Tangible Schizophrenia


Vengeance II: Rock-Bottom

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: NC-17. Rough angry sex.
Pairing: Sands/El/Ajedrez
Feedback: Would be much appreciated.
Disclaimer: Does not belong to me.
Notes: AU. I picked Eva as Ajedrez's first name, and Hérnan as Barillo's. Sands has had eye-reconstruction surgery. //words// in Spanish.
Summary: Several reasons why making El lose his temper is something to be avoided.


I am not cruel, only truthful-
--"Mirror," Sylvia Plath


Metaphorically speaking, this was a load of horseshit. It made Sands almost want to study up on occultism so he could turn the figure of speech into reality.

"Belini." Eva's voice was ragged with annoyance and steeled with determination. "Yeah, him. We've got no other choice."

"And we're talking about the same man, right? That one-eyed no-good piece of shit that never did a day's dishonest work in his life, let alone be useful for anything?" He spun himself around in his chair and straddled it so he was aimed right at her. Usually, that was enough to freak the other person into compliance, or at least into betraying some fact that he could use.

Unfortunately, the quiet horror of his eye-replacements, which Eva had described as "functional but goddamn ugly," was wasted on his present audience. She snorted, Lorenzo made some crack to Fideo, and El didn't even register. Stupid stony mariachi had jingled himself down beside Eva at the beginning of breakfast, and since then he hadn't made his presence noticeable by even the slightest sound. For all Sands knew, El might as well have died ages ago and only left his corpse behind to take up space.

A simile that was actually pretty close to reality. Look at the blind man's quick wit-isn't it marvelous, people?

Sands bit down on the dark humor rearing up in his head and tried to concentrate on the idiocy in front of him. Yesterday, Eva had eventually given up enough jigs of the El-saw, and so Sands should've been able to put them back together into a reasonably good recreation of the singing fuckmook's psychology. If, say, he'd gotten a decent amount of rest on his first and second nights out of the hospital. Seeing as drugged unconsciousness didn't count as sleep, and that had been what Sands had had to put up with while he'd been in that wonderfully horrific den of surgical misery.

El had gone onto the roof and had spent nearly all of both nights up there, so simple human biology demanded that he be suffering as much as Sands currently was. Didn't seem so. Christ. It was like El was the original unflappable morning daisy, fresh every dawn no matter what he did to himself. At first glance, that didn't really go with his ability to attract violence like meat did maggots, but then again, the real fairy tales were more like tabloids than Disney.

Sands was trying not to think about the reason behind why the El-puzzle wasn't assembling for him, or why he was so fascinated to begin with. The thought that his not being able to fall sleep might have something to do with El not being in bed was coming up, but Sands was doing his damnedest to squish it. Eva was right about that-fucking legends were bad for the revenge business. God forbid Sands accidentally catching heroism, which in his opinion was the worst STD of them all. AIDs couldn't be helped, but stupidity?

"Well, if you've got any other phone numbers left, feel free to share them now," Eva snapped, sounding about two comments away from trying to beat Sands into the floor.

She'd better not, because he didn't have a single scruple about hurting women. As far as he was concerned, they were dickless men with breasts, and men were breastless women with balls. It evened out.

"Sands." And the Gun of Mexico finally spoke, like the big prick he was. Going to have the last word, was he? Hell, no. Not if Sands could help it. "If not, we're leaving."

"Then I'm coming, at least. Or you'll be greeting chopped Lorenzo at the doorway." From the side, said puking whelp growled, and Sands flashed a grin. He flipped his cane up onto his shoulder and slouched off the chair. "By the way, I could use a cell and Eva could probably use some kind of Internet connection. Do you even know what that is?"

One moment, El was a brooding presence over there, and the next, he was a very solid grip around Sands' wrist. "Dial-up or broadband?"

"Uh…broadband would be great." Eva's tone was an aural blink of surprise.

"It might take a few days to find somewhere. There are men looking for you-not many, but some." As he talked, El dragged Sands along like a man with a recalcitrant puppy.

Which wasn't a flattering comparison, so Sands threw his weight forward and nearly, nearly knocked El over. Close might as well as have been fuck-up, however, because the next moment Sands was hanging from that goddamn bony shoulder again.

He made sure to whack Lorenzo's howls of laughter with the stick as they went by the ball-less mini-dick.

"Lorenzo, put it down." El kept marching, and behind him were the sounds of people reluctantly falling in. Sands wasn't sure whether to snarl at his still-recovering reflexes or to laugh at the way they were parodying parades, male-male interactions and slapstick all at the same time. Damned efficient, he had to give El that.

He settled for biting El in the side, which didn't work too well since El apparently was wearing jacket and shirt. That got him being flipped through the air like a demented baton, head getting banged against the ceiling-fucking ow!-and ending up tucked neatly under El's arm, arms and legs dangling.

"Okay, who do I have to blow to get you to stop doing that? Jesusfuck, El." Sands wriggled and squirmed until he was at least walking on the floor instead of air. "And how the hell can a medieval cock-up like you get broadband? You don't even have amplifiers!"

