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sugar, sugar

Chapter Text

“Look after each other,” their mother always says; and Tuco’s aware if Pablo’s not that it isn’t just the usual motherly exhortation. They need to be more careful than the rest of the kids, two brown faces in this Italian neighbourhood. It’s a fact of life he’s taken on board, like summer after winter and buses always being late unless they’re early.

So when he finds Pablo in their room, crying, he doesn’t give way to temptation and slink off to play street hockey. Instead he shuts the door, hangs around in the kitchen awhile, until he’s judged that his brother's on to the snot-and-snivelling stage.

Then he grabs a handful of saltine crackers, the squeezy honey jar he’s not allowed to touch, gets the big willow plate and dabs one on the other in wide generous swoops. Taking care not to let any golden drops fall onto the porcelain.

Armed with this and the paper towel roll, he goes back inside.

“This is for you.”

Pablo’s blowing his nose on a handkerchief, but takes the paper towels anyway. He looks quizzically at the crackers. “What’s this?”

“It makes me feel better,” Tuco explains. (Pablo always needs things explained to him, unless they’re out of books.) “What’s scaring you?”

“Something I read in the paper today…an article about a college being sued. Some kids who weren’t being allowed in, even though they were smart enough, just because they weren’t the- the kind of people that the college wanted…” His mouth’s quivering; twelve-year old Pablo is clearly devastated.

“So you think, what if it’s me?”

“All right. What if it is? What if I can’t do what I need to, what I have this calling to do, because of something I can’t even help? What’s the good of trying my best if it won’t make any difference?”

That’s a tough question for an eight-year old, but Tuco figures he has an answer. “Cos it wouldn’t be you, if you didn’t try anyway. You’re so smart. Not like stupid me.”

“You’re not stupid,” Pablo says suddenly, for once dropping into that angry tone older brothers always use on the younger ones; only then Pablo hugs him, so fiercely that Tuco knows he doesn’t mean it like that.

And after that, everything’s suddenly normal again- they chat about baseball and theology and eat the crackers one by one. Pablo lets him have the lion’s share.

(Which is exactly what Tuco had figured would happen; but the thought was there too.)

Chapter Text

Fifteen years, a whole childhood in a rough and dirty neighbourhood, nobody’s ever hit him before. 

He knows how to run, how to make himself look wet and small and pathetic, how to suck up to adults. How to wheedle strong kids who’d take bullying their hangers-on as a personal affront. How to pass.

Even Benedict can tell it wasn’t much of a blow. The flat of a man’s hand against his shoulder, it’d shocked him more than it’d hurt.

“A whole bucket of sap, clean wasted,” the man says. “Useless city slicker, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

With his thinking in sharp relief, brought to unearthly clarity by sheer need, he can see himself just as clearly from the man’s perspective; a small brat who’d whined so about being left with the womenfolk. The teetering balance between practical contempt and the eager edge of sadism, a decision made on the grounds that this is genuinely difficult work and an extra pair of hands really would help out-

(maple sugaring isn’t the winter frolic he’d figured at all, it’s getting up at four and bitter cold and lugging heavy buckets, and why is he wasting time thinking about this now-)

“Are you going to kill me?”

“What is wrong with you?” Wallace asks; and life snaps out of sharp focus again, goes back to soft colours and the promise of more. “One bucket of sap spills, you think it’s right to start slapping around a kid? Dad, you make me sick is what. C'mon, Tuco, we’re leaving.”

“We’re not finished yet,” the man says, harsh and short-tempered. “Can’t leave a job half-done.”

“Watch me,” Wallace says. Tuco grabs his Duluth pack from the dirt, slips it on while they’re still staring each other down. He should have listened to his friend’s half-muttered warnings, that ongoing reluctance to talk about his family, but no, he’d been too greedy for sweet brown syrup. Well. Syrup and the very definite notion that Wallace didn’t want to go home by himself.

The man grabs a rifle from where it’s leaned against a tree, and if it’s not pointed at him that doesn’t make Tuco feel any better. So he’s not important enough to die in this showdown. He doesn’t want to see it either.

“Really? Joseph’s going to be so jealous,” Wallace says. Spreads his arms wide, closes his eyes.

