Tangible Schizophrenia


Archetype: Shadow and Anima

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: NC-17. Disturbing imagery and kinky sex.
Pairing: Sands/El, ref. to Sands/Ajedrez and El/Carolina. Maybe El/Ajedrez/Sands/Carolina, if your mind tilts like that.
Feedback: Drooled over. All kinds accepted (though flames only make the Sands-muse more psycho).
Disclaimer: Much too pretty to belong to a peon like me.
Summary: El and Sands face the past. Literally.
Notes: Themes extrapolated from very short definition of Jungian archetypes. Am v. sorry if I got them all wrong; please let me know. From A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature:
1. "The shadow is the darker side of our unconscious self, the inferior and less pleasing aspects of the personality, which we wish to suppress."
2. "The anima…is the 'soul-image,' the spirit of a man's élan vital, his life force or vital energy…the image of the opposite sex that he carries in both his personal and his collective unconscious."


So they've figured out each other, and they've figured out their…additions. They've even managed to back her into a corner. Combined with their impressive list of kills lately, it all instills a bit of smugness in El.

Not much. Just a little lift in his prowl, a tinge of wicked humor in his close-lipped smile. He's still wary of crossroads and graveyards; he still listens for the footfalls and the guns. He still fucks half-dressed, so he can't be caught completely off guard. But nevertheless, there's that tiny hint of confidence.

It's what keeps El from flinching when Culiacan is mentioned. It's what keeps him from hesitating when he and Sands cross the town's outskirts. It's what lets him ramble down the street he last saw covered in blood and brains and painted skeletons. And, after they've dealt with their targets, it's most likely what makes him chat up the old men on the corner, trading tales and asking sidelong questions till he's got a clear map in his head.

When he reaches the square, the evening is falling thick and fast down the sky, and the twilight makes the ground shimmer. Except for the dark blots. One particularly large splotch lies just off-center, trailing muddiness to the edge of the plaza where it smudges around the bend to, El's been told, a well splashed over with blackened red. But El doesn't follow the tail. He simply walks up to the middle of the square, to the source, and stands over it.

And that's when the wind picks up into words.


Sands isn't in a doorway, or a gate, or even anywhere near a dead person. Which is why he's fucking pissed right now, plastered into the corner of his and El's rented room.

He'd learned the new rules, line by aching goddamned line. And he'd had a headache after their latest firefight, after taking down that slut who'd thrown antique daggers at him, and so he'd purposefully made El go out to do the shopping, while he'd stayed in to pop nonprescript painkillers.

He hadn't lit a cigarette. Hadn't poured alcohol or blood on the shitty floor, and he certainly hadn't called anyone. Or anything. So why the fuck is he staring at a visitor?

More to the point, why the fuck would anyone want to visit him? Well, besides El and El's raging libido.

Whatever. She isn't leaving, obviously, so it couldn't hurt to light up now. Applying a match to his cigarette-hand only slightly jerky-Sands metaphorically rolls his eyes. "Gringo psychic hotline's closed, babe," he snarks. "You'd either better have something absolutely amazing in your neckline, or I'm leaving."

A moment later, Sands discovers that not all ghosts are smoke and shine. Some can actually touch the living, and damn, but that bitch's got a nasty slap.


It was a smoky, hateful voice El heard, its female lilt barely recognizable through the anger. "Figures he'd like being fucked, that little closet case," was her first, vitriol-dripping comment.

El had gotten used to the stray remarks falling from the sky, but this one was different. This one wasn't thready and screeching and half-hidden in the wind. This one sounded almost alive. So alive, in fact, that El glanced about the square before he could help himself. Of course, it was empty of life, except for him and-"Who are you?"

"You know he's a whore, right?" It seemed as if she was sashaying about El's tense form, voice rising and falling with the cynicism. "He'll open his legs for anything, if he thinks there's an edge in it. He did it for the bee-you-tiful U. S. of A., he did it for Mexico, and now he's doing it for you. Oh, wait-you think you are Mexico, don't you? And so does he, probably; poor little Sheldon never was very good at judging sanity. So no changes after all."

//I don't love him//, El pointed out, slinging himself back on one heel and slowly letting his fingers drift away from his shirt cuffs. And from the metal that his sleeves covered.

"Better." She never was more than three or four feet from the shadowed stain at El's toes. "Can't shoot me, pistolero. Can't see me, can't touch me. So don't bother trying. You dig?"

Realization broke over El's head like storms against the mountains. "Ajedrez. You took Sands' eyes."

"Oh, don't you sound all defensive," she smirked. //Cute loyal boyfriend.//


Rubbing his cheek, Sands glared up at the black-haired visitation, grinding out his fallen cigarillo before it could set the place on fire. "Ow, you cu-" scrambling away from the upraised hand "-okay! Okay! God, women are so touchy." Resettling himself on the bed, he demanded, "Whaddaya want?"

And he watched as she crossed the room to where he remembered El setting down the guitar case, and stuck a hand through the lid, withdrawing the wavering appendage a moment later. A phantom necklace, very familiar-looking, dangled from her fingers. Sands felt like slapping himself at his stupidity-actually, no. Slapping El, for keeping around goddamn channeling foci. "So. You're the wife, and you want your jewels back?"

Her lovely face twisted in frustration, and she suddenly flung the jewelry at him, its cold essence burning a path through Sands, who deliberately didn't turn to see if it would reappear on the floor. Her mouth was moving, curling and biting: curses, some of them, but Sands hadn't read lips in a long time, and he couldn't make out the words. "Slow down," he snapped at last. "El's got the fucking hearing, okay? I can't do anything if I don't know what you're saying. Well, I might not do anything even if I knew what you were say-" She stepped forward again, and Sands shut up.

Mariachi's girl was repeating something over and over, lips slowly rounding and pushing forward, then drawing back from sharp, sharp gleaming teeth. Brow furrowing, Sands imitated her, trying out different sounds and noises until…"Carolina," he said triumphantly, and flapped a hand her way. "Nice to meet you. Nice tits."

Planting hands on hips, she rolled her eyes at the ceiling. Shrugging, Sands added, "Well, what were you expecting? Your husband's a total moron."

That tugged a knowing smile onto her face. Too knowing. His own smug grin slipping away, Sands grabbed at the bedding on which he was sitting and asked again, more somberly, "What do you want?"

Stroking one fine-boned hand along the top of El's invisible guitar case, Carolina threw a meaningful look over at the man on the other side of the room. She had a playful air about her, like a girl toying with a kitten. Gritting his teeth, Sands swallowed hard and warned her grimly, "Not a chance, babe. He's staying here till I say otherwise. The only damned thing that makes sense now, and I'm not giving it up."

Shaking her raven curls, she only stretched her smile wider, eyes daring him to prove it. To make her back off.


El would have liked to-but she was right. Bullets wouldn't have done anything to her. Instead, he queried curiously, "What did he do to you?"

"What didn't we do to each other," she laughed, nostalgic and bitter and regretful. "You know, it all started as a way to help Dad, but after a while…I didn't know what it was. Sands isn't any old desert; he's quicksand, and he's already sucked you down. Bastard would've done the same to me, but I cut myself off in time."

Eyebrows up, El favored the space before him with a considering stare. "You liked him?"

"Obviously. Psychotic and pretty and trying so hard just to fuck me over as much as I fucked him." Ajedrez was on the move once more, and El suddenly wished he knew what she looked like. What color her hair was, whether her eyes were clear or shot with guilt or really chuckling along with her rich razor voice. "He was the best damned show in town. Always good for a laugh, don't you think?"

"I suppose," the mariachi answered reluctantly. Then, because he already had too many other unknowns and he wanted to find out how much she'd tell him: "Are you bound here by something?"

Dust scored over his cheeks and upflung arm as El shielded himself from the sudden gust of wind. "You fuck!" she screamed. "Don't you dare pity me. Don't you dare." The air stilled abruptly, and her next words fell with nary a ripple. "Goddamned gunslinging mariachi. Think you're so high? Think you're so great and legendary? Think again. You're even more trapped than me."

//You can't see past yourself//, El retorted fiercely, stung deep. //You hate and hate, and you don't know why. You can't, or you'd be gone. And you can't stand it, you can't take that you might have a weakness, and so you blame everything on Sands.// Raising his head, El glared. //He's a nasty fuck, but he's human, not God. Not the Devil. Not you.//

//Oh, really//, she sneered, cracking her sentences out. //He likes guns. I like guns. He doesn't care. I don't care. I went into law enforcement because that's what they have. Force. Power. But the bastards wouldn't give me a chance, so I went home and played little pistolero daughter. Just waiting. You think Barillo poppa was going to last long anyway?//

"You don't understand him," El replied, rocking on the balls of his feet. "Sands dislikes everyone, but he truly hates only a few. But you hate everyone."

"So what if I do?" Ajedrez answered defensively. "You don't get all of him either. He actively dislikes. He's always in the mud, in the shit, not floating up above. Like you are. And I wonder, what's the difference between hating the world and refusing to live in it?"


Sands had been mad-dogging Carolina for what seemed like hours, and his eye sockets were beginning to itch. It wasn't that that finally caused him to break the silence, over. It was him suddenly noticing that-"Hey! I can't feel El."

In front of him, Carolina shrugged eloquently, leaning back against the wall. Sands bent forward, face intense as he began lowly, threateningly, "If he's dead-"

She quickly shook her head, smiling again. Hispanic Mona Lisa. Came with her very own supply of throwing knives, Sands glimpsed, as she crossed the room to sit on the bed. "Okay, he's not dead," the American regrouped. "But he's…what, busy? And last I remember, he was heading for-oh, fucking hell. I can't believe you. You're letting Ajedrez play with your honeybuns?"

Eyes sparkling with disdain, Carolina mock-prayed to heaven.

Sands snorted. "Yeah, guess so. The big shitfucker can watch his own ass." He grinned lewdly. "'s a nice one, too. He ever-of course he did. Given how fond he is of ropes and fake arms, there's no way you two stayed vanilla. And hey, who's the guy who broke El in?"

She dropped her and raised her hands briefly to strum air guitar, and then turned back to give Sands a long, searching look, sweeping her gaze slowly from head to toe, and then back up. It sent prickles to barb his skin, and he moved uneasily, muttering, "Right. Figures. Mariachis watch for each other. And the whole 'on-the-run' had to have upped the excitement factor."

Looking up just in time to see her face inches from his own, Sands instantly froze, eyes dropping to the full lips shaping air. Like an automaton, he repeated the words. "What…do…you…want…from-" the American tossed himself backwards, barely keeping on his feet as he tumbled to the floor "-go back to hell, you goddamn cunt. In case you haven't noticed, I don't ask anyone to do anything for me. I'll order and I'll persuade, but I don't ask. I don't fucking have to. El's around 'cause he's too stupid to leave, so if you've got a problem with the set-up, go pester him."

Flashing shocking white teeth, brilliant against the surrounding dark, Carolina rolled over onto her back and smoothed provocative hands down her breasts and stomach to grip the edge of her shirt, and then, before Sands could close his eyes, she ripped it apart.

The stench was appalling, coming out of nowhere to blur Sands' mind, and the sight-the sight-

--ragged gaps streaming pus, and Sands was suddenly reminded of the other woman, the dream woman from the crossroads who'd cracked her ribs wide open to embrace him and El. Except here the face was all wrong, wasn't pleading-angry; Carolina was still smiling, was stretching so one plump breast fell sideways to expose an entrance tear while she winked flirtatiously.

Disgust and fascination warred in Sands' head, all crashing together in the maelstrom of his reflexive distrust and doubt and fear. "What are you saying?" he asked harshly. "Are you predicting my death, or something? Due to my staying with El? Because I already knew the fucker's going to be responsible for that; just look at his record."

Shaking her head furiously, Carolina twisted onto her stomach, which thankfully put her death wounds out of his view. She held up her left hand, fingers crowned with a shining light. Puzzled, Sands squinted at the glitter. "We're getting married."

Face filled with frustration, she took a swipe at him, which sent Sands back a step. And then Carolina crumpled on the bed, fearful dark eyes staring out from behind a massy jet curtain of hair. Phantom blood slipped out from between her huddled curves, and a tiny metal heart unexpectedly dangled down from one hand, tangling in her locks.

"I'm…hiding behind him. I am not!" Sands cried indignantly. "I take out just as many men, and if I happen to like making El do everything else, then that's cleverness, you stupid whore."

Tossing her hair back haughtily, Carolina uncurled and reached out an arm to the side-table, her glowing fingers tracing the curves of Sands' sunglasses out of the blackness. She gave him a sly look, and then she whipped out a fistful of knives and drove them through the shades. Very slowly, as if talking to a child, she mouthed: Alone-you die. If he dies-then you have no one.


"You're behind," El said at last, no longer bothering to track his verbal adversary. "I am living in it. No one can avoid the world forever." He raised a hand to his temple, then let it fall, like a final chop. "I don't understand. You say you hate him, you take his eyes and you haunt the ground where he killed you. Yet you fight for him."

"Wrong again," she riposted. "I only want to make you walk away from him. I want him to suffer in the dark, without anything for a handhold. I want him to crawl. I want to sit here, knowing the way to help him and not telling him."

"You want power," El muttered. A shivering laugh rippled beside him. "Doesn't everybody? Don't you?" she shot back, "Don't you want the ability to make it all just…go away? All the complications, all the confusions, all the changes…"

The mariachi drew in a deep breath, comprehending at last. "What I thought I wanted, you want," he replied. //You're violent because you think you can remake everything through destruction, shape it all to your image. And it always worked, until you ran up against Sands.// He smiled, tight and thin. //I kill because I only mean to destroy something. I am not so blind that I can pretend I am creating, when I use gun and knife and hands.//

//No eyes, huh//, she snarled, wounded tigress reaching her last wells of strength. //Well, then I'll just have to show you.//

El's eyes widened, but she was already blasting through him, her fire boiling blood in veins and sending a shattering frisson all through the length of him.


"You were with him, and you got chunks of you drilled out," Sands noted nastily, curling and uncurling his fingers. "Not much of an advisor, are you?"

Carolina tipped her head to one side, thoughtful, as her hand opened and let the knives fall to the floor, where they splintered into dying sparks. On her leg, a sudden flash raced across the muscle, and then disappeared. Arch expression firmly on her face, she pointed to the new absence of weapons.

"Great. First you lose your necklace, and now you've lost your pretty little blades-" Sands started to snark, but he was cut off by her abrupt lunge forward. The American's corresponding scramble backwards sent him slamming against the wall, where she cornered him, arms planted on either side of him.

Didn't have them. When I died, her lips formed.

"Oh, Carolina," Sands drawled, in mock disappointment. "Thought we taught you better than that. You never, ever stop fighting."

Nodding in agreement, she slanted her gaze at him until he gritted out between tight-clapped teeth, "Fuck. You. The best agents are the ones that walk away at the end of the day, and the best way to ensure that is to not even be on the goddamn battlefield in the first place."

Her lip lifted scornfully.

"I'll get out from behind the bar and shoot, pretty, but not when your fine honey's all ready and willing to take the brunt of it," Sands added. "So get on back to your nice little grave. Bet he even splurged and got you real stone for the marker."

