Tangible Schizophrenia


Shapes IV: Wolf

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: NC-17. Brief gunkink and some d/s overtones. Sands finally gets a happy.
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. I want his garage.
Summary: Circling for the kill. Or ending, as the case may be. To everyone on my flist for putting up with my irrationality and hysteria.
Notes: //words// in Spanish. 'Archuleta' was Ramirez's partner, and I'm told the name 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.


It'd been a while since Jorge had had to bed down in a car. So he avoided it for as long as possible by taking a rambling walk around the cliff on which they'd parked, though he carefully stayed within earshot of the other three. It sounded like El was trying to clean himself and Sands off, and like Sands was trying to help by using his tongue.

"You lick that and you'll get sick."

"I am sick, you clank-head dick. I'm sick of waiting for everyone else to shut up and just get to the staring part. Come on…"

"There's no bed-Sands!" Weird rustling, and a yelp. //Fucking American. I'll break y-I'll break the car springs. And we still need it.//

"Man, if this goes on any longer, we won't have to do anything. The gringo will rip them all apart for us." The voice was wavering and thin, and when Jorge turned around, he found that so was the speaker. Fideo swayed once, then slumped into Jorge's arms and clawed his way onto Jorge's shoulders. "Shit. I'm really thirsty."

Something was jiggling…Fideo's leg. Legs. In fact, the mariachi's entire body was shivering, and Jorge didn't think it was only due to the cold air. Fevered skin pressed into Jorge's face and neck, and more heat burned its way through their intervening layers of clothing. "You aren't getting any alcohol. Ever again, if you want to live."

Jorge was already wincing as the words came out of his mouth, but the expected sarcasm didn't reply. Instead, Fideo craned down to look Jorge in the eye, lashes fluttering. The other man wrapped himself closer, tangling fingers in Jorge's collar. //I'll think about that.//

Doubtful, but right now, it was probably more important to drag them both back to the car so Jorge's back would stop complaining.

"Oh, fucking God…more…"

Soft wet noises.

Or maybe they should just stay here. Jorge absently swiped a hand over his forehead, then glanced around for a decent-sized rock. While he was doing that, Fideo decided to collapse and hauled the two of them down onto a flattish chunk of sandstone. A nose snuffled into the space between shirt and throat, and then lips laid a moist track from Jorge's collarbone to just under his chin. Fideo slid hands under Jorge's shirt, drawing them in slowly-widening circles that dipped toward his waistband. Where Jorge intercepted them and lifted off the palms only to have Fideo take a surprisingly fierce grip on his own. //What? You think we're going to get any other chances any time soon?//

"I think you're still delirious," Jorge muttered, twisting away to gaze over the silver-screened slopes before him. He tried tugging his hands away, but only succeeded in pulling Fideo into his lap. Hell. This kind of trouble he did not need. He already had enough on his plate just trying to figure out where his life was going: back to retirement, or into the shadows with the mariachis. Pistoleros. Whatever El and his friends were now. "When you wake up, you'll regret this."

"Hey, I am awake." Fingers unhooked themselves from Jorge's hands and crept between the shirtbuttons, grazing cool tips over the skin beneath. Thighs fumbled themselves over his knees till Fideo could block out Jorge's field of vision with a bleared but bright-eyed face. "Your fault. You and that stupid glass. And El, but he always does this shit to people, so he doesn't really count." Remarkably childlike curiosity glimmering in the huge pupils. //Guy kisses like you did, he's definitely asking. So?//

"So-" Jorge scrambled through his brains, attempting to recall all the thoughts and worries and 'what-ifs' that had been his constant companion during the drive here "-I'm leaving after we get things straightened…settled with the CIA."

"What, you think I always stay with El? Crazy, man." Fideo shook his head and nearly toppled to the ground. Saved only by Jorge's arm, which flipped out there as if it had a mind of its own. The mariachi flicked a glance down, and then the corner of his mouth tweaked up in a smile that was as far from innocence as Sands was from any kind of virginity. "I'd go nuts if I spent all my time with him."

"What about Lorenzo?"

Fideo jerked a shoulder up. "What about him? He's doing what he should've, getting away from us for a bit. It'll help his music. And his attitude, too-stupid shit kept shooting my bottles."

Jorge took a deep breath, feeling the absolute freshness of the air here rip into his lungs. //I don't know what I'm doing right now. I can't take care of you, and I don't see any point in watching another drunk drown himself in tequila.//

Warm chuckles slipped out of Fideo's mouth, which bobbed crazily about as the other man scrambled for a more secure perch on Jorge. Breath puffed into the hollows of Jorge's neck, accompanied by faint chattering. Right. Fideo hadn't bothered putting on his jacket, or even buttoning up his shirt. Jorge let out a discontented grunt as he grudgingly pulled the other man in so they could share body heat. "You and El both say I can't drink anymore."

"What is said and what is done are two completely different things." And again there were lips nipping along Jorge's throat. The surrealism of this moment was, quite frankly beyond comprehension: highly-decorated and retired FBI agent sitting in the mountains at night, with two wanted-did they even qualify as humans anymore?-having sex behind him and a third burrowing into his neck. Just where had everything gone elliptical? "Things may have changed, but there are still places I won't go. Even if I can now."

