Disclaimer: Most of the characters here belong to Joss Whedon. I don't own them. Would be nice though. ;)

Author's note: This story is AU and begins about a year after "Soul Mates" left off. I highly recommend you read "Soul Mates" first. If not, this story will probably be confusing and leave you with a permanent crease between your brows.

Acknowledgements: Much thanks to my "oh so very wise" beta reader Saka. You've helped me tremendously!

Chapter 1 – The Call

Patience. Not exactly a quality Spike was known for. Yet there he sat, mouth zipped, fidgeting checked, and feet firmly cemented to the ground. Not a toe did tap.

Good boy, Spike.

Remember. This vacation's for her.

And he was determined not to spoil it—say or do the wrong thing and ruffle her feathers—like he usually did.

So there he sat, silently, watching Buffy pack. And bloody hell could she pack!

Spike could swear that every blouse, skirt, dress—all of it—had at one point spent a decent chunk of quality time in her expensive Italian luggage before being yanked and replaced with the next midriff-exposing, white cotton top or dark denim Capri pants in line.

She was a poltergeist on speed, until finally—she reached the end. Standing next to a crumpled mountain of clothes, she threw up her hands and gave him a look that reminded him of an overindulged little girl.

"I've got nothing to wear!" she complained, then added mischievously, "guess we'll just have to do some shopping when we get there."

Grimacing, Spike looked at his watch and the whites of his eyes expanded as he realized the time. Time to go.

Still, he was determined to be chivalrous. Biting back the caustic remarks that came to mind, he picked up Buffy's ten-ton suitcase and followed her down the stairs to the car. With each precarious step, he thanked the Powers that Be for his vampire-like strength—a remnant of his past existence.

He then hoisted his hefty cargo into the trunk, slammed it shut, and slipped into the driver's seat, shooting the Slayer a strained smile before starting the engine.

They were off.

Well, not quite.

After they'd driven halfway to the airport, Buffy casually looked his way and asked, "Now, you've got the tickets, right?"

His head snapped sideways as if pulled by a lasso.

"Uh...." The shiny black Desoto lurched to a stop.

Sticky palm hit sweaty forehead. He turned the car around.

* * *

Spike searched the main level of his two-story beach house before bounding up the stairs two-by-two and hurrying into his sparsely furnished bedroom. He looked around the room, his head jerking this way and that as if he were front-and-center at a heated tennis match.

Not on the queen-sized futon bed, or the maple nightstand. Not under the furniture, or…

Ah! He spied them lying on the dresser—in plain view. Funny that despite his eagle-like vision, he'd failed to see them in such an obvious place. But of course he'd had a lot on his mind. Important stuff.

He strode over to the dresser, snatched up the tickets and proceeded to stuff them into the inner breast pocket of his leather coat. Hand still resting over his chest, he stopped. An image, translucent and rippling like hot air rising up from burning pavement, caught his attention. His head swiveled forward and he stared straight ahead—into the mirror.

His eyes narrowed. Strange, for a split-second he'd thought he'd seen something other-worldly—like a specter.

But it was just his reflection.

A hint of a smile crossed his face. Handsome devil, he thought, studying the man in the mirror. He ran his fingers through his tousled brown hair. It'd been about a year now since he'd been able to see more than just empty space when he gazed into a looking glass. The sight of his own image still made him stop, and stare, and marvel…and admire—according to Buffy he'd become a bit vain.

Had it only been a year? Mad rush suddenly forgotten, his brow furrowed as he quickly calculated the exact number of days that he'd been human. Three hundred and seventy-four. Was that it?

He shook his head and then tried to calculate the number of days he'd been a vampire. Too many, he thought. He'd been a vampire for a hundred and twenty-two years. That came out to too many days—and nights—as a bloodthirsty, remorseless killer.

Spike sighed. No looking back, he reminded himself. He'd left the past behind, moved on. He wasn't a monster anymore.

The Slayer had turned him around. And finally, he found himself headed in the right direction. Up. Hopefully.

