Hero Chapter 3

Hero Chapter 3 (3/8)

Their second set went until almost one, with the band being called back for three encores.  The crowds were getting better - hell, they were getting better - and Will shot Oz and Devon a huge smile as they finally came off stage.  They were all wired - totally up - and they bounced back to the greenroom to take a break and get some water.  In a few minutes they'd get their instruments put up, but since they were playing again tomorrow Clem said they could leave the rest of their gear on stage.  Angel would see to it that nobody touched it and that was good enough for Will.

"Oh man, that was fuckin' great, man, you were just hittin' it!"  Devon grabbed Will around the neck and kissed his cheek, sloppy and smiling and Will laughed and pushed him into Oz. 

"Fuck yeah, that was hot!"  *I'm almost twenty-three and this still feels better than anything else.  I dunno if I'm EVER gonna quit...*    There was a mini-fridge in the corner and Oz opened it and got out water bottles, tossing them across to Devon and Oz, cracking open his own and guzzling half in one long drink.  He came up for air, gasping and grinning and the three of them just laughed.  It felt good, to have the crowd out there; watching your every move, cheering the good ones and singing along and just - feeding the energy you were putting out right back to you, like the biggest closed circuit there was.    Will picked up a towel and wiped sweat off his face and neck.  His eyeliner was smeared and he looked a little gothy.

*A little like a vamp.  'Cept, what vamp bleaches his hair and wears it like a 'bloody dead hedgehog'?*   Will laughed at himself in the mirror as his father's phrase drifted through his mind.  Devon was stripping his shirt off, using it to mop under his arms and down his belly and Will knew Oz would be doing the same in a minute - that they'd both translate the post-show adrenaline into a fast and furious mutual wank up against a wall or in the back of the van. 

*And that's just for starters and I think I'll be on my way.*   Devon and Oz never cared if anybody saw, but Will wasn't with anybody - hadn't been for a few months - and he wasn't in the mood to watch when he wouldn't be getting any.

"I'm off, mates - gotta go see a man about a -"  There was a crash from the hall, and a shouting voice getting louder, and suddenly the green-room door slammed open, hitting the wall hard enough to gouge a chunk of plaster out.  It rebounded halfway into the person who'd opened it and Will's heart was in his throat for a minute until he recognized Xander.

"What the fuck -"

"Spike!  C'mon, you gotta hurry, there's these vamps, they got this guy - we gotta help him!  I tried to by myself but I need help!"  Xander was wild-eyed and panting.  There was a fresh bruise coming up on his cheek and jaw - his knuckles were bleeding and his flannel was torn, the hem flapping down by his knee.  His jeans had acquired new tears in the knees, and a long smear of something that might be oil.

"Xander - hey -"

"Fuckin' hell!"  Angel careened through the door, plowing into Xander and knocking him to the floor - pinning him there.  "You little bastard, I told you Can't. Come. Back. Here."   Angel knocked Xander's head into the floor with each word, furious, and Will jumped on him, trying to yank the bigger man off Xander.

"Angel, knock it off!  Let him up!"

"Look what he fuckin' did to me!" Angel pushed himself to his knees, hauling Xander up by his shirt-front.  Angel's shirt was torn over his chest, and there was blood seeping through the white cotton.

"I told you Angel, you can help or you can get the hell out of my way!  I'll do it again if your precious soul won't let you help people who need it!"  Xander was struggling wildly, trying to get Angels' hand to unclench from his shirt, his boots skidding on the worn linoleum.

"What in hell -"   Devon was staring at Angels' chest and Angel gave a growl of anger and shoved Xander away hard, rolling him into a vanity. The mirror rocked alarmingly and Will grabbed it - reached down and got Xander under the arms and hauled him to his feet.

"Xander, what did you do to Angel?"

"I just - I wouldn't really stake him, Spike, but - he wouldn't let me in!  We gotta go."  Xander was trying to pull Will along with him, heading for the door, and Angel climbed to his feet.

 "I'm gonna hurt you if you come around here again -" Angel grated and Will shot a pleading look over at Oz.

"Man - would you get my guitar and stuff?  I'll - I gotta go -"

"Yeah, go, I got it," Oz said, reaching up and putting a hand on Angel's shoulder, tugging him around towards the couch.

*Thank god for Oz - always calm in a bloody crisis.  Unlike the rest of us.*  Will followed Xander down the hall and out the back door - down the alley, all his adrenalin and energy from the set giving him a little more speed than usual, making his heart pound and his head a little dizzy.  They skidded around the corner and Xander pointed to a parking lot across the way, lit by one streetlight.  There were figures there, moving, shouting, and Will felt his heart leap painfully.

*Fuck, he's gonna get me KILLED some night.  Jesus, what the fuck -*   The vague figures resolved into four boys - high-schoolers- surrounding a fifth.  They were yelling - kicking - and the one in the middle was on his knees, arms up in a defensive position that made Will lose his breath.   He remembered that position all too well, and the shock of it made him choke for a minute, trying to gasp in air and keep upright.  Xander passed him, yelling, and he'd acquired a length of board from somewhere and went in swinging.  Will caught his breath and followed, helpless to do otherwise.  He launched a hard punch straight into the first face he saw and the shock of it connecting made him grin.  Whatever Xander thought he saw, Will knew one thing for sure - it felt fucking good to just whale on somebody sometimes, and when it was like this - four against one - it felt even better. 

Xander had laid one out with a blow from the board and was swinging at the second, who was scrambling back with a terrified look on his face.   Will punched again - did a hard kick right into somebody's crotch and watched with satisfaction as the boy went down, his breath coming out in a high, breathless squeak of pain.  The fifth boy had staggered up, holding his ribs and coughing, crying.  His face was bloody and pale, and he staggered.

"Xander! Hey!  Grab this guy - get him back to the Bronze!  I'll finish these wankers off, yeah?"  Xander landed one more solid blow to a thigh, sending his victim to his butt, yelling.  He tossed the board to Will and grabbed the other kid.

"Be careful, Spike!  C'mon man - come with me -"   He led the boy away and Will turned to the rest.  One was down, holding his leg.  One was unconscious - the first one Xander had got.  One was standing there, gaping, and one was holding his hands to his nose, blood streaming down his face and dripping off his chin.

"You get the fuck out of here, you bloody little sods.  Or I'll let my friend come back and finish you off.  Get out!"  Will charged at them, board held high, and the two where were upright grabbed their friend and dragged him off.  The last one climbed to his feet and hobbled after, cursing.  Will tossed the board down and watched them disappear into the shadows, then turned and jogged back to the Bronze.  When he got there Xander was sitting on the pallets, hunched way over with his arms around his ribs.

"Hey, Xander?  You okay?  Hey, mate -"   Will touched his shoulder and he jerked away, hand coming up in shock, pushing him away even as his eyes found Will's face and recognized him.

"S-spike.  Hey.  It's okay, Oz - Oz is helping that guy out.  Did you d-dust 'em?"

"Yeah, I got 'em.  Hey, you okay?  Xander?"  The boy was absolutely white and he slipped down, off the pallets - hit the dirt before Will could even stop him.  His arm came away from his belly and Will saw a dark stain - saw blood.  *Oh FUCK no, oh no, no...  Jesus kid, what the HELL were you thinking!*        

"Xander!  Fuck, you're hurt, you - we gotta get you to the hospital -"

"No!  No, no, no, I - Spike, it's okay, I just - "   Xander pushed weakly, trying to stand up and Will pulled him to his feet.  "Giles can fix it, okay, Spike?  Giles will know what to do.  Can - can you just take me there Spike, please?"  The look of pleading was overlaid with exhaustion - with fear - and he was starting to shiver. 

*Fuck, he's going into shock, or that fever is still too high...fuck!* 

"Xander, I've only got my bike tonight, I can't -"

"I can hang on.  I can, really!  Please, Spike -"   Xander clutched at his arm, shaking hard now, his eyes huge and wet.  His lip was bleeding, too, and his look was spacey.

"Damnit - bloody hell...  Okay!  Okay, we'll - you just hang on bloody tight, you hear me?"  Will dragged him down the block to the tiny little garage where Oz kept his van and Will had his bike parked.  They only used the van for hauling equipment around - Sunnydale was small enough that you could walk pretty much everywhere.  But no way could Xander walk across town to the flat.  Will got on and got the engine roaring - waited while Xander shakily climbed on.

"You put your arms around me and hold on, you hear?  You fall off and I'll fuckin' leave you!"  Unbelievably, Xander laughed - a weak, wheezing chuckle.

"Liar," he said.  His arms came around Will's waist and hugged tight and Will toed the bike into gear and took off, going a little too fast by not caring.  He could feel something, warm and wet along his back and realized with a start that it was blood, and that Xander was shivering violently.

*Oh god damnit, Xander!  Please don't fuckin' fall off, don't faint, bloody hell...please, please...*  Will had never felt quite this panicked before -  quite this overwhelmed and he hated it - hated feeling the kid bleed all over his back.  He just wanted to wrap him up in cotton wool - keep him safe and never let him go.

*I am so fucked.  Jesus, why do I have to...*    Xander felt like a dead weight - felt like he wasn't even aware, and Will went a little faster - breathed a sigh of relief when the complex came into sight.  The lot was quiet, most of the windows dark, and Will parked and got Xander's arm in his hands - swung his leg forward over the gas-tank and slipped off the bike, holding tightly to Xander's wrist.  The boy was slumping over, eyes mostly shut and face dead white and sheened in sweat.  The shivering was less but Will knew that wasn't a good thing.  He hauled Xander's arm up over his shoulder and half-carried the taller boy towards the flat, cursing when Xander's feet tangled and dragged, almost bringing them both down.  He all but fell down the half-dozen steps that led to the apartment door and leaned gratefully against the door, gasping.  He kicked with his boot, hoping his dad was still up.  After what seemed an eternity there was a thudding and then the rattling of the lock, and the door creaked open.

"Open up, Watcher - it's me an' Xander," Will said, and saw momentary confusion and then understanding go over his dad's face.  The door swung wide and Will dragged Xander in - got him over to their long-suffering couch and dropped down with him.  Xander was panting, his lungs making a kind of liquid wheezing, and his skin was now more greenish-grey than white, and cold to the touch.  He rolled his head weakly on Will's shoulder and looked at Giles.

"Hey - Ju-Giles..."

"Xander, my god...  Wi - Spike - what happened?"

"I dunno.  There were some - vamps and this guy was getting hurt and Xander got him back to the Bronze but I didn't see him get - cut, or whatever the hell has happened."  Will got out from under Xander's arm and eased him onto his back.  He grabbed the blood-soaked t-shirt in his hands and ripped it open and he and his dad both stared down for a long moment of shock.

"Dear god he's skin and bone -"   Giles strode to the storage closet under the stairs and hauled out the oversize tackle box they kept there.   Their first-aid kit, since they'd met Xander.

"Dad - fuck - Watcher...  Is it bad?"  Will crouched down next to the couch, gently pushing Xander's hair back off his forehead - stroking his cheek.   The stubble was rough under his fingers, the cheekbone sharp.  Will wanted to scream and punch the couch cushions but he didn't.  He bit his lip, hard, and concentrated on being calm - on helping Xander.

"I think it's long and shallow rather than deep, or he'd be - well, there'd be more blood and more - bits.  Here, help me get some of this blood mopped up."  Giles pushed a box of cotton pads at Will and went quickly into the kitchen.  He came back a moment later with a bowl of steaming water and they began to clean away the blood.  Xander just lay there, gasping for breath, his eyes fluttering shut and then coming open, his hands eerily still at this sides.  When the blood was cleaned away the cut was revealed to be exactly as Giles had said, and Will blotted the skin dry carefully with a last pad.  He watched as his dad smeared Betadine over the cut and then pulled it carefully shut with a row of butterfly bandages.  Then he laid clean gauze over it all and taped it all down.

"There, that should do it," Giles said absently, smoothing the tape.  Xander made a small sound - a sigh - and when Will looked up at him he realized that the boy had fainted.  It was relief and delayed fright, then, that made Will sink his head down onto the couch and gasp harshly, shaking so hard his teeth rattled.  He felt his dad's hand on his shoulder, squeezing softly and then slipping off.  Giles tidied the kit away and put it back under the stairs, then went into the kitchen to get rid of the bowl and bloody water and wash his hands.  Will listened to him cleaning up and finally lifted his head - wiped the back of his hand over his eyes and twisted around.

"Do you think he'll be okay?"  Giles walked slowly into the living room and sank down into his over-stuffed chair, a small sigh escaping him.

"I can't be sure, but I don't think that cut is the real problem.  He sounds like he may have pneumonia and he felt fevered.

"Yeah - he looked pretty sick when we saw him before - he said he was going to Willow's."

"Did he?"  Giles twisted around and got the phone - dialed a number and waited.  "Hello, Willow?  This is Rupert Giles...  Yes, he's right here on my sofa...  No, he was - fighting, Will just brought him here...   Yes, well, I suspected as much...  Would you?  That would be extraordinarily helpful.  Yes, all right.  Good night."   Will watched his father hang up the phone - watched him take off his glasses and slowly polish them with a handkerchief.  Will looked down at Xander and smoothed his heavy, sweaty hair back one more time, then he noticed the blood on his hands and stood up hastily, going into the kitchen.

"What did Willow say?"

"She said that Xander did come by earlier, before Dr. Wyndham-Pryce had gone home.  He took a look at him and he does have pneumonia.  He wrote a prescription for him but Xander wouldn't take it."

"Damnit.  He's gotta take something -"   Will shook water off his hands and grabbed the towel that hung through the 'fridge door - dried his hands off. 

"Yes, he does.  The doctor was kind enough to make up an injection for Willow - antibiotics and some vitamins, I believe she said.  She's going to come round with it tomorrow."  Giles sounded tired, and Will came back out to the living room and put his hand on his dad's shoulder.

"Hey - let me run upstairs and get a quick shower, okay?  Then you can go on to bed.  I'll camp out down here."  That was the usual routine, if Xander spent the night - Will on the floor in a nest of old Army blankets and a sleeping bag, Xander on the couch.  Xander persisted in regarding Will's room as a guest room, but even when they agreed with him he wouldn't sleep in it.  

Giles nodded wearily in agreement and Will jogged upstairs, showering and changing into some sweat pants and a t-shirt, grabbing his pillow off the bed.  Coming down the stairs he slowed, smiling.  His dad was playing his guitar - singing softly - and Will came down the last few stairs carefully, trying to be quiet.  Xander was propped a little on some pillows, his eyes open but still glassy.  He saw Will and his mouth twitched in a ghost of his usual smile.

"Hey Xander.  How're you doin', mate?"

"I'm okay."  Xander's voice was hoarse and weak and he made an aborted attempt to sit up and then collapsed back, coughing weakly.  Will hurried to the side of the couch and crouched down beside him.

"Don't, pet.  Just relax.  You got hurt - you need to rest."  Xander's eyes were fixed on Giles' hands as they slowly strummed the guitar strings, and he nodded almost absently.

"I really like this one, Spike," he whispered, and Will nodded, turning a little to watch his dad as well.  Giles strummed another line of melody and then sang softly:

 

                Fly, my little dove, wander far
                night sky broodin' and stormy
                shine beside me wisdom star
                light the desert before me...

                So long Willie my wastrel boy
                farewell sister my sally
                I am the spark and mercury rollin' joy
                'cross the Bitterroot Valley...

               

Xander's eyes were closed again, but he mouthed the words silently and Will had a sudden urge to hold him - to make his nightmare world go away forever. 

*God - like that would help...  Or maybe it would.  He always seems so lonely, even when he's around us...  Separate...*  When the song was over Xander opened his eyes again and smiled at Giles, that sweet smile that made Will's heart do a little extra thump, and Giles smiled back.

"So, Xander, do you think you're up to some food?  I've a lovely beef broth just made today."  Xander licked his lips and nodded slowly.

"Yeah, I - I think so.  I'm kinda hungry."

"Of course you are.  All right, then - W - Spike will keep you company."  Giles handed his guitar over to Will and got up, padding softly away into the kitchen and Will cradled the guitar, stroking the honey-gold wood with his fingertips.

"Play something, okay, Spike?  My belly hurts and that kinda...helps."  Will looked over at him and smiled.

"Sure, pet.  What would you like to hear?"

"I...  I don't know... something..."  He fell silent and Will waited a moment, and then started a soft strumming.

"Tell me if this is okay," Will said, and a moment later he started to sing.  Xander's eyes were fixed on his, and he seemed to sink back a bit - to settle deeper into the couch and the blanket Giles had drawn up over him.

 

                Are you going to Scarborough Faire?
                Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
                Remember me to one who lived there.
                She once was a true love of mine...

               

Will sang, and Xander's eyes blinked once, heavy with fatigue.  It was one of the first songs Will had ever learned, and it was special because his mum had taught him the chords; holding him on her lap, her guitar so big and awkward in his hands, her arms warm, curving around him and placing his fingers just so.   The memory of his mother was so strong that when the song came to an end he half-expected to feel her hand through his hair - feel her breath on his neck as she whispered to him.  He jerked a little, startled, as Giles came back into the living room, a bowl of broth in his hand and a glass of orange juice.

"Xander?" Giles asked softly, and Will looked over at the kid.  He was asleep, his breath bubbly and thick but even.  Will got up quietly and tugged the blanket a little closer around him - carefully slipped the worn work-boots off his feet.  He hesitated for a moment and then stroked his fingers gently over Xander's forehead, pushing back the fringe of dark hair.

"We'll let him rest, then.   I'll..."  Giles went back to the kitchen and started to put things away, and Will followed, setting the guitar down gently on the kitchen table.  He watched his dad for a minute, leaning against the counter.

"Dad?  I - need to ask you...something."

"Of course, Will," Giles said, shooting him a look over his glasses and Will took a deep breath.

"Do you think - can he ever get better?"  There was a long silence as Giles finished putting the broth away in the 'fridge and wiped the counter slowly with a dishcloth.

"I - I really don't know, Will.  I'm not a doctor, but it seems - he seems - so entrenched in this - notion.  And he won't - submit to any therapy...  I just don't know."  Will nodded, fingers idly winding the drawstring to his sweatpants around and around.

"It's just..."  Will couldn’t talk and he felt his dad's hand on his shoulder and had to lean in - had to rest his forehead on the soft green chambray of Giles' shirt and breath, for a moment, the mingled smells of paper and dust and tea and lemongrass.  Familiar and comforting.

"What is it, Will?" Giles said softly, his hand rubbing slowly up and down Will's back.

"I want him to get better, dad.  I - I want him to...to know who I am - to know me, Will.  I want...  Dad, I think I'm...I'm in love with him, a little bit."  Giles' hand stopped for a second and then resumed its slow journey up and back, and Will felt his dad sigh.

"I thought as much...  Will - if he can't ever - get better..."

"I know," Will whispered.  He straightened up and looked at his dad - saw sadness and acceptance in the steady gaze that met his.  "I know he might not - ever.  But I want - I have to try and - do something.  I can't - make myself stop feeling...I've fuckin' tried."  Giles' frowned for a second and then laughed a little, shaking his head.

"I almost told you to watch your language, but considering the topic of conversation, I'm surprised that's all you said."  Giles took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes - looked out into the living room and Will knew his was looking at the kid sprawled over the couch.  "I won't tell you to give it up.  Or to - find someone else.  I know you can't dictate to your heart.  Just please don't - build castles in the air, Will.  If he's to get better the journey will be long and hard and you may wish you'd never got started on it, or that you never met him before it's over."  Will wanted to protest - wanted to tell his dad that was rubbish.  But he wasn't stupid, and he knew that whatever happened, he'd end up hurting sometime.

"Yeah.  I know.  I just - have to try."

 "Of course you do."  Giles sighed and straightened up from the counter.  "I'm off to bed, then.  I'll see you in the morning - be sure to draw the curtains before you lay down."

 "I will.  Night, dad."

 "Goodnight, Will," Giles murmured, and dropped a soft kiss on his hair - went away upstairs.  Will hauled the blankets and sleeping bag out of the downstairs closet and arranged them next to the couch - pulled the curtains across the windows so that 'Spike' wouldn't wake up in a patch of sunlight.  He turned off all the lights except for a small lamp on his dad's desk.  Then he lay down in the gloom, curling himself into the blankets and squishing his pillow up just right.  Xander slept on, his breathing steady but labored, his face relaxed.  One foot twitched a little, restlessly, and Will reached up and smoothed his hair back one last time.

"Night, Xander.  Sweet dreams," he whispered.  He closed his eyes, and was asleep before he knew it.  In the morning when he woke up, Xander was gone.