“What is it?” Spike asked amazed.
“A baby,” Angel smiled at his childe like an idiot.
“Yeah,” Spike said softly, “What kind?”
“Um…” Angel looked at the baby a wide grin splitting his face, “A boy.”
“Xander,” Angel said turning to look at him, “It’s…Xander?”
Spike moved closer to the bed. The smell hit the vampire like a ton of bricks.
Angel felt the small hand holding his squirm a little. He loosened his hold a fraction but the smaller hand didn’t slide out of his grasp. The short fingers just seemed to flex for a second, tapping a rhythmless tattoo on the vampire’s palm, then the boy leant closer. The cool breeze made the child shiver and Angel let his arm curl around the narrow shoulders.
”Are you cold, Liam?” Angel asked.
Liam just shrugged, his dark eyes taking in the surroundings in that quiet way they always did.
The small fingers flexed once more around Angel’s larger hand. Angel looked down at the boy, smiled encouragingly and nodded.
Liam reluctantly let go of Angel’s hand and looked uncertainly down at the small bunch of flowers he was holding. The stems had been squashed and had left a green spot on his palm.
”Go on,” Angel said and gave Liam a gentle pat on the shoulder.
”’k,” the boy murmured and stepped forward. He shifted the yellow flowers from one hand to the other and then took the last step forward and knelt down on the grass. Liam looked back at Angel.
”You want me to go over there and wait?” Angel pointed at the big crooked lilac bush standing a few feet away. Some of the branches were dipping toward the brown soil beneath it, burdened with large clusters of lavender-blue flowers.
”no,” Liam shook his head and turned his attention to the yellow half-squished flowers in his hand. He put them down on the grass by the tombstone and then rubbed his green stained palms off on his jeans.
Standing up Liam put his hands in his pockets and looked down at the bunch of flowers. They were already half wilted, the yellow petals curling in on themselves as if trying to conserve the last of their energy, denying to accept their fate. They would lay there for a few days, slowly withering away in the sunshine, until the caretaker would pick them up and throw them away.
”You ready to go back?” Angel asked and put his hands on the boy’s shoulders.
”uh huh,” Liam nodded and started trudging out of the cemetery.
Angel followed him. When they reached the gate he turned back and looked past the lilac bushes. The tombstone, the yellow flowers a bright contrast to the grey marble, looked so small as it stood there in the shadows of the church.
”See you next month, Xander,” Angel whispered as he opened the gate. A small hand snaked its way into his larger one and Angel gave Liam’s hand a gentle squeeze as they let the gate close behind them.
”I’ve read the Watchers’ Journals. I know what happens to me if you get yourself dusted…I’ll go mad, stop eating…eventually I’ll die.”
”No,” Angel said, ”No, if Spike is still alive, he’ll claim you.”
Spike sat on a chair by the door, blocking Xander’s only way out of the dimly lit room. The chair was, apart from the bed, the only piece of furniture left intact in the whole room. The vampire pushed the heel of his doc martens against a broken table leg.
”Can’t keep this up, Xander,” Spike said and watched as the human kept thumping his head against the wall.
”Liam and the baby need you,” the vampire attempted. As if on cue Kathy started wailing somewhere in the hotel, ”Hear that?” Spike asked and flinched when Xander didn’t stop thumping his head against the wall but instead seemed to just do it harder.
”It hurts,” Xander hoarsely whispered through cracked lips.
”I know,” Spike nodded and slowly stood up, ”Won’t get any better either.”
”You don’t…” Xander shook his head, the back of his head sliding back and forth against the wall. Spike stopped moving when he noticed the blood slowly coloring the grey wallpaper red.
”You’re hurt,” Spike said and carefully moved across the room.
”Doesn’t matter…” Xander murmured, ”Nothing matters anymore…”
”That include the kids?” Spike asked and almost stumbled on the remains of the bedside table.
Xander just stared at him. Spike knelt down in front of the human and took his cold and clammy hand.
”Won’t hurt, yeah,” Spike tried to reassure him, ”You can close your eyes and pretend…” he offered.
”Pretend?” Xander looked up from his exploration of the scratched floorboards.
”Yeah,” Spike lifted Xander’s hand to his lips and kissed the bleeding knuckles, ”Close your eyes and pretend…I don’t mind.”
Xander’s attention flicked from Spike’s blue eyes to his hand holding Xander’s. The human blinked once and then slowly closed his eyes and took a deep shuddering breath.
”There you go,” Spike whispered and helped Xander up from his position on the floor. Xander tilted precariously to the right, his legs numb from hours kneeling on the floor, but Spike’s fingers curled around the human’s elbow. Gently steadying him, Spike lead Xander over to the bed. He quickly pulled the bedspread off the bed and watched as bits and pieces from the ceiling lamp slid off the bedspread and onto the floor.
The baby started wailing again. The sound eerily echoing as it traveled through the hallways on its way from the lobby to the ruined bedroom.
Spike helped Xander lay down on the bed.
”Tell me…” Xander whispered, his eyes still closed, as Spike started undressing him.
”It happened…” Spike pulled the belt from Xander’s jeans, ”…so fast,” he unbuttoned and unzipped the pants and pulled them off the compliant body.
”He didn’t see it coming,” Xander murmured and turned his head so his lips were pressed against the pillows.
”No, pet,” Spike continued as he started lifting the t-shirt up.
”No!” Xander grabbed onto Spike’s hands and his eyes opened as he frantically pulled the t-shirt back in place.
”Okay,” Spike soothed, ”We’ll leave it. Don’t need it off. Close your eyes.”
Xander nodded and closed his eyes tightly.
”You can pretend if you want to,” Spike repeated as he undid his own jeans. His hands shook as he fumbled with the zipper, ”Pretend I’m him.”
Xander’s body tensed when Spike leant down and positioned him.
”Angel?” Xander asked, the movement splitting his cracked lips and a perfect drop of blood formed on his lower lip.
”Yeah,” Spike whispered as he pulled the human close and felt the bones in his face shift going into game face.
”Angel,” Xander smiled, the drop of blood slid from his lip and drew a fine crimson line down his cheek and stopped just over Angel’s claim mark.
”Just pretend, pet,” Spike whispered against the crimson line.
“Where is he?!” Angel demanded to know, “Where?!” He stopped. Cordy was standing there in the hallway. Her expensive white blouse covered in blood. Tears running down her cheeks.
Angel stood over the crib. He couldn’t take his eyes off the two small bodies partly covered by a green baby blanket.
”It’s best he doesn’t see them,” Mrs. Chan quietly said from behind him.
Angel focused on the tiny grotesquely shaped hand sticking out from under the blanket. Only three fingers were crookedly bent inward, black nails and grey scaly skin.
”Both…” Angel started but couldn’t continue.
”Both were stillborn,” Mrs. Chan said and placed her frail hand on Angel’s arm.
”And they both…” Angel vaguely waved his hand at the bodies laying in the crib.
”Yes,” the old woman sighed.
”He…He’ll want to see them,” Angel tightened his hands so hard on the railing of the crib that the wood creaked.
”You haven’t seen what the blanket covers,” she gently said, ”If you had…”
Angel turned his head and looked down at Mrs. Chan.
”He would blame himself,” she said and slowly reached out to push the tiny hand under the covers.
”I…I need to see,” Angel finally stammered.
”Son,” the old woman sighed, ”Let me take them with me. I’ll see to it that they’re buried.”
”Just give me a few seconds,” Angel pleaded, ”I need to… Even if they’re…I just…”
Mrs. Chan walked over to the door. ”Neither of you are to blame,” she said as the vampire turned to look at her.
Angel could only nod as he watched the old woman open the door and leave the room. He briefly looked over to the bed, reassuring himself that Xander was still sleeping. Then he turned his attention to the two infants in the crib. The tiny hand was partly covered by the green blanket and Angel reached down and touched the coarse grey skin. He grabbed hold of the edge of the blanket and pulled it off the infants.
Angel started breathing, the stuffy air in the bedroom filling his lungs. He panted as he slumped against the crib until his forehead rested against the railing. His eyes clenched tightly shut as he fought off the tears and the scream working its way up his throat.
The little girl was the least deformed of the two babies. Her ridged forehead looked almost normal compared to her brother’s misshapen face. Angel placed his hand over her right side, covering her malformed arm so only her small chubby left arm was visible.
He turned his attention from his daughter to his son. The boy was smaller than his sister. His misshapen body strangely curled in on itself, forced into the position by a badly deformed and twisted spine.
Angel picked the blanket up and spread it out on the floor next to the crib. He stood there for a few seconds trying to stop his ragged breathing. He needed to calm down. Needed to gain control again.
He gently picked up the little boy and placed him on the green blanket. He folded the soft fabric around the infant, covering him up. He picked the bundle up from the floor and placed it in the crib again.
He stumbled over to the dresser and opened a drawer. His stiff fingers curled around Liam’s blue baby blanket and he held it against his chest as he walked back to the crib, knelt down and spread it out on the floor. Angel furiously dried the tears away from his face as the room blurred and he slumped forward until he was kneeling with his face pressed against the floorboards.
A cool hand touching his neck made him turn his head and look up at Spike. The blond vampire was kneeling next to him, the blue baby blanket in his hand.
”Let’s get her covered up before Xander wakes up,” Spike simply said and helped Angel stand again.
”I can’t,” Angel shook his head and sat down on the edge of the bed, careful not to jostle Xander.
”Then I’ll do it,” Spike said and lifted the dead infant out of the crib.
“You’d do anything to keep him safe, wouldn’t you?” Angelus smirked.
Xander could only nod, his eyes still held by the sight of tiny hands clutching at the baby blue blanket covering his son.
Xander opened his eyes and looked up at the looming figure standing over him. He licked his chapped lips and squinted in an attempt to see the vampire’s face.
”You awake?” Angelus asked and kicked Xander’s foot.
”Yes,” Xander’s voice was barely more than a croak.
”Boy needs changing,” Angelus stated, the vampire’s voice almost drowned in Liam’s desperate wailing coming from the hallway.
Xander closed his eyes tightly and licked his dry lips again. He listened to Angelus leave the room, the heels of his leather boots sounding like thunder in the stripped room.
”Would be easier to just drain the little bastard,” Xander heard the vampire complain.
”Can I?” Fred’s excited voice drifted through Xander’s fever haze.
A loud slap and a muffled shriek made Xander open his eyes. Fred was in the room, her beautiful features bleeding away to make room for the demon.
”You don’t touch him,” Angelus said calmly and licked the blood spatter from Fred’s bleeding nose off his hand, ”Do you understand?”
”Y-yes,” the fledge nodded.
”Good,” Angelus growled and disappeared down the hallway.
Fred snarled at Xander, her red lips curling away from her fangs, ”He’ll get tired of you and the brat soon.”
”I know,” Xander let his head bump against the wall behind him, ”Trust me, I know.”
Fred giggled and moved away from the open door, making room for her Sire. Angelus entered with a crying Liam tucked under his left arm as if he was nothing more than a rolled up blanket. The vampire stopped in front of Xander and then held the baby out, letting it hang in one thin arm from his large fist.
”He stinks,” the vampire said and let go of the child a split second before Xander’s hands closed around the infant. For a panicked moment Xander thought Liam would fall and hit the floor but as if by a miracle he managed to grab hold of the child and hold it in his shaking hands.
”He’s burning up,” Xander mumbled as he started changing the little boy’s diaper with fast and practiced movements.
”Just change him,” Angelus demanded.
”Can I feed him?” Xander winced when he saw the diaper rash spreading over Liam’s buttocks. The skin was inflamed and bleeding.
Xander could feel Angelus’ eyes burn their way through him and he focused on folding up the dirty diaper and push it away.
”All right,” Angelus said and turned to look back at Fred, ”Go get some formula.”
”Thank you,” Xander whispered as he put the clean diaper on Liam.
”It’ll cost you,” Angelus chuckled and kicked the toe of his boot against the mattress on the floor next to Xander.
”Yes,” Xander sighed, lifted Liam up and held the shivering infant against his bare chest, ”I know.”
”When you’re done feeding him…” Angelus was interrupted by Fred reappearing in the room, a bottle filled with lumpy formula in her hand. She started toward Xander but Angelus grabbed her by the hair, took the bottle and pulled her away from the human.
”How many times do I need to tell you?” the vampire spat in her face, ”You don’t go near him!”
”Sorry, sorry,” she begged and looked submissively down at the floor.
”I only turned you because I thought you’d be fun,” Angelus whispered in a mocking sweet voice, ”Don’t make me regret it.”
”But I’m bored,” Fred whined and gave Angelus her best seductive smile.
”Then go play with Wesley,” Angelus pushed her away.
”He keeps fainting when we play,” she complained.
”Then drain him,” Angelus said as he absentmindedly held the baby bottle out for Xander to take it. Fred perked up and giggled happily as she ran out of the room.
”Feed it and get it to sleep,” Angelus pointed down at Liam.
”Yes,” Xander shook the baby bottle trying to make the lumps disappear. The formula was cold. He looked up at the vampire, ”Can I keep him with me? Just for awhile? Please,” he begged.
”You show me how grateful you are and you can keep him with you,” Angelus offered.
”Thank you,” Xander held Liam and watched him slowly suckle from the bottle.