Credence Chapter 18
*He looks so small...* Spike rested on hip on the edge of the gurney, watching Oz wake up. The werewolf was lying on his back, nude under a light sheet and for once he looked - relaxed. Xander was on the other side of the gurney, carefully holding Oz's hand, trembling with suppressed emotion and the strain of not moving. Oz shifted on the gurney and made a small noise. His eyes came open a crack and then squinted immediately shut, and Spike turned his head to Wrxl who was standing by the door.
"Can you make it dimmer in here, Wrxl? I think it's too bright."
"Oh! Of course, of course -" Wrxl limped to a panel on the other side of the doorway and did something, and the lights dimmed down to a bluish glow, like being underwater.
"Oz? He turned the lights down - want to try that again?" Xander said, and Oz frowned a little - slowly opened his eyes. This time they stayed open, and he blinked several times, looking at Xander and then at Spike.
"Did it work?" he rasped out, and Spike grinned at him.
"Worked a treat, wolf. Look." Spike held his hand up, and between his thumb and finger was a small square of dull green and gold - plastic and metal. The chip. Oz stared at it - blinked once and the tears that had pooled in his eyes welled over and ran down the sides of his face.
"It's okay -" Xander whispered, and he leaned forward and wiped at Oz's temple - cupped his hand around the other's cheek, stroking gently. "It's okay, Oz, it's out. You're - you can start getting better now."
"C-can you crush it? Smash it, Spike - please just -" Oz bit his lip, the tears slipping down and down, and Spike pinched the chip slowly - watched with relief as the plastic shattered and the gold-traced circuits crumpled. He ground it in his fingers until it was only shards and crumbles and then tossed it down on the floor.
"Gone now, wolf. Done." Oz nodded, taking a hard, shuddering breath. He pushed at the bed and Xander slipped an arm behind him, helping him sit up.
"Thanks..." Oz rested there for a minute, eyes shut, his fingers curled into Xander's shirt. Xander just held him, rubbing one hand slowly up and down his back, still holding Oz's other hand in his. "I need to change, Xander. I - need to change." Oz's eyes came open again, and he was looking up at the boy.
Xander straightened a little, looking back. "Yeah - okay. What - should we do something?"
"No. Just - back off a little. I don't really know - how I'll react. Okay?"
"Okay," Xander said, and slipped free of Oz - went slowly toward the door. Spike slid off the gurney and reached out - gently stroked his fingers over Oz's cheek and mouth.
"Need anything, wolf?" he asked, Oz's lips warm under his hand. Oz just shook his head and Spike backed off as well - leaned in the doorway with Xander, hip and thigh brushing. Wrxl had shuffled himself out into the hall, leaning wearily on his cane. Oz took a deep breath, closing his eyes. When he opened them again, they were black, and suddenly the transformation began. Spike watched, fascinated, as Oz's body lengthened and twisted - shortened and bowed and arched. Hair sprouted and coiled out and suddenly there was less Oz and more wolf and then no Oz at all. A wolf stood on the gurney - thick, russet mane, black paws and forelegs and heavy fringed tail. The slender muzzle swung around, pointing to them, and the wolf scented the air. After a moment's hesitation it leapt down, wobbling just a little. Spike could see that the thick fur was dull - the arch of the belly too high - too thin. The wolf walked slowly to them - lifted its head and sniffed, nudging Xander's hand with his nose. The wolf's shoulders came just to the top of Xander's thigh, and Spike had never realized how massive it truly was. The wolf's tail wagged slowly and Xander crouched down and hugged him around his heavy, muscled neck - buried his face in the snarled fur.
"Oz - god... I'm so glad..." Xander sniffed, wiping his face on fur and Oz pushed his nose into Xander's shoulder - into his cheek. Then he was backing away, disengaging himself. "Oz?" The wolf made a low, pained sort of sound - scrabbled backward a few more feet and then he hunched, body rippling, retching. He heaved up a stinking mess of black-tarnished silver, strung with bile and blood. Xander stood fast, taking a step towards the wolf and Spike grabbed his arm.
"Don't, rabbit. He's just getting rid of the poison. It's all right. I did that, too."
"Yeah?" Xander's eyes were wide and fearful, but he relaxed into Spike's hold - didn't protest when Spike pulled him a little closer, relishing the heat all along his left side. They watched as Oz vomited twice more and then Mir came hesitantly into the room, carrying a large bowl of fresh water. She put it carefully on the floor and Oz went straight to it - drank thirstily until the bowl was nearly empty. He looked up at Mir - ducked his head, wordless thanks - and Mir nodded, her whiskers coming forward and then going back, offended by the stink of the poison. Oz - shifted - and he was half-wolf and half himself, wide-eyed.