“Just get off my land. You’re no son of mine, you haven’t been for a long time.”

“You want to shoot, you think that’d make this better? Do it. Go ahead and shoot.”

“Wallace,” Tuco says, tugging at a quilted sleeve. “C'mon. Don’t scare me.”

Maybe Wallace really isn’t cut out to be a saint, or just hears his terror; but his friend opens his eyes again. Frowns down as if he was a million miles away, but follows.

Seems to take a long time, to walk out of that clearing. Past the basin of boiling sap, out of the trees, out of sight. Out of range.

“You know, I thought he was right,” Wallace says, once they’ve hit the train tracks. “A bucket full of sap, that’s a lot of tree blood wasted. You’re pretty stupid for spilling it like that.”

“…why’d you talk back like that, then?”

“Cos I’m trying to learn how to be kind. It’s hard. Trying to- trying to live up to something better than what I learned at home. I thought the problem was me, that I needed more Christian charity towards them, and it is but also it isn’t…I mean I’ll pray for them. But I don’t think I’ll ever talk to them again. Joseph’s always saying how rough it is not having parents of his own, and I suppose he’s right but sometimes this feels just as bad.”

“I’m sorry,” Tuco says; and means it. He doesn’t understand this world, with Joseph’s aunt who won’t love him and Wallace’s father who won’t love anybody; he wants to be back in Brooklyn with a family where everybody trusts each other, because there’s nobody else to rely on.

Only they’ve exiled him here, so he can’t. “If it makes you feel better, it’s not much more fun having parents and not seeing them. Wish I could go home too- wish we both could.”

“Guess we’ll get by somehow,” Wallace says wistfully. “Us, and your brother and Joseph…at least we’ve got each other.”

“You know what else we’ve got?” Tuco asks. Shakes a heavy glass bottle out of his coat. “All the syrup we spent today making.”

“How- what- when?”

“When we were leaving, I swiped it. I mean, you walked out with nothing, not even so much as my pack…take it. The whole thing, it’s all for you.”

It’s a passionate honest action, utterly heartfelt. Which is a damned good thing really. 

Since during the exhausting three day scramble back to the priory, Wallace drinks every bit and doesn’t give him even a drop.

Chapter Text

There isn’t a word for it, how Blondie picks up his coffee cup and swishes it around when he’s about to finish it; or Tuco’s pretty sure there isn’t. It makes him impatient sometimes, the way that his partner pays such close attention to delivering just the right word, in just the right way. Sometimes the word just isn’t there at all- and in situations like that, his instinct is to babble, cover for the lack with plenty more language so the listener will never hear the difference.

So he wouldn’t know how to describe it, the swish; though he does at least know why. It’s because his partner tells anybody who asks that he drinks coffee black, but probably hasn’t actually done so since they first hit the road.

The road. Blondie’s in love with that, maybe more than his books or the hustle or movies or anything else. There’s a lot that Tuco finds sings to him, a soft black-haired girl in his arms or Christmas mass or the fulness from an overabundant meal. But he’s only ever noticed one thing that hits Blondie that way, and that’s travelling.

So they travel; and Tuco knows enough about his partner, to guess how it looks in his head- the harsh, enticing thrill of a manmade light, after a long time under stars, and too much speed, and highways that loop on themselves endlessly, blessed circle of hell that it is. Some long drives he can even feel it the same way, Blondie’s responses getting into his body as vividly as a good fuck- that being out here, just being alone, is enough, and they’ll never need anybody else.

It’s good when it happens like that. But that’s not the only time- and Blondie’s always just a little too enraptured by it, doesn’t stop to remember that they need gas stations and money and people to hustle to get the money from. Doesn’t care enough to notice, when they’re two days gone from their last good meal and both of them need a sugar fix now, before fainting over some diner’s kitsch plastic tablecloth. Black coffee is dark and how Blondie likes it, so he’ll order it that way or be damned.

But there’s always this slippage- a moment when Blondie’s looking the other way, distracted by some dream or other- and Tuco always grabs that moment, to pour a sugar or three in his partner’s coffee cup.

The swish is so Blondie can finish his drink, without leaving any telltale sugar at the bottom.

