Disclaimers: Oh, they are so not mine. And that's probably a good thing.

Rating: Umm... R? Language, a bit of violence. That's about it.

Acknowledgements: To some anonymous but highly clever lasses who sparked brain activity and made sure my metaphorical shoes were tied.

Author's Notes: This is really short. And pretty weird. But I didn't know how to say it any other way.

Feedback: is welcome at mtriste@hotmail.com.


By Mairead Triste

He missed the smell of women. Sweet and soft in a way that touched him, held him; but never found expression except in the extended length of a rare embrace.

Lust was comfortable, easy and customary and expected. This wasn't that. He knew because the olfactory ghosts were as often of his mother, his sisters, as they were of some long-vanished lover.

Whatever it was (and, indeed, an exact definition eluded him), Miguel Alvarez kept it to himself, responding to the more concrete scent of threat that hung around it, draped around it like a caul-- to protect, to warn.

To herald visions.

And he had visions. Foresight, images unsought and disconnected; tight little movie-screen slices of what could be, what would be if he were ever transgressed the boundaries he himself had made.

This is what it is to live in fear. This is what it is to be more beautiful than you know.

"You wanna watch it, Cortez, you fucking prick--"

"Too bad you don't have the same sweet ass, 'ey? They'd be on you like flies on shit, baby--"

Two men coming together-- close as a dance, but made of a much deadlier cut: blood in midair and thick sounds of muscle-padded impact. And then hacks turning, others turning, but before even the first shout of warning can go up there is Miguel, Miguel between; pulling reluctant flesh apart. It takes almost all his strength, but he makes the effort without thought.

"Cool it-- goddamn it I said cool it; don't start this shit here! What the fuck, anyway?"

His body is between them, he is shorter than either of the other men. There is no trace of fear on him, and his spine is very straight. His attention goes first to the nearest hack, hand on belt, scowling. Miguel scowls too.

" 's no problem, man; no problem at all. We cool."

And then, that necessity addressed, he slides offhand back to a more casual stance. He looks from one man to the other with eyebrows drawn up, penetrating, somehow both plaintive and demanding at the same time, and at once the hot, wiry charge in the air dissipates a little. Miguel is unaware that he's half- defused the situation already by drawing that line between the family and the forces outside. He knows only that he did what was right for him to do.

"Now what the fuck's this all about, man? Delgado? Cortez?--"

The man to Miguel's left shifts forward, leaning hard into the hand pressed to his chest. "He was talking shit about my sister, okay? He--"

"Suck my dick, Delgado-- all I said is that she has her one sweet peach of an ass--"

"Okay okay okay! Fuck!" Miguel's voice is sharp, but low enough not to draw unwanted notice. There is visible tension in the sculpted muscles of his arms as he holds the men apart, but he betrays no effort. "Cortez, shut the fuck up about his sister. Delgado--"

He turns, and steps very close, instinctively drawn to the place where the greatest threat to solidarity lies. He looks levelly into the other man's eyes, seeing the hate there and the hazard, recognizing a wound in a tender place. He understands without knowing how that those are the worst; those are the hardest of all to heal. "You just pay no mind, a'ight? Cortez is... we all in fuckin' prison, hermano-- your sister's safe. She's safe, man." He says this very softly, so softly that only the two of them can hear it. There is no judgement in his words.

The brown eyes locked to his own search deep, needing to believe. Miguel just stares steadily. This demonstration of faith, this test, is one that he's accustomed to. With the number of men who are bound to him, it's a fairly frequent trial.

When Delgado's eyes finally cut away, Miguel slaps him lightly on the shoulder.

Sometimes the force, the intensity of his fidelity burns him. For the men in his game (all of them faithful, all of them loyal) it is mostly machismo, little more than lip service with a stiff belt of pride to back it up. For Miguel, however; there is literally no separation between service and self-- he is given, rendered; utterly suffused with the fire of his allegiance. It is in his flesh and bone, and rooted even deeper than that.

He sleeps restlessly nevertheless; no vision or foresight sufficient to disclose the fact that he sleeps in a martyr's bed.

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned."

The faint but insistent smell of floor-sweeping compound tickles Miguel's nose, and the chair seems suddenly uncomfortable. He shifts unhappily, wishing once again that he could do this standing up and moving-- everything is too close like this, too clearly sprung from the part of him that speaks when all else is silent.

"Go ahead, Miguel." And he realizes he's been silent too long.

Miguel takes a deep breath, deep enough so that his chest cramps in protest.

And speaks.

There is talk in the church of miracles, of saints and angels and bright white sacrifice. There is no talk of Miguel.

He walks step to step without knowing that other feet have been there before his own, but he senses their warmth, somehow, and it both elates and terrifies him. He speaks of this to nobody.

Miguel saw a miracle once, cradled it in his arms and felt his heart tear open with love before it was taken from him. God's fault, his own. The blame sustained him for such a little time, unable to survive the heat and brilliance of what he carries with him always-- he can't turn away from love. That too, is bone-deep and rooted deeper. It is his nature.

There is a battle going on, a rageful fight between flesh and all-flesh. His hands seem so empty at times, reaching desperately for what the human in him needs-- man, woman, and child. He is touched, singled out; bleeding from unseen wounds. The ghosts that come around him are welcome.

Miguel knows, somehow, that this is right, but there are times when the struggle against pity for himself wears him down.

When the battle is finished, his hands are slippery and red. There is one last stroke to make.

The less there is of him, the more he is. Things fall away, and that too, is right. Time is gray, if he leaves his eyes open. He keeps them closed most of the time and watches, watches.

His mouth is always sour, always dry. He cleans it with whispers.

And, eventually, whispers return to him.

Saint, Saint, Saint Miguel, pared down and illuminated and pure, burning with love; burning.

Grandfather touches Miguel's neck, kisses his brow as rough- threaded cotton moves deftly in his hands.


Feedback to: mtriste@hotmail.com.