Mexico Sucks

A Pink Dormouse Production

 


They were talking about him again. And there was nothing he could do or say to make them shut the fuck up. He turned over, not caring if he dislodged any medical equipment in the process. Then he pulled the pillow over his head, and tried to blank out their words. His hearing was too damned sharp these days. Definitely a case of over-compensation.

"So he is fit to be moved?" A new voice for this place but not an unfamiliar one.

"If he has help and doesn't try to do too much at once." One of the regular doctors. "Shall I have someone bring a chair?"

"No. I'll carry him. You have a back door I can use?"

What the fuck? No one but no one was carrying him anywhere. He heard footsteps approach the bed and pulled the pillow tighter over his head. If he could no longer sense them then maybe he would cease to exist. Right? 

Wrong. Whoever it was carefully removed all the tubes and monitors he was hooked up to and taped over the holes in his veins. He let rip with a choice selection of expletives as the pillow was gently - firmly - taken from him. 

Scent of expensive - distinctly masculine - cologne then pain and nausea as whoever turned him over, sat him up and began to remove the hospital gown from him.

"Get the fuck off - " 

"I'm trying to help you. Would you rather I left you here?"

He wanted out - but on his own terms. Being told something was for his benefit made none of it any the less humiliating. And if he could just have a while to let the cocktail of drugs clear from his system then he would bloody well walk out.

"I don't have time for this. We're leaving when I say. Got that?" The man - he really should know who it was - dressed him hurriedly, paying no attention to the many and varied insults directed at himself, his parentage, his country. After which, whoever picked him up - like a fucking child - and carried him out of the room that had been his home for however long he had been there.

Then, nothing.


***


Agent Sheldon Jeffrey Sands came to in unfamiliar surroundings, distinguishable from the hospital by its sensory absences. Absence of the smell of antiseptic; absence of the stench of human waste that it masked. Absence of the hum of machinery; absence of the steady beep of over a dozen monitors. The silence was more oppressive than the darkness to which he had almost become accustomed. He suspected that he was outside of any major city; this place did not smell nor sound right. And he was alone, wherever he was. Alone, in a bed, and wearing the cotton pyjamas he had been forcibly dressed in at the hospital. With no idea why he had been moved to this place.

He could hear himself breathing. Why the fuck people paid good money to spend time in silence and darkness he would never understand.

A faint sound alerted him that someone else was in the building. They were moving around, getting closer, climbing a flight of stairs to get to him. 

Sands sat up in bed, aching all over but without the stabbing nausea that had afflicted him back at the hospital. He edged away from the centre of the bed until his hands contacted a flat wooden surface. Resting on it were a lamp - no damn use to him - and his shades. He fumbled to get them on before whoever entered the room. If Sands could not see whoever then they sure as hell were not getting to see the mess that had once been his face.

He heard a key turn in a lock - so he was a prisoner then? - before the door opened and whoever stepped into the room. This was the same man as before, or at least a man wearing the same cologne as the first whoever. With every step he took closer to the bed there was a clink of chains and the clack of metal boot heel on wooden floor.

"You must be thirsty." He could place the voice now. El Mariachi. That was the last part of one puzzle - who? - but made another - why? - all the more unfathomable. Had he been taken from the hospital to die anonymously elsewhere or was there more to it? Not trusting his own voice - not when his mouth and throat were dry as the desert - Sands merely nodded.

He struggled to sit up a little straighter as El sat down on the bed beside him. More grateful than he would ever admit for the arm slung around his shoulders to support him, he sipped cautiously from the glass pressed to his lips.

"You might want these as well," the man said, accompanied by a faint, non chain-related rattling.

"Huh?"

"Sorry." He felt El shrug against his shoulder. "I forgot."

Sands refrained from swearing and tried to picture what was going on by sound and touch. It stopped him getting mad with either - or both - of them anyhow.

"Open your mouth."

Witty comebacks were available but he decided he would save them for later and complied. El popped two pills onto Sands' tongue and brought the glass to his lips again.

"Painkillers. The strongest they would let me bring away with me but they should kick in before the others wear off. They will help you sleep too."

Sands wanted to protest that he'd done too much sleeping already lately but not hurting seemed an excellent plan. He swallowed.

"So where am I anyway?"

"Safe."

"Crap answer," Sands muttered, sliding back down into the bed and falling to sleep.


