Fic: Closer to Heaven Chapter 1 of 3

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Title: Closer to Heaven
Author: Passion4Spike
Season/Setting: Season 6, The day after ‘Once More with Feeling’
Rating: NC17 (NSFW applies to later chapters which are not done yet — check on EF later for them)
Inspired by: The wonderful banner done by pfeifferpack during the Road Trip SS round 25

Summary: Buffy had kissed him. All ‘Gone With The Wind’, with the rising music, and the rising … everything. And then she’d pulled away, the singing demon’s spell apparently broken. Spike had released her, not willingly, but he knew he couldn’t hold her. What had that meant? That kiss? He had to find out, but he had to be smart about this. Not just run in in a billow of smoke and demand answers. That wouldn’t do at all. He needed a plan. A good plan. This was too important to bugger up.

Pfeifferpack’s wonderful banner:

Buffy had kissed him. All ‘Gone With The Wind’, with the rising music, and the rising … everything. Spike could still feel the warmth of her on his lips as he paced his crypt the next day, still taste her on his tongue, still feel the passion of her against his palms. She’d kissed him. And it had been heaven. He wondered, as he reached the back wall and turned again, if that’s what heaven had felt like for her. Probably not, but it was as close to heaven as Spike would ever get, he was sure of that. She’d bloody well kissed him! What did it mean?

He knew what it meant to him. It was a crumb … that small crumb he’d begged for so long ago. But was that all it was? Was the rest of her still beyond his grasp? Perched up too high above him for his hands to reach? He looked down at his hands. He’d had her right here in his palms, his fingers wrapped around her, holding her, kissing her.

And then she’d pulled away, the spell apparently broken. He’d released her, not willingly, but he knew he couldn’t hold her. Not if she didn’t want to be held. She turned and ran, left him standing in the alley, stunned into immobility. And then the others had come out, her mates, their encore apparently done, and the moment was over. He couldn’t go after her, couldn’t ask her what it meant, not then, not with her friends to come between.

He looked outside the window of his crypt. It was just early afternoon. Still hours before sunset. He could go beneath his blanket, traverse the sewers, reach her house in billows of smoke and desperation.

But no. That wouldn’t do. And if the witches were there … no. He needed a plan. A real plan. Despite his reputation, he wasn’t bad at plans, he just got bored with them and succumbed to impetuousness. But this was too important to bugger up. This was Buffy. Heaven had been at his doorstep last night, a crumb. But a crumb was all he needed.

** X-X-X-X-X **
“Right then!” Spike exclaimed breathlessly as he barged through the front door of the Summers house a bit after sundown. “Ready to go?”

Buffy looked up at him blankly from her seat on the couch where she’d been trying to check over Dawn’s homework. New math stumped her. So did old math. Math was a stumper from way back.  “Go?” she asked, her brows raising. “Go where?”

“Didn’t the witches tell ya?” Spike asked, sounding annoyed. “Said there was something needin’ attention in the hills over to the east. Something you needed t’ see. Sounded important.”

Buffy sighed and rolled her eyes. “I’m not a traveling circus. If the hills are alive, then let Julie Andrews handle it.”

“Right, well, if the world’s overrun by demons t’morrow, I’ll be sure to let Jules know she buggered it up,” Spike snarked, turning to leave.

Buffy clicked her tongue disdainfully. Well, at least he wasn’t talking about the kiss. Demons she could handle. The end of the world? No problem. But she did not want to talk about that kiss. That kiss she could still feel all the way to her toes. Nope. Not talking about that.

“Fine,” she sighed, standing up. “How long will this take?”

Spike shrugged. “Depends on what we find, I reckon. Could be most of the night.”

“Let me call Xander and see if Dawn can spend the night with him and Anya. Willow and Tara are …” Buffy shook her head. “I don’t know what’s going on exactly, but they’re not here.”

Spike pursed his lips to keep from grinning like a loon. Managing a curt nod. Business as usual. Move along. Nothing to see here. “Best put on a warm coat and gloves, pet. Got the motorbike; it’ll get us there faster.”

Buffy shook her head and rolled her eyes. “If this is a new plan of yours to get me killed by giving me pneumonia…” she began threateningly.

Spike held up his hands in surrender. “Ya sussed out my evil plan. Drat! Foiled again!” he intoned sarcastically. “Bloody hell, they don’t make you superhero-types like they used to. Didn’t see Superman bitchin’ cos his Fortress of Solitude was made outta ice, did ya? It’s soddin’ California, Slayer, not the North Pole. Just put on a coat and quit whinging.”

Whinging? I can say with certainty that I’m not whinging. Unless it has something to do with bloodying your nose, which, I can say is becoming a real possibility,” she threatened, before picking up the phone and dialing Xander’s number.

Spike smirked and headed back outside, out of nose-bloodying range. Step one, complete.

** X-X-X-X-X **
Spike tossed Buffy a helmet when she came out. She was dressed in leather, head to toe … or okay, shoulders to toes, anyway. Heavy black boots, red leather pants, black leather coat and gloves. She had a red knitted scarf around her neck and matching knit cap on her head. She looked like someone you should address as ‘Mistress’ and say things like, ‘Yes, please, hurt me again,’ to.

Buffy caught the black helmet easily, but eyed it warily. There were golden sparkles in the dark finish that glinted in the street lights, but it was the inside she was worried about. “Where did you get this? There better not be lice in here or I will hurt you, you know that, right?”

Spike smirked. “Yes, please, Mistress.” He couldn’t stop himself.

Buffy arched a brow at him.

He cleared his throat. “Errr … I mean, no worries. New innit? Just for the occasion.”

Both of Buffy’s brows rose suspiciously. “I thought this was a mission, not an occasion.”

“Did I say ‘occasion’? Meant ‘mission’. Get those two confused. English … bloody baffling language, it is,” Spike excused, mentally slapping himself.

