|Shapes II: Falcon
Author: Guede Mazaka
"Where we goin'?"
Startled, Lorenzo jerked his head up and nearly smacked himself into the side window. "Fuck! You woke up!"
"Is he still bleeding?" Ramirez adjusted the steering wheel, then glanced into the backseat. "Is it getting on the seats?"
"No, he's not, and keep watching the front," Lorenzo answered curtly, bending over Fideo's leg and checking the bandages. //Hey? You all right?//
//'m thirsty.// Not bothering to open his eyes, Fideo slumped down and automatically groped on the floor. When his hand encountered nothing but guitar cases, he-still not looking-smacked Lorenzo's knee. //Man, I said I was thirsty.//
//I've got water, and that's it.// Ignoring the rude gestures and muttered swears, Lorenzo dug up said bottles, then leant across and attempted to pour some into Fideo's mouth. Which, damn the uncooperative drunk, didn't open. //Oh, for fuck's sake. You nearly shot a Fed--//
"I'm retired." Ramirez met Lorenzo's flicked glare with an equitable gaze, then handed back a slightly-smushed paper bag of…junk food. Okay. Well, Lorenzo had eaten way worse before.
"Look, I'm trying to make a point here. And anyway, this is a private conversation, so stay out." Snatching the food away, Lorenzo turned back to his currently glazed-over friend. He popped a few morsels into his mouth, then dangled one over Fideo's face. Nothing. //Fine. Starve, you idiot, and I'll eat it all. Christ Jesus, what's with you? First you blow apart the room with a shotgun, making us all pick up and leave, and now you think it's Lent or something?//
//Only hit the chair.// Slow and painful, Fideo twisted onto his side. //And we left because of the Americans.//
Goddamn it, Lorenzo could practically feel the wrinkles carving themselves into his forehead. He wasn't a nurse. He wasn't even a good babysitter. So why the fuck did he always get stuck with the alcoholic?
Right. Crazy American bone-man was currently plastered to El, and at least Lorenzo could predict what Fideo would do when soused. Most of the time. Ah, hell. Slouching into the corner of Ramirez's car with his irritation, Lorenzo plucked a couple more crumbs from the bag and tossed them into his mouth. Then he came damn near choking as the car suddenly took a funny turn. Like a girly cartwheel. //Shit! What the fuck--//
//What's El doing?// Ramirez swung the car back the other way, then straightened it out. He snorted, shaking his head. //Maybe I should ask what Sands is doing.//
//Maybe you should watch the goddamn road.// Scrabbling to keep himself and Fideo on the seat, Lorenzo hissed and snarled as his elbows and knees banged all over the place. //Why are you coming with us, anyway? We could've just called you and given you all the details that way.//
//On whose guarantee?// Grin firmly stuck to his face, Fideo easily swayed with the car's weaving, always sliding back onto the seat. And squishing Lorenzo's extra handful of inches into an increasingly smaller space. Damn it, if the shit wasn't wounded and maybe going through DTs…yeah, Lorenzo was definitely not cut out for this. //I don't like phones.//
//Or the military, or surviving//, Lorenzo snapped, carefully shifting Fideo about so as to get some room. At first, he tried wedging his legs into the space behind the driver's seat, but that position cramped him all up, so he stretched out sideways. Whereupon his moronic friend started to twiddle his pant-chains. //Don't you have anything better to do?//
Fideo shut one eye, then rolled the other Lorenzo's way like some freaky marketplace brujah. //You won't let me drink.//
//Because you'll die, you jackass.// Ruffled beyond belief, Lorenzo sulkily munched the food. //Do I look like I'm dressed for a funeral?//
//So I'll go to sleep. It's close enough.// And with those cryptic words, Fideo lolled his head back and promptly conked out, little snores issuing from him around every three or four minutes.
"What's wrong with him?"
For the second time in less than ten minutes, Lorenzo almost killed himself with a tortilla. He just managed to hack the chunk up out of his throat, then swallowed it down the right pipe before replying to Ramirez. "And I repeat: why are you bothering?"
In the rearview mirror, the other man's eyes briefly glinted hot, then cooled. "Because I'm a human being."
"You just care about your stupid-" quick check "-cowhide car interior. Which is burning my ass. Is your A/C shot, or what?" Impatiently jiggling his leg, Lorenzo fluttered fingers against the window glass in a fast salsa beat. "Fuck. We're never going to get there in one piece."
"You know where we're going?"
"Me?" The mariachi rolled his eyes. "Only if I were about three inches shorter, non-talking, and had a gringo attached to my hip. And in the other car."
"So why not talk to me?" Ramirez produced a cerveza from somewhere and, having flipped the lid out the window, took a swig. Then he passed it back to Lorenzo, who only took it after making sure Fideo was well and truly out. "Or we'll end up shooting each other."
Lorenzo put down the bottle and draped himself over the front seat, peering at the other man. "You positive you're retired?"
Ramirez slanted a fierce, bitter look at him-which was eerily like El's face whenever he had to pick up that case again. "Yes."
Well, the guy did have a point. If Lorenzo didn't have some kind of distraction, somebody wasn't going to make it to their destination. "You first."
Curled up at the other end of the front seat, Sands gave El a ferocious snarl. "Dickless, you are a complete bastard."
"I'm trying to drive." El wiped the blood from his lip, then absently licked it off. "I can't do that if you're grabbing onto my arm. Or hitting me with an elbow."
"You didn't have to whack into my balls like that." Sands gradually unwound himself and slunk back over the seat, a ridiculously furtive expression on his face. To El's bemusement, the American poked a hand out and warily patted over El's side, as if it might bite. The long white fingers skirted up inside the jacket, feeling around between ribs and arm. "Where the hell do you keep your guns? They're never in the same place."
"You can't have one yet. You can't even stand by yourself." El-a bit more gently than before-brushed off Sands' explorations, then grabbed an oozing paper-wrapped bundle from the dashboard and once more tried to get Sands to take it. "And stop blaming me. You're the one who isn't eating right now."
Reluctant and annoyed, Sands took the food and finally started to eat. That, however, only bought El a few minutes of semi-silence.
"Ow! Fucking--ow. El…" Wincing, Sands clawed at the hand clamped around his wrist. "I'm already bruised there."
"Then don't try to throw good food at me." At that, an odd emotion flitted across the other man's face. Curious now, El released Sands, then set their lunch back on the dashboard. "Let me see your hand."
Sands blinked, black lashes shuttering pale flesh, and then grudgingly showed El rubbed-raw fingertips and wrecked nails. Touching anything hot with those scrapes must have felt like slamming a glowing red branding iron against the skin. "Have I mentioned how much fun being locked in a trunk is?"
Strangling a sigh, El glanced at the angle of the sun, then did a few mental calculations. They could afford a quick stop, and Lorenzo probably could use the break. He flashed the taillights, then pulled over to the side of the road and parked. Ignoring the volleys of questions from his companion, he bundled Sands to one side and smacked open the glove compartment so he could rummage around in it. El found the doctor's bag just as Lorenzo whipped open the front passenger door and slid in, squishing Sands into El's chest. Though given the way Sands immediately nestled into El's neck, the American didn't seem to mind too much.
"El, man, I'm your friend and I'll do all that dying shit for you, but if things keep going like this, I'm gonna shoot somebody." His jaw audibly clicking shut, Lorenzo sprawled out into the open doorway and lazily stretched himself. //Fuck, that feels good.//
"What's the matter?" Sands inquired far too innocently. "Ramirez make a pass at you, doe-eyes?"
//What would you know?// Lorenzo snorted, idly watching El flip the bag's catches and draw out some salve, a roll of cotton bandages and a pair of black leather gloves. //You've never even seen me.//
He instinctively braced himself for the comeback, but it didn't come. And didn't come. At last figuring it was safe to chance a glance, Lorenzo looked over to find a sour-faced, silent Sands giving him one gross-looking finger. Bloody and hang-nailed and shit. "Up yours, pretty ass. You've just got that characteristic cocksucker voice."
Say whatever you wanted about the man, but El's voice could level mountains. And he wasn't even close to really pissed off. Grumbling under his breath, Lorenzo subsided. Checked out the rest of the doctor's bag, and felt his eyebrow go shooting off his forehead. "Uh, El? Why is there a fake arm in here?"
"Wha…my bag?" Sands edged forward a little, but El tugged him back and finished treating the American's one hand, then casually pinned Sands' back to the seat in order to smooth salve onto the other. "How the hell did you get my stuff?"
"I asked around when I was trying to track you down after Dias de Los Muertos. A boy gave it to me after I bought some gum from him." Now wrapping bandages around Sands' fingers, El turned an intense look onto Lorenzo. //How is he? And what do you think about Ramirez?//
//Mother of God, I don't know where to start with Fideo.// Lorenzo propped his arm up on a knee and rubbed at his aching temples, tasting acid defeat on his tongue. //You'd think fifteen million pesos would've helped--//
"Hey, that's mine, too!"
//--fuck off, gringo. But no--// the memories wrenched Lorenzo's gut around till he had to stare out at the bland blue sky and force his voice steady //--he-he just went out, bought the worst shit in town, and then got wasted for the next week. When the bullet hit him, he didn't even notice till a couple minutes later. After I caught up and pointed it out to him. And Ramirez…he's all right, I guess. For an ex-American Mexican.//
Grunting thoughtfully, El tossed salve and bandages back into the bag, then shut it and shoved it back into the glove compartment. While Lorenzo nudged that shut, El trapped Sands' wandering hands and, careful not to mess up the cotton wraps, pulled the gloves over them. //Has he asked about anything?//
//Just why Fideo's so fucked-up.// Same thing everyone always asked and no one ever answered, Lorenzo thought morosely, glaring outside so he didn't have to look at Sands' unexpectedly pensive expression. Christ, all this broken shit-were they living in a scrapyard, or what? //He did tell me his whole life's story. Partner got tortured to death by Barillo, gringo here offered him a chance at revenge and he took it.//
"Sounds familiar," El murmured, tone only a touch ironic, as he helped Sands sit up. "Don't kill each other. I'm going to look at Fideo."
Sands covertly suppressed a shiver as he flopped into the vacated driver's seat, coiling into the warm spot. Fucking hell, he hadn't even known how much his fingers had been killing him…
And right on cue, his stomach interrupted again. Sands started to reach out for where he thought the food was, then pulled back. Shit. These were his gloves-good ones, too good to get splattered with mediocre guacamole and ground beef. And that was Lorenzo, who sounded like some beanpole twat with a few guns stuck up his ass. From whom Sands wasn't asking for help even if it'd get him the secret to immortality. Which would do him fuck all, given that right now he wasn't in any shape that he wanted preserved for all eternity.
"What?" the mariachi demanded, creaking the seats as he shifted his weight around. "What are you looking-staring-what do you want?"
"My money, my sanity, and my health, none of which you could ever even remotely begin to match, bird-balls." Damn it, he was hungry. Sands gritted his teeth and tentatively patted his way over the steering wheel, then stroked his palm over the dash till his fingers just bumped the paper wrapping. He carefully drew the food over to himself. Okay. He was going to look ridiculous. But…food. Dignity, food, dignity…screw it. Could always piss in Lorenzo's boots later.
Having braced himself on the wheel-accidentally honking the horn a little-Sands raked back his hair and bent over so he could rip off a chunk with his teeth. All right, more like just inhale the whole thing, but hey, manners were just for the uncreative, anyway.
"Man, you want any of those, you don't hang with El." Skritch and hiss, then stinging burnt air as Lorenzo lit up. "Speaking of, what are you doing with him?"
Sands took his time swallowing before replying, enjoying the little grunts of impatience the other man couldn't help letting out. Clearly, this one wasn't the brains or the brawn of the group. Cannon fodder? Nah. Not with El's kind of personal issues. Didn't seem like the medically-minded type, either. "Besides fucking?"
"Give me a break." Something clicked against the window, and then came the sound of drinking. Sands held out a palm, and a long, grudging minute later, Lorenzo passed over a bottle. "Don't bullshit me, Americano. No sex is that good, and anyway, you don't strike me as that shallow. You can't be, or else El wouldn't even bother."
It was a stupid, pathetic, infantile feeling that slapped itself through Sands just then, but he couldn't help himself. Even after being trapped alone with El's memories for three days, he still wasn't sure where he stood with the mariachi. Though it was abundantly clear where El stood with Sands. Goddamn so-humble mangler-of-men. "That first-hand experience talking?"
"Yeah…hey." And Lorenzo's gaze somehow impressed its amusement and pity upon the black. "Jealous again?" A chuckle from deep in the throat, too ironic for its own good. "Mother of God, don't bother. I'm straight, and even if I weren't, I wouldn't. But I've watched it all go down before."
"Fideo." Sands licked the last remnants of beans from his lips, then finished off his bottle and tossed it at Lorenzo, who yelped. "What? You didn't close the door."
"No, but that still would've taken off my nose, you motherfucker." Clinking while Lorenzo presumably disposed of the bottles, and then the other man began to drum his fingers on the seat. "Yeah, Fideo. He used to be really…good, you know? Just a little drunk. And then a little more, and then El-after that, a lot more drunk."
"Do I care?" Sands asked blithely, crumpling back into the driver's seat and flexing the stiff gloves, feeling the leather stretch. It sparked a little pain at his fingertips, and when he curled his fingers, the salve squished into the hurting spots, wiping them away. Oh…that did feel nice.
//You should.// Lorenzo angrily flicked at Sands' shoulder. //Or don't you mind that El's probably just doing this out of some fucked-up sense of guilt? Fucking Christ--// kicking at the car frame, making everything rattle //--you need him just to fucking walk. Of course he thinks he can't leave you alone. That'd be like…like seeing a kid drowning and walking on by without stopping.//
"Is not. That's not it at all," Sands hissed, tone far more defensive than he'd meant it to be. He instinctively stiffened, hackles rising, then went even more rigid when he tried to regain his cool and relax. "You don't know a fucking thing. We're in each other's heads. Literally. He heard me when we were miles apart, and I-saw him. It's-it's-"
"-even worse than I figured." The car perceptibly tilted as Lorenzo maneuvered himself out the door. "Listen, Sands. Whatever weird shit you two have going-fine. I never could explain half the crap that happens around El. But he. Doesn't. Care. He doesn't even notice the not-normal stuff now. Whatever the truth between the both of you really ends up being depends on what he wants it to be. Not what's actually there."
When the door slammed shut, it once more shook the entire car, which went perfectly with the internal upheaval scrambling whatever was left of Sands' brains. Great. El was even stupider than he'd first thought. Responsibility-fuck that. Sands was no man's burden: demon, yes, partner…maybe, but moral weight? Hell, no.
Things weren't that cut-and-dry. Weren't anything near that simple as far as his side of matters went, and if El believed he could get away with an excuse like "I must atone for the sins of my past," then jangle-ass could take a flying leap into the nearest machine gun. Goddamn it, Sands had thought the mayhem-planting Juan Chaos-seed had understood.
Then I have no choice, do I
Too many ways to take that, now that Sands was paying attention. And considering El's general tendencies, the mariachi had probably picked the wrong interpretation from the cosmic bucket of fortune cookies.
Fuck. That. Then Sands would make the limpdick see how things really went in hell.
Lorenzo sent some pebbles skittering off to the side, then ducked into the backseat of Ramirez's car. //So? He still being a blockhead?//
To his surprise, he found both other men crowded over Fideo and messing with bandages. "Some of the stitches are strained," Ramirez calmly remarked, briefly pointing out the spots before he rebound the cotton around the bullet wound. "It should be all right as long as he doesn't put any more stress on it."
"Sure." Careless and dismissive, Fideo flapped a hand on Ramirez's shoulder in thanks, then let El help him into a sitting position. "I'll be good. But I need to find a bar first."
About to say something, Ramirez caught sight of El's sober resignation and shut his mouth. Gave a little shake of the head, like a doc declaring dead-on-arrival, and climbed back into the driver's seat while El stared into Fideo's eyes like he actually saw something in there that could be reasoned with.
Lorenzo's head felt dizzy and swelled under the bleaching sun, like a balloon on the verge of exploding. Bile swept across the back of his throat, etching down to the unfeeling bone, and he had to clutch at the sides of the car frame in order to keep from doing-anything stupid. Punching Fideo, for example.
//You're going to die if you keep this up. Ramirez says there are still men following us.// El waited, but only received a sloshed indifferent grin from his friend. His fucking ass-dragging apathetic friend, who never gave a damn. //Fideo…never mind.//
//I'll be all right.// Another laid-back smile to El's silent worry as the man got out. Fideo's hand was already groping for a bottle. A sight common as shitting, but this time, Lorenzo noticed. This time, it broke his back-fractured it open and spread his spine to the sky.
"No. You fucking won't!" Oh, he was screaming now. Well, the fucking dick deserved it. Deserved a couple smacks, too, but since he was wounded, Lorenzo would just hit this stupid pristine Fed four-wheels. "You won't, you jackass!"
"Lorenzo-" El began lowly, leaning over the top of car.
//No.// Lorenzo spun on a heel to jab a finger at his friend. One tiny, tiny part of him was screeching about comparative strengths and this being El and that being Fideo, but Lorenzo had been suffocating on bullshit for way, way too long. //Don't even start. You-you don't have the right, damn you. You and him-same things happened. All right, fine, losing a wife is the fucking pits of hell. But you dealt and lived, and now you think he's going through the same shit as you did. Well, he's not.//
Ramirez had rolled down the window, and was now intently listening to Lorenzo's arm-waving, car-slapping ravings. And when the mariachi twisted to kick a tire, his peripheral vision picked up a dark head poking out of El's car. But so fucking what? Either he got this all out, or he died. He wasn't a fucking safe; he couldn't lock himself away for forever.
//El? You know what your problem is? You still think you broke him. Yeah, when we get an honest general. He was already breaking-you were just a big excuse. Suicide's a sin, so he probably figured he could get you to finish it off.// Sweat dripped into his eye, threatening to burn it out with salt, so Lorenzo raked back his soaked hair only to find Fideo. Lying on the seat with his head peering up at Lorenzo.
Apparently clearheaded, and definitely furious. //Then what was I supposed to do? My life was over-what good is a dead man here?//
//How the hell should I know?// Metal scratched blood from Lorenzo's hand. Fucking-he whacked the door wider open, then squatted down and grabbed that dickhead's collar, making him stay steady for once in his entire selfish, blind life. //I'm not you. I'm not dead yet. But neither are you, goddamn it: you're up, you're fighting and you're bleeding. Blood, see--// shoved his leaking palm in the other man's face //--so you're still in this world. With people like me who can't help but give a shit whether you crash in the gutter or in the bed. But do you care? Do you even fucking notice what we do for you?//
//Why? Why do you bother? Why blame me for yourself--// Fideo tried to jerk himself away, but the past few weeks had scorched through his body till it was nearly as bad off as Sands'. Which reminded Lorenzo.
//Because it's your fucking fault for being such a good friend. For helping.// Lorenzo rolled the collar a little tighter around his fingers, alternately glaring at Fideo and at El. //Because you made us bother, and now you've got to deal with the consequences, you drunken fuck. I'm not a saint, damn it-when I take care of somebody, they'd better be grateful for it, 'cause it's not a gift, or a trade. It's a-a contract. You get that?"
Stony faces. El coughed, shuffled his feet like he did whenever he figured Lorenzo was being immature.
//Christ.// Releasing Fideo, Lorenzo scrubbed the back of his hand across his eyes, hoping to wipe out the rage. No good, of course. But the fury abruptly disappeared, cold dejection frosting his veins as he leaned his forehead against the sun-heated metal of the door frame. //Even the gringo gets it. Just…why now? You weren't this bad before Dias de Los Muertos.//
Fideo simply looked at him, bleared eyes painfully lucid. //When the good man lived, and the bad men died. That never happens in Mexico.//
//It did then. We made it happen.// El sounded way more bitter about that than he logically should, but this grudge was slightly less incomprehensible.
//Yeah, we did. And it wouldn't have worked with any other people. Hell, if we'd been different, then it still wouldn't have come off//, Lorenzo muttered, gazing at a scrape on Fideo's brow, by the temple. It hadn't been there earlier. And all that sweat must be stinging the raw flesh like crazy…sighing, he swiped off one drop that'd been perched on the very edge of the reddened graze. //Life's shit, and luck's the best whore in the world. People got saved on Dias de Los Muertos, but before then, people didn't get saved. That's just how it goes.//
//How it went//, Fideo corrected. //Afterwards, anything was possible. Now, anything is still possible. What kind of world is that for a dead-walking like me?//
Before, Lorenzo had whirled in shade and ire, his frustration sweeping out like great wings from his gesturing arms. His eyes had been piercing and molten, determined not to let their spark be extinguished by anything: soldiers, cartels, friends.
Now, huddled against the side of the car, he looked like a stormblown bird, dazed and ragged. And as El came around the back end to look closer, the blackness on his friend's face spread in fraying strips, feathering Lorenzo with soot-colored desperation and tired anguish. //You tell me, okay?// the youngest of them growled. //Because yeah, I don't know. I don't have your fucking problem. I can live in this world, and it doesn't hurt. Except when I watch you.//
//Lorenzo…// El started, lifting a hand toward the other man's shoulder, but then a slight sound startled both of them into turning.
Ramirez shrugged apologetically and finished checking the barrel of his gun. He snapped it back together and put it away. //We need to get going. It'll be night in a few hours.//
//Man, you use a revolver?// Incredulous, Lorenzo pulled out his own pistol and offered it. //Christ Jesus. Take this. You're gonna need it.//
//Then what are you going to use?// Fideo queried, pushing himself up on elbows and smacking Lorenzo's pistol away from Ramirez's startled face. //A prayer?//
//Fideo//, El unthinkingly snapped. At his friends' surprised looks, he brought himself up short, then shook his head. Lorenzo…actually had a point. And if they were going to stay in one piece, El needed at least one of his friends sane. //Just sleep.//
//What if I have a fit? Or start hallucinating?// A trace of humor had crept into Fideo's voice, cradling itself in the perpetual sarcasm. //It's not good to break a habit too quickly.//
El narrowed and unfocused his eyes, gazing past the heat shimmers. Stain and decay smearing the outlines, but the hazy form was still whole. Connected. The borders might still be repaired, remade into something. //That won't happen.//
//No?// Something must have shown in El's face, because the arid flippancy in Fideo's chuckle quickly vanished, leaving a fierce scowl in its place. //Fuck you, man. Nothing's changed. Only those who want nothing are spared.//
//No. That's not how it goes now.// Determinedly not glancing at his one friend, El nudged Lorenzo out of the way and shut the door. "You probably should sit in the front."
"Ah…hell. Thanks. I-" the other man fluttered fingers against the top of the car. "-sorry about that."
"Just try not to do it again," El breathed tiredly, clapping Lorenzo on the shoulder. He headed back to the other car, where Sands was still hanging out the window, and only slowed long enough to call back a brief comment. "By the way, you're right. For once."
"For-what do mean, for once?" Lorenzo yelped after him. "Bastard!"
When El got back to his car, he only met up with another problem: Sands refused to let him back into the driver's seat. Instead, the American kept his gloved fingers firmly wrapped around the edge of the half-up window and held the door shut. El could have yanked, but at the moment, he was just too exhausted to start yet another wrestling-match with the scrawny shit. "What."
"Why are you taking me along?" Chin tilted up, Sands wore an expression of… uncertainty. Maybe anxiety? "Is it because you feel sorry for me?"
"What?" El blinked, but the question didn't change. "Why would I feel sorry for you? You were a-you still are a bastard."
Sands made a little moue with his mouth, which highlighted the faint smudges of dried food around it. "True. But now I'm missing a few important parts. And-come on, El. You feed me, dress me, move me…I might as well be some brat's doll."
"If you were, I wouldn't dare give you to any child." El wetted a thumb and then, holding Sands by the jaw, cleaned off the bits of beans and sauce. The other man hissed softly, but held still. Then nuzzled El's hand when he tried to draw back. "You're…broken."
"And you helped. So now you're telling me you don't feel guilty about that?" Sands nibbled at the sides of El's fingers, sharp teeth teasing calluses and sparking nerves. "Better not, or else you'd make one lousy psychopath."
What the fuck-he'd left Lorenzo with Sands. He'd left Lorenzo with Fideo. Damn it. This really wasn't the right kind of life for his friend, and El had been too busy crawling into himself to notice. Until Lorenzo, like everyone else in El's life, had began to crack. But unlike the other times, there was still a chance at prevention here. Once they got to where they needed to be. "Can I get in?"
"Depends." Leather ran over El's wrist, sidling warm butter touches along the gauntlet's edges. "Are you or aren't you?"
"I'm not a psycho. I care about people." Coming out of his mouth, the words twisted El into a wince. "Shut up," he muttered preemptively, grabbing Sands' hands and using them to push the other man back through the window. "I don't deliberately hurt them."
"Till they're shooting at you. Honestly, El-" Sands broke off and pensively cocked his head, which gave El a chance to jerk the door open and slide in under the other man. "-whoa! Hey, niiiice." Grin half-seductive and half-manic smugness, Sands promptly settled himself onto El's thighs. "What do you think a psychopath is, anyway?"
"You." El reluctantly gathered Sands to his chest so he could reach past and start the car. A tongue flickered into his ear, then slipped down the side of his neck. "You play with people like they're toys. You use them to get what you want, and you don't bother thinking about what that will do to them."
As the mariachi pulled back onto the road, a disappointed huff warmed the hollow in the center of El's collarbone. Gloves skimmed over his sides, sometimes patting as if still searching for guns, and sometimes pressing deep into his flesh as if trying to scar him. "Wrong definition, El. That's just your commonplace bitch. Or a bastard, as the case may be. I asked you what a psychopath was. Now stop pawning me off with that bullshit."
"The last time I told you the truth-"
"Fine. I'll tell you." Sands wriggled onto his side, jabbing grunts out of El with needle-like elbows and knees, then smoothed palms all over El's arm. "A psychopath does not register the rules of morality and ethics. He understands them, and once in a while, he may obey them, but when he breaks one, he doesn't feel anything. Because he couldn't give a damn."
"He doesn't care how other people might feel about what he does, so when they hit back, it surprises him," El drawled, watching the white forehead wrinkle and feeling the fingers stiffen on his wrist. "He forgets that some of them can fight."
"Even insane men are human." Sands caught his lip between his teeth, then let it come out bloody. "Men are not islands, to paraphrase some dead guy you've probably never heard of. Loneliness still sucks."
El glanced from windshield to man, wondering why everyone suddenly seemed to want counseling. Did he look like a priest? "You're not here because you want someone, and I'm not letting you stay here because I pity you. All right? And what are you doing to my arm?"
"Huh?" Sands absently licked the gleaming scarlet from his lip, then went back to petting El's gauntlet. "I'm trying to see. In a manner of speaking."
"I thought you could see me." They breezed past a familiar scratched-out road sign, at the sight of which El silently thanked God. Another half-hour and then they could rest. Then he could talk to his friends and explain things to Ramirez.
"That was when we were both out of it." Fingers traced the embroidery on the front of El's shirt. "I saw…a lot of memories. A lot of you killing, and a lot of you walking away. Maybe one of you hesitating before taking a shot."
El caught Sands' hands just before they dipped below his waistband, gently twisting them away. The American started to protest, but a long, deep taste of his mouth stopped that. Craning his head in order to keep one eye on the road, El grazed his mouth over the salt-sweet skin and dragged it back to Sands' ear. "That was different. I was protecting someone."
"Yeah, yourself. It always leads back to what you want." Sands quirked his lips up ever-so-slightly. "Psychopath."
"Then why I am bothering with you?" El asked, pressing his own grudging smirk into the soft flesh below Sands' jaw. "I want to feel sorry for you?"
"I-damn." Sands nuzzled up under El's chin, a tiny contented sigh vibrating itself against El's throat. "Well, great. Because I'm not your penance. You ever feel guilty about me and I'll ram a rifle up your jingling ass."
And oddly enough, that vicious little threat sent waves of satisfaction looping through El's veins. There were so many sins already dogging his footsteps and weighing his shoulders that having even one less was…almost a miracle in the relief its lack brought. Which was unkind of him, but frankly, El was fed up with having to remember them all. Having his crimes tally themselves with nicks on his bones, turning them to saws that ripped through his dreams. //It's a good thing I'm already damned, or else you would-//
"I'd be surprisingly bad for you. In fact, I am bad for you, but that should be fair payback, since you snapped me apart and all." Sands flipped a megawatt grin up at El. "Trust me. You'll say thank you later."
//He's drowning Sands in the bathroom.// Lorenzo plucked a few notes, then intently listened to the slight ripple of discord. Two weeks he'd been working on this melody, and he still couldn't find the source of the problem. //You should've taken the gun.//
//Oh…you mean he's giving him a bath?// Instead of going away like a sensible man, Ramirez took a seat beside Lorenzo on the monastery's balustrade. "I used my revolver my whole time with the FBI, and it was good enough."
"That was when you were legal. And American. Welcome home, bro," Lorenzo retorted harshly, retuning his guitar. Maybe it was that second chord that wasn't flowing right. "This is how the mother country goes."
"So…" Tentative voice, but the question was coming, no doubt about it. "Fideo's wife?"
Fuck it, the song just wasn't going to work right now. Lorenzo carefully lowered his babe back into her case, then slouched back to face Ramirez. "When are you leaving?" He held up a hand to forestall the growing indignation in the other man's face. "Is this an in-and-out: you get your info and go? Or have you gotten hooked?"
"Hey, I think you might actually be a nice guy." This high up in the mountains, the night sky was impossibly clear and sharp-toned, like smoky quartz shot through with diamonds. And the air was freshly chilly, making Lorenzo shiver as he glowered at the other man. He kicked up a leg onto the railing, then tugged his jacket more closely around himself. "Really. So get out, man. This isn't your life."
"You don't seem to like it, either." Ramirez stuck a cigarette between his lips, then offered the pack to Lorenzo, who refused. Wimpy white northern rolls, parched weak by soft living. Mother of God, what the hell was this shit doing here?
"Did I say that?" Brief mental review, flicking through razor-edged impressions and blunt words. "Nope."
"So what were you saying?" Yellow light brushed itself over Ramirez's cheeks, momentarily gilding their sags and wrinkles. Then the lighter flicked off, and the moonlight smoothed over the signs of age, almost revealing the cunning youth who'd once inhabited that body. "I'm just curious. Gossip says all kinds of things about you three. Ridiculous stories… though after Dias de Los Muertos, maybe they aren't so ridiculous."
Lorenzo tilted his head, examining the earnest, apparently genuine interest in the other man's face. "You really want to know?"
"Then take the damn gun." Shaking it out of a sleeve, Lorenzo handed it over to a unenthusiastic Ramirez. "And throw away that other one. Revolvers are all good and shit for law, but out here, you need something like this." He shook his head, a slight and wry smile on his face. "You are staying. Fideo talk a lot to you while I was over with El?"
"A little. He…reminds me of my old partner. Not much, but some." Ramirez blew a perfect smoke ring over the edge, then stared at its disintegrating borders. "I haven't smoked since I left the FBI."
Probably the partner that got killed. Lorenzo warily eyed the other man, wondering what that said about Fideo. About Ramirez's questions. "Fideo and me, we were from the same town. Cartel-run. El came through one day-this was back when he was still looking for Bucho-with two other friends. Campa and Quino, who were absolute nuts. Fun when they were drunk, but crazy. They tore the town apart."
Lorenzo's throat suddenly closed up, forcing him to stop. Not wanting to give Ramirez the wrong impression, he produced his own cigarillo-the color of Mexican dirt and the strength of Mexican fate-and lit up. The first inhale burnt down the barriers, allowing his voice to come back. "One side of it, anyway. The cartel gunmen got confused, went to the other side, and when they couldn't find El, they just started shooting people. My parents, Fideo's wife…dead. She might have been pregnant, too; some of the stuff Fideo says when he's really wasted…"
"Then El saved you?"
"Saved me, hell. Not then. He didn't know what'd happened till two months later, after Fideo and I had tracked him down." Gray curled out of Lorenzo's nose, like a departing soul except for the calming nicotine residues it left behind. "But he gave us guns. And made sure we knew how to use them. Then he showed us where to go, and he made sure we walked back out. That's when he saved me."
"What about Fideo?" Pretty quick. Ramirez hadn't had all his edge dulled by government work, then.
"What about him? He's my friend, and he wants to die. I don't want him to, and El doesn't want him to, but he doesn't care." Lorenzo sketched a random symbol in the air with the red tip of his cigarillo. "So what about you?"
Ramirez tapped the ash from his half-done cigarette, then glanced down at it and scowled. With abrupt violence, he stubbed it out and tossed the butt over the balustrade. "Can I have one of yours?"
After lighting the cigarillo Lorenzo passed him, Ramirez snorted out thick smoke and leaned back to look at the stars. //I'm not a Fed now. Or an American. I'm a Mexican, but I think I've forgotten how things go here. And I've burnt all the bridges behind me.//
//You sorry about that?// Lorenzo took a last drag, then got rid of his butt and tapped Ramirez's arm to get the other man's attention. //Any regrets?//
A slow, bitter-laced but sincere smile met his searching gaze. //No//, Ramirez admitted. //Now that I know what would've happened, I still would've taken Sands' offer.//
//I don't, either.// On a whim, Lorenzo reached out a hand, and after a tense second, Ramirez took it. //Never had any time for that shit.//
"So normally I wouldn't mind, but it's too goddamn cold up here, El." Shivering, Sands bundled himself deeper into the blankets. "Give me some clothes."
"I need to treat you first." El methodically set out salve, bandages and, following a second of consideration, his pistols. "Then you can…"
Sprawled out naked on the mattress, goosebumps swiftly spreading over his still-damp skin, Sands swiped wet strands off his face and displayed an impatient expression. "What? Hurry up and do it before I end up with nutsicles."
Dragging his eyebrows out of his hairline, El scooped out a fingerful of salve and started rubbing it into the purplish splotches dotting Sands' legs. He gingerly worked over each bruise, moving from ankles to hips. Warmed up another dab of salve and applied it to the sore spots on Sands' back, circling shoulderblades-much too prominent-and stroking down each rib. Pressed a little deeper every time the rhythm of Sands' breath changed. "I think Ramirez is going to stay, and Lorenzo's going to leave."
"You don't say," Sands murmured, arching up into El's fingers. He pawed mindlessly at the blankets, then slumped down and whimpered when El lightly drew a nail down his spine. "Probably's a good thing. Cock mouth's going to blow up something if he doesn't. You should've gotten him laid-then he wouldn't be so ten-ah…"
Curving his other hand around Sands' waist, El flipped the other man over so he could follow one bruise's arc from side to belly. Sands grabbed El's arm and flopped himself up so El's hand slid from stomach to rising cock. Warm, unevenly fast breath puffed into the crook of the mariachi's neck as Sands molded himself around El. "Please…"
//You're not strong--// But nevertheless, El found himself wrapping fingers around Sands' erection, rasping calluses over heating flesh.
"Says who? Just-" Sands draped himself more securely over El's shoulder "-yeah, like that. Oh, God…"
Fingers scrabbled at El's neck, which reminded him of the incident in the car. Not skipping a beat in his stroking, he slithered his other hand up and trapped Sands' wrists together between their chests. Then nearly lost his grip a moment later when he tried sweeping a thumb over the leaking head of Sands' cock. Nibbling at the end of Sands' nose, at the line of the jaw, El slowed his pace down till the American stopped spasming. //Limes. And…vanilla.//
"Vanilla!" Sands gasped in an outraged voice, writhing so his hip repeatedly smacked into El's thigh. The mariachi scooted Sands back a little, then sped up the movements of his hand. "You fuckmook son of a cunt-moth-moth-motherfucking God!"
Head thrown back, Sands gulped deeply of the air before he collapsed back against El and went completely limp. Not even responding when El eased him back onto the mattress and wiped him clean, then pulled shirt and pants onto him. Though when the mariachi turned to leave, Sands did manage to snag El's sleeve. "Hey. Still cold."
"I'll be back in a moment," El promised, trying to get Sands' fingers off of his jacket.
"I'm freezing." Weakly shifting about till he could tug El closer, Sands shivered for emphasis. And then he sneezed--unexpectedly, to judge from the expression on his face. El beat down the headache that dared tingle in his temples and took off his jacket so Sands could wrestle it on.
"Nah. They're all right now." For proof, Sands spread out his hands on the sheets, palms-up. Thin body more-or-less swimming in El's clothing, blankets rumpled up around him. Drying hair drifting like silk fur over his cheekbones, pink flush spreading itself from just under blind eyes to a frail collarbone.
//You look like sin//, El blurted. And a coyote-grin stretched itself across Sands' face, displaying a mouthful of bone and pearl.
"Thanks." The American lifted a hand, hesitantly weaving it about in the air until he found El's face. And then Sands skimmed scraped fingertips all over its planes, concentration focusing the feral-sharp features of his own face. "You look like…death. Not a dead man-death."
El cupped Sands' cheek and kissed him, languorous and sweetly searing.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Fideo knew that this was a bad idea. But he needed a drink. Badly. Desperately. So much that if he didn't find one in the next five minutes, he wouldn't be able to ever stand again.
Probably. Maybe. The train of cause-and-effect in Fideo's mind hadn't just stopped; it had flat-out derailed into the river below.
He was healing. He could feel it: the bones knitting, the skin and muscle reconnecting over the gaping wounds…and it was all wrong. Wrong, wrong, and he had to fix that. Now. He needed a drink, and then he needed a gun. His gun, not Lorenzo's.
Lorenzo. Nice boy. Would've made some girl a good husband if he hadn't lost his parents like that. Now he walked through fire and water, unburnt and unscalded, still caring for pieces of shit like Fideo. It was a waste of time, Fideo wanted to tell his friend. No one should care for the dead, because the dead weren't able to care for anyone. The dead weren't able to feel, period.
He crept cautiously forward, leaning heavily against the wall to spare his wounded leg. No point in falling over yet. Now, then-El and Sands were upstairs, and the other two? Fideo sniffed, then craned around a corner and nearly crumpled as his stitches twisted in his flesh. He bit back a curse and glanced out. Nobody. Still no sign of Lorenzo and Ramirez, but they weren't here, which was good enough for Fideo.
His leg wasn't going to hold up. Fideo rolled his eyes, then squared his shoulders and dropped to hands and knees so he could crawl his way to the kitchen. Where, like a sign from the angels, sat two amber-shining cervezas. Prudence completely forgotten, he hauled himself up onto the counter and knocked off both caps, then drained the first bottle.
Fideo picked up the second bottle and gazed admiringly at it. One more, and then-
"Check the kitchen first."
But the walls were whispering, telling him to wait, to watch and to pick up the gun from the other side of the counter. Fideo told them to fuck off, but they insisted on hanging around and kept talking to him till he finally gave in and grabbed the pistol. Just in time for some idiots to run in.
"Freeze or you're dead!"
//Too late to stop that//, Fideo sighed, regretfully chucking the second bottle at that speaker and toppling off the counter. Apparently, the CIA didn't train their men to shoot at drunks, because even at this range, the agents couldn't seem to get a bead on Fideo's sway and stagger. His aim, on the other hand, hadn't changed a bit. Nothing ever changed for him.
One, two, three down. Footsteps and yelling from heaven, from hell, from all the corners of the earth. More bodies raining down.
Clicking. His gun was clicking.
"Damn. None left for me." Jaded and unconcerned, Fideo looked up into a gun barrel.
And then the trigger pulled-
--red blossomed on the other man's forehead, swallowing up the top of his head. Someone slammed into his side, sending them both tumbling to the floor, and suddenly Lorenzo was crying and slapping him. //You fuck! You idiot! Just--//
//Let go of me, damn it//, Fideo grumbled, shoving the other man off. He lurched to his feet, but only managed one step before his leg gave out again. //Damn it. Damn you. I can remember you and El, but I can't remember her. I can't remember what she looked like. I can't remember what. She. Looked. Like!//
//That's why you started drinking//, came El's quiet, tenderly-cutting voice. //To forget.//
//And now I have. Now you should forget me.// Fideo glared up at them all. At his friends, at Sands dangling from El's hip, at Ramirez staring back from the corner with soft, knowing eyes. Too knowing. Too calm for an outsider.
Hands seized his collar and whacked his head against the wall, snapping his attention back to Lorenzo. //I won't forget//, the other man hissed. //I can't. Or else everything we've ever done-all the bad, all the good-it'll be nothing but shit. And I'm not shit, you dumbass. None of us are.//
"Knock it off," Sands broke in, voice as heavy as the gun weighting one hand down. "There's no use in talking to him now; he's past words. He's past you, for that matter."
//Lorenzo//, El whispered, coming forward to lay a hand on the youngest mariachi's shoulder. //You've done everything that you could have done. Now it's up to him.//
//But he's a complete dickhead!// Lorenzo objected, though his tone was already defeated. He looked again at Fideo, bright eyes snapping lightning across the space separating them, and then he looked away, hands falling from Fideo's shoulders. //I…can't do this. I really can't. El, I'm leaving. Call me in a month, and I'll come; ask me to kill Christ, and I will. But I can't watch this.//
//You're not supposed to see this//, Fideo muttered comfortingly, heaving up a hand and clasping Lorenzo's arm just above the elbow. //Thanks, man.//
//You fuck.// Lorenzo still didn't glance back, his gaze already sweeping out to unknown vistas. //You-you're welcome.//
El coughed, face shaded in his hair. //I'm sor--//
"Sands." As if leaving home for the first time, Lorenzo dragged himself up into a standing position. "The next time El apologizes for something stupid, whack him till he stops."
"I think I'll just shove a hand down his pants."
"Oh, whatever, gringo." Lorenzo snatched up his guitar case from the floor, then briefly hugged El. //See you, man.//
//Later.// Lorenzo fairly flew out of the room, and El turned to watch till the last of him had disappeared before regarding Fideo again. By that time, Ramirez had come across and was checking Fideo's leg. Odd that it seemed to matter to him, because it certainly didn't to Fideo. //You're not drinking any more.//
//And how are you going to stop me?//
Ramirez flicked a glance up at El, who coolly returned it. "I have a set of manacles in the car-" he slung his arm more tightly around a squirmy Sands "-but we need to move. Farther into the mountains."
"If you want to get him through DTs, we'll need to grab a few things," Ramirez warned.
//Wait. What?// Only now becoming worried, Fideo tried to sit up, but found himself pinned down by both Ramirez and El, while Sands hung onto El's back. //What are you doing?//
//Matters of life and death are important. It should be a sober decision.// His friend sounded far too sarcastic.
//Sleep it off. It's better that way.// Before Fideo could come up with an appropriately scathing reply, El knocked him out.