Tangible Schizophrenia


Archetype: Gate

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: NC-17. BDSM. Weird kinks, rough sex. General bad attitude.
Pairing: Sands/El
Feedback: Mine beloved. Please?
Disclaimer: Not mine, and the real owners would probably have heart attacks if they ever, ever read this.
Summary: Sands and El face the facts.
Notes: //words// in Spanish. Ref. to Desperado--El's father was a mariachi, and his brother became a cartel bigshot. Then El killed him to save Carolina. Gate archetype-symbolizes a great change. In Greek mythology, false dreams pass out of the Underworld through a gate of ivory, and true ones through a gate of horn.


The more they fuck, the clearer the world becomes. And the clearer it becomes that, for Sands now, El is the world.

They've been driving for days-El has been driving for days. Sands mostly pillows down in the other man's lap till they reach the next stop for gas, food, beds. And then, if he feels like it, he'll get up and get out. When he's in a really good mood, he deigns to help El blow away the jackals that are snapping at their heels.

It's not that Sands likes sleeping in a car, even if it's an old badass like the DeSoto. He doesn't hang around its metal and leather for the faded reek of corpse and fear that still rises off its seats. Despite his trailer-trash fashion sense, Sands is a firm believer in the culture comforts of room service, roomy showers and soft, clean beds. But right now the outside doesn't hold much interest for him. No matter how much he tries to find some.

He does, after all, still have empty sockets in his head. Even if some cuntshit is currently lending him a couple of haunted nonexistent peepers. When he steps out of the car, it's into blank blackness and crashing noises. Sound has gotten so damn loud. El is quiet, at least. Even the pants somehow seemed to chime softer than the rest of the fuckmooks stomping around. Sands is learning to navigate-somewhen along the line, he's gotten hold of a telescoping cane-but it's still difficult. Seeing gray shades rushing hurriedly by, all wrapped up in their pathetic insect lives, and then not-seeing the rock, the chair, the limp leg in the gutter, that trips him up.

Sometimes, in the deep of the night when his cutthroat instincts slumber, Sands thinks he would've been better off completely blind, instead of breast-stroking this ever-restless sea of dark and light. Then the sudden sharp relief of a ghost bursting in wouldn't raise those rotting hopes in his chest, wouldn't make him want to fucking embrace those putrid zombie photographs like they'd just dragged him free of the roaring waters. Wouldn't keep him circling around El.

El, the only distinct living thing Sands could see. Couldn't even see the goddamned rats squeaking over their sudden feast of slaughtered cartel men, but he could see El. And El is getting, fuck by fuck, more detailed. The red is fading back to a deep background glow, Hell's idea of atmospheric lighting. This morning, as Sands was letting the spit-swaddled cock slip out of his mouth, he looked up and saw an almost-man staring back at him.

All right, they aren't fucking, precisely. No breaches in the ass yet. But Sands can feel the inexorable pull of it that way, and he wants to say: fuck. You. Because El damn well wasn't going to be underneath, when the time came, and anyway what the fuck were they doing, slamming each other around like high-schoolers too scared to cross home plate? Because Sands knows when he's being played, and since Culiacan, that's all that's been happening to him. Because he hates being the puppet, much prefers the position of puppeteer, and refuses to play anyone's game but his own. Because he's damn well not going to lay down for some two-bit gunslinger with a gimmick just so some lousy goddess can get her end off.

But if he leaves now, then he'll have to look in a mirror alone, and he doesn't want to, yet. Because.


They're walking the streets of Mexico City. Or, Sands is walking the streets, and El is following him as the other man leads a contorted trail through the back-alleys and side passages. They're no more than ten minutes away from their final destination, and El has no idea what to do.

Besides the killing; death has been his bedmate too long for El to treat its giving as anything but reflex. He doesn't like it, doesn't hate it, can't remember if he ever hated it. Doesn't feel much of anything about it. Maybe a little regret, when innocents are caught in its bony grip. But not often, and not much. He's seen too many innocents shed skin to show full-fledged violence. He'd fallen in love with one, once. Carolina.

He could recall every touch, every scent, every word spoken and unspoken. But none of it is anything more than memories. Recollection is not presence; recollection is the reminder of absence.