***


They were talking about him, the doctors and nurses. Probably they thought he was too doped up to realise; or that the machines would mask their words. Perhaps they even thought he could not comprehend Spanish. But he could hear. And he could understand perfectly well, thank you very much. He hated it, and hated even more that there was nothing he could do to stop them.

But there were some advantages to being in hospital. Once he was well enough to walk, it would be the streets again. That or some godforsaken asylum. They thought - they knew - that he was mad and no one was going to come here and tell them any different. Not that he could blame them; he had been far from sane - and barely alive - when the boy had brought him to this place and left him in the care of the Admissions Nurse.

That had been a couple of weeks ago, he guessed. Since then there had been no sign of his little boy, which meant that those in charge must think him too mad to be allowed visitors. Although if the kid had any sense he would be keeping away of his own accord. People out there would still be gunning for him and anyone associated with him would be in just as much danger as he was. Did that matter? The boy had helped him but he should learn not to bother people like Sands and to steer clear of the hospital in future.



That thought brought him back to the question of why the mariachi-gunfighter had come and collected him. Or had he just dreamed that part? Was he in the hospital or was he in that other anonymous room?



Sands sat up with a start. The only sound was from the fan above his head, which his host - his jailor? - must have set going before he left. His mind was a lot sharper, though nowhere close on normal. With the return of coherent thought came an increased awareness of how much pain he was still in. This had to be real; his imagination could not come up with torturing himself on this scale.

He tried to figure out exactly where the pain was. Legs not too bad, now he thought about it, arm likewise, eyes (or lack there-of) the real source of most of his pain - fuck was that ever going to let up? - all tallied with his memory of events. The rest - all minor annoyances - were a result of his lying in one position too long. He could solve that easily enough; it was about time he got out of bed and did something productive.



Searching for the bathroom was as good an excuse as any to map the room. He collected his shades off of the table as he passed. Then there was a wardrobe, unlocked and empty, before he reached the end of the wall.

The next wall was blank, bar a pair of glazed double doors at what he estimated to be the centre point. They were locked, which strengthened his conviction that he was a prisoner in this place. Wherever it was.

Up against the third wall he found a blanket-chest, containing clothes - he would investigate later if they were his size - and a writing desk. He checked the desk drawers - empty again. No gun, no knife, no letter opener; not even a reasonably sharp pencil for him to use as a weapon.

He knew already that this next corner was the location of the door through which El had entered. It was locked again and listening at the keyhole gave him no indication of whether anyone else was home.

That just left the bathroom door. He finished his circuit of the room, finding a table beside the bed that seemed to match the one he had already examined. On to the bathroom...


***


Some undefined time later he was woken from another dream of the hospital by footsteps on the stairs. He had no idea how long he spent drifting in and out of consciousness. Anger flared at the thought that he was going to have no way of keeping track of time in the future either. Sound of key in the lock then a man - Sands assumed it would be a man - entered and locked the door again. So he saw Sands as a threat? Good. He was right to. Sands was resourceful and if he saw - bad choice of verb there - a way to escape he was going to take it.

Jangle of chains and clack of boot heels and El Mariachi was by the bed again. He had brought food. Sands resisted the temptation to sit up and demand his share now, no matter how long it had been since he had eaten properly.

"Hungry?" El said, in a friendly enough tone of voice.

Sands lay still. He was a prisoner and he was damned if he was going to play along with any illusion of social niceties.

"I know you're awake."

Sands lay still and catalogued his options for escape.

"Are you going to eat this delicious food? Or shall I force it down your throat?"

Sands flinched as a hand came to rest on his injured arm then tightened around it.

"All right, give me a chance." He reached over to the nightstand and placed his hand directly onto his shades. Excellent - his location memory was spot-on. He put them on and rolled into a sitting position in one fluid movement.

"There you go." El handed him a bowl and spoon. "You need any help with that?"

Sands' first reaction was to protest that he was perfectly capable - blind or otherwise - of taking care of himself. He bit back the words just in time. He could manipulate El here with a bit of good acting. He needed information and what better way to get it than by gaining his captor's sympathy, if not his trust. He kept the smirk at that idea to himself.

"Can manage," he said softly as he deliberately fumbled the spoon.

"Allow me." El slid his arm around Sands and closed his hand over the one holding the spoon. Sands leaned in a little, the better to try and pick up on any subtle changes in El's body language.

