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Spirits in The Woods - Chapter 9

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 9

Spike had to hand it to the chit, she knew her way around a weapons rack. Underneath sunglasses, tank tops and a bright pink bag with little hearts on it that smelled of powder and fruity lip gloss, there was a whole arsenal of pointy, stabby things.

It occurred to him that in another world, where she wasn’t the Slayer and he wasn’t a vampire, they might have been friends. It was a strange thought, but not an altogether unpleasant one. He reached down to pick up a silver dagger with an ornate hilt.

“Like this.” He gave it a practice whirl. “Not sure if it’s big enough for our beastie, though.”

“You know what they say.” Buffy smiled. “It’s not the size that matters but what you do with it.”

Willow tried to stifle a giggle by putting her hand over her mouth.

“You would say that,” he replied, deadpan. “Considering your ex.”

Willow bit down on her fingers but he could see the mirth dancing in her eyes. Didn’t seem like the witch had liked Angel much. Smart girl. Between that and finding out she was dating a werewolf, he was starting to actually like her. She would have made a decent vampire, he thought.

“Excuse me?” Buffy pulled him back to reality with her voice. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

He raised an eyebrow at her and gave her his best suggestive smirk. “You’ll learn, pet. If you’re lucky. Oh but wait, you should already know exactly what I mean. Not as up close and personal, but I’m sure you had a pretty good feel. Enough to compare at least.”

“I have no idea what you mean.” Buffy spoke through gritted teeth, her warning clear.

Spike stuck his tongue in his cheek and wiggled his eyebrows. The Slayer looked about ready to deck him. Red seemed more worried than amused by this point.

“Whatever, Slayer. You hold onto your illusions, but we both know better.” He smirked at her again for good measure.

“You’re a disgusting pig.”

Spike bit his lip to rein in another provocation (it was just too easy and too entertaining) before reaching into her bag to see what else she had hidden away in there. Buffy almost dropped the crossbow she’d been examining when he snatched his hand back and yelped, shaking it furiously and letting loose a stream of curses.

Willow gaped at him open-mouthed while Buffy appeared somewhat dazed; they both probably learned a variety of new, creative words to use the next time they got really pissed off.

“Was it really necessary to bring a cross?” He glared at Buffy.

Realizing what had happened, she burst out laughing. Needless to say, he was not amused.

“I think I’m going to go help Giles,” Willow squeaked and made a quick escape.

“Think it’s funny do you?” Spike asked Buffy, his tone threatening.

Buffy continued to laugh as she tossed aside the crossbow and reached for her bag. “Absolutely.” It was almost empty now apart from the cross, some bottles of holy water and one very sharp double sided axe. “Ooh.”

She barely had time to examine the weapon before he plucked it from her hands.

Mine. Thanks, Slayer.”

“Hey!”

“Considering I now have a cross shaped wound on my hand thanks to you...” He held up his red and blistered palm. “I’m keeping this. Besides, you had the axe last time.”

“It was your own fault for going through my stuff. Give it back.”

“Nuh-uh. And who’s lecturing who on going through people’s things?”

“Considering you kicked up such a stink about it, you should have known better then, shouldn’t you?”

“I’m terribly sorry to interrupt, children, but might we get on with sorting out our equipment? We do need to get there before sunrise,” Giles said.

Buffy had her hands on her hips, and had been leaning dangerously close to Spike, while he had marched into her personal space, axe held at his side while he glowered down at her. Giles waited for them to acknowledge his intervention, and once they’d broken eye contact with each other, adjusted his glasses and went back to what he’d been doing; sorting through the herbs and powders he and Willow had brought.

Spike looked down at his palm and grimaced. Bitch.

_________



Buffy gave Spike a parting glare before walking over to her Watcher. A quick glance over her shoulder revealed Spike moving closer to Willow. As long as he behaved himself and didn’t freak her best friend out any more than he already had, she was fine with that.

“So, Giles, any idea what we’re up against? Any clue about how to fight it would be good.”

Giles was squatting down next to his rucksack, placing items inside with care. At Buffy’s question he rubbed his temple, and his shoulders slumped.

“I didn’t get a clear look at what might be hiding in the cave, unfortunately. And the wolf was affected too quickly to reveal any more to me than the cave’s location.”

“Oh.”

Buffy went quiet. Giles was still upset after his recent spirit walk and Buffy was unsure how to approach the subject without making things worse.

“There is one thing,” he said then, softly.

Buffy listened carefully, waiting for him to continue. Giles sighed.

