The More Things Change
The freeway unwound in the night ahead of him like an endless black ribbon under the full moon. Deadboy's car had power and more to spare, so he jammed his foot down a little harder on the gas pedal and heard the corresponding roar of the engine ratchet up another notch. He glanced down at the odometer, and he was doing right at 110 mph.
He mumbled a quick prayer to anyone, who might watch over luckless fools, that a cop wouldn't stop him. He really wasn't sure what he'd do if that happened, wasn't sure he could control himself. That thought alone scared the shit out of him. The fear sent skittering ice through his bloodstream in a torrent, froze him from the inside out. Hard tremors shook his weakened, battered body and he lost control for a second, the car juddering as it rolled over the roughness of the ground off the pavement before he jerked the wheel hard to the left and got it back on the road. He overcompensated and went too far to the left and crossed the center line. He desperately fought with the car to bring it back into his lane and control his weaving, though his eyesight greyed at the edges. His vision tunneled until the highway looked like a fat black worm with white stripes.
Tears leaked down his face in a constant stream that blurred his vision even more as he zigzagged in his freeway lane on his way back to good ol' Sunnyhell. Tears of anger and mourning dripped from his chin and nose in a steady salty stream that soaked the front of his torn and stained shirt. He didn't dare take his hands from the wheel to wipe them away.
Home. If he could just get home. They could fix it. They could make it better. They could find a way. And if they couldn't fix it maybe they'd still love him anyway.
He shivered again and lost his train of thought. He was hungry. So hungry. Starving. He couldn't think straight with hunger gnawing away at his insides like acid, undermining what little control he had. He should have raided Deadboy's refrigerator before he started the return trip. That's the least the bastard owed him. But his thoughts were so tangled and his emotions were so out of control, a roller coaster ride from despair and sorrow to incandescent rage and back again. Up and down, side to side and careening around corners with no warning.
His only thought had been to leave, get out, get back to family and friends, people who knew him best. Who cared about him. Now his thoughts were becoming dominated by hunger. It was a burning twisting thing in his belly that roared at him to appease it. NOW.
He hammered the steering wheel with a clenched fist wishing it was Deadboy's face he was pounding. He screamed at the absentee cause of his rage and sorrow. The shout ripped at the raw tissues of his throat and reverberated through the car. "Fuck you. You asshole. You fuck! You bloodsucking cunt! Never again though. Never. Fixed you, didn't I, you motherfucker?"
He thought back to a week ago, back to the beginning of the whole sorry mess. maybe it would distract him from the hunger gnawing at guts, and the weakness he could feel trying to drag him back into blessed unawareness.
Hindsight is 20/20. He bitterly regretted making the trip to LA now, even though he was the only one who could make the trip. It seemed like a totally simple thing to do. Go to LA and ask Angel and crew about any information about The First they could give him to take back. Only when he got to the hotel, Wesley wasn't there, nor was Fred or Cordelia. Angel was there, but it hadn't been Angel had it? Nooooo, he had to deliver himself right into Angelus' hands. And hadn't Angelus been delighted.
It had been several weeks since Xander had pulled a crazy Spike out of the school basement and brought him home. He gave him the spare room in his apartment and made sure he fed regularly and bathed. Spike seemed to be recovering nicely except for nightmares and the few times when a blankness had washed over him and he would stare into space at nothing for several moments. He would snap out of his daze suddenly and shake his head and mumble to himself but continue on as though nothing had happened. Xander felt it was better to just ignore the lapses and keep observing since Spike had improved so much.
Spike was quieter than he used to be and the brash ego was toned down about five notches. The hard edge of his anger seemed to have been shed along the way during his adventures as well. Xander found himself liking this Spike despite himself. He also had new found respect for the vampire. Spike had gone through excruciating trials to get his soul back unlike Angel whose soul was tacked on by a curse.
Xander sometimes wondered if it weren't more being cursed with a guilty conscience as opposed to a soul. A soul doesn't cause pain but a guilty conscience is extremely painful. Feelings of unrelenting guilt can be torture. A curse is supposed to be a bad thing anyway. How could anything good come of it? It wasn't meant to make Angel good. It was meant to make him suffer. It was revenge pure and simple. From what he'd seen in his short life souls didn't really matter all that much as a form of behavioral control. A conscience now, that can sway the mightiest of men, unless they lack one, like psychopaths and sociopaths, and they still had their souls.
Then everyone started getting the visitations from dead people. He had been really freaked when Jesse of all people had appeared to him. It had been particularly painful when the apparition had accused him of killing him and not caring. Then had tried to get him to kill himself. He'd felt like someone was carving his heart out with a dull knife.
There were Scooby meetings and discussions and it was finally decided that it was The First. The same evil that had nearly led Angel to self immolation in a Sunnydale cemetery at sunrise. Books were brought out and poured over and calls were made and they finally decided that they would send someone to LA to see if any additional information could be found there with Angel's contacts.
It was supposed to be a quick there and back trip.
