Tangible Schizophrenia


Chemistry 2: Crucible

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: NC-17
Pairing: El/Sands/Lorenzo
Disclaimer: Basics like characters belong to Robert Rodriguez and Co., which definitely and most unfortunately do not include me.
Feedback: V. appreciated.
Notes: References Desperado and maybe El Mariachi, so possible spoilers if you haven't seen them. Can be read without having seen those two, but they're good movies and I highly recommend you do watch them. I'm assuming Sands can speak Spanish, since he seems to understand the little boy well enough. In chemistry, a crucible is a tool used to purify substances by heating them until the impurities vaporize.
Also, //words// denotes Spanish-speak, since I don't know the language.
Summary: El retrieves something, Lorenzo gets depth, Sands learns a nicer lesson and Fideo steals the show.


It had been a long day, full of ends and means and more violence than he had ever wanted to see again. A vow once broken was a vow never restored, however, and somewhere along the way he'd resigned himself to his existence. Had even scraped up some pride in it. Good or not, the mariachis were a dying breed, tied to a past Mexico's leaders were busy grinding into the dirt. For them, for the quiet men and women in the markets, for the people in the street who'd dressed as death and then made their appearance their fate, he could walk the road as a living reminder. He was a son of Mexico, that gloriously-colored whore who danced under crystalline lights and pissed on the imported Alabama marble. He could kill and be not killed, because he was already dead many times over. And now he could slay for something larger than himself, for something that Fideo sometimes toasted when his friend was in his better moods.

The President, he thought, looking down on the tricolored sash that slashed across him, was…a good man. He deserved the love of the people. He was also a true son. But the cartels, the American fugitives, the coyotes that led poor peasants in the desert by their dreams and left them to die of the heat and cold, they were all bastards. False children begot by broken futures and the self-destruction that was the flip-side of Mexico's ever-flowing fount of joy, fed at the poisoned breasts of money and living off others' blood to fill the lack in their own veins. In the old days, he remembered one ancient regular telling him, spittle clotting on wrinkled lips, in the old days they beheaded outlaws who sought sanctuary in Mexico, as a warning. Now, they welcomed them with itching palms and wide-spread legs. But that would change. That would change. Justice would come. His friends had lived this time; he'd not lost another piece of himself to the grave.

It was, however, an unfamiliar role. Anger he knew well. Sorrow and vengeance permeated every bite of food he took and curled up under his eyelids when he slept. Pride was an almost-forgotten habit. Patriotism a new-leaved sprout. He didn't know his way anymore; he only knew how he was to walk it. Guns and music. Knife and song. The cartels were not stupid, though; they were afraid of him before, and would be more so now. It needed thinking.

Caught up in his private thoughts, it was natural that the lone man striding down the dusty road would let something slip from his mind. He was tired with the slow-limbed tiredness that bespoke fatigue of the spirit as well as of the body. He was sweating, wounded, hot under a yellowed sun drifting through an uncaring sky. He was…

…four hours' worth of walking away from the center of town, where he needed to be. Spinning on a heel, head pricking up, he turned and began to retrace his steps.


You will feel better, he thought. Chiclet boy said so, and in Mexico intelligence is apparently in inverse proportion to age, and therefore he clearly knows what he's talking about. Never mind the bullets in your legs, the fact that you're missing two very, very important parts of your face. You'll feel better.

Agent Sheldon Jeffrey Sands would have swore then, creatively and fouler than the dog shit that he could smell somewhere near his left foot, but he was a little past slightly dizzy from blood loss and from fighting the onset of shock and thus was having some trouble stringing words together. His ears were sore, probably from straining and from explosions. Or perhaps it was his brain, trying to understand how in hell his perfect plan had taken him here. He thought about asking the boy, but then he vaguely recalled a possible memory of jingling metal as the boy wheeled his bicycle away. Or-no, those really were chains, but they definitely weren't on spokes.

//Why are we coming back for this gringo?// Light tenor, coming from higher up so the man was taller than him. Sands swung his head towards the voice, tilting his chin back to compensate for the height difference. He surreptitiously began reaching for the gun he'd dropped when its weight had began shooting white-hot streaks of pain up his legs; there was a jingle, and he jerked his hand back just in time to hear rubber colliding with metal, and the soft thud of a machine gun hitting dirt.

//He's important.// The second voice was more gravelly and slurring. No more guns for him, Sands noticed. They probably had some; El's own behavior didn't do much to vouch for the sanity of his friends, but Sands had to admire how well-equipped they seemed to be. It was the mark of a great country that even the musicians had a better arsenal than the police.

//Then why didn't he die with the rest?// Clinking; stupid fuck was stomping around.

//He's not supposed to. I told you, he's important.// Tinkle. Clink.

//And you're drunk on shitty tequila, when we could buy enough champagne for the rest of our lives. So why didn't El take care of him?//

//Forgot.// Jingle.

//Possibly because he was too preoccupied with the importance of jangling in time to the gunfire. Tell me, are the musical pants a mark of distinction, or are the chains just to keep people from stealing your clothes?// Sands broke in acidly.

//You fucking--// Scuffling. The lighter, younger voice huffed. //Well, it was your stupid idea to come back here, Fideo. You take care of him. I'll find a car.//

//Take care of me?// Sands asked incredulously. //I don't need a nurse. I need a cigarette, a bottle of tequila and a one-way ride across the border, in that order.// His voice dropped, becoming smoothly persuasive. //If you can get me that, I can make you a very rich man. Otherwise, come near me and I'll wrap those fucking chains around your balls and give the whole damn thing one swift tug.//

In answer, he heard a sudden rustleclank. Sands dodged left, but then his legs gave out. The entire maneuver turned out to be pointless anyway, as Fideo had moved that way to begin with and had easily grabbed Sands' wrists, tying them swiftly together with some cloth while delivering a swift kick to the bullet hole in the CIA agent's calf. Well, that was interesting, was Sands' last muzzy thought. Even without eyes, you could still black out.

When he came back, he was thrown over someone's shoulder, probably Fideo. "Goddamned Mexican guitar wailers."

"Gringo," and there was a world of expression in that one word. The squatty bastard even hit condescending, as if he could even begin to comprehend the delicate mechanics involved in keeping Mexico so poor and desperate that U. S. businesses could continue to count on hordes of cheap laborers flooding the borders. Fide-lay-hee-hoo continued, "You'll get used to the jingling."

Fuck that. He was calling for retrieval as soon as the limpdicked jackass dropped him. And then he was going to shove a fret board through their heads. Fideo's boot slipped on something and the resulting jarring recovery blanked out Sands' head again.

Maybe he'd wait until someone dug the bullets out of his legs, and fuck but that was going to be a brothel of pleasure. "Did you get my bag?" he demanded irritably.

"Yes." The drunken mariachi stumbled again and this time they both swore.

//Shit. Holy Mother, sir, please forgive me for my trespasses. I didn't see you there.// Pause as Fideo shifted Sands' weight. //Don't hang around me, man. You'll only get nightmares. Just rest easy; the priests will send your soul to rest soon enough.//

"Great, a psychic too. Let's hope the wormwood eats out your greasy guts before the cartels decide to exorcise you," Sands muttered, twisting his wrists. Unfortunately, it seemed that mariachis also learned to tie knots, right along how to stretch an E-string over an AK-47. Something small and metal, with leather wrapped around part of it, was shoved into his hands. Flask. Well, twit wasn't dead yet. Sands fumbled the top open and took a deep gulp as the mariachi started walking again. He nearly spit it out immediately after, along with the pork he'd had last night.

//Good stuff, isn't it?//

//Your mother was a shit-faced Frenchman from California.//

//Yeah.// Maybe El had crazier friends than he'd thought. Sands heard wood creak, felt the air grow slightly cooler and felt the invisible brush of shadows veiling his face. He moved his hands up to hold his shades on just in time for the world to go *whoosh* as Fideo plunked him down on some horizontal surface. Someone else coughed, like a nervous chicken squawking before the cook. //Need him cleaned up//, Fideo tossed off nonchalantly.

//He's a fucking mess, man. And there's going to be cops, army everywhere in a bit. Listen, why you don't just leave him here and we can drink on it--//

//And why don't I cut out your left nut so you can piss out that drink from two holes//, Sands growled. Or tried to growl. Much to his dismay, his voice sounded far too wavery and soft, like a raddled whore trying to scare off a bad customer. It sounded like that too to the other man-another doctor on the run from botched operations, he assumed-who laughed and laughed, poking at Sands' arm. Suddenly, the mirth cut off. Beneath the sunglasses, Sands blinked and strained to hear what was going on.


Good old trigger-happy mariachi. //What he said. You need me to boil any water?//

//Whoo, man--// And Sands heard the unmistakable fluttering of money. //Yeah, a kettleful. Get me some cold water too, and any clean cloth you can find.//

Mexico. Sands was definitely transferring-rewind. The mariachi had money. Lots of money. Shit. That was his cut, damn it!


Two miles outside of town, an old Cadillac, a rusting tank on wheels with only three windows, pulled up beside him. Lorenzo stuck his head out, smile blindingly white. "Want a ride, man?" he asked playfully.

"Still fucking around," he sighed in reply, but he too was wearing a grin. He moved around to the passenger door and swung it open, then stopped. Waited for his eyes to adjust to the dark interior. The CIA agent lying on the backseat didn't go away.

"Fideo said you forgot him," Lorenzo explained helpfully. From the front passenger seat, Fideo looked over blurrily, raising a beer bottle. "You did," he slurred, eyes already fluttering back closed.

Agent Sands was draped across the cushions with his head on the end nearest to the open door. Someone had treated his wounds and bandaged them, leaving fluffy white rings around his lower legs and around his eyes, which also had a pair of cracked sunglasses barring across the bandage. The earpieces looked as if they'd been bent out of shape to fit over the cloth. More cloth, colored this time, bound his wrists together and his ankles to the handle of the far door. There was dust and dried blood sprinkling off his shirt.

"I," Sands announced grandiosely, "am not moving, no matter who you are."

El shrugged. "Fine," he answered shortly, leaning down to wedge his guitar case behind Fideo's seat. A few inches beneath him, Sands drew in a deep, sharp breath. El's head turned, so his eyes were looking directly into black plastic. "What?"

"You…smell," the other man answered faintly. El snorted, backing out of the car just enough to pick up Sands by the shoulders and slide onto the seat under him. He pulled the door shut, braced his feet against the driver's seat, and leaned back until he could see blue sky out the grimed rear window. "Drive," El ordered.


In point of fact, El smelled no worse and certainly much better than most of the lowlifes with which Sands was constantly trafficking. The scents of blood and sweat and smoke were inescapable, but underneath it all Sands could detect hints of sawdust and…flowers. Possibly violets. Great. The bastard even smelled clean.

The car hit a pothole, and Sands bit down hard against the pain that sprung up in his legs. "Shit," he hissed.

"What? What's wrong?" El asked, like an idiot. Or an innocent, but from what Sands remembered he'd spent too much damned time playing Angel of Death to go back to the choir. "My shins," he replied snappishly. "Which have been shot and dug in with a scalpel, and for which I still," raising his voice, "haven't gotten any compensation. Whereas you go in and you completely rearrange plans that had been carefully weighed and calibrated-"

"-to 'restore the balance'?" Sands screwed up his mouth into a petulant knot. "Don't interrupt your betters," he went on, "Now, you three have fifteen million pesos of my money-"

"Your betters?" Lorenzo's voice drifted in, causing Sands to grind his teeth in frustration. "Your money? Hey, who the fuck do you think's running this show now? You got no eyes, you're wounded and you're tied to a car."

"They blinded you?" Now El sounded pitying, the goddamn sanctimonious singing pistolero. "Why?"

"Because Barillo's daughter was a dyke in denial who couldn't simply accept that she was a full-blown heterosexual." It came out bitter instead of sarcastic, which tore Sands even more raw. Face is cracking, padre, he thought. And what do you have left after that? The only thing that anyone understands down here is power, and to have power you must intimidate, and to intimidate you must skullfuck everyone around you into believing-not thinking-believing that you are the biggest, baddest motherfucker ever to roll into their one-bar towns. El was saying something. "What?" Sands snarled.

"We're stopping for the night soon. Do you want anything?"

//A drink, a piss and a bullet to the head-your head, not mine.// was Sands' nasty reply, delivered in a honeyed voice that soaked women's panties for miles around.

//Man, can't we just leave him?// Lorenzo complained. El and Fideo answered as one. //No. Watch the fucking road.//

//Ohhh…shit-sorry// Lorenzo muttered as the car lurched, wallowed in dirt clods and then was wrenched back onto the shitty pavement. Sands swore.

//Fideo// El said, leaning forward so his coat fell onto Sands' face. //Do you have anything?//

//Just tequila.// Moving slowly, Sands felt for the edge of the jacket, then walked his fingers up to the lapels. When he sensed El's gaze on him, he yanked down hard. Too hard. The fucking Mexican's nose smashed into his own and set off new hurt in the agent's abused eye sockets. From above, Lorenzo shouted, //Hey, what the fuck--//

//You want me to drive?// Fideo offered.

//No, you drunk, you'll probably smash us into a--//

//Hey!// El cracked his voice over them all like a whip. //Shut up!//

Sands could feel the sullenness radiating from the front seat. Well, let the kid pout. "I," he said slowly and deliberately, still gripping the edges of El's coat, "want…to…know. What happened."

"We saved Mexico," came Lorenzo's sarcastic comment. El's hair, tickling Sands around the bandage on his eyes, traced circles on his skin as The mariachi shook his head. "No," El contradicted gravely. "We saved the President. Now it's up to him to save Mexico."

"Nice to see you know your place," Sands sniped, blowing his breath out at El. "But what happened to-"




"But what about-"

"Alive." Sands licked sweat off his lips; El threw off heat like a smoking gun. "You didn't kill the FBI guy?"

//There was FBI?// Lorenzo broke in, sounding nervous. //Shit! We're fucked.//

Sands tried to roll his eyes and nearly screamed as torn muscles pulled against crude stitches. "He was retired," he gritted out. "Don't worry, pretty, the FBI aren't going to stomp down on your hairless balls. Only the cartels and the CIA."

//Fideo?// El asked, his breath coming down to moisten Sands' lips.

//Took care of it.// Sands frowned. Took care of…he tried to remember, but ten minutes after the surgeon had started in on him, he'd finally had to pass out, and hadn't come round again until they were already on the road. Lorenzo asked for him, "Took care of what?"

//Faked the gringo's death. Took some of his shit and stuck it on a burnt corpse. About a half-hour after, two suits came through, checking bodies. They put two bullets in the body's head.// Well, that just…that…Sands was floored. He admitted he was floored. His mouth hung open unconsciously as he tried to process those few sentences, failed and rebooted, failed and failed and failed…

//He's quiet.// Lorenzo remarked from miles away. He really sounded much better when his voice was all fuzzy like that. Everything sounded better from far away.


"Sands?" El asked. When the other man didn't answer, he slowly began to lean back. His lapels slipped from numb fingers as Sands' bound hands fell back against his chest.

It was an eerily quiet ride for the rest of the day. It was an eerily quiet two weeks. After Fideo's revelation, Sands stopped talking except for "yes" and "no." El fed him, washed him, guided his limp limbs through sleeves and pant legs. Played guitar for him while he slept, sang Carolina's lullaby to quiet nighttime whimpering.

Fideo nodded approvingly and left on the third day. Lorenzo was vocally confused and stayed with them, driving the two all the way back to the church, where on the second day in, smelling of whore and lime, he met El on a stairway and managed a weaving bodycheck against the crumbling adobe.

//I don' get it, man//, Lorenzo whined. //Why him? Way y'say, he fucked you over good.//

//I am not who I once was. Neither is he//, El said enigmatically, pushing at the taller man. Lorenzo refused to move, or couldn't move because he was so drunk. Instead, he pushed closer, pressing so they were touching from knee to cheekbone. //D'you like him?// he asked El plaintively. //He's pretty. Even wi'out eyes. Or maybe// Lorenzo mused, eyelids dropping closed as he swayed, //Maybe you lick 'em-lik'em-'cause he don' have 'em. Gotta have someone t'watch over him. You like doin' that.//

The older man stayed silent, hands spread to either side to catch his friend if Lorenzo finally completely lost his balance.

//Took care o'Carolina//, Lorenzo crooned in El's ear, lips flickering over the curve of the pink shell and the ridges that spiraled to the inside. //But now you don' got anyone t'do it for. Fideo could use someone//, he spat out with unexpected bitterness.

//Fideo can guard himself well enough// El answered, surprised. Lorenzo suddenly, angrily, pushed off El's chest and nearly slipped off the stair-step. //Fuck you, man!// he shouted with the clear carrying tone of the offended drunk. //I can, too. Even if you don't tell me shit! Go on, keep your little blind puppy. I can play for myself. You prick, you come over with bloody hands and no wife, no daughter, you come and you hand me that guitar case and you tell me to hold it for you. So I do! I do, in that little shithole with its pathetic girls that come out every. Night. To see the mariachi whores. And then Fideo comes, with two more guitar cases that he says were Campa and Quino's and I have to believe him because they're so fucking torn up and scorched that I can't recognize 'em any other way, and I watch them too. Because he's too fucking drunk to know his dick from his bottle. And then, and then and then you come and you take us to fucking El Presidente, and-fuuuck!"//

Having seen it coming long ago, El easily seized Lorenzo by the shoulder and waist, and yanked the flailing man back onto solid ground. Once they were secure, it seemed reasonable to keep dragging him up the staircase, into the small room where Lorenzo's bare mattress lay, against which he propped his now limp friend and knelt down to take off Lorenzo's boots. It was then that he heard a familiar click from one darkened corner of the room. El and Lorenzo both turned to see Sands, soiled too-big borrowed clothing hanging off his thin frame, leaning against the door frame with one of El's guns pointing its greasy black hole at them. "I am not a puppy," the ex-CIA agent said calmly, "I admit to being somewhat mongrelized, but then I'd be a fully mature beast with a highly-operational set of sharp teeth."

His voice was rusty, but the man sounded alive. For a moment, El wondered if he had gotten drunk off the fumes of Lorenzo's breath. A little furrow appeared between Sands' eyebrows as they drew together over his frown. "Are you…chuckling?"

"Look, man," Lorenzo said in a placating tone, putting a stiff elbow to El's stomach. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it, really. It's just that El was being a bastard."

Sands looked sympathetic. "Yeah, I know the feeling."

Seizing on the moment, Lorenzo put on his most appealing face, wheedling, "Great, so can we put the gun away? I've gotta puke."

Considering his request, Sands cocked his head to one side briefly. "No," he answered, and then shot.

"Fuck!" El and Lorenzo both threw up arms, explosions and yells roaring in their ears. A second later, when the blasts continued, El realized just what had happened. He grabbed Lorenzo by one arm and sent him flying through the door at Sands, then rolled forward himself to grab Sands' gun as the slighter man toppled backward and twisted onto his back to fire through the wooden door on the other side of the room. Muffled screams and groans filtered past the walls.

"What the fuck's going on?" Lorenzo hissed, crawling hastily over El back into the room to grab his guitar case.

Sands sighed. "Well, while you two were having your moment in the stairwell, someone tried to knife me in the other bedroom. I think I left his head in the sink." El suddenly noticed the fresh wet spots on Sands' black shirt and dark jeans. "Who?" he asked, ducking down again as another burst of gunfire riddled the walls.

"I'm guessing cartel. Barillo had Colombian connections, you know." Reaching behind him, Sands brought out El's two guitar cases and shoved them over. Muttering a thanks, the mariachi popped open the lid and removed two ammunition cases, which he shoved into his waistband. Then he pulled out another gun, loaded it, and shoved it beneath Sands' hand. "You're giving me a gun?" Sands asked, startled.

"I would have before, but I wasn't sure if you could shoot," El snapped off, slipping his other gun out of his sleeve. Then he took a quick look at his companions; Lorenzo, tall and lanky with bloodshot doe eyes and greenish-white complexion, and Sheldon Jeffrey Sands, too-thin and deceptively delicate under his broken-armed sunglasses. "You two both look great," El muttered, and then he was up and charging, leaping across the bed and breaking through the door.

"I look great?" Sands snarled. "What the fuck is in the water here?" he demanded rhetorically, following the elder mariachi at a more sedate pace. Lorenzo shrugged, then remembered about Sands' handicap. "Carolina," he offered, readying both his gun and his flamethrower. "It was a codeword."

"For what?" Sands sniped. "Sorry, hon, but we gotta blow up the building?"

"Pretty much," Lorenzo answered in a preoccupied tone, slowly standing up. The sounds of shooting were more distant now; he could just picture El, spinning and jumping, firing his guns in short snaps of the wrist that could lay an entire barful of outlaws on the floor in seconds. Clicking the safety off his gun, he edged forward to the edge of the broken doorway, breathed once, and then threw himself through, gun first. Dead bodies spilling brains and blood, but Lorenzo kept his guard up. He heard footsteps behind; turning, he found Sands, head cocked to one side, one of El's guitars slung over his back and the another hanging at his side, gun gone-or not, as Lorenzo's eyes caught on the new bulge in the cuff-end of Sands' sleeve. "What the fuck are you doing?" Lorenzo rasped.

"That fuckmook's going to run out of ammunition," Sands answered, tripping over an arm almost severed at the elbow. Sighing, Lorenzo put his own case down and grabbed Sands by the elbow, pulling him over to a small window set in one wall. The mariachi cautiously poked his head out; two toughs were loitering nearby, semiautomatics dangling from their hands. Sands plucked at his sleeve. "Guards?"

"Yeah," Lorenzo muttered resignedly; the alcohol had long since drained from his veins and he was now too sober to argue anymore. Something oval and hard was pressed into his hand; he looked down to see a grenade. Pin pulled. "Oh fuck!" Lorenzo screeched, stumbling backward in panicked horror from his own hand. His mind leaped back into gear, and he blew out the window glass with two rounds, then threw the grenade out as if the damn thing had claws. "You fucker!" he cried, turning on Sands and half-pushing, half-dragging the shade-wearing bastard away from the wall and toward the gunfight inside. "Do you want to die?"

"Still making up my mind about that one," was the cynical bone-dry response that he got. Sands suddenly shoved them both down, just before another man burst into the room and peppered everything at waist-height with machine-gun fire. Lorenzo blew three holes in his torso, then turned back to deliver another scathing retort only to find Sands, an intense look on his face, making holes in the adobe with one of El's hand-cannons. Assorted wet thuds on the other side of the wall signaled his successes. Just…fuck all of it, Lorenzo snarled to himself, slinging the flamethrower case over his back and nudging Sands. "Come on. You been sneaking out to practice?"

Sands booted El's guitar case closed, snatched it up and came running. "Not really," he panted as Lorenzo led them through the labyrinth of anterooms and corridors of the old church. "It got a lot easier after I realized all you Mexicans clink and jangle like Santa's harnesses. You guys are worse than L. A. hoods after a rioting spree."

They took the last corner at a dead run, Lorenzo reflexively yanking Sands back before he slammed into the doorframe. It turned out to be a lifesaving move, as a heartbeat later bullets tore through the door. They heard two clusters of gunfire, then two sharp, distinct bursts. After that, silence fell, dropping icy daggers of fear into Lorenzo's heart. If El was…

…but then he heard a familiar tread and El's head popped around the doorway, one gun pointed at them as he knew the other was covering the next room. "What the hell are you waiting for?" El asked, voice almost coquettish with its playful lilt.

//You've got the car keys, man//, Lorenzo said, much relieved. Then Sands shoved forward and nearly smacked El in the head as he brought up a guitar case and thrust it into El's arms. "I ain't no porter, baby," Sands drawled. "Where is the car, pray tell?"

"This way," El answered, swinging the guitar onto his back and leading Sands off by the hand. Behind them, Lorenzo held his ground for a moment, piqued. Years and years of friendship, of looking up to the man, of risking his life for him…



"I'm coming," he called back, quickly catching up. "They should've taken your balls instead your eyes," he growled as he passed Sands. "You use them more anyway."


The three men quickly made their way down another staircase and outside, getting into four more fights along the way.

Sands was proving formidable in spite of having been blind for only two weeks, El thought. The only difficulty was keeping the man from running into the furniture and the architecture; he'd have to find him a cane, or perhaps some kind of modified gun. A crutch, maybe. Sands' legs were still healing, but it didn't seem as if his limp would go away soon.

Lorenzo, however, was gnawing upon himself like a starving rabid dog. Gone was the euphoria the younger mariachi had previously worn, right after Dias de los Muertos. Ever since they'd arrived in town, he'd alternated between loud surliness and oddly-quiet bouts of marathon whoring. At this point, El was more afraid of Lorenzo dying in the bottle than of Fideo.

That stopped him; he'd cared about his friends, of course, but before it had been different. Everyone seemed to die around him; it was simply the natural order of things. He knew their deaths only as a distant ache in a mountain of hurt that had long since killed any nerves he had left. It had started with Buscemi, back when he had been avenging his first beloved, and then Campa and Quino had pushed him deeper underground. Bucho-César had only been the last straw, leaving him alive only to Carolina. Later, she and his daughter had begun to scratch the dirt away from his grave, but then they had been killed as well, and the mound over his head only seemed to pile higher.

Now, though. Now El scented the air above, tasted the flowers' fragrance and the rustling of the grass. Could a pistolero be more than muerte after all?

And if so, who had dug him up?

"Keys." Lorenzo sent another man spinning away, six slugs draining red fountains, and thrust a hand under El's nose, calling him back to the immediate world. Sands responded first, voice muffled as he tossed guitar cases into the car with one hand on the car to guide him. "Like fuck. You drive like my maiden aunt-sister."

"I do not-hey!" El had grabbed Lorenzo's ass and leg, and now bodily threw him into the backseat. Sands scrabbled back. "You are not-" he turned to shoot, hitting both men that were braving the open courtyard beyond the car, though one only suffered a bullet in the arm. El put him down permanently, and then seized Sands before the man could talk anymore and shoved him on top of Lorenzo. Kicking the door shut, he crawled into the driver's seat and started the engine. It sputtered and died.

"Is everything in Mexico a contrary, traitorous piece of goat shit?" Sands demanded in a frustrated voice, trying to untangle himself from Lorenzo.

"I'm not a traitor," El said reasonably, trying again. Bullets flew through the windows, which were luckily open, or else the three men would have been slivering themselves on broken glass. The Cadillac roared to life, wheels squealing like butchered pigs as El spun it one-handed through the courtyard and onto the road. As he did, Lorenzo managed to get his flamethrower up and crisped half the remaining hired guns, as well as the cars they'd came in. El barely got the Cadillac away before the vehicles exploded, taking half the church with it.

"The cartel had an outpost there, a few years ago," El told the rearview mirror. "They stored their guns and ammunition in the basement."

"Until you decided to sit down to some pork in the local bar," Sands remarked acidly. "And you so double-crossed me. You know, it used to be gangsters made it a point of honor to stay bought."

"He's not a gangster, and we're not Italian," Lorenzo spat out in El's defense, shoving the other man off him onto the seat. //Fucking cases are breaking my back.//

"Well, that explains how you and your buddies always have the newest Versace of the firearms trade," Sands went on, ignoring his seatmate. At that, both El and Lorenzo grunted. "It's easier to resupply from the cartels," Lorenzo said.

"Oh, go fuck a duck," Sand growled, flopping back. "What's your angle anyway?" he asked Lorenzo, "I don't remember doing anything to you. It was Mr. Biggest Fucking Mexican that brought you into things, and besides, you got what, five million pesos out of it?"

"I-you're just a pathetic ex-Fed with no eyes and cracked sunglasses."

"Oh," El suddenly said in front, reaching one arm backward, "I almost forgot." He shook the object slightly so Sands could hear the clatter of metal and plastic. Sands took it and turned the small thing over in his hands: new sunglasses. Very new, very stylish, from the voluptuous curves of the shades. His stomach felt suddenly warm and nauseous at the same time. "Uh…"

"It's better to take from the cartels," El repeated. Beside him, Sands could hear Lorenzo blowing out air in silent anger. "Lorenzo," their driver continued.

"What," he said pettishly.

"The radio's broken. Will you play something?"

"Oh," and just like that, the kid lit up like a fucking brothel on Friday night; Sands didn't need eyes to see that. "Sure."


The gunmen had, miraculously, missed hitting the Cadillac's gas tank, but the amount they had wasn't enough to get them very far-only about three or four towns away. They'd have to steal another car in the morning, and it was still too near to risk a hotel, so the three men ended up in, of all places, an abandoned theater, built during the town's better days. It still had running water and some electricity, so Sands supposed it wasn't the worst of dives. Except for the fact that they were sleeping on the stage, and therefore every little sound reverberated throughout the auditorium. Good for tracking by hearing, bad if you wanted to concentrate, which he did.

He was having problems coming up with a plan. Sands always had plans. They were all tucked into a little velvet-covered playbook in the back of his head, and when crunch time came, out they flew to the envy of all. Except for now, obviously. Someone moved up from his right, and Sands turned. "What, was the headwaiter not around? You might want to check the dumpster," he smarmed.

"Dinner," El's deep smoke-stained voice replied. The floor boards creaked as he bent down, and Sands heard a slight clatter as the plate touched the wood. Sands played his fingers out until he grazed the fired clay and then picked it up, holding his other hand two inches above the plate so he could feel where the steam was rising off the food. El handed him a fork and left.

And that, ladies, is why I am failing to come up with an outline of action, Sands thought to himself, morosely but carefully shoving the pork and beans into his mouth. He had spent two weeks with the fucker, doing nothing but listening, and he still didn't know shit about the man's motives. He did know how El took care of people, how gentle his killing hands could be, and goddamn but Sands was getting to be dependent. A week ago, that realization had almost pissed him off into moving, but his habit of checking out the angles had popped in instead, and he had also seen that his current catatonia could've been chalked up to the sudden loss of his CIA status. His former crutch. Well, fuck, it had made him, after all. You didn't turn your back on your hometown, even if it fucking sucked you off and then cut off your prick with a dessert spoon.

Why was the mariachi nursing him back to health? And what the fuck did that pissant Fideo mean when he said, 'he forgot you'? Did Mexicans collect living trophies now?

"Do Americans always take things so badly?" Lorenzo. Someone should really give the kid a few good whacks on the ass.

"And I suppose if someone had smacked you in the hand with an ax, you would've been all up and cheery and mass-murdering the next day," Sands muttered. He was getting very good at telling expressions from the kind of silence that prevailed. This one was nonchalant, cocky, a little stupid derived from blissful ignorance.

"Why'd you start moving around again, then? If you haven't decided whether or not to live," Lorenzo inquired, sitting down beside Sands.

"I haven't decided, but I'm too good to die at the hands of some refried creep they dragged in off the street and stuck in a badly dry-cleaned suit," Sands drawled in reply, then cursed as he accidentally poked himself with the fork. Next to him, a long sigh blew out. "Here," Lorenzo said, taking Sands' chin in one hand, "Hold still." And he wiped off the food with a cloth.

Irked, Sands retreated farther into sarcasm. "So are all mariachis like this? Help the helpless, blast the bad, and sing for the sloshed at the end of the day?"

//Are all CIA agents like you? Mouth like a pitbull and bite like a mosquito?//

//Mosquitoes are annoying pests that, if used correctly, can drive a man completely mad in three days// Sands answered petulantly. To his surprise, Lorenzo laughed. //Guess not. El says that means we should kill you, 'cause you're too good a cut of pork.//

//Yeah, well, same goes for him// muttered Sands. //What's the theater look like?//

//What? Um, shitty.// Clothes whispered as Lorenzo lay back.


For a while after that, the other man was so silent that Sands stopped expecting an answer. Finally, however, Lorenzo said in a quieter tone, "Most of it's really fucking ugly reddish-pink, though it looks better in the dark. There are columns with lots of flaking gilt carved tops sticking out of the walls. On the ceiling and at the top of the wall, there are painted designs in blue and green and gold." He reached over and tugged one of Sands' hands free, turning it over to trace curving lines on the palm. "Like this."

"Oh," Sands said. He hoped Lorenzo wasn't expecting a thank-you; even after recreating himself out of broken pieces of CIA agent, gratitude still wasn't his style. Behind them, he heard El approach. "You're telling his fortune?" the older man asked, sounding amused.

Lorenzo jerked his hand away from Sands. "Fuck you," he snapped half-heartedly. From the sound of things, El was shrugging. And then…and then Sands heard moistness, and felt heat brushing his side. Someone-Lorenzo-moaned throatily. "For Chrissakes,' guys," Sands grumbled, feeling suddenly bereft, "there's a shower stall you can use."

He felt a huge roughened hand take his plate from him, and its mirror image stroked down his cheek to cup his chin, much as Lorenzo had just done. And then hard lips sucked out his protests and his spine. It was wet and good and so damn warm that Sands couldn't help but melt into it; he hadn't known how cold it had been, until now.

//I knew it! I knew you wanted him// Lorenzo's cry cut through the sudden fog and yanked hard on Sands' awareness. He pushed ineffectually at El, trying to wriggle away but seeming only to nuzzle in deeper. "Wait, wait…" a tongue swept knowingly down his throat, while the hand on his jaw crept back to card through his hair. "Whoa, El, listen-I-hey, don't" another hand traced up his side and then slid a fingernail down his vertebrae, sending sparks pooling in his groin. "Oh, God…god, you can't, you can't!"


Lorenzo knew he should be feeling upset. His first goddamned kiss from El, years and years after that one drunken pass, and the next moment his friend was mouthing the chords of Sands' throat like the other man was a popsicle on a hot August evening. But…

Sands had his hands clutched in El's jacket, alternately pulling and pushing, while his head tipped back, throwing his entire body into an obscene, graceful arch. His mouth was partially open, lips working the air in unconscious suggestion. It occurred to Lorenzo that the other man had a really pretty one, and suddenly the mariachi was assailed by vivid, erotic images of El's cock between those two luscious curves, Sands on his knees with blind face tilted up in supplication.

Fuck…Sands…was…was kind of …growing…oh, man, go lower…growing on…growing…fuck. Fuck. Lorenzo moved over to sandwich behind Sands, hands sweeping around to cup the man's already-hard dick through rough denim, while his mouth nudged aside black hair to nip around the earpiece of the new sunglasses. El's head was working along the edges of Sands' shirt, and Lorenzo could feel the back of El's hand against his own stomach as it caressed Sands' pert ass. When it felt Lorenzo, the hand moved briefly back to stroke the younger mariachi's rising erection, then fell back to Sands in invitation. Lorenzo obligingly shifted up, rubbing himself against the American, who squirmed wantonly. "Oh…don't," Sands gasped.

