Hero Chapter 4

Hero Chapter 4 (4/8)

"Dad?  Is Xander up there?"  Silence, and Will bit his lip.  It was just past nine, and normally on a Saturday this would mean an hour or more in bed and then breakfast out at the little diner down by the public library.  It made surprisingly good waffles, and served them all day, and he and his dad were both addicted.  Then they'd walk the downtown, window-shopping mostly but always ending up buying a few books and a magazine or two.  Go to the park and read or see a matinee.  Saturday was one of few times Will and his dad were home and together at the same time, and they enjoyed their routine.

But with Xander here - it would be different.  Will wouldn't be able to go out, for one thing.  Xander had run into him once, middle of the day downtown.  It hadn't been good.   So Will made sure to stay out of the sun if Xander was around, and made sure to avoid him if he saw him during the day.  Which wasn't often, and wasn't that odd, and Jesus, where was he?

Will went quietly upstairs and peeked into his dad's room.  Indirect sunlight lit the faded Persian rugs and crammed bookshelves, and lit streaks of silver in Giles' hair where it lay tousled over his sleep-smooth forehead.

*When'd THAT happen?  Never even noticed...*   Will backed away and hurried down the hall.  The bathroom was dark and empty - his room empty as well.  He'd already checked downstairs.  Xander wasn't in the flat.

*Damnit.  Maybe Willow came by -*   Will hurried downstairs and called the Treehouse.  Dr. Wes answered.

"Hey, Dr. Wes. It's Will Giles.  Uh - Xander was here last night - he slept over - but he left before I got up.  Is he - did he show up over there?"

"I haven't seen him, Will.  Are you sure he's not -"

"He's really not here.  He was - wheezing last night, pretty bad, and he had a fever.  And he got cut.  We fixed it, but -"

"Oh dear.  He's really very sick, Will.  Anything that would weaken his system at this stage is not good.   If he doesn’t get treatment immediately, he's really at a very great risk of being hospitalized."

"God damnit!"

"Yes...   Ah, there's Willow, let me -"  Will waited impatiently as Dr. Wes put the phone down and talked to Willow.  He couldn't hear them clearly enough to eavesdrop.  He filled the kettle and put it on the stove, turning the gas up high, knowing he wasn't in the mood to wait.

*Why in hell did he leave?  Please be with Willow.  Damn kid, why does he -*

"Will?  I'm sorry, nobody's seen him.  I'll start asking around - there are a few people in here already who might know.  And of course, if he comes in we'll call you."

"Damn.  Yeah.  Okay, Dr. Wes, thanks.  I'll - I'm gonna see if I can find him.  Just - call us if anything happens, okay?"

"Yes.  We'll do what we can from here.  Goodbye."

"'Bye."  Will hung up and stood there for a minute, watching the blue fire under the kettle.  Then he turned and ran upstairs - got on jeans and t-shirt and boots and ducked into the bathroom for a rushed couple of minutes.  Emerging with his hair dripping into his eyes he knocked on his dad's door and then opened it, leaning on the jamb.

 "Dad?  Hey, dad -"   Giles moved - turned - then was blinking up at Will.  He rubbed his hand over his face and got up on one elbow, squinting.

"Yes?  Is everything all right?"

"I dunno.  Xander's gone.  And I just talked to Dr. Wes - he's not over at the Treehouse, either.  I don't know how long he's been gone but Dr. Wes is pretty worried about him."

"Damnit," Giles said, and he pushed himself upright, swinging his feet to the floor and stretching hard.  "What are you going to do?" he asked, and Will smiled. 

"That obvious, huh?  I'm gonna find him."  Giles looked at him, and his expression was one of concern.

"That might not be such a good idea.  You remember -"

"I know!  I know.  But I can't just...  I'll come up with something to tell him, okay?  I'll - tell him it's a spell or something 'cause Willow knew I'd be the only one that could find him.  I'll make him believe me.  I can't just bloody sit here!"  Giles held up a hand, nodding, and Will kicked at the door jamb, wishing he was with Oz and could just scream.  Or just tell him, because Oz understood - so much - and he had a way about him that made you calm no matter what.

"I understand what you're feeling, Will.  I just - I just want you to be cautious.   You never know what might - damage him further."  Will stared at his dad for a moment, and then he sighed and scrubbed his fingers through his hair - gave it a hard jerk, because he still wanted to scream but he sure as hell wouldn't do that around his dad.

