They were too tired to talk by the time they made it back to the campsite. They simply walked along in companionable silence. Willow was leading the way with Buffy while Spike and Giles followed close behind. It was the redhead that spotted the clearing first.
"We're back!" She pointed excitedly.
"Hallelujah!" Buffy felt relief flow through her bones at the sight. She was losing feeling in her feet, and her legs were about ready to give up on her. The view of the clearing however, gave them all a burst of renewed energy, and they picked up the pace, stumbling out of the trees and onto the soft grass with contented sighs.
"Finally." Giles took off his glasses and wiped his brow.
Willow was breathing heavily after the brief exertion. Buffy grinned at her friend but caught movement out of the corner of her eye. She turned her head in time to see Spike disappear inside the cabin.
"That was fast."
"I guess he wants to grab his stuff and get the ring so he can leave before sunrise," Willow said.
"I guess so." Buffy frowned. Having Spike leave felt... weird. Not wrong, she hurried to assure herself, just... weird.
Then again it probably wasn't strange that she felt this way. They'd worked pretty closely together in the past couple of days. Hell, she'd been closer to him physically than she ever thought she'd be, but let's not go there. Not until she was alone where no one would see her blush.
"Though you'd think he'd wait a little longer and give himself time to heal now that nothing out here's going to attack us." She bent to pick up her cell phone and sighed when she spotted several more missed calls from Xander. They were going to have to sit down and explain everything to him once they were back. She was not looking forward to it.
"If he did stay, we would have to as well," Giles reminded them.
"The ring." Giles stared at Buffy. "We can't just let him make off with a valuable artifact that could possibly be dangerous, Buffy. Even if it's harmless we at least need to confirm it and investigate what power it holds."
"Right." Buffy's good mood vanished in an instant. "The truce ends now, huh? If the ring is dangerous we might have to deal with Spike next."
"I'm afraid so." Her Watcher looked down at her with a serious expression.
Willow glanced back and forth between Buffy and Giles, anxiety written all over her face. "I'm sure it'll be fine," she said, obviously trying to reassure herself as much as them judging from the hopeful glint in her eyes. "He's been really good so far—I mean he's stuck to the truce even though, you know, he's not entirely good at all… Giles, how bad could the ring be if it's only supposed to show someone their destiny?"
"Artifacts of myth and legend are rarely harmless, Willow, and considering what Spike was willing to go through to get it, there's a high chance that it is extremely valuable or powerful."
"Well, yeah! Okay! But—I just don't think he's going to turn on us now, not after everything. He had plenty of opportunities to kill us on this trip, and he didn't."
"He had to uphold the truce if he wanted our help," Buffy said, though she didn't look at Willow. Instead, she stared at the ground. For the first time she realized she really didn't want to have to fight Spike… and it wasn't just because she was tired.
"He didn't have to save me or Giles," Willow retorted firmly and made Buffy look up. "He wanted to kill us, and it would have been easier if he had, but he didn't. Because you asked him not to. He almost died because of it."
Neither she nor Giles had anything to say to that. Willow gave them both her stern resolve face until Buffy finally smiled.
"You're probably right, Wills. Either way we should stick around to see him get the ring. If it turns out to be dangerous, and he turns on us then we'll deal with it when the time comes. If not—we let him take it and go."
"He's kept his word and stuck to the truce, Giles. And he's injured. All he wants is to bring the ring to Drusilla so she'll take him back. Lord only knows why. Considering the state he's in—that we're all in—I doubt he wants a fight."
"Well, I guess we'll just have to wait and see." Giles gave up and turned his eyes skyward.
"Yeah." Buffy glanced at the cabin again. "I guess we will."
Spike gathered up his belongings quickly. He took the time to sweep his eyes over the dank, miserable basement that had housed him for the past couple of weeks. He'd be happy if he never saw it again. Any of it.
Alright, so the Slayer and her little friends hadn't been all that bad. He could have done without the stuffy Watcher, but he'd at least had the decency to keep his distance rather than be a pest, and Spike appreciated that. Even so, it was high time to bugger off.
Get the ring, get back to a populated area, grab a decent meal, and then drive south – that was his to-do list.
When he wandered outside again with his bundle under one arm, they were all huddled together, waiting for him. He stopped to leisurely light a smoke before speaking.
"You lot gonna babysit me, then?"
"Kinda curious to see what the Manitou has to say, actually," Willow said, ever the diplomat.
He smirked. "Let's get to it, then."
Pushing past them, he brought forth his demon to see clearly as he led the way down toward the lake. Behind him he heard them scramble, and soon the little light circles from their flashlights danced along the ground by his feet.