“When I felt it—the evil… when I saw the way it corrupted the wolf spirit—it was such powerful dark energy. It got inside and tried to take over everything—from the heart and soul outwards. We have to put an end to it, because it won’t ever stop if we don’t. It will just keep spreading and gaining more and more power—more and more energy.”

Giles turned to face Buffy, giving her one of those looks she hated. The one that said ‘the apocalypse is nigh’. She was getting far too familiar with that look.

“This thing, whatever it is… I believe it can be weakened. That’s why I’ve instructed Willow to pack more materials like these with a few other herbs.” He gestured at the bag. “In case weaponry fails, we will have magic. At the very least we have salt, useful against many demons; your holy water, though I’m not sure how effective it will be; and this.”

Giles held up a bottle of what looked like more holy water to Buffy. She took the bottle and raised an eyebrow at Giles.

“Water from the lake,” he explained. “The lake spirit has power still. It won’t be much but it may come in useful.”

“I see. Giles, this is great, except, the wolf spirit and the lake spirit can both be corrupted by this thing, and they seemed pretty strong with the magic. Are you sure this will work?”

“Not entirely, no. But the wolf spirit fought for quite a while before succumbing, and the Manitou had enough strength to hold the other spirits at bay. It probably won’t kill whatever’s causing all this, but it could weaken it enough for you to strike the final blow. Remember to bring something made of silver or iron. Some demons are vulnerable to those metals.”

Buffy nodded. Glancing over her shoulder at Spike who seemed to be pestering Willow as she packed, she shrugged and smiled down at Giles.

“Well, Spike’s taken a fancy to my axe, but I’ve got an iron mace he can use as well, and I’m pretty sure I have an iron sword for myself. I have a nice silver dagger too. Say,” she said, a thought dawning on her, “you think we can make Spike the pack mule this time? Seems only fair since we’re trading weapons.”

Giles seemed a bit bemused but smiled back at Buffy when she grinned and whirled around to inform Spike of the good news. “After all, he did bring more suitable footwear.”

_________



“What’s that?” Spike asked, pointing at a bundle of something that might have been a plant once.

“This? It’s winderwort root.” Willow looked up at him briefly as she packed her rucksack.

“Never heard of it. What’s it good for?”

She looked up at him again. “It’s used mostly in scrying spells.”

“Huh.” He waited until she’d gone back to packing, then held up a plastic bag filled with little green leaves. “What about this one?”

“Oh, those are-“ She cut herself off and frowned up at him. “Wait a second, are you trying to annoy me on purpose?”

Flashing her a grin, he didn’t even bother to feign innocence. It had taken about a dozen questions before she’d caught on, and he’d already become bored with it. “Maybe.”

Willow shook her head, but she was hiding a small smile.

“Spike.”

He spun around to face the Slayer who had come over to them, carrying another rucksack.

“Guess what,” she said brightly, grinning. “You get to carry the heavy stuff.”

“I’m not your sodding sherpa.” He made a face. “’Sides, I’m still recovering from saving your life and all.”

“Nice try, bleach boy, but that debt was paid back. In blood. So suck it up,” she wiggled her eyebrows to underline her pun, “and put this on.”

She dropped the rucksack in front of him and he could tell from the thud it made (with an added clank from something metal shifting within) that it was heavy, even to someone with vampiric strength. To her as well; she’d needed both hands to lift it.

Not one to let an opportunity to irritate her pass by, he grabbed the rucksack and, prepared for the weight, slung it up on his shoulder seemingly with no effort. He was satisfied to see a pout on her face as she turned to talk to the witch.

The bugger was heavy, though. He was not looking forward to the long trek ahead of them.

He sat down and had a quick smoke while the humans scrambled around and got the last of their shit together. In one hand, the Slayer was carrying the silver dagger he’d admired earlier, and in the other, another shortsword. The Watcher had opted for a small axe and the witch had another dagger.

“All set?” he asked.

“Ready as we’ll ever be!” Buffy smiled and handed him an iron mace. He wondered whether she actually thought he might need it or if she just wanted to weigh him down a little more. “Whatever it is, it’s going down.”

He turned to the other two. “She always this excited about imminent death?”

“Pretty much, yeah,” Willow said.

He chuckled, ignoring Buffy’s eyeroll and fell in line behind the Watcher and the witch. The Slayer had insisted on him bringing up the rear due to his enhanced hearing, so that nothing could surprise them from behind again.

The journey to the Dead Circle was uneventful. He could have sworn it got closer and closer each time he came out here, but kept his mouth shut about it. No need to worry the humans if they hadn’t noticed.

They crossed the borderlands and delved into the black, dead landscape without comment. Both the witch and the Watcher’s heartbeats had increased and they were acting skittish, but he didn’t really blame them. It was their first visit, after all. In the flesh at least, he amended, remembering Giles’ ghost trek up here. Spike’d been pretty freaked out himself in the beginning too, not that anyone had been around to witness it.