"Too damn heavy." El finally let Sands go just in time for them-okay, mostly Sands-to trip headfirst into the car. "I'm wanted by just about every authority in Mexico."

Fideo chuckled as his alcohol haze passed Sands. //Legal or illegal.//

"And so if I want to get supplies near a city, where all the cartel leaders are, I have to get it off bodies or go to the black market. And they use computers-Sands!"

Oh, so El was hands-off, was he? Had a phobia of touching? Shame on him for revealing that weak spot. And great thigh. Probably came from all that walking he did, if he was as traditional as he seemed to be.

"Sands…" Eva growled. Her hands grabbed his waist and tried to haul him out of the front seat, but he just twisted around to lever her inside. She crashed on top on him, and he had a moment of nice soft breasts pleasantly smushing against his shoulder before she slapped him. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" she hissed in his ear.

For an extra flavor of helplessness, he curled up instead of hitting back. Which also had the effect of shoving his head into El, who was almost frantically trying to shove him away. "Balance, bunny-butt. Yours sucks like a toothless whore."

Having made his point, he reached up, took hold of her arms and flipped her between himself and El. Then he sat up and retrieved his cane from the boot. Dusted off his clothes and shut his door while silence reigned.

Like usual, Fideo snickered.

"What. The. Hell. Was. That." El's voice dropped half an octave when he was pissed off, and got flatter as well, like crushed gravel-and-tar being steamrolled into asphalt. Sands made a note of that.

Not flirting for sex. Flirting for an advantage, and as a smoke-screen. Though El probably wouldn't have understood the difference if Sands had been able to shoot Braille diagrams in the windshield. "Hey, I'm blind. Can't see where things are at. But I'm fucking well not sitting next to Lorenzo."

"You're not that blind," Eva snorted. She sullenly slumped away from him, towards El. Who shifted even further from them, making the leather seat dip in funny ways.

Who said loss of eyesight equaled lack of fun? Not Sands.

But back to business. If they were going to see Belini, then they were going to do it properly. "Okay, let's go. And El? Try to tone down the silent menace a little, all right? Belini's not suicidal; he's just moronic. Plus, he's probably still angry about the eye. You're never supposed to shoot the bartender."

El made a noise like the bastard mutant of a seethe and a grunt as he started the engine. Eva smacked Sands on the arm. "He doesn't remember Belini. And I'm doing the talking, or you're losing one of your nuts."


Like every other time, the slimy bastard flashed Eva his most plaque-covered smile. //Hey, baby. Come to seek wisdom from the master?//

"Belini, you get worse every time I see you," Sands dryly said, coming in behind her. She wondered if the extra inflection on 'see' was intentional or not.

The fat little toad beamed even brighter and made an expansive gesture toward the seats in front of him, which she noted were facing away from the door. Somewhat clever as long as it was known there wasn't any back-up outside. "I see you two finally hooked up. Knew it-you're perfect for each other."

Eva had to grab her own wrist to keep herself from drawing a gun and replacing Belini's fat with lead. It was a damn good thing the other two mariachis had gotten dropped off first to locate supplies and computers, or else Lorenzo would've been mouthing off like a stupid chicken squawking at the knife. Or dead, since El had finally given her and Sands bullet clips just before they'd gotten to the restaurant. "Belini, we're not here for relationship counseling, so why don't you keep your head in your own business?"

"Because it's more…" Belini's eye suddenly widened, and the undertone of his skin went from jaundice to bleach.

Clanking. The air behind Eva abruptly thickened with the slow warning heat of hell.

Sands sighed and covered his shades with one hand. "You couldn't stay outside. Bad dog. Bad, bad dog."

In front of them, Belini's muscles seemed to spasm all at once as he leaped to his feet. His finger jabbed irregular polka dots in the air, and his mouth was eerily similar to that of a newly-caught fish, still gasping for water. "You!"

"I do remember him." El betrayed quite a bit of surprise as he stared at Belini. "The Terasco bar."

"Oh, holy Virgin Mary…" babbled Belini. "He's still alive. You found him, and the fucker's still alive."

Eva decided she'd had enough of the morning's shenanigans. She took a seat and propped her knee against the table edge, shoving it into Belini's belly so the fat bastard had to sit down. He did so with a greasy huff, moist goggle-eye staring startled at her.

"Hey. No ogling the girlfriend." Sands had a touch of smirk as he sat beside Eva, who was seriously tempted to break his skinny white neck. He laid his cane across his lap and clicked his fingers in the air for the lone waitress, looking for all the world as if he were just sitting down to dine with the gourmets of high society. "Honestly, Belini. Even without looking, I can feel your sick little fantasies. Rein in the dick, prick-we've got information-transference to negotiate. Oh, and I'll have the puerco pibil with tequila."

The waitress giggled and wandered off in the direction of the kitchen. Seeing as the restaurant was completely empty besides them, and most of the tables were shoved up against the wall, that took some doing on her part.

"And what about him?" Still jittery, Belini jerked his thumb at El, who had quickly recovered his stoic pose and now was unconcernedly settled in the doorway.

It was Eva's turn to put a smug grin under Belini's clearly itching skin. "Just behave, and we might be able to convince him not to finish the job."

