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You and Tequila (Make Me Crazy)

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For all that it can be difficult for a Soldier to reacclimate to civilian life, Jake Jensen never really thought of himself as a military man. Granted, he had certainly joined the Army and held military rank, but his skills were so largely tech-based that he spent very little time on actual fighting. Most of his experience with a gun was for his various certifications and recertification testing, though he maintained aim that he called decent when he was feeling modest. 

As far as military skills went, hand to hand was a stronger skill than weapons, but he’d been working on that since he was six and that wasn’t much of a surprise. As a kid from a broken home, Jake always maintained a certain level of awareness and paranoia. Traits that served him well, but meant that he was usually awake at the faintest noise or flash of light. 

If a stranger were to ask what advantages he found civilian life had over the military, his first response would probably be blackout curtains. It is thanks to this glorious invention that his room is pitch black through half the day, at least until his sister sneaks in and rips them open in an effort to chase him out of bed. As Jenna is busy with the morning routine, her presence is restricted to the downstairs, which means Jake and his curtains are safe. 

Well, the curtains are, anyway. Because his sister is safely out of range Jake Jensen is facedown in his pillow at seven a.m. like any sane individual would be. He plans to stay there for the next few hours, at least, he does until his niece scampers into the room in a flurry of squeaks and giggles. Without looking up he can guess she’s fully dressed for school, judging by the squeak of sneakers on his floor before she takes flight and lands on him with a yell. 

It’s hard to continue to play dead, and he’s struggling to stifle a laugh as he presses further into the pillow. 

“Uncle Jaaaaaaake!” Beth cheers more or less in his ear as she scrambles to perch on his back. He feels a bony ankle make contact with his thigh and a childish knee strike his kidney, but other than a muffled grunt he manages to remain passive. 

“Don’t be dead, Uncle Jake,” The little girl mumbles as she plasters herself to his back and hooks her hands in his tank top to give a yank. For a moment there are blonde curls smacking him in the shoulder as she flails around, swiping a hand through his own spikey hair, then prodding the back of his neck and one ear with one hand. “Wake up, wake up! Momma says she’s got a meeting today and if you don’t pick me up I have to go to daycare! That’s the worst ! You have to save me!”

The over exaggerated groan of suffering makes his smile widen, but he continues to hide in his pillow, ignoring his passenger. 

“Uncle Jake, Uncle Jake!” Beth continues, sitting up and dropping a flurry of kisses on the back of his head. “Please? Please wake up? Save me?”

“Bethany!” Jenna hollers from downstairs. “You better have your backpack and be on the way down here, young lady!” 

“Help me, Uncle Jake! You’re my only hope!” 

“Ugh, the Force is strong with this one,” Jake finally mumbles, rolling sideways enough to sling her down onto the mattress in another peal of giggles. “You’re a cheater, Bethy.” 

“Does that mean you’ll rescue me?” Beth asks hopefully, dropping her bony chin onto his shoulder. “Please? Please, pretty please? We could go for ice cream.” 

“Is that a bribe for me or for you?” Jake wonders, cracking one eye open to squint at her with a grin. “You know me too well, Hummingbird. Fine, tell your mean mom that Uncle Jake is getting you from school today, but don’t tell her about the ice cream. That’ll be a surprise.” 

“You’re the BEST!” Beth shrieks, throwing her arms around his neck and head and screeching excitedly in his ear. “The very best Uncle in the whole wide world!” 

“I’m a sucker, and I’m ok with it,” Jake argues with a laugh, sitting up and scooping her into a hug with a fake growl. “Alright, you woke me up, you better go to school before I eat you for breakfast. Zombie Uncles crave fresh brains!” 

“NO BRAINS!” Beth shrieks, kissing him high on his cheek before scrambling out of his arms and bolting out of the room again. “Bye Uncle Jake, love you!” 

“I love you too, Hummingbird,” Jake grins, reaching for his glasses and scrubbing his free hand through his hair. “Good luck with presenting your project.” 

"Thanks! Byeeeeee!" She thunders down the stairs with a yell. 

“Jake! I’m taking Beth to school and I’m off to work!” Jenna yells from the foot of the stairs. “Don’t forget you want to check the P.O. box today!”

“Bye Sis, have a good day!” Jake yells back, settling his glasses on his face. “Remember you only have one kid!” 

“Never sure which one, she’s more mature than you, Loser!” Jenna snaps back, and then the door is slamming shut before he can reply. 

“That’s just uncalled for,” Jakes mutters to himself as he crawls out of bed and moves to his desk and the cluster of monitors waiting for him. “You just wait, one of these days I’m going to think of a killer reply and you’re gonna be toast.” 

On his bedside table, his phone chirps with an incoming text. 

From: Jenna 
1 New Text Message 
'Don’t you backtalk me, young man.’  

Jake grumbles, shaking his head as he grins. “The absolute worst .” 

*

Constanza Alvarez has been consistently proud of two things in her life. The first is the family business, established so many years ago by her abuelo’s padre . Fortalvarez Tequila has been in business for a hundred and fifty years, a family distillery that produces some of the finest Tequila in the world. They’ve also begun to produce and sell a fine mezcal, thanks to Constanza’s own efforts when she first took over the business.  

The second is her family itself, as troublesome as they can be sometimes. Her grandfather’s grandfather was a hardworking man, a smart and patient man. He passed this down the line to his son who went on to found the family business. The trait carried forward in his children and eventually on her, though the women along the way passed on their sharp wit and sharper tongues to all the generations that followed. The Alvarez women were tough as nails, part of the reason they kept and passed on their surname down through the generations. 

It was a brave man who became involved with an Alvarez woman. 

With her husband passed away over a decade ago, and her son and daughter-in-law were lost to a tragedy, she is the head of both family and business now. Constanza oversees business and marketing, advises her grandchildren when they seek her out. Such a thing is all fine and good, but she is getting too old to be chasing after her grandchildren, even if they are all of an age where they should know better. It’s beyond time for at least one of them to settle down, to marry someone with their feet on the ground so she can at least not worry about them so much. 

She would much rather be spoiling great-grandchildren, except none of her grandbabies have gotten the message yet. Three girls and a boy, the eldest girl away at college, the others scattered around Mexico. Only her precious boy, Carlos, - her sweet Carlito - is here at the main property with her. His two younger sisters prefer the Mezcal operation some eleven hours away, though they call often. Still, in spite of the fact that they are all young and beautiful and successful, she has no sons or daughters-in-law to tease. They’re all single and free as birds, as far as they’re concerned, with no interest in providing infants for their abuelita to dote on. 

That’s fine, she has a plan. It is a good plan, she thinks, a simple one. She gets one of the farmhands to help her with the computer, tells the young man what she needs. Miguel is a good boy, quiet like her grandson, obedient in the face of the matriarch and boss. He nods in understanding and navigates the internet, even types up the advertisement for her. His strong hands much quicker than her age-curled digits, and in no time at all the ad is complete and posted. Now all she has to do is wait, which is just fine. She has long ago proven she can be patient. 

Miguel helps her to the porch, settles her in a rocking chair facing the fields. From here she can see three different teams in the younger beds, tending to the plants and pulling weeds that might encroach on their space. The older harvesting fields are acres away, beyond hills and down the sweep of the valley. The breeze kicks up, tugging at the strands of her hair that are no longer black, more a mix of old-iron-and-cloud, grey to soft white. It sweeps away in the direction of the older fields, and she thinks that maybe, just maybe, the wind is blowing that way for a reason. 

Her grandson is out in those fields, though her Carlito is almost always done with his harvest chores by noon. Given the position of the sun, he’s sure to be packing it in soon, to come back toward the distillery barn with a haul of fresh agave to begin processing. If she knows her boy at all he’s sure to alter his path so he can swing by the porch, to check that she is well. Though today, with the wind being the tell-tale it is, it’s more likely he’ll shoot her a weighty look from beneath the brim of his battered hat, and refuse to say a word on the matter. 

Constanza smiles a sly, wolfish thing. It’s a coyote’s grin, wide and white against her tanned skin. She is sure this plan will work, now she just has to be patient. Her Carlito will just have to trust her. Of her grandbabies, he is her favorite, after all. He should know by now that she was always going to take care of him. 

Whether he wants or help, or not, he has it. After all, abuelita knows best.

Chapter Text

With his task done at the main house, Miguel makes a circuit of the business proper and checks in. Now and then he comes across other employees who he greets with a simple nod, though the tourists get a faint smile and a tip of the hat. It is something he has seen Carlos do innumerable times, and it never fails to please the ladies. Today he gets shy smiles, a giggle and a blush from the group heading into the tasting room when he holds the door for them, and from behind the counter, Bernardo waves him away with the flap of a hand. 

It’s a small group, so a second handler would be excessive, lucky Bernardo. As there is no assistance needed in the tasting room, Miguel meanders his way to the tourist center, and then the distillery. Smaller groups today, which accounts for Señora Alvarez’s concern and the new posting for a social media and advertising expert. At a loss for what else to do, Miguel shrugs and heads out to the barn, turning over the possibilities in the back of his mind. Because it is nearly noon, the morning harvest will need to be brought in, which means preparing the team and wagon to head out to the fields. 

By the time he arrives, Rodrigo has already hitched up the grey team of horses to the harvest wagon. It’s no surprise at all to see his look of relief when he realizes he can hand the reins over to Miguel and send him out into the sun instead. Rodrigo will tell anyone who listens he’s getting to be an old man, and that it is time for the younger jimadors to take over. Before he can start on his speech Miguel accepts the assignment obediently, loading a cooler of ice and water into the back of the wagon. With a tip of his hat he climbs into the seat and takes up the reins, clicking at the geldings to urge them into motion. 

Though it means he’ll run into Carlos sooner than later, there is no point in putting up a fight. Besides, perhaps Carlos will not yet know of Señora Alvarez’s plan. Perhaps fate will be kind. 

Doubtful, Carlos has always had a certain otherness about him. For good or ill, he always knows . Which means he knows Miguel is involved, and it is better to get things sorted out sooner rather than later. 

With a gentle click of hooves, the horses move out, leaving Rodrigo waving cheerfully from the shade of the barn as they step into the sun. Miguel doesn’t mind being the one who takes the cart out to the harvesting fields in the afternoon, though there’s something of a risk involved now that he is sure to be caught in a tug of war between Alvarez and Alvarez. If it were anyone else, Miguel would lay money down on the fact that Constanza would win, but against Carlos? Well, it is safer to keep his money and his opinions to himself. 

With a firm exhale he shakes it all off for now and gives a gentle tug of the reins, encouraging the team to turn toward fields. As the horses stride along he gives a sigh, knowing that Carlos will be one of the first he crosses paths with. Just as likely, the other man will be waiting for him, knowing somehow that Miguel is a guilty party. Carlos has the gift like that, the Señora’s gift. He just always seems to know

Unaware of his inner turmoil, the matched pair of greys hauling the wagon move with a brisk stride, cheerful to be doing their work, and the wagon rolls easily over the hard-packed sand of the road. They move between two of the younger fields of agave, the plants barely knee-high and considered in their infancy. Harvesting won’t be done in these fields for many years, though they still require weeding and tending. It’s a fairly easy task, compared to harvest, which means these fields are often empty by the time the first haul needs to be brought in. 

‘What grief have you brought upon yourself?’ The jimador thinks to himself as he gently steers the team beyond some of the middle-aged agave fields. 

Miguel sits in the seat and broods as they pass more fields empty of people, knowing there is nothing else to be done. Being caught between the boss and her grandson is not an enviable place for anyone, but at least Carlos was a little more forgiving than his sisters. Carlos, at least, has mercy. If he decides to take things out on Miguel, he’ll do it from a distance with a gun rather than face to face with nails and words. Considering what Carlos used to do for the military, it was even more likely that Miguel wouldn’t feel or know a thing, until the retired sniper dropped him where he stood for daring to interfere. 

‘If you upset him, you won’t even feel it until it is too late…’ Miguel sighed, nodding to himself. He already felt a little better, all he had to do was look on the bright side. 

*

Family legacy is as important as it is weighty. For Carlos Alvarez, the only son of the most recent generation, it means an inheritance of a kind. His older sister is out there becoming a lawyer, doing her family proud. So it falls to Carlos to do this, to step up and carry the family. As an elder brother to two sisters that have begun to branch out and pursue their own dreams, he stands to become the sole owner of Fortalvarez Tequila. 

In his younger years, he had run as far as his legs could carry him. It had been natural to join the United States Military, to complete training and join a special forces team. It was the loss of his parents in a car accident five years back had brought him home, their tragic deaths the driving force that summoned him back to Mexico. A stint in the service behind him, he had left America and his military-issued rifle behind in favor of tradition. Honorably discharged he returned to Mexico to help his abuelita run the family business. 

Being the heir and future owner to the family business means that there are some tasks one may be exempt from, and some tasks which he should be an expert at performing. Though his abuelita would certainly excuse him from some of the daily tasks, Carlos finds that these are the ones most likely to soothe his racing thoughts to stillness. Not as good as having the rifle in his hands, but a close second. 

It is because of this that he was up before the sun, ate breakfast, dressed and hiked out into the Valley. He’d rather he working under the sun, hat on his head and coa in hand, to grow and harvest things than to end people’s lives. There was no place like home, after all. 

Like every other jimador that works for the familia, Carlos has been in the fields since shortly after dawn, tool in hand. Like the others, he’s dressed in jeans and a button-down white shirt over his usual tank, a dark leather cowboy hat on his head. He stands out mostly by the way he moves, the smooth predatory glide of it, the innate purpose. He winds his way among the elder agave plants and picks out those that are ideal for harvest. 

As soon as first light drips lazy fingers of light over the elder fields, he’s walking among the massive, spiked plants in search of the best harvest. Two or three others follow him at a distance, picking their way through the next aisle over. He can only see them when they stray past some of the aisle-breaks in his own row, the agave spikes reaching up past his head in most cases. 

The rows he winds his way through are all at least eight years old, many of them approaching a decade or more in age. Among these distinguished veterans, Carlos selects his targets carefully. It is a point of pride that the Alvarez Blue Agave plants are not harvested at younger than eight years, and more often than not are well amidst the decade range. After some consideration, he focuses his attention on an avenue of plants that are beginning to crowd each other and then gets to work. Fetching his file from the sheath in his belt, he runs it swiftly over the moon-bright curve of his coa de jima to ensure the tool is sharp. Returning the file to his belt, he takes the coa in hand and braces his feet at shoulder width. 

The sharp curve of the coa easily sheers off the first four spiny branches of the agave, leaving them resting in the sand. Carlos repositions his hands and strengthens his hold, slides a half-step sideways, and continues aiming the coa in downward strikes he sheers off more of the branches, until he can begin to see the pina at the core. When enough spines are removed that the base can be seen, he begins to chip away at the pina, separating it from the roots before returning to sheer off more branches. He plants the sole of one workboot against some of the sheered off branches and leans in firmly, mindful of the still-intact branches and their sharp points. Freeing the pina requires a bit of a balancing act, the division of tasks requiring some care unless one doesn't mind blooding themselves on the sharp blade or spiked plant. Shortening his strikes with the coa as he presses with his heel. The pina rolls free of the roots with a final swipe of his coa and Carlos sweeps it into the avenue. He finishes shearing off branches, resulting in the pina sitting separately from all the spikes. Most of the green skin has been removed by the careful strikes of his blade, leaving many white chevron shapes gleaming in the sun. 

The process repeats for hours, until there are dozens of pina sitting in the avenue awaiting pickup. Every now and then Carlos pauses in harvesting to gather the spines, leaving them heaped in one area for pickup later. The branches can be used for many things, so they’re sure to be picked up by another team by the end of the day. Carlos considers the time, sharpens his coa , and steps to the last plant he’s likely to finish before the wagon arrives for the noon pick up. 

Another agave pina ready to head to the ovens for splitting and cooking. Carlos glances up at the sun, pauses to take a drink, and nods to himself. It’s almost time for the noon haul, which means he’ll be heading back up to the distillery for lunch and to work on other things. A sudden breeze picks up, tugging at the dark silk of his hair and slicing over the sweat marking his arms and soaking his shirt. He turns to face it, eyes narrowed, and knows somehow that abuelita is laughing at him. 

‘Dios, what now?’