Que Quieres En La Vida
Disclaimer: Nope, they're still not mine. Robert Rodriguez still has that honor.
Summary: El watches Sands.
This is the third story in what seems to be a trilogy. The first is called After the Dust Has Cleared, and the second is called When All is Said and Done. I recommend you read those first, or this story will not make any sense.
Author's Note: Here it is, guys. The slash story I swore I would never write when I started writing in the OUATIM fandom.
The story is shaping up rather differently from the way I first envisioned it in my head, though. Originally, it was more a series of vignettes, with things growing steadily slashier. Now there seems to be a real plot. Of sorts.
If slash is not your thing, you needn't be too concerned. I will post warnings for any chapters that contain any "action", so you can choose to skip those. And even then, I won't get graphic. As I've said to many of you, I don't think I could write a slash sex scene if my life depended on it. ;-)
Last but not least, thanks to Melody, my beta reader.
During the hunt for Chiclet's brother, El began to watch Sands.
It started innocently enough. He could not shake the guilt that had overcome him at Lorenzo's death, and the conviction that he was bad luck to his friends. He had not felt this low since leaving Acuña, the town where it had all begun for him, where he had stopped being just a mariachi, and become a killer.
Their faces would not leave his memory. When he closed his eyes, he saw them still.
He wanted to make sure he never did anything again to endanger those he cared about.
So he started paying close attention to Sands, and everything the man did. And somewhere along the way, he forgot that he was watching only in order to stay alert and cautious. Somewhere along the way, the nature of his observation changed, and it was not too terribly long before he found himself entranced by what he saw.
Spying on Sands -- for that was what he was doing, really -- was surprisingly hard, however. He had stopped wearing his mariachi pants, and he no longer jingled when he walked, but Sands always knew where he was, anyway. It took El a while to realize that this knowing was Sands' way of making sure he was in control. If he knew where El was, then he felt safer. Especially since they were on the trail of a ruthless cartel who had kidnapped a young man.
So El discovered stillness. He would stand or sit very still, sometimes for hours on end. He would breathe shallowly, slowly, making no sound. He perfected the arts of invisibility and perfect silence.
And in this way he got to watch.
He saw many things.
At all times, but more so when he knew he was being watched, Sands was the epitome of dark, elegant grace. No motion was wasted, no gesture unnecessary. He had developed simple but efficient routines to get him through the day, and El observed these with utter fascination.
He would sit in a cheap cantina in some piss-poor town in a forgotten corner of Culiacan, order dinner, and promptly forget about it because he was busy watching Sands eat. Sands used both his knife and fork to ensure he found all the food on his plate, holding them European-style, with the fork in his left hand. His glass was always set down to the right of his plate, and El watched as he lightly touched the rim of the plate with his thumb, to be sure of the distance between the plate and the glass. Always the same distance, always the same location of the glass.
He held his right hand out when walking through a strange place. Not far, not the stilted zombie walk El identified with horror-movie villains. Just a cautious feel. He kept his hand low, his fingers splayed, the better to feel things. When he navigated a room, his hand trailed across the backs of chairs, along lampshades, and over tabletops. Only a light touch. A caress.
He kept plenty of cash on him, and he knew which bill was what. He folded down different corners of the bill to tell what denomination it was, and he always paid in exact change. He always knew how much money he was carrying, down to the lowliest peseta.
He walked differently in those settings where he lacked confidence. A more shuffling gait, a slight drag to his step. He was feeling out the ground, ensuring it was stable, a place where he could put his foot and not stumble or twist an ankle or fall. But in a room where he knew the layout, he moved with a sinuous grace, stalking the carpets and tiled floors so that they seemed to become something different -- the marble of a palace or the green floor of the rain forest. Where Sands walked, the ground changed.
However, there was no time to watch Sands on the day they confronted the gang who had kidnapped Chiclet's brother.
It had taken them a week to learn the whereabouts of the gang responsible for the boy's abduction, and another two days to actually find them. There were six of them, mostly young and stupid, sent to take a boy who was meant only as bait.
They were on their way back to the cartel's hideaway in the mountains, and they were not moving very fast. They wanted their pursuers to catch up to them. They had laid a trap. Or so they thought. They were monumentally stupid, and on the night El and Sands caught up to them, they had stopped for the night in a church, turning the pastor out into the night and taking control of the rectory.