He was guessing another slap. Maybe a punch. What he got was a soul-sucking kiss.

And Sands was in the vortex, skin splitting down the center and flaying itself free under the storm's lashing.


One, two, three, four. Quadrille. Bowing, twirling, returning to touch once more. And to see-was that what the dead look like?-and to hear-was that what the dead wanted to say?

Sands through the looking glass, kaleiscoped and fractured from three points of view. Brown eyes, no eyes, empty and full. Black hair pulled back, hanging loose, clean and dirty, sweaty and dry. Crackling brittle in summer's heat, slipping soft through hard/tender/big/small hands. Body dressed and undressed, slouched and straight. Ramming in, being rammed into.

Sands smiling. Sands howling. Sands growling and laughing and bitter and free.

Sands-sliding over skin, wicked dark sprite come in the night-Sands-riptear-blood-black-red-

Change of partners.

El heard in the roaring of the seashells, echoing and humming thrice ways into the bones. Singing to the guitar, singing to the women and children. Lisping through split lips. Murmuring prayers for the dead and for the living. Voice hard and gentle, rough and mellow, snapping English and soothing Spanish. Whispering down the line of a throat, of a back, muffling itself around flesh, shredding itself hoarse yelling into the dusty uncaring air.

El chuckling. El bellowing. El sour and content and vengeful and unchained.

El-speaking words of God and words of earth to the heaving rise and fall beneath him-El-bone-ash-wine-

And then they crashed together, blind seeing and deaf hearing, and there was screaming, high and sharp, all about them as wind slapped against their backs and sides, stroked up their flanks to be sucked into gasping mouths. Ice raked down and fire burnt through, and the more they fought, tighter it clasped.

They were being broken down, piece by piece, their hands uselessly snatching one bit out of the whirlwind only to graze two others flying beyond recovery. They were-they were-

They were.


Coming back to himself, El stumbled back, eyelashes fluttering as his vision returned. Hunching over to support himself with hands on knees, he waited till his breathing slowed and smoothened before he looked around him.

An empty plaza, sprinkled with dust, blemished with blood. Light breezes tickling his cheeks. And Sands' confused, furious voice resonating in his ears. Like a star falling across the night, an image of the other man blinked in El's mind: limp and scowling in a heap of blankets, Carolina's necklace curving on the fabric by one twitching hand.

Lips curving slightly upward, El turned his footsteps back to their rooms.


Sands arched up with a last gasp, then fell heavily back onto the mattress, spread-eagled and vaguely tracking the red firefly that'd reappeared in his mind. "Of all the lousy beds in the world, why the hell did I have to fall in that one?" he mumbled. "You listening, Bojangles? Of course you are. That's your goddamn superpower now."

Waiting for the strength to leak back into his muscles, Sands grumbled wordlessly for a few more seconds, and then he testily informed the ceiling, "By the way, if you come back and I see that cartel cunt staring back at me, I'll blow out your eyes with your shotgun. Get me?"


That brought Sands up with a jolt, energy rushing into him. "Oh, fuck," he swore, swiping disgustedly at the hair plastered over his face. "Did they change all the rules again? Jesus Christ, can't everyone just be sensible and stick with one paradigm shift?"


"Oh, good." The American shuffled his hands about, feeling for the edge of the bed. "You're still the same stupid singing weapon of mass destruction. Ajedrez never would have admitted she didn't know something to me."

We should leave. Meet me by the car.

And then the ghost-whisper was gone. Which was probably a good thing, because then Sands didn't have to think about whether it was coming from the air around him, or from the space inside his skull. And he didn't have to think about which one would be better for whatever remains of his sanity. Not that he ever particularly cared for the normal mindset, but proper interaction with the rest of society did require some logical mental processes.

Fishing along the side of the bed, Sands finally ran across his cane and, grabbing it, stood up. Complaining all the while to El's unresponsiveness, he began to pack. Carolina's jewelry getting tucked away first.