"Well, there are places I don't want to go back to," Fideo informed Jorge's Adam's apple as fingers slowly twitched buttons out of their holes. Like a puppy, the mariachi nuzzled down into the spreading flaps of Jorge's shirt. "Hey. You got to see me looking like absolute shit. So the least you could do is be straight with me. What are you afraid of?"

"I'm not-"

"Yeah, you're just being cautious. Careful. Smart. Straight. Whatever the fuck." Fideo flopped curling hair out of his eyes to unveil a derisive expression, though his hands continued to lazily wander. Grazing down ribs, rolling nipples against surprisingly neat nails. //It's all fear, man.//

//The way you were frightened of living?// That obviously stung the other man deep, but Fideo held his ground. Leant closer, in point of fact, so that their faces were less than a palm's-width apart.

//Yeah. Just like that.// Then that last small space of separation shrank to nothing but fire. Fideo unhurriedly backed off, letting their lips linger together for what seemed like an immeasurable span of time. //So?//

Jorge closed his eyes, trading beautiful wild knowledge for temporary formless ignorance. Because down here, the revealing light scorched both good and bad without any mercy, while the concealing dark hid all the shadows that soiled the backs of everyone. But in the end, even deliberately blinding himself did nothing. He could still hear the slow frayed breathing, could still sense the weight crushing his legs. He could still feel the quiet peeling-off of his many shields, reminding him that through all those years living by the enemy, seeing injustice in waking and dreaming alike, he had never stopped caring. Perhaps he had duped himself into thinking he'd forgotten, but the memories had never unbranded themselves from his mind. Jorge slid a hand up the length of Fideo's back, remembering the twisting wounds that had covered Archuleta's. None here. None ever again. //When you followed El that first time, did you have any idea how you'd end up?//

Fideo smiled oddly, with the curve beginning in the center of his mouth instead of the corners. His lips almost seemed to curl back in menace as they lifted over moon-glazed teeth. //Jorge--// and the first use of that name was like a lightning christening, shocking to the bones //--by the time El gets to anyone, they aren't trying to decide. Hell, they aren't even changing. They have changed. They've already swallowed the bullet and spat it out in God's face.//

"Ramirez?" called El, making both men jump a little. "Is Fideo with you? Bring him back here."

//What, you think I want to watch you maul the gringo's crotch?// Fideo yelled back, draping himself over Jorge's shoulder. //You better be done blowing him, or--//

"Fuck. You. And. Your. Little. Dog. Too." Sands' perfectly enunciated words lashed themselves through the air, whipping reality back into Jorge. He got himself and Fideo back onto their feet and, gut still roiling, returned to the car.


El's turn to drive, so of course Sands was sitting up front. First of all, he didn't feel like listening to the newly-revived Fideo's snark, or the dried-out shit's constant attempts to get Ramirez horizontal. Because damn everything with a dick, but he still hadn't gotten that with El, and anyone that finished ahead of Sands was going to get a couple pounds of lead in the back.

Secondly, someone had to keep tabs on the bull-headed bird-dicked jackass that was El on a good day. Not only was getting tossed over a staircase railing painful as hell, but it'd been humiliating and…all right, scary. Jesusfuck, what if El had died? What-

--bad line of thought. Sands had better ones to follow. Such as eavesdropping on Ramirez's phone call, and sneaking fingers down into El's pant-chains.

//No, Mr. President. I don't think that's possible. We wouldn't want to put you in danger again.//

Unless you don't react to our offer in the correct manner, Sands mentally added as he poked at El's thigh. The leather made it hard to tell, but if he remembered rightly, there should have been a scar somewhere around…

Smack. One skull-crusher of a rock dropped onto Sands' fingers. Oh, wait-that was just El's hand. Bastard. Sands tried tugging so his hand would slide out of his glove, but El simply grabbed him by the wrist instead.

//Yes. That's why the town blew up. We were unpacking in our hotel rooms, and they attacked us without provocation.//

When Sands changed tack and bit into El's knuckles, the fucker wrenched him up and swallowed his complaint. And then his gasp, and after that, all his air. Hungrily kissing back, Sands was vaguely aware of Ramirez hanging up, of Fideo muttering something about keeping between the white lines, of his lungs screaming. But fuck, El's tongue. Should be outlawed. Wait, was outlawed. All the better for…for…

Oxygen. God, so much of it gusting into his veins, and it still wasn't as good as El's mouth. "Oh…"

"I drive better than that," Fideo commented, making the seat creak as he leaned over its top. El didn't answer as he squished Sands up against his side. Not that there were any complaints. Not when the new position buried Sands' nose in cowhide and cordite and legend. Tingled all the way down to his cock, and goddamn, they'd better be almost there. Screw beds; a countertop would work just fine. A pew. A floor. Anything, really.

"The President says he's already ordered all CIA out of the country," Ramirez broke in. "They acted too flashy when they were trying to track us down, and he caught on pretty fast. But unless you want to come in under government protection, he can't do anything more than that."

"'Government protection'?" Sands repeated incredulously. He flicked a rude gesture at the windshield. "El killed one of their top generals. Sure, Marquez attempted to chop-chop the President, but it's still not going to work."

Ramirez half-suppressed a growl of annoyance. "I know that. There isn't anything else the President can do, though. Except leave us alone as much as possible."

