Tangible Schizophrenia


Shapes III: Fox

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: NC-17. Slight BD.
Pairing: Sands/El, Fideo/Ramirez. Ref. to El/Fideo.
Feedback: The good lines, the bad errors, the ugly characterizations. I like 'em all.
Disclaimer: Belongs to RR and his amazing garage film studio. I don't just want that man's characters, I want his house, too.
Summary: Everyone fakes out everyone else, and no one really has a clue about where he's going. Except possibly for El. Dedicated to lil_neko for the marvelous screencaps.
Notes: //words// in Spanish. Details on delirium tremens (DT, alcohol withdrawal) from here. I'm told that 'Archuleta' means 'pork chop.' For an idea of what El would look like in this part, go to inkbug's spam here and scroll to the second photo from the bottom.


Fideo raised his head, cocking it to listen to the faint jingle. He twitched his hands, making the clinking even louder, then lifted his wrists to examine the metal locked about them. "Fuck."

In the opposite corner of the room, something stirred. A pair of hunched shoulders framing a grizzled head emerged from the enveloping shadows. "You're awake?"

Silver snakes hissed their way up Fideo's forearms, snapping at his face. He tried over and over to throw them off, flinging them about by the tails, but that only made the doomsday bells chime even louder. Fangs raked over his cheek, leaving stinging welts; he slapped that serpent down only to find another striking at the other side of his face. About to whack his Medusa's handful into the walls, he found himself suddenly pinned to the mattress with a newly-soaked head dripping into the pillows. //Damn you, they're biting. Eating me alive, you cocksucker!//

"Not lucid," muttered….Jorge. That was his name. He had another name too, but Fideo couldn't remember anything except a 'wh' sound that whooshed through arid air and brushed over sweaty skin. Jorge.

"Sounds like 'whore,' you know," Fideo chuckled, yanking at his hands. //Your mother know something? Must have been a wise woman, if she didn't pretend her boy was going to grow up into a hero. Jorge, Jorge, Jorge. Where have you been, man? You're gonna miss my wake.//

"Actually, you're doing much better. Yesterday you were spasming." Jorge did something to the-hey, they were chains again!-manacles to hook them onto the rust-coated bed frame, then snagged a cloth from the side table and swiped at the blood trickling down Fideo's cheeks. Which were beginning to bruise and ache. Just like a snake bite.

"What about the creepy-crawlies? Christ, does El know you're keeping me here?" Fideo jerked his head about, trying to avoid being cleaned. He needed to be dirty. Filthy, like the remnants of his soul. Honesty was the last pure thing he had, after all. //Hey, hey. Stop. Stop!//

"Patient is suffering mild hallucinations. Breathing is more regular, and skin tone has improved." One huge hand clamped itself around Fideo's chin, holding him still so Jorge could finish washing his face. Then a thumb and index finger slipped in when the mariachi tried to complain, jacking his mouth open so water-fucking tasteless poison-could be poured in. Fideo tried to spit it back up, but the fingers abruptly snapped his lips together, making him choke and snort it out his nose. //Fucking--// Jorge hastily backed off and ducked the spray //--you really are determined to die.//

"Nah. Just wanna sleep. All the time, for all time. So I don't see, and see, and see." Ice blew itself down Fideo's back, turning sweat to frost and drawing shivers out of his wrung-out muscles. Sliminess was dripping out of his nose. It was annoying. Very annoying. Annoying enough to make him care. "Because they're always the wrong things," he muttered into the blankets as he scraped the snot off his face. //Ass-ugly, and depressing.//

Fingers tipped up his chin, forcing him to look at the glass of…not-alcohol. No oblivion to be found there, so what was the point?

"If you don't have some water, you'll dehydrate yourself and pass into an unpleasant coma. And you'll dream."

Okay, that was one point. But it wasn't something that particularly mattered to Fideo. //If I don't get at least a beer, I'll be nasty and disgusting and drive you insane.//

"You aren't getting any," El called from the doorway as he prowled by, death-scent trailing him like black exhaust from a tailpipe and Sands tucked to one side like a witches' familiar. "Die by gunfire, fine. But not by the bottle."

"What happened to you?" Jorge asked, eyes widening slightly as he caught sight of the red splattering El's torn pants. "Do we need to move?"

"Not yet," came the muffled voice; El didn't bother to slow down. "I bought some clothes. And Sands can shoot now."

"I could always shoot, you riot-inducing Latin-pride fuck. I just couldn't hold the gun steady through the recoil." There was a sudden scuffle just beyond the open door, and then a small whimper. "Bastard. You can damn well carry me up, then."

An even tinier squeak. "Hey, I was kidding! Do I look like a new bride-hey. You're groping my ass."

El's face, half-masked by a wriggling American, ducked into the entranceway. "Make sure he eats something. I'll be down in half an hour."

Expression a strange cross of bemusement and disbelief, Jorge raised one hand in casual acknowledgement. Fideo blearily snickered as his friend departed, lolling back into the blankets. //What do you know. Gringo-stick might be good for him, after all.//

"It matters to you whether El is happy?" Jorge turned back to Fideo, menacingly lifting the water-glass. "Then you should hang around, find out what happens."

The mariachi attempted to keep his wavering gaze somewhere in the vicinity of Jorge's hand as he inched back and gave the other man a pair of fingers. //Fuck off. You're not getting me that way.//

"I'm not trying to get you in any way," Jorge sighed, putting down the glass and slowly reaching out for Fideo's wrist. He dodged the swinging chains-nice reflexes-and pressed two fingers to the inside, the touch almost cool to the heat burning through the delicate skin there. Smooth and silky…shades flickered at the edges of Fideo's vision. "Patient's pulse has lowered, but is still high and somewhat erratic. Feels feverish."

