Damned Time and Dammed Time: Chapter 3

by Dyce

Disclaimers in previous chapters.

Chapter 3

"Shhh・" Gentle hands cradled his back and head, smoothing over his scalp in a soothing motion. This was very nice. The Baby liked this big person a lot. The other one had been loud and rough and scary. This one had soft hands and a soft voice, and held him in a comfortable way, fingers curving tenderly around the back of his head in a way that was much pleasanter than having

And that nose was just irresistible・

Angelo laughed softly as the tiny pink hand grasped at the tip of his admittedly long nose. "Hey, you," he whispered gently. "I'm your papa. I am. And this lady here is your mama." He extended the skin of his hands and arms, cradling the baby over his mother's battered abdomen so his cheek just barely brushed against his mother's soft skin. Instinctively, the baby turned his head towards the touch against his cheek. "And you, nino, are in for a treat, 'cause you're about to have your first experience of breast-feeding. Trust me, this is going to be the high point of your infancy."

Jubilee chuckled weakly, then winced. "Broken ribs. Ow." She lifted a shaky hand to brush lightly over the fuzzy head. "He's beautiful, isn't he?"

"Just like our Logan," Angelo agreed, sparing a smile for his second (middle?) son, who lay chewing placidly on one chubby fist in his Aunt Kitty's arms.

"Which is kinda the point of cloning," Kitty pointed out, rocking the baby gently. She cooed to him softly as his new brother finally got the idea・ and a mouthful of milk. A splutter and a sneeze ensued, then the baby (let's call him BabyB) clamped on like a limpet.

Jubilee winced. "Hellooo, Jaws," she said in that weak voice. "He's as bad as Michael was."

Angelo leaned over to kiss her gently. "Shh, love," he whispered, worry evident in his eyes. "You're lucky you don't seem to have a concussion, but you're still pretty banged up, and I want you to stay real quiet and still until someone checks you out, okay?"

She smiled crookedly. "Kiss me again and I'll consider it."

He did that.

Her brave smile lasted through the flight back to the mansion and the quick check-over that, even years after her abduction, was all she could tolerate. It held until she was left alone with her husband while Hank and Cecelia examined the two babies. Then she crumpled suddenly, burrowing into his arms. "Oh, Angelo・"

"Shhh・" he whispered, holding her ever so gently as he stroked her back. "*I'm here, my love. I'm with you. I'll always be with you, heart and soul.*"

The melodic Spanish washed soothingly over her, the language he'd taught her, the language he always used in their tenderest and most loving moments. "*I know・*" she whispered, nestling against his shoulder. "*I've never doubted that.*"

He stroked her back for a long moment, pressing his lips lightly against her hair. "*Did he hurt you?*"

"Stryfe?" Jubilee shook her head against him. "No. Didn't even see him. I just woke up with a *needle* in me and I was locked in and he took my baby and did stuff to him to make a new one and・" She started to shake again,hiding her face against his neck.

"I know, amante." He shifted a little to cup her chin, coaxing her to meet his lips with hers. "*I love you,*" he murmered against her lips, kissing her with all the tender passion he could muster. "*And you're fine and the babies are fine and we have two beautiful little sons, now. That's not a sad thing, it's a good one.*"

She gulped, returning the kiss for a long moment before breaking away to gaze up at him. "You・ you really think so?"

Angelo looked surprised. "Of course. Jubilee, we've had three babies so far and every single birth's been a nightmare for you. Don't you think I feel guilty seeing you suffer that way? Michael was bad enough, and then with Alanna you had placental-praevia and the C-section and then Logan being overdue with that huge head keeping you in labor for over a *day*・ I love having babies, you know that, but I'M not the one having them and it kills me to see you in so much pain." He rested his forehead against hers, trying to find the words. "And now we have a new baby, one I know we didn't expect, but you didn't have to suffer and it's all over now and・"

She smiled a tiny bit, lifting one small hand to cup his cheek. "And you're happy and you want to keep him."

He blinked. "Of course. Don't you?"

She dimpled suddenly, kissing the tip of his long, pointed nose. "Of course I do. I'm just surprised you took to the idea so fast."

Her husband did his best Deeply Insulted look. "Jubilation Lee Espinosa, I'm surprised at you! As if I wouldn't! Didn't I take to Michael just as fast, and him only an embryo no bigger than a bean? Our baby is our baby, no matter how we got him, and we're damn well going to keep him!"

Jubilee wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him deeply. "Absolutely," she agreed when they finally came up for air. "*And have I mentioned lately how very, very much I love you, my husband?*"

"*More often than I deserve, my wife,*" he said seriously. "*I love you too, more than words could ever say.*" Then he brightened. "Think they've finished with our kids, yet?"

"Maybe." She smiled, a real smile this time, and leaned gingerly back against her pillows. "Why don't you go see?"

* * *

Wolverine sprawled in a chair with his feet propped up on the end of Jubilee's bed, an unlit cigar clamped in his teeth, and his namesake in his arms. He was engaged in a tenacious struggle to convince baby Logan that the formula in the bottle was, in fact, drinkable, and not, in fact, a hideous plot to upset his little stomach. "Yeah, yeah, I know it ain't the brew yer used to," he said patiently, shoving the rubber teat back into his grandson's mouth for the fourth time. "But there ain't enough to go 'round, so yer gonna have to get used to the formula. It ain't *that* bad."

Little Logan looked up at Slightly Bigger Logan, spat out the teat, and blew a loud raspberry.

Linc, sitting on the chair on the other side, chuckled. In the last few years, he'd surprised everyone by shooting up to six-foot-two and filling out to the sort of well-defined muscularity that in anyone else's case would bring words like 'steroids' and 'speedos' to the front of most people's minds. In his case, it resulted in people approaching him in the street and asking things like 'Hey, is the Hulk, like, your dad or something?'. Despite this, however, the former Leech had refused to consider being green as a handicap. Instead, he'd gleefully adopted the ever-charming Kermit as his mascot/role-model, changed his name to Lincoln Wells, and enrolled in medical school with an eye to specializing in pediatrics. At this moment, he was at 'home' for the weekend, and was coaxing BabyB to drink another bottle of the same formula with slightly more success. "Try rubbing his stomach," he advised. "Might help settle him."

Logan muttered comfortably about loud-mouthed young punks with too many flamin' opinions for their own flamin' good, and did as he was told. Jubilee smiled at him from the other end of the bed, where she was being possessively snuggled by her husband. "You always say that, Wolvie." He grunted, and she looked past him to Hank, who was propping up the wall with a massive shoulder. "So・ are we all okay?"

"Well, if you classify having three broken ribs, a sprained wrist, and a veritable rainbow of cuts, bruises and minor burns as being 'okay', then yes, Jubilee, you're positively peachy." He smiled his Comforting Doctorly Smile. "Logan is in the best of health, and while our little newcomer is suffering from a slight nutritional imbalance, the formula should settle him down in a day or two."

"Good." Jubilee cuddled down against Angelo and eyed the two babies with proprietary pride. "Angie? What're we gonna call him?"

Angelo ran through the list of names they'd come up with before Logan was born. "Evan?"

"Nah. Too much like Ev, remember?" Jubilee tilted her head up and kissed his chin, just because it was handy. "Confusing."

"It certainly IS when you do that. I forget all sorts of things," Angelo grinned. "Like breathing." He kissed the top of her head, and hopefully trotted out his personal pick. "Mateo?"

"Mateo." She tried it out, and smiled. "It suits him."

"So, you're keeping it?" Marrow ambled through the door with the blithe confidence of one who believes that silly rules like 'Keep Out' do not apply to them unless they want them to. "Good. I win twenty dollars if you're keeping it."

Jubilee looked affronted. Angelo looked furious. "And just who the hell bet that we *weren't*?!"

"If I tell you that, they won't live long enough to give me my money," she said reasonably. Leaning on the end of the bed, she squinted thoughtfully at the babies. "Can you tell them apart?"

