Year 163 Meonik time, a few seconds later 

            Of all the announcements I expected Thalia to make, I didn't expect to be pregnant.  "What?  How can there possibly be a baby?  You must have made some mistake.  Check the test results again.  I can't be pregnant.  Not now; there's no time!"

            Spike takes hold of my forearms to stop me from pacing in the shallow water.  Instantly, my mind blocks out Jenn and Thalia so that Spike and I are the only ones I notice.  He stares directly into my eyes with a serious expression.  "Pet, it's possible.  We're human now.  And we were *together* in Dru's prison. . . how many times over the last few months we were there?  We didn't exactly have protection."

            I shake my head.  "No.  You were gone. . .out of it. . . in that tank for two months, and we weren't together that many. . . ."

            "Um, I hate to disagree, love, but just one time, and a baby can be conceived."

            I stomp my foot.  "I'm not stupid, Spike.  I know about my body.  I just don't understand how it could happen to us!  After all, we were vampires for a thousand years.  Vampires don't have babies!"

            "Darla did.  Remember?" Spike reminds me gently.  "And we're human."

            "True.  But. . ."  I scrunch my face up, and tears fill my eyes.  "Damn it.  It's just not fair.  My job is to help people, and I can't do it now!  A-and what if the world we're bringing this baby into is too dangerous?  And what if there's something wrong with the baby?  We were vampires, and my DNA's all screwed up.  And what if he or she can't handle that we're vampires?  I mean, is it healthy to have vampire parents?"

            Spike clears his throat to interrupt my babbling.  "Um, Buffy, you're 'what-if-ing,' and you sound just like a flustered Willow.  We can only take each obstacle as it comes."

            I grant him a watery grin at the mention of one of my dearest friends.  "Yeah.  True."  Thoughts whirl through my head, and I open my mouth again, "Maybe I should terminate the pregnancy."

            "What?!" Spike bellows, eyes widening and darkening with fear. 

            Out of the corner of my eye, I witness Jenn slipping away.  They're leaving us alone to sort out the issue.  How nice of them. 

            Calmly, I reply, "It's a logical answer to all our problems.  We can get re-vamped and go back to Earth to fight the war against Dru and the vamps and probably other demons who are now crossing dimensions again."

            Spike doesn't appear to have heard past the first sentence.  "'Logical'?!  How the bloody hell can you say terminating the. . . our baby's life is 'logical'?!  It's the most illogical thing I've ever heard!"

            Trying to get my attention, he grabs my arm then, fingers digging into my muscle.  Water swirls around my feet.  He would never hurt me intentionally.  Something in the blue depths of his eyes. . . fading joy, hope. . . makes me pause.  I've wounded him, and I hadn't meant to. 

            "Why is it illogical?" I whisper, willing his pain away.

            He loosens his grip on me, and his shoulders slump a little.  "Has it ever occurred to you that in all the years we were together when you were longing for a child that I wanted a child, too?  That this baby. . . our baby is not something I would take lightly?"

            Tears course down my cheeks.  "Y-you wanted a child, too?"

            Eyes just as misty, he nods.  "Buffy, I would do anything to have a piece of me and you joined to form a new being. . . to share the joy of new life with you. . . to have someone to leave behind.  And since we became human, since we were trapped by Dru . . ."

            With his last words, the truth wrenches in my gut, and I cut him off, holding up my hand and allowing bite to enter my tone, "Wait a second.  Are you telling me that you wanted me to get pregnant when we made love in that hellhole?"

            Spike knows me, knows my anger is rising.  "Buffy. . . I had fifteen years alone and suffered countless tortures without you."

            "Oh, poor you.  And you wanted to bring a new life into a vampire prison that we didn't even know if we could escape?!"  I am flabbergasted by his revelation. 

            "We would have eventually escaped.  I know it."

            "You know it, huh?  And what if we hadn't?  What if I had died in childbirth in that environment?  What if Dru got a hold of the baby and used him or her for her rituals?  What if. . ." I trail off.  "And don't tell me I'm 'what-if-ing'!  These things very well could have happened!"

            Spike changes gears, "I won't allow you to terminate the pregnancy."  He is firm, unmoving, and Spike has rarely been like that with me in our relationship.  He gives a lot, but this time, he's not altering his position. 

            "It's *my* body!" I proclaim, crossing my arms and resisting the urge to hit him. . . hit him hard.  I can't recall the last time I felt that way.

            "And it's my baby, too!"

            Slogging out of the water, I shake the water off my feet, splattering droplets over the bank.  I feel defiled, dirty.  "Fine!  I'll just be your little pawn!  You used me, Spike, and I don't like to be used!"

            Spike remains in the creek.  Sarcasm drips from his next words, "Well, aren't you the pot calling the kettle black!"

            "That was hundreds of years ago."  I turn and fix a defiant glare at him.  "Shut the hell up!  And stay away from me!"

            With that, I leave him behind to mull over our argument. 

* * *

Year 163, Meonik time, hours later 

            A breeze sweeps lightly over my bare arms.  My chin is cupped between my knees as I balance at the top of my favorite tree.  I can't count on both hands the number of times I've fallen asleep with the gentle rocking motion of the branches.  My hands clasp my ankles, and my stomach presses firmly against my thighs.   The bark of the tree is rough but firm beneath the pads of my feet, and green leaves tickle my skin.  I feel safe here. . . away from the harsh truth of what Spike has done. . . what I have done.

            A baby is growing inside me.  A new life has sprung from the deepest love I've ever known in my life.  Why do these things happen to me at the most inopportune times?  My instinctual thoughts say that babies should be celebrated, not cause rifts between people.  Realistically, I know that never happens.  Some of the biggest arguments among couples rise from decisions about when to have and how to raise children. 

            A sweet pine scent fills my nose.  "Penny for your thoughts?" comes the breathless voice that is distinctly Theos. 

            I smile wryly.  "You can have them for free."  I sigh.  "Spike and I had a fight."

            "About the baby?"

            "Yeah."  I close my eyes and surround myself in darkness.

            Theos is sympathetic, and his characteristic smell envelops me like a protective blanket.  "What about the baby?"

            I bluntly state my perception of the situation, "Spike intentionally got me pregnant in prison because he wanted a child."

            "Intentionally?"

            "Yes.  He told me as much at the creek just now." 

            "Did you consent to the relations?"  Theos is going to attempt to be logical with me.  Probably smart given the emotions rippling just underneath my calm demeanor.

            "Well, yes," I admit.

            "And what kind of situation were you in?"

            I try to be very honest.  "Very isolated, lonely conditions.  It was prison.  We never knew what was going to happen next."

            "And?  How long were you and Spike separated?"  Theos is good at Socratic questioning.

            "Fifteen years.  Oh, god, it was so lonely."  My heart sinks as I remember the awful separation from him. . . the hollowness.

            "So, when you saw him again, what was that like?"

            A rush of emotions flows over my heart.  "Relief that he was still alive. . . that Dru hadn't turned him. . . that he was still whole even if he was hurt.  I felt like I hadn't seen him or touched him in ages.  I guess. . . I guess it was like we were being reunited.  Our actions were instinctual, needed, comforting."

            Theos shifts his questioning slightly at my admission.  "Did you ever tell Spike how much you wanted a child?"

            I re-open my eyes to view the artificial sunlight rising through the trees.  "Once in particular, but many other times, too.  We adopted a child once."

            I haven't told Theos this story, so he is curious.  "Oh, really?"

            "Ayledan.  She was one of the slayers who came from nothing. . . had no family.  We destroyed a vampire faction together.  Then, we adopted her."

            "But to have one of your own. . . what does that mean?"

            As my anger and resentment toward Spike melts away, tears blur my vision.  "It. . . it means. . ."  I have no words for what the experience of having a child of my own means.  I am a slayer; I never expected to live past age twenty, never expected to be a vampire, never expected to have a long-term mate, never expected to be simply human again, and certainly never expected to have a child. 

            "It means everything."  Spike's voice carries up from the ground.  Pain laces his voice and mars his accent. 

            My heart thumps in my ears, and before I can form a coherent plan, I'm climbing down the tree with the nimbleness of a monkey.  In a minute or two, I am in his arms, but my actions don't mollify him.  He stiffens at my gesture and pulls away.

            He swallows hard as though forcing down his emotions, and I feel the distance between us like a bottomless canyon that I can't cross.  A lump forms in my throat as I bite back more tears.

            His voice is low and gruff.  "Thalia wants to talk with us in their quarters."

            Straightening my shoulders and not showing the hurt I'm feeling, I march ahead of him, ahead of Theos.  Even in Dru's prison, I never felt more alone.  I feel like the slayer again.

* * *

Year 163, Meonik time, seventeen minutes later

            "We've figured out a solution to your predicament," Thalia announces after everyone is present.  When no one reacts to her declaration, she presses on, "It's an action we can take that will be in the middle of two extremes."

            Still the most skeptical member of our group, Jenn squirms in her seat.  "So, can you be anymore vague, or is that all you can tell us?"

            "Well, what we can set up is a place for the baby to grow and thrive.  Kind of like the tank we used to heal Spike and bring you back to life the first time."

            "You mean, like an artificial embryonic sac?" Spike asks from across the room.  He's purposefully seated himself as far from me as he can possibly get.

            "Yes," Thalia acknowledges.  "Buffy's about three and a half months along now."  Everyone suddenly turns to stare at me like I'm a specimen under a microscope.  "And I can perform a procedure to safely separate her and the child so that the child can grow and develop in the artificial environment in a healthy manner."

            Not removing her eyes from me, Jenn takes the plan a step further, "Then, I guess it'd be my job to turn them after that.  So, it'd be short of terminating the pregnancy but not exactly allowing Buffy to carry the baby to term.  They can return to Earth to fight."

            "Exactly," Theos asserts. 

            Thayne clears his throat.  "So, Spike, Buffy, what do you think of what we've recommended?  I mean, it seems like we've made a pretty big decision for you, but in reality, it's ultimately your choice about how to proceed."

            For the first time since the forest, Spike's eyes find mine.  For the first time in hundreds of years, I can't read what is written in his unflinching gaze.  Self-consciously, my hand goes to my still-flat stomach, and quite abruptly, I comprehend how protective I instinctively feel of the life within me.  I've been stifling the part of me that admits how much I long to carry the baby inside of me for nine months.

            When I do speak, my words come out clear and sharp as if we're discussing something that's not tied to any emotions for me.  "If we agree to this plan and go back to Earth, how will we find him or her again?  Dru has Spike's ring.  How and when will we get to see our child?"

            "Good question."  Spike is taking my side, but I can tell from his tone that things are far from right between us.

            "We will deliver him to you when he is born," Thalia assures us. 

            "Him?"  A thrill shoots through me.  I'm carrying a son!  My immediate thought is that perhaps he will look like Spike.  An involuntary smile spreads over my face. . . one that I notice matches Spike's.  When he notices mine, he immediately dons his impenetrable mask once again.

            "Yes, you're having a boy," Thalia confirms, sending sugary warmth over my senses.

            "So you'll deliver him to us even if we're in the middle of something huge?" Spike wonders, thinking about our previous fifteen years in prison and the impending war. 

            "If anyone can raise him properly in a dangerous environment, it will be you and Buffy.  You've had a lot of practice at surviving and protecting those you love in the worst circumstance," Thayne maintains, his utterances coming from over my shoulder.

            "What if something happens to him in the midst of all the vamps and demons?" I worry.  He's our son.  My hand pushes against my abdomen slightly harder as if I can shelter the tiny being within me. 

            "He'll fare much better than if you carry him for nine months," Theos notes from above. 

            I choose a path.  "Who will do the procedure?"

            "I will," Thalia says confidently.  "Tomorrow morning.  It will be just the four of us."

            "Four of us?" Spike asks, rising from his seat and casually crossing his arms.

            "Yes.  You, me, Buffy, and your son."

* * *

Year 163, Meonik time, the next day

            Unwilling to leave me alone even if we are angry with each other, Spike sleeps next to me through the night.  He snores with his back to me and as far from me as he can possibly get without falling off the bed.  He also steals the covers, leaving me shivering in the cool early morning air that pours forth from the open window. 

            In a way, I'm glad for the time to lay awake and think about what's happened.  As the first rays of sunlight slip over the horizon and sprinkle across our bed, I realize that I'm tired of thinking.  I swing my legs to the ground and pad quietly to the window.  With my hand on my stomach, I sit on the ledge for an uncountable handful of minutes and watch the artificial sunrise, streaking burgundies, pinks, yellows, and oranges in a brilliant bloody kaleidoscope across the deep navy blue of the night. 

            "Someday, you will see the real dawn."  My voice is hardly a whisper because surely must sound like an echoing boom to the baby within me.  Do babies have hearing at three and a half months?

            Sighing, I slip from the windowsill, deciding to take a shower before the meeting later this morning.  As I turn,             I catch Spike watching me intently as he lies on his side with his right arm beneath his head, elbow jutting out from the side of his face.

            He blinks when I catch him as if he cannot believe what he is viewing.  As I have so often wondered, I can only speculate about what he sees in me.  Frightened a bit at the intensity of the moment after what happened between us yesterday, I am the first to break our connection by heading into the bathroom as my hand drops from my abdomen.

            I start the shower, and under the safe shield of sprinkling water, I undress, pull my long hair into a bun on the top of my head, and study my petite body in the mirror.  I turn sideways and try to picture what my stomach might look like, full and distended from the blossom of pregnancy. 

            A shift of cold air rolls over my back as my ears detect the low click of the bathroom door.  I close my eyes as strong arms circle my waist and large hands cover mine, fingertips touching my flat stomach and sending tingles over my bare skin.  Warm breath blows the loose hairs that trail over my shoulders, and a solid chest covers mine. 

            "Open your eyes."  His voice is hoarse with desire.

            As I turn my head to the mirror, he nuzzles his nose into my cheek.  My lids lift to view a slender young woman being held by her lover, steam from the hot shower water framing the figures.

            "What I see," he begins, "is the most beautiful pregnant woman I've ever seen. . . because she's carrying our child."