Points On The Compass: Snow, Sand, Mud, Blood
by Lar

i mean the
Rain is no respecter of persons
the snow doesn't give a soft white
damn Whom it touches
ee cummings, i will cultivate within

NORTH / November 2001: Ruby Ridge, Montana -- snow

Lindsey's boots sink into the snow so deep; he feels it pressing down like it's got more weight than it should. His feet are cold before he leaves the house in the morning and the truck barely heats up enough to thaw him out before he gets to work. Even so, he likes the mountains here, the heavy, towering peaks of them ringed in clouds and gray with the storms that roll in and drop even more snow down. He's almost sure he can't picture the flat plains of Oklahoma any more, and there's some relief in that.

At night he dreams about Darla and Angel. Both of them smile at him in full game face and then crumble to dust, the wind coming off the flat hardpan behind Lindsey whipping them into a whirling vortex, mingling them together. Always together. The grit burns his eyes and makes his face feel tight and burned. When he wakes up sweating and rubbing at his eyes, he's relieved at the piercing cold of the ramshackle little room he's renting. Sometimes he walks round it bare-chested and shivering until his teeth chatter. And only when the cold sinks into his bones does he dare to crawl back into bed again. Usually that's enough to stop the dreams coming back.

Sometimes it's not.

The job is mindless and hones his body in a way no fancy mirrored gym ever could. Miles of fences to repair, most of them looking like they haven't been touched in years. The ranchers tend to spend their money sparingly, and it's only when they lose some cattle that they bother to cough up the cash and hire someone who's willing to work cheap. The difference is so glaring that it makes Lindsey grin, a grimace as cold as the air that whips through the jacket and the gloves that aren't doing much to keep body or hands warm.

These are not his roots. But they sure as hell aren't far away from them. The mountains make him feel safe somehow; they make him feel like they're watching over him, benevolent guardians hiding him from the powers in the west, a kind of reward for taking the higher moral ground for once in his life. For choosing to leave instead of taking the promotion, the power, the chance to have everything he'd dreamed of when he was dirt poor in Oklahoma and salvation was a bank account with more zeros than he could rightly count.

The town consists of four blocks of buildings that might have been dragged here from the set of some old cowboy movie. There's not much in the way of tourists now, when the snow's too deep to get any damn place and the cold sucks the air out of your lungs when you breathe. But Tommy Black's bar never closes for bad weather, and anytime Lindsey makes his way into the town Tommy has a bottle of Bud waiting for him and a string of really awful jokes about dumb blondes and preachers. Lindsey gets shitfaced a few times and sings in front of the whole damn place. Sings Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash and the Eagles, his voice rough at the start but smooth enough by the final song to feel really damn good in his chest.

He gets himself good and laid by Tommy Black's cousin Alice after the first time he gives his little impromptu performance. She's older than Lindsey by more than a few years but her body's firm and her breasts are full and her mouth is skilled enough to make him see stars when she goes down on him. She gives him coffee and cornbread for breakfast, fucks him hard and fast before she sees him to the door and tells him she'll see him round the bar. He's grinning when he strolls away, and the next time he sees Alice, he doesn't need to sing to get invited back to her place.

Lindsey thinks he might just stay here forever.

 

SOUTH / December 2002: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil -- sand

Every night he dumps sand out of his boots before he goes to bed, and it never occurs to Lindsey that he should lose them, find something lighter to wear. His jeans are soaked with sweat and when he hangs them over the back of the chair, he knows the morning will find them still damp to the touch. The heat here is invasive, wet and green when he travels away from the town and into the hills that surround it. His skin is so dark that he's mistaken for a native until they see the blue eyes behind the sunglasses.

The mountains here are a far cry from the ragged peaks in Montana. Everything here feels older, rounded and serene in a way those others did not. If the Ruby Ridge was a towering guardian that growled and hunched its massive shoulders, then the softly ovalled tops of these are goddesses, all round shoulders and flowing gowns of green and gray. He doesn't think that means they're more benevolent in their protection. He's learned his lessons on the frailties of women from Darla and Lilah, and appearances aren't going to deceive him ever again.

He amuses himself at the idea of the mountains in Montana as Angel personified. Cold, rough, all dangerous edges and crags that a man can fall into with one missed step to die there broken and bleeding. Here in Brazil, there are green curves and if you die on the mountains, it would be the bite of something poisonous that took you away. Something quick and biting, ushering you out quickly while you marveled at how beautiful the trees looked against the clear blue sky. He thinks about being called Sweet pea, the feel of fangs in his neck, the pale perfection of Darla's face over him as he thought he was dying. He wasn't, of course, and now he knows that's what she was smiling about. But he can't look at Sugarloaf and not think about Darla, and he tells himself he won't visit it because it's a damn touristy thing to do.

