To the End
Lili clung to him, trying, with some success, to crush him around the middle with her legs, and around the neck with her arms.
“You gonna hog him the whole evening?” Aida asked, motioning with an upward palm, her head tilted to one side.
“Hey, you’re gonna get to see him first if he dies,” Lili snapped.
Mierda. Her unhappiness was leaking.
Carmen, who was lounging nearby, legs resting on Shawn, let out a bark of a laugh, twisted a little with bitterness. “I think Dovilė will, mija.”
So was hers.
Lili clicked her tongue. ~ Whatever.
“Hey, Zygotutė.” Ruben gave her a brief squeeze. “I like you, okay? If it’s really important to you to stick to me, you can say so instead of brushing everyone off. They just want to get a chance to say goodbye the way they want, same as you.”
Lili crinkled her brow and pouted. “You didn’t say you were just gonna leave again.”
“He’s not worth it, Lili, ‘cause he’s a loser.” It was Summer, from just far enough away, arms crossed and leaning against a wall. Her eyes were hard, and her lips pressed flat.
Exhaustion settled over Carmen, dragging at her shoulders. She closed her eyes briefly, and shifted her jaw.
Shawn put a hand on her shin, forestalling her from standing. “You want I should talk to her?”
Carmen gave him a wan smile. “Thanks, but I think I should handle this one.” She looked to Ruben. “I’ll catch you in a little bit.”
Well. This was out of his hands. He was doing what he had to. They would do what they had to. And if he got back, they would all sort it all out together. If not… well, they’d have to sort it out anyway.
Ruben gave her a nod, then turned back to Lili. “’Kay. What’s it gonna be?”
Lili’s gaze dropped to the floor. Then she slowly climbed off of him. “Sorry for acting like a zhopa.”
“Hey, bitutė.” Aida bucked her chin. “Forgiven. And I bet if you ask nicely, he’ll let you reattach after everyone else has their turn.”
Lili shrugged a shoulder and looked tentatively up from under her hair.
Not like it’d take him the entire half-hour to hug everyone. But he was already getting a reminder of how much goodbyes fuckin’ sucked and overstayed their fuckin’ welcome. Practically made him itch. Why couldn’t people just be okay with a wave and a “Later”? Like Jeff and Abel. Or Sen. Or Dovilė. It’s not like they’d never see him again if he died—they could get all weepy and huggy at him in Bren’s castle.
“For you? Sure,” he said. “Just let me know.”
El was at the end of the procession of fare-thee-well-ers. Without a word, her lips pursed, expression dark, she put her palms on his shoulders and pushed. He stepped back, let her move him to the other side of the room, near the doorway out of the dining room. Then, when she was satisfied, she straightened, keeping her hands where they were. Her eyes roamed him up and down and her jaw shifted.
“Really like the beard,” she said, as if there wasn’t a storm on her face.
What the fuck did he do now.
A spark flashed in her eyes. The storm grew, unfurling red in her cheeks. She jutted her jaw. Her fingers began to curl against him, gripping his shirt. “Ruben.” Her eyes slid down him again.
He didn’t fuckin’ have time for this. “You’re mad.”
Her gaze snapped up. Every part of her was tense. “Oh really? You think so?”
Yoptel-mopsel. Why didn’t she just come right out and say whatever the fuck she wanted to say? “Did you want to talk?”
“Well there’s no fuckin’ time for that, is there?” El didn’t take her eyes off of him, her brows pressed flat. Her hands spread warmth through his chest, down his abdomen, up his spine.
Yet she still wanted something from him. “No. You’re right. There isn’t.”
His heart was beating fast. So was hers. He could see it in the vein along her throat. Her cheeks were hot. Red. Her eyes were dark.
“You wanna hatefuck, don’t you?”
El bared her teeth. Then they parted with a breath and another jut of her jaw. “Took you long enough.”
Finally, something he could do about one of the gajillion things falling apart around him that was straightforward and actually worked. To a point, anyway. And it didn’t take hours of exhausting emotional labor.
They’d still have to do that, in the end. But for now… he was pissed off and stuck here another fifteen minutes anyway. And he didn’t feel like spending that time waiting around for Lili to make up her mind to cling to him again.
Ruben yanked her closer, so that the heat between them could grow. Her hands quickly slid from his shoulders to his chest as he did, bracing. “You should’ve just said so.”
A corner of El’s lip came up in a sneer. “Shut the eff up, Ru. You’re gonna ruin the mood with your sense.”
Then she seized his face and crashed a kiss into his mouth. He smashed against her and held her there, pressing her body tight into his until the heat burned on the tip of every last one of his nerves. She wove her fingers into his hair, dug them into his skull, and dragged him towards the doorway. He grabbed her hips, turned her around, and pushed her up against the door, which swung open, momentum slamming them against the wall on the other side. Her hands left him to gather up her skirt; his hands left her to shrug out of his suspenders.
Something tapped on his shoulder. “Hey. Rube.”
It was Sen. With exceptionally shitty timing.
Ruben pulled himself away. Irritation spread over El’s face like a flashfire. She peeked over his shoulder, her knuckles growing pale around her fistfuls of cloth.
“What.” Ruben twisted only just enough to see what was going on.
Sen stood there, arms propping Wessy up against his side. He nodded to just over his shoulder, where Sanura was waiting. She had out her sketchpad and pencil. Her eyes were wide, mortified, and transfixed entirely on Sen.
“There,” Sen said, looking her way. “Now you can talk to him about the things.”
“Sen, that wasn’t—I didn’t want—they were—”
Sen shifted Wessy a little. “There’s fifteen minutes left. You aren’t gonna get another chance.”
Sanura closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Please forgive the interruption. I’ll try to keep this brief.” Then she opened them, not looking at any of them. “I just wanted to ensure that you received a weapon that would suit your character best. I have several designs I could share, but your input would be most valuable.”
Fuckin’ serious? She could give him a zweihander if she fuckin’ wanted to. It didn’t make a single chyort difference. If it came down to fighting again, his ass was gonna be handed to him on a superpowered platter and he was gonna do whatever the fuck he could to enact a strategic fuckin’ retreat to spare what extremities and organs he still had. What suited his character best was leaving. Well, at this point, fucking his frustration out with his fiancée and then leaving.
El let her skirt drop. Stepped away from between him and the wall, the too-cool, empty air driving away their combined heat. Somehow the tips of his nerves only burned hotter. “He’s trained with the mahaquitl, tepoztopilli, atlatl, tlahuitolli, and tematlatl. You got anything like that?”
She didn’t actually buy into Sanura’s plan, did she? “El.”
Fire flashed over her face again. “Ru.” She slid him an exasperated glare.
No. She didn’t.
“I’m afraid that would require a great deal more research. Unfortunately, given my time limit…” Sanura did not look up at him when she said this.
Fuckin’ fine. He could passive-aggressive at her too. “I prefer my hands, feet, and teeth, anyway.”
“Hey, Rube,” Sen said, coolly. “This’ll go a lot quicker if you stop acting like a zhopa.”
And why fucking should he? Sanura had insisted on holding him up from leaving when he wanted to, and now that he’d found something to do to blow off some steam and occupy this pointless waiting, she had to go and hold him up from that! And Sen was fucking helping her!
But Sen wasn’t wrong. Fucker. “Fuck off.”
Sanura’s eyes flicked to them, uneasy. Sen backed off, having made his point.
“So maybe some claws, then?” El suggested, ignoring them. “You know, like over his fists or something? Those… whadya call…”
Sanura looked back to her. “Katar?”
El snapped her fingers. “That’s the name! Thanks!”
He didn’t know how the fuck to use katar and she knew it. All El was doing was capitulating. He should just shut her the fuck up before she negotiated him into a fuckin’ three-piece suit or some govno.
That would get her some major Sanura approval points, at least. It’d taken her a while to make up for all the negative points she’d apparently gotten when she was nine.
Sanura nodded, flipping through her sketchbook. “I have several old designs I can break out for a modified pair. Perhaps mount them on gauntlets for some more structural integrity…” She furrowed her brow and tapped her pencil against her lips.