(there’s never going to be a word for it, because it didn’t happen; and some days, that’s just how Tuco prefers things)

Chapter Text

Blondie’s not here. Tuco’s just about sober enough to know that much.

He hasn’t seen his partner for a year, or heard a word from him in months, but that doesn’t stop him needing the only person who’d understand what’s wrong with him tonight. Instinctively he reaches for the Duluth, before remembering it’s not here. It’s parked in a storage locker halfway across town, part of this whole attempt to pass. It should have worked.

It is working; he has somewhere to sleep at night, he’s fed, nobody wants to arrest him for anything. He’d even picked up a girlfriend along the way, a waitress at the hotel where he washes dishes. Katie’s tall, too tall for him, and redheads aren’t his preferred flavour but she’s a better class of woman than he’s ever dared for before. Any man would count himself lucky to have her.

He’s shaking. The prosecco’s left a sour aftertaste in his mouth, and he wonders vaguely about pouring himself a glass of water, but moving off this bed seems more effort than he’s able to muster. It takes as much as he can handle, just to dig a pen out of the bedside table drawer and start rummaging for a paper to write on. Something to do right this minute, that he can transfer to a post card when he’s sobered up a little.

“Dear Blondie,” Tuco says aloud. It’s taken him several moments to remember that’s how you start these things, and he doesn’t want to forget before he starts writing it down.

The drawer’s neat, organised, not like he lives here at all (he doesn’t, it’s just somewhere he’s been renting). Bible. Keepsake earring, Katie had laughingly let him have that after losing the other one on a sight-seeing expedition into the bayou. Several little pink packets, the saccharin she’s always coaxing him to eat- healthier, she says. And you can’t taste the difference.

In his addled state, the notion of writing on those makes as much sense as anything; he rips one open, lets the small grains trickle down onto his tongue. Doesn’t help a bit, if he can’t be cheered up by straight sugar he’s more broken than he thought-

all that’s coming out of this pen are ink smears. Tuco throws it across the room, reaches for another one, realises he doesn’t have any others.

Duluth. Passing.

That’s it. He’s done. Forget hanging on until Blondie has a chance to reach him, forget staring at the Golfo de México until the soothing lap of the water and the stink of dead fish had driven him back to life- he just hurts so much and doesn’t know what could even bring him pleasure anymore-

(it’s not even the pain, it’s the flat-edged quality of the despair- jesus, he’s only been like this once but there was reason for it that time, not like now which is inexplicable, but must be his fault-)

it’s a bad sign that his body is letting him move now, to sit up and pull a shirt on and take his keys. Because he knows where he wants to go now, what he wants to do- it’s taken him four days and far too much wine to dull his instincts enough, but he’s managed it now. No more piddling around with water. He owns a gun and he knows where to find it.

When Tuco reaches for the doorknob, the door suddenly springs to life and smacks him, knocking him ass-flat on the neatly patterned carpet. He yelps; that’d hurt. A lot, actually-

and maybe it’s gone straight to his head and broken something there, because he’d swear that’s Blondie. Standing over him with that indefinable mystique, compassion in there but it’s half something else-

pure smugness, part of his mind supplies. The part that resents being saved.  

“Came as soon as I could,” Blondie says. “Pablo didn’t wait to forward your postcard this time, he called me straight. You feel like getting up?”

“No.”

“Okay.” His partner sits down next to him with casual indolence- that’s something he’d taught Blondie, years back. Not too many white boys who know how to sit on a floor without looking nervous about it, they make such a meal of squatting down.

If he put out his hand, he’d be close enough to touch that smooth blue expanse of leg. His choice. Blondie won’t touch him first.

“He knew it was that gonna be that bad, huh? That’s more than I did- I guess my brother knows me pretty well.”

Father Paul, though, what does his brother care about being taken for something he isn’t; and his whole body cringes.

Blondie ignores him, in favour of removing a cigarette from a pack and lighting it. Not a cigarillo. The smoke drifts over him as Blondie breathes out; his body craves it suddenly, urgently, but he fights down that urge the same way he’s managed to do for the last two months. If he takes it maybe that will mean the same as coming back to life, a signal he’s unwilling to give…the pain’s wearing off. It’d reminded him what real hurt feels like, but he’s forgetting just as quickly.

