Back to Basics

A Pink Dormouse Production

Part I

Sands leaned against the wall of the bank, the roll-up hanging off his lip barely smouldering, as he tried to count how many people entered and how many left. He wanted it to be quiet in there for his transaction - wanted to hear what he already knew when no one was eavesdropping. He was broke - almost - he knew he was. Before, it would not have mattered. Before, he would have simply stopped spending money on records and T-shirts, at least until he found a way to hack the less-secret bank accounts that someone, somewhere, was bound to be monitoring. 

But now everything had changed. He had changed everything. And, because of that, there was no way he could simply rely on El to take care of him, and to pay for everything they both needed. Using Helene to get El had been a work of genius marred only by his failure to set her up with Yves as a consolation prize. That would have been perfect. Helene was what? Late thirties? Early forties? And Yves' nineteenth birthday had occurred the week before Sands gave him the final brush-off. Yeah, they could have been good for each other. But that small failing on his part could never take away the memory of reaching down to grasp El's hand when they were both inside Helene and knowing that he had won first prize. It had taken the woman a little longer to figure it out, but she had left them in the hotel room long before check-out time; left Sands to make the most of what he had.

Sands smirked. That night had been perfect - had definitely been worth blowing over half his available funds on a five-course meal for three and a hotel suite. But he had never given any thought to what came next, had he? So here he was in Toronto with no money and a fucking - actually, not nearly enough of the fucking - boyfriend who treated him like he was made of glass crystal, or bone china, or something equally valuable and breakable, someone to cosset and protect - and provide for - rather than an equal partner.

Sands was tougher than El seemed to think, though. He was Sands the mastermind, Sands the genius, Sands the restorer of balance. Although these days - admit it now - Sands the total bloody fuck-up was closer to the mark. But, fuck-up or not, he was not going to be a kept... screw-toy for anyone; not even El - toys were too easily thrown over and forgotten. Sands did it with his own - Yves had been on the way to that, even before Sands realised that he still had a chance with El - so there was no reason to assume that other people were any different.

Some days, when Sands was alone in the apartment they were renting, he thought about holding a gun to El's head and making El swear never to leave. Some of those days, Sands thought that, if he did - no matter how El answered - he would go through with it and pull the trigger, before turning the gun on himself. It was just unbearable sometimes - El was unbearable. There seemed to be no way Sands could live without El - not practically, not mentally - but for there to be balance Sands had to give something back to the equation.

Right now, Sands had very little to give, beyond paying El back for Sands' half of the rent. Which was why he was standing on this street in the first place. Although, he suspected, that alone might not be enough. El seemed to need someone who was his equal in more ways than just financial contributions. And if El came to think that Sands was a burden, maybe he would strike out on his own - or rejoin his mariachi pals back in Mexico, the ones safeguarding El's money for him. So Sands needed to find funds - to keep that little bit of balance - and then prove that he still had his edge. Prove it to El - Sands knew that he still had his edge.

Robbery was always an option for increasing his finances - and for showing he could still hold his own in a tricky situation. It was a distinct option for next month, if nothing else changed in the meantime. He would go into the bank now, check the balance of his account - eight hundred and eighty five Canadian Dollars at current exchange rates, he had calculated - then withdraw as much as he needed, while trying to figure out just how little suspicion he aroused, and whether anyone would think to check the blind man for hidden weapons. 

Sands had an idea that more people had come out of the bank recently than had gone in; it was time to make his move. He stepped away from the wall and dropped his cigarette to the ground. Then he made his way around to the door, using the wall for guidance more than he used the swordstick he had acquired in Montreal.



The bank's staff were very accommodating, showing him into a side-room where he could talk to the teller without being overheard. Quite fortunate really, since his funds had mysteriously increased - by well over ten-fold. Sands demanded confirmation, followed by details of its source. It had been carried over by an automatic sweep from an account he had not even thought to check in a good few years; an account only one other person, to his knowledge, had the details for.

This was a worrying development, Sands thought, as he left the bank with no more money than he had originally intended to withdraw. He needed information, and he needed it now. And he knew somewhere he thought he could find it. He stuck one hand out, hoping it would attract a cab, and hoping that his source was still reliable.



Luigi's Restaurant was - to Sands' relief - still at the same address. It still smelled and sounded the same as it had the last time he had visited. It was lunchtime so he doubted that many of the tables would be occupied - and the room felt to be at least half-empty. A waitress - she sounded young, maybe one of Luigi's nieces? - took his coat and led him to a table in the far corner. He ordered a bottle of house red and a plate of rigatoni alla pastora.

"I'm afraid that's not on the menu," the waitress said, cheerily apologetic.

"It is now." Sands smirked. "Send the cook out to me. No, on second thoughts, bring the wine, then send the cook out."

Sands was assessing the wine - if that was house wine he would love to know how much they charged for what they termed the quality stuff these days - when he heard footsteps approach the table. The chair across from him was pulled out and there was a creak as a heavy body sat down in it.

"Sands. Long time, no see."

"Luigi," Sands raised his head slightly, "it has indeed been a long time. And you still don't serve rigatoni alla pastora."

"Only for you. I'll prepare it for you the next time, if you warn me that you'll be visiting. Is this merely a social call?"

"I'm enquiring into a mutual acquaintance." Sands took another sip of his wine. "You know this - Chianti, isn't it? - is really very good. I don't know how you can make any profit in this place."

"This friend you are looking for?" Luigi said, still cautious.

