If you didn't read 'A Gem of a Soul', it's okay, you can pretty much follow along. Big things to know - Buffy and Spike have been 'married' since S6, Spike has the Gem of Amarra, and nobody died (Joyce, Anya, Tara). Because I'm a much softer person than Joss Whedon. To whom all these characters belong, etc. (I write for my amusement only). Also, Spike owed Halfrek the Vengeance Demon a favor in exchange for having healed Buffy from a physically incapacitating gun shot wound.

This has a different feel from 'A Gem of a Soul'. It's even more heavy and emotional and angsty, and, unlike the other, in no way follows future/comic canon. Honest to God I was going to write something humorous, but it just didn't come out that way. Sigh.

There will only be five chapters, so, short! For me.

Spike blamed it on Harris. He blamed a lot of things on Harris, but this one lay squarely at the feet of a one-eyed carpenter. Somebody had to take the blame after all, otherwise it was just a big, cosmic joke, courtesy of the Powers that Screw You over.

"Breathe, luv," he implored, trying to calm his hysterical wife. "Breathe, Buffy, please." He showed her how. In and out. In and out. Nice and slow and steady. She didn't stop hyperventilating, didn't stop her anguished cries. They broke his undead heart.

"I can't!" she sobbed. "Can't. Can't take it anymore. Not again, I… I can't!"

He held her tighter. Tried to breathe for her, tried to be strong, even though he wanted to break down and scream too, hurl curses and destroy the world around them. Maybe later he could let go, let out his own anguish. Later, after he'd washed away the blood that was staining her lap and his, spreading outwards in an inexorable flow, draining a tiny life from her body.

She cried herself out, her small, limp body cradled against his, snuffling brokenly. "This is the last time," she said in a cracking voice. "I can't do this again. I'm sorry."

His heart broke for a second time at that. They'd had such high hopes. A miracle in the waiting. An answer to their dreams. But he couldn't blame her, couldn't bear to see her go through this pain again either. "It's okay, my love, it's okay. We'll get by."

Buffy didn't reply. She lay motionless in his arms, as if she were the one that was dead and not he.

"I want a squirmy, pink baby," Anya announced out of the blue. It was somewhat redundant to put the words 'Anya' and 'out of the blue' in the same sentence, but there you had it. It was apropos of nothing they'd been discussing, and, Buffy thought, possibly something to discuss first in private.

Also a concept foreign to the ex-demon.

Xander visibly panicked. His wife wasn't exactly frail anymore, but it had only been a year since she had emerged from a months-long coma, and he was understandably worried about her health. And they were all still so young, the majority of the people in the room not yet having hit the midway mark between twenty-something and pushing thirty. Squirmy, pink babies weren't on anybody's mind. Except, obviously, Anya's.

"Ahn," Xander began, placating her. "Maybe we should talk about this later."

She narrowed her eyes at the assembled group seated around the dinner table as she replied. "I don't understand what the big deal is. I've played 'Life' enough times to know how it works. We've amassed plenty of income, although we did have to start over thanks to Spike's destruction of our belongings and my source of income-"

"Wasn't my idea!" the vampire in question protested.

"Understood, world save-age, blah blah blah. Moving on. We're married. We have a house of our own. The next step is the acquisition of children. We need to get moving on that if we're going to win."

Most everybody present could only stare. Even for Anya, this was a particularly strange statement.

"Uh, you do understand that there's no winning involved in real life," Willow said as Spike thumped a choking Xander on the back. "It's not really a race."

Anya scoffed, "Sure, that's why it's not called the rat race." She turned to the youngest Summers. "Dawn, you explain it to them. You're the one who taught me how to play 'Life', after all."

Dawn cringed and said nothing, trying to sink lower in her chair and hide behind the half-carved Christmas turkey Buffy had cooked.

The conversation moved on to other topics thankfully, such as whether their combined efforts were still required at the Cleveland Hellmouth, or if they could, en masse, settle elsewhere. Dawn voted for their return to California, seeing as she was stuck there until she graduated, and the majority agreed that it would be nice to return to a warmer clime. Giles advocated their coming to England, to take up with the Slayer school again. The discussion raged on, leaving the frightening topic of offspring behind.

But thirteen months later, Anya proudly displayed her squirming, pink baby boy, announcing to all present that she and Xander were winning the race. Xander himself looked as though he agreed with the sentiment, and possibly even said as much, intimating that as the only male of the group with both a wife and the ability to produce viable swimmers, he was now the alpha male of the pack.

Spike didn't take well to that statement, and Buffy even less so.

"We could adopt," the vampire blurted out as they left the hospital and the beaming couple. His remark was met with a startled glance. "If, you know, you wanted-"

"A squirmy pink thing of my own?"

"Yeah," he said, scuffing at the sidewalk and looking shy.

Shrugging lightly, Buffy said, "I'm in no rush. We're young – in your case, eternally so – and I have to say I'm liking the world travel bit. Kinda living out my dreams, here. It would be a lot harder to do with a baby in tow. Never mind the world save-age gig that is our lives."

Spike cocked his head, and Buffy knew she hadn't been able to keep the wistful tone out of her voice when she'd uttered the word 'baby'. "Something to keep in mind," she assured him. "Later… Unless… you?"

"Later," he confirmed. "Not ready to share you yet."

Buffy couldn't agree more.

Spike noticed his wife didn't say anything to their friends when they gathered together later that month. There was nothing to say; she hadn't let them in in the first place. Not this time. She knew better after the pain and heartbreak of their first three attempts. She hadn't gone running to the others on the fourth, hadn't shared the miraculous news or reveled in the shared joy and congratulations, hadn't even let herself see them in case they guessed.

After the first pregnancy had abruptly ended at seven weeks, Buffy had been sad, devastated even, but she had gone on. These things happened. They would simply try again.

Of course, trying was a lot more complicated than it was for your average couple, even your average infertile couple. There wasn't just artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization in their case. There was also the small matter of bringing a dead man's sperm back to life. But Andrew, evil genius that he was, had found a way with Willow's help. The Pratts had rejoiced, thinking they could add their own offspring to the ever-growing pool of second generation Scoobies.

"Congratulations!" Buffy said, happier for her friends than she could even begin to express. "This is…"

"A miracle?" Tara said shyly, gazing down at her new baby with adoration.

"A definite miracle," Willow agreed, her arms wrapped around both Tara and their tiny daughter. "Besides, we had to catch up to Xander and his brood."

Spike's eyes were on Buffy rather than the miracle of science and magic that the witches held. His heart clenched as her face fell momentarily, then radiated happiness again. He'd brought up adoption a few more times in the intervening years, but Buffy hadn't seemed too keen, admitting when pressed that she wanted his child, rather than a child. Babysitting the Harris boys had led her to believe that she didn't particularly like children, and she was afraid she wouldn't bond with 'a stranger's'.

That the pair of white-haired witches had managed to – carefully – manipulate the laws of nature to bear an actual child of their own made her even more adamant. If she couldn't have William Pratt's child, she wouldn't have any. Spike was beyond chuffed that she felt that way, but it still made him sad. For her – and for him. If the only way to have a tyke of their own was to adopt, or even go with a sperm donor, he was more than willing.

Funny thing about becoming parents, though. It was better when both were willing.

As Buffy neared thirty and they were still childless, an offhand remark of Anya's sent her hurrying from the room, shoulders hunched with repressed tears. Only Willow noticed. "Spike," she said. "I need to get something out of the car, but baby girl here is going through this phase where I can't put her down. Would you help me?"

He knew the witch was intending to meddle, but he followed her out anyways. "Yeah," he spoke preemptively once they were outside. "She wants a baby, but she wants it to be mine, won't hear of any other way." He shrugged. "'Ve looked into a few things, but… best idea 've come up with is sending her into the past and having her get it on with my alter ego. All kinds of weird, that one," he admitted.

Not least the fact that he didn't think even a determined Buffy could have gotten that nancy boy to drop his britches.

The 'later' Buffy had so casually referred to years ago was now, Spike was sure. The baby Slayers were all trained up, and except for consulting, she and Spike were mostly redundant these days. The Council had set aside a large pension for them, and the Pratts didn't have much to do. At least not in the apocalyptic, fate-of-the-world-on-their-shoulders way that they were used to.

They ran a martial arts studio near their home in San Francisco, and between that and their nightly patrols, their lives were full but no longer completely satisfying. Buffy was a Slayer without a cause, and a woman with a ticking clock (as far as he understood it). Spike could sense his wife pulling away from him, longing for something else, but he didn't have a clue how to solve their issues. Even the massive demon hunt he'd asked Giles to let them lead last month had failed to perk her up.

Which was why he was confiding in the white-haired witch. He was desperate for a solution.

After digesting Spike's time-travelling scenario, Willow said, "I wonder if… well, if we could modify what we did to work for you guys…" She drifted off in thought. "Maybe Andrew…"

"No!" Spike said. After what had happened in Cairo… he wasn't talking to the boy. No way.

Willow gave him an understanding smile. "He's – super sorry. As always. But I have to admit that he's majorly advanced on the whole cyborg front. And without him we wouldn't have our precious little bundle of joy." She made kissy faces at her daughter and Spike pretended to gag. "Just call him, okay?"

He was all set to protest until she said the magic words. "For Buffy."