Sometimes, when the hotel was quiet and Angelus had left for the night, Xander would hear Liam laugh. It always sounded as if it came as a surprise to the little boy. As if he wasn’t used to the sound himself.
On those nights Xander would get up and move closer to the locked door. He would press his ear against the grain of the wood and listen.
More often he could hear the angry wails coming from the baby girl or Liam crying softly outside the locked door .On those nights, Xander would curl up on his mattress and pull the blanket over his head and pretend he couldn’t hear them.
“Can I see them now?” Xander slowly sat up on the mattress. He made sure to keep his eyes on the floor.
“Hmmm?” Angelus pulled on his pants, “I’ll have Spike bring them in.”
“Thank you,” Xander looked up at the vampire towering over him.
Angelus crouched down in front of Xander, “I’ll send Fred out to get you some food,” he chuckled when Xander’s stomach growled its interest.
Angelus cradled Xander’s face in his hands and swiped the calloused thumbs across the human’s cheekbones. For a second Xander saw a flicker of something gentle in Angelus’ eyes. But once he blinked it was gone and Angelus stood up.
Pulling the still buttoned shirt over his head and adjusting it, Angelus unlocked the door with the key hanging in a chain around his neck and walked out.
Xander heard the key turn in the keyhole again and started getting ready for the visit he worked so hard to earn.
A noise from the door made Xander look up. He checked the room again, one last time, to make sure the tainted mattress was covered by the threadbare grey blanket and that the old bloodstain on the floor was hidden by the old multicolored throw rug.
“You calm down now,” Spike growled softly from behind the door, affection clear in the vampire’s voice.
“Daddy,” a small voice demanded.
The door finally opened and Liam was the first to burst into the room. The toddler reached Xander in the blink of an eye and put his arms around Xander’s neck and pressed wet warm lips against his father’s cheek.
“Shhh,” Spike hushed the whimpering baby in his arms. The little girl’s hand clutched at the vampire’s shirt but then she slowly seemed to calm down. The sudden noise from her brother had woken her up.
“Hi, Sweetheart,” Xander breathed into Liam’s hair and hugged the child close.
Spike passed the almost sleeping baby to Xander’s arms. She moved a little when Xander kissed her small brow. She wrinkled her nose and then stretched, her arms reaching out for Xander‘s shirt. Liam sat down on the floor next to them and kept a hand on Xander’s leg as if the boy was afraid he would disappear.
“She looks good,” Xander said, “Still a little thin,” he held the baby’s small hand in his own.
“Finally convinced the bastard to feed her more,” Spike said and sat down on the floor next to Xander. The human flinched instinctively when Spike raised a hand to brush a lock of dark hair away from Xander’s face.
“Sorry,” Xander mumbled and deliberately sat very still. Spike just sighed and moved his hand down to stroke the infant’s cheek.
“I think…” Spike began but then bit his lower lip uncertainly. It was so out of character for the vampire that Xander turned and looked straight at him, “Angelus is getting careless,” the blond continued, “He’s overconfident and he leaves the hotel for longer and longer each night.”
“It’s too dangerous,” Xander shook his head and put his free arm around Liam, “He’ll find us and it’ll only make things worse. You know that.”
“I wouldn’t try to get you out first,” Spike whispered, “Just Gunn and Wesley.”
“What about the kids?” Xander asked and suddenly realized he didn’t want to know.
“I can’t take them with me right now,” Spike reluctantly continued, “If it’s just me, Gunn and Wesley…Angelus will be angry. He’ll probably try to find us but we won’t be his main concern.”
Xander could feel his mouth go dry, “Don’t leave me,” he begged, “Don’t leave us behind.”
“We’ll come back for you,” Spike promised and tilted his head until his forehead touched Xander’s, “If we can get to Sunnydale and maybe help Buffy find a way to…”
“Aren’t we all so very friendly?” a mocking voice from the doorway asked and Xander looked up.
Fred walked into the room with a large paper bag in her hand.
“Just leave the food and get the fuck out,” Spike snarled as he moved from his crouched position, in front of Xander, and over to where Fred stood. She hissed at him and slammed the paper bag against Spike’s chest.
“Just remember that Angelus listens to me,” she said and looked over at Xander. Liam made a quiet but clearly distressed sound and Xander pulled the little boy closer.
“Do you have to leave already?” Xander asked and pulled the blanket over his sleeping children.
“They can sleep in here tonight,” Spike opened the door before he turned around and looked at Xander, “You need anything else?” he scanned the bare room.
“I don’t want to get you in trouble,” Xander said and snuggled closer to a mildly snoring Kathy.
“Right,” Spike stepped into the hallway, closed the door and locked it behind him, leaving Xander alone with his children for the first time in months.
He woke up to the sound of Kathy whimpering in protest. Sitting up on the mattress, being careful not to jostle the sleeping children he tried to see into the dark of the room.
“Get off the mattress,” the angry voice startled him. Xander pushed himself away from the mattress and the warmth of the sleeping children. He scooted over the floor until his back hit the wooden chair, standing in the middle of the room.
“I’m sorry,” Xander apologized, not sure what he had done wrong.
“You’re coming with me,” Angelus whispered and caught Xander by surprise when he suddenly grabbed the human’s upper arm and started dragging him across the floor.
“Angelus” Xander begged, trying not to wake the children.
“Shut up,” the light was turned on and Xander blinked against the sudden glare of the naked bulb in the ceiling. He looked over his shoulder at Liam’s frightened eyes looking from Angelus to him in fear.
“Daddy?” Liam asked, his voice trembling.
“You want him to see it?” Angelus hissed in Xander’s left ear, his large hand already clenched.
“No,” Xander shook his head and looked back at Liam, “It’s okay. Just go back to sleep,” he struggled to keep his balance and followed Angelus out of the room.
The hallway was only partly lit as Angelus dragged Xander down it. “I told Spike to let them eat with you,” the growl made cold sweat break out all over Xander’s body, “And what does he do? He disobeys me, again.”
“I asked,” Xander tried to explain, “I asked if they could sleep…” his explanation was cut short by the fist slamming against his mouth.
“You don’t get to ask,” Angelus hauled him up, pressing him against one of the many doors lining the hallway, “I tell you what to do and you do it.”
“Why do you keep making me angry?” Angelus sounded honestly puzzled, “You could have anything you want. If only you could behave.”
Xander stood as if frozen in place. Afraid to even breathe.
“Why can‘t you just…” Angelus pulled him closer, their lips inches apart. Angelus snarled when Xander wouldn‘t look at him, “Have it your way then! You’re here for my entertainment,” a cool hand snaked its way under Xander’s dirty t--shirt and Angelus pressed his face against Xander’s neck, breathing in his scent.
“God, you stink,” the words were sneered seconds before Xander found himself in a heap on the floor at Angelus’ feet.