He ate slowly, without speaking, assessing the situation, alert all the time for any clue to how the situation could best be exploited. And finding none. El was detached, almost clinical, in the way he held Sands' hand and helped him manoeuvre the spoon. The nurses in the hospital had shown him more sympathy than this, in spite of all the insults he had thrown back at them. Sands suspected that he would grow bored with the game long before El showed half the sympathetic response he needed to gain an advantage.



"Did that meet your standards?" El said when he was done, setting the bowl aside and moving to the foot of the bed. Sands could picture him sitting there watching, assessing. It could take a lot of work to fool this one. But there were other ways to manipulate the guy that could turn out far more fun than playing the invalid.

"Acceptable," Sands said, "I won't be shooting the cook any time soon."

"Good." There was a definite smile in El's voice. "I can out-draw you any day."

"You think so?" He tried to keep his tone detached rather than challenging.

"I heard what you did, back there. Impressive. But I'm still the better shot."

"Alas, my friend, we'll never know. Unless you want to put your money where your mouth is and let me out of this damn room."

"I can't do that." Did a shrug have its own sound? Sands thought so.

"Why not?"

"Because I said so. And I have the only key to the room." There was a degree of finality there, but it was not an absolute closure. Sands just needed to try another angle of questioning. And to keep trying until he found the one that would work for him.

"Got any smokes?"

"I can make you one."

"Give it here." Sands held out his hand for the tobacco and papers. He was going to roll his own and he was going to do so perfectly. First time.



Sands pulled his hair back from his face as he leaned forward to light the roll-up, and grazed the inside of his wrist against stubble. He leaned back against the head of the bed then took a long draw. The nicotine fix was helping his mood, no doubt, but he could see some definite pluses to being stuck in a room with a good-looking guy like El. He needed to get smartened up first - El had style whether Sands could see him or not and if he was going to play with the man's emotions then he should feel as if he looked the part.

"I need a shave. Would there be such a thing as an electric razor in this place?" 

"I have a cut-throat I could shave you with."

Damn the man for playing Sands' game too well. Issues of trust and sensuality flared simultaneously and he crushed them all.

"I'll take a rain-check on that."


***


Alone again, Sands planned his next move. There seemed little point in escaping until he knew where he was being held. Unless he had a clear plan, the only thing that would result from escaping would be him being brought back here. And then it would be harder for him to escape again. It would definitely help too to have an idea of where he planned to go once he got out of here.

A voice in his head pointed out that there were plenty far worse places he could be right now. A second voice chipped in that he was still a prisoner, no matter how comfortable a room he was locked in. Sands told both voices to Shut The Fuck Up and let him think. They quietened but he knew they were keeping up their little argument in the back of his mind. He wondered if they would be so kind as to stay in the bedroom while he went and had a shower.



Sands let the shower run until there was no more hot water, washing himself repeatedly with an entire bottle of something that smelled much like El's hair had. He had been close enough for long enough to remember exactly what the guy's hair smelled like. And to be able to recognise that cologne instantly in a store. Yet the mariachi had remained completely dispassionate throughout, it seemed. No hint of sympathy, no vague stirrings of interest, nothing. Sands read people for a living so he should have noticed even the slightest change in the man's demeanour. He needed a new manual - 'Body Language Interpretation for the Blind Agent' perhaps. Assuming the Agency wanted him back, of course.

Wrapping a towel around his waist and using a second to dry his hair, he strolled out of the bathroom. And stopped dead. He was being watched. No doubt about it. How dare people just wander in and out of his room like that?

Sands turned slowly, trying to pinpoint exactly where El stood. He made what he hoped was a good impression of staring straight at his jailor.

"What's wrong with you? Never seen a man in only shades and a towel before."

"I've seen more of you than that."

At the hospital - too fucking right - he must have got a look at everything to be seen there.

"I picked you out some clothes," El continued.

"Where?" Sands said. So he got valet service now. All very well but he would prefer not to be here in the first place. Not as a prisoner anyway.

"On the bed." El said, with more than a hint of 'well, duh, where else would I put them?'

"Right. Well, don't expect any thanks. I would tip you but wait - you never gave me my money back." He stepped up to the bed and examined the clothes carefully. They felt very new - and not at all cheap - but someone had kindly removed all the tags. Damn shame that he would never get to see how he looked in them. He had played so many roles recently it could be interesting to see what image of him had stayed with the other man.

