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Spirits in The Woods - Chapter 8

wolf howl
Title: Spirits in the Woods
Author: wolffan200 and 3hours (posting on archive sites under the joint account Hour of the Wolf)
Word count: about 55k total
Characters/Pairing: Spike/Buffy, Giles, Willow.
Rating: PG-13, chapters will be noted with individual warnings when appropriate
Betas: All4Spike
Setting: Summer between s3 and s4








Chapter 8

Spike gradually became aware of his surroundings as the peaceful sleep he’d drifted into faded and reality set in again. He frowned and squeezed his eyes shut, wanting badly to go back to sleep where he wouldn’t feel weak and in pain. A stair creaked, and he suppressed a groan. Someone was coming down into the basement. Just what he needed, another bloody visitor.

“Spike?”

The Slayer. He hadn’t expected her back so soon. He couldn’t have slept for long after the phone call from Joyce; it felt more like a nap than anything else. She continued down the stairs despite not getting a reply. He sighed and rolled onto his back with a wince. Pain shot through his limbs, and he inhaled deeply waiting for it to pass. It was then he smelled it.

Spike’s eyes shot open, and he raised his head to see the Slayer approaching with something like a mug in her hand. He hauled himself into a sitting position, the pain no longer as bad, and his gaze zeroed in on the mug. The coppery, appetizing scent of blood drifted from it, and he inhaled again, imagining the flavor and how it would feel running down his throat.

“Easy, vamp-boy. Play nice or else.” Buffy withdrew the cracked, familiar stake from her pocket and held it up in her other hand, making sure he knew she meant business.

He blinked in confusion before he realized he’d started growling and had slipped into game face. He fell silent and spread his hands out at his sides where she could see them. She watched him carefully and approached. Once she was within reach, she offered him the mug and he took it gratefully.

He glanced down at the dark red mixture and licked his lips, wanting nothing more than to gulp it down. He heard movement and glanced up to see Buffy back away a few steps where she then stood, arms folded across her chest, studying him. He dipped his head, took another long sniff of the blood and then downed it quickly.

It wasn’t fresh from the vein, but in that moment it tasted just as good. It had really only been a few days, but still far too long since he’d tasted human blood, and he relished it as he licked at the drops clinging to the edge of the mug. He swiped his finger around the inside as well, gathering up what was left, not wanting to waste anything.

“Wow, you really were hungry, weren’t you?”

Spike paused to look at Buffy. Her head was tilted to one side as she watched him suck the blood off his finger. She seemed more curious than grossed out, but her nose did wrinkle a little bit when he licked the blood from the corners of his mouth and gave a satisfied moan at the taste.

“What do you expect? There’s a reason vampires prefer to feed off humans more than anything else. Gotta say, I wasn’t expecting it though, and do I detect Slayer blood in the mix?” He dropped the fangs and ridges and grinned at her. “How sweet.”

“Shut up. We took a vote and decided it was better for all of us if you healed faster. You won’t be much use otherwise.”

Spike scowled at that but didn’t interrupt while she continued to justify giving him blood, as if he cared what her reasons were.

“Sharing our blood is better than allowing you to snack off just one of us, and there’s no way in hell you’re biting anyone. That should be enough to get you back on your feet, since I’ve been assured that Slayer blood does wonders for healing vampires.”

“That’s not all it does.” He relished the confused expression his statement brought to her face.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing you’d want to know.” He smirked. “So, I’m guessing your friends have that spell set up?” he added, before she could interrupt and press the issue. He knew how she’d take it if he told her what other effects her blood had, and he’d no interest in starting that row just now. Not when he was feeling so much better.

He gave her his most innocent expression, batting his eyelashes expectantly. Buffy flexed her fist and weighed the stake in her hand to show her annoyance before rolling her eyes and turning her back.

“Whatever. Yeah, they’re pretty much ready. As soon as you’re up for it, you can head on out and come join us. We’ll be down near the lake where we summoned the water spirit. Try not to take too long, okay?”