“Whatever you do,” the Slayer said, breaking the eerie silence. “Don’t stray.”

“Wasn’t planning to,” Willow replied, and a shudder ran through her.

The four of them continued on into the circle and Spike glanced down at the axe and mace in his hands. It was reassuring to have weapons, even though they hadn’t proved all that useful so far. Something about their solidity and weight in his hands gave him comfort regardless.

The Watcher paused every now and again to take in his surroundings and confirm that they were headed in the right direction. How he knew the way to the cave after one visit when he’d been a ghost wolf was beyond Spike, but stranger things had happened so he stayed silent on the matter. More than likely the little trip had been ingrained into the Watcher in some other way than sight alone.

The further they traveled inside the Circle the more reluctant Spike was to keep going. The atmosphere was more than just unsettling now, something permeated the woods here, and it was clutching at them as they passed through. He could feel his demon shrinking from the nasty vibe. He was getting tired, too. The boost he’d received from the blood earlier was fading much faster than it should have been. Spike didn’t like it one bit.

“Are we there yet?” Buffy’s voice had an edge to it that hadn’t been there earlier.

Giles stopped to face her, mouth open to retort when his expression changed, became softer, and he offered her a small smile.

“Not too much farther. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Buffy replied, her back straightening and her shoulders stiff. “I just—I feel weird is all.”

Spike stared at her back in surprise. Whatever was bugging him must be affecting her too. Giles nodded in understanding and carried on, leaving the others no choice but to follow—not that they could turn back now, anyway.

_________



“Slayer.”

Buffy turned at the sound of Spike’s voice. He was staring off to the right, frowning, and she felt a wave of panic rise up before she pushed it away. Willow glanced back and forth between them, concern etching her face, and Buffy gave the girl’s shoulder a quick squeeze of reassurance. Giles was waiting for them ahead, his attention drawn to where Spike’s was focused now as well.

“Something wrong?” she asked, coming to a halt next to the vampire.

“Yeah. We’ve got company.”

Just what she was afraid of. They still hadn’t reached the cave and now they’d have to contend with spirits.

“How far away are they?”

“A little ways off yet, they’re just watching for now, but it won’t take long until they’re on us. We need to move.”

He looked down at her, and she stared into the trees grimly. Giving him one quick nod of agreement she hurried back to Giles.

“We have to pick up the pace.”

Her mentor wasted no time in turning and rushing ahead. Buffy waited for Willow and Spike to catch up, and the three of them started to jog to keep pace with Giles. Several quick turns later and Giles called back that they were almost at the cliff face. Buffy looked up, and through the trees, was able to see a wall of rock covered in dead moss.

Behind them, grunts, growls, and snarls echoed through the forest. The spirits were chasing them, and they’d already manifested into animals.

“Move faster,” Spike shouted from the back, and soon they were running forward.

Buffy ignored the twinges of pain in her body where she still hadn’t fully healed and kept a sharp eye on Willow running beside her. She was staying at her friend’s pace, trying to urge her onwards. Both Giles and Willow were soon panting as they raced forward, and Spike let out a curse as he yelled at them to keep moving.

“Oh God, oh God, oh God,” Willow chanted. The cries of wild animals behind them got louder, accompanied by the sound of branches being snapped in half.

Buffy felt a sudden chill creeping over her, starting from the inside and working its way out. She shivered but forced herself to ignore the cold. She had a memory of Spike pulling her through one of the shifting figures the last time they were here and remembered the biting feeling of being hurled into icy water that had come over her at the time. It really was getting worse if she could already feel their cold. That or they were catching up fast.

“Watcher!” Spike yelled.

“We’re here!” Giles shouted back, bursting through the trees and into a minuscule clearing before the cave.

Buffy and Willow followed seconds later. Buffy turned just in time to see Spike hurl himself forward as a savage bear paw swiped at him, the claws narrowly missing his back. He dived onto the ground and rolled so that he came up facing the tree line and the animal spirits, half kneeling on the ground as the weight of the rucksack dragged him down.

“We’re screwed,” he said, as the four of them pressed close together in front of the cave mouth, eyeing the enraged animals before them.

“We need to get inside the cave.” Buffy raised her sword, poised to attack.

“How? If we so much as move they’ll charge.” Willow cast her eyes around at the enraged looking animals. Buffy saw her friend freeze momentarily as she met the black eyes of a spirit dressed in torn and bloodied clothing, not yet turned into an animal.

“Thomas!” Her voice was broken with sorrow and regret.