“Ready, then?” he asked, lifting the bike off its stand as he straddled it. He kicked the big motor to life with a roar and rumble of the V-twins firing. He revved the engine, rattling windows four doors down, as he tilted his head to the seat behind him, inviting her to join him.

“Where’s your helmet?” she wondered.

“Bad fer the image. Vampire, yeah? Big Bads don’t wear no soddin’ helmets.”

“In other words, it messes up your hair?” she wondered sarcastically.

Spike rolled his eyes. “You comin’ or not?”

Buffy sighed, gave the helmet another suspicious look, but donned it, fastening the strap tightly beneath her chin. She climbed on behind Spike, keeping a decorous distance between their bodies. She gripped the edge of the seat behind her rather than him, determined to keep this strictly professional.

“You on, pet?” Spike asked, turning to look at her over his shoulder.

“Yup,” she replied confidently, tightening her grip on the seat.

Spike smirked and turned back to the front. He shifted the bike into gear, revved the motor, and released the clutch. Buffy squeaked in surprise as she was nearly toppled off the back. She over-compensated and crashed against Spike’s back a moment later, her arms wrapping around his torso on instinct alone, holding on for dear life as he continued to accelerate.

“What the hell!?” she screamed over the very indecorous growl of the motor. “Where’s the fire?!”

Spike just smirked, turning to give her a quick, cat-that-had-the-canary-just-where-he-wanted-her look, and got another gear, jerking her body against his even harder as the transmission shifted.

“I am so gonna kill you,” she grumbled as he rounded a corner without slowing down. “If you don’t kill us both first,” she added, tightening her hold.

She could feel, more than hear, Spike’s joyous laugh rumble against her as they sped away from Sunnydale. It was the sound he made when he was in a particularly brutal battle with a demon, when he was in his element, getting his violence on, fierce and full of life … or unlife.

With the cool wind whipping past their bodies, the night racing by at warp-speed, and the warm power of the bike vibrating beneath them, Buffy knew what had triggered that laugh: freedom. She’d ridden on motorcycles before, back in L.A. Some of the boys had them in high school and she’d gotten rides a few times. But it was nothing like this. Nothing like Spike racing the wind, trying to out-run shooting stars. If they had wings, she thought they could fly.

Freedom. It was as free as she’d been since … since heaven.

There were no eyes on her here. No one looking at her furtively, now with guilt on their faces. No one needing her to be what she wasn’t. There was just this. Just wind. Just the growl of the engine. Just the exhilaration of speed. The hint of danger tempered by the fact that it was Spike giving the steed its head, but never letting it truly out of his control.

On the straight road, Buffy released her hold on Spike and sat back a bit, spreading her arms. She could pretend she was floating, flying, soaring as the air whipped past her. She could almost believe that she could fly back to heaven on the wings of a Harley.

“Faster!” she yelled over the roar of the engine and the whistling wind.

Spike obliged with another rumble of laughter and a deafening growl of the motor as the motorbike accelerated past crazy into the realm of the pathologically insane.

Yes. She knew why he laughed.

And she found herself laughing, too. Laughing for the first time in what seemed an eternity. Intoxicated on the freedom spread out before them.  A magic carpet disguised as a narrow ribbon of highway in the vast expanse of the desert. And they were riding it … to where, Buffy really didn’t know. A mission? Maybe. One of Spike’s ridiculous plans? His idea of a ‘date’? More likely. She didn’t care just then.

She laughed. That was enough.

** X-X-X-X-X **
The air changed as they began their ascent into the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. The dry, crisp air of the desert gave way to damp air filled with the earthy aroma of fall leaves moldering beneath the deciduous trees, the fresh tang of evergreens and the scent of a campfire or a fireplace burning warm. In the hills, the road began to curve, left then right, meandering around the hills and through the valleys, climbing ever-higher into the rugged mountains. Buffy leaned against Spike, wrapping her arms around him again as their raging steed barreled around the switchbacks with barely-controlled power.

She closed her eyes, resting her helmeted head against his shoulder. She followed his lead with her body rather than her eyes, feeling him tense before a curve, his abdomen tightening, his thighs squeezing in where hers rested against them, his hips shifting slightly, his shoulders turning. Then they were leaning into the bend in the road, one with the bike, one with each other. Accelerating on the straightaways, slowing slightly on the curves. Decelerate, tense, lean, defy gravity, accelerate out of the turn, straighten, relax, ad infinitum. Buffy lost herself in the rumble of the engine, in the fresh aromas washing over her, in the rhythmic sway of the dance.

Spike felt her fall into the dance with him. Her body swaying and moving with his, perfect synchronicity. Her chest pressed against his back felt warm, soft and supple. Her arms around his waist were strong, holding him to her. If not for the cold air stinging his eyes, he would’ve sworn it was one of his dreams.

They’d always been good at dancing – anticipating each other’s moves as if they’d been rehearsed. Parry, lunge, block, feint, spin, strike, retreat. Whether fighting each other, or together against a threat, their bodies seemed somehow synced, attuned, complementary. This was no different. Just another type of dance. It’s all they’d ever done. But it always ended with a retreat by one or the other, or both. He wished one day they could find a way to just continue the dance, eliminate the retreat. He didn’t know if it was even possible outside his dreams.

As they climbed higher, patches of snow began appearing alongside the road and her breath began to fog up the visor on her helmet. A shiver rolled through her, unbidden. Her teeth began to chatter despite her best efforts to still them.

Suddenly, the bike slowed more than it had in the last hour … two hours? Three? Buffy had no idea how long they’d been riding, so lost was she in the dance. She couldn’t remember feeling so lost in anything other than despair since her return. It was like a suffocating shackle had been unlocked deep inside her. Freedom.

“Are we there?” she asked, her voice reedy and thin from lack of use and the chilly air. She raised the helmet’s visor to look around, but just saw dark trees and rocky outcroppings. No threatening demons jumped out at them.

“Not yet, pet,” Spike replied, lifting the bike up onto its stand and cutting the engine. “You’re cold.”

Spike wished, not for the first time, that he had body heat to offer her. As it was, he was actually draining the heat from her; perhaps not as quickly as the cold air, but just as surely. He wished it was July or August instead of soddin’ November. He wished the shiver he felt tremble through her was one of pleasure, not cold. He’d had dreams of feeling that shiver against him, of giving her that, but this wasn’t how he’d envisioned it.

Buffy released him and sat back, rubbing her gloved hands together, trying to get feeling back into them. “No, I’m…”

But Spike had slid off the bike and already doffed his duster. “Freezin’,” he finished for her, holding the coat up to her. It was all he had to offer.

“I’m okay, really,” she protested, but Spike’s arched brow told her he wasn’t buying that as he continued to hold the coat out to her.

Buffy sighed, resigned, and climbed off the bike. It felt odd, all her muscles seemed to have turned to rubber beneath the constant rumble and vibration of the engine. She missed the to-and-fro sway of the bike, too, the steady ground feeling foreign to her suddenly. She let Spike help her into the coat, slipping it over her own jacket, then pulled it around her body tightly, snuggling into the soft leather.

“Thanks,” she said demurely, giving him a small, grateful smile.

“Looks good on you,” he replied, letting his appreciative gaze slip down her form, taking her in. “There’s a town not too far, got a little twenty-four-hour diner there. Can stop and get a cuppa and warm up a bit, eh?” he suggested, raising his eyes back up to hers.

“Aren’t we in a hurry to save the world?” Buffy reminded him, arching a brow.

“Oh …errr … well, reckon it’ll wait a bit. No use us gettin’ there and one of us being an ice cube, eh? Never see any snowmen superheroes, do ya? Cos it’s hard t’ fight evil if yer frozen solid,” Spike pointed out sagely.

He began buttoning up his red overshirt to keep it from being whipped in the wind without his duster to keep it in place.

Buffy smirked at him, reading him like the open book he was, but shrugged. “If you say so,” she agreed, reaching her gloved hands out to stop his buttoning. “You’re off one,” she said, awkwardly undoing what he’d done with her stiff, cold fingers and straightening the shirt, getting the right buttons lined up with the right holes.

“Ta,” Spike acknowledged, beginning to button them up again.

“Well, I guess frozen snowmen are good for something, anyway,” she teased, watching him complete the mundane task. It gave her an oddly comforting feeling. It was just something ordinary, everyday, almost domestic. ‘Normal’ … that was the feeling … that elusive word that would never describe her life again. But this moment, this one stolen fragment in the vast continuum of time, was normal.

She turned away, stuffing her hands down into the deep pockets of the duster as she’d seen Spike do so often, and looked out into the silent darkness. What had her life come to when watching someone button up a shirt brought hot tears to her eyes?

“Ready then?” Spike asked, watching her with a bit of worry and confusion. Had he done something wrong … again? He couldn’t fathom what it could be – but then, that wasn’t all that unusual either.

Buffy took a deep breath and distracted herself a moment playing ‘what’s in Spike’s pockets’, identifying, by feel, the different things in the duster’s pockets. Cigarettes, his lighter, a stake, keyring, a pen, a couple of pieces of paper – receipts maybe? – his flask. His flask!

Buffy pulled out the dented, silver flask and unscrewed the lid, taking a tentative sniff. Her nose hairs burned with the fumes, making her cough and her eyes water. Catching her breath, she turned around, holding it up for him to see. “What’s in here? Paint thinner?”

Spike snorted. “Close. Cheap bourbon. Have a nip, it’ll warm ya up.”

She sniffed it again, not getting quite as close. Well, there was one thing for sure – it was made of pure fire and she was cold. She lifted the flask to her lips and swallowed a huge gulp, spluttering and coughing as it rolled down her gullet and settled in her belly like a fireball. “Smooth…” she choked out as tears ran down her face, handing the flask to him.

Spike laughed, taking it and easily downing a few swallows before handing it back to her.  “Have another nip,” he suggested.

“Maybe later,” she demurred, her voice raspy through the flames she felt like she was breathing. She took the flask and screwed the lid back on before dropping it back into the deep pocket.

“Let’s go find that diner before this burns a hole in my stomach and my guts start leaking out,” she suggested. “I could go for some warm, non-lethal liquids. Oh … are you buying? Cos …” she lifted her empty hands out of the full pockets. “I’m penniless.”

“Got it covered, Slayer. No worries.”

“Oh! In that case, maybe some pie to go with it … apple or cherry. Do you think you could cover ala mode?”

Spike snorted. “Kinda defeats the purpose of the warm liquids, doesn’t it?”

“No way … it’s like a yin and yang thing. You need the sweet, cold ice cream to offset the warm, tart fruit in the pie. It’s like, a law or something.”

“Well, far be it from me t’ break the law. Reckon I can cover it,” he agreed.

“My hero,” Buffy sighed sarcastically, moving back over toward him and the bike.

Spike grinned, pleased despite the sarcasm, and remounted the bike, getting it fired up and growling again as Buffy joined him.  She didn’t know exactly what he thought he was doing, but she was pretty sure there were no demons waiting at the end of this journey. Well, none other than the one who’s duster she was currently snuggling up in. But it didn’t matter, because that feeling of freedom remained within her, as if Spike and his Harley had actually managed to outrun her own demons, leaving them somewhere far behind. Plus – pie!

** X-X-X-X-X **
Spike sauntered into the diner in front of Buffy, carefully NOT waiting for her and certainly not holding the door open for her. He’d learned that lesson in the ‘time before’. Everything now seemed to be divided up into the time before she died and the time after. But now, there was a third time – a before, during, and after, he supposed. She’d started trusting him in the time before, started seeing him as more than a monster. Given him some hope, a crumb of a crumb. And then he’d failed her, failed Dawn, and all had been lost.

He’d not been involved in bringing her back, in creating this new time, this new chance. He at once wanted to throttle the children for their hubris and fall at their feet in gratitude. But things weren’t the same; Buffy wasn’t the same. To be honest, he wasn’t the same, either. But one thing remained steadfast – he loved her. And he’d do anything he could to help her. She’d never ask for help – not for herself – he knew that, too. She was too proud for that.

The bell tinkling above the door drew a middle-aged waitress in a teal-blue uniform from the back. Her big hair, piled high on her head in stiff, copper curls, suggested that they’d been transported back into the eighties, or even further … the fifties? The nametag on her blouse said, ‘Hope’.

“Two?” she asked, picking up a couple of well-worn menus from their slot on the wall as Buffy entered.

“Yeah, two, if ya don’t mind, luv,” Spike agreed, stomping snow off his boots on the heavy rug by the door.

The woman smiled at him, and it transformed her face from bland to beautiful … almost stunning. “An Englishman, eh? I dated an Englishman once, back in the day,” she shared as she led them to a booth beside the window. There was one other couple in the diner, back in a corner booth, and one guy sitting at the counter nursing a coffee. “Should’ve held onto that one. He was a gentleman, dependable, always willing to help – whatever I needed, day or night, he’d be there. My mother even liked him. Too bad my friends didn’t.”

She sighed wistfully, setting the menus on the table and taking a step back for them to sit down.

“You let your friends drive you apart?” Buffy asked as Spike went to the other side of the booth and took a seat.

Hope shook her head in dismay. “He had a bit of a checkered past. A reputation for being trouble, you know, the bad boy type? They thought he wasn’t good enough for me, that he’d hurt me or something. I knew he wouldn’t. He really had a heart the size of Texas under all the bravado. But … yeah, I’m afraid I caved in to the pressure. Let him slip away. Biggest mistake I could’ve made.

“You never know how good you’ve got it ‘til they’re gone, honey,” she advised Buffy in a motherly fashion. “Don’t take your young man for granted.”

“Oh, we’re not … I mean – no … he’s not my … we’re just … we … umm … work together,” Buffy stammered, sliding into the booth.

The woman looked between them a moment, assessing. “I’m clearly in the wrong line of work,” she decided, pulling out her order pad. “Coffee?”

“Yes – cream and sugar,” Buffy agreed, rubbing her frozen hands together before bringing them to her mouth to try and breathe life back into them.

“D’ya have hot cocoa?” Spike asked, looking up at the woman with his most innocent, little-boy lost expression.

“Sure do,” she agreed. “Marshmallows?”

“Sounds brilliant. You’re a true angel, pet,” he purred as an adorable smile spread across his face.

Buffy rolled her eyes at him, but said, “Could I change to cocoa?”

The woman turned her smile on Buffy, nodding. “Sure, honey. Be right back.”

“Do they teach that in vampire school?” Buffy wondered when Hope had stepped away.

“What?” Spike asked, keeping the innocent look on his face.

“That!” she hissed, pointing at his face. “That ‘Oh, I’m so innocent, I’m harmless, I’m a lost puppy, take me home’ look.”

Spike laughed. “Dunno, do I? Angelus never sent me off for a proper education. He preferred t’ home-school. Where do ya reckon vampire school is, then?”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Transylvania, probably.”

Pffft!” Spike disagreed. “Drac couldn’t teach me a bloody thing.”

“That smoke thing was pretty cool,” Buffy pointed out.

“Parlor tricks,” Spike scoffed. “Blinds ya with a quick thrall or just distracts ya, makes ya look away, then drops a smoke bomb when yer not looking and ducks under the soddin’ table.”

Buffy’s brow furrowed. “I don’t think so …”

“Trust me, pet. I know the bloke. Puts his trousers on one leg at a time like the rest o’ us. Still owes me eleven quid, too,” he grumbled.

“Here you go, kids,” Hope said as she returned with the cocoa. Buffy wrapped her still-cold hands around the piping-hot mug and sighed in pleasure before she even tasted it. “What else can I get you?”

“Pie,” Buffy replied immediately. “What kind of pie do you have?”

“Blueberry, cherry, pumpkin and apple,” the waitress recited.

“Cherry – warm … ala mode?” Buffy asked hopefully, shrugging out of Spike’s duster as circulation finally began to return to her limbs.

“Sure, hun,” Hope agreed, writing on her pad. “And for you, handsome?”

“The cocoa’ll be fine for me, luv,” Spike assured her, returning her smile and wrapping his own hands around the warm mug.

“What are we doing here, Spike?” Buffy asked when Hope had gone back to get the pie.

“Havin’ cocoa and pie,” he replied innocently.

Buffy clucked her tongue in reproof as she came out of her own jacket, as well, pressing it off her shoulders and letting it fall behind her in the booth with the duster. “You know what I mean. What’s this trip about?”

“Savin’ the world, aren’t we?” he reminded her, taking a sip of his cocoa.

“From evil cocoa and cherry pie?” Buffy retorted sarcastically.

Spike studied her a few moments before setting his mug down and leaning forward, capturing her eyes with his. “Do ya remember when you said I was the only one strong enough … that you were counting me?”

“I remember,” Buffy affirmed in a raspy whisper.

“Know I let ya down, pet…”

Buffy shook her head, blinking back her emotions. She reached across the table, her arm moving without conscious thought, and covered one of his cold hands with hers. “You didn’t let me down. The way it went … that was the way it was always going to go, Spike. ‘Death is my gift’ … that’s what the guide said. That was my time. My fight was over. I was supposed to be done. I know you … I know you kept your promise after …”

“Not after … during,” Spike corrected her. “This is after. Now is after. Still got a promise t’ keep, Buffy. You still need someone strong enough to help you fight the demons. Only difference, the demons are …” He hesitated, swallowing hard, not sure if he should say it.

