Tangible Schizophrenia


Trio 3: Reina

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: NC-17. BDSM.
Pairing: Sands/El/Carolina
Feedback: Yes, please.
Disclaimer: Man, if they were mine…
Summary: Last act of the show.
Notes: Set around the 1870s in a parallel Mexico, where the automatic pistol's invention happened about thirty years earlier than in reality. No Desert Eagle, though, and this fic makes no pretense at being historically accurate. AU combo of Desperado and Mexico, with references to El Mariachi. //words// in Spanish. Numbered quotes from Machiavelli's The Prince, and as requested, ground squirrel cameo for permetaform


two coyotes fighting tearing bleeding

little brother

death beneath feetpaws bloodstained teeth why wasn't it him him him

scorpion in the desert scorpion etched in steel he's drowning in the dunes he's swimmingbreathing--

El's eyelids snapped open, and his entire body relaxed in one abrupt ripple. The world slowly faded in around him: cracking ceiling, dry air parching his face to mummified paper. A sun-browned hand, nails fastidiously neat, spread possessively over his chest, and a tangle of rich black curls flowed over one side of him. Running a hand up and down Carolina's arm, the mariachi sighed and let his head fall sideways, where he encountered another tousle of dark hair. The pale straight nose poking out of it sniffed, then shoved itself deeper into the crook of El's neck.

Cocks crowing.

"Good morning," El mumbled sarcastically, wriggling out of the twist of bodies so he could sit up. Murmuring sleepily, Carolina instantly snuggled into the warm spot he left behind, while Sands instinctively clamped fingers onto El's forearm, waking grumpily as the mariachi pulled them both up. "Why are you up?" he demanded half-heartedly, yawning. "Can't feel the sun yet."

"It won't rise for another quarter-hour," El told him. "But I need to make breakfast."

"I can cook," Carolina interjected, butting her head against El's hip, then curling so she could look up at him and Sands. "In an hour. No one's going to be awake before then, so why bother starting?"

"Yeah…" The American's face suddenly shifted into comprehension, and he tightened his grip on El. "And you are not going for another walk. 's too nice a bed, even if it's so goddamn small."

"You saw something?" Carolina asked, beginning to be a little concerned. She tugged at the mariachi's one elbow, and Sands hung on like a lead weight on the other. Giving up on fighting them, El allowed himself to be dragged back down. "Well?" she persisted.

"Yes." Feathering out his fingers, El brushed up against a thigh that curved nicely into his palm. Caressing it idly, he watched dust motes sparkle in the eerie half-dark of the false dawn. "Don't ask what. I could tell you, but it wouldn't make any sense. They never make any sense until it's too late."

"So…talk about something…that does make sense," Sands suggested, voice lolling contently. There was an odd undertone coming from his direction, and when the mariachi finally identified it, El had to grin a bit. So the American did purr. Sliding the other man up onto him, El experimentally drew a slow hand down Sands' spine, and in return, got a long rumbling sigh and an arch of the back. "Stop that," Sands protested weakly. "Can't think properly."

Also looking rather smug, Carolina leaned over El to graze the sharp edge of her nails along Sands' buttocks, getting a jerk and a whine in response. Writhing forward, Sands bit down hard on her shoulder, and she gasped, then attacked his ear with her tongue. El enjoyed the sight of them for some moments, but eventually, his sense of responsibility resurfaced, and he reluctantly separated them. "Barillo's hired me, Fideo and Lorenzo to play for the President in eight days," he began.

"Stupid whore Ajedrez even stole my idea," Sands grumbled, swiping his hair back. "Nicolas shows you in the back way, and two days later, you kill El Presidente after the celebratory midday meal. Right?"

"The reward is that we get to live," Carolina added, tone dubious. "I don't believe that. They're going to try to kill us afterward, aren't they?"

Quietly burrowing into El's side, Sands didn't speak for a minute. "Right after," he said finally in a soft voice. "I had a visitor last night, while you two were chewing the fat with Barillo. Ajedrez, pledging jewels and a visa if I shut up. I let her assume I agreed, so she'll probably send me details soon."

"You didn't shut up," El noted expressionlessly.

"Can't sleep when you're away, can't shoot you when you're here, can't help but keep tasting you," Sands muttered, tone resigned, but betraying a trace of contentment. "But you're going to be gallant and brave and go play at the palace anyway, aren't you."

"So it seems," El replied, craning down to lick the sweat off the other man's brow. "This Nicolas-who is he?"

"An aide to the President," Carolina answered, laying her head on the mariachi's ribs. Her fingers tapped on his arm in time to his heartbeat as she elaborated, "He's from this region, so whenever there's a big government occasion, he gets sent down to oversee preparations. Very chatty after a blowjob-" her voice sounded as if it were bruising itself "-but throws up a lot."

"After every betrayal," Sands agreed, nipping at El's collarbone. "Annoyed the hell out of me." He paused thoughtfully, turning something over in his mind. "When you meet him, try to talk to him. Make conversation-you know how to do that, right? Nicolas is very good with his superiors, but he can get careless around the help."

"I think I could manage that," El replied sardonically, closing his eyes. "Wake me when you're hungry."


With painful patience, Ramirez beat past the dizziness and the blurring vision to force himself back to consciousness. Dankness soaked into his prone body, and at first, he thought he must be bleeding to death. But then the stones of the underground cell came into focus, and he understood. He recognized this place-he would know this chamber till his soul was wiped clean in Judgment Day's opening blast.

