behind him or to listen as he left the chapel.
"Dammit, he's not coming back," Sands muttered, taking off the sunglasses and shoving them into a bag. Melted by holy water, or maybe choked on the wafer. Sands' stomach was queasy, probably due to the bad food-
--okay, fine. After so many years in Mexico, he could probably eat the rats and still come out swell. So it was a little frightening to be left alone in the middle of nowhere. Perfectly natural reaction. No big deal really, though. Sands had the supplies, and he'd already known El was a jerk. He could make it by himself. He'd always had. He-
The little red dot in his head was moving. Had been for a while. Pretty fast, too. Sands scrambled to his feet just in time to eke out a slightly-strained, "El! You remembered!"
God's balls, but he was supposed to be sarcastic, not relieved.
"Sands. You didn't run off," El drawled, frustration rippling ever-so-lightly through his voice. The mariachi bent over and began to gather bags up, shoving Sands' share roughly at him. "You impressed?" the American sneered, trying to regain his balance. Figurative and literal, because at the rate El was throwing things at him-which he still couldn't see-Sands was going to list over completely in another few seconds.
Not even grunting, the other man grabbed the last bag and tore off, leaving Sands to follow hurriedly behind, cursing as he tried to hold on to everything. The American finally caught the hang of juggling a double-armful of sacks just when they arrived at the car, where El more or less tore the bags from Sands' hands and started to stow them none-too-gently in the DeSoto.
Fine, Sands thought. Blunt approach it was.
He waited in still patience till El had finished arranging things in the trunk, and then, when the other man was doing his slam-lid-swivel-heel, Sands caught him in mid-turn and knocked El back up against the car. He ducked the expected punch and smacked the mariachi on the shoulder with a pistol-butt. "What the fuck's the matter? Holy father wouldn't bless you or something?"
Like usual, El merely glowered. "Oh, fuck that," Sands said, exasperated. "Man invented speech so we could get past this shit. So stop taking it out on me and tell me what's wrong. Can we kill it? Them?"
"You take it out on me," the other man accused.
"Yeah, well, I clearly got the nonexistent end of the stick, so I deserve to. I mean, I don't even like you," Sands retorted, brushing hair out of his face. And thus failing to see exactly how El swiped his gun and turned them around so it was Sands who had his ass slapped against metal.
"Really," El breathed, human eyes mocking out of a featureless crimson oval that was abruptly all Sands could see. And then hard, thin lips were working against Sands', prying his surprise-slackened mouth open and plunging in. Teeth rasped over teeth and nipped at tender flesh, while a nimble tongue tricked his into a wet dance.
His hands were on El's waist. No, on his back. No…Sands gave up and let them wander wherever they pleased. It was far easier to track El's hands, with their long clever fingers that stroked prickles from the depths of Sands' blood, pulled them to the surface and gathered them into hot bursts of pleasure at the throat, down the spine, in the belly trailing to his groin and stirring sex. And then a leg pinned itself between his own and ground firmly up, and Sands' cock leaped fully into action.
Moaning into El's mouth, he dragged the other man closer, doing his damnedest to snake into the other's skin. They kissed again and again, licking up blood and spit from each other, breathing sporadically as their lips and teeth clashed. Sands dug nails into El's shoulderblades and rubbed the line of his cock against El's, nearly purring at the slip-sliding. Growling in counterpoint, the mariachi wove one hand into Sands' hair and yanked the American's head back to swallow, inch by inch, the vulnerable curve of throat.
Eventually, El forced a little distance between their flushed bodies. "So?" he rasped.
"So…" Sands' voice nearly fractured in shock. "God…I can see your eyebrows."
"What?" El demanded, panting.
"Never mind, 'm adapting. Shut up and-" Being sensible for once, El sucked out the rest of Sands' words. They moved up and around each other, completely oblivious to everything except the tastes, the scents, the touches.
//Go in peace, my son.//
Ripping away from El, Sands stared wildly over El's shoulder at the rude intruder, and then those shadowy phantom eyes, flickering in scarred sockets, widened. The American's fingers tightened past painfully on El's back. "El," Sands whispered, "Just what kind of priest did you see?"
Half-frustrated and half-unnerved, El let his head float down onto the elegant collarbone quivering before him. "Is he dead?" he asked, not especially wanting an answer.
Of course, Sands gave him one. "Well. There are rope burns around his neck," the American said with blindingly-false cheer. "And, you know, there's the fact that I can actually see that little detail."
//So you too are blessed// came that irrepressible, eerie voice. //Then may the Lord guide you both, brothers.//
Palming the car keys, El reached behind Sands and unlocked the door. "El, what the fuck is he saying?" the other man demanded nervously.
"He's giving us a blessing," El sighed, pulling Sands back and wrenching the door open, then tossing them both into the car in one smooth movement. He slammed the door shut, then cranked up the engine and launched the DeSoto out of town. But not before Sands managed to roll down a window and yell back, "Up yours, bitch!"
