Babylon - part one
Original Prompt: Your assignment is to basically hit all of my fic-kinks out of the park. I want Spike/Xander, post-apocalyptic hurt/comfort. You choose who’s hurt and who’s comforting, but I’d like for it to focus on the boys in a 'last man on Earth' sort of scenario. The rest is up to you - I know you’ll do great.
How many miles to Babylon?
Three score and ten.
Can I get there by candlelight?
Aye, and back again.
If your feet are nimble and light,
You'll get there by candlelight.
Sometimes the sky rained blood, and sometimes it rained ash. On the days it rained ash, Spike shut himself up inside his tent - zipped it all down tight and wasted precious batteries reading, reading, reading; hoping to keep his mind off the sooty fall of dusty, gritty feathers that covered everything like the black rain at Nagasaki. No matter what he did, though, he always found himself sitting and staring - listening to the slither-tick of ash on the rip-stop nylon. Clenching his fist around the black slashes on his right bicep until his nails cut his skin because he could still taste it, the ash - could still feel it grit between his fingers and in his teeth, and he knew he'd have nightmares until the fucking ash stopped. He didn't want to sleep but the ash-rain could fall for days and he had to, eventually. Slumping down over his book and dimming torch, knot of hunger in his belly like a dull-burning coal.
The alley after so much rain has a rill of trash-speckled water running through it, and the light, quick sound of it bubbling over a buckled section of concrete is bizarrely out of place. There's a thread of scarlet skeining down the middle - Spike can smell it, and he tries to ignore it. Tries not to think of Gunn as quick fuel to heal his own wounds and give him another half-hour on his feet - another half-hour of fight when he's so tired he can barely lift his head. Gunn's hand spasms in his - curls tight - and he says something in a blood-strangled voice. Coughs, and Spike closes his eyes against the warm spatter across his face.
"Not goin' anywhere, Charlie-boy," Spike says, and Gunn writhes on the cold ground - opens his mouth to speak and blood wells and runs out, black and thick. Spike leans forward and puts his hand over Gunn's eyes. So he won't see - so he won't know. Puts his mouth to the tattered flesh of Gunn's throat and drinks, drinks deep...
Spike jerked upright, blinking rapidly - hissing as cramped muscles screamed in protest. *Didn't do that. Didn't drink his blood.* He rubbed his hand over his bicep, gaze turning inward. *Wouldn't do that to you, Charlie-boy.* He sat for a long moment, just - settling himself. Listening. Silence, outside his tent - the ash-rain must have stopped. Cautiously - you never know what you could be facing - he unzipped the tent flap a mere half-inch, ready to draw back if need be. But there was nothing deadly there, only cooler, desert-dry air and the night. The ash, for now, had stopped. Spike tucked the books and dead torch into his pack, folded the silvery 'all weather' blanket in on top and rolled the sleeping bag up and secured it to the side, then shuffled on his knees to the front of the tent. He unzipped the flap the rest of the way and stepped out into a cool wash of moonlight and a landscape of silver-nitrate and soot, charcoal and bone-chip white. Skeletons of winter-bare trees, utterly empty. And ash over everything, inches thick; the moon riding full and far in a cloudless sky, the stars like sugar on black velvet. The ash-clouds were far to the east, moving rapidly, and the rare, clear night seemed to glow all around him. Spike simply stood, breathing - looking. Taking in the stillness and the air that smelled of burning and of salt. All his senses amped because for the last five or six months he hadn't once dropped back to his human face. There was no need to - he didn't have to 'pass', anymore and the demon was more and more the default.
*It's like the fuckin' moon. Nothing alive here.* His stomach complained, but he ignored it. Food soon enough. Methodically, he zipped the tent back up - knocked it free of ash and folded it away into its built-in bag. Secured it to the bottom of his pack, meticulous with the cords. Then he shouldered the pack and locked the clip across his chest. Taking care, because everything in there came with a price, and he wouldn't risk any of it. He'd almost lost it once - just the once. He learns quick, these days. He turned slowly for a last observation and when he was facing the east he began to walk. The ash kicked up light as flour and after a bare ten minutes he was coated in it. It irritated his throat even though he wasn't breathing and made his eyes burn. He hated the touch of it; gritted his teeth and endured. The coast was five days away - the city was - and he would wade through this shite to get there. Even though there was no real reason to get there. But you had to have a goal - had to have something - and the city was his current one. Later, it would be something else. Find a first-edition Trollope - an unbroken, un-opened bottle of Laphroaig. Anything, really. Anything but think - anything but remember. He did that in his dreams, and that was more than enough.