"Yeah, big guy, used to ride with the Harley Boys before he branched out into nightclubs - that ring any bells?" Sands put the glass down and pushed it across the table towards the other man.

"I think I know who you mean," Luigi said cautiously. "What did you want to know about him?"

"Where he is. What he might be doing these days." Sands paused. "How I could get a message to him."

"Why do you think I would know that?" There was a clink and several splashes as Luigi refilled Sands' glass.

"Because you're Luigi the Snitch." Sands felt for the wine glass and slid it back across to where he wanted it positioned, but left it on the table.

"He's out of town. I heard he had to go back to Gran Bretagna."

"Really?" Sands began to roll a cigarette. "Does that mean they finally stopped threatening to arrest him for showing his face at home?"

"I suppose it must. This is a non-smoking restaurant now."

"And?" Sands smirked. "Going to answer my question?" He lit his cigarette. "Or do I have to cause trouble? I would hate you to see this place all messed up." It struck him that there were several vital matters that his former - and hopefully future - informant should have asked about. Sands' whereabouts for the past five years, his blindness, and his sudden reappearance now were just a few that sprang to mind. On the other hand, Sands was currently more concerned about where the extra money had come from, and what he would be expected to do in return for it.

"I may know people, who know people," Luigi said, still sounding cautious.

"And these people would know where he is?"

"Perhaps. Give me twenty-four hours, then come back. I should have your food and your information ready by then."

"I suppose that will have to do." And if not... well, violence was an option. "You know," Sands said, as he heard Luigi get up from the table, "you really should put it on the menu. It was always good when I ate here before."

"How good?" Luigi asked nervously.

"Oh, you heard about that did you?" Sands gave Luigi a particularly evil smile. "Fortunately for you, my good friend, we're in Canada. And the authorities here don't take too kindly to the random killing of otherwise innocent cooks."

He took his time over the cigarette and the wine before getting up, leaving five ten-dollar bills on the table and making a reservation for the next night. Then he headed back out into the street.

***

Outside, Sands paused to consider his next course of action. Luigi knew too much, which meant someone had to be passing information to him. Maybe that was the same person who had put the money into Sands' account, but there was no way of knowing right now. Nor was there any way to determine whether the person doing either or both was who Sands suspected it was. Or what his motives might be, come to think of it. The most likely suspect was a twisted fuck at the best of times and any money he gave out would, almost certainly, be payment in advance for some 'favour' or other that he wanted. And, after all, it had been five years - why had the man in question not made contact sooner? How much more did he know than that which Luigi had let slip that he knew?

Sands decided to take a walk while he thought about it some more. There were a couple of biker bars he could try but the more asking around he did, the more attention he would draw to himself. Luigi had been a reliable information source in the past; it was best to hear what he came up with before trying elsewhere. And checking out details of who owned what businesses in town these days by any other means involved searching of databases.

He wished he had snagged himself a hot laptop and downloaded pirate copies of good speech software back in Montreal, when less people had been watching his movements. Sands was not going to risk asking anyone else to do it for him either - that would be another perfect way to have his activities picked up on. So walking, and thinking, and searching his memories for anything useful at all was all he could do today. He would tell El about this once he had persuaded at least some of the facts to make sense together.

***

Sands returned to the apartment block much later in the day than he had ever intended. He had a vague idea that it was somewhere between six and eight now - people had been leaving work around him, but the bars had only just started to fill up and that vague early-evening lull had descended upon the city. He had walked - what felt like miles - but nothing made any more sense than when he had left Luigi's restaurant, so eventually he had found a cab to bring him home.

He paused in the lobby, debating whether he had the energy to climb the stairs all the way to the apartment. These days Sands distrusted elevators, when he was by himself - without El - especially. Travelling in one with other people made him jumpy - he had no way of reading them, of knowing if they were planning anything. And the space was too small, too exposed for him to feel remotely as if he had a chance against anyone who did try anything. Empty elevators were far, far worse - too fucking quiet. And Sands was disturbed by - make that shit-scared petrified of - silence.

Silence was what happened in the most debilitating of his dreams. Which had returned with a vengeance since they had left Montreal. There, he had been able to leave the TV on to ensure that he always had enough background noise to feel secure, or rather give him a constant reminder of where he was. Or if he had been with Yves - well, he had not been lying when he told El that teenagers were fucking exhausting - although exhausting fucks would be more accurate. With El, though, it seemed that Sands slept too lightly not to dream. And the mariachi's breathing rarely served as enough background noise to mask the silence of the dreams.



The dream last night had been the worst for some time. Sands had been huddled in a corner, alone and in total silence, with no idea of when - if ever - people were going to come back for him. At least when he had eyes, he could have judged the progress of time by the changes in the level they kept the lights at. And blind in the outside world, he could judge time by what went on around him. But here it was all the same. He might have been here forever. And El was gone away for good. There was no way out, they could keep him alive here for as long as it suited them. Or they all could just leave him and let him starve to death - he had no way of knowing which it would be.

Sands woke to find El trying to peel his fingers from off El's shoulder. His sinuses were burning, and there was a throbbing behind his temples. And, when he flicked his tongue onto his upper lip, he tasted salt. Christ, he must look a mess, Sands thought, resisting the urge to rub a hand across his face, and draw even more attention to the state he was in. Hopefully El had left the lights off. This was real though - it had to be. This could not be a dream. It must not be. Sands let go of El's shoulder and laced that hand with his other, behind El's neck. He pressed his ear to El's chest, so he could hear the reassuring sounds of the other man's breathing and heartbeat. Both were slower than Sands' own but still fast enough to prove that El was a little on edge too.