This was where they'd found his partner's body, rat-chewed and burnt, but still bearing the clear marks of long, systematic torture by sly perversion of medicine. And Barillo had had the audacity to claim his friend had surprised burglars sneaking in through the small high windows. Ramirez had known better, but he had done nothing. Too worn out by the mess of Bucho and El, too jaded to do more than count out money for a stone tombstone to replace the cheap wooden one the government had set up.

The mariachi. Alternately swearing and pleading under his breath, Ramirez blinked the burn of shame from his eyes. Nothing to be done; what he had revealed, he had revealed. But still…even if he had hated owing his life to a vigilante like El, the man deserved better than dying at Barillo's hands. Stifling his groans, Ramirez warily tested his bonds.

Something clattered nearby, and he froze. Voices. They stopped a few feet away, on the other side of the barrel rack to which Ramirez was tied, and peering past the wood, he could just catch sight of two pairs of shiny shoes.

//Well, isn't this fun. Everyone's off to the welcome dinner except us, stuck guarding the doctor.//

//He never moves. This is boring.// Glass clinking, and the hiss of foam. //Thank the Lord for beer.//

//You know, we could torture him. That might be fun.//

//I was tortured once. They cut out my left nut. It kind of put me off the whole thing.//

//Oh. All right. So then what?//

//He's not going anywhere. Let's go find food to go with the beer and eat on it.//

//That sounds good.//

Incredulous, Ramirez listened to the indisputably retreating footsteps. As soon as he heard the cellar door click shut, he threw all his energy into freeing himself, which didn't take long. He'd been in pain for too long to really register much more, and the ropes were slicked with more than enough blood. Unwrapping the last of them from his wrists, Ramirez gave himself a cursory examination.

Awful. It was a miracle he hadn't yet gotten a fever-Sands and Carolina. Well, the best of luck to them, Ramirez snorted. If he found Barillo first, then he certainly wasn't waiting to share. Now, for getting out…

"All right," he mumbled to himself, studying the barred windows. "Guards are gone. Assume a half-hour. Bars are iron-" he flicked one "-hollow rods. Cheap. No wood frame, only flaking adobe. Damp adobe; the wine must be leaking somewhere. No sound on the street, so-" picking up a length of wood, he jammed one end between the bars and then pushed down hard on the other. As he expected, the first rod levered easily out of the crumbling wall. Fumbling, Ramirez caught it just before it would have rattled on the floor. Breathing already coming short, he regarded the remaining four bars. "Purpose of Dias de Los Muertos-to remember the friendly dead."

Ignoring his weakening body, Ramirez heaved up the piece of wood and shoved it behind the next rod. "Barillo should make a good present," he growled, and threw himself against the makeshift lever.


The man stared at them as if he'd just bitten into something very foul, but was forced by courtesy to keep eating. "Ah…El?"

Coming to a halt, two of the mariachis jerked their chins at the one in the middle, who nodded and raised a gauntleted hand. "Yes. You are the guide?"

"I am," the other man said, quickly composing himself. "My name is Nicolas." Still talking, he turned and unlocked the gate behind him. "This is where you'll come in. It'll be left unlocked ten minutes before you arrive at three o'clock."

"How long will it be open?" El asked casually as he and his friends followed the other man in. Nicolas threw the mariachi an odd look, but apparently could find no reason not to answer. "Until you finish, I suppose," he replied. "Which shouldn't be very long."

"Well…" El tilted his head, taking in the opulence around him. Behind, Fideo surreptitiously kicked Lorenzo, and the younger mariachi indignantly snapped shut his gaping mouth. "Nothing is for certain until after it happens. But most likely, yes, that is true. Where will the guards be?"

"The soldiers will still be here, but they will have orders to let you through," the other man replied tersely. "Have you any more questions?"

"Just one," El remarked, adjusting the brace on his hand. "How will we know when the bargain is fulfilled?"

"Barillo will meet with you one last time when you are leaving. In the basement, I believe." At that, El slanted a bland look at their guide, and then glanced over a wall mural.

Leading them through the confusing maze of hallways, Nicolas kept turning back to study them, as if he were seeing a particularly exotic animal in a zoo. "How long will it take you, anyway?"

"I don't know," El said vaguely. "As long as I need, I suppose."

"I would hope that your attitude on that day is less lukewarm than now," Nicolas answered, ruffling slightly. "'By standing aloof you will gain neither favour nor fame, but remain the prize of the victor.'1"

"'All armed prophets have been victorious, and all unarmed prophets have been destroyed'2. I think I understand." Pretending not to notice Nicolas' surprise, El walked on towards the huge staircase looming up ahead. When he reached its foot, however, two gaudily-dressed soldiers standing guard there blocked his way with rifles. Brow wrinkling slightly, the band of mariachis came to a halt, while Nicolas hastily bustled up and demanded, //What is going on? These are the musicians who will be playing for the President, and you're making them late.//

//My apologies, sir//, said one guard, //But we have orders from General Marquez to check all suspicious packages. We'll need them--// he gestured at the mariachis //--to open their cases, and then they can pass.//

//Fair enough//, El consented, cutting off Nicolas' sputtered arguments. Stepping calmly forward, he swung up his guitar case to eye level and put a hand on the clasps.

Click. Click.

Unhurriedly, El eased up the lid. Everyone leaned in, holding their breath. Nicolas covertly clutched at his stomach.

//It's a guitar//, the soldier commented, inexplicably stunned and disappointed.

//We're mariachis//, Lorenzo retorted, flipping open his own case, as did Fideo. //What did you think we had in these? Bombs?//

//Smartass//, the second soldier muttered, but he nevertheless stood down and waved them through. //Get going.//


"Sands?" Peering around the door frame, Carolina called again, "Sands?"

"Here. What?" Biting back an acidic remark, she came all the way into the room to find the American propped up on the windowsill, cleaning a gun. More pistols and rifles were neatly stacked in two groups at his feet, while across his lap lay his cane, its metal-plated head glistening wickedly in the sunlight. Leaning against the wall beside him, Carolina absentmindedly flipped through the pages of the book she held. And then it came back to her. "I was talking to the priest," she said, tone stuck somewhere between laughing and puzzled. "And I found out why he let us in."

Finishing the gun he had, Sands bent down and exchanged it for one coated in black-rusty crusts. "I'm beginning to wonder if you have power issues," he mused, only a touch sarcastic. "You have this little tendency to want to make men knuckle under and beg."

"Well, you have this little tendency to want to beg and be hurt," Carolina retorted, turning to the coverleaf of the book. A pirate story? Odd thing to find in an ecclesiastical library. "At least with El. How many times has he choked you now?"

"Shut up," Sands replied succinctly. "Or tell the story."

Sneering at him, Carolina thought about leaving. Except that'd leave her with the cranky priest, and a church full of no El. Massaging a temple, she crossed over and scooted onto the wide sill, on the opposite side of the American. Settling the novel in her lap, she began skimming the pages. "The holy father's actually from north of here. He was moving down to Culiacan with a wagonload of precious books when some drunken pistoleros stopped him on the road and asked for toll. He didn't have enough, they decided to burn the books, and then El showed up, looking for a way to get to Bucho."

"We're here because El saved a librarian?" Sands interrupted, bemused.

"No, we're here because after they got away from the bodies, the priest asked El what he could do for him, and El asked the priest to take care of some books for him. A couple hundred, actually," she answered offhandedly, starting to become engrossed in her reading.

There was a muffled clank, and Carolina looked up into Sands' staggered face. "He what?"

"Yes, he did," she shrugged. "The priest said that was more like a reward than a favor, and then El said fine, take the books, and someday when I come back for them, let me in."

"You know, I think I'm just going to stop asking," Sands muttered, grudgingly recommencing his work. "The man is fucking impossible."

"He's going to lose some fucking important parts if he tries to keep me coming with him in two days," Carolina added, shifting her attention back to the pages in her lap. On the pistol, Sands' fingers slowed, and then picked up their pace. "Likewise, but we can't all go in together," he said unhappily. "Marquez will be outside, with his army, and Barillo will have men all over."

"What are you saying?" she asked, eyes narrowing as they glanced up once more.

"I'm saying, finish the book and sharpen your daggers." Pointing the gun out the window, Sands checked its action. "And when El comes back, we need to talk. Not play pet-the-kitten."

"You're more like a froth-mouthed alley cat, anyway," Carolina smirked, turning to the next page. "I don't think the kitchen or the garden will work; the holy father twitches every time he passes by them. Maybe the tack room."


Strumming softly, El paced a slow circle around the great dining hall, taking in all the details. He kept a wide berth of Barillo and Marquez's corner, though he did take a moment to study the face of Barillo's haughty daughter. Instead, El watched his friends: Lorenzo, typically, was lagging behind near the noblewomen, though hopefully Fideo would keep any trouble from brewing there. Giving a mental shrug, El gradually made his way toward the President as he played, keeping eyes and ears open.

//Nicolas!// that notable called out as he spotted the mariachi's guide. Making a quick bow, Nicolas swiftly came up to the President and asked deferentially, //Sir?//

//I merely wished to compliment you on your wonderful accomplishments here//, the President replied warmly. //The musical entertainment especially is excellent. Where is the band from?//

//Here in fact, sir//, Nicolas informed his superior in a low tone. Beaming, the President waved El up. Still turned toward his aide, he said thoughtfully, //Ah. I should have known. You see, Nicolas, this native ability, this Mexican quality, is what we must preserve above all else. Yes, import from America, from Europe-if it will improve the nation. But we must never, ever forget that our power comes from the people, and that we owe a great duty to them.//

//You are quite correct, sir//, the other man concurred quietly. El didn't have to be a politician to detect the insincerity oozing out from behind Nicolas' obsequiousness. The President, on the other hand…his face had shone like a child's, enthusiastic and willing to leap off cliffs in chase of rainbows, when he had spoken. Pondering that, El climbed the steps to the low platform and made an elegant bow. //Mr. President?// he queried.

//My compliments. You have a fine talent//, the President answered. Murmuring some thanks, El began to back off, but then paused and half-turned, asking, //Is there a favorite song you wish us to play, sir?//

//Traeme Paz//, the other man said pensively. //Do you know it?//

//Yes.// Lowering his head, El segued seamlessly into the requested song as he made his way off the platform. Across the room, Fideo and Lorenzo glanced over, and then followed his lead. Singing as he went, El resumed his walking of the room, looking back every so often to the grandfatherly man sitting at its head. Beneath the leather brace, his scar started to itch.


"Father-" Seeing General Marquez's uniform, Lucrezia drew up short and made a quick curtsey, terribly aware of her disheveled state. "My apologies, gentlemen, but some urgent news has just come from our home, and I must request a private audience with my father."

