Babylon - part six

 

 

The hardest part, Spike discovered, was getting the antibiotics into Xander at appropriate intervals.  He slept a lot, and raved in between, and the fever wracked him daily - hourly.  Never quite going away, always lurking there on the fringes, ready to rush in.  Xander fought the medication - fought the baths Spike insisted upon and the teeth-brushing and the food until Spike was exhausted and angry and ready to leave him there - or give him his fucking shot.

But in all the mess and screaming and near-unconscious stretches of sleep, Xander talked, and Spike was secretly, pathetically glad for it.

"I was down in Africa, you know?  F-finding Slayers and getting them to the Council b-branch they opened in Dakar.  The c-council paid their families most of the time..."  Xander stopped and rubbed tiredly at his eye - took a small bite of the apple Spike had cut up for him.  Spike had already eaten his, the crisp flesh and sweet-sour juice reminding him of days long past.  Of a trip to an Uncle's house in Devon and an apple orchard at dawn; the dew chill against his legs and the apples sugar-mouse pink and blush and frail green, tart on his tongue.  The familiar ache of memory dulled by Xander's rough, soft voice.

"When - when it all went down in L.A., the Council knew about it.  They were t-tracking it.  It all h-happened sooner than they th-thought it would."  Xander took another bite and Spike stopped his desultory straightening of the room and lay stomach-down on the bed, propping his chin on his fists and watching Xander nibble, nibble, nibble.

*Eats like a fucking mouse.  How can he live off so little?*   Xander's skin was translucently pale, threaded with blue-violet veins and the lingering shadows of old bruises.  Clean now, nails clipped and hair shining-soft he still looked like a scarecrow and his eye was huge and deeply socketed - darker than a dry well.  *Not right - he's just not...right.  What'd the plague do to him?*

"They were keeping track of us, huh?  Even after Giles -"

"Yeah.  W-willow filled me in on all of - th-that when..."  Xander stopped and shut his eye - pushed the plate and apple away, turning his face into the pillow.

"Hey, you need to finish that, Harris, you're -"

"Fuck off, Ss-spike," Xander muttered and Spike huffed out an irritated breath - reached over and yanked at Xander's sweater-clad shoulder.

"Hey - none of that.   You don't get to tell me to fuck off."

"Can if I want."  Xander scrunched down further in the covers, shutting his eye and pushing weakly at Spike's hand. 

"No, you can't.  Tell me about what you did.  How'd you get from Africa to here?  What happened?  What did -?"

"You w-wanna know?"  Xander sat up, glaring at Spike.  Breathing hard, looking furious and near tears.  "The Council knew, and they called us all h-home.  And they tried to s-stop it and everybody died, Spike!"  Spike flinched a little from Xander's rasping shout but not much. 

*C'mon, Harris - yell at me!  Wake yourself up, for fuck's sake!  You're still in there -*

"They all died and I d-don't want to talk about it."  Xander slumped back, panting, and Spike scooted closer - reached to the bedside table for the flannel that was in a bowl of cool water and wrung it out - wiped Xander's face with it.

"Sometimes it's good to get these things out, though.  Talk it out and you feel better, right?"  Xander twitched away from him - reached out and yanked down the shoulder of the flannel shirt Spike was wearing, exposing his right bicep.  His fingers - hot and damp - grabbed the muscle - dug into the tattoo.

"Charlie-boy, Blue, Percy," Xander said - eerie sing-song to his voice and his eye gone glassy and dazed - gaze vacant.  "Dead in the rain and the filth, dead and gone, oh -"   Spike tried to jerk away and Xander's hands scrabbled at his chest - at the wife-beater Spike was wearing, tearing the worn neck.  Pressing his hand to the marks on Spike's chest.  "Angelus.  Stupid bastard thought he was St. George -"

"Shut up!"

"Don't you wu-wanna talk about it, Spike?"  Xander hissed, and Spike shoved him away, hard.  Didn't care that Xander's head cracked into the wall.  He shot to his feet and stalked over to the pile of stuff in the corner - jerked up one of the rifles and the kit he'd scrounged a couple of days before and sat on the floor, pulling the rifle apart to clean it.  It still had ashes in it from when he'd - found Xander.  What Xander had just done - was too much like Drusilla's trances.  Too much like some kind of seeing and Spike wanted no part of that.  He threw the wet flannel away from himself, fuming.

*Fucking bastard.  Fucking bullshit.  Not the same.  He was - off in Africa, he was...  They were barely friends anymore, not the bloody same -*

"It was the same," Xander said tiredly and Spike jerked around to glare at him, snarling.    "Don't flash your fucking fangs at m-me, Spike."  Spike scrambled up, the rifle parts dropping to the floor.  He strode over to the bed, yanking Xander up with a fist twisted in the front of his sweater.

"Why did you say that?  What - what do you know about - them - about this?" he snarled, covering the marks on his chest with his hand.   Xander had flinched back, face averted - one hand coming up to claw at Spike, the other raised as if to ward off a blow.

"L-lemme alone, just - lemme alone!  Need my sh-shot, need - need the fuckin' - shh-shot -"   He stiffened - gagged - and Spike pulled him up - sent him staggering into the bathroom on legs that barely held him. 

Spike slouched in the doorway watching Xander heave and gag over the toilet for long, long minutes until finally Xander slumped down onto the floor, panting, sweat matting his hair down and his mouth wet with saliva and bile.

"Fuckin' hell, Xander - shouldn't get all -"

"F-fuck off," Xander groaned, curling around himself and Spike snorted and walked out - got a cigarette and lit it and then angrily stubbed it out and stalked back into the bathroom.  Xander was crying silently and Spike sighed.

"C'mon, Xander, c'mon now - hot shower'll see you right," Spike said, hauling Xander gently up - peeling off the damp sweater and sweat-pants - holding him close while he got the shower on and the water heating.  Holding Xander tight, listening to his sandpaper voice whispering into Spike's shoulder.

"I t-tried to k-keep them, I t-tried but they f-forgot, they all forgot.  G-giles stayed the long-longest but he l-left too, he l-left too, Spike...Sspike...  They all died, they ah-all left -" 

"Shh, shhh...I know.  I know, Xander.  It's all right.  I won't leave.  Promise.  I promise you," Spike whispered back, lips brushing Xander's temple and his hands slowly, slowly rubbing up and down the thin, heaving back.  "Promise."

 

 

 

"We tried to s-stop them," Xander said, days later.  Nearly three days, and Spike jerked around from where he was sitting, having finally got down to cleaning the rifles.   Staring at Xander who was sitting cross-legged on the bed, slowly turning a slice of bread-and-not-really-butter into crumbs.   He'd sat on the balcony for hours earlier that day, turning his face to the hidden sun and dozing.

"Who - Wolfram and Hart?" Spike said, and Xander nodded hesitantly.

"I - guess.  I think I heard Giles talking about - them.  Just - big evil, you know?  He started k-keeping track of them after that - crazy Slayer and he found out they were up to something really b-big.  Willow told me," he added, at Spike's skeptical look.  Spike looked down at the gleaming metal in his fingers and slowly wiped a last piece down - started to re-assemble the rifle with soft clicks.

"That's right, something big.  Did they - you - ever think to call Angel - tell him what you were doing?  Could have used some fucking help, you know."  Spike glanced up at Xander and frowned at the puzzled look on his face.

"I thought Giles had...  I d-don't know.  I thought - th-thought he - the Council...  Willow made it s-sound -"

"Forget it," Spike muttered, slamming the empty magazine into the rifle and putting the assembled weapon aside - wiping his fingers on a smudged, oily rag.  "The Council decided we were on the side of the devils.  They weren't helping us."

"Oh."  Xander crumbled the bread some more - twitched a little when Spike growled.

"Would you just eat the bloody stuff?  You're fucking skin and bones."
"It tastes funny," Xander said but he put a bit in his mouth, chewing slowly and then taking a sip of the tea Spike had made him.  Tea with honey and something like cream, Spike trying to get as many calories as possible into the one thing Xander would take in - and keep down - with any regularity.

"So you were watchin' the big evil..." Spike prompted, moving up to the foot of the bed and mirroring Xander's pose, his own tea gone luke-warm.  But he drank it anyway.

"Yeah, they were. I just knew what W-wills told me.  When it all started to - to go down, we got called back.  We all went to C-cleveland."

"Why...Cleveland?" Spike asked slowly.  He'd been to Cleveland - walked right up on it on his way east.  "What's special about that dump?"

"There was - there was another H-hellmouth there.  Faith and R-robin Wood - you remember?  They were a-assigned there after - Sunnydale."

"Huh."  Spike got up - turned on the camp stove and opened a bottle of water.  He wanted hot tea - wanted...    Wanted not to hear what Xander was saying.  *Too bad, though.  Not going to tell him to shut up.  Not...now.*   "Yeah, I remember them," he said finally, adjusting the flame and putting the tin coffee pot on the stove.  "Got all googly-eyed, didn't they."  He leaned on the dresser, staring at Xander who ducked his head away.

"Yeah.  Well, we - went there.  Me, Willow, Giles...B-buffy and about fifteen new S-slayers.  And that c-coven that helped Willow?  All of us."

"Why did...what -"

"You know - why," Xander said softly, looking up finally from his hands - from the crumbled bread.   "The energy.   They were going to use the - Hellmouth energy to take out - everything.  Giles said the building in L.A. was a p-portal.   Things coming and g-going all the time and when it - when they opened it to send all those d-demons out it was v-vulnerable and the c-coven and him and Willow could make it..."  Xander waved his hand uncertainly, slopping a little tea onto his knee.

"Wills said it was like a - Mobius?"

"Mobius Strip.   Never-ending loop," Spike said softly.  He could see that.  Turn the portal at the Wolfram and Hart building into something that - ate itself.  No way in - and no way out.  *Imagine that hangin' over the Hollywood sign.  Fuck.  Might have worked.  Didn't, though...*   Spike checked the water which steamed but wasn't boiling, not yet.

"Yeah, that.  She said - they could trap them.   But the H-hellmouth..."  Xander's voice trailed off into silence and Spike snarled to himself - made his tea and settled on the edge of the bed.

"Didn't work, did it?  Fuckin' Council and their grand schemes...Hellmouth bit 'em on the ass.  I was there, Xander.  I saw the fucking...Hellmouth." 

"I was there, too Spike.  When it happened..."  Xander shivered - rubbed his hand over his jaw, slowly.  "It...they knew it was going wrong.   They were going to sh-shut it down and then t-teleport the Slayers and Buffy to L.A. to - to take care of anything that got th-through.  Buffy thought maybe some of the S-slayers would stay in L.A. and h-help you guys."

"But not her," Spike said, a sudden and un-looked for pang in his chest.   *That's deader than the world, that is.  Stop it, now.*

"No, not her.  Giles knew it was - fucked.  He b-broke out of the circle, he t-told us to r-run and...we d-did.  And it..."
"Went to hell, didn't it," Spike growled and Xander nodded miserably - put his cup on the night-table and hugged his arms around his ribs, layers of t-shirt and thermal and sweater hanging off his too-thin frame - bunching under his fingers.

"Yeah -"

"I saw what the bloody Council did there.  Fucking hole in the ground worse then Sunnydale and it's still open, for fuck's sake -"  Spike stopped himself - snatched his flask off the night-table and poured a measure into his tea - took a long drink and tried to let the heat of it sink in - relax him.  *Not gonna happen.  Fucking bastards.  They should have asked, they should have done...something.    They let Fred die...*   

Cleveland had been a blight - an ugly sink of fire-twisted rubble that had seethed - that had boiled with a never-dying fire.  Smut of poisoned smokes and the glassine creak of cinders underfoot as he'd gained the rim.   Spike had stared down into that pit - watched something crawl and flounder to the edge and killed it before it had gone two feet.  But other things had writhed in that interface of here and there and he'd left soon after, putting Cleveland and any hope of the world ever shifting toward normal behind him.

"How'd you make it out of that mess alive, then?" Spike asked, long minutes later in which Xander had simply huddled into himself, eye closed, and Spike had abandoned his tea completely in favor of his flask.  Newly re-filled from a jar of still-made moonshine, the raw spirits reeking of copper and corn.

"Willow.  She - tried to get us out.  Send us back to - to London.  But she only - threw us.  A couple of miles...  Broke my arm, broke a couple ribs and my j-jaw."  Another rub at the place on his jaw where the bone still humped up a little, not quite back to normal.   Must have hurt like a bitch.

"Giles was there and Buffy - most of the S-slayers.  Some of the c-coven.  Willow...was in there when it opened.  The c-coven was still linked and they...  They t-told us what was h-happening.  They -"   Xander stopped and reached out - lifted the flask from Spike's hand and took a drink and then choked, coughing.  "That's not whiskey," he croaked.

"Nope.  Somebody's got a still going.  Well, several somebody's.  This is the best of the lot."

"Christ."  Xander wiped the back of his hand across his mouth - took another big drink and sighed.  "The plague came about - two days later but things were - already weird.   I was in a hospital - just got my cast and m-my jaw all wired shut...  I wasn't the only one hurt - one of the S-slayers had died; she had a b-brain injury.  Then everybody starting getting - s-sick.  Started changing..."  Xander curled slowly over, tucking himself up small and tight like he had been in the cart out in the plain.   Closing his eye - tucking down and going silent and Spike wanted to shake him.

"Why didn't you change?  Xander - why didn't you change?"

"Course I ch-changed," Xander whispered, and his eye slitted open, glaring at Spike.  "Look at me, Spike!  I won't ever be b-better than this.  They gave me d-drugs so I wouldn't see but mostly 'cause I was s-sick all the t-time.  All the fucking...time.  My arm and my j-jaw - my bones healed up f-fast but I'm not...better."   Xander reached out slowly - touched Spike's knee where it was pressed to the worn blanket.  Traced the smudges of gun oil and ash on the jeans with a shaking fingertip. 

"I'm not well.  Won't ever be.  Something...wrong with me.  Just - wanna get out of here."  Spike watched Xander's hand move and then fall still - watched Xander drift toward sleep, the alcohol drugging his thin body as fast as any opiate.

"Get out to where?" Spike whispered, and was surprised when Xander moved - looked up at him again, his gaze flat and distant.  Seeing again like before, and Spike's hand twitched protectively to cover the tattoo on his arm.

"North and west," Xander whispered, his voice gone as strange as his sight.   "Mountains...water...there's a place.  Locus Obiti..."   Xander's words trailed to silence and then he took a hard, deep breath.  "Spike?"  Small voice - lost voice, and Spike reached out and smoothed Xander's rumpled hair.

"What, pet?"

"Lay down with me?"  Shimmer in that single eye, but Spike chose not to decipher what it might mean.  If it truly meant anything at all.

"Course I will.  You cold?  Let's get the blanket..."  Spike got the duvet and blankets that had been pushed down to the bottom of the bed and spread them out - tucked them around Xander and then slipped under himself, curling close and wrapping his arms around Xander's shivering body.  Xander's hand - cold as ice, all bird-bones and silken skin - covered his, fingers lacing with Spike's.  Shift and sigh and Xander's mouth on his knuckles, whisper of warm breath.   Spike gritted his teeth tight and pushed the surge of nameless emotion that welled up in him back down.  Pushed it away, as hard as he could.  It lodged somewhere just above his heart and stayed there, ember-hot.  Burning him, but not like the soul had.  Not at all.