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Riddle of the Blackbirds

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Dedicated to linaelyn for the you-know-what. ::GLOMPS::

Disclaimer: don't own and not making money.

The sunlight was pale, the curtains were beige, and even though the walls were technically a sickly off-white, it could've just as well been monochrome. The man leaned a hip against the table, carelessly skidded his sunglasses towards the middle. He has a practiced aim.

With the leather doctor's kit clunked on a chair, the nylon garment bag sagged on the bed, the Beginner's Spanish-English dictionary clasped against a white slip of paper; with these he identifies himself.

1: townsperson

He's seen the man strolling his claim down the streets, garish pale to the land's golden brown reds. The gringo moves like one striking ownership, with the threat of an American's power.

This makes his teeth ache; and he realizes that he's clenching his jaw.

He doesn't look the man in the eye because he's heard of the bodies left behind. He believes the tales even though he hasn't seen any himself, because he knows there are ways to hide these things. And he knows, with a look over his shoulder, that the strange American is the least of his worries.

He believes, and is defined by his beliefs, that the land will set things right again.

But, as he looks at this leech of a tourist, he finds he doesn't know when.

Among twenty snowy mountains
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

2: cucuy

"...or are you a MexiCAN'T?"

Cucuy snarls and they both hold themselves thrummingly still in each other's personal space like a challenge, their wills scaffolding their bodies in place where otherwise it would wish to crumble in on itself.

Cucuy knows broken when he sees it. Such things resonate because like meets like and he knows wanting to take up space instead of being taken, he knows wanting to be striking instead of being unheard, he knows wanting to be something other than small and to scrawl his own dramatic line across the sands.

It's too much to say that he's sympathetic; it is recognition, silent acknowledgement. No use for complaints when what had happened to them happens still; it's how the world is. He wonders, idly, how old Sands was when.

His eyes slide along the boy-figure in yellow, biking by, and he makes a note in his mind.

It won't be too hard to find where he lives, Cucuy thinks.

I was of three minds
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

3: belini

The world doesn't go flat unless he gets too close, so he takes care to keep things at a distance, to see them properly.

What he sees today is ludicrous, a boy-child playing Spy with his back undefended and with hands soft and empty. Or perhaps Sands thinks to stab him with a butterknife? Belini hid his sneer with an easy smile.

It rankles, that Americans think so little of Mexico that they send this boy to represent them; and Belini must indulge the child because of his powerful parents. He tells Sands a story to pass his time and, truly, no nanny has been paid so well to weave the folktales.

And that is all he'll feed Sands: tales, myths, and legends. Everything important he'll keep in his head and Belini grins at the irony and feels safe in his knowledge.

The blackbird whirled in the autumn wind
It was a small part of the pantomime.

4: waitress

She sees the American in black coiled in the chair, and she's afraid to approach, but does so anyway. She replaces a waiter that displeased this man who tips well, comes often, and controls his territory with a half-cocked gun. Retaliation means that more men disappear and the ground seems to quake as he walks and.

In Mexico's warmth he is cold and he is powerful and he makes her shiver and nervous and.

She spills the coffee, dark and oily and steaming and hot, and apologies cough out of her mouth like blood and her fingers try to absorb the boiling wetness and her nails try to claw it out somehow and she looks into the man's eyes and--

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

5: jorge

Sands is not quite famous in the intelligence community for being a loose cannon. (he is not 'particularly' famous for near failing his psych exam and he is not 'really' famous, and this in careful whispers, for slipping things away from under HQ's finger) He is not the first, on all counts; and he is not the only one who wants out.

Jorge thinks that eccentricity is all part of the job description sometimes (often), a specific mentality in the business with a prediliction towards trenchcoats, (voices), walkie talkies, and sunglasses and the specific feel of Death's cold flat edge on one's skin (like a living-metal kiss). Sands may want out but Jorge knows that habits would've sunk deep by now (wire trap, and sprung), and you can never really release yourself.

He watches how obsessively Sands tries to play others on their leashes and how tightly he tries to rein himself. (tries) And Jorge knows (guesses) that none of them, none of the brilliant ones (and he could admit that of Sands), can control their own bounds.

The best you can do is exchange handlers or, perhaps, find a new one somewhere safe.

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflexions
Or the beauty of innuendos,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

6: HQ

It has become an issue; his missions are completed, but his methods are crude and laughable.

Too much of their resources have been bled out to haul his operations straight, into some semblance of stability. Which he insists on accrediting to his own skill.

They are never quite sure how much he believes his own ego. They are never quite sure if he truly believes his schemes are hidden from them. But they are sure that they'd never let him north, near Alaska's pipelines; Sands is like a match and they'd rather he burn out than be anywhere near the oil.

So he's been stationed in Mexico, a post which doesn't require a delicate touch; the country is already well trained, at heel. And if it slips from the leash?

It will be regrettable, to be sure.

Icicles filled the window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The Mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

7: ajedrez

Little Sheldon takes her, she thinks, like it's something rarely given and she?

She takes it with a coyote grin.

Barillo believes in the old ways like most men and despite being his daughter she is still viewed as little more than a woman. This shadow performance with Sands plays out a glorious golden tale where he manipulates and controls and schemes and she is powerful and respected and revered, and they both escape with none the wiser.