He woke up sitting in a shower stall, cool water streaming down from the showerhead. He was fully clothed and the soaked fabric seemed to weigh him down. His face hurt where Angelus’ fist had connected. Xander reached up and turned the water off. For a few seconds he just sat there, eyes closed, trying to control his breathing despite the shivers running through his body.
Bracing his hand against the tiled wall, he got on his feet and slowly walked over to the door. It was locked. Xander looked around the bathroom. It was small and had to be one of the bathrooms that came with the smaller hotel rooms.
Sitting down on the closed toilet lid, he tried to remember what had happened but it was all so hazy. Xander started pulling his cold and wet shirt off. The cotton clinging to his bruised skin. He let the threadbare shirt fall wetly to the floor where, almost immediately, a pool started forming. Standing up on shaking legs he managed to get the striped pajama pants off as well. He left the stained boxer shorts on. He sat back down and cringed when the damp boxers were pressed against his skin.
Xander leant forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and ran his hands through his hair forcing drops of water to run down his back.
Yelling, coming from somewhere on the lower levels of the hotel, made him stand up. Xander walked over to the door and pressed his ear against it. He could hear Angelus’ voice booming through the corridors. Then silence. Xander had learned early on that silence could be deceptive. Silence meant trouble.
He slowly stepped away from the door his eyes glued to it.
And then all hell broke loose.
Screaming, pain filled and angry, filled the hotel. The sound of running feet coming closer made him search the room for any potential weapon. Something scraped against the door and Xander found himself wishing he’d kept his clothes on. Anything to make him feel less exposed, less vulnerable.
The door opened and Liam was pushed through. The toddle awkwardly trying to hold on to the silent baby in his arms. Xander crossed the small room in a few steps and knelt down in front of his son. He carefully took the baby out of the trembling boy’s arms and got up.
“Stay inside,” Fred told him from the doorway, her hand already pulling the door shut and locking it behind her, before Xander had a chance to answer.
“Come here,” Xander guided Liam into the shower stall.
“We just need to be quiet,” Xander murmured. He pulled the little blanket wrapped around Kathy away and looked down at the baby. She stared right back at him. Her eyes big but her face a mask, as if she was a doll, “Hey, Kathy,” he said and cuddled her closer to his bare chest.
A shiver ran through her and she started screaming at the top of her lungs. The sound reverberated against the walls in the bathroom.
The yelling had stopped and Xander sat blocking Liam’s view of the door, protecting the sleeping boy as well as he could. Nothing had happened yet. The silence felt like a thick strangling blanket making it impossible for him to anticipate what might happen next. Kathy made small hiccupy noises, her hands still held tightly on to the blanket she was wrapped in.
Xander tried to stay awake but finally dozed off.
He woke up to the sight of Angelus leaning against the now open door. The vampire’s dark blue shirt soaked through with blood. The crimson fluid dripped from his throat where a huge gash kept seeping blood. Angelus rested his forehead against the door for a second before he slowly moved further into the bathroom.
Xander could feel Liam’s small hands pressing against his sides. The little boy was trying to hide behind his father and his breath ghosted moistly against Xander’s naked skin.
“Traitor,” Angelus croaked. Xander could see the tendons in the vampire’s neck move in the bleeding mess. “I should have dusted his pathetic ass the night Dru brought him back to our lair. Stupid…” Angelus’ stream of words was cut off by a deep rattling cough, “Stupid little insecure brat. Head full of useless poetry,” Angelus laughed hoarsely. He had to reach out and press his hand against the tiled wall just to stay on his feet.
“Is…” Xander started but fell silent the second Angelus looked at him.
“Did you think he could save you?” Angelus pushed away from the wall and Liam made a small noise. The boy’s sharp fingernails pressed so hard into Xander’s skin that he flinched.
“No,” Xander shook his head and patted Kathy on the back. The infant was moving restlessly against his chest, “No, Angelus. No.”
“I,” Angelus stumbled the last few short steps and fell to his knees, both his hands going up to his neck as another spurt of viscous blood streamed from the wound. Angelus bowed his head causing the blood to fall to the floor in front of Xander, “I can’t…“ he murmured. “We…I need you, Xander.”
“Angel?” Xander reached out a trembling hand and touched the vampire’s blood spattered cheek.
“I can’t let you go,” Angelus said, his teeth red with blood, “Don’t you see, Xander? I just can’t let you go.”
“I know,” Xander whispered and stroked Angelus’ hair, “I know.”
Xander reached out in the dark, blindly seeking Liam’s small and clammy hand. He flinched when Liam grabbed on to his bruised hand with a strong grip.
“Daddy,” the little boy whispered.
“Shhh, Honey,” Xander moved his hand up over the boy’s tense back and ran his fingers through Liam’s dirty unruly hair, “It’s okay.”
“No,” Liam simply answered and Xander found it hard to argue. It was a lie and they both knew it. Nothing was okay.
Kathy shifted in Xander’s arms and mumbled in her sleep and sucked on her thumb. Xander tried to find a more comfortable position but the floor of the van was cold and hard.
The sound of steps outside made Xander sit up straighter and pull Liam closer. The door to the back of the van was unlocked and opened. Xander blinked at the light coming from the flashlight Angelus was pointing at them.
“Look what I found,” the vampire said and threw the light at Liam. The flashlight clattered against the metal of the floor and Liam uncertainly reached out and picked it up. It was a Batman flashlight with the superhero’s logo printed all over the black plastic. Xander did his best not to think about the toy’s former owner.
“Wakey wakey, Kathy,” Angelus pulled the blinking child out of Xander’s hands and only years of practice prevented Xander from snatching her back, “Let’s go see your new room,” Angelus said and bounced the little girl in his arms, “It has pretty pink curtains and teddy bears on every shelf.”
“They need to eat,” Xander said tentatively and crawled out of the van, making sure that Liam was following him. The boy allowed Xander to help him jump down on to the ground.
“There’s food in the house,” the vampire smiled at Kathy and then turned his attention to Xander, “Fred is just straightening a few things out.”
Liam grabbed onto Xander’s leg and held the flashlight close to his chest. Xander looked around and noticed the farmhouse behind the van. The house looked strangely eerie in the colliding light from the house itself and the van‘s headlights. A doghouse standing to the left of the house had an unmoving form sticking out of the small doorway and Xander looked away, swallowing the bile he felt rising in his throat.
The front door of the house opened and Fred walked out into the cold night air and looked over at them. She gracefully walked across the big driveway and stood close to Angelus and whispered in her sire’s ear.
“Good,” Angelus said, “Drive the van into the barn over there and check out the area. And don’t kill anyone,” he ordered, “We won’t be staying here long but that doesn’t mean I want the people around here to notice us too soon.”
“Daddy,” Liam said and looked up at Xander, “I’m hungry.”
“Then let’s go eat, boy,” Angelus started walking around the van and over to the farmhouse.
Xander knew the second Liam saw the dead dog sticking out of the doghouse. The boy’s small fingers tightened around his own and a small muffled outburst made him look down at his son.
“The doggy,” Liam whispered.