Sands is presence. Snapping, snarling, undying unwanted unceasing presence. El had learned the other man's full name, but chooses to acknowledge only the last, the only truthful part of it. He himself has no name anymore; it's been written in the dust with one stiff-bloodied finger and erased in the windstorm. So why should his companion?

Why does he have Sands? Why does he continue to watch over him, to taste him and scratch the American's blood into his mouth?

El has no idea. And he is uncertain as to what happens after they finish here. He will escort the messenger and slay in the message's name, but he will not do this always and forever. The ghosts howl to him too loudly now, but El remembers from past experience that everything can be ignored in time. And he has patience.

Sands taps his way into another half-hidden passage, dragging El roughly behind him, and the mariachi bites back his irritation.

El knows intimately that he is flawed. But must his flaw be this man, of all things?


The two men stopped in front of a walled hacienda near the edges of the city, where the lights and blaring life trickled to clean-paved streets lined with open gutters. Walking up to the gates of latticed metal, assurance swinging his hips, Sands stopped before the entrance and raised his cane, holding it out parallel to the ground. He paused, his stillness a grand flourish, and then struck the iron lacework three times, spacing his hits in time so they clanged over the quiet grounds. And then he turned and came back to El's disbelieving side.

"That is it?" the mariachi demanded. "The message-three knocks?"

"What, did I promise you something a little more jazzy?" Sands snorted disparagingly, sliding out a gun and running fingers over it in a quick check. "Not that that would've mattered to me."

"We came…to knock and leave," El said, low and seething. In his ears, the dead wails slipped up the scale, and he palmed his own guns. Reslung the guitar case across his back. //To knock and leave dead bodies on the doorstep. Fuck. Anyone can do that.//

"Getting prideful, are we now," the other man taunted. "Thought you would've known your folklore. Three knocks means-"

//Me//, El snapped back, certain and not arrogant at all. He watched the lights blink on in the hacienda, listened for the shouts. "You said there was one we cannot kill," he went on, more calmly. "Yet we knock for him."

"Many more ways to kill a man than with a bullet," Sands tutted, sidling to the side of the gate and taking aim through the bars at the first men. "You disappoint me, El. You're an expert, after all."

"What are you saying?" El asked sardonically. "I know nothing. I'm dead."

"Don't be stupid," the American growled. "The dead know fucking everything. They just can't tell anyone-why else are they so happy about having us?"

And then their opponents came into range, and the two men began shooting. As sniping wasn't his preferred style, El soon gave in and shot the gates open, then charged in to the sound of Sands' pissed cursing behind him. Dropping his case temporarily to the ground, he shot down two men rushing his left, then ducked another's flailing set of chains and blew out a knee, coming up to crush his gun butt into a soft throat. More bullets thudded into the ground around him, and spinning while he shot, El sent men tumbling from the roof-tiles. Something twinged. Sighing, El kicked up his case and went back to drag Sands forward, both men firing furiously as they rammed through the front door of the house.

They were met by a half-dressed whore throwing butcher knives. Putting three bullets in her, El yanked Sands past the hallway furniture and further inside, not pausing to let the other man recover when the American smacked into chairs and doorways. Insulting El incessantly now, Sands finally managed to swing his cane around just in time to backhand another gunman coming out of a closet.

El briefly dodged into an alcove to bang open his case and switch guns, then resumed heralding his progress with a firestorm of lead. Room by room, he and Sands cleared out the hacienda until they found themselves in the very last, facing the last man. Who, quivering and shitting, begged for his life on his urine-soaked knees, right up until two bullets stopped his voice. El never knew if he and Sands had truly fired simultaneously. He didn't have time to reflect on it, not when the curtains were rustling. Crossing in three paces, he tore aside the fabric with one gun to find-

--a child. Wide-eyed and silent, face full of too much knowledge.

"That's the one," Sands commented. Ever-so-slowly turning his head, El told the other man very lowly, "I would not even if it hadn't been."

"Whatever, man." Sands swiped hair off his face. "You know they just grow up to be bouncy little pistoleros anyway."