There were only two doors in and out. The windows were locked. El walked the entire perimeter of the building, listened to the drunken laughter inside, and grimaced. He supposed it was getting harder to lure intelligent men to join the cartels these days.
When he told Sands the plan, the former CIA agent grinned. "Just like the good old days," he said.
They took the cartel members with ease. There was a lot of random shooting, and a lot of yelling, and in the end, the six men in the rectory were dead, and only Pablo remained alive, tied to the radiator and looking at El across the slaughter with an expression of dumb gratitude.
They left the church and began the drive back to their village. Pablo turned out to be nothing like his brother. He was loud and clumsy, and he laughed in all the wrong places when he told jokes. El knew this reaction was nothing more than nervous fear, but he found his patience severely tested during the drive home. He had never been so thankful to finish a task in all his life.
Pablo's family was ecstatic at his return. They hugged El and tried to hug Sands, and there were many tears. They made a large dinner and begged their saviors to stay, and although he was tired and cranky, El agreed.
After dinner, Chiclet walked them out to the car. He looked up at Sands with shining eyes. "Gracias, señor," he said, over and over. "Gracias."
Sands allowed the boy to give him a brief hug, after first asking if there was anybody around to witness it. "Go back inside, kid. Go be with your brother."
Chiclet nodded. "Sí." He stood there, smiling up at them for a while longer, then he turned and scampered back inside the house.
"Christ," Sands sighed. "Let's get out of here."
That night, in their own house once again, El could not sleep. He kept seeing images from the past, things that had seemed insignificant at the time, suddenly become important.
He remembered what it felt like to walk down a strange street with his eyes closed, his heart hammering in his chest. He saw Carolina smile and wave to him, and for the first time, it occurred to him that she had been waving good-bye.
He rose from his bed and walked silently through the hall.
He stopped outside the bedroom at the back of the house. Part of him was screaming at him to go back, just what in God's name was he thinking of? The rest of him just watched, detachedly amused by his own sheer stupidity.
He turned the doorknob and eased the door open, waiting for excruciatingly long minutes between each movement, fully expecting to hear an angry voice demanding to know what the fuck he was doing.
But no voice came. El opened the door as much as he dared, and slipped into the room.
The drapes were halfway drawn. Silver moonlight filtered in through the window, illuminating the room and its lone occupant.
Everything was very tidy in this room. Objects atop the dresser and nightstand were aligned in neat rows. The closet doors were closed. The furniture was shoved against the walls, creating clear paths to maneuver through. Only the bed jutted out into the room, in the exact center, spaced equally between the two longer walls.
Sands slept on his back. He was not wearing his sunglasses. They were on the nightstand beside the bed, within quick and easy reach.
Instead of the sunglasses, a strip of black cloth lay over the hollows where Sands' eyes had been. This answered one of El's many unasked questions at least, because he had often wondered how the agent could comfortably sleep while wearing sunglasses. Yet there were issues to consider, such as how to protect the sensitive area around his eyesockets. His friend's solution struck El as uniquely Sands – a blend of practicality and passion.
Sands' left arm was over his head. His face was turned into the crook of his elbow. The sheet was tangled about his hips. He wore a sleeveless white T-shirt. The hem had ridden up, revealing his taut abdomen, and the line of hair that traveled downward.
El stared, transfixed. He forgot to breathe.
Sands slept, unaware that he was being observed. His sleep was not easy, however, and El watched as the hand resting on his chest twitched, and closed into a fist. His lips parted, and he made a soft sound.
He was going to wake up soon. For safety's sake, El knew he should leave now, closing the door behind him. If Sands knew he had stood there and watched him sleep, he was likely to get shot. Twice. Possibly three times.
El did not move.
He stood very still as Sands jerked awake with a hoarse cry. He watched as Sands rose up onto his elbows, breathing heavily. The agent was trembling.
After a while, Sands relaxed a little. He muttered something under his breath and started to lower himself back to the bed.
And then something caught his attention. A stray sound, or an imagined one. He sat bolt upright again, reaching under his pillow and coming up with one of his pistols. He cocked his head, listening hard.
El froze. He held his breath. No one here, he thought wildly, transmitting these thoughts into the room, hoping Sands would hear. No one here but you.
If Sands got up and decided to go exploring, things would turn ugly. Very ugly. There was no way El could leave the room without the agent knowing he had been there. And if all he suffered was a gunshot or two as a result, he would count himself lucky.
Long minutes passed. Finally Sands made a sharp evading gesture with the gun. "Fuck you. You're not there," he whispered.