Okay, she had decided that anything more than platonic interactions with El and Sands would be disastrous, but if Belini assumed otherwise, then that was useful and very much not her problem. It wasn't her fault that he'd been created such an idiotic jackass, and as long as he talked, she didn't give a fuck who he thought she was sleeping with.

"Right…" Belini still looked mistrustful, which was probably the brightest thing he'd ever done. The glint in his eye, however, was unmistakably derived from greed. "First thing is the compensation. I like to get that out of the way first, so everyone knows what value they're expecting to get."

What with the way he was tilting his chair back and just his general attitude, Sands resembled a major disaster area waiting for God to get his act on. "Belini. You did notice the El in the room, yes?"

"Hey, man. I like living, not surviving. No point to hanging on if you're eating bugs. Now, you can understand that, can't you?" Belini's idea of a winning smile involved cavities and gum disease straight out of a medical textbook.

"I've eaten bugs. And survival is what's being discussed." Eva made sure to keep her face as deadpan as possible while Belini's respect for her visibly shot up and Sands twitched. There was even a faint clink from El's corner. "Barillo's being pressed by the government-the President especially wants to make an example of him. And I hear Marquez is in town…"

The disgusting little gnome gave her an innocent look. "Yeah…that's what they say, isn't it?"

Even with no eyes, Sands' air of intimidation wasn't too bad. It was strong enough to make Eva a little grateful she wasn't the one at which it was directed.

Belini held up his hands, expression going to placating. "All right, all right. Though this isn't playing fair, you know: one of you should be the good cop."

"This way's more efficient." Sands' smile was as tight as the fit of a good boot.

"Well, if you say so." The other man leaned back, belly bulging over the table edge, and opened his mouth. Then he closed it, and they all had to act normal while the food was served.

Once Eva had used a few good glares to detach the waitress from flirtations with Sands, Belini finally started to deliver up useful facts.

Marquez and Barillo actually weren't negotiating an alliance, but in fact had already concluded one. The real reason the General was nearby was because the President was planning a surprise visit to Culiacan as a message that it was no longer Barillo's territory, but the federal government's. Of course, Barillo wasn't going to take that kind of insolence lying down, so he intended to-

"-kill the President, yeah. Come on, Belini." Sands began to idly flick his cane around with the hand that wasn't popping pibil into his mouth. "I've been hearing that line from Barillo since I first got shoveled into this land o' shitholes."

"But it's really going to happen this time," Belini insisted. "Marquez is helping, and that's why they're going to meet: to get all the details down before the President shows up."

Apparently, Barillo had dug up a psychotic out to make a name for himself, and who was willing to attack the presidential motorcade in broad daylight for an insane amount of money. Except Marquez's men were going to be in charge of guarding said moving target, and so Eva seriously doubted that that unnamed pistolero was ever actually going to collect. Not if she knew her father.

"Oh, yeah. Something else." An enormous, rot-stinking belch finished off Belini's meal. While he swiped a filthy hand over his food-flecked mouth, Sands surreptitiously put down his fork and abandoned the remaining pieces of his pork. "They're looking for you two. And they're paying a hell of a lot of money."

Eva's sense of warning suddenly sprang into full cry. Sands sat straight up in his seat.

"I noticed," was all El said. He sounded as if he'd just been given a parking ticket.

Belini's sly egotism suddenly shifted to fear, and Eva instinctively threw herself to the floor, yanking her gun out as she did. Sands, meanwhile, just flipped his plate into Belini's face and whirled onto his feet, gun spinning around the room.

The only calm one of them, El simply walked all the way inside, shut the door, and shot the bartender before Eva could see the gun fly out of El's sleeve. Or the shotgun popping up into the bartender's hands, which went slack before he ever had a chance.

A scream rattled from the kitchen, followed quickly by a hoarse shout, and Eva was on her feet. She was facing the kitchen when the first assassin ran through the doors and into her bullets.

"Goddamn it, stop shooting the bartenders!" Belini yelled as he crawled for cover like the worm he was. He dove for one of the windows just as someone tried to rush in from the opposite side.

Sands cocked his head and then snapped about, firing. Belini grew another hole in his head and fell over like a sack of shit. "Pibil here was the best I've ever had, and you had to go ruin my appetite. God, I've wanted to do that ever since I met you."

"Fucker. So did I." Shooting as she went, Eva moved around to the bar and hopped on top so she had clear views of both the front and the kitchen doors, but so that anyone coming out of either wouldn't immediately have a good shot at her. Wood suddenly splintered up an inch from her toe, and she whipped about just in time to see El's shot literally blow her new attacker through the wall. "What the fuck is-"

"It's a gun-what else?" He was beside her before she could blink, and then she and Sands were skidding through the new hole.

Someone moved into it, and Eva flicked off bullets till the screaming stopped. "What-"

"Damn it, get outside!" El threw them another two feet, then whirled around and down to drop his guitar case on the floor. One bang bounced the lid up, and then Eva was staring at one of the most impressive gun collections she'd ever seen.

