Based on this awesome piece of art.
He had thought about continuing on with Posada and the other soldiers, but his anger and grief were still burning hot. Without telling anyone, he stopped.
After waiting for them to get far enough ahead of him, he turned on his heel. Joaquín told himself that Posada needed time to grieve without him there and that he’d go back later and pay his respects…but he knew it was a lie. He knew the only reason he wasn’t going with them was so that he could take out his anger and frustrations on something.
Mainly one failure of a bullfighter.
Joaquín stomped across the bridge, purpose and intent laced within his steps. In short order, he was on the other side. He looked around briefly, but didn’t see any movement. So he continued towards the tree, feeling in his gut that Manolo would be there.
When he came upon the bullfighter, he was already on his knees next to his guitar. “I’ll never see her again.”
“That makes two of us.” The soldier growled, looming over Manolo as another strike of lightning flashed, following by rolling thunder.
Manolo startled easily; from the thunder or his presence, he didn’t know. The guitarist looked up at him with wide and frightful eyes. “Joaquín, I-I thought…”
He didn’t say anything for several beats, his fury roiling within him enough for his clenched fists to pop the joins. Something flared inside of him, green and burning. Joaquín’s foot shot out, kicking Manolo hard in the face.
Manolo fell back onto the rain soaked earth. His hand instantly flew up to his face, and he looked at the soldier in terror.
“You should have protected her.” He growled, advancing on the bullfighter.
Manolo stumbled to his feet to try and get away from Joaquín, hand still covering the spot where he was kicked. Manolo kept stepping away from his friend, but eventually stumbled. The only thing that kept him from completely falling down was the tree at his back. “Joaquín, I’m sorry -”
“You’re sorry? You’re sorry?” The soldier continued his warpath to the smaller man. As soon as he got close enough, he let his fist fly, catching Manolo’s jaw. “María’s dead because of you!”
The guitarist’s head whipped back, slamming into the bark of the tree. His gaze became temporarily unfocussed. Manolo blinked a few times, before his eyes became shiny with unshed tears. “I…” His gaze fell, landing on their feet, and he said nothing more.
Joaquín raised his fist to strike the bullfighter again, but halted at Manolo’s flinch. His hand was shaking, but he eventually let it fall to his side. “Ch.” The soldier averted his eyes, and turned on his heel to leave.
“Y-you’re right, you know…”
Manolo’s shaking voice had him pausing mid stride. Joaquín looked over his shoulder at the man still leaning against the tree.
The bullfighter’s throat bobbed as he swallowed, but he had lifted his chin in that stubborn way Sanchez’s were known for. “She’d still be alive if it weren’t for me.” Now his gaze faltered, and his head lowered slightly. “It’s…it’s all my fault…”
He narrowed his eyes at Manolo, partially turning his body around. “What does that mean?” Joaquín’s voice had dropped to a dangerous snarl.
Manolo recoiled slightly, but he didn’t look down. His eyes flicked to the side before landing back on the soldier. “The snake…it was going for me. And-and she pushed me out of the way.”
Joaquín moved faster than the blink of an eye, and Manolo let out a startled yelp as he was shoved roughly against the tree. Joaquín had has hands fisted in the front of the bullfighter’s jacket. He lifted Manolo off his feet and slammed the shorter man against the rough bark. Joaquín leaned in close to Manolo, his voice a low hiss, “She died to save you?”
Manolo turned his head to the side in his only means of escape. Tears started to roll down his cheeks when closed his eyes, waiting for the next blow.
His grip on the jacket tightened, and he tried to ignore how he could feel Manolo shaking through the material. Joaquín forced himself to let go, once again roughly shoving Manolo away from him and into the tree. “I was right…you couldn’t finish a bull, so you didn’t have a hope of protecting María.” He gave the bullfighter one last judgmental look and turned away.
“You’re not the only one who’s suffering.”
The soldier’s steps faltered, but he kept walking. Joaquín knew that Manolo was right, but he pushed the thoughts away. He didn’t want to believe that Manolo was also in pain, because it would make it harder to be angry with him. He should have been concentrating on Manolo’s despair as well as his own…but at the moment he couldn’t see past his own nose to do so. The green tinged fury was still swirling around inside of him, and it didn’t allow him to focus on anything but his own grief.
So he kept walking, knowing if he stopped and turned around he would see the look of anguish on his friend’s face. Joaquín ignored the sound of footsteps walking after him.
“Hey!” He felt a heavy weight on his shoulder as Manolo gripped his jacket, “Stop acting like you’re the only one affected! I loved her too!”
Something inside of Joaquín snapped. “Then why didn’t you protect her!” He rounded on Manolo, his eyes flashing in his rage. His vision seemed to narrow for a handful of moments, the edges tinted green and dark. The only thing he could feel in those few seconds was intense fury and pain.
When everything seemed to die down, the turmoil inside of him fizzling out, his sight seemed to clear. Joaquín was looking down into the terrified eyes of Manolo, the soldier’s hand fisted in the bullfighter’s hair. Something hot and sticky was washing over his other hand, and when he looked down he found it was covered in blood. His mind was slow to catch up with what had happened.
In front of him Manolo gurgled, his weak coughing staining his lips red.
Joaquín’s eyes widened in horror.
He’d stabbed Manolo.
Oh gods, he’d stabbed his best friend. He didn’t even remember drawing his sword, let alone running the man in front of him through. Manolo’s tight grip on his shoulder was already starting to slacken, the strained look on his face easing.
Joaquín sank to the ground with Manolo as the man lost the strength to hold himself up. “No, no…Manolo.” His eyes filled with tears and his throat closed off, choking on a sob of his own. “I’m sorry…I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to…”
Manolo coughed again, this time blood pouring over the side of his mouth. And he smiled, the bastard actually smiled…and shook his head weakly. The guitarist found Joaquín’s hand, and covered it with his own. “N-no…ot…your…f-ault…”
The soldier froze when Manolo’s hand covered his own, and he looked down at Manolo with too wide eyes. “Just…just hold on buddy, we can…we can still get you help.” Without thinking, he went to scoop Manolo into his arms, but Manolo weakly pushed him away.
Manolo knit his eyebrows, his tongue darting out to wet his lips but only succeeded in spreading the blood around. “No…” He swallowed, his eyes falling half lidded. “No, I…de…deserve…this…”
Joaquín shook his head, but he made no move to try and pick Manolo up again. “Don’t say that…it’s not you’re fault, it’s not.” He took a shaky breath. He could see that Manolo was fading fast, but he had to know. Manolo needed to know that Joaquín didn’t mean anything he’d said. He was just angry and upset and he lashed out at the first person he thought of. “Manolo please, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it.”
Manolo still had a smile on his face, but his eyes had already glazed over, and his body had gone limp. “It…sh..ould…have…been…me…” The guitarist breathed one last rattling breath, before letting out a sigh as his eyes closed. “María…”
He looked down at Manolo, his brain failing to make the connection of what just happened. It took several minutes of watching Manolo fail to breathe before he let himself believe that his friend was dead. In a desperate attempt to try and convince himself otherwise, he pressed trembling fingers to the guitarist’s neck.
But he found no pulse.
“No…” Joaquín leaned over Manolo’s body, resting his forehead against the guitarist’s shoulder and allowing himself to opening weep. “I didn’t mean it…”
“I’m surprised you actually went through with it.”
The voice startled Joaquín, and he practically threw himself back and away from Manolo. His eyes darted around the area before landing on a shadowy figure that looked vaguely familiar. The old soldier stepped forward to reveal himself.
“Who…who are you?” Joaquín stumbled to his feet, preparing to run if need be. The longer he looked down at the old man, the more he looked familiar. Wait. “You’re…you’re the soldier who gave me the medal.”
“Very observant, boy…” The soldier said with a bored tone. He sounded different from what Joaquín remembered. In a flash of lightning, the soldier’s form changed to that of a tall dark creature.
Joaquín recoiled in fear, recoiling back from the creature. “Who -”
The creature raised an eyebrow at the soldier, as if studying him. “That is of no importance. I came here to take care of my problem, but it seems that you’ve done my job for me.” The creature waved lazily in Manolo’s direction, “So really, I should be thanking you.”
A terrible sense of dread settled in his gut. Joaquín looked upon the creature towering over him in fright, the question tumbled from his mouth barely a whisper. “What?”
The creature rolled it’s eyes in exasperation. “I was already planning on disposing of the thorn in my side myself…” He lifted an arm and a snake slithered around the limb. “I knew he would return here after you took the girl away, and then I could have gotten rid of him once and for all.” The creature’s mouth grew sharp teeth, turning red floating skulls on Joaquín. “I wasn’t expecting you to come back and kill him yourself. Bravo and all that jazz for you.”
Joaquín’s eyes dropped, his gaze landing on Manolo’s unmoving form. Now they were both gone. He was well and truly alone. His eyes traveled to the sword still sticking out his Manolo’s chest. The thought of pushing that same sword through his heart was a very tempting idea right now.
“Don’t even think about it, boy.” The creature was suddenly right in front of him, blocking his line of sight. “You still have so much to live for.” He bent over at the waist to better talk to Joaquín, and his tone had become almost pleasant. “You’re still needed to save the girl. Think about it, now you’re free to marry María without the bullfighter being in the way.” If it was possible, the creature’s sharp teeth seemed to lengthen, “Isn’t that what you’ve dreamed of these past ten years?”
The soldier grit his teeth and clenched his fists at his sides. “María’s dead…and it’s all your fault!” Joaquín’s features twisted into a snarl, pointing an accusatory finger at the creature.
“Please…” The creature waved him off, seemingly uncaring about the situation. “She’s not dead, she just looks it.”
Joaquín’s stomach dropped. She’s alive. He should have felt relieved; he should be elated that she wasn’t really dead. But he felt numb and hollow inside. María might be alive, but Manolo was gone. His heart gave a painful lurch at that, and his throat once again closed off.
He’d killed him. He’d killed his best friend in a fit of blind rage. His legs finally gave out from under him, and he collapsed onto his knees. Joaquín didn’t even notice the rain and dirt seeping though his pants. The soldier hung his head, his voice coming out like a croak. “Why would you do this?”
“Because I like winning.” The creature said nonchalantly. “Speaking of, I have to be somewhere, gloating.” He straightened to his full height and narrowed his eyes at the soldier. “Now I’m warning you, boy. I will be watching, so no funny business. Got it?” The creature didn’t wait for a reply, spreading out his blackened wings, “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a party to crash.”
Joaquín heard the sound of wings flapping, and without looking up, he knew the creature was gone. Really, he couldn’t care less. Manolo was dead, felled by his own hand. María was alive…gods, he didn’t want to face her, not after what he’d done. He’d do whatever it was he needed to bring her back, but then he would leave. Joaquín would make sure that he never came back; he would just disappear out of existence. He deserved far worse for the blood on his hands.
As the tears streamed down his face, and the rain continued to pour around him, Joaquín curled into himself and screamed.