To the End
And so, like that, Alejandra was deemed the Gold Tezcatlipoca, the Ruler of the Sixth World.
And so, like that, Alvaro was deemed the sacrifice, giving all of his blood, over and over again, to keep the sky moving.
And so, like that, Sofie was deemed the keeper, watching over Alvaro as he lay perpetually bleeding out.
It’d be a while before it all began. Enough time for Alejo’s funeral, anyway. Enough time to plan and host one for Alvaro, even, if they were inclined to have one.
And so, like that, Ruben’s involvement was over. Officially.
He stood there, in the middle of his house, the house he’d shared with Carmen and Summer and Lili, the edge of an empty box in one hand.
There was a lot of shit in there. Rugs. Pallets. Embroidered blankets stretched over the walls. A corn husk doll of a cross-eyed jaguar warrior Summer had made him. A patolli mat that he and Lili’d pulled out at least once a week. The cape Carmen had woven for him, with the “emoticon” of a face with the tongue stuck out on the inside, because they’d joked about it at some point in the past.
One box had either not been enough or it’d been too much.
On the altar in the corner was Carmen’s knife. Mierda, she’d actually left it?
She’d want that back.
He took it. The gloss shifted along the black blade like the sunlight sliding along ice, disappearing entirely once drawn under his shadow. And then it was almost solid black, coming to a razor-sharp edge, pointed like a tooth.
With a crack! his chest exploded into agony beneath searching fingers.
His shadow strung itself round him, grew a million teeth, and cinched together, all at once.
Unbearable cold seeped in through his veins from each of the million teeth, even as unbearable heat squeezed through him from his heart, oozing farther with each shallow breath that sucked in faster and faster.
He almost knew what it would feel like, Lili’s eyes giving way to his thumbs. It’d be so easy, too. Satisfying.
Hands were on his arms.
El. It was El. Eyes wide, worried. Her lips were moving, shaping words. Her braids were falling towards him.
He was on the ground.
“—be okay, Ru. I’m here, I’m gonna help. Just—” Her expression settled, little by little. She could see he was back. “Can you tell me what’s going on?” Her words were slower, more intent than before.
Yeah. Made sense.
Her stare was blank.
“To… to Alejo.”
Blood drained from her. “Shit.” She searched him a moment. “Oh shit, Ru.” Another moment. “Are you… are you okay now? Can I… ?”
No he wasn’t. But that wasn’t what she was asking.
“Yeah.” He sat up. She let him. The house was still all around him, right where he’d left it. “It’s over.”
She held onto him, taut. Hesitant. Then she pressed herself over him, wrapping him in a hug.
The very edges of the fire and the ice still lingered in his bones. Hers was a very different vise, all softness and warmth, but he still didn’t dare to breathe until she let him go.
Everyone else, outside, was busy. He’d seen it. Could hear it still, a little. Making way for the Sixth World.
“Why are you here?”
“Why do you think?” El picked up the box and the knife. So he’d dropped them, then. “I’m here to help you move, obviously.” She eyed them, then looked up at him. “Really? Just one box?” She was light with forced casual ease. “You have done this before, right?”
“We aren’t set to be married anymore.” Not that that’d ever offered anything more than a thin veneer of propriety. Probably thinner now that everything was changing. “You should go.”
“Hey, yeah, you know what, you’re right.” She set the box down, put the knife inside it, and held her hands up in surrender. “Everyone still being able to pretend that I’m at least having semi-acceptable sex is hands down more important than making sure you’re gonna be okay and giving you a better send-off than ‘Kay, thanks, bye’.”
She knew it could get more damaging than that. But whatever. She’d weighed it how she’d wanted to weigh it. And caring about him was still more important to her. Even though after this they weren’t going to see much of each other. Not at all, probably, after she got married. She took perceived adultery a lot more seriously.
Yoptel-mopsel. He was gonna lose El too.
Ruben took a breath. Let it out, slow.
“I’ll be okay.” It fell hollow from him, like a lie. Maybe he shouldn’t have said anything. Even though it was true. Probably. “Done packing.” That felt true, at least. So that just left the send-off part. “How’d you want to do the goodbye thing?”
El stared at him, tightness stringing through her expression. Then she let out a little breath of a laugh, with a hard edge. “Ouch, Ru.” She laughed again. “I know we have trouble communicating sometimes, but you know you can just say if you wanna be left alone, yeah?” Her strained smile faltered, then reasserted.
Oh. Right. That would hurt.
“Sorry.” He had to give her something else. She was trying so hard. He reached, somewhere far down for something, anything. “I’m gonna miss you.”
Yebat kopat. That was too much. It cracked through him.
Her expression faded to puzzlement. But then it eased. Her smile returned, sharp.
It’d cracked her, too.
“Really? So you’re calling it off? Just like that?”
Calling what off?
El stared at him. Waiting. He didn’t know what to give her. He couldn’t even be angry.
She took in a deep breath, and let it out. Her smile faded. The sharpness gave way. “I get it.” Her gaze dropped. “Mom’s in charge here, now, and Tlilocelotlpilli’s rap took a nosedive. I know that’s not looking so good for us. I mean, the most obvious thing to do would be to marry me into Tane’s family instead.” She looked up at him. “But you’re my best friend. And I got three brothers and a sister who’ll one day be marrying age. Centeotl and Xilonen have that girl of theirs too. And you still have status here ‘cause you earned the eff out of it. Plus, Mom likes you and Xipe Totec likes you, which puts you at two for two with Tezcatlipocas right now. So, all in all, the political alliance stuff around us being married is still pretty sound.”