The first thing that struck Xander as odd was the darkness hanging over LA as he approached. It set off his 'the shit has hit the fan, or is going to hit the fan soon, warning tingler" in the worst way. He pulled to the side of the freeway and just looked for a moment, thinking. He was sorely tempted just to make a U turn across the median and run right back to his own brand of Hellmouth weirdness as fast as he could go. He hadn't signed on to deal with anyone else's weirdness, especially any kind of weirdness that had Angel's name all over it. He didn't like him enough for that.
Then his blasted thrice damned White Knighthood honor kicked in and he continued to drive toward the city. He was approaching more slowly than before and with a whole bunch of misgivings, but the Scoobies were counting on him and he wouldn't let them down. He wasn't good for too much in the fight against evil night lurkers. But he could do this. This didn't take any research smarts or magic or slayerly strength. And they desperately needed the information to find a way to defeat The First.
So he was doing the go getting guy thing. He had puffed up inside like a bullfrog in spring mating season when Buffy had so sweetly asked him if he would do this for her. Buffy needed him. She was depending on him. The weak link. The demon magnet.
He would go to the hotel, get any info he could from Angel and company and get it back to Sunnyhell ASAP. That was simple and he could do simple, go and fetch. "It's just another doughnut run, just longer." Then he looked out the windshield at the looming darkness again and mumbled ",yeah right," as he took the exit off the freeway.
The closer he got to LA the more clogged the roads out of town got. The roads leading into town were amazingly clear of traffic. The traffic lights weren't working and he had to turn on his headlights to see in the gloom. He was slowly getting closer to his destination.
Half the city seemed to be browned out. Though there were islands of light here and there like beacons. He had already had to slam on the brakes more than once because of people, arms full of sundry items running across the street.
The city seemed to be in a panic and anyone who could was getting out. Those who couldn't or wouldn't leave were looting the city with a manic kind of glee and contributing to the hysteria. He'd passed overturned burning cars and buildings with scores of people fighting and running out of broken doors and windows. At one point a brick had hurtled out of nowhere and impacted with an earsplitting crack against his rear window. The window had starred like crazy and then slowly crumpled inward scattering glass across the backseat and floorboards.
He licked his dry lips and shivered. This was bad, real bad. But since when had that kept him from getting right in the middle. He wasn't going back without what he came for. He wasn't going to fail because of a little fear and chaos. He was used to fear and chaos of every type. How many kinds of fear and chaos were there left to experience, he wondered, as he finally spotted the Hyperion. He slowed even more and looked for a place to park and then shrugged and pulled up right in front. He wasn't likely to get a ticket.
He put the car in park and slowly reached out and turned the key. He sat for a moment and just breathed. He realized with discomfort that he was sweating heavily as he listened to the background noises of sirens and shouts in the distance.
Time to get his shit together and just do this. The sooner done, the soonest home. He sighed, scrubbed his hands over his face and ran his hands back through his shaggy hair.
Need a hair cut he thought as he looked around carefully for any kind of activity. He couldn't see or hear anything close by. But that wasn't necessarily a good thing. He tucked the stake he always carried into the back of his pants as he stepped out of the car. He was prepared as well as he could be under the circumstances to face Deadboy and the Fang Gang. Whatever the weirdness was, he'd deal, just like he always did, until he got what he came for. Then he was so out of here.
Xander walked up to the Hyperion as slowly as possible. But found himself standing at the door sooner than he really wanted anyway. There were no lights visible from the outside. He grabbed the doorhandle in the way someone does when dealing with something noxious. He firmly pushed open the door and finally got his first look at the lobby of the old hotel.
He looked around the darkened old fashioned lobby as well as he could from the doorway and then cautiously took one step inside. The door shut behind him with a click that echoed in the quietness and cause him to jerk nervously and whirl around grabbing clumsily for the stake in his waistband. He expelled a breath explosively that he hadn't been aware he was holding. Then gulped in several quick breaths and let his arm fall slowly to his side.
The lobby was empty. It felt like it had been empty for some time. The only thing he could hear was his heartbeat trip hammering in his ears as he turned around and reluctantly moved further into the room. He swallowed nervously to wet his dry throat and croaked into the silence "Hello, anybody home? Dea.. errr...Angel? Yoohoo....your favorite Scooby is here. Cordelia..you here?"
No answer. He stood for a moment at a loss as to what to do next. He didn't know where Cordelia lived or any of the others for that matter and the conditions in the city at the moment weren't really good for running about willy nilly looking for people. The best thing to do he figured was wait right here. Eventually someone had to show up, right? Right.
With that grand plan of non action decided, the exhaustion that follows an adrenaline rush crashed down on him leaving him feeling limp as a wet noodle. His knees were shaky as he slowly walked up to the old check in counter. He reached for the phone on the desk and picked up the handset with a trembling hand. He'd call Sunnyhell and tell them he had arrived safely. He wouldn't mention the other freaky stuff... not yet anyway.
He punched in the number for the Magic Box and put the handset to his ear, getting his goofy everything is just dandy Xander voice ready. Silence. He pushed the disconnect button several times and listened, and got nothing but silence. Okay so he wouldn't call. "Faaanfuckingtaastic, and the famous super duper Xander luck strikes again," he drawled sarcastically into the uncaring silence.
"God, I really need a drink," he muttered. Hey, maybe Deadboy kept a bottle of brandy around like Giles does at the Magic Box. He looked around the lobby again and then went around the end of the counter and searched the shelves underneath. he didn't find anything but a flashlight. Which was a good thing, just not what he wanted right now. He straightened and turned around. There was another door there. He opened it cautiously and peered into the room, then flicked the flashlight on. The light was weak but good enough.
It was an office. The size of the desk almost guaranteed that it was Deadboy's office. Talk about compensating. Aha..desk drawers. That's the ticket. He rounded the desk and started pulling open drawers and rifling though them. He didn't feel the slightest bit of guilt. If Deadboy was going to ignore guests he didn't know he had, he deserved to get pilfered. He was just about to give up hope when he pulled open the last lowest drawer, and hit paydirt. He snatched a full bottle out of the drawer and held it aloft triumphantly. "Eureka, score one for the Xan man."
He looked about for a glass and didn't see one, but hey, he wasn't gonna sweat it, he had the most important thing. He slammed the drawer shut and exited the room closing the door behind him and flicked off the flashlight. The exit signs were on and provided some dim illlumination. He rounded the checkout desk shambling deeper into the lobby and searched the shadows for a comfortable waiting spot.
He found an old couch and fell onto it with a sigh of relief. There was even a blanket haphazardly thrown over the back. He grabbed the blanket and wrapped it around himself and held the bottle up to see what he had scored from Deadboy, not that it mattered, he was going to drink it anyway. He was just curious. Irish Whiskey not brandy. Oh well, good enough. He cracked the seal and took a sip. Fire, he had swallowed fire, his eyes watered and he coughed, the stuff burned a path all the way down into his belly and warmed him from the inside out.
He rubbed the back of his hand across his eyes and coughed again. He could feel the effects almost immediately. So into the breach again. He held his nose this time and chugged two mouthfuls. Since his mouth was already numb, it didn't burn as much going down this time. A few more hefty swallows with a shudder, and damn almost a third of the bottle was gone.
His thoughts were pleasantly fuzzy and the freaky shit was at a more comfortable distance now. The shakes were gone and he was pleasantly relaxed. He yawned widely and stretched. In for a penny in for a pound, he thought as he lifted the bottle with exaggerated care and took a couple more long swallows for good measure. He fumbled with the cap and it seemed to take a great deal of effort to get it back on right. He kept missing the top of the bottle. He leaned forward and let the bottle slip to the floor. His last thought as he lay down and fumbled the blanket up to his chin, and slid into darkness, was that he would just wait here for...anyone.. to show up and tell him what was up.
He hung from the chains in a haze of agony, he couldn't remember not feeling pain. One eye was swollen shut and the other was almost as bad. He could see sort of, in a blurry sort of way. His jaw might very well be broken, he could hardly open his mouth and he knew he had a few loose teeth. His head felt like an oversized melon on his shoulders and it kept dropping forward, chin to chest, because he didn't have the strength left to keep it upright.
His shoulder joints felt like they were torn from the sockets and his hands had long since become numb. Every breath sent a stabbing grating sensation through his chest. Broken ribs most likely. He knew for sure one leg was broken and possibly one of his arms.
Angelus had hit him with fists and what looked like an axe handle, over and over again. Then he had taken a whip to him. And delighted in licking the blood from the cuts and welts he made on his helpless victim. His torso was mottled with blackened bruises and crisscrossed with bleeding welts that oozed and dripped. Hurrah for the red, white and blue, he thought inanely. There's not much white left though.
His back wasn't in any better shape, it felt like raw hamburger.
Then there were the bites. Angelus had savaged him with his teeth. His buttocks, back, thighs, abdomen and pectorals all had bite marks scattered across them. His neck was bite free for the moment.
Angel had returned to the Hyperion after he passed out on the couch. But wait, it wasn't Angel. The idiot LA gang had deliberately taken Angel's soul and let Angelus out, thinking that Angelus would help them with their Beast problem. He'd really like to find a way to thank them for that. But he really didn't think he was going to live that long. He had accepted it. He knew there wouldn't be anyone coming to his rescue this time. The leaden fear in the pit of his belly had become common place, and the hate.
Angelus had carried him to this warehouse and hung him up like a side of beef and waited for him to wake up. The arrogant psychotic bastard. He was just beside himself with glee that he had a Scooby to play with. He knew that Buffy wasn't coming to LA and no one else knew Xander was here. He'd bragged about how he escaped from the LA gang. He said he was going to deal with the beast but he was going to do it for his own reasons. He was just happy as happy could be with the situation in the city right now.
Between forays out to demon bars, trying to find the beast and spying on Angel's friends he played with Xander.
Xander knew he wasn't going to last much longer between dehydration, blood loss and shock. But he wasn't going to go easy either. He was going to make the insane prick work for it despite the agony. He would endure.
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