Author: Guede Mazaka
El has never truly seen snow before.
He knew it would be cold and white, stinging in its myriad frail specks. But he never imagined how softly it could alight on his lashes, blocking his vision with crystal. How quietly it could seep into his flesh, its chill creeping as close as possible to his marrow.
The snow can't really reach him, however hard it tries. It sinks and chills, but falls back before his core of fierce heat. Somewhere along the way of bones and ash, he must have stopped to drink of Mexico's well, to take in the scorching water and kindle the blaze within himself. The fire that he's managed to bring along with him to this icy wasteland. The flame that simmers his blood, ever threatening to boil it over.
The warmth at his back, slipping tentative arms around to circle his waist. Unlike El, Sands is shivering. His blue-shaded fingers tremble as they lace together over El's stomach, and his breath comes in chattering hisses against El's shoulderblade. Only thin cotton sleeves cover the other man's arms; Sands hasn't bothered with the coats that El had bought for the two of them.
El silently leads them back inside, where he dumps both men onto the bed and tries to wind the blankets around Sands. Tuck cloth about the skinny body as if by that way, he could add insulating muscle and fat back onto the prominent bones. Sands has been burnt to the essential as El has, but the American had started out with far less he could sacrifice. He'd marked himself as Mexico, as that unending heat and dust, and now Sands can thrive in no other environment. Not that he seems to notice, shoving aside the quilts and bedsheets in favor of grabbing onto El and molding himself to the mariachi's body as if to draw out all the stored fire.
"It must be a great change for you two," remarks the third man in the room, who slumps in an armchair on the other side of the bed. "From desert to snowfield."
El only knows the man as Alec, no last name. But when he came across the bloodied body, rust coating the gold hair, in one of the cartel residences along the coast, he recognized the signs of death. The bubbles of scarlet dripping from the slack mouth, the uneven jerking rise and fall of a broken chest. The smashed hand, its shape distorted to match the recollection of El's own maiming.
El isn't a kind man, now. But he prefers to be a merciful one when he can, and so he had swiped away the dull acid memories and placed a pistol next to a bruise-splotched temple. And then Alec had called a name, weak voice echoing with desperation and regret that reverberated through whatever was left of El's soul.
Swearing uselessly, the mariachi had picked up the limp form and carried him out. Washed and treated the wounds, not bothering to ask after the scarred side of the face. Not when they already spoke so loudly of mistakes and betrayal and shame. El hadn't asked after 'James' either, or the nightmares that made Alec writhe and jolt awake with the fading end of a scream in his throat.
"Can't believe I'd ever say this," Sands whispers as he nuzzles into El's neck, "But I miss Mexico, fucking outhouse of hell that it is."
El finally gives up on getting off the bed, instead toeing off his boots so he can slide his legs under the bedcovers. Tugging the blankets over the both of them, he absently lets his lips drift over Sands' forehead, feeling the quivering slow and still. But Sands is still cold, so El picks up one arm and starts to rub warmth back into the pale skin. "We're going back tomorrow," he replies, directing his words to both Sands and Alec.
"No point in you doing otherwise." Alec produces a cigarillo, black and conical like a beast's tooth, and slips it between his lips as he gazes out the windows, eyes blankly following the white flakes. He lights up, much less awkwardly than two months ago when he had first emerged from unconsciousness. Alec still avoids looking at the telling warps in his hand; he's painfully taught himself to do everything left-handed, although his right has enough strength and flexibility remaining to perform most tasks.
Another broken-handed killer walking the earth. If El were a wiser man, or even a more worldly one, he might make an observation on irony and likeness. He's not, though; when he sweeps his sight around the room, touching two guitar cases and then circling back to the man nestling down on his front, El sees everything that could ever concern him now. He lifts a hand and strokes it from the top of Sands' head to the small of his back, feeling the heat flush back into the other man. And when Sands murmurs contentedly, some small sparks dance along El's own skin, gathering under the leather of his gauntlet and smoothing away the ache in his scar, the ache that this glacial land has inflicted upon him since their arrival.
"You never answered my question." Alec doesn't elucidate what he means, and El doesn't need to know.
"He didn't feel sorry for you," Sands snorts, snagging El's left palm and bringing it in close so he can play with the brace's lacings. "And it definitely wasn't in tribute to your stunning beauty."
El can't see Alec flinching at that, though he himself tenses. Sands hadn't been happy about Alec traveling with them, though the American had managed to piece enough of El's uncertain, struggling fragments of explanation to understand.
Alec blows gray wisps towards the balcony, a bitter smile on his face. "I never intended anything of that sort towards your mariachi." He rolls the last word, accent no longer textbook-perfect, but natively flawed and slurred.
Even when El had gotten two rooms, Alec had somehow always ended up with them, at first curled up at the very edge of El's side of the bed. That hadn't been a pleasant morning, and the shooting had attracted enough unwanted attention to keep them running for the next week. But Alec had persisted, and even rolled in closer till his clothes brushed against El's. Which had resulted in much infighting that had driven El out onto the roof more times than he could count, with only his guitar to keep him company until a contrite Sands came out to silently lay his head in El's lap.
And then one day El had come back to find Sands and Alec calmly sitting beside each other, cleaning guns. He had wondered. But neither man had ever offered an answer, and El had seen no purpose in questioning such a fragile truce.
"Yeah. I know." Sands is drowsily knowing, his voice growing softer as his breath lengthens. He's hot now, a slender bundle laying down coals all along El's body. The mariachi caresses one sleek side as he would the rich varnish of a fine guitar, occasionally pressing fingertips into the few layers of flesh that he has painstakingly restored to Sands' starved form. Still not enough for true health. Maybe it would never be enough, but El would keep trying. Carolina had wrecked El, but Sands had taken all the ruins that had still stood. If the other man vanished, El would finally be scoured to the bone, nothing but a parched skeleton half-buried in dirt, waiting for time to grind it to powder.