"I can feel it...me...wanting out. I n-need..." His voice trailed off, hoarse. He walked forward unsteadily and stopped a few feet from Spike and Xander. "I need to run, Spike. Let me out so I can... I need to get out."
"Course you do, wolf. Come on. You know how to get to the flat? I'll leave someone up there to let you in, yeah? You can stay out all day, if you like."
"Yeah," Oz rasped, and Spike tugged Xander away - led Oz out, passing Wrxl who nodded in silent dignity to Oz's clumsy clasp of his hand. "Thank you," Oz whispered, and Wrxl's whiskers swept forward, back, forward again, quivering.
"Not at all, my dear boy - not at all. Mind you come see me tomorrow, soon as you can."
"I'll get him here, Wrxl. You're a bloody miracle worker," Spike said, keeping Xander moving, keeping Oz going until they came to the top of the stairs. They crossed a small lobby and Spike pushed the door open, letting in a swirl of wet, chilly air. The temperature had risen just a bit and the snow was melting. The air was thick with fog - cold, clammy and wonderfully full of scents and Oz lifted his head, drawing in great lungfuls of air. He dropped to his hands - paws - changing as he went and the wolf stood there. His ears were up, cocked alertly forward, and his mouth was partly open, tasting as well as scenting. He lifted his head and regarded the two of them, and then he turned his head higher - opened his mouth and let out a full-throated howl. The eerie ululation rang of the buildings - echoed down the canyon of steel and concrete and glass and Spike grinned. Xander laughed aloud, scrubbing his hands hard through the fur of Oz's back and sides and Oz nipped playfully at him - bounced in a circle around them.
"Be careful, Oz, okay? Careful." Xander said, and Oz pushed his muzzle into Xander's chest. Then he turned and ran, faster almost than they could follow. In minutes the sleek russet form was out of view. Xander stood staring after him for a little longer, and then he wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand and turned to Spike, shaky smile on his face.
"God. He looked - really good. He...looked happy."
"Did at that, rabbit."
"Fucking worked," Xander murmured, and Spike bumped him gently with his shoulder.
"Wrxl's bloody brilliant." Spike fished in a pocket for his cell - flipped it open and speed-dialed Tod. "Tod - yeah. Wolf's out and about. Get somebody over to the flat. I need somebody who can wait outside for him, let him in. No, he can't do it himself, he's a wolf. Just have somebody up there. I'll be home by and by but he might stay out later. Right." Spike snapped the phone shut - shoved it away and came up with a cigarette and his lighter next. The clouds were still an iron-grey, low and heavy with moisture and the sidewalk was a morass of half-melted snow and slush and puddles. Water dripped all around, like an intermittent rain. The sun wouldn't be up for another couple of hours - it was nearing five - and Spike felt...restless.
"Want to go home, rabbit?" he asked, and Xander shook his head - tipped his head back and took a deep breath much like Oz.
"It smells good. Can we walk down to the water? Go down on the piers? There's some places open - we could get breakfast." He smiled over at Spike - uncomplicated, happy smile, and Spike felt something in his chest twist, just a little. Open and stretch, gratefully.
"Sure, pet. Anything you want." Spike smiled back - took a long puff off his cigarette and reached out,
snagging Xander's hand with his. They turned and started walking towards the Sound - towards the area around the fish markets. Working folk had been up already for an hour or more, and there were plenty of places that catered to them. In fact, Spike remembered a place as they walked - 13 Coins on Boren - and they slowly made their way there, watching the gulls dive and dart along the edge of the water. Turning uphill, heading away from the water again, a stiff breeze at their back carrying the briny, rotten wood and fish scent far inland.
"Can you swim? Have you ever gone swimming here?" Xander asked suddenly, and Spike looked over at him, feeling his eyebrow going up.
"Well, not here - a bit dirty and a bit crowded for my tastes. Been in out by Point Defiance, places like that. It's cold, though."
"Yeah." Xander walked on a few more steps, his hand tight in Spike's, his shoulder just bumping and brushing a little. "I miss that - miss swimming. My Uncle Rory..." he trailed off into silence and Spike bumped him again.
"Your Uncle what, rabbit?"
"Oh -" Xander shook his head - flicked his hair back from his face, hunching into his coat, his free hand deep in his pocket.
*Still needs some decent gloves, damnit...* Spike thought vaguely.
"I used to go stay with my uncle in the summer - go live at his house. My mom didn't want me around if I wasn't in school - she said I got underfoot. So I'd go stay with him. He had this old house near Carmel... It was fuckin' junk - falling apart. But I liked it. We'd go swimming - go fishing...." Xander fell silent, and Spike reflected that that was the first time he'd heard anything about the boy's past. He didn't know what to say to it, though. His own father would have been scandalized to go swimming, 'nearly nude' on a public beach, and had considered fishing a useless pastime. Since Dru - such outdoor activities had paled. Spike settled for squeezing Xander's hand, just a little, and Xander glanced over at him, quick smile. "It was nice," he said quietly.