But that? It is a dream. She is the token female, for the AFN; she is a decoy, for her father. She lets herself be a convienient hole and a pretty face and she listens to Sands' charming story.

She wonders where Sands fucked up that he wants to run so badly. She imagines too many plates set spin and shattering under him too many times.

But this is how it will go, he insists: the plates will spin to a balanced stop, the cartels diverted, their countries confused, and they will be off somewhere safe. Them. Plural. She doesn't understand why; she has been cold to him for all their acquaintaince and still he says he would share this with her. She, of course, doesn't believe him.

He spins such pretty dreams, but she remindes herself of the truth.

She reassures herself that her father will never betray her.

She tells the doctor where to stand.

O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

8: barillo

It would be laughable if it wasn't so annoying. This agent of the U.S. has all the markings of a spoiled and pampered heir, someone who has never known difficulty.

Barillo will change that.

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

9: advisor of the land

The only reason he sleeps at night is because Machiavelli's words gives him pardon. (Because a sitting president is much like sitting fowl.) He wonders how others fare. He's heard of this agent, from here and there, who controls more of Mexico than he himself does and isn't that just rank. (The man absorbs all that is foul and fetid and runs the fecal mess slimy-smooth.) Having him around, Nicolas feels clean in comparison. His hands feels less crackled with blood and the vomit he can't keep down isn't for himself. (Everytime a coup occurs his stomach revolts too, and it reassures him.)

History will repeat, and new powers rise up. (And the generals never know how to run a country, so Nicolas' duty is to live.)

Generals. And cartel. The sour taste grows even now and he thinks that if instead this Sands becomes Mexico, it will not be so bad.

When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

10: one right nut

He will always feel a phantom pain, left there after Barillo's daughter ripped his sack in half and tore out the left side. Any mention of torture makes him wince, and realize again how his underpants are just a little too loose.

He stares at the stumbling man and feels his lack and knows from experience that they don't usually get this far after having their eyes scooped out. Or any other body part for that matter.

And it's only the eyes; they should collect him. Ajedrez Barillo will come to claim this man again.

She'd left him intact after all.

At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

11: chicle

He feels vaguely as if he's following Don Quixote, but he gladly squires for this bone pale pistolero. He's old enough to understand the breaths of dead and death and dying that float through the plaza and is too aware that they are hemmed in as much from the guerilla fighting, down on every block, as from this blinded man's will and stubborn hopes.

He is not exactly afraid of dying because he is already dead. He has helped this man the cartel maimed, he was spared when he was used as shield, and he is probably now known to them.

He was told to run, but he will stay nearby, because he has nowhere else that he needs to be.

His Don fought to find the windmills and doesn't quite succeed as such, in this tale; but he watches the downed man still breathe through the dust, and he can't help but count it as victory.

He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
for blackbirds.

12: el

He is not fully sure how he'd aquired this foulmouthed compatriot, who crashes headfirst into things with no sense of bounds and awkward, like something newly born and stumbling, throwing himself against walls and El and other immobile objects, like a toddler that has no better sense.

He knows that Sands have long since been jaded, so the lack of self-preservation cannot be from not knowing how. He distantly wonders why part of Sands seems to want to die; because all considered, eyes are not so much. He should know.

But. Perhaps the lack of them is enough to tear a mind apart. That, he thinks, must be prevented. So he systematically hauls Sands together again, pressing meager patchwork bits of spirit back through his skin, breathing in what life he could imitate, and chaining Sands to him with silver.

He pockets first the heart, because that was not for him to give. He fully believes that Sands would have preferred it without, anyways.

But he plans to ask the man, when they next wake up, just to satisfy his curiosity.

The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

13: townsperson

He's seen the men striding along the streets, and at times he can’t tell them apart from the mirages, swaying like a storyline, merging with the landscape.

There is a song in the winds.

He doesn't look the men in the eye because (eyes are missing) they are both dead. He believes the tales even though he hasn't seen any himself, because he knows there are ways that legends travel. Sometimes, even, on foot. He knows that perhaps he might worry a bit less now.

He believes, and is defined by his beliefs, that the land will set things right again.

It has started that stanza, in any case.

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar limbs.

The white slip is filled, rolled up, and burned. (He grimaced; El-Jingle-All-The-Way got the wrong papers. Again.)

The dogeared dictionary is marked with highlighted typos and commentary and there is copious advice scrawled in green around the swear words. It's to be a gift.

The expensive garment bag contains five cheap t-shirts, all airy cotton and vulgar ink. The leather doctor's kit contains a bloodless arm and a bloody fork.

And even though the sunlight was weak and the curtains were drab, and even though the walls were a sickly non-color, it doesn't matter. Sands can't see it himself anyway.

And he never did trust other people's descriptions.


author's notes: the answer is "NONE OF THE ABOVE."

credits: Much MUCH love to linalyn, inkbug, and lil_neko who beta-ed and supported and inspired like whoa. Everything in grey font is from Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (Wallace Stevens). The fork is from circe_tigana and ignited. The room-image is from slodwick's The Picture is Worth a Thousand Words Challenge...though I violated the word limit by about a thousand words...::covers eyes::