Water dripped down from the hole Spike willed into the ice. He gritted his teeth, fighting the ache in his chest as it grew. Droplets of blood spattered the wall from previous coughing fits. He had to break through, not a damn thing else mattered.
Morpheus yawned. "Alright, enough of toying around." He snapped his fingers.
Spike faltered as he suddenly felt the weight of that damn prison collar around his neck. His breathing hitched.
"You never did experience what this did … only saw its effects on someone else." Morpheus leaned forward, his forefinger and thumb poised. "Do you really wanna know?"
I'm close! I can feel it. Don't get distracted! Don't get—
"GAH!" His hands of their own accord grabbed onto the collar as he tried to yank it off, unsuccessfully. The reality was he had spent over a year trying to dislodge the damn thing. Agony spread through him as the acid from inside released into a scorching torrent. Any attempt at anything was abolished as he writhed on the floor, panting and clawing at the composite collar.
"Oh, are you worried you're going to die?" Morpheus studied his fingernails. "Perish the thought. It's not that easy here." He smiled, leaning into Spike's panicked vision. "The truth is—there is no way out. Here I can kill you as many times as I want."
The acid traveled through his veins until it gave him the worst ever case of heartburn. To his despair it didn't end. The pain just faded as he lie there wheezing from the Ice Fever and glaring as Morpheus chortled. The moment he salvaged enough strength, he shakily reached up and grabbed the collar willing the god damned key into his hand. Unlocking the thing, he threw it aside and with his hostile gaze still locked on his tormentor, he returned to melting a passage through the wall. Oddly his renewed efforts were even more effective as he used his anger to fuel the heat.
Morpheus lifted the corner of his lip. "Persistent little shit aren't you."
Spike coughed and hocked a blood loogie at Morpheus's feet. "My middle name. Now piss off."
The light in the god's eyes began to flicker. With a growl he turned and vanished into the shadows.
Left alone, Spike redoubled his efforts. "I'm coming, Faye!" The work was slow, and grueling. More than once he stopped in the growing tunnel as a coughing fit stole his breath. His vision blurred from the effort. He had a choice, abolish the illness or reach Faye. He knew he didn't have enough for both.
At last the wall fell away, spilling Spike out onto the metal paneling of a floor. He gasped and wheezed, his eyes barely opening.
Bare feet pounded the decking. "Spike!" Faye shouted. "Oh my God, Spike, is that really you?" Her clammy hands grabbed his shoulder. She didn't stop there. Clawing at him, she pulled his limp body up into her arms, holding him tight. It didn't escape him that she was shaking. "I'm so glad to see you. You're half frozen, but I've got you. I was all alone and thought I would be … forever."
Wracked by another coughing fit, Spike lay across her lap utterly exhausted.
Her fingers traced patterns in his hair. "I can guess what he used on you by the outfit and the sound of your breathing. Are you ok? Can you heal yourself?"
Slowly, he shook his head, another annoying tickle beginning to build. Morpheus had picked to mimic close to the end of that misery when every breath felt like inhaling ice water.
"Just keep your eyes closed. You need to rest."
It took a lot of effort, but he forced out, "Ed?" and tried to point.
Faye looked around. "You came from the same direction I think I saw you in when we fell. You want to know which way to Ed?"
He nodded, his eyes refusing to stay open.
"Give me a moment." She covered his eyelids. "You have to rest. I'll mark the walls for you. Ed and Jet. If you reached me, we can get to them."
He sank down not completely going under as he gasped each breath, listening to her bare feet pad around the deck plates.
Fear clawed at Faye as she continued to glance over her shoulder at the figure in the half shredded prison jumpsuit lying in a wheezing heap on the floor.
He's real, right? This isn't an illusion sent to tease me. That's really Spike and he's not going to just wink out of existence. If Morpheus could do that to us surely he would have. I'm not alone. I'm not alone. I'm. Not. Alone!
Panic welled in the pit of her stomach as she tiptoed over, gripping the hospital gown tight at the collar and sat beside Spike. Her bare knee touching his wrist, his heart beat steady against the skin. When he stirred she asked, "Spike, are you awake?"
He nodded, but kept his eyes closed.
"Can you … can you tell if you're still alive?"
He shifted his right arm. "Yeah. That still hurts." Slowly he rolled onto his chest and pushed up. "Ok … where's Ed at?" Every breath was a strangled wheeze.
"Spike." She touched his shoulder. "Shouldn't you cure that?"
He shook his hanging head and held up a finger. "I have to ration. I can do one thing now … that or a passage to Ed." He staggered toward the wall and flopped down, placing a hand on Faye's mark. He closed his eyes until they creased. A mesh panel appeared with an air duct behind it, so thorough a draft came through it.
Passage complete, Spike fell forward, sliding down to the floor.
Faye dashed over easing him away from the wall a ways and laying him out on his back. He was feverishly warm, and gasping. She stroked his sweat-soaked hair. "I got this. You stay here and get some rest."
He didn't respond.
Pulling the mesh off, Faye climbed into the shaft blocking out all the light. Silence pervaded.
Alone. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears. What if Morpheus came back and discovered what they were doing? What would he do? Would he confine her again to being alone? Force the others to abandon her? She shuddered at that thought—seeing their backs over and over again as they left her on her own.
Spike. For a moment she paused, frozen by the realization. He had come for her. Abandoned? Hardly. The fear lingered, but it was undeniably true. Pushing on toward the distant light the tunnel grew rougher beneath her bare knees. A mesh grate hanging by a single screw fell with a crash as she leaned out the opening and stared down into a dim wreckage of a collapsed room.
Muffled sobbing caught Faye's attention. Crawling down into the room, Faye discovered the place was an old shopping center that had collapsed into a basement. To her relief she discovered some clothing, she dug through and found a pair of jeans and a t-shirt in her size. Quickly covering her skinned knees and now able to discard the drafty hospital gown, she felt a little less, exposed. Picking her way through the debris, she approached the sound, disturbed by the sight of droplets of blood.
Coming around a slab of broken concrete she found a figure rammed into the darkness. A shock of red hair betrayed her. "Ed?" Faye called out. "It's ok, it's me. You can come out."
Slowly, she untangled her limbs and lifted her head. The moment her bloodshot eyes met Faye's she threw herself on her. Bruised and battered, she clung to Faye like a frightened monkey. Faye hugged her tight as the child sobbed. "Who did this to you?"
"Thugs!" She blurted. "Bad bad men beat Ed up, took Ed's stuff! Found Ed wherever Ed went."
"You're ok, now. I got you kiddo." Faye looked her over as best she could. Ed was dirty and scraped up, bruised, but nothing looked lethal. "Can you crawl though a tunnel? We have to get back to Spike."
She lifted her head and sniffled. "Spike-person?"
Faye pointed through the opening the fallen grating left. "Yup. Right on the other side."
Without another word, Ed released her hold and shifted it to grabbing Faye's hand as they headed for the shaft, crawling the full length to the other side. The moment Ed hit the floor she ran to Spike, hugging his prone body. He shifted an arm and hugged her neck.
"Yeah." He rasped. "Now for Jet." He tried to get up but failed.
Shifting to his other side, Faye pressed pointlessly on his shoulder. "You need a bit longer." He hardly fought her, his eyes barely opening between long blinks. Staying in contact, Faye sat beside Spike as Ed hugged her, her eyes staring off unfixed.
Ed muttered softly, sniffling in between words, "On Earth Edward called the Bebop after the bad men got her one too many times. Found the equipment needed to find you. Track you. Get you to come for Ed. Take Ed far away where they couldn't reach."
Faye's heart sank. She'd made a false promise, not intending to let the child onto the ship. As Ed shivered beside her she couldn't fathom making that choice now.
"Here Spike-person made the tunnel. Faye-Faye came through." She sniffled, rubbing her nose with the back of her hand. "You came for Ed." She interlaced her fingers, eyes closing to squeeze out the tears from bruised lids. "Thank you."
Hugging her tight, Faye whispered, "Always. That's what we do. When Spike can manage it, we're gonna go get Jet too. Ok?"
"Screw waiting." With a grunt, he rolled over and pushed up onto his hands and knees, crawling toward the last mark. "We don't know what he's going through. Let's finish this reunion." Closing his eyes he pressed hard against the wall and another air duct materialized. Tearing off the grating, he crawled through.
"Wait, Spike!" But it was too late. Nudging Ed to her feet, Faye crawled ahead. "Let's go get Jet." Ahead of her, Spike blocked the light in the shaft, any there would have been. From a distance she heard panicked shouting. The voice belonged to Jet.
Spike crawled out hastily and staggered toward a hunched over figure pounding a fist against the wall.
As swiftly as she could, Faye dashed across the filthy alley shocked to find a trail of blood at her feet. It lead straight to Jet.
Dressed in an old style suit, he leaned against the wall, repeatedly pounding a fist against it. His left arm hung limp … the upper portion reduced to shreds by a massive caliber shot. "It's all over!" he wailed, the rest an unintelligible mass of words.
Spike grabbed his good shoulder. "Hey, Jet. Look at me. Easy partner. This isn't real." He was wobbling as he crouched there, but it didn't matter. Spike laid a hand on Jet's wounded shoulder. He screamed and tried to break away, but Spike tightened his grip. "Let me help you!" In a flicker of light Jet's arm became the mechanical version they all knew, along with his usual attire.
Shocked, Jet held up his hand and flexed it. "How did you—"
He couldn't finish, Spike slumped forward onto him, coughing and gasping for breath.
"Hey, Spike! Shit, what are you doing?" He held him carefully, trying to rouse him but he didn't respond. "You're really spent. Faye, what's going on?"
Ed peered from behind her leg as Faye pointed back into the tunnel. "Spike forged passages between our private hells. He didn't look good when he came through into mine first. Needed to rest for a while."
Patting his shoulder, Jet nodded as his eyes took in the full state of his friend, lingering on the acid burned neck. "Still does. He earned it." Bending down, Jet flopped Spike onto his back so his arms were either side of his neck, grabbing his legs he stood up. "I got him. Let's get moving. We have to find a way out of this mess."
"I don't recommend going back to Spike's. You can guess what his entailed. Pluto is not a place to wander. Mine was a secluded spaceship. Doubt we'll find an out there." She brushed Ed's hair. "Ed's was a collapsed Earth basement."
Jet nodded grimly. "Ganymede it is." He turned and started to trod out of the alley carting a wheezing Spike along. Faye couldn't help but note the gleam of hatred in Jet's eyes. "Keep a lookout for Morpheus. I'm gonna have a few words with that asshole when I see him!"
As they made their way along the back alleys, the night cast waters gleamed in the dark, Faye didn't even try to lift her hand out of Ed's tangled hair. The child clung to her and it felt reassuring to have her near. Someone, a presence. A reminder Faye wasn't alone as they wandered, lost. No one else was here. It was empty, desolate.
Downright eerie if anyone were to ask Faye.
At length, Jet paused and squatted down, depositing Spike carefully against a wall. He slumped there, head to the side, wheezing like a blown bellows. Jet shook his shoulder gently. "Pard, come on. You have to do something about this. You can't leave yourself in such a state."
Spike cracked open his eyes and tried to shake his head. He coughed into his hand. When he dropped it into his lap droplets of blood stained his pale skin.
Edging closer, Faye knelt down beside him. "Please, Spike. I can't watch you die."
He cracked a weak smile, pointing at his neck. "Can't. The arrogant idiot already showed me death was impossible here."
A bucket of ice water. Faye leaned close to him. "What?"
Jet held up a hand. "It doesn't matter. Neglecting this is draining you." He grabbed Spike's hand and pressed it to his chest. "Do it. If you're not strong enough to walk, I will carry you after."
He rolled his eyes. But in a moment he closed them and concentrated. It took what felt like forever until he lay slack, breathing easier back in his regular suit without the damn tattoos. Cracking his eyes open he waved a shaking hand to Ed, "Come here."
She staggered toward him on bruised legs, sitting down and nestling up to him.
Spike embraced her shoulders and held her close. "No way I'm leaving what those assholes did to you. They're not gonna get you again." His thumb caressed her bare shoulder as the wounds disappeared. With that, Spike's color drained paler. His eyelids grew heavier. But Ed didn't move away. She pressed her ear against his chest, tears in her eyes.
Looking off into the endless horizon Faye and Jet locked eyes. No words were needed. They sat down, one on either side of the now sleeping pair. They stood guard. "We're losing time." Faye sighed.
Jet nodded. "I could pick him up, you could carry Ed … " he shook his head, "but I can't disturb them."
Somberly she muttered looking around at their nightmarish prison, "He's been gone a long time, but he'll be coming back for us. I'm sure building all this wore him out."
Jet grunted. "Not as big as it looks, this place is a loop." He pointed to the dented panel. "We keep passing that. Once Spike recovers a bit, I want to try something. But he won't regain much being jostled around."
"Do you think he'll be alright?"
"Of all of us Spike knows how to push through no matter what the weight he's forced to carry. I'm confident he just needs a bit of shut eye." Jet picked up a metal pipe from the debris. "And if that asshole makes his presence known in the meantime, he's gonna learn a lesson! No one messes with my family!"
See You Space Cowboy