There was a choice there.
Her gaze dropped again, just enough to lift off him, and she took in a breath. “I know being married doesn’t really mean a whole lot to you. I get it. More importantly, I know you’re in horrible shape. I wasn’t gonna say anything for a while ‘cause I wanted to help, not pile you with more stuff to deal with. But I don’t know how quick everything’s gonna move, and, getting married aside, our friendship is on the line, here. And I don’t wanna let you go if I can help it.” Her gaze made its slow, hesitant way back up to him. “I mean, I love you.”
Of course there was a choice there. There never really weren’t choices. He just didn’t want there to be, because that was too hard, so he let himself believe there wasn’t.
And now… and now he didn’t know what to say. He’d have to reach again for it, force himself through some more pain.
El stared at him.
He should. He really should.
The plea in her face eased, little by little, to flatness.
She’d said things that weren’t easy to say. Was letting herself be hurt.
“Okay. Well.” El stood up. “Goodbye, Ru. I’ll miss you too.” Her tone was bleak. Matter-of-fact was the only strength offered to her words.
No. No. He had to give her something. She was giving him so much.
“I love you too, El.”
She stopped at the doorway. Her hand on it. Still. Her heart beating faster again. And then she left, footsteps fading to silence.
He wanted this. He fuckin’ wanted this.
There was hope still. Because of fucking course there was.
And he could fuckin’ have it. It wouldn’t even take that fuckin’ much to get it. Just digging through all the hurt again with El—which sucked ass but wasn’t, like, the trying to talk down his insane fuckin’ father who wants to kill him kind of suck-ass—and then some negotiation shit and some politics shit. Because she was right.
¡ME CAGO EN LA HOSTIA!
Ruben took Carmen’s knife. Drove it into the box. Again and again. Shredded it apart.
“So what now, huh!?” he screamed out over Then, Now, and Will Be. “Now I just gotta, what, live my fuckin’ life?” Heat split through him, too hot, charging his whole body. He stood. “Get my happily-ever-fuckin’-after!?” He paced through the room. “Sit on my chyort,” he swiped a pot to pieces with the back of his hand, “laurels of marital fuckin’ bliss and just hope,” he kicked over the altar, scattering everything over it all over the floor, “that things are gonna work out for Sofie!?” He planted himself square in the middle of the room, turned toward the ceiling. “How come I get to have it all, HUH!? How come Sofie gets fuckin’ perhot’ podzalupnaya!?” He pounded his free hand against his chest. “I don’t fuckin’ know what the fuck to do with it!” It didn’t even ache. So he pounded harder, again and again, every few words. “What the FUCK else do I need to fuckin’ FAIL AT for you to PINCHE COMPRENDE!?” He picked up the fallen altar and slammed it against the wall, shattered pieces scattering over him.
His voice rang out over eternity. Unanswered. Unchallenged.
Because he already fuckin’ knew the answer to that fuckery. He was asking the wrong question a-fuckin’-gain. Wherever, whenever Mom heard it… she’d hurt. Maybe she’d cried about it already. Or maybe she will cry about it, thousands of fuckin’ years from now. Or mierda, why not both!? ‘Cause why not add hurting her over and over again for eternity to his list of fuck-ups!?
“YEAH. I. FUCKIN’. FAILED. OKAY!?” He punctuated each of his words with a slash on the blanket draped over the wall. “I fuckin’ ATTACKED Tezcatlipoca instead of trusting Sofie to handle it! Instead of HOPING Alejo would come through!” He put the knifed fist through the wall and yanked it out, adobe dust fogging over him. “And now he’s fuckin’ DEAD, and Sofie’s baby is fuckin’ DEAD because I’M THE ONE WHO FUCKED UP HIS AIM JUST RIGHT, and Alvaro’s gonna DIE over and over again EVERY FUCKIN’ YEAR, and Sofie is fuckin’ DYING a slow, miserable death as bits and pieces of her keep being whittled A-FUCKIN’-WAY!”
Nothing. Because OF FUCKIN’ COURSE. He was right, after all.
“That’s not fuckin’ right either, IS IT!?” He kicked something apart. Didn’t even see whatever the fuck it was, just felt it splinter. “I had a PROPHETIC FUCKIN’ VISION,” he jabbed a finger at his temple, “about this! So there was NO FUCKIN’ POINT no matter WHAT I did, HUH!? I might as well NOT HAVE FUCKIN’ BEEN THERE!” Well. “AT LEAST I’M FUCKIN’ USELESS INSTEAD OF A FUCKUP, HUH!?”
He wasn’t expecting answers anymore. Probably he wasn’t in the first place.
“WHY AM I THE ONE WHO HAS TO DO THIS!?” His throat was scraping raw. Fuckin’ FINE. “WHY CAN’T YOU JUST LET ME BE NIEGADZAI AND ALONE AND MISERABLE, HUH!? LET FUCKIN’ LILI OR, SHIT, FUCKIN’ GALEN FOR FUCK’S SAKE HAVE THIS CHUSH’ SOBACH’YA LEGACY! WHY’D YOU PUT THIS ON ME NOW OF ALL FUCKIN’ TIMES!?”
Because of-fuckin’-course this would be the best time to learn from it. And he was the single pinche pendejo who’d learn the most from it. ‘Cause that’s how this bullshit fuckin’ worked. It didn’t matter how he felt about it.
There was no fuckin’ point to shouting anymore. He already had the answers—not that he’d have received any—and it didn’t help him feel less angry. So he put some more holes in the wall and just… left.