"He's dead," El pointed out bemusedly, twirling the wheel one-handed. "I don't think he cares."
"It's the principle, remember," Sands snarked. "I don't need anyone's approval on anything. Christ on a crutch, can't you find anyone normal?"
"Like you?" El grinned. The American blew out air in annoyance. "I'm fucked up. See, position's filled," Sands snapped back. "You'll have to stop bringing home replacements, 'cause I'll cut off their balls and slow-roast them with pork and tequila."
"You seem to be happier about things," the mariachi observed, glancing over. As anticipated, Sands was still hard.
Shrugging, the American slumped down, trying to get comfortable. "I thought about it, and there are a few advantages to all this crap. For one, I get to piss off dead people. If your goddamned dream-rotting lady thinks she can control me, she can go right on deluding herself. I'm taking what she's got, and I'm having fun, whether or not it's what she wants."
Sands turned just in time for El to enjoy his look of surprise and lust as the mariachi reached over and very thoroughly felt up the other man's crotch. "And this?" El asked, the evening light glancing off the edge of his smile.
"Fuck-" Sands writhed, one hand fumbling to haul himself closer to the driver's seat. El helpfully pushed the heel of his palm more firmly against the bulge, fingers working to shape the cloth over the stiff cock. "Since when do you do casual?" the American gasped.
"I don't," El replied, letting his hand ride the rocking of Sands' hips, and then he quickly undid the zipper and wrapped a fist around the straining flesh. Air cutting off in the middle of his keen, Sands curled in and around, forehead pressing into El's shoulder, knees bumping El's hip. His left hand clamped down to the back of the car seat, molding grooves into the leather. "But the priest said something very interesting things," El finished, speeding up his rhythm.
Breathe almost gone, Sands thrust mindlessly into El's hand. "Priest's dead," he wheezed absently, voice high and thin.
"Yes," El agreed, abruptly sliding the circle of his fingers down so he could tease tensed balls with his fingertips. Sands sunk his teeth through El's shirt into the skin. "So the holy father probably knew what he was talking about," the mariachi continued, wringing a climax from the other man.
"God!" Sands cried, equal parts reverent and sinful. As the other man collapsed, El removed his hand and examined the thick white fluid that covered it. Curiosity tickled, and he took a tentative lick.
"Well?" drifted up from his chest. "Odd," El said contemplatively. "I am not sure if I could get used to it."
"You'd better," Sands returned darkly, seizing El's wrist and tugging the sticky hand over so he could run a little tongue, innocent pink like a girlchild's lips, over every bump and wrinkle and bend, meticulously cleaning the skin. El's breath caught, and then he nearly drove off the road.
Sands expertly braced himself against the jolt, then resumed licking up the remaining ejaculate from the car seat. His tongue swiped lovingly over the leather, then followed the pale fluid up to the few flecks that had landed on El's pants. Fastening that fascinating mouth over them, he sucked and swirled until El could feel the warm moisture soaking through to burn holes into his skin. "That's-the seat isn't very clean," the mariachi managed to stammer.
Sneering, Sands clambered off the bench and between El's legs before the other man could even blink. "Like they're going to let us die now from something like that," the American snorted sarcastically. And then he had El's pants undone and El's cock in his fire mouth.
The last coherent thought El remembered having was that he hoped Sands wasn't being idiotic again, because he was not stopping. Or stopping Sands. And then there was tight heat brushing his cock and twirling around the head, probing the slit and massaging the sides and fuck but El was dying. Again. Always dying.
Vision fading from agonizingly bright to dim, El did his best to stay somewhere on the road. Luckily-or unluckily, the events of the night had already put his nerves on needle points, and it wasn't long before Sands had coaxed him into coming, ferociously, nearly throwing himself over the wheel and through the windshield. Or maybe that was just El readjusting the car so it swerved around the cacti and back on the…somewhat smoother dirt.
Slowly, languidly, Sands tucked El's cock back in and zipped him up. The American crawled back onto the seat, not bothering to refasten his own clothing before he once again stole El's coat and stretched out, head in El's lap, to fall soundly asleep.
Twilight is ancient and silver-plated, glimmering gray over everything as El drives on into the descending night. It's quiet and calm, soothing balm that puts to rest his roiling thoughts. It's a comfort, no matter how transitory.
The road winds itself out before him, an endless line of stones and pits that shifts from beautiful to hideous in the moonlight. He doesn't know its age, but as he passes over it, he can hear the whispers of countless feet padding along the earth, the creaking of innumerable wheels. It makes him feel old and ageless all at once.
He looks in the mirror and catches silver beams of light tangled in his coal-black hair. He looks down beside him and sees the white-etched profile of a black-hearted angel, eternal and ever changing. He no longer looks at the landscape. He no longer needs landmarks, because he carries them with him and in him.
In the morning, the dawn will blush over another day in the journey, will shrink crimson-cheeked from the carnage and the brutal truth. But it's not yet then. It's now, and now El doesn't have to think, only has to drive. And to watch, and to listen.