I was eating brunch with Illyria and Katie at the Waffle House just outside of Baton Rouge. They sat across from me, their heads so close together that the blue of their hair mingled together.
Her eyes bright and her body full of live-wire energy, Katie filled me in on her night of patrol on the LSU campus. She’d busted a couple of Grappler demons, who were trying to sneak into a frat party. As Katie got to the part about one of the Grapplers hitting his head on the keg and a frightened frat boy spraying him with beer, I felt a familiar tingle on the back of my neck.
Out of the corner of my eye, I swear I saw a flash of white-blonde hair and a black t-shirt. I turned my head in that direction, and Katie raised her voice, telling her story louder. Her laughter was too bright and long.
I saw nothing. Spike wasn’t there.
The vampire signal reasserted itself with greater strength. My hand on my belly, I knocked back the metal chair as I jolted to my feet, scanning the opposite side of the sunny restaurant.
Nothing. My heart sank into the depths of despair.
Katie was sipping her coffee, and I righted my chair, sitting back down and trying to hide my sorrow. The younger Slayer explained how Michael had to come out to help her dispose of the Grappler bodies.
My senses on hyper-alert, I half-listened, saying, “Uh huh,” and laughing, the sound false and exaggerated in my head.
Meanwhile, Illyria wasn’t paying attention to the conversation at all and was instead picking the pecans out of her waffle and staring with almost-crossed eyes at each one before depositing it in a tiny pile in the middle of the table.
Katie glanced at Illyria to ask whether she could have her pecans, but before the question was even verbalized, Illyria transformed into Fred, blue giving way to soft browns and a kindhearted smile. She said, “Of course.”
I startled awake.
The room was darker than a moonless night, the blackout curtains doing their job. My brain felt weighed down like I was trying to peer through a murky fog into reality. Through the cobwebs of my dream, I thought I heard the shower at the front of the suite and felt the faint tickle of the tingles from the Waffle House, but sleep sucked me back in before I could make sense of what I was sensing.
An indeterminable amount of time later, I felt the rush of cool air of the covers being lifted, the slight movement of someone sitting on the bed, and then a familiar form curl around me from behind. A gentle hand roved over my belly, and I settled back against him with a sigh of release. When he nuzzled my hair, my mind woke up.
“S-spike?” I whispered, my voice loud in the void.
His voice was deep and soft in my ear. “I’m here, Buffy. God, I missed you. So much. So tired.” He sighed heavily and snuggled closer to me like he didn’t want to let me go. I smelled the faint hint of the hotel soap and felt the dampness of his hair near my ear. He was real, right?
I couldn’t help myself, I had to see his face. Pushing up against the mattress, I flicked on the low lamp and shifted around. My senses weren’t deceiving me. His blue eyes squinted in the light, and he smiled at me like I was an oasis and he had been lost in the desert. His hair was wet, but I could see that it was longer and dark at the roots. He also looked like he’d lost weight, his clothes hanging loosely about his hips and belly.
After threading his fingers through my hair and then tucking some errant strands behind my ear, his eyes slipped from studying my face to the baby bump. “Good lord, pet, the babe is huge! I t-thought I might have missed it.”
Shoving aside my feelings of self-consciousness, I slipped closer again to him, my belly a wedge between us, our heads on twin pillows. Then, I gently asked him the question that he’d asked me so long ago. “How long was it where you were? It was 28 long days here without you.” I suddenly remembered my sister and stiffened with anxiety. “Dawn? How’s Dawn?”
He was quick to reassure me. “Your sis is just fine, love. Whole and healthy and happy next door. Think she had the same plan as me. Shower and then sleep. Red’s good, too. She and Oz are bunking down in the room with the Bit. They have a couple of beds.”
I relaxed. “Thank god.”
His exhausted, disbelieving eyes searched my face, moving his arm from my waist to cup my cheek. “I’m really here? With you.”
Bumping my head against his hand, I turned and kissed his palm. “You are.” I smiled. “And you didn’t miss anything. . . well, you missed a lot. But you didn’t miss the baby being born. Seriously, how long?”
“A hundred and eighty-five days.” He’d counted again, too.
I wasn’t surprised by the length of time. Not at all. Time always seemed to move faster in other dimensions. We were the slowpokes. In this instance, I was grateful for that. Thank goodness Spike, Dawn, and Willow hadn’t been gone a hundred years or more. “How many months is that?”
“Six, give or take. Longest six months of my unlife.” He pressed his hand with fingers splayed against my abdomen again. “Which is why. . .”
“You thought the baby would be here.” The baby began moving. “Baby woke up.”
Spike’s mouth hung open, and the fatigue in his eyes was pushed aside by pure wonder. “I felt her. . . or him.”
This whole moment felt surreal, especially after the bright confusion that was the Waffle House dream with Illyria and Katie. I layered my hand over his larger one on my abdomen, tears filling my eyes. “Are you really here?” I had to know before I told him about his son.
He shifted his hand, rubbing a gentle circle on my hip. “I already asked that, love.”
“It’s just I was having this dream, and – ”
Spike interrupted me by pressing his cool lips to mine, coaxing me into a lingering kiss that was full of longing after months of nothing. My heart thundering in my chest and my body coming alive with desire, I returned his affection in kind, reaching for other places and finding a strong welcome to greet me. He groaned as I touched him, and I smiled against his lips. In no time at all, we shed the barriers between us, and he turned me around and joined me. Consumed in sensation, we got lost in each other.
Not long after, we were both warm and satisfied. Spike laid on his back, one hand on my belly as I curled up facing him on my side. “Believe I’m here now, pet?”
I squinted my eyes and pretended to be uncertain. “Hmm. Maybe? I think so. Show me again? Slower this time?”
Turning his head on the pillow, he grinned over at me. “Later. We should talk before sleep.”
“I thought you were tired.” Now that he was here, I didn’t want to leave our little cocoon to face reality. Not yet.
His blue eyes were bright and much more alert than earlier. “Not anymore. Gratified one type of appetite, and now I’m peckish in an entirely different way.”
“Oh! We have blood.” I sat up with an awkwardness that was becoming more frequent. “I’ve been buying fresh every week. The butcher here thinks I’m crazy. He stares at my pregnant belly and wonders what I’m doing with all the blood. He’s very judge-y.”
Spike snorted, pushing himself up, too. “Pregnant ladies have some strange cravings.”
I located my clothes and redressed before heading for the cooler in the corner of the room next to my suitcase. “That’s just it. I don’t really have cravings anymore. Not since the first trimester. I’m thinking the whole cravings thing is a myth.”
“So, I won’t be driving to the grocer’s in the middle of the night for ice cream or spicy buffalo wings or jalapenos?” he teased, tugging on dark lounge pants he’d likely borrowed from Kishan.
I squatted sideways and opened the cooler, pulling out two containers of blood. “Um, no. All a myth perpetuated by the movies and TV. Well, at least, maybe for me. Heartburn, on the other hand, is way real. I’m taking Zantac and Prilosec now with my prenatal. All the acid apparently means our son will have a lot of hair.”
“What did you just say?” Oops. I didn’t mean to tell him like that. Spike was by my side almost before I realized he was moving.
Setting aside the blood, I smiled up at him. His beautiful face was full of wonder. Seemed we were both all with the shock-and-awe tonight. “Your son. My son. Our son. I didn’t find out on purpose. It was all tied to – ”
Spike knelt on the ground before me, pushing up my maternity top and putting a hand on either side of the roundness that contained our child. He pressed a kiss near my belly button. “Hello, son. I love you and your mum more than either of you know.”
I slid my fingers through his now dry, un-styled curls. “And we love you. You need to eat.”
Ignoring me, my vampire turned his head to press his ear against my belly. The baby did a somersault. My hands remained tangled in Spike’s hair, which tickled my sensitive skin, and he stayed motionless for what seemed to be an eternity.
Then, he whispered, “His heart is beating, and he’s rustling around.”
“He is.” I was so glad Spike could feel him now, and I wondered how much more I’d have a vampire attached at my hip. . . literally. Somehow, at that moment, I didn’t mind at all. I’d give anything to be crammed in the tiny house in New Orleans with Spike and Dawn.
“We’re having a boy.” He sighed with such happiness that my heart swelled with love for him.
“We are, and he already saved our lives.”
Alarm was written all over Spike’s face when he lifted his head. “He did?”
Several minutes later, I’d heated up Spike’s blood, and we’d settled on the sofa together with my legs slung over his lap and my aching lower back against a pillow. As he ate, I filled him in on what happened with Miney, Girlfriend, Angel, and the prophecy. I also explained what I’d since found out about the other pregnant Slayers. My brain still had a hard time grasping the magnitude of all of it. The three Slayers who’d been artificially inseminated had essentially been forced to do a twisted form of fertility treatment.
Setting aside the second empty blood carton, Spike patted my belly with affection as I finished the tale. “Good lad,” he said about our son making the ritual go kaput. “Already bucking the system.”
“He’s his father’s son for sure.” I couldn’t help smiling at this thought.
Spike arched an eyebrow at me and matched my smile. “And his mum’s.” Then, his eyebrows drew together slightly. “Pet, I’ve had some time to consider a lot of things. One of them involves Angel. We need to have a conversation with him.”
I wasn’t surprised by his thought. “No argument here. I’ve been thinking the same. We should talk with him together.”
“Yes, but not tonight. Tonight, I don’t want the poof involved at all because I might end up throttling him.”
“Agreed.” I needed to be with Spike. We needed each other, and I wanted to hear Spike’s side of what happened. I’d already heard enough from Angel. “Your turn. But first, can we skip to the end for a minute?”
“Right. You have questions about Blue?”
I shifted a bit at the mention of the god-king. “You read my mind.”
His expression grew serious. “Her body’s stable, and she came back with us, but how we got there is complicated. I’m thinking that we should wait for the Nibblet and the witch to tell the tale.”
I emitted a sigh of relief at the news about Illyria, and though I was disappointed, agreed with Spike. “We should.”
There was knock at the door, and I almost jumped out of my skin. All of this talk about what happened brought up memories. Spike and I both stood on alert.
Spike tilted his head, listening. “It’s okay, love. I believe it’s. . .” He headed for the peephole and peered through before swinging open the door.
Dawn rushed across the threshold and flung her arms around me. Her hair was cropped short in a jagged haircut, there was a gash on her cheek, and she, too, was thinner than she needed to be. She was wearing some of Hana’s clean clothes because I recognized the George Strait tee. The baby bump got in the way of her exuberance, and she glanced down and then back up at me with wide blue eyes. “The baby is huge!”
“Gee, thanks. So, I’ve been told.” My eyes flicked briefly to Spike who was smirking proudly, and then, I pulled Dawn into another hug. “I love you.”
She held me tighter. “I love you, too.” Then, my sister stepped back so that I could view my best friend, her pale face bright with joy despite the dark circles under eyes. Oz was holding her hand, probably for the same reason I’d clung to Spike. There were two large pizza boxes atop his other upturned palm.
Willow gave me a little wave. “Hey. Mind if we join you? We couldn’t sleep.”