I knew it, El thought sadly. What else could it be? Who was it? Who were you dreaming about, my friend?
This one time, he wanted to be wrong.
Sands lay back down. He slipped the gun under the pillow again. He curled onto his side and jerked the sheet up over his shoulder.
El counted to five hundred once, then a second time. In the bed, Sands' breathing evened out again as he slid back toward slumber.
Slowly El began to back out of the room, closing the door as he went.
He did not relax until he was out in the hall and the bedroom door was closed. He walked past the kitchen, past the spare room, past his own room. Through the living room, and out the front door.
He sat in his chair out on the porch. The moon was full overhead.
A long, quivering breath escaped him. He felt exhilarated, like he had just gotten away with the world's greatest heist. At the same time, he felt sick to his stomach with shame, that he would spy on his only friend like that. He had seen and heard things tonight he had no business knowing.
But the excitement was greater than the shame, and El Mariachi could not understand that.
"What's happening to me?" he whispered.
The moon had no response for him.
Shortly after dawn, he went inside. He walked right up to Sands' room and pushed open the door without knocking.
Sands had clearly just woken up. He stood in the middle of the room, his hair a tangled mess. He had put on his sunglasses, which relieved El. For some reason, thinking of that black blindfold made his stomach knot painfully.
In seconds Sands had a gun in his hand. "What the hell do you want?"
El just stared at him. He had not dressed yet, and he was still only wearing that sleeveless shirt and his boxer shorts. The scars on his body were stark in the early morning light. The bullet wounds in his thigh, left arm, and chest. The mark on the left side of his face, so thin El often couldn't even see it, where he had been struck with the rifle outside the drug house, the same night he had told El his full name.
Sands cocked the gun. "El? Earth to El? What the fuck do you want?"
El gave himself a shake. "I'm going into town," he said gruffly. "To market."
"What? Today?" Sands frowned.
"Yes," he said. He turned to go.
"We have things to do today," Sands said.
"I'm going to market," El said, over his shoulder. He was almost out the door.
"Not now. Later." He was gone.
At the end of the driveway, he stopped walking. The morning was already growing warm, but it was December; the day would not be terribly hot. Winter in Mexico was hardly worthy of the word.
He waited for twenty minutes, then turned around, and went back to the house. Again a part of him marveled at the lunacy of what he was doing, but that shocked voice was quieter than it had been last night. It had seen things since then, and it was busy thinking about them.
He had left the front door ajar – somehow he had known, when he left, that he would be back. He didn't know whether he should be mad at himself for this flash of foresight, or relieved.
He slipped inside the house, into the living room. Sands was sitting in the armchair that had been Ramirez's favorite. He was fresh from the shower; his hair was curling damply about his face. He was dressed in a simple white T-shirt, blue jeans, and his boots. He wore his guns, and his sunglasses.
He was watching TV. A melodramatic soap opera (not, El reflected, that there was any other kind) was playing. Shows like this, with lots of dialogue, were all Sands could watch anymore. He couldn't follow what was happening in action movies, much to his annoyance, so he had long since given up on them.
He talked back to the TV as the show played out, making snide remarks that left El hard-pressed not to laugh. They were the kind of things the mariachi thought about saying, but never said aloud.
It occurred to him that he would like to be sitting on the couch, sharing in the humor. Carolina had talked to the TV, and he had always enjoyed hearing her, even when she talked over something he had wanted to hear. He wanted to sit there and share sarcastic asides with Sands, and laugh at the overacting on the show. He missed the companionship that came from laughing with another person over the same jokes.
The show ended with a dramatic cliffhanger, as they all did. Sands scoffed, and went into the kitchen. He returned with a can of Coke, and settled himself back in the armchair. He rolled a cigarette and smoked it. Another soap opera came on.
El stood in the doorway, watching all this.
Halfway through the second soap opera, some sixth sense warned him, and he turned around.
Chiclet was riding his bike up the driveway.
Immediately El waved his arms, gesturing for the boy to stop. Chiclet rode on for a little bit more, then saw him, and coasted to a stop. He opened his mouth to shout, and El shook his head, very fast.
Chiclet frowned. He remained on his bike, however, and did not approach the house -- he had learned a hard lesson at Belinda Harrison's hands.
Moving quietly, slowly, El left the house. He crossed the porch and leapt off the top step, landing in a crouch in the yard. He glanced behind him, half-expecting Sands to come out of the house, but the TV must have masked the sounds of his departure, for Sands remained inside.