El would have-but the girl. Instead, he gritted his teeth and ordered, "Deliver the message."

Shrugging nonchalantly, Sands waved at the painting of the Virgin Mary on the wall. "There's a key in the top side-table drawer. Old, really big. Take it out and give it to the kid."

Amusement darkening his mood, El did as Sands said. "You were pointing at the wrong side of the bed," he remarked, voice dry poison, as he hauled the other man out of the room.

In the shadows behind them, the child slowly got to her feet, staring after the two men as she clutched the key. It was of an ancient design, big-toothed with a ring topping its rusting length. Slowly rubbing her fingers along it, she squelched through the bloody carpeting and with some effort, opened the veranda door. Looking curiously about her, the girl followed the fireflies into the night, key held before her like a dowsing rod.


"Goddamn it, El-stop-fucking shit-stop dragging me." Digging his heels into the ground, Sands ripped his arm free from the bruising grip. "What the fuck's with you?" he yelled, gesturing wildly. "So there was a kid. There's always a goddamned kid. They've seen worse; Ajedrez used to be a baby. So did you."

"And you," El retorted, feet crunching off to kick at something small and many and clattering. Gravel. The guitar case thumped onto solidity. Rock. Fanning his cane about himself, Sands backed up until he touched…yes, they were in a graveyard. Leaning against the mausoleum, he flicked out cigarette and lighter, but only got one burning drag in before a sudden gust of wind tore the cancerstick from his lips. Across from him, El laughed.

"She wants to speak with us," the mariachi said, words bitter bark snatched off the tree and fallen to earth. //If I needed more details on a man, I would go and offer cigarettes and tequila.//

"Music wasn't enough?" Sands asked, not really caring for an answer. He let his cane dangle from its wrist-strap and drew out one gun, still hot from the firefight. "Of course not. Creation's never enough," he sighed, tilting his head back to let the coolness of the stone chill his skin. Languidly, the gun rose and stroked a scorching path from ear to chin along the jawline.

Gasping. Or maybe even a hiccup. Glancing over, Sands watched amusedly as El's eyes, looking even brighter in the surrounding darkness, widened and narrowed with lust and suspicion. The American pressed the tip of the gun against the underside of his chin, just until the skin began sticking to the warm steel, then slid it down his front. Brought it back up and moved it from left shoulder to right. "And what if-" he mused, lifting his other hand to cradle the back of his head "-what if I don't care to talk to her?"

Grunting his incredulity, El simply stood and waited. The first ghosts wandered in, mouths working furiously with the urgency of their whines. Smiling over at them, Sands spread his legs and traced the front of his jeans with the pistol, undoing buttons and zipper as he went. "After all," he continued, lifting out his cock with the gun barrel, "Can't really sow vengeance if I'm like those poseurs." He pointed his dick toward the staring ghosts.

An eyebrow lift in his voice, El replied, "You would kill yourself just for silence."

"Yeah." The metal was searing against the thin skin of Sands' thighs, groin. Rubbing the gun over his flesh, he slumped further back onto the tomb, letting his body rise automatically to meet the pleasant friction. "If I didn't think the slut would manage to get hold of me even then," Sands murmured gutturally, adrenaline still mainlining in his veins. Almost absentmindedly, he added, "She did say my soul was going elsewhere, but who knows? Maybe they do lend/lease."

"So you aren't going to shoot yourself," the other man noted, and yes, that was relief lurking beneath the scorn. Just for El, Sands sent the gun gliding down till it was shoving heavy balls painfully, pleasurably back, making his own breath jerk. "Would you be lonely if I left?" he crooned. "Poor mariachi, all alone in the dark woods-" the pistol nudged up between buttocks and circled the small hole "-no one to listen to his poignant twanging."

The gunmetal had been hot before, but now Sands was hotter and the steel iced his skin as he brought it back, swiping the side up his cock before raising the gun to his lips and licking it off. Tracing the smooth curves, enjoying the tiny cuts they opened in his tongue, he grinned at the ring of gibbering faces. "No one except the dead and the mad, and I hear they're tough critics to please. Never know what they want." Clicking the safety back, Sands dropped the slickened gun back down and resumed massaging his erection with it. "Whereas I, on the other hand, know exactly."

