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Holding the Baby

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Angel holds the baby tenderly.

Wesley knows, because he always watches, the way he's watching now. Too tired to work anymore, but he can watch.

Angel holds the baby tenderly. Talks nonsense to him in coos and purrs, kisses his plump pink cheeks, blows raspberries on his round belly. Angel sits by the cradle for hours while the baby sleeps, one big finger wrapped in Connor's five tiny ones.

When he thinks no one can hear, Angel calls the baby "sweetheart," and "little lad," and "darling boy."

Angel is enchanted. Angel is in love.

Wesley watches Angel change a diaper and maneuver the baby's limbs, mobile and slippery as marine plants, into a fleece sleepsuit. And Wesley knows that he's got to be mistaken. Somehow. Those words can't mean what he thinks they mean.

Pres'ac sbeudd'an hjo romtajcsuo.

Kteneei ton paidon ho pater.

The father will kill the son.

The original I'inbajt is simple enough, and Grammaticus' Greek wouldn't challenge a schoolchild. Wesley could have translated it at nine, without a dictionary. Precious little room to hope for error. This isn't shanshu, not this time.

But then again, one can't be too sure, or too literal, with prophecy. Perhaps Grammaticus was right in suggesting it's a bit of gnostic Christian mysticism. Perhaps Wesley's got it all wrong, and the loa got it all wrong, and there's really nothing to fear. Perhaps in a few years he'll be watching Angel teach Connor to hit a hockey puck, all this terror burnt down to laughable memory.

When, the loa said. You don't know when it will happen.

Perhaps Wesley's got it all wrong, but he'll never be able to feel sure.

Angel loves the baby.

Angel loves the baby now.

There's a photo Wesley's mother keeps in an old, spine-cracked, half-filled album. An infant Wesley, face as small and wrinkled as last season's apple, held in the arms of a smiling man. A proud man, made beautiful by the force of his own rapt joy. The first time Wesley saw the photo, at six or seven, he didn't recognize the man as his father. That expression wasn't one he knew.

"What's on your mind?" Angel asks suddenly from his chair by the cradle. His eyes are on Wesley, but the look on his face--the same protective delight as the face in the photo--is for the baby. Angel was never so happy before Connor, never so affectionate, never so human.

"Fathers and sons," Wesley says.

For a moment, before Connor squirms and starts to fuss, Angel really looks at Wesley. Brows drawn down in the concern that's always a bit funny on him, eyes too intense, and Wesley's glad when Angel gets up to heat a bottle.

Angel knows, or knows something. In the early days, Wesley let things slip. Friendship's the art of telling people a little but not everything, and it took him a while to master it. So Angel knows something, as does Cordelia, and they've filled in the rest with God knows what narrative of atrocity, far worse than the truth.

The truth isn't so bad. Even if sometimes, lately, Wesley remembers things he'd rather not. Angel holds the crying Connor, pats and soothes him, and Wesley smells stale dust, dry rot, the oily-sharp smell of flaking paint. His chest tightens with the muscle memory of how to cry without a sound. His back and bottom sting with old pains.

Christ, the melodrama. It scarcely hurt at the time. Never raised a welt that lasted more than an hour or so. Nothing for Wesley to start shaking over twenty years later.

But he gets the shakes sometimes. He has to leave work and drive home, shaking. He showers, cleans the tub, and then bathes. Burrows into bed and reads from the pile of books on the night table, the ones he told himself he bought for Connor. Wesley likes the Narnia books, and The Wind in the Willows, and Peter Pan. But Winnie the Pooh is best, and he re-reads it whenever the shaking won't stop. Boy and bear and long afternoons with nothing to do but drop sticks in the river. Wesley reads until he's sleepy, and then calls up the image of Angel holding Connor, and fades into calm darkness.

Connor is a lucky little boy. Provided Wesley's got it all wrong.

Connor is loved. Angel is the other kind of father.

When, a little later, the earth starts to buck under them and flames roar and surge through the room, Angel saves the baby. Fire is one of the few things that can kill Angel, more dangerous for him than for a living person, but Angel saves the baby.

He saves Wesley, too.

Angel stands burnt and bleeding, holding the baby, and he calls the baby "something to snack on," and his arms aren't protective anymore, they've hungry, trapping, choking, hurting. Hurting the crying baby in his arms.

Wesley was right. He knew. He knew, and he should never have doubted what he knows.

Fathers always kill their sons.