Buffy stared in horror. Spike had driven her out of town to the beach just as the moon was rising.
"Moonlight horse-riding, pet! You'll love it!"
“But, I’ve never been near a horse in my life.”
“Slayer just let me explain to -”
Buffy, however, had other ideas. She turned and walked back to the Desoto, aiming to just get in and wait for Spike to come to his senses.
Clenching his hands by his sides and mentally counting to ten, Spike realised that she was going to be as stubborn as ever. “Why do I fall in love with the difficult ones?” he asked himself. Even as he asked he knew that the answer was that they were the ones that made his life complete. If something is achieved too quickly then it is not truly special. So he turned and swept after her, grabbing her wrist just before she reached for the door, as if by stopping her arriving at her destination he would be able to persuade her to agree with him.
“OK! Let’s start this again, pet. Let’s just sit over there on those dune things and enjoy the view and I’ll tell you why I brought you here.”
“Well, it is a nice evening.” Buffy appeared to reluctantly agree to that suggestion.
They walked towards the edge of the beach, slightly away from where the two horses were standing with their groom.
Spike, ever the gentleman, (even if Buffy refused to see it) automatically removed his duster and spread it down for her to sit on. As she sat over to one side he realised that she expected him to sit there next to her, so he settled down, being careful to still allow her the space she needed.
The silence between them was washed away by the ever-changing sounds of the ocean.
Never still, never silent, but always peaceful.
“When I was your age, horses were the regular mode of transport. We all rode and most learnt to drive them as well.” Spike started quietly explaining his thoughts. Whether it was the peace of his surroundings or the company, or maybe that he was speaking of his youth, his voice had taken on a very quiet tone that was more cultured than his usual speech. Neither appeared to notice this change as the overall tranquillity of the evening was taking over.
“In those days,” he continued, “we all travelled short distances which were ideal for either walking or using a horse. I never really thought about the horses I rode.”
“Did you have your own favourite?” Buffy interrupted
“Hmm, it’s been a long time. However, the answer is yes. I wish I had spent more time with him, as he was so loyal. I hope that he went to a good home ... after ... you know?”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”
“No, ask whatever you want. You must never be apprehensive of asking me anything at all. You have seen some of the bad parts of my life and guessed about others. If you want to know something, just ask; don’t go looking at The Watcher’s Diaries ... They don’t know me. Sorry, pet, I just get upset when I think about some of the lies that have been told about me over the years.
“Anyway, going back to horses, his name was Regent. He was black with a white blaze down his nose. There must have been some Shire horse in him as well as he had lovely feathering round his lower feet and three of the four were white. He was special.”
Spike drifted off at this point and Buffy let him dwell on those thoughts. She guessed that most of the time his memories were of murder and mayhem, so it would have been nice for him to have some reminders of happier times.
“Sorry, luv. Didn’t mean to lose focus there. What was I saying? Oh yes, riding. I took it for granted then and over the years started driving and sort of forgot the horses. Anyway back in the 50’s I was in England again and went to Dartmoor in Devon. I saw advertised a Moonlit Ride over the moor and wondered who would organise such a thing. So, I decided not to turn down a gathering of food!”
He ignored the way she wrinkled her nose at that, and continued, “Unfortunately, it proved popular, so there were too many people around. Before I knew where I was, a hat was being placed on my head and I was being led towards a black horse. This one was called Merlin and he was tall and leggy, but looked so peaceful even as I looked him in the eye. I thought that I might as well fill up an hour of the night. We only walked round in a large circle for about an hour, but I realised how much I had missed the unconditional connection that I had with horses.”
He omitted to say that faith and love were something he still had never known, and this time Buffy didn’t pick him up on the oversight.
Letting the words quietly settle around them while he sought for the next part of his explanation, he rested his back down on the ground. The sea was still beating out its quiet rhythm, but that in itself gave him the resolve he needed to finish his explanation.
“Buffy,” he started, slowly sitting up again. “I know that you’ll never love me, but I know that you trusted me with something very important when you told me about Heaven. There is no way I can understand what you are going through with that, or with seeing your friends getting on with their lives.
“Xander and Anya, Willow and Tara and now even Dawn are settling into new lives, with different priorities. That’s OK, you know. They don’t love you less, they’re just learning to be adults. That’s the hardest lesson in life, but one that we all have to go through at some point.”
He again paused to see if she was listening, and although he could see that her focus was on the horizon, he also knew by her stillness that what he was saying was sinking in.
“You’ve been brought back to life, and in doing so have been pulled out of Heaven; but at present you’re not really living, you are simply going through the motions.” That phrase certainly seemed to feel true to the despondent girl. “I can’t give you Heaven but I can give you some peace, if you will trust me. So the big question again is, will you go on a moonlit horse ride with me?”
Buffy turned her head and looked him in the eye. She saw the emotions pouring off him as he stared back, so with a small sigh of resignation she decided to let him have his way. She had tried work, tried drinking but neither had worked. Maybe this was the answer.
As soon as he saw her relax he stood up, and held out his hand to help her to her feet. He then grabbed up the duster and they walked towards the horses.
“You do remember what I said about me and horses? They’re big and fast.”
“Not as big as some of the monsters you fight every night, pet.” Spike stopped a short distance away to let the nervous girl get used to being close to the horses. “The smaller one is called Cinders and she’s been trained to follow her lead horse. As you can see she’s wearing one of your Western saddles, and let me assure you that you will be safe in that ... and they are so comfy.”
“The other one doesn’t have a saddle on at all!”
“Slayer, calm down. It’s fine. You’re riding Cinders. The people at the stables know I can ride. They tested me in their sand school before they let me ride, and I come out from time to time to unwind. I can’t ride with so much leather in the saddle. The saddles I learnt on were smaller and so you get to actually feel the horse. Over the years I have realised that being who I am I have enhanced reactions and so bareback is the best for me. A great ride, but also a great challenge.
“James here, knows I can ride. He also knows I have a busy life so can only come here in the evenings, but on clear nights like this I can see beautifully, as you well know.” This explanation was said to fill Buffy in on his “cover story” while still allowing her to become used to the animals.
“OK, now or never” she muttered, but loud enough for him to hold her hand and lead her round to where there was a platform for her to walk onto and thus onto the horse. All the time Spike was uttering nonsense at both the fillies in the hope of keeping them relaxed. He gave Buffy the reins and reminded her again that Cinders would only follow, but if she was worried he would clip a rope to her bridle and make sure he was holding on at all times.
Buffy realised that the saddle did feel comfortable and that Cinders was standing still, so decided that she was OK.
Spike walked towards the other horse, who he greeted with a soft murmur and by rubbing his nose, then taking the reins from James he vaulted onto his horse’s back and relaxed himself, while allowing his steed to also settle. He turned to James and thanked him, then slowly asked his horse to walk on and waited to see Cinders follow suit.
At the movement he saw Buffy clutch the reins
“No, pet. Grab the saddle. That’s it. Now just remember, go with her. It’s a natural movement. I’ve seen you dance, watched you fight and I know you can skate. Just feel her natural pattern of steps and go with it.”
They slowly started across the beach with Spike spending most of his time looking behind him and talking to Buffy. He knew that his horse was steady and they had a two-way trust which allowed him to divide his concentration between their route and his girl. As he watched her slowly relax he started on the second stage of her horse riding lesson.
“You’re doing great pet. Now, just look ahead. Look at me, that’s super. Now look more to your right and look at the sea.”
Buffy began to really relax and he continued to give slow quiet instructions. The sound of his voice with the background of the ocean was beginning to work some magic. The slow movement of the horse was very even, yet as the ground was slightly uneven it gave an unusual rhythm to her body.
“Hmm, what’s the name of your horse?”
“He’s called Mojo. I might not like what Red gets up to, well, most of the time, but Mojo and I understand each other. He used to be at different stables, and was rescued to come here. He needs a firm hand occasionally, but also lots of love. It was love at first sight when I saw him.”
Buffy realised how good they looked together and guessed that they were two of a kind, especially here in this peaceful place.
They continued walking across the beach keeping basically parallel with the sea. And Buffy felt some of the hardness of her life fading, not to go, but certainly to reduce until she felt she actually could smile at how she was feeling.
Spike glimpsed the smile and his heart flipped. He had achieved something for her, made her happy, and that made him feel as if he had achieved a miracle.
“So, do you feel like another stage in your riding?”
“OK. What next?”
Spike turned Mojo so that he started heading towards the sea and then in the shallows he turned him back and they continued to walk along the length of the beach.
“Just don’t look down.” he advised. “Some people feel a bit queasy, seeing the sea moving at 90 degrees to the way that the horse is walking.”
It was just amazing to do something that she had seen in the movies. She could understand why some people love riding holidays, the peace that Cinders was giving her was something that she thought she had lost when she had been dragged out of Heaven.
After some time Spike turned Mojo further into the sea and asked him to stand and Cinders drew up alongside. They both sat staring into the ocean, as the peace of their surroundings flowed over them.
“Sorry luv, but we’ve got to head home soon. You’ll ache a bit otherwise and I know you’ll want to get back to check on the niblet. How about we turn around now ... and we could even try a short canter.”
“Canter. That’s fast isn’t it?”
“OK Pet! Don’t worry. You can’t fall out of that saddle and as I said you’ve great natural rhythm. Just go with the flow, let the movement of Cinders become part of you. She is sure footed and the ground is lovely and firm. No worries.” He looked at her as she sat biting her lip.
“OK, let’s say that if after a few strides you don’t want to do it, just you let me know. How about that?”
“You would stop?”
“Yes. The whole point of this is for you to relax.”
“Right, bring it on!” Buffy answered the challenge, and then relaxed back and started to walk back along the beach. Once Spike had seen her relax into the rhythm he urged Mojo into a steady canter. He knew that Mojo would have loved to have just been given his head, but that he was also sensible enough to know that there was more at stake tonight.
Cinders swapped to the steady canter rhythm and soon both horses were retracing their steps along the beach. As Spike glanced back he noticed his girl smiling. He slowly increased the pace, and for a few exhilarating minutes Buffy felt like she was flying. As they approached the beach, Spike slowed their steps until they were back to a steady walk, thus allowing both Buffy and the horses to catch their breath.
The evening was understandably cool, so both Cinders and Mojo looked like mini dragons as they settled themselves down in their final few yards.
As they approached the car park, James got off from the bench he had been sitting on, and approached Cinders to take her reins again.
“Did it go well, William?” He asked, while looking at Buffy. Spike watched his reaction to the Slayer and was glad that James had a long-term girlfriend! He didn’t think she would be happy if she heard about it though!!
“Yes, thanks, James. It was great and both of these two were impeccably behaved.”
James took Mojo’s reigns so that Spike could help Buffy back to the ground.
“So, pet. You OK?”
Buffy relaxed against him, and as they made their way back to the car which would take them both back to SunnyHell, she murmured “Thanks, Spike, for tonight. I won’t ever forget it. I may have been dragged from Heaven, but for a short time tonight it felt like I was in Heaven on Earth!”
They got back to the car, and the perfect Victorian gentleman opened the door for his lady, and received the greatest gift he ever could, a soft kiss on his cheek.