With both hands, he patted down the front of his coat until he felt something. A small lump in his pocket. He pulled out a black velvet box and gazed at it for a second. Then, almost reverently, he opened it.

The brilliant shard glittered up at him. The setting was simple. Buffy liked simple. But the stone was breathtaking. And it made him catch his breath. He hoped it would cause the Slayer to catch hers. Or perhaps take it away for a second.

He'd carefully planned this event for over a month now. And in his heart, for over a century. A moonlit stroll on a deserted beach: they'd stop and admire the clear night sky, or listen to the tireless murmur of the ocean, he'd squeeze her hand, drop down on one knee, and…

The phone rang.

Bloody Hell! The shrill noise gave him a start.

He picked up the cordless phone in front of him. Just a dial tone.

It rang again. He patted down the front of his coat for a second time. Another lump—a much bigger one this time.

He pulled out his cell phone. Not many people knew this number; just two—only one of whom actually ever called him. And this particular person was downstairs in the car waiting, none too patiently it seemed. Well, he'd taken much too long. She was probably ready to leave without him by now.

He flipped open the phone and cleared his throat, readying himself to be berated by the Slayer.

"Yeah," he said, trying to sound cool and collected. Maybe it would rub off on her.

His eyes narrowed.

"Em?" It was his sister. But she hated using the phone. She much preferred tapping directly into his head—a Wiccan form of 'mental trespassing' that he absolutely detested.

He stood quietly for half a minute, cell phone pressed close to his ear. His shoulders tensed visibly and his jaw tightened.

"Yeah," he said finally, then muttered: "The wankers."

He was silent again for several more seconds as he listened intently to his sister's voice. Tiny hairs on the back of his neck stood at attention one-by-one as he took in her words and noted her uncharacteristic tone. Her voice was tinged with anxiety—and for Emily, who never lost her cool, this meant something was terribly wrong.

"Don't worry," he said, his own voice a bit shaky. "I'll be there in a few hours."

* * *

Buffy sat in the passenger side of the newly restored Desoto. Spike's vintage car was now in mint condition; its black paint gleamed under the mid-day sun. She shifted her position and the smooth leather upholstery seemed to grumble; bare skin revealed by her too-short skirt clung to the seat as if held there by tiny suction cups.

In the last fifteen minutes, her mood had gone from happy excitement, to peevish impatience, to raging annoyance.

Damn, she thought, sticking her head out of the car window and peering up at the former vampire's modern-style beach house, what the hell was taking so long?

Okay, so maybe it was partly her fault for taking a few extra minutes packing, but…

It was her birthday—well, in a couple of days it would be—and she had so looked forward to this vacation for like forever. He'd promised her exotic, black sand beaches. He'd promised her beautiful, tropical sunsets. He'd promised her seven days in paradise—and damn it, there was no way in hell that they were going to miss their plane!

Although the two of them had spent most of their waking hours together during the past year —after all, he wasn't just her boyfriend now, he was also her Watcher—she longed for some one-on-one quality time not spent worrying about killing monsters or saving the world.

Was that too much to ask?

She thought not.

And he'd delivered. One night, when she was tired and cranky and covered in green goop from a newly deceased slime demon, he'd casually mentioned that he'd talked to a travel agent that day about taking a little trip to Hawaii. Then he pulled out a pamphlet filled with pictures—pretty, colorful ones of a place where she definitely wanted to be.

Needless to say, she'd slimed him—with a big gooey hug.

She glanced at the steering wheel and thought about honking. Should she do it? Time was of the essence here. Time was running low. Time was ticking away. Time was…

She had her hand poised over the horn just as he emerged from the front door.

When she saw his face, she immediately forgot about time, or the lack thereof. His skin, normally tan from his daily sun-basking, appeared almost white. He looked pale, drawn—worried.

He approached the car and met her gaze. Her expression now mirrored his.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

"I've got to go to L.A," he said.

"L.A.? Now?"

"Yeah. Emily's there."

"Is she okay?"

"I don't know."