"You going to let me get back to sleep?" El asked, stroking Sands' hair.

"Don't -" Sands paused. He did not want yet more sympathy - pity almost - from El, but he doubted he could just roll over and go back to sleep all by himself. "Don't stop," he finished. 

Sands sank his teeth into his lower lip, as El's other hand started to slide lazily up and down Sands' back. He should not say anything now. If El knew too much about the dreams, then Sands might really find himself locked away. And El had said that they - whoever they might be - would not let him visit. Or had that been another dream? Sands was too damn tired right now to keep track. He tried to relax fully and drift back into sleep but the room was pulling at him, threatening to engulf him again. He grabbed at El's shoulder, painfully aware that he was whimpering again - practically sobbing, damn it - as he forced shallow breaths past the bile threatening to rise in his throat. He heard El murmur words of reassurance and felt El's hands stroke lower - the one that had been stroking Sands' hair joining the other in stroking his back - then slide around to gently distract Sands some more.



Sands dragged his mind - which was being more obstinate today than normal - back to the present. He swallowed heavily, forcing the nausea back down, then took a slow, deep breath. The elevator was a bad idea right now. He started to climb the stairs.

Sands paused outside the door to the apartment and listened. El was in there, moving around - Sands could hear the chains on those damn mariachi pants. There was no indication that anyone else was there - no second set of footsteps, no voices. Sands found the lock, put the key into it and then turned it and pushed the door open.

"You've been gone a long time."

"And?" Sands pushed the door closed behind him. "Worried I wasn't coming back?" Fuck. Why did he say something like that? He waited to hear El's answer. If El was worried then maybe he was less likely to leave.

El walked over to stand behind Sands and slid Sands' jacket off his shoulders and away.

"I knew you would come back." 

And that meant precisely what? Sands took a step forward. He still found El far too hard to read - probably would have even if he could see - and that alone made him very uneasy about his situation. He crossed the room - El had better not have moved anything - to where they kept the liquor. Then Sands felt along the row of bottles - tequila for lazy drinking with El, vodka for in case the tequila ran out, bourbon for killing memories. He picked up the third bottle and felt a little further along the cabinet-top until he found the glasses. He carefully poured a slug, then put the bottle down without replacing the cap.

"Yeah, well that's just great." Sands downed the bourbon-shot and got ready to pour another. "Feel like making any more predictions today?" He heard El walk up behind him again. Then El's arms wrapped around Sands, pinning Sands' arms to his sides. Sands let the glass fall to the floor, then he leaned back against El. "Want to tell me what we're doing tomorrow night?"

"I hadn't thought about it."

"Good, because I'm taking us out for a meal."

"Any reason?" El sounded suspicious. Well, he had good reason to, after all Sands' scheming that had gone into their last dining-out experience.

"Might have one. Are we just going to stand here all night?"

"Tell me first," El moved in closer still, to speak directly into Sands' ear, "why you were drinking... that."

Of course - El had only seen Sands drink bourbon when something was wrong. Come to think of it, Sands did only drink bourbon when something had gone wrong. Damn El and his sudden flashes of insight. How could Sands prove that he still had his edge if El could see instantly when Sands was out of sorts?

"Felt like it." Sands said, realising that he had to give some sort of answer. He could feel El's breath on his neck. He knew where this was going. It would be oh so goddamn nice. El was always gentle, considerate, cautious even - treated Sands like he was even more brittle, even more liable to fragment than Sands thought himself to be - and that even though El knew just how hard Sands could fight when he had to. The trouble was that Sands responded (was responding already), a lot more than he cared to admit, to gentleness; his brain going into freefall before he could get around to pointing out that maybe he fancied a change. Although at first, it had been a change - from getting fucked through mattresses and up against walls - but now it was becoming routine. And if Sands was getting bored with the sex - not with El - never with El, who was to say El would not get bored with Sands too?

It was not going to go the usual way this time, Sands decided. Nice was all very well - a wonderful way to lull him back to sleep when he was too damned freaked to risk another dream - and fine for later tonight when they ran out of energy to do anything much else. But right now, Sands wanted something a lot rougher. He twisted in El's arms, working his own arms free as he did so, until they were face to face, all the while trying to judge exactly where they were about to end up. Then he placed his hands against El's shoulders and pushed. El took two steps back, pulling Sands with him and then fell back onto the couch.

So far so good, Sands thought as he landed heavily on top of El, breaking El's hold around Sands' waist as he did so.

Sands shifted, so he was straddling El's lap a little more comfortably, then searched out El's left wrist and wrapped the fingers of his right hand around it. He gripped tightly, moving that arm up and pinning to the back of the couch. Sands used his left hand to pull his wallet from his back pocket and stowed it between the seat cushions. Good, now he could be sure where that was for later. He transferred his free hand to the back of El's neck and pulled El into a kiss that was definitely rougher than their usual - Sands groped for a word to describe what they usually did and rejected all possibilities as too soft.

El got the idea quickly enough, responding with more enthusiasm for it than Sands would have credited. Fucking Sands' mouth with his tongue, while Sands felt the bones of El's wrist grind together in his hand.

And it was Sands that finally broke the kiss. He pulled back and tried to get his breathing to slow enough that he could speak.

"So there's still fire in the mariachi then?" He smirked, relieved that the risk he had taken was paying off.

"You only had to ask."

