Decklia

New York, Mexico. The desert's broken itself against familiar architecture in Chelsea, sand settled fine across cracked asphalt and crosswalks. Fire hydrants and lamp posts half buried emerge at greater heights in the distance, where sand's encroach falters and eventually fades. There's dust everywhere and in everything, shambled shop signs in Polish faded brown over broken windows and empty doors. Bits of newspaper and tattered bags drift sullen from one sidewalk to the other.

Flint's alone.

With his horse. The brackish bay behometh him turns through loose sand at a careful pace, hooves hissing and crunching in even time under the sun. Western saddle and tack worn dark, bootheels turned forward and out in haggard stirrups. Faded dull with the same dust coated thick on everything else, Deckard himself is in an ashy grey suit, revolver holstered under his arm and rifle across the saddle. Broken hills and softer dunes stretch out for miles at his back, desolated city lost entirely to the landscape.

Ahead, a familiar voice cries out thin on the wind and he pauses his ride to listen.

There's only a brief appearance of a face in the window before a flash of red hair sees it empty again. The general store's been empty for a long time now, looted more than once for whatever the previous thieves left behind. Otherwise, the place is fairly devoid of life. If one were to call the tiniest sign actual life. A stirring of old wooden lets loose a series of short creaks, like someone is walking through the shop.

What lopes from underneath the swinging canteen doors is nothing more than a brown hare with a white tail and long ears. It freezes, staring at the man and his horse for a moment or two and then scurries toward the edge of the boardwalk to fall to the dusty ground. It crawls underneath, following the pair first with its eyes and then in a serpentine glide.

The diamonds of light that filter through the trellis slats catch not fur but scales that match the dust.

Chopazo's ears flick to the sound first. The black sheen of Flint's sunglasses follows at a slower slant, polished lenses set high on the bridge of his nose over the long slant of his scruffy jaw. Then everything changes.

Horizons fall away and the world plunges into a snarl of electric blue on black: struts and wires, muscle and bone. Soft wood is eaten away to the nails and the S curve of fine reptilian ribs is laid bare for the beat or three it takes Deckard to satisfy his curiosity. He doesn't reach for his gun.

Instead, a dig of one heel stirs his horse back into unhurried motion and the world blanches back into sun-bleached color. Gradually, sand is giving way to cement and muffled hoofbeats find a steadier rhythm, clop clop clop across long shadows and occasionally, an uneven dribble of something more sinister. A smudge on his lapel, a five fingered smear vibrant red at the maw of an unlit alley.

Chopazo flips his tail.

Whose blood is that?

The question could have come from anywhere, really. There's no body to accompany the soft tones that are so far off the mark from musical, they're nearly monotonous. Just the snake. A snake who happens to cast the reflection of a young woman against the broken window it passes. In the mirror, she's walking alongside the horse in place of the serpent's slither.

A small rattle of a tail punctuates the question before the reptile finds a grate to slide into. It's not warm, but it's safe from the bullets that come from guns and the hooves of a horse. In the window, the young woman stands still, staring at Flint or rather his collar.

She's dressed simply, a white cotton sundress that's wholly inappropriate for the setting. Thin fabric meant to protect her from the elements, nothing else. Bare feet to match his fine shiny shoes and a wild tangle of curly red hair that's held back by nothing but a soft breeze.

"Woah," says Deckard. He says it to the horse in a quiet aside, enough to brake with another tug at the reins. The snake is gone. There's a woman in the glass.

Bone shows blue-white thick through brown and black hide as he slithers down the brute's side, ligament and tendon belted taut from shoulder to hock. A similar effect blackens his suit and roughs his boots. Thins at his face as he approaches dusty plate glass.

Chopazo stands still behind him in the street, non-plussed as a desert-bred horse can be in a city setting with no scent and little sound beyond the arthritic creaking of burnt out buildings and an abandoned station wagon at the corner. Five steps. Three. One.

Close enough to fog the glass with his breath, hatchet-hewn angles of his face inscrutable and glasses dark, he stands and studies her with the same singularly narrow focus wolves spare for lambs and zombies for brains. Interested but not curious.

"Mine."

"Oh," Deckard's own reflection overlays the reflection of the young woman's making her seem like she's behind him. A little shorter than he is and as such partially hidden by his thin frame. The voice comes from behind him and a pale hand curls fingers over his shoulder, tangible and all too real.

Stepping beside him to stare at her own reflection, Delia gives the lanky gentleman a glance out of the corner of her eye. "I've come to ask you questions about something you've seen," she's not dressed like any law enforcement officer he's ever seen. She's not even wearing a hat or a tin star. Nor is she wearing anything that might give the indication that she's a gunshoe. Bare feet.

Industrial orange soaks slow away from the pass of her hand against his shoulder — a chameleon flush of color and coarse, canvasy material that designates him by prison number in blocky black lettering until it recedes into business-formal once more. He inhales sharply at the touch in tandem with creeping change, tension pulled like violin string through the same side of his neck. Enough that the rest of the world sizzles grey with static at its fringes.