When he reached the end of the driveway, El smiled at Chiclet. "No school today?"
The boy shook his head. "No. What is happening?"
"Nothing," El said.
The suspicion on the boy's face did not diminish. Abruptly El realized that although Chiclet liked him, the boy's loyalty did not lie with him. If Chiclet was forced to choose sides, he would choose Sands without hesitation.
It was in his best interest, then, to enlist Chiclet's help.
"I was watching Agent Sands," he admitted.
The boy gazed up at him for a long moment. "Por que?"
"Why?" El glanced at the house. He had to say something, provide a reason that Chiclet would understand. He couldn't explain it, but he felt that it was important to get the boy on his side.
"I want to help him," he said, and was surprised to find this was not too far from the truth – whatever the truth was. "Like you do."
Chiclet's face scrunched up. "Like me?"
El nodded. "That's why I was watching him. So I could figure out how to help him best."
"But that's easy," Chiclet said with a big, disarming smile. "Just be nice to him. Talk to him. He yells at me, but I know he doesn't mean it." He hesitated, then added, a bit shyly, "Sometimes when he's feeling sad, I hug him, if he lets me. But I don't think you should try that. I think he would get mad."
El struggled not to laugh. You have no idea, he thought.
"What do you talk about?" he asked. He was welcome in their odd friendship, but he had often left them alone, knowing Sands preferred it that way. He had never really sat and listened to them talk, except for the occasional guitar or piano lesson. He had absolutely no idea what a blind, insane ex-CIA agent and a young Mexican boy would find to talk about.
Chiclet shrugged. "I tell him what I did in school. About my brothers and sisters. That kind of thing."
"And what does he talk about?" El asked.
"Nothing," Chiclet said. "Sometimes he asks me questions, but mostly he just listens."
"Do you ever ask him questions?" El asked curiously. It was very possible that Chiclet knew things about Sands that no one else did.
And he knew the reason for that. Sands trusted the boy, and would never expect him to tell El the things he knew. It was a betrayal of that trust for El to even ask.
Chiclet, although he was still only a child, knew this. He squirmed and looked down. "No," he said. "I used to, but he doesn't like it when I do." He lifted his face and stared El right in the eye. "Why do you suddenly want to help him?"
El opened his mouth to reply, then shut it. That was the question, all right. A question he did not have an answer to.
He beckoned to the boy. "Come on," he said. "Let's go in."
Chiclet hopped on his bike. "I'll race you there!"
El smiled. "You go on ahead," he said. "I'll be along later." He paused, then said, "This will be our secret, sí?"
Chiclet gave him a long look. El fought the absurd desire to shift his weight from foot to foot like a child caught doing something he shouldn't have been doing, in the exact same manner Chiclet had done just a minute ago.
"All right," the boy said. He smiled, then dinged the bell on his bike, and rode up the driveway.
El waited an hour before going inside.
When he went in, Sands and Chiclet were in the kitchen. Chiclet was making grilled cheese sandwiches on the griddle. Sands slouched at the table, his feet propped on another chair in front of him. "Just in time for the food," he said. "Way to go, El. Get that extra bit of slave labor out of the kid."
"I don't mind!" Chiclet said brightly. He liked cooking, El knew. Anything to be useful to his two adult friends.
"I ate in town," El lied. He pulled the chair out from Sands' feet, and sat in it.
Sands gave El the finger and sat up straight. "Buy anything?"
"No," El said. "What did you mean when you said we had things to do today?"
Sands jerked his thumb in Chiclet's direction, and shook his head.
"Oh," El said. He knew what Sands wanted to talk about now.
The rest of that day, however, there was not much chance to talk. Chiclet stayed for hours, playing his guitar, watching cartoons on TV, eating the ice cream he so loved. He was happy his brother was back home, safe and sound, but Pablo was ten years older than him, and he didn't know the teen too well. When El asked him if he wouldn't rather be at home with his brother, the boy shrugged and said he liked it here. His bright laughter was infectious, and the mood in the little house was more light-hearted than it had been in a long time.
Then Chiclet, quite innocently, ruined it all.
Bored with TV, he was wandering the living room, touching things in that aimless way children had that always made El feel nervous and on edge. He ended up in front of the bookcase, peering up at the books Ramirez had owned. "Are there any funny stories?"