Oh yeah, the guy she’d tutored and gone on about maybe saving when she and Giles had talked Buffy into going up here. She felt awful for Willow, but he was clearly beyond rescue.

“They’ll charge anyway. You two get inside. Spike and I will follow. Now!”

Thomas shifted, and Willow gasped as she was suddenly faced with an aggressive looking brown bear. It was all the motivation she needed to follow orders however, for which Buffy was relieved.

Spike shared a quick look with her as he rose to his feet but said nothing, instead readying his axe. In that moment she knew he had her back. It was odd to think she could trust him in that regard. Still, now wasn’t the time to analyze the helpfulness of her mortal enemy.

“Buffy...” Giles voice came from behind her, and she heard the argument in his voice in that one word alone.

“Now!” she yelled, leaving no room for argument.

If he had any more objections, she did not hear them. Four of the spirits came towards her, another group going for Spike. She couldn’t see how many as they wasted no time in attacking. She used both the dagger and the sword, alternating between them as need be. The larger swings of the sword would cause a temporary retreat of whatever spirit was in front of her, while she shot the dagger to the sides to fend off the rest.

“Iron’s no good!” Spike called.

“Silver doesn’t seem to be of much use either!” she shouted back.

In her four year career as the Slayer, she’d been in plenty of tight spots. Tight spots were commonplace. This was one of those where she truly wondered if she might not make it out alive. Failure wasn’t an option, not when she had her friends behind her, relying on her, but she was pretty sure the spirits wouldn’t care.

There was a cry on her left, followed immediately by a pissed-off growl. Spike.

To her great surprise, she felt an instinctive need to check on him and make sure he was all right. There was no chance in hell of that, though, as she was kept preoccupied with attacks on three fronts still and barely had time to think.

Moments later he was next to her, still fending off spirits with blood running down from a cut in his side. “Let’s go!”

“Trying!” She stabbed with the silver dagger at a corrupted wolf and swung the sword through the two large bears in front of her.

“Buffy!” Willow shouted from somewhere behind her. It took a second to register that her voice didn’t sound terrified anymore, but… hopeful?

Strong hands grabbed around her waist and yanked her backwards. “Gah!”

She lost her grip on the sword and it clattered to the ground, but she still had the dagger. She waved it in front of her where the two bears, the wolf and seemingly their entire ferocious family tree were crowding in on her.

Then, abruptly, they stopped.

Oh sure, they were still snarling and snapping their teeth at her, but they didn’t come any closer. She was standing at the mouth of the cave, just inside it, and none of the spirits would enter.

Her jaw dropped in amazement. “What?”

“Salt,” Spike said, right by her ear. It dawned on her that it had to be his hands that had pulled her back, and for some reason they were still around her waist. She looked down to confirm this and noticed instead what he was referring to.

Spread out in a line from one side of the cave entrance to the other was a fine, white powder. It formed a barrier of some sort that the spirits would not cross. She relaxed. Well thank God for that. It would give them the breathing room they needed to figure out what the wolf spirit had wanted to show them inside the cave.

She took a step back, wanting to put a little more distance between herself and the increasingly irate spirits, and bumped against Spike. His hands tightened around her, helping to keep her steady so she wouldn’t fall.

“You okay, Buffy?” His unneeded breath was strangely warm against her ear and the side of her neck.

He really needed to stop saying her name like that. And he really needed to get his hands off her. And she really needed to not be leaning against him right now, because he was disturbingly comfortable to rest against. Just the right height for her, in fact; if she tilted her head it would fit right onto his shoulder, like puzzle pieces in a two-piece jigsaw.

“Yeah, fine,” she said with some effort, and pushed away from him. She refused to look up and meet his eyes. “What about you? I saw you bleeding.”

“Bit of a scratch, but I’ve had worse.”

Snorting at his obvious glossing over of the truth, she busied herself with pulling up his t-shirt so she could assess the damage.

“Ouch,” Willow said, coming over to them with a wrinkled brow. “Do you want me to try and bandage it up?”

“Nah, better if we press on, I think. It’s already stopped bleeding anyway.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, Florence.”

Buffy let go of the black fabric reluctantly. She’d been rendered temporarily speechless at the sight of Spike’s bare stomach, not having expected the ripped muscles she’d found there. Any other time she’d seen him without a shirt, he’d been covered in cuts and bruises. The ‘scratch’ in his side was unfortunately not the first thing she’d focused on this time when she’d pulled his shirt up.

“So what was that freak out back there?” Spike asked Willow. Neither of them appeared to have noticed, thankfully.

“Oh, just-” Willow faltered and swallowed before managing to continue. “Somebody I used to know.”