Lorenzo frowned, ardor dying slightly. Though the gringo seemed willing enough, body-wise…

El caught it too, moving back up to cradle Sands as gently as he would hold an injured bird. "Don't?"

"You'll…fuck it all up again," Sands groaned, knuckled grip on El's shoulders whitening nonetheless. "Change it all…I can't stand…can't…head won't stop spinning," he finished, sweat beginning to film over his pale skin.

"You cannot go back," El pointed out softly. "None of us can."

Sands rocked forward, slumping into El with his head pressed against a broad shoulder. "I don't know what I'm going forward to," he admitted, words tearing out with a visceral shattering of self. Unexpectedly moved, Lorenzo wrapped his arms around Sands' waist and nuzzled his neck. "Nobody does," he whispered. "You just get to choose your traveling company."

"And I get you two?" Sands' voice rose hysterically, and El, dark eyes locked on Lorenzo's, smoothed down Sands' hair as a mother would, humming a lullaby. Some half-recalled memory stirred in Sands then, and the man quieted. Lorenzo, meanwhile, was frozen in place, staring up. This was the last place, in the last way, that he'd ever thought this would happen.

Leaning forward, El kissed Lorenzo again, sucking on his tongue, stroking his gums and his palate and sending fire into his veins, his bones. He pressed closer, trying to climb into that heaven.

A muffled squeak drifted up from the man trapped between them. "You're crushing the shades, man."

El looked down. Not saying a word, but nevertheless Sands seemed to get it. "Yeah, you can take 'em off. Bastard," he sighed.


The thought passed through El's mind that it was probably for the best after all that his bloodkin were all dead; his father and his brother never would have understood this. The bright candles in Lorenzo's eyes, the reluctant shine in Sands' face. Reverently, he lifted off the sunglasses and examined the scarred wounds beneath, still with their stitches.

"Ugly." Sands made it a statement. El didn't bother with words, just bent down and kissed ever-so-softly on the edges, then even more softly in the center, lips the barest hint of contact. Sands might have sobbed, but behind him Lorenzo resumed his assault on the nearest ear, and instead Sands whimpered, hands finally slipping from El's jacket to pull clumsily at shirt buttons. He didn't seem to know whether to go for El's or his own. El pushed the fumbling fingers out of the way and took care of both in a matter of seconds, sucking and nipping at the newly-exposed skin. Another body pressed against his and he moved aside for Lorenzo, who characteristically went straight for the nipples, teasing them skillfully as El's hand dropped to Lorenzo's side and slipped under a tight waistband to knead a muscled thigh. "Oh," the younger mariachi breathed, moving into the caress.

"Oh, Christ in His fucking Grace," Sands swore. "Bed, bed, where the fuck did you put the bed?"

//Curtains// Lorenzo corrected, unenthusiastically stopping and helping El move the three of them over to the pile of moth-eaten velvet. El took advantage of the pause to strip off his jacket and shirt and Sands' shirt, while impatient Lorenzo took off everything, tossing it across the stage as his mouth latched onto the hollow beneath El's jaw and his long legs rubbed up against El's pants. The two collapsed next to Sands, who crawled over and groped the first thing that came to hand; namely, Lorenzo's inner thighs. All three writhed happily against each other and against the soft curtains, enjoying the press of heated flesh and the whisper of velvet. "Shit," El grunted as four hands tore off his pants. He leaned over Lorenzo's bobbing head and pulled Sands into a volcanic kiss, raking nails down Lorenzo's long smooth back. Arching up with a gasp, Lorenzo whipped his head around and bit down on Sands' still jean-encased legs.

"Goddammit," Sands cursed violently, undoing his fly and shoving his pants halfway down his hips. "Just get these off, before I kill something."

"But there's no cook," El laughed, yanking the man all the way over so sweat-slicked back molded to hard-silk chest. Lorenzo straightened Sands' sprawling legs and quickly worked the pants the rest of the way off, while the American explored El's hands with his tongue. He traced curiously over the scar on the one hand, but didn't ask; El hadn't pressed him about the occasional white ridge dotting his own body.

Sands had a very nice cock, El noted, taking in the flushed flesh now free to jut proudly up. Lorenzo apparently agreed, as he swooped down and deep-throated it in one swallow, sending Sands into a full-body spasm as he shouted incoherently. Craning his head slightly, El licked up the sweat from the side of Sands' face, tongue tripping over the damp hair sticking to the skin. He watched Lorenzo's throat working, watched the long strong back taper down to narrow, swaying hips, seductive as a simple melody plucked free of metal strings.

Sands' hips were jerking in faster time, a frantic salsa that sent wicked thrills up El's body as the man in his lap ground inadvertently back against his own stiff cock. Moaning and wailing like the wildest winds on a moonless night, the American's head thumped a fierce beat on El's shoulder, while his fingers threaded themselves into Lorenzo's thick hair and clamped down, their whiteness glowing in the dim light. El thought about loosening their grip, but ultimately decided to leave well enough alone, as Lorenzo seemed to take the clenched hands as further encouragement and shoved Sands' legs further apart so on every downstroke, his lips brushed a ball sac heavy with tension. The younger mariachi using his teeth; as if in a dream where the small was amplified and the large shrunken, El could hear the rasping, could see the faint streaks crimson over swollen red when Lorenzo pulled back, could even catch a flash of pearl-white every so often. He slipped his hands down from shoulders to buttocks, pressing deeply into the dent of every rib on the way, and just as Lorenzo took Sands' cock all the way in again, he squeezed hard.


God. For a brief, brilliant moment, Sands thought he could see again, bright flashes of red and white against the coal-black background to which he was accustomed. He was vaguely aware of a raw pain in his throat, already sore from its sudden resumption of use, and of a long, loud, echoing banshee scream. Fuck, we've killed somebody, flittered through his mind.

He didn't notice the strain that yanked his body into a bow until he'd collapsed back against El. He could barely feel the hands stroking his sides, his thighs, over the trembling; like a blown horse he was shaking. Shaking in the hands of an angry God. Giving Him the finger, as another snatched him out and brought him back to life.

