Connect the Dots
Oz was particularly sensitive to noise. He’d always assumed his werewolf senses would bleed in his ability to smell—and it had, to a point. His hearing, though, that had increased to the point where he’d jokingly termed himself bat-ears. Not for long, though. He wasn’t big on eating insects.
The room was quiet. A few brothers were seated before intricately patterned floors, orange robes melting into the orange-red rock that made up the walls and ceiling. Chimes were playing somewhere, the faint sound timed with each wave of incense spreading over those assembled. It was peaceful. Beatific, almost.
The newest brother was breathing too loudly.
The low throb of a gong interrupted his musing, signaling the end of this particular meditation cycle. Oz unfolded his body with an ease suggesting a lot of practice, making sure he tailed the newest initiate and hoping the crowds would thin out. Talking wasn’t discouraged by the monks, but not a lot of actual talking seemed to happen in public places.
Luck seemed to be with him when the initiate turned into one of the deserted gardens, Oz following after. Luck, of course, was a fickle lady because as soon as they were totally alone, the initiate whirled around and pushed Oz against the wall. “Got a problem?”
Oz didn’t panic easily. He wasn’t panicking now, either, not when the baby blue eyes that stared at him were flickering too quickly and the whites were bloodshot. “Breathing.”
“What?” the new guy growled.
“Kinda like a leaf-blower.”
That wasn’t an explanation, but it got his neck freed, which his lungs appreciated. The pledge twitched as fast as his eyes had, making Oz wonder about drugs, and whether ‘meditation’ was being used as ‘detox’. “Lindsey,” the initiate said shortly.
“Oz?” Lindsey repeated. “As in Wizard Of?
Oz raised a single eyebrow, turning it into an eloquent treatise on how men with oddly named houses shouldn’t throw stones. Lindsey understood it, since he stopped doing the jockey-shivering for a moment to look abashed. “Sorry. So, my breathing?”
“Yeah. You were kinda loud.”
“Oh. That wasn’t against the rules, was it?”
“No,” Oz said with a quiet laugh. “No rules. Look, you want to come back to my room? Not a pick up a line,” he added at Lindsey’s head-twitch. “Just thought you could use a friend.”
“Yeah. Sounds good.”
* * * *
It was a Tibetan Monastery. In Idaho. It was also distinctly lacking in anything really ‘Tibetan’, Oz knew, since he’d actually been to Tibet for a few months. It was a nice place, though, like a hippy commune with a new age seminary attached, and Oz liked it there. He’d stopped by on a whim about three months ago and hadn’t left yet. He meditated and tranced out to several chemicals that real Tibetan’s would have never used, but only in moderation. He also did gardening work to earn his room and the food they all shared. It was quite and peaceful, and if his life was being put on hold, well, it wasn’t much of a life. It could do with a short muzak break.
Lindsey was different. Voice like a blues singer, all husky and sweet like the good stuff Oz something traded for, baby-faced and almost innocent looking, if you didn’t really look at his eyes. They were old. Worn. When they did the twitching thing, they looked like birds trying to escape a net, fluttery and panicked. Oz was pretty sure he didn’t like that look.
Lindsey was also dangerous. A few hits off of Oz’s stash, a calm, supportive presence, and just like everybody else, Lindsey had started talking. A lot of it didn’t make sense, but enough did that some of the blanks were rapidly being filled. Oz didn’t say anything, though. He just let Lindsey talk. Until Lindsey stopped talking, and then Oz tried to show him the breathing/relaxation techniques he knew.
Oz was good at thinking. It required a lot of time and good head space, something he had plenty of in a not-monastery in Idaho. He also had a fair amount of back-story he was pretty sure Lindsey didn’t know he had, which filled in some other gaps Lindsey probably didn’t want filled. He’d kept occasional tabs with Angel, after his abrupt departure from Sunnydale a few years back. Not a lot, but a word here, a sprinkle there, with a warning about demonic law firms as the cherry on top. Oz had done his own checking. Things were hard for a werewolf in L.A. Could get eaten, and not by something bigger and with sharper teeth. Wolfram and Hart was a name to be feared, and Oz didn’t actually fear much anymore.
The next week, Lindsey followed him. The baby-bird feeling was stronger, particularly when Lindsey flitted and flickered through the tiny, identical-to-all-the-other-cells Oz lived in, and the trail of hash could look like chewed up worm, after you took a few hits of it. Lindsey talked less this time, but he seemed to talk. . . deeper.
“You’re too young to have a mid-life crisis.”
Lindsey laughed, a rusty sounding thing that Oz liked to hear as much as he didn’t like to see the trapped-bird look. “I meant, you’re too young to understand what I’m talking about.”
“Can’t have a crisis of faith until you’re twenty five? Which I’m not. But I’ve had one.”
“Yeah? You worked for the ultimate evil and decided that you couldn’t actually be evil anymore? After a lot of blood and a lot more money piled up on your hands?” Lindsey lifted his right hand when he said that, flexing it oddly. The southern twang that lilted through his words was getting stronger, too. “Then you did a bunch of really stupid things, including getting so high on things you can’t even name, you found the first place that looked remotely safe and crashed there?”
“No. But I did try and kill my girlfriend. Also her girlfriend.”
“How? You in trouble?” Lindsey quirked a stoner-boy smile. “You’d be amazed the number of murderers I’ve gotten off.”
Oz didn’t smile at the double entendre. “No trouble. I hadn’t realized that she was my girlfriend’s girlfriend, and got. . . upset.” Shifting two inches meant he could see the baby-bird eyes, now a fathomless icy blue that didn’t move or twitch at all, but still had red lines surrounding them. “Upset, meaning I sprouted teeth, fangs, and a very manly coat of fur. That’s where I was last week.”
Lawyers weren’t allowed to be slow on the uptake, and whatever Lindsey was now, he hadn’t lost that edge. “There are ways to control that.”
“Got that. But it’s better if I let it out. There’s a room downstairs. One of the monks plays keeper.”
That was Oz’s big secret. Not that it was that secret or even that big, but Oz was still waiting for Lindsey’s big secret and he figured he ought to make the first move. He knew Lindsey thought Lindsey's big secret was who he used to work for, and who had forced him to leave, but Oz knew those things and there was still a sense of. . .waiting. Like the air before a storm, the ozone tang so thick you tasted it, and the hair on your skin rose in anticipation.
The latter may have been due to the way Lindsey was looking up at him, at that moment. Oz had a reputation for being cool, but that didn’t mean he was stone. And Lindsey’s voice was a thing of beauty.
“Is that why you’re here? In this. . . whatever this is?”
“Nah. Here’s just a place to be.”
“I think that’s the best description of this place I’ve ever heard.”
* * * * *
The friendship grew slowly. Now that they were both ‘out of the closet’ Oz stopped hiding his books on self-control and concealment. Lindsey started borrowing them. They dropped the euphemisms and backward descriptions, and Lindsey kept the twang, but lost some of the average-joe. He sounded like a lawyer, now. High priced, powerful, and confident. He stopped indulging in anything but the tokes Oz still gave him, and used that sparingly. He meditated. Studied. Thought.
It made Oz nervous.
They were also sleeping together. Well, that was another kind of euphemism, since they never actually slept together. They did have sex. Well, according to President Clinton, they didn’t even have that, but whatever. It was nice. Simple, uncomplicated. A few hits of whatever Oz had scored, chatting about the latest spell Oz had mastered and helping Lindsey master a few of his own. Then the munchies would hit, and since a monastery wasn’t the type of place that stocked doritos, they found their own way of silencing rumbling bellies.
Lindsey had a very talented mouth. So, according to Lindsey, did Oz.
Afterwards, they’d go about their business, either their chores around the monastery or participate in one of the many spiritual hours. Oz liked simple. Complicated was for sparkling green eyes and bouncy red hair. This was just fun. Relief. A bit of time-wasting. Because Lindsey was still dangerous.
Not to Oz. Men didn’t have the string from balls to heart the way women did, but there was definitely a kind of affection brewing under chubby cheeks. Oz knew that affection offered him more protection than most people would get, but then, he wasn’t worried about himself to begin with.
“Do you still have the book on Santeria markings?” Lindsey was sprawled out over Oz’s bed, a sketch pad full of tiny, precise notes. He wouldn’t let Oz read the notes, either, which was even more disturbing. “You can get email here, did you know that?”
“Not all about the self-flagellation, here. It’s by the window.”
Retrieving the book, Lindsey slid it underneath his open one. “You can find out the most interesting things, over email.”
Like certain vampires were suddenly high powered corporate executives. Also, that your home was now a giant crater. Fortunately, Oz knew how to finger people and Willow didn’t hold a grudge, so he probably had more information than Lindsey. He hoped.
“Got in touch with an old friend of mine,” Lindsey continued, unaware of Oz’s quieter quiet. “She’s just been promoted. Great job.”
“Sounds promising.” The secret was still out there. He knew how Lindsey thought, knew what made him tick, but he still didn’t know what the secret was. Oh, he knew the question, by now. He just didn’t know the answer.
He really needed to know that answer.
“I’m thinking of heading back, maybe.”
Oz wondered when he realized what the question was. When Lindsey had described the love-hate relationship he had with Angel? Or the power he craved, substituting it with a variety of drugs until Oz helped wean him off? Was it when he described the coworker he’d never had but had wanted, if only as a possession?
All of those. And none of them, because Oz knew what it was. It had to do with a hand. And the decision to be selfish. . .which seemed to make Lindsey even more selfless.
He knew the question. He knew what Lindsey wanted—power, respect, a certain dark-haired vampire on his knees. He didn’t know why.
And why was always most important. ‘Why’ made people predictable.
Lindsey had never been predictable.
“A few weeks. Think I can borrow this?” Lindsey asked, holding up the book on Santeria. Specifically, the chapter about protection spells. Hard spells, that could hide you from powerful magical eyes, but could also burn you up into a cinder—a hazard of painting spells on your skin. Unless you happened to know one of the first things Oz had taught Lindsey—a breathing exercise. Which was actually a centering exercise, one meant for the kind of spells the Crossroads God was supposed to create.
“Gutsy move.” He’d been called a white-hat once. Oz didn’t remember where, but he remembered the term. Someone so busy helping others, they forget to worry about himself. Forget to glance at the package Lindsey received a week ago, the contents currently staring back at him.
He didn’t know the answer.
He hoped Willow got his last email.
“It’s been a long time coming.” Lindsey turned on a thousand-watt smile, primped to set hearts aflutter and panties wet with the aw-shucks glory of it. “I have to thank you. Coming here was the best thing I’ve done in about three years.” The smile broadened, alligator sincere. “You gave me the final piece.”
Oz knew a threat when he heard one.