Lindsey's not a tourist. Half naked women on the beaches, all of them seeming to have a smile for the pretty man who's different enough to be intriguing and who blends in well enough to not get them unwanted attention from over protective brothers and cousins. They're sleek and exotic - warm skin, long black hair, wide brown eyes. There are countless encounters with lusty females, in bedrooms and on beaches, in alleys and backseats. They end with giggles and sighs, kisses and whispers for him to come find him again. Lindsey never does, but he's confident that no one's crying into her pillows over that fact. Every one of them is as far from Darla as a man can get and still have it be a woman.

When Gitana appears to take it into her head to be a regular engagement in his apartment, Lindsey's only slightly amused at the concept. She's very young and has more self-confidence than Lilah and Darla combined. She assumes that what she wants is what he wants, and for a while, he's content with that. He's very careful not to make any promises or plans that extend beyond the night and possibly breakfast. Gitana is fine with that. She likes her pretty American man as much for the way he makes love to her as for the way it makes her parents tear at their hair and swear she is trying to kill them.

There are worse ways to live, and Lindsey's not going to argue as long as things stay loose and easy.

And every night that he leaves a warm embrace with his skin still sweating and his mouth still swollen from kisses, he finds himself staring at the mountains. He thinks this might be where he belongs, in the sand and the wet, green heat.

 

EAST / January 2003: Gorkha, Nepal -- mud

The air here is thick, heavy with mist and water. Everywhere is green, mild. New growth pushing up through the soaked, black earth between temples older than anything he's ever seen before. There's something just slightly bizarre about being able to get off a bus and walk up a hill to talk to monks in those crumbling buildings. Somehow it's out of sync with the normality of the past two years, where the strangest thing he'd found was the way people would ignore things they couldn't explain.

Lindsey wonders if he was on the way to becoming one of those people, a man who would turn his head and not acknowledge something too strange to be explained away with a shrug and a remark about the weather getting weirder thanks to the ozone being thinner.

He watched the sky go black over Los Angeles sitting in a boteco drinking home bottled beer. There were rumblings around him, vague swearing and without fail every single person in the room crossed themselves when the newscast cut to live pictures of the permanent night sky of LA. Lindsey didn't, of course, and after he got tired of listening to the men go on about the latest football scores between glances at the screen and those covert and heart-felt hand motions that they seemed to believe would really make a difference, he paid his tab and left. Headed to the library and sent out a few emails, waiting without much patience for some kind of answers. He charmed the librarian into an extra hour's time, but all he ended up with was one response.

"Run."

No need to tell him twice. He was on a plane and headed towards the other side of the world before they opened the library the next morning.

Now he's been here long enough to lose the tan and cover his skin in a whole different way. The monks who applied the tattoos were silent and patient and slow, tapping ink into Lindsey's skin without expressions on their faces. One did the bands around his wrists, ankles, thighs, biceps. One did the glyphs on his calves and forearms. Yet another did the final, larger designs, chanting the words that sealed the charm over and over until his voice was nothing more than a hoarse whisper.

Lindsey's skin burned and itched for days, the magic in the inks causing the healing to delay. He laid awake for night after night and hoped that he wasn't wasting his time, that he wasn't wracking his body with pain for no reason at all. Or rather, that his reason for doing it wouldn't end up making the last two years or so an exercise in futility.

Because as he sees it now, he's been doing what the monks call a necessary purge. They've been purging his body of chemicals and poisons, giving him only water, teas, vegetables that they raise on grounds they've consecrated. Making him stronger in body and mind, or so they claim. He can't argue about being stronger in body. He can shatter rock with a single blow of his hand; he can render boards into piles of splinters without the effort it takes to snap his fingers. He's not entirely sure that his mind is getting any stronger, though.

He finds himself fixating on Angel more and more as the days pass. It's as if making himself invisible to the Senior Partners costs him whatever barrier it was that kept Angel from his conscious thoughts. Maybe it's the spell; maybe it's the goddamn tea. All he knows is that now he can't have a thought that doesn't lead him back to Angel.

Despite the warnings of the monks, Lindsey goes into the little village at the bottom of the hills. The bus comes twice a day and he tries to concentrate his mind on people watching. However there's not much variety in the people that come and go. There's farmers and students and that's about it, and there's only so many times he can look at the sacks they carry without getting bored and itchy. The itch itself reminds him of the way his hand felt when he lost it and when he got it back again, a constant burning that is now no longer confined to his wrist but covers his body from neck to ankle. It's enough to drive him into the little wooden shack that sits at the end of the marketplace where the bus stops, and he buys a bottle of something with a dusty label and a sealed lid. It burns his throat and his belly but it's a burn he has control over and that's enough for now.

By the time the bus makes its final stop, Lindsey's mind is blurry. When he sees that tall blonde man step off, he has to blink and concentrate to make sure he's not hallucinating. He's still there after Lindsey does his little mental check, and he watches as the man, who wears military fatigues, asks how to find the monks in the temple. His Nepali is technically better than Lindsey's, but his accent is horrible and the man he's asking looks confused and then irritated.

"He can't understand you," Lindsey says as he walks over, not bothering to hide the bottle in his hand. "Well, he probably could if he made the effort, but he ain't gonna do it."

The man stares at Lindsey and in the few seconds that he takes to decide whether or not Lindsey's here to help or make trouble, Lindsey takes in a scar across the man's face that's fairly interesting, and the pale arcs of white on his neck that are much, much more so. "Are you gonna make the effort?" he asks, and Lindsey shrugs.

"Oh, I could. Why're you lookin' for the temple? Religious man, are you?" Lindsey nods to the shopkeeper who's still staring and thanks him quickly. "Dhanyabaad."

The man looks from the retreating back of the shopkeeper to Lindsey. His gaze flickers from the easy half-smile to the bottle in his hand before he shrugs, mimicking the gesture Lindsey used earlier. "Architecture student. Big with the ancient ruins. Riley Finn," he adds as he holds out his hand.

"Lindsey McDonald. You here on the 'be all you can be' scholarship tour? Cause you're lookin' kinda out of the usual student mold." Lindsey shakes his hand and there's a tingle in the tattoos that has him gripping Riley's hand just a little longer than he should.

"Subtle, huh?" Riley says with a grin as he looks down at the camo pants and high black boots. "Guess I'm out of practice with stealthy."

Lindsey grins back and an hour later they're both drinking from the bottle. Riley's stopped asking about the temple and started asking about the tattoos. Lindsey's stopped playing coy and started flat out touching the scars on Riley's neck. By the time the moon rises, everyone's touching a lot more than scars. Riley's mouth is the first thing to bring any relief to the ink under Lindsey's skin. His tongue traces every swirl, every sigil, licks round the intricate bands on wrists and ankles.

Lindsey returns the favor, fingers drawn over the scar on Riley's face, nuzzling into his neck and flicking his tongue over the bite marks, grinning when Riley groans and arches up to press against his body. The feel of hard muscle and warm skin, the press and thrust of another man for the first time in far too long takes Lindsey out of his head. The night falls around them, melting into sunrise that barely lights the room. There's mist that turns to rain, and when Riley wakes, neither of them are inclined to hurrying towards the temple.

Lindsey takes him there eventually. The monks look at Riley as calmly, serenely as they greeted Lindsey when he arrived. The lone man who speaks English takes Riley away to see the head of the order when he makes his request, and Lindsey watches them go before he walks slowly back to the chamber that's been his for the last six weeks. The urgency that infused him previously seems to have settled some, although he's neither young enough or na´ve enough to believe it's anything more than having found someone who tickles his imagination and satisfies his body.

He wonders how long Agent Finn plans to study architecture here. Lindsey plans to be persuasive if the answer isn't what he hopes to hear.

 

WEST/ February 2004: Los Angeles, California -- blood

Every ritual begins or ends with blood. This time he's damn sure that it's going to be both, his to begin with and Angel's to end it. He's spilled enough blood for that man - that monster - to fuel a thousand rites, and when this is over, Lindsey plans to be very much back on top. He'll polish his boots with the hot coppery fluid.

It's painfully simple to make his contact with Eve, who has obviously done her homework and tried to be Lilah II. She's not even close, but Lindsey sees the effort and makes sure to tell her. A simple dropped compliment on how her style on this or that reminds him of La Morgan and she's all smiles. Eve is distressingly clingy, wanting to make love every damn time she does what she's told, and it gets to the point that he can barely stand the smell of her on his skin for as long as it takes to get her out of the apartment and himself in the shower.

The night she comes home smelling of Angel, he fucks her for hours until she's sore and exhausted and all but crawling to the bed to wrap in the sheets and fall asleep. Lindsey stays awake and plans, keeps her skirt because it smells like Angel. Eve never asks for it. If she notices that it's missing, he's willing to bet she thinks he threw it away or burned it because he couldn't stand the thought of having proof of another man touching her that way. He lets her keep her illusions. Anything that can be used as a tool works for him.

He emails Riley daily, letting him in on the progress of the rough plans they'd made, using a code they'd worked out in a series of increasingly intense sessions as the time for Lindsey to leave Nepal drew closer. Anyone intercepting their correspondence would find it to be a collection of vaguely nostalgic memories of their college days in Tulane.

Riley warns him not to get too cocky. Tells him about a hundred times not to let his guard down, not to tell Spike too much. Not to think he's invincible. Lindsey tells him not to worry, and how to find his ex, if he's so inclined. Neither of them mentions Eve, any more than they mention Sam. One's already dead, the other will be when Angel's little gang of do-gooders work out that she's been playing them. He's disappointed that they hadn't already gotten rid of her for him; he was so sure that the parasite would have been enough to get her tossed out on that bony ass of hers. But apparently none of them have gotten any smarter, and she's still in.

Lindsey's sure that it's almost over. He sends Riley an email telling him that he'll be sending for him any day, closes the laptop and gets into the worker's overalls. It's so close now, he can almost taste the blood. He's smiling when he leaves the apartment, calling Eve for what he hopes is the last time, calling her darlin' and reassuring her that it's all going according to plan.

Hours later, his skin free of ink and his body stretched out tight between the pillars where he's been chained, he looks at his boots and sees he got some of it right. There's blood there. Some of it might even be Angel's.

 

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