Credence Chapter 16
Oz was throwing up again, dry heaves that sounded as if his stomach were coming up instead of just bile and Spike's fingers tightened down on the neck of the whiskey bottle hard enough to crack it. He stared for a moment and then lifted it to his mouth, taking a long, long drink. He could hear Xander moving around in the bathroom, and then Oz brushing his teeth.
*Every fuckin' time. He's not gonna have any teeth LEFT...* Spike tracked the wolf and Xander by the noises they made. Water shutting off, shuffling of feet, merest creaking sound as Oz was lowered gently to the couch, then the soft brush of fabric as a blanket was tucked up around him.
"Okay?" Xander murmured, and Oz must have nodded because a moment later Xander was moving again - coming over to where Spike was and leaning wearily on the kitchen counter. "When are they gonna be here?" he asked and Spike put the bottle gently on the counter, hoping the neck wouldn't crack off.
"Five more minutes. He'll be all right, rabbit." Tiny flinch at that, but nothing more, and after a moment Spike leaned into the boy, sighing. Letting them touch, shoulder and arm and hip and thigh. Xander didn't move away and Spike... *Cold, is all. Snowed again last night and it's cold in here,* he thought. Nothing to do with nightmares. Nothing at all.
"He's - scared," Xander said finally, his voice as low as he could make it, and Spike nodded silently. He could smell the fear-stink coming off the wolf - the sick-stink, as well, because Wrxl had said no more morphine, he had to be straight. So almost twenty-four hours without a dose and the wolf was working himself into a panic and was sick, besides; the pain of the silver that lingered in his system made him double up on the couch and practically convulse with fever-induced shakes. Nothing helped. A cool shower had made the shakes worse, and noise - light - made him groan in pain. His head, he mumbled, was being sawed in two with a dull blade. His body fought to change - to heal - and he'd gotten shocked four times already by the chip when his control had slipped.
Xander - was getting as panicked as the wolf. Was ready to lash out - ready to fight. The musky scent of the other was strong - was like clotted cream and honey on Spike's tongue. The hyena wanted to protect its pack, but there was nothing to protect it from and nerves and temper were making Xander fray around the edges. Spike thought a hard fuck would settle him but even he realized that that - was not going to happen.
"Want a drink, rabbit?" Spike asked, and Xander stirred a little - looked over at him.
"Nah. I wanna be alert. And...the smell... Oz wouldn't like that in his face." Spike nodded, sighing, taking one more swig from the bottle and then pushing it aside. He turned and nuzzled his face into Xander's hair - caught his bicep in a bruising grip when the boy tried to pull away.
"Stay here, rabbit," he grated out, and Xander looked sullenly at him from under his lashes.
"You don't need me, Spike. Fuck off," he muttered, but he leaned into Spike a little more, tilting his head so that Spike could ghost sharp-edged kisses over his throat.
"Need you," Spike murmured, licking over the pulse-point. "You need me, rabbit..." He bit, lightly, and Xander shivered all over. Then his cell rang, and Oz was making a weak noise of frustration, trying to get up. Xander pulled away, helping him to the bathroom and Spike went out into the lobby and unlocked the elevator. Tod and his boys were upstairs, waiting.
Wrxl's lab was dark, for once - all the burners out, all the smoking, fuming, bubbling concoctions stilled. The club was ghostly-silent as well; no weekend cleaning or repairs, nothing. Wrxl had, somehow or another, arranged for a Knocker. So-called by other demons because they wouldn't give up their language -their name - to anyone. They were deep-dwellers, living far, far down in the bones of the earth - miles deep where they could sing up lava flows or earthquakes. They manipulated silicates, ores, sulphers. And you knew of their presence only by their complex knock code, which was perhaps their language, and was the way they communicated across miles. Spike had heard tales of them, and of the fabulous wealth of precious metal and stones they hoarded. But he'd never seen one, or met anyone who had.
But now one stood in the middle of Wrxl's operating theater, a massive hunched form that looked like a collection of tightly-packed boulders in a seamed and ill-made net. The ragged-looking, rough-textured skin was chalk-pale, traced with pallid blues and greens, and the enormous, whiteless eyes were shaded by a visor of darkly-tinted plastic. Even the near-darkness of the room was, obviously, uncomfortable for the demon. Wrxl stood silently beside it, dwarfed by the Knocker but, as always, at his ease. He nodded to Spike, silent.