“Inside me,” she finished for him, barely louder than a thought.

Spike bit his bottom lip, not breaking eye contact with her. “Let me help you fight them, pet. I’m strong enough. I know this dance. I can help.”

“Business meeting?” Hope asked, grinning at them as she returned with the pie.

Buffy cleared her throat and looked away, snatching her hand back across the table.

“Somethin’ like that, yeah,” Spike replied, slowly shifting his gaze up to the woman, not sure if he should curse her or kiss her for not allowing Buffy to answer.

Hope set the pie down, along with two sets of silverware. “Can I get you anything else?”

“More cocoa wouldn’t go amiss,” Spike said, looking at Buffy’s nearly-empty cup. “Two.”

“Sure, be my pleasure,” she agreed and headed away again.

Buffy looked down at the pie, the vanilla ice cream melting atop it almost artfully. The crust looked flaky and perfectly golden, steam rose from the ruby-red cherries glistening within. It was perfect. And she couldn’t bring herself to touch it.

The demons she thought had been left behind her seemed to have caught up to them. The freedom she’d felt had faded again. Nothing was right. Everything was too sharp. Too harsh. Too cruel. She chewed her lip and closed her eyes, trying to get the feeling back. Why did Spike have to mention them? It was like he summoned them to her just by saying it.

“Something wrong with it, pet?” Spike asked when she didn’t move to eat. She’d seemed so excited for it before.

“No … I …” Buffy shook her head, finally opening her eyes and looking up at him. “I … I just need to use the restroom,” she excused, sliding out of the booth and heading for the back of the diner.

Spike sighed, watching her a moment, before downing the rest of his cocoa. He wished he could figure her out. Every time he thought he’d gotten things sussed out, she’d throw him for another loop. He really thought things had been going well, then, suddenly …

“Don’t push her too hard, Spike,” Hope said as she put two more mugs of cocoa on the table, both loaded up with marshmallows.

Spike’s head jerked around, his eyes narrowing at the woman. “Do you know me?”

Hope just smiled softly. “Lead her, show her with your actions, offer and offer again. Offer a hundred times if you have to. I know you won’t give up, but you have to let her come to you. If you push too hard, she’ll push back, she’ll resist your help. You two are too alike in that way. Too proud. Be there for her. She’ll come around. And, one day, she’ll tell you.”

“Just who the bloody hell are you?” he wondered, not sure whether to kiss her or kill her. She smelled human, looked human …

Hope patted a hand down on his shoulder familiarly, giving him a small squeeze of reassurance. “Someone you can trust,” she answered as she turned and walked away, toward the back of the diner, Spike’s eyes burning holes in her back the whole way.

‘One day she’ll tell you.’ Spike had absolutely no doubt what that meant. Could it be true? And just how the bloody hell did a waitress in the middle of soddin’ nowhere know them? One day she’ll tell you.

** X-X-X-X-X **
Buffy leaned on the bathroom counter, staring at her reflection in the old, worn mirror. Where was she? She wasn’t here. It wasn’t her. It looked like her at a passing glance, but not if you looked closely. And Buffy looked closely. Too closely. The girl she’d been was gone. The fire was gone. The hope was gone. She may be alive, but her eyes were flat and dead. She was a shell of herself. She remembered how to act, what she was supposed to say, and how she was supposed to feel, but it all seemed so far away now. On the other side of death. The other side of heaven.

“Spike can help you, Buffy. But only if you’ll let him.” Hope’s soft voice echoed slightly off the grey, tile walls.

Buffy’s head jerked toward the woman, eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Excuse me? Do I know you?”

Hope gave her a sad smile and took another step into the room, her waitress shoes making no sound at all on the well-worn tile floor. “I know you’re feeling lost and alone, honey, like you’re just going through the motions, but he can help you find your way back to yourself. Spike’s strong enough to pull you back if you wander off the path or get lost in the dark. He won’t turn away from the darkness you’re drowning in, or the horrors of your worst nightmares, you know that.”

“Who are you – what are you?” Buffy demanded, taking a step toward the woman.

“Someone you can trust,” Hope replied, her eyes growing soft, almost regretful. “You can be happy again. You can be Buffy again. You can laugh, and love. Live. Truly live. Spike loves you. Trust him, he won’t let you down… but you need to drop your walls, take the first step and let him in.”

“Did Spike send you in here? How much is he paying you?”

Hope shook her head. “No, Buffy. Spike didn’t send me. I’m here for you. I …” The woman’s eyes suddenly filled with tears and she swallowed hard, wringing her hands together anxiously.

“If Spike didn’t send you, then how could you possibly –?”

“I’m someone you can trust. That’s all I can say. Please listen to me. Trust Spike. I know it’s hard. You’ve been through so much, honey, lost so much.” Hope turned away, halting in the doorway a moment before looking back over her shoulder. “Don’t lose this opportunity. Don’t waste it. You can find the light again. You can be happy. Grasp it with both hands, take what he’s offering, and let yourself live. Please.”

She smiled, giving Buffy a single nod, and left just as silently as she’d arrived.

** X-X-X-X-X **
Buffy went after her, but Hope was nowhere to be seen in the hallway outside the restroom. Buffy glanced in the kitchen as she passed, then around the small restaurant, but didn’t see the woman anywhere as she returned to the table.

She slid back into the booth across from Spike and began pulling her coat back on. “I’ve had enough of this so-called mission. Can we just go? I should get home.”

Spike’s brows went up. “Didn’t eat your pie, luv.”

“I don’t want the fucking pie, Spike. Take me home.”

“No,” Spike said flatly, surprising even himself, as he slid her cocoa in front of her. ‘Don’t push her too hard, Spike.’ Bugger that. Slayer needed a shove now and again. He was the only one who could do it.

“No?” she repeated incredulously, the coat falling back off her shoulders. “What do you mean ‘no’?”

“What part of ‘no’ confuses you, pet?” Spike growled. “I brought ya up here for a mission. May not be the mission I said, but it’s a mission. Not goin’ home until it’s done.”

“Haven’t you kidnapped me enough for one lifetime?” Buffy snarled back, going for the soft underbelly of her companion.

“Apparently not,” he parried, not falling for the obvious feint. “I made a promise to you, and I intend t’ keep it.”

“You promised to watch out for Dawn,” Buffy reminded him.

“Which is what I’m doin’.  She needs you. Buffy. Not this …” he waved a hand at her. “Not this shell of her sister.”

Buffy flinched, as if he’d slapped her. “I didn’t ask for this. I’m doing my best,” she ground out through clenched teeth.

Spike sighed and slid his hand across the table, tentatively covering hers as she’d done his. “I know you are, luv. But ya don’t have to do it alone. Let me help you. Please, pet. I can help.” There. Offering. He was offering. Pleading really.

‘He can help you, if you let him.’ Who the hell was that woman? ‘Someone you can trust.’

“How?” she whispered, her eyes softening, looking more like a frightened little girl than the confident, powerful Slayer he knew and loved.

“By being here, no matter what. Anything you need, I’ll give you. Anything you can’t say to anyone else, you can say to me. No guilt, no shame … the cellar dweller’s strong enough to handle it.”

‘He won’t turn away from the darkness you’re drowning in.’

“I don’t know if that’s enough,” she admitted softly.

“Heard ya laugh earlier,” he pointed out. “Hadn’t heard that in an age … even in the time before. That’s somethin’, yeah? A start … a crumb.”

Buffy nodded absently, her eyes distant, trying to remember the feeling. Freedom. She knew what it was. She knew the word, but the feeling had slipped away.  She refocused her eyes on him. “You’ve been up here before, haven’t you?”

“Yeah, once,” he admitted.

“So, you know this waitress, Hope?” she asked, looking around again for the woman, still not seeing her.

Spike shook his head. “No, never seen her before tonight.”

“She said some … odd things to me in the bathroom,” Buffy admitted.

“Yeah? Said some odd things t’ me, too,” Spike retorted. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” Spike offered.

Buffy bit her lip, thinking, but then shook her head. “Where were you taking me tonight?”

“Closer to heaven,” Spike replied simply.

Her brows furrowed, her head shaking in confusion. “What does that mean?”

Spike gave her a smile, tilting his head toward the bike outside. “Come with me and I’ll show ya.”

Buffy chewed her lip, looking at the bike, then back at him. Freedom. “Is it far?”

“No. Come with me, pet. Let me show ya.” Offering again.

‘Trust Spike. He loves you. He can help you.’  Buffy nodded, slowly, tentatively. “Show me.”

Spike’s smile widened, the churning worry in his belly eased. He sent a silent thank you to the god of waitresses or whatever the hell Hope was. He squeezed Buffy’s hand reassuringly and slid out of the booth. He dug in his the pocket of his jeans and dropped a twenty on the table as Buffy stood up.
She picked up her jacket off the seat, but Spike took it from her and held up for her to slip into. Buffy turned and let him help her into it, zipping it up before pulling her gloves out of the pocket. Spike was holding his duster up by then and she slid into it, as well, before tugging her gloves onto her hands.

“So … heaven?” she asked as they started walking to the door.

Spike shrugged. “Not heaven, just … closer.”

Buffy furrowed her brow, trying to figure out the riddle, but nothing came to her as Spike opened the door and let her precede him out into the cold night.
A smile curved his lips as he followed her. Maybe she would let him help her. Bloody hell, she’d just let him hold the door open for her without hittin’ him in the nose! A full-blown miracle was what that was.

He turned and looked back in through the windows of the cozy diner to find Hope watching them, a hopeful look on her face. She gave him that bright smile again, the one that transformed her into something more than the sum of the parts. Then she returned to her work, clearing the empty mugs from the table, pocketing the money, taking the untouched cherry pie over to the bloke sitting at the counter.

Buffy had her helmet on and was waiting for him next to the bike. “Somethin’ very odd ‘bout that bird,” Spike muttered, tilting a head back toward the diner.

“Hope?” Buffy asked. “Yeah,” she agreed, her brows drawing together in thought. “Extra uber oddness.”

Spike looked back inside the diner but didn’t see the strange woman with the too-specific advice anymore. He shrugged as he got on the bike then rocked it down off the stand before kicking it back to life. “Ready, pet?”

Buffy slid onto the seat behind him, closing the distance between their bodies and wrapping her arms around his waist. “Ready,” she announced. “Show me heaven …”

“Not heaven, just closer,” he corrected her again. He was starting to feel nervous about this whole plan. It was a daft idea. He should just take her home. This was gonna blow up in his face. She’d hit him in the nose and laugh at him, tell him what a dumbass he was …

“I’ll take closer,” she interrupted his thoughts, hugging him tighter as he turned the bike back toward the highway. “Show me.”

He sighed. Anything she wanted. He could handle it. Hadn’t he just told her that? He took a deep breath and turned north onto the dark highway with a deep rumble of acceleration, heading higher and deeper into the snowy mountains. There’d been at least one miracle this night, maybe there could be more.

** X-X-X-X-X **
Floating on her back atop a wintry cloud of thick snow, Buffy stared up into the diamond-studded sky, up into heaven. Had there always been so many stars? She couldn’t remember ever seeing so many before. Surely, they hadn’t suddenly just exploded into existence just for her, just for this moment.
She could feel Spike beside her, waiting. Waiting for her reaction. Waiting to know if it was close enough. Could she feel it from here? The peace? The warmth? The love?

