By Estepheia and Marcee
Part 27 - Pandemonium
He felt cold and his limbs were aching. Instead of taking the straitjacket off and shackling him to the bed, the attendants had roughed him up and left him lying on the dirty floor, punishing him for God knows what. He'd curled up into a ball and fallen asleep, trying to ignore the obscene shouts of a crazy person two cells down the corridor, the nervous mumbling of his left cell neighbor, and the insistent cramping of right triceps.
He woke in a state of fear. Not the omnipresent cold dread the asylum instilled in him but a sweaty, run-away-and-hide kind of fear. His heart was beating rapidly in his chest.
A scream had woken him. That, in itself, was strange because there was always so much screaming here. It was hard to believe that a single expression of terror should stand out in this din. But it did. It was the scream of a woman, high pitched and frightened and when it subsided there was an eerie moment of quiet, as if all the creatures who were trapped in this hellhole were catching a quick breath.
Then the pandemonium started. Banging. Howling. Yelling.
The noise reminded Xander of prison films, just as the inmates gear up for a big riot. Here, the prisoners had no toilet rolls to throw but it sounded like someone was smashing furniture.
Maybe a riot was what he needed. If he could get out of this straitjacket... well, then there'd still be the locked door. And if the attendants found him without the jacket, there was no telling what they'd do to him. Their indifferent brutality frightened Xander more than he cared to admit.
"What I wouldn't give to see a familiar face right now," Xander muttered under his breath, for the umpteenth time. He had no doubt that his friends would do everything in their power to get him back. He just had to try and stay in one piece until they found a way to do so. He struggled to his feet.
He could hear heavy footsteps coming closer. Someone was running. Probably one of the orderlies working the nightshift. Xander moved closer to the metal bars to peer through but recoiled in shock when a burly, middle aged man was slammed forcefully against the iron rods.
Xander thought he heard the man's skull crack. Blood was gushing from his nose and mouth. His eyes were full of horror and pleading but quickly became vacant, as needle-sharp fangs savagely tore into the man's throat.
Xander stumbled backwards until his back hit the wall. There were sounds of sucking and smacking as the blonde vampire drained the orderly right before his eyes, clearly enjoying the tremors that shook the dying man's body. Feral yellow eyes met Xander's panicked stare. Blood stained lips curled into a wicked smile as chilly hands released the cooling body. It slowly slid down, smearing blood all over the bars of Xander's prison, eyes open but unseeing.
But Xander's attention was on the vampire's features. *Did I really ask for a familiar face?* If he'd had a hand to spare he would have smacked his forehead. *Stupid. Stupid. Be careful what you wish for...* Because even though it was dark and even though the vampire's visage was disfigured by scars and burns, he had no difficulty recognizing Darla.
Outside his cell the screaming continued. The nightmare had only just begun.
Spike had expected the portal to work like a normal door. One step and presto, London 1880. Instead, he first felt a strange vertigo and then increasing pressure. The feeling of constriction turned into excruciating pain, as if an impossible force was trying squash him into a pulp. Just as he thought his skull would pop like a ripe melon, something gave way and he felt propelled forward and ejected into a dark and gloomy room.
He managed to stay on his feet, barely. His nerve endings were still prickling painfully and he felt disoriented. Colorful spots were dancing in front of his eyes. He took a shuddering breath and was assaulted by a long forgotten combination of odors, unwashed bodies, dried human blood, cheap liquor, soot, horse manure and human waste.
"Home sweet home," he choked out, when something hit him squarely against the side of his face. He yelped in pain. Still staggering from the impact, he tried to get into a defensive stance but his reflexes were still recovering from temporal jetlag. The crowbar arched towards him again and he took another blow. This time he could feel his jaw break.