"That sounds fine," El said thoughtfully, one hand stroking down Sands' flank. Occasionally slipping sideways to briefly cup a buttock. "But somehow, I think a man like him would come up with something else."

"Well…" The hesitation was more for show than anything else; all four men had been around long enough to know the difference between over- and under-the-table deals. And when they were most likely to happen. "Intelligence says the CIA is about ready to call it quits. They've used up too much of their resources going after you," Ramirez told El, tone somber with just a dash of irony. "By now, they understand that you don't intend to go beyond Mexico. And they think it'd just be easier to let you and the cartels battle it out. But there's going to be one more try at getting Sands."

Despite his jadedness, those words still sent a ripple of ice through Sands, making him huddle closer to El. Him as prey again. Fucking HQ had never known how to use him when they had him, and now they had to be all righteous and jealous of his new effectiveness.

"Where?" El asked in a composed voice, hand skimming up Sands' side and over his arm to massage his clenched fingers loose from El's trenchcoat. Sands let go, but ducked down into El's jacket, pulling the hems up so he could smell the death that had soaked itself into the cloth. Other people's deaths, every one of them another life added to the mariachi's metaphysical bank account. Shit, El was rich. Maybe rich enough to buy and sell fate. He certainly had earned his freedom from it.

"Coincidentally, Mazatlan. Where we're heading." Suspicion liberally laced Ramirez's voice. "Just what kind of things do you…see, anyway?"

"Not much that's good," Fideo remarked, voice lounging all over the place. "Guess we're owed, for once."

"It doesn't matter," El dismissed. He curled fingers under Sands' chin, tipping it up so tobacco and tequila breath swirled over Sands' face. "So?"

Determination firmed itself in Sands' stomach, nailing itself to a solid foundation of violently whimsical contrariness. They thought they could take him. Take him. Now, after he'd seen and not-seen more apocalyptic hell than their collective experiences combined. Well, he would most heartily fuck that. Already claimed, thank you, and satisfied with it. Even if he was also as frustrated as a whore on Sunday morning. "El, my homicidal virtuoso, the only way you'd keep me away is if you'd drowned me at birth. Which clearly didn't happen."

Bojangles turned his head so a grin brushed itself over the top of Sands' head. Then he twisted back. "We should probably pick up Lorenzo. He'll be okay by now."

"If he hasn't gotten some poor girl pregnant," Fideo agreed. "Hey, Jorge? Can I borrow your cell for a couple minutes?"

Jorge. Christ. One moment Sands was living out the Bonnie-and-Clyde version of the American Dream, and the next, he was stuck in the gay porn channel's soap opera. As if reading Sands' mind-which might actually be a possible explanation-El tightened the arm he had looped about Sands. "We've got to stop one more time before Mazatlan. And they've been looking for us in shitty motels and abandoned houses, so this time, we'll get some good rooms."

"Big fluffy beds and thick walls," Fideo added, a salacious edge to his words.

No, Sands' cheeks were not heating up. He knew he'd been very fucking obvious about what he wanted and was not getting. He'd been purposefully loud about it in hopes that El's embarrassment might help matters along. No such luck. Sometimes, the mariachi was just like a big dumb rock.

"That make you happy?" El inquired solicitously, apparently not minding the growing waves of discomfiture coming from Ramirez's general direction.

And sometimes rocks turned out to be crouching carnivores. On second thought, he was happy his colleagues were so ass-stupid. More cannon fodder on which to take out his annoyance. "Shut up and get us there," Sands muttered, shoving his head into El's chest.


It seemed that once Fideo chose to live, he really followed up on his decision. Which on one level Jorge admired. On another level, he was a little more than slightly uncomfortable and exasperated with Fideo's affectionate gestures. "Shouldn't you be sleeping? We've got a lot to do tomorrow."

"That's why I'm awake." Voice muffled because the mariachi was munching on food he'd snitched from Jorge's plate. After Fideo had cleaned off his own plate so well that the dull pottery shone mirror-bright. A lean back propping itself against Jorge's, its muscles languidly flexing through the layers of clothing. //Was sleeping before, so I've got to figure out how to fight now that I'm up.//

Well, his guns weren't going to get any cleaner. Gut knotting itself, Jorge put down the pistols and turned around, which sent Fideo toppling backwards to smack his head onto Jorge's knee. The other man winced, reaching up a hand to rub the new sore spot. //Sorry.//

//S'all right.// Fideo beamed dizzily up at Jorge, just a touch of self-mockery lingering at the corners of that mobile mouth. //My sense of balance has been shit lately.// Cocked head, intense stare. //You never really answered my question earlier. Gonna hand out more excuses?//

//I've never done…// Jorge glowered down at the smirk perched in his lap. "It's a valid concern."

Fideo shrugged and nodded, pursing his lips in a considering manner. "Yeah. Still not a no."

Sharp, fetid bitterness leaked into the back of Jorge's throat, and no matter how much he swallowed, it refused to go away. Another persistent ghost, hooking him back to the quiet agony of the past. He met Fideo's gaze and watched as it pierced through to sober understanding. //Between the two of us, I'm not sure who's going to die first.//

//Neither the pallbearer nor the corpse is a good position to have.// A long-fingered hand, its skeleton nearly gleaming through the frail skin, lifted to paw aimlessly at the air. The lids half-closed over Fideo's eyes, but instead of shuttering their brilliance, the motion only seemed to focus it into a searing knife that cut deep into Jorge's chest. //Because of the regret. Deeds not done. But you should know something--// glance up, slicing retinas into ribbons //--I'm not going to be a gravestone in your head like Archuleta. I do what I do, and whatever happens is what happens. And that goes for dying, too. Take it or leave it, man. Because that's the best that can be done with how things are.//

//I don't believe that//, Jorge said, and he was telling the truth. Something about Fideo's apathetic acceptance of reality's unfairness stung him. Scraped at his marrow and dared him to prove it wrong. And…he wanted to. He was fed up with merely accepting whatever he was given and pretending to be content with it. //How do you explain your friend, then? Dias de Los Muertos?//

Deep in the backs of Fideo's eyes, surprise and amusement flickered over the melancholy, temporarily washing it out. "I don't explain them. I don't get them, man. I just watch." He slowly blinked, then stared. //Man, this is weird. Everything's so much…clearer when I'm sober. And things don't move around.//

Jorge didn't bother answering that as he moved out from under Fideo, who snagged at an arm. He toed off his shoes, then pulled off his socks while the mariachi babbled something about where he was going. He didn't know. America had been home for a while: pizza deliveries and stakeouts, cramped airless offices and shit cars. And then Culiacan, with its laissez-faire violence and cocaine lace. All his belongings were still there, but when he thought about going back to his house, it no longer rang relief inside of him. Or even familiarity. This bed that he'd never seen before seemed more welcoming to him than his own in Culiacan. No, not the bed…the man on the bed.


The hell with it. People got only one life, and he didn't have anything like El's luck or gunmanship. Jorge reached back and yanked Fideo to him, crushing their lips together. And suddenly he was drinking in lemon sweetness, taking in as much as he could. Eating out Fideo's mouth like a starving man given free rein in a king's banquet, swallowing coals and feeling their burn trail all the way down to his stomach, where it exploded outward.

They'd toppled over onto the bed somewhere along the line, Fideo on his back and writhing upwards with legs splayed at near-impossible angles. Maybe Jorge had never done this before, but his hands couldn't have cared less. He found them raking off clothing, pressing into the warm furrows of ribs. They eeled under Fideo's back, testing the smoothness and seeking out the inevitable scars. When the first touch drew out a tongue-stifled groan from the other man, his fingers stroked again and again, hard and soft till they'd memorized the flesh's every ridge and silky patch. Still sucking at Jorge's bottom lip, Fideo fumbled down their pants, then kicked both pairs off with a grand flourish that smacked Jorge in the side. "Ow."

"Sorry." Said in as unapologetic a tone as possible. Fideo grinned through his panting, hands already working at Jorge's shirt. //For a guy who doesn't know what he's doing, you're pretty damn good.//

For unneeded emphasis, the mariachi arched up in sensuous grace, grazing the tip of his cock over Jorge's belly. And then Fideo scooted down so their erections were rubbing each other to full hardness. Nearly shorting out Jorge's mind in the process. //Mother of God!//

//Fuck, you can feel my dick and you're calling me a woman?//

Someone was growling. Oh, that was him. And there went his hand again, sliding down to grasp both their cocks. Jorge tried brushing a thumb over the head of Fideo's, then edged a nail down the side. A trick he'd always liked, and from the looks of things, Fideo passionately enjoyed. The cry half-deafened one ear, and the twist only improved the angle. //Jesus Christ, you drunk bastard. Is that better?//

//Who the fuck needs drink?// Fideo retorted, finally flipping the flaps of Jorge's unbuttoned shirt out of the way to skate palms up Jorge's chest. //This is better.//

Steady rock at a teasing pace of which Jorge never knew he was capable. The startling satisfaction of seeing a slack-jawed moan and curls frizzing with sweat. //Just better?//

"Ah…I'll…oh, shit, that's good…" Fideo's eyes rolled back into his head, then flicked forward to display a faint glint of self-possession. He lifted up his hips so Jorge's fingers slipped further down. "Wanna learn what goes next?"

"I'm not an idiot." Jorge hastily glanced about for likely options, then snatched the hotel lotion from the side table. //Will this work?//

//Yeah, sure. So you know the rest?//

All right, he was too old to blush. But giving dark looks was a perfectly reasonable reaction. Fideo blew out air, ruffling the wet strands that were sticking to Jorge's forehead, and wrestled out a hand to receive the dollop of lotion. He quickly coated his fingers with it, then reached down between them. Gave Jorge's cock a pat on the way. "Fever's down. Motor skills are back. So's awareness-"

"Jorge? Why the hell are you talking to yourself?" A shudder rippled through Fideo, and then he went boneless into the mattress. Lipped at the side of Jorge's jaw for a bit before stiffening and relaxing again. //No point in words, you know. Just find a handhold and hang on.//

//Is that what I am for you?// As soon as Jorge finished speaking, a slick hand wrapped itself around his erection, scraping harsh gasps out of him. Heat touched the tip very gently, and then enfolded itself about his cock. Swept electricity through every bone till sparks popped in the ends of his fingers and toes. Was he praying? It did sound like he was.