She reached across the short expanse of newly-fallen snow and found his hand. Gave it a squeeze with her gloved fingers. It wasn’t heaven. But it was closer.

They’d left the diner and headed up, higher and higher, climbing into the jagged mountains. The air was frosty. Snow began to accumulate alongside the road, then in the road. Even Spike had to slow down, although Buffy was sure he was still traveling fast enough to be put under the jail, assuming a Highway Patrol officer could catch them. It was thrilling, dangerous – even more so with the slick, icy roads. Buffy sometimes felt the wheels slide, the bike fishtail. It made her heart skip a beat, but then Spike corralled it, brought the metal beast back under his control, and left her feeling exhilarated.
She’d found herself smiling again, laughing sometimes. Here she didn’t have to be in control; she could let Spike worry about it. He was strong enough. Hadn’t she, herself, said so? The only one strong enough to protect them.

They’d curved around the mountains, through passes and switchbacks, the dance ascending toward the highest peaks. Left, then right, then left they swayed together with the bike, their bodies trembling with the power being unleashed to climb the steep incline.  It seemed like their bodies had always known this dance, as if they’d been born to it.

Spike slowed further as they left the smooth highway. The new road was rougher, but still paved. It narrowed, winding sharply through dark forests and beside precipitous drop-offs, as it zig-zagged up and up and up. Buffy held onto him tighter as they bounced through potholes needing repair and bumps created by old repairs. It seemed like the whole road was made up of either repaired asphalt or potholes, with little of the original smoothness left. They twisted and turned until all sense of direction was lost. And still they climbed. The air felt thinner. She couldn’t remember feeling quite this cold in her entire life, but the freedom was back, she wasn’t complaining about the cold.

And then, finally, they’d stopped. The wind stopped whipping past her body. The rumble of the motor died. He cut off the light and they sat there in silence. The only sound was the ‘tick, tick, tick’ of the big motor coming to rest. There was no moon, were no street lights – no lights at all as far as the eye could see. Still, it wasn’t that dark, because there were a trillion, billion, gazillion stars sparkling like diamonds against the night sky. The Milky Way on display in all its heavenly glory. And, beneath them, the glittering stars were reflected in the brilliant white blanket of snow.

Buffy got off the bike and removed her helmet, looking up, mesmerized. How many stars were there? She felt like she could almost touch them. She reached up, but they were just beyond her grasp. Almost heaven. Not quite. Closer, Spike had said. Not Heaven. Closer.

She turned in a circle, face lifted to the clear sky, taking it all in. The silence. The sparkling stars. The snow crunching beneath her boots.  Her demons seemed to have fallen by the wayside on their way up the mountain. Lost in the darkness. Frozen, perhaps, in the snow. Or simply afraid to get this close to heaven.

A few feet from the bike, she flopped backwards into a thick snowbank, sinking in a bit. It was surprisingly dry. She hadn’t expected that, and soft. It was cold, of course, but she didn’t notice it now. She was already cold. It was a small price to be this close to heaven. She waved her arms and legs, creating a snow angel in the soft glow of those far-away galaxies. An angel to keep the demons at bay.

But not the demon who’d brought her here. He had no fear of angels or demons or even Slayers, no fear of darkness or light. He dropped down beside her on his back, mimicking her, looking up from the soft bed of snow.

That’s when she took his hand. She squeezed. She didn’t let go. They lay there in the snow, looking up at the stars for some time in companionable silence. He’d told her that she could tell him anything, but sometimes what she needed was to just be silent. No one wanted her to be silent; they were always asking how she was, is she okay, can they help, can they get her anything, can they do anything. Silence is golden. She’d heard that before but never understood. Now she did.

“What is this place?” she asked, finally breaking the golden silence.

“Called Rock Creek Road,” Spike told her. “Highest paved road in California.”

“How high?”

“Ten thousand some odd feet,” Spike replied.

Buffy chewed her lip. She really didn’t have a frame of reference for that. “But not … like Everest high, right?”

Spike smiled. “No. Everest is about three times as high. But ya can’t drive up … or get there and back in a night.”

She nodded, making snow shift beneath the knit scarf around her neck, chilling her even more. “How long can we stay?”

“An hour, I reckon,” he replied. “Longer if ya don’t want t’ stop for another cuppa on the way back.”

When she didn’t say anything else he ventured, “Is it alright, then? Know it’s not really heaven … probably not really even closer. Not an idiot, am I? Just thought…”

“It’s perfect. It’s … closer, Spike. Thank you.” It felt like freedom. She wasn’t sure how to explain it to him, so she didn’t try. But the feeling was back and she just wanted to float in it. Float in the silence beneath heaven, just out of reach, but closer.

Spike turned his hand over in hers and squeezed back, his own heart full of hope, of contentment. It had helped. And another miracle … she’d actually thanked him. Was he using up all his miracles in this one night? Considering he didn’t think he had any due him, he decided to not question it too closely.

“Do you think we could do this again sometime?” she asked after a long silence.

“Sure, pet, anytime,” he agreed readily.

“Good, cos I’m freezing and the snow is melting and running down my collar and my shirt is getting wet. I think if we don’t go soon, you’ll have your third Slayer notch, cos I’ll turn into an icicle and just shatter when you hit a bump on the way down the mountain.”

Spike snorted and sat up, but didn’t release her hand. “Sorry, pet, didn’t know it would be so cold for ya. Maybe get some proper winter gear next time,” he suggested.

“Oh! Some of those socks with batteries in them that heat up! I wonder if they make full body suits like that?” she wondered, also sitting up and shaking the snow out of her hair.