"Well, I for one am not a man to keep a man and his daughter separated," the President said cheerfully, bowing and retreating. With him went the small mob of smiling attendants and local nobles, Marquez last of all. "I hope to see your lovely presence gracing this gala," the general murmured, eyes lingering on Ajedrez's bosom as he took his leave.

"I despise that man," she told her father as soon as the others were out of earshot. Offering an arm, Barillo sighed. "I have no like for him either, my dear, but apes in lace and gold braid are occasionally necessary. Now, what's the matter?"

"Ramirez is gone," Lucrezia immediately stated. "I've already seen to the men who were at fault, but we can't find him. And it's only two days-"

"Two days during which the President will remain cloistered in this compound, mediating with local affairs," Barillo interjected calmly, leading her into the gardens. "Do not lose your poise, Lucrezia. The good doctor is in no shape for heroic escapades, and we need only keep him away from here. After Dias de Los Muertos, we may hunt him down at our leisure."

Darting a confused glance at him, Ajedrez drew in a long breath, collecting her thoughts. "You are right, father. As always. At the moment, El is of more concern."

"Oh, I don't believe there will much trouble from that quarter," Barillo dismissed. Bending down to a bush of fragrant yellow blooms, he pinched one flaring flower between two fingers and brought it to his nose, inhaling deeply. "Not now that we've met. I looked at him, and saw power. But then I looked into his eyes, and I saw nothing. And the man who has nothing is not the man who survives to see the sunset."

They turned down another path, and soon the sound of Ajedrez laughing gaily floated back to the bush, where a wilting blossom dangled from a broken stem.


//So.// Brushing the dust off of himself, Lorenzo kicked up a boot and, setting his case carefully to one side, began to fleck at the mud crusting one heel. //We play for the President, and all we get is fifty pesos and a thank-you? The whores in the street make more than that in one night.//

//It's the honor//, Fideo remarked, swerving into the church grounds. Behind him, El pulled the creaking gates shut.

//Sure, it is. But I need to eat, and honor tastes like chickenshit//, the youngest of the three snapped. //To hell with it. What's the plan, El?//

//We go in like we did today.// Putting his guitar on a nearby ledge, El undid the lacing on his gauntlet, then slipped it off and examined the faint pink marks where the still-new leather had dug into his skin. //Only we shoot the guards. If Nicolas didn't know about them, then they're all Marquez's men. We go into the dining hall, where the President should be alone. Then you two get him out of town, and I stay.//

//We're saving the President?// Lorenzo asked disbelievingly. //And I'm guessing we're doing this for honor and no pay, too.//

//For the honor of Mexico//, Fideo nodded, coming over to El's side. He picked up his friend's case, and then flicked his gaze down to the scarred hand and gauntlet. //Keep wearing it, and it'll fit eventually. Change takes time.//

Walking away, he banged a case against Lorenzo's ass, provoking a yelp and a jolt from the other mariachi. //What the hell--//

//El's got to go to the stables//, Fideo interrupted. //Come on. I smell food in the kitchen.//

//That has to be the first practical thing you've said in months//, Lorenzo grinned, snatching up his case and trailing after his friend. He tossed a small flat tin of something at the bemused man standing behind them. //Be seeing you, El//, he called back.

Blinking rapidly as he watched the other mariachis leave, El stuck the tin into a pocket and retied the brace on his hand, then paused, studying it. Change…

Shoving away the unfamiliar feeling of nervousness, he turned his steps toward the stables, and when he turned the last corner a few minutes later, he was oddly unsurprised to see his two bedmates waiting for him. Sands' head jerked up at El's approach, and with his canetip, the American nudged Carolina. She looked up from the book she was holding with a snarl, which quickly melted away when she saw El. "Oh, good. You're not bleeding," she greeted him.

"You look great as well," El replied, only a little sarcastically. He wrapped an arm around her waist and kissed her hello, then stepped back and looked at the pair of them. "You were waiting for me?"

"Don't flatter yourself," Sands rejoined, turning into the tack room. "Before the party starts, we've got a few things we have to say."

"Rules," Carolina corrected, escorting El in. She kicked the door shut behind them, then beveled to put herself by Sands against the wall, facing the mariachi. "One-we're coming. Maybe not with you, but we aren't going to sit here."

Raising a hand, Sands cut off El's half-uttered response. "Two-we're killing. After all, it's us that Barillo and Marquez fucked up. Three, my payment's in this wagon. Basement of the palace, east gate. So someone better get it."


"Four," Carolina forestalled, shaking her book at the mariachi, "You're going to at least not get killed on purpose." She lifted a belligerent chin. "Do you understand?"

"I'm not going to kill the President," El said mildly, choking down his laugh. "And fine. You can clear out the palace guards while I'm making sure Fideo, Lorenzo and the President get away."

"Damn it, El-" Sands stopped, then mentally backtracked the conversation. "You're agreeing?"

Covering the space separating them, the mariachi lifted and dropped one shoulder. "Yes. It makes sense." He glanced up and slightly right of Sands' head-so no one had removed the broken reins yet. Putting an arm to either side of the other man, El leaned in and blew the hair away from Sands' ear, triggering a shiver, and whispered lowly, "Is there anything else?"

"No," Carolina answered for the other man, tone a bit strained. There were two soft clatters as a walking stick and a book fell to the floor. Half-lidding his eyes, El pushed in closer, tracing the pale delicate shell of cartilage with the tip of his nose. He felt a pair of hands come to tentative rest at the small of his back, and a warm soft body press into his side, breasts rubbing their nipples to hardness over the corrugation of his ribs. "Didn't we say we weren't going to do this?" a breathless voice asked from beneath him.