Through a shimmering haze, Fideo's grave sincerity gazed up at him. //Now, yeah. We'll see about later.// Clench, and a brief glimpse of shocking white heaven. //So can we…//

Jorge might have had a response if his mouth hadn't dived into the bend of Fideo's throat. If his palms hadn't plastered themselves to Fideo's hips and if he hadn't been utterly preoccupied with plunging himself further into that amazingly concentrated ecstasy. The borders of his mind were crackling themselves to pieces, and he barely noticed. Ankles whacked against the small of his back, rumpling up his jacket, and it only made him push deeper.

As if Fideo was going to object. After that last comment, the other man's voice seemed to have evaporated, leaving only soft cries and rasping howls. At first, he jerked up to meet Jorge's thrusts, but Fideo soon collapsed from…fatigue. Still recovering from DTs, a tiny speck of rationality informed Jorge. But he couldn't ease off on Fideo. Not while muscles rippled over his straining flesh, while tension yanked back his shoulders and stiffened his thighs almost to breaking. Not when he was so, so close to-

dying. living. both and neither

--Fideo's last shout echoed through Jorge's melting bones, the sheer want in it alloying itself into his blood like silver into iron to sweeten the bell's tone. Amber and red streaked past Jorge's vision as he seized up, climaxed and felt the age within him roar into something ferocious and strong.

His muscles went abruptly limp near the end, and warm liquid metal splashed over his tongue as he fell to one side, pulling Fideo with him. A ragged bite in the other man's shoulder greeted his clearing sight; he unthinkingly touched a fingertip to it, then drew back only to have a tongue lap off the blood. "Fucking awesome," Fideo sighed contentedly, snuggling into Jorge's front. "Gonna hurt like hell tomorrow, though."

"Sor-should I bother apologizing?"

"Nah." A shaggy head tucked itself under Jorge's chin. //Good reminder. For when I see something shitty. You know?//

Jorge wriggled a hand out and rested it on Fideo's back. He stared at his nails: their uneven edges, their ragged cuticles and surrounding calluses. A lifetime of work there, of faithful service. They knew how to get things done. //I think so.//


Though he looked much less stressed than when he'd left, Lorenzo still hung back with a wary air, slightly bouncing on the balls of his feet. He gave El a narrow look. "You sure he's okay now? Because if not, just tell me when and where, and I'll meet you there."

Ignoring the muffled crashes and bumps coming from behind him, El waved his friend inside. A little impatiently, as this was the third time. "Yes, I'm sure."

"Then what's all that noise?" Lorenzo darted his head in, then swiftly stepped back.

El flicked his eyes heavenwards, then glanced between his feet when he remembered how unlikely salvation coming from that direction would be. "That is Sands. He's trying to do something with his fake arm."

//And that was way more than I needed to know.// Reluctance shading his every move, Lorenzo shuffled into the room and unslung his guitar from his back. //So where is Fideo?//

//Want anything to drink?// El asked instead of replying as he stalked back into the bathroom. Where one skinny American sat cross-legged on the tiles, surrounded by guns and bullet cartridges. In one corner stood El's open case, while in the other was the doctor's bag he'd been given by the boy in Culiacan. Sands had the arm in his lap and appeared to be trying to rearrange the fingers, though as soon as El leaned in, the other man stopped and craned his head around to present an innocently inquiring expression.

"May I be of service, oh mighty slinger of guns and notes?" Sands snorted at his own smarm. "Christ's shit, you sound like a disgruntled orchestra conductor."

"It's not going to work." El began picking up the pistols and ammunition and repacking them in his case. He prepared himself for another long, circuitous argument. "Besides, you don't need it."

"Well, duh." Which was an uncanny expression of a bubble-headed teenage tourist girl. And with an eerily similar sulk on his face, Sands should've resembled the kind of man that El was happy to kill. But instead, he looked oddly…vulnerable. Cute, if that word could be applied to a psychopath. "But I'm bored, and this gives me something to do. Since you won't let me play in the lobby's bar."

"Because we're the ones that would get stuck with getting rid of the bodies, and there's nowhere to put them," Lorenzo remarked caustically, wandering over. //And no, I don't want a drink. I want proof that Fideo's gotten his sanity back.//

El squashed a sigh as he clicked his case shut. //You might have to wait. He's in Ramirez's room.//

The other mariachi's brow wrinkled for a second before dawning comprehension wiped it smooth. And slathered shock all over Lorenzo's face. //You mean they actually-fuck, I knew Ramirez…but Fideo too…oh, fuck. I need a drink. And-hey. I'm not sharing a room with them, am I? Or with you-not that you aren't a great guy, El, but…yeah.//

//You were going to share with Fideo, but I think now you'll have the whole room to yourself. But I need the car back after tomorrow.// El slid his guitar case through the doorway so it halted at the foot of the bed, then twisted around to take the fake arm. Except Sands stubbornly refused to let go of it. Before things degenerated into a stupid tug-of-war, El tossed a set of keys at Lorenzo and jerked his chin toward the door. //Could you…//

//Oh, no problem, man. Good to know everyone's…sort of okay.// Lorenzo flipped out a bundle of bills and fluttered it while heading out. //Got some good gigs while you guys were messing around in the mountains. See you in the morning.//

As soon as the lock clicked home behind Lorenzo, El wrenched the arm from Sands' hands and stuffed it back into the bag. Then spun back to regard the other man.

