"Come on Buffy, please?"

"Yeah, come on Buffster!"

Buffy looked back and forth between her two friends, with their pleading eyes and their pouting lower lips, and felt her determination cracking. She struggled to find her inner resolve, but the sun streaming through the window and onto her bare shoulders did the same work as her traitorous friends, calling to her.

"Giles?" she questioned, looking over to her watcher.

"Oh go on Buffy," he smiled indulgently. "Take the day off. It's been three days; if we've heard nothing so far, I doubt we will."

A smile broke over Buffy's face and Xander and Willow cheered, while Oz just smiled quietly. A chorus of goodbyes rang out and the group ran for the door. It was a beautiful Saturday in Sunnydale and the sun was beating down hard; the perfect day for a trip to the beach. Having successfully begged off homework and demon research, they quickly parted ways, running in the direction of their respective houses to pack a bag.

Letting the door slam behind her, Buffy popped into the kitchen to scrawl a note to her mother, then pounded up the stairs to her room, trying to leave her nagging concerns at the bottom. Giles was right; it had been three days since the 'sinkhole' collapse on the other side of town, and they'd seen neither hide nor bleached-blonde hair of Spike since then. Most probably the Gem of Amara had been a hoax, a true holy grail without foundation, and Spike had run off in a huff with nothing to show for his little tunneling project but some chipped fingernails and dust in his eyes. If Buffy was really lucky, he'd gotten himself walled in down there, bricked up like Poe's Montressor beneath a wall of rock.

Smiling at the sudden fleeting poetry of her thoughts, she dug her black two piece out from the bottom drawer of her dresser and tugged it on, tying a fluttery, translucent purple wrap around her waist. Grabbing her largest tote from the closet, she darted through the house, collecting towels, a few magazines, and a pair of sunglasses. Willow would have sunscreen, she mused, stuffing her feet into a pair of flip-flops, and Xander could always be counted on to bring snackage. Snagging her keys from the top of her dresser, she paused in the door for a moment, before grabbing the stake that had lay beside them and shoving it deep into the bottom of her bag. She didn't question the strangeness of the impulse as she headed out the door; life of a slayer, right? Always be prepared, never a real day off, better safe than sorry.

Determined to enjoy her impromptu vacation, Buffy made it to Xander's in record time. Oz and Willow had beat her there, and the four of them piled happily into Oz's van, cranking a Dingoes' CD and heading out of Sunnydale to the coast. Easy laughter and happy conversation rose above the music, Buffy and Xander tossing a volleyball back and forth between the seats while Willow kept her boyfriend company in the front. The trip was short and pleasant, and by the time they'd gotten off the exit and could hear the ocean, they were all grinning hard with excitement, Buffy included.

Parking in the lot across the street, they grabbed their disproportionately large amount of gear and headed down the boardwalk, joking and jostling as they went. It was when they paused so that Xander and Willow to buy frozen lemonades and a foot-long hotdog (that last was all for Xander) from a vendor that Buffy felt a familiar electric zing trip down her spine. Her slayer senses were tingling.

Adjusting her sunglasses, she scanned the beach for danger. Bodies, she thought, so many bodies. The golden sand was covered with brightlycolored towels and umbrellas, hundreds of people running, splashing, screaming happily as the surf crashed noisily behind them. It was a scene of simple pleasure; of people swimming, sunbathing, and throwing Frisbees, enjoying the heat and the cool aqua waves. But there was something else here. She could feel it. Something wicked this way comes.


Jerked from her musings, Buffy smiled at Willow, laughing away her concern. Unable to pinpoint the source of her discomfort, she wouldn't let it taint the day's enjoyment for her friends, or for herself.

"Come on you guys!" she smiled. "I've got a new trashy magazine I want to read."

"Yeah," Willow added. "You guys can do the sporty thing and throw the volleyball at each other; me and Buffy have girly gossip to catch up on."

Buffy giggled and grabbed Willow's arm, hugging her tight. It had been too long since the original Scoobies had hung out together. Oz was one of the gang now of course, and Buffy was looking forward to some quality down time with them all. She had been going hard with the Slayage lately, and despite the creepy-tinglies she'd gotten earlier, she was going to enjoy this day. Pulling off her sandals, she traipsed down the beach with her friends, the sand burning the bare soles of her feet delightfully.

They'd gone quite a ways before they found the perfect spot, winding in and out among the blankets, coolers, and discarded beach balls. It was close to the smooth place on the sand where the waves were breaking, but far enough away that the girls would be safe from the tide. Pulling off her wrap, Buffy helped Willow spread out towels while Xander and Oz set up lawn chairs. Stretching out, Buffy chuckled at Willow's obvious ogling of her boyfriend when he and Xander whipped off their shirts and headed out into the breakers to toss the volleyball.

"So tell me," Buffy smiled, leaning back on her elbows and humming with the heat that soaked into her skin, "How's it going with you two?"

"Oh really great Buffy!" Willow sighed, rubbing sunscreen unevenly into her shoulders. "It's going so great!"

Buffy laughed. Despite her inability to articulate what she was feeling, she exuded it with every word. She was happy. Maybe even in love. Buffy felt a tiny twinge of something, but she pushed it away, deep down where it wouldn't show to Willow, or to her.

"I'm happy for you Wills," she said, naked honestly in her voice.

"Thanks Buffy," Willow smiled. "What about you?" she asked.

"Hah! Me? Yeah, nothing going on on the Buffy radar."

"Well that's no fun!" Willow declared, a gleam in her eye. Sitting up on her blanket, she began to look around covertly. "There's got to be somebody here that'll do."

Sitting up beside her, Buffy let herself be caught up in the game. "Let's see," she said contemplatively, stroking her chin in a comically maniacal manner. "Ooo, there's one!"

Willow burst out with laughter, causing the people nearest them to look over in interest. The man she'd indicated with a tilt of her head was at least one hundred and fifty pounds overweight, sunburned and sweaty, with more hair on his chest and stomach than on his head. Also, there was something sticky on his chin.

"No, not that one," she smiled, raising a hand to shield her eyes from the glaring sun. "Hmm. Oh! How about that one!"

Buffy followed the hard line of her pointing down the beach, and immediately zoned in on the body in question. That was all she could see; his face and upper torso were hidden behind a hideous striped beach umbrella, but the view she got was enough. A long, lean body in bright blue trunks stretched full length on the sand, a set of beautifully sculpted abdominals and half of a similarly muscled chest on display.

"Well well," Buffy purred in the voice of an eighties-movie seductress, drumming her fingertips together, "What have we here?"

Willow matched her sinister laugh and raised her an evil mustache twirl before jumping to her feet and pulling Buffy up by the wrist.

"Willow, wait, no!" Buffy shrieked, drawing the boys' attention for a brief moment. Composing herself as she was hauled closer to the lovely specimen on display down the beach, she giggled and clutched her friend, enjoying this game they were playing.

"What are you going to say?" Willow mock whispered excitedly. "Quick, you need a pick up line!"

"Um… umm…" Buffy panicked as they closed in on Buffy's chosen prey, searching for one that was appropriately cheesy. "How about…" she giggled one last time, "Pinch me, I must be… dreaming?!"

"Oh my God!"

Willow's voice was like listening to the inside of a conch shell, a gentle rushing sound that was muffled close to her ears. They had finally gotten around that hideous umbrella and now had a full view of the man lying with his arms curled under his bleached blonde head, his biceps bulging with a smooth lovely curve.

"Spike?!" she screeched.

One arm came lazily out from under his head and he tipped up a pair of dark sunglasses, squinting at her from beneath the lenses.

"Hey Slayer," he drawled slowly. "Enjoyin' your weekend?"

"Wha… what? How…?"