“Let’s get the torches out,” Giles interjected. He was holding a half-empty pack of salt in one hand and wiped sweat off his brow with the other. “The cave appears to be quite long.”

“Goodie.” Buffy sighed. “Who wants to bet it’ll also be full of bats or something equally gross?”

“I doubt it.” Spike glanced back at the pissed off spirits behind them. “Everything here is dead. Well,” he amended, giving Buffy a slight smirk, “except for you three of course.”

“Now’s not the time for joking Spike.” She frowned at him before she followed Giles and Willow as they started heading into the tunnel ahead.

“Wasn’t joking.”

No, he wasn’t. Aside from her and the others, anything that would’ve once lived in this cave would be dead, just like everything else inside the Dead Circle.

She had to pick her steps and was grateful for the sneakers Willow had lent her. She heard Spike’s axe clang against the side of the rock wall once and the sound was amplified by the long tunnel. She turned and saw him wince at the noise, covering one ear with his free hand.

“Be careful.”

His head shot up, and he gave her an incredulous look. She felt her cheeks threaten to flush when his mouth opened and quickly interrupted so he wouldn’t get the wrong idea.

“We don’t need to announce our arrival quite so loudly. Element of surprise?”

He snorted and gestured forward irritably. She carried on, satisfied that she’d set the record straight. After all, it’s not like she would concern herself over him.

They continued on, going further into the cave which led them deeper and deeper underground. Buffy began to fidget in anticipation, wondering when they would stumble across whatever it was that had made its home down here. The walls were wet and slimy and little pools accumulated here and there along the path. The constant sound of dripping water was the only noise beyond the sound of their footsteps and panting breaths.

It was getting harder to breathe the further they went, and the walls seemed to close in around them. Buffy wondered if she had become suddenly claustrophobic. Every now and again they’d encounter rock formations that they’d have to squeeze past, and they’d have to remove their bags and rucksacks and try to shove them through the narrow gaps to each other.

Spike made a comment about being lucky he didn’t have to breathe when he had to squeeze through a particularly narrow gap, his belt buckle scraping against the rock as he wriggled through. Giles had a harder job, being the tallest and needing to duck as well as push his way through the tight spaces. At one point, Buffy’d had to help pull him through while the others pushed.

“If it gets any narrower I fear we won’t be able to continue,” Giles said, bending over and gasping for air as they stood in a slightly wider part of the tunnel.

“We have to keep going. It can’t be much farther right?” Buffy looked at Willow and Giles and felt her spirits sink. Both of them were sweating and struggling for air. Even Buffy was finding it strangely hot in the damp cave.

“Slayer’s right,” Spike said, and she glanced at him in surprise as he leaned against the wall. “I can feel it. We’re close.”

Neither Giles nor Willow said anything, but they did straighten up and start walking forward again. Buffy waited for Spike to push off the wall with a sigh and come join her.

“Thank you,” she said quietly, bringing him up short.

He studied her before shrugging as though unfazed. “Just telling the truth. Going back will be even harder unless we stop this thing.”

He wasn’t wrong. Still, he’d supported her and got the others moving. She wasn’t sure how to handle this new side to Spike. At least he hadn’t used her name again. That would be a little too much for her to process right now on top of everything else.

They kept moving and were happy to see that the tunnel stayed as wide as it was currently, at least up to the next turning. Willow stopped for a short breather and Buffy put a hand on her back, worried. Willow waved her onward and stood again, murmuring that she was okay. Buffy hoped they got to the end of this thing soon. Ahead of them, she saw Giles sway to the left as he walked, his flashlight beam waving madly for a moment before he caught himself. Seeing that Spike was next to Willow now, Buffy hurried to join her Watcher.


Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
slaymesoftly
Dec. 24th, 2012 08:02 pm (UTC)
I am soooo enjoying this story! You're doing a wonderful job of providing suspense and your characters are very believable and real. The UST is wonderful (UST - my favorite thing!) and the growing relationship is perfect. Not too fast, not too slow.
wolffan200
Dec. 25th, 2012 12:45 am (UTC)
Yay! Believe me, we both had a ridiculous amount of fun writing it, so knowing that people are enjoying it as much as we did is awesome. *does a happy dance because of all these character compliments* UST is my favourite too. I can't get enough of it! :) Yeah, we're moving things along gradually, but the attraction is growing, not that they'll admit it of course :P Happy Holidays! - wolf
3hours
Dec. 25th, 2012 02:42 pm (UTC)
Things are starting to heat up now, in more ways than one :D Thank you for the compliments, it's always nice to hear the story is entertaining people!
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )