Back at the Circus, just another animal in the zoo. He thought that maybe he should have felt weird about being there, but even after such a short amount of time... Well, it wasn't home, but it really wasn't all that different from all the places he'd called "home."
Sometimes he thought that maybe there would never be a place where he could completely and comfortably be himself. He would always be a stranger in his own skin, even though people just looking at him always seemed to think he was as cool as a cucumber.
He thought it was kind of funny that he was perceived as being totally unflappable. 'Cause honestly? Nine times out of ten, he was completely flapped.
"What are you thinking?"
"That my life can't get anymore weird," he said honestly.
Jason snorted a little laugh. "You're so funny."
Without changing expression: "I try."
They were in Jason's room this time. And even though Oz had kind of thought it would look like a bad porn set, he was pleasantly surprised to find that it was just a normal room.
Jason lounged on the bed while Oz sat on the single chair.
"You live here full time and you feed the guy the blood he needs to live, so I don't know why Jean-Claude doesn't give you your own suite or something," he said.
Jason shrugged. "I'm just glad not to have to pay rent. He gives me a wardrobe allowance and a place to live, so I've really saved up some cash."
"Still, he drinks your blood
on a regular basis. At the least you'd think he'd give you a king sized bed."
"Hey, he pays for my clothes, I have a job at one of his clubs, he gives me somewhere to sleep and keep all my crap, he lets me drive his cars when I need one and..."
"He drinks your blood and makes you deal with Loony Anita on a regular basis." Oz shook his head. "You need a raise."
Jason snorted. "When'd you get so talkative all of a sudden?"
Oz smiled at him, that peculiar slight curving of the lips that said more than a thousand words.
"All right, shut up already," Jason said. He folded his arms under his head and stared up at the ceiling. "Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if things had gone completely different."
"Me too," Oz said. "But considering Sunnydale, I'd probably be dead. I was one of the graduating minority at my high school."
"Yeah," Jason said. "I'd probably be a junkie somewhere or something."
"Or you would be in college and you'd have a future for yourself."
Jason laughed a little. "Well, might-have-beens are a joke your brain plays on you. And if you spend all your time regretting your life, then you forget to live it. And this is the only one I've got, so..."
"It's good that you're smarter than you look."
"And what's that supposed to mean?" Jason demanded.
Oz just smiled at him until he hit him with a pillow.
They were watching Pee-Wee's Playhouse on Adult Swim. It was such a weird thing that it really brought home to Oz the fact that he was in a completely different dimension.
"I don't remember there being so much homoerotic underpinnings to this show when I was a child," he said.
Jason laughed. "They were always there. I mean, Pee-Wee is a guy in a dorky looking gray suit, wearing a red bowtie and white shoes. Plus, the cab lady Dixie? Totally a lesbian."
"And you like that, don't you?" Oz said, seeing his sly little smile.
Jason gave a delighted little shiver. "Oh yeah. She was so totally butch for such a pretty lady. She kind of makes me think of Anita. Just, you know, not as hair-triggered."
"Or psychotic," Oz said.
Jason shook his head. "Oh, if Dixie had had a gun, she would have been blowing holes in people left and right. That was one aggressive little lady."
"Little lady." Oz smirked.
Jason slapped him on the shoulder, but then didn't take his hand away for a long moment, and even when he did, the touch lingered.
They sat propped up on pillows on the bed, watching TV and trying to pretend that they were totally relaxed when they were so obviously not. Oz hadn't felt so totally aware of another person since he was a teenager. Not even Willow had made him feel like this.
It was almost a relief when there was a brief knock on the door before it was pushed open.
Jason came to tense awareness and almost leapt off the bed. "Richard. What... what do you need?"
From what Jason had said, Richard used to be a pretty neat guy until he'd been totally head-fucked by Anita. A calm and entirely rational junior high school teacher turned into a raving lunatic by Anita Blake. It was pretty hard to be surprised about that. Crazy people tended to rub off on the people around them.
"Sylvie told me about what happened tonight," Richard said, stalking into the room. He radiated a kind of burning tension that made Oz feel pretty uncomfortable. He really didn't want to be too close to the guy, but he figured it would look bad if he just started backing away for no obvious reason. He was supposed to be a normal, "null" human after all.
Jason shifted nervously, suddenly looking small in just his jeans and bare feet. "Look, Richard, I..."
"No," Richard growled. "I don't want to hear any excuses from you. Sylvie already tried to save your ass and I'm tired of hearing excuses. I just want to know WHAT THE FUCK YOU THOUGHT YOU WERE DOING?"
Jason flinched back from his roar and bumped into the wall. He was trembling as he slid into a huddle on the floor, his forehead pressed against the carpet, the delicate curve of the back of his neck exposed. "Please, Nathaniel was in trouble and we..."
"He's one of Anita fucktoy leopards. If he's in trouble, she
can get off her high horse and go save him." Richard lunged forward to grab Jason by the neck and lift him up, flinging him over the bed and across the room. Oz had to duck out of the way of one flailing foot and winced when Jason landed against the far wall with a THUD.
When Richard stalked around the bed and started going for Jason again, Oz decided that was enough. He got up and stood in front of the larger man, raising one hand in front of him. "That's enough, man. I'm gonna have to ask you to leave now."
Richard glared at him. "And what the hell are you
supposed to be? Are you another one of Anita's fuck-buddies?"
"No," Oz said. "Me and Anita don't really see eye-to-eye, but even if we did... that wouldn't matter. I'm not going to let you beat up Jason just because you're mad at your ex-girlfriend. That's crazy, man. You need to take a step back and think."
Richard growled, a low, animal sound that made the hairs rise on the back of Oz's neck and something Dark in him want to leap out, but he wasn't going to let it. Instead, he kept a calm expression on his face and didn't look away from Richard's eyes.
"I understand how pissed off you are with Anita, but you have to stop taking it out on other people," Oz said. "I've heard good things about you, but they mostly involve the you from two or three years ago. Now everyone's walking on eggshells 'cause you're acting psycho and it's time to stop."
"Who the hell do you think you are?" Richard demanded. He slammed a massive hand down on Oz's shoulder and squeezed
Oz grimaced at the sudden pain, but didn't let it move him. "See what I mean, man? This is totally inappropriate behavior and you really need to stop right now
." He kept his eyes focused on Richard, staring down those gold-edged pupils. "I heard you're a junior high teacher... is this how you want your students to act? Is this the example you want to set?"
Richard glared at him for a few more seconds, then suddenly let him go and took a few steps back. "You're right. I..." He scrubbed a hand across his face. "I don't know what I'm doing anymore. I mean, look at you." He waved a hand at Oz.
"Um?" Oz said, raising an eyebrow while he tried to rub the pain out of his shoulder. He thought that maybe he should be kind of offended, but Richard seemed just a little on edge.
"A few years ago I wouldn't even think about attacking someone, and now... it's like there's no other option for me to take. I don't know what's happened to me. How did I end up like this?" There might have been tears glimmering in his eyes, but Oz wasn't going to say anything about them 'cause he really didn't want to have his scrawny self twisted into a painful pretzel.
"Look, man, from what I've overhead people saying about this 'triumvirate' thing you've got going with Jean-Claude and Anita, it's a pretty close relationship, right?" Oz said. "And you guys are all going to be together for a long time and you're going to have to kind of get used to that fact."
"You don't think I know
that?" Richard asked in despair. "If I could get away from them, I would. Maybe it would be better if I was somewhere far away from them and I didn't have to see her
every damned day. If I didn't have to feel her crawling in the back of my mind like some kind of leech I wouldn't want to just... to crush her face in every time I see it. If she'd just leave me the fuck alone..." He was trembling, the skin pulled tight around his face and his teeth clenched tight together.
"But she's not going to, is she?" Oz asked. "From what I understand, you are all psychically connected. You can use each others abilities, your strengths and weaknesses are shared. Right?"
"Why are you telling me all this?" Richard said. "You don't think I already know all that? This is my life! I'm trapped forever with these people I don't even like anymore and there's nothing I can do about it? They can reach into my head and take whatever they want, yet I'm the bad guy when I get upset because I don't want to deal with their crap? How the hell am I ever supposed to make this better? I can feel it when they have sex with each other or other people or whatever. I can feel them writhing around in the back of my head all the time, even when I try to shut them out, they're always there, taunting me.
"I never wanted this to be my life," he said brokenly. "She was dying and I thought it was the only way to save her. I thought I loved her, that I wanted to be with her forever. But... but I hate
her so much, and I can't even get away 'cause she's in my head. I can hear her all the time. I can feel her heartbeat. Sometimes I wake up and I can smell her on my skin. She's taking me over and there's nothing I can do about it because whenever I say even the littlest thing, I'm
the bad guy
. I'm the weak link." He looked at Oz out of sad eyes, the tears drying on his cheeks. "And what am I supposed to do about that, huh? We're all three of us bound together for the rest of our lives. And she's out there fucking everything that moves, yet I'm not allowed to find anyone to love because I'm afraid she's going to lose it and someone's going to end up dead because of me. I can feel her jealousy burning away at me like acid if I even look at someone else. And I'm so fucking lonely
"Oh, Richard, why have you never said anything to me?" a voice from the doorway said.
Richard whirled around and looked at Jean-Claude out of blazing eyes. "And what the hell am I supposed to say to you, huh? How is saying anything to you going to make it any better?"
Jean-Claude held out a hand. "Come, Richard, there is much for us to discuss."
"Like what?" Richard took one stumbling step toward the door, not even seeming to be aware he was headed that way.
"Though there are no ways to completely shut her out of your mind, there are ways to keep her from controlling you," Jean-Claude said.
"What do you mean?" Richard asked.
"If I had only known what she was doing to you, I would have helped you sooner," Jean-Claude said. "Her anger, her fear, her lust, her jealousy, all of it is washing over your mind, adding to your own. I had wondered how you could turn so quickly from such a level-headed man into a... a raging maniac, but now... Now I know, and there is something we can do for you."
Richard stumbled passed him. "You can stop it? Do you promise?" He sounded like a tired child asking if Santa Claus was real.
"You are the one that will be doing all the work, but in the end, you will have much of your own control returned to you," Jean-Claude said.
Oz watched them leave, the door swinging gently shut behind them. He turned to Jason. "Just me, or was that a little weird?"
Jason pulled himself painfully to his feet. "Considering the way things usually are around here... I'd have to say it was just you."
Oz smiled a little.