"Course it was, rabbit." Spike tossed his cigarette butt into the gutter and pointed with their joined hands. "There's our stop - you go in and get us a table, yeah? Sit up at the bar, maybe, watch 'em cook our meal. I just need some smokes." There was a small market on the corner - Asian characters daubed across the windows and a row of bright-red vending machines just inside the door. Xander nodded and strode briskly up the sidewalk - slipped inside the restaurant. Spike grinned and went into the market, eyeing the squat machines in the vestibule. He saw what he wanted and reached out - grasped the top and gave it a wrench. The heavy metal lid screeched in protest and then the plastic cage full of little clear containers split and the whole thing shivered, falling apart. Spike dropped the lid and pawed through the junk - finally spotted what he wanted and snatched it up in triumph. A slim, dark-haired woman burst through the second set of doors, yelling something rapidly in Vietnamese - or maybe Tagalog - and Spike snarled, flashing fangs. She yelped and spun around - ran - and Spike laughed, sauntering out, kicking the plastic bubbles away or crunching them under foot.
Something was cooking in a welter of tall flames on the grill and Xander was sitting at the wooden bar, idly twisting back and forth on a stool, his jacket under him and his flannel shirt flapping open, intently studying a menu. The air was warm and steamy; full of the good smells of coffee and steak and eggs and seafood. Spike slipped his duster off and folded it onto an empty stool - climbed up beside Xander.
"What're you getting, rabbit?" Spike asked, and Xander shook his head slowly.
"Dunno. They've got a lot of good stuff... And some bad. Chicken-liver omelets. That's just...wrong." Xander shuddered slightly.
"Never did care for pate myself," Spike said vaguely, getting his own menu and studying it. A waitress came up and poured out coffee and Spike watched in amusement as Xander heavily doctored his with cream and sugar. "Why bother with coffee, pet? Why not just get hot chocolate?" Xander shrugged, sipping carefully at his still-steaming drink.
"It tastes kinda like caramel, like this. I like it."
"Hmmm..." Spike leaned over and pushed the mug away from Xander's mouth, slipping his right hand into the silky hair at the nape of Xander's neck and kissing him slowly. "You're right," he murmured, pulling back just a bit. "It does taste like caramel." Xander blinked at him, dazed, and then smirked, and Spike straightened up as their waitress came back. Xander ordered a crab omelet - Spike steak and pan-fried oysters. He debated getting wine from their bar but decided against it, preferring to wait and have a shot of his own good whiskey at home instead. The food was good, and plentiful, and Xander ended up getting a piece of Black Forest cake to take home.
"Oz used to like this stuff, before he got sick. He might want some," Xander said, folding the top of the bag down carefully. Spike smoothed the long hair back from his boy's face, running his thumb lightly under Xander's lower lip.
"Maybe he will, rabbit. C'mon - time to be going home." There was a pearl-grey glow to the clouds now - the sun somewhere above the horizon, but not very far. Spike rolled his shoulders against the twitchy feeling that came over him. Even though he was safe, his demon was nervous. They headed home, walking briskly. The sidewalks were all puddled now, glinting dully in the growing light, and Xander stomped through a couple with a small grin on his face. They paused at a corner, waiting for the traffic to thin and Spike felt over the little plastic bubble in his pocket - took it out finally, and pried the top off.
"Here, rabbit - I got you something. Lift your hair up." Xander turned surprised and suspicious eyes on him but his hands were already going up to lift his hair and bare his neck, the cake tucked into his pocket.
"What is it?" he asked, and Spike moved behind him, bringing his hands down in front of Xander. He was holding a cheap choker-style necklace - fifty cents in the machine - made of five strands of rolled, black leather thong. There was a sort of chevron-shape in silver-colored metal in the middle, with five long silver-colored beads - one per strand - flanking it on either side. It looked vaguely American Indian, which Spike thought suited Xander's dark eyes and hair.
"What - 'v' for vampire?" Xander asked, but his voice sounded strained as Spike wrapped the choker around his neck. It fastened with an odd little clasp in the back - a kind of tongue and slot affair that made it fit smoothly. Spike clicked it shut and then ran his fingers over the strands. The black leather looked good against Xander's pale skin - against the curve of his throat - and Spike leaned in and kissed him just there. Edge of leather and skin, both scents mingling in his nose - across his tongue. Xander shivered, twitching slightly away and lowering his hands. His hair fell silkily across Spike's face and Spike slid his arms around Xander and pulled him back tight, just nuzzling in close, tasting and kissing and nipping at half-healed bite marks.
"You taste so good, rabbit - smell so good..." Burnt-sugar caramel smell, salt and the honey-musk of the hyena. Something earthy and something slightly bitter, like almonds. Xander sighed in his arms, leaning back and tilting his head over, but then he twitched and twisted away - turned to face Spike, still in the circle of his arms but tense, now, eyes narrow.
"What is this? You gave me a - collar."
"You needed something to show you belong to me, pet."
The boy's lip lifted in a half-hearted snarl and he pushed against Spike's chest, rigid. "I don't belong -"
"Yes you do, rabbit. We talked about this, yeah? You belong to me. And everybody knows it, but now it's more...obvious." Xander was panting just a little - obviously angry, but something else, too - fear maybe, or maybe sorrow. It was hard to tell.
"I'm not a pet. You don't get to say that, Spike! I'm not some - dumb animal!"
"You're a human with a beast inside. Ever think you might need a collar and leash some days? Keep you from doing something...nasty?" Xander froze for a long moment, and then he shoved Spike violently away, managing to get a foot or so between them before Spike snatched him back, fists in the lapels of Xander's pea-coat and a thigh between his legs. Someone hurrying by gave them a strange look, but Spike ignored them.
"Fuck you, Spike - you said you'd help me! You said you and Oz could - show me how to do that - headspace, that..." Xander's hands were flat on Spike's chest, his nails digging through the thin sweater, his eyes getting that look in them that said the hyena wasn't far. "Don't tell me I'm dangerous! You're just - just trying to scare me, you're just -" Spike snarled, letting the demon flash up for a moment and then shoving it away, not wanting to attract that much attention from the early-commute traffic.
"Got a hundred better ways to scare you, rabbit, don't need to tell lies." *But that DOES scare you, and you need to learn to hide that. Safe enough with me, but others won't be so careful of the cracks in your armor.* Spike shook the boy a little - got his face inches from Xander's, knowing his eyes were demon-gold. "Don't think you're just gonna lock it away in a box and it'll be all over, rabbit. Doesn't work that way." Abruptly he let go - backed off. Smoothed the front of Xander's coat and buttoned the top button - turned the collar up a little.
"You need a hat, rabbit, and gloves. And a scarf, too. Something nice and soft." Xander was off-balance and could only stare at him, his chest still heaving in angry pants, his hands clenching tight. Spike stepped up close again but this time he wound his arms around Xander's waist and pressed them gently together - feathered soft kisses over his mouth and cheeks and nose. "Promised I'd help you, love. I won't let you get hurt - won't let you do any hurting that you don't want to do." Spike let his hand slide up Xander's back and rub a little over the leather around his neck, making Xander aware of it again.
"This is just...to remind you. Help you remember I'm here, all the time. Keep your mind on things, yeah? Won't let you go, rabbit - not ever." Xander looked so lost, now - dazed and unhappy and Spike kissed him again, slow and deep and sweet as he could.
Xander stood still against him, but then he slowly kissed back, his hands creeping under Spike's duster and gripping over Spike's ribs, thumbs rubbing up and down over the ridges of them just under Spike's pectorals. He pulled back and ducked his head - looked at Spike, his eyes dark again, showing weariness and confusion. "Ss-pike? Why do you -?"
"Shhh, rabbit. Not a question for here, yeah? Let's get home - wait for the wolf. You're cold, pet." Spike watched Xander struggle with that and then let it go, and Spike touched the choker again. "I could get you one that never comes off, rabbit. One that locks and doesn't have a key. Would you like that?" Xander's eyes went wide and for a moment there was something there. Some dark thing that leaped and burned, and Spike thought he just might say yes. But then Xander shook his head, and the corner of his mouth curled up a little, wry smile.
"No. Jesus, Spike. Let me...get used to one that comes off. Promise you'll - teach me?"
"Promise, love. We'll work on it same as we will your fighting. Just takes practice."
"And reading, and memorizing," Xander grumbled, letting Spike turn him and get them walking again, letting Spike take his hand and lace their fingers together, oblivious to some in the morning crowd who stared or scowled.
"You remember songs, rabbit. It's not so hard." Xander shot him a look from under a fall of hair but then he was lifting his head - tossing his hair back and straightening his shoulders - humming to himself with a small smile on his face. Spike recognized the tune and he grinned when the words were whispered to the sweet-salty air.
"In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev'ry glove that layed him down
Or cut him 'til he cried out
In his anger and his shame:
"I am leaving, I am leaving!"
But the fighter still remains..."
Simon and Garfunkel - The Boxer