Angel pushed the black metal pencil holder a little to the left. Yeah, it looked all right there. Just like it had looked all right before he moved it. Maybe if he put the yellow post-it pad next to it…
Yeah that looked much better. The yellow color of the pad looked good next to the black metal.
The phone started ringing. Angel almost ripped it off the table.
“Angel Investigations. We help the helpless.”
“You need to come to Sunnydale,” Buffy sounded flustered.
“I’m kinda busy,” Angel mumbled and pushed the pencil holder a little to the right.
“Do you have an apocalypse happening sometime next week?” she asked testily.
“No but…” Angel started.
“Then you have time, trust me,” Buffy continued, “I need you to PUT THAT DOWN RIGHT THIS MINUTE!” Angel stared at the phone. “I MEAN IT, MISTER! Yeah, Angel, like I was saying I really need you to come to Sunnydale as soon as possible. We got a little prob…THAT IS IT! YOU’RE GETTING A TIME OUT!”
“Are you okay, Buffy?” Angel asked as he held the phone away from his ear.
“Just get here, okay,” she said.
“You’re going to Sunnydale?” Cordy asked as she looked up from her fashion magazine.
“Yeah,” Angel nodded, “Buffy needs me to take care of…something.”
“Something?” Wesley put a mug of coffee down in front of Cordy.
“She wasn’t very…um…she sounded stressed,” Angel tried to explain.
“Pfffth,” Cordy snorted, started scratching a page in the magazine and then proceeded to sniff it, “Like we’re not stressed out.”
Angel knocked on the front door and waited. He was about to knock again when the door was pulled open and a little dark-haired boy looked up at him.
“hi,” the kid said and smiled.
“Hello,” Angel frowned. There was something familiar about him.
“you wanna come in?” the little boy bounced on the balls of his feet and looked over his shoulder.
“HEY!” Buffy came running down the stairs and grabbed on to the boy’s shoulder. The kid flinched and his shoulders slumped, “What did I tell you about opening the door? Only grown ups get to do that.”
“sorry,” came the sad mumbled reply, “didn’t mean to.”
“Okay. Go wait in the kitchen,” Buffy patted the small shoulder apologetically, “Dawn found some ice cream in the fridge. If you hurry up she’ll share it with you.”
Angel stood in the doorway to the kitchen and watched Dawn help the little boy up onto one of the tall kitchen chairs at the breakfast bar.
“Who is he?” he asked as he turned and looked at Buffy.
“Two days ago Spike called me and he was frantic,” Buffy started the tale.
“Spike? Frantic?” Angel asked disbelievingly.
“Oh yeah,” Buffy nodded, “See, he woke up in the middle of the night because someone was crying.”
“Someone was crying in his crypt?”
“No,” Buffy sighed, “Someone was crying in Xander’s basement. Spike’s been sleeping there for some time. So he wakes up and there’s this kid crying his eyes out asking why he’s in the basement.”
“It was my fault,” Dawn said and ran a hand over the little boy’s dark hair, “I should have known better.”
“What did you do?” Angel asked the teenager.
“I was arguing with Xander…It was stupid…I said he had no idea what it was like to be a kid,” Dawn scooped another spoonful of ice cream into the little boy’s bowl, “Xander got angry…and then I did something really stupid.”
“i’ve got a dollar,” the kid suddenly said and started fishing around in his jeans pocket. His fingers were covered in ice cream and when he finally managed to get a hold of the coin he held it out in Angel’s direction, “it’s real shiny.”
“I see,” Angel nodded and looked over at Buffy.
“She made a wish,” Buffy continued the story.
“I wished Xander could know what it’s like to be a kid,” Dawn mumbled and stared hard down at the tabletop.
“Wait,” Angel held up his hand and then pointed at the little boy sitting at Buffy’s breakfast bar munching ice cream, “That’s Xander?”
“he knows my name,” the little boy leant closer to Dawn and stage whispered.
“No,” Angel said and crossed his arms over his chest.
“You have to,” Buffy glared at the vampire.
“I’m not going to babysit Xander for a week or however long this thing lasts,” Angel looked over at the little boy sleeping on the couch, the front of his white shirt covered with chocolate stains.
“He’s not safe here as long as he’s just a kid,” Dawn interrupted, “Please. I don’t want him to get hurt.”
“Why can’t Spike just take care of him,” Angel asked, “Sounds like they’re getting along.”
“Look,” Buffy said, “Spike and Xander can barely stand the sight of each other. Yeah, he lives in Xander’s basement but that’s just because we need someone to keep an eye on Spike.”
“What about Willow?” Angel asked, “They’ve been friends for years.”
“Willow went with Giles to find some spell or whatever,” Buffy sat down on the couch and looked at the sleeping child, “He’s just so…”
“Vulnerable,” Dawn whispered.
“are we there yet?” Xander asked from the backseat of the car.
“No,” Angel stared hard at the dark road. A minute passed in absolute silence. Only the sound of the car engine and the wind made it clear that they were actually moving.
“what about now?”
“No,” Angel shook his head.
“you’re grumpy,” Xander sulked.
“Am not,” Angel said and looked in the rearview mirror. Xander was biting his lower lip and looked sleepy.
“Am not,” Angel said and turned his head just enough to glare at the little boy. Xander looked away, his brown eyes darting back and forth between the back of Angel’s seat and his own grubby hands.
“are we there yet?”
Angel pushed his shoulder against the front doors of the Hyperion. Xander sighed against his neck as the light from the lobby engulfed them.
“Angel?” Wesley walked over to the door and looked from the vampire to the little boy he was holding.
“I’ll explain later, okay,” Angel shifted Xander’s weight in his arms, “I need to get him to bed.”
“Oh…yes…certainly,” Wesley nodded and looked around the lobby as if he expected a bed to appear out of thin air.
“There’s a bag in my car,” Angel said and gestured at the doors with his left hand, “I’ll go put him in my room.”
A loud shriek woke Angel. He sat up in bed and blinked his eyes a few times attempting to clear them.
The shrieking started again and he jumped out of bed and down the hallway. He turned the corner and bumped into an almost naked Fred.
”Whoa,” Angel grabbed on to her shoulders and steadied her, ”What’s going on?”
”He was staring at me!” Fred pointed down the hallway behind her and pulled the small towel closer around her wet body.
”Who?” Angel let go of her shoulders.
”I-I don’t know,” the young woman admitted, ”But I was in the shower and then someone,” she shivered and continued dripping soapy water on the red hallway carpet, ”Pulled the curtain away and I just…r-ran.”
”Go to your room,” Angel said and gently pushed Fred in the right direction, ”I’ll go take care of it.”
”B-be careful,” Fred advised over her shoulder as she ran to her room.
Angel slowly walked down the hallway trying to figure out what kind of demon would prey on women taking showers. His bare feet made soft wet sounds as he walked in Fred’s footsteps. Angel stopped outside the door to the large bathroom Gunn and Wesley had installed a few weeks earlier. He reached out and grabbed on to the door handle. He could hear the shower was still on. The sound of the water covering any other sounds in the big room. Angel slowly turned the handle and opened the door.
”Um…Hi,” Angel mumbled as he stood there staring at the pint sized Xander sitting on the toilet with his pants around his ankles, ”uhhh,” Angel managed.
”i’m pooping,” Xander joyfully informed the vampire.
Cordy was sitting at the kitchen table. Her mouth was open and her eyes seemed to bulge slightly.
