It was the question which had weighed most heavily on her mind at the time, and about which she had never ceased to wonder. And it was one question she had never dared ask, not even later after she thought she knew the answer. Had believed she'd seen it in their eyes as they'd looked at each other, the world collapsed to just the two of them alone in a crowd. Or in the way they instinctively reached for each other in rare unguarded moments.
She'd thought she had known. Had hoped she had known. But she'd never understood. Not really. Not until much, much later.
Ashley couldn't sleep. No position was comfortable. So for the past half hour she'd shifted restlessly in bed, trying without success to find relief from the aches and discomforts which now seemed her constant companions. Then she felt it - felt him or her - move. And for the first time it was more than just a barely imperceptible fluttering that she was never sure wasn't simply gas. It was a kick, clear and distinct, strong enough to be felt against her palm.
She rolled over in bed and shook the man sleeping soundly next to her. "Hey.. Wake up."
"What?" he mumbed sleepily.
Instead of answering, she caught his hand and placed in on her belly. Their baby kicked again, hard against his palm. He looked up at her, his eyes full of joy and wonder, and she returned his smile.
And in that moment she finally understood her mother completely. She wasn't simply having a baby. She was having his baby. The one they had made together. Because she loved him.
She hadn't been simply a solution to loneliness or a need to procreate - a rational solution to a biological urge. She had been born because of who she was, not in spite of it. Like her own child, she had been conceived and born from love.
It shouldn't have mattered, yet somehow it did. Even after all that time.