"Hey, princess. Pay attention to the gunfight." Sands emptied the last of his clip into the hole in the wall, then grabbed Eva by the arm and swung her in front of him while he reloaded. "Okay. I'm a bit directionally challenged right now, so why don't you lead the suicide rush?"

Thus saving his own pretty ass, more like, but there was a little sense in his suggestion. Eva hooked her arm through his and hauled him along as she kept up a steady hail of lead in order to keep their exit clear. They were by the hole sooner than she wanted, but fuck. Not like they had a choice.

She breathed, shot once more, and then tried to shove Sands out. His hand caught on her belt-loop as he fell, and so they both ended up falling out at the same time. Goddamn son of a bitch. Blind when he felt like it, she was beginning to think.

Eva fired as she rolled, adrenaline smearing over the recognition of the bullets puffing up dust beside her head, of the bruises and the jarring and the hot streak that seared past her side. She tried not to trip over Sands, who she was humiliated to admit recovered a second faster. If his aim had been a little off before, he'd definitely taken the time to fix that, and figure out how to add cane-thrashing into the mix. Only the fact that she had to lead kept her body count higher than his.

Stupidly, Barillo's men hadn't set a guard on El's car. Or maybe out of confusion-the beat-up old tank of a vehicle didn't look any different than half the rust-hulks cruising Mexico's roads.

At any rate, it was ridiculously easy to get to the car. And then Eva realized that El still had the keys.

"That fucking-" Sands started, but his muttering was cut off by a gigantic ball of orange.

The thundering of the explosion caught up a quarter-beat later, and Eva's heart clogged her throat. Her stomach collided with her knees and knocked them looser than pebbles in a flood.

Sands' breathing hooked itself on something and tore, while his face turned deathly white.

"I should stop blowing things up."

Before she could know better, Eva spun around to see a soot-spotted El standing about ten yards from them, bemusedly watching the restaurant's remains sprinkle from the sky.

"Well…it makes it much easier to find you," Sands offered. His lungs wheezed back to life, flooding his face with color. "Where the hell did you come from, anyway?"

Eva slumped against the car, not even having the energy for a remark. Something had just happened that she desperately didn't like, and she didn't even want to figure out what it had been.

"Hell. Or the front door." El picked up his guitar case and ambled over to the car, unlocking it so Eva and Sands could collapse in a tangle on the backseat. "Are you both all right?"

"Oh, my God. He cares." Sands' fingers seemed to have melded to his cane, he was gripping it so tightly. "Halle-fucking-lujah. El, I pity your doctor."

The guitar case went in the front seat, and then the doors slammed shut. Like the moon when it was feeling coy, three-quarters of El's face slipped around the headrest of the driver's seat. "I take it you're fine, then."

"You shouldn't be condescending to a woman with a loaded gun," Eva tiredly told him. Now that she'd stopped moving, the last few lousy nights and strained days were crashing up to the new bruises. Sands was draped all over her, knees and elbows in places that they damn well shouldn't be, but she really couldn't work up the offended feeling. Anyway, he wasn't trying anything.

"I'm not. And we're going to go pick up Fideo and Lorenzo now." El started the car and pulled into the road, one arm stretched over the top of the seat so he could steady his case. "So. His name was Belini?"

"His name's fuckmook to the nth degree. Goddamn it, now we're out of contacts." Sands slid off to the side, looking miserably pissed off, which Eva could get. Now, all they had to rely on was El.

El was all they had.


Barillo. It was practically a name brand in this chunk of Mexico. As it should be, Hérnan thought. He'd certainly done enough to deserve the honor.

Of course, that meant he was deluged in challengers, which was the natural order of life. As one rose, the numbers of envious below grew. But his own daughter? That was unfair and unkind. He wasn't an evil man-he did what he had to do to prosper, just like anyone else-and he didn't deserve a judgment like that.

And she'd grown up to look just like her mother as well, with not a drop of himself, except possibly for the hatred that slow-burned in her eyes, fuse timed to the instant. That, her mother had never had. Lucia had been beautiful, and had had a better mind than most of his men, but she'd lacked the killer instinct. That had been her downfall.

The daughter was going to be tougher-Eva? Was that her name?

Something that vaguely resembled a conscience flitted flimsy wings at Hérnan, barely touching him. No, he hadn't stayed around to see his child born. If he'd known that she would be the only one to actually make to adulthood-but then again, he doubted that he would've acted any differently. She still would've had to prove her worth, even if her mother's actions hadn't completely negated the possibility of that.

Better not to waste his time and emotions on something until he knew that it was a sure thing. And as that was no longer even remotely a possibility for Lucia's girl, he wasn't going to bother with acknowledging the blood-connection. She certainly didn't seem to. Which settled it: he had no daughter. He only had enemies, who were all going to fall like leaves in a storm wind once he truly got started.

Eva Ajedrez was just another piece to be swept out of the way, like that American fool, Sands. No matter how good they had proven to be together. They would die, and so would anyone that tried to help them.

For a moment, Hérnan wondered just what kind of fool would give them aid. Then he decided that that was hardly an important question, and passed on to other business.