"I take that back," Carolina sighed, dropping kisses along El's shirt collar. She undid his hand brace and tossed it aside, then started unlacing her dress. "It was a stupid thing to say."

Whuffing in amusement, the mariachi stealthily took down the leather straps from their hook on the wall, distracting Sands by taking an earlobe between his teeth.

The three of them slowly made it down to the ground, licking and nipping as they went. Sands and Carolina were both rather busy stripping when they noticed the reins. Freezing almost comically, the American had a resigned look as he lifted up his leather-entangled hand, and Carolina was snickering as she yanked the last part of El's shirt off of him. "You know, I'm fairly sure that there's a commandment against this somewhere in the Bible," Sands muttered.

"I didn't know you were religious," El replied mockingly, snaking up between the other man's sprawled legs to nuzzle at the straining trousers. Falling backward, Sands yelped as his back hit the hard wall, then subsided with a moan. "Everyone knows the commandments," he panted.

"Thou shalt worship no god before me. Thou shalt not set up idols of other things," Carolina added, digging up a saddle blanket from somewhere. Spreading it out on the ground, she tugged both men onto it. "Think I've broken that one-oh, God!"

Swallowing her next words, El pulled her naked body up flush against his front as he wrapped one rein about her wrists, leaving the ends trailing down. His hands moved from hers to her breasts, caressing hard and soft as he swiped his tongue around her mouth. Wriggling out of his pants, Sands crawled up next to them, the second rein still dangling from his wrist. "That takes care of number three," he mumbled, taking in a mouthful of the first limb he encountered, which happened to be Carolina's arm. Talking over her resultant groaning, he continued as he nibbled, "Thou shalt observe the Sabbath."

Moving into the hands exploring his chest, El leaned over Carolina to grab at the strap that was twisted around Sands' wrist. Letting her slip down his stomach, he wrapped the ends of the rein around one hand and used it to jerk the American over. "Also broken," El noted, dipping down to taste the back of Sands' neck as he crossed the other man's wrists over the base of Sands' spine and bound them there.

"Thou shalt honor your father and your mother," Carolina snorted, working the mariachi's pants off. Catching a white flash at the corner of her vision, she halted temporarily and ducked Sands' flailing feet as he and El went over sideways. "Does anyone actually do that all of the time?"

"Only the boring," Sands gasped, arching up over his tied hands. Carolina sat back for a moment, enjoying the sight of El with lips applying themselves to Sands' bared throat, and hands applying themselves down the waistband of the American's trousers. Which reminded her-with redoubled energy, she finally maneuvered the last piece of El's clothing off of his twisting body.

"Thou shalt not murder," El said ironically, rising from the splayed-out man beneath him. In a few quick movements, he had Sands' pants off and Carolina rolled onto her back, biting back screams from the sensation of a tongue licking between her thighs. "That one's completely shattered," he told the folds surrounding her vagina. Reaching out an arm, he snagged Sands by one leg and dragged the other man over. Flipping Sands on top of Carolina, El then guided the American's cock into her. "Thou shalt not commit adultery."

"To hell with that one," Sands snapped raggedly, dotting open-mouthed kisses all over Carolina's face. Awkwardly, since his balance was impaired by his bound wrists, he lifted up his ass, shifting inside her, and as El fumbled in the cast-off pile of clothing, his two companions both whimpered, rocking inelegantly together. "Thou shalt-thou shalt not steal," the American moaned throatily.

At last finding the tin Lorenzo had given him, El clicked its lid up with a fingernail and sighed at the contents. Salve. His friends were never, ever going to shut up about this. Well, necessity…digging fingers into the greasy substance, he scooped out a generous amount and then carefully tucked the tin back into the pocket.

"Yeah, right," Carolina gasped as the mariachi came back over. El shoved in briefly between their heads to taste both her and Sands' mouths, then shifted back behind the other man and wrapped an arm about the American's waist, bringing the slow fucking to a complete stop. Sands whined in protest, jostling backward to rub his tight, eager ass against El's erection. "Thou shalt not lie," the mariachi said, thrusting in two fingers and scissoring them. At the keening that produced, he craned down and mapped out Sands' shoulderblades with teethmarks. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's possessions."

"And what-what if…the neighbor's possessions…like thou better?" Carolina moaned loudly, moving her pinned hips as much as she could. She yanked her hands out from under the American and looped them around his neck, biting at his lips. Caught with her warmth encircling him below, and El stroking inside him from above, Sands whipped desperately from side to side, breath coming in little beseeching bursts. "Then we slaughter the bastard and get ourselves fucked," he growled.

Rasping a chuckle, El replaced fingers with cock and, taking firm hold of the other man's hips, set a punishing rhythm as he drove into Sands, who in turn dropped his head into Carolina's neck and thrust into her. "Never knew…hell was so…pleasant," the mariachi grunted.

Under him, Sands' bound hands uncurled and scratched lines into El's belly. "Forget that. Fuck. Us. Dammit."

Rolling his eyes, El obliged and snapped his hips faster, refusing to let up the pace even when his head began to swim and his vision shivered. With every breath he heaved, he tasted sawdust and leather and sweetness, and combined with the feel of wet silk skin imprinting itself on his palms, El found his grip on reality inexorably loosening. "Mother of God…"

Somewhere below on the earth, Sands spasmed and let loose a groaning rattle of a scream, and then Carolina stiffened, crying out. The sounds of them rang in El's ears, stringing on and on till his own voice suddenly joined them, and in one second, every single bone he had melted.

Pulling out of each other, but remaining piled together, the three of them laid in blissful silence for as long as humanly possible. Still dazed, El eventually remembered to untie the other two, and Sands immediately purred into the mariachi's stomach, while Carolina curled over both men.

Unfortunately, however, the world intruded once again: horses whinnying, insects buzzing. And-"Hell, more of them?"

Muttering something nasty, Sands slapped around for his cane, found it, and then took an unsteady whack at the inquisitive rodent that had squeezed under the bottom of the door. "Goddamn annoying squirrels," he went on, taking another swing.

"I think they're cute," Carolina objected, stopping him.

"You would." But Sands nevertheless dropped the cane. "Hey, El?"


"I'd really…don't die. Don't die," Sands said quietly, somberly. "I don't-I don't want you to. All right?"

El's eyebrows twitched together, as if he'd been stung. "I'll try," he replied.


Staring up at the gate, the five halted for a moment, regarding it. //And this is where the pithy comment comes in//, Lorenzo remarked, running a hand through his hair.

"Bet I kill more than you," Sands retorted, reslinging his rifle. Carolina leaned into El and tilted her head up, brushing a last kiss at the corner of his mouth, and then moved back, taking Sands by the arm. The pair of them pushed the gates open, Sands wincing at the squealing metal. "See you later," she said, eyes burning into El's as they moved into the palace.

And they were down to three. Looking over at his friend, Fideo gestured. //So?//

A grim smile touching his lips, El nodded towards the inside. "Let's play."


Nearby, on the main road snaking through the heart of Culiacan, a brilliant pageant of a parade was well underway. Skeletons danced under vivid banners of red and yellow and green, while children laughed and women blew kisses. Confetti and flowers made a constant soft rain, falling to carpet the plain brown dirt in a beautifully chaotic quilt. Horses caracoled and pawed the air, to the delight of all. And then there were even more horses, and more men, and at first, this only increased the people's pleasure.

But the men riding these new steeds were dour-faced and dull-clothed, only their guns shining as they aimed and fired.

And suddenly, horrifically, the city was filled with smoke and screams.


//Yes, Nicolas, but-what was that?// Abandoning the picked-over buffet table, the President raced over to a window. Peering out, his mouth fell open and his eyes widened incredulously. //There's an army! Killing-Nicolas, we have to stop this.//

//It's a coup d'état, sir.// Soft-stepping away, the aide kept his voice calm and soothing.

//I can see that//, the President snapped angrily, turning. //Marquez! He always had too much of an appetite--// seeing Nicolas backing off, he frowned, and suspicion reluctantly crept into his eyes //--Nicolas?//

//It's a coup, sir. I'm sorry.// And from behind the aide emerged three very familiar mariachis, all holding smoking guns. Making one last bow, Nicolas ducked his head and quickly exited. The President stared after his departing aide, but when El came forward, his attention darted back. Drawing himself up proudly, he demanded, //Well, so you are the ones who are going to kill me?//

A lopsided, ironic grin passing over his face, El shook his head and put his case down, then took off his jacket. //No. We're here to help. But I need your coat.//

//My coat? But who are you?// The President frowned, and El walked quickly up to him, holding out the discarded jacket. //Sons of Mexico//, he replied. //Take yours off, now. We don't have much time.//

Seeing as the mariachi still had a huge gun in one hand, the President decided that cooperation was the safest course, and began tugging at his sleeves. He and El made the exchange, and then El passed him over to Fideo and Lorenzo. Before they could leave, however, El caught Lorenzo by the shoulder. //There's a wagon in the basement by the gate//, he whispered. //Use that to get him out.//

//Uh…all right.// The other mariachi slapped El once on the shoulder. //Good luck.//

El watched till their footsteps faded out of hearing, and then laid his guitar case on a nearby table and flipped up the lid. Taking out parts of a rifle, he swiftly assembled and loaded it, then walked over to the closest window and aimed at the nearest soldier. Pulled the trigger, and saw the first body fall. Reloading, he sighted his next target.


//Something's wrong!//

//Hey-there are dead guar-gurk!//

Running in, the front line of the soldiers fell almost instantly to Sands' bullets, and the few who'd come in late met Carolina's daggers. Warily dashing out to retrieve her blades, and to pick up a few guns, she called back, //Keep going! We're almost to the dining hall-I'll catch up.//

//Right//, Sands replied, switching to a fresh pair of guns, one of which he slipped up his sleeve. Extending his cane, he cautiously continued on. Clanking came from his right and front, and he spun, firing. His gun clicked empty just before the last body should've hit the ground, and snarling, Sands threw it at the last man, then dropped down and swung left, kicking as he did. Feeling his foot slam into yielding flesh, he followed up with a crushing blow with his cane. Bone crunched, and wiping the cane head off, Sands slapped a palm onto the wall, using it to guide him deeper into the palace.

He'd never noticed when he was sighted, but guns had distinctive sounds. The peppering explosions, muffled as they filtered through walls of adobe and stone, were much more chaotic than the louder, more controlled firing that was going on somewhere left of him. Those noises were retreating outside-the President and his mariachi escorts, most likely. Sands hadn't yet been around El during a fight, but he knew instinctively that he hadn't yet heard those guns.

So he kept going. Shot and reloaded, punched and stabbed and kicked. Lost count after he hit twenty, which was understandable, considering pistoleros fifteen through nineteen came in one mob of yelling. Considering how long Barillo had been planning this, the soldiers he used were remarkably easy to kill. Not bothering to ponder it, Sands simply tapped his way into another corridor.

And it was there that he finally encountered a thinking fighter, who'd taken refuge in a corner and waited for the enemy to come, instead of charging out. Sands heard the quiet click and instantly threw himself down, so that the bullet meant for his head ripped across his arm instead. His gun slipped out of his fingers as pain lanced up his shoulder. Hitting the floor with a violent swear, he scrabbled for cover, and a second bullet slammed through his thigh. "Shit!"

Temporarily dropping his stick, Sands yanked out his last pistol from his holster straps and fired, furious. A high scream and a low thud rewarded his efforts. "Fucking Christ," he muttered, trying to fight back the red flashes of pain careening across the blackness of his mind. His shaking fingers once again dropped his gun.

"Not bad," said a female voice.

two bullets two angles goddamned shitfucking hell

"Ajedrez." Sands spat out the name like it'd been coated in vitriol, slumping atop his cane. Jaunty clicks came over to him, and his already agonized body was abruptly wrenched up to be banged against the wall.

"Sheldon," she murmured pleasantly. "We were in the basement, waiting by the wagon, and then we heard gunshots coming from the wrong place. My father's currently on his way to killing your mariachi, and Marquez will be here soon to feed on the corpses."

"Really," he answered, voice dripping sarcasm. A familiar set of lips pressed against his, and drawing back, Ajedrez prodded his side with a gun. "See anything you like?" she asked tauntingly.

And then her body jolted, her head fell forward, and Sands could feel her eyelashes fluttering startled against his neck. Pushing the cane head a little more firmly into the back of her pulped skull, he sighed tiredly, then let her fall. "No."


//Watch out!// Tossing the President aside, Lorenzo flinched away from the splintering wood and the firing. Seemingly oblivious, Fideo knelt and set his case on his knees, exposing a metal handle that folded into a recess on the lid. Pulling it out and twisting parts till they locked, he then lifted the case to his shoulder and began cranking. Bullets spewed out from the narrow end of the guitar case, and in the hallway beyond, men died.

Head pricking up, Lorenzo whirled about and shot up behind them. Before the President's astonished gaze, more men toppled from the balconies. //You really are saving me//, he exclaimed. //Gentlemen, I will never forget this.//

//Whatever you say//, Lorenzo replied, preoccupied. He pulled the President down into the basement room, where, as El had said, a horse-and-wagon stood waiting. Pushing the other man in, he waited for Fideo to quickly calm the skittish beast, and then whipped up the reins. The wagon shot forward into the chaos outside, while Fideo swiftly climbed in behind.

//Mother of God!// the President cried, angered and appalled. //Marquez is slaughtering the people.//

//Not for long//, Lorenzo snapped, throwing the reins over to Fideo. Yanking his case up, he aimed it at the soldiers racing towards them, and then flicked one of the clasps so it slid back an inch. Flame spewed out and forward, causing instant havoc. Seeing the soldiers fall, some of the commoners took heart and began rushing back out into the street, leaping onto the mounted gunmen. Others threw rocks, pots, food-anything they had at hand. And before the three men's eyes, the tide began to turn.

//You see?// Fideo asked the President. //The people are fighting for you.//

//Better keep him alive, then//, Lorenzo muttered, urging the horse into a canter.


Staring shocked about him, Marquez stood in place until one of his underlings pulled him by the elbow. //General-//

//Keep fighting!// he roared, grabbing the saddle of a nearby horse and swinging up. //I'm for the palace! You, you and you--// picking out the strongest soldiers around him //--with me. Now!//

Clapping spurs into the horse's sides, he galloped off, a ferocious scowl fixed to his face.


Carolina really couldn't believe it. After all the parties she had attended here, she, of all people, was lost. Swallowing her aggravation, she hiked up her skirt-


--shot the guard in the face, and made for the nearest commotion. Emerging in a tiny chamber she still didn't recognize, she surprised a man leaning over a sink. He straightened, and Carolina made an incredulous noise.

Wiping the last of the vomit from his mouth, Nicolas adopted a placating expression. "Carolina-"

"Go to hell," she interrupted sharply, whipping a blade into his throat. "You always tipped badly," she added, stepping over his body to the door. Oddly enough, that led her back outside, just in time to see a familiar figure riding towards her. Cursing, she searched herself desperately, but couldn't find any guns that still had bullets. And she was out of knives.



Raising his weighty head from its resting place on the ground, Sands at first thought he was hallucinating. But the little fingers poking him didn't go away.


"Who the hell are you?" he grated. His leg was now caked with blood.

//My mother works in the kitchens here. I like chewing sweetgum, so everyone calls me Chicle. Are you okay? Would you like some gum?//

"Why? Why would I want gum?" Sands bit back, slowly levering himself up. A thin arm slid beneath him, and the kid started to help. "Hey-you know how to get to the dining hall?"

//Yeah. I play there all the time.// Tug. //I'll show you. And you should really have some gum; Mama eats it whenever she's having a baby.//

"Later. Dining hall first," the American replied, staggering forward. Something-he strained past the pain dinning his eardrums. Footsteps. A gasp.

//Hey, there's somebody.// Before Sands could slap a hand over Chicle's mouth, the little twit shouted. //Hey, you! Can you help me show him to the dining hall? He's too heavy for me.//

"Of course," Barillo's voice replied, sounding tight with anger. Chicle burbled a //Great! I'm supposed to be at home, anyway//, and then he dropped Sands. Little feet pattered into the distance as grown ones approached the gasping American, who was trying frantically to crawl away. An iron grip latched onto Sands' throat, heaving him up, and another fierce hold twisted the cane from his hand. "As much I want to rip your heart out right now," the other man hissed into Sands' ear, "You still have some use."


//Well, this is where we get off//, Lorenzo declared, handing the reins to the President. Taking up their cases, he and Fideo jumped out of the wagon. //The next town's a straight ten miles on this road; you should find someone there to help you.//

//Wait!// Turning back, the mariachis found the President holding out a large chest. //Isn't this yours?//

//Uh…// Lorenzo glanced at Fideo, who nodded. //Yeah. Why not.// The mariachi took the chest, and then he and his friend gave limp waves as the wagon moved off. //So, now where?//

//Back to the church//, Fideo said. //There, we wait.//


Spinning on one heel, El swiftly tucked two guns back into his sleeves, snatched up two more, and then fixed his eyes on the doors. A few minutes after, the shuffling became men-and El's jaw clenched almost imperceptibly.

"You know, I never did remember to ask why you'd want to keep this." Keeping Sands' arms locked behind his back, Barillo tilted Sands' head up with a pistol beneath the chin.

"Myself, I can understand her," Marquez said, dragging Carolina in next to Barillo. He stroked the barrel of his gun down between her breasts, wrenching her arms cruelly when she flinched. "Carolina is quite a piece of work."

Keeping his mouth shut, El glanced from hostage to hostage, fists tightening around the guns he held pointed at the general and the crimelord. Something brown and black flickered on the very outskirts of his vision, but the mariachi didn't look away.

"I do respect you," Barillo confessed. "I think it's admirable how efficiently you operate, El. If personal factors weren't involved, I might even have considered simply letting you walk away. After all, you were only responding to our attacks. But this piece of trash-" he dug the gun deeper into the soft flesh of Sands' throat "-killed my daughter. I can't let him live, and I believe that Marquez has similar feelings toward the beauteous whore."

"Tell me, mariachi," the General hissed, viperlike. "How are your parents?"

"Dead." A black smirk started to curve El's mouth, and his guns dropped slightly. Eyes tearing up, Carolina bit her lip.

"How is your brother?" Barillo asked, courtesy poisoning his tone.

"Dead." The guns drooped lower. Sands went a little more limp.

"And how are you?" Marquez inquired triumphantly.

"Alive," El snarled, letting his pistols fall to the floor.

From the curtains behind Barillo, Ramirez exploded forward and tackled the other man. Startled, Marquez glanced over, and both El and Carolina instantly dropped. She slammed a hard elbow into her captor's stomach and twisted free, moments before El grabbed the shotgun lying by his feet and blew holes in the general's legs. An astonished look on his face, Marquez fell to his knees, eyes never leaving El's face as the mariachi snapped out his hidden set of guns and sent a bullet through the other man's forehead. Attention already elsewhere, El lunged forward and shot into the writhing mass of Sands, Barillo and Ramirez. Barillo stiffened, and Sands punched the other man's chin, breaking free of the tussle with a wheeze.

"You bastard!" Ramirez howled, bringing his clasped fists down on Barillo's jerking head. Snatching up the pistol from the other man's suddenly slack hand, he stuck it to the nearest temple and pulled the trigger. Red splashed up onto his bruised, puffy face.

"You idiot-" Scrambling over, Carolina clung with desperate strength to El, hugging him as if she could sneak into his skin. Slinging an arm around her, he fervently returned the embrace as he dropped to his knees by Sands, cradling the other man's head in one hand. Wincing and groaning, the American nonetheless clambered into El's lap, sighing in relief.

"So, mariachi…" Looking up, El met Ramirez's fierce eyes, lighting up a face drawn with hurt and fatigue. "You're going to start again," Ramirez observed.

El tilted his head, then nodded. "So it seems."

The other man stared at the mariachi, then at the two hanging off of men. Ramirez shrugged. "Well, what do I care? I retired."

"I hope you have peace now," El said quietly. Halting in his stiff rise, the other man allowed the corners of his lips to quirk up for a second. "The same to you," he answered, striding off.

Sighing, the mariachi regarded the various lacerations and bullet wounds the three of them had. "Time to find another doctor, I suppose."


Tipping his head back to catch the last drops of tequila, Fideo tossed the bottle over a shoulder. His horse went on a few more steps before he realized. Turning around, he rode back to Lorenzo's side. //What?//

The younger mariachi pointed upwards. //See?//

Sunset, streaking gem tones across the canvas of the sky. Another monastery roof, flat and railed with wide heavy balustrades. Silhouettes. El, one leg dangling down and the other bent up, curling around his guitar as his music curled around the onlookers. Sands, lying on his back with head nestled securely on El's thigh. Carolina, propped up against El, reading some thick tome.

//I see that you're a romantic, after all//, Fideo smiled. Emitting an irritated grunt, Lorenzo smacked him on the shoulder and began to move away. //Fine//, his friend grumbled. //Last time I show you anything.//

//I think not//, Fideo replied tranquilly. //There's still plenty out there that hasn't crossed our eyes.//

//That's true//, Lorenzo consented. //Especially around El. And we're going to be back, aren't we?//

//Yes//, Fideo nodded. Murmuring to his horse, he and Lorenzo disappeared into the darkening evening.


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