//Do we have anything? Fuck, damn it! We've got to have something.// he heard Lorenzo say. Maybe the kid had talent after all, Sands reflected muzzily. "What-" he tried to say, except his tongue felt too thick and dry for his mouth. He licked his lips and tried once more. "What something? Whaddaya want it for?"

There was a pregnant pause, and Sands could feel both mariachis' stares of disbelief. Lorenzo finally spoke, slowly, as if he might've broken Sands' brain-which he probably had. "Lubricant? You know, oil, or-fuck! The honey!"

"Honey," Sands repeated drolly. He just knew the kid was blushing. "Yeah, well, there was this kid a few days ago," Lorenzo muttered, embarrassed voice fading away and coming back as he scooted across the floor to his guitar case and retrieved the substance in question. "It wasn't gum, and he wouldn't leave me alone…"

Behind him, Sands could feel El shaking his head, reaching out one arm. "Lorenzo," El said. Big fucker was probably holding out his hand, making that effortlessly cool flutter with his fingers that all heroic badasses seemed to suck in with their mother's milk, if they had a mother. Then something occurred to Sands. "Wait a minute," he objected, rising up slightly. "Are you-one of you is going to put his dick in my ass? That's why you need the honey?"

Another awkward silence fell. "Now what?" Sands huffed.

"So, um…you ever done this before?" Lorenzo asked delicately. Sands refused to blush. Absolutely refused. He might be blind, but he wasn't no shy virgin. Did Mexico even have any virgins left? "Yes, I've 'done this' before," he gritted out.

El let out a sudden grunt of comprehension. "You've fucked but you've never been-"

"Well, obviously," Sands sniffed. "Up until two weeks ago women were nice, safe pussies that had less tendencies to feed you to the pigs afterwards. You Mexican men, on the other hand, have serious insecurity issues when it comes to masculinity. The moment someone lies back for you, you turn into-shiiiiit!" He twisted in El's arms, trying desperately to avoid the sticky finger that had suddenly slipped up against his asshole. "El, you bastard! You fucking ball-less son of a soused Tijuana whore-" the finger stabbed in and up and grazed "-oh. Okay. Ah…"

Christ, but he was going to be sore in the morning. His cock was already responding, stiffening rapidly as El mercilessly worked more fingers into his anus, nudging and stroking his prostate as he did. He could hear Lorenzo moaning in the background, but there were only…three…wait… that was his hand…all right, two hands on him, so apparently the younger mariachi was occupied with himself. Not that Sands really cared at this point. He didn't even care about the fuck-up that was Dias de Los Muertos, didn't care about getting so suddenly and abruptly cut loose from the CIA and that fact's accompanying loss of identity. He only cared about making damn sure that El kept doing whatever the-the fingers flick-twisted and he gasped, hair soaked with sweat sticking to his teeth-whatever. Just…whatever. He'd watched other people react like this, but he'd never imagined all that being on the receiving end would bring.

Somewhere between El removing his rough-callused fingers from Sands' ass and his tipping Sands forward onto a warm body, the American decided he loved this. This whatever was from now on heading his list of priority gratifications. Four hands guided his now-leaking head into Lorenzo's ass, honey making a pleasant squelch between his cock and the tight smooth rings of muscle surrounding it. Then El shoved himself into Sands in one quick move, and Sands had to wonder just how many times a man could be resurrected, anyway. Not for very long, though, because he had much more important things that needed his attention. Like the slow rocking the three men had begun. Like the slip-catch-slide of hot flesh that nearly turned all Sands' tendons to flimsy ribbon, like the wet tequila-and-sugar mouth that was tangled with his own, like the other lips latched to the nape of his neck. He gave up even trying to understand and just went with the flow, letting El set the pace while Sands explored Lorenzo's lean form, his sense of touch imbued with double the sensations as it made up for his lack of eyes.

They rocked faster and faster, their movements becoming violent. As El slammed into him, Sands thrust into Lorenzo, bracing his hands on the bony hips beneath him. He knew they'd be bruised in the morning, black and purple and blue like the round, yielding plums in the marketplace. Marks of this new existence, marks that Sands didn't have to see to know were there. The thought made him roll his hips back, ready to meet El's push forward.

Lorenzo came first, howling, while Sands, having already been satisfied once, lasted a few more seconds. Not too many, however, as the feel of Lorenzo's spasming and El's punishing thrusts soon tormented his cock into giving up its load. His arms and legs buckled immediately and he fell onto Lorenzo, lying limply while El continued driving them together for perhaps another minute before he too came. Somehow retaining enough strength to stay up, El slowly pulled away, taking Sands out of Lorenzo as well, and flopped onto the curtains. Mind mostly on cruise-control, Sands half-curled where he lay, half on El and half on Lorenzo. Breathing in deep gasps, the kid dragged himself onto his side and snuggled up against El so his head lay nose-to-nose with Sands.'


For the first time in forever, El felt peaceful. Lying on grungy curtains, with a bad-tempered gringo sprawled across his chest and his most innocent friend tucked in to one side. In the morning, death would rise with the sun and they would have to return to a world made cruel and pitiless by men, but for the moment, he could lie back and listen to the music of silence.

"So, you dead?" Or possibly not. Grudgingly, El lifted his head to look down on Sands. "The mariachi, yes," he answered the other man. "You?"

"CIA agent Sands, yes," the American said, half-mocking. "I suppose Dias de Los Muertos was a fitting burial," he added more soberly.

//Well, I'm not and have never been dead,// murmured Lorenzo drowsily. //That puts me one-up on the both of you.//

//And you are not and will never be that good piece of pork that has to be taken care of// Sands shot back, though his tone was equally tired. "So you've saved the President," he said to El. "Now what?"

El let his head fall back, lips turning up just enough to expose a sliver of pearl. "Tell me about the Colombians," he said.


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