|Restraint I: Golgotha|
Author: Guede Mazaka
"Never yet has death been frightened away by screaming."
One nice thing about being blind, Sands thought to himself, is that the police never bothered talking to you about murder-suicides.
He was in a hotel hallway, sauntering back to his room with telescoping cane out in front, just tapping his way along. The distant click-and-flash that filtered down to his ears told him that the police photographer had finally stopped throwing up and gotten to work. Suppose he couldn't blame the man; if he had walked in and seen the beautiful naked body of a whore with no head, and then stepped onto the balcony because the room had suddenly become much too small and leant over the railing only to see a spongy-red pancake of a body lying six floors below, he would probably have…how did he know all this again? Oh, yes. He'd been there when it happened. Had picked the lock to that particular room-and wasn't it a joke that he was vastly better at that now than when he'd had eyes?-while the whore was moaning for all that a hundred American dollars were worth. In fact, if he remembered correctly, he'd also been the one to twist the john's wrist around so the fuckmook had shot the girl instead of Sands, and his cane had been why the panicking shitwit had then gone off the balcony.
Mexicans were so blasé about death. One man splattered across a public courtyard, and Sands had still had plenty of time to riffle the abandoned clothing and the area around the bed for a couple thousand in both dollars and pesos, a few credit cards and two packs of cigarettes. He hoped they were his brand. Reaching down into his pocket, he fingered the cellophane-wrapped box, then brushed his fingers over the other little toys he'd picked up. A dog-collar and leash of butter-soft fine leather, probably black. Whoever'd originally bought this gem had obviously been concerned as much about sensation as strength.
In his other pocket, his cell phone rang. Deftly shifting his cane to under his arm, Sands took out the phone with one hand while the other felt the raised metal numbers on the door in front of which he'd stopped. He flipped the cell open and unlocked his door at the same time. "Yeah?" Sands said, carefully stepping over the near-invisible tripwire stretched across the bottom of the door.
//This is the last goddamned favor I owe you, Jeff//, growled a tired voice. //He was in Tenango del Aire, southeast of Mexico City, two days ago. I heard he's headed Veracruz way.//
"Much obliged, Ferdie," Sands replied smarmily, counting steps until he reached five. He turned around and sat down on the bed, one hand absently toying with his cane.
//It's Fernandez, and fuck you//. The phone went dead. Sands clicked it shut, shrugging. "Sorry, dickless pig," he muttered to himself. "Oh, wait, in two days your wife is going to get some interesting information in the mail and call her big brothers to stomp your miserable beerbelly into Jell-O Jigglers. So I'm not sorry." Flopping back onto the bed, Sands kicked his feet up once in the air, grinning manically as he shoved his sunglasses back up his nose. Almost playfully, he brought his cane up in a swishing salute to the ceiling. "Well, well, here's to you, El. I can't wait to meet you again."
El gradually eased his head from around the square column. He had nearly caught a glimpse of the courtyard in front of him when something cracked and plaster showered down, causing him to hastily yank himself backwards. Sitting with his back against the pillar, knees to chin and the back of his guns chilling his temples, he breathed once, twice, and then threw himself into a furious roll to the left, shooting constantly as he did. Across the open space, two men fell immediately, while five more screamed and stumbled, toppling from patios and roofs. El came up onto his feet, backhanding one man with the butt of one pistol while his other hand flicked his second one around, picking off more men with almost laughable ease. He put a bullet into the head of the body at his feet, cutting off the moaning, and then kicked the dead man's machine gun behind the next pillar, following it at a backwards run.
Ducking down as the bullets snicked off adobe and wood and stone all around in a stinging rain, El quickly reloaded his handguns and slipped one into his waistband, taking up the machine gun in its place. This time, he didn't wait for the others to stop shooting, but instead burst out with mouth stretched into an oval by his yell, ponytail whipping loose of its tie.
A half-hour later, he was walking up worm-ridden steps to his tiny room, his special guitar case weighing down one slumped shoulder. Though he'd avoided anything more serious than a few bullet creases, already turning to scabs, El ached all over. And no good long siesta awaited him: the earlier ambush in the town square told him the cartels were catching up. Time to move on.
Thinking about where to go next, El absently fumbled the key into the lock, twisted and then shoved his way past the creaking door. A blurring white stripe flicked by his left eye, and El began to turn only to have his head explode into night-black pain. As if through thick wads of cotton, he heard a soft thump that he vaguely recognized as his knees hitting the floor, and then he knew no more.
Waking slowly, muzzily, dizzily, El shook his head in a futile effort to clear away the fuzziness. Something cold and thin, like a knife to the throat, was pressing lines into the skin around his eyes. He tried to brush it off, to move away, and only then realized his hands had been bound above his head. Leather, he discovered, twisting his hands. Which were also tied to the metal footboard. The probe dug in harder, and El snapped his head back and forth, cursing in Spanish.
"So you're all awake now." The bitter, diamond voice of a man without life. El looked up into shiny coal plastic. Squatting across from him, Sands smiled ironically.
"Your people…they came back for you?" El asked cautiously, muscles tensed as he studied the American's face. The mariachi had heard stories about the other man's last stand, but Sands now seemed more or less healed and whole. On the surface. Upon closer inspection, El found his instincts saying differently. Sands was thinner, hollows in his cheeks and throat, and while he had been pale before, now what showed of his skin-for he was covered in black from toe to neck, with gloves encasing the hand holding El's gun and the hand holding a long steel cane-had the unhealthy green of rusting copper beneath its bone-white.