And with that, she trotted back up the stairs. The slight limp she’d sported from her leg was almost gone, he noticed. Slayer healing abilities were definitely a bonus, but a sample of her blood was good enough for him. Already he was feeling much stronger, endorphins flooding his system as his body absorbed the blood.

“Oh, I’m up for it,” he said aloud to himself. “Ta, pet. You gave me just the boost I needed.”

He felt around for his smokes, frowned when he came up with an empty packet and sought out his duffel bag for a fresh one. Sticking the cigarette between his lips and flicking on his lighter, he lit up and smiled as he exhaled a stream of blue-grey smoke and watched it rise into the dank smelling air of the basement.

“Right then, time to get to work.”

____________



“So, based on the information you and Spike gave us about your four legged friend, Willow and I have done some research into spirit guides and ways of establishing a deeper connection with one such spirit.”

Buffy nodded as Giles arranged the herbs and crystals Willow had brought him into some form of summoning circle, while Willow set up a few candles and located bags of various brightly colored powders they’d be using.

“Spirit guides normally appear where there’s a need. To reveal fears and encourage those they seek to face them or, as the name strongly implies, to guide one on a path of discovery or enlightenment.”

“Well, it certainly guided us back here when we got lost, but you think, what, that it’s here to show us something?”

“Well yes,” Giles said, sitting back on his heels and pushing his glasses up as he looked at Buffy. “It’s been calling to Spike ever since he arrived, correct?”

Buffy nodded again, silently, and Giles went on.

“Clearly it’s been attempting to communicate something to us. It knows we’re here to try and stop the evil in the area, and there’s a high chance that this wolf spirit knows where to find the source. If we’re lucky, it may also know how to stop it.”

“Okay, so how do we communicate with it? Somehow I don’t think it knows English.”

“That’s the cool part!” Willow drew her friend’s attention and almost beamed with excitement. “The spell we’re doing will hopefully attract the spirit to us, and the person performing the ritual gets to have a sort of out of body experience that will allow them to follow it where it wants to lead us.”

“Yes, it puts the person in a trance like state and allows them to move within the space between worlds—the place these spirits inhabit. The reason you and Spike can’t hope to kill these beings is because they aren’t tangible—they are no longer connected solely to our world.”

“Right.” Buffy didn’t fully understand the plan but was willing to go with it if it brought them closer to stopping those things. “So you’ll be performing the ritual?” she asked Giles.

Buffy didn’t miss Willow’s slight pout as Giles answered in the affirmative. Giles must have noticed it too, because he reached over to place a hand on Willow’s shoulder reassuringly.

“I know you’re eager to be involved in magic, Willow, but I’m afraid this kind of thing is too advanced for you yet. It rarely succeeds and considering the sort of beings we’re dealing with, I really couldn’t live with myself if I put you in such danger. Just because we intend to call on the wolf spirit doesn’t mean it is the one that will answer our call.”

Willow nodded soberly at that, but the insinuation that something worse could be called had Buffy nervous and she shifted her weight from one foot to the other as she gave her Watcher a questioning look.

“Wait, you mean if this goes wrong, you could end up summoning one of those other things, a werewolf or a were-bear? Because I really don’t want that to happen.”

“I second the Slayer’s hesitation,” Spike said, having wandered over to them at last, dressed in his normal clothing.

Buffy gave him a quick glance and just as quickly turned away when he winked at her and patted his stomach. Pig.

“No bears,” Spike added to Giles.

“There’s no need for alarm.” Giles turned back to the circle and paused. “You should be perfectly safe. If something else comes we’ll just break the summoning circle and Willow will end the spell, pulling me out of the trance.”

“How do we know if it goes wrong and we need to pull you out?” Buffy asked, still not liking the plan. “If you’re in between worlds your body is still here right? So will we see two of you or—”

“No, no. But—you will most likely know if it goes wrong. I’m more concerned with what should happen in my absence if we do make contact with the wolf.”

“Huh?” Buffy asked eloquently.

“Let me guess, some nasties show up and try to stop us from interfering?” Spike stared into the woods as he spoke, but his relaxed pose gave Buffy some relief. At least they weren’t under attack yet, even if Giles had suggested they might be soon.