Yeah. Great. Just fuckin’ like Victor. He already had the beard. And the animal buddy. Next step after the gauntlets would be to dye a target on the back of his head.
“Anything else we can help you with?” El prompted.
Yoptel-mopsel. This was just getting better and better. Heat spread through him a second time, sending his blood pounding hard. His fingers twitched, ready to seize her again. Sanura could stand there and wait while pointedly not watching, with all her judgment and discomfort and awkwardness, if it was really that “valuable” to have his input.
Except El would hate that. Privacy was important to her.
Sanura looked up. “Suitable materials.” Her gaze dropped to the ground. “Ruben, I was wondering if it would be… appropriate to craft your weapons using the remains of your late… companion.”
Companion. Right. ‘Cause Hector and him were real companionable.
Try the carefully selected metaphor for the violence in his heart. The beast within, if he was feeling particularly pretentious.
Ruben had put him down ‘cause he’d proved that he would never truly be controlled. And now she wanted to bring him back by turning him into a weapon. Another force of violence.
A weapon was something that had no will of its own. Something that couldn’t just lash out on a whim and cause massive harm. Something that needed some level of skill and discernment behind it to direct it.
There was Mom again, showing up in the most unexpected of places.
“Highly appropriate, I think.”
Sanura looked up to him, a little surprised.
Though he had no fuckin’ clue where Hector’s corpse was. But he knew who would. „Dovilė, could you please bring Hector to Sanura?”
Coño. He owed her an offering of cigarettes or coffee with whipped cream or something. At least. Unsung fuckin’ hero right there.
Sanura tilted her head, as if quirking an ear to better listen. “Dovilė, would you please be a dear and put Hector in my workshop?”
From the shadows came a voice. “Jo.”
El tightened, startled, then covered her eyes with a hand and let out a little sigh.
Heh. Got her every time.
“Okay. Thank you.” Sanura made another series of marks in her sketchbook, then regarded them again. “I’m… um… all finished. Thank you for your time.”
El nodded. “Thank you. And good luck.”
Sanura tilted her head and pressed out a smile, flicked a look Ruben’s way, averted her gaze, then turned on her heel and strode off. Sen offered a tilt of his own head to them in farewell and followed her. She paused only to open up her arms to take Wessy.
Mierda. He owed them an apology.
A real one, though. One with more effort than just a “I’m sorry.” More emotional labor for when he got back.
Man alive, this sucked ass.
El sighed, closed her eyes, stepped to one side and leaned against the wall, sliding her fingers into her hair and gripping. “Well, I don’t hate you anymore.” She looked up to him, resignation in her eyes. Her cheeks were still hot, her eyes were still dark, and her pulse was still throbbing.
He leaned against the door, facing her, keeping it open. “Me neither.” She’d actually helped a lot, with Sanura. He’d hadn’t handled that well. “That was cool of you, to step in like that and mediate. Hard to stay mad after that.”
A corner of her lips curled up, wry. “That’s some irony. I was kinda liking that I was making you madder for a while there.” Then she took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. “I don’t really wanna be mad about admiring you for going back to Alejo. Though, for the record, I also think it’s really effin’ stupid and you don’t owe him jack.” Her brow furrowed. “I guess I’m just scared for you.” She searched him a moment. “You better come back alive.”
Just like that. Two seconds. No teasing deflections. She told him what was up, and owned it, and that was that.
Yoptel-mopsel, she really was part of the family.
“Love you too, El. I’ll do my damndest.”
Her eyes roamed over him for a while. Then settled below his waist. She bit her lower lip, considering. Moved towards him. “Look, I know we’ve got probably ten minutes, but…” Poked her thumbs tentatively into the top of his pants, behind the button. “I’ve been turned on since I got here. I really like that beard on you.” Then she looked up, slightly hopeful, slightly resigned. “Still wanna screw?”
His nerves shot to attention again, from her thumbs out. His pounding blood was almost painful.
He stepped away, into her, letting the door swing shut. “Fuck yes.”