”is she sick?” Xander whispered to Angel. The boy was sitting opposite the ex-cheerleader, his feet dangling back and forth because he couldn’t reach the floor.
”She’s just surprised,” Angel tried to explain.
”Hhhhhhheeeennngg,” Cordy finally said.
”is her head gonna start spinning ’round?” Xander asked.
”Spinning around?” Angel frowned and pulled out the chair next to Xander’s and sat down.
”I certainly hope not,” Wesley said and gulped down his scorching hot coffee, ”That would be rather off-putting.”
”H-he’s really Xander?” Cordy asked and her mouth snapped shut.
”you’re prettier with your mouth closed,” the boy complimented her.
Angel leant against the wall and watched as the boy slowly unpacked Buffy’s old duffle bag. Xander carefully pulled the single pair of jeans out and put them on the bed. A short sleeved t-shirt followed and on top of that he put two pairs of white socks and one pair of boxer shorts.
”He doesn’t really have much clothes,” Cordy said from the doorway. Xander turned around and looked up at her. ”He’ll need more,” Cordy sat down on the bed next to the small pile of clothes. She reached out and touched Xander’s hair. The boy sighed and moved so he was standing closer to her.
”Could you take him shopping,” Angel asked.
”I’m busy all week,” Cordy patted Xander’s hair one last time and stood up, ”I have three castings and my aunt is in town so…You can take him with you to the mall.”
”Take your clothes off,” Angel said and started looking through the cabinet under the sink. He found a bottle of mild shampoo and turned around to look at the boy.
”i’m clean,” Xander looked down at his clothes.
”Yes…well,” Angel put the plug in the bathtub and turned the water on, ”You were asleep when we arrived last night and I don’t know when you last had a bath…”
”is it cause the man with the glasses told you i gotta wash?” Xander asked and tried to pull the blue t-shirt over his head.
”Wesley? Yeah,” Angel admitted. He knelt down in front of the boy and helped him take the shirt off, ”I’m going to be completely honest with you,” he unbuttoned and unzipped the boy’s jeans and looked him in the eyes.
”uh huh,” the boy leant closer as if Angel was going to tell him the greatest secret in the universe.
”I have no idea how to take care of a child,” Angel said.
”that’s okay,” the boy patted Angel’s cheek, ”the girl that kept yelling at me don’t know how to do that, neither,” Xander said reassuringly.
”Well,” Angel smiled and stood up, ”That’s good to know.”
Angel pulled the covers over the sleepy boy’s body.
”is my mommy coming?” Xander suddenly asked.
Angel froze and frantically tried to come up with an answer, ”Your mother is…see,” Angel sat down on the edge of the bed, ”Your mother asked us to take care of you until…”
”my daddy isn’t coming…right?!” Angel noticed the worried look on the boy’s face.
”No,” Angel said.
”’kay,” Xander sounded relieved.
“a truck!” Xander exclaimed eagerly from the backseat.
Gunn turned in his seat and looked back at the kid, “Damn, he gets easily excited,” he grinned at Angel.
“a doggie! look! look, Angel! look, a doggie!” Xander was trying to push the seatbelt off so he could see the small dog and its owner better as they passed by them.
“Keep your seatbelt on,” Angel said, reaching back blindly and holding on to the boy’s knee with one hand while driving with the other.
“look ,it’s a tiny doggy. with tiny paws. teeny tiny and fluffy ears. look, Angel! look!” Xander demanded.
Gunn looked from Xander to Angel, who was staring hard at the road ahead of them, and snorted, “Yeah, Angel. Look!”
“Shut up, Gunn,” Angel growled through clenched teeth.
“another doggie!” Xander squealed, “a big doggie!”
Gunn started laughing.
“mcdonalds,” Xander said breathlessly with the same reverence a knight might say ‘Holy Grail’ and pointed at the golden arches.
“Hey,” Angel grabbed on to the boy who was pushing his chair away from the table, “You haven’t finished eating.”
“i’m not hungry,” Xander mumbled and stared over at the play area. A few kids were jumping around in a sea of multicolored plastic balls.
“But you hardly ate anything,” Angel pointed at the mini meal. The burger had been unpacked but only one bite had been taken, the French fries were scattered over the tray and it didn’t look like many of them were missing.
Xander was clutching the small toy he had gotten with the meal in his hand. The stuffed guinea pig was already looking a little grimy, a glob of ketchup staining the toy’s left ear.
“can I please go?” the boy blinked up at Angel.
“Sure, man,” Gunn nodded and took a bite of his burger, “Go play,” he said chewing fast.
Xander clapped his hands, ran over to the small pool and disappeared in a sea of brightly colored plastic balls.
“He needs to eat,” Angel scowled at Gunn.
“Yeah?” Gunn arched his eyebrow and dried off his fingers in a napkin, “When’s the last time he played with other kids?”
“Oh,” Angel looked over at the play area just in time to see Xander burst up through the plastic balls giggling like mad. The boy disappeared almost immediately only one foot sticking up in the sea of color.
“Any idea how long he’ll stay a kid?” Gunn ate the last of Xander’s fries.
“No,” Angel turned back to look at Gunn, “We haven’t located the demon who granted Dawn her wish. Before that happens…” he shrugged.
“So could be days or weeks or…” Gunn smiled when Xander shrieked with joy as he went down the slide, “Or years.”
“Years?” Angel asked alarmed.
Xander was huddled under the covers. The room was dark with weird shadows playing across the walls every time a car passed on the street below. He pulled the covers over his head and closed his eyes tight. Humming quietly he rocked back and forth.
Peeking out he saw a large shadow forming on the wall and glide across it until it disappeared in the corner. Shivering he pulled the covers back over his head and started crying.
“Have any of you seen Xander?” Angel looked at the gang hanging around the kitchen table fighting over the doughnuts.
Cordy looked up, “No…I thought he was with you.”
“I went in to wake him up but he’s gone,” Angel walked back into the lobby and closed his eyes, focusing his sense of hearing in an attempt to find the little boy.
He could hear mice in the basement and some birds seemed to have made the loft their home… some beetles scurried around in the walls and then… a low sniffling coming from…the fourth floor? They didn’t used that floor. Most of the rooms weren’t really livable and some of the plumbing needed repairs. Running up the stairs to the fourth floor he managed to single out a quiet chanting.
“gotta clean up. gotta clean up. big boys don’t make messes.”
Angel stopped outside one of the bathrooms on the forth floor. The water was on and the sounds of something being washed bounced off the tiled walls. He reached out and gave the door a little push. It opened with a small creaking noise but the boy kneeling by the bathtub didn’t notice. He had his hands in the steaming hot water and the sheets he was washing looked heavy as Xander tried to pull them out of the water.
“gotta clean up,” the boy muttered and dried the sweat off his brow with his arm.
“Xander?” Angel stepped into the room and Xander dropped the sheets into the water and got up so quickly he nearly stumbled over his own socked feet.
“i didn’t mean to,” Xander’s lower lip started trembling.
“You didn’t mean to what?” Angel asked and knelt down in front of the boy. He felt the water on the floor seep through his jeans.
“i know,” Xander’s eyes filled with tears, “i’m a big boy an’ big boys don’t…” his shoulders slumped. Angel looked into the bathtub and wrinkled his nose when he realized what the ammonia smell meant.
”You peed your bed?” Angel asked and stood up. Xander flinched and a small hand flashed up over his tousled hair as if warding off a blow.
”didn’t mean it,” was mumbled pleadingly.
”I’m,” Angel swallowed, ”I’m not going to hit you, Xander.”
The small boy still held his hand protectively over his head and was nervously clenching the hem of his wet t-shirt with the other.
”Your hands,” Angel grabbed on to Xander’s small hands and the boy tried to pull them back, ”Stand still,” Angel commanded and Xander stopped moving immediately, barely breathing.
”sorry,” was whispered so quietly that Angel almost didn’t hear it.
”It’s okay,” Angel said reassuringly, ”The water must have been very hot,” he let go of Xander’s left hand, reached out and touched the water in the tub only to pull it back with a hiss, ”We need to cool down your hands,” Angel lifted Xander up and carried him out of the room.
”i’m sorry ’bout the sheets,” Xander sobbed against Angel’s neck.
”That’s okay,” Angel patted the boy’s heaving back, ”We’ll just wash them.”
”How’s he doing?” Angel asked doctor Malhotra.
”Angel,” Malhotra sighed and closed the door to the room behind him, ”If I didn’t know you…”
”What?” Angel started walking past the doctor but a hand grabbing hold of his arm stopped him.
”He’ll be fine,” Malhotra said, looking up at the vampire, ”His hands will be sore for a few days. The water was hot enough to make his skin irritated and red but he hasn’t seriously burnt them,” the doctor’s dark eyes searched Angel’s, ”I…Look, if you were anyone else and you’d brought that kid to the ER I would have reported you to the police.”
”I didn’t hurt him, Mal,” Angel said indignantly.
”I know that but come on,” Mal shook his head, ”You can’t tell me anything about his medical history. He’s not yours cause…well vampire,” he pointed at Angel, ”So tell me what’s going on.”
”He needed a safe place to stay,” Angel opened the door just enough to look in on the child, ”He’s sleeping?”
”Yeah,” Mal nodded, ”He was really upset. Kept crying and not so much because of his hands but more because of the sheets.”
”I told him we’d just wash them,” Angel closed the door again and leant against it.
”The way he reacted,” the doctor looked thoughtful, ”I’ve seen children react like that before and they’ve always…”
”I think his father used to punish him for wetting the bed,” Angel interrupted.
”Must have been a harsh punishment for the kid to react that strongly,” Malhotra picked up his jacket from the chair standing outside the boy’s room, ”If anything else happens…”
”I’ll call you,” Angel smiled tiredly.
”This is the least I can do considering how you saved my life last year,” Mal shook hands with the vampire, ”I’ll let myself out. You go check on your little boy.”
The phone rang and Xander just stared at it. He looked around the small office expecting Angel or one of the other adults to come running to answer it. Nothing happened and the phone kept ringing. He scooted out to the edge of the big office chair and reached out for the phone.
”hallo?” Xander said and tilted his head, pressing the phone against his ear.
”Who is this?” someone replied.
”who’re you?” Xander took a pen from the table and started doodling on the newspaper Wesley had left there. He’d seen Angel doodling too and it looked like fun.
”I…” the caller began and then huffed, ”Who is this?!”
”don’t ya know who you called?” Xander asked and drew a little dog on the picture of a pretty lady on the front-page.
”No…I mean, yes, I do. WHO IS THIS?!”
Wow, that man sure sounded angry. Xander frowned at the phone and gave the pretty lady in the picture a big beard, ”you’re funny,” Xander giggled and put the phone down on the table.
”Hallo! Hallo!” came a muffled voice from the phone.
Xander just licked his lips and started drawing beards on all the pictures.
It was fun doodling.
Angel watched Gunn grab a pair of small jeans and dump them in the cart.
”Shouldn’t we check that they fit?” Angel asked and looked from the jeans to a tired Xander following along beside the shopping cart.
”She ordered us to buy some clothes. The Queen didn’t say nothing about trying it out,” Gunn didn’t look happy with the task Cordy had given them.
”she’s mad at me,” Xander said and kicked the linoleum floor with the tips of his shoes.
”Not like you could know she was expecting an important call,” Gunn defended Xander and patted his unruly hair.
”She’ll be good as new when we get back to the hotel,” Angel said and ignored Gunn’s disbelieving snort.
Gunn dropped a pack of blue socks in the cart and then turned to Xander, ”What’d you want? Transformers or Cars?” he held up two different packs of briefs.
”i don’t know,” Xander said and looked from one pack to the other.
”Just take both,” Angel rubbed his fingers against his temple. The loud noises, the annoying music blasting from the speakers in the ceiling and all the women out hunting for clothes and food was starting to get to him.
”Lets pay and get out of here,” Angel started walking in the direction of the register.
”i want it!” a little boy started screaming just as they walked past the toy section.
”But, Sweety,” a nervous woman standing next to the boy said, ”You already have eight Action Man figures.”
”i said i want it!” the scream went up a few notches, ”i want it! i want it!” he stomped his feet and threw the box with the toy on the floor.
Xander was watching the scene with open mouth and he looked longingly at the Action Man as another one was ripped off the shelve and thrown on the floor.
”i hate you!” the boy screamed.
”You think he’s possessed?” Gunn asked and eyed the amok running little child with interest.
”Xander would never behave like that,” Angel said and put a hand on Xander’s slim shoulder.
Gunn watched the way Angel’s hand covered the kid’s shoulder and grinned, ”Naw, your kid would never behave like that.”
Angel nodded and started moving the cart away from the screaming boy. The boy’s mother finally relented and grabbed one of the boxes and dragged her son away from the aisle. Xander looked over his shoulder. Angel and Gunn were both walking away and Xander turned back to the three boxes on the floor. He hurried over to them and picked them up one by one. He carefully studied the last of the boxes. Taking in the army fatigues, the weapons and the snarl on the figures face...
”You want that one, buddy?” Angel asked and Xander hurriedly put the box back on the shelve. It tilted precariously and finally fell down on the floor again. Xander stepped away from the box as if he had been burnt.
Angel picked it up and crouched in front of Xander, ”You don’t really have any toys, do you?” Angel looked from the box to Xander. The boy shook his head and stared hard at the floor.
”Well,” Angel said, ”You can’t really play with just one toy,” he took one of the other boxes, ”Guess we’ll have to buy two,” he handed both boxes to a very stunned looking Xander.
”thanks,” Xander whispered as Angel put his hands on Xander’s shoulders and guided him out of the aisle and over to the cart where Gunn stood.
Wesley walked into the small library he had managed to establish in the hotel. The light was on over the table in the center of the room and Xander was sitting in one of the five high backed wooden chairs. The boy was scribbling furiously at a piece of paper.
”What are you doing?” Wesley asked and walked over to the table. One of Xander’s new action figures was sitting on an old leather bound book staring stiffly at the wall.
”i’m writing,” Xander said and put the crayon down.
The ex-watcher reached out and pulled the piece of paper over the table. He smiled, ”You’re practicing your name.”
”uh huh,” Xander nodded solemnly, ”but i’m no good.”
”It looks fine,” Wesley pulled out the chair next to Xander’s and sat down, ”You almost have all the letters right,” he said and pointed at the crooked letters that spelled out Alxandr, ”Why are you sitting in here all alone? I’m sure Angel wouldn’t mind helping you.”
”’s quiet in here,” the little boy said, ”i like the quiet.”
Wesley leant closer and lowered his voice, ”You, my man, are welcome in my library any time you need a little quiet,” Xander grinned up at him. ”Now,” Wesley pushed the paper back in front of the boy, ”Why don’t we work a little on this? ”
Xander bit his tongue and started painstakingly writing the first letter of his name again.
Angel looked around the room. Demons of all kinds were sitting at the tables, talking and drinking ridiculous pink and yellow concoctions with small umbrellas sticking out of them. A huge mucus demon was up on the stage crooning Barbie Girl with a deep raspy voice.
Xander pushed against Angel’s leg and his small clammy hands clutched the vampire’s pants. Angel placed one big hand on the top of the little boy’s head.
”We’re here to see a friend of mine,” Angel explained and steered Xander over to the bartender.
”wow,” Xander whispered in awe as they stood and watched the four armed demon take orders while filling multiple glasses with drinks at the same time.
”Angel!” a happy voice boomed behind them and once again Xander attached himself to Angel’s leg, ”And who’s this little fancy cupcake you’ve brought me.”
”This is Xander and I wanted to hear if you could read him, Lorne,” Angel smiled down at the dark-haired boy.
Lorne knelt down and shook hands with Xander, ”So very good to meet you Mr. Xander,” the demon made a silly hand gesture like a gentleman in an old movie. Xander giggled.
”Let’s go in to my office,” Lorne squeezed Xander’s shoulder and lead the vampire and the child through the mass of demons.
Lorne studied the sleeping child. He took his blindingly white jacket off and draped it over him. Angel couldn’t help but smile when the demon fussed with the jacket making sure it covered as much of the boy as possible.
”He does that to everyone,” Angel said from his seat in the bright red recliner.
”What?” Lorne turned to look at the vampire.
”Walks right past any defenses you might have and makes you care,” Angel said and stared up at the ceiling.
”If what I saw was true then he didn’t manage to do that with his father,” the green demon sat down at his desk.
”That should tell you all you need to know about the bastard,” Angel said to the cracks in the ceiling paint.
”He’s had quite a past,” Lorne said and turned his attention to the vampire, ”Vampires, demons, giant insects. And that’s just mentioning a few of them.”
”He grew up on the Hellmouth.”
”Lots of people do that and never notice what’s really going on,” Lorne pointed out.
”What did you see?” Angel stood up and walked over to the couch. He looked down at Xander. He seemed even smaller as he lay there covered by Lorne’s jacket.
”His past. What could have been his future if this hadn’t happened,” Lorne said softly.
”His future?” Angel asked, his eyes lingering on a small hand pressed against a red chubby cheek.
”He wouldn’t have lived to be thirty,” Lorne said.
”H-how was it going to end?” Angel stuttered.
”Sword. Blood. Pain,” the demon intoned quietly.
”And now?” Angel asked.
”Now the future is clean…well, as clean as any future is. He could grow up and live to be a hundred or get run over by a truck at the age of twelve,” Angel turned and stared angrily at the other demon, ”I’m just saying,” Lorne held up his hands, ”That right now his future is as open as it gets.”
”So he could get turned back to how he was?” Angel leant down and picked up the sleeping child. Xander mumbled against Angels neck and then settled down again.
”If he does,” Lorne tucked his jacket tighter around the child in the vampire’s arms, ”He’s back in his old destiny.”
”Sword, blood and pain?” Angel asked.
Lorne nodded and brushed a hand over Xander’s hair.
Angel woke up when the cell phone on the bedside table rang. He fumbled around a few seconds before he managed to answer it.
”Hello?” he grunted.
”He better be in good health and happy. You hear me, Peaches?”
”Spike?” Angel sat up and rubbed his hand over his face.
”No,” the other vampire snarled, ”It’s the bleeding Queen of Scotland!”
”Why are you calling?” Angel stood up and wandered out into the hall.
”Just wanted to make sure things were all right,” Spike mumbled.
”Hmmm,” Angel answered and pushed Xander’s bedroom door open. The beam of light coming from the hallway fell across the bed illuminating Xander and the two action figures he insisted on bringing to bed every night.
”Is he?” Spike persisted.
Angel smiled when Xander snuffled and turned over on his side. The Snowboarder Action Man looked even more menacing in the dimly lit bedroom, his white and yellow ski goggles sliding off his frozen face, ”He’s fine,” Angel whispered, ”He’s sleeping.”
”Right,” Spike said as if he couldn’t care less, ”You feeding him enough? Boy always seemed to eat a lot.”
”Why the sudden interest?” Angel asked and closed the door before he turned back and walked down the stairs, through the lobby and into the kitchen.
”Not interested,” Spike growled.
”Of course not,” Angel opened the fridge, pulled out a bag of blood and put it on the kitchen counter, ”That’s why you call me in the middle of the night, disturbing my sleep, because you don’t care.”
”Normal vamps don’t sleep during the night, daft wanker. ’S why we’re called creatures of the night.”
”Well, most vamps don’t have a four year old boy who has to be up bright and early,” Angel retorted and abandoned the blood bag and walked back out into the lobby.
”Harris never got up before he absolutely had to,” Spike snorted.
”Wesley and Cordy insist it’s best if Xander has a normal routine,” Angel tried to explain.
”Boy used to be a full grown man who shaved every day and hunted demons,” Spike pointed out, ”His life isn’t really brimming over with normal routine.”
”That’s what I said,” Angel nodded and walked up the stairs. The lingering silence on the other end of the phone made Angel stop and sit down on the top step, ”I’ll take care of him, Spike,” Angel said, ”He won’t want for anything.”
”Guess you couldn’t do a worse job than his real parents,” Spike mumbled, ”Bloody stupid bastards.”
Angel opened his mouth to answer but Spike simply ended the call.
Two months. Xander had been living with them for two months and if it wasn’t for the angry looking Action Man sitting on the couch it wouldn’t be possible to see it. Xander was very serious about cleaning up after himself. Nothing was ever left laying around. None of them ever tripped over toys. The boy seemed afraid to leave traces of himself behind.
And now the Action Man stared at him. Stared at him and two of the Scoobies.
”So,” Buffy said and looked around the lobby, ”Where is he?”
”He’s out getting an ice cream with Fred and Wesley,” Cordy said and sat down on the couch, letting her hands slide over her skirt to make sure it wasn’t creased.
”Perhaps that is best,” Giles said and looked around the lobby.
”You’ve found the demon who granted Dawn’s wish?” Angel asked and ushered them all into the kitchen. Cordy sighed, stood up and followed them.
”Willow and Tara stayed in Sunnydale with Dawn,” Giles said absentmindedly and sat down on one of the kitchen chairs, ”Dawn has a test she has been studying for since Xander’s unfortunate…” the watcher seemed uncertain what to say, ”Accident.”
”And we did find the demon,” Buffy nodded and pulled out a chair only to forget about it and start pacing back and forth, ”We found it and ordered it to un-grant Dawn’s wish.”
”Well,” Cordy leant against the kitchen counter, ”Since Fred walked out of here with a four year old Xander, I’m guessing you failed.”
”Yes,” Giles nodded, ”According to the demon, who by the way was very polite about the whole thing, the change is…well…” he took off his glasses, stared at them and then put them back on.
”What?” Angel looked from Buffy to Giles.
”It can’t be reversed,” Buffy said, ”We tried everything. I even tried begging…well…I asked nicely, anyway. But nothing helped. She said it was out of her hands.”