Willow glanced down, and Giles removed his glasses to give them a polish. Buffy looked from Spike to Willow to Giles and shook her head. “But they don’t leave the Circle right? You said they don’t go outside the Circle.” She pointed an accusatory finger at Spike and glared at him.

The vampire held both hands up in surrender and met her gaze seriously. “Hey, easy, Princess. I didn’t lie, but you remember your little adventure in the bathroom. Their power is growing, and they’re using it to move in on us quick. They’ve been advancing slowly, but the more we aggravate them the faster they’re going to push their boundary outward in an effort to get at us. If they can affect things inside the cabin then they could show up here as soon as they sense the spell, yeah?” He directed his question at Giles who sighed reluctantly.

“Yes, I’m afraid so. That’s why I wanted us to move down to the lake. The further we are from the cabin the safer we’ll be, and there’s a chance the Manitou can offer some protection against them. She may be weakening as the land is drained and corrupted, but as long as the source doesn’t touch the lake she should be able to fend off the affected spirits.”

“So our job is to act as back-up protection in case they attack,” Buffy said, indicating herself and Spike.

Spike huffed and turned his attention to the trees behind the cabin. “Bloody brilliant. Can’t wait to see them again.”

“Yes, well.” Giles rubbed his hands together while Willow held up a raven’s feather for his inspection. “Shall we get started then?”

“Stage is all yours.” Buffy gestured at the spell circle on the ground.

Spike retreated a little, choosing to stand on a medium sized rock nearby that would give him a good overview. It made him easier to spot, too, of course, but he didn’t appear to be concerned by that. She noted that he’d shifted into game face again. The better to see you with, she thought.

He had the right idea, though, and she quickly followed suit. Her chosen spot was on the opposite side, half-hidden to anyone approaching from the woods by a couple of bushes. One flank each. Her friends in the middle, like bait in a trap. Except this was one trap she hoped wouldn’t catch anything.

The soft murmur of Willow’s chanting filled the air around her. Giles sat down, cross-legged, in the center of the circle. She watched as Willow slowly walked around, waving what looked like a bundle of herbs back and forth. She was sure it had some deep and meaningful purpose, but it all seemed pretty crazy to her.

Time passed. Willow was still chanting and waving, Giles still sat like a statue. The full moon illuminated their skin in the dark, making it shine ghostly white and also making them easy to spot for anyone watching. She hoped the spirits wouldn’t show. She wondered if she’d be able to tell when Giles ‘left’ his body or not, wishing she’d asked about that, when suddenly there was a shift in the cool night air. It took her a few seconds to figure out exactly what it was she’d sensed – the temperature had dropped.

Moments later, the now familiar, mournful howl sounded. Close, this time. Very close. She looked in the direction it had come from in vain; it was too dark to see much. Unless you were a vampire, apparently; Spike was staring intently at something.

Something that moved towards them.

It really wasn’t very fair. Why had no one thought to give the Slayer night vision like her mortal enemy had? She pouted and waited for whatever it was – the wolf, she hoped, otherwise Spike surely would have said something – to move close enough to be seen.

In the background, the chanting intensified.

__________



Spike watched as the wolf cautiously approached them. He hadn’t seen it all that clearly when it had guided Buffy to safety, and he’d been too busy trying not to pass out to think of smelling the air. He did now and knew instantly that the wolf was very male and very old.

It made sense, he supposed. It had been a long time since Native Americans had lived in these parts, and the wolf spirit or whatever it was had likely been around for some time already by then. Perhaps it was another Manitou. From the little he knew, there could be Manitous for pretty much anything: plants, trees, lakes, animals.

The wolf came to a stop near the spell circle. In front of the Watcher, something began to take form in the air. At first it looked disturbingly like dust, swirling and shapeless, but it soon solidified into another wolf. This one was smaller and ghostly, glowing with an eerie bluish light that reminded him of the spirits in the woods. Unlike the first wolf, this one carried no scent.

Both wolves howled. He resisted the urge to cover his ears, the sound reverberating in his skull when they were this close. Happily, they left it at just the one howl.