Glancing up from Sands, El catches the shining razor edge of Alec's jealousy. Then the Brit returns to watching the snow fall, smoke wreathing his gaunt face with funeral crepe. "You remind me of an old friend of mine," Alec says in a low, wistful voice. "Some parts of you, at any rate. But he never stopped for the wounded."
"Then why did you want to come here?" El is puzzled and, lulled by the soft puffs of moist breath against his breastbone, he permits a rare indulgence of his curiosity.
"Because I never asked him to stop for me." Alec stubs out the cigarillo, his shrug bespeaking self-scorn. Deep emotion, frozen into the ground with the ice and snow heaped high over it. "I thought it might have been entertaining to find out whether he would have."
"Might have been?" Eyebrow arched, El nearly has the rest of his inquiry formulated before a faint scrabbling at the lock registers. He surreptitiously palms his guns and turns toward the door, while on his legs Sands twitches off the doze and pulls out one of El's hand cannons from beneath the pillow.
"James," is all Alec can utter, eyes gone wide and fixed, when the door creeps open and a man steps through.
He is tall, with flakes of pearl sparkling his dark hair and broad shoulders. And he is petrified with shock. "You're dead."
At that bleak statement, Alec winces brutally, his whole body clenching in on itself. As El watches and Sands listens, Alec gets up off the chair and stumbles across the room to fall onto his knees in front of James. Gingerly reaches out to graze fingertips over James' coat, then seizes the other man's hands and brings them together, laying his forehead against their thumbs.
The moment is stretched and solemn, religious and sacred in a way that El has only experienced a handful of times, none of them while under the influence of God's grace. He puts away his pistols and nudges Sands to do the same, then gathers up all the bedding to drape them over Sands.
"I'm not a fucking mummy," the American half-heartedly protests. Ignoring Sands, El snatches up their coats and takes them back onto the balcony. After wedging a dagger in the door frame to keep it from locking, he kicks away the snow from the most sheltered corner of the balcony, a small space between the wall, solid balustrade and a huge concrete pot. Sands catches on once El lays the coats and blankets onto the ground. "Christ's impotent dick, El, literal blue balls are fucking unpleasant. What the hell are you thinking?"
"I think Alec and his friend don't need us for whatever they're going to do," El coolly retorts, grabbing at Sands' hips and hauling the other man down so they can both get under the quilts still hanging off Sands. He bends in to kiss that complaining mouth, but halts halfway, arrested by the sight of delicate lace forming on Sands' hair, black strands and white flakes. //Mother of God. Beautiful.//
Sands is suddenly dejected, his brow wrinkling as he clings to El. "I can't see you." A finger lifts to brush the collecting snow from El's shoulder. "I can feel this. I can picture what this must look like, but I can't see it. You-in winter."
The words tear and eat away from the inside out of El, making him dive in and press their lips together much more roughly than he'd meant to. Sands does not object, however, but instead eagerly meets El's violence. Their lips bleed a little, and El sucks the hot salty fluid off Sands' lips, then attacks the long throat, so unlike the colorless, lifeless snow despite its outwardly similar shading. He tastes each hollow, each dip, tracing out the curves with his tongue, feeling Sands' whimpers against his teeth.
Fingers skim the clothing out of the way. Rubbing a leg up against El's growing erection, Sands wrestles with the blankets till he can latch onto El's nipples, swirling them into hardened points. He nips, very gently, as he trails his mouth over the planes of El's chest, occasionally pausing to lap up the stray snowflake that has floated in and melted on El.
Running hands over Sands' back, mapping out the bumps of spine and ribs, skating nails around the outline of each shoulderblade, El gasps as Sands licks each ragged-circle scar in the constellation that draws a crescent of remembered tragedy over El's chest. But the caresses banish the chills that shake El, replacing them with desert summer. Sands dips lower, languidly swallowing El's cock and milking the climax from it in a few lazy swallows.
Resting his head on El's thigh, the American's pensive words drop icicles into the muggy dream, splintering it. "Seeing snow in your hair. Something even a pompous fuckmook like Alec can have, but that I never will."
"Winter isn't my season," El tells Sands as he reaches down to drag the other man up and cradle him. He rims Sands' loosened waistband with two fingers, teasing the tender skin there before wrapping his fingers around Sands' cock and stroking his fist along its stiffened length. Tilting his head sideways, El messily traps Sands' moan in his own mouth, sipping its effervescent sweetness, and lets his fingertips glide down to scratch nails over Sands' balls.
Slowly squirming, rolling himself into El's grip, Sands lolls back from the kiss. "But-"
//But what? Whatever Alec sees isn't me. He sees his own life.// Insistent, El scatters bites over Sands' neck and shoulder in time with the movements of his hand on Sands. Which are speeding up, racing the panting hitches of Sands' breath. //You do see me. You always did.//
And finally, Sands gets El's point, his lips flashing brilliance at the frozen sky as he goes rigid in a graceful arch, then turns slack in El's arms, spilling himself all over the sheets. "Oh…"
Sweaty and limp with satisfaction, Sands welds himself to El, quietly lipping jaw and ear as the mariachi wipes them clean, rustles the blankets till the wet spots are turned away from them. When El pokes his head out of their nest of tangled limbs and cloth, listening for a struggle inside the room and hearing none, the wind strips the heat from his face. It is clear that this isn't his land, that this isn't his place.
But there is more heat waiting for him beneath the sheets, more than enough to let him withstand the arctic blasts. He ducks back under the quilts, letting Sands restore the feel of fire and blistering sun to his bones.