Tangible Schizophrenia


Restraint III: Revelations

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: NC-17. Brief BDSM, probably d/s issues. If you're looking for anything resembling a healthy relationship, do not inquire within.
Pairing: Sands/El, implied Lorenzo/Fideo
Feedback: Yes, please.
Disclaimer: Belongs to the v. fortunate R. Rodriguez and band.
Summary: Sands and El circle back to the beginning and try again. Or, I borrow Biblical imagery for the purposes of nasty slashy sex (bonus points if you figure out which part of Revelations I'm mostly referencing).
Notes: //words// in Spanish. Domino was El's first girlfriend in El Mariachi. And as much as I like this headspace, this is absolutely the last installment in this series. Rewritten to connect with the other parts as an actual series, instead of episodic one-shots. Much thanks to pinkdormouse for the beta help.


"There before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest."

"Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword."

"There before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand."

"There before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth."

--excerpts from Revelations 6:1-6:8


Sands was frozen awake.

It had been a long day, bodies piling thickly beneath their feet as he and El collected long-overdue debts of flesh. Ramirez had kept his end of the bargain, made in the shattered house of a desiccated faith, and now, Sands and the mariachi were keeping theirs. Working their wrath across the nation, running and killing and moving on till the small scrapes and cuts they received in return for their services accumulated into a desperate need to hide and rest. But not to recover; in the bitter lands they walked, wounds never really healed, but only dried out into deep scars, always ready to bleed again.

Exhaustion dragged at his bones, urging sleep, but Sands pressed the tip of his tongue against his front teeth till the drowsiness cried mercy. And then the hand in his hair stopped, and he stilled even more than before, inwardly muttering fragments of prayers in a silent litany.

After a moment, El resumed his petting, first fingering the locks around Sands' face. Second, running cooling fingertips down Sands' cheek and neck. Third, tracing over the line of one half-curled arm to drift, almost tenderly, over the bony wrist and the faint scar across the back of Sands' hand. Every touch engraved scorch streaks beneath the skin, and if Sands squeezed his eyelids closed tightly enough, he could almost see the dark rosy stripes tattooing his body.

The mariachi thought Sands was asleep, and indeed, the American counterfeited that state very well. He knew El would skitter back into the quiet dark if he did otherwise. Sands knew that the other man had none of the vicious need that nailed him to El. Whatever the mariachi felt, it was without doubt less torrential, less desperate. But it was enough to make him take Sands in-and there was a gaping hell of difference, between take and keep. El might decide to drop the scrawny gringo coiling into his side tomorrow morning, tomorrow the next month, tomorrow the afterlife. And it was a telling statement that Sands was even considering hope for the last choice. Though he would settle gladly for tomorrow the death.

Dying was the last item on his list, checkmark delayed for as long as possible, but order was for sanity. If El left Sands behind, the madness would rise, and then Sands had no idea where his priorities would end up.

The tatters of what he used to be liked to sneer at that. They taunted Sands with his dependency, with his pathos, with his sheer neediness. They thought he should have adapted. They pointed out that he had adapted; he had managed his life quite well in the months between being collected by the CIA and meeting up with El once more. When he and the mariachi went into a fight, the smiling shadow within him crowed, he not only walked out, but he also came back with just as high a body count as the other man.

But then-because these thoughts always came to him, late at night when another person would have stayed up to watch their lover slumber-he asked the questioners where they were when the scent of the mariachi's slow rage faded to nothing. Where their boasts were when the dark waters rose to flood Sands' nostrils. Where their reason and logic were when his mind fractured in his own hands and its scraps slid through his cupped fingers.

Most of it having blown itself to hell in the aftermath of his blinding, whatever remained of his old self was rapidly dying away, its voice shriveling into reedy breeze as it stuttered idiocies in response to his questions. But one stubborn rejoinder refused to crumble away: what was El to him, and what was he to El?

When he was crazy, Sands thought he was in love.

When he was sane, he thought he was crazy.

Sands was very sure that the kind of emotion he felt for El wasn't the same kind that created weddings. But nonetheless, he had willingly bound himself to the other man. And not out of practicality. He hadn't sold himself for an ally, or a nurse, or even a mere grounding rod. He'd given himself, he'd forced himself onto the other man because he felt something for El. Because he wanted him. Because he wished he could crawl into the mariachi's skin and curl up in the bone hollows of El's ribs. Because when Sands wasn't around El, everything made too much sense for sanity.


The American was too rigid in his immobility. El could tell Sands was faking. Nevertheless, the mariachi continued to let his hand wander over the lifts and dips of the other man's body, storing the feel of fine pale skin and fine sharp bones in his memory as he pondered the situation.

It wasn't something he did normally, considering the nuances. But nothing ever flowed as it was supposed to around Sands. A few weeks into the sprouting of something new and alien between the two men, El felt the need to stop and evaluate, to decide whether to let things go on, or to smash them in their tender youth.

