Hero Chapter 5 (5/8)
As hospital rooms went it wasn't awful *Like that squat wasn't awful,* but there was something about hospital rooms that just creeped Will out. The smell, for one. Dead, stale air tinged with ammonia and over-cooked food and that sweetish, sickish smell of illness. His mum had died in hospital, going down so fast they'd barely had time to grasp it - to understand it - and then she was gone and Will had hated hospitals ever since. But not as bad as Xander, and Will had refused to leave the room for three days - was prepared to stay there as long as it took, because Xander was not going to wake up alone.
*Called me Will. Is it - is something happening now? Somehow things are getting clearer for him, maybe. Or - the fever, maybe. Something. Please let it last...* Xander was still fevered - it came and went - and he had a thin tube under his nose, pushing oxygen down into his lungs. Thank god they hadn't had to put a tube down his throat, but it had been a near thing. The cut on his stomach was infected as well, as were a number of smaller wounds and things that looked suspiciously like rat bites.
*Poor thing, poor love...* Will thought, absently smoothing the heavy hair off of Xander's forehead. The thin, pale face was turned towards him just a little - the eyes moved restlessly under the papery lids, but Xander didn't wake up.
"He's very lucky," the doctor had said, tapping her pencil on the chart, her broad Hindu face and shiny black hair somehow comforting. She was like the doctors at mum's hospital, and the accent and the whiff of cardamom made Will feel a little better. "You got him here in time. He was severely dehydrated, very weak with the infections. And his lungs had started to fill with fluid. But I think we've caught it all. His system is very weak, so don't expect much out of him for a while - for a week, maybe."
"When will he wake up, do you think?" Giles had asked, and the doctor had tapped her pencil some more, looking at the still figure under the sheets.
"That I cannot tell you. But don't worry. He is healing. The drugs make him tired, and the dehydration. Give him time."
Will would give him all the time he needed. The others came in in shifts - his Dad most often, when his classes were done. Willow when she could, and Dr. Wes when he could. Oz and Devon a couple of times, and Oz himself every night, late. Sitting in the dimness with Will, just being there, close enough to touch. Lending his calm. Listening to Will talk about Xander - about what he was feeling, and where it might go - what might happen.
"You love him. Start there, and don't worry about all that other crap." Oz had said, reaching and rubbing his neck gently - pulling him over for a hug. Will had sighed and just rested there against Oz for a minute. Did his best to let all the other stuff go. He couldn't do a bloody thing about any of it, anyway, but he could love Xander, so he would.
Third day, third night, and Will was reading. Reading aloud, because the doctor said that was fine, that was a good thing. Reading the library book Xander had had in his pack, because it must mean something that he'd had it all this time - that he'd hidden it away. Reading about rabbits, and trying to keep his voice steady and light - trying to urge Xander out of his twilight with familiar, comforting words.
"As Hazel still went up, the south wind began to blow and the June sunset reddened the sky to the zenith. Hazel, like nearly all wild animals, was unaccustomed to look up at the sky. What he thought of as the sky was the horizon, usually broken by trees and hedges. Now, with his head pointing upward he found himself gazing at the ridge, as over the skyline came the silent, moving, red-tinged cumuli. Their movement was disturbing, unlike that of trees or grass or rabbits. These great masses moved steadily, noiselessly and always in the same direction. They were not of his world.
"O Frith," thought Hazel, turning his head for a moment to the bright glow in the west, "are you sending us to live among the clouds? If you spoke truly to Fiver, help me to trust him."
There was some slight movement from the bed and Will looked up, waiting. Xander's hand moved restlessly on the sheet and then stilled, and Will watched for a moment longer and then resumed reading.
"The wind ruffled their fur and tugged at the grass, which smelled of thyme and self-heal. The solitude seemed like a release and a blessing. The height, the sky and the distance went to their heads and they skipped in the sunset.
"O Frith on the hills!" cried Dandelion. "He must have made it for us!"
"He may have made it, but Fiver thought of it for us," answered Hazel. "Wait till we get him up here! Fiver-rah!"
Will started when that last, 'Fiver-rah!' was echoed and he looked up at the bed. Xander was looking at him, smiling just a little, his eyes clear and wide.
"I love that part," Xander said, and he winced. His voice was strained and cracked and Will knew his throat probably hurt like crazy with the raw oxygen scouring it for three days. He moved in a daze, the book tumbling to the floor, and got the pitcher of water from the beside cabinet. He clumsily poured some out into a cup - bent the straw that was in it and held it up to Xander's mouth.
Xander drank slowly, a grimace of discomfort on his face. His gaze never left Will's. After he'd drunk about half the cupful he pulled away and Will replaced the cup on the cabinet.
"Better now?" he asked, scooting his chair closer and sitting back down - taking Xander's cold hand in his. Xander nodded - smiled again, squeezing Will's fingers weakly.
"Yeah - a little. Spike -?" Will felt his own smile freeze on his face and he had to look aside - had to shut his eyes for one long moment at the sharp pain that lanced through him.
*Fuck, still the same, still - oh god...* "What is it, love," he said softly, turning back to the boy, and Xander was looking a little lost, now - a little afraid.
"Hospital, right?" he asked, and Will nodded.
"We had to, pet. You were so sick - you would have died. Xander - why did you run away? Why didn't you stay at the flat?" Xander shook his head slowly - infinitesimal movement of his head on the coarse, bleached linens.
"I don't... I saw you, Spike. I saw you - down there. In the basement. You were hurt and - I had to get you. You were being tortured, or... Buffy wouldn't - go for you..."
"Love, love," Will said softly, and he lifted Xander's hand to his mouth, pressing the boney knuckles to his lips. "Buffy's not here, Xander - she hasn't been here for years. In the school - in the school you called me Will." Xander looked at him, his eyes very wide, and then he was trembling, panting, just a little, his chest working creakily and Will sat up, alarmed.
"Xan - don't! Calm down, calm down, okay? It's okay, just - just calm down love, please..." Xander nodded frantically - shut his eyes, his fingers locked on Will's. After a moment his breathing steadied and he looked pointedly at the water cup. Will half-rose, hastily getting him another drink, not letting go of his hand the whole time.
"I - I remember calling you...that. I... I can see you. I can see you as you...are..." Xander said, glancing over Will where he leaned against the bed, dressed in a dark-red t-shirt and grey and white flannel shirt against the aggressive air conditioning. Faded blue-jeans, old canvas hi-tops. His hair a tousled mess from sleeping in the chair. "And...I can see you...the way you're supposed to be. You're supposed to be Spike, you're supposed to be...a vampire and - and you help us and.... Willow is my best friend and Giles knows - just everything and...Oz..." Xander was crying now, weak sobs that seemed to hurt him, tears slipping down into his hair. Will tried to shush him - wiped the tears away with the edge of his shirt-sleeve, but Xander just grabbed both hands, shaking his head.
"It's real S-spike! It is, it is. I - I don't know why but it is and - we fight, we fight every day, we - we fight the evil that's all around we - we're heroes, Spike. We're heroes and nobody - knows it, nobody knows it at all..."
"Love, please - it's all right, it's all right, shhh now, shhh, you'll make yourself sicker, Xan,
please..." Will gave in, finally, to impulse and desire and just pulled Xander close - got one hip up onto the edge of the bed and one arm under the thin shoulders - lifted him and cradled him close and just held him, tight as he dared. Xander curled into him and sobbed, trying to stop, trying to control it and Will breathed the faint scents of smoke and dust that were still caught in Xander's hair.
After a bit Xander seemed to calm, and he lay limply against Will's chest, his breathing hitching and a little strained but slowing - evening out.
"All right now, love?" Will murmured, and he let his lips rest on Xander's hair - closed his eyes for a moment, just feeling what it was like to hold the boy - *No, he's a man...just lost, just scared...* so close.
"Spike...I lived it. I live it... I can see it - all around me. I dream it and I don't - I don't know when I'm awake and when I'm....not. I don't... Something happened, Spike. Something happened, years ago and I was - I fell, and...there was so much...pain...and...when I woke up finally I - I was so lost... And everything was different, but it wasn't...and..." Xander stopped - lifted his head from Will's chest and wiped at his eyes with the sheet - sniffed a couple of times. Stared at him, and his lip was trembling but he didn't cry.
"You have a heartbeat - W-will. You have a heartbeat and you don't and you h-have another face and you don't and I can't - I can't tell which one is the right one anymore. I just can't. I'm so tired...Will, I'm just so tired..." He buried his head in Will's chest again, shivering. Will pulled him close, slowly rubbing his back - rocking him, just a little.
"Oh love..." he whispered, "I've got you now. I've got you and I won't let go, I promise. We'll - we'll find the truth and we'll figure it out, Xan, we will. However long it takes. I'm bloody well not letting you be hurt anymore, love - I'm not letting you go again, ever. Hear me?" Will lifted Xander's face, his fingers cupping the tear-damp chin, searching the red-rimmed, smoky-dark eyes for comprehension - for belief.
"Hear me?" he asked again, voice low and cracking as he fought his own tears, and Xander gazed up at him - nodded, finally, his own hand reaching slowly up and gently touching Will's face - feathering over his cheekbone and eyebrow.
"No scar there, Will. You don't have a scar," he said softly - wonderingly - and smiled.
*Christ. Oh Xan, love, you're gonna break my heart a hundred times but I don't care, I don't care...* Will smiled back, his heart fluttering hard and fast as birds-wings.
"No scar, love. You want to lay back down now? You - you hungry?" Xander nodded and Will lay him gently back onto the bed, but stopped in mid-motion when he tried to rise and Xander tugged at his hand.
"Not hungry, W-will. Would you - would you read some more? I love...that part. When they get to their new home and they're all...safe."
"Course, love," Will said, and bent to retrieve the book. He straightened a crumpled page and found his place - reached out and took Xander's hand again and squeezed it tight - impatiently wiped his eyes on his sleeve and began to read again. Xander closed his eyes, mouthing the words with him.
"In the twilight a swift flew screaming overhead and Hazel turned to Dandelion.
"News! News!" he said. "Go and get them up here."
Thus it fell to one of the rank and file to make a lucky find that brought them at last to the downs: and probably saved a life or two, for they could hardly have spent the night in the open, either on or under the hill, without being attacked by some enemy or other."