Babylon - part three

 

 

The city was like most cities these days; an expanse of blasted concrete and twisted metal - shattered glass.   The dragon that Angel had wanted to kill hadn't been the only one, and they had laid Biblical waste for months until they had all died.  Seems 'Earth' germs were fairly fatal.  Spike studied the remains of a dragon that had died just outside the city - long bones scavenged for building materials, the skull mounted high on a fire-warped pylon.   Its empty sockets seemed to watch him, and Spike sneered up at it, his hand touching his chest once - reflex.   Then it dropped back down to the shaft of the hand-cart he was pulling.  Cart with trade-goods hidden in the bottom, underneath Xander's shivering, quilt-wrapped form.  A Xander who hadn't spoken again in two days - was barely conscious - and was making Spike by turns pissed off and anxious.  He didn't want a patient - didn't want to have some half-dead junkie *not his fault - he didn't ask for that shite -* on his hands.  In his life.  *What the fuck else are you gonna do?  Better than looking for a book or a sodding bottle of whiskey - better than...  Stupid fucking white-hats.  How'd he manage to get in with a group like that?  If he had half a brain he'd have...have...* 

But what Xander should have done - could have done - was pushed aside as the city loomed closer and make-shift gates came into view.  Some idling demons - streams of more going in and out.  Nothing as formal as guards and watches and check-lists, Spike was sure, but there would be some small hassle.  There always was.  He stopped in a small hollow in the road, mostly concealed by a stand of scrubby cedar.  Rearranged some things and shoved his pack down under Harris - pocketed a few small things.  Bribes, if he needed.  He slid an extra knife into his waist - made sure of the ones in his boots and then tugged the quilt back from Harris' face a little. His gaunt, ashen features and empty socket - filthy skin - made him seem a worthless prospect, and hopefully Spike could ditch any trouble-makers by playing the desperate lover.  Look like you have nothing, and mostly they'd leave you be.  His own ash and blood-spattered self was certain to look less than promising.

The empty cities provided more than enough loot for most.  And he couldn't fight with Harris there - helpless and worthless to protect Spike's things.  He sighed and pushed his hand back through his hair - grimaced at the ash-clogged tangle.  First thing when they found a room would be a bath.   He gripped the rag-wrapped shafts of poorly turned wood and tugged the hand-cart into motion, approaching the 'gates' slowly.

"Hey, hey, whatcha got?  Whatcha got got got got?"  Kee'l demons - thin and birdlike in a creepily reptilian way, with spiny proto-feathers and three-fingered feet and hands that ended in hooked claws.  Bright, black eyes and lipless mouths and rows of needle-sharp teeth.  They were like a flock of starlings - flock of fucking gulls - ready to descend and pick you to bits if they thought you had anything they wanted.

"Got sickness, here - can't you smell it?" Spike snapped, pushing through them and they circled and darted and backed away - came close again, chittering to each other.

"Got food got food got f-f-f-food," one said, and it came in too close, reaching for the cart - for Xander - for something.   Spike stopped dead - snatched the creature back by the scruff of its neck, snapping a feather-spine and growling.  The Kee'l writhed, hissing - scrabbling at Spike's hand with its claws.

"He's not food, you tosser.  Fuck off."  Spike shoved it away hard - glared around at the rest who hopped from foot to foot - snaked their heads forward and back, forward and back.  Bird-like - snake-like - land-bound piranha if they wanted to be. 

"Mine," one said - the one with the broken feather and the others looked around wildly - took up the chant; hopping higher and starting to close in and Spike was uncomfortably reminded of that dinosaur movie with the little brats and the pretty, tough blonde.

"Mine!" "Mine!" "Mine!"

"Shit," Spike muttered.   He looked around at the several hybrids and demons who were lounging against the remains of a building, watching with amusement or speculation.  At others who seemed to be going into the city on business - pulling carts like his or driving bigger vehicles, trade-goods or food piled in the back.  Nobody who seemed official, or who looked liked they'd care, one way or the other.  *Right, then.  See if this works.*

"Back the fuck off!  I got food.  Back off - I just wanna go in, you can have it."  He took two steps back and put his hand down on the bundle of rags he'd deliberately placed at the top of the cart.   Picked it up, cradling the contents carefully.  Then with one powerful sweep of his arm, he hurled bundle and food high and away.  The Kee'l froze, following with jerky motions of their heads as the rags went up and up.  At the apex of the arch the flimsy threat holding it all together parted and the rags fluttered apart and jelly beans rained down on the unsuspecting lurkers below.  The Kee'l shrieked - chorus of 'mine mine mine!' - and pounced.  Spike jerked the hand-cart into motion, grinning through his fangs as the lurkers bolted in all directions and the Kee'l leaped and grabbed, indiscriminate.   The jelly beans had been stale, anyway, and Spike had already picked out all the red and purple - his favorite.

He all but trotted past the 'gates' - really just the torn-up railings from what looked like a private house, set aslant two lanes of pocked asphalt.  Got past and in and into the crowds and slowed, breathing out a sigh of relief.  No one had followed and soon he could park Xander in a room - find something that could fix the bastard and...  *And then...the next thing.  Whatever it is.  He'll probably be making a bee-line for...something.  Someplace else, once he's on his feet.*    Although what or where Xander Harris might have left to go to, Spike couldn't fathom.  Spike glanced back at the man - idly noted respiration and heartbeat, and shrugged to himself.  *If he ever gets back on 'em.*   The thought that Xander might not recover was...troubling and Spike shook his head and trudged on.

One long, cleared street - like an arroyo between the gutted superstructures of the skyscrapers - led straight into the heart of the city; straight to the markets.  Uncleared streets to Spike's left and right were two feet deep in razoring greenish shards of glass and here and there were bodies that had obviously been tossed into it as a sort of punishment - or torture.  Most were dead.  One whimpered, dark eyes pleading, but it wasn't anything Spike could eat and it was too far into the glass for him to make an effort.   And he had things to do - medicine to find, and a place to sleep - a place with running water and privacy.  Spike walked on, jumpy in the crush of demons around him.  It had been a while since he'd been anyplace this big - this crowded.  He couldn't keep track of everyone and for a moment he wanted to turn and leave.  But Xander made some small noise and he shook his head and took in a hard breath.  Dredged up the 'fuck you' attitude that had gotten him across continents and through wars and lifted his head - strode into the thick of it.

 

The city was roaring - wide open and thick with demons of every stripe.    What had once been a park *Boston Common, that's what this is...* was where the main market had been set up.  Some of the stalls were more or less permanent, having been constructed inside the surrounding buildings.  Others were structures of hide and wood, or thatch and bamboo - rope and rags - whatever was to hand.  In the odd, greyish twilight that could have been noon or midnight, oil-lamps and torches and cold-chemical lamps - even some antique carbide lamps - burned on poles and hung from hooks, casting wild tiger-striping of light and dark over every surface.  Spike made his way around the periphery of it all, looking for a place to stop.  There were food stalls and stalls hawking weapons - cloth and beads and bones and herbs, books and CD players that might or might not work.  Everything anybody might need, but no damn bars and no damn rooms.  Frustrated, Spike stopped finally and leaned against a wall, resting - thinking.  Checked absently on Xander who was fevered again and moving restlessly.  Withdrawal, and some sort of sickness - 'flu or something. 

A little kiosk opposite was selling blini, and tea from an ancient and lovingly-tended samovar.  Spike felt in his pockets - found the little pastilles tin that he'd put five of his Valium in and crossed to the kiosk, keeping a wary eye on Xander and the cart.   The demon tending the samovar - it looked rather like a large rat in a turban and long overcoat - looked up at him as he approached, thin, clawed fingers clasped together over its breastbone.

"Da?" it said, and Spike gestured to the samovar - held up the cracked-open tin, showing the pills.  The demon leaned in close, its elongated snout twitching toward the pills.  Spike held up two fingers - gestured to the tea and blini.    The demon tipped its head to one side, considering.

"Chetirye," it said, holding up four fingers and Spike let his tongue travel contemplatively down one fang.

"Tri" he replied, three fingers up and the demon made a clicking sort of noise - finally nodded its head.

"Sdelano.  Done."

"Sdelano."  Spike carefully picked three pills out of the tin and held them while the demon siphoned tea - piled blini into a cone of old newspaper.  Six in all, buckwheat pancakes rolled around a strip of what might be salmon and what was most certainly not sour cream.  But they smelled savory and good, and the steaming tea - in pottery cups that had the stamp of some hotel on them - got generous dollops each of dark-amber honey.  Spike handed over the pills - juggled food and drinks for a moment and then went back to the hand-cart.  He put the tea between his feet and ate three of the blini, savoring what turned out to be some sort of creamy, demonic roe and possibly tuna.  Odd and good and he looked at the last three and sighed - tucked the newspaper around them and put them into the cart for later.  For Xander.  Picked up his tea and drank it slowly, relishing the thick, sweet heat.  Then he traded empty cup for full and went around to where Xander's head lay cushioned on a bundle of rags. 

"Harris - you in there?  Wake up, Harris, and have some of this."  Spike shook him - worked his hand under Xander's back and got him up a bit, Xander's head resting on his shoulder, skin hot and slick with sweat.  Xander's eye fluttered open - tracked blearily around, then settled on Spike - widened slightly, and Spike cursed.  He shook the demon away - lifted Xander a little higher.

"C'mon and drink this - s'good for you - got honey in it.  C'mon, Harris."  Xander licked cracked, peeling lips and Spike put the cup to his mouth - tipped it carefully, carefully; feeding Xander the tea in tiny, separate mouthfuls until the cup was empty.  Xander was panting by then - exhausted - and Spike put the empty cup down and used his thumb to gently wipe a trickle of tea off of Xander's lower lip.

"That was good, yeah?  Good stuff, Harris."

"Go-oo..." Xander muttered, and then his eye closed, his breathing becoming longer and longer sighs and he was out again.  Spike just crouched there for a moment, thumb brushing over Xander's lip and stubbled chin and then he gently lay Xander back down - pulled his arm free of Xander's body and tucked the quilts back up around his neck.  The bubbling, hitching breaths continued and Spike picked up both cups and carried them back to the kiosk - handed them to the rat-demon who took them with a small bow.

"Sick?" it asked, looking across at Xander and Spike shook his head.

"Nothing catching.  Dope," he added, and the demon nodded.

"Need a room - bath.   You know anyplace?"  The demon looked Spike up and down - reached out and touched the collar of the shirt Spike had shrugged on before the day's walk had begun.  Something from the troupe - moiré-patterned silk in deep blue.  Ashy and wrinkled, but still soft.  The demon rubbed the fabric between his clawed finger-tips and Spike nodded shortly - stripped the shirt off and held it up, standing in a black t-shirt that was fading to washed-out grey.

"Da.  U prichala.  Rooms there."

"Prichala?" Spike asked, his sketchy Russian failing him.

"Da, da - docks - the Dens.  Na vostok."  The demon gestured east, nodding, and Spike handed the shirt over with a tiny bow - walked back over to the cart and touched his fingertips to Xander's forehead.

"Got us a place, Harris.  Be there soon.  Bath an' all, yeah?  It'll be nice.  Here we go."  Spike gripped the shafts again and pulled, glad to have a place to go - glad to get out of the crowds for a while.  *Getting to be as much of a hermit as the old man - be lurkin' in the shadows and brooding, next.  Fuckin' bastard.  Fucking...Angel...*

 

 

The Wolfram and Hart building is flattened - is a ruin the likes of which Spike's only seen once before; when London was bombed and demon and human alike cowered in the tunnels, waiting for the all-clear to sound.  A dragon perches atop a tangled heap of steel girders and slagged concrete.  It lifts its head and peers left and right - oddly birdlike for all its size.  The rain steams off of it, as if the fire it breathes heats its whole body to unnatural temperatures.  Something - is in its claws.  Spike stares and then he starts to climb, because the tiny figure is Angel, and he's moving.   Spike doesn't know what he's going to do when he reaches the dragon - if he's seen, he'll be plucked up and rent limb from limb, or worse.  But he can't not - can't wait to see if it will let Angel go or if Angel will get free, somehow.  The dragon tilts its head back and roars and there is an answering roar form somewhere above it.  Spike cringes on the slope of smoking wreckage, looking up.  A second dragon, circling far overhead and the near one suddenly crouches - leaps into the air with a snap of its wings like a whip.  Downdraft hard enough to knock Spike off his feet and Angel goes tumbling - falling - sliding into a rent in the shattered building and disappearing.  With a cry of frustration and rage Spike staggers to his feet, slipping in the streams of dirty water that sheet over concrete and steel. 

Clawing and climbing and sliding - leaping finally into the gap in the rubble and falling far - landing next to Angel with a grunt, limbs shaking from exhaustion and pain.  His chest is on fire from Illyria's burning touch and his shirt sticks and pulls andhurts.  He shreds it - rips it open and then crouches next to Angel, squinting in the uncertain light.  Angel is...  More than broken.  Half of him is simply not there...  Spine and shattered pelvis gleaming sickly white in the gloom - truncated body at an odd angle across a beam and Spike knows that even if he could survive his legs being torn away, Angel's spine is smashed.  Perhaps beyond repair.   Spike feels a wave of sick, helpless fury wash over him and then he is pulling Angel closer - cradling him tight to his own wounded chest - ignoring the pain of Angel's scarred coat scraping the burn open - making it bleed.

"Wanted to - k-kill the dragon," Angel gasps out, and Spike wraps his arms around the mangled, shaking figure and croons some nonsense at him - some ignorant, useless shite and Angel laughs - chokes - gasps in agony.  A sluggish trickle of blood soaks the legs of Spike's jeans and Spike knows Angel is bleeding out - is done, fucking done, oh god help me...  And then Angel lifts his arm and his hand is slipping into Spike's hair - tugging him weakly, insistently down.  His mouth is on Spike's mouth, colder than ice and slick with blood.  Kissing him, breathing in jerky gasps between kisses. 

"Always - l-loved -" Angel murmurs, and then he's sinking - falling - coming to pieces in Spike's hands - under his lips - and Spike can taste the salt-iron ash in his mouth.  Can feel it in his eyes and nose and all over his skin and he can't drink it away or cry it away or scrub it away, though he tries.  It's not until much later that he notices that Angel's dust has got into the wound on his chest - has left something like a tigers paw-print there, iron-grey-black.  The same day he finally notices is the day he takes Gunn's stake and the lock of Fred's hair and the piece of screwed-up notebook paper that he found - paper covered in Wesley's scratchy penmanship - and burns them.  Burns them to ash in the hub-cap of a wrecked car and slashes his right bicep - three long slashes, one for each of the friends that he lost.  Rubs the ash in, deep as he can.  The only memorial he knows to make for the last heroes of the world.