Privately, he had to admit that Sands was one of the few people he could think of as a partner. And in the farthest recesses of himself, El could say that Sands was, possibly, an equal to Carolina when it came to backing El in a fight. Outside of battles, however…sitting across the meal table, stepping out of the shower…stroking cautiously inquiring fingers up El's thigh…

Of late, the American had become more aggressive-no, not more aggressive. More assertive, in seeking comfort or pleasure. Which was probably out of necessity, because although El would respond to Sands' advances, he wouldn't initiate any. Because the mariachi still didn't want to care about the other man, much less express affection for Sands. After the confrontations in the church, El had accepted that, for whatever reason, he did feel something for Sands, but that did not mean he had to like what his heart had done. Or pretend to like it. Shifting his bent knee down, the mariachi rumbled wordlessly in his disgruntlement, flicking a glance over at his companion. Just catching the slight tick in Sands' jaw, highlighted by a stray sliver of moonlight.

Suddenly feeling all his aches, tired dry anger finally succumbing to fatigue, El temporarily gave up on untangling his life's conundrum and flopped himself under the worn blankets, pulling them close about him. Unfortunately, it was a rather chilly night, and the gesture was more symbolic than useful. Glaring at the ceiling for several moments, El eventually allowed his practicality to make its inevitable suggestion. He rolled onto one side, facing the glow of warmth to his right, and wrapped an arm about Sands. The other man's breath hitched, nearly prompting El to shove away, but in the end, he couldn't bring himself to move from the heat.

Slowly, Sands relaxed against El's chest, settling under El's chin. Telling himself to pretend it was his guitar case, El sank into a light doze, hand unconsciously drawing gentle circles on Sands' side, just above the hipbone. But the mariachi didn't surrender to true sleep until after his partner's breathing had lengthened into the shallow measures of slumber.


First on their to-do list for the next day, after the usual domesticities like breakfast and gun-cleaning, had been a visit to the local cartel overseer.

When El and Sands had first begun, the underworld had still had its doubts about the resurrection of El Mariachi, and consequently, the killings had been easy. They could walk in, walk out, and be massacring the next group before the first's throats finished rattling death. As time passed, however, the cartels adapted. Simple assassinations became more and more difficult to carry out, and El gradually reverted to his old shock tactics. Sands would have preferred differently, but the fact remained that the mariachi knew attack best, and had the devil's own luck-or the devil's touch. It would have taken more than a crack army regiment to take the two men down, and the caliber of the men they had faced today fell far below those standards.

On the other hand, what the cartels lacked in quality, they had in quantity, and even legends occasionally had their asses handed to them by mobs. That hadn't happened yet, but it had been very close. If Sands' last bullet had been a fraction of a second slower, El--

Sighing, Sands pushed the thought out of his mind and bent down, feeling for leg injuries. It didn't matter what he did; El always was too far ahead to notice. And speaking of…a soft clinking roared in the American's ears, and he snapped back up, head already turning to face the returning mariachi. "Are we done here?" Sands asked, resmoothing his hair back into a ponytail.

"Yes." Curt and emotionless. The floor groaned and splished as El stepped closer, and a hand skimmed over Sands' arm, provoking a wince from the American. "Needs stitches."

"Suppose we'd better hope one of these-" Sands nudged a body with one foot "-likes playing housewife. We're out of thread."

There was a tearing sound, like El was ripping the very fabric of the world, and then Sands had a wad of cloth pressed into one hand. "I'll look," the mariachi muttered, still suppressing something. "Then we have to leave, right away. Can you sew while I'm driving?"

"By myself?" Sands replied incredulously. "On these roads-actually, they're more like ass tracks, aren't they?"

"Shut up." Opening his mouth, Sands heard the rustles and thumps as El crouched down and searched the bodies, and he decided protesting was probably pointless. Biting back his words, the American hastily wrapped his arm and then leant back against the wall, waiting. And waiting. For a man in a dire rush, El seemed to enjoy squatting in one place an awful lot.

Finally, Sands ventured a question. "El? So what's the rush-I mean, where are we going now? I think we've pretty much cleaned out this region, and the sensible thing would be lay low for-"

All the air whooshed out in a painful heave as Sands' lungs were crushed back into his spine. Yanking the American's wrists up to slam them into the wall, El pinned the other man and bent forward till their breaths swirled hot and cold around each other. "We're leaving now," the mariachi whispered lowly, blackly, like an executioner's parting salutation to the condemned. "We're going to fight."

Struggling against force and lust to breathe, Sands managed a short, choking reply. "Okay." El was so close Sands thought he could feel the fluttering of the other man's eyelashes. His hands were quickly deadening in counterpoint to his screaming arm, and the darkness of his vision was spreading over with spiraling crimson. And his bones were beginning to droop in the heat blasting along his front. "Yeah. Okay."

The mariachi's hesitation was the slightest of jerks. El sucked air, then let it out in a frustrated gust, abruptly loosening his hold on Sands so the other man slumped forward onto El's shoulder. Sands had to savage his lip ruthlessly before he could make himself capable of speech again. "What's wrong?" he murmured, the scent of El's hair filling his nostrils.