Only his face remaining impassive among all the gaping crowd, El commented, "She didn't choose you for your innocence. She won't care if you dirty yourself."

"Really?" Breath coming faster, Sands stroked the pistol faster and faster, half-crouched over it now. "But this is…specific filth, honeybuns…I'm not…rolling in the mud. I fully intend…to become one of-one of them. Name on the list." He pressed his tongue hard against his teeth as he came, squeezing copper acid into his mouth.

"So you want me to kill you," El replied, waiting patiently as Sands recovered and cleaned himself off, as the spirits retreated, their shivering wrinkling the air.

"Shut up and molest me already, would you?" Sands responded, straightening while he reholstered his gun. "This conversation's getting repetitive."

A wall slammed into him. At least, that was what it felt like at first, but then, when Sands grabbed for his attacker and found only air forcing him back, he realized. "Well, fuck you and fuck your fucking offers-" he screamed, flailing uselessly as the wind blew him into the mausoleum's gate, as it dove into his eye sockets and pulled--


Hearing the slight stir, El looked over at the makeshift bed, visually checking the bindings, and then returned to his examination of the fake arm. It'd appeared unexplainably on the DeSoto's hood one morning, and he'd nearly thrown it away before Sands had woken and asked why he wasn't driving yet. After he'd told the other man, Sands had snatched the arm away and not let El near it since, though the mariachi had had the pleasure of seeing it in action.

"I'm in your goddamned bed again, aren't I." Resigned statement. "And why the hell am I tied up?" Rustling blankets as Sands struggled.

"You were feverish earlier," El answered, glancing over again. "I had to go out and I didn't think the door lock would hold." The American was keeping his eyelids tightly closed. El set the arm carefully down on the floor, then seized Sands under the chin. Dodging the kicks and thrashing, he pulled the other man up against him, pinning him there until El had found the hanging ends of the leather wrapped around Sands' wrists and had knotted them securely around the iron curls behind them both. "Hold still."

"Make me, you cocksucking piece of Tijuana sewage," Sands snarled. Still not opening his eyelids. Rolling his eyes, El shifted so his knees held Sands' legs down and then forced the American's head back so his free hand could cup the shaking side of Sands' face. Smoothing his thumb over the knifing cheekbones, whispering an old lullaby under the curses, El waited till the other man had quieted to dejected panting. And then, very gently, he eased the right flap up with a fingertip.

Shadows. A void in miniature-glimmering. Gone, and then back, a curve of red and black and white. And Sands sagging beneath him. "So. You still have it," El observed.

"Yes." It wasn't quite a snarl or a sob that Sands produced, fluttering both eyelids open. The American moved his head slowly from side-to-side, then froze. "El. We're not in a hotel room."

"You had fallen in here anyway. And you were twisting too much for me to move you," the mariachi said, picking up the artificial arm. "So I parked the car outside and moved everything in here instead."

"He's talking," Sands muttered inanely.

"He says he'll leave and visit his mistress on the other side," El remarked. The mariachi held up the arm to Sands' face, running his hands along it so Sands could determine the shape of it. "How does this work?"

"He just walked through us." The American shivered, then tugged at his wrists, but they remained bound firmly to the vault's gates. "God, El, for a gunfighter you're way too fucking much like those kids sometimes."

"While you slept, I listened," El told him, shrugging. "She was angry. But she couldn't-she said she can't choose. She has to wait for people to choose her. And once a contract is made, neither side can break it."

"Fucking wonderful," Sands growled, turning his head to one side. Disregarding his sullenness, El fitted the shoulder end of the third arm against Sands and bent the rest so it hung naturally. The cloth didn't match, but El could imagine the jacket that had gone along with the arm-which Sands had worn when they had met for the first time, the mariachi suddenly realized. It made him smile sourly.

"So." The other man's voice cracked El's thoughts wide open. "If we decided, then how come she was the one who gave?"

"It was so we would listen. We don't have to hear her to fight for her," El explained. The gloved fingers, half-curled around the missing gun, seemed disturbingly real to him. Partly lax, just waiting. "But this way, she can…suggest. Argue."