El shrugged. After Ramirez's death, he had idly glanced through the bookshelves, but he had done nothing more than that. He was not much of a reader.
Chiclet studied the spines a little longer, then turned to Sands. "Señor!" he said, his face alight with excitement. "You should learn to read the bumpy dots, and then you can read funny stories, like I do."
Sands had been sitting in the armchair, looking pained. El knew that look -- it was the way he looked when he was trying to act normal. But when Chiclet said that about learning Braille, Sands went very still. All the life bled from his face.
El tensed, fearing the worst.
"Go home, Chiclet," Sands said hoarsely. "Get out of here."
The boy's face fell. He knew he had said something wrong. "Lo siento," he mumbled, and fled. The bell on his bike jingled once as he rode off down the driveway, the sound floating in through the open windows, then he was gone.
El sighed. With anyone else it would have been a sensible suggestion. But not Sands. The agent hated his blindness, and he was determined to behave as though he was still sighted, as much as possible. The very thought of learning Braille was a deep insult to his spirit.
"Don't be angry with him," El said.
"Fine," Sands snapped. "I'll be pissed at you, instead."
El nodded. He did not ask why Sands felt the need to be pissed to begin with. He knew the man too well by now to ask such a question. "What did you want to talk about, before?"
"Yeah, that." Sands made an effort to overcome his anger; for a long moment El did not think he was going to succeed. But when he spoke again, it was with the cynical drawl he used when he wanted to hide his excitement. "So tell me, El my dear friend, when are we going after the cartel fuckers who kidnapped Chiclet's brother?"
El nodded. He had expected this, ever since Sands had indicated that what he wanted to talk about had something to do with Chiclet.
They had already argued once about it. After killing the cartel members and releasing Pablo, Sands had wanted to push on. El had replied that they needed to return Pablo to the village, and Pablo had said rather tearfully that he just wanted to go home, so Sands had lost the argument that day.
But clearly he had not given up. "You're not planning to let them get away with this, are you?" Sands' tone stated that he felt certain El would say he was indeed not planning any such thing.
"We went after them to find Pablo," El said. "We did that. We are done."
"No," Sands said firmly. "We are not."
"Is this because you want to prove you are not standing still?"
"Fuck that. This is Chiclet's family we're talking about here. If that means nothing to you, fine. But it does to me."
El sat back, amazed at what he had just heard.
So amazed, in fact, that his mouth took over, before his brain could stop it. "You love him, don't you?"
The thunderstruck silence that met this pronouncement made El cringe.
"What did you say?" Sands said. He sounded so cold, El had to look twice to make sure his hands were nowhere near his guns.
He lifted his chin, defying his friend. "I said, you love him."
"I told you once before, there is no such thing as love," Sands replied.
"But you do care for him," El insisted.
"Let me tell you what I've learned about love," Sands said. "It makes a strong person into a weakling. A genius into a moron. If you want someone to do something for you, all you have to do is find what they love, take it, threaten it, and hurt it a little. That person will practically jump to do your bidding." The corner of his mouth quirked. "Trust me. I've seen it happen, too many times to count."
I bet you have, El thought sickly. I bet you perfected the art of coercion, torturing innocent lives to make people do what you wanted, or tell you what you wanted to hear.
But this was unkind, and more to the point, it was irrelevant. The Sands who had done those things was long gone. He had died a bloody death on the Day of the Dead two years ago, at the hands of one Dr. Guevara.
"You are right," El acknowledged. "But that is hardly secret knowledge. Everyone knows it. That is why the cartel took Chiclet's brother."
"What?" Sands said flatly.
El marveled at his willing ignorance. "Don't you see? The cartels have not stopped wanting us dead. They took Chiclet's brother so we would rush after him. And when we had stepped into their trap, they would spring it."
Sands curled one hand into a fist. "Christ," he swore.
"It was only luck," El continued, "that we found Pablo when we did, before his captors had reached the cartel's hideout, and rejoined the rest of the members."
Sands shook his head in disgust. "You know, I used to be real good at manipulating people. I guess that's just another thing I've lost in this goddamn country."
El thought for a moment. He remembered the strange feeling he had gotten as he watched Sands sleep.
"I don't know," he said slowly. "I think you still have it."
Author's Note: Oh my goodness. This story is much harder to write than the first two. I'm very nervous about it. Which means I'm writing this one much slower than the other stories. So I don't think I can promise to update as often as I did the first time around. I'll do my best though. Please let me know your thoughts.