Fideo and Lorenzo had had better luck than El, finding not only a Net connection that was guaranteed safe for them-or else Lorenzo was going to get to try out his new modified guitar case early-but also an attached apartment. As everyone's belongings were either on them or in the car trunk, El skipped the return trip to the house and just drove straight to the apartment. Where the first inkling of trouble came up.

Two bedrooms only, and it was a very tight fit for five people even if the couches were made up as beds. Eying an oddly quiet Sands, Lorenzo quickly offered to settle himself and Fideo in an empty room on the floor below.

El accepted. And as soon as his friends were out of the room, he immediately regretted the decision.

Eva hurried into the bedroom with the computer, while Sands slipped in after her, barely in time to avoid the slamming door. There was a brief muffled argument, and then all El could hear was the clicking of computer keys mingled with the tapping of Sands' walking stick.

The pair of them had acted very strangely ever since the bar shoot-out. Granted, El wasn't basing his conclusion on much of a foundation, given that he still wasn't sure what normal was for Sands and Eva, but his gut told him that this wasn't it. Those two were snarling, aggressive, and confrontational to the extreme in their own unique ways. Like guns, which was why he'd given them those instead of knives or something else.

Carolina had had her temper, but generally she had always tried to smooth things over. Had tried wheedling with a dazzling smile first, and if that hadn't worked, then she'd brought out the knives.

So yes, this hiding and silent treatment was out of character for Sands and Eva. And the comparing them to Carolina was odd for El.

He went to check out the balcony, but found to his dismay that they weren't on the topmost floor, so climbing up to the fresher air of the roof was out of the question. And he didn't feel like sharing his music with the rest of the world right now-not when it was less melody-shaping than working out the tangles in his mind.

Another bad sign. If what Belini had been saying was true-and it did tally with the bits that El and his friends had been able to find out on their own-then El needed all his concentration on the battle to come. The last time he'd lost his focus, he'd ended up killing his own brother.

Something stung his hand. El looked down to find that he'd broken the guitar pick with which he'd been fiddling. Irked at himself, he threw the pieces in the garbage and prowled about the rest of the apartment, checking for weaknesses, entry and exit points, anything else that was practical and easy to think about.

It'd been a while since he'd had to sit and wait on someone else, though, and he'd forgotten how…grating that could be.

Not that he was calling Carolina grating, or regretting anything that they had done together. He didn't. She was one of the few things in his life that he could cherish without a single dark thought rising from any of the pits within him. But that didn't mean that he had enjoyed every single situation in which they'd found themselves.

"El, do you have any idea how annoying that is?" Sands stood in the doorway of the bedroom, arms folded and sunglasses off. "Thump thump thump. Christ in shit, I feel like I'm in one of those cheap horror movies, where the ax-murderer spends ages whacking his boots around before getting to the real whacking."

"What are you doing in there?" The walking hadn't been helping anyway, so El stepped into the tiny kitchen and began to make himself lunch.

The other man looked suspicious. "Why? Worried?"

"We're supposed to be working together." Cold beans. Not the best thing El had ever eaten, but they would do. "If I'm going to help, then it would be good to know what you're up to."

"Well, it'd be great if you gave us advance notice when you're about to go all Unkillable Legend on us, too," Sands retorted, lounging against the doorway. From inside the room, Eva called out something that sounded like a question, and he took a moment to answer it before turning back to El. "Goddamn it, you know there's really no point in cooperating with a dead man."

If it had been any other person saying it, El wouldn't have minded. In fact, he would've agreed. But Sands-maybe it was the cockiness wasting the intelligence, or the stupid little tricks just for the sake of trickery-just did irritating things to El's temper. And that was still running hot and thin, jangled from the fight earlier.

"You think I'm a dead man?" El grinned at his food, feeling his aggravation bend into something destructive. "You're right. So why are you here?"

"What kind of quest-because we need you to help us kill people! What, do I have to break it into little itty bitty syllable-paste for you?" One thin-fingered hand went up to sweep hair behind Sands' ear. His head dipped into the motion so his false eyes shadowed, for a second looking as if they were completely empty.

El swallowed the last of the beans and washed off the plate. He absently started to hand it over for drying to a child that was no longer there, and when he caught himself, it was more like beginning to fall. "No," he gritted out. "Why are you bothering to talk to me? To get to know me."

"Oh. Oh." Sands' forehead smoothed, and his demeanor abruptly glided into…cute? No. More slippery than that. It was like a cat preening itself in the sun, with one eye on the mouse-hole. "What? I'm human, and you're an interesting guy. They tell stories all over the place about you, and what's more weird, everyone seems to agree about the details. You know how rare that is in this crap-shoot hall of a nation?"

"You're talking about my country." Considering how little the government had done for him, El didn't consider himself a patriot. But he did call himself a Mexican, because that was what his blood was.

Footsteps shuffled up to him, and Sands produced a new smile. One that was more wolf-like than he probably realized, and one whose motivations El recognized. Goddamn-El was not a toy. Or some damn puppet in someone else's story. If he was going to go to hell, then it was going to be because of his own decisions.

"Yeah. I am. So?" Sands leaned in, rising slightly at the same time so his face got in El's senses. "Don't tell me the poor blind man bothers you."

"If you're blind, it's not in your goddamn eyes," El snarled. "Just tell me who to kill, and don't pretend you like me."

Like a fool, Sands ignored the warning and raised his hand to El's arm, then followed it down to find his scar. "Hey. Is this where-"


Fucking Christ. The man was inhumanly fast.

And Sands was skidding sideways over the counter, almost falling down the other side before his flailing fingers grabbed onto an edge. Angry, he kicked out and felt his foot connect.

That was the only hit he got in. Next thing he knew, his cane was off in the wilds of the place's far side and he was solidly pinned on his back against the counter, legs awkwardly hanging around El, who'd stepped in too close to lash out at.

"Do you want me to break your neck?" hissed an entirely different mariachi in his ear. If the El Sands had known before had been dangerous, then this one was downright apocalyptic.

Sands started to think he might've underestimated the power of El's sore points.

"Get the fuck off," he shot back, thrashing and yanking and generally making it damn clear that this wasn't appreciated, thank you. "Jesus, El. The fuck's with the overreaction?"

"Would you call it an overreaction if I called you a useless cripple and took away your gun, blind man?"

The words went up Sands' spine like electricity frying the sky, snapping all his bones into a rigid bar. He felt his voice thicken and bake inside his mouth. "I lost my eyes, El. Not myself. And if you think I'm insane, then let's just see what happens when you don't wake up tomorrow."

"I know that." El suddenly pushed away, that fire-voice retreating into dried-out, brittle mud. It left Sands cold. And he also discovered that having his back relax like whiplash was just as painful as having it twist stiff in the first place. "That's why I treat you like what you are. Now do me a favor and do the same thing. Or I'll kill you."

"Yeah, right." Sands pushed himself up on his elbows, soaking in insolent incredulity. "You're not that kind of killer."

A gun clicked. "Why don't we stop pushing him and not find out?" Eva suggested, her reasonability sounding about as thin as the strands of a spiderweb in a hurricane.

And maybe it was Sands' real developed hatred of anyone that tried to order him to behave a certain way. Maybe it was wanting to get into someone's head, anyone's head, just so he could prove to himself that he hadn't lost anything important. Or hell, maybe it was actual teeth-grinding dependence folding into reluctant admiring fascination and coming out crooked.

Anyway, Sands' response to Eva's suggestion was to grab El back and kiss him.

He was expecting Eva to choke some, El to sputter and back off and curse Sands up to the bastard eleven generations back that had spawned his whole family. He was expecting a few days of strained relationships and some difficult planning-fighting-whatever-the-hell.

Instead, El was an unpredictable, unbelievable bastard. He slammed Sands back into the counter and just ripped into the kiss, tore out its heart and left Sands groping for its return. And then his lips came down again, pressing until Sands gave and opened up, and God.

No, not that. Not hell, either. Just-being broken down, and trying to catch the pieces of himself as El was ripping them away and making Sands like it.

"Goddamn it, stop or-" Eva's shout broke on a funny gasp.

"Or what?" El asked, tone gone down south to gravelly molasses-thick burn. His hands roamed over Sands' chest and sides and arms, keeping it all melting and moaning and too damn blurred to struggle. "Or you'll shoot me? You. Are going to shoot me?"

Her breathing went more and more ragged, and Sands got the distinct impression that she was shaking. "Don't-Carolina-what about-"

//Don't use my wife against me!// El's arm went out, leaving a wide streak of Sands to freeze painfully solid, and knocked something to the ground with a crash. //Do I mention your father? Do I act like you're his daughter?//

This-was-really-a bad idea. The thought struggled up to the surface of Sands' consciousness and promptly disappeared when El shoved him back down-he hadn't noticed he was rising-and ravaged the hell out of his neck. His prick was beginning to take over higher thinking processes, Sands noticed. He was having a hard time remembering why this was something he shouldn't be doing.

Right. Needed El, therefore couldn't-couldn't-


"Shut. Up." And El's mouth just crushed every single word Sands had into little whimpering squiggles "Just shut up. Shut up, goddamn it!"

Well, Sands was shutting up, and trying to hold onto his sanity, his awareness-anything, really. He wasn't doing so well, due to hands ripping at his jeans, finger-calluses skidding up his shirt and rasping his nipples so damn raw that just air touching them hurt. Tongue on them when he managed to squeeze out half a complaint, so god-fucking hot and brutal soft, and damned if his bones didn't collapse.

Very, very wrong move. El had him onto his belly, ass up and face kissing greasy counter, before Sands could even register the change coming. One hand burning down the small of his back, and teeth grooving along every single fucking one of his spine-bones. Fucking God, he hadn't known that his backbone was so long. It jerked under El's mauling, bending and shaking and Jesusfuck, what the hell was the-

--rattling of glass containers. Some popping sound, and then slicked fingers up Sands' ass. The blackness bruised to blue and violent red.

"Wait-hey-oh, fuck, El-shit-" This was really, really not going according to…anything. Wasn't like anything Sands had ever-it should stop-but Christ. "El-Eva-wa-fuck. Fuck, oh, fucking please."

"You would like this." Smoke-words singed Sands' nape even as his slack hips got levered up, up until he thought his pitifully inadequate grip on the counter was going to fail, and then he got really, truly, fucking shafted. His mouth was drying out-he was panting?-and his lungs seemed to just shrivel up inside his chest. //Goddamn it. What the hell are you?//

"El…" Shivering falling girl in the corner.

//What are you?// El demanded again, tearing out so Sands could feel emptiness raw along-and then shoving in, shoving up, just shoving till Sands' teeth jangled along with his heartbeat. //What? What's this for? What did I lose now? What are you replacing, you--//

Sands twisted, short-circuited his brain as flesh shifted into fire inside him, but of course his mouth didn't exactly need his mind. "The…fuck are you talking about?"

//Giving and taking, you idiot. I get taken, and I get shit in return.// El's nails were marking a ragged claim into Sands' hips, and his voice was storming the air, vibrating through Sands' entire body. Figured-blind so hearing got better. Fucking understatements. Too goddamn hard to find words when El was thoroughly fucking up Sands' world-view, inside and out.

"That's not-that's not what we're trying to do-" White-out was approaching, and suddenly Sands was…frightened. All right, scared as shit because he was about to lose some serious control of so many fucking things that just crowded his head and rumbled into the lust, which was swirling up his legs and into his cock, and…he needed to…breathe.

He tried. He opened his mouth and started to suck in, but then El changed angles and geometry-class memories got pornified. Also, Sands slipped another inch. Saw streaks. Saw and saw and saw until his head couldn't take the phantom vision anymore, and Sands just shot straight into a tangle of El and fighting and El and sex and El who'd grown so damn big that he just broke everything,


Eva had let go of the gun a long, long time ago. A small part of her was surprised that it hadn't gone off when it'd hit the floor. The rest of her was too damn busy watching the world incinerate itself.

What the hell had Sands been thinking? And she knew that he had been thinking, had been clearheaded when walking into something that anyone else would've done crazy-drunk and ass-stupid. God. Now they'd never get El to do what they wanted; he'd either walk away and leave them to hang, or go protective and fuck things up that way.

It all made her want to massacre Sands, but El was already doing that. Plowing into a gasping, keening, writhing Sands and Virgin Mary guarantee her word, but Eva had never thought.

Her knees were weak, and she was dimly aware that the rushing of the ocean was actually the sound of her heaving breath. And goddamn it, she was going to have to shower, or at least change her pants and-

--Sands went limp, still trying to finish the same moan he'd started five minutes ago. Face set in hard rage, El yanked himself out and didn't bother to look as Sands groped uncertainly after him, as Sands half-curled on the counter, mouth gaping open for the absent hook.

"Are you happy now?" El asked, staring as Eva. She suddenly realized that the apartment must have shrunk, because they were barely a foot away. A faint memory of her intending to pull him off Sands flitted against her mind, but left when it was denied entry.

"Look, I told him to knock it off…" Eva struggled for an argument, for something to tell him. She came up with the wrong thing. "And it takes two. What about Carolina?"

His eyes blackened, and he took a step forward so they were nearly touching. "I told you not to bring her up," he softly told her.

But Eva was remembering anger now, and remembering despair and frustration at her inability to do anything significant. Her hands clenched into fists, which she slammed into El's shoulders, trying to force him back. "What? Goddamn it, men. They say they mourn and grieve, but really, all they need is a warm fucking body. You're all the same-shit, no matter how you dress it up."

"You're right." El didn't move an inch, no matter how much effort she put into it. And then, lightning that zipped into her skin and flushed it hot, his hands were around her wrists. "But you aren't any better," he hissed.

Boiling over, she bit his lip. It was surprisingly full for a man, and bled copper so hot that it seemed to steam in her mouth. Witches' brew, some fragment of literature racing around the knotting neurons of her reason-

--the counter again, edge cutting a horizontal bar into her ass, and El's fingers splayed on either side of the line. Her hands stuck to his shoulders, more or less, trapped in their hold there while her mouth was similarly kept open by attempted curses that fractured as soon as they got past her lips. His mouth, in contrast, was free to roam over her throat, down her collar until cloth ripped and her breasts fell into his palms that had streaked white sparks up to meet them.

Fucking whore, habits of a whore and goddamn it, Eva had never wanted to kill the son of a bitch that had told her that more than now. Some idiot of Barillo's-name started with a D-and he'd tried to grope her when they were kidnapping her and Sands from the hospital steps. Except he'd been a hairless, undropped-ball of a bastard, and he hadn't really known how to do it.

El did. Every touch was like a stamp, was like an engraving that told her he'd been there, known all particles and shivers and squirms that made up that patch of skin and flesh and bone. She felt like she was breaking down.

She was falling apart. Goddamn it, she didn't do this unless she meant to, and she didn't mean to unless it was furthering her purpose, and this wasn't. This was only pleasure drowning her head, shoving her mind down and holding it there with warm-steel palms and fingernails that raked the ashes from her sides, waist, breasts until her belly was burning bright-dark as a bullethole. This was only her legs falling open and her pants tangling off because she wanted to-nothing else, just want-and this was only his cock swelling her, ramming open boltholes and secret-stuffed drawers and all the manner of things that she'd never thought would come up in her life.

This was only her, collapsing.

He'd come, too. Vague realization, and only because her thighs were too sticky to just be her. And he was hunched over her as her hands fell him, as she slumped backwards until she could feel the outline of Sands' face and hand pressing into her. He was shuddering, and he wasn't looking at her.

"I hate this," El said, each word distinct as a scalpel-cut. "I hate what this is."

"Don't you fucking blame this on us," Sands muttered, voice still frayed.

El didn't answer that. Instead, he stood up-how the hell he could do that when Eva's legs felt completely boneless, she didn't know-and cleaned himself with a dishrag. Methodically. Absentmindedly. His eyes were still somewhere else.

Sands tried to walk his hands up Eva and sit, but his fingers slipped and he tumbled back to the counter. "What, you ashamed you liked that?"

"No, I'm ashamed that I'm not. That I don't. Care." El finished straightening his clothes, and it was a fucking miracle. Eva felt as if she'd just been worked over by twin hurricanes, but except for the tear in his lower lip, he looked just the same as ever. "Felt like getting shot. Again. Like anything else. It's all the same."

No, not the same. Eva gritted her teeth against gravity, willing it away from her softened muscles. She needed to stay standing for this. "Liar. You're not so catatonic as you think, jackass. Go look in a mirror."

"Whose? Yours?" he spat, twisting on his heel and grabbing his case from the corner. He was leaving. Shit.

And sensing weakness, panic finally sprang on Eva. She rushed after him, but only got two steps before her body gave out. The only fucking luck she had now was that falling with fatigue-loosened muscles kept her from bruising too much. "Sands, you stupid fuck."

The door clicked shut, same way a coffin lid dropped.

"I wasn't trying to, all right?" Sands scrabbled at the countertop until he was propped up on his elbows. His hair straggled in wavy wet clumps down his face, and he was peppered with bites and black-blue spots. Pretty little ravished bastard.

"Like hell you weren't." Unfortunately, Eva was in no position to criticize. And that might've been the worst insult of all-that she and Sands were suddenly on the same shitty level.

His lips curled back from his teeth in a contemptuous smile. "Honey, I wasn't. If I had been trying to get fucked like that, I would've been a fucking hell of a lot less obvious about it. Because, you know, I would've wanted the odds of a repeat to be at least in the range of astronomically unlikely. As opposed to when a saint springs out of my aching ass."

"Just shut up, you fuck-up." Exhausted, dazed, and completely adrift, Eva rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling, trying not to see the pair of eyes that were still seared onto her memory.


At the sound of the footsteps, Lorenzo put away his guitar and got off the floor. "Hey, El-"

Christ. When had the end of the world started?

His friend just stared back, still as death. And probably wearing the same face, too. Lorenzo had the sudden urge to cross himself, but he managed to refrain. When El was in a certain mood, he could be somewhat touchy about parts of religion.

"Um…" For the fiftieth time, Lorenzo wished that Fideo was awake and sober enough to deal with El, instead of just thinking it was funny. They were friends and all, but seething El was enough to scare the hell out of the devil himself, and Lorenzo never knew quite how to defuse the other man.

"Were you waiting for me?" El made a minute adjustment to how he was carrying his case, and that broke the hold on Lorenzo's tongue.

//Kinda. Just got a call from a friend-Marquez is here. Well, not here, but nearby. There's this villa--//

The sharpness of El's nod could've cut diamond. //I'm going.//

He turned to leave, obviously wanting to go it alone yet again. Which was stupid, so Lorenzo grabbed for El's arm and prayed he wouldn't get a gun in the nose. If it was one thing that didn't attract women, it was a puffy nose. //Hey, wait. I'm coming-just let me grab my-and what about them?//

It could've been the lighting or Lorenzo's imagination. Except the shadows hadn't shifted anywhere else, and he didn't pride himself on his daydreaming skills. Not when he was constantly having to ground Fideo, or keep El from forgetting that he was alive and therefore needed to do things like eat.

So El's eyes had changed when Lorenzo had sort-of mentioned Ajedrez and Sands. Not a good sign. Fuck it, why the hell wasn't Fideo up?

//They're staying here//, El said, tone telling Lorenzo not to ask. Shit. If there were bodies, it was going to be a real mess. For one, more assholes after them. For two, El…would definitely be in trouble, and it'd be sanity-wise.

The door behind Lorenzo creaked open. //They want to, or you want them to?//

And Lorenzo thanked God. Fideo. Sounding somewhat capable, and handing Lorenzo his case.

El didn't look like he was going to answer, especially since he was walking away, but at the last minute, he threw a reply over one shoulder. "I want them to."

//Bad shit//, Lorenzo muttered, though he was tossing his case over his shoulder and getting ready to go anyway, because that was what friends did. El had done it for him enough times.

Fideo smacked him on the shoulder, and then grinned with mock-innocence when Lorenzo yelped. //For luck. Because you're really going to need it, with him like that.//


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