The other man smiled wider, showing teeth in a wolf's grin. "Can't suppose you'd know what debriefing is," he replied casually. The cane moved down El's face, scratching jaw and neck before settling at the small space between the collarbones. "Yeah, they collected me. Y'see, Ajedrez, Barillo's prick-envy daughter, was also one of my contacts. I have to give the bitch credit; she caught me, but I'd already called in about some trouble to headquarters. So they sent a team out and picked me up just before I would've been declared too fucked-up to save. Got me a doctor."
"Doctor?" El said in surprise. A mistake, because his word transformed Sands into a snarling demon, lunging forward to straddle El's outstretched legs and scream in his face. "Yeah, you fucking lousy rat bastard of a legend! A doctor! A goddamned certified butcher of human flesh." The cane pressed in until El's vision nearly blacked out again from the pain and his breath stuck. Sands' voice dropped to a menacing rumble. "For my eyes, limpdick. Ajedrez and Barillo, they just-" he was almost giggling with madness "-popped them right out. Motherfucking sons of shit. And then I went down to the palace and killed some people. You know, while my fucking sockets were still dripping. Got shot in the legs, and then I fucking slaughtered that Latina blowbitch."
Suddenly rocking backward, Sands' face smoothed over. El gasped for air as the pressure on his throat relaxed, and then the sudden burn in his lungs almost closed his windpipe again. Forcing the pain away, he tried to ground himself. He needed to think, needed to buy time until he could free himself and deal with the insane man--El blinked, not able to do much else. Sands had dropped the cane and was unbuttoning El's shirt. "This should be interesting," the American drawled, "Guess what's underneath the armor. You heroes, you're all alike. The only injuries you ever get are the nice impressive-but-not-incapacitating ones, the scars that make all the cuntwhores flood their frilly little panties."
The gun slid after the fingers, cooling the newly-exposed skin in a wicked caress. Detouring briefly from El's breastbone, its silver-shot black muzzle circled one tawny nipple, then crushed it down. "Not like me," Sands whispered, now undoing one-handed the belt and front of El's pants. "Ah ain't nevah goin' be prettay agin," he sneered, affecting a mock-Southern accent.
"But you are," El blurted out. And, surprisingly, he meant it as he stared at the fine cheekbones and pouting lips of the man sitting in his lap. Thrown, Sands paused and rocked back on his heels, gun resting loosely on one well-shaped thigh as his brow wrinkled. El hesitatingly began to continue, while above their heads, he surreptitiously worked at the knotted leather. His wrists were rubbing raw, but the adrenaline overrode that sensation. "Beautiful. Like a stained glass window."
Sands' forehead smoothed, and he resumed divesting El of his pants. "Oh, yeah," he said sardonically, "I'm just another saint, broken on the rack or burnt or whatever. A broken puzzle held together with metal strips. Bet the first time we met, you couldn't decide whether you wanted to fuck me or kill me."
"What?" El demanded, outrage rising in a familiar scorch of sourness in the back of his throat. In answer, Sands chortled as he tugged the mariachi's pants down over the hips, and then scooted onto El's shins so he could remove them altogether, along with the mariachi's boots. Air hit El's weary soles, and the mariachi inexplicably wanted to curl up and hide. Or lash out and kill.
The American suddenly whipped his head back up, old reflexes making him turn his face as if he could still glare El down. "Don't even think of kicking me off, shiteater," he hissed dangerously, sweeping the gun up El's inner thigh to rest its chilly side against a cock that, much to El's dismay, was beginning to stiffen. The mariachi's legs involuntarily jerked apart, and Sands crept closer, free hand reaching around to dig nails into El's hip. Then he yanked, sending El's pelvis skidding towards his own. "I know what you're thinking. I can hear it," Sands confessed in a wicked tone, grinding lewdly against the other man.
"Fuck you," El growled, pulling hard on his stretched arms till the leather creaked and warm fluid began to trickle down his arms.
A conspiratorial smirk crept across Sands' face, and he leaned in again to murmur, "You don't believe me. But it's true; I can hear much, much better now. That's all I've been doing these past few months. Listening. Y'see, my former employers were kind enough to get me therapy while they were slamming information about Dias de Los Muertos out of me. God forbid I do something silly like, oh, blow my brains out, before they found out what went down."
Doing his best to wriggle away from the gun, El tried to process the words coming out of Sands' mouth. He was mostly failing, head still spinning from the brutal hit it'd taken earlier, and only managed to register the tone: ferocious, bitter, desperately unhappy. And familiar, somehow. Like…
But Sands was still talking, and the razor of his voice demanded all attention. "Not that I could tell them much, given that I was too busy wiping my goddamn corneas off my cheeks. But I can guess at the parts I missed." He bent even closer, until El's breath was misting his shades, sliding his free hand up El's chest for balance. "You killed Barillo. You killed Marquez. You saved El Presidente with your few and merry band of brothers, and then you blew out of town faster than a cunt flips up her skirt."
"You killed too," El accused faintly, watching his pupils widening in Sands' shiny sunglasses. He was angry and aroused and he couldn't do anything while that smug Americano-
--slinked back and down to drag a wet tongue from tip to base of El's cock. Then he circled the velvet roughness down to El's suddenly aching balls, which Sands nudged aside with the gun so he could rest his head on one trembling hip and dart little kitten licks out at the rapidly-reddening flesh. "Yeah," Sands breathed, turning so he seemed to be looking up. "Tens, to your…what, thousands? Savior of your people, with a guitar for the ass's jawbone? Well, you can't save everyone all of the time." He snorted, rasping teeth over El. "Not that you even gave a thought about me afterward, you judgmental hypocrite."