"But am I?" Fideo gradually relaxed, though he continued to watch Jorge's hands. Carpenter's hands, his mother would have called them. Square-palmed and capable of anything from building houses to cradling babies. "My mind gone up in smoke yet? Why are you still watching?"

The other man shrugged, leaning his shoulder against the bedstead. He slipped a cigarillo between his lips, then flicked a flame onto it and puffed smoke over the mattress, the gray fading out his colors but not his sparking eyes. "El still hasn't told me what I want to know, because we've been so busy running. And now I think we should all figure out a way to deal with the CIA; this has to end some time, and it'd better be on our terms."

"'Our'? Don't look at me when you say that," Fideo growled, jerking at the manacles till they started digging into his skin. A hand came down on them, effortlessly stilling his struggles. //Motherfucking American. You gave up this country, and now you think it'll just take you back, simple as breathing?//

//It hasn't done that. It tore chunks out of me first.// Unpleasant smile twisting his mouth, Jorge glanced down at the chains. //Keep it up and I'll put the ankle cuffs back on.//

Memory of serpents encircling his feet, crushing them when he tried to dash himself against the crowding walls. Fideo rolled his eyes. //Still doesn't tell me what you're doing here instead of talking to El.//

"He has Sands to handle right now. He wouldn't be in the mood for talking." Jorge took the cigarillo from his mouth and tapped off the ashes, then stared at the glowing scarlet tipping it. "Do you remember me telling you about my partner? Archuleta?"

//Yeah. His mother must have really hated him. Or really liked pork chops.// The shifting silhouettes skipping around Fideo's peripheral vision were beginning to make him dizzy-in a way that he wasn't used to-so he squinted in order to cut them out of the picture. And coincidentally focused on the cigarillo. It smelled like hot acid and lacerated the inside of his nostrils. Cleared up his mind. Stirred some odd notions to the surface. //What? You think you can save him in me? Save me by seeing him? Save-shit. You get what I mean.//

"Yes, and no." When Jorge's hand moved left, Fideo moved left. When it went right, he went right. When it looped and whirled the cigarillo in the air, he swirled round and lost his balance, collapsing onto his bound hands. "You're like him, but not so much. Same accent, different…soul." He shot a sharp glance at the mariachi. "I guess you can smoke. If-" pushed Fideo back "-you drink some water."

"What about the eating part?"

"Not part of this set of negotiations." Jorge picked up the glass and held it to Fideo's mouth. And after a long, pensive moment, the mariachi allowed the water to flow down his throat. He backed off and expectantly looked at the other man, who calmly set down the glass, then held the cigarillo between Fideo's lips.

Vaporous nicotine and infinitesimal cinders skimmed themselves into Fideo's lungs, then doubled over and curled out his nose in one dreamy stream. He lazily raised his gaze to meet Jorge's inquiring one. //Everything's a way of dying, man. Just changes in how long it takes.//


El sprawled out in the folds of a black leather trenchcoat, while more leather sheathed his legs and his one forearm. Not his usual style, he mused, idly watching the light gleaming off the boot spur he had propped on a low table. But then again, these were the mountains. Too cold for his regular clothing, and up here, too different for mariachi garb to blend in.

Black gloves tentatively slid over his knees, and Sands popped up between his legs. The American rubbed a cheek against El's thigh, nearly purring. "Nice. Looks like you have some taste, after all."

Not to mention El wasn't sure if he would be able to wrestle his jacket back from Sands, who right now was snuggling down in its worn cloth. And skating his palms closer to El's crotch. "Still trying to see me?" the mariachi curiously asked.

"If you must know, yes." Sands carefully ran his hands up and down the length of each of El's legs, feeling every indentation and curve. He playfully spun the spur, then trailed fingers back up to El's hips. "Isn't the same in different clothes. Or naked, though I still wouldn't have any first-hand experience with that." Pout. "I can sort of walk now. Not that that's really necessary for fucking."

El let his head fall back onto the couch, idly mapping the uneven ridges in the ceiling's plaster. He slid his hands down to take up Sands', rubbing his thumbs over their knuckles. "You can kill a man now, too."

"Oh, I see. Trust issues." Sands eeled himself onto El's thighs and stomach. He rested his chin on El's breastbone while the rest of him, clad in new coal-colored jeans and shirt-and El's jacket-arched in an obscene stretch that plumped his ass in the air for a tempting moment. A faint scent of violet soap and fired cordite drifted up from his hair. "You still think I'm going to screw you over."

"You are screwing me over. You make me forget that there's other things outside. Other people. Other dead." El stroked fingers inside his own jacket, counting Sands' somewhat less prominent ribs. Eyed the slyness slipping about just beneath the first layer of white skin. "My wife would laugh, if she were here."

A ripple passed over Sands' face, which ducked away and hid itself in El's shoulder. "Why? Because you went from her to me?" His hands clutched at the trenchcoat, pulling it around them both as if trying to cocoon himself in with El. "Because you're putting her aside?" he muttered, an angry quiver disturbing his voice.

Carolina, joy of his life. El closed his eyes and her face imprinted itself on the insides of his eyelids. What he wanted in life…he hadn't said love, or life, or even her name. He'd said freedom, and she had understood. Something in the dark-hung corners of El's mind murmured that that kind of understanding never died. Opening his eyes, he smoothed his palm from Sands' side to the small of the American's back, rolling the soft cotton up till he could graze fingertips over warmed satin skin. "No. Carolina always said that I knew how to take anything except what I wanted, that I had to be pushed into things. And she would laugh now, because I'm proving her right."

Slow, wordless breath puffed into El's shirt as Sands absorbed that. The other man brushed hair out of his face, then stopped and flexed his hands, a thoughtful expression on his face. He bent slightly to bite into the tip of one glove's finger, then slowly pulled it off his hand and dropped it on El's chest. Sands repeated the graceful movement with his other hand, humming tunelessly as he did. "Is that so?"

El considered arching an eyebrow, but the past few days had shown him the pointlessness of that. Sands was Sands. Whatever the man did might strike outsiders as bizarre or even insane, but it always made sense when taken in the context of him. Of which El was probably an expert, now. "Yes."

"Well, I can work with that." Sands smiled, head perking up even as he glided, lightning-fast, down between El's legs. The mariachi's pants were undone in a half-breath, and a smirk encircled the tip of his cock, dipping it into squeezing hot smugness. A tongue coiled its way from head to balls, searing lines over El's skin, streaking blood into his fast-rising erection. Hands skimmed up his hips, rubbing the leather in time with the bobbing of Sands' mouth.

El felt like the couch was suctioning the bones from his body, making him slump even farther into the cushions. Bright comets twirled among the gathering shadows on the ceiling, blinding him with alternate dark and light. A swallow massaged itself around his cock, and he gasped. Clutched at the sofa arm as if it could possibly anchor him. "Maria Magdalena…you're burning me…"

Sands gulped again and again, trying to draw out whatever was left of El's soul. And heaven help him, but El was allowing it. Was encouraging it, rocking his hips, twisting his body to card a wobbly hand through Sands' hair. That grin looped about El's cock once more, blind eyes almost flickered with fire, and then Sands whirled tongue and lips and throat into one shattering combination that shivered El's nerves to pieces.

His vision unblurred to that same smirk, now hovering above his face while clever fingers redid the front of his trousers. Sands tilted his head, letting black hair throw a diagonal veil of black from temple to chin. "What do you want?"

El raised a hand, molded it to the side of the other man's face. Felt each hollow as he caressed down to Sands' neck. Felt the tremble as he curled fingers about the American's nape, possessive and more than threatening. Promising. "You," El whispered.

"Already have me, damn it. So finish taking me." Sands leaned down, then jerked back as the door opened and Ramirez stepped into the room. "Fucking…Jorge?"

"Sorry if I'm interrupting, but this is probably the only time Fideo will be asleep and no one'll be shooting at us."


Some days, Sands wanted to murder irony. And some days, he wanted to track that shitwit down, leash him to the back of a pick-up, and then take a joyride through the nearest scrapyard. "Yak, yak, yak," he grumbled as he burrowed down into El's side, flopping his legs over the one El had up on the table. "What's it going to tell you that you don't already know? Blood, betrayal, turnabout: same story as the dumb soap operas down here. Just more psychos playing the parts."

El still had a hand on Sands' neck, and now the mariachi used his grip to lightly shake Sands, as if holding a dog by its scruff. "Don't."

"Skullfucking singing vigilante." A nail scored its way along Sands' hairline, then the thumb made tiny short strokes on the underside of Sands' chin, spreading broad tingling stripes on the skin. Mostly against his will, he started to melt. Cursing all the way, of course.

"Where do you want me to start?" El asked, apparently to Ramirez.

"With--" an odd laugh came from the other chair "-I started out with one question, and now it looks like I have two. First, tell me what happened on Dias de Los Muertos. I think I can figure out by myself what came before."

Beneath Sands, El indolently twisted in a shrug. "I was hired to kill the President, and Lorenzo and Fideo came along to help. But then something happened-"

"-fucking Cucuy. He sold me out to Barillo, so I lost track of El for a bit while they were scooping out my eyes," Sands hissed, unconsciously tensing. He didn't notice he was digging nails into El until the mariachi grabbed his hands and tugged the gloves back onto them. "Bastard. I hope they cut off his nuts."

"He's dead, I think." El ran a calming palm over Sands' shoulderblades. "I met the president, and then I didn't feel like killing him. So when we went in, we shot Marquez's men instead. Fideo and Lorenzo got the president out while I waited for that-goddamn cuntwhoring shit--in the hall."

After a moment, Sands pinpointed the source of those words' strange familiarity: he'd called El that just after breakfast this morning. So the idiot was listening to him. He smirked into El's shirt, splaying his fingers over its embroidery. Yep, psychosis was a two-way street in Mexico.

"He came, sent away his men when he saw me, and then I killed him." The mariachi's voice lilted almost wickedly on the last words. "You know the rest."

"Almost know the rest," Sands reluctantly broke in, not really wanting to clear up any misconceptions, but figuring that getting it over with now was better than later-which would most likely be a gunfight the size of Texas. "I had this contact with the AFN: Ajedrez. Turns out she was Barillo's daughter, and he'd been working my whole deal from behind the scenes."

El went rigid, hand freezing on Sands' back, then very gradually softened. "You went back and killed her," he murmured, tone surprised and…respectful. Fingers feathered down to the scars on Sands' arms, on his leg. "Even after these."

"You didn't see that." Ramirez sounded confused. Well, no shit. What the hell?

"I just did." A long, no-less puzzled quiet. From above Sands, a deep sigh ruffled his hair. "It's something that happens to me," El not-really clarified in a dry voice. "I can see things. So can Fideo, but not so much. His aren't…clear. Less like pictures."

"About your friend…" Wood creaked as Ramirez nervously shifted his weight. "Lorenzo said he was all right before Dias de Los Muertos. Then he went into a sharp decline. Why?"

"That's your second question?" Well, well, who would've thought. Just the undertones in that question made Sands fight down a snicker. And come to think of it, Jorge had more-or-less taken over as Fideo's nurse after Lorenzo'd left to stretch his punkass wings. "I never, ever suspected that you had it in you, Jor-mmmbastarmmm."

