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A Small Boat on the Ocean

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Dawn, Giles, and I arrived at Melrose Mansion after the sun was fully set. Wrapped in his swaddle and a light muslin blanket, baby Asher slept in my arms. Giles was wheeling the stroller with the infant car seat attached, so I could lay the baby down if I got tired of holding him. I couldn’t imagine that. I’d gotten used to the little guy cuddled up against my chest when Spike wasn’t around. I guess you could say the bond was strong now.

 

“Wow,” Dawn breathed, looking all around the beautifully lit first floor of the mansion that Willow and Oz had rented on the edge of the French Quarter.

 

We were all staying the night there after the ceremony. The mansion had a California flavor in the midst of the French city, and Willow thought it was perfect because it reminded her of home. She’d shown me photos, and the pool in the backyard was picturesque and the perfect place for the ceremony and reception.

 

Somehow, the photos hadn’t done it justice. The inside of the mansion was spacious and immaculate with light colors and beautiful modern furnishings, and I could glimpse the twinkling strings of white lights through the windows overlooking the backyard.

 

I hadn’t seen Spike all day because he’d been working on making sure the bar at the mansion was fully stocked with the special liquor, beer, and wine Oz and Willow wanted, and once he was at the mansion, he’d sorta been stuck because of the sun.

 

Giles slung the overstuffed diaper bag into the car seat and straightened his suit jacket and tie. “It’s a lovely space.”

 

“It’s gorgeous. Thanks for your help, Giles.” Asher shifted in my arms but kept sleeping, so I said, “I’m going to go check on Willow. Want to come with, Dawnie?” Willow had asked me to be her maid of honor, and I really had fallen down on the job. She said it didn’t matter because I’d just had a baby, but I had a few tricks up my sleeve that I was excited about.

 

“Sure!” Dawn was excited to see Willow in her fitted wedding dress; she and Willow had gone dress shopping together, and they’d enthusiastically included me through FaceTime.

 

I went to try to search through the diaper bag, but the baby opened his mouth and then made a little smacking noise, so I stopped, waiting until he settled in again. Giles and Dawn both watched with me. Then, I asked my sister, “Mind grabbing the bag?”

 

“Not at all,” she whispered back, heaving the diaper bag over her shoulder.

 

“I’ll just find. . . Spike,” Giles said more to himself than us before parking the stroller out of the way and wandering off toward the back of the mansion. He had stayed with us for a month after the baby was born, and he and Spike’s bond had grown even stronger. I’d wake up in the middle of the night with my breasts full of milk to find them watching old British television shows together while taking turns snuggling the sleeping baby.

 

Dawn and I found Willow in the room designated for the bride to get ready. Carrie was with her, helping her arrange a short veil around her shoulders. My best friend studied herself in the mirror. Her white dress was simple and form-fitting with lace sleeves and a cinched, corset-like back that enhanced the appearance of her waist and hips. Her hair was in soft, loose curls, and I could tell she’d been growing it out because the length fell to just past her shoulders. Her cheeks were flushed, and her green eyes were glowing with joy and perhaps a tiny bit of nervousness. . . well, maybe a lot of nervousness. She smiled brightly when she saw us in the mirror and turned, immediately focusing on the baby.

 

Her finger stroking the edge of the blanket, she sighed in happiness. “I still can’t believe how perfect he is.”

 

I softened and studied my son. “Yeah. He’s really such a sweet, easy baby.” He’d just turned three months old and was now sleeping through the night. The first time he hadn’t woken up at two or three in the morning, Spike went into an absolute panic and raced to peer into his crib and check his vitals with all his enhanced senses.

 

“He doesn’t even really cry except when he’s hungry,” Dawn agreed.

 

“That’s because his daddy anticipates his every need. Benefit of being a vampire.” I wasn’t sure why, but my milk hadn’t come in well, maybe due to the C-section, and we’d had to supplement with formula after a week on the pediatrician’s recommendation. I was sad that I wasn’t producing enough and felt a bit like a failure when Asher lost too much weight, but Spike reassured me that he could smell the milk and that the baby was getting nutrition from me. This had alleviated a lot of my fears, and Willow had come up with a recipe for lactation cookies with brewer’s yeast. The cookies were really helping increase my supply. Breastfeeding was hard work. No one told you that during the newborn care class, and no one tells you how hungry it makes you. I swear I was hungrier while breastfeeding than during the whole pregnancy.

 

I hugged Asher closer, relishing the warmth of his little body. I studied Willow. “How are you doing? Nervous? Excited? You look beautiful.”

 

“Thank you,” Willow said brightly. “I’ve been feeling kinda anxious, but not in I’m-worried-about-my-future-with-Oz kinda way. I set up wards around the mansion. George is overseeing those, so I don’t have to worry about them. And although it’s probably bad luck, I’ve been in touch with Oz all day. Neither of us is freaking out or ditching anyone. He keeps sending me funny texts – photos of Devon in silly poses while they get ready.” Devon was going to be Oz’s best man and was going to DJ the evening’s reception.

 

I could tell from her eyes and the wrinkle between her brows that she was more nervous than she was letting on, so I reassured her, “First of all, you don’t have to be anxious. We haven’t broadcast the wedding to a bunch of demons, and you haven’t been wreaking vengeance for over a thousand years. So, the odds of someone coming out of the woodwork to hurt you are slim. And second, you’re a lot older, sure of yourself, and know what you want. You’re not barely twenty or twenty-one and just starting out in life. Neither is Oz. Third of all, you guys have been through a lot together and based this relationship on friendship. You have the whole package. . . love and passion. And you’re best friends.”

 

She bit her lip, the tension in her eyes easing and her shoulders lifting a little. “You’re right.”

 

Dawn, of course, knew exactly where Willow’s fears lay, but Carrie had no idea the subtext of the conversation. Still, she had a thought. “I know there’s a lot I don’t know, but I do know a little about Xander and Anya. Buffy’s right. The way Oz looks at you and the way you are with one another. . . I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”

 

“See. You don’t,” Dawn added, pulling the diaper bag off her shoulder. She glanced at me. “Gifts?”

 

“Oh, yes!” I agreed. Presents would distract my friend.

 

Dawn pulled out the small bag I’d thrown the gifts into earlier and presented it to Willow. She blushed and accepted the package. Pulling out the tissue, she found the powder blue garter first.

 

She laughed. “What’s this?”

 

“That’s your something blue and new. You didn’t have one, and it’s a tradition or so I’ve heard,” I explained. I hadn’t been to many weddings.

Carrie helped Willow pull it on over her sparkly sandal. Then, Willow tugged it up under her dress. “It’s perfect.” She brought the small box out next. “What’s this?”

 

I grinned. “Your something old and borrowed.”

 

Willow tilted the box lid back. “Ohhh. They’re beautiful.” She touched one of the simple white freshwater pearl studs.

 

“They were my high school graduation present from Mom. Her mom gave them to her at her high school graduation.” The earrings were one of the only things we’d saved from Sunnydale beside photos.

 

“Much better than these cheap sparkly things.” She gestured at the rhinestone earrings she was wearing. “Thank you.” Her eyes suddenly welled with tears.

 

That was not the reaction I was expecting. “What’s wrong?”

 

“I-I’m so grateful for all of you.” She glanced at all three of us and even the baby. “You’re my family. But part of me wishes my mom was here.” Now that, I totally understood. Even though Willow’s mom was awful toward her, this was one of those milestones we’d talked about. She hadn’t heard from her parents since they’d ditched her in Sunnydale during the year of the First Evil.

 

Dawn swooped in and gave Willow a long hug, and I took her hand and squeezed. Asher really was a baby roadblock to hugs. I was still trying to figure out how to maneuver with him in my arms.

 

“Makes total sense to me,” Carrie said softly. “My mum hasn’t been in my life in a long time either.”

 

Asher made a snuffling sound in his sleep. “Don’t worry, baby. Mommy’s not going anywhere,” I whispered.

 

Willow laughed through her tears, which she was trying to blot up with a tissue before her mascara ran. Then, she touched the baby’s soft head. His initial dark hair was falling out, so he was half-bald. “We’re going to make sure he’s surrounded by love.”

 

“Um, guys, what time are we supposed to be out there?” Dawn asked.

 

We’d run a little late gathering up stuff for the baby. Really, it was so hard to leave the house now. I swear that I packed everything but the kitchen sink in case we needed it for the evening. The pack-and-play was in the car for our first overnight away from home, too.

 

“Oop.” Willow sniffed and glanced at the clock on the wall. “Now.” She pulled off her earrings and slipped on the pearls. “They really are perfect.”

 

Then, we hurried out toward the pool area where the ceremony was taking place. Xander was grinning by the door, waiting to walk Willow down the aisle. Dawn eased the baby out of my arms, and Carrie handed us bouquets of flowers. Then, my sister and Carrie headed to join the guests. I enveloped my friend in the big hug I’d wanted to give her earlier. Xander joined us, wrapping his arms around us both.

 

Drawing back, I smiled at my two closest friends from Sunnydale. “I love you both. And I’m so happy for you, Willow. Oz is a keeper. Let’s go get you married.”

 

“Love all around.” Xander kissed the redhead’s temple.

 

Willow returned my expression as Xander took her arm. “I love you both, too, and I know how lucky I am.”

 

Music began playing – not the bridal march or Pachelbel Canon, but some beautiful old song that one of the witches in the coven from Falls Church wrote and was performing. That was my cue, so I headed out the doors to the small set up by the pool. As I meandered toward the witch, Stacy, who would marry Willow and Oz, I smiled and took in the guests. I glimpsed Katie, Liz, Kishan, Michael, Carrie, Crystal, Leah, and Alex. Dawn was sitting between George and Giles, who had relieved my sister of the baby. There were also friends of Willow and Oz who had traveled in from out of town. I couldn’t wait to meet them all. I didn’t see Spike but didn’t let myself frown. I knew he was here somewhere. I felt his reassuring presence in the familiar tingle at the back of my neck.

 

Dressed in navy tuxes, Oz and Devon were already standing near Stacy. They all smiled at me, and I nodded at Oz before taking my place on the left. The music shifted then to a lilting happy tune that heralded Willow’s entrance. I couldn’t help but glance between her and Oz and grinned at how they stared at one another with such love and adoration. When Willow reached the front, she embraced Xander, who moved to take a seat next to Carrie. Then, Willow took Oz’s hand in hers, and he kissed her cheek.

 

When the couple was situated, Stacy began the ceremony. There were the traditional vows and a devotion spell and a wrapping of hands, and to be honest, I didn’t pay attention to the details – just the beauty of my friends loving each other and making a lifelong commitment. I had no doubt that they were both going to be very happy.

 

The ceremony ended with an exchange of rings, and in the one bit of Jewish tradition, Oz stomped on a cloth-covered glass with his right foot, shattering it.

 

We all shouted, “Mazel tov!” as they both grinned at one another and kissed, her hand caressing his cheek.

 

As everyone applauded, I scanned the crowd, searching for Spike. I knew he was there, but I couldn’t find him.

 

Willow caught my pensive expression and held her hand up to silence the crowd, and Oz motioned everyone to sit back in their chairs. As everyone quieted, I glanced at my friend in confusion, but she merely said quite loudly and with faux irritation and a half-frown/half-smile, “Buffy’s looking for Spike!”

 

With a broad grin on his face, Xander popped up in the audience, “Right! She needs him.”

 

“Wait. What?” I was so confused. This was so not about me. This was about Willow and Oz. What was happening?

 

Willow beamed at me; she didn’t seem to be able to fake feelings anymore. “Well, fine! Why doesn’t she just go marry him?”

 

Spike appeared from the reception area, wearing his own navy tuxedo, something I’d never imagined him wearing, but he looked so handsome, I didn’t care. His blue eyes found and held mine, and he smiled at me with so much love that my heart thundered in my chest. When he knelt in front of me and took my hand, the tears spilled over my cheeks. He kissed the back of my hand and looked up at me.

 

“Don’t cry, pet. I love you.” His words were a nervous whisper, and I nodded my “okay.” Then, he said with a slightly greater volume, “Just say, ‘Yes,’ and make me the happiest man on earth.”

I laughed through my tears; he’d said the same words so long ago that I’d almost forgotten them. I gently kissed him and then drew back to give him my response. “Yes. A thousand times, yes!”

 

The crowd cheered.

 

Spike stood and pulled me into a tight embrace, ignoring our onlookers as if we were the only two people in the universe. I inhaled his familiar scent and sighed with contentment when he laid his head atop mine and rubbed a small circle at the base of my spine. I was going to marry my person. Somehow, my mind couldn’t compute. Was this real?

 

He released me, and I opened my eyes to find Dawn standing next to me. “May I be your maid of honor?”

 

I was even more confused. “Huh? Of course!”

 

“Come on then!” She grabbed me by the hand and hurried me back down the aisle.

I peered back at Spike who smiled and nodded. “What is happening?” I whispered at my sister as we made it through the doors of the house.

 

“You can’t wear a navy swing dress to your own wedding,” she chirped.

 

But the navy swing dress covered my baby belly. I’d healed quickly from the C-section thanks to Slayer healing powers, but the belly with its stretchy skin and dark linea nigra, well that was something that didn’t just instantly go away. Swing dresses were my friend.

 

Willow and Oz joined us, holding hands, and Oz smiled. “She’s right.”

 

“That’s why. . .” Willow hurried to the hall closet and opened the door, producing a simple, strapless white wedding gown. In many ways, it was an echo of Willow’s with the cinched back and lace overlay.

 

“Oh, my god.” I didn’t know what to say.

 

Dawn fidgeted with anxiety. “Is it okay?”

 

“It’s just so fast!” I was having a hard time processing. “And it’s not my day.”

 

Willow held the dress back. “We want to share our day. . . with you and Spike, and Buffy, he wants to marry you. He asked us how we thought he should propose, and we encouraged him.”

 

“H-how long?” The question came out of nowhere. I wasn’t making a lot of sense.

 

“Since we got back from Texas,” Oz said, his hands stuffed in his pockets. He looked so serene – so perfectly Oz.

 

“Since the day they got engaged and we registered for the baby,” Dawn added.

 

Giles burst through the door, appearing a bit flustered with his glasses in one hand. “I’m ready!”

 

“Ready for what?” I asked dumbly.

 

He donned his glasses and made direct eye contact, his expression tender. “To walk you down the aisle, Buffy. You asked me.” He shuffled his feet, and his eyes flicked away. “I mean, I know it was long ago, but you’re like a daughter to me. I-I would be honored.”

 

I flung my arms around him, which was decidedly less awkward without the baby in my belly or in my arms. “Oh, Giles.”

 

He grunted as I squeezed him a little too hard. He gasped, “I take it that’s a ‘yes.’”

 

I let him go. “Oops. Sorry. Yes! I mean, please walk me down the aisle.”

 

“Does that mean – ?” Dawn let the question trail off.

 

My heart squeezed as I thought of the vampire waiting for me. “If you’re okay with it – ?” I asked Oz and Willow.

 

“Yes! We wouldn’t have it any other way!” Willow strode forward and took my hand.

 

“Yay!” Dawn said with giddy excitement, her blue eyes bright.

 

“Wait. Where’s Asher?” I asked as I let Willow lead me toward her dressing room.

 

“Don’t worry about that. Someone special is taking care of him,” Willow said as we entered the room. “Dawn, fire up the curling iron and bring me my makeup bag.”

 

“Aye aye, captain.” Dawn saluted as she hurried toward the bathroom.

 

My mouth twisted to one side. “What’s wrong with my makeup?”

Thirty minutes later, I was wearing the beautiful dress, my hair was down and curling around my shoulders with a few strands up on each side and held in place with my new hand-beaded hair clip, and my makeup was completely redone. Dawn loaned me the pearl drop necklace that Mom had given her, and I wore sandals that matched Willow’s on my feet because heels hurt my feet since the baby was born (oh, the irony that my chunky boots were still in storage). Under the dress, I had a pair of Spanx thanks to Willow, and between that and the corset back to the dress, the remnants of my baby belly were well hidden. I tried not to cry as I stared in the mirror. My cheeks and eyes seemed lit from within, and I looked more alive than I’d looked in three months. Somehow, I didn’t think the light was from the makeup job.

 

Willow passed me a tissue and gave me a side hug. “Let’s go get you married.”

 

I shook my head at our reflection and felt the déjà vu of the scene. “Is this real?”

 

“Yes, it is!” Willow loaned me her bouquet and gave mine to Dawn.

 

“I love you guys,” I said softly.

 

“We love you.”

 

Before I knew it, music was playing, and Dawn glided down the aisle in front of me and Giles. My hand was tucked in the crook of Giles’s arm, his warm hand firmly atop mine, and as we stepped out together, Leah popped up from the left followed by a beaming Charlotte. Charlotte was here! Where had she come from? Willow and Oz didn’t know Charlotte and Shane and hadn’t invited them to the wedding – or so I thought. I glanced to the left and saw Shane with a smile on his face as he cradled a now awake baby Asher, who yawned and blinked at me. I returned Shane’s expression, and he nodded at me. There were a lot of knowing nods here tonight.

 

Leah suddenly hugged my legs to get my attention and then held up a basket of red rose petals. Looking to Charlotte for permission, the younger girl bounded up the aisle, tossing handfuls into the air as she went and slowing down only with Charlotte’s gentle restraint. I couldn’t help but grin.

 

Spike waited for me with a fierceness in his eyes – his only marker of nervousness, and I couldn’t wait to slip my hand into his to reassure him. Xander stood to his right with a blessing in his eyes. Giles kissed the top of my head and released me.

 

As I wrapped my fingers around Spike’s, I took in the strange man in judge’s robes standing in front of me. He was an older gentleman with sparkling brown eyes, who somehow looked a little familiar.

 

He smiled at me and said quietly so only Spike and I could hear, “I’m Judge Durbin, and I heard the two of you wanted to get married. I usually do this in the courthouse, but your soon-to-be husband was quite persuasive. We’ll sort out the paperwork after the ceremony; it’s a little backward in terms of the typical protocol, but I am in charge, so. . .” Alarm ran through me. What had Spike done? “Don’t be concerned. I do weddings of this sort all the time. I used to reside in Sunnydale, after all.”

 

My mouth fell open in shock. “Oh?” What was he talking about? Demon marriage?

 

The judge offered no other explanation, instead spreading his hands toward everyone and announcing the start of the ceremony.

 

Again, the words were a blur, and Spike and I grounded each other through each step of the traditional exchange of vows. I couldn’t stop peering up at him and staring into his eyes. No one had ever loved me the way he did, and I hoped that my eyes were shining with the same love back because I felt almost overwhelmed by the emotion.

 

Then, Dawn appropriated my bouquet, and Xander passed Spike two rings, platinum with a beautiful filigree design etched into each band. The metal felt cool and right as Spike slipped the smaller of the two over the knuckle on my left ring finger. My hands were shaking as I put his on for him. As soon as his ring was on, he twined our fingers together and held me steady.

 

When Judge Durbin pronounced us man and wife, Spike’s lips captured mine in a passionate kiss, and our friends and family clapped and hooted again in joy.

 

As with everything, Spike and I had done things a little bit opposite of the norm. I wouldn’t trade how we did it for the world. I was married to him, we had a beautiful son, and we were surrounded by friends and loved ones.

 

My heart had never been so full.