Still holding onto Sands' wrists, El absently stroked his thumbs over the thin skin, his unseen gaze sending ripples down the American's back. "You…like it?" the mariachi asked curiously. "When I…when I hurt you? Or when I-don't?"

That made Sands laugh, bitter dregs of himself leaking out in its sharp bark. "How the fuck am I supposed to know?" he answered, lips grazing the collar of El's jacket. "It's all just-you. All you. Anything-everything. And I can't seem to help myself."


Holy Mary, Mother of God. Have mercy on us poor sinners in our ignorance and blindness. Our Father, who art thou in heaven…

El wanted to hurt Sands. El wanted to hold Sands. El wanted to pop out his shotgun and blow the whole damned confusing mess to hell. He thought he'd been a reasonably good man. Even when seeking vengeance, he had avoided involving anyone besides his direct enemies. Even when he hadn't really cared, he'd spared innocents out of courtesy to humanity. To whatever parts of the mariachi still clung to him.

But whenever he was around Sands, he no longer could predict himself. He couldn't trust himself, a dangerous condition for a gunfighter. And he couldn't walk away, couldn't sling the guitar over his back and leave like he had with his friends, when his battles became theirs. El had made people come to him, if they wanted to fight. He had only asked and left the final choice up to them-while Sands had come asking him, and then forced him to follow.

Throwing up business as a mask, El abruptly said, "The cartels are after my friends, Fideo and Lorenzo. I have to get to them."

Sands drew in a sharp breath, tensing in El's grasp, although he didn't try to free himself. "So," he inquired quietly, elongating his words as if stalling, "Are these the ones that played for the President with you?"

"Yes." Studying the other man carefully, El looked for the source of Sands' worry in the blank flesh peeking out from under frail eyelids, in the strands of black already slipping free of the hair tie, in the slight wrinkling around the mouth as the American tightened his jaw. And then El remembered:

Just don't leave. I can't find anything without you.

"If you run from meeting them," he growled unthinkingly, "I'll kill you." The sudden sag in Sands' body twisted El's stomach, that moment later when he realized what he had said. And how he had said it. But, turning the sentence over in his head, he could find no reason for retraction. And El, having little else left, would not let his honesty fall sacrifice as well.


So El wasn't going to abandon him for the other mariachis. There was no way for Sands to hold back his relief, even though he knew it would only aggravate El.

Surprisingly, the mariachi didn't move away. Instead, El stood stiffly for a few seconds, then tugged Sands gently out of the room. They stopped in a smaller room, and when El sat Sands down on a toilet, the American figured out what was going on. "What about your friends?" he queried confusedly, unwrapping the makeshift bandage from his arm. The corner of his mouth twisted up in disgust as the cloth, already soaking through with blood, stuck to his fingers.

"We can't do anything until I find out where they are," El answered, slopping some towels around in the sink. "And you're going to bleed into a faint at this rate. This place is too out-of-the-way for anyone to come by for a while. I'll sew it here."

Blinking, Sands shrugged. "Whatever." He felt for the sink counter's edge with his good hand, then laid his hurt arm out on the chilly surface. Winced when El washed clean the bullet-carved groove; hissed when the needle went in. And then fell silent.

When he had finished, El put another bandage on, and then handed Sands some gun cartridges scrounged from the newly dead. The American tucked them away, and then stood up shakily, swaying a bit: he'd lost a little more blood than he'd thought during the fight. A long-fingered palm caught him on the forward swing and steadied his body, though Sands' mind remained bursting with stinging lights.

Both men stopped. Then, so very slowly, Sands raised his uninjured arm and slid fingers up the side of El's neck till he found a tight mouth. Trailed those fingertips with his lips, touching them to El's almost chastely before pulling back. Into a hand tangling in his hair, urging him forward again. This time the kiss was deep and rich and-

--cut off. El ripped himself away, muttering, "We need to go. I can call them on the road." Banging out of the bathroom, the mariachi stalked a hard, fast beat into the floorboards as he exited the house. Sands remained inside, licking his lips for one last taste, and then followed after El while the tingling steel and mist faded from his tongue.


Locating Fideo and Lorenzo consisted of two brief, monosyllable conversations while El spun the DeSoto out of town. It made Sands wonder, momentarily entertained, if all Mexican mariachis had some sort of secret superhero brotherhood, complete with intranet and bat-signals. Nah. Guitar signals. And maybe their jingling pants were really a form of Morse code.

"Sands." Jolted out of his musings, the American reflexively whipped his head around to face the driver's seat. El tapped his nail on the cell phone, and then his clothes shifted. Instinctively, Sands snatched out and caught the cell. "I don't need it anymore," El explained. "You used to like these."

"Yeah. Was in the job description, pretty much," Sands replied offhandedly, relearning the fit of the phone in his hand. He had been fond of them. Cells had been a godsend in a country where phonebooths sheltered blade-wielding beggars and the hospitals didn't ask for proof of insurance-they demanded cash or connections or both. And they'd been a nice way of keeping every one of the ungrateful curs that Sands got to sic on targets at a good, safe distance. Kill the weak and wait for the strong to turn their back for a piss. A rule of thumb that sounded good and held up in the field.

Not that Sands could use any of that helpful advice now. In fact, he was most likely doing the exact opposite of everything his CIA training had preached. Head-on fights, no negotiations, no side-switching…hell's bitches. He was turning into an Army goon.

"Are you going to call anyone?"

His entire face quirking, Sands snorted, "Who? I'm not Fed now, remember? And you don't seem likely to sign up for a billing plan any time soon."

"I thought all CIA men had 'sources'," El countered. "They can't all be loyal to the U. S. No one here does anything unless money is involved."

"Except us freelancing agents of God's wrath," the American grinned dryly. "I did have some. But I haven't contacted them in months, and by now headquarters has probably gotten them reassigned or dumped in the Gulf."

"You told your bosses about everything you did and everyone you talked to," El drawled disbelievingly.

Slouching back in his seat, Sands dangled the cell by one corner. "No," he admitted morosely. "And before you offer to finance anything, I should warn you most of them don't have phone numbers. The ones that do, well-" uncharacteristically embarrassed, he flushed a little "-I…forgotwhattheyare."

"You. Forgot." Voice a hanging fire, El seemed ready to put the car into a cactus.

"Speeddial!" Sands snapped defensively. "I had a couple different phones, all right? And it was faster to just store the numbers. I gave the cells to this kid who helped me get to the square after I was blinded, and he's probably wiped 'em all for resale, so Langley still doesn't know about those people-"

"You paid someone for their help and they didn't die?"

"Get fucked," the American snarled, clutching the cell until his fingers ached. "I'm human. Unlike you, I can't be the same fucking mask every day. And anyway, you didn't die."

"You never got around to paying me," El retorted harshly. "Sometimes I wonder why I didn't just smash the guitar and strangle you with the strings, back in that café."

Chest suddenly burning inside-out, Sands felt a chill and curled up in the corner of the passenger end of the bench seat. "Or paint the adobe with my brains," he added, tone vicious and pleading. "We keep going over this. If you regret it so much, you can always fix it."

"You said you didn't want to die," El accused. Smiling sardonically, Sands nodded. "I don't. But hey, not really in my hands now, is it?" he remarked. Like smoke, silence seeped through the floor of the DeSoto and stifled the two occupants.


El wondered if it was possible to get moral whiplash. One moment, Sands seemed completely deserving of whatever torment El put him through, and the next…the next…it hardly seemed possible that this man was the same who'd trussed El up in a dog collar and leash, and then had raped him with a metal rod.

Then again, El had chosen to fuck Sands afterwards. Repeatedly. And to keep the other man in good enough shape that they could continue screwing. What the hell did that make El?

It was wrong. It was all wrong. There was taking and giving, and never enough of the one to balance out the other. Sands didn't want himself anymore, so he'd given it all to El. And El had accepted. But he hadn't-shit. How could he ask anyone to take him, when he didn't really want himself? At least, he didn't want what he was becoming. Had become. El could barely keep his own soul afloat, and now, with power over another's, he was struggling to stay someone he could bear to look at in the mirror.

"Do you want the phone back?" asked an empty voice from the other side of the car. Sands might as well have been asking if El wanted his sanity back.

"No." Pausing, the mariachi attempted to arrange his words carefully before he rounded his mouth and throat about them. "The cell…would be something for you to do. While we're driving, because we won't be there until tomorrow afternoon. So you could-" El gestured awkwardly, then remembered "-instead of-of staring in me. At me. I meant, at me."

"Oh. But I can't stare," was the muttered response. The leather upholstery creaked, and El dared a glance over. Sands was edging back across the bench, a fingernail sliding in between the two halves of the phone to flip it open. The American faltered at the halfway point.

Did he-slicing a cut in his tongue, El gritted his teeth and rolled the copper traces in his mouth. He had to stop wavering and decide. Moment by moment, if he had to. Before he could think of anything else, El reached a hand over and, snagging Sands' unhurt arm, pulled the other man all the way across so Sands huddled up against El's side. Like the American usually did in the car, when he wasn't sleeping with his head in El's nervy lap.

Sands instantly molded himself around El, settling down to reteach himself the cell phone keypad by touch. Uncomfortably, El put his hand back on the wheel and drove on. Neither man spoke.


When El had called them, Fideo and Lorenzo had been staying in a crossroads town, one of small population but large daily traffic. They hadn't yet been attacked by the cartels, but a few odd incidents and some ominous rumors made them eager to rejoin their friend. Consequently, a day later El steered the DeSoto into a dusty courtyard to the welcome sight of the other two mariachis waiting for him, smiling broadly. As soon as he stepped out of the car, Lorenzo seized him in a bear hug, babbling joyful nonsense. Fideo hung back, nodding hello, and then darted a questioning glance at the wary face peering past the open car door.

//Sands//, El elucidated, slightly shaking his head at the fluttering of Fideo's fingers. //Ex-CIA. He's with me.//

Still suspended from El's neck, Lorenzo took a curious look over the other man's shoulder. //Looks like a skeleton. And blind-can he even fight?//

//Care to find out, skullfuck?// Sands retorted, swinging his legs out of the DeSoto. His hands were pointedly out of sight.

//There's food inside//, Fideo broke in, waving a hand as he slung himself around and staggered inside the old Spanish monastery that loomed above the four men. Tossing one last glare of disparagement at the American, Lorenzo dropped off of El and ambled after the drunken man. El briefly rubbed at the bridge of his nose, then, blowing out his irritation, unloaded his two guitar cases and shoved one at Sands, who took it without complaining and followed El into the building. Frequently stumbling and knocking into things; he hadn't managed to find a replacement for the cane he'd broken by impaling one of his colleagues with it. Eventually, El got annoyed enough to go back out and lead Sands in by an elbow.

As meals went, it was a strained and jumpy breaking of the bread. El and Fideo were mostly stoic rocks while Sands and Lorenzo went at it over the tortillas. When the engines roared outside, El felt a ridiculous amount of relief alongside the rushing of adrenaline.

//Damn.// Groping behind him for his flamethrower, Lorenzo glowered at the cold beans. //And I was enjoying the conversation, too.//

"Likewise, cock mouth," Sands commented sarcastically, putting down his fork and knife. In the background, the inevitable megaphone crackled a booming proclamation: *El Mariachi, the cartels are here. You and your friends are completely surrounded.*

//So, if they were just gonna come anyway, why'd you bother showing up?// Lorenzo asked insolently. Shaking the dust off a shotgun, Fideo whapped the younger man with his free hand. //Shut up and share the deaths. It's only polite//, he said.

And then bullets started slamming against the walls, and all four men dove for the floor. //Fideo!// El yelled, rolling under the table.

//We'll take north and east//, his friend shouted back. //See you in the chapel.// Grabbing Lorenzo by the collar, the other man dragged them out one of the doors. Gritting his teeth, El took a deep breath, tracking the shooters by sound, and then he lunged from beneath the table through the other entrance, boots driving dents in the floor as he did. Cursing behind him, Sands snatched up one of El's hand cannons and kicked the guitar case into the next room as he raced after the other man.


On unfamiliar territory, Sands had to slow himself down to a stealthy creep, picking off whoever got past El's flanks while the mariachi swept furiously ahead. Swallowing against sour fear, the American kept tabs on the other man by the shouts of the cartel gunmen as they chased El from floor to banister to floor.

Having no clue where he was, just following the flow of gunfire, Sands edged along the wall of one narrow hallway. On the other side of the partition, someone coughed. Firing through the adobe, Sands raked one palm down the length of the corridor as he ducked into the doorway and snapped off another few shots. Gurgles and clicking came from his right, and shooting one-handed, he cut those off while crossing the room. And promptly tripped over a stool. Falling to one knee, Sands swore at the loud thud and scrambled behind the nearest piece of furniture he could find, disappearing from sight just as footsteps tromped into the room.

//Fucking finally//, growled one man. //Took us long enough to waste that shit.//

//Hey, they got him?//, asked his companion.

//That's what the phone's telling me//, was the gleeful reply. //And won't all those bastards back home be jealous. Too busy pissing their pants to come face El Mariaaah-chi, and guess what? We got the bonuses.//

//Cunts are going to be all over us//, agreed the second voice. They chatted some more, but Sands was no longer listening. Was, in fact, no longer doing anything except clenching his hands into the floor, feeling it splinter under his ragged nails. He wasn't even breathing. Too much of his attention was devoted to the tumbling unravel in his mind, to the rising horror in his gut. Distantly, a clunk sounded.

//What the--// someone heaved aside the chair, and a gun cocked. Its tiny click flooded Sands' nerves, and he whipped his gun up and blew both men away. Panting heavily, mind still blanking, he scrabbled one hand around till he hit the cell that had slipped out of his pocket and onto the floor. As his fingers closed around the phone, something boxed itself off in his head. "Not until you find the body," Sands murmured. Like an automaton, he tucked the cell into a pocket and swapped out the empty clips in his guns. "Not until you find the body," he repeated, chanting it as he got up and made his way out.

"Not until you find the body."


El had worked his way through most of his assigned quarter, and had just stepped into a balcony of the chapel when he heard a familiar cry torn short by a pained hiccup. Running all the way in, he started shooting before he'd even registered most of the scene, relying on instinct and sixth sense.

Man opposite him-cartel. Two men down and left-cartel. Another across the aisle, and a second firing at him-Lorenzo, standing over-over Fideo. His bloody-sided friend, slumped against a pew.