Oz was huddled miserably in an old-fashioned, high-backed wheelchair that Wrxl had provided, and Spike could hear his heart beating; too fast, too hard. Like the panicked thrashing of a bird's wings and Spike crouched down in front of him, reaching up to touch his cheek - make him focus on him, not the demon, not the muted gleam of surgical tools and the blanket-draped gurney that had made bile rise in Spike's throat.
"Wolf, you've gotta calm down now - you've got to. Can't go in there all panicked, it won't do you any bloody good, yeah? It won't hurt you, wolf." Oz gasped in a shaky breath - did it again, looking a sickly greenish-white. One hand held Xander's in a crushing grip, and the other was twisting futilely, desperately in the hem of his shirt, tearing it. His hair - grown out long and fading to its natural deep auburn - was stringing with sweat and his eyes flashed black and cleared, again and again. Each flash sent a tiny convulsion through him and Spike was afraid his heart was going to stop.
"I n-know. I know, I can't - c-c-can't -"
"Yes you can, Oz!" Xander crouched down as well, his face pale, pain coming off him and Spike knew his hand was going to be black with bruises. "Just - do that thing, that - headspace. Help him, Spike!" Xander looked as ready to panic as Oz and Spike reached out and cupped the back of Xander's neck in his hand, drawing him close.
"It's all right, rabbit. You help too. Breathe deep, now. Make a pattern for him to follow, yeah?" Xander shivered under his touch, swallowing hard, but he nodded and took a deep breath - took another and another.
"Listen, wolf - listen to him. Match him. C'mon -" Oz's breathing was starting to creep up into a keening whine and Spike very carefully reached out and touched his face - made his wild gaze settle on Spike's own. "Oz. Listen to him. Breathe, love, breathe. C'mon, wolf. In now, go slow..." Oz nodded fractionally, shaking all over, but his breathing began to slow and steady.
"Good, that's good, love. Now think of something, yeah? Think of a place..."
"C-can't...Sssspike..." Desperate wail and Spike shushed him, ignoring Xander's dark look and the wince of pain as Oz's nails dug into the boy's hand.
"Yes, you can. Listen, wolf - listen! Tell me about - tell me about the horse. You remember? The one - like a pinwheel. Tell me that, wolf, tell me that." Oz's eyes flickered, flickered, and Spike fought the welling unease in his own stomach and closed his eyes - deliberately remembered.
"Wolf - need you. Please, I need you. Take me out of here wolf, please, please." He felt Xander's startled jerk and ignored it, knowing how he sounded. Voice low and rough and raw - his tone one of abject despair. How it started, down in the Pit, and Oz wouldn't ignore him. Couldn't.
"The...horse. Horse..." Oz's voice had dropped an octave - his breathing steadied and smoothed out, and Spike heard his heart start to slow. Moving into it, into headspace, and Spike waited, trembling, hoping it would work.
"Then we saw him. He came up along the ditch and then turned straight across the field, riding the horse. Its mane and tail were going, as though in motion they were carrying out the splotchy pattern of its coat: he looked like he was riding on a big pinwheel, barebacked, with a rope bridle, and no hat on his head. It was a descendant of those Texas ponies Flem Snopes brought here twenty-five years ago and auctioned off for two dollars a head and nobody but old Lon Quick ever caught his and still owned some of the blood because he could never give it away.
He galloped up and stopped, his heels in the horse's ribs and it dancing and swirling like the shape of its mane and tail and the splotches of its coat had nothing whatever to do with the flesh-and-bone horse inside them, and he sat there, looking at us.
"Where did you get that horse?" pa said.
"Bought it," Jewel said. "From Mr. Quick."
Oz was inside, now, in the space and his grip had gone lax on Xander's hand; his heartbeat solid and steady, his breathing slow and easy. Spike nodded silently to Xander and they both stood up slowly. Mir came to push the wheelchair into the other room.
"Wait - I want to be with him. Wanna - sit with him." Xander had his hand on the arm of the chair and Mir's whiskers strained forward and flattened - she shot a quick glance at Spike.
"Can't, you can't. The Knocker's going to sing him to sleep - going to sing that thing out of his head. But it's going to take a long time - going to take hours." Mir's voice was whisper-soft but Spike could hear the tension in it. "And Knocker says, any noise, any thing and his song won't be right and the wolf will... Won't be good. Can't." Mir's whiskers stayed flat - sign of her distress at being the one to say 'no'. Xander looked ready to argue and Spike reached over and touched his shoulder.
"Don't, rabbit. If she says we can't, we can't. Knockers are - special. We can't." Xander stared at him, his eyes enormous and black in the dimness - brimming with sudden moisture and the boy put his hand up fast, wiping fiercely.
"F-fine then. We'll - stay out here. We'll watch -"
"No - no." Mir's color deepened - her spots stood out in bold relief as her discomfort grew. "Knocker says, heartbeat, breath - it will be wrong. Can't." Xander's mouth opened but no sound came out, and he looked away, blinking hard, his chest hitching.
"Well, S-spike can stay, then - can watch over him -"
"I'm comin' with you, pet. Can't help, and don't want to chance messin' it up. Let him go, rabbit, Wrxl won't let him come to harm. You know that." Xander put his fists to his temples for a moment - took a sharp breath in, wiping rapidly at his eyes.
"Yeah, fine - fine. I gotta..." He leaned down, close to the wolf. "Oz, you'll be fine, we'll be...be waiting." Oz made no response, his voice whispering on, and Xander touched his wrist where it lay fragile and pale as a bird bone on his thigh. Then he hurried away, out of Wrxl's suite of rooms, heading for the stairs. Spike bent to Oz's ear as well, whispering softly to him.
"Keep me safe, Oz - make it all go away," he breathed, and Oz's eyes found his - blinked once, slowly, and he nodded faintly. Spike straightened, wishing that they could stay, but knowing Wrxl would forbid it. "We'll be back, Mir. Thanks."
"Of course," Mir said, whiskers coming forward in relief, and she began to gently push the wheelchair forward towards the Knocker, who shifted slightly and emitted a rumbling, sub-sonic noise that made Spike's bones ache. He turned and left as well, Oz's voice knitting up the holes and tears in his own soul, making him dream himself elsewhere for as long as it took.
"Jewel, I say. Overhead the day drives level and grey, hiding the sun by a flight of grey spears. In the rain the mules smoke a little, splashed yellow with mud, the off one clinging in sliding lunges to the side of the road above the ditch. The tilted lumber gleams dull yellow, water-soaked and heavy as lead, tilted at a steep angle into the ditch above the broken wheel; about the shattered spokes and about Jewel's ankles a runnel of yellow neither water nor earth swirls, curving with the yellow road neither of earth nor water, down the hill dissolving into a streaming mass of dark green neither earth nor sky. Jewel, I say...”
He found Xander outside, standing huddled in his pea jacket smoking a stolen cigarette. He still hadn't gotten the boy a new hat - or gloves without holes - and Xander looked cold and miserable. He was crying, but he was pretending he wasn't. Spike walked over to him and took the cigarette - finished it off in one long drag and flicked it away. He leaned into Xander, pushing his back into the rough brick of the building, burying his face for a moment in the warm crook of his neck. Xander was trembling all over, fists clenched at his sides.
"Pretty rabbit, I know just what you need," Spike said softly, and Xander jerked a little.
"Stop calling me -"
"Hush. Hush, rabbit. Some things aren't worth fighting over." Spike nibbled his way from throat to jaw to lips and pushed slowly into the heat and wet of the boy's mouth with a contented sigh, the cold salt tears on his tongue warming and washing away. Xander stiffened under him and then sagged, tilting his head over, and Spike felt his hands clench into the worn edges of the duster and pull.
"Spike," Xander breathed, when he could, and Spike kissed the cold tip of his nose and then grabbed his hand.
"C'mon, love. Promise I'll make it better," he whispered, and then he tugged Xander into motion, down the street, a different direction than before. Xander walked silently, only his erratic breathing showing how upset he was. *Poor rabbit. But I'll make him forget, for a little while...make me forget...* They walked about four blocks, the streets deserted, the city hushed under the snow. A steady, ice-edged wind blew from the west and dislodged snow sifted down, making halos around the street-lights and dusting Xander's hair and shoulders with tiny crystals that winked and shone in the halogen light. His hand was cold in Spike's, but it clutched fiercely tight. A block to go and Spike felt the tiny shift in the boy - waited for what would come next.
"Do you think - it'll work?" Xander asked, and Spike sighed.
"I trust Wrxl. That's all I can say, rabbit. And Knockers...they have power. I don't know what it's going to do, exactly, but if Wrxl says it can sing that thing out of the wolf, I believe him. Never saw a Knocker before," he added, unable to keep the tone of wonder out of his voice, and Xander glanced over at him.
"So they're like - rare?"
"Oh, very. Live down deep, miles deep. I wonder how he called one..." A door opened ten yards ahead, letting out a waft of air that was thick with blood and sweat and aged-wood smells. A heavy-set man came out and glanced at them, then away, walking past up the street. Spike grabbed the dull brass knob on the door and opened it, ushering Xander inside.
O'Shea's was a gym - specifically, a training gym for boxers - and had been for over fifty years. O'Shea Senior had opened it and passed it on to Junior, and the clientele had always been a mix of demon and human. The only fighting there took place in the rings and the gods themselves couldn't help the man - or demon - who carried a grudge into that space. Xander took stock with quick, raking glances, head up and the other - the hyena - responding to the heavy air of man and musk and fight.
"Let's get warm and then go a round or two, yeah? Do you good, rabbit," Spike said, stripping off his duster. Xander gazed at him for a moment and then nodded - did the same, shoving his ratty gloves away into a pocket. A slim, doe-eyed boy - an O'Shea of the fourth or fifth generation - sat on a stool behind a high counter and he wordlessly pushed a thick book across to Spike as he came up. Spike exchanged book for duster and the boy took Xander's coat as well, hanging them on a row of pegs behind him as Spike opened the book.
"You'll need Robbie?" he asked, and Spike nodded, scribbling his name and Xander's down on the smeary, crumpled page.
"Yeah. And some gear. An' there's a cell in my coat. If it rings, you answer it and get it to me, yeah? Expectin' a call." The boy nodded, taking the book back and then fished under the counter - slid a key over to Spike.
"Hedge's got the gear," he said, and jerked his chin towards the back. Under the thick mop of black hair his eyes sparked a dull orange-red for a moment, and Spike felt Xander twitch ever so slightly. Spike took the key and they walked back, past lone men pummeling heavy bags or speed bags, past others doing some portion of a physical routine. Two of the five practice rings were in use - earlier, or on a weekend, they wouldn't have had a chance at an empty ring, but Monday near midnight was slack time.
The changing room in the back was steamy and damp, smelling faintly of mildew and more strongly of bleach and mentholated liniment. Spike found the locker and opened it - started to strip - and Xander leaned into the wall of green-painted metal, watching him.
"Gettin' a show, rabbit? Strip down. You need to get warm before you can do anything." Even in the heat of the room Spike could see Xander was still shivering, even though it was more from nerves than cold. Either way, he needed to calm down, and Spike knew how to do that.
"What are we doing here? I - what if Oz needs us? What if -"
"Got my cell, rabbit. If Wrxl calls, we'll know. You need this, pet - do you some good. Get some of that tension out of you." Spike was naked now and he grinned at Xander - stepped up close and pushed his hands up under the layers of flannel and thermal and t-shirt, finding the clenched muscles of Xander's belly and rubbing his palms over them, slow sweep around and around. "C'mon, rabbit. It'll feel good - we'll fight a bit, get the blood up..." Spike let his hands slide lower, rubbing at the worn denim covering Xander's groin - feeling the stir of his cock there even as Xander flinched away, frowning.
"Don't, Spike! Oz -"
"Wolf is fine, pet, and you know it. I wouldn't leave him to be hurt. You know that. Get undressed and we'll go in the sauna for a bit - make your joints all loose and easy, yeah? Make you so relaxed, rabbit..." Spike leaned on him, hand's sliding up and curving around Xander's ribs, his own cock half-hard and pressed into Xander's. He bit at Xander's mouth, nipping gently, and Xander stiffened - made to shove him off. Spike thrust him back and kissed him hard - kissed him until Xander was whimpering down in his throat, fingers clutching at Spike's hips. He pulled back and Xander gasped after a breath, eyes closed and lips wet and red.
"Strip now, pet. Let's go," Spike urged, and after a moment Xander nodded. He stripped down - followed Spike to the sauna where they grabbed towels out of a bin and went inside. The jungle-wet air curled around them, heavy with moisture and as warm as an open flame. Mingled smells of cedar, pine, and sage were in the air, the fragrant wood-chips glowing in braziers set around the room. Others held hot rocks and Spike got a dipperful of water from a bucket - sprinkled it over the rocks and breathed deeply of the astringent steam that billowed up. He took the warmth deep into his lungs and smiled, pleased, when Xander did the same. There were benches ranged in tiers around the walls; some large enough to be beds, others so narrow they were more like perches for birds. Spike stepped up and settled on a top one - leaned out and snagged Xander's towel and pulled him close - got him settled on the bench right below him. Xander sat stiffly for a moment and then he leaned back, his head on Spike's thigh, his hair silky and warm over Spike's groin.
*Need to teach you some tricks, rabbit, for your fights. Can't have you being hurt. Knowing Viv, they'll be as nasty as she can make 'em, and if you're gonna fight for her you need to know how to be dirty...and you are gonna WIN these fights, rabbit. No going down for you...* Spike threaded his fingers through Xander's hair - tugged and petted and soothed until the stiffness went out of the boy's shoulders and his breathing slowed - his heart settled to a rhythm close to sleep. Then he eased Xander forward and slid down behind him, cradling the heated flesh, stroking his hands over Xander's chest and ribs, over his shoulders. Teasing his nipples, just brushing the rapidly hardening crown of his cock. His own cock was hard between them and he ground forward into sweat-slick skin, his mouth on Xander's neck, breathing in the heady scents of his boy.
"Spike -" Xander murmured, his hands on Spike's thighs, kneading and stroking.
"Shhh, rabbit, shhhh. You're so fuckin' lovely, rabbit - so pretty and so warm...so good for me..." Spike brought his right arm across Xander's ribs, hand tight on Xander's left shoulder. His left hand curled loosely around Xander's cock and he started a slow stroking. Every tug and pinch and twist his hand did resulted in a rolling of hips, a buck up or back and Spike pressed forward harder, grinding himself into the boy, stroking faster. Xander was breathing hard, his fingers sunk into Spike's thighs, his head lolling back on Spike's shoulder. Spike let his teeth close down on Xander's neck, over the place he'd bit before, and as his fangs prickled into the arching curve Xander bucked hard, moaning, and came.
Spike's eyes fluttered shut and he sank his fangs in - sucked in the merest sip of blood, shuddering, and came as well. The musky sea-salt smell was thick in the air and Spike pulled away from Xander's throat, licking a stray drop of blood - lifting his hand to his lips and licking a bit there, as well. Xander watched, eyes half-lidded.
"You taste good, pet. Like something rich and bitter-sweet...like almonds and sugar..." Spike nuzzled at his jaw, getting a kiss, and then he pushed Xander up and grabbed his towel - cleaned them both up. Xander blinked at him and Spike grinned.
"C'mon, rabbit - no time for naps. Let's go fight." Xander opened his mouth like he wanted to protest, frowning, and Spike just grabbed his arm and pulled him out of the sauna and over to a cage at the end of the row of lockers. A reedy-looking old man, with a shock of white hair like a dandelion sat inside, intently watching a small TV. He glanced up as they approached and pointed off to one side.
"Gear's there. Take what you like."
"Hedge," Spike murmured, and the old man nodded, eyes back to the TV and the fight playing out on ESPN. A box full of neatly folded sweat pants and other clothes left behind sat on a chair, smelling of detergent. They pawed through it, finding grey sweats for Spike and dark blue ones for Xander. They fit passably, although Spike had to tighten the drawstring down fairly tight. Then they went out into the gym proper, and claimed a ring.
William Faulkner - As I Lay Dying