To say that they were surprised was an understatement. They were way beyond surprised. Way way beyond. But that didn’t change the fact that he was standing there, with a little girl attached to his leg. Her small chubby fingers clenching the fabric of his jeans. Didn’t change the fact that he looked tired and worn, pale and thin.
“Hey,” he said and scratched his cheek just under the eye patch and looked from Angel to Spike.
“Harris?” Spike mumbled and took a step forward but stopped when the little girl growled at him.
“Hey, baby, it’s all right. They’re our new friends,” Xander said as he knelt down in front of the girl and pulled off her strawberry red hat. A mass of midnight blue curls tumbled down into her face and the little girl giggled and smiled up at Xander revealing very sharp teeth.
“Xander?” Angel asked as Xander stood up holding the little girl in his arms.
“I need a favour, De…Angel.” he said and patted the girl’s back.
They were sitting at the kitchen table and watched Azure eat the Happy Meal Xander had brought with him. The girl made small happy noises as she unwrapped the plastic toy that came with the meal.
”Look, Daddy.” she whispered and held up a little green car.
”Why don’t you go play with that?” Xander whispered back.
”’K, Daddy!” she laughed as she ran out of the kitchen and into the lobby.
”Xander…Why…” Angel began.
”I heard about Cordy and the rest of your crew,” Xander said and leant back in the kitchen chair. He looked around the kitchen and smiled. ”Heard that you guys took out a dragon…Imagine that.”
”Was a bloody big bastard, that one.” Spike nodded.
”I’m sorry about…about Cordy and Wesley and…I’m sure there were others…that I don’t know about,” Xander ran a hand through his hair and sighed.
”Yeah,” Angel said.
”So, Harris, what do ya want?” Spike stood up and walked over to the open kitchen door and looked into the lobby, watched Azure play with her small toy car.
”I already told you…I need a favour,” Xander answered the blond vampire but his eyes were fixed on Angel.
”What kind of favour?” Angel asked.
”I want you to drain me,” Xander said matter-of-fact.
“I’m sorry…What?” Angel was certain he had heard wrong. There was no way…
“I want…need…you to drain me,” Xander repeated. A bump and a surprised shout followed by crying made Xander stand up and move into the lobby. Azure stood next to the couch, rubbing her butt.
“I felled, Daddy.” she pouted and sniffed.
“Come here,” Xander said and picked the little girl up “Shhh. You only bumped your butt,” Xander said and Azure giggled “See, not so bad.” Xander grinned and kissed the point of her nose.
The little girl sighed and snuggled closer to Xander.
“I’m sorry, Angel.” Xander said and turned around so he was facing the two vampires. Xander suddenly seemed pale and he slowly let Azure slide down from his hip and onto the floor where the little girl stood looking up a her daddy. “She’s really tired and…so am I.” Xander mumbled reaching out for the couch.
“Ya all right?” Spike asked uncertainly.
“No,” Xander said and shook his head “No, not really.” Azure patted Xander’s hand.
“All the rooms on the first floor are ready,” Angel said and looked over at Spike.
“I’ll show ya where ta put the little one down for the night,” Spike said and started walking up the stairs.
“Come on, Sweety. Spike’s gonna show us where to sleep,” Xander said. He picked up Azure again and slowly followed Spike up the stairs.
“Mind telling me what the hell is going on?” Spike said as he sat down at the kitchen table. Angel handed Spike a mug of warm blood and sat down as well.
“I have no idea,” Angel stared into his mug.
“Well, she’s asleep now.” Xander entered the room. He had a small bag in his hand. He pulled out a chair and sat down at the table. Xander closed his eyes for a few seconds and then looked up at Spike and Angel.
“I gotta tell you,” Xander sighed “I never thought I would be happy to see the two of you.”
“Xander…” Angel pushed his mug away and was about to continue when Xander interrupted.
“I need you to let me say this,” Xander looked Angel in the eyes “I need you not to interrupt me and I need you not to ask questions…at least not until I’m done.” Angel nodded. “Thanks.”
“ I’ve been fighting since I was a kid. Vamps, demons, you name it and I’ve probably killed it or helped someone else kill it. I’ve helped Buffy stop a few apocalypses, made sure my best friend didn’t end the world. I’ve looked death in the eyes so many times it started getting ridiculous. I guess that’s why I’ve always made sure to love the people that mattered to me with every fibre of my being…because I knew death could snatch them away,” Xander stopped and rubbed his palm against his cheek.
“I’ve always known I wouldn’t die of old age. Figured I’d get turned or maybe killed as a message to Buffy.” He started taking pill bottles out of the small bag “Imagine my surprise when I found out that my worst enemy wasn’t a demon. Wasn’t the next world-ending apocalypse.”
