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Left Holding the Baby

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The room was quiet for once, blissfully empty. Well, as far as bodies were concerned. There were still the amps, the instruments, the wigs, the baby's bassinet...all of it was shoved into this too-small hotel room because financially, they didn't have many other options. Hedwig usually ignored it; things were what they were. The breather was nice, though. The band was out somewhere – where, exactly, she didn't know or particularly care. Earlier, they'd been trying to convince Yitzhak to join them. It was a hard sell lately; he seemed more inclined to stay in and brood than anything else. Hedwig had asked at some point if anything was wrong and he'd denied it. She didn't see the point in asking again. If the band had coaxed him to join them, great. If not, it was at least some downtime for the two of them.

 

When Yitzhak came out of the bathroom, depositing the baby in his arms on the bed while he grabbed his jacket, Hedwig figured she had her answer. “Going out with the boys?”

 

Yitzhak shrugged. “I might as well. This room, it gets confining.” He paused, frowning at her. “Unless you would rather I stayed?”

 

“Oh, no.” Hedwig waved a hand dismissively. “Go on; go out. You've been all PMS-y lately; it'll be good for you.”

 

He scowled at her assessment of his recent moods, but he didn't take his jacket off either. When he started heading for the door, Hedwig looked at the infant on the bed beside her. “Um, aren't you forgetting something?”

 

Yitzhak shrugged. “Krzyzhtoff said you would watch her.”

 

Hedwig nearly choked. “Exactly when did I agree to that?”

 

“Last night.” Yitzhak shrugged. “Have fun.”

 

“I was probably drunk!” Or distracted. Krzyzhtoff had a way of charming her into agreeing to things. She vaguely recalled him asking her for a favor, brushing the hair out of his eyes to give her a puppy-dog look. God, if he wasn't so sweet she'd murder him. She was half-considering it anyway. “It's not my fault he and Schlatko decided to play house!”

 

“Yeah, but you agreed.” Yitzhak wasn't going to give in to her on this one; he must have really wanted to go. Which was fine with Hedwig, but he could take the baby with him. “She likes you.”

 

“She's a baby; she has no taste.” Hedwig rolled her eyes. “I don't recall that I was actually consulted until after the decision was made. 'Oh, hey, we accidentally acquired a baby; we're going to keep her.' What was I going to do?”

 

“They did name her after you,” Yitzhak said, shrugging again.

 

“Yeah, but nobody asked them to do that.” Hedwig was still unconvinced they hadn't been making fun of her, somehow. Legally, it made the paperwork of this accidental adoption easier; with the amount of time Hedwig and her crew spent out of the US, it had been easy to pretend the baby was Hedwig's child, born on tour. Much easier than trying to explain to literally anyone that Schlatko found an abandoned baby in an alley and decided he was keeping her because he'd grown up in an orphanage and didn't want that life for her. Phyllis had complained at length about the legal headache it was creating, but they'd all done some slightly-less-than-legitimate things in their time together, and so she made it happen. As far as the US government was concerned, Hedwig was a woman; that's what her immigration paperwork said. She wasn't above agreeing to the arrangement because it validated her in an odd way – and sticking it to The Man was always fun. The one distinct drawback, of course, was that if things went south, she and Yitzhak could potentially be stuck with this child. But Hedwig didn't see that happening. Schlatko and Krzyzhtoff were too smitten with the little thing. Hedwig Robinson III, the poor child. They could have at least called her something different. Then again, with Harry Potter's damn owl having made the name more popular, maybe she'd be considered trendy when she started school.

 

“Hedwig, please.” Yitzhak didn't often beg anymore. “She likes you.”

 

“You tried that one already,” Hedwig reminded him. “What about the 'not my kid; not my problem' clause? I don't care what the goddamn paperwork says.”

 

“You used to babysit. It'll be fine.”

 

“Right, and I literally left the Speck baby on the floor to give his older brother a handjob once!” Hedwig shook her head. “I am not a responsible adult, as you people seem to be so fond of reminding me the rest of the time.”

 

“I don't want to fight.” Yitzhak sighed. “Have fun.” He seemed to have given up on convincing her and skipped straight to telling her to deal with it. This was new for him. Hedwig wasn't sure she liked it. Though, technically, she supposed she had already agreed. She was stuck, at least for the moment.

 

“Fine.” Hedwig looked at the baby, who was currently content, kicking her legs in the air as she laid on the bed. “I'll keep the little rugrat alive. I'll make sure she doesn't starve. But I can't promise you more than that.”

 

“That's all anyone asks.” Yitzhak was gone before she could argue further, the hotel door shutting smoothly behind him.

 

And so it was the two of them.

 

Hedwig stared at the infant for a long moment. “Well, you.” It was odd, addressing the kid by her own name on the rare occasions she addressed her at all. So Hedwig called her basically anything else. “I know you're used to getting passed around and snuggled and all that cute shit that's probably really good for you. But I'm not them, okay? A few hours isn't going to scar you for life.” The baby giggled and reached for Hedwig. She frowned. “Oh, no. No. Don't do that.” Long ago, she had promised herself that despite her basic lack of maternal instincts, she would never refuse to pick up or hold a child who asked, providing it wasn't some stranger's kid. She'd been there and she knew how awful it was. But maybe this was a passing whim. “C'mon, kid. Really?” The baby's arms continued to reach for her, the smile starting to fade. “Shit. Okay. Fine. Come here.” Hedwig picked the baby up, and the smile was instantly back. “Don't get too smug, okay? This is not about you. I mean, Hedwig III. Really. They couldn't have called you anything else? I get it. The paperwork. But there are other names. German names, even, if they wanted to play that angle. Gretchen, that's cute.” She sighed, pretending not to notice the way the little girl's wide blue eyes fixed on her as she talked. “I mean, it's not a bad name, really. Lot of history there. Hedwig was a thirteenth-century German saint. But it's so...old-fashioned. Even for someone my age. Well, it's my mother's name that I ended up taking, so that makes sense. Hopefully that stupid owl will come through for you. Just remember – I was not involved.”

 

The baby appeared content with this arrangement, sucking on her fingers as she sat in Hedwig's lap. Inspiration struck Hedwig suddenly and she stood, scooping the baby up to carry her. “Hey, you want to go play with Phyllis? She loves you. I'm guessing you love her, because you're completely indiscriminate with your affection. It'll be great.” She headed to Phyllis' room, one door over, and knocked.

 

Phyllis opened the door after a few seconds. “Oh, hey, honey.” She smiled, seeing the baby, and reached out to stroke her hair lightly. “And hello to you, too, darling.”

 

“Hello.” Hedwig smiled, holding the baby out to her. “Free baby.”

 

Phyllis chuckled. “Sorry, Hedwig. I'm about to take a conference call.”

 

Hedwig was not deterred. “Oh, but we're running a special. When I get stuck babysitting, you get a free baby.”

 

Phyllis shook her head. “You'll be fine. I have to work. You know, managing your career?”

 

“Fine.” Hedwig sighed, heading back to her room. She looked down at the baby. “You know, you're cute and all, but you're kind of a pain in the ass.” The baby giggled; Hedwig supposed it was true that you could tell a kid that age anything as long as you said it in the right tone. Hedwig grabbed the infant carrier from behind an amp and settled the little one in it, strapping her in and handing her the first toy she found. “There. Hopefully that'll keep you occupied until I figure out what the hell to do with you until your dads get back.”

 

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

 

“Aren't babies supposed to sleep a lot?” Hedwig asked, sighing, as she looked at the wide-awake child in front of her. “I feel like that's supposed to be a thing. You sleeping.” It had been three hours and it was starting to get dark. Overall, it had been going well. The baby had only cried once, Hedwig fed her, and that settled the matter. She did seem to be a good-tempered kid, generally. But Hedwig was getting bored and she had no idea when the band and Yitzhak were going to return. She'd tried calling them. They'd picked up, but once they determined the baby was fine, the conversation was quickly over. They were getting bold these days. “I'm going to have to do something about that,” she murmured aloud. “What time do you go to bed, anyway? Now seems like a good time. I could use a long, hot bath and I don't think those are good for babies.” She unstrapped the infant from her carrier, depositing her in the bassinet. “There you go. Nighty-night.”

 

What would have happened in a perfect world was the baby would have laid down and gone to sleep, possibly making cute little noises as she did so. What actually happened was about two minutes of both Hedwigs staring at each other until the smaller one giggled. Hedwig sighed. “There's some ritual thing I'm supposed to do, right? I remember that from watching babies. See, I'm not totally inept. But since your dads aren't overbearing Kansas moms and they apparently don't write these things down for me, to every last excruciating detail...I'm on my own.” She had never minded monologuing, and her audience was at least receptive, but she preferred a paying crowd. “Okay, fine. Babies like lullabies. I can do that.” She picked the baby up, bouncing her in that rhythmic way she remembered as being particularly effective, and began to sing to the tune of the first lullaby that popped into her head. Not that she remembered the words, but those clearly weren't important. This kid had been eating up everything she'd said all night. “Go to sleep...go to sleep...go to sleep, you little asshole...” Well, perhaps that was a little harsh. But, again, it was all about the tone. And the baby was watching her with that sweet, wide-eyed, wide-awake look. “You're not buying it, are you?”

 

Surely there had to be something she could do to either stave off boredom or convince the kid to sleep so she could have her bath. She strapped baby Hedwig into her carrier again, poking around the room. When she looked back to check on her, the kid was still safe and sound, but she'd somehow grabbed one of the drumsticks within her reach and was attempting to chew on it. Hedwig swooped back over to her, snatching it away. “No, no, Mini-Me,” she said, imitating that ridiculous movie she'd seen a dozen times. It was mindless entertainment. “We do not gnaw on Daddy's drumsticks.”

 

The baby squealed with laughter. Before it had just been the occasional giggle, but now it was as if that brief impression was the funniest thing she'd heard in her nine months on this planet. Hedwig smiled, continuing to use the same voice. “Oh, come on. It wasn't that funny.” Her namesake laughed harder, which Hedwig hadn't honestly thought possible. It was kind of sweet, actually. There was something that touched even her guarded heart, hearing this baby's wild laughter and knowing she was responsible. “Fine, you win. That's actually not my best.” She unstrapped the baby from her carrier, moving with her to the bed. “You want more?” She tried out her standard Midwestern drawl, which elicited more laughs and a happy wiggle. “Oh, you are too easy. Then, I guess it's not hard considering your gold standard of comedy is jangling keys.” Feeling generous, she tickled the baby's feet lightly, which had her wriggling and shrieking excitedly. Continued tickles, combined with the first impression that came to mind, evoked further delight. “Damn. You've got to get some standards, kid.”

 

“Okay, but let's be clear,” Hedwig warned, dropping back into her normal voice, causing the baby to look at her curiously, as though expecting more. “We are not bonding. You're cute when you laugh like that and I'm hoping it'll wear you out so you'll sleep. Got it? Good.” She adapted a more dramatic, uber-feminine tone, the kind she often used to mock suburban housewives. “Yes, it makes me feel good, but what does that matter? My life is a wreck.” The sad part was, she didn't know if she was just improvising or using the kid as a sounding board at that point. It was enough to sour her inclination to be silly, and she settled back against the pillows, grabbing the baby and tucking her into the crook of one arm. “Okay, playtime's well and good but we're back to the sleep thing. So – bedtime story.” She briefly considered telling an actual story, making an egotistical, over-hyped rock star – possibly named Tommy – the antagonist, but that wasn't going to help her mood. So she ended up rehashing the plot of Jesus Christ, Superstar. Both of them were drifting to sleep by the end of Act I.

 

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

 

Hedwig was awakened by the sound of the band returning. A glance at the clock told her it was a little after midnight; this was early for them. Maybe they'd had pity on her after all – though things had actually gone quite smoothly, considering. Not that she was admitting that to them.

 

Yitzhak sat on the bed beside Hedwig as Schlatko scooped the baby up, settling her on his shoulder to keep her from waking. “So it went well?”

 

“I wouldn't say that.” Hedwig shrugged noncommittally. “I've had worse. She was all right, I guess.”

 

“See?” Yitzhak asked. “I told you it would be fine.”

 

“Don't go getting cocky,” she advised him. “Do you have any idea what it took to get that little thing to go to sleep? And then she is asleep and I can't even enjoy it because I'm going to wake her up if I move.”

 

Yitzhak smirked, the way he did when he didn't entirely believe her but he wasn't going to question it, and kissed her gently. She smiled and indulged him with a quick kiss in return. So much in their lives seemed to be one disaster after another, especially lately, and so she had to remind herself to take these little moments of peace when they presented themselves. “She likes you.”

 

“So you keep telling me.” Hedwig shook her head. “I hope you all had fun, because don't expect me to be doing that again anytime soon.”

 

“Well, thank you.” Krzyzhtoff took the baby from Schlatko, gently settling her in the bassinet. “We do appreciate it.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, you just keep those puppy eyes away from me for the foreseeable future.” Hedwig had to keep up appearances, after all. Though she had to admit, as bizarre a life as this was for a young child, it probably did beat a Eastern European orphanage by far. She was still a bit skeptical as to how this was all supposed to work when the kid got bigger and outgrew that tiny bed or learned to climb out of it, but then...they'd managed to keep her alive and healthy this long, which surpassed Hedwig's original estimate. Frankly, in the beginning, she'd expected disaster, but they seemed to be figuring it out as they went along.

 

Though, really, wasn't that how all of them had been managing life in general these past few years? They did what was necessary to get by. And they'd keep doing it, at least until things got better. Hedwig wasn't much of an optimist anymore, but she had to believe that, eventually, she'd get the recognition she deserved from Tommy or even his people – anything public would do, really – and there would be money and they could settle and her career might actually start going someplace. Someplace other than seedy clubs and failing entertainment chains that had stopped giving a shit who they booked. It was beneath her, but it was also all she had at the moment – so, like always, she made do. Giving up meant admitting defeat and she wasn't about to give anyone the pleasure.

 

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

 

Hedwig had been in a complicated relationship with sleep for as long as she could remember, so it wasn't uncommon to find herself randomly awake at three am. She was comfortable in bed, though, and for once, her mind wasn't racing, so she stayed where she was, listening to the sounds of the night. The breathing of those sleeping around her, the traffic on the highway outside, the cheerful babble coming from the corner of the room...clearly, Hedwig wasn't the only one awake. The baby was content, though, from the sound of it, quietly chattering to herself in syllables that would one day become actual language. (With the multiple languages she heard on a routine basis, which one she'd actually speak first was anyone's guess.)

 

Hedwig turned to glance in the direction of the bassinet, jumping only slightly when she saw the kid was not quite sitting up, but pulling herself up on the edge to peer over the side. The light from a streetlamp outside made the white frame stand out in the dark, and Hedwig shook her head. It was a vaguely disconcerting visual, especially considering she had no idea how long the baby had been staring at her – or at least her direction. “You're fucking creepy, kid,” she murmured before rolling over and attempting to get back to sleep.

~ ~ ~ ~