"I know.  Believe me, I know.  But - he'll have to go to hospital if we can't get him over to the Treehouse.  Dr. Wes said.  And you know how much he hates the hospital."  Giles flung the sheet away and stood up, picking up a dressing-gown from his chair in the corner and shrugging it on.

"Yes, well - there is that.   All right.  You go look.   And I'll - I'll stay here in case he comes back or - or Willow calls.  You take my cell, all right?"

"Yeah, right.  Dad,  I just -"  Will didn't know what to say that he hadn't already said last night, and his dad's hand was warm and reassuring as it gently squeezed his shoulder.

"I know, Will.  It's going to be fine.  Be careful, all right?"

"Yeah.  Okay.  I'll - I'll call in a while, see if anything's happened."

"All right."  Will smiled at his dad - hesitated for a moment and then gave him a quick hug.  Then he was down the stairs, grabbing his keys out of the bowl and the cell off the charger.  He grabbed his duster and flung it on, shoving the cell into an inner pocket.    He straddled his bike and got the key in - turned it - and a moment later he was roaring away down the street, cursing to himself when the wind whipped into his unprotected eyes, stinging them.

*I'll live.  Xander might not.*

Xander had, as far as Will knew, been living on and off in the basement of an abandoned house.  The city occasionally came and rousted him out - sent him packing and put boards up over the doors and windows.  But Xander would lie low for a week or so and then move quietly back in, slowly re-establishing his lair.  Will had been down, a couple of times, and it was actually not as awful as it could be.  It wasn't a doorway or a sewer grate.

*But it's still bloody awful, most of the time,* Will thought, and it was.  As basements went it was fairly standard - concrete floor and walls, exposed pipes.   There were mice and roaches even though Xander kept what little food he had in a big, plastic bucket with a lid.    It was dim, and cold, and stank of must and rot and wet from the ground water seeping in.  He'd dragged this horrible old lounger in there, and a ratty couch, and had knocked together a table from scraps he'd stolen from a construction site.  No electricity, but Will knew he had half an old fuel drum and the grill off a bar-be-que that he used for cooking and heat, when he needed it.  Knew the toilet worked after a fashion if you dumped a bucket of water down it, and knew he took showers at the Treehouse.  And their house, when they could coax him to it.  That's when they got him new clothes.  Told him they were washing the old stuff and here, put this on in the meantime.  They'd tried to get him to move in with them - with Oz and Devon, who had squatters all the time.  But he wouldn't.

*Should never have let him stay there - fuckin' basement.  Probably got sick from sleeping down there.  Lucky he hasn't been sick before.  Damn it, Xander, why did you leave?  Must have heard us talking about medicine - he really hates that...*  Xander most times wouldn't even take aspirin and the one time he'd been hurt bad enough to go to the hospital - the time he'd saved Will from his own trip to the ER - he'd had to be shot up with morphine and strapped down to the gurney.   That had been one awful night and Xander had managed to slip both hospital staff and inquiring police and get out of the hospital before dawn.  He hadn't come around for a week and when he'd finally shown up he'd actually yelled at 'Spike' - told him to never take him to the hospital again.

*And then he let me pick those damn stitches out of his face 'cause he wasn't even gonna go near Dr. Wes for a while.  Bloody stupid kid...*   Will downshifted savagely and bit his lip.  He hated feeling like this - feeling utterly helpless.  He imagined Xander felt like this quite a bit of the time.  He'd felt like this the night three boys from Fraternity Row had cornered him behind the Bronze and decided to take a baseball bat to the 'fuckin' queer'.  That had been the third time he'd seen Xander - three days after he'd shown up at their house.  Will had been on his knees, at that point - wheezing from a cracked rib, his eye swelling shut, trying desperately to ward off the kicks that were driving him to the filthy alley floor.   The loudest of the three had let the baseball bat slid through his fingers until he was holding it by the end.  He'd swung it once or twice, holding it easily and Will was sure he played on a team - was sure he'd done this before and cringed from the sick gleam of enjoyment in the boy's eyes.  He'd lifted the bat and swung, and it was coming right for Will's head and he knew he wouldn't be able to dodge it.  And then Xander was there, leaping on the boy's back and knocking him flat, yelling at Will to run...  Will had watched in amazement and horror as Xander had scrambled for the bat and whacked first one boy than another - not in the head but in the stomach and chest, hurtful blows that made both run away.  The third boy had scooped up a beer bottle and smashed it into Xander's head and Xander had gone down, the bat clattering away and rolling into Will's knee. He'd picked it up and lurched upright - run at the last boy, screaming, and he'd turned and fled.  Will had stood there for a minute, hurting all over and then turned to look at his would-be rescuer.  Xander was struggling to sit up and when Will crouched down next to him and hauled him upright, he'd glared at Will.

"Spike!  Why in hell didn't you run?  You know you can't fight humans - what the fuck is wrong with you?"  he'd snapped, blood pouring down his face, and Will had recoiled a little, wondering what was going to happen next.

"Xander?  What in bloody hell...!  You need a hospital, mate - you're bleedin' something awful."

"NO hospitals.  And you keep away from my blood.  Spike, where's -"    And then he'd passed out again, and Will had called 911.  Watched, five minutes later as Xander had had a full-blown freak out.

 Will was pretty sure at least one of those three boys had found Xander and gotten a little payback - a couple weeks later he turned up at the Bronze, looking like something the cat dragged in.  But he'd never asked, and Xander had certainly never said.

*Still has that bloody scar, too.  Bloody bastard, runnin' in - 'can't fight humans', what bollocks...*   Will was all too aware of the 'story' behind that and wondered what in hell would prompt the boy to come up with something that...cruel.

Will made a left at the corner and pulled up to the house Xander was living in.  And stared in dismay at the trucks and huge green dumpster that sat in front of it.  He got off his bike and walked up to the house, seeing workmen through the empty windows stripping out cabinets and knocking down a wall.  A fat, sweating man in a hardhat saw him and scowled.

"Hey!  You can't just wander around here!"  The man stomped down off the porch and marched up to Will, chewing on the end of a cigarette.  "What the hell do you want?"

"Uh - there was a kid - he was living here, in the basement?"

"Yeah - kicked him out.  Damn junkies.  He had a damn fire burning down there!  Could'a taken the whole building out!"   The man looked Will up and down and his expression clearly said 'another fuckin' junkie'.

"Well fuck!  When did you - when was that?"

"Week ago, ten days.  Somethin' like that.  You a friend of his?"

"Yeah, I - I am.  Did he say where he was going?"  Will got out a cigarette of his own and lit it, his hands shaking just a little.

"I dunno.  Here."  The man walked over to a red and silver truck and pulled something out of the bed - a worn backpack, one strap broken and the pockets on the sides half torn off.  "Found this down there, behind a panel.  His, I guess.  You want it?"  Will stared at the battered pack and slowly reached for it and the man let it into his hand, wiping his fingers on his jeans as he let go.

"If he comes back here, I'm callin' the cops," the man said, and stomped away.  Will nodded absently and walked back over to his bike.  He sat down on the saddle and looked at the pack.

*Open it?  He had it hidden...  Fuck it.  Might say where he is.*   Will unzipped it and began to look through the contents.  A few tattered comics, two spiral notebooks with pens clipped to the rings.  A book that looked like it had been stolen from a library.  And a stack of loose paper - worn and brightly colored that Will recognized with a little lurch.  Dingo's flyers, the ones they put up on telephone poles and billboards whenever they played.   The ones they took with them in stacks so they could saturate the likely locations in any given town the day before they played.  They were all folded in such a way that as Will looked through them he saw his own face looking back, page after page.

*Oh, god...  What in bloody hell does this mean?  Does he...?  Fuck, this isn't HELPING Will, you wanker!  You've got to find him.  Think!*   Will zipped the pack shut and hung it over his shoulder - started his bike, ignoring the stares from the workers.  He took off down the street, heading for the Treehouse.  Maybe Willow would have some ideas.

*It's almost six fuckin' o'clock!  Where the hell is he!*   Will had never felt so frustrated or so frantic - had never felt so utterly helpless or so near a total breakdown.  Oz had called his house around two and he and Devon had gone out to search as well.  Willow had talked to person after person as they came into the Treehouse, grilling them over the food line or in the clinic about the 'Vampire Hunter'.  Giles had quietly asked around at the hospital and made some phone calls but nothing - absolutely nothing.  Willow was ready to call the police but Will wanted her to wait just a little longer.  The police wouldn't be able to do anything, and knowing how jumpy Xander was around any authority figure he didn't want him bolting or trying to fight - ending up arrested and shipped off to some state facility that he'd never get out of.

Will cursed a steady string of invective as he made his way back home.  The cell battery was dying, and he needed to get off the bike for a while.  Maybe walk down to the docks or something.  On foot he might have a better chance...

He turned into the parking lot and killed the engine - sat slumped for a moment in the saddle.  Then he took a deep breath and went inside.   Giles was there, on the phone talking to Willow, it seemed and they both shook their heads at the other's inquiring look.  Will slumped down on the couch, leaning his head on the back and letting the pack slip off his shoulder to his lap.  He closed his eyes, feeling so very tired.

*Don't know what I'll do, if we can't find him.  Don't know...  Xander, love - why are you doing this?* 

"All right.  Thank you, Willow," Giles said softly, and hung up the phone.  After a moment Will felt him sitting down on the couch and he shifted and looked over.  His dad was looking tired as well, and there was the crease between his brows that meant he had a headache.

*Damn.  Shouldn't be dragging him through this.  Maybe we SHOULD call the police...*   "Dad -"

"No luck, I'm afraid," Giles said, and he looked at Will with a small smile - looked down at the pack.

"What's that?"

"Oh - the foreman at the house found it.  He gave it to me."  Will stroked the ratty nylon and Giles looked intrigued.

"Do you mind if I-?"

"Oh.  No.  Go ahead.  I looked already.  Nothing in there.  I mean, nothing that does a bloody bit of good."  Will passed the backpack over and watched as his dad took each item out, examining them.   He paused for a long moment over the flyers, shooting Will a look over his glasses and Will raised a half-hearted grin.

"If we ever find him, maybe I can - can tell him I... "   Will stopped and drew a hard, ragged breath.  "I want to tell him, dad.  I want him to know... "   Will felt the tears that had threatened on and off all day well up in his eyes and he shut them again, leaning his head back and letting them run down his temples and into his hair, cold and ticklish.

"I know, Will.  I know."  Soft acknowledgment, and his dad's hand on his knee for a moment.  And then:

"I say, what's this?"

"What?"  Will sat up, wiping his eyes, and saw his dad was examining the book.   "Oh - looked like a library book."

"Yes, it is.  From the high school."

"Huh?"  Will took the book, flipping it open and seeing the rubber stamp on the inside cover.  'Sunnydale High School'.  The book was water-damaged, the binding loose.    "Watership Down.  He's got some of it marked..."  Will looked up at his dad, who was staring at the book.  The high school had been built over a sinkhole or fault line and the summer after Xander had tried to blow it up it had mostly collapsed.   They'd condemned the sight, but hadn't cleared the rubble away yet.  Some enormous tangle of state and federal red tape was stopping the city from moving forward, and so the building just rotted in on itself year after year.  Xander took a particular delight in going past it from time to time.  Something had happened there, if only in his head that made him happy.

"Oh, fuck - dad, no way is he - could he be there?  Why in bloody hell would he -?"

"I don't know, Will, but - we've exhausted all other possibilities."  They looked at each other in stunned silence for a moment and then Will was jumping to his feet, his dad right behind him.

"We'll take my car - and get the first aid kit, and a torch.  I'm going to call Dr. Wes and ask him to meet us there," Giles said, grabbing his jacket and struggling into it as he dialed the phone.  Will hauled the first aid kit out of the closet and then the torch from its place on the shelf.  He flicked it on to test it and then stood impatiently by the door, waiting.

"Right - here we go," his dad said, and they jogged out to his car.

The school grounds were fenced off, but four years of illegal raves, fights, drug dealing and general juvenile delinquency had put numerous holes in the sagging fence, and Will and Giles easily found access.  They waited impatiently for five minutes before Dr. Wes showed up, hauling a soft-sided bag with a red cross on the side.  Willow jumped out of his car after him and together they made their way into the building.

They stood in the ruined hall off the main entrance, looking at various piles of rubble, broken bottles and assorted trash.  A stained, torn mattress rested in one corner and Willow made an 'ewww' face when the beam from the torch shone on it.

"How in hell are we gonna find him in here?  He could be anywhere!" Willow said, sounding as desperate as Will felt.  But -

"No - not anywhere.  I'll bet he's in the library."  Will looked over at his dad who nodded, a small smile coming over his face.

"I'll bet you're right, Will.  This way, then."  They followed Giles, stepping carefully around the collapsed bits of wall and broken desks.  There was graffiti everywhere and more broken bottles - an enormous stain of soot on the wall and ceiling where there had been an impromptu bonfire.  A bird or bat, disturbed by they're passage whirred up and away, startling a squeak out of Willow.

"Sorry guys.  We there yet?"

"Yes - just here.  Will -"   Will took the torch from his dad and watched as he pulled the listing library door open.  They went cautiously inside, torch beams flickering wildly.

"I can't -" Willow started, and then Will heard it - heard him, and he dropped torch and kit and ran - vaulted over a broken bookcase and up the stairs and he was there, right there, curled into a knot of torn sleeping bag and flannel shirt, moaning.  Will crouched down next to the shivering figure, putting his hand on Xander's cheek.  It was like touching the side of a hot stove and Xander jerked away, crying out.

"Dr. Wes!  Please, he - hurry!"  Will felt his legs wobbling under him and he went down hard on his butt.  Xander was staring at him - flinched when a torch beam cut across the air and illuminated his face.

"Sss...  Spike?  Spike -"   Will couldn't feel his legs - he couldn't breathe - and then he could and he took a sharp, painful breath - leaned forward and pulled Xander over into his lap.  He could hear the others on the stairs, coming up, and he pulled Xander closer, curling around him, hitching the shivering, rail-thin body up onto his thighs, getting Xander's head on his shoulder.

"Oh god Xander, what are you doing here?  We've been going out of our fuckin' minds trying to find you!"

"K-kicked me out.  D-dad kicked me out an'...  I thought...  Dawn said you were here, she sss-said you were sick and -"  Xander shuddered and shuddered, the fever twisting him like a cloth and Will held him fiercely, rocking him, trying to get him as close as he could - enfold him.

"Xan, love - who's Dawn?  Why would I be here?  You've got to come home with us, love -"

"Xander?  Oh god!"  Willow was there suddenly, down on her knees and reaching out, and Xander recoiled.  He was crying now, a thin keening of distress and exhaustion and he let out a ragged shout when Willow touched him.

"Don't, don't!  You skinned him, you...  Willow, you -"

"Shhh, love, shush, shush.  Willow wouldn't hurt you, she wouldn't hurt anybody love, she wouldn't."  Will looked at the others, bewildered, his hand stroking and stroking the sweat-soaked hair back from Xander's face.

"But I saw it, I...oh god, oh god....he shot Tara, he sh-shot Buffy and - and -"

"Love, love, you said Buffy was dead -"  Xander twisted - looked up at Will, his face white as milk, bruised and hollow around his eye sockets, the eyes themselves glazed and bloodshot and the tears just welling and falling, welling and falling.   He looked sick to death and Will felt his own tears start again - felt his heart breaking for this boy that he wanted and needed and fucking loved so damn much.

"I th-thought she was.  I - I just -"   Xander stopped, confused, and closed his eyes - curled his fist into Will's shirt and sobbed.

"My damn cell doesn’t work in here.  I'm going to go outside," Dr. Wes said, standing, and Willow rose with him.

"We'll wait for - we'll be outside, okay?" Willow said, and Will knew they were calling an ambulance - knew there was no way around it now.  Xander's fever was probably getting deadly-high and his breathing was thick and liquid and uncertain.  Will nodded, cuddling Xander closer, and his dad freed a blanket from the tangle on the floor and drew it around them both, snugging it tight.

"Thanks," Will whispered, and Giles nodded.  In the reflected glow of the torch Will thought that he was crying, too.

"Xan love, it's all right now.  I've got you and it's all right.  Gonna make you all better, gonna feed you up and get you fat and - and you're gonna come stay with us, love, no more of this nonsense, hear me?  Hear me, love?"  Xander nodded into his chest and then for one moment he was utterly still and Will clutched him fiercely, terrified that Xander had stopped breathing - that he had - he was -

"Will?"  Tiny, tiny voice.  A name Will had never heard from him, and Will tipped Xander's head back so he could see his face - could see the wide, black eyes.

"Xander, honey -"

"I know it's not right.  I know.  I ss-see things and I don't - I don't know what's r-real, I don't...I d-dream and...   W-will, please help me, please.   Will, please, please..."  Xander's fingers were digging into his arm, his chest, hurting and desperate and Will hugged him hard, rocking him, his cheek to the too-hot forehead, his heart pounding so hard he was sure Xander could feel it.

"I will, I will - do anything for you, love, anything.  Just hold on to me, stay here, we'll fix it love, I promise," Will whispered, and Xander shuddered and nodded and cried into his t-shirt, 'please, please,' over and over, while Will just held on himself, tight as he could.