”So,” Giles sat up straighter in his chair, ”We’ve been looking at alternative ways to cope with this.”
”Wait, wait,” Cordy said and held up both hands, ”What exactly does that mean? Is he going to be four years for ever or what?”
”Oh, no,” Giles said, ”He will grow up like any other normal little boy.”
”Normal,” Cordy snorted quietly.
”So like Giles was saying…” Buffy looked over at her watcher.
”Yes, quite,” the older man again started fumbling with his glasses only to put both hands down on the table, ”Alternatives to caring for Xander in his current state. We’ve discussed it in great lengths.”
”Willow wanted to legally adopt him but for that to happen we’d have to turn him over to the authorities and Willow is too young anyway,” Buffy said and scratched at a spot on the tabletop, ”She’s really upset about that.”
”We’ve thought about turning Xander over to his parents,” Giles continued, ”After all, they are his family and…”
”No,” Angel growled and both Giles and Buffy stared at him.
”I agree,” Cordy said and folded her arms over her chest, ”It’ll be a very cold day in Hell before I’ll let you hand the kid over to those alcoholic jerks.”
”Perhaps he has other relatives?” Giles looked questioningly at Buffy.
”I don’t think so,” the slayer said.
”He doesn’t,” Cordy barely managed to keep the anger out of her voice.
”He doesn’t have to go anywhere,” Angel said.
”You don’t want him hanging around here,” Buffy said, ”I practically had to beg you to take him with you to LA.”
”That’s not…” Angel began but suddenly turned to the door, ”Xander?” He ran over to the door and out into the lobby. The front doors were open.
”Where’d he go?” Fred said from the stairs, ”He needs to change his shirt. Got ice cream all over the darn thing.”
”He heard us,” Cordy shot Giles and Buffy an angry look.
”He can’t really have gone very far,” Buffy walked over to the door, ”He’s just a little kid with short legs.”
Angel paced back and forth in the lobby. His leather shoes made a muffled creaking sound every time he reached Cordy’s desk. He angrily turned around only to walk all the way to the stairs, stop and then stare hard at the door and pace back to Cordy’s desk.
“They’ll find him,” Lorne promised from his position on the stairs. The demon had retreated there after being growled at by the worried vampire.
“You don’t know that,” Angel stopped pacing in favor of glaring at Lorne.
“No,” he demon agreed, “But pacing isn’t helping and you’re going to need all your energy when the sun goes down and it’s your turn to lead the search party.”
“He’s been gone almost 24 hours now,” Angel said and slumped down next to Lorne on the steps, “You know LA,” he ran a shaking hand through his hair, “You know what could happen to him out there.”
“I do,” Lorne nodded.
Silence filled the large room until Lorne turned and looked at Angel, “He really did a number on you didn’t he?”
“Who?” Angel asked only just managing to tear his eyes off the front doors.
“The little man,” Lorne smiled, “He’s really gotten under your skin, hasn’t he?”
Angel grumbled and began fiddling with the hem of his jacket. He tried to avoid Lorne’s inquisitive red eyes. The vampire sighed and his lips quirked, “I guess I told you he had that ability.”
“You two…weren’t friends?” Lorne turned on his step so he was facing Angel, “I mean before…when he was a grown man?”
“Friends…” Angel looked thoughtful, “No,” he shook his head, “Saying we were friends would be stretching things…a lot.”
The old lady at the bus stop was staring at him. Her old wrinkled hands were wrapped around a walker and she kept swaying a little forward as if she couldn’t find her balance point.
“Aren’t you too little to be taking the bus all alone?” she asked in a high-pitched creaking voice. The lady smiled, the movement of her lips accentuating the wrinkles around her eyes and mouth.
“going home,” Xander mumbled and dried his eyes. He was a big boy and big boys didn’t cry like a little baby.
“Hmmmm,” the lady said and hobbled closer, the walker scraping across the pavement, “Your mommy’s waiting for you?”
“no,” he studied the cracks in the pavement before he defiantly looked up and into the old woman’s watery eyes.
“Oh,” she squinted and shook her head, “I guess your father’s on the bus then,” it wasn’t a question so he just nodded minutely and looked away.
“Did you find him?” Angel asked the second Buffy and Gunn closed the front doors behind them.
“I think we need to call the police,” Buffy said and looked apologetically at Angel, “We’ve tried everywhere, Angel. There just isn’t any sign of him.”
“We can’t call the police,” Gunn said and threw his jacket at Cordy’s desk, “How are you going to explain who the kid is or why you can’t find him?”
Buffy just nodded and then looked over at Angel. The vampire was hovering close to the front doors, “The sun won’t be down for a few hours,” she pointed out.
“I know,” Angel growled and glared at the door as if trying to will the sun to set, “I could take the sewers…”
“Boy won’t be there,” Gunn said and sat down in Cordy‘s chair, “I know this is goddamn hard but you just have to wait.”
“Maybe Giles and Cordy found something,” Buffy offered optimistically.
“Excuse me,” Giles said and smiled disarmingly at a small group of elderly women sitting at the café tables outside the small coffee shop, “You shouldn’t by any chance have seen a small dark-haired unaccompanied boy?”
“No,” a woman with bluish curls answered, “I don’t think so. But this is LA. There’s so many exciting things going on,” the other ladies twittered in agreement.
“Ah, yes,” Giles nodded.
“We’re just here on a shopping trip,” a woman with a green cardigan said flirtingly, “Seeing the sights and enjoying the view,” her eyes traveled up and down the watcher’s body.
Cordy looked around the room at the demons. A few of them took a step back, their scales rustling nervously.
“I swear to God,” a huge turuarki demon shuffled a little as Cordy’s voice filled the small bar, “If I find out any of you knew where he was and just didn’t want to tell me…”
“Honestly,” a small brown demon with warts on its face held up its four hands, “There hasn’t been a kid here and we haven’t heard anything.”
“Hey,” the man smiled at him.
Xander looked up from the bench he was sitting on. He dangled his legs back and forth, the lace of his left shoe tracking a fine line in the dusty earth under the bench. The large tree behind it made it one of the few shady places in the park. The man standing over him was old. He looked almost as old as Cordy and she was really old even if Angel had told him not to say it to her.
“Your dad around?” the man asked and scanned the area. He licked his lips.
“no,” Xander whispered.
“Bet your mom is here somewhere then,” the man continued.
“no,” Xander felt tears pressing behind his closed eyes and shook his head violently.
“So,” the man said and sat down on the bench, “You’re all alone here. Just you and me.”
Xander tilted his head back to get a better view of the man. He had funny lines next to his eyes when he smiled and he had shiny lips. The man put a hand on Xander’s knee and squeezed. Xander stared at the large hand and squirmed a little.
“Just sit still,” the man said, “I’ll buy you a big ice cream, okay.”
Xander nodded. He hadn’t eaten in forever and was really hungry.
“with chocolate sprinkles?” Xander asked and watched as the big hand traveled up his thigh.
Angel ripped the door open the second it was dark enough for him to leave the shelter of the hotel. He looked left and right suddenly uncertain what route to take.
“We’ve already checked out the neighborhood,” Gunn said from behind him, “No one has seen anything or heard anything. Lorne is trying to pull a few favors but…”
“He couldn’t have gone far,” Buffy added and walked over to stand next to Angel, “He’s just a kid…”
“He’s a smart kid,” Angel interrupted and glared at Buffy when she snorted, “What?”
“He’s Xander,” Buffy said and looked from Angel to Gunn, “He was never a genius to begin with.”
“And yet he survived on the Hellmouth,” Gunn said and shouldered his way past the slayer.
“Look,” Buffy followed the two men as they moved away from the hotel, “I’m not saying he was…I just…hey! Wait up!” she quickened her steps to keep up, “Xander was always a little clumsy and…”
Cordy put her cell phone back in her purse.
“So?” Giles asked anxiously. They were sitting in a diner, a cup of steaming hot coffee in front of them.
“Angel is trying to find Xander by following the kid’s scent,” Cordy said and squinted her eyes almost closed, “I’ve seen him do stuff like that before but never so long after the person has disappeared.”
“I’m certain he will do his best,” Giles pointed at the map spread out between them, “Have we been there?”
“Twice,” Cordy sipped her coffee, “We’ve been all over the neighborhood twice.”
“Angel seems,” Giles searched for the right words, “Attached to Xander.”
“I guess,” Cordy put the cup down on the corner of the city map, “Honestly, I think we all are.”
Xander sat down on a step outside a closed shop and looked down at his scraped knee. It hurt and he could see little specks of dirt grinded into the bleeding skin. Shivering, holding back tears, he curled in on himself trying to keep warm in his t-shirt and jeans. His left shoe had long scratches in the blue leather and he sniffled sadly when he noticed that the bright red stripes down the sides of the shoe had been torn off.
“You crying?” a gruff voice asked.
“no,” Xander denied and dried his eyes, “i’m a big boy.”
“Big boys can cry too, you know,” the voice continued, “You mind if I sit down here on your step? It‘s a bit chilly tonight.”
“’s not mine,” he sulked.
“Still,” the man smiled, revealing a lot of teeth missing, “Only polite to ask.”
Wesley looked down at the map in front of him and held the pendulum over it. He took a sip of the potion and winced.
“Taste bad?” Fred asked and leant forward to look into the now empty cup.
“Very bad,” Wesley held the pendulum over the middle of the map and stated chanting under his breath. The pendulum started swinging in slow circles going wider and wider until it seemed to get too heavy and dumped down on the map.
Fred leant forward and looked at where the tip of the pendulum had landed.
He looked down at the child and pulled him closer. His coat was just big enough to cover the little boy as well and he smiled when he felt a little hand find his and hold on.
“You just keep those pretty eyes closed and get a little rest,” he whispered into the darkness of the alley, “You look like you could use it.”
Wesley put the phone down and started cleaning up the ingredients he’d used for the potion. The pendulum was carefully put back in its mahogany case and locked away.
“How’d he take it?” Fred asked anxiously.
“His boy is missing,” Wesley mumbled, “He didn’t take it well.”
Gunn had a hard time keeping up with the vampire and the slayer. He stopped to catch his breath and watched how Buffy tried to put her hand on Angel’s shoulder only to have it shrugged off.
“He’s been here,” Angel said and took a deep breath tasting the air.
“How long ago?” Gunn asked and walked over to join them.
“Not too long,” Angel scanned the area. Most of the buildings were old factories that hadn’t been in use for a decade or more. The signs had faded and almost all the windows were smashed.
“How’d he end up here?” Buffy frowned down at her new white leather boots. A large black oil stain had soaked into the leather.
“He only knows the mall and the area just around the hotel,” Gunn smirked down at Buffy’s boots.
“He must have just kept going after he ran out the hotel,” Angel said. He turned around and closed his eyes. Lifting his hand and pointing further down the damaged asphalt road, he said, “He went that way.”
Xander felt the world move. His legs dangled in the air and his right arm slid down his side and flailed a little as he was startled awake. The nice warm coat slid off him and landed on the ground.
“no!” he yelped, “don’t touch!”
“Xander,” a voice he recognized whispered against his ear, “It’s okay.”
“no,” he tried to kick but a strong hand and a deep voice repeated, “It’s okay. We’re taking you home.”
“gunn?” Xander mumbled and opened his eyes just enough to make out the street-fighter’s face. The arms around him held on tighter and he squinted up at Angel, “i don’t wanna go home.”
The arms seemed to tighten even more around his chest, “Why?” Angel asked.
“don’t wanna go home to my dad,” Xander whispered and sniffled. But only a little. He wasn’t a crying sissy even if his daddy said so.
“Just sleep, Xander,” a woman said and he hid his face in Angel’s dark coat shrugging off her hand.
“don’t touch,” Xander repeated and the woman stepped back, a look of surprised plastered on her face.
Undressing the half asleep child turned out to be easier than Angel had expected. The limp arms and legs were like overcooked noodles and Xander drifted in and out of sleep. Angel pulled the small t-shirt off him and then the tiny wife beater with Bugs Bunny on it. He stared at the finger sized bruises on the boy’s ribs and upper arms.
Remembering Xander’s plea not to be touched, he very slowly and full of dread unbuttoned and unzipped the dirty jeans and pulled them off. Nothing. Not a single bruise. He pulled the briefs off as well and reluctantly checked them to see if they had been stained or if…God forbid…there was blood on them.
“Is he…unharmed?” Giles asked from the open door.
“Close that door and leave,” Angel growled.
Cordy handed Angel a big fluffy towel and watched him lift the still sleepy boy out of the bathtub. Only Xander’s hair and feet were visible under the towel. She stepped out of the way, letting the vampire sit down on the toilet lid with Xander cradled against his chest as he dressed the mumbling boy.
“Was he hurt, Angel?” Cordy asked and knelt down in front of them.
“He has bruises on his ribs and arms,” Angel said hoarsely.
Cordy started putting socks on the chubby feet, her fingers stroking the arch of each foot, “But nothing…” her voice trailed off.
“No,” Angel shook his head and managed to get Xander dressed in his pjs.
“’m hungry,” Xander mumbled against Angel’s shoulder just he was lowered to the bed, “that man didn’t give me any ice cream,” he slurred.
Angel stiffened, “What man, Xander.”
“i told him not to touch,” Xander blinked owlishly up at Angel.
“Where did he touch you,” Angel sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled the blanket over Xander’s body.
“legs,” Xander said as he drifted back into sleep, “but I kicked him. and ran real fast. my shoes…” the little voice grew fainter, “i fell and hurt my shoes.”
“We’ll get you new ones,” Angel promised and leant over, pulled the blanket all the way up to Xander’s chin and kissed his forehead.
“So…about Xander,” Buffy said when Angel joined the rest of his team and their guests in the kitchen.
Cordy stared disbelievingly at the slayer.
“Well,” Buffy put her sandwich down on the plate in front of her, “We haven’t really solved the problem yet, have we?”
“She’s right,” Angel said and sat down in the chair opposite Buffy’s, “That’s why I think I need to make something very clear. Xander is staying here, with me…” Angel smiled at his team, “With us. He’ll have a home here as long as he wants. I’ll take care of all his needs.”
“But he’s just a little kid,” Buffy said, “You don’t know anything about raising a child.”
“As true as that might be,” Giles interrupted her, “That could be said about all parents when they have their first child. And if what Cordy tells me about the Harris family is true, and I believe it is, then it would be irresponsible to send him back to live with them.”
“We wanted him to go somewhere safe,” Buffy continued, “You can’t honestly tell me this,” she waved a hand around the kitchen indicating the entire hotel, “is safe?”
“He is much stronger than any of you give him credit for,” Wesley said.
“I know Xander is strong,” Buffy ran both hands through her hair, “But this is different. He’s a little defenseless boy.”
Angel snorted, “If what Xander told me before he fell asleep again…Well, let’s just say there’s a child molester limping around with a bruise on his shin.”
“Child molester?” Giles blanched.
“He didn’t do anything,” Angel reassured the pale watcher, “Xander kicked him and ran before it got that far.”
Giles mumbled something and took his glasses off to polish them meticulously with a piece of tissue. The watcher blinked furiously a few times trying to regain control over his frantic heartbeat.
A loud scream catapulted Angel out of bed, down the hallway and into Xander’s room.
“daddy!” the shriek sounded again and Angel hit the light switch and blinked up at the ceiling light for a split second.
“You okay, Xander?” Angel asked and looked around the seemingly empty room, “Xander?”
“shhhh,” came a strained voice from under the bed, “he’s gonna hear you.”
“Who’s gonna hear me?” Angel asked and knelt down next to the bed. He looked under it and stared directly into a pair of big brown eyes.
“the clown,” the boy hissed and pulled the Action Man closer to his chest.
“The clown?” Angel repeated and Xander rolled his eyes in annoyance.
“he was big and had huuuge eyes and a big red nose,” Xander’s voice was muffled by the Action Man pressed against his mouth.
“It was just a bad dream,” Angel tried to calm him.
“he had nasty teeth,” Xander said, “all big and sharp and…” he shivered.
“You want me to check your room just to be sure?” Angel offered.
Angel stood back up and looked around the room, “If there’re any clowns hiding in here you better give yourself up,” he said menacingly, “If you don’t I’ll be drinking clown blood for breakfast,” a giggle coming from under the bed spurred him on, “I’ll suck your scrawny clowny neck until your silly shoes start to curl.”
“are they gone?” Xander asked as he slowly crawled out from under his bed.
“Yeah,” Angel looked around the room, “All gone.”
“did you check the closet?” Xander look intently at the closet door.
“I forgot about that,” Angel said and walked over to the closet.
“scare him with your bumpy face,” Xander demanded and Angel went into game face, turned the closet door handle and ripped the door up.
He snarled at Xander’s shirts, pants and odd collection of toys and then growled over his shoulder at Xander, “No clowns hiding here.”
“okay,” Xander said and scratched his butt with Action Man’s leg, “can i sleep in your room.”
“Why?” Angel asked, “The clowns are all gone.”
“what if they come back?”
“Okay,” Angel lifted Xander up, “Let’s make a deal. Tonight you get to sleep in my bed and tomorrow Wesley’s going to make an anti-clown-potion.”
“so they can’t come into my room?” Xander asked.
“Yep,” Angel said and carried Xander down the hallway and into his bedroom. The room was only lit by a small lamp hanging on the wall by the door. He put Xander down and pulled the covers back on the bed.
“Wha’?” Cordy mumbled and turned sleepily around, her dark blue nightgown twisting around her body. She looked up at Angel and frowned, “Is it morning already?”
“No,” Angel helped Xander under the covers and then crawled into bed.
“did you have a bad dream about clowns too?” Xander asked and cuddled closer to Cordy.
“Um…” Cordy looked over at Angel, “Yeah…they can be real scary those clowns with their weird shoes.”
“don’t worry,” Xander said and patted Cordy’s shoulder, “angel’ll just scare them away with his face.”
Chapter 5: Home
“i wanna drive the cart,” a small chubby blond boy demanded and pushed his smaller little sister away from the kid-sized shopping cart.
“i wanna!” the girl stomped her feet. The children’s stressed out mother sighed and tried to pacify both children by pulling a second small shopping cart over to the hysteric girl.
“See,” the mother said pleadingly, “You can have one too.”
“i want his!” the girl screeched and pointed at her brother’s cart.
“i want this one!” he screamed back, his face turning red.
“For God sake,” Tony groaned and pulled Jessica down the aisle by the hand. He pushed his shopping cart in front of him, “Those kids need a good slap in the butt.”
“I think they’re just tired,” Jessica mumbled and tried to keep up with her husband. She almost stumbled when Tony suddenly stopped in front of the beer.
“You bring enough money?” Tony asked and started taking several six-packs down the shelve and into the empty cart.
“I’m not sure…” Jessica took her small purse out of her coat jacket and opened it, “My list is long today,” she said and showed Tony the shopping list.
“You don’t need to buy any of that stuff for your mother,” Tony said and took a fourth six-pack and put it in the cart. He scratched his cheek, the stubble rasping against his fingers, “The hag doesn’t need any soda.”
“But she really likes it,” Jessica tried, “And they don’t have it at the nursing home.”
“I’m already helping you pay for her living there,” Tony said and pushed the cart down the aisle, “Hopefully I won’t have to keep paying much longer.”
Jessica looked down at her shopping list and then over at her husband. He was reading the label on a beer bottle. She sighed, slowly folded her list and put it back in her purse.
“i’m tired,” Xander slurred from the backseat where he was strapped into the dark blue car seat.
“We’re almost there,” Cordy said and turned slightly in her seat to look back at the little boy, “We just have to make a stop at the store and buy flowers for Willow.”
Xander opened his eyes and stared big eyed at Angel’s back, “can i have chocolate?”
“No,” Angel checked the rearview mirror before he drove into the supermarket’s parking lot. He heard Xander mumble something.
Cordy smiled and whispered out the corner of her mouth, “Let the battle begin.”
“i like chocolate,” Xander said from the backseat.
“I know,” Angel answered, his lips quirking.
“i like you too, daddy,” Xander said sugary sweet. Cordy snorted.
“Why, thank you,” Angel found a parking spot, “You’d think these people would stay at home this late,” he said to Cordy, “Late night shopping isn’t really a good idea on the Hellmouth.”
“do you like me too?” Xander asked and shifted in his backseat to reach out for his Action Man.
“Sure I do,” Angel said, took off his seatbelt and turned so he could see Xander.
“i don’t think you do,” Xander pouted.
“Oh noes,” Cordy grabbed Angel’s wrist, “It’s the pout.”
“You don’t think I like you?” Angel asked a little surprised.
“nuh huh,” Xander shook his head, “cause if you liked me you’d give me lots of chocolate,” the boy’s lower lip trembled.
“No wonder Fred always ends up feeding him cookies and ice cream,” Cordy said as she got out of the car. Angel got out as well and looked at Cordy over the roof of the car.
“Tell me this gets easier as he grows older?” Angel walked around the car and opened the door on Xander’s side.
“I don’t think it does,” Cordy said and bent over a little so she could check her hair in the side mirror of the truck parked next to Angel’s black ford, “He just starts to want bigger and more expensive things. That’s what I did anyway.”
“Great,” Angel groaned and helped Xander out of his car seat.
“so i can have chocolate?” Xander rubbed his eyes and looked up at Angel.
The vampire crouched down and tugged Xander’s hoodie down so it covered the boy’s tummy. Xander held up the scowling Action Man, “jeff wants chocolate too.”
“Jeff?” Angel asked confused.
Xander held the Action Man up as close to Angel’s face as he could and wiggled the action figure, “jeff!” he said.
“Oh, Jeff!” Angel rolled his eyes and slapped his hands against his thighs, “I’m sorry.”
“jeff likes chocolate,” Xander explained.
Angel stood up and took Xander’s hand. The boy continued talking as Cordy joined them and they walked into the supermarket.
“jeff likes chocolate for breakfast and lunch and din…” Xander’s voice trailed off when he saw the kid sized shopping carts.
Xander pushed the small cart in front of him while he eyed the many shelves brimming over with cookies. He swallowed a few times as his mouth started to fill with saliva.
“Slow down,” Cordy put a hand on Xander’s shoulder, “We need to find a nice box of chocolate for Willow,” she told him and stopped in front a display of colorful boxes.
“willow’s nice,” Xander hummed happily, “she shares.”
Angel appeared with a bunch of flowers in his hand. A few yellow rose petals floated to the ground.
Cordy stared at the half-wilted roses, “You have got to be kidding me.”
“What?” Angel held up the flowers, “You said she likes yellow.”
“Yeah, well I didn’t mean wilted-yellow,” Cordy took the flowers from Angel, “Let me guess…” she tapped the roses against his broad chest, “You took the first bunch of yellow flowers your eyes fell on?”
“They’re yellow,” Angel peevishly defended himself.
A small hand tugged at Cordy’s skirt. She looked down into brown eyes and then noticed the Mars bar Xander was holding, “willow can have this,” the boy said enthusiastically.
“Men,” Cordy sighed, turned and pointed at Angel, “You help the kid find a box,” she emphasized the last word, “of chocolate for Willow…A box, Angel,” she repeated, “I’ll go get some flowers that haven’t completely died yet.”
“Sorry,” Angel said and took the Mars bar Xander was still holding up for inspection, “Looks like we’ll have to find something else for Willow.”
“Mrs. Harris?” Cordy was too surprised not to blurt out the name. The woman turned and looked a little uncertain, then a smile filled her tired face.
“Cordelia?” she took a few steps closer and reached for the ex-cheerleader’s hand, “It’s been so long. I haven’t seen you for years. How’re you doing? Last thing I heard you went to LA.”
“I’m doing good,” Cordy answered, “Still living in LA. Working…” her voice petered out. They just stood there for a few seconds, “How are you doing?” Cordy finally said, breaking the silence.
“Oh,” Jessica smiled, “I’m fine. I still work at the hospital…” the awkward silence returned.
“Well,” Cordy began, “That’s nice. I’m…”
Jessica grabbed on to Cordy’s wrist and pulled her a little closer, “Have you heard from him?” the desperation in the woman’s eyes made Cordy flinch.
“Who?” Cordy’s voice sounded hoarse.
“Xander,” Jessica’s fingers flexed briefly around the slim wrist.
“No,” it hurt to watch the hope die in the older woman’s eyes, “No,” Cordy repeated and shook her head, “I haven’t heard from him. I’m sorry.”
“He wouldn’t just disappear and not tell me where he was going,” Jessica almost pleaded, “Xander wasn’t like that.”
“I’m sure he’ll contact you when he can,” Cordy tried.
“Maybe…” Jessica swallowed, “Maybe he died.”
Xander’s eyes were locked on the pretty purple box of chocolate Angel had put in his cart. The Action Man was sitting on top of it, protecting it from chocolate eating fiends. Xander had picked out the box and he couldn’t wait for Willow to share her gift.
He was so preoccupied with his daydreaming that he didn’t notice the man standing in the middle of the aisle. Xander’s small cart collided with the tall man’s knee. The strength of the collision made the boy stumble backwards, the handle on the cart pushing back against his tummy.
“ow,” Xander rubbed his hand against his belly.
“Look where you’re goddamn going!” the man rumbled down at him and Xander froze. His legs felt as if they were filled with concrete and his arms suddenly weighed a ton each.
“sorry,” Xander whispered, his eyes fixed on the purple box of chocolate.
“Where‘d you go?” Angel came around the corner and stopped when he saw the man scowling down at the trembling child. He seemed strangely familiar. “What happened?”
“Brat ran his cart right into my legs on purpose,” the man said and pointed accusingly down at the little boy. Xander’s eyes were firmly fixed on the small cart.
“Is that true?” Angel hunched down and tried to look Xander in the eyes but the child simply refused to look up, “I’m sure he didn’t mean it,” Angel turned his attention to the angry man.
“Kid needs a good spanking,” the man grumbled as he stomped away from the vampire and the child.
“It’s okay,” Angel patted Xander’s messy hair, “He’s gone now.”
Xander just shook his head minutely.
Cordy wondered how two people could keep a conversation going when neither of them really said much and the bulk of it was silence.
“I’m sure he’ll contact you,” Cordy tried again and gently stroked the trembling hand she was holding.
“I think maybe…” Jessica shook herself as if wanting to shake off the lingering fear, “Maybe he just doesn’t want us to know about him. He just wanted to get away from…” the older woman’s eyes searched their immediate surroundings and whispered, “his father.”
“Cordy?” Angel’s voice made the seer turn around.
The vampire was pushing the small cart in front of him by holding on to the small flagpole sticking up from it. Angel’s fingers were creasing the logo streamer attached to it. He was holding Xander pressed to his chest with his other arm. The boy’s ragged breathing testifying to the child’s state of mind.
Cordy desperately looked from Jessica to Angel and Xander. It was like watching cars collide. You knew what was happening, knew the outcome would be bloody and heart wrenching and yet you could do nothing but watch.
“Are you okay?” Angel asked and parked the cart next to Cordy. The vampire stroked Cordy’s cheek with the back of his hand. Xander burrowed his face into the crook of Angel’s neck and kept breathing heavily, his body shaking with each sob.
“I’m fine,” Cordy tried to smile, “I was just talking to Mrs. Harris,” she said the name loud enough for everyone in the store to hear.
Angel’s eyes grew wide and he curled both his arms around Xander.
“Is that your little boy?” Jessica asked Cordy.
The younger woman opened her mouth to answer but then snapped it shut when she spotted Mr. Harris walking down the aisle to join them.
“He’s ours,” Angel answer for the both of them and Cordy reached out to put a calming hand on the still sobbing boy’s back.
Jessica turned a little, attempting to see the child’s face but Xander just shook his head, rubbing his forehead against Angel’s neck and shoulder, curled up so tightly that his features were hidden by the collar of Angel’s leather jacket.
“How old is he?” Jessica asked and patted the small heaving back. Xander froze. Angel could feel every muscle and tendon in the child’s body tensing. Jessica rubbed her thumb against the warm hoodie in small circles and Xander suddenly relaxed and sighed sending a breath of hot moist air against Angel’s neck.
“He’s four,” Cordy finally managed to answer, her eyes locked on Mr. Harris’ face.
“It’s Cordy,” Jessica said and smiled at her husband, “You remember her, don’t you, Tony?”
“The cheerleader,” the man nodded, “Never understood what a pretty girl like you wanted with that halfwit of a boy.”
Angel watched as Cordy unlocked the car door. Her hands shook slightly as she held out the keys so Angel could take them.
“Could you drive?” he asked, still holding a crying Xander against his chest.
“Sure,” Cordy nodded, “I uh…I’ll drive us…”
“wanna go home,” a small tear drowned voice whispered.
“Home,” Angel agreed and gingerly opened the door to the backseat, slowly slid inside and reached out to close the door. Getting comfortable, he leant against it, cuddled Xander close and kissed the top of the crying child’s head.