"You want to keep doing this shit?" Sands asked, disbelieving. Pulling the fake arm away, El examined it quietly for some time before he gave a reply.

"Not always," the mariachi said. "Not all the time. But I can't stop forever." Rich smell of leather filtering up to his nose, El bent and delicately sniffed the glove. "My father was a musician," he admitted, almost dreamily, "My mother used to stare at her hands at night, when she washed them. My brother was cartel. I buried César for Carolina, and now all I have of them are spent bullet casings. And murder in my blood."

"Not really caring here," Sands interjected. "Mind just shutting up and finding another freaky priest?"

"I know you don't care," El answered, his tongue flickering out to taste the leather. Warm. More assuredly, he bit down into the finger, feeling the stuffing and wires that plumped it out twisting beneath his teeth. In front of him, Sands twitched as the American figured out what El was doing. "You only care about being free."

"Well, obviously I'm not," the other man snorted, yanking at his wrists to make the gates rattle pointedly. "Neither am I," El agreed, "You went and linked yourself to me."

"What?" Sands yelped. "I did not. I didn't ask for anything! And stop fondling my arm, dammit. Do you know how much that cost?"

"No, you only took." Nuzzling up the side of the arm, El noted the roughness of the fabric when stroked one way, then its corresponding silkiness when going the other. "Though you did ask me."

"Huh-" Beneath El, Sands' legs shifted irritably. "That? I asked you to molest me, not a piece of plastic."

"Why?" Catching the confused look in his peripheral vision, El reluctantly set down his amusing toy and leaned forward till his nose almost touched Sands'. "Why should I decide to chain myself to you?" he breathed, intense and questioning. It sounded as if he'd asked the Devil what God was. "Why shouldn't I leave you in the forest, by yourself with only your ravings?"

El settled a hand on Sands' thigh, frustratingly close. "You're always teasing," the mariachi continued. "Like a woman fishing for marriage. I wonder, then: what else are you afraid of, besides losing your freedom?"


Downing air like he would tequila shots, Sands tried, frantically, to trace in his mind just where it'd all gone pear-shaped. Bullet-shaped. If he had been capable of freaking out at that moment, he would have been, but El's eyes were congealing Sands' blood and El's body, much too close and rather too far, was shoving the metaphorical nails gleefully through Sands' limbs.

"This is not what I had in mind," the American blurted, back arching just that little bit. Unconsciously. El shoved him back down, lips in bitter curves. "So you know what I'm doing," the mariachi commented casually, fingers feathering at the very edges of Sands' denim-covered, swiftly stiffening cock. "What are you doing?"

"I fight for myself," Sands gritted out, twisting his trapped wrists. "I only took orders from the CIA 'cause I liked the healthcare plan. And since they rammed a shotgun up my ass, I don't listen to anyone."

"Are you going, then?" El asked, eyes half-lidded as he slid a spread-fingered hand up Sands' chest.

Going-without El. Realistically, Sands knew he could survive on his own now. And he had probably learned enough about the spirits to deal with them without having to rely on El's experience. But…

"No. I'm not," Sands dragged out of himself, tossing the words like acid at El. He hoped they'd eat that shitfucking smirk permanently into the other man's face, but to his vast disappointment, El merely nodded. "Because-because I don't fucking want to," Sands finished defiantly, snapping his head forward to crack their skulls together.

El reeled, then shook the blow off and shoved Sands back into a snarling kiss. Both men's lips split under the pressure. Feeling the hot trickle, Sands jerked his head sideways so he could lick up-unseeing, as apparently blood wasn't included in his special-the salty metallic fluid, losing no chance to leave his teeth imprints in El's skin as he went. The hand at his groin ripped off his pants, and the hand on his chest did likewise to his shirt. Blood rushed to Sands' head as a hard mouth savaged his throat into hoarse gasps, and his cock leapt into El's rough grip. "Goddamn it, fuck me," Sands growled. "Do it now, or you'll never get near enough for a second round."

"One-time offer?" El smiled, one hand dropping away to rummage beside them, while the other alternately chafed Sands' straining erection and rolled Sands' tightening balls. "You're not walking away after this," the mariachi warned, scoring teeth over a nipple till it bled as well.

"So screw me through the fucking gate!" the American retorted furiously, wrenching his arms futilely. And then coated fingers jabbed in at the same time lips surrounded the head of his cock, and Sands wilted into stiffness.


Removing his other hand from Sands' cock, El sunk himself further down till he was lying across the other man's legs. He had to temporarily take his mouth away in order to shimmy out of his own pants, which provoked a brutal groan from the American. Considering the helpless sprawl of the other man, El scratched very gently inside, just over the one spot. Sands writhed, then fell back, his shudder nicely complementing the clattering metal lattice behind him. His head flopped back to expose a white throat scattered over with scarlet bruises to the streaming moonlight, which silvered the bars to cream. Like cattle horns.

Blowing the hairs away from his face, El craned back down to take just the tip of Sands' erection into his mouth, anticipating the hip-roll and moving back. "You mothersucking-" the American began to say, but then El deep-throated the cock and the words jagged into nothing, only their unborn ghosts wafting to El's ears.

--bastard, pleasepleasetouchTake…

El's spine was tingling, without touch even having awakened it. His skin felt too tight, and if he tore his attention away from the messy trembling heap before him, he could almost sense birds' wings brushing along his insides. Caressing just beneath his skin, tender as Sands could never manage, not with hands unbound. Undulating against them, he glided the cock in and out of his mouth, swallowing in time to the plunge of his fingers in and out of the clenching ring of muscle. Changing the rhythm every so often, just before Sands could crest and escape into obliteration.

By the time El pushed himself back up, taking off lips and out fingers with one last flick, Sands was too far gone to even whimper in protest. El had to lever up the limp legs with no help from the other man, who merely worked the edges of his open slack mouth as if trying to pray. The sweat-slippery limbs several times slithered out of El's hands, preventing his thrusting into Sands until, grunting in aggravation, he finally slammed them up by Sands' ears and drove in.

That brought the American back to keening, jerking life. Legs falling to clasp around El's waist, Sands forced a ferocious pace that opened small tears inside, in spite of the lubrication. Not that either man noticed. There was already too much blood for them to register a few drops more. Seizing Sands' sides, El fucked the other man harshly, leaning down to scrape the crusts off Sands' lips, causing them to bleed again. He swiped the fluid up and over the American's face, painting red streaks over the moon-paled face with his tongue and then erasing them.

Whining swears and pleas, Sands lashed himself harder and harder against El, till climax ripped claws down the American's back and bowed it up. His ass constricted in a punishing vise around El's cock, rippling along its length until El finally surrendered as well, hands scrabbling on the stone floor as he flooded his ejaculation into Sands. Body draining of energy, he slouched on top of Sands till the American had recovered enough to demand, "Fuckmook. Get off and untie me."

Grumbling was most likely pointless. Grudgingly, El did exactly as Sands asked and then collapsed onto the bedroll, groggily wiping himself off. Just before he drifted into sleep, he felt the other man crawl in beside him. Soft mouth just grazing El's cut lips.


After breakfast, after bandaging their wounds, they discussed the next step. Neither man particularly wanted to traffic with the supernatural, but it wasn't a good stopping point at the moment. And in the end, she was the best source of information. Putting the rest of their belongings in the car trunk, El kept back a bottle of strong liquor, a candle and a pack of cigarettes. Handing them to Sands, he locked the car and walked back to the cemetery entrance.

"I thought voodoo was a Caribbean thing," the American muttered, limping behind.

"This isn't magic," El contradicted, taking the candle and wedging it into the dust. "This is business." He produced a match and lit the candle, then unscrewed the liquor bottle and placed it gently next to the wavering flame. Sands snitched a match for a cigarette, then handed El an unlighted cigarette. The mariachi held its tip in the flame till it caught, letting it ash a bit before he stuck it in the ground on the other side of the candle.

"You know, I thought at a graveyard you would've just needed to breathe to talk to her," Sands commented, masking his unease with sarcasm. He still wasn't finished adapting, El noted.

In answer, the mariachi said, "Usually, yes. But we're out of favor. And my voice isn't up to singing."