The ghost wolf trotted forward and touched noses with the spirit wolf, then they set off together at a sprint. Within seconds, they had disappeared from view. He let out an unneeded breath and turned to look at the Slayer. She was staring back at him, a slightly puzzled look on her face. He shrugged in reply.

Nothing to do but wait, then. He reached into his jeans pocket and fished out his cigarettes. He hated waiting.

___________



The feeling was truly incredible. Giles felt weightless, full of energy and, strangely, alive. He was sprinting after the wolf spirit faster than he could ever hope to travel as a human; bounding across the clearing and up into the woods with the barest effort. He could hardly feel the ground beneath him as he traversed the forest floor, the wolf spirit ahead of him not making a single sound.

Buffy had told Giles that the wolf spirit had waited patiently for her and Spike, stopping every few paces to check that they were still following and urging them forward with barks and whines. Not the case this time. The wolf flew ahead of him, not turning or pausing once on its ascent up the hills and through the trees. Giles had no trouble keeping up, although he seemed unable to draw closer to the wolf, staying the same distance behind no matter how much he pushed himself to go faster.

It took them mere minutes to reach the perimeter of the Dead Circle, a place it had taken Spike and Buffy an hour to reach. Giles hoped that was due to the spell and being in wolf form, and not because the darkness had extended this close already. It was probably a combination of both.

The wolf stopped at the edge, and Giles came to a halt beside it. The animal stared at the rotting ground intently. It slowly turned to Giles and whined, then dipped its head to the dark stains, its nose hovering just above the earth. Giles copied its movement, ducking his head low to the ground to allow the scent of the soil to permeate his senses.

He felt sick to his stomach at the first whiff of the dead land. It felt as though his head was pounding, and somewhere in the distance he heard screams. At first he panicked, believing the camp was being attacked, and that the screams were those of Willow and Buffy. Seconds later, he realized that wasn’t the case. These screams were those of the men, women and children who’d died years ago. They were the screams of old souls being tormented even now, unable to seek peace.

The very earth in which they had been laid to rest had become corrupted.

Giles raised his head, pulling away from the sensations. The old wolf watched him carefully, waiting. When Giles felt well enough to move forward again he bowed his head to his guide. The wolf set one paw inside the Circle, and a shudder ran through it. It whined, and its eyes closed. Giles backed away a step but paused when the wolf seemed to regain control and turned its head, searching for him.

The expressive eyes beckoned him forward, and Giles pushed away his trepidation and followed the wolf. He stepped inside the Circle, and once more screams seemed to echo through the woods. They were easier to block out now that he was expecting them. He did however, notice that the air seemed thicker here, and something indescribable began to claw at him on the inside. Shaking the feeling away as best he could, Giles focused again on his guide who led him forward, deeper into the decaying land and hopefully, closer to the knowledge they would need to prevent the evil from spreading any further.

They were going at a slower pace now, he noticed. The wolf was being more cautious, wary of which paths they took, sometimes pausing to sniff the air or stare ahead into the surrounding trees and scrub before turning and heading in a different direction. Giles was thankful that the wolf appeared to be able to sense the other spirits long before they encountered any of their foes. They shouldn’t be able to harm him too badly since he wasn’t in his physical body, but that was still an area of the spell that was unclear. He would rather not test the theory.

The closer they got to whatever the wolf wanted to show him, the slower their pace. Giles felt that strange headache-y sensation begin to grow, and he hoped they didn’t have too much farther to go. He eyed the wolf in front of him cautiously. His guide was visibly suffering. Every few paces, a shudder would run through the wolf as though it were in pain, and its head would bow low to the ground before it forced itself onwards purposefully.

By the time they came to a complete stop, his guide was suffering full on tremors. Giles looked on concerned as the wolf fell to the ground, shivering. It whined and Giles drew closer, knowing the spirit was in pain. Giles dipped his head and nudged the wolf spirit’s muzzle gently. Slowly, it opened its shining eyes and stared at him.