"Why-why the hell would I save you?" El demanded, hissing through his clenched mouth. "You-you were trying get everyone killed."
"All I did was bring people together," Sands snapped. "Whatever the fuck motives they brought to the table was their problem." He licked his way up the flat belly, bit down savagely on the rounded arches of ribs as one hand drifted down El's chest and side to settle itself onto the floor. Panting, El involuntarily yanked at his bonds, not even feeling the cuts until the blood welling around the straps began to clot. Fire was in the mariachi's gut, drums were pounding along his bones, rivers of cold were shivering up and down his back. He banged his head against the iron bedstead once, twice, but it only sent him further into the dizzying crimson spiral threatening to engulf his mind. Below, Sands cut loose with another wavering chuckle. "So you like this," he crooned to hot skin, "Haven't had any recently?" Rasping edge, then soothing satin lips. "Since your Caroliiina died?" and his teeth flashed at El's start. "Or maybe she was just denial. How about it, mariachi? You like men? Like getting fucked over?"
"Is this what they teach CIA?" El grated, trying desperately not to move toward Sands, not to watch the little beads of sweat falling off his nose and jaw to land in Sands' black hair, clear pearls dotting jet silk. For a reply he got a huff and an abrupt clatter to the right; El jerked his head around to see Sands' hand close about the white cane. Shifting up onto his haunches, the American removed the now body-warm gun from El's balls and shoved it under the mariachi's chin. Sands dropped the cane onto his lap and dug briefly into a pocket of his rumpled suit jacket, coming up with a hotel-sized bottle of lotion. When he clicked its top open, the small sound clanged reverberatingly in El's fevered mind.
"You haven't been listening," Sands snapped. "I don't work for those prick-shitters anymore; in fact,"-he squeezed lotion into his palm, then worked it until his first two fingers were coated-"I'm now on their kill list. Probably," he said in an offhand tone, "Because I broke out of a border hospital and have been taking my pound of flesh ever since."
And then he shoved those two long fingers up El's ass, clawing a shout from the mariachi. Sands backhanded him with the gun. "Quiet, now," he reprimanded sternly. "We wouldn't want to wake the neighbors."
Some of his teeth were rocking in their sockets, El noted, swirling the blood once around his mouth before spitting it at the other man. Red strands of saliva splattered over Sands' shades and looped over his cheeks, provoking a broad, twisted grin. Swiping a tongue out, Sands tasted the blood, then nodded approvingly. "Good vintage. Bitter and pathetic, like Mexico. Stupid CIA-stupid to have given up on that."
El's insides were burning and clenching as they fought the intrusion, but Sands merely pushed deeper, twisting and turning. "Your prick still up?" the American taunted.
"Bastard!" El snarled, but his cock was, indeed, still hard. "Why me? Because you can't kill Barillo and his daughter again? Because the CIA strung you on and then threw you out when you were too worn out to be worth anything anymore? Because you're weak now-"
"Yes! Yesyesyes yes!" Sands screamed back. "I was their best goddamned agent, and fuck all heaven's angels, I can still fight better than them. They wanted to put me out to pasture-that's what they said-but I know better. They were going to toss me out for the cartels to snap up. And you know"-he ripped his fingers out and seized his cane-"You know why else?"
For a brief crackling moment, silence thundered between the two men as Sands used his encased fingers to heave up El's ass, then slipped knees underneath to prop up the mariachi in that position. "You know why?" he repeated, quiet fury lashing through every particle of air in the room. Pressing forward, he slithered the pistol up over El's ribs. "Because you didn't. Lose. Your. Eyes."
And with one unstoppable motion the cane dropped between El's legs and dragged pain into El's anus, thrusting in and out in a mockery of sex. Forced angle-he could feel the tip scraping inside as it tried to pierce its way through. El thrashed, uncaring of the gun, cursing and moaning and snapping his teeth at Sands, who after his last outburst had fallen silent. //Holy Mother of God, you fucker, you stupid worthless shit!// the mariachi howled. //I lost my wife and my daughter! They were my eyes to the living. I'm dead now! I see nothing!//
"It doesn't goddamned matter what you feel," Sands barked, yanking out the cane. "Everyone calls you a hero. Heroes either die or live; they don't become beggars, they don't become shadows, they don't become me. And why should you," he angrily grabbed El's erect cock and began to fist it with cruel force, "be the one? I'm smarter. I was the one with the plan. I brought you into this; if it weren't for me, you probably would've just sat back in your little one-whorehouse town and let the President die. And then, and then where would Mexico be?"
And with that, Sands gave one last harsh jerk, and El came brutally. Slumping backward, the mariachi turned dazed, ashy eyes to the cracking ceiling. It was then that he realized the blood on his wrists had slickened the leather to the point that it had loosened considerably.
The past few minutes had crescendoed in a vortex of pure rage for Sands, and when El had flooded Sands' hand with stickiness, the American had suffered something like a climax as well. His world snapped to an infinitesimal point of fury, then exploded outward. Suddenly harsh breathing was dinning his ears, acid copper and sweat were stinging his nose. "Oh, shit…that wasn't how it was supposed to go," he mumbled, swaying. "You fuck-El, you useless shit, you were supposed to know I was here. You were supposed to shoot first."
Shaking uncontrollably, he fumbled his way off El's legs, gun hand dropping limply to the wooden planks. "Christ," he whispered to himself, and then repeated it. "Christ. Oh Christ. I almost shot you. Oh God."
"You'll wish that you had," came an inhuman growl, and something hard smashed into his solar plexus, driving out all his breath. A wet hand snatched his wrist away from the gun, a boot-tip sent his cane flying across the room, and another hand suddenly was locked around his neck. "Why didn't you?" El demanded, hot air from his nostrils steaming Sands' face like a lion scenting its dying prey.
"Why do you care?" Sands laughed hysterically. "Would you have cared?"
El didn't answer.
"Well," Sands choked, still crazily amused. "Come on, then. Shoot me. I'm evil; I'm the bad guy. Kill me, you pitiful excuse for a legend. You jackass-that was what you were supposed to do! Not fall over!"
//Fuck you//, El answered lowly, tossing the American like a rag doll into the far wall. Sands hit with a loud thump, then fell to the ground while plaster and wood rained about him. His sunglasses had fallen off somewhere along the way, and he suddenly needed them. Body flaring hurt-but he was used to that now, wasn't he?-he crawled desperately on the ground, outstretched hands skittering in circles. One finger touched a wire earpiece, and Sands was about to clutch them to him when his hearing pricked. He flung himself backward, awakening more pain, while before him there was a stomp and a *snapcrunchcrackle.*
Something inside Sands that had been pulled tight for too many weeks finally whipped apart under the tension, and he collapsed, head between his arms, and screamed into the floor. A well-known metal circle touched his temple, and eagerly Sands moved back against it, encouraging the bullet.
But El didn't shoot. Instead, he crouched like that over Sands for a long time, just holding his gun to Sands' head.
There were few deaths that El never regretted at some point in his life. He wanted frantically for this to be one of them, but his finger refused to pull the trigger. Sands had just-and now the gringo was rubbing his tousled head against his gun, as a cat would move against the stroking of its owner. Something else was teasing the edges of El's mind as well, but he couldn't think in this room. Not when he was looking-couldn't look away-from the crumpled man below him. From the fey spirit that had, he resentfully admitted now, sparked an interest at that very first meeting. Even after the slaughter of his old friend the guitar-maker on Sands' orders, El had still been sickly fascinated. And now, hate and wrath boiling his blood, he held back.
Slowly, Sands lifted his head, though he still kept his face pressed to the gun. "Are you going to kill me?" he asked hopefully.
El reared back as if he'd been struck, then pistol-whipped Sands so the other man thudded unconscious to the floor.
Moving quickly and decisively, El shoved his gun into one sleeve, then finished pulling up his pants and fastened them and his shirt. With the ease of long practice, he ignored the raw pain in his ass and the bruises on his face, rapidly packing his few belongings.
Just on the threshold of the door, El stopped. Cursing, he swung back and took in the scene: blood, cracked and dented wall, man lying unmoving on the floor. And, dangling from the top rod of the footboard, a loose knot of red-streaked leather.
Crossing back in two strides, biting back the lancing hurt racing up his spine, El kicked the cane back over to Sands, and then untangled the leather and picked it up. A collar and leash. //Bastard//, he muttered, and coiled the bloody strap around his wrist, just behind his gun. He walked stiffly out of the room.
Sands drifted back to reality to the accompaniment of an overwhelming body-ache and a massive emptiness that drained away all his will. El hadn't shot him. He'd sodomized the man, and he was still alive. Something very near a sob bubbled out of Sands' throat. Damn it, months of effort, and this was how it ended? Couldn't he get anything he wanted anymore?
Eventually, he had to move. First he reached for his cane, and was temporarily surprised when he found it so near at hand. Second, he pulled himself up and crawled on all fours to the bed, dragging himself onto the skinny mattress and then crumpled onto it, exhausted by the effort.
When he'd first woken up in the hospital, everything had been hilariously funny. The doctors' depressed and frightened pronouncements, the bad coffee, the superiors trying their damnedest to intimidate straight answers out of him, even though he'd seen far too much--You've only seen too much--for browbeating to even flicker on his radar anymore.
When he'd fought his way out of the hospital, harassing his hostage into driving him two hours into Mexico and then leaving the man with three bullets in the head outside a grocery store, he had been giggling almost constantly. Calling in the remnants of his contact network to find El had sobered him somewhat, but when the great mariachi gunslinger had fallen under his cane with no more protest than a baby being smothered by its mother, the laughter had risen once more. Him, the blind man. The joke that refused to die.
Nothing was funny now. It hadn't gone at all like he had anticipated. The motherfucking mariachi angel of Death never did what he should, when he should. Sands was beginning to think he'd fallen under a curse after meeting El.
Or perhaps something else. Unbidden and unwanted, there rose in him the still-fresh memories of the taste of El's skin, salty with sweat but underneath the sweetest Sands had ever had, the smell of cordite and wood resin and warm musk that clung to El's hands and hair, the rich rolling tones of El's voice with its underlying gravel. He felt cold, freezing to death in the Mexican summer. His hands clutched his cane, knuckles turning the shade of bone, and jerked it uncontrollably to his mouth, till lips and metal met, and he desperately kissed the dirty tip.