There was an electric razor there too. Good to know El was listening to him, although there was something odd about how closely his needs were being attended to. Especially when - he picked up the razor in one hand and the plug in the other - the power cord was probably long enough to use as a weapon. He pulled on both ends, feeling the spirals of the cord unkink.

"I wouldn't try that if I were you." El was standing behind him, taking hold of one of his wrists with each hand. "You even think about putting that around my throat," he tightened his grip, "and I'll break both your arms."

"I never asked to be brought here." Sands felt a surge of adrenaline that had nothing at all to do with fear.

"True. But you're here now, so maybe you should think about who is in charge." El released Sands' wrists and stepped away.

"That can change." He heard the key turning in the lock. "And don't be gone too long this time; I want to talk to you."

The jailor left, which meant that the prisoner was free to dress himself without being watched. Sands rubbed his wrists. So the mariachi was strong as well as a good shot - well worth remembering.


***


He was fully dressed - right down to his metal-heeled boots - when El returned. Sands stayed right where he was on the bed, leaning up against the headboard. Alert but trying not to be obvious about it. And fully prepared to talk calmly about his situation, if only because he was the one at a disadvantage here.

"How do I look?" he asked, starting to tease the knots out of his hair.

"Like a gunfighter." Well now, that was somehow predictable: tight trousers, loose shirt, short jacket, and those boots... 

"Do I get a gun to go with the ensemble?"

"Not... yet." El sat down at the foot of the bed. "You wanted to talk."

"Sure did. First off where the fuck am I and what the fuck are you planning to do with me?"

"I told you, my friend, you are safe. And it would be in my best interests to keep you that way."

"Why?" Sands reached inside his jacket for the tobacco and papers that had been kindly and conveniently left in the pocket.

"All in good time. Next question?"

"Do you realise," Sands began to roll a cigarette, "how much trouble you are in for kidnapping an employee of the United States Government?" 

"Kidnapping?"

"Yeah. What would you call it?"

"I have taken you into protective custody." There was a click as El sparked his lighter. Sands sat up, tucked himself into a kneeling position and leant forward to accept the flame.

"Really?" He settled back into his original position, checking subtly that the ashtray on the nightstand was where he thought it was. "And what if I said that I was quite capable of looking after myself?"

"Are you?" The lighter sparked again. Sands smelled tobacco smoke mixed with vanilla.

"Let me think about that." He took a long draw on the cigarette. "I killed four people after I was blinded, I got myself to a hospital and then you kidnapped me before I was fully recovered. Aside from the last, I'd say that was taking care of myself."

"I can't risk letting you go."

"Figured you'd say that." He smirked, letting the cigarette hang loosely from his lips and felt the smoke drifting up to his sunglasses. "Scared of what I might do to you, if you did?"

He got no answer to that, which meant he was partially right at least.

He tried a few alternate lines of questioning but El was as taciturn as ever. And eventually Sands was left alone with his thoughts.


***


Sands settled into a routine over the next few days. He decided to pass the daytime hours between visits from El Mariachi - he had to assume that El would not go so far as to fuck with his sense of time - by composing his memoirs. These he divided into four categories: the classified, the illegal, the pornographic and the publishable. The last were quite frankly dull so he amused himself by going over all the non-publishable incidents.

As far as he could tell, El visited every two to three hours. The food deliveries were interspersed with cigarette breaks. Sands disliked his smokes being rationed, and had repeatedly said as much to El, but it seemed that lighters were on the same list of prohibited objects as firearms, sharp implements and anything that he might form into a lockpick. They talked - after a fashion - but Sands learned nothing more about where or why he was being held prisoner.

The other man never mentioned what he did in the time between visits but sometimes Sands would hear the strains of a guitar from elsewhere in the building. More often than not, when he did, he would sit up against the door and listen just to break up the tedium.

Once a day - by Sands' estimate - El brought a maid with him. If she saw anything odd about being paid to clean up after a blind madman, she never mentioned it to Sands. Not that she said much of anything in front of him but then Sands just knew that El's right hand was hovering over his gun the whole time all three of them were in the room together.

At night - what he thought was night, anyway - the dreams he could remember were of the hospital. He dreamed of other places, of course, but when he woke all he could remember were the emotions they invoked. Mostly terror and pain - but then, his life had hardly been a bed of roses lately.