Yeah, like he was going to start that discussion any time when his brain was capable of processing the reasoning behind it.

Sands pulled El forward into another series of bruising kisses, then let his hand drop from El's neck and come around the front to start fumbling with fastenings. El switched his attention to Sands' neck. Which was distracting. Oh fuck but it was distracting. And Sands really needed to get out of his pants before either they split, or things became painful - and not in a good way. He wrenched the fly open - shit, he could afford one new pair of jeans - then dropped his head forwards onto El's shoulder. That felt so much better.

Sands nuzzled into El's neck, breathing in the essential El, and able to take a little more time over things now his own cock was free. El was still trying to chew Sands' neck off, so Sands tilted his head to get in a nip of his own at El's neck. El hissed. Sands smirked to himself and rubbed his cock up against the back of the hand that was working at unfastening El's fly. He kept his other hand wrapped around El's wrist. Not because he needed the extra connection - oh, no - but because he wanted to keep El at that little bit of a disadvantage.

El finally got around to putting his free hand to good use, sliding it around Sands' back and then down and under the waistband of Sands' pants. Which was actually quite distracting for what few fragments of Sands' mind were able to think right now. Sands tried to pull away a little, then bit his lip, as he realised that he had nowhere much to go, and concentrated on getting El's pants unfastened. El's fingers were stroking slowly lower and his tongue was swirling over the tender - and almost certainly well-bruised - skin of Sands' neck.

There, he'd done it; Sands pulled the fly of El's pants fully open, and then ran one nail slowly up El's cock, getting another hiss out of El for his trouble. Then Sands raised himself up on his knees and started to work his own pants down over his hips one-handed.

Oh, yeah - boots. Sands reached around and pulled one off, then twisted until he could pull the other off to land with the first on the floor. Then he wriggled the rest of the way out of his pants and allowed them, and his guns, to join the boots. He dropped slowly back down onto El's thighs then slid forward, searching out El's mouth with his own. As their lips met once again, Sands felt El's free hand come to rest in the small of his back, one finger searching lower, pressing - Sands gulped.

"Wait," Sands mouthed into the kiss. He reached out and found his wallet, flipping out the two foil packets he needed, then dropping the wallet again. His right arm was starting to cramp up, but he had no desire to release El's wrist so he dropped his hand, along with El's wrist, down onto the seat of the couch. Then Sands upped the tempo of the kisses, all the while working on El's cock with his other hand.

Sands' own cock was getting severely neglected, he thought. He would have to do something about that soon. But first...

He raised himself up on his knees again, then dropped down slowly, taking El's cock all the way in. He stilled, getting used to the feel of it, and searched out El's right hand, pulling it between their bodies to Sands' cock, which evened things up a little. Then he transferred his left hand to El's shoulder and started to move again, riding El's cock hard and fast.

And it felt, and sounded, like El was getting close, dragging Sands along with him, right to the edge. Sands fingers tightened on El's wrist and shoulder, as he upped the pace still further. Then Sands was there, coming over El's hand and trying not to collapse before they were both finished. El came just after him though, thrusting up into Sands. El slumped back on the couch and Sands fell forwards against him.

"You know, I always liked that shirt," El said some minutes - hours? - later. Sands peeled himself away from El and snuggled up alongside him. Now he could cope with nice.

"Maybe it'll wash." Sands' shirt was just as messed up as El's, by the feel of it. He would put up with a wet patch on his shirt for now, though, and just lean against El.

El shifted again. Sands felt El's left arm lift alongside him.

"Now what?"

"My wrist matches my shoulders."

"Huh?" Sands was not alert enough to make any sense of that comment right now.

"For someone so skinny you have a very strong grip."

"Oh, okay." He was still not in the least concerned about making a witty comeback, but Sands suspected that his neck had its fair share of bruises from El's mouth. He shuffled against El, trying to get comfortable. He could quite happily stay exactly where he was for the rest of the evening. Especially when El dropped his hand back down to rest on Sands' arm, holding him close.

"Have you eaten today?" El said thoughtfully.

"Yeah." Sands tried to remember which food group red wine fitted into. It was supposed to be good for you so it had to be in one of them. And he had eaten a tuna sandwich somewhere too. Wine, bread and fish - that would be the Religious Imagery food group then.

"You should eat again." El got up off the couch, grabbing Sands' wrist and pulling him to his feet as well. "Shower then food. Then you can explain why we're eating out tomorrow."

Sands had a sneaking suspicion that both of them going in the shower together was not the most economical method of getting cleaned up.

***

After a dreamless night - or at least one in which he did not wake from, or remember, any of his dreams - Sands spent the better part of the next morning swinging between feeling justifiably content about the way things had worked out the previous night, and feeling (equally justifiably) nervous about what was likely to go down the coming night. Eventually he decided that the best way to stabilise his mood was to go out, so he talked El into a little tourist-trip to the CN Tower. Sands also had an experiment or two in mind, but avoided giving El any idea of that.

He was going to be fine with the elevator. With El right beside him, and El's hand on Sands' elbow, Sands was not going to have a chance to think about what would happen if it stopped between floors on the way to the first observation deck. Except, he was already thinking about in, he realised, hearing the doors close, off to the other side of him from El. Sands dropped his hand to rest on El's thigh, and felt muscles tense in response. And not tense in a good way either, Sands realised.

"What the fuck's with you?" he hissed. Only one of them was allowed to be on edge and Sands had already been volunteered for the post. 

