Babylon - part four
Spike suddenly realized that he'd stopped.† Stopped dead in the street and was standing there, head bowed.† Taking in hard, shaking breaths as that memory washed through him - taste in his mouth like vinegar and wormwood.† The crowd streamed around him and he blinked and got moving again with a jerk, the cart wobbling behind him and pulling at strained, tired muscles and he very nearly let it go.† Very nearly abandoned Xander in the middle of this nightmare version of Boston Common and walked on.
Very nearly, but not quite.† He gripped the wood so hard that it hurt, and he walked, the demon's face snarling in rigid ferocity while behind it he tried to get a grip on himself.
*Past is gone.† What's done is done.† No sense in dwelling on it...no sense in letting it...hurt.* ††But it did hurt.† It always surprised him, that hurt, and he cursed himself silently.† Near the edge of the market he stopped again when a certain stall beckoned.† A rusted Altoids tin full of old carbon-film resistors got him half a carton of Lucky Strikes and a re-fill on his Zippo and he resumed his journey feeling slightly better, the prospect of a smoke when he'd got them a room lifting his mood.† He hadn't had a smoke in...nearly a month.† The Rust Belt had been picked clean.
Boston Bay rose up on the horizon - steel-blue and rolling with waves under the lowering sky and Spike stood at the top of a small hill, looking down at the bobbing patchwork of the Dens.† Everything from one-person house-boats to three huge cruise liners bobbed on the trash-speckled surface.† Existing docks had been extended - roofed and added to until they were two and three stories above the water.† The cruise liners were connected with an intricate webbing of rope and wood; trestles and platforms and swinging bridges.† And everywhere - like a huge, weird Christmas tree - were lights.† Electric lights and music and Spike could see - far out on the Bay - some sort of structure.† Tidal generators, maybe.† Someone was using the ocean's waves to make electricity and the prospect of a hot bath made Spike shiver in sensual anticipation.†
"We got lucky, Harris.† Now you just stay quiet and don't muck this up," he added, glancing back at the cart with a fangy grin.† Xander's eyes were closed - he was mostly unconscious again - and Spike just shook his head, his momentary good mood lost.† "Bloody thorn in my side, you are," he muttered, and went down the hill to the water, doing his best to judge which boat he should pick.
In the end it was one of the cruise ships, which appeared to be a combination casino and hotel.† †A Pollch demon was manning the gang-way taking payment of one kind or another and Spike had something he knew the magically inclined demon couldn't resist.† Two large vamps, male and female, stood stiffly behind the squatty Pollch, going for silent but deadly and Spike nearly laughed in their faces.† Instead he reached carefully into the cart, removing a suede-wrapped bundle and unwrapping it slowly.†
He had a rod of watermelon tourmaline that he'd unearthed in an abandoned rock shop; the length of his hand, as thick around as his two thumbs and so purely pink and green that it looked like hard-sugar candy.† The Pollch gulped air and swelled and made little, twitchy grabs with its webbed hands as the crystal sparked in the halogen spot mounted over the gangway, and Spike knew he could ask for almost anything.
He got a suite high above the waterline with a balcony and its own bath.† Got it for a fortnight with unlimited water.† The Pollch fairly shook as it handed over the key and Spike finally let the tourmaline over into its hands.†† Spike took the shafts of the cart up again and pulled it slowly up the gangway - followed scuffed signs down halls whose carpet had been shredded to his room.† *Our room.† Hope he doesn't die.† Hell of a way to show his gratitude...*†
The lock was stiff and he had to fight it but once inside there was a deadbolt and a chain and for the first time since he'd found Harris Spike felt like he could relax.† He left the cart by the door and looked around.† The carpet here was in marginally better shape - the linens on the bed musty but clean.†† The balcony looked out over the boat-clogged Bay but it was at least two hundred feet from the surface and near the bow, so that the curve of the ship's prow would make climbing fairly difficult.†
Spike shut the doors and drew the curtains - flicked on the single lamp that stood in the corner and blinked in the glow of incandescent light.† *Fuck.† Been so long...been too long when a fuckin' lightbulb seems like...† Seems like a miracle.*† †It did seem like a miracle, and Spike stood for a moment just staring, remembering the first time he'd ever seen electric lights - a shop somewhere in London. 'Just a gimmick,' Angelus had said, disliking the harsh, unnatural glare.† *Not the first time the old sod was wrong,* Spike thought.†† He shook himself, deliberately throwing off the mood - chasing the demon away so Harris would know it was him.† If he ever woke up.
*Bath'll wake him,* Spike thought, and pulled his backpack out of the cart - dug through it until he found the packet of herbs he'd idly collected at a nursery some six weeks earlier.† Pennyroyal and peppermint.† Harris, he'd noticed, had some bugs.† The bedding he was wrapped in would be tossed out the balcony when all was said and done, and Harris wasn't getting anywhere near the bed or Spike until he was clean.† Spike dug out a bar of Ivory soap, too - his own personal soap and he huffed in annoyance at the thought of Harris' skin cells and hair getting on it.† But then, soap was easy to find - most demons had no use for it.
Spike got water running in the bath and he could smell the salt in it, but it was faint.† Probably even drinkable, although they wouldn't be doing that.† Crushed the wizened sprigs of herbs between his palms and dropped them in the water, swishing his hand around to mix them - breathing deeply of the sharp, sweet mint odor.† The oils stung his sore palms and he reckoned there was enough of it in the water to kill the bugs Xander was inflicted with.† He stripped off boots and worn jeans and the faded t-shirt, shivering a little in the steam.† Then he stalked over to the cart and Harris and contemplated the limp form for a moment.† †He stripped away the ratty quilts and hauled Xander up and over his shoulder - carried him to the bath and stepped carefully in.† He let Harris down onto his feet and turned him, holding the rag-doll body close.† Harris was whimpering softly, his eyes half-open and glazed, his body shuddering.† Fevered again, and Spike cursed under his breath and carefully lowered them both into the steaming water.
It was heaven - it was utter bliss.† It was heat, surrounding every inch of him and penetrating his skin to soak into muscle and bone and Spike made a pleased sound - adjusted Xander's body so that the man lay between Spike's legs, his back to Spike's chest and his arms draped over his belly.† Spike slid them down in the water until Xander's chin was just touching the surface and then he closed his eyes and just....drifted.
"So...Buffy gave you the amulet."† Xander sits down on the porch step next to Spike - holds out a beer.† He has a soda in his other hand.† Still taking pain-meds for his eye, and so isnít doing alcohol.† Spike takes the beer and twists off the cap - takes a long drink.
"Yeah.† She did."† Spike holds it up, the chain tangled in his fingers.† The gem glints in the orange-white light of the street-light.† Dull yellow-gold.† Ugly - heavy.
"When she told us about it, I was all 'yay!'...† †I figured Deadboy'd be doing the mystical mojo amulet thing."
"Nope, just me."† Spike takes another drink of his beer and Xander sips his soda.† "So you can still be all 'yay'," Spike ads, when Xander doesn't say anything.
"Yeah, well..."† Xander drinks again - looks over at Spike, and there's something in his gaze.† Some emotion - some darkness.† "I'm not feelin' so yay about it, anymore," Xander says.† "Aren't you...scared?"
Spike hides his surprise behind the distraction of lighting a cigarette - puffs for a moment, looking up at the stars that wheel and glimmer beyond the roof's edge.† "I...dunno.† Yeah.† A little.† But this is...the only way.† I'm...the champion, now.† Nobody else can do this.† It's....my destiny, I guess."†
"Destiny-guy.† That's...kinda cool, I guess."† Xander says.† Spike nods silently and they sit for a while longer, quiet.† When Xander gets up to go back inside, his hand falls, warm and heavy, on Spike's shoulder.† Squeezes gently.† "Thanks, Spike," Xander murmurs, and then he's gone - back inside with his friends.† With his family.† Spike sits until nearly dawn, his shoulder warm under his t-shirt.
Spike twitched when Xander sat straight up, gasping.† Jolted out his daydream and the water wasn't so hot, anymore.† He pushed the memories away and grabbed Harris around the ribs, pulling him back as he flailed wildly, splashing.
"Harris - calm down!† It's me - it's Spike!† Harris!"† The man kicked - twisted like an otter and got his face under the water and choked.† Spike hauled him up and whacked him between the shoulder-blades and Xander coughed.† His lungs rattled and wheezed and his ribs creaked and Spike hoped to god Xander wouldn't throw up - or stop breathing.† ††After a bit the strangled coughing eased off and Xander slumped against Spike, gasping for air.
"There now - you all right?† Gonna live?" Spike asked.† His hand had stopped trying to drive water out of Xander's lungs and instead was slowly stroking the water-warmed, fever-warmed skin - sliding over the prominent bumps of Xander's spine.†
"Live," Xander echoed, rasping growl, and closed his eye; let his head hang down, nearly touching Spike's shoulder.† Knees to his bony chest, one arm braced on the side of the tub, the other around bruised shins.
"That's good, then.† C'mon and sit up.† Gonna get the wildlife outta your hair and then get you to bed, yeah?"† Xander looked up at him, eye bloodshot and gaze puzzled, and Spike just sighed and reached for the soap.
When they were both clean - it had taken two tub-fuls of water to get there - Spike got Xander up and out - got him bundled into a couple of towels from the little cabinet over the toilet and out into the bed.† Talking to him the whole time because, after months of no company, he found he had a need to talk.† And it felt good not to be talk to himself.†† That tendency - had become a bit worrying.††
Whatever moments of clarity had come in the tub - Xander had managed to wash his own face - were gone now as the fever returned full bore.† Xander was shivering so hard he could barely walk and Spike tucked him under the covers and then sat for a minute, watching him.† Xander's whole body convulsed with the spasms, and his teeth chattered, porcelain clatter that made Spike flinch. †He sat naked on the edge of the bed, working a comb through hair he'd let grow long.
"Damnit, Harris.† Why can't you just be kicking the fucking drug?† You're gonna need aspirin and - something for those lungs."† Spike stared at the shivering man and reached out to lay his hand flat to Xander's forehead.† Xander whined and flinched away from the touch, so hot that Spike didn't even need actual contact to feel it.† Spike tried to think - tried to remember when Dawn had been sick, or Joyce.†
"Penicillin what you need, Harris?† Or you one of those that gets sick from it?† What else is there?† Bloody fragile humans..."† The thought that Xander might not be all human anymore pricked at him, but he ignored it.†† Sighing, he got up and bundled the quilts together - took them to the balcony and stood for a moment at the rail.† The sun was down it seemed, or getting there; the sky was darkening to a bruised, slatey green and the water was the deep, murky blue of clouded ink.† The noises from the Dens - music and laughter, shrieks and yells - had doubled in volume and Spike could see demons and hybrids thronging over the docks and the ships.† Gambling, drinking, whoring and fighting.† Paradise, except that Spike was...fucking tired.† He stepped back and hurled the infested, filthy bundle far out over the Bay - went back inside to wash his hands and get clean clothes.†† Jeans and boots and a long-sleeved tee with a chambray work shirt open over it.† Dark, dull colors that attracted no attention, because he just wasn't in the mood for a fight.† He tucked knives into various sheathes - lighter and cigarettes into a pocket.† Cursing once again the loss of his duster.†
*Just find a fucking new one, you git,* he told himself.† But he'd been telling himself that for months, and he still didn't have one.† Xander twisted uneasily under the blankets and Spike got two bottles of water and put them open on the night-table.† He stood for another moment, looking down at Xander - tucked the blankets more snugly around the sweating body.
"I'm going to go out, Harris.† Find you some meds.†† And some better clothes and maybe some...soup or something."† Spike turned to the cart, emptying the last of its contents onto the far side of the double bed - the guns, his pack, and a bundle of scavenged clothes and gee-gaws from the troupe.† †"No way to heat it, though...†† Maybe I can find one of those - camping stores.† Get a little stove or something." †He opened his pack and dug out a small chamois pouch.† Inside were three dull-red crystals, strung on copper chains.† Wards, that he'd spelled himself from a book he'd found in the ruins of an occult shop in Oklahoma City.† They'd keep things out - keep his pack and Xander safe while he was gone.† And as importantly, they'd keep Xander in.† †He pulled an old canvas book-bag from his pack, so he'd have something to haul his finds in.
Spike made sure of the locks on the balcony doors and wound the chain of one ward around the knobs, whispering the trigger that turned them 'on'.† The crystal glowed for a moment and then faded from view. †††He repeated the simple spell at the door, putting the ward around the inner doorknob.† †
"Just a little warding spell, Harris - won't hurt you.† Just won't let you open the door."† He cast a last look at Xander and shook his head.† "You don't look like you're going anywhere, anyway.†† I'll be back soon."† He stepped out of the room - dragged the empty cart out with him and closed the door.† The last ward went around the outside knob and then Spike grabbed the cart and went away down the corridors - down the gangway and back into the city, abandoning the cart on the docks.† †He needed to eat, and he needed a chemist's that wasn't too smashed or looted.† ††*Need my head examined.† Fucking Xander fucking Harris and here it is, same old same old.† The Amazing Wind-Up Vampire!†† Give him a helpless loser and away he goes!* ††Spike snorted softly in self-disgust and slipped away into the city.