"Buffy! Are you coming?" Dawn yelled from the foot of the stairs. "Anya says she needs you at the magic box today."
The slayer heaved herself off of her bed. This was typical. Anya hadn't asked for or even about her for months and the time she did was when she was six months pregnant and meant to be conserving her energy for bridesmaid duty next week. Dawn looked as if she'd been waiting for hours when Buffy reached the landing. Cheeky cow. She wouldn't be so full of attitude the day she truly felt like she was carrying a bowling ball up her shirt, twenty four seven.
"Well, finally. Everyone else is gonna be there already."
Buffy suddenly looked petrified. "Why everyone? Don't tell me there's an impending apocalypse because that would just complete my year."
"No apocalypse. Just a pre wedding get together Anya and Xander have organised. But I get why you'd compare the two."
The slayer smiled, reluctantly making the decision to make her way down the stairs and brave it into the world of last minute wedding prep. Dawn noticed her anxiety and slipped an arm through her's. "At least try. You don't have to stay."
"Oh, I know I don't have to."
As per usual, Buffy was greeted with happy, smiley faces and with the clearly forced 'how are you's.' She'd learnt not to let them get to her around the time she'd learnt to identify her friends' 'poor little pregnant girl' attitudes.
They all thought that she still wasn't handling it and could crack at any moment, but, man, would she prove them wrong. She was constantly hungry, tired and exceptionally hormonal but the mood swings were definitely not down to the knowledge of being pregnant. Three months had been enough to adjust.
While Willow and Tara, and Anya and Giles went back to their respective jobs of reading and selling, Dawn and Buffy wandered over to the back of the shop where Xander was sat on a couch, barely thumbing through a copy of 'Demons: Illustrated.' He smiled when he noticed the slayer coming his way and immediately made space for her. Maybe Buffy was overreacting when she said that everyone looked at her with pity. Xander had never once looked at or treated her differently because of the baby, but she had a constant niggling feeling that if he knew the whole truth...
Ignoring the thought, she slumped down next to him and nodded at Dawn, silently giving her permission to browse the bookshelf. She'd seemed more determined than ever to join in research, recently.
"So, how's it hangin', big momma?" Xander started. "Looking forward to being on your feet for the whoooole of next Thursday?"
The slayer jabbed him in the ribs for the nickname. "Yeah. You bet. I can't think of anything more fun than dressing to impress, being the size I am, and then showing judgemental guests their seats as they stare at me."
The carpenter dumped the heavy book, in his lap, to the side. "I'm letting you off the hook if you want, y'know. Anya will understand if you're not up to it."
"Nu-uh. I said I'd do this and nothing will stop me. This is your big day and I wouldn't miss it for the world."
Out of nowhere, Anya suddenly interrupted them and was now stood proudly in front of Buffy.
"I would like to know your current waist size if at all possible."
Xander's eyes widened and she pretended not to notice. He'd lectured her on politeness and sensitivity when asking for Buffy's dress size but she didn't see the point. If the slayer was going to insist on growing bigger, she needed urgently to find out how big her new bridesmaid dress needed to be.
Buffy found her friend's comment too amusing to be offensive. "Erm. I'm not sure. I haven't exactly measured myself recently."
Straight to the point as always, Anya continued. "Well, would you mind coming into the back room so I can find out? It's essential we get your new dress sorted out immediately."
Her fiancé opened his mouth to speak but Buffy shushed him, complying to Anya's wishes and getting to her feet. As they made their way behind the counter, Giles stopped counting stock and caught her arm, much to Anya's annoyance.
"Are you able to come down to the cellar after you're finished? There's been a new development on that case we were discussing."
'New case' aka 'baby/council related matters.' The slayer both looked forward to and dreaded these meetings. She nodded before allowing herself to be dragged the rest of the way to the back room by Anya.
Buffy was left a little anxious as she gave the ex-vengeance demon complete access to her measurements because she still had no idea what she might be wearing. She hadn't really seen it as much of a problem before, but she'd made the mistake of underestimating her bump size. God help her if she was made to wear some tight, skinny number. Pushing all worries to the side for the moment, the slayer headed down to meet Giles in the stock room, just as he'd instructed. The once normal enough stairs were now a steep, slippery death trap, as she struggled to keep her balance at the best of times. Her watcher was polishing his glasses furiously, indicating that something was getting him worked up. She prayed that he didn't have bad news. "So what's up?"
Without saying anything, he stepped aside to reveal a chirpy looking Spike leant against the wall. She could see that he was trying to keep his grin under control as his wide eyes studied every inch of her. In fairness, it had been just under a month since their last meeting.
"Hi," he started.
"Hey." All of a sudden, their previously still child started excitedly wriggling around. Yup, he'd really missed his dad.
Giles let his gaze flicker between the pair before appreciating their right to privacy. "Don't be too long. I'll barely be able to convince the others that you're stock counting."
The slayer mouthed 'thank you' to him as he passed her and made his way back up to ground level. After the sound of the door clicking shut, they both visibly relaxed.
"How did you get down here?" she asked, clearly surprised.
"Basement's directly above the sewer."
Now that was out of the way, Buffy thought she best start off with an apology.
"I'm sorry it's been so long. The council have been on my back a lot recently and I've barely been able to get away."
"S'okay. I'm grateful for what we can get."
Buffy had barely believed it when Giles had agreed to help organise secret meetings between her and Spike. No one could know about them, but at the same time, they couldn't look suspicious. It was becoming increasingly difficult to schedule them, especially as Buffy never knew when they were going to happen. It was safer that way.
Her feet being swollen and sore, Buffy took a seat on the largest step and patted the other end of it, gesturing for Spike to sit too.
"So, 'how have you been' seems like the most obvious thing to ask."
She nodded confidently. "Things are good. Apart from the light sensitivity headaches and the stretch marks and the giant bowling ball on my bladder that won't seem to budge. Ever."
Spike let out a muffled laugh. "But seriously though. Everything's okay?"
"Yeah." Apart from the fact that she'd still neglected to tell him that their child was being handed over to the council in about three months.
They sat there for a little while, Buffy sensing that he kept putting off telling her something. Eventually, he got around to it. "As we're gettin' closer and closer to the date, was wondering if there's anything you or the kid need. You haven't let me pay a cent towards anything yet."
"That's because it's all sorted. You'd be surprised at how efficient Willow is with organising everything," she lied. Ah. Now she'd have to tell a reluctant Willow to lie to Spike if he ever came asking about baby stuff.
"And where are you getting the cash from?"
The slayer smiled, awkwardly. Think, Buffy, think! "Turns out my mom had another account we didn't know about. It helped pay for a few things. Giles leant a hand too."
Spike didn't look convinced, but wasn't prepared to spend the little time he had with his family arguing.
"Just please, for gods sake, don't be too bloody proud to come to me if you need help."
The slayer looked him in the eye and gave a genuine nod. "Everything's under control."
Spike played with the ring on his index finger. He'd been wanting this meeting so badly for weeks and now that it was here, he had no idea what to say. Buffy ended up breaking the silence. "Are you coming to the wedding next week?"
The vampire looked offended. Him? At a wedding?
"I wouldn't have said anything, but...it might be our last chance to meet before the birth."
He shook his head. "You said yourself, it's not safe to meet out in the open with the wanker's council keepin' tabs on you. Besides, there's still a few months before you're due. Unless you're planning on havin' the kid sooner?"
She didn't look the slightest bit impressed. He obviously wasn't aware that having a baby before thirty seven weeks was more common than he thought.
"I've got more appointments than I can count in the next few weeks and the council are not gonna be letting me out of their sight then. Anya and Xander's wedding is the last place they'll look for you."
"Of course I want to. You know I'm up for any opportunity. Just not sure this is the right one."
Buffy was determined to convince him. "If it makes you feel any better, I can get you onto the guest list to make it look less suspicious?"
"Doesn't really, but I can't afford to say no, can I?"
She smiled. "So, you'll be there?"
"Guess so. But if I catch so much as a glimpse of one of those toffee-nosed bastards, I'm outta there. Not giving them an excuse to tighten their grip on you even more."
Much to the pair's disappointment, Giles knocked from the other side of the shop level door, the usual signal he gave to them when he couldn't distract the others any longer.
"That time again, huh?" she sighed.
"Looks like it." He turned to leave and was pulling open the grate to the sewer when Buffy called out to him again. "You promise you won't stand me up?"
He didn't say anything, but smiled at her, in a way that instantly eradicated her worries, before jumping down and disappearing from sight. Despite everyone's warnings about heavy lifting, the slayer went ahead and shifted the grate back to it's original position, slumping down on a stool afterwards. She hated becoming so exhausted so quickly, probably because she wasn't used to it. Less used to it than most humans with just average strength, specifically. Realising that he'd somehow left in the last few minutes, the baby threw what Buffy could only describe as a tantrum. He squirmed and kicked, silently demanding his mum get him back. She wasn't, however, prepared to let him make her feel bad. She'd gotten a meeting with Spike, what else did he want? They couldn't be together all the time. She swatted her stomach lightly in a vain attempt to get him to stop. "You can kick and scream all you want, but you're gonna have to wait until next week."
He seemed to inflict one last solitary kick, as a sign of not forgiving her, before leaving it at that. His sudden 'silence' sort of made her sympathise.
"I know you miss him. Between you and me, some days I do too." She realised what she was saying. "Just because he's the only person I can really stand to be around. Everyone else annoys me at one point or another. But then I come to my senses again."
Feeling that he'd given Buffy and Spike plenty of time to say their goodbyes, Giles entered. "Buffy, we need to go."
She looked up, secretly glad at the intrusion that had taken her from her thoughts. "I know..."