Thuds came from behind, and roaring as he whirled, El splattered the oncoming men across the walls. He quickstepped backward toward the staircase at the other end of the balcony, alternately firing before and below him. No one got past his rain of metal. El heard rattling planks from behind, and turned into a half-lifted rifle that he smacked aside, shooting with his other hand. The gunman staggered, but then rammed snarling into El before he could blow off the other man's head, sending both men over the railing. Choking, trying frantically to flip around, El got only partly on top of the cartel thug before they slammed into the pews.

Wood and sawdust filled the air, then arced down to softly patter on the old stone floor. One arm wrapped around Fideo's waist, Lorenzo lunged into a tiny sideroom and kicked the door shut. Huddled beside his case, his lips dropped prayers as he reloaded with one hand, using the other to staunch the spreading red along Fideo's ribs.


Somehow finding the chapel, Sands stumbled into a furious crossfire. One blistering group was shooting nonstop across the chamber at a smaller group, whose bullets cracked oddly: the mariachis, firing through a door, apparently. Crouching down behind the first seat, Sands listened intently, searching for a sign of El. But nothing. No rage-maddened charge, no seething cold fury. Lorenzo and Fideo, Sands thought. They were the ones hiding in the room. El…nothing. There wasn't anything, anywhere--

And then, a wicked crash and the hiss of fire. Smoke muffled Sands' nose as he instantly ducked, moving under the cover of Lorenzo's flamethrower toward the cartel side of things. Keeping himself occupied with tactile sensations: the gun sliding in his hands, the worn rock beneath his feet, the brutal recoil as he put his first bullet into a gunman. No room here for madness, not while he was killing.

Can't think, can't think, Sands recited to himself. Go forward, roll and shoot. Don't think about what would happen after, don't think about being alone, don't think of the body-don't fucking think.

Fists grazed past his sides as he twisted, smashing feet and elbows into yielding flesh. He fired twice more, hearing the two final thumps, and then ducked left to avoid a spitting yell coming up from that side. Slipped in blood, and fell backwards, slamming hip and arms into the benches, jarring gun loose from his seizured fingers. Searing hurt surged up and burst against the stitches in his tricep. Gasping, Sands clawed forward, retreating from the livid men before him. But a vicious grip wrapped itself around his ankle, and dragged him back. Lashing out wildly with his other foot, the American hit something that gave with a wheeze. Using that as a guide, he scored nails through the air and came away with skin underneath the edges. The hand fell from his ankle, and Sands fumbled himself away once more, bumping up against his gun as he did. His hand grabbed it just as a thump resounded from the wooden seat by his head.

The man who'd leapt to that spot wrenched Sands up by the hair, bending the American's gunhand up behind his back so the numbed fingers dropped the pistol. //Time to join your friend//, the gunman hissed in Sands' ear, nudging cold steel under Sands' chin.

"Join him?" Sands laughed, voice soaring to an abrupt break. "He'd fucking take my left nut first. If he ever finished brooding about it. Come on, fuckmook. Shoot me. See if I live again."

A breath. //What?//

"We all just keep living," Sands continued, still with black humor slicking his voice. "Never die. Never, ever. 'Cause you know, we want to, and so we can't. I can't. Leave him. Won't leave him. So you can try." He pushed his head down onto the gun barrel. "Try, you fucker. Just try."


It was the searing heat that recalled El from his fevered dreams. Hot, hot warmth sliding up his front, breathing over his face as long hair tickled his lips. And then, a trembling white hand-

--limp with death. Thrashing his head like a dog just from the water, El shoved the body off of him and hunched over, quickly scrambled to the end of the aisle. His body was one excruciating mass of soreness, but he forced himself on till he reached the door through which he'd last seen Lorenzo rush, now nothing more than a few scraps of wood lining a scorched gap. Heart jerking, he called softly, //Lorenzo?//

What was left of the door creaked open, and his two friends tumbled out, Fideo grunting as he clutched the strips of shirt lashed about his ribcage, Lorenzo nursing burnt fingers in his mouth as he dragged his guitar case. //We're here. We can walk//, Fideo mumbled.

Unexpectedly, quiet crashed over the church.

Straining his ears, El crept to the side of the pew and began to sit up, when someone spoke. Bitter and diamond-edged and teetering.

"Join him? He'd fucking take my left nut first. If he ever finished brooding about it. Come on, fuckmook. Shoot me. See if I live again."

//They're busy//, Fideo whispered. //If we're going to sneak out, we have to go now.//

//Are we?// Lorenzo asked, giving El an odd look. //Is he really with you?//

Last choice. This wasn't just walking away, this wasn't washing his hands in the water and leaving Sands up to fate. Whatever El decided, its consequences couldn't be swept out of sight. This decision was the here and now. It was the future. It was-

"We all just keep living. Never die. Never, ever. 'Cause you know, we want to, and so we can't. I can't. Leave him. Won't leave him. So you can try." Rising hysteria. "Try, you fucker. Just try."