Momentarily stunned, Spike flew backward and landed in a heap on the floor of what looked like a severely damaged dining room. His assailant must have assumed that he was dead because a third attack never came. Spike was barely conscious and racked by pain. All his instincts urged him to get up and either run or fight, but he remained still, lying on his side like a broken doll. He tried to absorb what was going on around him. *No shirt, no shoes,* he thought. *Nasty company.* In front of his unblinking eyes, about a yard away, he saw a crudely sharpened piece of wood, a stake, lying among glass shards on the floor. He heard several voices and tried to focus on what they were saying.
"Is... is `e dead?" a young voice could be heard, sounding shaken.
"I reckon," a gruff voice replied. It came from Spike's left, where the two blows had come from. *Bet that's the bastard who hit me.* Spike could hear - and smell - the man come closer. He neither blinked nor flinched, not even when a booted foot painfully connected with his ribs. "Since 'e's not breathin'..."
"Where did `e come from? You said the house was empty," a third, slightly wheezy voice complained.
"It was, I swear," the young voice replied, on the verge of tears.
"Don't matter. What's done is done," the gruff voice spoke and moved away. "Leave the paintings but make sure ye take all the silver and the linen from the cupboard."
There were sounds of knives and forks being gathered. Meanwhile, the heavy set man with the gruff voice left the room. Spike could hear him rummage around in other parts of the house, tapping on wood paneling, and occasionally using his crowbar on parts that sounded hollow.
"What ye reckon 'appened 'ere," the youth whispered. "Did ya see the mess? They say the innkeeper got slaughtered by a man-eating madman."
"Shut yer gob! Go to the window. Check for peelers. See if someone's lookin' for the toff we just done in." A fourth voice sounded.
*Toff? I'm not a bleedin' toff!* Spike thought indignantly but he decided to lie still until the thieves had taken everything they came for. He was glad he'd fed so well before leaping into the past. He could already feel his broken jaw mending. *God, that hurts!*
Suddenly heavy footsteps approached. "Found it," the gruff man said and set down a heavy box. "Told ya the big feller was as daft as they come. Hid his money in the bedroom, like I said."
"Let's go then," the wheezy guy said.
"Check the stiff," the gruff voice ordered. "Fleece 'im."
*Oh bloody hell,* Spike thought. He momentarily considered letting the thief feel him up, but then he remembered the Watcher's timepiece. He fervently hoped - against all better judgement - that the cracksmen weren't human, because if they were, he was surely going to be in a world of hurt that went beyond his bleeding head and broken jaw.
A pair of shoes approached him in the darkness. Spike recognized Wheezy Guy by his labored breathing. The man hesitated, then Spike felt a warm, coarse hand on his face pushing his eyelids closed. The man began patting Spike's jacket, searching for a bump or bulge that would give away the location of a small treasure. He reached into the inside jacket pocket. Spike remained still. "Nuthin'," the guy mumbled. "Toff's got no shirt on, an' no shoes."
"So what. Maybe they're in one of the other rooms."
Spike felt relieved; the watch was in his pants pocket and it looked like this crook might not... *Damn!*
The thief's hand closed on the timepiece in Spike's pocket. As he pulled the loot from its hiding place, Spike's hand closed on his wrist. The criminal yelped in fear as the corpse turned to look at him. Spike stood up, still holding his arm. "Help," the man yelled. Spike was fast. Holding the man's arm with his right hand, and bracing himself for a severe case of migraine he used his left elbow to silence the man's cry. The thief's nose was gushing blood and he stumbled backward, trying to free himself from the undead's iron grip. Spike was surprised when the headache didn't come but decided not to look the gift horse in the mouth. His assailant had looked and felt human enough, but he obviously wasn't. *Maybe a hybrid or something.* He happily elbowed his opponent again, with more gusto, and then kicked him in the stomach, sending the man flying across the room.
*Now, this is what I call fun!*
There were three more people in the room. A lean man in his forties who was whirling a small steel ball on a string; a large thug with a crowbar, who looked about twice as heavy as Spike; and a boy, about sixteen years old with the sharp features of a rodent. *Human or half-demon? Whatever they are, they're a sorry lot!* Their threadbare clothes were filthy but they had the calculating eyes of predators. Spike rubbed his aching jaw. *Doesn't mean Stan and Ollie are harmless.* There had been considerable strength in those blows against his head.