"People are looking," El said in a low voice, up close to Sands' ear.

"And?" Yeah, fine, remind Sands that he was surrounded by a hoard of unseen people. And that there were too damned many of the fuckers for him to keep track of what they were all doing, or if any were about to pull an unfriendly move on him.

"They're staring at us. Your neck. My neck. My wrist." El spoke so quietly that Sands only just picked up the final word. Fine time for the mariachi to get over-coy about the image they were showing the rest of the world. What were a few bruises compared to Sands' lack of eyes, or the various hidden weapons they were going to get pulled for at some point, unless they were damned lucky? Sands shifted so most of his body was shielded by either El or the side of the lift. No one had thought to weapons-check the skinny blind guy or his companion, which would serve them right if Sands did feel the need to cause trouble. There were advantages to forgetting to eat unless El was there to nag him - people tended to assume that Sands was as frail as he (presumably from the way El kept trying to feed him up) looked, for one. Anyone happening to bump against him would find out what he was carrying, though - there was no way he could pretend that every bump under his clothing was a cell or a PDA. 

"Like anyone give a rat's ass what we look like." Sands replied, loud enough for most of the elevator's occupants to hear. He felt a certain pride in the fact that he had finally unlocked the secret to getting El to play rough. He slipped his arm around El's waist, as it dawned on him that this elevator ride was almost too damn smooth for him to be certain that it was still moving. And all these people were making enough noise to smother the sound of the elevator's motors. He took a deep breath, and then regretted it. Warm, stale air - definitely too many people in here. But, he reminded himself, with this many people around it would be damned difficult for anyone to get close enough to try anything without El spotting them. And if El spotted anything suspicious he would alert Sands and they could deal with it - together - yeah, Sands was getting to like having back-up he could rely upon.

Sands felt the elevator's base vibration change very slightly, then he heard the doors open. He managed to resist the urge to haul El out through the crowd and find somewhere secluded to get his breath back and his heart down to a saner rate. They had gone a mere five paces from the elevator though, when El was suddenly dragging Sands through the dispersing crowds and into a doorway - alcove - whatever. Somewhere set back from the main room anyhow.

"What was that all about?" El growled.

"What was what all about? You dragged me in here, you tell me what you're doing."

"I told you people were staring at us, then you encouraged them to stare more."

"So it was all right for everyone to assume I was your bitch when I wasn't. But now - " Sands shut up as El slapped a hand over Sands' mouth and shoved him further into the alcove. Sands' hip jarred against a door handle, which solved the mystery of where they were. But not the mystery of why El was so mad at him all of a sudden; surely he was not going to start getting this paranoid every time they went out together in public?

El stepped away from him. Sands barely had enough time to consider what would happen if he followed before El was back.

"We're being watched," El said, quiet and up close once again.

"Yeah, you complained about that in the elevator." Sands kept his voice down too this time. "Can't we go take in the view now?"

"We were being stared at before," El whispered. It felt like he had moved around to shield Sands from the main floor area. "Now we're being watched." Well that answered the question of what had further fuelled El's foul mood. But at least none of it seemed to be directed at Sands any more.

"Can you see him? It is a him, right?" Hmm, confined space, a possible voyeur, El off balance and acting a whole different kind of twitchy all of a sudden - protective even. Sands could get off on this very easily. He pulled El further into the recess and leaned back into the corner sliding one hand around the back of El's neck and the other into the pocket of his jacket. Sands' fingers on that hand curled around the stock of the gun in his pocket, and then he dug into El's neck just a little with those of the other.

"One man, I didn't get a good look at him but - "

Sands decided that they may as well put on a show, in case they were being watched, and applied a little pressure to El's neck. Just enough to topple him forwards into a kiss. El tried to pull away, Sands' tightened his grip on El's neck a little more.

"Not so fast," Sands whispered, interspersing the words with quick nips at El's lips, "If we keep this up he might not realise we've noticed him."

"I think I recognise him," El muttered into Sands' mouth.

Fucking wonderful. Sands pulled back just enough to form words.

"Where from?" he whispered. "Is it the man you thought you saw in Montreal?" He kissed El again. 

"It's not anyone I saw in Montreal." El ran his hand down Sands' back then back up again, bringing it to rest on Sands' shoulder. "I think it's someone I met in Mexico." He kissed Sands quickly then turned slightly towards the main floor area, taking his hand away as he did so. "But he's gone now."

"Good." All these adrenaline rushes needed to be put to some use; Sands leaned forward to rub up against El's thigh but came close to pitching over, since El was no longer there. "Fuck, El, I was enjoying that."

"Save it for later." It sounded as if El was still a little pissed off with Sands. "I thought you wanted to go out on the observation deck." 

Sands heard El mutter something about 'although I still don't understand why' followed by his footsteps heading away. Oh, shit - what if El decided not to come back? Sands slumped against the corner formed by door and doorway, positively irate at himself for feeling like he needed El to function remotely normally. But if El disappeared into the crowd - or worse, headed for home - Sands would be stuck dealing with the crowds and confined spaces (best not to mention the elevators directly) by himself. Which was not good when at least one person out there had shown a little too much interest in the pair of them. Especially since El had dragged him here fast enough for Sands to become a little unsure of exactly where here was in relation to the elevators.

"So I'll just stay here, shall I?" Sands called after El. Christ on a flaming cross, he sounded needy too. The footsteps stopped, then returned to where Sands was waiting.