El reached the DeSoto just as Sands was smacking down the trunk lid. The American immediately turned and braced one hip against the car, tossing cane into the backseat and crossing his arms. He most likely would have started to whine right there, but halfway through the first acidic phrase, his shadowy eyes flicked up to meet El's, and his mouth stopped. But only momentarily. "Your eyes are glowing," he primly told the mariachi.

"Really. You're just as I 'saw' you, a moment ago." El shot an almost humorous look at the other man as he came closer, halting when there was less than a foot between the two. "It was…fortunate that the square was empty at this time of night. Or people would have thought I was crazy, talking to no one."

"Have I mentioned how annoying this is?" Sands replied. "I can deal with second sight and all the shit that comes with it, but now I have to share? What the fuck?"

"I don't think this new change applies to anyone but us," El observed, also leaning against the DeSoto. In answer, Sands huffed irately. "Like that helps," he snapped. And then he fell silent, simply watching the other man.

After several minutes had passed, El finally grew impatient enough to ask, "Are you waiting for something?"

"So," Sands said pensively, "Everything's two-way, El. No point in partnering you if you're moronic enough to keep outrunning me."

"You want to cooperate?" El queried, startled. "I thought you only did things for your reasons."

"These are for my reasons. And if they happen to overlap with some of your reasons, well, whatever. Shit happens," Sands retorted. "But so do tragic car accidents-poor loco gringo, forgot he was blind and turned the car key-so don't get all smug or sympathetic with me."

Lifting one shoulder briefly, El nodded. "Okay."

"Okay?" Sands repeated. "You're not gonna argue? You're not pissed?"

"That's you," the mariachi grinned darkly. "What you said before, in the graveyard in Mexico City-that was right. I do want company." He paused, then quirked his mouth. "I want you."

"Good." Sands tapped one foot. "Now you're the one who's waiting. Come on and screw me already."

"But we-"

Sands held up a jar of salve, sighing in exasperation. "Do I have to think of every single goddamned detail?"

Bemused, El took the jar and unscrewed the lid, then set it carefully on the top of the car. And then he took that last step to slam Sands up against the DeSoto, lips already smashing a way open for his tongue. Sands opened up, but the American's teeth and tongue wrecked their own brand of havoc on El, while Sands' hands quickly took care of the cloth barriers between their cocks.

Groaning as his erection rubbed itself to life against Sands' cock, El shifted them down the car so he could topple Sands over the top of the trunk, his mouth skimming down as the other man went up. Stopping at the nipple beginning to pebble up under the American's shirt, El bit it through the fabric, then sucked at it till Sands' yell trailed off into a whimper. But it wasn't enough. He wanted the taste of skin, wanted to see the blood called up by his lips, and so his fingers swiftly undid the buttons so El could nuzzle over and lick long streaks of gleaming wetness over Sands' chest.

El's pants had fallen off his hips, but remained slung around his thighs, while Sands' jeans were rapidly being stroked down by the movements of the two men. Helping that little bit along with one hand, El also took every opportunity to flutter fingertips along Sands' balls, to dive into the crease where leg joined torso and to rub a teasing thumb over the pucker hidden between the two nicely-rounded buttocks. His other hand supported him as he leant over the car to continue swirling lovely purpling spots all over the other man.

Cursing, Sands raked nails down El's sides and back, tossing his head. And then he stiffened, allowing El the chance to dig fingers into the salve and flip the American over. Sands went quietly, rocking back a few times to slide El's cock along the curve of Sands' ass. But just as the mariachi was ready to begin stretching the other man, Sands reached back and grabbed El's hand. "Goddamn it, they're still here," the American panted.

"Who?" El demanded, somewhat frustrated. "Ajedrez?"

"No. She and your wife's gone. But every fucking other spook in town…" Sands dropped his head onto the car, spreading his palms on the cool metal. "Oh, to hell with it. Give 'em a show. Fuck me."