He really shouldn't be pushing himself with the still-healing wounds in his thigh and back, but he couldn't help it. The truce was over and the unnatural (but comfortable) camaraderie between him and the girls was coming to an end. Forcing them to jog in order to keep up with him made him feel better about himself.
"Don't we have to do the spell again?" Buffy asked, once he reached the shore and came to a halt.
"Nah." He waved his hand dismissively, tossed his barely smoked cigarette down and gave it a quick stamp with his boot. "Reckon she'll come when I get inside her again." He turned to give the Slayer his sauciest grin and winked. "Chits usually do."
He relished in the way her jaw dropped, and her eyes widened in shock before she reined herself in. Her features quickly rearranged themselves to her standard, disapproving glare.
"Pig," he said, beating her to it. "You're predictable, love."
For good measure, since she was still staring right at him, he licked slowly across his lower lip as he slid his duster off his shoulders, then yanked his boots off. He balled the duster up and tossed it onto a rock before he spun around and started walking into the water.
"You're so full of yourself, Spike!"
Not dignifying that with a reply he carried on, soon descending under the water's surface. He didn't like the feeling of being underwater much, but at least it prevented him from hearing any further insults she came up with.
Trying to remember where he'd been when the Manitou had appeared to him before, he stopped walking and began to swim, aiming for the center of the lake. If he could avoid stirring up the bottom he wouldn't blind himself this time, and he might be able to see her better. And the ring, wherever it was.
Eventually, when he determined that he must be smack in the middle, he stopped and let himself sink slowly. The lake spirit was floating just above the lake floor, her shimmery body like a beacon in the dark water.
"You have proven yourself worthy, pale one. I will grant you the ring for your heroism against the darkness."
"Yeah, yeah," he replied mentally, resenting the heroism reference. Evil vampires were not heroic. They might lower themselves to working with the Slayer for an ultimately selfish goal, but heroism did not come into the picture. Not really.
"You are impatient."
"Places to be, people to see."
"Very well, what you seek you will find. Here." She pointed her long, slender arm at an unassuming spot on the lake floor, between an old, gnarled branch and a large, mossy rock. He reached down and fumbled around in the muddy sediments. The water around him grew murky, but he didn't care. His fingertips touched something cold and hard, like metal. His hand wrapped around it. Circular shaped. This had to be it, the Piniarneq, finally.
It didn't take long before Spike resurfaced, somewhere far out in the lake. He swam towards them at a relaxed pace which probably meant he'd received the ring. Buffy's hands clenched into fists subconsciously inside her jacket pockets, and her brow furrowed.
He was her enemy again now.
Her very good looking enemy.
Her very good looking and very wet enemy.
Spike had come close enough to the shore that he could stop swimming and stand, wading up to the water's edge. His hair was mussed, revealing its natural curly state as it dripped water down his face. Water also ran down his strong arms, and she couldn't help but remember how they'd felt around her, holding her close. His black t-shirt which had been tight before was now a second skin, clinging to the taut muscles of his chest and stomach, defining every dip and curve.
She was definitely not speechless. Nope. Absolutely not.
"The ring," Giles said beside her, pointing.
Too late. There was no way to reach him in time. She watched dumbly as Spike slid the ring onto his finger.
He stopped walking and stared down at the ring. Illuminated by moonlight, the dark band was clearly visible - a sharp contrast to his pale skin. Buffy reached for her stake, the one already stained with Spike's blood, and swallowed hard. Spike was completely absorbed in the ring until he looked up at her. Buffy stopped breathing for a second when she met his eyes.
The normally blue irises shone with a strange, shimmering silver light. In that moment, still standing calf-deep in the water of the lake and with water dripping steadily from his head down, he looked like some mystical spirit himself. She shook her head to remove the thought and watched as his eyes suddenly cleared.
Spike continued to stare ahead stunned, rather like a rabbit caught in the headlights. His mouth dropped open, and he seemed to be struggling to speak. Eventually, a sound, rather like a whimper, emerged from him, and Buffy replaced her stake. Spike wasn't dangerous, but he did look—absolutely terrified.
"What? Spike, what is it?"
"No." His voice sounded hoarse. "No."
"No," Spike repeated. "No, no, no, no, no. Nope. No."
Spike splashed his way out of the water and ran for his boots and coat, water cascading down his legs and flying everywhere. Buffy jumped back and held up her hands to fend off the spray as he ran past her, bent and grabbed his boots, shoving his feet into them quickly. He jumped up, grabbed his duffel and tossed it over one shoulder. He paused to pick up his duster as an afterthought.
"Spike what the hell? What's wrong?"
"The ring," Giles said, walking over. "What did it show you?"
Spike turned to face them. He glanced from Giles to Willow to Buffy and froze. She shifted uncomfortably as he gave her that thousand-yard stare again, looking completely horrified.
"No," he croaked again, it seeming the only word he could manage at this point. "Not happening." Or maybe not the only word. "It's a fake. Doesn't work."
Buffy and the others looked on in total confusion as Spike yanked the ring he'd worked so hard to obtain off his finger and hurled it to the ground a few feet away.
"No," he said one more time and shook his head in defiance before rushing off towards the trail that would lead him to the cars.
Mystified, the others watched him go in silence.
"Well." Giles paused and scratched at his temple. "That was rather, um…"
"Weird," Willow supplied.
"Yeah." Buffy pointed her flashlight at the spot where he'd thrown the ring and by some luck, found it sitting in the grass, looking completely innocent and not all that valuable.
She bent down to examine it and carefully picked it up. It looked like rock but was smooth and cool like some sort of metal. To be honest, it was fairly plain and ordinary looking. She was a bit disappointed after all the hype. Buffy stood, and the others walked over to stand next to her.
"Is it—okay?" Willow asked.
"Feels fine to me." Buffy shrugged.
"I guess you need to be wearing it."
"I don't think that's a good idea considering Spike's earlier display. Shall we gather our things?" Giles cut in.
"How bad could it be? It's a ring of destiny right? One that shows a person the truth? Spike probably saw the truth about Drusilla and how she obviously doesn't care about him."
"All that just because of his girlfriend issues?" Willow sounded skeptical.
Buffy shrugged again. "You know Spike. He gets really intense when it comes to her. He'd do anything for her," she added, softly, still staring at the ring.
"Right well, I still say we should—" Giles began planning the process of packing and suggested theories for examining the ring when they got home, but Buffy tuned him out.
What harm could there be in testing it? It hadn't hurt Spike, just showed him something he didn't like. Fate and destiny weren't always good, Buffy knew that better than anyone… but prophecies could be changed; they weren't set in stone. What could the ring have to show her that would be worse than what she'd already been through?
Buffy tilted her head and rolled the band around in her hand before slipping it on her finger.
First and foremost, since so many of you brought it up in your reviews: yes, Spike saying 'wolf fan' in chapter 11 was intentional. He also said 'in about three hours' in chapter 6. These were intentional cameos of our usernames that we decided to include very early on. We thought it'd be cool and of course we wanted Spike to be the one to say them :)
And while we're on that note: thank you so very, very much to all the reviewers out there who have followed this story chapter by chapter as we've posted it. Feedback is vital and we truly relish in it. Hearing that you're enjoying what we've created makes us want to create more! We've already had requests for us to meet up again and write a sequel, and yes, we are considering doing so. It'll be a bit more difficult as 3hrs has moved back home to Norway, but we'll see what we can do.
We considered many different titles before settling on Spirits in the Woods, though most of them were pretty crack!fic, such as "Somebody Put A Tent Stake In Me, Please", "Vampires, Slayers and Bear Spirits (Oh My!)" and "Never Take the Slayer Camping". You see, during the writing process we would copy/paste snippets into the Spuffy chatroom we both hang out in, and we may have successfully convinced them all that the story was entirely crack. That might have something to do with talking at length about a scene in which Spike & the Scoobies sat around a campfire singing Kumbaya and roasting marshmallows. We were only teasing, of course, but the impression stuck and heavily colored the title brainstorming sessions.
Anyway, we need to give credit where credit is due. The nonononono-Spike scene is an homage to ChaoticMonki on youtube, a guy called Cry who does Let's Play's of various horror games. He's famous for his "No, no, no, no, no, nope, no!" reactions, of which we are both fans.
The title for the fic is also an homage to Cabin in the Woods, which came about after Puddin likened us writing Spirits in just ten days to Joss & co writing Cabin in the Woods in a similar short timespan. Not that we think we have anything on Joss, we just thought the title homage worked really well.
Other things that should be mentioned are 3's four cats, all of which kept us company while we wrote and who took a great liking to Wolf's laptop. And, last but not least, the reason this whole thing came about in the first place: the bloody bears. As soon as we decided to send them camping, our train of thought went something like this: "Oooh, they could run into bears and Spike would freak out!" "You made a bear!" *in unison* "UNDO IT! UNDO IT!" "Yeah, let's do that."
We love him, really ;) And we hope you enjoyed the ride, and that the ending wasn't too evil!
-3hours & Wolffan200