Why hadn’t he thought of that!? Then he would’ve had body heat, of a sort, to share. “Look into that, I will,” he assured her as he began to stand up.
Buffy tugged him back down by their joined hands, reaching out with her other hand to gently wrap around his neck and pull him toward her. Spike leaned in, following her lead, his tongue darting out to dampen his cold, dry lips. Buffy stopped him a few inches away from touching her. “Thank you for this. It … it really means a lot, Spike. No one else … they just want me to be Buffy.”

“I want you to be Buffy, too,” he pointed out.

“But you’re the only one who’s really tried to do anything to help me find my way back. They ask what they can do, but I just don’t know what to tell them. You didn’t ask … you … you figured something out. It’s not heaven, but it’s peaceful here … it’s closer. It helps. Even if it hadn’t worked, it was kind and thoughtful and … well, I’m just trying to say, thank you.”

“You’re welcome, pet. I’d do anything t’ help you, Buffy. Anything,” he vowed.

Buffy gave him a soft smile in the twinkling, silver light of the galaxy. “Kiss me?”

Spike grinned. “Always willing to sacrifice for the greater good,” he teased, leaning in closer.

He smothered Buffy’s laugh with his mouth. His tongue teased her lips until they parted for him, welcoming him within her soft, warm depths. It wasn’t like the frantic kiss of the previous night after the singing demon’s shenanigans, but it was no less passionate for the tenderness of it. Their tongues swirled together, another dance in the dark. Spike’s free hand slipped behind her neck, tangling in her soft, ice-damp tresses which flowed like golden starlight across his skin.

He remembered the kisses they’d shared during Willow’s ‘my will be done’ spell, and this was nothing like those. There was no spell between them now. Not even a whispered remnant of one. This was Buffy kissing him. Willingly. Tenderly. Dare he even imagine, lovingly? No, he didn’t dare that. But there was no doubt that she was here with him in this moment, giving him that crumb he’d been praying for for so long.

‘You have to let her come to you.’

She pulled back, breathless, and rested her forehead on his, panting lightly. “Since you were home-schooled, I don’t even want to ask where you learned to kiss like that,” she teased him, pulling back to look into his eyes. They looked dark in the soft light, the blue turned to onyx, but somehow still just as expressive.

A slow grin spread across his face. “Gentlemen never kiss and tell, pet.”

“Since when are you a gentleman?” Buffy wondered, her own smile emerging.

“Since you let me be,” he replied, biting his bottom lip, studying her intently.

Her brow furrowed in the soft light, shaking her head slightly in confusion.

“Let me help ya into your jacket and hold the door for ya at the diner,” he reminded her.

“Did I? Wow, I must be slipping,” she teased, her eyes narrowing at him suspiciously. “Is this a … date?”

Spike nearly bit through his bottom lip, his stomach churning with the memory of the other time she’d asked him that. He swallowed nervously. “Do you want it to be?” he replied softly, replaying the scene, praying he had at least one more miracle left in his account.

“Do you want it to be?” she countered. “I’m … not Buffy.”

Spike’s head tilted, his eyes serious, considering solemnly. ‘Don’t push her too hard.’ “I can help you back to her … back to yourself. If you’ll let me. Doesn’t have to mean … doesn’t have to be a date, if you don’t want it to be. Can just be … a mission.”

She shrugged a shoulder, watching him. He wore every emotion on his sleeve … or, actually on his face, in his eyes, especially. She’d often used that against him. But now that felt wrong. He was sincere. He meant it. He was offering to help; he’d made an effort tonight to help her. She’d seen his loyalty more than once. He’d declared his love to her many times; even Dru had professed the ability to love. Hope had said he loved her. Buffy had always believed otherwise. Angelus taught her that – soulless demons can’t love – but.…

No. Don’t go there. Loyalty. That was safer. “Do you have enough money for another piece of pie?” Maybe she could get some straight answers from the strange waitress, like who the heck she was and how she knew so much about Buffy.

Spike’s hopeful heart exploded with confetti and streamers and balloons floating into the sky, some butterflies might’ve even fluttered up. “Reckon I can manage it,” he breathed calmly, trying not to let his overzealous heart get too far ahead of itself.

“In that case, I’ll let you hold the door open for me again, and buy me food, and, if you manage to get us both home in one piece and I don’t die of pneumonia, we can call it a date,” she offered.

Spike’s face broke into a wide smile, his eyes coming alive even in the dim light. “That sounds like a brilliant plan,” he agreed eagerly.

Buffy laughed. Maybe the cold had gotten to her and frozen her good sense. Or maybe it was the freedom that had swept over her as they rode, giving her glimpses of what her life might be again. Or perhaps it was just the thin air depriving her brain of oxygen, but something made accepting his offer of help seem like the right thing. Plus – pie!

Her laugh sounded like celestial harps to Spike’s senses. Lyrical. Beautiful. Something he hadn’t heard in too long, and even then he could count on one hand the times he’d been the cause of it. He stood up, pulling her with him, and they began to brush the snow off themselves and each other.

Buffy felt her heart unfreeze just the slightest bit more, which was ironic given how cold she was, as another warm glimpse of something so mundane, so ordinary wrapped around it. Normal. Isn’t this what normal people would do? Dusting the snow off each other after making snow angels? Did normal people make snow angels anymore? Well, they used to. She remembered times at her Aunt Darlene’s when she and her cousins had done this very thing. Another fragment of that elusive ‘normal’.

Buffy knew her life would never have more than snippets of normalcy, but two in one night felt like a boon, especially in this time ‘after’. Since when had being with Spike produced anything approaching ‘normal’? She smiled as they walked back over to the bike, their hands reaching out automatically, like steel filings to a magnet, connecting.

Apparently, since now.

** X-X-X-X-X **
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed the start of this short story. I’ll be posting to EF and AO3 and you can find the rest of the story there in the coming days.