Sands let El guide him onto the outside viewing deck. The wind was stronger here than at ground level, and it seemed to taste different too. He grasped the handrail at the edge of the deck and leaned into the wind, letting it whip his hair away from his face. So he could feel differences between here and ground level, but could he actually feel how high up he was? First off, the experiment was fucked before it began because, Sands had been here before. Although he was unable to remember exactly what the view straight down looked like, he could remember exactly what looking down felt like. This led to the discovery that remembered vertigo was a hell of a lot more fun than the real thing. Sands let go of the handrail and reached out for the safety barrier, wondering how quickly anyone would come to stop him if he pulled himself up it.

"I don't think you want to do that," El murmured, placing one hand firmly on Sands' shoulder.

Sands let go of the barrier and turned to smirk at El.

"What you planning to do to stop me?"

"I'll," El paused, "I'll think of something," he finished sounding more than a little flustered. Sands was hard pressed to remember having heard that particular tone in El's range of emotions before.

So that was Sands' third - and most amusing - discovery: how conflicted El got when his protective instincts were warring with his apparent aversion to doing anything too obvious in public, which were both warring with the knowledge that there was no way Sands could fall anyway. Sands turned to face into the wind again.

He had found no way of proving whether heights only existed when you could see them, but gained some pretty strong evidence that El was not going to let Sands do anything too stupidly dangerous, whilst El was watching. Sands found that oddly reassuring. Along with the suspicion he had that El was keeping other people at a safe distance somehow - Sands certainly felt less crowded standing out on the observation deck today, than he had the last time he had been here. And these days he was acutely aware of anyone entering his space. 

Eventually he had taken in all the fresh air he could handle. He turned around then leaned back on the barrier.

"El? Going to take me home?" He almost added 'and fuck me through the mattress' for the benefit of anyone else who might be in earshot, but figured that it might be a little counter-productive to getting home in one piece. Once he had the measure of El a little more, he would work on finding out what level of pissed-off mariachi was fun and what level was dangerous. Sands smirked - he had a new project.

"Planning on sharing that thought?" El stepped up to place a hand on Sands' elbow.

"Maybe later."

***

Luigi's restaurant was, predictably, much busier at seven in the evening than it had been at lunchtime the previous day. Luigi himself - not yet another member of his family - appeared to show Sands and El to a table and provided a bottle of Chianti 'on the house'. Which only served to make Sands more suspicious, of course. El seemed a little on edge but Sands had no way of knowing whether that was related to what had happened earlier, or anticipation of what might come later. Then again Sands was on his guard too.

Sands had surreptitiously searched El's other guitar case, while El was out 'doing the hunter-gatherer thing' and getting fresh milk, and so now Sands had a rather nifty knife inside his jacket - a big knife, not one of those little throwing-knives. As well as having a gun in each main pocket, of course. Luigi had made no attempt to search either of them but then he must know that Sands would never come to a pre-arranged meeting without protection and back-up. So anyone else in on the loop would also be heavily armed. Game on.

Nothing was said about the real purpose of his repeat visit to the restaurant until after the plates had been cleared away following the main course.

"There's a call for you, sir," Luigi said, from immediately behind Sands.

Sands twisted in his chair (memo to self, do not encourage El to fuck you through the mattress immediately before going out to a restaurant) and gave Luigi a suitably evil grin.

"I suppose it would be too much trouble for you to bring the phone out here? Or for whoever it is to call my cell?"

"I think," Luigi said, remarkably calmly (did he know more than he was letting on?), "that you would prefer to take this call in my office. Alone." 

"Alone, you say?" Sands weighed up the situation. The sooner he had answers, the sooner he would know whether he was in danger, or about to gain something to his advantage. Or whether the money in his account was a down payment on his services, which could fit into either - or both - of those categories. He would prefer to have his back-up alongside him obviously, but from what he remembered, Luigi's office was not that far away. So El would hear as soon as trouble started and be able to back Sands up quickly enough. And Sands had already discussed the possibility that they might be separated. So long as Sands was not gone too long, and there was no obvious disturbance or anything else suspicious, El was to stay put. As soon as anything happened to change that, El was to come in as back-up.

Sands took his gloves off the table and pulled them on. Then he pushed his chair back and stood up.

"Going to show me the way?" He felt Luigi's hand come to rest at his elbow and allowed himself to be guided towards the back of the restaurant.

"Wait." Luigi tightened his grip on Sands' elbow. 

Sands came to a halt.

"Momento." Luigi pushed past Sands. There was a soft swoosh and a movement of air. That would be the door opening.

Sands took a step forward and felt - heard - the door swing closed behind him. Confined space, silence - but for Sands' and Luigi's breathing - this was not the best of places for Sands to find himself. He felt a hand on his elbow.

"You have to go up the stairs," Luigi said. "Remember?"

Sands remembered. He also remembered that there were plenty of points where he could be jumped between the foot of the stairs and Luigi's office. He twisted away from the man, grasping (slight fumble there but no great loss) Luigi's right wrist then stepping behind him and drawing the knife he had taken from El's case earlier.

"This had better not be a double-cross." Sands twisted Luigi's arm up behind his back and pressed the point of the knife to his throat - over something vital, he hoped. A gun would draw attention but, if Sands was efficient, he could slit Luigi's throat and no one would hear anything.

"Why would I double-cross you?" Luigi asked. 

"I don't know. You tell me. Why would people suddenly get interested in me again?"

"Is... not... a... double-cross, I don't think." Luigi was shaking. 

"It'd better not be." Sands pressed a little harder with the blade. "Remember, I can't see what I'm doing here." He sniffed the air. "I don't smell blood - " a twist of the knife " - yet." He paused, stood still, and listened. "Who's up there?"

"One man: Britannico. Says he works for The Man."

"If you're lying to me," Sands switched to Italian, just because he could, "you aunt-marrying son of a whoring fallen-nun, I'll take your dick and balls, slice them up, fry them and then make your entire incestuous family watch you eat them." He swapped back into English. "And I'll expect to hear how good they taste. Savvy?" He felt the knife jerk - up then down - as Luigi nodded. "Good. Now lead the way." He twisted Luigi's arm a little harder to make certain he got his meaning across clearly.

Fortunately for all concerned, Sands had managed to intimidate Luigi so much that he completely failed to take advantage of being sighted and one step up on the stairs. At the top Luigi turned to his left and led Sands a short distance before halting again. 

"He wanted to see you alone." Luigi tried to pull away from Sands' grip.

"So you said." A hostage could be a useful bargaining tool, but equally could turn out to be counter-productive. And Luigi had always been a useful, and reliable, informant in the past. Sands took the knife away from Luigi's neck and wiped the blade against Luigi's jacket before pocketing it. "Why don't you go and keep an eye on El? If he starts worrying about me, there's no telling what he might damage." He gave Luigi's arm one last twist then released it. "Go on, fuck off."

Sands waited until he heard Luigi's footsteps descending the stairs. Then he reached out and found the door handle with his hand, while drawing one of his guns with the right. He used the gun's stock to rap on the door.

"Come in," came from the other side of the door. The accent was definitely English, probably Cockney, with the edges blurred by years of travel. Not the man that Sands suspected of depositing money in his bank account. But it could possibly be one of that man's lackeys.

Sands turned the handle and pushed the door open slowly.

"Good, it is you," the same voice said. "Come in and sit down. Chair's directly in front of you, say about five feet in."

Sands was getting heartily sick of the way everyone seemed to know more about his blindness than he did about them in total. He walked cautiously into the room, keeping his gun levelled at where the voice came from until his free hand brushed the back of a high-backed chair. He grasped the chair-back, then manoeuvred around it slowly. He kept most of his attention focused on the man, who most likely had at least one gun pointed straight at Sands.

Sands sat down and transferred the gun to his left hand. He removed his right glove, being careful not to let his fingertips brush against anywhere he would rather not leave prints. Then he pulled out his tobacco, lighter and papers, and began to roll a cigarette one-handed. He was calm; he was totally in control of the situation. Two lies but there was no harm in pretending that both were true.

"So," he said, putting the roll-up to his mouth, and then lighting it. "Who are you, who sent you and what do you want from me?"

"Name's Briggs." The man said. There was a click and a spark as he presumably lit a cigarette of his own. "Former DI Briggs, ex of the Flying Squad. And I think you know who sent me."

"Flying Squad," Sands said thoughtfully, flicking ash onto the carpet. "Is that your natural accent or do they make all new boys watch 'The Sweeney' until they pick it up?"

"Shut it," Briggs said. "I'm not taking any lip from a runty little ponce like you." There was a squeak from the chair's castors as he shifted it slightly.

Sands smirked and flicked the gun lazily, re-aiming at Briggs.

"You've still not answered my third question. What does your boss want with me?"

"Fucked if I know," said Briggs. "I'm just the one that was hired to bring you in. Now, I'm not denying that you might be good at what you do but so are plenty of others. And the boss hasn't asked anyone to track them down, to my knowledge. Suppose whatever it is, he wants to tell you about it in person. I'm just under orders to set up a meeting for him with you, and that guitar-playing vigilante of yours."

"The boss wants both of us?" Sands assumed they were referring to the same boss-man, but he was not going to drop a definite identity into the mix before Briggs did so.

"That's what he said. What is it with you two anyway?" Briggs asked. There was a creak as he moved slightly in his chair.

Sands followed the sound with his gun barrel.

"I mean," Briggs continued, "working for The Man, I'm not what you would call prejudiced, and I knew all about you from the files. But I'd never have pegged the Mexican for - "

" - Think very carefully," Sands' finger tightened on the trigger, "about how you choose your next word."

"I'm just saying, that's all; I met your El, a while back. At the time, I was worried that the wife liked him a little too much - especially when she let him half-inch my aftershave. But obviously he had me fooled."

"He had me fooled for a while too." Sands relaxed his trigger-finger slightly, as he realised he was starting to enjoy this. There was little chance that Briggs would actually shoot him - men like Briggs were always too worried about falling from favour with those higher up - but Briggs had obviously been briefed on Sands, and so would have no way of knowing whether Sands would shoot him. Sands sniffed the air. "El stole your aftershave? Come to think of it, you do smell a bit like him." He heard Briggs shift in his chair again. Good - so Briggs was unsettled by Sands - that was more the way things should be. 

"Yeah," Briggs said. "The wife gave him a practically full bottle when they came back from buying clothes for you. Come to think of it," Briggs moved again and Sands altered his aim in response, "I should have suspected something about him from the way he didn't complain about being dragged on the shopping trip."

"But what's this about my file?" Sands was not remotely interested in Briggs' wife at the moment, although he was storing up the information for later. He took a long draw on his roll-up and flicked more ash onto the carpet. Luigi was bound to have one or more relatives specifically employed to clean the office - better give them something to do for their money.

"Well, obviously the boss has a file on you. You must know that he keeps a file on everyone who's ever worked for him."