“These…” Xander put the last pill bottle on the kitchen table and pressed a finger on each lid as he continued “are different forms of pain medication. I honestly never knew they came in so many forms or had so many different names. But they all serve one purpose: to make me get through the day, to make things bearable for just one more day, one more day with Azure.”
“You’re dying,” Angel said. Spike stood up, the chair screeching against the linoleum floor.
“Yeah,” Xander said.
“Ya can’t,” Spike glared at the human.
“It’s not like I’m all happy and cheering death on here, Spike.” Xander said and smiled sadly at the vampire “I don’t want to die but it’s not like I have a lot of choice here.”
“I have leukaemia,” Xander said and twisted the lid off one of the bottles.
“So you’re getting some kind of treatment,” Angel said waving his big hand at the pill bottles lined up on the kitchen table “Right?”
Spike was still standing up, one hand clenched around the back of his chair.
“I have four months left…maybe…maybe even less,” Xander said after he had swallowed the little white pill. “With treatment I could have six months maybe even ten.”
“So ya get the treatment,” Spike demanded.
“No,” Xander shook his head.
“No?!” Spike yelled and grabbed the chair and threw it at the wall.
“You’ll wake her up,” Xander said calmly and started putting the pill bottles back in the bag.
“Xander,” Angel reached out and took one of the bottles out of the human’s hands “You can’t just give up. I know you. You never give up.”
“I can have four good months,” Xander’s hand closed around Angel’s. “I can have four months without too much pain. Or I can have ten…wasting away in a hospital.”
“They’d help ya,” Spike had walked over to where the chair had landed. One of the legs had fallen off and the vampire was pushing it around with his foot.
“They would pump me full of drugs,” Angel finally let go of the last pill bottle and Xander put it in the bag with the rest. “I wouldn’t…couldn’t be with Azure.”
“Why come here? Why come to us?” Angel asked.
“What would Willow do if I went to her?” Xander asked and pushed the bag away from himself.
“She’d…” Angel began.
“She’d do everything ta make sure ya got better. Got treatment,” Spike said and nodded in Xander’s direction. “She’d talk ya into it. Use magic if she had to.”
“But if you explained it to her I’m sure she would listen,” Angel stood up and rinsed his mug.
“She almost ended the world when Tara died,” Xander took a deep breath. “What do you think she would do to keep me alive?”
“Everything,” Spike pulled out another chair and sat back down at the table.
Xander was checking in on Azure when someone knocked on the door to their room.
“Yeah,” Xander said quietly.
“It’s just me,” Angel opened the door enough to look in.
“Come on in,” Xander smiled and stood up. He pulled the bedspread up over the little girl’s shoulders and kissed her dark blue curls.
“Spike didn’t wake her?” Angel was still standing in the doorway.
“Naw,” Xander shook his head “When she gets this tired you could drop a bomb and she wouldn’t notice.” Xander moved over to the door and was about to walk out of the room but Angel grabbed his arm just above the elbow and whispered
“Please, Xander. I don’t think I can do it.”
“Then you can’t, Angel.” Xander said leaning slightly forward “I was asking you for a favour, not commanding you to do it.”
“But why me? Why would you want me to…”
“Can we go downstairs and talk?” Xander asked and looked over his shoulder at Azure.
“I’ve had some time to think this through,” Xander said and looked from Angel to Spike. “I don’t want you guys to think this has been an easy decision for me to make.” Xander looked tired but continued.
“I’ve actually gone through more or less every possible way to do this. The easiest way would be to overdose on the pain meds. Just take too many one night, go to bed and never get up again. But…” Xander shook his head “That wouldn’t be…I can’t explain it but that to me would be…too easy. Too much like giving up. Not to mention that I might not actually die. I might just screw up…and let‘s face it, with my luck, I probably would.”
Spike was fingering a small knife he had been fiddling with before Xander had arrived that night and Xander reached out and took it. He seemed to weigh it in his hand. “I could have chosen this…could have slit my wrists. Pretty fast way to go but messy and who would find me? Azure? I couldn’t take that chance.”
He handed the knife back to Spike. The vampire stared at it and then let it drop down on the table.
“Then there’s hanging…but there’s just a world of no right there. Choking to death. Not very peaceful. Poison? The same problems as overdosing. Could end up spending my last few days hooked up to machines cause I fucked up the amount or something.”
Angel was silently studying the table.
“Drowning? Also not something I’d wanna do…I know that I’m asking a lot, Angel.” Xander looked at Angel and smiled apolitically “I know that but…This way I can be with Azure until the very last minute. She won’t have to see me wasting away.”
“What about her?” Spike asked and looked at Xander “What’ll happen to her?”
“Buffy could…” Angel started but then looked uncertain.
“No,” Xander said calmly “No. Azure is part demon. Buffy doesn’t have the best track record with demons. No offence,” Xander said and looked first at Angel then at Spike. “Buffy has…a…guess you could call it a one-track mind where demons are concerned. She’s spent her life fighting…killing demons.”
“I don’t want Azure to grow up with that…My request isn’t just for you to drain me, Angel.” For the first time since arriving at the Hyperion Xander looked nervous. “I know about Connor and everything that happened here…the whole mess…I-I…I know…Cordy said you were a good father. That you loved Connor and would have done anything for him.”
“Xander,” Angel was paler than normal, his hands clenched into fists.
“I’m not…Azure only has me,” Xander murmured.
“What about her mother?” Spike asked and looked intrigued.
“Toma?” Xander chuckled “Toma would have kicked your ass if he’d heard you call him Azure’s mother,” Xander laughed. He pulled his wallet out of his pocket and took a picture out. He pushed it across the table in Spike’s direction but Angel snatched it up and looked at it.
“You ended up with an Adrogyadi demon?” Angel asked and couldn’t help smiling.
“Yeah,” Xander said “There I was, with my newly installed gayness and I hooked up with this really hot guy.” Spike reached out and finally got Angel to hand over the photo.
In the picture a tall, slim young man had his arm around a grinning Xander. At first glance the man could pass as human. His hair was dark blue but anyone could dye their hair. It was the purple eyes and the sharp teeth that gave him away.
“Imagine my surprise when I finally got him out of his clothes,” Xander took the picture and put it on the table, framing it with his hands.
“Didn’t find what ya expected under those tight jeans?” Spike teased.
“No. I knew he was a demon but well…” Xander said, his voice low and quiet “No. Man, I was the luckiest guy in the world. We travelled around for a few years. Africa. Europe. Before I even knew what was happening we had Azure and were hauling diaper bags around.”
“This…Toma…he’s not around anymore?” Angel asked gently, knowing that there was a hidden pain there.
“Ran into a group of demons that took offence. Apparently even demons can have Nazi tendencies.”
A week went by. Slowly. Fast. Unnoticed.
It was easy to forget that Xander was dying. Inch by inch. Easy because he never complained, never whined. They could pretend it wasn’t there. Big and overshadowing.
They pretended until they woke up one day and found Xander passed out in the bathroom.
“God damn it, Spike!” Angel yelled and tried to get Xander to sit up. The human’s limp hands trying to grasp the edge of the toilet. Xander groaned and threw up, his breathing raspy and laboured.
“What?” Spike came running into the bathroom. He took one look at Xander and turned around, opened the in-build closet and grabbed a few towels.
“Is ’k,” Xander mumbled and curled his arms around the toilet.
“You’re cold, Xander. You’re not okay,” Angel said and pulled Xander closer. Spike cleaned Xander’s face with one of the towels.
“Daddy?” a small voice asked from the doorway. Azure was standing there. Her arms hugging a small pink blanket to her chest. She had tears in her eyes and her dark blue curls fell over her face making her look even paler than she was.
“I’m o-okay, Honey.” Xander said and made an effort to sit up straighter.
Spike was sitting on the couch, watching TV. He zapped from channel to channel. Stopping here and there to mock an actor or a reporter.
“Hi,” Spike turned his head and looked at Azure. She stood next to the couch, her hair pulled into a ponytail. She smiled at him and crawled onto the couch and settled down next to Spike, as if they had always been the best buddies in the world.
“Yeah,” Spike said and kept on zapping.
“My Daddy says you drink blood and that Angel drinks blood too,” Azure said and looked up at Spike.
“Does he now,” Spike said and studied the screen. A big breasted woman was doing some kind of aerobics exercise.
“Mmmm. And my Daddy says that he’s gonna hafta go ’way and then I hafta stay with Angel,” Spike turned and looked at the little girl. Her eyes were glued to the screen where the woman was going on and on about the benefit of a proper diet. “I have a dollar,” Azure said and started fishing around in her pocket “Look,” she held up the gleaming coin “Daddy says it’s a lucky dollar cause he found it with my Toma.”
“Yeah?” Spike said and Azure put the coin in his bigger hand and nodded.
“My Daddy only has one eye…but he says he has eyes in the back of his head so he can see if I steal cookies,” she looked doubtful “I haven’t see ’em,” she whispered conspiratorially and nodded sagely “I think he just says it so I can’t go steal cookies.”
“Yeah, he’s a sneaky bugger,” Spike chuckled.
“What’s a bugger?” Azure said forgetting about her dollar and the woman on the TV.
“Um…It’s a…” Spike looked from the dollar in his hand to the little girl sitting next to him, her head tilted as she waited for the answer. “Want ta watch cartoons?” he asked.
“Mmmmm,” Azure said and leant closer to Spike, resting her head against his arm.
They sat in silence for a few seconds then Azure shifted and said, quietly as if she thought Spike might not want to hear “My Daddy cries sometimes… He cries and….” Spike didn’t move or speak, he just waited. “He was crying…now…but Angel… He said I had to go down here.”
“Peaches is helping ya dad now,” Spike said and pulled the little girl closer.
“I don’t like peaches,” Azure mumbled half asleep “I like apples.”
“Can I paint that wall white?” Xander asked Angel and pointed at the wall next to the door that led from his room to the hallway.
“White?” Angel asked and Xander just nodded “Sure. Yeah, you can paint it white.”
“Thanks, man.” Xander said and was about to walk out of the room when he suddenly stopped and swayed slightly.
“Hey, Xander.” Angel said and steadied Xander by putting his hands on the human’s shoulders.
“Just a little dizzy,” Xander said and let Angel’s hands carry his weight for a few seconds.
Spike walked into Xander’s room with Azure resting against his chest. She had fallen asleep at the kitchen table in the middle of drawing a picture of a puppy.
Xander was standing in front of what had, only a few hours earlier, been an empty newly painted white wall. Now it had two names on it. In the middle of the wall, in black paint, the names Toma and Azure had been written.
“What’s that then?” Spike asked, cradling Azure in his arms, as he stood next to Xander.
“My life,” Xander said and pointed at the wall with the paintbrush. “The most important people in my life. It’s not done yet…I hope I have time to finish it.”
Spike pulled Xander’s overheated body closer. It was like hugging a furnace. The feverish young man mumbled as he moaned against the pillow. Spike murmured reassuringly against Xander’s ear. The room was too hot and Spike reached out for the bowl of cool water on the nightstand. He manoeuvred slightly so he could pick up the cloth floating in the water. He washed Xander’s flushed face and chest.
“How’s he doing?” Angel asked from the doorway. The tall vampire was holding new clean sheets in his hands.
“Still too warm. Seems to be getting better, though.” Spike said as he crawled out of the bed.
“I’ll hold him and you change the sheets,” Angel said and pushed the pristine white sheets against Spike’s chest. Angel walked over to the other side of the bed and lifted Xander up, the sheet pulled around the human’s warm body. Angel took a few steps and settled in the comfy chair. He cradled Xander closer to him and looked down when Xander mumbled
“No,” Angel whispered “Just me.”
Spike stripped the bed, letting the damp sheets fall in a pile by the door. It only took the blond vampire a few minutes to change the sheets.
“I’ll go down and eat,” Spike said almost reluctantly.
“Azure is still sleeping,” Angel said and gently pushed a lock of dark hair away from Xander’s forehead. Spike nodded and left the room, quietly closing the door behind him. Angel stood up, still holding Xander close against his chest, and moved over to the bed.
“Warm,” Xander mumbled when Angel tried to pull the covers over him after he had put Xander on the bed. Angel rubbed Xander’s shoulder until the young man calmed down. The vampire then stripped down to his boxers and slipped in behind Xander.
Angel lay facing the white wall. New names had been written on it. Underneath the names Toma and Azure, a good eight inches further down, were the names Willow, Giles and Buffy. To the left of those names stood Jesse, the J slightly crooked. Next to Toma, a little below the t, stood Anya.
Not all the names were the same size. Jesse was almost written in letters as big as Toma and Azure. Willow slightly smaller than Jesse and Anya bigger than Buffy. Giles was written in different, more flawless letters, as if Xander had taken more time writing the watcher’s name than he had writing Buffy’s or Willow’s.
Xander was sitting at the kitchen table watching Azure draw. Her small hands held the crayons tightly as she drew big houses and dogs and candy castles.
“Look Daddy,” she said and stabbed her index finger against a new sheet of white paper “I’m gonna draw you and Angel and Spike and we’re all gonna be at the beach.” She started drawing, her pink tongue sticking out between her lips as she concentrated on making Spike’s neon yellow hair just right.
“And we’d take my new puppy with us and he’d be named Barney and he’d be brown, like chocolate. Do you think Spike would help me wash Barney if he got real dirty? And we’d take a basket full of cookies and milk and blood for Spike and Angel and we’d…”
Xander sat back and let Azure’s happy babble wash over him.
Spike stood just outside the kitchen door. His hands resting against the doorframe. Listening to Azure painting pretty pictures of a future none of them could ever have. He closed his eyes and tried to steady himself, tried to regain self-control when a large hand closed around his shoulder and turned him around.
Spike sighed and hid his face in Angel’s chest. Letting the older vampire’s soothing words wash the despair away.
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