"Oh, fuck no," Sands gasped, jerking back in horror at what he'd just done. "No no nonononono," went his refrain of despair. "No."
El wasn't sure how long it had been. Maybe days, maybe weeks-he was barely aware enough to know the seasons hadn't yet changed. He'd been too focused on leaving town, going as far as he could before the dizziness and the pain forced him to seek out a hotel. Once in his room, he'd locked the door and hadn't left it, except for absolute necessities, until he had healed in body. After that, he had forced himself to go over his memories, trying to divine a path out of the endless badlands that entrapped his soul.
In the end, he'd sought out a church and knelt before the altar, but even that comfort had been denied to him. He had tried to think of the Virgin Mary and Her Son, but only saw Sands' face, half-curtained by stringy black hair. He had tried to mouth a prayer, but could only repeat Sands' words: Christ, Christ, oh Christ.
That had made El leap up angrily and storm out, nearly running down the concerned priest in his anger. He'd wandered aimlessly for hours, asking God, but when he received no reply except the recollection of Sands' weeping, he had asked Carolina. Had asked her for strength and for wisdom. And then his boot had struck wood, and El had looked up to find himself in a dusty bookstore, facing a shelf upon which one of the volumes was stuck out ever-so-slightly farther than the others. It turned out to be a translation of Notes from Underground by someone whose name El dared not try to pronounce.
Blinking, feeling chills frisson up his back, he took the book down and flipped it open to a random page, reading: //It's in despair that you find the sharpest pleasures, particularly when you are most acutely aware of the hopelessness of your position.//
Frowning, El turned a few more pages. //And yet I am convinced that man will never give up true suffering-that is, destruction and chaos. Why, suffering is the sole root of consciousness.// That plucked a tender nerve: as much as El did not love fighting, he knew that he could not walk away. He had tried after Carolina, and failed; his heart told him that he had put too much of himself in his guns now to ever abandon them entirely. He kept reading, eyes darting over the paper until a random phrase waved for him to stop.
//I'll drag myself after him in rags, a pauper. I'll seek him out in some provincial town. He'll be happily married. He'll have a grown-up daughter…I'll say: 'Look, beast, look at my sunken cheeks and my tatters! I've lost everything-my career, my happiness, art, science, a beloved woman, and all because of you. Here are the revolvers. I have come to discharge my revolver, and…forgive you.' Then I will fire into the air, and no one will ever hear of me again…//
Not completely right, but the spirit of the plaint was eerily familiar to El.
//I was humiliated, so I had to humiliate someone else; I was treated like a piece of trash, so I had to show my power over someone else…//
A sideways glimpse of a scarred eyeless face. A tone of voice that he should recognize.
//I have now reached such a point that I sometimes think love consists precisely of the voluntary gift by the loved object of the right to tyrannize over it. Even in my underground dreams I have never conceived of love as anything but a struggle; I always began with hatred and ended with moral subjugation, after which I could not even imagine what to do with the conquered object.//
A trembling body, caressing itself against cold steel. Choking down a snarl as he remembered his surroundings, El roughly shoved the book back onto the shelf. Well, that was a damned poor way of asking, he snapped to himself, running nervous fingers through his loose long hair. He took three steady steps away, one tentative shuffle, and then spun on one heel to clomp back, yanking the book out and opening to the last page.
//Leave us on our own, without a book, and we shall instantly become confused and lost-we shall not know what to join, what to believe in, what to love and what to hate, what to respect and what to despise. We even feel it's too much of a burden to be men-men with real bodies, real blood of our own.//
At that, El had to smile dark and grim, acknowledging the irony and the truth. Like him, first facing the loss of his music. And-like Sands, having lost his way of life. More alike than El wanted to admit. But he had to, didn't he?
All the questions came flooding back.
Why had Sands used lotion?
Why had Sands wanted to die?
Why had Sands wanted him to live?
In the dusty store, El stood silently, eyes unfocused and distant, and searched himself. He had intimate knowledge of hate. He didn't doubt that he had hated Moco and Bucho and Marquez. He suspected he would have hated Barillo, too, in time. He hated what Sands had done to him. But…El could not decide if he hated the man himself. Even now, when he thought of the American, anger surged in his blood-but so did pity and curiosity and that damnable lust. Sands had not been like the cartels and renegade soldiers El had fought; the man killed according to himself and not according to his passion for money and women. He killed for power, however. That he did have in common with the others. But in contradiction, there was that comment Sands had made about balance…no matter how El tried, he couldn't see the sense in it all.
Are you going to kill me?
//Maybe//, El muttered to himself, gently replacing the book on the shelf and then leaving the store.
This was probably the worst possible time, but the giggles were coming back.
Sluggish and drifting, Sands had eventually gotten off the bed and left town, some flicker of instinct keeping him alive in the foggy days that followed. He hadn't been very careful, though; he hadn't wanted to be careful. Not when he'd been denied death by the only other person who could possibly understand. Not when he felt knowing, sardonic eyes slanting their burning gaze from everywhere, not when he could pick out one shimmering song out of the hundreds that jangled past each other on the street.
Was it really all that unusual that he'd fixated on El, anyway? Who the hell else was still standing? Who the hell else was left with a right to kill him? A real right, born not of politics and plausible deniability, but of visceral grievance and death spilling in the dust.
And that wasn't the only reason. Neither was it, Sands confessed to himself, just the psychological reactions of surviving one of hell's circles. El was…the CIA had wanted to put Sands down like a mangy dog, shove him in some scrubbed-clean suburbia with boredom and etiquette and more hypocritical bullshit than Sands had run across in five years in Mexico. Dangle a pension from the stick of constant post-employment surveillance, since he had been considered 'highly dangerous.' Well, he'd proved that right. Had been wanting to for years, really, purposefully circling farther and farther from the fold.
But he'd always come back at the end of the day, because he'd still never found that something better. Ordinary life was too confining for his intelligence and sociopathy. Spying had gotten too easy. The criminal world held some interest, but it too had its code, its set of rules under which everyone slept and died.
So that's what El was. The shining-and Sands had to bite down on the inside of his mouth till it bled to keep the laughter away-beacon of individual freedom. The mariachi could do anything. In all senses of the phrase. Cross borders, smash worlds…if Sands was going to die, then he wanted someone like that to do it. Having spent his entire career keeping the scales level, at the end, he wanted the best. Fuck everything else-he deserved that, at least.
Not that Sands would ever get what he wanted, though; not in this random church, with back to the wall, cane across the room and five guns pointed at him. "Sheldon Jeffrey Sands," he grinned manically, shoving his sunglasses more firmly onto his nose, "You are under arrest."
"In your dreams, Sands," someone to his far right spat out. "We don't give rogues like you Miranda rights. Especially not in Mexi--*crack*--gurguuhh."
That first gunshot was followed by a firestorm of others, causing Sands to reflexively dive down. He cracked an arm against a pew as he went, but he ignored the sudden burn and scrambled forward on his hands and knees until he touched something wet and yielding. Round, with a hole-oh, entrance wound. Running a hand from the ruined neck to a laxly-gripped gun, Sands strained his ears desperately, trying to figure out who else would bother coming after him.
Nothing he could identify. But then a minute click cut through the cacophony, and Sands threw his body sideways, shooting first. A cut-off yelling groan resulted, followed by the sweet noise of a corpse hitting the ground. Sands crawled as fast as he could toward where he remembered hearing his cane drop, but having to pause frequently to suss out the position of bullets and enemies made his progress slow. Finally brushing the thin metal rod, he realized the fighting had stopped, and raised his head only to bump it against small icy hardness. The scent of his nightmares and dreams drifted through the air, and then, the chuckling dripped out. "About time you came back," Sands said mirthfully. "I was beginning to doubt your ability to finish the job."
//Put the gun down//. Sands did, then lifted his hands in the air and knelt up. His replacement sunglasses were sliding down his sweaty nose. "Well?" he asked.
And instead of splattering his brains all over the holy relics, the noble jackass whapped him upside the head again.
Something wet and soft was stroking the side of his bruised face. Unthinking as he woke, Sands moved into the strange touch, whimpering quietly. But then his hands refused to move anymore. He pulled again, and only succeeded in producing a stinging pain around his neck.
Stop. Investigate. Conclude.
Coarse sheets beneath him, though they smelled fairly clean. So did he. His boots, t-shirt and jacket were off, so the chilly wisping of the fan whirring somewhere nearby feathered over his chest and back. Something tight and smooth was clasped about his neck, with one end coming down his front to wrap snugly around his wrists, holding them together just below his collarbone. No sunglasses. And the wet towel that had been bathing his face had swiped down to his cracking lips. Eagerly, Sands sucked part of it in, extracting every bit of moisture.
"Why do you want me to kill you?" Of all things, El sounded nervous. Jittery.
"Why not?" Sands asked in reply, spitting out the towel. "You're good at it. And you're clean. Very, very clean. I've kind of lost my taste for messy."
At that, the mariachi snorted. "You lie. If you'd simply wanted that, you would've tried killing me on the street. You didn't-you hid instead, and then you talked."
"But I could have," Sands sneered. "I surprised you, and you dropped faster than a man's balls on his first trip to a brothel. My God, I thought you were better than that."
The wet towel moved away, the bed creaked, and Sands heard El fussing with something. "What did not happen is not important," El tossed back. "Only what did. You held yourself back, and I walked away."
"So did I," the American hissed. "Don't you think there's something wrong with that picture? Or do you like people hurting you? Is that why you let Marquez go for so long?" Instantly after he said that, the end of a pistol smacked against his forehead. Snorting contemptuously, Sands stretched up and sucked the end of it into his mouth, swallowing till the metal hit the back of his throat. He swirled his tongue lovingly over it, tasting the oil and steel. El abruptly yanked the gun away, and Sands snickered. "Sorry, did I scare you?"
"I don't understand you at all," the mariachi muttered, as if to himself. "You…confuse me."
"Oh, so you can have feelings now? Way I heard, you were Muerte the wind-up toy." Painful quiet, and Sands began to regret striking that nerve.
"I can…feel. Because of you," El eventually muttered to himself, apparently thinking. Which was bad, because Sands did not, under any circumstances, want the fretsucking bastard to start using his mind, or El would never get around to killing Sands.
"Yep. Congrats, sonny," the American drawled, "You're now free to feel guilt and grief and all that shit." His voice dropping down to a conspiratorial register he continued, "Y'know, you never struck me as all that forgiving. What with the massacres and mass-destruction."
"I haven't forgiven you." Said firmly, decisively, like a man who knew exactly where fate was going to throw him next and who already knew who he was going to shoot first when he got there. Sands waited, but for the third time El startled him, cupping large sandpaper hands around Sands' face and turning it. Warm breath coasted over Sands' cheekbones, and lips pressed gently against his forehead. The mouth then slid down, tongue smoothing back eyebrows as thumbs rolled along his jaw, sending little piercing thrills throughout his body. El dropped kisses all along eyelids and scar tissue, and it was worse than any wound Sands had ever taken.
"Oh, god," Sands cried out, lost and terrified and suddenly longing. Want-Christ, he wanted this? "God, what you are doing? What are you doing?"
"Shhh," El whispered, nibbling down Sands' straight, strong nose. Tugging uselessly at the-goddamn, he saved it-dog collar and leash, the American attempted to move away, to escape the blistering touches. In response, El merely moved even closer, settling with arms and legs on either side of Sands so he had nowhere to hide. The hands moved from face to shoulders, always caressing too-delicately, too-slowly, not giving Sands anything to hold onto, anything he could recognize. "Please, don't," he breathed beseechingly. "It hurts…"
But Sands was already arching up, bound hands stretching their tether as far as it would go so he could mold his fingers to the smooth planes of El's chest. The mariachi didn't seem to be wearing anything but pants either, and the thought whipped out the supports from under Sands, tumbling him into a dark and clammy abyss. "Don't do it like that…"
"You didn't listen to me," El answered, voice accusing though his hands remained tender--tender!--as they pushed Sands' hands back down, pinned him to the mattress as the mariachi's wet mouth seared holes into chin, throat, breastbone. And Sands could do nothing but throw his head back, baring vulnerable white skin while his hips twitched from side-to-side.
Brief graze of teeth on muscle. Sands tried to press toward it, tried to provoke a bite, but instead El flicked a tongue over one bony shoulder, tantalizing nerves. "You never heard my answer," El scolded, hand slipping around and back to alight at the small of Sands' back.
"To…what?" moaned the squirming man. Two fingers stroked quickly under the waistband, just brushing the tops of Sands' buttocks. "To what you're doing? Torture-torturing-"
"No." Swirling flicker of moistness over one taut nipple. "Whether I wanted to fuck you or kill you."
The mouth moved north, licking and sucking around and over the leather collar, teeth tugging at it slightly to test the give. "Yeah?" Sands groaned, helplessly rolling his hips back against the hand cupping his ass, involuntarily clutching at the hand keeping his wrists down. "Whassit?"
"Which do you want?" As if he could think clearly, while with the lightest touches the mariachi was ripping him apart. His cock was painfully straining his pants; he could feel the denim leaving its imprint in his skin. Sweat skated over every inch of his contorted body, and El, God fuck his mother, was lapping it all up, every rasp of that tongue taking another layer off Sands. "You-you're too damn good at this-better than me," he panted, wrung out already except his nerves kept pushing him higher, so high his head spun.
They were so close he could feel the shrug of El's shoulders. "You hurt me," the other man said simply.
Snapping sideways, Sands' face felt as if El had actually slapped him, his cheek tingling and flushing. He tried again to curl away, but El had a grip like iron and merely used Sands' own momentum to flip him over so he fell onto his elbows and knees, his head forced into the bedding by the short section of leash connecting his wrists and the collar. And then deft fingers were working-teasing-his zipper open, and Sands heard the swishing death knell of his jeans being pulled off of him. "What, are you deciding for me?" he demanded, hysteria staining his voice.
"No. Though you decided for me." And with that, El draped over Sands' back and wrapped one arm around a shuddering waist, while his other crossed over Sands' own. A gun was pressed into Sands' shaking hands.
He held it for eternity and beyond, mind racing frantically in all directions as a caged coyote would circle in its always-too-limited space. Dying…he'd dreamed it; he'd wanted it; he'd wanted El; he'd needed air. But there hadn't been any. Only the stifling vacuum of hellish failure. Sands had rolled with the gouging, had gotten up with the sun and the bullets. He'd tried again. Try, try again-wasn't that the secret to success? Except he'd miscalculated and lost the war a second time, third time, fourth…how high could he count?
Once upon a time, Agent Sands had been prosecutor and judge and jury for an entire nation. He'd walked his beat with the assurance of the highest authority, answering to none and dictating to all. Right up until he'd discovered that in fact his decrees had been a sham, that an even more august court had sat in judgment on him and had found him wanting. And they'd punished him for his hubris, nearly driven him insane. Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad, his heart chanted. And what had he left, continued his mind, what was left after he'd lost his command?
This, his scars and wounds answered. This touching, this agonizing burn wherever El touched him, waking things Sands had never known existed within himself. He didn't know what it was. But in that, Sands suddenly found hope. He didn't know what he had, but he had something. Something besides death.
Slowly, his fingers uncurled from the gun and nudged it aside.
Sounding oddly unsurprised, El asked dryly, "Found your pride again?"
"Never," Sands chuckled hollowly. "But maybe I've found my courage. Go ahead, pass your verdict. I've chosen my plea, and I'm not backing down from it."
He heard a sharp clunk from the right: El putting the pistol away. And then a zipper and jangle-rustling, as the bed swayed slightly: El taking off his own pants. The arm about his waist tightened, and a hard, hot body molded itself to his.
When he'd walked out of that bookstore, he hadn't known how it would end, but he had known that in order to finish it, both Sands and himself would have to be present. So El had tracked down the man, saved him and taken him back to a safe place, where they could settle everything without interference.