He missed his sight less each day. He knew where everything was in the room, and he quickly learned every mannerism of the only other person in his world without having to see him.


***


"I have to go away," El said.

Sands sat up a little straighter, took a draw on his cigarette and waited for the explanation.

"It will only be for a few days, and I will have someone come in to take care of you."

"Going to bring me back a present?" Sands allowed himself a small smirk.

"Should I?"

"You tell me. You're the one responsible for building up whatever unhealthy dependence I have on you. If you're going to abandon me, even temporarily, then I think it's the least you could do."

"In that case, maybe I should."

Sands did some serious thinking when he was alone again. He had made up that 'unhealthy dependence' crap off the top of his head but it felt dangerously close to the truth. The minute he started entertaining any fantasies about himself and El, he was getting out of here, no matter what he had to do in the process. Whatever El's motivation for keeping Sands here it had nothing to do with sex and Sands was best remembering that.


***


One of the doctors was talking about him. It sounded like he was making a telephone call to the US, since he was speaking English and Sands could hear nothing of the other conversationalist.

"The patient is increasingly incapable of distinguishing fantasy from reality."

Sands lay still and tried to shut out as much background noise as he could.

"No, he still has rare moments of lucidity but I think an asylum in his own country would give the best chance of recovery."

Sands listened to the rest of the conversation with growing unease. If he had been thinking even remotely straight when he had been admitted he would never have tried to convince the doctors that his other wounds came from a gunfight - in which he had been victorious - after he had been blinded. That had made them suspicious of his sanity and whatever he might have said in drug-induced haze since had merely convinced them their suspicions were well founded. At times he wondered about it himself. His dreams rarely included the ability to see, and he had no eyelids to open, so how did he know exactly when he was awake? Or what in that case was reality?



Agent Sands was strapped in a chair again. Barillo's men were talking about him, deciding what to take from him next. Castration seemed to be a popular option. Not just because of Barillo's daughter; they had heard other things about him. Some were true, but most would have made Sands laugh were he not so fucking terrified.

"Ask the boy. He'll tell you what I'm like. I never touched him so - "

The man laughed. And people thought Sands was unhinged. Then he realised.

"You're not real," he said. "I don't know why I've invented you but that's all you are, a figment of my deranged imagination."

"You know," the man said, "I think I'll take your mind."

He started up a drill. Sands screamed. He strained against the restraints until one snapped then the other. The smell of blood and cordite hung heavy in the air. He lashed out wildly, contacting flesh and bone. He screamed and screamed until his voice cracked and he collapsed into someone's arms.

"Quiet now," a distant voice said. "Do you want everyone to know you are here?"

Sands wondered just why he should give a fuck.



He felt mentally and physically drained. And as if he had been crying forever. Unlikely, because firstly - he never did, and secondly - hey, no eyes. Someone was holding him tightly.

"Do you honestly think I'm not real?" El said.

"Did I say that?" Sands muttered into El's chest.

"Amongst other things. And while you were trying to hit me, I might add."

"Well now, I would say sorry, but aren't you the one holding me prisoner?" He should move away but El was warm and safe - a total contrast from where he had thought himself to be. He wanted a drink. He wanted a smoke. Most of all he wanted some way to get his shades back on and El Mariachi back at the opposite end of the bed, where he usually sat during their 'conversations'.

"I'll get them for you."

Oh. Shit. Had he actually said all of that?

El leaned across the bed and then sat back up without dislodging Sands. He handed the shades to him. Sands put them on then pulled away.

"That's better. Now fuck off."

El moved five feet away to the foot of the bed.

"Bad dream?"

"What do you think?" Sands assessed his surroundings. "Christ, you stink of blood."

"I only just got back. I would have showered before coming up here, but you seemed to need me straight away." For once there was a trace of sympathy in his voice. But Sands was in no state to take advantage of that right now.

Sands wondered about asking whose blood it was, but doubted he would get a straight answer. It seemed unlikely that all - or even any - of it was El's. He found his tobacco and papers and then began to roll a cigarette.

"Did you bring me that present?"

"All in good time. Are you going to be all right if I go take a shower?"

"What do you think?" Sands was not going to admit just how shaken he still felt. "Got a light?"