“He wasn’t sure,” Blondie says at length. “I was sure. That’s why I’m here.”

“You want to help, you could get me a gun.” It might be superstitious, to doubt whether he'll be able to hold to his intent after feeling the familiar weight of that pack on his shoulders again, but he’d rather not take the chance. “Just let me have it. I’ll do the rest.” 

“If you want to die so bad as that,” Blondie says in his quiet drawl, “might be better all around, if I just took care of it for you.”

And Tuco jolts backwards, away- hating Blondie for this, that his partner knows him inside and out and exactly what buttons to press to make him live-

“You try, Blondie. You just try-”

and he lets loose then in a torrent of Spanish and English curses mixed, their sharp and heavy mouthfeel such a contrast to the politeness he’s been living with. Every insult and invocation and scatalogical comment doing its part, drawing him back, until he’s run out of words and rests exhausted with his head on his partner’s lap.

He weeps for a while, after that. Gets spit and tears and snot all over Blondie’s jeans, knows it doesn’t matter. It’s okay.

“Feel better now?”

“Yeah.”

After that they’re quiet for a while. There’s always this to be said for Blondie, a silence with him will never be uncomfortable.

(Not like Katie, who liked to blab bad as a hustler herself, as if pauses scared her.)

“So she broke up with you?”

“I broke up with her,” Tuco says. “After I said- after I said it-”

calling ciao, because he didn’t grow up in the neighbourhood for nothing-

and Katie had turned, waved, called back to him. “My gorgeous Italian lover!”

then he’d just fallen to pieces

“She didn’t mind, even, she told me that. I’m crazy. I told her, go fall in love with a spaghetti-eater and never talk to me ever again. I quit my job- Blondie, I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“Think of her as a mark,” Blondie says, the picture of calm. “You took her in with a hustle, and she fell for it. That makes her stupid. You don’t want to go with a girl who’s stupid.”

That’s not a fair way of putting it, Tuco knows that (she’s smarter than he is, working on a college degree by correspondence course)- but it’s a version of events that fits with who he is, and gives him back some dignity. A story he can live with.

“I want to fuck you. But later, not now.”

“We’ll do that.” Blondie stubs out the cigarette on the carpet, where it’ll leave a burn. Lights another one, takes a drag, places it between Tuco’s lips.

It’s good. It’s very good. He finds himself sucking up the smoke with eager pleasure.

“Where’s your pack?”

“Bus station locker. I was trying to go straight, prove to myself I didn’t need it anymore.”

Blondie snorts. “You still want to do that?”

“No.” He misses it; and besides, when Blondie’s around he always needs to be ready for a crisis. “We can go pick it up tomorrow before we hit the road. I don’t want to see this city again in my life.”

“That suits.” Blondie stands up with graceful ease, looks around the place with that quick, assessing glance- such a sexy way he has of doing it, maybe later on he’ll mention that. “You should eat something, you look like you need it- what the hell’s this?”

This being one of the pink packets, which Blondie holds between thumb and forefinger like it’s some sort of poison; and the contrast between the delicate package and his angered demeanor is so ridiculous that Tuco nearly falls over laughing. Too much, probably. But he hasn’t laughed at anything in four days, he’s catching up.

Blondie waits for him to stop, with tired patience.

“Something she left,” Tuco says, when he’s recovered. No need to explain which she. “She said it was healthy. Better for you than sugar.”

“Well, that’s all nonsense-” (Tuco’s always enjoyed this, his partner getting hot and bothered about something that is in no way either of their faults.) “This is just chemical sludge. It’s useless. Tastes sweet but that’s all it does, it won’t feed you.”

“She said-” Tuco says, and then stops, his mind working out the implications faster than he wants. Suppose he’d gone out on the road again, without knowing that. Hungry and anxious and not knowing why the coffee isn’t doing anything for him, thinking it was all in his head- he expects lies when people have something to gain or something to lose, but this? This is something else again.

“You see,” Blondie says. “She was hustling you, too.”

Not the way it happened; but between them, that’ll be good enough. Giddiness rolls over him in waves. Too much shock today, too many changes, his body feeling ill-used and cheated. “I’m hungry.”