“Don’t look, Liam,” Xander said and lifted the shivering child up into his arms, “Just don’t look.”
“Daddy,” Kathy said from her position in her father’s arms and waved happily at them.
Xander managed to smile and let his hand rest on Liam’s head as the boy pressed his face against Xander’s neck, his small lips moving as he kept mumbling about “the little doggy.”
The front door opened into a big hallway. It seemed as if all the lights in the house were on and Xander closed his eyes momentarily in an attempt to adjust to the bright room.
“Is their…can I go put them in their room?” Xander asked and made sure not to look at Angelus too long. The vampire’s temper was volatile at the best of times and Xander didn’t want to give him an excuse for another beating.
“Fred cleaned it up, nothing there but furniture,” Angelus answered and then kissed Kathy’s cheek, “And toys,” Angelus laughed and the girl giggled but then looked uncertainly at Xander.
“They need to eat before they sleep, Angelus,” Xander said and took a fast step back when Angelus whirled around and glared at him. Liam’s arms felt like steel bars around Xander’s neck, desperately holding on and still hiding his face against Xander’s neck. Kathy gave a little frightened yelp.
“Take them upstairs,” Angelus said, “Second door on the left.”
Xander nodded and put a very reluctant Liam down and took Kathy from Angelus’ arms. The vampire grabbed Xander by the shoulder and moved closer, “I’ll send Fred up with some food and you get them fed and to bed fast. This place has a nice big bed in the master bedroom and I’d like to try it out,” Angelus pressed his cool lips hard against Xander’s and then shoved him in the direction of the stairs.
Xander waited for Liam to cross the hallway and reach the stairs before he started the slow walk upstairs, waiting for the tired little boy every few steps.
A crumbled body on the landing made Xander stop and Liam stood very still next to him. It was a woman. Her big blue eyes staring wide-eyed up at the ceiling, the blood spattered on the wall behind her still slowly dripping down onto the green carpet on the stairs.
“Don’t look, Liam,” Xander whispered and pressed Kathy’s face against his chest praying she hadn’t seen anything, “Keep walking,” he continued, “Just keep walking.”
A knock on the white painted door made Xander almost jump out of his skin before it opened and revealed a grinning Fred. She threw a bag of bread and a plastic jar of peanut butter that lost its lid when it hid the floor. The lid rolled in under a white and pink painted dresser.
“Feed them,” she simply ordered and walked down the hallway, leaving the door open and giving Xander and the kids a view of a bloody handprint on the wall just outside the pink colored room.
Xander hurried over to the white door and closed it. He bent down and picked up the food and walked back to the small bed with its My Little Pony bedspread. Kathy and Liam were both sitting on it, Kathy with a purple stuffed bear in her hands.
“It’ll be nice to get something to eat,” Xander said with a false brightness he knew the children saw right through. He opened the bag of bread and took out several slices before he stuck his finger into the jar of peanut butter and used it to spread the sticky substance onto the bread. He handed Liam the first sandwich and then repeated the process.
Kathy hummed happily when she took her sandwich and bit into it, “Yummy,” she smiled messily at Xander and he laughed quietly and made a sandwich for himself. He just managed to eat half of it before he noticed how both children were practically sleeping while sitting up.
“Let’s get you out of that clothes,” Xander said and started undressing Kathy. Liam, with great difficulty, pulled his own socks off and then started to fumble at the dirty jeans he was wearing when the door burst open.
Angelus walked into the room and looked from the still half-dressed children to Xander, “Didn’t I tell you to make it fast?” he growled at Xander.
“T-they just finished eating,” Xander said, grabbed the blanket with sticky fingers and pulled it over Kathy’s shivering form. Liam had stopped fumbling with his jeans and anxiously watched Angelus walk into the room. The vampire looked around as if seeing the room for the first time, taking in the pink curtains, the pictures of a happy smiling little girl on the walls and the teddy bears that seemed to take up every available surface.
“Get over here,” Angelus said and Xander scrambled across the room and stood in front of Angelus making sure he stood between the vampire and the children on the bed. Angelus grabbed Xander by the neck and pulled him close, his fingers leaving red marks on the human’s pale skin. Xander only had time to gasp before Angelus kissed him so hard Xander’s lip split and blood started running down his chin.
“No,” Xander mumbled against Angelus’ lips and then louder when the vampire gave him a chance to breathe, “Not in front of the children,” he begged and looked over his shoulder at Liam and Kathy. The girl was clutching at her older brother’s shoulder, seeking protection the little boy couldn’t give. “Please,” Xander turned his attention to Angelus, “Not in here.”
“Get your ass to the bedroom,” Angelus pushed Xander out the door and the human tripped over his own feet. Angelus laughed, “Clumsy bitch,” his voice filled the house and Xander got up and let Angelus herd him down the short hall and into what could only be the master bedroom. In the corner a dead man was propped against the wall, his tongue peeking out from blue lips.
“Get undressed,” Angelus demanded and started unbuttoning his own shirt.
It had been fast and painful. It wasn’t always but Xander preferred it to the times when Angelus would make him like it. Those times where the vampire would make it good and make Xander moan and beg, always felt worse than when Angelus simply pushed him facedown on a mattress and forced him.
But what came after was always the same and Xander swallowed in fear as Angelus nuzzled his throat with soft lips before scraping his fangs over the claim mark. Xander shivered and Angelus chuckled deep down in his chest.
“We’ll only stay here a few days,” Angelus whispered against Xander’s neck and licked the claim mark slowly, “Just a few days and then we’ll go to New York to deal with some business.”
“Can…can I take the kids outside tomorrow?” Xander cautiously asked, “They could…use some fresh air and maybe they could play.”
“No,” Angelus easily replied and Xander knew better than to argue, “I still can’t be sure Willow isn’t trying to track us. Even with the spell that last shaman cast on you I’m still not sure…” Angelus ground his hips against Xander’s, “You’ll stay indoors.”
Xander just nodded but stopped immediately when he felt Angelus’ fangs break the skin on his neck and slowly, always so painfully slow, sink into his flesh.
Xander’s fingers constricted on Angelus’ shoulders and the vampire chuckled again, causing a weird feeling to spread across Xander’s skin and into his body as the blood was forced to change direction. He could feel his heart pumping in a vain attempt to stop the unnatural flow of his blood.
He felt himself grow faint and pushed against Angelus’ shoulder with a weak hand, “The baby,” Xander mumbled, “Don’t…you’re hurting the baby.”
Angelus used his knees to push Xander’s thighs further apart and find a more comfortable position but didn’t seem to hear Xander’s weak voice.
“Please, you’ll hurt the baby,” Xander heard his own far-away voice beg just before he fainted.
The mirror reflected the light coming from the bedroom behind him. Xander tilted his head a little to the side and flinched when the tiny wounds from the fangs opened and blood sluggishly started running down his neck.
He reached into the sink and picked up the wet washcloth and gently started cleaning the blood away. He avoided his own eyes in the reflection and only paid attention to the wounds. A sudden warmth spread through him and for a split second he felt dizzy. The washcloth slid out of his fingers and, closing his eyes tightly, he leant against the sink and tried to take a deep breath. Xander reached down to pick up the cloth when a searing pain shot through his body, almost blinding him, and a sudden wetness against his side made him look down at the t-shirt he was wearing. A big spot of blood slowly grew just over his left hip.
”No, no, no,” Xander whispered and lifted the shirt out of the way. Pressing the washcloth against the opening didn’t seem to help and Xander very gently pressed his fingers into the folds of skin hoping to find the orifice closed off. His fingers just continued to slide in and he slowly pulled them back and used the hem of his shirt to dry the remaining blood off his skin. The bleeding lessened and then completely stopped but the painful muscle cramps continued. It made the skin feel tight and fever hot.
”I was too rough,” Angelus’ voice suddenly filled the small bathroom and Xander clenched the washcloth in his hand so hard the pinkish water started dripping down on the tiles.
”I’m…” Xander began and then carefully didn’t pull away when Angelus slid his arms around Xander’s waist, ”I’m okay.”
Angelus slowly let his hand wander over Xander side and stopped over the opening, ”You’re bleeding,” he simply pointed out and nuzzled his nose against Xander’s nape.
”It stopped,” Xander tried to pull away, ”I need to make the kids something to eat.”
”It’ll start bleeding again,” Angelus’ lips ghosted over Xander’s shoulder, ”You aren’t losing another of my children,” the hand on Xander’s hip tightened and left finger-shaped bruises.
”I-I won’t,” Xander gulped, ”I promise. I won’t.”
”Hmmm,” Angelus moved his hand up over Xander’s chest until he had the younger man pinned against his chest. Leaning over Xander’s shoulder, the vampire bit into his own wrist so hard a drop of blood splattered against Xander’s cheek, ”Drink,” Angelus ordered and pressed the wrist against Xander’s lips.
The coppery blood filled Xander’s mouth and he tried to swallow it and gagged. Angelus didn’t remove his wrist and Xander felt faint. The blood started spreading through his body as he swallowed the thick fluid.
Angelus wrapped his arms around Xander’s waist again and gently lowered him down on the closed toilet seat.
The whole room seemed to be moving to a quiet beat, only Xander could hear. Like a pulse running through the house, like blood pumping through a body.
Xander woke up facedown on the bed, the covers only pulled up past his knees. He slowly turned around, fumbling with his boxer shorts to make them fit better, and stared at the ceiling. Whoever had painted it had done a good job. Not a single crack or dry spot. Maybe the husband had painted it. The wife was probably the one who picked out the wallpaper. Small roses in little clusters around a larger rose.
Angelus moved a little in the bed and Xander lay as still as he could, not wanting the vampire to wake up. When Angelus didn’t move again Xander continued his inspection of the ceiling.
He always tried to pretend that the house they were staying at had been abandoned by its previous owners and that once Angelus decided that his little entourage should move on, the family would return. They’d wonder why some of the windows had been boarded up or the drapes had been nailed to the walls, keeping all sunlight out.
It was easier than acknowledging the fact that the family was dead. Gone because Angelus had liked their house. Xander preferred the abandoned warehouses and old houses that seemed seconds away from falling apart. At least no one had to die when Angelus chose those.
”Daddy?” a small voice disturbed his thoughts.
”Mmmm?” Xander turned over on his side.
”I’m hungry,” Liam sounded almost uncertain.
”You are,” Xander sat up and got off the bed. Angelus continued sleeping and Xander made sure not to turn so Liam could see the blood on the t-shirt. Opening the drawers in the dresser next to the bed he finally found a flannel shirt he could put on.
”Kathy ate all the bread,” Liam complained and shifted a little from side to side.
”Go through that door and come back out when you’re done peeing,” Xander said and moved over to where his shoes had been tossed.
”I don’t have to go,” Liam insisted. Xander just looked at him and pointed at the door to the bathroom.
”But I want to go downstairs,” Liam whined and looked up at Xander.
”I know,” Xander said and finger brushed Kathy’s hair before making a ponytail and tying it off with a rubber band, ”But you need to stay here.”
”Can I go?” Kathy asked and smiled at her own reflection in the big mirror hanging on the back of the door.
”No, you can both stay here and play,” Xander knelt down in front of Liam and took his grubby hand, ”I bet you guys would love a bubble bath.”
”Really?” Liam asked and his eyes lit up, ”With lots and lots of bobbles?”
”As many as we can make,” Xander promised, ”But you have to stay up here in the room. I’ll go downstairs and get you something yummy to eat.”
”Peemut butter?” Kathy asked.
”Oh, much much better than peanut butter,” Xander said and smiled at Kathy’s excited expression.
Xander closed the door behind him and took a deep calming breath. He just needed to go downstairs and get some food for them. Nothing fancy. Maybe a sandwich with fresh tomatoes, or eggs and bacon. Maybe he could find some cookies or candy.
If he was lucky he wouldn’t have to deal with Fred. She seemed to rejoice in making his life a living hell and she was always scheming against him. He couldn’t prove anything but he was almost certain that she had done something that had killed his little boy. Xander wiped the treacherous tears gathering in his eyes away and started walking down the stairs. He quietly walked in the direction he guessed the kitchen must be and reached a yellow door and opened it.
Inside the kitchen was illuminated by the early sunshine flowing through the windows facing east. He walked over and started rummaging through the kitchen drawers searching for tablecloths and anything else big enough to cover the windows. He opened the windows and pushed the cloth in place so it blinded the window, closed the window and tried to pull on the green cloth to test it. It didn’t move an inch and Xander turned his attention to finding something to eat.
The fridge was filled with healthy vegetables and fruits and Xander started taking out all the things he wanted to bring upstairs with him. When he couldn’t hold anything else in his arms he nudged the fridge door closed with his hip and dropped some of the food.
”Aren’t you a little jumpy?” Fred smirked and bend down to pick up an apple. She bit into it, chewed for a few seconds and then threw the apple at Xander, ”Tastes like cardboard,” she sulked and took a step closer to Xander, ”You smell like blood,” Fred reached out and grabbed Xander’s by the shirt and pulled him close.
”What?,” Xander started but Fred just smiled and pressed her hand against Xander’s left side.
Fred smiled sickly-sweet and pressed harder. Blood started seeping through the flannel shirt and Xander gasped.
”I’ll tell him,” Xander managed to get out and stumbled back a few steps.
”So what,” Fred asked, ”He beats me a little harder? I like it when he does that. I can take it,” she stalked him around the kitchen and Xander kept walking backwards hoping Angelus would interrupt her game, ”You know how much he loves to use me. He can be as forceful as he wants.”
”Shut up,” Xander whispered.
”You’re too weak to survive another birth and we both know it,” Fred had him cornered and Xander tried to press his back harder against the wall, ”You might not die this time around but Angelus can’t seem to get enough of those filthy brats of yours. He fascinated by the fact that he’s the only vampire ever to have children,” Fred giggled, ”Oh, he was so angry with you when that little piece of filth died before it was even born. You know what I did with the itty bitty body?” Fred asked with mock concern.
”Shut up,” Xander said again, this time so quietly he could barely hear it himself.
”I threw him in the sewer,” Fred smiled brightly, ”I just picked him up and walked out and found the first and filthiest sewer around and dumped your little boy down in that dark stinking hole.”
”Shut up,” Xander pushed her back and Fred slipped on a bag of sliced carrots.
”You…” Fred began but stopped and straightened up. She listened for a few seconds, her body stiff with concentration and then walked briskly out of the kitchen, leaving Xander behind.
He started picking up the food with slow movements, his work made more difficult by the tears blurring his vision. He stopped moving when he heard a soft sound coming from the door at the other end of the kitchen. Xander looked over to the door leading from the kitchen to the rest of the house. The sound seemed to turn into a strange muffled wailing. Moving carefully over to the door at the opposite end of the kitchen he tried to figure out what was making that awful sound.
Maybe a cat had been caught in the basement or maybe the room lead to the pantry. He grabbed on to the doorknob and turned it. The door silently opened and Xander touched the brick wall inside until his fingers found a switch. The fluorescent light in the ceiling flickered a few times before deciding to stay on. The stairs were old and creaked slightly as Xander walked down them. The strange sound had stopped leaving the basement eerily quiet. Xander had to force himself to continue down the last few steps.
The basement wasn’t very big and seemed only to have the same size as the kitchen above it. The light from the ceiling fixtures didn’t reach the darkest corners of the room and Xander stood quietly for a minute, just trying to pick up the sound again.
There. Over in the corner to the right of him, behind a few boxes.
Xander grabbed the first box and pushed it aside and he was about to push the last one out of his way when the light fell from above him, over his shoulder and down on a small dirty face with a pair of beautiful blue eyes staring up at him.
”Oh…” Xander held up his hands to show he didn’t mean no harm, ”Are you the one crying?” he gently asked and knelt down in front of the shivering form. A short nod and a whimper was the only answer he got, ”You must be cold down here in this damp basement, huh?” Another nod. ”Would you like to go upstairs with me?” Xander asked.
”The bad lady is upstairs,” the little voice informed him and a small hand attached to an arm littered with bite marks reached out for him.
”Oh, Sweetheart,” Xander managed to mumble, ”I won’t let her hurt you,” he took the hand and pulled a small girl, not much older than Liam, out from the dark corner and almost fell backwards when she latched on to his shirt and pressed her shivering body against him.
”What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Fred’s voice cut through the silence just as Xander managed to enter the kitchen and close the door to the basement behind him.
The little girl started crying and she pressed her face against Xander’s shoulder.
”Give her here,” Fred demanded, ”She’s mine!”
”Get the hell away from us,” Xander said and inched his way past the door and over to sink. Fred was across the room in a blink, her hands around Xander’s throat.
She moved as close to Xander as she could come with the child still holding on to Xander and screamed at him, ”She’s mine. You don’t get to touch what’s mine.”
A deep growl made her spin around and she barely managed to make a single noise before Xander saw Angelus stride across the room and grab on to her neck and thrown her against the kitchen table. The old oak splintered under her and she screamed in pain. A large piece of the wood was pushed through her stomach. Its jagged edges soaked with blood and tatters of skin and cloth were smeared across it.
”What did I tell you?!” Angelus asked and stalked over to the bleeding fledge. She whimpered and tried to move away from him, the blood spilling from her belly making the kitchen floor slippery.
”I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Fred managed to say in-between spitting out blood.
Xander just stood frozen by the sink, holding tightly on to the little girl. Angelus turned and looked at him.
”I could kill her right now,” the vampire said and for a second Xander thought Angelus meant the girl. He was about to say no when Angelus continued, ”I warned her not to touch you,” he looked down at Fred, lifted his booted foot and pressed it against the large splinter of wood sticking out of her belly.
”No,” Fred’s eyes grew big, she shook her head and looked over at Xander, ”Please, Xander.”
”It’s your call,” Angelus smiled down at Fred, ”All I have to do is pull that piece of wood out of her stomach and stab her in the heart.”
”I,” Xander’s mouth felt incredibly dry.
”Your call,” Angelus persisted.
Fred started laughing hysterically, ”He’s playing you, Xander. He won’t kill me!” she leant her head back and laughed even louder, ”He loves me!”
”kill her,” Xander whispered.
”We’ll be leaving when you’re done in here,” Angelus said from the doorway to the bathroom.
”Can it wait until tomorrow night? They need to sleep,” Xander looked up at him.
”I guess we could stay that long but then we need to leave,” Angelus watched the children sitting in the bathtub.
”Where to?” Xander asked and gave Kathy a plastic cup. She smiled at the other little girl sitting next to her in the bubble filled bathtub and filled the cup with water and bubbles. When she didn’t get a reaction from the quiet girl, she turned and dumped the warm water over Liam’s head.
”Hey!” Liam yelled and Kathy giggled and clapped her chubby hands together.
”I don’t know,” Angelus answered and Xander looked up at him.
”You don’t know?” he asked tentatively.
”I want to go somewhere where we’ll be close to help when the time comes,” Angelus said and looked down at Xander’s flat stomach.
”Look Dad!” Kathy had heaped a pile of bubbles on her head and she beamed up at Angelus. The vampire smiled and then looked over at the little girl sitting motionless in the tub next to Kathy.
”She’d be better of if you’d let me end it,” he said and looked Xander straight in the eyes.
Xander stood under the warm spray of the showerhead, his forehead resting against the cool tiles. The kids were sleeping, sharing the little girl’s bed. It had been a little difficult getting the three kids to fit into the bed but Kathy and Liam insisted on sleeping there and Liam had solemnly put his arm around the little quiet girl.
He could still taste the dust deep in his throat. He looked down at the water running into the drain under his foot, taking the last of Winifred Burkle with it as it made its way into the sewer system.
Arching up against the cooler body above him, Xander closed his eyes and moaned. The teeth sank into his neck and the slow pull of the blood leaving his body made him shiver. Angelus tightened his grip on Xander’s hip and pressed the warm thigh further out to the side as he kept moving. Angelus gently stopped feeding and Xander blinked sleepily up at him, wrapped his legs around Angelus’ waist and pulled him closer.
Xander turned his head and pressed it against Angelus’ neck and allowed himself just to feel the vampire move in him. The slow burning fire traveled down his spine and settled at its base.
Sharp teeth nipped at his shoulder and Xander reached up to touch the dark hair falling into Angelus’ eyes. He cupped the vampire’s face in his hands and stroked the dark eyebrows. Angelus’ eyes focused solely on Xander’s as they found their own slow rhythm.
Sometimes when they were together like this, when there was no pain and Angelus took his time, Xander would stare into Angelus’ eyes until he was almost certain he could see Angel there. It didn’t happen often and it always left Xander feeling raw. As if his skin had been pulled off his flesh and his nerves had been left unprotected.
Once, back in the beginning not long after Angelus had killed Cordy, Xander made the mistake of calling the vampire Angel. Had whispered it against the vampire’s naked shoulder, the skin cool against his own heated skin. It had only happened once. Xander had learned from his mistake. It took weeks for the bones in his hand to grow back together again.
Closing his eyes Xander nuzzled the soft unblemished skin under Angelus’ ear and braced himself for what he knew was going to happen. Angelus slid his arms around Xander’s body lifting him up off the leather coat under them and sank his sharp teeth into Xander’s neck again.
The feeling of the teeth breaking his pale skin made Xander shudder through his own orgasm. The muscles in his legs twitching until they hurt and started shaking. Angelus slowly put him down on the coat, he had spread out on the cold concrete floor earlier. The vampire was taking deep unnecessary breaths. Angelus stood up gracefully and stretched his arms up at the ceiling of the warehouse far up above them.
“We’ll be staying here for a few weeks,” he said and looked back down at Xander.
Suddenly aware that he was laying naked on the floor Xander first knelt then stood up on unsteady legs. Angelus reached out and steadied him for a brief second and then the vampire turned to the pile of clothes next to the leather coat and started getting dressed.
“You should get dressed,” the vampire said when he zipped his pants and buckled his belt, “It’s cold here and you always feel cold anyway.”
“If we’re staying,” Xander started looking through the pile of clothes and found his t-shirt, “then the kid’s are going to need more clothes. Something warmer.”
“Hmmm,” Angelus nodded and pulled his own t-shirt over his head and picked the coat up from the floor.
Xander was busy pulling his jeans up when a hand appeared in his field of vision.
“Chocolate,” Angelus said as if he wasn’t sure Xander would be able to identify the handful of candy bars the vampire was holding out.
“I…” Xander said and looked from the chocolate bars to Angelus, “Thank you.”
“You need to eat more,” Angelus explained and made a motion with his hand that clearly showed that Xander was supposed to take them, “You like chocolate,” Angelus continued and made it sound like a command.
“Thank you,” Xander repeated and took the chocolate bars.
“I’ll be back in a few hours,” Angelus said and hurried over to the metal door in the northern corner of the warehouse.
Xander just nodded and watched him leave. The door made a loud noise when Angelus closed it and Xander looked down at the colorfully wrapped chocolate bars in his hand.
Something was going on with Angelus. There had been too many of these gestures. Xander had learned early on in his relationship with Angelus that change was always bad.
He walked over to the van parked in the middle of the warehouse. Its blacked out windows in the back made it look like a surveillance car and Xander opened the sliding door to reveal three blanket covered children sleeping on the floor of the van.
Liam was curled up behind Kathy, the little boy’s right arm slung over her smaller frame. To the left of them the little girl from the farm slept, curled up right next to the van’s other occupants and still she managed to somehow look isolated and lonely.
Xander placed a big chocolate bar next to each child and then made sure not to make too much noise as he closed the door again. He stared at the van for a few seconds and then started going through his pockets looking for some spare change. Nothing. His pockets were completely empty.
He quietly opened the door to the cab of the van and reached into the little cup holder attached to the dashboard next to the steering wheel. He counted the coins he had found there and then slipped them into his pocket.
The phone kept ringing and Buffy turned, still half asleep, and blindly reached for it. Cursing quietly when the phone dropped to the floor she managed to sit up and fished the phone up from between her pink fluffy slippers.
“’lo?” she mumbled and rubbed her free hand against her eyes.
“Buffy?” came the quiet response from the other end of the line.
“Xander? Oh, my God! Xander!” Buffy jumped up from her bed and smacked her hand against the light switch by the door. The bedroom was bathed in light. Buffy blinked and had to close her eyes for a split second before the light didn’t send little jabs of pain into her scull.
“I don’t have a lot of time,” Xander sounded almost breathless, “It’ll take me at least ten minutes to get back to the van, even if I run, and I don’t know how long he’s gone for.”
“Can you get away?” Buffy asked, “Can you maybe get on some kind of public transportation or…where are you? Do you know where you are?”
“I’m…I think…North…Somewhere north…maybe New York but I‘m not sure…It doesn’t matter,” he suddenly interrupted himself, “I can’t get away.”
“If…” Buffy started.
“I’m not leaving my kids,” Xander stopped her, “And even if I could get away with the kids and…It wouldn’t matter, Buffy. You know it would only be a question of time before I needed him again.”
“The claim,” Buffy made the word sound like a curse.
“I’m still here,” Buffy reassured him, “I’m right here.”
“What?” Buffy opened the door to the hallway and started walking down the stairs to the living room.
“Angelus is acting differently and sometimes…” Xander swallowed, “Sometimes he acts almost like Angel.”
Buffy didn’t bother to knock on the door to the basement. She simply opened it and walked down the dark stairs, so familiar with them that turning on the light was unnecessary, “I don’t think I understand,” she said and kicked her foot against Spike’s bed. The vampire flashed his fangs at her and was about to say something when the phone was put into his hand.
“Hello?” Spike said and looked up at Buffy. A small lamp standing on the floor next to the bed cast her face in shadows.
“S-Spike?!” Xander’s voice was so loud it rang out into the small dimly lit room.
“Xander!” Spike pushed away from the bed and walked over to the stairs, “Where are you?”
“I though you were dead,” Xander whispered, “He said…He said you betrayed him and he killed you.”
“Still here, boy,” Spike said, “Bastard was lying,” he was about to continue when he heard Xander crying, “Xander?”
“I thought…He said he killed you because you tried to help me…I though I’d gotten you killed,” Xander was clearly having a hard time breathing and Spike’s grip on the phone made the plastic crackle.
“No,” Spike shook his head, “He’s lying.”
“What about Wesley?” Xander hiccupped, “Is he there with you?”
“Giles sent him to some healer…His spine was broken,” Spike flinched when he heard Xander’s panicked breathing.
“Gunn?” Xander managed to ask.
“Lost a hand but… Xander? Xander?” Spike couldn’t hear anything on the other end of the line.
“I’m…I’m still here but I have to go back now. I have to go back,” Xander said and Spike could almost imagine the younger man frantically checking his surroundings, “I have to go.”
“Xander?” Spike yelled into the phone and pressed it harder against his ear, “Xander?!”
Running as fast as he could Xander made his way back through the dark passageways between the warehouses and suddenly realized he was lost. He anxiously pulled the doors of different warehouses but they were all locked.
“Oh, God no,” he muttered as he went from door to door turning door handles and cursing his own stupidity.
“Lost your way?”
Xander froze, his fingers clenched around a cold door handle.
“Didn’t your parents ever read you the fairytale about Hansel and Gretel?” Angelus’ voice filled the darkness and Xander shuddered and let his hand fall from the door handle, ”See, little Hansel and Gretel were abandoned in the forest by their father and stepmother,” the vampire wrapped his hands around Xander’s shoulders. But the kids were smart and used stones, little white stones, to mark the way.”
”I…I only…” Xander winced when the heavy hands on his shoulders started to force him around until he faced Angelus, ”I…I didn’t.”
”Wasn’t it nice?” Angelus asked him and smiled deceptively, ”I was nice to you weren’t I. The way you wrapped your legs around me…Well, I’m sure you liked it.”
”I-I’m sorry,” Xander looked down at his worn out sneakers.
”Not yet you’re not,” Angelus ominously promised.
”Maybe this’ll teach you not to lie to me,” Angelus said and opened the door to the back of the van. Liam sat up and blinked tiredly at the light suddenly flooding the darkness of the van.
”No!” Xander tried to pull out of Angelus’ grip around his upper arm, ”No! No! Not the kids.”
Angelus pulled Liam out of the van and the little boy started screaming, his naked knees scraping across the hard concrete floor.
”He’s not mine anyway,” Angelus dropped the boy and left him to cry on the floor, a yellow puddle spreading under the terrified boy.
”Please don’t,” Xander begged, ”I’ll do anything you say. Anything.”
”I should have snapped his neck the second I had the chance,” Angelus pressed Xander up against the cold metal of the van and hissed in his ear, ”He’s Angel’s bastard. Not mine. The girl is mine,” he turned Xander’s face so he was looking into the van, into Kathy’s big tear-filled eyes. Behind her the girl from the farm was shaking. Xander could hear the sound of her breath coming in small hard puffs.
“Daddy?” Kathy asked and sniffed.
“Daddy is a little busy right now, Honey,” Angelus said sweetly and slammed the door to the van closed making the two little girls inside scream in fear.
“D-daddy,” Liam sniffled and Xander managed to catch a glimpse of the boy before Angelus threw Xander across the floor. His back slammed against a few empty wooden crates and for a split second Xander thought his spine had snapped. But then the pain flooded all the way down to his toes.
His hands were a mess of tiny stones imbedded in bleeding skin when Xander finally managed to get up. He took a few steps in Liam’s direction before he was thrown against the nearest wall. All the air was pushed from his lungs and Xander curled up trying to get his body to follow his instructions. Breathe. Breathe.
“Daddy!” Liam shrieked and Xander looked up only to see Angelus pick the boy up by his dark too-long hair, “Daddy!” Liam wailed and Xander tilted to the side and tried to make his legs work.
Liam was grabbing at Angelus’ hand. His small fingers scraping over the vampire’s bigger and stronger ones. Angelus simply lifted him higher and Liam squealed and kicked his legs.
“You get to pick,” Angelus dropped the screaming boy down on the floor and walked over to Xander. The vampire crouched down and petted Xander’s dirty cheek, “Him or the little stray from the farm,” the fingers running through Xander’s hair were ever so gentle, “I’m going to kill one of them. But since you were the one to break the rules you get to pick. Isn’t that fair?”
“I won’t,” Xander pulled away from Angelus and shook his head. A small trickle of blood ran down his forehead and dripped from his eyebrow down on the floor.
“If you don’t pick one,” Angelus stood up and held his hands out as if to show Xander the decision was out of the vampire’s hands, “I’ll have to kill both of them.”
“You hurt them…and I’ll…” Xander didn’t get a chance to continue before Angelus kicked him in the stomach. The blinding pain moving through him finally settled in his head, making him dizzy.
“What?” Angelus asked and kicked him again, “You’ll do what?”
Xander gasped and curled up, his hands protecting his stomach, when Angelus kicked him a third time.
“You seem to forget,” Angelus said and grabbed on to Xander’s shirt and started hauling him across the floor, “You need me to survive. If I die you’ll lose everything. Starting with your mind and finally you’ll starve to death,” he dumped Xander down next to Liam, “How does that sound? It’s a very very slow death,” Angelus clapped his hands, “Me? I’ll feel a little sick for awhile but then I’ll be right as rain.”
Liam shivered next to Xander, his little body shaking uncontrollably.
“Please,” Xander got up on his knees, “I’ll do anything you want,” he reached out for Angelus, “Anything at all. Anything.”
“You already do anything I want,” Angelus laughed and knelt down in front of Xander, “I say bend over and you do. I tell you to suck my cock and you do. I feed on you and you let me,” Angelus was running his fingers over the claim mark on Xander’s neck, “You already do everything I want. You don’t have anything more to offer me.”
Xander closed his eyes, slowly got up and staggered a few feet away from Liam. Angelus followed him, his dark eyes never leaving Xander’s face.
“The girl,” Xander whispered and looked away from Angelus’ smiling face, “I…I pick the girl.”
“That’s more like it,” Angelus slapped Xander on the shoulder and made his way over to the van, “See, all you had to do was pick. Easy.”
Xander could hear the muffled cries coming from the two girls trapped in the van. Could see Liam’s big scared eyes following Angelus’ every move and Angelus was standing with his back turned to him. Xander took a few steps forward and then realized that he had nowhere to go. That this was it. He had nowhere to go and… His almost tripped over something.
A piece of the wooden crate had ended up on the floor several feet away from the wall where they had been stored. It must have been caught under him somehow when Angelus had dragged him across the floor.
“Choices, choices,” Angelus said and opened the door to the back of the van, “It’s always about choosing, Xander.”
Xander knelt down and picked up the piece of wood. It was shaped like a squashed triangle. The broad end resting against his palm. Xander looked up and right into Liam’s big brown eyes. Xander pressed his index finger against his mouth telling the boy to be quiet. Liam nodded and wiped the tears from his face with the back of his hand.
The little girl screamed at the top of her lungs. Angelus grabbed on to her thin wrist and pulled her away from the blanket she had been hiding under. Kathy held on to her hand and ended up being pulled from the van as well. The two girls’ panicked wails echoed in the empty warehouse.
“Shut up,” Angelus said and slapped Kathy across the face. The little girl stopped screaming and Angelus looked shocked, “Kathy?” he said as if he couldn’t believe what he’d just done.
Xander moved as quietly as he could, his left leg felt numb. He watched as Angelus pushed Kathy back into the van and closed the door. The girl from the farm hanging from his other hand.
“So,” Angelus said, still facing away from Xander, “Fast or slow, Xander. How do you want her to die?” He turned around and looked surprised to see Xander standing right behind him.
“I’m sorry,” Xander said.
“What?” Angelus looked puzzled.
“I’m sorry,” Xander repeated and pushed the sharp end of the piece of wood as hard as he could against Angelus’ chest.
“Xander?” Angelus said just as the surprise on his face turned to shock and Xander watched the vampire’s body disintegrate right in front of him.
The girl dropped to the floor, dust settling in her hair. Xander knelt down and watched the dust fall to the floor, tiny embers flickering as the dust turned grey and lifeless.
“Daddy?” Kathy called from inside the van.
“You need me,” Angelus said from the passenger seat and drummed his fingers against the dashboard.
“Shut up,” Xander shook his head and tried to keep focused.
“Aw, come on,” Angelus whispered in Xander’s ear, “You know you need me. So what are you gonna do now?”
“Shut up,” Xander yelled, “You’re not real! You’re not!”
“Daddy?” Liam asked from the back of the van.
“It’s okay, Liam. Daddy’s just tired. Go back to sleep,” Xander said and looked over at the empty passenger seat, “Everything’s fine.”
He knew he was losing it when he saw Larry and Jesse sitting on a bench outside a 7Eleven drinking beer. Jesse held up his beer as Xander drove the van past them and Larry waved.
When Xander checked his side mirror the bench was occupied by two skinny teenage girls.
“Stay in the van,” Xander said and looked back at the three kids. Liam nodded and put his arms around the two little girls. Xander smiled at him, opened the driver side door and got out of the van.
The gas station’s neon sign gave him a little hope and he closed his eyes for a few seconds and tried to pull enough energy together to walk across the asphalt separating him from the brightly lit station.
Taking a deep breath, he walked across the road and into the station. The door made a cheery sound, announcing his arrival and Xander walked to the back of the small store where the food and drinks were. He picked out three small bottles of juice, two plastic wrapped sandwichs and a handful of small chips bags. He staggered back to the counter where a young man stood waiting for him.
“Will that be all?” he asked as he fiddled with the computer in front of him. He frowned at the tiny screen and pressed a few more keys.
“Yeah…uh…Can I use your toilet?” Xander asked and put a 20 dollar bill down on the counter.
The young man put the food and drinks in a plastic bag and took the bill, “Sure, it’s out at the back. You’ll need the key,” he handed Xander the key and the change, “Just remember to bring the key back…Sir?” the man behind the counter leant a little closer to him, “Are you sure you’re okay.”
Xander pressed his fingers against his left eye. The skin felt warm and he knew it was a nasty shade of black, “Just had a bad week,” he said and held the key up, “I’ll be sure to bring this back.”
The toilet was much cleaner than Xander had expected. He fumbled with the lock on the inside of the door for awhile until he finally heard the click as it locked. Staggering back he dumped the plastic bag on the floor, unzipped his jacket and lifted his t-shirt up.
He was bleeding again. The orifice was almost open all the way and Xander grabbed a handful of paper towels and pressed them against it. The paper was instantly soaked through with blood and he threw them in the wastebasket by the sink.
The blood started flowing faster from the orifice until it trickled down his side and down over his jeans. The warm blood felt sticky and Xander knelt down on the tiled floor and pressed his hand against the opening. The muscles in his stomach spasmed and the pain rippled through him. He managed to sit back, his feet pushing at the closed door and his back, against the wall, taking the brunt of the pressure as he started pushing as hard as he could.
Gasping between the muscle cramps he reached up and pulled more paper towels from the dispenser. The blood was streaming from him now and he could see the baby’s head as he kept pushing.
His entire body felt strained beyond its limit and just as he realized that he couldn’t go on much longer the infant’s body emerged. With numb fingers he started cleaning the blood smeared face only to see that the face was slack and the small chest unmoving.
Desperately he started to rub his fingers in circles on the baby’s chest and throat. But nothing happened.
The tiny body was limp and Xander held it close to his chest before he pulled his jacket off and wrapped the infant in it. He barely made it when he tried to stand and only his hand clenching the edge of the sink kept him from falling face first against the bloodstained floor. He unlocked the door, remembered the plastic bag with the food and left the toilet door open behind him, with the key on the floor in a puddle of blood.
“Summers’ residence,” Dawn said and put the bag of popcorn down on the entry hall table.
“Who’s this?” Dawn turned, pointed at the phone and then waved at Buffy who was taking the groceries out of the paper bags on the kitchen counter.
“Buffy!” Dawn yelled and Buffy dropped the bag of wonder bread she had just taken out of the paper bag, “It’s Xander!”
Buffy almost stepped on the bag of bread as she made her way form the kitchen to the hallway where Dawn was pressing the phone against her ear, “Give it here,” Buffy said and took the phone.
“Xander?” she could hear cars in the background.
“Hi,” then silence, “I…He’s dead.”
“Where are you, Xander?” Buffy asked, “Please, tell me where you are.”
“You sure this is it?” Spike asked and stopped the car by the side of the road.
“He said, he was at the old farm just outside Sunnydale,” Buffy opened the door and was about to get out when Spike’s hand on her shoulder stopped her.
“What if it’s a trap?” the blond vampire asked.
“Xander wouldn’t do that,” Buffy answered angrily and got out of the car. Spike followed her and pointed over at the old farm. The darkness shrouded it in shadows and only the main house still seemed to be standing against the winds that blew across the flat ground.
“If the children were in danger…” Spike let his voice trail off and Buffy just shook her head.
“He said Angelus was dead. He’s in there, Spike. You told me yourself what happens when the bond is broken between a vampire and its claimed human. He’s in there,” she said again.
“Nothing,” Spike said as he walked down the creaking old steps.
“But he said,” Buffy looked desperately around the dusty house and was about to walk to the door when Spike held up a hand.
“Do you hear that?” he asked.
“What?” she opened the door and stepped outside.
“It’s coming from the back,” Spike said and ran around the house.
Buffy followed only to stop in her tracks when she saw Spike skid to a stop in front of a dark van. From inside voices could be heard.
“Xander?” Spike yelled and opened the door.
Three dirty and frightened faces looked out at them, “Spike?” an uncertain voice asked just before small arms wrapped around the vampire’s neck.
“Liam?” Spike asked, “Liam.”
Buffy looked from the vampire hugging the little boy to the two cowering girls hiding in the blankets.
“Where’s Xander?” Buffy asked, “Where is he?”
Liam studied her face and then pointed over at the building that had once been the barn. Only half of it was even standing now. The roof had caved in in the middle and the walls had large holes in them.
“I’ll get the kids back to the car,” Spike said and reached out for the girls. They both latched on to him and he got them out of the van.
“I’ll go get Xander,” Buffy said.
The barn’s double doors were open. One of them was only just handing on to the building itself while the other moved slightly in the wind. The room was dark but the hole in the roof gave the moon a chance to shine down and break up the darkness in patches here and there.
Buffy walked down to the back of the barn where the roof had caved in and separated the two halves of the building. She stopped when she saw the figure slumped against the wall there.
“Xander?” Buffy crouched down in front of her old friend and touched his shoulder. There was no reaction and the blanket covering Xander’s body slid off and revealed the infant cradled in his arms. The baby’s skin was bruised and streaked with blood up over the small chest and across the left cheek. It looked almost like a doll as it lay there in the blue moonlight.
Trying to keep calm she pressed her fingers against Xander’s throat, the claim mark sending shivers down her spine as she felt for a pulse. She pulled the blanket back up so it covered both Xander and the baby. Then she slowly sat down opposite her old friend and cried.