Giles stepped back and the spirit raised its head, struggling to do so. It turned to point its muzzle to the left and let out a long, keening howl, before dropping to the floor again, exhausted. Giles looked in the direction the wolf had indicated and saw a cave set deep into the face of a steep cliff.

He glanced at the wolf as it lay shuddering on the ground and then took a closer look at the cave. It was dark and damp inside. The stones were wet and dead moss clung to the walls and ground surrounding the mouth of the cave. He couldn’t see very far inward, but it seemed to lead downwards before turning in on itself, a tunnel branching off the main chamber inside.

Giles debated entering the cave when a snarl behind him had him spinning to locate the source. He caught sight of several misty shapes in the trees. Corrupted spirits. Giles and the wolf were surrounded. Indeed, the only way out seemed to be the cave. They drew closer and Giles turned to the wolf, wondering whether the animal could make it inside or not, and if they should even dare enter. It may well be that the spirits were herding them in there.

The wolf had other ideas. Its hackles rose and a fierce growl tumbled from its snarling lips. Sharp, lethal fangs warned their attackers away as it stood erect. Its claws scraped at the dirt beneath its splayed feet as it continued to snarl and snap its jaws at the approaching spirits.

The display did little to help however, as the misty forms transformed before his eyes into predatory animals of various shapes and sizes. A mountain lion spirit pounced at Giles, and the wolf sprang to meet it. It knocked the large cat aside and spun to face the rest.

Just then, there was a shriek that seemed to reverberate through the woods. The sound was like none Giles had ever heard before. The pressure that had been steadily growing behind his eyes erupted into a throbbing headache, and Giles thought his skull would split wide open. The ground felt as though it was shaking, and the spirits around them seemed to waver and vanish in the air like smoke.

What little air remained in the Circle seemed to be sucked away all at once, pulled back into the cave. Giles swore he could see slimy, pulsating shapes just inside the gaping hole in the cliff face. Shapes that wanted to grab hold of him and the wolf and seep into their souls.

The wolf.

Giles turned to his guide to be met with a pair of dark, blank eyes that stared right through him.

Hackles raised and teeth bared, the wolf snarled at Giles and drew itself up into a frighteningly large shape. Patches of fur began to fall away from its hide and cuts appeared on its body, oozing blood. It gave one last howl that turned into a heartbreaking yelp of pain before foam appeared at its mouth, and it leapt at Giles, intending to tear him to shreds.

He fell sideways onto dew soaked grass and sucked in sweet, refreshing air like a man on the verge of smothering. He gasped and choked before pulling himself up to his hands and knees. Terrified, he looked around at the three figures circling him. Relief surged through him when he realized he was back at the camp. He felt a hand on his back as someone encouraged him to breathe.

“Giles? Giles, what happened? Are you okay?”

Unable to answer, Giles stared at the ground, his hands digging into the soil so hard his knuckles were white. The hand at his back began to rub soothingly up and down. Giles felt his stomach clench. He leaned forward, head bowed, and retched violently.

___________



“That was so not fun,” Willow said, once Giles was tucked safely into a sleeping bag.

“You can say that again,” Buffy replied. She still hadn’t fully recovered from the shock of seeing Giles wake up from the trance.

“Did you hear that howl though?” Spike’s voice was low as he spoke to them. “Sounded like that wolf was being murdered. Lucky you broke the spell when you did, Red, or the Watcher might never have made it back.”

“You guys.” Willow stepped between her and Spike as if seeking their protection. “I’m starting to get scared. More than a little scared. Kind of a lot scared.”

“Me too.” Spike’s unusual display of honesty surprised her and was ill timed.

Willow let out a squeak and looked up at Spike with saucer eyes. “You’re scared?”

“Not helping!” Buffy shot him a glare to highlight how poor his choice of words was and wrapped her arm around Willow. “It’s gonna be okay, Wills. I’m sure Giles managed to get some information from the wolf, and we can get to work on fixing whatever’s gone wrong here.”

She elbowed Spike in the ribs.

“Ow! Uh, yeah Red, everything’s going to be fine. Slayer here is a hero and you know how those hero types always save the day.”

“What does that make you, then?” Buffy raised an eyebrow at him.