Sands knew. He knew a lot about what might be in the file, was pretty certain he knew what was in the file, was hoping very hard that Briggs had merely skimmed over certain parts of the file. He could kill Briggs now, and El would never find out about those sections. Not until the boss - who Sands was still not convinced was the man he was supposed to think he was - sent the next lackey to lure Sands with offers of money. Or get him out of the picture, if the wrong lackey ended up dead. It might be time for a subject change before Sands dwelled too much on issues he would rather forget for now.

"I need to know more about this job," Sands said, grinding his cigarette out on the edge of Luigi's desk and letting the butt drop to the floor.

"The boss was very impressed with the way you killed that intruder back at the hacienda in Mexico."

"Heard about that, did he?" Sands smirked. "Nice to know he was looking out for me, even if I had to protect myself."

"You're obviously perfectly capable," Briggs said. "And you had that bloke of yours too. It pissed the boss off no end when the pair of you pulled that disappearing stunt. Just fortunate for him I was due back on this side of the Atlantic soon after."

"But," Sands said, wanting to knock Briggs back down a few rungs after that self-satisfied little speech, "the boss hasn't told you anything about what he wants from me. You can't be that important to his operation then." He let the gun droop slightly, ready to stand it back to attention as soon as it was needed. 

"The way I figure it," said Briggs, "the boss hasn't told anyone what he's got planned. Not even his left and right-hand men. Unless he talks in his sleep. But you'd know all about that, wouldn't you? I hear you and the boss were rather... close at one time. Like I said, I'm not prejudiced, merely making an observation."

"Tell me again," Sands asked, aiming his gun straight at where he assumed Briggs' heart to be, "why I shouldn't just shoot you now?" He wondered how long he had been away from El - and whether it was long enough that El would become concerned and start causing trouble.

"Because I haven't told you when and where the boss wants to meet you. And it'd be a shame to let all that money he's got lined up for you to just go to waste."

"Let me think things over." Sands could hear stealthy footsteps coming up the stairs - and a faint jingle of chains. Question answered, it seemed. He started to make another cigarette, playing for time. "Just how much money are we talking here?"

"Now that again is up to the boss. I think it was on a results-based scale. And the least he'd be offering would be considerably more than the little present he put in your bank account."

The footsteps stopped then started again, moving steadily along the corridor towards the office Sands and Briggs were in. Sands casually licked the paper of his roll-up, sealed it, and inserted it in the corner of his mouth.

"You can tell your boss," Sands said. He lit the cigarette. "That any decision I make will have to be after I've discussed matters with my partner."

Sands heard the door burst open behind him. Perfect timing, he thought.

"Hold it right there," El growled. There was a sharp intake of breath. "You?" he added. "What are you doing here?"

"Yeah, it's me," Briggs said. "Suppose you thought you'd seen the last of me when you left Mexico."

"You were following us earlier today," El said, accusingly.

"Yeah, well, sonny here had been asking a few questions, and I wanted to get my facts straight before I met up with him."

"You couldn't meet up with both of us?" 

Sands heard El step up behind the chair and felt El's hand that was not holding a gun come to rest on Sands' shoulder.

"I was told to speak to him first," Briggs said.

"Well you can speak to both of us now," El said.

Sands stood up, transferring his cigarette to the floor and grinding it into the carpet with the toe of his boot.

"I wouldn't bother, El." Sands said, as he moved around the chair, guided by El's hand on his shoulder, and then slipped his arm around El's waist - all the while keeping his gun pointed in Briggs' general direction. "Our cockney ex-copper here's just the hired-help. We want information, we're going to have to go right to the top. So, come on, Briggs, when do we get to see the boss?"

"I'll let you know," Briggs said.

Sands heard Briggs get to his feet and re-aimed his gun in response. He felt El's arm move, as he seemed to be doing the same.

"Steady on," Briggs said, "haven't we established that we're all on the same side yet?"

"No," El said.

"What he means," Sands said, "is we'd like you to call your boss now and find out when and where he wants to meet us."

"Have it your way," said Briggs.

Sands heard Briggs sit back down and adjusted his aim yet again. Then he heard numbers being tapped into a phone and Briggs talking in a low voice to someone on the other end of the line.

Sands turned towards El, all the time keeping his gun-hand steady.

"Do you trust him?" El asked quietly.

"Hell, no." Sands answered, equally quietly. "Since when did I trust anyone? Well, maybe you - sometimes - when you're not pissing me about."

Sands was starting to feel the strain of acting normal - well, what probably counted as normal in the circles Briggs moved in - for far too long. He pressed a little closer to El and chanced a brief kiss. El returned the kiss - slightly hesitantly - with his face turned a little towards where Briggs sat. But he had responded favourably, which was interesting. Sands was almost prepared to bet that El had been more worried about him than either of them had expected. He slid his free hand up to the back of El's neck and pulled him into a longer kiss, still keeping his gun and some of his attention fixed on Briggs. Hey, he could kiss and be threatening to a third party at the same time. And El tasted of coffee and mints and brandy, with only the tiniest hints of tobacco in there too.

Briggs cleared his throat.

Sands and El released each other and turned to face him.

"He says there's a party on at Club Paradiso tomorrow night. Be there by nineteen hundred hours."

"That should be acceptable." Sands started to back towards the door, dragging El with him. Just before the door closed between them and Briggs, Sands loosed off a single shot at the ceiling behind where he assumed Briggs was still sitting.


To Be Continued...



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