Feeling courteous, El did so, first with fingers and then with cock. Playing with Sands, trying different angles and sensations till the American ripped his hips free of El's hands and thrust himself back at his own rhythm, muscles working El's length till the mariachi hissed and swooped down to sink his teeth deep into the join of Sands' neck and shoulder. Feeling the blood roll around his mouth.

They bucked against each other, uncaring of anything surrounding them, shredding each other into a violent explosion of self.


So it's no longer just a simple thread tying them together. It's a great fucking cable Sands could find with his eyes closed. Eye sockets covered. Well, semantics are nothing but icing on the shit, anyway. The real point is, Sands and El are bound. And the kicker is, they bound themselves.

On the one hand, Sands is feeling unashamedly self-satisfied about that. Watch and see how far from Sands the big musical legend can get now. Not very, and that is exactly what Sands would like. Jangling shit makes a pretty good attack deterrent, and not to sound addicted or anything, but El screws damn good, too. Skullfucking never had it so good.

On the other hand, now Sands actually has to stop scheming, has to come around the side of the table and play things straight. Kill first, and kill second, instead of get tab paid first and get scumbag killed later. It wasn't really his style before, and he still doesn't think it's all that wonderful for long-term plans. And never, ever to be mentioned directly, but it also makes everyone think he's…fond of El, or something drippy like that.

At least he's staying in the game. As long as Sands has one foot in, he's perfectly capable of sneaking the rest of himself across the border. And he doesn't have to worry about breaking in a new partner, considering the tiny little snark in his gut that says El's leaving when someone chops the mariachi's rigor mortis fingers off Sands. Well, likewise for Sands toward El. The other man is his goddamn Rottweiler to taunt and smack around, and woe betide anyone who tries to steal from the righteously blind.

Sands snickers, and then refuses to explain when El gives him that amused, bemused look over the DeSoto's front seat. He slides over and roughly shoves at the mariachi till he can lie down in El's lap without anything poking him, and without any possible chance of accidentally putting another hole in his head. And then, Sands starts a determined pursuit of sleep. Because yeah, they still have half a list to go, and neither of them knew when they'd get to rest again.

But before he drifts off, Sands twines the fingers of one hand in El's chains, and slips the fingers of the other into the pocket of the trenchcoat covering him, in which resides a bottle of holy water, spare ammunition and one of the smaller guns. Because he didn't know what the hell he'd be waking up to.


El does not lie to himself that he is the smartest man in the world. Or the quickest. For the moment, he is simply the strongest. That's why Sands stayed, at the beginning.

But El knows when a battle has ended, and thus he allows himself to relax, slouching back in his seat. Because two-perhaps four-have just finished. And although El cannot predict the all the consequences that will wash up on the shore of their future, he can say, with certainty, that he and Sands have won. He does not know if it is a costly or a cheap victory, but it is a victory.

Sand…over Carolina. A pang strikes briefly at El's heart, but it is worn with time and blunted from unceasing grief. El sees now that the path on which he is will never end, will only offer dirt and a thin blanket instead of stone and hearth. And he sees that it is not a path for a wife and children.

He's changed irrevocably, El finally admits to himself, though he's understood that for forever, it seems. And what he is now is not the man Carolina loved. What Carolina is-or what is left of her-is not what he holds close in one twist of his heart.

What he is now is the companion to a blind man, is the legend of scorched earth. Is a man who converses with the dead and lies down with the angelic demon.

And however it happened, he's comfortable with the himself that exists now. And he's pleased with the reassurance that he will continue in this fashion. That he will not have to turn himself inside-out ever again.

Sands slides into slumber, and irony tweaks at El's mind for a second. The sleep of the just, indeed. Shifting around, the American winces and moves his legs back to where they'd been, provoking a fleeting smirk from El.

It's dark now. But nonetheless, El still knows his way.


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