El hung around until Sands had finished his cigarette - did he really think Sands was planning on burning the place down? - then fucked off back downstairs. Sands was on his own again with much thinking to do.

Could he tell the difference between his dreams and reality? That last cigarette had tasted real enough, certainly. El's arms had felt solid enough too, but he was absolutely not going down that road right now. Once upon a time he would have happily have said yeah, he had been attracted to the man from the start, and then he would have gone on to do something about it. Back then he would also have had no problem trading rental of his body for freedom.

These days, though, his chances of sex were unlikely, unless it was with a total freak or someone more insane than he was. So not going there. Definitely not. Not even thinking about it.


***


He was still not thinking about it at all when El returned.

"Elsa's quit."

"Who?"

"Elsa. The maid. The maid who was perfectly happy working for me before I went away."

"Oh. Her." So he had tried to break up the tedium by flirting with the maid. It would have been no big deal if she had flirted back.

"What did you do?"

"Nothing much."

"She said you threatened to kill her."

"I was bored." Suffering hurt feelings and nicotine withdrawal, more like. If he had known he would get bitched at for merely threatening, then maybe he should have killed the maid for the entertainment value.

"Sands," El sat down in his usual place, "if I cannot trust you to behave while I am away - "

" - You won't go?" Damn it all to hell, he could have phrased that better. And what the hell was with the 'behave' anyway?

"You think I volunteered for any of this? If I told my employers that you were unhappy with the arrangement, then perhaps they would find some other way of keeping you safe."

One involving padded walls, Sands expected. And there would be no cigarettes, no late afternoon Tequilas and no distant guitar music to listen to.

"Would you visit me?"

"I doubt they would let me."

"I'll behave," Sands said, unable to resist adding a sneer. God, he was a good liar. 

"Wait there." El patted his knee and got up off the bed.

Sands tried to keep track of the goings on. El left twice, each time returning with a heavy item. He then worked on something over by the desk for a good ten minutes.

"Come over here."

Sands slid off the bed and took the six steps to the desk.

"Well?" he said.

" I brought you that present." El took his hand and guided it to a new object on the desk. Sands shrugged him away to examine the gift by himself. He opened the hinged lid, ran his hand along the needle-arm and spun the turntable. 

"A record player. How quaint."

"Check on the floor, to your right."

Sands resisted the urge to whistle in appreciation. He estimated that at least fifty albums were leaned up against the wall by the desk. He could keep himself occupied for quite a while with that lot. Assuming El had made a reasonable stab at what he might want to listen to.

"I arranged them in alphabetical order. Before you ask."

Sands ignored him. For the first time in years he was wallowing in happy memories. He could remember the entire catalogue - alphabetically of course - of his college record collection. Sad vinyl junkie? Like he gave a fuck. He would have to find a better way now of identifying individual albums, of course. The sleeves of some were pretty battered so he could recognise those by touch. As for the rest, he would have to store specific records in their own places around the room, or something.

He barely noticed when El left, other than to register that now he was free to play the records in order until he found something he liked.


***


El found a new maid from somewhere. Sands took even less notice of her - so long as El was around - than he had of the previous one before he had been left alone with her. He had his albums now, and he played them constantly. Mostly the Pink Floyd and the Jefferson Airplane, though when El visited he was sometimes allowed the choice of background music for their chats.

El went away every few days but rarely for more than a night or two, unlike the first time. He never let on about where he went or what he did, no matter how many stories Sands told him about 'someone I knew at the Agency'. New maids came and went, usually goaded into quitting by Sands, until El pointed out that he would go away 'whether there is someone to take care of you or not'. After that he just ignored the maid when El was away as well as when they were all three in the room at the same time.

He no longer dreamed of the hospital - that he could remember - but instead of some safe formless place. Sometimes they segued into nightmares but then he would wake to find El with him. He never discussed his dreams but he suspected that the other man knew something of their content anyhow.


***


"Back again?" Sands tried to sound disinterested. "Did you bring my present?"

"Not this time."

"You always bring me a present." He was institutionalised, childish, the madman in the attic. A little sulkiness should be the least that could be expected.

"What did you want?"

"Gee, El, what do you normally bring me? Records or tourist-crap. Never brought me a gun or a knife or even a lighter, though, no matter how much I've hinted."

El made no reply. Sands could hear him breathing. Hell, he could practically hear him thinking. He counted five minutes.