"Thought yer dead," the big guy said, with a gravely voice.
"Just resting," Spike mumbled, his speech impeded by his injury.
"We were `ere first," the tall man said. He was swinging his crowbar menacingly, regarding the pale man before him warily. The toff had taken two hits already. It was a miracle he was still standing.
"There's three of us und yer jus' one man... So, why don't yer piss off!"
*My kind of odds.* But Spike reminded himself that if these fellows were human, the chip might make a brawl just a little one-sided, whereas if they weren't they might have some other tricks up their sleeves. *Paralyzing mucous, maybe.* Plus, he had no time for quarrels. So, maybe a non-violent solution?
"Wasn't planning on staying," Spike answered, "Just need to get my watch back first and find a couple of friends..." He scanned the floor looking for Giles's pocket watch. It wasn't visible among the debris. The first guy, the one who had nicked the watch, remained still on the rubble in the corner of the room.
The men noticed Spike's preoccupation and rushed him. Instinctively, Spike threw himself into the skirmish. Kick. Punch. Duck. The big thug was coming at him brandishing his crowbar. Spike successfully ducked a swing aimed at his head, but took a painful hit from the thin guy's weapon. He caught hold of the man's arm and yanked him forward. When he stumbled close enough, the vampire picked him up and threw him against a wall. He followed up by overturning a heavy table and trapping him underneath it.
Spike evaded another swing of the crowbar. But when the thug charged him he grabbed the weapon in mid-arch. The big guy's momentum carried both of them into the wall, crushing a person-shaped depression into it. Spike pushed him backwards then yanked the crowbar from the fat man's grasp. He wielded the tool as if it were a sword and rammed it into the man's gut. There was enough force behind the attack to run the man through. The delicious smell of blood filled the air. Hot human blood that gushed out of the man's guts and ran down the crowbar to drench the cold hand that was holding it. Human!
Spike froze as the realization hit him. *I'm free!*
Just then something sharp slashed his arm. The boy! He'd forgotten about the boy. And now - despite his injury - the large man began to pummel the vampire's face with his fists, which was already cut, bruised and swollen from two hits with the iron rod. Spike's visage changed. He growled and shoved the man off of him, then whirled around. He caught the youth with one quick grab. Holding him by the throat and lifting him up effortlessly, like a kitten, Spike reveled in the power that had been restored to him, the power over life and death, the power to feed and to kill.
"Ow," Spike said succinctly, grinning evilly. "That hurt - a bit." The boy's eyes were wide with fear. Even so, he tried to kick his captor and slashed at him again with his knife. Spike just swatted the weapon away. "Tut, tut."
"Y-y-yer a monster," the youth choked out, barely able to speak.
*Heard that tune before,* Spike chuckled internally. "And you're a skinny little rat. Hardly worth eating," he said, which earned him a look of defiance and another kick.
Spike was torn. He was fluctuating between the feelings of elation, freedom, fear, pity, amazement... It occurred to him that this wasn't the best of times to contemplate the implications of his new freedom. He was, after all, on a mission. Or was he? He still wanted to help Buffy get back to her own time, right? Right. Once she was back in Sunnyhell they'd be on equal footing. The thought evoked a certain thrill.
"Consider yourself lucky, that I've already eaten," Spike said, telling himself that it was the boy's defiant attitude that kept him from wanting to tear his throat out. "Fly, fly, little birdie." He opened his grip, dropping the boy like a sack of potatoes and shook off his vampire features.
The boy scrambled backward to get as far away from Spike as possible. As he backed away, he tripped over a broken piece of furniture. He continued his backward movement on the floor, afraid. When Spike made a shooing gesture, he got to his feet and ran outside as fast as his feet could carry him.