"Of course." Angelo still sounded a bit miffed. "Logan's holding Logan, and Linc is holding Mateo."

"Oh, I know that. I can tell them apart. Just wanted to know if *you* could." She laughed, and reached up to pat his foot. "I'm just teasing you, Ange. Friends do that sometimes."

He humphed, but smiled a bit. "You know I get jumpy when people start talking about・ you know・"

"You being a Bad Irresponsible Daddy and not looking after each and every sprog that falls into your lap?" She shrugged. "You're too sensitive about that. I mean, when you run out of little ones of your own, you borrow other people's, even. Not that I ever minded," she added hastily. "Anytime you want to say, 'Sarah, you just take the day off, I'll mind your daughter for you', you go right ahead."

He chuckled at that. "I'll keep that in mind. And feel free to ask if you need it. Callie's never any trouble." Then he kissed the top of Jubilee's head gently. "So・ we have twins."

She nodded, and grinned a bit smugly. "Two babies, and I only had to push ONE huge ginormous head out. Neat!" Marrow shuddered and nodded. Logan and Linc exchanged god-I'm-glad-I'm-a-guy looks over the bed. "We're gonna need more baby-stuff, though," she added with a small frown. "They'll both fit in the cot, but we've only got one set of diaper buckets. And only enough diapers for one."

"So we buy more and wash them more often." Angelo shrugged, with the airy unconcern of one who knows that while he'll be the one doing the washing, also knows that his thusly fertilized vegetable garden is the envy of all who see it. "We babysit for half the superpowered community. One more, two more, five more・ who'd notice?"

Jubilee tilted her head back to mock-glare at him. "Says the man who doesn't have to breast-feed," she retorted. "Now, my ribs are taped up and he's done eating. I want to hold him."

Linc passed the baby over, smiling. Jubilee cooed rapturously at him, cuddling the little body tenderly as the wide blue eyes gazed up into hers. The little face was more familiar to her than her own・ rounded cheeks, a pursed, rosy little mouth, a high, surprised eyebrows and a domed forehead haloed with black fluffy hair. But the eyes were those of a newborn, curious and trusting and a little frightened, gazing on an unfamiliar world with trepadation as little starfish hands reached to touch his mother's lips for comfort. With an inarticulate little sound she hugged him tightly, ignoring the twinge of her cracked ribs as her son wriggled in her arms.

"No matter how many times I see it, I just love this part," Hank said in a suspiciously muffled voice, scrubbing a knuckle over his eyes.

"Me too." Linc smiled fondly. "The bonding moment is the best."

Logan just made a gruff little noise and looked down at the floor, blinking a bit.

Angelo smiled, wrapping his arms around wife and baby. "*I love you, sweet lady,*" he said gently. He tapped the little button nose with the tip of one finger."*And you too, little one. I'm your papa, I'll be providing for you for the next twenty years or so, so I'm warning you now, no totaling the car.*" Hank and Jubilee, the only other two who spoke Spanish, snickered. "Yeah, yeah, laugh now. You two drive sedans. You think he's gonna borrow your car when I've got a nice, shiny, still perfect 92 Mustang?"

"You think it's still gonna be running in fifteen years?"

"Hey, if I have to replace every part in its little blue body it's gonna be running. That's my *car*."

* * *

Stryfe was in a towering rage. An anger of such sheer ferocity that even the bravest of his foes would have sought to avoid him. And Irene had discovered, with a very nasty sense of badly timed surprise, that since she was in effect a figment of his imagination, she couldn't leave the room unless he let her.

"How *dare* she!?" he raged, hammering on the control panel with his fists. "That infant was *mine*! I made it, it belonged to ME!!!"

"If you're so angry at her, why didn't you just kill her?" Irene inched behind the illusory comfort of a bank of computer-controls. "Why give her back to her husband?"

"I hadn't had time to get really angry!" He kicked his chair across the room, shattering a priceless Greek sculpture. "I admit, I admired her audacity. She surprised me. People don't surprise me often. You never surprise me, Irene, and that *bores* me! I don't know why I don't flonquing obliterate you!" The scattered shards of the statue lifted in an invisible telekinetic grip, and flew throgh her intangible body to embed themselves in the wall behind her.