Two days out from the city, following a faint, rutted track he came up over a rise and stopped dead. Fire illuminated the scene before him and he instinctively hunched down, not letting himself be silhouetted against the palely glowing sky. Dry lightning tonight - silent and sickly yellow - flaring at rapid intervals behind heavy clouds. Down the slope before him was a wide, ashy plain dotted with barren trees. Figures - vehicles - were scattered among them.
A large, wheeled cart sat askew the rudimentary track, shrouded in fire-licked velvet drapes that looked like they had been salvaged from some old theatre. The cart was barred - tall - and a dim memory flitted across Spike's mind, of a childhood trip to Berlin and a traveling circus - a wheat-gold lion pacing behind the bars of just such a cart.
Bodies were scattered across the plain; five, nine - twelve. From the gaudy debris tossed around it looked to be the remains of a traveling show - jugglers and fire-eaters and some attraction, locked in the cart. Four figures - human-demon hybrids, from the look of them - were crouched around a fire, bickering over a roasting haunch of meat. The draft-animals - they looked like heavy horses - lay dead in the broken shafts of the cart, clumsily hacked to bits for the meal. Spike leaned there, watching the hybrids and wondering if he should plot a course that would avoid the scene or go straight through. The cramp of hunger in his belly argued for straight through. He squinted as a sudden breeze coasted up the rise, raising ash. It also stirred a piece of paler cloth that was draped over the cart, unfurling it - smoothing it. There were words painted on it - poorly lettered in drippy, blood-red paint. 'COME and SEE the LAST REEMANING PUR-BLOODED HUMAN on ERTH!!!' He snorted softly - reached up absently and stroked his right bicep and the three parallel lines that ran down it.
* Stupid fucks - there are no humans - Illyria saw to that...*
The rain has slacked to almost nothing and Spike can sense the sun somewhere left and behind him, getting close to the horizon. Not that it matters; the sky is like a cracked egg - sulphur-yellow and black, sparkling with energies and magic, roiling with thick, low clouds. Starless. A void. Spike crouches in a doorway, his body tattered - bloodied. Gunn lays beside him, an awkward tangle of already-stiffening limbs and congealing blood, the faint stench of corruption wisping up to Spike's nose no matter how he tries to avoid it. His smokes are gone - too sodden and squashed to be saved - and he craves a cigarette more at that moment then he has in a hundred years. Ten minutes ago there had been a god's awful explosion and Spike supposes he should go check it out, but...he is so fucking tired. From out of nowhere Illyria drops to the pavement, crouching for a moment and then standing smoothly.
"The portal which brought the demon horde has twisted. It is no longer stable. A moment ago it expanded by five times and destroyed the lair of the Wolf, Ram and Hart." She stares down at him with that peculiar, intense gaze that by turns reminds him of a snake and Dru's dolls. Neither is a happy image, and when Illyria speaks again she turns to look at the sky, something - new - in her expression. "They have been consumed by their own hubris - shown their place in the universe."
"Hoisted by their own petard," Spike mutters and Illyria once again fixes her unblinking cobalt eyes on him, rain like mercury beading on her blue-dusted face and running over her armor.
"Yes." Illyria lifts her arms, studying herself. "Wesley pushed my power - my self - into a pocket. Into a dead end. What the Wolf, Ram and Hart have done have...fractured it." Spike hears her, but his brain simply won't process what she's saying until blue-white light begins to glow around her - until her face and body begin to fracture and split, and suddenly the body - Fred - is cracking and splitting away like the carapace of a beetle; like a cocoon - and Illyria is emerging. Imago, ready for the world. She is growing - she is becoming - and she is pulling matter from everything around her. She is surrounded by a swirling storm of dissolving concrete; steel, glass and the carcasses of demons, mutating and growing and Illyria - God-King - is standing astride the street, fifteen feet taller or more, surrounded by a nimbus of blue-black light. Sparks and flares of electricity crackle around her - a corona of light and energy - and she turns wide, search-light eyes down and down onto Spike, who can only huddle there, gaping at her. Invisible winds lift her hair and stir the sodden trash of the gutter and when she speaks her voice is the screaming of a hundred-thousand lost souls - the breaking of every binding that was ever laid on her. For whatever reason - a reason Spike will never know - she has retained the shape and features of a Texas girl named Winifred.
"Humans have corrupted this place for too long. They have become a parasite - an infection." She crouches, so that she is only a few feet above Spike, and the hand that reaches for him is as cold as space and as caustic as Holy water and Spike cries out, flinching back. His shirt is smoldering where she laid her palm and the skin underneath is cracked and bubbled - marred for eternity, although he doesn't know that yet. "I will cure this place. I will build my kingdom anew - wake my brothers and sisters and we will scour the universe clean! A plague to kill a plague..." Something spirals out of her mouth then - some sickly blue-white glitter that expands through the air like dust - that thins and fades and leaves a sheen on every surface. Spike will see it for months, no matter how far he goes. Illyria's virus, made to kill humans. And it works, because there are no humans left. There is no immunity. Spike sees his first changed human a week later: a woman writhing in the grip of the plague, her body metamorphosing before his eyes. He can smell her humanity and then he can't, and something like a bundle of bleached bone and ragged skin gets up and walks away a moment later. It's two more weeks and poor meals of half-rotten blood before he discovers that he can eat - and survive nicely - on hybrid blood.
And he takes a lock of hair from Fred's discarded shell, and he takes the shattered fragment of a stake that is still clutched in Gunn's hand and he goes back into the maelstrom of the portal - back to the Alpha and Omega of the destruction of the world. Searching for Angel.
Spike shook his head, snarling softly. Banishing the past. He shrugged his pack off and laid it below the crest of the rise - shuffled ash over it, just in case. Then he rose and staggered pell-mell down the slope, letting his legs tangle and trip him up, letting himself come to a heap at the bottom, one leg bent beneath him. The hybrids had seen him - had risen up and darted forward and were now circling at a minimum distance, watching. They were humans that had been stretched tall and thin by the plague - spurs of bone had grown out through ash-grey skin, curving up from wrists and ankles, elbows and knees, shoulders and skulls. Their teeth had grown out - grown through their cheeks. They were blood-stained - filthy - dressed in rags, and sickly green-yellow eyes winked and glared from behind strings of matted, colorless hair.
"'Amm-iiiirrr," one lisped, hissing, and Spike looked up at them, panting.
"Starvin', mates. Spare me one of those dead, yeah? Just wanna - get to the city."
"'Iii-sing eeet," another said, 'Living meat', and Spike snarled at that, glaring up at them, his body tense. Waiting. They attacked. At the same moment he pushed up, hands coming up from his boots, knife in each fist. His left hand flashed across a belly, opening it and the hooked tip of the knife dragging out the viscera in a glittering skein. His right-hand knife scored across a chest and bit deep into a bicep, jarring off the bone. He jerked both hands in close and spun, kicking. The steel toe of his left boot slammed into a temple and the bone made a popping, cracking sound as it collapsed. A spur raked across his back, and he snarled - spun.
*One down for sure,* Spike thought, as another spur hooked his thigh and sliced him open. Even though the long bone shards were sharp as razors the hybrids were still just altered humans; they didn't have the experience Spike did, or the will. The hunger had driven him hard for the last three days, and his demon was howling for blood.
The eviscerated hybrid was down, clutching its belly, shrieking. Another was wailing, its arm hanging useless. But it still dove in over the body of the hybrid Spike had kicked, and Spike slammed both knives into its chest - ripped them across and out and the thing went down, mewling, its lungs whistling as they emptied and collapsed. The fourth, still untouched, shuffled sideways - broke and ran and Spike leapt after it - brought it down in a puff of ash. He drove both knives into its back on either side of its spine and as it arched and screamed he bit. The blood was peppery - hot - full of vitality and magic and the burnt-bone rasp of Illyria's plague. He drained every drop - turned to survey the others. The one lay dead, chest oddly flattened from the broken bones and ruined lungs. Near it, the eviscerated hybrid was twisting slowly in the ash, trying with feebly plucking fingers to pull its intestines back inside. Spike yanked his knives free - pushed himself upright and staggered, his wounded leg buckling. He stood still for a moment, regaining his balance and then moved to the gutted hybrid and drank it down. His leg throbbed - his back did - but he could feel the tingling blood moving through his body and saturating his cells, revitalizing him. He knew he would be healed in an hour or so. He wiped his knives carefully on the rag slung around the waist of the hybrid whose skull he had crushed - sheathed them and then cocked his head, listening. The hybrid's heart was still beating; staccato flutter, like a sparrow's wings. Fresh food for the next day, if it lasted that long. He carefully lifted the unconscious hybrid and carried it back to the fire. And discovered how these four relatively inexperienced beings had taken out so many others. Two semi-automatic rifles were propped up against the cart, loaded and gleaming.
*Those will fetch a pretty penny,* Spike gloated. He went back for the other corpses and dragged them in close to the butchered carcasses of the horses - drained the last dead one.
Sated - in need of sleep - he eyed the cart. If he could get into it - if he sun-proofed it - it would be the ideal place to sleep and heal. He limped slowly back up the hill and gathered his pack - went slowly back down, pausing to turn over a corpse of one of the troupe. It was still fairly pliant and Spike figured they'd only been dead a couple of hours - not enough time for the hybrids to take stock. All the better for him, he thought as he looted through the three hand-carts that troupe members had been dragging. Clothing and costumes, make-up and trinkets, show props and a rusted axe - a dilapidated cross-bow. And a bottle of good whiskey, a pill-bottle of what looked like Demerol and another of something like Valium, and a large clear-glass vial that he sniffed carefully. Aqua Somnium - Dream Water. The demon equivalent of heroin. A hypodermic was taped to the side of it, short needle capped; the whole works clean but obviously used.
*Oh lovely, lovely, lovely,* Spike thought, dumping smeary makeup from a small zippered case and tucking the drugs carefully away - patting the whiskey bottle with a gleeful smile. His luck was turning. There was no indication that the sky was clearing - no break to show the sun was rising or setting - and Spike stood for a moment, groping for the sun-sense that had served him for so long. It was weak - a bit fuzzy - but he was sure sunrise was two or three hours away. Plenty of time to fix up the cart on the slim chance that actual sunlight would shine down anytime soon.
He snatched the 'Last Reemaning Pur-Blooded Human' banner up and crumpled it, irritated beyond sense by the thing. For a moment he contemplated burning it, but the stiff canvas and thick paint would send up a column of black smoke and he didn't want to draw that much attention to himself. Instead, he shoved it under the cart and then checked both ends of the cart for a door of some sort. The far end - opposite the dead horses - had a small door and he tried it carefully. Unlocked. He pulled a knife free from his boot and held it at the ready - yanked the door open and sprang back a step. Nothing stirred. He could smell - something. A dry, sickly smell, as if whatever had been housed in the cart was still there, and failing. Firelight coming in under the half-charred drapes made deep shadow and stark bars of light over the interior of the cart and he scanned it carefully, looking for whatever had been caged there. None of the dead scattered around him had been human enough to be the 'last pure human'. He'd seen such a claim a handful of times in the nearly seventeen months since Illyria had let loose her plague. Always they were vampires tortured into never changing or hybrids with the 'wrong' bits removed with clumsy surgery. Never real - never human.
"Come out, come out, wherever you are," Spike sing-songed, stepping carefully up into musty straw; seeing rags and empty, crushed water bottles and what looked like a length of chain, snaking away to the far front corner. "C'mon, little beastie, where are you?" he asked under his breath, and crept closer. The chain twitched and Spike froze - listened - and over the popping of the bone-dry wood in the fire he could hear it. A heartbeat going too fast and lungs working in a jerky, wheezing way. Wet-sounding and unhealthy.
Spike shifted the knife in his hand - crouched a little and walked slowly forward. Finally saw something. A lump wrapped in ratty quilts that moved with the slow breathing. Spike reached out, and with the tip of the knife he carefully dragged the quilts down, exposing a naked, vampire-pale back and the sharp knobs of a curled spine; ribs and shoulder-blades pushing up against dirty, bruise-mottled skin. Thin arms around bony knees and ragged, filthy nails digging into muscle wasted but not all gone. Shivers wracked the thin frame, over and over.
Spike leaned back, listening again. "I know you're awake. Sit up and let me see you. Need to know you don't have any weapons." Nothing; just that heartbeat that skipped and pounded and was making Spike want to pounce. "Listen, mate - you show me you're not armed and you behave and I'll let you loose before I leave here, yeah?" Still nothing, and Spike wondered if the other - man, if the glimpse of flesh between clamped thighs was anything to go by - was too sick to move.
"Gonna turn you over now. Don't try anything 'cause I am armed and I'll take your bloody throat out, got me?" Nothing, nothing, nothing and Spike finally reached out, at the limit of his reach, and took the trembling shoulder in his hand - pulled gently. The man resisted for a moment and then moved - rolled - legs and arms staying curled and tucked, and now Spike could see his head. Chin down to heaving chest, several days' worth of stubble and a skull covered in an inch of cropped hair. Dark hair, dark, thick eyebrows - sunken hollow where the left eye should be and the right eye staring at him, fixed and wild. Dark, dark brown.
"Fuck. Me. Harris?"