Babylon - Epilogue
A cool breeze was coming in the window, rain-washed and thick with the scents of wet earth and roses, rusting iron and woodsmoke. The curtains belled and sank, belled and sank and Spike stood in their folds, looking out. Watching the sky slowly darken. Straight overhead it was navy velvet with a liberal decoration of rhinestone stars. But further down it shaded to raspberry and lemon, watercolor-green and peach. Sherbet colors with lacings of plum-dark clouds. Spike rolled a cigarette and smoked, the damp breeze cool on his naked skin. Lamplight - low and amber and dancing - lit the dim cave of the room behind him.
Somewhere to the west a train whistle sounded, high and lonely as a coyote's howl and there was a small sound behind Spike - a soft, querulous noise. Spike turned, looking. Xander was sprawled over the bed, face half-buried in the pillow, washed-soft sheet of bleached linen tangled around his legs and draped over his back. Spike watched the steady rise and fall of his ribs for a moment and then turned back to the window, satisfied that Xander was still asleep.
They were leaving in a few hours - taking a midnight train down out of the mountains to the coast. This place was...good. But not right - not what they wanted. For one thing, Spike was slowly going crazy without his music and Xander was starting to mourn the loss of junk food. Not that Spike let him have much, but still...
Spike smiled to himself, pulling in a lungful of dense, sweet tobacco smoke with satisfaction. This, he would miss. He was already stockpiling the stuff - tanned leather pouches stuffed full, stored in biscuit and tea tins against future need. The tins all packed tightly into the bottom of their trunk, which hid backpacks and torches, books never written and the XPods - what Xander called the almost-the-same music players they had acquired. Things that took too much time to explain. They were getting good at camouflage. And they were getting smarter. Avoiding some things - ignoring others. Paying attention. Paring their mistakes down to a minimum.
They'd made a big mistake, the first time around - the first world. A bad one. They'd gone in search of - themselves. In search of former lives and former homes and former things. In search of the past. It hadn't been a good idea. They'd found heartbreak; too many dead, the living bitter and closed off - nothing quite the same. Everything turned just five degrees off and it had been - utterly miserable. Spike had spread out a map of the country on the table at a 24-hour diner and Xander had looked and found another portal in down-town Detroit and they'd gone; raided a Food 4 Less and stolen a Mercedes and three nights later in the middle of Greektown they'd stepped through into somewhere else. Now, eleven months and nine portals later they were moving on again.
Spike finished his smoke and pinched it out - tossed the butt out the window. There was still a little packing to do and he moved quietly around the room, laying books and odds and ends into the brass-bound trunk, covering what didn't fit, here, and making sure they had enough clothes to last a trip of several days. They were leaving Ni'iihi' - Denver in their world - and traveling to Jijiyama - Seattle. Train service was good but there were always delays - weather or animals or a running tribal feud spilling across the neutral lines of the Nippon-Castile Railroad. They bought first-class tickets and looked forward to traveling in style no matter what.
Spike picked up an object from the little dressing table. It was a strange thing - a rough-coated tube that at first glance had seemed to be a branch of dark coral. But the broken end showed smooth, glossy black - like obsidian. Xander had picked it up in the sandy earth near the second world's portal and decided to keep it. It was glass made from a lightning strike, and Xander had decided it meant good luck, so they'd kept it. It was the only good thing that had come of that world.
Because that world - had been dead. No life, no light, nothing but cold wind and black dirt and they'd hiked for two weeks, Xander living on their rapidly diminishing supplies of tinned food, Spike living on him. Stumbling through the third portal half dead, stumbling through grey streets and blasted houses. Fourth World War? Fifth? What was left of the population - grey zombies that matched their grey world - didn't even know. Endless war and draconian rationing made it almost impossible to scrounge what they needed and Xander had left that world as bad as he'd been back on their Earth, all his gains lost and the fever back. The fourth and fifth worlds had been - wrong. Off. No demons in one and it had made them both feel ill - unreal.
"Feel...thin. Like butter scraped over too much bread." That quote had made Xander shiver - and demand they find a copy of The Lord of the Rings before they'd left. Spike said it wasn't quite right and Xander had got more copies in the next worlds to compare - something that looked to becoming a hobby.
*Or is that obsession?* Spike thought, grinning. Something had stopped the sixth world somewhere in the Stone Age; they'd walked vast stretches of glacier-carved plains, dodging tarns and fissures - Homo erectus stalking them through the cold mist. The portal had been a mile off the coast of what had been Florida and Xander had almost drowned, getting to it. The next world had been very home-like - except for the people like little Stepford clones and the churches like grains of sand. Uncomfortable and increasingly creeped out, they'd been glad to get out of there. Even the demons had been...strange. That world's copy of the book had been found in an 'underground' bookstore - banned for fifty years or more.
World eight had been - nightmare. Soldiers everywhere, half the population in 're-education camps' and Xander had been forced to shoot someone. He still had dreams about it - cold sweat nightmares that left him hollow-eyed and silent all the next day. They'd had to go underground to find that world's portal - down deep under a mountain in Colorado. Buried missile silos or maybe bunkers for a war that had already happened. Skeletons down there, and the trapped and choking stink of long-hidden death.
This world - the ninth - was peaceful. They'd passed themselves off as cousins, the older escorting the younger to the mountains for the 'cure'. TB - or something like - had caused sanatoriums to be built all over the Shining Mountains and Xander needed rest, good food and peace. Lazy days spent in the library had told them that the Black Death had lingered far into the nineteenth century here, winnowing the European population decade by decade. Columbus had never crossed the sea - there had been no need and no ships. Japan had colonized the west coast - allied themselves with the tribes there and kept the migrating hordes of Central America from taking over. They'd moved slowly east until they'd been stopped at the Great Divide by the impenetrable wall of the Apache, Navajo and Shoshone tribes. Portugal and Spain had eventually found the eastern shore and colonized as well, but they hadn't pushed much past the Allegheny Mountains or the Catskills and the tribes - who'd adopted something of the Samurai tactics as well as gunpowder long before the first ships had anchored - possessed most of the interior and lived side-by-side with the Japanese colonists, moving slowly forward into a much more peaceful Industrial Age.
Steam engine trains and some cars, repeating rifles and the telegraph - they were stuck in the Old West and Spike wanted out. Xander had been ecstatic for the first few weeks while they'd rested and learned. But he was tired of it now, too - restless, and ready to move on. There was something to the cure - something in the thin, clean air. An Arapahoe medicine woman had looked over the heart-tea and made up her own version and it seemed to work as well - maybe even work better - and Xander had gained some weight and lost the dreadful grey pallor that had followed them through eight worlds. He'd even sat out in the sun, acquiring a wash of pale gold on his skin and deep claret lights in his earth-brown hair. There were quantities of the new heart-tea in the trunk as well, and a pouch-full of raw gold nuggets that Spike had lifted from a few meals. Ni'iihi' was in gold-rush territory. Spike patted the little pouch full of knobbly insurance and shifted a thick sweater over. Some things were universal.
Spike folded a last shirt and laid it in the trunk - closed the lid and locked it, then padded over to the bed, settling onto the mattress and propping a pillow between his back and the iron bedstead. He reached out and stroked his hand lightly, slowly down Xander's back. Xander shivered - twisted around a little and flung an arm over Spike's thighs - pushed his forehead into Spike's hip.
"Is it time to go?" he mumbled, eye still shut and his hair - grown to his shoulders now - tangled across his face.
"Not quite. Couple more hours, yet. Didn't mean to wake you, pet."
"'S okay. I don't mind." Xander sighed and inched closer - let his fingers curl over Spike's hip. Warm brush of lips on skin. "Gonna take me forever to get dressed, anyway," he grumbled, and Spike grinned down at him, stroking Xander's hair out of his face - tracing the dark curve of his eyebrow.
"I'll tie your tie for you, if you like."
"You better." Xander sighed and hitched himself around, pillowing his head on Spike's thigh now and getting his other arm behind, hands clasping together over Spike's hip. Rolling his eye to look up at Spike. "Stupid way to travel."
"Nothing wrong with a little style, Xander," Spike chided, but he was grinning and Xander was. Travel here was an event, and it called for polished boots and waistcoats, silk ties and velvet-collared jackets and hats. Rather like his days as a human, but Spike's jacket was plum brocade and the waistcoat embroidered with silver thread, while Xander had rich browns and golds. Spike's 'new' coat had fit in well enough that it was hanging still on the coat-rack but Xander had had to buy a greatcoat. Spike knew he secretly loved the great, caped thing. Xander had wanted to get spurs, too, but since neither of them rode Spike had talked him out of spurs and into a lovely pocket-watch. Picking out the watch-chain and decorative seals had taken half the day, and Spike...hadn't laughed so much in ages.
"Style," Xander scoffed, but he was smiling now and Spike ran his fingers through Xander's hair, working gently at knots and tangles while Xander stared off into the distance, his own hand stroking along Spike's flank.
"Do you think...we'll want to stay?" he asked finally, and Spike shrugged, working at a particularly stubborn knot. "Ow."
"Sorry, pet. I dunno. Guess we'll just have to wait and see."
"Yeah." Xander sat up suddenly, sitting cross legged with his knees propped on Spike's thigh. "Are you - it's okay that we're traveling, right? I mean...if you want to stay someplace, Spike, you have to say so." Xander reached out and pushed a lock of hair behind Spike's ear - let his thumb rub gently over Spike's cheekbone. "I don't feel like stopping. Not - yet."
Spike leaned into Xander's warm hand, smiling. "I don't mind. We'll stop when we find a place that's - right. There's no hurry."
"No hurry," Xander repeated, with that so-young smile and Spike leaned forward and kissed him, his hand loosely circling Xander's bicep. Covering the vertical slash of black that ran down the center of it. Ashes, from the lock of Slayer hair that Xander had gathered just before they'd left their world forever. Memorial in skin and he and Xander were all that was left. Forgotten history imprinted on their DNA now - carved into their flesh forever.
When they found a world that was comfortable - that didn't jar them with some small difference or strange scent...that didn't make them wake in a cold sweat, or cry in the bath, they would stop. When they found a place that didn't remind them of home at all. Then they would lie down, one dawn, and Spike would cure Xander's heart for good and all - kill to cure. Spike had offered and Xander had agreed, sideways nod and a lingering kiss - whisper that he never wanted to be alone again. And they didn't know, really, if Xander would be able to see, once he was turned. So it would be their way of saying - they had come home.
Xander pulled Spike a little closer, a hand dropping down to rest heavy and possessive on Spike's belly.
"Guess we've got time then, if you'll do my tie."
"I will, love," Spike said, "Any time."