"Let's go outside," El said.

Now that was something else Sands thought he wanted. Although after all this time, he was unsure if there really was an outside to his home. But if he could go there then it might prove once and for all that this existence was more than a figment of his imagination, and that the others therefore were merely dreams.

"Sure," Sands said, "let's go outside." He walked to the door and waited.

El took his arm, unlocked the door then pushed it open.

"Two feet forward, then the stairs start."

Sands found the edge of the first step and stilled. Whoa, vertigo. He could do this. Just go down however-many stairs and then he could feel the sun on his face - or the wind or maybe rain - for the first time in what felt like living memory.

"There's a handrail to your left."

He found it; grasped it. Put one foot on the first step down. Felt El keep pace with him.

"Not so difficult, eh?" El said at the bottom of the first flight.

Sands leaned against him, heart pounding. It was a good thing he had never put any of his escape plans into action. He doubted he could have got even this far by himself.

"Now what?"

"A corridor, more stairs, another corridor, then," there was that smile in El's voice again. "Outside."

"I can do that." Nothing too complex when it was explained to him like that. And if he could do it this time, then he would make sure that he got to do it again.

The rest of the trip was passed in silence. The air outside was warm and dry. The sun shone on him at an angle, and the stone wall he leaned on must have been baked all day to reach its current temperature. If he moved a little to his left he was in shade, which, combined with the slight echo when he spoke, gave the impression that he was in a courtyard. It was quiet here. El had mentioned that the maids came from a village but this place was obviously outside of that. And where was El anyway? Sands stood very still and regulated his breathing, trying to pinpoint the other. El was not in the courtyard. He would doubtless be back. Sands began to roll a cigarette while he waited.

A door opened and closed behind him and to the right. El had returned.

"Something else for you." He placed a hat on Sands head, tipped the brim forward a little then took two steps back. "Very much the gunfighter," he said, and sparked his lighter then took a step forward again.

"So when do I get the gun?" Sands leaned forward to light his roll-up. He was more than happy to accept that right now he looked damn good with the hat and shades together hiding his main disability. Hell, El seemed happy enough to admire him from a distance. But it was still not worth wondering about what would happen if he encouraged the man to get closer.

"All in good time," El said, giving Sands the distinct impression that something was up - or why else had he been brought here? He had been confined for so long and now that defining feature of his world was changing. It made him both elated and irrationally terrified. Best not to mention that. No way did he want El changing his plans, whatever they were.


***


Sands was careful to count the steps on his way back, which made the walk a lot easier the second time he made it. With practice he could learn to move around the whole house as easily as he did in his room. And then, who knew, El might take him further - maybe allow him a little freedom. Then perhaps, he would learn what the mariachi did to become so bloodstained during his trips away, or what he wanted out of Sands.

Sands knew what he wanted of El and at times he hated himself for it. Mostly he blamed his jailor, though. It was an unnatural situation to place anyone in and, from what he remembered reading of the phenomenon, Sands would say his reaction was perfectly natural.



On his third trip out, he shook off El's hand at the top of the stairs and made his way to the courtyard unaided. He still had little idea where this place was. Mexico, he guessed, although he had been pretty much out of it when El brought him here. So who was to say he had not been transported over the border? The maids - when he took notice of them - spoke Spanish. But that could be a bluff. Would El be so imaginative as to employ Spanish speakers merely to give the impression that they were still in Mexico?

All these thoughts presupposed that Sands was not imagining the whole set-up, and he still had a niggling doubt about that. If nothing else, imagining that his entire life revolved around El was marginally more respectable than it being his reality.


***


The next day, when El let him out of his room, Sands barely held the handrail on his way down.

"I think you can have a gun now," El said, when they reached the courtyard on that occasion.

Sands came close to hugging him. But that degree of personal contact was best saved for when he woke up from a nightmare. Hell, he restricted just how many of his jerk-off fantasies featured El, to avoid making matters any more complex than they were already.

"About time," he said. 

"I should have known better than to expect gratitude from you."

"Too right."

"Wait there." El strolled to the end of the courtyard, moved something around then returned. He positioned himself behind Sands and pressed a gun into his hand.

The gun fit his hand snugly and had a good weight to it. Not one of his old weapons, but it would do. He felt good. He felt better than good - he felt alive. He shifted the gun in his grasp, getting the feel for it. He even thought about pointing it at El - just because he could.