Some perverse urge had made him strip the American and truss Sands up with the same leather straps-carefully cleaned and oiled-that had been used on him. But after he'd arranged matters to his satisfaction and before Sands had woken, El had had to wrestle with his various hungers for the bony, haggard man lying before him. A weird fragility underlaid Sands' bravado, contradicting his obvious competence at adapting to blindness. It put him higher than the devil and lower than the saints. It confused the hell out of El. Made him want to pick the man up and shatter him. Made him want to shove the burst stuffing back into Sands and sew up all the glaring wounds.
When Sands had come back to life and started speaking, the echoes of blood and earth in his voice had nearly sent El into a dark, black world he'd so far stepped around, glimpsing it only in the eyes of his worst enemies. Damnation had never looked so tempting, and it'd been all El could do to keep his voice steady, to not give in to the knowing corruption. So he'd fled instead into action, giving in to his want to put his hands on Sands. Of course, the reactions the American had had to that had been too intriguing. And truthfully, it had satisfied something inside the mariachi to see Sands' obvious suffering under the palms of kindness.
But now…now, the American had reconciled himself, somehow. Sands was slumping backward into El's chest, rubbing his ass along El's growing erection. His black hair had fallen on either side of his neck, confronting El with a tempting defenseless nape, banded by rich jet leather. Surrender screamed from every gorgeous inch of Sands' body.
And damn it, but the mariachi still didn't know what to think, much less do. Savaging his lower lip, El could feel his muscles trembling with the effort of holding himself back. So what did he and Sands have? A bond, apparently. El could accept that. But the kind of bond…like Carolina? No. Like Marquez? No. Like César, brother whose blood dripped from El's hands? Like something else? What else was there?
Sands' broken voice interrupted El's considerations. "Please, please," the American groaned, rocking becoming ever more urgent. "Kill me or fuck me."
Which really were the only two choices. Sands had chosen the latter option, though El hadn't been willing then-and could El live with what had happened there, what he knew now that Sands was capable of? The man would never change as far as that was concerned; Sands would always have brutality lurking beneath his slender body. As did El, though he directed his violence towards his enemies. "What am I to you?" El wondered aloud, though his hands slowly began roaming over Sands again.
"Whatever you want. I'm-goddamn it-I'm yours," Sands gasped in reply, dropping his forehead to the bed and rearing up his ass. Fucking God-the world spiraled, shrunk out all El's reservations. Cut out everything except the roaring in his veins, the primeval growl charging up his throat.
El whipped his head and bit savagely into the side of Sands' pale throat, sucking in skin and hair, while his hand moved down and wrapped around Sands' leaking cock. Crying out, the American jerked back and forth. Ruthlessly, El moved his closed fingers up and down the wire-tensed heated flesh, continuing to leave teeth marks over Sands' upper back. He traced the prominent shoulderblades with his tongue, while his firm touch forced Sands further and further until the other man finally came, screaming himself raw.
Sands limply tumbled forward, but El's arm around his waist kept him from completely crumpling onto the bed. El didn't waste any time, not daring to stop lest everything break again; he transferred most of Sands' weight to his chest and shoulder so he could bring his come-soaked hand around and behind, and without preamble shoved two fingers into Sand's anus.
That brought the other back to life with an electric gasp; but after the initial surprise, Sands thrust fervently back, fucking himself with abandon on El's fingers. The mariachi added another finger, scissoring and curling them inside Sands until he grazed the spot that slashed wails out of the American's lungs. He mercilessly worked that little spot until Sands' cock was again slapping against his belly, and then El pulled Sands into an upright kneel, just long enough to drop him onto El's rigid cock. "Fuuuuuuuck! God, pleasepleaseplease!" Sands shrieked, falling forward onto his wrists with the bonelessness of the truly lost.
Lips drawn back in a ferocious snarl, El gave his answer in a vicious seizure of the lean hips before him, immobilizing them in the air as he pounded with quick, punishing jerks of his entire body into the other man. Underneath him, Sands sobbed and screamed, begged and writhed, splintering in El's very hands.
Brilliant red spots danced before El's fast-darkening vision. He shook them away, determined not to sleep through this moment, and pushed even deeper, ears ringing as the heat chased up his veins and nerves, flooded his heart and his mind until they were both drowning, both leaping off and falling, falling, falling-
--and the world crumbled to one channel of fire, burning only hotter as liquid splashed its flames.
Spent, El dropped down on top of Sands, both men breathing with equal raggedness.
It was far more than Sands had ever imagined, ever in his life. It was more than he could ever bear to lose. But he had to ask, because he was blind. He couldn't see El's face, couldn't detect the glints in the mariachi's eyes, couldn't know if he'd been taken into heaven or merely given a taste before plummeting back into purgatory.
"Can I stay?"
El stiffened and withdrew from Sands, rolling away, and Sands felt the madness sink its glacial fingers into his bones. Then the warmth of the mariachi's body brushed Sand's, and with one cut the leather dangling his hands from his neck fell in two. Suddenly flushing hot, Sands reached out with his still-bound hands and felt for El's chest, then slid his palms up to locate El's mouth. He snuggled in quickly and kissed the mariachi, tentatively, quietly, lips and tongue memorizing every curve. But the other man's mouth remained slack, and his arms stayed by his sides. Feeling the cold threatening, Sands dropped his head down and curled in as close as he possibly could to El's heat.
"I don't know," El finally said, bleak and frustrated. "But you don't have to leave yet."