Willow spluttered out the questions at quite a clip, but Buffy's mind was chewing through them even faster. What the hell? How was Spike here? In the sun?

"Spike, what are you doing here?" she demanded, her voice a low hiss as she darted frantic looks at the people around them, totally oblivious to the shark lurking among the waves.

"Catching myself a few rays," he said with a cocky smirk. Holding up his right hand, he twisted it back and forth, flashing a green stone ring with a golden overlay; it sat snugly on his third finger and he smiled at it reverently.

Buffy stared in shock. The Gem of Amara. He'd found it. Holy, shit, he'd found it. It was as if someone had physically jerked her back a few feet, forcing her to take in the whole picture. He was lying back on the sand, completely relaxed, in a pair of swimming trunks no less. Damp, well-fitting swimming trunks. There was a pale-honey hue to his skin, a faint pinkish-ness beneath the beginnings of a very light tan, something noticeable only because of how pale he normally was. And there was a lot of that skin on display to show the difference.

Buffy's eyes snapped back up to his face at the low sound of his chuckle and she scowled, blushing hard. He'd caught her staring, and was paying her back in kind, his eyes taking a long slow tour of her bikini-clad body, in which she suddenly felt very exposed. That stupid smirk was still on his face, and Buffy suddenly felt an almost irrepressible urge to smack it off his smug mouth. His platinum hair was dripping in salt-stiff curls, water still clinging to his strong chest from his recent swim.

"Willow…" she said, her eyes still holding his dark blue gaze, "Do me a favor? Run back and grab my stake out of the bottom of my bag?"

Willow backed away silently, no hesitation, no questions. Spike's reaction was less tolerant of Buffy's demands.

"Oh, sod off Slayer!" he exclaimed, curling himself to his feet in one fast, fluid motion, like a snake-strike.

Buffy took a nervous step back at his sudden leap, but he shouldered roughly past her and stalked down towards the water. Looking back, she saw Willow dumping her bag out onto their towels, Oz and Xander running up to her, their faces flashing up to hers with looks of horror. Unable to wait, she flew down the beach after Spike, her brows lowering in confusion when he stooped to snag a red plastic bucket from a small pile of toys at the edge of a family's beach blanket. Stalking a few feet closer to the water, his legs folded and he lowered himself down onto the sand.

Coming to a sliding stop at his side, she looked down at the top of his bent head, the smooth curve of his spine. Sand clung to his back and his arms, but didn't seem to bother him in the least as he began to scoop more of it into his bucket and pack it down. Buffy watched on with a mix or horror, amazement, and confusion as Spike began to carefully construct a sandcastle between his knees. She watched silently as his long, pale fingers smoothed and sharpened edges, bringing towers, arches, and a moat to life with an artistry and talent she never would have expected out of him.

She could hear, could feel Willow, Xander, and Oz come to an astonished halt behind her, ready to do battle against a vampire for the first time in broad daylight, but their confusion seemed to stop them in their tracks. It had stopped Buffy too. She didn't know what to do now, didn't know how to react. She couldn't really battle Spike here, on a beach in front of hundreds of people. More than that, she wasn't sure she needed to.

Wait, what?

Before she could examine that thought, Spike heaved a hard sigh and turned his face up to the sun, his shoulders rising and falling as his chest expanded with unneeded breath.

"What the bloody hell do you want Slayer?"

"I…" Buffy started, her mouth suddenly dry as her eyes were drawn to the muscles shifting under his strangely sun-kissed skin. "I would have thought you'd come after me," she heard herself admitting. "When you finally found it. You've sort of lost the element of surprise."

"Planned to," Spike responded, rolling smoothly to his feet and dusting the sand from his shins. "Just… had better things to do."

With that Spike turned his back on her and strolled away up the beach, hands in the pockets of his bright blue trunks, his face turned up to the sun and a contented smile on his face, leaving Buffy feeling dumbstruck behind him.