Somewhere out there, Deckard tenses against a tickle of fear in his sleep.

Here, he steadies himself enough to match her sideways look, ulna and radius showing slender through a turn of his arm and a clamp of his jaw that bares mandible and molars clean under the cut of his cheek. Suspicious.

Her chin jerks in the direction of the city, even farther out than that, an island that's really more of an impression than actually a place. "There's a man that lives out there, you were making a deal with him." Getting straight to the point without actually revealing anything more than necessary isn't quite her forte. She's still learning.

Her fingers slip from the fabric, leaving it the dark color it started out as. "Nice suit, it looks good on you." Small talk, possibly intended to put him at ease but said in a fashion that might make the already wary a little moreso. She has trouble sticking to the subject of fashion though, finding it more uninteresting than a calculator manual at the best of times.

"The man though, you were talking to him and his wife?" She leans in just a little, her nostrils flaring outward as she takes a deep breath. Then she disappears from his side in a wisp of grainy color that reforms at his other side.

Right hand splayed open and bony wrist rolled around into a wind after hers, Flint's phalanges stir through and clench upon open air. She's gone in the instant he would have grabbed her.

Chopazo whinnies shrill at his back when she reappears at his left, nostrils dished black and ears laid flat against his skull. Flint's solid again in turn, the rove of spectral radiation through his gaunt figure ceased by the time he's raked his profile around to take her in again. Defenses up, teeth shown in a line that warns against further contact.

As for the breath she takes: he smells like whiskey over a leather and sweat spined cold through his hair. He usually does.

"I make a lot of deals."

The warning is taken with a rather easy going smile sent in his direction and two raised palms in surrender. When Delia brings them down again, they swing at her sides as though being blown by the breeze that carried her hair only moments ago. "This is a special deal, for medicine. I'm not interested in the deal as much as the man's wife, do you know what he was doing to her?" Her curiosity is edged with a bit of a sly look, a slight squint and lips that can't help but turn up at the outer corners.

"I remember you didn't like it so much, whatever he was doing. I want to stop it…" Her voice trails off as she drifts to his other side again, circling like a cat on prey. "So you could say that I'm doing you a favor, kind of? By stopping something you don't like."

Deckard has to think.

More accurately, he has to remember, left hand flexed cold at his side while the buildings around them take on a more gothic cast. Dark wood and carved stone. Back in time rather than forward: barely visible around a distant corner, a banner flies flagrant red under mounting cloud cover, a swastika emblazoned bold at its center. An isolated splash of color against the all-encompassing grey leeching life from cobbled streets. "Les habitudes ont la vie dure," says Flint. In French and at length. There's an evasive quality to the angle of his face when he looks at her, sunglasses obscuring the aversion of his eyes when he lifts his right hand to show blood smudged thick across the padding there.

"He manipulates with touch."

"Oo ay le bang?" She replies, answering his French with the only phrase she knows. In a few different languages.

Delia backs away from the bloody hand, until her back hits the wall and she's pressed right up against it. The upward slant of her lips twitches slightly as if she's trying to maintain it, trying and failing. "I-is there a way to stop it? Or resist it?" Her hands press against cold granite, flattening smooth against the solid wall behind her. "I know his wife, I want her to be happy… Do you think she's happy the way she is?" Or will be.

It's a loaded question, leaving her fate in Deckard's hands rather than Kaylee or Delia's.

"It is what it is," says Deckard, who stands silhouetted in dying light for a sound beat before he advances on her as before, eating ground lost one measured step at a time. "«Is a dog happy when you scratch his ears?»"

When he reaches the wall, whether she's seen fit to vanish in on herself again or not, he pushes the paw of his hand to frigid stone to paint blood in an oily swath up and aside. Relishing the sensation.

There are reasons he is not often consulted for relationship advice.

The streak of blood that's painted near the side of her head gives off a scent of iron that's more tasted in the back of her throat than breathed in. "Would you want to be like that?" She saw him get angry at the display, a second hand memory played through a mirror but she saw it. "Mister Deckard," she says quietly, "I just want to do the right thing. I want to help Tania, if it means helping Mister Logan be better, that's what I'm going to do."

Maybe she's standing her ground because there's nothing left to cover except disappearing completely. Maybe she's not extremely afraid of the man inches away from her. Maybe she trusts a little too much. Maybe she's just the naive little girl that Nick accused her of being.

Whichever the reason for her staying still, she pulls one of her hands from behind her back and crosses it over her opposite shoulder to grip Flint's wrist. A gentle tug to pull the bloody hand away from the spot next to her face. "Please Mister Deckard, you know me. I can help if they let me."

"Chassez le naturel, il revient au galop." Caught but not stayed, Deckard turns to speak low and warm into her ear, grizzled stubble rough at her cheek. He doesn't have visitors often, in his dreams. Not ones that will speak to him. They are always hiding.

Meanwhile the cleaner of his hands has found its way under the hem of her skirt, held wrist slick in her grip for all that he doesn't resist. He presses closer against her instead, whiskey stink and lazy familiarity.

"You can't make him better."

"I don't know what that means," Delia whispers back, frozen against the wall like a scared rabbit. Once the bloody hand is lifted away from its streak of red, she flings it down to his side and sets her jaw. There's a slightly defiant tilt to her chin and using both of her hands she reaches down to push his other hand away from her. In real life, he would be much stronger than she is, no question.

"Behave," she commands as her knees are pressed tightly together. No wonder his visitors are always hiding. As familiar as he seems to be with her, she's not her sister. "Mister Deckard, you really don't want to do this." It's a warning as much as a plea for whatever mercy he's got in him. "I can help him and I can help you too… you don't know what I can do."

"You can't make him better," Deckard repeats. Translates. Clarifies his meaning with a show of his teeth sidelong in the second or so before he — has his hand wrenched away from her —

Her.

Raw frustration filters through his flared nostrils at a grunt; a second effort is aborted when he feels the strength in her arm. He's left to puff a held breath harsh down into her face instead, brow hooded and glasses black as his regard. Behave.

He doesn't want to.

"You don't know what we are."

"Then tell me," is the uttered reply and even though it doesn't belong here, a tch-tch-tch-tch-tch sounds a little too close to the hooves of the horse. Another warning as the snake, escaped from under the grate, is coiled into a tight spring and poised to strike. Its hinged jaw hangs open, fangs dripping with venom as it threatens the large mammal away from the duo against the wall.

Delia's hands splay against the concrete behind her again, hidden from view. Her head is tilted back as she stares up at Mister Deckard, making the difference in height pronounced but meaningless at the same time. Her voice grows stronger with new confidence based solely on his frustration. "Tell me so I can help her. I can't, in good conscience, leave her or him like that." Unspoken is the fact that she knows she will leave, whether the task is completed or not. That is, if the dreams of the future hold any truth to them.

"Defective."

His answer is alive with fog, steam spilled smoky through his teeth when he thrusts what strength he does have into a shove. Girl to wall and he turns his back on both, irritation bit hard into the bridge of his nose. His revolver is drawn quick and slick, hammer thumbed over and trigger pulled thrice.

Lead chips at stone and spits remnant sand sharp across the street, aiming to sever serpent head from serpent tail while Chopazo dances away at a nervous hop and lash.

The concrete scuffs against bare skin and a sharp hiss of pain emits from the young woman as she witnesses the murder of her pet in favor of the dreamer's. The first bullet cuts through one side of the neck, sending a spray of warm blood across Deckard's face. The second bullet ricochets off the concrete, missing the snake by only a hair but grazing the leg of the hor— man. Hot lead sears through the fine weave of the suit, ruining the fabric with irreparable damage. The third, trigger pulled too fast before looking for damage, cuts through the spine of the serpent sending it reeling forward.

Delia's weight sags against the older man, soaking his jacket and the bleached cotton of her dress in sanguine fluid. Her breath grows shallow and quite unable to lift her hands to grip onto his lapels for balance, she lets loose a burbled choking sound. It could be a plea for help.

Deckard's been shot before. His upper body is cratered with tell-tale scars betwixt tattoos and slices and shank wounds.

Unfortunately previous experience does not actually make pain hurt less.

His teeth bare out wolf white and his eyes squeeze shut behind black lenses, stance hitched for all his tangible success. His horse is safe and so is he, their breath mingling thick and fast when he turns to wrest her off him and to the ground by the scruff of her neck.

It isn't until she's down that he exchanges the gun for the flip and lock of his knife.

The color of the world around them drains as the red puddle grows around Delia's head and body, seeming to feed the blood and making it spread. Her skin grows ashen and cold, glassy eyes stare vacantly up at the cloudy sky, the piercing blue of her irises growing more and more vivid against the monochrome of the cityscape.

Shallow breaths rise and fall, coming slower and slower until they finally stop.

To the victor go the spoils.

Deckard stands over her immobile corpse for a long while before he sinks sore down onto his haunches, knife ajut near his knee. Heart and lungs still. Spine curved. Street quiet.

He watches and measures and most of all breathes, ribs spaced like slats in their boxy rise and fall beneath the sodden cling of his suit.

When he finally reaches to ease the knife into to the soft expanse beneath her sternum, there's no one to know but the horse he rode in on.

It's a shallow victory.

I don't accept that.

So much like before, the voice could come from anywhere. Right now, it seems to be all around the grizzled butcher. Cornflower blue eyes of the horse stare at its rider as the knife sinks into the prone body lying at his mercy. With a short clip of a hoof, the body of the snake is pulverized at precisely the same moment as the heart of the woman is exposed.

Neither of you are beyond hope, you just don't care enough to try.

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