“I thought you might be. Come on, you get cleaned up and we’ll go out somewhere. I’ve got money to burn right now.”

“As long as it’s not spaghetti. Or a goddamn pizza. Or-”

he has a wide and extensive knowledge of Italian dishes and starts methodically cursing out every last one he can remember, while Blondie chuckles and lounges on the bed. It’s a good thing, to have his partner back like this.

(The whole night, it never once occurs to him to ask what Blondie’s been up to.)

Chapter Text

“…this is not what I expected you to want, when you asked for a vice,” Angel Eyes says.

Tuco hums at him, in distracted fashion. His attention’s fixed on the vice itself, and the heavy block of creamy browned sugar he’s just clamped into it.

“Or the machete. Or the bone china sugar bowl- now I’ll admit, that ought to have given me notions.”

“It’s hard work breaking these to pieces,” Tuco says, as he starts sawing away with the brand-new, red-handled blade. “I always thought it would be much easier, if you had a set-up like this…and we couldn’t use your knives, it ruins the blade. It gets dull, it gets sticky. You can’t use it for anything else afterwards.”

Fragments flake away as he talks, soft brown flakes. He catches one up on the tip of a finger, carefully licks it away (oh, very familiar taste)- which is promptly spoilt, by noticing Angel’s quizzical expression. Self-depreciating, but wary too, after a fashion that’s become rarer with him as of late.

Damnit, damnit- but then, Tuco supposes he deserves such a reaction. Anyone who knows him as well as Angel Eyes does now, should expect he can’t say anything without a hustle in it somewhere. Or at least a double entendre…only this one really hadn’t been intentional.

“I didn’t mean that. I just meant- I know what it is, to have only a few things that mean the world to you. I thought your knives were like that.”

“I’d tend to doubt that,” Angel Eyes says, at length; and Tuco doesn’t know what he should make of it. “I never worried about being able to get more just as good, if I happened to need them-  you’re worrying. Stop that.”

“I don’t stop worrying, just because I’m safe.” He is safe, he knows; probably more than he’s been in his whole life actually. But habit’s hard to break, and that’s one of his oldest.

“Well, stop worrying about me then,” Angel orders; so Tuco takes advantage of the moment, to try and give him a first taste.

Doesn’t quite work. His hands are all coated now, so the bit of sugar won’t give way from his fingers when he tries- but Angel gets the idea quickly enough, and simply licks it off. One soft tongue rubbing against his fingers, across cardsharp calluses and tobacco-stained nails, unnerving and funny at once. Ticklish. 

It’s absurd. He’s fucked Blondie shamelessly, made no bones about it, but it’d fill him with sympathetic disgust, to watch his partner be so vulnerable as this. Whereas it seems natural with Angel Eyes, who has a survivor’s instinct for the straightforward action, the one that achieves maximum result for minimal effort- 

Blondie, now, he’s all about the effort.

“Maybe drink some water,” Tuco suggests, when Angel breaks off at last. “I tried that once, got a hair down my throat for my trouble. She didn’t think too much of me, after I spent ten minutes coughing on her loveseat…”

“Not the worst idea,” Angel Eyes says, somewhat hoarsely; and goes to fetch a glass of water from the sink. Tuco looks at his hands, browner than ever by sugar and candlelight. There seems to be something irrationally normal about this. He’s not sure how to deal with that. 

Angel Eyes comes back, before he’s done thinking or chewing sugar.

“You didn’t say yet, what you thought of it.” 

“It’s not what I expected,” Angel says. “A block of pure sugar, I thought it’d be impossible to take, and I’d have to make my excuses. As politely as possible, naturally-”

(not like some people)

“-but it wasn’t like my expectations in the least. Sweet, but not overly so, that strong undercurrent of molasses like you said. Oddly substantial. I can see what you meant, about living on it if you had to….”

(maybe he wasn’t trying to double his meanings earlier, but he has a sense Angel’s trying for that now; maybe they’re learning from each other, and isn’t that an odd thought?)

“So you like it then?” 

And part of him is just vastly relieved, that this thing he loves so much has been met not with scorn or dislike or jaded indifference, but genuine appreciation. 

“Obviously. Now, next thing to do is try it in a soup…”