--he'd claimed Sands before. Claimed and tried to abandon, to let wither so he didn't have to pick a way, between killing and living. Then he'd chosen to live, and tried to live as he had before, solitary with the world only involved when he needed something essential. And Sands numbered among those, now. He needed the other man, and he wanted him as well. And… El wanted to want that. He couldn't understand why, but--

//Whatever. You're fucking rabid, man. Might as well put you down--//

Springing up onto the backs of the pews, El put a bone-splintered hole in the face of the man who'd been holding Sands. Running forward, he leaped across the central aisle dividing the rows of seats, taking down the other gunmen in quick succession. Cartel men were suddenly falling to his right, and El flicked a swift glance over one shoulder to see Lorenzo and Fideo backing him up.

The moment he reached Sands, El crashed off the bench tops and yanked the other man up, dragging him back as they both fired last shots. They backed quickly out of the chapel, just behind Lorenzo and Fideo, and then out of the monastery, stopping only to snatch up El's and Fideo's guitar cases from a hallway corner on the way. Making it to the DeSoto only seconds ahead of the other gunmen, the four men flung themselves inside and El fired up the engines, swinging the car into the road as Lorenzo tossed a few grenades out the back window, taking care of whatever cartel men were still capable of chase.


//So.// Squatting down beside his friend, Lorenzo shook out a cigarette and lighted it, then offered the pack to El. When the other mariachi refused, Lorenzo shrugged and pocketed the cigarettes. //Fideo's fine//, the younger man continued. //Jackass was so drunk, he bitched about me stitching crookedly. Limpdick. Like I could do any better, with him wriggling like that.//

Sands had held perfectly still, El remembered, bringing one knee up so he could clasp hands around it. Lorenzo slanted him a look, and then said, //Yeah. Well. Look, I don't know what the fuck you and the gringo have been doing to each other, but the…um…marks are pretty obvious. Especially when your clothes are all ripped up like they are now.//

//Are you saying something?// El asked, amused in spite of himself at the other man's stammering.

//Just…don't fuck yourself up, man.// Taking another drag off the cancerstick, the younger man studied his friend. //At least, don't do it again. You up and leave Fideo on my hands, I'll track you to heaven and blow St. Peter till he lets me in so I can kick your ass.//

//You don't know what you're talking about//, El mumbled, rippling his fingers in idle air-chords. //This isn't good. This didn't start…bad roots lead to warped trees.//

//Hate to tell you this, man, but we're already fucking killers. Which usually equals bad.// Stretching his legs out, Lorenzo tapped the ash off his cigarette and stuck it back in his mouth, dangling it from the corner of his lip. //Not that I care, really, as long as life's fun and my friends are around to share the wealth, but…anyway, if you're so pissed, why not just whack the problem?//

//The problem is a man//, the older mariachi pointed out, briefly glaring at his friend. //And I can't.//

//Can't or won't?// Lorenzo singsonged. Turning serious, he said, //Well, you have to do something.//

//Like what?// El growled. //Rewrite everything? Like I did with Carolina, after Domino?//

//Look. I never got your taste in people, so I'm not going to try now//, the younger mariachi snapped testily. //But you've never gone wrong before, so I promise to leave the choice up to you. And so does Fideo. Even though he's goddamned head-screwy; he thinks the gringo might be good for you. Eventually.// Lorenzo clapped a hand on El's shoulder and left it there for a moment, then got up. //So I'll go with…whatever the fuck you say…but, yeah. Watch yourself. And I think I'll spend the night in Fideo's room, so that'll put at least one room between us and you. 'sides, I know he's quiet.//

El watched, mouth slightly quirked, as the younger mariachi sauntered off, and after Lorenzo had shut the door to Fideo's room behind him, El stood up and entered his own room. Stared at the man currently lying in his bed. Under his gaze, Sands lifted a weary head. "You could have left," the American noted abruptly.

"I didn't." Shedding weapons and jacket, El stowed them carefully away before climbing onto the other side of the mattress. "I came back for you."

"Why?" Wincing as he jolted his rebandaged arm, Sands cautiously sat up. Sighing, El draped an arm across the other man's shoulders and pulled him into his lap, sniffing at the still-damp hair. "You said you wouldn't leave me," El replied. "Everyone else does."

"I won't," Sands affirmed, nuzzling tentatively into the crook of El's neck as his fingers crept under the edge of El's shirt. "Not unless you make me."

"I'll stop trying," El murmured, rubbing his nose down the curl of Sands' ear. Within the circle of his arms, the other man shivered once, then asked softly, "Why were you? I mean, aside from the obvious."

"The obvious?"

Moving back, Sands worked his lower lip between his teeth as he floated fingertips over El's cheeks and mouth. "The sodomy? And putting you on the CIA hit list?" he said nervously, visibly bracing himself.

El arched an eyebrow, causing the finger touching it to bob. "You've been wanting me to punish you for that?" the mariachi wondered. "Is that why you've just let me-"

"No. I let you because I couldn't do differently," Sands interrupted, tone certain. He drew in a shaky breath, then added, "Did-do you want to punish me?"