This could be his moment to make a break for it. He had a loaded gun in his hand, with no way of knowing how long El would let him keep it for, or whether he would get to hold it again, some other time. They were some way from anywhere as far as he could tell but there had to be a road near-by, and from there he could pick up a ride to somewhere - anywhere. He had long ago memorised the details of bank accounts no one else knew about and there was enough money spread between them for him to disappear, although not in the level of comfort he would have preferred.

El was the only obstacle. Sands had some doubts as to whether he could bring himself to shoot the man, but El was not to know that. Would El shoot him? That, he supposed depended on whom El was working for, and how important it was to them that Sands be kept alive.

"Listen." El interrupted his thoughts. "I hung a bell at head-level and the target's bull's-eye is at heart-level. Show me what you can do."

Maybe this time he would just rise to a small challenge. Show El he could be trusted with a gun and wait until the man's guard dropped a little further before making his escape.

Sands concentrated. He picked out the bell easily enough in the quiet of the courtyard even with so little air movement. He aimed at the sound and then dropped his aim just enough that he should hit the target dead centre.

Christ, his hand was shaking. Put him in situation where his life depended on getting this right and he swore he would do just fine. But proving himself under test conditions was a whole other kettle of fish.

El closed his hand over Sands', which kind-of-helped. He squeezed the trigger.

"Good. A little low, but I'm impressed."

Sands adjusted his aim slightly and fired off three more shots. From the way El released his hand and stepped away, it was safe to say he had hit the bull's-eye on the third. He shot the bell for good measure.

There was a faint noise from the courtyard entrance. Sands spun and loosed his last shot at the source. He heard a body slump to the ground. Fuck, he still had his edge alright. Now he just had to hope that he had shot an intruder, rather than some visitor El had been waiting on. But then what did El expect when he let Sands have the gun?

"Wait there." El drew one of his own guns and headed over to investigate. Sands dropped to the ground. He listened intently for evidence of more intruders while searching the area for anything else he could use as a weapon. He found a box of ammunition and began to quickly reload his gun.

He had just finished when El returned. Thank fuck he was still paying out for expensive cologne. That combined with the distinctive sound of his chains left Sands in no doubt as to who it was.

"You killed him." El sounded more than a little impressed.

"Who was he?"

"Someone who did not mean us well."

That was okay, then, Sands thought calmly. If he had killed someone El considered an ally, he doubted he would have been allowed to fire a gun again any time in the near future.


***


"You killed a man."

El was definitely impressed. Sands turned around slowly and smirked.

"Yeah, I'm a killer same as you. Want to make something of it?"

"I want to make something of you."

"Think you can take me?"

"I know that I can." El twined his hand through Sands' hair and snapped his head back. 

Surprised, he still managed to get his own hand around the back of El's neck and pull his head down. Then he pushed up with all his weight behind his other hand and propelled them both towards the wall.

"Game on?"

"Game on."

Their mouths met. Sands tasted vanilla and blood. He yanked El's hand out of his hair and guided it roughly down to his crotch. El got the idea and worked Sands' pants open as Sands did the same for him.



There was a knock at the door, loud enough to break into Sands' fantasy. He hastily rearranged himself and rolled onto his stomach.

"Come in."

The door opened. He could have sworn he had heard El lock it on his way out earlier, when he went back outside to check there were no more intruders. Then again, since when did El knock?

Oh. Shit.

El crossed the room and sat down on the bed.

"It would seem that it is no longer safe for us here."

"You don't say." Sands tried to banish the last remnants of fantasy from his mind and concentrate on what El was telling him. 

"We leave in the morning. I thought you should know sooner rather than later."

"I'm glad to hear you weren't thinking of leaving me here by myself. Or is this some new definition of 'we' that I'm not included in?"

"You and me - 'we'."

Promising. Sands rolled onto his back and laced his hands behind his head.

"So, this 'we', does it extend to you letting me make some of the decisions?"

"I don't think that would be appropriate under the circumstances."

"Ah well, a guy's got to try."

So they were still not equals, but they were, at least, staying together. Sands was starting to feel confident that he might - just might - get a little closer to what he really wanted some day too. 



Later, Sands dreamed - he hoped that it was a dream - of waking in a silent room with soft walls.



Dormouse


 

 

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