"Yeah." Smile smug and taut, Sands sucked on his cancerstick. "You're quite the screamer. But then again, I am that good."

Darting an amused look over his shoulder, El retorted, //And I fucked you speechless. What does that make me?//

"A streetwalking fairy boy," Sands bit back, shifting his hips and rubbing at his scabbed-over wrists. "Once we get in the car, I'm not moving till my ass springs back into shape. So the massacres are all yours today, pretty."

Dust swirled about their feet, sluggishly at first, but quickly whipping up into a desert devil. Howling curled about the coiling winds, gradually resolving into thundering words that beat El backwards till he smacked against the DeSoto. Arm thrown up over his eyes, he reached out and snagged cloth, pulling Sands out of the grasping air.

The fury built and built to a tremendous peak that came crashing down in a ringing wave of anger and pain and annoyance and-

"-general bitchiness," Sands laughed, hand plastering the sunglasses to his face to keep the dirt out of his sockets. "Well, tough shit. We're all you got, so play nice."

And the words formed sentences, and the sentences wove a story. Threads still dangling from the frayed end. Nodding, grinning his own insolence into the storm, El began planning.


It's some kind of relationship, Sands has to admit. More abnormal than abnormal, and it occurs to him that it might even not be exclusive. She bleeds into them, and they're tangled up in her flowing locks, no matter how much they hate it. But, yeah. Sands has more or less sworn off women since Ajedrez.

Beautiful, and deadly, and unscrupulous, and too alike him. She'd ruined more than his eyes.

He knows El sympathizes, and Sands much prefers the ironic understanding that usually roosts in the mariachi's eyes. Carolina had done much the same to the other man, and now here they were, two men traveling the roads of Mexico with yet another list to scratch out, name by name. But now they've actually gotten it on, with Sands ending up on the receiving end, as predicted. And he'll be feeling it for days, that slow deep burning stretch.

He's disgustingly content about it. Like Sands never bothered mentioning, it's not what common people would call a healthy relationship. It works for them, however, so he won't argue. Though he will curse and protest and struggle till El slaps him quiet and fucks him sentimental, because after all, the most important part of maintaining a relationship is making sure the fire doesn't die out.

Making sure Sands isn't left in the dark.

He'll never tell El this, but for just a moment, just a second before he'd passed into unconscious frenzies, he'd seen his sight spread completely black. And it had terrified him. Sands had forgotten that short time before he'd fallen into Alice's Wonderland well, had had his recalled fears blotted out of existence by the oddities that had followed. But she'd made him remember.

If what El had said back in the tomb was true, then it was all an illusion. She hadn't actually taken his vision away; she'd merely shown him a void. But still-

Bad odds. Sands hates depending on anyone, but if there's a gun to his head and he has to pick a door, step over a threshold, he'll go with El. Because if he's choosing his company in hell, then he's damn well picking someone he knows. Music to bones.


This time, El is driving towards the sun. The glare is piercing, hot and scalding and it chases away the last vestiges of her touch. He leans into it.

He has company. Real company, not just friends drawn in momentarily by a loyalty that El can't even begin to fathom but nevertheless feels gratitude for. Sands isn't a wife, isn't a soulmate, isn't a missing half. He doesn't fill anything that was absent in El; if anything, the little jackass tears out more holes. But then, so does El. The mariachi's swallowed Sands' rage, drunk deep of his fierce despair. And they're permeating through his numb body, slowly thawing it out.

A goad, maybe. Who tastes of smoldering coals and scorched caramel.

For that, for the gift of that experience, El can almost forgive her. Because she woke him into a world he never wanted, pressed a key he never desired into his hands. He'll fight to keep that, to have the privilege of snarling and clawing and hurting this one man. And to let Sands snarl and claw and wound him back. He will turn the key in the lock and push open the gate, he will cross through and Sands will follow till they've torn themselves into one. Strings as red as life, as crimson as the inside of death's laughing mouth, binding them together.

Is he a fool, to have destruction as his cause?

El can't bring himself to care. All he knows is what he is and what he needs. All he pursues is that. All he protects is that.

Under the sun, he journeys on, letting himself be burnt to the core.


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