If you leave feedback, please don't post any Angel S5 spoilers--this is an AU where the AI gang moved to W&H but memories were not erased. Thanks! :>)
I'll post this to the main story page later today.
"Basically, they're interdimensional leeches," Fred said.
Wesley blinked. "Interdimensional...leeches."
"Normally--well there is no 'normal' here, but you know what I mean--if we still had the limbs and got to them soon enough, we could reattach them, but with this--" She broke off with a pained twist to her face as she looked at Spike, where he lay in the hydrobath. "It's just so horrible," she said more quietly.
"The leeches, Fred." He had no patience right now for even the slightest of tangents.
She walked him over to the side of the lab. Several large transparent cylinders hung from the ceiling, magical stasis fields casting a violet light across the surface of each one.
"What am I thinking," Wes began.
"*Aliens*. With the critters in the jars."
"Oh yes," he said faintly. The creatures were suspended in a liquid of some kind, and were of various sizes, several of them large as your average beaver. As he studied a specimen, it twitched and stretched. He prided himself on not shuddering.
"They're actually called squeema, not leeches."
"Appropriate. I feel a bit squeema myself."
"The company has an import arrangement, so we already had some in storage."
Of course they did. "What do they do?" He frowned, not feeling entirely certain of this line of therapy. Then again, there weren't a lot of choices.
"Well, leeches is a bad analogy. They're more like starfish--they regenerate tissue, but on the host body. This is the kind of cellular replication they're trying to create with stem-cell research, though there are similarities to nanotechnology--they're kind of like nano-knitters."
"I'll take your word for it."
"The thing is," she made an apologetic face, "the regenerating process is supposed to be really painful. And drugs can't help, 'cause they'd mess up the cell mapping. It might wind up creating a built-in addiction. Sounds like hooey to me, but it'd take a lot of research to verify."
"We don't have time." Or even if they did, delay was beyond contemplation. Spike seemed to be catatonic, but to leave him like this for much longer--*perhaps I'm the one who can't bear it*, Wes thought. He wondered if the pain would bring Spike around. Perhaps better if it didn't.
Imagined visions of his mother in her hospital bed as her cancer reached its terminal stages had kept him awake many nights since his return from England, disrupted his dreams even when he achieved sleep. He'd talked to her doctors and nurses, viewed her room in the clinic; she'd had all the amenities that money could buy. No crowded NHS ward, no harried doctors or tetchy aides. But it was a wound in his heart that he hadn't been there at her side. He knew the life his mother had led, the way his father had cut her off from all her friends and interests, walled her up in his house to dance attendance on him. At the hospital they'd said she'd had few visitors. Whenever he remembered this, his rage gripped him with a raw, physical ache in his gut.
These thoughts, lurking in the blur of his mind but unacknowledged, drove him as he made arrangements for Spike. He took pains he'd have taken for his mother, if he'd had the chance. Wolfram and Hart had world-class medical facilities around L.A., but there was no reason to move Spike out of the main building. There were a handful of executive suites for special clients; he chose one without windows and established the vampire there.
The leeches--the squeema--needed a saline bath, and Fred's team had constructed a tank that resembled a tanning bed or cryogenic sleep pod, but without the top. Spike lay in it with only his head pillowed above water. During daylight hours his eyes were closed; at night they were often open, staring sightlessly toward the ceiling.
When Wes visited, it always took him a moment to adjust, leaving the bright corridor for the dim interior. The walls were dark red, a rich red, lit only by lamps that threw discreet golden circles on the surface of expensive tables. The tank, set closer to the floor than hospital beds, glowed with bluish-white light. Armchairs were conveniently placed for visitors, but like Wes's mother, Spike had few. Only him really, aside from the nurses and an occasional check-in from Fred and Doctor Oxley, one of the firm's trauma specialists.
On the third day of Spike's treatment, Wes came in around seven in the evening. The nurse, a young woman with tightly-coiled but brilliant red hair, looked up from her paperback with a brief nod.
"How is he?" Wes asked.
"He was twitching earlier. The doctor came in to examine him. He said it might just be autonomic muscular contractions."
"The patient could be waking up."
Not really looking at her any longer, Wes said, "Why don't you take a break--in fact, take the rest of the shift. I'll watch over him."
Accustomed to taking suggestions as orders, the nurse nodded and left. Wes took her vacated seat by Spike's side and studied him in the low light. He looked ghastly. An IV kept a supply of blood dripping into his system through a needle in the neck (according to Fred, the better to ensure that it reached the brain when a vampire was immobile and inactive for so long), and he was lightly restrained to keep from slipping further into the tank. In the bath itself, the leeches seemed to pulse. They were attached to the stumps of his arms and legs, and to the violated flesh between his legs that Wes had been disciplining himself not to flinch at.
His face was unharmed, though. Maybe they'd thought it pretty enough to save for last. It was a morbid, horrible thought, and he tried not to brood on the details of the lab's forensic exam and the abuses it had revealed. However the vampire clan got hold of him, they'd apparently decided that this souled traitor to their kind deserved special treatment. Who could say what might have come next if Angel's team hadn't arrived; there were so many vulnerable areas on a person's body; eyes, nose, ears, tongue....
Wes cut short that line of thought, then opened the drawer of the bedside table and took out the book he'd left there.
"It was indeed a sad sight," he read in a steady voice, "which presented itself to the two ladies as they looked without moving or breathing through the barred window of Trou-aux-Rats. The cell was narrow and had a pointed ceiling. In one corner there was a woman sitting, or rather crouching, on the stone floor...."
Now and then he glanced up from the page to see if there was any response. Once he thought he saw a ripple of movement out of the corner of his eye, but when he looked, there was only stillness.
He'd nodded off at some point, and the sound broke into his head, merging briefly with a fragment of dream where his mother rose from her grave shrieking, and then he was awake, utterly, heart racing, adrenaline flooding through his system. Cries of agony smashed against his ears in waves and for a moment he was so disoriented he thought they were coming from all corners of the room. In the tank Spike screamed hoarsely and twisted to get free of his bonds.
Pushing himself from his chair felt like shoving through heavy snow, and Wes nearly fell the few short feet to the tank side. He plunged his hands in unthinkingly and held one thrashing shoulder down while securing the movements of Spike's head as best he could.
"Easy," he croaked, still dragging himself from sleep and shock. "Spike! God--nurse!" Wasn't there a voice-activated sensor? He couldn't remember. "Doctor! Someone!"
Spike's screams choked themselves out and his eyes rolled back a little under their lids as he lost consciousness.
"Christ," Wes whispered, straightening up and letting his hands slip away. They were trembling, clumsy, one dragging a splash through the water, the other bumping over the edge of the tank.
A speaker on the wall clicked to life. "This is Medical Facilities--"
"Get someone in here," he said, more wrought up than angry, but willing to be angry at someone if provoked. "Quickly."
When they arrived Spike had just started to awaken again, and Wes had a moment to lock eyes with that wild terror before he was pushed aside by the medics.
That was the first bad night of many. The therapy would take four to five weeks, Fred had estimated, given the severity of the wounds. After a week, Wes was strung out and exhausted. He'd moved in to the room next door, a chamber intended for Var'goq demons, with black walls and elaborate artwork designed from implements of torture--or perhaps implements of torture artistically arranged.
"What are you doing?" Angel asked him, having cornered him in the corridor one day. He looked at the blood bags dangling from Wes's hand. "Fred tells me you're making the lab techs donate a pint three times a week." He shook his head, eyes a fraction wider than usual--for him, a display of stark bafflement. "We pay these people excessive salaries to think, and you're draining them."
"I'm sorry. It's the easiest way to get it fresh. And Fred makes sure they eat well. I believe she's been making them smoothies."
Angel stared, a beat longer than Wes would have liked. "What is it, are you bored? Do you need more work? Because I have plenty of projects."
"You know that's not it." The diffuse, undirected wrath he'd carried around for weeks began to rise in a flare of heat to his face and ears, prickled across his scalp; warning signals he should heed. "How can you be so callous?"
"I'm not callous," Angel said flatly. "Callous would be seeing how many rings I could toss over his head." Wes sucked in a breath that came painfully from his chest, as Angel went on, tone sharpening. "He's being taken care of. We need you elsewhere. I've got a posse of Yarp demons who won't leave my office until we translate their marriage scroll, and no one can get Files and Records to cough up the contract for the next Dana Carvey movie."
"Well, that *is* serious."
They faced off, each of them simmering. "You have a job, Wes."
"Consider this a sabbatical."
Angel's mouth tightened, but he said, "Fine."
He left looking as if he'd wanted to say more, and Wes forcibly relaxed and realigned his jaw, which had become a taut ache. Despite trying to present a resolute front, he had the miserable feeling of being in the wrong. He'd taken Angel's son; no good had come of it, and ever since their reconciliation Wes kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. He should have been the one to demolish the wall between them--to spend his whole life making amends if necessary. Instead, he'd fortified the wall, afraid of what lay on the other side. To give Angel his trust, only to one day turn and find hands at his throat--he didn't think he could bear that again.
A guilty conscience makes a coward of a man, makes him lash out before he can be lashed.
Wes entered the room. Now that Spike was conscious and distressingly mobilized by pain, the tank restraints had been reinforced for vampire strength, forcing him to lie still. *He could break his neck if he keeps jerking like that*, Oxley had said. *Not to mention what he could do to the squeema. It's for his own good*. But knowing this didn't alleviate the sick feeling in Wes's stomach every fresh time he saw him.
As soon as he came in, Spike's eyes latched onto him. His head, fixed in place with a heavy strap, couldn't turn, but his gaze tracked Wes's every movement. The nurse left discreetly.
"I've got blood," Wes said. "Hot from the vein." Trying to make that sound tempting was a feat. "Can you drink today?"
Spike shut his eyes, face tight and desperate. He hadn't spoken since waking, which made it hard to know exactly how cognizant he was. Explanations hadn't seemed to register yet. Wes set the bags down on the table. He was so tired, and his efforts felt inadequate. Trying to recognize his own limits, he'd asked both Cordelia and Gunn to take shifts sitting with Spike. Gunn had seemed nonplussed by the request, as if Wes had asked him give Angel a lap-dance, then made cursory excuses; Cordy had come twice, then said apologetically, "I'm not really good at this."
*We already have one vampire with a soul*, Wes thought cynically, inferring their lack of interest. *Another one is redundant, so why should we care?* No matter that he was extraordinary, that by all reports he'd chosen to seek a soul, that a second souled vampire threw all prophecies up for grabs; no matter that he was suffering, alone and friendless, when they had the finest impersonal medical care a firm of evil lawyers could provide.
"It's all right," Wes said softly, and laid a hand against the side of Spike's face, trying to soothe wracked nerves.
It was a presumptuous sort of manhandling, possibly; given that they didn't even know each other. And imposing contact on Spike, who couldn't escape it, was just another in a series of violations. But at this point niceties wouldn't do.
"What can I do? Please tell me."
Spike looked brittle--a reset vase that could shatter with one wrong note--but the longer Wes stroked his skin, the more he seemed to quiet.
"This is necessary, isn't it," Wes said half to himself, realizing with wan dismay how slow he'd been to offer human contact. Spike twitched, eyes still closed. "Of course it is."
He stood there for some amount of time, laying hands wherever they seemed to do good, rubbing a thumb along the edge of Spike's jaw and massaging the cords of his neck, smoothing a palm across the planes of his chest and shoulders. To be trapped, helpless and incapacitated--all this time he'd been trying to imagine how he'd feel in such a situation, how distasteful it would be to be handled. But how could he know; maybe at this extremity of horror, he'd crave exactly this, for someone to touch and comfort him.
He would trust his instincts, he decided, until Spike told him otherwise.
Sometimes Wes was torn from sleep in the middle of the night by screams from the next room, muffled by the dividing wall but no less terrible for that. The kindling of flesh as it was knit into existence drove Spike mad with torment. Sometimes there was a lull when he slept, more often a constant low-grade misery, and occasionally this--a convulsive burst of agony that had him twisting against his restraints.
"Please," Spike whispered on the tenth day of awakening, a startling ghost of a voice. Wes was thankful he was present for it.
"Spike," he said gently, not trying to hide his relief. "I'm so sorry--the pain--your limbs are regenerating."
Aware eyes focused on him at last. "Who are you?"
"Wes--Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. I'm a watcher. Well, ex-watcher. I work for Angel."
The flash of alarm in Spike's eyes made Wes wince.
"Trust me, he holds no current grudge against you." Or you'd be a gruesome statue in the corporate lobby, he didn't say. "We're helping you recover."
Blue eyes closed as if processing this was too much. "Recover. No arms, no legs, no..." His mouth set itself; the expressiveness of his face was rending.
"Everything will be restored, please believe me. You'll be whole again. It will just take some time--another few weeks," a deep breath, "or so."
Spike opened his eyes again, and Wes thought he saw the first real sign of fire returning; ashes coaxed to life. "That so," he said. He shifted a fraction, managed a grim appraising look down the wreck of his body. "What the bloody fuck are those things?"
"Well, basically--interdimensional leeches." The pitch of his voice rose to a thready apology for the ludicrousness of the statement. After a moment, he offered blood again, and this time Spike accepted it.
And it went on from there.