"Maybe," El acknowledged. He slid one steady hand down the in-curve of Sands' back, pressing fingers into the quiver. "I didn't want to live, and you made me. And then I didn't want anything I could lose again, so I thought I could just hold onto you without feeling anything. But I couldn't, and I couldn't do it myself, so I wanted you to do the leaving. But you wouldn't." Turning his head, El kissed the edges of the fingers skating over his face. "That is not to say that I liked your way of…wooing."

"We're not women, El," the American answered, leaning forward. "But I'm-I wish I hadn't."

In reply, El closed that fraction of air and kissed him, gently coaxing the other man's lips open into a plunging exploration. He swiped the ashes out of Sands' mouth and drank until he could taste the live coals beneath, rolling the sweet burnt caramel over his tongue. Hands suddenly clutched at his shoulders, and uncaring, El pressed his lips forward over and over, kissing Sands breathless as his own hands stroked cloth from skin, then yanked off his own shirt. Tilting to one side, El had to break the caresses momentarily to snarl at the bedpost that had whacked him on the head, but Sands quickly tugged him back to brush a tongue over the bruises on El's neck and shoulders.

Groaning at the warmth slipping around under his skin, El rolled them over so he could strip the pants off both men and pin the American's lean hips down. Bending down, he licked Sands' risen cock from head to base, and then back up to swirl in the slit at the top. Above him, he heard the cheap tear of blankets and a familiar whine echo through the small room. Sands' hips tried to jerk up, but El backed off and patiently waited till the other man subsided before he returned to the deep red erection, this time lipping it thoroughly before taking its length into his mouth. Sucking it in and out, he slapped down the knees that jolted up on either side of his head, listening avidly to the American's moaning as he fumbled one hand on the side table for the ointment tin.

Finally managing to grab it, El clicked the lid open and proceeded to work the salve over his fingers, while trailing his tongue down past Sands' balls to the sensitive strip of skin behind them. He stayed there for a moment, rasping his teeth to feel Sands trembling against him, and then descended farther, positioning his open mouth in an 'O' around the little hole and then sucking hard, once, before probing in with his tongue.

That elicited a scream. Perversely proud of himself, El crawled back up to drink in the sight of a Sands sodden with sweat, like a horse who'd been run till the froth flecked from behind the bit. Tossing the tin aside, El bent down for a brief, slack-mouthed kiss before he levered the other man over onto belly and knees.


God, this was different. And that was an understatement-oh, fuck it. Like Sands was even capable of analyzing dog shit right now. El had just-and now he was slithering long musician's fingers into Sands, strumming sparks and streaks of pleasure from the taut strings that held Sands' bones together. The melody was much too slow, and the American shoved back urgently only to have El stop, gather both of Sands' wrists into an unforgiving grip against the front of Sands' heaving chest, and then resume at the same pace.

He couldn't tell anymore where the fire ceased burning and started warming. It all-he was being dragged along somewhere, and he couldn't run fast enough to keep up. El wasn't holding back at all: wasn't merely revenging himself in Sands' pain, wasn't restraining himself for fear of becoming a cruel shallowness, like those the two men hunted.

A fingernail ran, very lightly, along the inside, and Sands threw his head back and forth, hardly having enough air in his lungs to keen. Soothing lips nipped at his throat, licked up the bumps of his spine. Crooning some village ballad, El replaced fingers with filling, stretching cock. Gasping, Sands twisted again, and a second arm came around his waist to feather lightly over the bandage on his arm.

"If you rip the stitches again, I'll have to stop," El warned lowly, rocking his hips an infinitesimal amount.

"Try to stop and I'll squeeze off your dick," Sands panted back, though he nonetheless made himself relax back into El. He heard things being shuffled, and then a strip of cotton was being wrapped and tied off around his wrists. The mariachi tipped them both forward, holding onto Sands so the American couldn't move his injured arm. "This, I think, is how it should have gone," El whispered into Sands' ear, and then the other man was upping the tempo, gliding palms all over Sands as the thrusts went deeper and deeper.

Shamelessly whimpering and wailing, Sands ripped new tears in the blankets as he rose to meet El, craning back for a cramped kiss before letting himself fall into the rising spiral of white. Urging El to draw them all the way up, up-

--down, down to the earth. Down to the rumpled, soaked, ragged bedding. Down to a hard-muscled heat curling in around him, down to silk salty skin beneath his swollen lips. "Mine," came the exhausted, gravelly mellow voice in his hair.

Sands couldn't think of anything, couldn't do anything except nod once, looping his bound hands about El's neck and burrowing into the collarbone beside his face.


Understandably, when the watchman looked over, he paused before calling in reinforcements. After all, what was below wasn't anything like the usual attack on the cartels.

Four men. One in red, one in black. The third white-shirted under his raven jacket, eyes glittering as he gazed back at the guard. One arm held the fourth, pale as bone in contrast to the coal sunglasses barring his face, slung to one hip like a holstered gun.


"Well?" Fideo asked, glancing over. El smiled thinly, hand stroking over Sands' stomach one last time before it fell back to catch the gun sliding out of the sleeve. "Let's play," he answered.


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