She kept her expression very calm as her thoughts raced. Above all, she could not show fear. He respected her because she wasn't afraid of him, and that was the only hold she had on him. "Because you'd be even more bored without someone to scream at."

"Yes. Yes, you're right. You're better than nothing. Made of nothing, but better than it." He chuckled gently, a chilling sound coming from that twisted mask of fury. "I didn't expect her to do that. It interested me. So I gave her back to her husband to see what they'd both do. Then I came back, and remembered how much EFFORT I put into this, and I got angry. Very angry."

"I noticed that," she said in a carefully inflectionless voice, and then paused for a moment. "Do you want to know what they did?"

Stryfe strolled over to the end of the room that served as an impromptu secondary lab. His face still twisted into that rictus of fury, he opened a cage full of identical white rats. Pulling one out at random, he deliberately closed one large fist around its body, blood spurting out between his fingers as shrill squeaks of agony mingled with the crunch of breaking bones. Then he tossed the still twitching body onto the floor and turned. "Not yet," he said calmly, voice and face back to something approximating normal. "Tell me later when I'm in a better mood."

Irene nodded, her eyes fixed on something that was emerging from the wall behind him. "If you ever are," she observed calmly. "Behind you."

"Why-" Stryfe turned around. The ghost of a Soulsword passed through his chest, causing a rather unpleasant itching sensation in his lungs. "What the flonq do *you* want?" he asked coldly, the sadistic gleam sparking in his eyes again. "I'm having a rather bad day today."

"You're having a bad day? YOU'RE HAVING A BAD DAY? YOUR GODDAMN PLAGUE KILLED ME, YOU BASTARD!!" A spectral Illyana Rasputin stood with sword raised for another swing.

Stryfe looked at her. He looked her up and down, eyes coolly assessing. "Oh, I don't think so. The one I killed was much smaller than you."

"Just for the record, I got de-aged," she hissed, red eyes narrowing. "When I died I got my memory back, along with my magickal powers and my demonic tendencies and a FUCKING BAD TEMPER!" She slashed at him again.

He coughed, his lungs itching painfully. "Stop that!" he commanded in between racking coughs.

"Stop? Now? When you finally got crazy enough to see me?!" Illyana lowered the sword for a moment to glare at him. "I've been waiting *years* for this, you asshole!!"

"You have a remarkably foul mouth for such a youthful little heroine," Stryfe reproved her with an unnerving smile. "How very・ endearing."

Illyana gritted the memory of her teeth, crimson eyes suddenly flaming. "ENDEARING?!?!?!" she screeched, swinging the sword through his head.

He blinked, disoriented. It felt like a swarm of bees flying through his brain. "Ow!"

"Ow? You mean this-" (swish) "-hurts? Good!" (swish) "I want-" (swish) "-it to-" (swish) "-hurt!!" (swish) (swish) (stab)

Stryfe was sprawled on the floor, vomiting, when she finally leaned on the sword and glared down at him. "You know what really ticks me off?" she said conversationally. "I can't kill you. I'd really like to, but I can't."

"Why not?" Irene asked, torn between fascination and the desire to stay unremarked.

"The dead can't kill the living. Not directly. It's against the rules." Illyana sighed・ well, pretended to. "This is nice too, though." With a sweet smile, she rested the ghostly tip of the sword against the back of Stryfe's head, and pressed down slowly. "I can tell that this is making you quite, quite miserable."

Things were going too far now. She still needed the man. Reluctantly, Irene stepped in. "Illyana・ we need him intact."

Illyana looked around in surprise. "Since when is there a we, old woman, and for what?"

"To alter the course of history." The precog kept her voice level and noncommital. She didn't want to antogonize either of them, now or ever. "If he can't change what we've both foreseen, then you will be drawn into Limbo again, saved again, and killed again, over and over, as time loops into infinity. If you'll back off and let him recover, I'll fill you in."

Stryfe gagged one more time, then slumped wearily as Illyana backed away, her eyes wary. "I'm listening."

Taking a deep breath, Irene took them all back to the beginning, one more time. "This is the eighteenth permutation of history, as we know it・"

* * *

"Shh・ shh・ " Angelo bounced Mateo gently as he settled into his favourite chair, propping his feet up and settling the baby against his chest. "Hey, you're pretty well behaved for someone your age."

The baby gurgled blissfully, little hands patting at his father's neck, and Angelo smiled gently. He'd read all the baby books (well, all the ones that advocated sex during pregnancy. He didn't like the other kind), and he knew that one of the most important things about breast-feeding, to the baby, was the skin contact. And Angelo Espinosa could *do* skin contact. Now, therefore, he'd turned up the heat, tossed his shirt over the back of the chair, and was cradling his diaper-clad son gently against his bare chest as he tucked the rubber teat of the bottle into his mouth.

The Baby continued to coo and gurgle happily, even as he sucked. Nothing he'd ever felt had ever been so warm and comforting, and he snuggled against the smooth, velvety skin. He liked this Big Person. This one and the black-haired one who cuddled him against her and smelled sweet and milky. He was, for the first time in his life, absolutely content.

"This is・ Mateo, correct?"

Angelo looked up, still rocking the baby gently. "That's right. Mateo Robert Espinosa."

"Indeed." The hoverchair hummed almost imperceptibly as the bald, aging mutant settled beside father and son. "Henry assures me that he is in perfect health, and physically two months old... identical to young Logan in every way."

Angelo nodded noncomittally. "He's essentially a newborn, but he seems like a healthy one." On the one hand, he didn't like Xavier much, but on the other hand, Xavier paid his wages and Angelo had a rapidly increasing family to provide for.

Xavier nodded. Unlike most people, he made no attempt to touch the baby. He wasn't a touchy person, and he didn't particularly like babies. "Angelo... it pains me to have to mention this, but have you considered the possibility that this infant-"

"Might be a trap? A plant? A ticking time-bomb in diapers?" Angelo sighed, his voice not so much angry as irritated and impatient. "He's a baby, Xavier. Just like Michael was the last time we had this conversation."

The thin lips tightened slightly, but the older man gave no other sign of his displeasure. "The probability was, it was agreed, that Michael was an accidental byproduct of..." he paused, looking a little uncomfortable.

"Rape." Angelo said flatly. "I know what happened to my wife. There's no need to dance around the subject."

"Indeed." Xavier nodded slightly in acknowlegement. "Mateo, on the other hand, was deliberately created by someone we know to be our devoted enemy. We must consider that this may be a part of his plot."

Angelo looked at him. He looked down at the rapturously nursing baby in his arms. "I'm sorry, Charles, but I'm a little sceptical here."

"I expected no less." The use of his first name by the younger generation was something he'd had to get used to as time passed - and had given in to with a reasonably good grace. "But this is my home, and I must consider these things."

Angelo paused to pry the bottle away from Mateo's determined grip, and settled him against one thin shoulder. "I know you have to think about this, but be reasonable. Jubilee's absolutely certain that Stryfe wanted her to leave the baby behind, and I trust her judgement."

Xavier looked at Angelo as he rubbed the small back, then looked away. "I trust Jubilee's judgement too, of course. I... perhaps I am biased. Our contacts with clones, by and large, have... not been beneficial."

Angelo blinked. "Well now," he said in a slightly more friendly tone. " To be honest, I didn't expect you to admit that that bothered you." Mateo wriggled a little, and he smiled, patting the little back. "Although the clones we get around here are usually・ well・ bigger."

"True. And Joseph did turn out to be・" Xavier trailed off, a faintly saddened look on his face.

"A decent human being?" Mateo burped, and Angelo paused to croon his approval. When baby was settled again with bottle in mouth, he returned to the topic at hand. "I did some research on the whole clone-psycho-behaviour thing a while ago. What with Madelyne turning up again and trying to burn the boathouse down, you know how it is. I got interested."

Xavier blinked. He'd had Angelo comfortably pigeonholed as competent mechanic, family man, and interested-in-nothing-else kinda guy. Research didn't fit the mental picture, no matter which way up he turned it. "You did?"

"No need to sound so surprised," Angelo muttered. "Yes, I did. I read a book about it."

Xavier look slightly surprised, which was a reaction equivalent to anyone else clutching their heart and screaming 'Whatthefuckdidyoujustsay?!'. "There is a book on the subject? I wasn't aware of any studies on clonal behaviour."

"Oh, it's not. It was on identical twins." Angelo thought for a minute. "It was・ 'twins: genes, environment, and the mystery of identity', by Lawrence Wright. Good book." He tilted the bottle a little. "Did you know that identical twins - or clones - raised apart tend to have more personality traits in common than those raised together?"

"Indeed?" Xavier tilted his head, curiosity sparkling in his blue eyes.

"Yup. Look at Stryfe and Cable, for example. They're both driven, maniacally self-reliant, obsessive-compulsive, short-tempered, and they have trouble maintaining relationships. If Stryfe hadn't gone completely insane, they'd probably be impossible to tell apart." Angelo shrugged. "The point is that if MZ twins - or clones - are raised in even remotely similar circumstances, it's vanishingly unlikely that their personalities will differ in any major way. So, unless little Logan is by nature a psycho, I don't really think we need to worry too much."

Xavier prodded that thought gingerly, trying to find something wrong with it. It seemed to hold up all right. "I would be very interested in reading this book, if you don't object to my borrowing it."

"You can have it when Hank finishes it, if you want." He looked down, and rescued the bottle from Mateo's mouth just as the last drops of milk vanished. "Hey, no drinking air, nino. It'll give you a tummy-ache later, honest." Mateo whimpered, and Angelo settled him into the burping-position again. "Look, I know there's always an element of risk, and I'll watch out for it, just like I do with Michael. But right now, he's just a harmless baby who needs to get to sleep." His lips quirked. "You DO know that it's half past two am, right?"

Xavier nodded, accepting the polite dismissal with as good a grace as he ever did. "Indeed. I shall see you later today, then."

"Right." Angelo watched him go, rubbing his son's back reflectively. "Well, that was interesting. Shall we go see if Mama and your brother are done too?" He took the tiny burp for assent, and headed back to the recovery room, his shirt swinging from his hand.

"Hi," Jubilee whispered, looking up to see him in the doorway. "We're just finishing up here."

"Okay." Angelo sat carefully on the side of the bed, crooning softly to the sleepy infant in his arms. "Talked to Xavier. I think I calmed him down a bit."

"Good," Jubilee said placidly. She burped Logan, and cuddled him for another minute before nestling him in the crook of one arm and doing up the buttons of her nightgown. "Would you put them down, love?"

"As always." Angelo stretched out a tendril of skin and dragged the small wheeled crib over to him. He put Mateo down. Mateo promptly started to wail. "Uh-oh." He scooped the baby up, cuddled him gently for a moment, then laid him back down. The wail started up again.

Jubilee winced. "Maybe if we put them in together."

Angelo nodded, reaching for Logan. "Worth a try-"

"Or not." Stryfe melted out of the shadows. "Perhaps you could try giving me the faulty infant and I could take it back to the manufacturer... oh, wait, that would be me too."

Angelo promptly scooped Mateo up again, cradling the infant defensively against his chest as he moved to place himself firmly between his wife and the psychoman. "No. There's nothing wrong with him, he's just a little lonely in the crib."

Stryfe shrugged. "Nevertheless, I'll be taking it with me. It does belong to me, after all."

"Does not!" Jubilee and Angelo snarled in outraged chorus.

"Does too!" Stryfe responded automatically. Then he scowled, trying to recover his lost dignity. "I made it, it's mine."

"We're his parents, and he's a he." Angelo snapped, cuddling the little body close. "His name's Mateo."

Stryfe blinked. Then he blinked again. The self-proclaimed Messiah of Anarchy actually seemed to be at something of a loss. "You... gave it a name? Already?"

"Yes," Jubilee said, as firmly as she could manage. "And he's our baby, and you can't have him." She hugged little Logan tenderly as he started to whimper, sensing the tension in the air.

"And how, exactly, are you going to stop me?" Stryfe asked with some interest. "Just out of curiosity, of course."

Angelo shrugged. "I was thinking, you know, throw myself in your path while Jubilee runs for it with the kids. Dad-guy stuff." He stroked the little head that rested on his shoulder. "Which probably won't work, but you understand that I have to try."

Stryfe looked... off kilter. He shook his head a little, frowning, and his eyes seemed to be focusing somewhere inside his own head. "You'd give up your life for it?" he asked uncertainly. "・Why?"

"Because he's my son," Angelo said calmly, as he turned to nestle the baby tenderly in his mother's arms. "Any good father would do the same."

"But..." Stryfe was looking seriously off-balance now. "But that's not what... what..."

"Usually happens? Happened to you? No." Angelo piled surprise on surprise by sounding gently sympathetic. "But I'm a better father than Cyke. If you want to take my child, it'll be over my dead body, you understand? I realize that that won't be hard for you, but that's just how it is."

Jubilee stayed silent, but her arms curved protectively around the twin infants. Stryfe looked at her, then back at Angelo. "But you don't like the clone as much as the real one," he claimed uncertainly. "You like your own baby better."

Angelo blinked. "Where'd you get that idea?" he asked in honest surprise.

Stryfe pointed accusingly at Jubilee, seeming slightly more confident. "Because the clone got formula while the *real* child was given his mother's milk," he averred firmly.

"Well, yeah..." Jubilee agreed, the light dawning. "But I nursed Matt last time. I can't produce enough milk for two, so we've been switching off between breast-milk and formula."

"Oh." Stryfe paused, and looked at her with an incongruously puppyish expression. "Did he like it?" he asked wistfully.

Jubilee blinked, her cheeks flushing a little. "Well... he seemed to, yeah."

Angelo eyed Stryfe uncertainly. Somehow, the man seemed just a bit odd... well, odder than usual. "It took him a little while, but he got the idea," he agreed, casually shifting to stand between Stryfe and Jubilee once again. "He seems happy here."

Stryfe frowned. They were cheating! They were supposed to not want the baby! He didn't really want it all that much himself, he had to admit, but he'd made it, himself, for a reason, and it was his. He could just take it, he knew that. But a hitherto silent part of him, a tiny withered thing that might once have been a conscience, was whispering that all he'd do if he took the child now would be doom it to the same miserable, lonely life he'd had himself. And Stryfe might be insane, and he might be evil, but even he wasn't brutal enough to knowingly inflict that kind of suffering on a helpless infant. He'd wanted parents like this so very much. It would be... wrong... to deny his tiny counterpart a chance to have them.

For the first time in his entire life, Stryfe found himself considering someone else's needs.

He looked at the babies. They were nestled together against their mother's soft body, little hands stirring slightly and eyelids fluttering as they dozed. He struggled with the little shriveled thing that was murmuring inside him and... to his complete surprise... lost. "You can keep it, then," he muttered. "I didn't want it anyway." He knew he sounded childish, and that made him angrier than ever.

Angelo and Jubilee both stared at him in stunned surprise. "We can?" Jubilee asked cautiously.

But I'll be watching you," Stryfe hissed. "Every day and night. And if you ever, *ever* mistreat him, then I'll take him and you'll die, do you understand?"

Angelo blinked. "This is not a threat that worries me."

Stryfe scowled, shoving him out of the way with enough force that the younger man's head connected loudly with the metal bedframe. Ignoring Jubilee's startled cry, he stormed out of the room.

Jubilee tried to sit up without dropping either baby, and only succeeded in producing a hiss of pain as her cracked ribs shifted. "*Angelo, love, are you all right?*" she asked anxiously, trying to see over the side of the bed.

Angelo blinked dazedly as he sat up, one hand going to his head. "'m okay," he managed, the other hand sliding up to touch his wife's arm reassuringly. "Jus'・ feelin' kinda funky・"

"*You sure?*" she said worriedly, peeking over the edge at him. The movement set Mateo to whimpering again, though Logan was in the midst of his sloth impression and didn't even stir. "*Oh, baby, shhh・ shh, precious baby, it's all right, the wicked man's gone・*"

"*Yes and yes,*" Angelo agreed, dragging himself up to sit on the edge of the bed, gathering all three into his armes. "*Papa's fine and the bad man is gone. Shhh・ shh, little man, it's all right.*" He stroked the round head, and the baby quieted slowly.

"Mama? Papa?" A little voice issued from the doorway, and they both looked around. Alanna was standing there in her pale pink nightgown, rubbing her eyes with one little fist. "*I had a bad dream that Mama wasn't really back at home.*"

Angelo slid off the bed immediately, kneeling to gather his daughter gently in his arms. "*It was just a bad dream, precious,*" he said gently. "*See, Mama and Logan and the new baby Mateo are all right here, and they're fine.*"

Alanna looked, nodded, and then turned back to her father. "*You have a bump on your head, Papa,*" she informed him solemnly.

He couldn't frighten her. "*I fell down and hit my head on the metal part of the bed,*" he explained. It was all true, as far as it went.

"*Oh.*" She nodded. "*Will you tuck me in, Papa? Grandpa doesn't do it as good as you.*"

"*Go,*" Jubilee agreed with a smile. "*Just nudge the crib over here before you go.*"

He did so, dropping a tender kiss on her cheek with a promise to come right back. Jubilee kissed them both, waved them out the door・ and leaned back, a blissful smile spreading over her face. Stryfe, shmyfe. She was holding both babies for the first time, and it felt wonderful・ the two little hearts pattering against her ribs, the little hands brushing over her stomach, the twin small heads resting so close together・ After a little while, though, her cracked ribs and sprained wrist were complaining too loudly to ignore.

Mindful of her sore ribs, she eased Mateo down from her stomach to cuddle against her side. Then, with both arms available, she managed to settle Logan in the crib with only a few minor twinges. He burbled softly in his sleep, his eyes still shut, and settled with a little pat on the stomach from his mother. She smiled at him, then carefully navigated Mateo over her stomach and・ ever so gently・ lowered him into the crib and took her hands away, holding her breath as she waited for the first outraged wail.

He felt the soft hands pulling away, leaving him cold and alone, and he drew in a gulping breath, fists flailing out as he prepared to scream・ and one of those fists hit something rounded and warm that grunted protestingly. Surprised, The Baby cracked one eye open and turned his head a little to see. Only a little way away, The Other Baby was snuggled down, mostly asleep. He sent a worried, inquiring thought to that placid face, involving cold aloneness and the uncomfortable feeling it gave one in the pit of one's stomach. The Other Baby opened one eye, yawned, and closed the eye again, projecting warmth and sleepiness. The Baby waved a small fist, considering this. The Other Baby was longer in the world than The Baby, and if he thought it was all right then it must be so. Comforted, The Baby yawned, and tucked the fist under his chin.

Jubilee slowly released the held breath as her new son gulped, yawned, and fell asleep, fists tucked up under his chin. He was so precious! And・ she yawned, drawing the light blanket over the two of them・ he had the right idea. Sleep. Nice sleep. It was・ three-fifteen. If she turned in right now, she could get two and a half more hours of sleep before she had to start waking up for the six-am feed.

She switched off the light, and snuggled down, closing her eyes・ but it just didn't feel right. This wasn't her bed, it wasn't her blankets, and there was no warm, soft husband to snuggle up to. Angelo's presence was what lulled her to sleep at night, and coaxed her into wakefulness in the morning, and he wasn't here. She pouted into the darkness. Then she brightened, an idea popping into her head.

A minute later she was drifting off to sleep, a shirt steeped in the comfortingly mingled smells of cologne and engines and soft, warm skin tucked under her cheek.

The End