Spike looked down. At his feet, the tall guy was moaning in pain and trying to quell the bleeding with his hands. The vampire bent down and checked. The injury did not look fatal. "Aren't you a lucky bastard. Guess you'll live after all," Spike said as he squatted next to the man to frisk him. He found several picklocks and pocketed them. "D'you think your little crow will come back for you?" Spike asked, using the underworld term for a `lookout' to refer to the youth.
He didn't really expect a coherent answer. He got up and scanned the room around him. It was a beautiful catastrophe. *Where is that bloody watch?* He kicked debris around on the floor as he approached the man he'd knocked out first. He checked the guy's hand. Sure enough, he was still holding on to the watch. Spike bent down to pry Giles's heirloom out of the man's hand only to realize that there wasn't a pulse. The man was dead. Spike dropped the guy's wrist like a hot potato. He'd just killed a man. A human. The first in two years. He hadn't meant to, but the result was all the same. *If Buffy finds out about this...*
He looked at the watch. The face was cracked and it was no longer ticking. The pin must have broken too, because the lid was hanging off of it at an odd angle. Spike shook his head. *Bollocks!* He glanced at the dead burglar and hurled the watch against the wall where it shattered into tiny pieces.
He stood, intent on leaving but then thought better of it. *Okay, it's not like I haven't done this before...* He went back and removed the dead man's shoes. *Decent enough,* he thought as he slipped his bare feet inside. He debated on whether or not he really needed a shirt, but realized that if he had to walk around in public, he couldn't go half-naked. He lifted the table. The thin man was still alive but unconscious. Spike stripped the gray shirt off the unconscious man. It smelled awful and it was spotted with blood, but Spike didn't take much notice.
He wiped the crowbar clean and forced the lock of the metal strongbox the burglars had been after. He whistled as he looked at the small fortune. There were over 50 Sovereigns and about twice the amount in smaller coins. More freedom.
He thoroughly searched the thieves' possessions, stuffing a few more burglary tools and half a bottle of cheap gin into a bag. The crowbar also got added to the loot.
He looked around one more time at the huge mess that was left. *Buffy will kill me for this,* he thought and shook his head. *Bollocks!* He wandered out of the beat up inn.
The blonde vampire gave him a triumphant smile that made it very clear to Xander that he'd be allowed to marinate in fear for a bit longer, but ultimately he'd end up dessert. *Beam me up, Willow?*
Darla swept out of view, the rustle of her red skirts drowned out by faraway screams.
Blood ran in a thin rivulet into his cell. Xander cautiously went to the door and checked the hallway. Darla was gone. He stared at the dead orderly. It was too dark to make out any details. *Keys, there must be keys!* He slipped his naked foot between the bars and tried to search the body with his toes. Was that a bunch of keys in the dead man's pocket?
Two minutes later Xander had managed to pull the keys into his cell. *And now a healthy round of applause for Mr. Alexander Harris as he proceeds to Houdini out of his straitjacket. Applause, applause!* The key to getting out of the jacket had to be getting the leather cuffs off, ergo he'd have to open the buckles that connected the canvas sleeves with the cuffs. Mind over matter? *Use the force, Xander? Guess not. That means go for plan B: Use your teeth.* Xander tried to lift his arms up high enough to be able to reach the buckles with his teeth, but the jacket was too tight. *Okay, plan C: Rambo style, also known as using brute force.*
Grateful for the muscles his construction work had given him over the last year, Xander used sheer strength to force his elbow toward his head. Using the bed frame for better leverage Xander strained and struggled until he was finally able to bring both of his encased arms in front of his body. It felt like it took forever. Any minute he expected Darla to come back for him. Effectively, it took him about twenty minutes to get his arms into a position where he could reach his buckles with his teeth.
It took him just as long to undo the buckles of the straps of the cuffs. The first buckle was the hardest. A few times he almost cried with frustration. But once he knew it could be done, he doggedly continued. *I can do it. I know I can,* he kept telling himself. Finally, all the straps were loose and he slipped his arms out of the leather cuffs. His hands were still encased in the canvas sleeves of the jacket, but at least he could reach around to his back and undo the two buckles that kept the whole jacket together. Once those were open it was easy to slip out of the offending garment. *Yay!*
Xander felt the insane urge to break into a Snoopy dance. *Okay, not now! Maybe later. Outside. Yeah, do the Snoopy dance outside.*
He dropped the straitjacket to the floor and picked up the bunch of keys. It took him about half a dozen attempts to find the right key. The sound of the key turning the tumblers in the lock and the bolt sliding back was music to his ears. He pushed the door open, dislodging the orderly's body.
Xander shuddered but dragged the dead body inside the cell to perform a quick search. The orderly didn't wear a uniform or anything, just ordinary clothes. Xander's clothes marked him as a patient. Not good. Xander decided it just wouldn't do to be squeamish. The man had been broadly built, like Xander, just not as tall. *Yay! Lucky me.* Xander thought, unable to generate a great deal of enthusiasm. He took the man's shoes and tried them on. Not terribly comfortable; better than none. The jacket was next; good fit. Pants; short but decent enough.
The man's pockets yielded a handkerchief, a few unfamiliar bronze and silver coins and some brass knuckles. *Bet they're not standard equipment.*
*Okay, time to get out of here. I just hope I don't bump into Angel, I mean Angelus.* He thought that over. *Let me rephrase that: I hope I don't bump into anything or anyone that's got pointier teeth than me. Let's hope there's no residual demon magnetism left and I get out unmolested and uneaten.*
The passage was dark but there were lights at both ends. *Okay, Darla went that way, so I'll go the other way.* He quickly walked down the passage, as far away from the other cells as possible. Everything was reminiscent of Clarice Starling's visit to Hannibal Lecter - it was actually creepy. He briefly contemplated setting the other inmates free but remembered that this was the part of the asylum where the murderous nutcases were housed. *Letting loose a bunch of psychos really sounds like a plan. Not.*
At the end of the passage there was a dimly lit stairway. Xander tiptoed down to the ground floor and hastened through dark passages, looking for doors or windows that might lead outside. He tried to avoid the noisier and therefore scarier parts of the hospital. He unlocked a few doors, hoping they'd lead to exits but ended up in a rather scary room filled with large specimen jars with pickled brains and other body parts. *Eow!*
Another room contained damaged furniture. Xander decided to risk a certain noisiness and picked up a three-legged chair. It turned out that smashing chairs into serviceable stakes looked much easier on television than it really was. But he ended up with a reasonably sharpened piece of wood and immediately felt better. *Not safe but safer. Yup. Now all I need is a compass and a map. A kingdom for a map! Where is the freaking exit?*
Xander felt increasingly desperate. The asylum felt like a maze. All the passages looked the same to him. There were very few signs. *Wait a minute!* This area looked familiar. Wasn't this where the medical facilities had been? He quickened his pace, rounded a corner, took another corner and found himself in a cul-de-sac, with just one door to choose. He turned around to backtrack his steps but froze. He could hear someone approaching. He slipped through the door and stumbled into a small unlit lecture room, that was shaped like a round amphitheater. There were no seats, though, just stands.
Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. In his desperation Xander resorted to the only plan his brain could come up with at such short notice: play dead. He was wearing the bloodstained clothes of a dead man. Perhaps that was enough to fool the cursory glance of a vampire and give the impression that he was already dead or dying?
Xander slipped between two stands and laid down on the floor. He tried to make his breathing as slow and shallow as possible. He heard the swooshing of skirts. A flowery scent made his nose itch. Then a chilly hand closed around his wrist. "You cannot fool me, you know," a familiar voice sing-songed. "I know you are not dead. I can hear your heart race, and what a pretty sound it is."
Continued in Part 28 - Under Scrutiny