"Fuckmook, I wasn't done with-"

Grabbed Sands under the arms and heaved him up against the wall so El could sink teeth into Sands' lip and tongue into Sands' throat. El leisurely worked his mouth over Sands' till the other man ceased struggling and started to vibrate whines into his teeth, then nibbled his way to a quivering pulse. Licked at the rapid tremble and swirled his tongue over it when Sands hissed. "You can mess with that later. Right now, I want to…" leaned in very close, putting lips to snowflake-delicate ear "…fuck."

At that, Sands jolted and jellified in El's arms, forcing the mariachi to grab at Sands' thighs in order to keep them in place. "What the hell kept you?"

"Things." Legs clasped themselves about El's waist, arms slung themselves over his neck, and he hauled them back to the bed. Peeled his jacket off Sands, then clawed off the other man's shirt as well. "I needed to be sure," he murmured into a writhing chest, dotting kisses all over it.

Sands bowed up into the caresses, raking nails over El's trenchcoat. Was probably damaging it-and the leather was getting in the way. El wrestled it and his shirt off, then bent back down to latch onto a small brown nipple. Salt and vanilla, but the kind of vanilla that sliced through spit and flesh to lash the nerves into prickling awareness. He dragged his mouth over to the other nipple, biting down to feel the shuddering, and then continued along a rib, tracing the curve as he flipped Sands' unresisting form over. Plump buttocks nudged against the rise in the front of El's pants, silently asking. He slipped fingers just inside Sands' waistband, lightly stroking.

And words draggled out of a mouth opened jaw-crackingly wide. "Damn it, El. Please. Please."

The mariachi laid a snarl down Sands' spine as he shoved their pants half-down, then hissed in irritation when he remembered boots and socks. He yanked those off and threw them over a shoulder. Shortly thereafter, trousers followed. El drew himself up Sands' back and burrowed past long tangled hair to nuzzle the offered nape. Pinned down the other man's hands when they paddled at the blankets, ripping part of the sheets, and grazed teeth over the thin skin. Heat flashed from hips to shoulders where their bodies met; Sands whimpered, quiet and sobbing. "You're not walking away from this," El told the drops of sweat beading at the ends of Sands' hair. "Never."


Like that was even a choice. Like he hadn't picked his path ages ago. "Can't. Won't," Sands rasped in reply. "And you are never fucking dying on me again. Or I'll scream…till your atomic brain…implodes."

El bit down each side of Sands' spine from hairline to where neck met shoulder, then licked along the two stinging rows. Licked blisters into the bones, cracking them open with furnace heat. When Sands twitched, mindlessly pulling at his trapped wrists, El tightened his grip and sank teeth down till hot blood trickled out. The mariachi sucked it all off while Sands' mind proceeded to fragment into nothing but disjointed desire. "All right."

Clacking at the very outskirts of Sands' hearing, and then a finger hooking itself into him. Scratching as he clamped down, and then-


--three fingers slipping out. Must have lost time somehow. Maybe El blew it up too, along with the rest of the world. Sands wouldn't put it past the man-

hard hard hot fucking hell heaven oh please El

--his vocal cords were still working, for some reason. Sands was…yowling? But Christ, mouth savaging his throat, cock reaming him out and hands bundling his wrists to his chest. He couldn't move himself, could only be moved, and shit, was he being moved. Molded. Wrecked from inside out, and then dropped into the die. Cast into fire, cast out onto the bed as moaning, struggling pile of sweat and bones and storm. Growl reverberating in his ears. El rammed in faster, farther, better. Best goddamned melt-down Sands had ever had, and knew he would ever have.

//Christ and the Virgin…// Bucking hips transmitting their urgency into Sands' desperately writhing body. One last, one fiercest plunge, and then all the hollows inverted to empty themselves out, caging the flames and fury inside.

The first thing he noticed when he came back to himself-when the oxygen started pumping back into his brain-was the rawness in his throat. Going so far down it met the new ache coming back up from the base of his backbone, then spreading out to weave into every particle of himself. "Holy…"

"Good?" El queried amusedly in a hoarse voice. Without waiting for a reply, he pulled out and sloped off to the side. Sands gritted his teeth against the shock, then flopped up against El. He could feel still-warm wetness dribbling out of him, and his limbs felt like he had rolled-up tortillas for bones, but the other man smelled of musk and gunmetal. Sex and death, which Sands had never been one to turn down.

"I have no problems with pulverizing your inflated ego," he muttered into the underside of El's chin.

"My ego. And what about yours?" Slightly-shaking fingers swept through Sands' hair, then drifted down to curl about the back of his neck. El rubbed calluses over the fresh bites, chuckling when Sands groaned. "You think you'll be able to shoot tomorrow?"

"Stop asking me such idiotic questions." Sands gave the mariachi one beat, then added, "Psychopath."

A tongue skimmed across Sands' cheekbone. "Around you, yes."


Jorge had eaten some odd breakfasts before, but this was by far the oddest. Sands and Fideo were both sitting like their chairs were made out of hot pokers, Lorenzo couldn't keep a straight face, and every five minutes, El had to whip out a gun in order to prevent internal bloodshed. And their collective arsenal could probably level the city. How did he get into this, anyway?

"So it's just another hacienda."

Wha-oh. Jorge put down his fork and turned to El. "Yes. They took over the local cartel outpost. But it's been a week since then, so they've probably wired the place. I don't think we can sneak in."

"Well, we're not really good at that, anyway," Lorenzo remarked, pointedly not looking at Jorge. "I found a nice truck when I was barhopping last night."

"Have fun slamming through the front gate, then." Sands returned the mariachi's finger with his own, then winced and wiggled around. "So we don't really know how many people there are, who's where, and what their equipment is like."

"Shouldn't you be able to tell?" Lorenzo snapped. "You all worked for the same people."

The last of the pibil disappeared into Sands' mouth, and he made ostentatious noises of gustatory approval before saying anything. "Cockbrain. I did the networking thing. These guys do the commando thing. Different departments."

"They wouldn't use anything he was familiar with, anyway," Jorge put in, hoping to avoid another round of posturing and pistol flashing. El nodded, wiping his mouth on a napkin, then got up from the table.

"We'll see when we get there. Which should be around siesta, so they won't be quite so watchful." El picked up his case from the floor-the gun one; the guitar one was already loaded into the car-and heaved a complaining Sands out of the chair.

Fideo and Lorenzo exchanged resigned looks, then did likewise. Whereupon Fideo promptly floundered into Jorge's hastily-outstretched arms.

//Just gets weirder and weirder//, Lorenzo said under his breath as he snatched up both his and Fideo's cases. He eyed the hand Jorge had around Fideo's waist, then flicked a cool gaze up to meet Jorge's eyes. //Hurt him and I'll send you to hell myself.//

//I won't//, Jorge answered in as firm a voice as he could manage, given that one of Fideo's legs was snaking between his own. On the other side of the table, Lorenzo stared intensely at them for another minute, then shook his head and headed for the door.

//Whatever, man. See you at the gunfight.//

"Wow…" Fideo stumbled along beside Jorge as they made their way to the car. "It's all so bright. I forgot it was like this."

Jorge propped Fideo up against the side while he opened the door, then manhandled them inside and started the ignition. As he got in behind El and Sands on the road, Fideo slumped across the front seat with his head bumping up against Jorge's leg. //Hey. You still going back to Culiacan after this?//

Was he. If this were any other place, under any other circumstances, that would be the Question of the Day. Here, it was merely another uncertainly blowing about in the aftermath. //I'll have to. For a few days at least, so I can get all my business there straightened out. But after that, I don't know. I do know that I can't live on the road like this all the time.//

Fideo's eyebrows rose, one a tad higher than the other. "Jesus. You're still confused? I told you, we don't do this every day. Hell, not even every week. Just when El could use a few more hands."

"Do you still want to drink?" Jorge held up a hand to forestall the inevitable protest. "I don't mean if you'd still like to. Do you still want to?"

One long, tense span of silence. On the seat, Fideo caught his lower lip in his teeth, then glanced at the floor. //Yes//, he finally admitted in a very quiet voice. //But not so much right here. By…you.// He blazed a resolute look up at Jorge. //I'm not a child. I can watch most of myself, most of the time.//

//I know.// Of course, where Jorge was going wasn't even very relevant right now. What was more important was if he was going there with someone. With Fideo. A list of pros and cons automatically began to scroll in Jorge's mind, but it felt wrong. Useless. This…great sprawling mess of change and creation, of degrees of contentment and suffering, couldn't be simplified like that. Couldn't even fit all of itself into the skull at the same time. //Maybe Veracruz after I get things wrapped up. I know some people there. You ever see the ocean?//

Fideo blinked in surprise, and then a serene smile, tinged with a hint of the feral, wound across his face. //Once, but I don't really remember it. I was…drunk off my ass.//


//Would be nice to see it sober.// Fingers crawled up the steering wheel to Jorge's hand and squeezed. After a moment, Jorge returned the favor.


"You know," Sands began as he fiddled with El's sleeve-of the jacket, which El had finally gotten back from the other man-"I could cite a bunch of fancy statistics that tell in multifarious ways how this is a shit plan, but I get the impression you couldn't care less."

"Do you believe in these statistics?" El countered, skating a palm over Sands' belly. The American wriggled into the caress and let out a breathy coo that sent little sparks down El's spine. El reflected on that, then slid out a pistol and repeated his previous motion. This time, Sands went boneless and flat-out moaned.

"Okay…no…but really-" Sands grabbed the gun on the upstroke "-all we're going to do is march in there and launch a frontal assault?"

"No. We're all going in different ways." El did a brief road-check, and when he looked back, Sands was sucking at his fingers. Occasionally slipping up to lick the gun itself. "You think just charging them is stupid. They do too, don't they?"

The tongue skidded off the pistol, which El wiped on his leg and put away. Sands sat up and draped himself over El's shoulder. Then flinched and slouched. "Point taken. Shock tactic, and all that." He prodded El's jaw. "Fine. That's not what's bugging me. What I really want to know is what you plan to do after the victory party."

"Victory party?"

Snort of aggravation. "Victory fuck-me-into-Sunday. Answer the question, or the next time Lorenzo starts in on me, I'll shove my fake arm up his planar ass."

Considering that El hadn't ever described his friends to Sands, the other man's taunts were eerily accurate. One more curiosity for El to explore. Curiosity. What had sent him after Sands in the first place. Some would probably have said that that was the starting point, but El knew better. It had truly begun in that restaurant, when they had sized each other up and Sands had-completely misunderstanding the implications of the action-offered El pork. A share of the best meat. A slice of prey. And a chance at matching himself against his real rivals for the lands of Mexico.

In the end, they hadn't been able to stand against him, and they had fallen, leaving the way clear for anything.

Shadows momentarily swept at the corners of his sight, darting across the rearview mirror. El glimpsed ferocious glowing eyes and moonbeam fur, and when he turned his head ever-so-slightly, that first face was joined by others, all with the same golden fire tied into their gazes. He looked back at the road winding itself out before him, and allowed a little shadow to curve his lips. "There'll still be cartel coming after us. I don't think we'll keep traveling together. It won't be safe."

Sands stiffened, his grip bruising El's arm. "Really."

"Anyway, Lorenzo needs more time on his own, and Fideo still has a few things to work out with Ramirez, I think." El casually blocked the half-hearted punch, then ducked his head into Sands' nape, brushing aside the concealing locks so he could nip at the dark reddish spots there. //Jackass. I told you. You aren't walking away from this.//

"Because you broke me." Sands' voice was smug and sly and satisfied as he dropped his head down to give El better access. Of which the mariachi promptly took advantage, glancing back at the highway every so often to make sure they were still in the right lane. "Always your fault, jingle-bells."

El supposed it was. But for once, he didn't feel regretful about it.


As Ramirez had said, it was a normal hacienda with a plastered earthen fence about it. There was only one gateway, so El waved for a halt and went for a cigarillo on the nearest corner, where the others joined him. Lorenzo lit up, then jerked up a guitar case for El's inspection.

"This is…" El trailed off, astonishment in his face as he gave Lorenzo a questioning stare. The other mariachi shrugged deprecatingly, then blew smoke past Sands, who was leaning hard into El's side. "You got another one?"

"Hey, it did work for Quino most of the time." Lorenzo glanced over at the hacienda, then at his friends. "So?"

"So remember to duck," Fideo drawled, clapping his friend on the shoulder. He flipped out his guns and made sure they were properly loaded, then slid one back into his sleeve and ambled back towards the cars. "Gotta get mine."

Ramirez looked after Fideo's departing form, a faintly worried expression on his face. "Do I want to know what's in there?" he asked Lorenzo.

"Fuck, no. Just go with the music, man."

El passed his cigarillo to Sands for the last puff, then ground the butt out and brushed his hair back into a low ponytail. Humming quietly, he flexed each hand. "You'll go first, then," he told Lorenzo. "Blow up the doors, run like hell and wait for us to follow."

The other man nodded, swinging his case down and half-spinning on one heel. //You owe me so many drinks//, he called back in a half-mocking tone as he walked toward his newly-acquired truck.

//I don't now. Dias de Los Muertos made it up to you//, El retorted, shaking his head in fake indignation. But seriousness wiped all the humor from his face when he regarded Ramirez, whose own expression had calmed and become unexpectedly tranquil. //Watch for him. Sometimes he's so busy seeing where he came from that he forgets about where he's going.//

//I know, I know//, Ramirez sighed, swiping a hand over his forehead. He produced his own gun-a huge semiautomatic that was truly his, having been taken off a corpse in one of their earlier fights. Lorenzo's pistol he had returned to its owner a few hours before, ignoring the knowing laugh when Lorenzo caught a glimpse of its replacement. //I'm familiar with the problem.//

"I'd say," Sands commented dryly, nuzzling into El's breastbone. Ramirez didn't even bother reacting; he simply went over to join Fideo. "You know, logically speaking, they shouldn't even be able to get through one meal together."

"Like us?" El unhurriedly made his way back to their car and slid behind the wheel, then pulled Sands over his lap and started up the engine. He angled the car so it pointed in the right direction and sat back to wait for Lorenzo to ready the rocket launcher. But his memory flickered on, reminding him, and El dug around in the glove compartment for a few seconds before handing Sands two things. "No reason for you to complain now."

"Oh, there's always a reason, my skullfucking Eighth Wonder of the World. Human stupidity is infinite." Despite his snark, Sands had a bit of wonder in his face as he unfolded the earpieces of the sunglasses and put them on, then ran his hands over the cane. "Huh. Quality. Okay, maybe there's a point to your existence after all."

El silently snorted as he glanced out the window, hearing all the meanings behind the insult. And just like in the desert, black shades ghosted over the ground, tracing smoky silhouettes against the sky and buildings. But this time, they stayed away from the five men. All except for a handful, which dared stretch out directly behind each man. Brush-tailed violence, pricking up ears and dropping toothy jaws as Lorenzo raised case to shoulder. As Fideo leaned out a window to cover for his friend. "Is there?"

Sands grinned. "Hey, El? What do you want in life?"


"And what is freedom, Bojangles?" Coal sunglasses gleamed coldly under the fiery sun, whose beams also winked off even icier steel. From up ahead, a small explosion sounded as the rocket arced through the air. Lorenzo dropped like a stone into the truck, which leaped forward as if chasing their opening shot.

El slapped the car into gear, feeling the blood surge through his veins. //Taking. And having. Freedom is my own happiness.//

Bullets suddenly rattled the air, and El slammed down on the accelerator so the car shot forward into the firefight. He looked one more time at the man keeping company by his side, then turned back to smile darkly at the gunfire. "Shall we play?"


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