Easy as snapping out a gun, El licked the moan out of Sands' mouth, then stole the snark for good measure. "He wasn't really fine," the mariachi answered once he'd wrenched himself away from Sands. "He was only waiting for something to show him he didn't have a use any more."

"But he helped you. He rescued the President," Ramirez objected.

//Fideo's told me many things. One was that the day the good man won, the dead men could rest.// Rolling Sands on top of him, El briefly pressed his cheek to the crown of Sands' head, the warmth of his breath soaking downwards till it collected in the marrow of Sands' bones. //He thinks there's nothing left, so he's stopped looking. He's stopped paying attention.//

//While it feels like I've just started seeing//, Ramirez muttered. Probably supposed to be a private thought, but whatever. Actually, if this meant El would spend less time worrying over his alcohol-brained one-night-stand of a compadre, then Sands was all for it. Goddamn it, almost two weeks now, and they still hadn't screwed. //I think that's all I need to know. I-thanks.//

Jorge the born-again Mexican started to stand up, shuffling his feet on the floor, but before he could leave, El called to him. "Ramirez?"


"I can't do anything to help now, but I haven't stopped watching." And hello, there was the storm-black, cunning feral voice of the real El. The unbending core that refused to lay down beneath the hounds, that kept running till it found ground where it could stand and not just fight, but win. And Sands always went with the winner.

"I…believe I understand."

Did Ramirez really, Sands amusedly wondered. When he'd crashed himself against El, he'd known perfectly where he was throwing himself. And he'd suspected what the final result might be. But a straight-laced latecomer to the vengeance game like Jorge?

This would be interesting.


Fideo cracked open an eyelid, then feebly gestured rudely at El. Who placidly ignored it and sat down on the corner of the bed, absently snatching the flying chains before they smacked into him. Vivid leather scent wafted over the mattress. //You're worse than Sands ever got.//

//I'm depressed. I've got a right to be, and besides, I bet that skinny shit never had a lousy day in his life.//

The corner of El's mouth quirked up as he fiddled with the laces of his gauntlet. //The day he was blinded. The day he met me again.//

Oh, for…Fideo rolled his eyes and whapped El's leg. "Everyone that meets you has a shitty day. That doesn't count."

"I don't mean for that to happen." A pained flicker in his eyes, El leaned his head back against the wall and regarded Fideo at a slant. He skittered one hand over Fideo's shoulder and pulled the blankets back up, closing out the nipping-cold air. "Do you ever regret coming with me?"

Regret, regret, regret. Song of Fideo's soul, calling it out of his shell and into the deep, dank hole with no bottom. But was it actually in him? Concerning this, anyway. He let his head sink further into the pillow, half-suffocating himself with trapped, used breath and cotton stuffing. "You? No. I don't think so. It had to be done. I had to kill those bastards, and you were the only one who could've showed me how."

//What about asking me?// El's eyes glanced over at the guitar case propped up against the wall; his fingers moved a little, as if resolving a chord progression. Remembering a tequila-born melody, and a dark room with coarse-plastered walls that scratched into palms. //Was that what…ended everything for you?//

A sardonic snort found itself trickling from Fideo's nose. He shivered once, and then again as a trail of icy air leaked beneath the covers to freeze the moisture on him. "Ask your gringo, man. Did it finish him off?"

"Not like you. Sands…" El's mouth twisted ironically "…helps. He wakes things." The other mariachi tossed a concerned look at Fideo, then dropped his eyes. Always apologizing, even when he didn't say a word. Fideo was temporarily distracted by pondering how long it would take Sands to get rid of that particular trait. //Look. I can't let you drink yourself to death.//

//Why not? My choice, man.// Attention seized back to the present, Fideo glowered as best he could, given that his sight was beginning to shimmer again. And something was slithering about his wrists. //Besides, who are you to give advice on this? I never told you how to go.//

//No, but you asked me to show you how to fight//, El reminded him in an implacable voice. His friend sharpened, grew more wild-like, and a crimson haze brushed back from temple to jawline. //You still are, you know. You're fighting us now.//

Fuck, but that made persuasive sense to the part of Fideo that refused to realize how far beyond recovery he was. He shook his head, trying to dislodge the annoying grit from his mind, but it just wouldn't fall out.

"Ramirez seems interested in you," the other mariachi added significantly, as if that was supposed to matter to Fideo. And who-oh. So that was the last name. Ramirez. Sounded like a growl. Whoring growl. Was he laughing now? Probably, considering the odd expression on El's face. "That's funny?"

//Sure. Why not?// And the world was suddenly sideways-no, that was only him sloping himself the other way. Like he was uncomfortable discussing this topic, or something…well, Jorge did have that weird way of staring at him, as if visually separating all of Fideo's layers and then studying them one by one. And he seemed to care about whether Fideo got better or not, instead of just bugging El for details about how one world ended and another burst itself to life. //He doesn't dare touch you, so he thinks he can understand all this shit by looking at me. Thinks he can fix his old meal friend-Archuleta. I'm nothing to him, really.//

Dark eyes glinted at him, stabbing needles of disbelief and perception through Fideo. Humor, stained through with an unsettling astuteness, nestled in the depths of El's gaze. "The man who has nothing is invincible."

"Shut up."

"If you're going to die, then you're going to die." El got off the bed, then put his palms on the edge and bent over Fideo. "But I don't see that in your eyes yet. So there's no point in trying, because it won't hurry things."

Fideo awkwardly propped himself up on his elbows, attempting to force some of his fever out in a glare. "Yeah? Well, where's the point in enjoying things? They only hurt you in the end."

But his friend only smiled, sharp and searing. "But we're past the end. So now what happens?"

And Fideo had no answer.


Sands skated his hand another few inches along the wall, then swept out his other to check for obstacles. Feeling rather stupid as he did. Note to self: remind El to pick up a cane sometime. Preferably one that was flexible and strong enough to be used for the promotion of wide-scale carnage, and wouldn't show the bloodstains. He had an image to maintain, after all.

Okay, so that image happened to be the bedmate of a seriously fucked-up musical psychic with issues up the wazoo, but hey, was much better than the American who came down south and got himself a genuine disability excuse for a souvenir. And the full-out sex-whenever they finally got to it-promised to be very, very mindblowing.

Smack. Huh. Obstacle.


Fine, it was actually a person. "And what can I do for you, Ramirez? Want another spell of interagency cooperation? My apologies, old man, but I'm afraid that due to budget constraints, we've had to discontinue that line of service."

"I think we need to discuss the former colleagues of yours that are tracking us."

Shit. Sands had really been hoping he could have this conversation with El, who was a lot more amenable to the "shoot who I tell you" approach. Well, after some heavy petting, anyway. "I need to sit down."

Ramirez let out an incredulous whuff. "You're not that delicate. Stop stalling."

"I'm not, you unobservant fuckwit." Sands pointedly slumped against the wall. A little too pointedly: he lost his balance and had to scrabble for a handhold in order to keep off his knees. Because yeah, El was the only cockteasing jackass that'd earned the right to see Sands like that. "I'm tired, and this is going to be a complicated discussion full of strained pauses and plastic tones. Chair?"

"The nearest ones are in Fideo's room." Said while notably not helping Sands. On the one hand, it was flattering that Jorge still tiptoed around him. On the other hand, his calves were really beginning to hurt. "We're allies again, but nothing more than that, Sands. I still don't trust you any farther than El can shoot. Talk."

"Okay. Okay." Sands shifted his weight till he found some sort of balance--albeit a very precarious one. "So shut up and listen very closely, because I'm not stopping for your egotistical interruptions, and I'm not repeating this. The CIA saw Mexico stabilizing and wanted to reweaken the country. So they went for the President, who is still alive and probably pissed off at the assassination attempt. But he thinks it was all Barillo and Marquez-no one's told him about the American factor yet. Which is a situation the CIA likes, and a situation that we could destroy with one phone call. However, my former employers are also probably still looking for ways to knock off the President. They see that somebody's kicked Marquez's and Barillo's collective asses, and they think: puppet or threat to global security. No in-between."

"I see." And as predicted, a tense quiet jittered about the two of them. "I still have contacts in the Mexican government, so I could get in touch with the President. Then he'd be able to make a big fuss, throw the CIA out of the country. Most of them. If the rest are much like you, then that won't be enough, will it?"

"Getting the President on our side would cut down a lot of it, but not all, like you said." A dull ache was slipping around the joints of Sands' knees and ankles, and his head felt rusty. Godfucking devils, but he'd been out of the game for a bit too long. Conniving wasn't supposed to be this hard…and having all these annoyingly honest Mexicunts around didn't help. "We'll probably have to do something stupidly dramatic. How's your acting skills?"

"…I'll make that phone call." Aww, Sands had scared off the nice retired FBI dick. Ramirez's footsteps faded off lopsidedly-going around a corner-and then a faint electronic chiming sounded. Rolling Stones? "Paint It Black"? Wasn't Jorge just full of unexpected-ow. Ow. Ow-well, hello, you goddamn ass-dragging musical scourge.

Grunting into Sands' ear, El nonchalantly bundled up Sands' flailing limbs and hauled him up the staircase to the nearest room. Flipped them onto the bed, which thankfully was not also being occupied by a suicidal souse. "What were you and Ramirez talking about?"

"How to keep our pretty faces in one piece. Which isn't really your specialty." Sands rustled himself into the flaps of El's trenchcoat, slipping hands around till he could skate them up under El's shirt. His fingers hit a circle of hard ridged flesh, and then another, and another. Next to him, the mariachi stiffened and hissed, trying to scoot away. "What the fuck…El, what? They're just scars."

"And you just have no eyes," El snapped, seizing Sands' hands.

Silence. Uneven breath, rasping itself over the corrugation tragedy left behind. "So it's like that, huh?" Very slowly, Sands began to pull his fingers out of the gloves. Then he touched their tips to his mouth, testing the scrapes. Almost healed, with just a little sting when he grazed teeth over the skin. He held out his hands, stretching apart the fingers, then tentatively rested them at the very edge of the first scar he'd found. "I'll let you touch mine if you let me touch yours."

Tense chuckles filtered into Sands' ears, and a palm flattened itself onto the top of his hip, then slid all the way up to lay a thumb tip by the corner of his eyelid. "I already have."

"No shit and then some, gutter-trash Zorro that you are. You owe me. Or-hell, don't tell me you're afraid?" His voice breaking itself on incredulity, Sands impatiently waited for an answer. Rippled his fingers along the thick bumpy border of the scar. "Think you're not beautiful enough?"

The thumb lightly traced over the curve of Sands' browbone, then dusted across his eyelid, its side ever-so-slightly grazing the replacement flesh. //I don't care about that. I care about what my scars have written on me.//

And intuition took an Olympic-quality leap into the forefront of Sands' mind. "Carolina again?"

"Her and my daughter. These-" the gauntleted hand smoothed itself over the top of Sands', pulling them up until the tough rounds of crinkled flesh imprinted themselves into Sands' palms "-are from the day they died. When whatever was left of my old self died, too."

Frustration lashed its way up to the back of Sands' mouth, filling it with bitter acid that sliced through his words so all he could do was bite his lip and clench his hands. But then the fingers on the side of his cheek started to rub small ovals into his skin, gently coaxing it into untwisting from its scowl. Which he hadn't noticed had crept onto his face. El stroked into Sands' hair and pulled him down into a surprisingly fierce kiss. Lulled into momentary shock by its wintry mint scorch, Sands allowed it, but soon yanked himself back. "Good for them. So you'll always have a memory of your wife carved into your skin, I take it?"

Hard-soft wet lips pressed against the corner of Sands' mouth, then trailed down the length of his neck. "You left scars, too," El told the patches of prickling, heating skin. //You marked my blood and branded my soul.//

"Didn't know you had one left." And there was unexpectedly comfortable warmth flooding through Sands, making him feel…well, silly. He might be grinning with relief, but he didn't feel like checking. Could damage his dignity, and-fuck it. He'd just squash something small and helpless later. "So what's up with the blushing-virgin act, then?"

El gently bit down on the join of Sands' throat and shoulder, maneuvering Sands around so he was nestled between the mariachi's legs, firmly wrapped within leather-encased arms. And Christ's spit, but cowhide smelled good on El. Did wonderfully sacrilegious things to Sands' arousal. "I don't want…everyone always fails in the end. They go into hell with me, and they don't come back out."

Making little irritated noises, Sands shoved up El's shirt and ducked down to thoroughly lick as many scars as he came across. Applied teeth and tongue to spiced-sweat skin, determined to show this idiotic fuckmook just where the rules no longer held up. "Think I can't take it, you macho shit-spawned bastard? Moron. I am in hell. I'm blind--only way I've got to go is up, and I'm damned well getting there."

"And I'm beginning to believe you," El gasped, twining fingers around Sands' upper arms and tearing him back up into a messy, violent clash of lips.

Of course, then something crashed downstairs.


Yet another visit from the American Mexican. Fideo wanted to hide his head in the pillows and hope that Jorge wouldn't see him, but for some reason, his mind was telling him that that wouldn't work. Not to mention the chains didn't have enough slack. "What? Time to make me eat?"

"I don't know if there would be a point." Ramirez was carrying a plate of food, but when he sat down next to the bed, he started eating it all by himself without even offering to share. Which sort of grated on Fideo's nerves for no particular reason. "I've seen men like you before. Once they've decided to do something, then only a miracle can stop them-" Jorge reconsidered that "-or an expert sharpshooter."

Funny. The man was developing a proper sense of humor, thank the Virgin Mother. Now if he'd just get a proper sense of curiosity. "Now why are you here? Walls aren't that thick, you know; I heard your talk. El told you everything, so why aren't you leaving?"

"You want me to?" Jorge swallowed down another chunk of food, then forked up some more. Very slowly, so Fideo could see every dripping bit of savory-scented juice. The fucker. Like that was going to work. "Well?"

//Do whatever you want. I don't care.// Goddamn pork. Fideo vaguely remembered liking that kind of pibil, and now his stupid stomach was rebelling, because it wouldn't listen when he told it what was the best for them. He irately shoved his head into the blankets. //But stop thinking I'm Archuleta. I'm not. He's dead, he's not coming back no matter what you do, and I'm going to do whatever the fuck I want.//

//That's true//, Jorge amiably agreed, words chewing themselves through a mouthful of meat. Little unconscious noises of gastronomical approval sneaked out of his throat. //I was wrong when I compared you to my partner. It was just the accent that threw me, but the rest of you two couldn't be any more different.//


//For example--// fork scraped against pottery, scratched against the inside of Fideo's skull //--he was much smarter.//

Fideo's head instinctively shot back up, and he leveled his best imitation of El's death-look at the other man. //Fuck you.//

"It takes much longer to die from drinking-especially when you've built up such a high tolerance-than it does from taking a bullet." Ramirez arched an eyebrow, waggling his fork in a scolding gesture. "And I'm not staying with El forever; I have a life back in Culiacan. When I go, then your friends will have to take care of you till you die. Which will put them at risk, since you're not fighting anymore."

"Who said that? I'll fight." Clamping down on the abrupt swell of aggravation in his gut, Fideo whipped the blankets out of the way so he could drag himself into a sitting position. Put himself on a more equal footing, even though the world wouldn't stop spinning. "It's women that get El into trouble. And Sands. I'm not either."

"You think you can fight like this?" Jorge asked dubiously, looking the mariachi up and down. //Don't be ridiculous. You'd collapse two steps from the bed, and then your friends would have to come back for you.//

Wait-Fideo narrowed his gaze, mentally stripping the camouflaging fur of indifference from the other man's face. Oh, very tricky. "Not bad. You almost had me."

Surprise and then sarcasm flitted over Ramirez's face as he set the half-cleaned plate aside. //If there's one thing I've noticed from being around you people, it's that no one ever has anything. You only get what you can take with you.// His brows furrowed, then he shook his head. //No, that's wrong. You only get what you can take into you.//

Jorge picked up a half-glass of water from the side table, passing it through a shaft of light as he did. The liquid caught, wrinkled and refracted, exploding a vibrantly-hued shade across Fideo's field of sight. Red, redder than fire, than blood, and unlike all the other visions he'd had, this one burnt into well-defined outlines. Alert ears, sharp teeth parted in a long laughing smile. And gleaming orbs that slanted a half-defiant, half-uncaring look back at him-

--with his own eyes. Only alive, alive like they hadn't been in years.

//Mother of fucking…// Fideo lashed himself back, wincing when the manacles snapped into his wrists, then evaded Ramirez's grab and threw himself at the glass //…God! Damn you! Damn you!//

Shattering glass, crystal fragments spiraling all over the planks. Clear wet-no, goddamn it, there was still a shadow grinning up at Fideo. He tried to dive at it, to smear it into invisibility, but he couldn't reach, why couldn't he reach-

//Stop! Hey, stop!// Hands slammed him back onto the mattress, pinned his wrists to the side and his choking throat beside them. //What's wrong with you?//

//What's wrong…// Fideo couldn't keep the grin-that grin-from bubbling up on his own face. "What's wrong…I couldn't begin to tell you."

"Then maybe there's nothing wrong, if you can't even describe it." Ramirez loomed over the mariachi like some great beast, anger and mystification glittering in his eyes. Which reflected Fideo's image back at him, showing him life. Life that wouldn't leave, that wouldn't disappear until the very final moments no matter how much he asked. "You beat the odds, do you realize? You helped turn the rules upside-down."

"But I wanted to know why now, why not then, when there were also innocents to be saved," Fideo panted, listening to his voice rag itself to pieces. Listening to the ferocious drumming breath of the other man that beat against the inside of Fideo's head, to the rapid heartbeats. Feeling those carpenter's hands nail him to the bed, shift uneasily over his skin in quick shivers. Watching as the entire world suddenly whammed itself through him in one moment, blasting away years of collected blinds and filters. //Holy Son of God. Where did you come from?//

Ramirez blinked, face crinkling in even greater confusion. His grip slackened, just enough. //What--//

It was a short lunge, and a deep plunge into the center of the storm, the winds and rain slicking the sickness from Fideo's body. He sank his teeth into a lip, dragged Jorge back down so his hands could twine into the other man's shirt collar. Flickered a tongue in, blistering it on the heat in the mouth crushing against his.

//Fideo? Ramirez? What…oh.//

"What? What's going on? Why the fuck am I not getting laid right now?"

Jorge jerked and pulled off, revealing a doorway full of resolutely-calm El and bouncy question-firing Sands. "I didn't think it'd go this fast," El remarked, muffling Sands with his wrist-brace.

Neither did Fideo. Actually, he hadn't been expecting a reversal, period. And now he was staring at Jorge's reddening embarrassment, trying to figure out when his self-preservation instincts had decided to kick in. And his enjoyment instincts, for that matter. "Rule change," he muttered, moving restlessly about as he pieced together the thoughts in his head. "Whatever happened before…happened by those rules. Whatever happens after…doesn't follow the same ones."

"Doesn't follow them at all." El whipped his hand out of Sands' mouth and examined the slight bleeding, then pushed Sands into the wall and ate out the other man's voice. "I tried to tell you, show you, but you wouldn't see."

"Too much alike, man." Chains clinked, calling attention to the fact that Jorge was attempting to move off the bed. Like hell. Fideo wasn't done asking yet, so he tightened his grip on Ramirez's shirt. "Can't tell me not to do what you do." He closed his eyes, then opened them to look directly into Jorge's. "So. You think someone like me has a place in this world?"


Somewhere in the background, El was dragging Sands off. Jorge made a note to thank the mariachi for having some sense of propriety. And tact, because while Jorge was generally hardwired to be polite, he couldn't recall the procedures for dealing with one half-conscious man clinging to his front. And gluing him in place with huge soft eyes that were practically exploding with energy. A far different Fideo from the one he'd been force-feeding for the past two weeks.

"Hey? You freeze up or something?" The hands dropped from Jorge's collar, coming to rest in a puddle of shiny metal links. Fideo lifted an eyebrow over his quiet smile. "I break you?-nah, that's El's line."

"I don't think anymore; I just watch," Jorge muttered, turning his head away from that crackling gaze. "You made your own place in Mexico. I'm the one who doesn't know where to go."

//FBI. Government that went native. You crossed the border twice over, man-of course you forgot how things went down here.// Legs wriggled out from under Jorge, then bent up to slide knees against his side. Skimmed his jacket, swept back-and-forth in an insistent rhythm. //That why you're following us? You want a guide?//

Fatigue crept into Jorge's bones, then webbed out through his nerves. He'd spent some of the driving time analyzing his motivations for sticking with the mariachis, but he hadn't been able to discern anything more than an oddly strong fascination in them. Or maybe he hadn't wanted to see more than that, complicated as things already were. Sands and El, CIA and cartel. The final seal on his FBI career-his old life, for that matter-and the very strange beginnings of a new…calling, maybe. Seemed a little pretentious, but Jorge couldn't think of a better word. Couldn't think of much of anything, actually.

Fideo was rocking lean hips up, pressing hard heat against the inside of Jorge's thigh. And he was still on the bed. Why was he still on the bed?

//Hey, don't mean to be rude, but you ever…// Fideo inquiringly cocked his head, letting curls matted with salt and oil fall out of his face.

Jorge rolled his shoulders, suddenly feeling the strain. The wrongness of this. He slowly began to move off of the other man, but Fideo snatched out and set Jorge off-balance, making him collapse back on top of the mariachi. And then chains clanked into his neck as Fideo looped arms about him to lock them in place. "Let go," Jorge hissed, shoving as hard as he could without hurting the other man. "I'm not your friend. I won't do this so you can justify your suicide."

"Shit, man, that's a sin against the Church." Instead of letting go, Fideo wound himself closer, wrapping legs around the backs of Jorge's knees. Laid a body shivering from fever and from chill against his own so the trembles seeped through his clothes and into his flesh, igniting the first tendrils of…something. Starfire and sun-bleached dust, grinding itself into his skin and rubbing away all the accumulated deposits of civilization to reveal the beginning shape. And beneath him, the mariachi smiled as if seeing it. "Why would I want to do that?"

"Don't bullshit me. You were doing a good job of starving yourself this morning." Jorge averted his face only to have a mouth nip at his ear, draw slick lines down his jaw. "What do you think you're going to get out of this?"

//You're not pushing away anymore//, Fideo observed, almost jeering. Lips ghosted by just under Jorge's mouth, then parted to rasp teeth over his stubble. It felt like a knife skinning him alive. //I get a handhold. A bridge, going from past to future. An anchor. A whatever-the-fuck excuse you want. What about you?//

The teasing wetness dropped from his face, and again Fideo gave him a fox-grin. Jorge's hands involuntarily clenched on Fideo's shoulders, squeezing out a gasp. He did it once more, only slower, bending his fingers into the flesh, and sank his tongue into the gaping pink mouth. If things went much further, he wasn't really going to know what the hell he was doing, but right now, he could handle this. Press down, but not too hard. Lick along the top and sides, see where the response was. Try tasting the rest of that sweet streak-

--Fideo writhed, putting cock along cock, and then he twisted, smashing all the structure in Jorge's mind. Now he really couldn't think. Couldn't do anything but go with the flowing and the rubbing, just nibbling from lip to throat to shoulder. Fingers raked through his hair, banging metal against his head, so it seemed the most natural thing in the world to reach up and tug down Fideo's wrists in order to pin them to the mattress. And after that, he might as well hold them there so they wouldn't interrupt his explorations under Fideo's half-buttoned shirt.

"Fideo! Ramirez! Get out!"


Both men's heads snapped up, and then Jorge was fumbling out the key. Ripping the manacles from Fideo and then automatically tumbling the two of them to the floor, just missing the glass shards. He grabbed his pistol, then tried to check the barrel and experienced a moment of disorientation. Not a revolver-Lorenzo. Right.

"Shit. Where are they, where are they?" Jorge bobbed his head, trying to locate the shooters by sound. Fideo blurred past him to grab the guitar case, then got out another huge pistol. The mariachi cocked it, then jerked the gun toward the door.

"No time, man. Just get out there and kill the fuckers." Before Jorge could offer a more rational suggestion, Fideo had already stumbled out the entrance. He instantly whipped about and fired three times, then rolled out of sight.

//Oh-fuck. Fuck.// Jorge set his jaw and ran after the other man. Emerged smack in the middle of an insane firefight, with chaos flipping reality inside-out. Bullets slammed into the wall two inches from his left elbow, and before he quite knew what he was doing, Jorge had spun himself around to shoot two incoming men.

"El?" shouted a voice by his feet. Fideo bounded up from the floor, whipping out bullets in the opposite direction.

"Car! Get to the car!" was the hoarse answer from upstairs, and then a body came crashing between Jorge and Fideo. It snarled and clawed itself to its feet just in time to smash in another intruder's face.

"You goddamn hero-stupid son of a shit-eating cuntwhore!" Sands howled back up at El. Fideo seized the American's collar and started to haul them away from the staircase, but neither man was really up to much exertion, and they both collapsed against the wall. But still shooting, and not missing. "What the fuck-"

A guitar case soared over the steps and hit the ground, skidding till it was halted by Sands' feet. "Ramirez, get them to the car! I'll follow!"

Still spitting verbal vitriol, Sands nevertheless made a dive for the case and cradled it to him in a grip so hard his knuckles looked like pearls set into the skin. Jorge yanked the other man back towards Fideo, pausing briefly to take down another pair of gunmen, and then somehow chivvied them outside. He had a muddled impression of El firing some kind of hand cannon from upstairs to clear the way for them, but Jorge was far too occupied with other matters to pay much attention.

They had gotten to the car when Sands started to struggle again, apparently wanting to get back inside and-"cut off his fucking marble balls so the jackass'll have to think with his brain instead. Now let me the fuck go before I blow a-"

Fideo smacked a pistol butt into the back of Sands' head, then lost his balance during the follow-through turn and fell to the ground. He continued to snipe at any pursuers while Jorge shoved them all in his own car, then started the ignition.

One minute. Two minutes. No El. Sands was stirring, waking up.

"Fideo." Jorge glanced over at the man hanging out of the front passenger's seat, still shooting.

"Wait. He's coming." The mariachi swiped blood off his forehead, then threw a gallows-humor look over his shoulder. //None of us coming like we should've, in any way.//

Whatever Jorge's undoubtedly-inadequate reply would have been was suddenly brutally interrupted by a gigantic explosion that sprayed fiery day over the night sky. Sands jolted up, completely awake, and plastered himself to the window with palms to the glass. Murmuring something in an increasingly frantic voice. "Not dead. Motherfuck's not dead. Not dead not dead notdeadnotdead-"

Fideo reached a hand over, but Sands abruptly slumped into the seat. "Not dead," he sighed in a tone of desperate relief.

"How do you know?" Jorge couldn't help inquiring, even though he'd already half-guessed the answer. The ancient soil in his blood, reawakening.

"Because I saw, fuckass." Sands' nails grated as they scratched down the glass. "Oh, Christ. I'm going to kill him. And then I'm making him fuck me, and then I'm going to kill him again."

"He's coming," Fideo noted, dropping himself back into the car and immediately crumpling on the seat. Panting, and crawling over to rest his head against Jorge's hip. //Fucking exhausted. Why is living so much more work than dying?//

//It's worth more?// El offered, opening the back door and tossing his other case in, then flopping into a whimpering Sands, who melted himself to El's front as soon as the mariachi shut the door. El cupped a hand around the back of Sands' head, then swathed his trenchcoat around the both of them. Which reminded Ramirez about the chill in the air, and Fideo's less-than-stellar condition. He twisted back right when El passed a blanket forward, knowing written all over his face. //Time to meet them. Head for Mazatlan.//

Jorge started to ask why there, then closed his mouth and tossed the blanket over Fideo, who had started to snore. It didn't matter where. Location made no difference when traveling with people like these men, who remade the ground as they were walking it. The best Jorge could manage was watch and listen. And wait for his own place to come to him.


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