He merely shrugged. “Dashing anti-hero that plays a vital role in assisting the protagonist on her journey, despite his shady past?”

“Come again?”

“It’s a classic trope.”

When she just stared at him blankly, he mumbled a never mind and turned to Willow instead, reaching up to pat her shoulder awkwardly in an attempt to comfort her.

Well, at least he was trying.

“You okay?” she asked Willow.

Willow nodded in reply and appeared to compose herself. “Sorry, it’s just…”

“Don’t have to explain, Red. We know.”

“Do you think Giles will be alright?”

“Thank you for your concern, Willow, I am fine.”

They all turned to find Giles standing there, sleeping bag in hand. He was clearly feeling much better but still looked pale and drawn.

“You find out anything during your little excursion?” Spike asked.

“What happened to the wolf?” Willow’s voice was tainted with worry for the spirit.

“The wolf… didn’t make it I’m afraid,” Giles said, and took off his glasses to polish them. Buffy knew that the action was more a matter of comfort than the glasses actually needing to be cleaned. “It took me to what I believe is the entrance to the place where the source of the corruption lies. It’s underground. The wolf was in pain when we entered the Dead Circle, and it only got worse the closer we came.”

Spike shook his head. “Poor bastard. That mean we have to fight him too, now?”

Giles didn’t reply, but the way he stared down at his glasses, refusing to meet their eyes said all they needed to know.

“I’m not loving our odds here,” Buffy said. Before Willow could have another breakdown she continued, “But it’s a step forward, right? You know where to go.”

“I do believe I’ll be able to lead you to that place, yes.”

“You’re not gonna leave me here by myself, are you?” Willow piped up.

“Course not, Red.” Before Buffy could kick him on the shin, Spike turned to her and said, pointedly, “You’d be a sitting target if we left you behind alone, right Buffy?”

Damn it, she hated when he was right. And what was with using her name? Oh well, two could play that game. “William is right, you have to come with us.”

“Who’s Willi- oh.” Willow looked from one to the other and back again as though watching a ping pong match.

Spike winked at her. Buffy resisted the urge to stick her tongue out at him in reply, he’d probably make some lewd comment. Instead, she rolled her eyes.

Giles cleared his throat. “Shall we get ready for the hike? The place the wolf took me to was quite a distance within the Circle.”

“Hope you brought more weaponry with you, since we lost both the axe and the sword last time,” Spike said.

“Don’t worry about that.” Buffy smiled brightly at him. “I came prepared.”


Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
slaymesoftly
Dec. 21st, 2012 12:54 am (UTC)
Oooo - Poor wolf! Another great chapter. So enjoying this story :)
wolffan200
Dec. 21st, 2012 01:23 am (UTC)
I'm going to shamefully admit that with my username (and the fact I go by wolf for short) it took me a second to realise you meant the wolf in the story and not me, lol. Yes, the poor wolf, but as you can see, things are progressing steadily now. So happy you're enjoying it :)
slaymesoftly
Dec. 21st, 2012 02:39 am (UTC)
ROFL - Never occurred to me. Sorry!
wolffan200
Dec. 22nd, 2012 01:43 am (UTC)
Never occurred to me that pretty much all our reviews were going to include similar "poor wolf" statements that would momentarily confuse me either, lol. No worries.
3hours
Dec. 21st, 2012 12:35 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately sacrifices needed to be made to illustrate the badness of what they're up against :(
e_sqr
Dec. 22nd, 2012 01:13 am (UTC)
I really like that they finally feed Spike, with some slayer blood in the mix:D
and I like that here Giles is reasonable magic user, so he performed spell instead of Willow, shame he'll stop being like this in season 4
3hours
Dec. 22nd, 2012 01:38 am (UTC)
Well it's not like Willow has a habit of notifying Giles before she goes ahead and casts spells...
wolffan200
Dec. 22nd, 2012 01:41 am (UTC)
He did need a snack, poor thing. Yup, not as much as he'd like of course, but he has to take what he can get :)

He really should have tutored her more, and she really should have been less defensive about it when anyone raised the issue. *sigh* Character flaws.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )